Friday, February 28, 2014

The Best Pictures That Were Really the Best Pictures

It is an extremely rare thing that a film that is really the best film given the Oscar as Best Picture. There are a number of reasons for this.

1) Sometimes the best film made in a year is not made in the English language. So even though "Rashomon" or "The Lives of Others" were the best films the years they were made, the best they could hope for was Best Foreign Language Film, which they both received. Documentaries are also in their own Academy jungle and are animated films (which were almost completely ignored for a very long time. But even if you say Best Fiction Live Action English Language Film, it doesn't happen very often becauase...

2) No one agrees what "Best" is. Is it for the best craft or creativity or message? Many films have won best picture because the voters like the message. "Racism is bad." "War is bad." "Love is good." But many message films that seemed challenging at the time, haven't held up well as time passed.

3) And time is perhaps the biggest factor. Who would have guessed back in 1933 that the film that would endure scores of years later would be the one about the giant ape? Somehow, "King Kong" has endured and thrived through the years, known by anyone who cared about culture, pop or serious. But who know about Best Picture winner "Cavalcade" besides those studying up to appear on Jeopardy. "Vertigo" was a box office flop and wasn't widely praised by critics, but now is regarded as one of the best films ever made.

4) Most voting by the Academy is politics. For years, studios would pressure employees to vote for their pictures. Even today, when the studios don't have that kind of factor, there are more petty politics at work. I read an anonymous interview with an Academy voter who wouldn't vote for an actor because he ignored him at a party.

5) Finally, on occasion, the Academy has chosen a really great picture as Best Picture, but other great pictures didn't win. "Godfather II" was great, but "Chinatown" is equally great. "The Best Years of Our Lives" is great, but so is "It's a Wonderful Life."

And yet, occasionally it's happened. The best fictional, American made film that came out that year won Best Picture. I figure it happens an average of once a decade. Here IMHO are the times the Academy got it exactly right:








Notice the eighties didn't manage a best picture Best Picture, but the nineties took up the slack. Probably it we'll need a few more years to figure whether the '00's got one absolutely right, but maybe they did with 2007's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Tomorrow I'll look st the slate for Sunday's Oscars.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best Picture Winners 2009 - 2013

The count is now 46 out of 80 (and I think I've been quite generous to the Academy all the way through.)

But the rules change starting in 2009, going back old school when there were more nominees. (Spoiler - The new system does not work wonders.)

2009 - The winner was The Hurt Locker, and it's a good film. But not as good as nominees Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man or Up. It's better than The Blind Side, District 9, An Education and Up in the Air (good films all.) It's quite fortunate that the two bad nominations, Avatar and Precious, didn't win. An Academy fail, but the best pick so far of the revamped system.

2010 - Now the picks start getting really weak, with The King's Speech winning Best Picture. Nominees that were far better - 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter's Bone. I did like KS better than only one other nominee, The Kids are Alright. (It is a rare thing in this year that I like all the nominees to some degree.) I think nominee, The Social Network, is the film that will be remembered as the year's best. Time will tell. But I really doubt time will tell us The King's Speech.

2011 - As I said, I liked all the nominees in 2011, but 2011 has some real stinker. I like the winner, The Artist, but it shouldn't have won. It won because the Academy likes films about Hollywood. Bad films nominated for Best Picture this year - The Help, Midnight in Paris, War Horse and especially, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Decent nominees - The Descendants and Hugo. But the prize should have gone to Tree of Life or my favorite, Moneyball. (Moneyball is about the Oakland A's, which clearly makes it one of the best films ever.)

2012 - Again, I like the winner, Argo. And the Academy clearly like that it made movie makers into life saving heroes. But the best films among the nominees were Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln (which would have had my vote.) I do though like Argo better than nominees Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, and The Silver Linings Playbook. So the new era has not been promising.

We come to the 2014 Academy Awards with an Academy record of 46 out of 84 good picks. Over fifty percent, but that's with generosity. Tomorrow, before looking at this year's films, I'll look at the extremely rare times when the Academy may have actually picked the Best Picture of the year for Best Picture of the year.

