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Midnight Cowboy

The 60’s were a dark time for Oscar, constantly giving statues to some crappy musical, often set against the cheery backdrop of Nazi Germany or New York gang warfare, sometimes including an exclamation point in the title. What makes this so strange is that the decade that followed saw Oscar reward one all-time great after another. As a prelude to the 70’s we have the best picture of 1969, Midnight Cowboy.

Jon Voight plays the worst male prostitute of all time, oddly named Joe Buck even though he never offers up bland baseball play-by-play. He rolls into New York from Texas and fails at enticing women to pay him for sex until he meets Rico, a small time thief with an undetermined illness who dreams of going to Florida. The two become friends. Joe moves into the condemned apartment where Rico is squatting. Finally Rico takes over as Joe’s pimp, securing the one and only successful trick of Joe’s career.

This is a late 60’s counterculture movie all the way. The party scene is enough to convince you the director was on many varied and wonderful drugs and the soundtrack is top-notch, starting with the opening montage using "Everybody’s Talkin.’" Midnight Cowboy is one of many movies released in 1969 that gives off that counterculture vibe, including Alice’s Restaurant, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and most notably Easy Rider.

This movie excels in many areas. Voight and Dustin Hoffman give great performances and they play off each other beautifully. The cinematography is amazing, such as the shot of Voight walking down a crowded sidewalk, towering over everyone else, wearing a cowboy outfit. Above everything else though is the script which features sharp dialogue and a plot that never drags.

This is the only X-rated movie ever to win best picture, and if released today it would not even be NC-17. It’s not exactly PG-13, but it wouldn’t be the hardest R in the theater. Despite the rating it is not nearly as shocking or depraved as certain other Oscar winners.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was also up for best picture that year. Easy Rider was not. Put all three of these movies side by side and it may depend on what mood you’re in on any given day which one you prefer. Personally I would pick Easy Rider, but Midnight Cowboy is very close, and as a winner served as the perfect transition to erase the memory of the decade of dank that preceded it and foreshadow the decade of damn good cinema that followed.

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