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The Best Picture Show

 
 
   
 
"Tim was superb. It's the only time I've ever been moved to tears on a set by an actor." —Peter Bogdanovich discussing The Last Picture Show*
 
With the Academy Awards on the horizon, it is fun to go back and look at some of the noteworthy winners from the past.
 
The Last Picture Show is one of the great films of this century. I think it is the finest film of the '70s, a decade crammed with memorable movies. Nominated for all the major Academy Awards, this classic lost Best Picture and Best Director to the vastly inferior French Connection. The Last Picture Show created magic for almost all of its cast. Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson both won Best Supporting Oscars for this 1971 masterpiece. Stars Jeff Bridges and Ellen Burstyn would go on to win Best Actor and Actress awards later in their careers. Cybill Shepherd would have a respectable film career and two hit TV series. Eileen Brennan had an Oscar nomination waiting. Of all the stars of this midcentury look at small town life in Texas, only Timothy Bottoms seems to have missed out on the fame and adulation that seemed destined for him.
 
Timothy Bottoms had other movie hits, including Paper Chase, and he even co-starred with legendary Maggie Smith in the cult film Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, but nothing in his future ever equaled his great work in The Last Picture Show. Born in Santa Barbara in 1951, Timothy was the eldest of the four Bottoms boys (no jokes please). His younger brother Joseph had a long career, with his role in Holocaust opposite Meryl Streep being the highlight. Sam Bottoms, who died tragically of brain cancer in 2008, had a pivotal role in The Last Picture Show.
 

Timothy Bottoms played Sonny in The Last Picture Show. Director Peter Bogdanovich found instant fame and acclaim with this low-budget black-and-white look at life in a small Texas town in 1951. Based on Larry McMurtry's autobiographical novel, Picture Show was filmed in Archer City, Texas (the fictional Anarene of the film). Almost everyone in the cast was either new or had not done many major movies. Timothy Bottoms so perfectly captured the sad, lonely boy who loses the love of his life (glamorous Cybill Shepherd) and ends up having an affair with the middle-age coach's wife, played by Cloris Leachman. Everything to say about loss, rejection and despair is shown on Timothy Bottoms' expressive face. With his soulful eyes and dark curly hair, he was just the sweetest, sexiest boy who ever lived.
 
Timothy Bottoms followed The Last Picture Show with another hit, The Paper Chase, but this film did not really advance his career. (Pauline Kael amusingly wrote, "Blurry Timothy Bottoms looks like a romantic anarchist who has lost his bombs.") Other roles followed, including the much underrated sequel to Picture Show called Texasville.
 
If you want to see a great performance in a wonderful film, rent or buy The Last Picture Show. Jeff Bridges has the flamboyant role of Duane, and Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman and Ellen Burstyn are superb, but Timothy Bottoms is the heart and soul the film. The last scene in the picture with Bottoms and Leachman facing an uncertain future in the kitchen—"Never you mind, honey. Never you mind."—is one of the great emotional moments in American films.  
 
*The Great Filmmakers: The Next Generation, 2012
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