Best Picture Winners 2005 - 2008

2005 - Crash was the winner and on film sites is often cited as the worst pick of the recent memory. It is a pretty obvious and sappy film. But I don't like any of the nominees that well. Brokeback Mountain is the best made of the nominees, but it's more than a little overwrought. Not a lot of outrage out there over Good Night and Good Luck losing. Some put an argument in for Spielberg's Munich, not me. I like Capote the best of the nominees. It was a weak year for films. I can't even work up a lot of enthusiasm for my favorite of the year, Batman Begins. Pixar didn't even release anything this year.

2006 - The best thing about The Departed winning this year was that finally a Martin Scorsese film took the prize. An acceptable choice, though I prefer nominees Letters of Iwo Jima (much better than Eastwood's other films of the decade) and Little Miss Sunshine. Nominee The Queen was okay. Nominee Babel is really, really bad. My favorite films of the year, My favorite of the year wasn't nominated, The Prestige. (I should have mentioned a long time ago that we're only dealing with English language films, since foreign language films so rarely have a shot. For instance, easily the best film of the year was the film that won Best Foreign Language Film, The Lives of Others.)

2007 - Finally this year, a Coen Brothers film was recognized as Best Picture, No Country for Old Men. So huzzah for that, excellent choice. I respect nominee, There Will Be Blood, but it's not exactly a film one can feel warm and cuddly about. I'd say the same about nominee, Atonement, with a little less respect. Nominee Juno was fun. Michael Clayton is fun as well, but wildly implausible.

2008 - A really, really weak year for nominees. The best film of the nominees won, Slumdog Millionaire. But that's with four really dull nominees, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader. (The Reader is one of the most incredible pieces of Oscar-bait ever made. Before this was made, Kate Winslet was on the show Extras and joked that you need to make a Holocaust film to win an Oscar. So in this film she played a Nazi - WHO CAN'T READ!!!) The Academy got a lot of grief for not nominating The Dark Knight this year. Wall-E and In Bruges deserved to be nominated as well.

So the Academy changed the rules, so that's why I'm only looking at four films this time. Because after 2008, the rules change.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Best Picture Winners 2000 - 2004

The count for the first century of Academy is 40 decent picks out of 70 (and a few really good choices.)

2000 - Technically, the last winner of the 20th century was Gladiator. It's a decent choice, it was nice to see a picture directed by Ridley Scott (of Blade Runner and Alien fame) have a film win best picture. I like nominee Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon better, but it was amazing to have foreign language film be nominated - no way it would win. Nominee Taffic is also a good film, better than nominee Erin Brockovich. Chocolat didn't deserve to be nominated, but it was while the best film made that year, Christopher Nolan's Memento was not.

2001 - Most of the nominees this year I really didn't care for: Gosford Park, In The Bedroom, Moulin Rouge!... The winner, A Beautiful Mind is okay. But the best film nominated was Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (the Academy would try to atone for its mistake a couple of years later.

2002 - Another collection of not very good film nominees - Gangs of New York and The Hours and even the winner, Chicago. Nominees Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers or The Pianist would have been better choices.

2003 - Finally one of the Lord of the Rings films won Best Picture, but Return of the King is the worst of the trilogy. The film had an external ending or multiple endings. Better choices for winner this year would have been nominees Lost in Translation or Master and Commander, but I guess it's an acceptable choice if you see the Oscar recognizing the whole trilogy. Nominees Seabiscuit and Mystic River were lesser films.

2004 - I don't like the winner of Best Picture this year, Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood's euthanasia track. The other nominees are okay: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray and Sideways. But the best films made that year are the kind the Academy rarely acknowledges, Spiderman II and even better The Incredibles.

Current total: 43 out of 76 are decent choices.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1995 - 1999

Nearing the end of the century with some really heinous choice for Best Picture in this five year streak.

1995 - Movie star love strikes again, with Mel Gibson's Braveheart winning Best Picture. I'm okay with the choice, though I probably would have voted for nominees Apollo 13 or Babe. I do like Braveheart over nominees The Postman (Il Postino) and Sense and Sensibility.

