It was a year of consensus. The New York Film Critics, the Directors’ and Writers’ Guilds, the Academy, all endorsed the Hollywood Foreign Press’s choice of Kramer vs. Kramer as the best film of the year. All except the National Society of Film Critics who went with the Golden Globe winner for best comedy or musical. And so Breaking Away carved a place for itself in film history.
The film was a true sleeper. Made on a tight budget, it had no stars and its intended audience was the teenage market. But it quickly captured the hearts of the HFPA. Peter Yates was an English director who had made a splash a few years before with his Steve McQueen thriller Bullitt. Hollywood was impressed, and he was assigned important jobs directing A-list actors in films that all ended up mild disappointments; among them, Dustin Hoffman’s John and Mary, Peter O’Toole’s Murphy’s War, Robert Redford’s The Hot Rock, and Barbra Streisand’s For Pete’s Sake.
So when Breaking Away was shown to the press not much was expected. But thanks to its original screenplay by Yugoslavian writer Steve Tesich, it was warmly embraced. The four young actors who played high school friends from the poorer side of town were all unknown at the time, but Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, and Jackie Earle Haley, all moved on to bigger things.
Significantly, the National Society of Film Critics broke with tradition by giving Breaking Away its top prize. Since its inception, their top award usually went to foreign language films, invariably ones directed by Ingmar Bergman. Obviously, they were taken by Breaking Away’s unpretentious honesty. Despite all the recognition the film only grossed $20 million that year.
The other Golden Globe nominees for Best Comedy or Musical were Being There, Hair, The Rose, and 10. Nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical that year were Peter Sellers (Being There) George Hamilton (Love at First Bite) Dudley Moore (10) Burt Reynolds (Starting Over) and Roy Scheider (All That Jazz). And the winner: Peter Sellers.
Nominated for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy were Bette Midler (The Rose), Julie Andrews (10) Jill Clayburgh (Starting Over), Shirley MacLaine (Being There) and Marsha Mason (Chapter Two). The Globe went to Bette Midler. Melvyn Douglas (for Being There) won best supporting actor in a tie with Robert Duvall (for Apocalypse Now) a crazy crossover.
Incidentally all the Golden Globe acting winners that year later won Academy Awards.