Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: The Best of the 1977 Best Shots

While I agree with Oscar on selecting Zsigmond’s work for Close Encounters as the overall winner, does it have my choice of best Best Shot? Let’s review the Best Shots from the past week…

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Vilmos Zsigmond

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Islands in the Stream – Fred J. Koenekamp

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Julia – Douglas Slocombe

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Looking for Mr. Goodbar – William A. Fraker

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The Turning Point – Robert Surtees

And best of the Best Shots is…

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Julia”

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There is enough distance between the present and claims of author Lillian Hellman’s embellishment and falsifications for the origin story of Julia to see the story for itself. One wonders if a contemporary viewing audience would even know who the hell Hellman is (for shame), likely surprised that it was based on a portion of her memoir. Though the film does put her on the pedestal of self-important, suffering artist, if not the story’s hero, you can see how the narrative served to puff herself up. The film was released before authenticity lawsuits were brought up, so its original audience perhaps viewed it differently.

No, now we view the film primarily through the lens of its terrifying depiction of rising fascism. It’s not just the current election the makes it seem all the more real, but the rise in nationalism elsewhere in the world today that’s all too familiar to the fifty years leading up to the events in the film.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Islands in the Stream”

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Unfortunately I’ll be following up my favorite of this week’s mega-Hit Me With Your Best Shot with my least favorite. Islands in the Stream is the most forgotten of 1977’s Best Cinematography Oscar nominees, so I’d been hoping for a surprise that never came. The least visually interesting of the bunch, you kind of wonder if the Academy was just taken with the film’s landscape or if this was the result of some carryover love for Patton with Islands reuniting director Franklin J. Schaffner and director of photography Fred. J. Koenekamp (who won the cinematography Oscar in 1975 for The Towering Inferno).

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

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This week, Hit Me With Your Best Shot is getting the jumbo treatment with each of the Best Cinematography nominees of 1977 receiving a daily installment. First up is the Spielberg classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Recently with the start of Netflix’s Stranger Things and the misfire of The BFG (I’ve yet to partake either) have reignited talk about Spielberg’s aesthetic its weaker would-be descendants. Encounters remains the perfect prototype for the true Spielberg formula: primal fear, emotional resonance, and a sense of earned awe. Thematically, it’s also possibly his best in dealing with social outsiderism and daddy issues.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Zootopia”

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I’m not among the many vocal admirers for Zootopia. The amusing character design and relationships are a delight, and of course it has a fiercely progressive (and unpreachy) message for children that is hard not to root for. While the film’s upsides are front and center, they still don’t mask the film’s flatness and unpropulsive energy, and even the social commentary becomes a little muddled by the end. On first glance the animation looks unrefined, but there’s an expressive attention to lighting and tone that probably does more to push the emotions than the screenplay itself.

But Zootopia‘s core is so warmhearted and well-thought out that focusing on its faults feels a bit mean-spirited, and downplays how accomplished it is visually.

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