1996 - In an episode of Seinfeld, Elaine Benes rants about so much she hates The English Patient. She was right. How ever did a film that glorifies a Nazi traitor win Best Picture? The Brothers Coen finally had a film nominated for Best Picture (Fargo), and it should have won. Nominee Jerry Maguire is infinitely better than The English Patient as is nominee Shine. I never have seen nominee, Secrets and Lies, but sight unseen it is better than The English Patient.

1997 - I'd like to say that the Best Picture winner, Titanic, shouldn't have won, but I can't. I enjoy the nominee L.A. Confidential more. But Titanic as the second highest grossing film of all time, that is widely beloved and took on incredible challenges and risks... Well, it's deserving. I prefer James Cameron's Terminator and Aliens, but like Gone With the Wind and Sound of Music, sometimes the popular favorite should be honored. (Personally don't have much use for nominees Good Will Hunting, As Good As It Gets or The Full Monty.)

1998 - Shakespeare in Love, the winner, is a nice, entertaining film. Nominee Saving Private Ryan is a great film. But the academy loves films about show biz, even real old fashioned show biz. So Spielberg's World War II classic was passed by. (The other nominees all also take place in old England, Elizabeth or WW II, Life is Beautiful and The Thin Red Line.)

1999 - Another winner I really hate, American Beauty, that teaches us that the American suburbs are full of corruption, hypocrisy and misery. Why can't every community be as swell as Hollywood, that model of healthy families and functional lifestyles. I almost hate the pro-abortion nominee The Cider House Rules as much. Nominee The Green Mile is okay, The Insider was much better. Of the nominees, the one really deserving film was The Sixth Sense made back in an amazing time when M. Night knew what he was doing.

I believe 2 out of 5 brings the total 40 good choices out of 71.

Best Picture Winners 1990 - 1994

1990 - This year proved again that the Academy loves its movie stars. Part of this is because the largest branch of the Academy is actors and they all want to think they could be the one who would get all the credit for a Best Picture. I believe this is much of the reason Dances With Wolves won Best Picture, a decent, but not great western. But nominee Goodfellas is a great gangster film. It should have won. But Wolves is better than nominees Awakenings, Ghost and Godfather III>

1991 - This was a strange year. Two of the nominees were not the kind of film that usually got nominated. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film nominated for Best Picture. Silence of the Lambs was the first horror film (well, serial killer film) nominated for Best Picture. And Lambs won. A decent choice, though I would have probably voted for Beauty. The other nominees, JFK, Bugsy and especially The Prince of Tides rightly didn't win. (One of the bizarre things about Tides is Barbara Streisand nearing her fifth decade, being cast as an irresistible, gorgeous psychiatrist.)

1992 - People are always saying, even in the nineties, that westerns are dead. But two years before this, Dances With Wolves won Best Picture, and this year another western directed and starring a movie star, Clint Eastwood, took the prize. But this time, a truly great western won, Unforgiven. Might be the best film that came out that year, so obviously a better pick than nominees The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howard's End and Scent of a Woman.

1993 - Good on the Academy. For the second year in a row, the best film of the year won best picture. And Schindler's List finally got Spielberg (who arguably should have won for Jaws, E.T. or Raiders) the director's Oscar as well. I love The Fugitive but wouldn't have voted it this year. Other nominees - In the Name of the Father, The Piano, and The Remains of the Day. (There was a grave error in the nominations for Best Picture, because Groundhog's Day was not among them.)

1994 - I like the winner, Forrest Gump. A lot of people love it. But there were a couple of other good nominees this year. Four Wedding and A Funeral is fun. And The Shawshank Redemption often ranks near the top of the IMDB poll of best films ever made. But the film that should have won, the best film of the year, though it is violent and vulgar, but also witty and startling and visionary, Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. (As for nominee Quiz Show...boring.)

So, two great choices and a decent one for 3 out of five.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Best Picture Choices 1985 -1989

The current count on decent Oscar picks as we round out the '80's is 28 out of 51.

