Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Midnight Cowboy (1969).
With Dustin Hoffman’s immortal, “I’m walkin’ here!”, the repeated use of “Everbody’s Talkin”, and the distinction of being the only “X” rated film to win Best Picture (though it was initially rated “R” and only changed after a psychologist insisted on changing it due to the potential influence of homosexuality on young people and was later changed back to “R”), Midnight Cowboy earned its place in film history but it remains vibrant today. A film far ahead of its time, and maybe our time too, it shows a place with seemingly all the opportunities in the world and a group of people apparently willing to accept anyone, but success still as far away as anywhere and dehumanization of everyone, especially sex workers, still rampant. In many ways, it can seem a bit dated, relying heavily on innuendo and showing a New York City that looks and feels fairly different from today’s, but what it did dare to show was so much more than most anything else from the time and it remains poignant and depressing. Though the relationship between Voight and Hoffman often left me a bit cold, despite both actors delivering solid performances, and mostly worked as a way to get to other plot points that contributed more to the power of the film, the final scenes with the two of them are unforgettable.
The Real Best Picture:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It doesn’t get better than a Redford/ Newman combo. Certainly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was less daring in its content than Midnight Cowboy but in some ways they cover similar ground and the shootout at the end is an all timer.