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Oscars Challenge #54: Midnight Cowboy (1969) Movie Review

Midnight Cowboy poster

Have you ever watched a movie that positively makes you feel bad? The feeling that when the film ends, you can't help but question yourself and those around you if the world is unfair.

This is probably one of the most depressing Academy Award Best Picture films.

Like Ordinary People, this movie is not for everyone, especially if you suffer from anxiety or depression.

Midnight Cowboy is not a cowboy movie, nor something even close. We follow the story of a young Texan hustler, Joe Buck, who quits his job as a dishwasher and goes to New York City to become a male prostitute. He's unsuccessful, and when he finally beds a middle-aged woman, she tricks him, and he gives his money instead. He meets Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo, a con man and a limp, who introduces him to a pimp. Joe escapes and wanders around the city for days, looking for Ratso. He gets broke, and the hotel he's staying locked his things.

To earn money, Joe does things that he despises. When he meets Ratso again, he offers to let him stay in his rundown apartment in a condemned building. They became friends and started to become hustlers. The two struggle due to severe poverty and winter without heat. Ratso's health steadily declines, and Joe does everything to earn money to help both of them. In a series of flashbacks, we witness Joe being raised by his grandmother after his mother left him and his tragic relationship with Annie.

Midnight Cowboy is the only X-Rated film to win the Best Picture award due to its "homosexual frame of reference." and "possible influence on youngsters." Later, they changed it to R-Rated and age restriction but for the same reason. I don't know what that means, but I find it weird. I agree that they increased the age restrictions because some scenes are tough to swallow and understand, but something about a homosexual frame of reference is confusing.

Midnight Cowboy is directed by John Schlesinger. Jon Voight stars as Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman as Ratso. Despite the two of them being nominated as Best Actors, none of them won the award. I think the two lead actors did an incredible job portraying their roles. They may not be likable, but they did a great job.

I view this movie's story like a piece of artwork. It's like looking into abstract art that you cannot understand or listening to a piece of gothic music. The story started slow and almost pointless, with Joe Buck hitting on a few girls hoping to score. After a few minutes, the tone gets darker. The uneasiness you feel throughout the film gets more significant as the story goes by. It may be disturbing for a typical movie viewer, but it is essential.

Yes, it isn't reassuring like a couple of sad movies with a happy ending. This one does not have those. It may not be a joyful ending, but it's a satisfying one nonetheless.

The incorporation of flashbacks and the desires of Joe Buck's character for Ratso is nicely written. It adds more depth and meaning to the characters' intentions and decisions.

The famous Ratso line, "I'm walking here!" became a well-known phrase and got included in the 100 Movie Quotes from the American Film Institute.

Midnight Cowboy may not be an easy watch for those who suffer from anxiety or depression, but it's not something that should be skipped. I think an important lesson needs to be understood more than the disturbing scenes or sequences.

I still see this movie as a hidden gem.

A solid 4 out of 5 stars.

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