1985 - This crop gets off to a bad start with the pretty but dull historical snoozer Out of Africa. Nominees The Color Purple and Kiss of the Spider Woman would have been marginally better choices. Nominees Prizzi's Honor or Witness would have been far better choices. My favorite film of the year, Back to the Future, was not nominated.

1986 - Platoon was the winner. Though the Vietnam film may not have been accurate, it was compelling. I'm okay with it winning over nominees Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission and Room With a View.

1987 - The Last Emperor won and the colorful, broad epic is a decent choice; but who has watched it since it won? The other nominees were Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Hope and Glory and Moonstruck. (My favorite films of the year, Princess Bride and The Untouchables were not nominated.)

1988 - Rain Man was the winner for Best Picture and it was probably better choice than nominees The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning and Working Girl. I like all of these films well enough, and I'll call this a decent pick, but my favorite of the year was Die Hard (you know, the Christmas film.)

1989 - Much grief is given to the winner Driving Miss Daisy as condescending film about racial relations. I like it well enough, but since the far superior Do the Right Thing (still Spike Lee's best film) came out that year, it's hard to disagree that this was a really poor call on the Academy's part. Among the nominees, I would have voted for Field of Dreams over the very good My Left Foot and especially the sad nominees Born On the Fourth of July and Dead Poets' Society.

So I'm okay with 3 of the 5 choices in this stretch.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1980 - 1984

After the streak of 9 good to great Best Picture, this group of movies follows the example of last pick of the previous decade. Mediocre choices, to put it another way.

1980 - The winner was Ordinary People with the other nominees being Coal Miner's Daughter, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, and Tess. The Academy has a very hard time resisting a movie made by a movie star (see later Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and especially Clint Eastwood.) Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull has been named by critics as the best film of the eighties. I like David Lynch's Elephant Better than that. (Better films of than Ordinary People of the kind the Academy doesn't nominate - Airplane, Empire Strikes Back and The Shining.) So, stinker choice.

1981 - I love the winner, Chariots of Fire. It is a rare Hollywood film with a powerful and direct Christian biography. But Raiders of the Lost Ark came out that year, the greatest action film ever made and should have one. I'm fine with nominees Atlantic City (which I like a lot), On Golden Pond and Reds not winning.

1982 - Gandhi was a great man who did some great things. The Academy seemed to think that people would think they were a part of bringing about independence to India and world peace if they gave Oscars to a film about Gandhi. But Missing and The Verdict and especially E.T. and Tootsie are much better films. (And the great, sci-fi classic Blade Runner was not nominated. It even lost its very deserved Best Visual Effects Oscar to E.T.)

1983 - Terms of Endearment won. I'm a bit prejudiced against this soap opera because I found myself laughing at a death scene in the film that was making the rest of the theater cry. There was one real stinker among the nominees, The Dresser. The Big Chill, The Right Stuff and especially Tender Mercies are better than the winner. (Two films that weren't nominated that I like better than the winner, Risky Business and Trading Places.)

1984 - The Academy finally gets it right with a Best Picture Oscar to Amadeus. The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in hte Heart and Soldiers Story are all fine films but wouldn't have even been nominees in other years. But the winner is a great film.

So a not great record for this period of 1 good choice out of 5.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Best Picture Winners: 1975 - 1979

The current score is 27 good choices out of 46.

The last half of this decade isn't as incredible as the first half, but it's still a pretty good streak.

1975 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was the winner and you'd have to be crazy to argue against it. Nominee Jaws is probably the most widely watched picture of the group, then and now, and it is still pretty scary. Many critic would argue Kubrick's nominee Barry Lyndon is the masterpiece of the year. And nominees Dog Day Afternoon and Nashville would have been admirable choice as well. There were no bad choice among these five, so I'm okay with Cuckoo, though I would have voted for Spielberg's thriller.

