I’m taking the Best Picture Series back to the 70′s with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a brilliant film based on the Ken Kesey novel which garnered 9 Oscar nominations.

 

Directed by: Miloš Forman Written by: Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Will Sampson, Brad Dourif
Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a convicted statutory rapist who transfers to a mental hospital from prison to serve out the rest of his term. While the staff isn’t convinced of his mental illness, the fellow patients welcome him into their group and begin to look up to him. This doesn’t gel well with Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who has kept the men compliant and fearful with her intimidating presence. McMurphy uses every opportunity to get under her skin and build up the confidence of his fellow patients despite the increasing consequence he faces.
My Thoughts:
This film has the great honor of being one of two films to win the big five Academy Awards (the other being It Happened One Night). It’s easy to see why this film was able to achieve that honor. Not only do you have the great Jack Nicholson (I respect him more and more as I grow more familiar with his filmography) but you have a perfect alignment of fantastic film craftsmanship with a stellar script. Bringing up the fifth category, is Louise Fletcher, playing one of the biggest bitches in film history with a steely strength that makes you wince.

I think this is a fantastic Best Picture winner. It’s completely challenging up to, and especially including, the last scene. The only other nominee I’ve seen is Jaws, which while being a great film is not quite up to par with this, particularly on an emotional level. Although I haven’t seen the other films I think that this was a really interesting year, with the two aforementioned films going against a Kubrick period piece, a black comedy musical, and a richly layered crime drama. It’s such a mix of genres and themes that I look forward to seeing them all and figuring out exactly how they happened to represent 1975.

Back to Cuckoo’s Nest, this film surprised me throughout with the direction it went in. When I began watching I thought the main crux of the plot would be the mental hospital attempting to discern whether McMurphy is actually faking his condition. While this becomes apparent throughout, it’s not really the focus of the plot. It falls aside when you realize this film is about this group of men in the ward McMurphy is assigned to—how they relate to each other, their conditions and how they view their roles in society, and eventually how they are inspired by McMurphy.

Now this isn’t the sort of inspiration you can easily side with. He manages to cause discord among the patients and staff, abuse the power of his mental state, and get the men drunk. He’s definitely a bit of an ass, but you still find yourself wanting things to work in his favor. The most memorable scene in the movie for me is his attempts to watch the World Series despite Nurse Ratched’s resistance to allowing the men this simple pleasure. McMurphy tries to get the men to work with him and when things don’t work out, he still manages to disregard orders and get the men to join his bad behavior.

This movie is fairly dark with biting humor and a startling finish. It’s at times heart-wrenching and delightful, and it mostly succeeds because of Nicholson’s stunning portrayal. After a string of nominations he finally earned it with this film and it’s undeniably his movie despite Nurse Ratched’s infamy. I earnestly recommend this film and am glad the Academy recognized it with top honors.

Other Academy Award nominations and wins:

Won:
Best Picture
Best Director – Miloš Forman
Best Actor – Jack Nicholson
Best Actress – Louise Fletcher
Best Adapted Screenplay – Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman
Nominated:
Best Supporting Actor – Brad Dourif
Best Cinematography – Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler
Best Film Editing – Richard Chew, Lyzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn
Best Original Music Score – Jack Nitzsche

The Other Guys:
  • Barry Lyndon – A young man advances through society to gain wealth and power in this Kubrick period piece – Won Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Musical Score & nominated in 2 other categories
  • Dog Day Afternoon - A gay man attempts to rob a bank for his partner’s sex change, leading to a media circus – Won Best Original Screenplay & nominated in 4 other categories
  • Jaws – A New England beach in tourist season is tormented by a man-eating shark – Won Best Film Editing, Original Score, and Best Sound
  • Nashville – This satirical musical takes on country music and conservative politics – Won Best Original Song & nominated in 1 other category

 

2 thoughts on “Best Picture Series: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

  1. Yeah. It is a pretty awesome film. But you have to think to yourself, in terms of groundbreaking achievements, shouldn’t JAWS have won? I’m glad it didn’t mind you – in the same way, I’m glad AVATAR lost out to HURT LOCKER – but, back in the 70′s, you can see why some people may have thought that this is standard Oscar fare – opposed to the groundbreaking box-office success of JAWS.

    • I think that’s a valid point. To me, Jaws is a very well made entertaining movie but it’s just nowhere near as deep as Cuckoo’s Nest. I wouldn’t be mad if it won though. As I watch more of these best pictures, I think my concept of what makes a good winner will definitely change and I might feel differently about this as time goes on.

      Actually, Lindsay and occasional special guest Dave got into a heated debate one night about which of the films, between The Hurt Locker & Avatar, should have won Best Picture that year. Everyone agreed Inglourious Basterds should have won over those two anyway though.

      Thanks for reading!

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