Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ranking the Best Picture Winners - Part 2 of 8

70. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
What Should Have Won:
For the second year in a row, Orson Welles made the best film of the year – this time The Magnificent Ambersons – and once again, it didn’t win.
What Was Snubbed: More Lubitsch brilliance in the Nazi comedy To Be or Not To Be was ignored by the Academy.
Review: America hadn’t entered the war yet, but it didn’t prevent them from embracing this British film about a family struggling during WWII. It is awfully hammy, and functions as little more than propaganda, and the performances range from good to downright bad. It isn’t a horrible film by any stretch, but it isn’t very interesting to the modern viewer either.

69. The Sound of Music (1965)
What Should Have Won:
Another weak year for nominees, but I’ll take Doctor Zhivago over The Sound of Music anyday.
What Was Snubbed: Roman Polanski’s first English language film, Repulsion, was a masterful horror film.
Review: Call me overly cynical if you must, but this film is just too sickly sweet and manipulative for me to truly like it. And it goes on forever. I enjoy Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the film, but the kids can’t really act. By this point haven’t we heard all the songs so often that they’ve lost nearly all their impact. One of those films you don’t mind watching once, but if I had to watch again, I may shoot myself.

68. The Great Ziegfield (1936)
What Should Have Won:
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is one of my favorite Capra movies, and Dodsworth is an uncommonly intelligent adult drama for the 1930s but many of the nominees were better than the film this one.
What Was Snubbed: Where to begin? Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was his last great silent film, Swing Time was more Fred and Ginger fun, My Man Godfrey (which got nominated everywhere except best picture) is one of the best comedies of the decade, Fritz Lang’s Fury is a great revenge drama and the list goes on.
Review: The Great Ziegfield is giant, lumbering musical that goes on for at least an hour longer than it should, grinding to a halt a number of times because of its endless musical numbers that really have nothing to do with the movie. The great William Powell is saddled with a role that doesn’t make use of his considerable skills. But Luise Rainer is wonderful in her Oscar winning role as Ziegfield’s first wife, and the film is certainly okay – just nowhere near great. It’s the first, but not the last, biopic to win the big prize.

67. Going My Way (1944)
What Should Have Won:
Double Indemnity is one of the best film noirs in history.
What Was Snubbed: Otto Preminger’s murder mystery/necrophilia drama Laura, as well as Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, which he made on a drunken dare with Hemingway.
Review: I’m sure there are some who like this film, about two priests, the old school Irishmen and the friendly youngster who sings, I just don’t happen to be one of them. It is an easygoing story, and certainly it’s not a pain to sit through, but Bing Crosby never was the world’s best actor, and although I enjoy Barry Fitzgerald, this isn’t his best work. I saw it once, and really have no desire to sit through it again at any point in my life.

66. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
What Should Have Won:
The Awful Truth is one of the best screwball comedies of all time. They gave it director, so why not go all in and give it picture too? (and by the way, they could have at least nominated Cary Grant's brilliant lead performance).
What Was Snubbed: Inexplicably, the first feature length animated film, the great Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was not nominated. That’s just embarrassing.
Review: Another biopic of a famous person, which would become a drug the Academy couldn’t kick over the years. The Life of Emile Zola is certainly competent filmmaking, and Paul Muni in the lead role is excellent as always, but for me this film is just too by the numbers, too pat, too predictable too dull to be worthy of a best picture prize. And why, when making a biopic of a great writer, do we concentrate on a court case late in the man’s life instead of what he was remembered for? Not nearly as boring as Cimmaron or Cavalcade, but not exactly great either.

65. Out of Africa (1985)
What Should Have Won: Out of Africa was by far the weakest of the nominees, so while I would have voted for Prizzi’s Honor, Witness, The Color Purple or Kiss of the Spider Woman all would have been acceptable.
What Was Snubbed: Akira Kurosawa’s final masterpiece Ran came out this year, and no matter how good the other films of the year were, none compare to this one.
Review: Out of Africa is a long, slow romantic movie about a woman (Meryl Streep) married to someone she doesn’t love (Klaus Maria Brandeur) and finding love with someone else (Robert Redford). Streep and Brandeur are excellent, but Redford is miscast. I like director Sydney Pollock quite a lot, but he should have won for something else. This is one of the slower movies to win, and while it certainly isn’t terrible, it isn’t exactly good either.

64. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
What Should Have Won:
In the Bedroom would have been my choice, although any of the other nominees would have made a far superior winner this year.
What Was Snubbed: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was the most critically acclaimed film of the year, but the Academy played it safe, and didn’t nominate the weird.
Review: A Beautiful Mind is a fine film, just nowhere near the best of the year. It is a by the numbers biopic, by a by the numbers director in Ron Howard. Yes, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly are excellent in the film, but the movie never really rises beyond its limitations. It’s good, solid, grade B filmmaking, and as such, while it’s an entertaining movie to watch, it certainly doesn’t qualify as Best Picture material. This one is likely to look lost in the coming years.

63. Hamlet (1948)
What Should Have Won:
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre won a whole lot of Oscars, but not picture. Come on!
What Was Snubbed: Red River is one of the great westerns ever made – and quite a gay romp too under the surface.
Review: Out of all of Oliver’s Shakespeare movies, Hamlet is my least favorite, which is odd because it is probably by favorite Shakespeare play. But the film manages the strange trick of being too stilted and too theatrical at the same time. Olivier cuts the guts out of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy by doing it in voice over as he looks longingly into the distance. I have never been of the opinion that he is the greatest actor ever, and this version of Hamlet certainly proves my case for me.

62. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
What Should Have Won:
Crossfire touched on many of the same themes as Gentleman’s Agreement, and hasn’t aged nearly as poorly.
What Was Snubbed: Out of the Past is perhaps the best film noir ever made, so of course they ignored it.
Review: It’s easy to make fun of Gentleman’s Agreement now, but it’s also easy to forget how daring the film must have been seen at the time. Star Gregory Peck was told by everyone he shouldn’t make the film, because it would ruin his career, but he believed in it so much he did it anyway. Sure, this is a very simplistic view of anti-Semitism, but just two years after the end of WWII, it was a film that needed to be made. Not great cinema by any means, but fascinating as time capsule.

61. Ben-Hur (1959)
What Should Have Won:
Anatomy of a Murder and Room at the Top were the best of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Some Like it Hot got nominated for a bunch, but not picture. Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and Hawks’ Rio Bravo were more completely ignored.
Review: Ben-Hur is the type of long epic that the Academy loves to honor, and while the film is at least mildly entertaining, it also goes on WAY too long, and suffers from Charlton Heston’s overwrought (though Oscar winning) performance. And while we’re at it, why did Hugh Griffth win for his mildly racist performance, instead of Stephen Boyd, who seems to be the only one who realizes that the film is a homosexual love story?

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