1976 - There are those who look on this year as an outrage. How can Sly Stallone's Rocky beat nominated classics Network, All the President's Men and Taxi Driver? Well, because it's a great sports film with wonderful characters charmingly written and portrayed. Nominee Bound for Glory would have been the only bad choice and it's not a bad film.

1977 - STAR WARS was widely acknowledged at the time by anyone under the age of 21 as the greatest film ever made. I still love this nominee a lot. The prequels tried, but cannot kill its charm. But the winner was Annie Hall. Comedies rarely get much respect at the Oscars, and this was a great one, so I'll still have to classify this as an acceptable choice. Much better than nominees The Goodbye Girl, Julia or The Turning Point would have been.

1978 - The Deer Hunter won and it really is a flawed film. But it is still a great film, better than the other nominees, Coming Home, Heaven Can Wait, Midnight Express and especially An Unmarried Woman which is awfully dull. The truly great films of the year, Animal House, Halloween and Dawn of the Dead didn't have a shot at being nominated.

1979 - The only year of the decade where the Academy got it flat out wrong. The winner, Kramer vs. Kramer, is a good film, excellent soap opera which touched on themes like divorce and the place of men in child rearing that people obviously responded to. But nominee Apocalypse Now towers over it and the other nominees, All That Jazz, Breaking Away and Norma Rae, all of which would have been worthy of winning the year before.

So that's four out of five, a nine film streak for the Academy in the decade. Bringing the total to 31 out of 51.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1970 - 1974

The seventies are an amazing time for the Oscars. Not only did a lot of great films get nominated. A lot of great films actually won.

1970 - Patton was the winner of Best Picture, and the other nominees are Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love Story. and M*A*S*H. Patton is a flat out great war film and deserved to win. It was written by Francis Ford Coppola. His name might come up again in this post.

1971 - The winner was The French Connection, a great cop film. The other nominees were A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof, The Last Picture Show and Nicholas and Alexandra. I would have voted for Clockwork, but Connection was a decent choice.

1972 - There are a few winners, like, say, Casablanca, that no one disputes. This is another year like that. Cabaret, Deliverance, The Emigrants and Sounder are all great films. But The Godfather, written and directed by Coppola, was the best film made that year.

1973 - The Sting was the winner, which brought me some satisfaction for Butch and Sundance's loss back in the day. The other nominees were American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers and The Exorcist, all great films. Oh, and Touch of Class which sucks. But The Sting is worthy as a great entertainment.

1974 - The Godfather II was the winner, a film that often appears on all time great film lists. But another of the nominees was Chinatown and it would have got my vote. Lenny and The Towering Inferno were nominees, but it would be hard to find someone to argue that either of those films should have won. You can find people would would argue for another nominee, The Conversation. That film was written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, as wss The Godfather II.

A streak of five, not just respectable, but very good choices brings the total to 27 out of 46.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1965 - 1969

I believe the count is at 18 decent Best Picture choices out of 36 was we finish up the '60's.

1965 - The winner was Sound of Music. There are many film critics and aficionados who think this wasn't a good choice. But this film still looks beautiful and is still watched by many more people than watch nominees of that year, Darling, Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns and even Doctor Zhivago. Good call.

1966 - A Man for All Seasons won. Again, a film that many today disparage, as a talky play. But what talk, from the writer Robert Bolt. I like the film better than the other nominees, Alfie (which is very good), The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, The Sand Pebbles and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? A defendable pick.

1967 - In the Heat of the Night was the winner in choice that is still widely debated. Mark Harris' 2009 book Picture at a Revolution is about the five pictures nominated that year. Bonnie and Clyde is a classic and certainly would have been a good Best Picture winner, and the same things could be said about the nominee The Graduate. As for nominees Dr. Dolittle and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner...Well, they stink. But Heat made sense at the time and is still a great film.

