Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ranking the Best Picture Winners: 40-31

We're in on the second last day of counting down the Best Picture Oscar winners. Today, we'll go from 40-21 over two posts. And we're getting into the really good films now. Still in many cases, the Academy SHOULD have given the Oscar to something else (i.e. number 40 is regularly cited as one of the biggest injustices of all time, but that's because of what it beat, and what the director-star would go onto do, and not really the movie itself). Anyway all these films are very good - and everything starting at around 33 or 32 are legitimately great movies. The masterpieces will be tomorrow.

40. Dances with Wolves (1990)
What Should Have Won: GoodFellas was the best film of the decade and should have easily won.
What Was Snubbed: David Lynch did great stuff with Wild at Heart, and the Coens made the wonderful Miller’s Crossing, and while we’re at it, I’ll thrown in Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and Beatty’s Dick Tracy.
Review: This is one of those films that has gotten a bad rap over the years because of Kevin Costner’s subsequent career choices, and the fact it beat out such a clearly superior film in GoodFellas, it’s not even funny. But Dances with Wolves remains a powerful romantic epic – the type of film that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. Costner is not flashy as a director, but he knows how to make a film, and does so wonderfully this time out. Yes, it is too long and little too long winded in spots, but it is still quite an excellent film.

39. Grand Hotel (1932)
What Should Have Won: While I don’t necessarily think Grand Hotel is a masterwork, it does represent studio filmmaking at its peak, so of the nominees, I think they probably chose correctly.
What Was Snubbed: Trouble in Paradise was Ernst Lubitsch’s finest film. True, they did nominate his The Smiling Lieutenant, but it wasn’t as good.
Review: Grand Hotel is one of those movies we used to get in the studio days – when a large ensemble cast of nothing but stars gathered in one movie. The film is entertaining and fun, and contains wonderful work by John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Greta Garbo and especially Joan Crawford. A lot of movies have copied the Grand Hotel formula, which diminishes its impact somewhat, but this is still a wonderful film.

38. The Artist (2011)
What Should Have Won: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was the best film of the year.
What Was Snubbed: Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was a critical favorite, but it found almost no love at all from the Academy. Neither did Steve McQueen’s Shame.
Review: The Artist was the little French, silent film that everyone loved until they realized that everyone else loved it as well – and then it became populist crap in the eyes of some. While I wouldn’t say it was my favorite film of the year – or even that close – damn it if the film is not extremely entertaining from start to finish, and a technical marvel. After only a year, it seems to be creeping up on some people’s list of the “worst winners of all time” and that is horribly unfair.

37. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
What Should Have Won: Bonnie and Clyde, which revolutionized cinema.
What Was Snubbed: In Cold Blood was Bonnie & Clyde equal, yet completely opposite.
Review: Although the movie probably seems quaint by today’s standards, it has to be noted that In the Heat of the Night was shocking in 1967 – especially when Sideny Poitier hauls off and slaps that white man who had the audacity to slap Mr. Tibbs. Theaters in the South refused to show the movie at all at first. What remains today is a decent police procedural, but an even better acting showcase for Poitier and Oscar winner Rod Steiger – that is what people remember, and should remember, about this film. It holds up today, but it isn’t nearly as shocking.

36. Marty (1955)
What Should Have Won: Out of the nominees, I’ll stick with Marty thank you.
What Was Snubbed: Night of the Hunter is a true masterwork, and Bad Day at Black Rock, Kiss Me Deadly and East of Eden are not far behind.
Review: Marty may not be the world’s best film, and too some the story of chubby Ernest Borgnine meeting a plain girl and falling for her, no matter what his friends think, is probably a little cheesy. Too me though, it struck a cord, so while I will admit it’s no masterpiece, it’s a film that I can rewatch every now and then and feel good.

35. All the King’s Men (1949)
What Should Have Won: The probably picked the best of the nominees
What Was Snubbed: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is Ford/Wayne at their best, and White Heat is one of the great gangster dramas.
Review: All the King’s Men is a sprawling movie that looks at a corrupt politician – warts and all. Broderick Crawford delivers a powerful performance in the lead role, and he is supported by a great cast. An intelligent movie, and a worthy best picture winner. The movie has probably aged a little bit – we’re not as easily outraged about corrupt politicians now as people were in 1949, but this is certainly preferable to the remake made just a few years ago.

34. American Beauty (1999)
What Should Have Won: The Insider was intelligent, finely wrought drama from Michael Mann and easily the best of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Magnolia was the year’s best, but Fight Club, Election and Eyes Wide Shut (yes, I  said it, deal with it) all deserved nominations. It’s sad that in a year with so many great films, they choose the nominees they did.
Review: American Beauty doesn’t seem as fresh and new to me as it did when I saw first saw when I was 18. And yet, I still cannot help but love it. Yes, the flaws are much more obvious than before, but the performance by Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper and Thora Birch are all excellent, and the cinematography by Conrad L. Hall was amazing. The film is overly glib, and perhaps a little sexist, but the movie still gets under my skin every time I see it. A fine choice, but one I’m not sure is going to age well.

33. Ordinary People (1980)
What Should Have Won: Raging Bull is a masterpiece.
What Was Snubbed: They nominated Star Wars, but not it’s superior sequel The Empire Strikes Back. And Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining should have gotten in too.
Review: Ordinary People catches a lot of flak for being the film that beat Raging Bull, and it has had so many imitators over the years, it’s hard to tell just how powerful it would have been in 1980. But this remains one of the best films about a family in crisis to come out of Hollywood. The performances, by a dramatic Mary Tyler Moore, the sullen Timothy Hutton, the sympathetic Judd Hirsch, and most underrated of all, Donald Sutherland as the father holding back his resentment, are all top notch. No, the film is no Raging Bull. But it’s hard to hold that against the film, since so few are. It’s not the films fault the Academy are morons.

32. The Last Emperor (1987)
What Should Have Won: The Last Emperor was the best of the nominees, and the year, but it was a rather weak year.
What Was Snubbed: I quite like Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge, about murder and teenagers, or David Mamet’s con-man movie House of Games.
Review: The Last Emperor is a powerful, gorgeous film, about China’s last emperor, who spent most of his life in jail, and pretty much had no joy in it. It’s one of those “important” film that there really isn’t much need to watch it over and over again, and yet it’s tough to argue against it, because they year it came out was so weak. It is certainly much better than most of the films of its ilk.

31. West Side Story (1961)
What Should Have Won: I like West Side Story as much as the next guy, but The Hustler was clearly superior.
What Was Snubbed: A lot of great foreign films (Viridiana, Through a Glass Darkly, Yojimbo) were in play this year and they all got ignored.
Review: To me, West Side Story is the best musical ever to win the Best Picture Oscar – and it still is not one of my absolute favorite movie musicals. The two leads are either bland, but the supporting cast (George Chakris and Rita Moreno earned their Oscars) are great, and the dance sequences are spectacular. Yes, they should have gone elsewhere this year, but West Side Story works amazingly well as a musical – so I don’t really have a problem with this one.

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