In America’s bicentennial year, Hollywood didn’t stray too far from home. Even the science fiction title on our shortlist has a scene in the U.S. Senate chamber, and half of the rest take place a short Amtrak ride away. Many of the directors and stars are still top-billed today, but which of these heavyweights will go the distance for the VFA? The shortlisted films for 1976 are:
It’s said that “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people,” but this film makes you thankful that there were journalists willing to cover the place like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, played here by the slightly better-looking Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (who has a prodigious memory for telephone numbers), when President Nixon was up to no good. Generation Xers were particularly grateful for the VHS version, which finally explained in two action-filled hours why, in the summer of 1973, their cartoons were bumped from the airwaves for 300 hours of Watergate hearings.
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, Martin Balsam
Major nominations on original release : Academy Award® for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor Robards (won), Supporting Actress Alexander, Adapted Screenplay (won)
The first of his stories to be made into a movie, Carrie was anything but scary for Stephen King, who sold the Hollywood rights for $2,500 and was so unknown at the time that they misspelled his name in the trailer. John Travolta, in his first big-screen role, also smiles through to the end. One of those rare horror films that breaks out of its niche, Carrie found an audience with everyone who was teased by the popular kids in high school.
Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, John Travolta
Major nominations on original release : Academy Award® for Best Actress Spacek, Supporting Actress Laurie
There was a showdown at sundown on the set of Josey Wales one day, and Clint Eastwood won: he had the director fired and then got behind the camera himself to save the Western genre. On the surface it looks like all the others – cowboy hats, horses, six-shooters, revenge – but Josey Wales was actually on the cutting edge of (red) rock: Union soldiers weren’t the good guys, and Native Americans were cast in two key roles.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, John Vernon, Sam Bottoms, Geraldine Keams
Major nominations on original release : None
Boxing movies are like apple pies and martinis: they’re all made from a simple formula – yet you always remember who made the best one. Written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, Rocky took only about a month and a million dollars to produce. With the release of Creed in 2015, it may be the longest running film franchise after James Bond – but 40 years later, will it last 15 rounds against the competition for a VFA?
Director: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith
Major nominations on original release : Academy Award® for Best Picture (won), Director (won), Actor Stallone, Actress Shire, Supporting Actor Young
Young people: This movie is the reason your parents a) respect Robert De Niro’s acting, and b) are afraid of New York. Don’t even watch the trailer – it’s full of spoilers. Lavishing additional praise on this masterpiece seems unnecessary today – not only has Taxi Driver stood the test of time, but pretty much everyone involved (Scorsese, De Niro, Foster, Keitel, Brooks, writer Paul Schrader…) is still doing major film work 40 years later – leaving us to wonder how it failed to win more awards.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle
Major nominations on original release : Academy Award® for Best Picture, Actor De Niro, Supporting Actress Foster