1968 - Oliver! was the winner and we are back to undeserving musicals that won. I kinda like it, but nominees Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel and Romeo and Juliet are better films. But the clear best picture of 1968 was not nominated, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

1969 - Midnight Cowboy was and will always be the only X-rated film to win Best Picture. This was the first time I remember staying up and watching the Oscars and I was outraged that the nominee, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lost. I considered it at the time the best film ever made. But seeing the other cowboy film many years later, I grudgingly had to admit the Academy didn't screw the pooch here. Now a win for nominees Anne of a Thousand Days or Hello Dolly! would have been really bad picks. Nominee Z would have have been a reasonable choice.

For these five years, there are no winners without controversy, but that said, four of the picks I can understand. Which brings the total to 22 out of 41.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1960 - 1964

The score now is 15 out of 31 Best Picture choices were decent, though not necessarily the best.

1960 - The winner was The Apartment and the nominees were The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers and The Sundowners. Sorry Duke, The Alamo doesn't even compare. Billy Wilder already made a Best Picture winner and should have had more, but The Apartment was the best choice. A very funny, very sad, very right masterpiece. (But still, this is not a year with a completely undisputed winner. Because what was perhaps the best film made this year wasn't nominated, Hitchcock's Psycho.)

1961 - West Side Story was the winner and the other nominees were Fanny, The Guns of Navarone, The Hustler and Judgement at Nuremberg. I earlier said that the musicals that won Best Picture were often undeserving. This is an exception to the rule and another is coming in the next post. It's easy today to laugh at dancing street gangs, but this transfer from stage to screen was a remarkable achievement. (My favorite film that came out that year, Yojimbo, didn't have a chance as no film made in Japan really has a chance for the big prize.)

1962 - The winner was Lawrence of Arabia. One of the greatest films ever made so The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty and To Kill a Mockingbird, fine films all, rightly didn't have a chance.

1963 - Tom Jones won and the other nominees were America, America, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, and Lilies of the Field. Not a big fan of any of these, Tom Jones was probably the best of the lot. But The Birds should have been nominated. Hud should have been nominated. The Haunting should have been nominated. And The Great Escape should have won.

1964 - My Fair Lady won and it is a very good musical. It's better than the nominees Becket and Zorba the Greek. Maybe even better than Mary Poppins, but I'm not convinced about that. But it certainly is not as great as the remaining nominee, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It's kind of amazing a dark comedy about nuclear war was even nominated, but it should have won.

So three okay choices makes the total 18 out of 36.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1955 - 1959

The count now stands at 12 choices for Best Picture that I feel are pretty respectable out of 26 winners.

1955 - The winner was Marty and the other nominees were Mr. Roberts, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Picnic and The Rose Tattoo. Another year with notable omissions among the nominees, such as the James Dean classics Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden. But Marty, a small scale domestic comedy/drama holds up pretty well and is a reasonable choice. It is remembered in popular culture whenever characters say, "What do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?"

1956 - The winner was Around the World in 80 Days and the other nominees were Friendly Persuasion, Giant, The King and I and The Ten Commandments. This is another choice for BP that is often cited as one of the Academy's worst. All the other nominees are better and just in terms of spectacle, 80 Days one virtue, Commandments is better. The Ten Commandments is still televised annually and is probably the best of Cecil B. Demille's kitschy classics and deserved the win.

1957 - The Bridge Over the River Kwai won, and the other nominees were 12 Angry Men, Witness for the Prosecution, Sayonara and Peyton Place. With Angry Men and Witness you have two courtroom classics but Bridge, one of David Lean's epics, was a deserving win for a masterpiece.

1958 - The winner was the MGM musical, Gigi, and the other nominees were Auntie Mame, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones and Separate Tables. Why do the best musicals rarely win, but undeserving ones like this often do? Another year where the real problems was the best pictures weren't nominated. I think South Pacific was a better musical, but even more Touch of Evil should have been nominated. Also bypassed, Vertigo, the Hitchcock classic that often hovers near the top of critic's lists of all time bests.

1959 - Ben Hur was the winner and the other nominees were Anatomy of a Murder, The Diary of Anne Frank, Room at the Top and The Nun's Story. I like Anatomy a lot, but I'm fine with this Heston epic story of the Christ winning.

