Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ranking the Best Picture Winners: 30-21

30. The French Connection (1971)
What Should Have Won: Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange has lasted longer than any of the others, although The Last Picture Show is also great.
What Was Snubbed: Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller is one of his best films.
Review: William Friedkin’s The French Connection probably doesn’t seem as exciting now as it must have in 1971. It is one of those films that is hurt by all the cop shows on TV, many of whom have a character like Gene Hackman’s morally ambiguous Popeye Doyle at the center (like say Andy Sipowitz). Yet this is still a masterfully made cop film, with a great Hackman performance, and one of the best car chases ever caught on film, so I’m certainly not going to complain too much.

29. Rebecca (1940)
What Should Have Won: The Grapes of Wrath – and you know the Academy knew it that year as well as I know it now.
What Was Snubbed: How they missed the brilliance of Hawks’ His Girl Friday, Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner and Disney’s Pinocchio, I’ll never figure out.
Review: Rebecca is the only Alfred Hitchcock film ever to win the best picture prize, and while I think it’s a great film, it doesn’t come close to matching at least 12 of his other masterpieces. But, this is still a gorgeous film, filled with wonderful staging and shots, as only Hitch could do it. While I find Olivier stilted at times in this film, it is almost oddly appropriate for his character, and I quite like Joan Fontaine as the “second wife”. But Judith Anderson as the “psychotic lesbian” Mrs. Danvers steals the movie away from both of them. So while this isn’t the best Hitchcock did in his career, it’s still a worthy Oscar winner – even if everyone knows that The Grapes of Wrath was the better film that year, but for some reason the Hollywood crowd didn’t want to give the Oscar to a film where wealthy California landowners were the bad guys. Gee, I wonder why?

28. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King   (2003)
What Should Have Won: Personally, I enjoyed Mystic River and Lost in Translation much more than this one, but it’s hard to argue with their choice.
What Was Snubbed: City of God got nominated for Director, Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing – so a Best Picture nomination would have made sense.
Review: This was probably the most boring Oscar year ever, as we all knew the entire year that The Lord of the Rings was going to win this award, after having its two prequels nominated and raking in a ton of cash. And although I liked two of the other nominees better, it’s hard to argue with Peter Jackson’s massive achievement being worthy of an Oscar win, although as an individual film, this may actually be my least favorite of the three.

27. Patton  (1970)
What Should Have Won: I can’t argue too much, but I do prefer Five Easy Pieces.
What Was Snubbed: Woodstock is that rare documentary that really should have been in play. A couple of great foreign films – Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher and Luis Bunuel’s Tristiana should have made the cut.
Review: Some saw Patton as a blatant attempt to make the military look good at the height of the Vietnam war. And while that may well have been true, you cannot argue that this isn’t a great film – or that George C. Scott’s towering performance in the lead role isn’t brilliant. Yes, it follows a fairly standard biopic pattern, but there is a reason that it works a lot of time – because its effective. An immensely entertaining war film – which is probably why its detractors hate it.

26. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
What Should Have Won: Midnight Cowboy was the best of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is one of the best westerns ever. They nominated poor They Shoot Horses, Don’t They for everything but Best Picture. How mean!
Review: I probably have Midnight Cowboy ranked a little too high – it has certainly aged since 1969. But the reason I have ranked this high is simple – first, it is still a great film, with two wonderful performances by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman as unlikely best friends, down on their luck in New York City, and second, because the film was rated X, and hugely daring in its depiction of sexuality in 1969, so the fact that the Academy gave it the Best Picture Oscar is a minor miracle (think if they had given Shame the Oscar last year).

 25. The Lost Weekend (1945)
What Should Have Won: Out of the nominees, this one was probably the best, although Spellbound and Mildred Pierce come very close.
What Was Snubbed: Marcel Carne’s Children of Paradise is the towering cinematic achievement of this year, but it was from France so they ignored it.
Review: A lot of people have won Oscars for playing drunks, but few films have captured the life of a drunk with as much honesty as Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. Yes, Leaving Las Vegas has surpassed it as the best movie about alcoholism, but this is a surprisingly honest film about the subject given the time period. And Ray Milland is great in the lead role.

24. It Happened One Night (1934)
What Should Have Won: It’s hard to argue with It Happened One Night, so I won’t, except to say I think The Thin Man was an even better comedy that year.
What Was Snubbed: The Scarlett Empress was one of von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich’s best collaborations.
Review: It took the Academy a while to give its top prize to a true comedy, but when they did, they picked one hell of comedy. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert were both excellent in one of the first screwball comedies, a funny, witty, romantic road movie. Yes, it’s been copied to death, but this is one of those rare films that just keeps getting better every time you see it. The first film to take the awards for Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay, and it’s tough to argue with any of those choices.

23. The Hurt Locker (2009)
What Should Have Won: To me, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds remains his best film, and should have taken this prize.
What Was Snubbed: Two great foreign films – A Prophet and The White Ribbon, along with a kids movie – Where the Wild Things Are.
Review: Kathryn Bigelow’s little war film that could somehow managed to go from having no distributer when I saw it at TIFF (in 2008) to winning the Best Picture Oscar in 2009 – besting the biggest film of all time in Avatar in the process. And it is a great war movie – brilliantly constructed, intense, violent and containing great performances, especially by Jeremy Renner in the lead role. The Academy has awarded many war films over the years, and The Hurt Locker stands alongside the best of them.

22. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
What Should Have Won: Sideways was a winning comedy, and would have made a great choice.
What Was Snubbed: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was easily the most daring film of the year, and should have been in play.
Review: Million Dollar Baby is a sneaky little movie that really does pack an emotional wallop. It starts out as a high caliber film about a female boxer, her crusty old trainer and his crustier assistant, but then pulls the rug out from under you in the final reel, with an emotionally devastating turn of events. This film holds up well to repeated viewings, and the performances are top notch. A fine choice, even if it would not have been mine.

21. Gone with the Wind (1939)
What Should Have Won: I’ll take Mr. Smith Goes to Washington over Gone with the Wind, but really, it’s hard to complain about this choice.
What Was Snubbed: Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is clearly the best film made in 1939, but it’s one of those films no one realized was a masterpiece for years. I will say that I think John Ford’s not nominated Young Mr. Lincoln is a better film than the nominated Stagecoach.
Review: Has there ever been a film that more women have loved then this one? I don’t think so. So, well I could complain that it’s clear that two different directors made the film (and that Cukor’s part was better), or the MASSIVE running time, or some of the other flaws in the film (including the happiest damn slaves in any movie I’ve ever seen), I won’t, because this is studio filmmaking at its best. And Vivien Leigh’s performance as Scarlett O’Hara is one of the best in screen history, and that is what I choose to remember about this grandiose, brilliant film.

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