Won: Kramer vs. Kramer
Robbed: Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola survived making his Best Picture-nominated Apocalypse Now, but his career came home in a body bag. He would never make a film that good again. And he wasn't the only superior filmmaker left high and dry in the wake of the 1979 Oscars; indeed, the '70s New Hollywood wave crested and broke here. Bob Fosse capped a decade of excellent filmmaking with a brilliant autobiographical musical about a brilliant director/choreographer dancing himself to death (All That Jazz); he died eight years later. At least Jazz copped Best Picture and Director noms; the political satire Being There was shut out of both categories, despite its perfectly poised, deadpan madness. Its director, '70s golden boy Hal Ashby, dropped nothing but bombs through the '80s until he went up to that big Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the sky a year after Fosse.
All were left in the dust by Kramer vs. Kramer. A movie about a sensitive man going through a divorce and custody battle was very au courant in 1979, but Kramer scans just a little too "very special episode" now. Meanwhile, Coppola's Vietnam phantasmagoria still manages to dazzle and impress, despite its logy third act. Perhaps more important, it has infiltrated the deepest reaches of our national imagination--it now stands in for Vietnam the way Wagner's Ring cycle stands in for the Germanic myths on which it is based. Perhaps Hollywood shunned Coppola's opus because of his own personal (and very expensive) heart-of-darkness experience shooting the film; perhaps it thought it had done its patriotic penance by awarding The Deer Hunter Best Picture the year before. Regardless, the nod to Kramer vs. Kramer proves (as Martin Scorsese would learn all over again the following year) that the '70s changed everything about the motion picture industry except the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
They wuz robbed! 1942 - Sullivan's Travels
They wuz robbed! 1951 - A Place In The Sun
They wuz robbed! 1964/1968 - Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey
They wuz robbed! 1980 - Raging Bull
They wuz robbed! 1994 - Heavenly Creatures