The 1969 Oscars Were Old Hollywood’s Last Gasp Of Life, And It Probably Came Too Late

Old Hollywood may have won the battle at the 1969 Oscars, but they would ultimately lose the war. The crown jewel of the old guard was to be Gene Kelly’s incredibly expensive adaptation of the Broadway smash “Hello, Dolly!” starring Barbra Streisand. If you’ve ever taken a film history class, you’ll know that “Hello, Dolly!” basically killed the mega-musical model Hollywood had built over the decade. Even though the film performed decently well at the box office, it cost so much that it still lost millions upon millions. It’s also a pretty lackluster picture with a terribly miscast Streisand in the titular role.

It got its perfunctory best picture nomination at the 1970 Oscars, like “Doctor Dolittle” before it, but it lost the award to the true-blue New Hollywood film “Midnight Cowboy,” the only X-rated film to win the award. This is a film about crushing poverty and male sex work, and it won best picture, director, and screenplay. Not only was “Midnight Cowboy” in there but so was the jaunty outlaw tale “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and the French-language thriller “Z” from Costa-Gavras.

The whole Academy could no longer ignore what was happening in the world of cinema any longer and had to respect the daring, inventive work being made. Instead of the best director category trying to represent this new wave, it solely featured it, as Arthur Penn and Sydney Pollack rounded out the category for “Alice’s Restaurant” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

New Hollywood may have begun a few years prior, but 1970 cemented it to be the dominant cultural force for the movies. When even the Oscars have to relent and recognize it, that’s how you know a tide has really turned.

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