Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ranking the Best Picture Winners - Part 1 of 8

Since the Oscar season is officially over, but there doesn't seem to much else movie related to write about at the present time, I figured I would tackle this project. I have seen all 81 films that have won the best picture Oscar. This is a project that took years, as admittedly, there were some films I didn't really want to see, but eventually I sucked it up and got through with it. So, over the next few days, I will post 8 items that go through each and every one of the films that have won the best picture Oscar (including Slumdog Millionaire which won on Sunday). We'll start with the worst and end with the best. Luckily, there aren't too many films that the Academy has rewarded that I downright hate - in fact after Part 2 I can honestly say that I at least liked all of the winners, even if I feel that many (most?) of them didn't even deserve to be nominated, let alone win.

So for each film, I will name the film, say who I think SHOULD have won the Oscar based on the nominees, and tell you what was egregiously snubbed that year and provide a few brief thoughts on the film in question. It should be fun. This first installment has 11 films in it - the rest will have 10. Enjoy!

81. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
What Should Have Won: ANYTHING ELSE!!! My vote would have went to Giant, but anything would have been better then this crap.
What Was Snubbed: John Ford’s single greatest achievement, The Searchers, was completely ignored. Alfred Hitchcock’s great The Wrong Man was also. And the great sci-fi film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, found no love.
Review: This is probably the worst best picture winner of all time. It isn’t so much a movie, but a string of celebrity cameos following David Niven, and his sidekick Catinfalas, across the world. Even the terrible remake with Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan was better than this crap. I understand that the Academy wanted to go BIG, after three years of small, black and white dramas, but any of the nominees fit that bill, and while I have never been a huge fan of any of them, they are all better than this one. Most confusing of all, this isn’t even the type of thing the Academy normally goes for. Normally, they like “important” movies over blockbusters, so it stings a little that one of the only times the went the other way, was one of the times they definitely should not have.

80. Gigi (1958)
What Should Have Won:
For me Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Defiant Ones are neck and neck out of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Alfred Hitchcock’s absolute best film was Vertigo, and Orson Welles’ made another masterpiece in Touch of Evil, but the Academy ignored them.
Review: Around the World in 80 Days is certainly a worse film, but out of all the Best Picture Winners, this is my least favorite. Essentially, the movie’s “happy” ending is when the hero of the movie decides not to treat the woman he loves like a whore, which was his plan for most of his running time. And old foggy Maurice Chevlier singing about “little girls” was creepy in the extreme. To me, Gigi is one of those musicals that gives musicals a bad name. You couldn’t pay me to watch this crap again.

79. Chariots of Fire (1981)
What Should Have Won:
My favorite is Reds, although Raiders of the Lost Ark, Atlantic City, and hell, even On Golden Pond were better then this one.
What Was Snubbed: Body Heat is one of the best modern noirs, and should have got in. And since they nominated one Louis Malle masterpiece in Atlantic City, why not two, with My Dinner with Andre.
Review: I find Chariots of Fire ridiculously dull and boring. Even the much praised score by Vangelis has been overused so often now (in case you don’t know, it’s the music that plays in every sitcom when someone runs in slow motion) that I find it annoying. Yes, this was the rare case of the little movie that could triumph over the Hollywood behemoths. I just wish it didn’t. And on a side note, how they hell did this win costume design? They were all wearing white T-shirts and shorts! I could design these costumes after 10 minutes in Wal-Mart!

78. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
What Should Have Won:
High Noon was probably the best of the nominees, but that’s not really saying much.
What Was Snubbed: How did they miss the genius of Singin’ in the Rain?
Review: This is the kind of “spectacle” movie that the Oscars periodically go for, and look stupid for all time because of it. Cecil B. DeMille’s circus epic has no real plot, no real characters, and simply moves from one cliché to the next. Charlton Heston made a lot of bad movies, but I’m not sure he was ever worse than he was in this film. Not even the presence of Jimmy Stewart as a sad clown can save this utter mess of a movie. And the damn thing never ends! It just keeps going and going and going.

