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.

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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ranking the Best Picture Winners: 50-41

50. The Sting (1973)
What Should Have Won: The Exorcist was the best. Or maybe Cries and Whispers.
What Was Snubbed: Last Tango in Paris was thrilling, and Mean Streets was brand new, but the Academy didn’t nominate them.
Review: It’s not tough to see why audiences fell in love with this movie. Two of the most charming movies stars of all time – Robert Redford and Paul Newman – are both at the top of their game, and Robert Shaw is excellent as “the mark”. And director George Roy Hill keeps it all moving remarkably quickly. Certainly an entertaining movie, but I can think of many films from that year that are better.

49. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
What Should Have Won: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was my favorite of the nominees, but I also would have taken Milk.
What Was Snubbed: My personal preference was Synecdoche, New York, but that was never going to happen. But The Dark Knight, Wall-E and The Wrestler were all way better than anything that was nominated.
Review: Although many thought that picking Slumdog, which after all was a film set in India, with no stars and in another language for much of its running time, was daring for the Academy, it really wasn’t. This is the type of underdog story that the Academy loves. And it is a very well made film, and almost too entertaining for words – at least on the first time through. I’ve seen it three times now, and have to say, I don’t think I’ll watch it again any time soon.

48. Argo (2012)
What Should Have Won: Michael Haneke’s Amour was the best film nominated – but Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained or Lincoln would have been better choices as well.
What Was Snubbed: Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was too complex and strange for them I guess.
Review: Argo is an expertly crafted caper film, and quite a fine Hollywood comedy to boot. It is entertaining for start to finish, and works even a second time through. There really is nothing in Argo I can complain about, because for the type of movie it is, it pretty much nails it. Having said that, it doesn’t really have much weight to it – and it’s easy to forget once it’s over. The most recent best picture winner isn’t an embarrassment, but there were better options out there.

47. Titanic (1997)
What Should Have Won: LA Confidential was the best film nominated by a mile.
What Was Snubbed: Boogie Nights was a masterpiece, and Jackie Brown and The Sweet Hereafter are certainly better than anything nominated aside from LA Confidential.
Review: Titanic gets a bad rap simply because it was the biggest movie of all time. Sure, the writing isn’t the best – it is a clich├ęd story and has some clunkers in the dialogue, along with the awful Billy Zane performance. But the movie is still rather thrilling in an old fashioned way. The last hour is action filmmaking at its very best. Wouldn’t have gotten my vote, but this is hardly the embarrassment some make it out to be.

46. Terms of Endearment (1983)
What Should Have Won: The Right Stuff is probably the best movie ever made about astronauts.
What Was Snubbed: They gave a lot of nominations to Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander, but not for Best Picture. But at least they didn’t completely ignore it like they did with Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Brain DePalma’s Scarface.
Review: Even though I like a number of films more than this one from 1983, it’s hard to argue with the choice, as it’s one of the few times they ever gave an Oscar to a movie about women. Shirley Maclaine is wonderful as the difficult, aging mother, and Debra Winger matches her as her dying daughter. Jack Nicholson also earned his Oscar as the astronaut Maclaine falls for. True, since the movie came out it has been copied so many times it isn’t funny, but watching the film reminds you just how good “chick” flicks can be – even if, like me, you don’t really care for the genre that much.

45. Rocky (1976)
What Should Have Won: Taxi Driver was the best film of the year. But Network and All the President’s Men also would have made a better choice.
What Was Snubbed: Brian DePalma’s Carrie is probably his best film, and one of the best about being a teenager ever made.
Review: Stallone has done his best to sully the reputation of Rocky over the years making five sequels, but the original film still holds up remarkably well. The Rocky formula, which was pretty well worn terrain when this movie got there, has essentially been the template for every sports movie made since, but this film is still inspirational every time you see it. It’s possible to see why people thought Stallone would go on to even greater things when the film was released. As it stands, this was his apex, but he’ll always be remembered for it.

