Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ranking the Best Picture Winners: 80-71

80. 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. 42nd Street is one of the most influential musicals of all time.
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.

79. The Broadway Melody (1928/29)
What Should Have Won: I’ve only see three of the nominees – this, In Old Arizona (which isn’t any better) and Alibi, which is ok, so I guess that gets my vote.
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. I can guarantee that if it didn’t win the Oscar, no one nowadays would even care about it.

78. 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. How about Night of the Living Dead? Rosemary’s Baby? Petulia? Once Upon a Time in the West?
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?

77. 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, and 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.

76. Tom Jones (1963)
What Should Have Won: One of the weakest fields ever but America, America was easily the best of the bunch.
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 any sitcom on TV. 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.

75. 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, because the memory of watching it is so bad.

74. 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. Either Preston Struges movie – Sullivan’s Travels or The Palm Beach Story.
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.

73. The Great Ziegfeld (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 Ziegfeld’s first wife (she doesn’t have all that much screen time though), and the film is certainly watchable – just nowhere near great. It’s the first, but not the last, biopic to win the big prize.

72. 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. Another pair of Preston Struges comedies – Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle at Morgan’s Creek
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. The sequel The Bell of St. Mary's is infinitely more famous and beloved than this one (my mother, who watches Bells of St. Mary's every Christmas did not even know it WAS a sequel).

71. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
What Should Have Won: The Awful Truth is one of the best screwball comedies of all time and is still adored today.?
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. And Leo McCarey’s best film, Make Way for Tomorrow, found no love.
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 good 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 Cimarron or Cavalcade, but not exactly great either.

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