77. Cimmaron (1931)
What Should Have Won:
The Front Page had a few problems on its own, but it was WAY better than Cimmaron.
What Was Snubbed: What wasn’t? Frankenstein, Dracula, The Public Enemy, M and best of all City Lights. 1931 was a great year, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the nominees.
Review: Cimmaron represents all that is wrong with the Academy and their choices. Yes, Cimmaron was a sweeping epic, with big stars and lots of box office. But did know one notice just how bad Richard Dix’s lead performance is (honestly, this is one of the worst performance ever to be nominated), or how inherently racist some of the movie was, or the fact that director Wesley Ruggles somehow manages to drain all the energy out of the movie? Yes, Irene Dunne is good – she always is – but this movie is a bloated mess. I found it damn hard to make it through the film in one sitting.

76. Cavalcade (1933)
What Should Have Won:
I Am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang is one of the few 1930s “message” movies that still packs a wallop all these years later.
What Was Snubbed: King Kong was an early horror masterwork, and Duck Soup was the best of the Marx Brothers, and once again they overlooked Ernst Lubitsch at his best with Design for Living.
Review: Like Cimarron, this represents the Academy at its worst, picking a long, slow, boring film that spans decades in the life of one family – who seems to be involved in every major event for the late 1800s until the 1930s. The film is one slow, long winded scene after another, and gets boring really fast.

75. The Broadway Melody (1928/29)
What Should Have Won:
Honestly not sure, as I’ve only seen two of the nominees, this is In Old Arizona, and didn’t really care for either.
What Was Snubbed: Lots of great foreign films, including two from GW Pabst – Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, as well as Fritz Lang’s Spies.
Review: This was the first year of the “talkies”, so it should come as no surprise that the Academy embraced this emerging art form, with all its bumps, instead of embracing silent film, which at this point had been perfected. But, still, there had to be something better than this clunky, melodramatic backstage musical about two sisters. Certainly not painful to watch, but I can guarantee that if it didn’t win the Oscar, no one nowadays would even care about it.

74. Oliver! (1968)
What Should Have Won:
The Lion in Winter is the best of weak field.
What Was Snubbed: 2001: A Space Odyssey. That it wasn’t even nominated is a source of great embarrassment to the Academy.
Review: I really don’t think that Charles Dickens’ dark tale of orphans who rob the people of London needed a happy-go-lucky rendition to make itself better. The kid playing Oliver has got to be among the blandest actors ever to headline a best picture winner. You can almost forgive earlier screen versions for their blatant anti-Semitism in the portrayal of Fagin, but in 1968 they really should have known better. Yes, the movie is colorful and lively, and Carol Reed is a great director, but really, this was the best they could come up with?

73. The English Patient (1996)
What Should Have Won:
Fargo, quite simply one of the best films ever made.
What Was Snubbed: Why no love for John Sayles’ best film Lone Star, an intelligent whodunit, combining genres to perfection.
Review: Maybe it was that Seinfeld episode, but it seems like everyone now agrees with what I said all along – this film is downright boring. It is handsomely mounted, sure, but it gets so bogged down in subplots and spends far too much time gazing lovingly at its impossibly beautiful cast through Vaseline coated lenses, that I simply get bored watching the damn thing. In my mind, this is one of the worst films ever to win this prize.

72. Tom Jones (1963)
What Should Have Won:
One of the weakest fields ever, but everything nominated was better then this.
What Was Snubbed: Hud, The Great Escape, The Birds, The Trial and a host of foreign films.
Review: Perhaps there was a time when this ribald British comedy seemed daring and risky. Now, you get more sexual innuendo on an episode of Hannah Montana. The film is acted well, but that’s about all you can really say. Director Tony Richardson jumped onto the trendy ‘60s style of direction, but the style hasn’t aged well. This simply looks embarrassing now.

71. Gladiator (2000)
What Should Have Won: Traffic was the best of the nominees easily, although I would have been just as happy with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
What Was Snubbed: Requiem for a Dream was my favorite film of the year, but it was so dark that the Academy basically ignored it.
Review: Gladiator was a huge sensation when it was released in 2000, but I immediately disliked it. For a gladiator movie it is way too serious and dour, and I thought the visual look of the film was weak – especially the phony special effects and the action scenes went on too long and became boring and repetitive. Yes, Russell Crowe commands the screen, and Joaquin Phoenix is slimy as the emperor, but the whole movie never really takes off. This is one of those films I keep meaning to re-watch, but never actually do.

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