44. Forrest Gump (1994)
What Should Have Won: I like Gump, but Pulp Fiction should have won this one hands down. Or Quiz Show. Or Shawshank Redemption. But at least Four Weddings and a Funeral didn’t win.
What Was Snubbed: I know many hate Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, but it is a masterpiece. I also love Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.
Review: Forrest Gump has gotten a lot of slack over the years for being a right wing parable, which hates the 1960s counter culture, but truly, that’s a load of crap. Gump is a fine film, one that never fails to draw me in whenever it’s on TV. Few heartwarming films get to me, but for whatever reason this one does. No, it shouldn’t have won, but I certainly don’t hate it as many do.

43. From Here to Eternity (1953)
What Should Have Won: Personally, I have always loved Julius Caesar, one of the best Shakespeare screen adaptation, although I also think Roman Holiday was better.
What Was Snubbed: Another great Hitchcock film, I Confess, was overlooked, but why didn’t they even nominate Stalag 17?
Review: From Here to Eternity is a fine romance, with a little war stuff thrown in for good measure. The entire cast is wonderful, especially Montgomery Clift, who I think has the best role in the film, although he’s often overlooked. While it would not have been my choice, it is a solid, respectable one for the Academy.

42. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
What Should Have Won: Top Hat may well the best of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, and one of the best musicals of all time, and should have taken this one.
What Was Snubbed: James Whale outdid himself with the wonderful Bride of Frankenstein, which built upon the original, but genre basis kept it out of the race.
Review: Mutiny on the Bounty is Hollywood filmmaking at its best. Three great performances by Charles Laughton, Clark Gable and Francois Tone (that amazingly, all got nominated for best actor) and exciting action sequences make this one of the best movies of its sort and still quite exciting all these years later. A worthy winner, if a rather unimaginative one.

41. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
What Should Have Won: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is the vastly superior stage to screen adaptation.
What Was Snubbed: It’s hard to fault them too much, since all the great films of 1966 were foreign, and as such, may not have even been released in American that year, but Blowup and The Shop on Main Street were eligible, and should have found their way into the race.
Review: Paul Scofield commands the screen in a recreation of his Broadway role as Thomas More, who refuses to give King Henry VIII what he wants – his permission to divorce his latest wife. The film may be a whitewash of More who was no Saint (wait a second, did the Church make him a Saint? I’m not sure), but as drama it is quite good and riveting. Unlike the best movies though, I’m not sure it really lends itself to multiple viewings. Despite two Oscars for Best Director, Fred Zinneman never was the most imaginative person behind the camera.

Ranking the Best Picture Winners: 60-51

Yesterday I started the countdown with the worst 25 films to ever win the Best Picture Oscar - and no, I'll continue my looking at the next 20 over these two posts. The last couple of films of yesterday's lists (Gandhi and My Fair Lady) probably belong more in amongst this group of films -in that none of these films are really an embarassment unto themselves that they won (although in some case what they beat out make them seem worse), but none are really a feather in the Academy's cap either. They are all fine films - some are really quite good actually, but none are really truly great either. We'll get into some of those films on tomorrow's lists.

60. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
What Should Have Won: Grand Illusion is an absolute masterpiece, but it was in French, so you have to be glad it was nominated, but the Academy would have picked a more enduring, popular film with The Adventures of Robin Hood.
What Was Snubbed: Bringing Up Baby is the best screwball comedy of all time – but then no one realized that in 1938, so it’s hard to get too mad at the Academy.
Review: It’s hard to believe that this is one of the Frank Capra films that won the best picture Oscar, because comparing it with films like Mr. Deeds, Mr. Smith and It’s a Wonderful Life, it pales by comparison. It is still a fun little movie, about the evils of money, etc and quality “Capra-corn”, but really, this is the best that 1938 had to offer? I don’t think so.

59. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
What Should Have Won: Apocalypse Now is the best film ever made, so it should have won.
What Was Snubbed: Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Hal Ashby’s Being There are two of the best comedies of the decade, so of course neither got nominated for picture, despite several nominations for each film in other categories.
Review: It seems odd to me that Hollywood finally made a movie about divorce and being left alone to raise the children, and had the main character be the husband who gets left with his son, and not the other way around. It is still a fine drama – and Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep who both won Oscars playing the Kramers are excellent – but in a year that they could have given it to any number of better films, it is slightly disappointing.

58. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
What Should Have Won: Saving Private Ryan would have been the most popular choice, but I’ll take Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.
What Was Snubbed: Okay, I know no one but me likes Todd Solondz, but Happiness really was good enough to get a nomination.
Review: It was shocking when Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for the best picture win. It made them look stupid then, and in retrospect, it makes them look even stupider. And yet, Shakespeare in Love is still an expertly written, acted and directed little comedy. It’s something that a lot of best picture winners are not – fun. It’s one of those movies – like Ordinary People or Dances with Wolves – that gets beat up not because of the movie itself but because of the movie it beat out for the Oscar. And that’s not really fair is it? No, it shouldn’t have won best picture, but yes, I would gladly watch it again, which is something you can’t say for a lot of best picture winners.

57. An American in Paris (1951)
What Should Have Won: A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the best stage to screen efforts in history.
What Was Snubbed: Two masters made two of their greatest films this year – Hitchcock with Strangers on a Train and Wilder with Ace in the Hole – both were overlooked.
Review: I enjoy Gene Kelly musicals as much as the next guy, and this certainly a good one, but it isn’t a great one. What’s odd is after giving this one the top prize; they would almost completely ignore Singin’ in the Rain, a true masterpiece, the next year. An American in Paris is certainly a fun film – bright and colorful with great dance numbers – but it pales in comparison to some of the best musicals of the era.

56. Rain Man (1988)
What Should Have Won: Honestly, this is a rather weak slate, but I guess I’d go with Dangerous Liaisons for lack of anything better.
What Was Snubbed: Martin Scorsese got nominated for directing The Last Temptation of Christ, but the film didn’t – for shame – and The Unbearable Lightness of Being was also masterful, as was Dead Ringers.
Review: Rain Man is an enjoyable movie, in its rather predictable way. Dustin Hoffman is in fine form, and Tom Cruise is even better (he has a much more complex role than Hoffman). It’s a heartwarming little film, and one I enjoy quite a bit – it’s just not good enough to be an Oscar winner.

55. Chicago (2002)
What Should Have Won: As flawed as it was, I’ll take Gangs of New York any day.
What Was Snubbed: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, and Spike Jonze’ Adaptation were the best comedies of the year – so of course they got ignored.
Review: Chicago is a fun musical and it is actually very well staged by director Rob Marshall, doing very interesting things with the musical numbers. The performances are appropriately larger than life, and even Richard Gere, who isn’t that good a singer, is fine. My own problem with the film is that it is too slick, too stylish, meaning that it never does quite connect emotionally. Still, it is a fun movie, but as for Best Picture of the year, I think not.

54. Wings (1927/28)
What Should Have Won: Two of the greatest silent films – The Crowd and Sunrise – were nominated in the Unique and Artistic category (the only year they had it), and both were better then Wings.
What Was Snubbed: Buster Keaton’s The General is perhaps the best silent comedy of all time, and it didn’t get noticed. Also, Metropolis and The Passion of Joan of Arc are two masterpieces, but I’m not sure either was eligible (they are both foreign films).
Review: In some ways, Oscar’s first winner became the prototypical winner. An audience friendly film, with lots of action, lots of romance, and big stars, that is also quite well made. Yes, Wings has aged a bit more than some of the other films they could have given the first Oscar to, but it is still a hell of a war movie, with exciting aerial battle scenes. Not a masterpiece, but not an embarrassment.

53. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
What Should Have Won: Citizen Kane – that was easy.
What Was Snubbed: The Lady Eve is one of the best comedies of the studio era – and should have got a nomination.
Review: How Green Was My Valley is probably best remembered for being the film that beat Citizen Kane at the Oscars – forever marring it in the eyes of some. But the film can’t be blamed for not being as good as “the greatest film ever made”. It really is a fine film, about a poor Irish family struggling, all told through the eyes of their young son. No, it wouldn’t make my list of John Ford’s best films, but it really quite good – just not as good as Citizen Kane.

52. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
What Should Have Won: Born on the Fourth of July was the best of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is probably the best film on race relations in history, and certainly puts Driving Miss Daisy to shame.
Review: As much as I would love to rag on Driving Miss Daisy, I really can’t. Yes, it’s view of race relations is simple (although not quite as simple as some would have you believe) but it is also such a touching film about two people, brought to life in wonderful performances, that I have a hard time criticizing it too much. It certainly isn’t the best film of the year, but it’s a fine film nonetheless.

51. The King’s Speech (2010)
What Should Have Won: The Social Network was clearly the favorite film of the critics that year – and should have been. It was the best film of the year.
What Was Snubbed: Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is one of the most gut-wrenching stories about divorce ever filmed.
Review: I enjoyed The King’s Speech when I watched in 2010, but have no real desire to ever watch it again. Yes, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are both excellent in the film – they are really the reason to watch the film, and as someone who has had his own issues with stuttering, it was inspiring. But it’s also a rather by the numbers biopic, with the main character overcoming adversity, etc. A good film, but not a great one.

 

DVD Review: How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague
Directed by: David France.
Written by: David France & Todd Woody Richman & Tyler H. Walk.

How to Survive a Plague mixes old news footage and home movies to tell the story of ACTUP – an organization that was enraged with government and drug company complacency during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s through the mid-1990s – when finally a combination of drugs was discovered that helped to prolong the lives of those infected with HIV. There is still no cure, but considering people were dying in a matter of months when the disease first came into being, and can now live seemingly indefinitely with it, this was a major breakthrough. That is happened has more to do with ACTUP than it does with the government.

 The movie shows just how the group progressed – what they did through the years (starting in 1987) as the death count rises. ACTUP  was smart enough right from the beginning to know they had to use the media to their advantage – so they had the type of protests that were too big for the media to ignore. They have media insiders teach them how to deliver catchy slogans that the media can grasp onto – the sound bite is more important than a speech – and know how to use grand gestures – huge banners reading “Silence = Death” or covering Senator Jesse Helms house (a hateful, hateful man) with a giant cloth condom. The system wasn’t working, they couldn’t change the system from within, so they did what they could to change it from the outside – and let everyone know they weren’t going anywhere.

Throughout the course of the movie, we will see them protest everyone from New York Mayor Ed Koch to then President George H.W. Bush (Reagan gets a pass, presumably since the movie begins late in his administration), to Helms, to the FDA and NIH, to various drug companies – and in 1992, Bill Clinton on the campaign trail. Their message really was simple – unless you step up and DO something, you are murdering us, and our blood will be on your hands.

It’s a provocative message, and I must say at times, I did think they were accusing the wrong people – but that hardly matters. They needed to guilt people into helping them, because nothing else was working. When AIDS first hit, hospitals did not want to diagnose people with the disease, or treat those who had it. Their bodies were often put in black garbage bags, and many funeral homes wouldn’t accept the bodies. Drugs, that were widely available in other countries, had not been approved by the FDA yet – it took them years to get through the “testing” phase, and people with AIDS did not have years to wait.

As with any group like ACTUP – from Vietnam Protesters to Occupy Wall Street and everything in between – eventually cracks start to emerge. Drugs still weren’t becoming available, and those that were didn’t help as much as hoped. Some wanted to get more involved in the inner workings of power – both in politics and the drug companies themselves – and others saw it as a waste of time. The movie pretty much skips over a few years in the early to mid-1990s when the new cocktail of drugs was discovered – saying only that it was “a dark time” – mostly because the group was fracturing, and people were still dying. But the movie ends with some inspiring moments. The only modern talking heads we had seen throughout most of the movie were those of scientists who worked tirelessly to research the disease and develop drugs to help those infected. Many of the faces we see during the course of movie who are infected say often that they expect to die. Many do. But some are still around today, and that is inspiring. And yet, for them, it seems more sad than that. They certainly feel a degree of survivor’s guilt over being the ones who didn’t die.

But overall, How to Survive a Plague is a tragic, yet inspiring story. Without ACTUP, who knows how long it would have taken for drugs that actually helps AIDS patient to become available. ACTUP is an example of how to protest effectively – and the value of doing so.