When cinephiles and movie writers bemoan the quality of the Oscars, one could argue it's because they fondly remember years when the Academy had a mountain of riches to choose from.

For example, the 12th Academy Awards saw Gone with the Wind top fellow masterpieces Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and The Wizard of Oz for Best Picture, another other films. Best Actor at the 40th Academy Awards was another historic fight—this time between Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night [the winner], Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde, Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, and Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

The 49th Academy Awards was packed with monumental films and performances. It was March 28, 1977, and the biggest stars in Hollywood gathered to celebrate a phenomenal film year. Our essential this week, Network, was one of the nomination leaders that year with ten. It lost Best Picture to Rocky, its nominations co-leader, but still took home a number of major awards.

For the sake of [relative] brevity, we're only re-analyzing the year's major categories in which Network was in contention for gold. That means only casually remarking on Rocky's deserved Best Film Editing win over the Sidney Lumet film, Bound for Glory's historic Best Cinematography award [it was the first to use the newly invented Steadicam for moving shots], and Paddy Chayefsky's Best Original Screenplay win for what is this writer's all-time favorite screenplay [though don't sleep on the underrated Hollywood blacklisting dramedy The Front].

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
The Nominees:
Jane Alexander [All the President's Men]
Jodie Foster [Taxi Driver]
Lee Grant [Voyage of the Damned]
Piper Laurie [Carrie]
Beatrice Straight [Network]

Winner: Beatrice Straight
Who Should Have Won: Piper Laurie

I was unable to catch up with Grant's work in Voyage before putting together this article, so with due respect, we'll focus on the murderer's row of Straight, Alexander, Foster, and Laurie.

It's fair to say Foster's is the most culturally relevant performance today. Not only did it start the career of one of our most beloved actresses, but of all the films acknowledged by the Academy this year, Taxi Driver’s legacy looms largest. It’s a monumental piece of work from someone on film’s Mount Rushmore. But as much as I love Foster’s work in the film, and while I’d give her this award in almost any other year, she’s a runner-up here.

If Foster is a runner-up, Alexander is in the “lucky to be here” camp. All the President’s Men works because it never devolves into melodramatic nonsense, but it’s a classic case of the whole being worth more than the sum of its parts. She’s good, as are her co-stars, but she’s a cog in a well-oiled machine.

Ditto for the winner, Straight. She’s best remembered for being one of the Academy Award winners with the least amount of screentime. There’s no denying she makes the most of what little she’s given—her scene with William Holden is among Network’s finest, but compared to my personal favorite performance in the lineup, Straight’s one great scene falls a little short.

Then there’s Laurie. Oh my word. As Carrie’s mother, she’s a slab of chicken-fried steak swimming in gravy. If that’s your thing, the magic [and horror] of this performance is undeniable. It’s my thing.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
The Nominees:
Ned Beatty [Network]
Burgess Meredith [Rocky]
Laurence Olivier [Marathon Man]
Jason Robards [All the President's Men]
Burt Young [Rocky]

Winner: Jason Robards
Who Should Have Won: Burgess Meredith

In addition to being a total De Palma stan, the other thing I should disclose up front is that I’m a Philly guy, and Rocky is my jam. It’s hard looking back to separate what Burgess Meredith did in the first film and his entire body of work throughout the series, but Mickey is one of those great Philly characters, and in what’s probably the weakest category of these six, I want to give him some retroactive gold.

The actual winner was Robards, who’s quite good as Post editor Ben Bradlee, but over all five of these guys, it probably should have been Hal Holbrook, who stole every All the President’s Men scene he’s in as the informant Deep Throat. Watching the journalism drama today, this egregious snub stuck with me.

Burt Young is another valuable member of the Rocky supporting cast, but Paulie doesn’t pack the same punch Mickey does for me. Olivier’s Szell is memorable, but Marathon Man isn’t a film that totally holds up today. And Beatty suffers from being probably the fifth best performance in Network. His is a great one without question, but not on a level with some of his co-stars.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
The Nominees:
Marie-Christine Barrault [Cousin Cousine]
Faye Dunaway [Network]
Talia Shire [Rocky]
Sissy Spacek [Carrie]
Liv Ullmann [Face to Face]

Winner: Faye Dunaway
Who Should Have Won: Faye Dunaway

Like Best Supporting Actress, I’m missing one nominee here—sorry, Marie-Christine Barrault, but also like Best Supporting Actress, the other four nominees are very good.

Talia Shire—I mean, what can you say about Adrian? She’s the beating heart of a film that’s all heart. It’s a great, super underrated performance, but not my favorite.

Face to Face is a lesser-known film from Ingmar Bergman, but Liv Ullmann’s performance is predictably magical. Still, not my favorite.

I loved Piper Laurie in Carrie, so certainly the title performance would similarly wow me, right? Yes, it does, but Sissy Spacek’s isn’t my favorite.

It’s Faye Dunaway. The Academy got it right. This one is my favorite—in fact, one of my all time favorites. The looks she gives when Peter Finch is going off are mind-melting. She’s simply incredible.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
The Nominees:
Robert De Niro [Taxi Driver]
Peter Finch [Network]
Giancarlo Giannini [Seven Beauties]
William Holden [Network]
Sylvester Stallone [Rocky]

Winner: Peter Finch
Who Should Have Won: Robert De Niro

I wasn’t alive in 1977, but I can imagine the death of Peter Finch two months before the Oscar ceremony probably changed the nature of this race a lot. The comp for my generation is what happened in 2008/2009, when Heath Ledger became the second actor to win a posthumous statue from the Academy.

Finch was the first, and he dominates the film in such an unforgettable way. I’ve always wondered if he’s truly a lead actor—William Holden [also excellent] is a more traditional protagonist—but it’s a monumental bit of acting.

For me, however, it comes down to two of the most iconic leading male performances of all time—Rocky or Travis Bickle? And as much as I love Sly [and think he was robbed for Creed last year], this one belongs to De Niro, and it’s not particularly close.

Best Director
The Nominees:
John G. Avildsen [Rocky]
Ingmar Bergman [Face to Face]
Sidney Lumet [Network]
Alan J. Pakula [All the President's Men]
Lina Wertmuller [Seven Beauties]

Winner: John G. Avildsen
Who Should Have Won: Alan J. Pakula

With due respect to the two foreign language film directors present in the lineup—including Wertmuller, the first ever woman to be nominated for Best Director!—this was a three-way retroactive race. 

I love Lumet. I think Network is his best film, but not his most obviously directed film. Rocky stands out more as a feat of direction, which makes it easy to see why Avildsen took the trophy back in 1977. But if you remember when I said All the President’s Men was more than the sum of its parts? That’s because of Pakula. He brought together outstanding writing, brilliant performances, and all the rest to make a piece of fact-based cinematic drama that still inspires and excites today.

Best Picture
The Nominees:
All the President's Men
Bound for Glory
Taxi Driver

Winner: Rocky
What Should Have Won: Network

This is the best Best Picture lineup in Oscar history. You could choose any of these films [okay, Bound for Glory would be surprising] and it would be hard to judge. That hasn’t stopped many from saying the Academy royally screwed up selecting Rocky over others, but those people are soulless demons.

I think Rocky is a perfectly justifiable choice, but not the best one. And as much as I love Taxi Driver [top three Scorsese] and All the President’s Men [see above], I actually think the choice is Network.

It’s such a prescient film for its depiction of the media. It’s exhilarating, scary, twisted, and nasty, but above all, it’s an exquisitely told tale that, under Sidney Lumet’s artful eye, became the best film of 1976.