In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.
Midnight Cowboy 
Director: John Schlesinger
Writers: Waldo Salt (screenplay), James Leo Herlihy (novel)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles
Running Time: 113 minutes
Reason for inclusion: I had heard so much about this film over the years, and it has a longstanding reputation as one of the finest American films of the 1960s.
Accolades: Won three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay), nominated for four other Oscars (Best Actor – Hoffman and Voight, Best Supporting Actress – Miles, Best Film Editing), six BAFTA awards, National Film Registry
Midnight Cowboy has the distinction of being the only X-rated movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Watching the film 40+ years later, it’s a bit surprising that it managed to snag such a controversial rating. Obviously, times have changed, but there is little in this film that seems shocking, even for its time period.
Jon Voight stars as Joe Buck, a naive young Texan who quits his job as a dishwasher, packs his bags and heads to New York City in hopes of being a male prostitute. Once there, his classic cowboy look draws more laughs than anything else, and he struggles to make ends meet. He does manage to make a new friend, however: Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a similarly down-on-his-luck grifter. Ratso has a bum leg and an undisclosed illness, and his current place of residence is a condemned building.
Joe and Ratso form an unlikely bond, perhaps driven by their loneliness and shared dreams of getting rich and moving to Florida. The two men become business partners of sorts, and they work together to hustle their way through the urban jungle that is 1969 New York.
What drew me into Midnight Cowboy were the fantastic lead performances from Voight and Hoffman. Both play incredibly complex characters. Joe’s naivete is heartbreaking, but it’s hard not to be charmed by his confidence and Southern drawl. I can’t think of another character like him, and Voight plays this masterfully. It is Hoffman, however, who truly impresses. Just two years removed from his Oscar-nominated performance as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, Hoffman puts together an even better performance here. Ratso is such a depressing character — a dirty, disgusting shell of a man that certainly lives up to his nickname. Yet Hoffman manages to make him *likable*, eliciting great sympathy as he aimlessly drifts through life.
In many ways, Midnight Cowboy feels like the perfect transition from the free-spirited 1960s into the dark, gritty 70s. Joe Buck seems like a relic of a different time, and the poor guy has no idea what he’s getting into with the seedy underbelly of New York City. The grimy city streets were used to perfection in many 70s films (i.e. The French Connection, Taxi Driver, etc.), but this serves as something of a precursor to this decade.
As such, John Schlesinger’s film is an interesting curiosity of its time. There are a few issues that plagued other post-Graduate films — Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” is played a few too many times, and the film could have done without one or two flashbacks — but this is 100% worth seeing because of its two lead performances.