MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #43. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
 Midnight Cowboy

“I’m brand, spankin’ new in this here town and I was hopin’ to get a look at the Statue of Liberty.”

When it comes to choosing the winners of the big Oscars, the Academy is accused of being pretty conservative, old fashioned and predictable.  I like The King’s Speech, but it’s generally regarded as a vanilla, by the numbers prestige piece, that in no way deserved to beat The Social Network.  And I for one never miss an opportunity point out that the Academy chose the melodramatic syrup of Ordinary People over the amazing Raging Bull.  The latter might have won the battle of enduring iconography while no one really seems to remember the former, but that doesn’t put a trophy for Raging Bull on Martin Scorsese’s mantel, does it?

I bring up this Academy stodginess, because I just realised that in 1969, they were cool enough to give a couple of the biggest awards to a dark as shit, X-rated movie about a male hustler trying to make it as a gigolo in New York.  In 1969, they were cool enough to give a couple of the biggest awards to Midnight Cowboy.

With some slick new threads and pocket full of cash, Texan cowboy Joe Buck (Jon Voight) quits his job and jumps a bus headed for New York City.  Handsome, fresh faced and a success with the ladies in his home town, Buck thinks he has what it takes to make it as a high paid man whore for the bored, rich wives of Manhattan. After his first job ends with him paying the woman, Buck meets Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a hunched over, nasal voiced street hustler who says he’ll introduce Buck to a pimp.

When Ratso’s pimp connection turns out to be a con, ripping Buck off for $20, it’s the beginning of a bad run that eventually sees Buck evicted from his hotel with every one of his possessions locked up as collateral.  When he comes across Ratso in a diner not long after and tries to get his $20 back, it eventually leads to him staying in Ratso’s squat, and the two become unlikely friends.  As things get more and more desperate, Buck realises he has to lower his standards, and instead of holding out for rich ladies, settles for gay sex for a couple of bucks in New York’s worst neighbourhoods.

It’s funny to think of the Jon Voight of today, and realise that he was once actually kind of amazing.  He’s been a right wing nut job, shitting out terrible movies for decades now.  Even Anaconda is almost 20 years old at this point.  But in Midnight Cowboy, he was starring next to one of the most critically acclaimed and box office successful young stars of the moment.  He so held his own against Hoffman, they were both nominated for Best Actor Oscars. The combination of cocky swagger, with real innocence and vulnerability that Voight brings to Joe Buck is nothing short of amazing.

Even by 2015 standards, Midnight Cowboy is pretty confronting and raw.  So I can’t imagine how mind blowing it must have been in 1969.  Then again, a major studio of 1969 made it and the Oscar voting crowd of 1969 loved it.  Whereas today, it’d be some no budget indie that might get into Sundance, then go ignored.  I guess what I’m saying is, 2015 seems kind of boring compared to 1969.

Midnight Cowboy
Directed By – John Schlesinger
Written By – Waldo Salt

Academy Awards
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor (Hoffman nominated, lost to John Wayne for True Grit)
Best Actor (Voight nominated, lost to John Wayne for True Grit)
Best Supporting Actress (Miles nominated, lost to Goldie Hawn for Cactus Flower)
Best Adapted Screenplay

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