Which brings the count to 15 solid picks out of 31.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1950 -1954

1950 - The winner was All About Eve, and the other nominees were Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, King Solomon's Mines and Sunset Blvd. B pictures for years to come would be thankful to King Solomon for supplying location footage to steal. FotB and BY provide excellent show cases for Judy Holiday and Elizabeth Taylor, respectively. But Sunset is the film that is arguably better than Eve. But they're both great, so this was a good pick by the Academy.

1951 - The winner was An American in Paris and the other nominees were Decision Before Dawn, A Place in the Sun, Quo Vadis and Streetcar Named Desire. I'm a big fan of Gene Kelly musicals, but Paris is not nearly as fun as Singin' in the Rain or On the Town, or even lesser films like The Pirate and Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Of the nominees, Streetcar probably deserved to win just for introducing the method acting of Brando to the screen. The real scandal was the films not even nominated that year: The African Queen, Strangers on a Train, Scrooge and The Day the Earth Stood Still.

1952 - The Greatest Show on Earth won and is often correctly cited as one of the worst Oscar picks. The hokey circus tale hasn't held up well, but nominees Ivanhoe and Moulin Rouge haven't held up particularly well either. Most say nominee High Noon should have won, but I would have gone with nominee The Quiet Man.

1953 - The winner was From Here to Eternity and the other nominees were Julius Caesar, The Robe, Roman Holiday and Shane. A decent Best Picture choice.

1954 - The winner was On the Waterfront, and the other nominees were The Caine Mutiny, The Country Girl, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Three Coins in the Fountain. I love Seven Brides, but it has its weak patches. Three Coins is pretty bad. This was an another decent best choice. (But the best film made this year was Hitchcock's Rear Window.)

So for this stretch, 3 out of 5 weren't bad.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1945 - 1949

1945 - The winner was The Lost Weekend and the other nominees Anchors Away, The Bells of St. Mary, Mildred Pierce and Spellbound. All good films that are still watched to some degree or another. But no great films in the bunch. Can't help but wonder if part of Weekend's win was make-up to Billy Wilder for Double Indemnity the year before. I'm sure part of its win is due to the message "alcoholism is bad". Still, Weekend was a decent pick among the choices.

1946 - The winner was The Best Years of Our Lives and the other nominees were Henry V, It's a Wonderful Life, The Razor's Edge and The Yearling. It's a Wonderful Life is one of my very favorite films, makes me teary every time, but I'm still okay with Best Years as the winner. It is still one of the most powerful and respectful films about soldiers and war ever made.

1047 - Gentlemen's Agreement was the winner and the other nominees were The Bishop's Wife, Crossfire, Great Expectations and Miracle on 34th Street. Gentlemen's Agreement won as a message film - anti-semitism is bad. The film hasn't held out as well, it's more than a bit stiff. The winner should have been the rightly beloved and remembered Miracle on 34th Street.

1948 - The winner was Hamlet and the other nominees were Johnny Belinda, The Red Shoes, The Snake Pit and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Some might argue the winner should have been the ballet classic The Red Shoes and I'd argue it should have been Sierra Madre, but not many would argue much anymore for Olivier's Hamlet which didn't due the Bard justice and used a Freudian approach that gets creakier as the years pass.

1949 - All the King's Men won, also nominated that year: Battleground, The Heiress, A Letter to Three Wives, and 12 O'Clock High. King's Men stands as a great film about politics and a respectable Oscar choice.

So, today's count is 3 out of five choices weren't bad for a total of 9 out of 21 decent Best Picture Oscars.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Best Picture Winners 1940 - 1944

So, for the first 11 Academy Awards for Best Picture, I count three that I'm pretty confident were decent choices (All's Quiet on the Western Front, It Happened One Night and Gone with the Wind [even though I would have preferred Wizard of Oz.])

So as for the next five years:

1940 - The winner was Rebecca. The other nominees were All This and Heaven Too, Foreign Correspondent, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, Kitty Foyle, The Letter, The Long Voyage Home, Our Town and The Philadelphia Story. Several of these choices would have been good. Grapes, Dictator and Philadelphia would all have been worthy in my book. But I'm okay with Rebecca as Best Picture. The greatest injustice this year was Alfred Hitchcock not winning Best Director for Rebecca (he directed Best Picture nominee Foreign Correspondent as well.)

1941 - The winner was How Green Was My Valley. One of the big mistakes by the Academy. Because among the nominees, along with Blossoms in the Dust, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, One Foot in Heaven, Sergeant York, and Suspicion was Citizen Kane, which often comes out on top of polls as the greatest film ever made. (And if not for Kane, Falcon is better than Valley as well.)

1942 - The winner was Mrs. Miniver. The nominees were The 49th Parallel, King's Row, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Pied Piper, The Pride of the Yankees, Random Harvest, The Talk of the Town, Wake Island and Yankee Doodle Dandy. I haven't seen all of the nominees, but I've seen most, and I'm happy with Miniver as the winner. Bonus, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, head of Nazi Germany's Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was extremely jealous of the film and believed it made a huge difference in the Allied war effort.

1943 - Casablanca was the winner. I don't need to list the nominees. Since Citizen Kane wasn't made this year, what could be better than Casablanca?

1944 - Going My Way was the winner. The Academy this year switched to the more manageable number of five nominees. The other four nominees were Double Indemnity, Gaslight, Since You Went Away, and Wilson. Since You Went Away and Wilson are both pretty bad. Gaslight and the winner Going My Way are pretty decent. But Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity is a masterpiece.

So that makes three good choices out of five for a running total of 6 out of 16 Best Picture choices that I'm pretty sure were decent.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Did Oscar Get it Right?

With the Oscars coming up soon, I thought look back at how often, in my opinion, they got it right. At least for best picture. Now the early years, I really can't judge because most of the first dozen years I haven't seen most of the films.

My plan here is to most days look at the Best Picture picks for five years. But I'm just going to start with the twenties and thirties, when, as I said, I don't know much. It's also strange, because the first few years two years were combined.

The first Academy Awards were for 1927 and 1928, silent years. I've seen the winner for Best Picture, Wings, but not the other nominees, The Racket and Seventh Heaven. Wings is ago, but the film that was given an award for Artistic Achievement, Sunrise, was much better. Sunrise is not only one of the best silent films, ever made, but one of the best films ever made.

The next award for 1928 and 1929 had a collection of films I haven't seen. I might have seen the winner, Broadway Melody, long ago, but if I did, it didn't stick with me.

For 1929/1930 (1929 was so great it was honored twice), I've only seen the winner, All Quiet on the Western Front. I haven't seen the other nominees, but it's hard to believe any of the other nominees were better than this great film.

1931 and 1932, I've only seen the winner, Grand Hotel, and it could well be that one of the other films was better.

1932 and 1933, I haven't seen the winner, Cavalcade. But I have seen some of the other nominees. 42nd Street and I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang were nominated, great films, probably better than the winner. But King Kong wasn't even nominated. KK is a true masterpiece.

We finally get to single year Oscars in 1934 and again I haven't seen most of the nominees. But the winner also won Best Actor, Best Actress, Screenplay and Director. It Happened One Night is a great film.

1935's winner was Mutiny On the Bounty isn't as good as the nominee, Top Hat.

1936's winner, The Great Ziegfeld, is a snooze, but I don't know the other nominees. I do know that Fritz Lang's Fury came out, wasn't nominated, though it's pretty great.

The winner for 1937, The Life of Emile Zola, is fairly dull, nominee Lost Horizon was much better.

1938's winner, You Can't Take It With You, is okay, not as good as nominee Pygmalion. The truly great nominee was The Adventures of Robin Hood.

With 1939, we're finally getting to a year when I've seen most all the nominees.This year has been called the greatest year in film history. And most people were pretty happy with the winner, Gone With the Wind. Most people are still pretty happy with that film. The other nominees were Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights. A collection of really great films. But my vote would have gone to Wizard of Oz.

Next post, I'll just take five years.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Submission to "Gold Dust", the Piner HIgh School literary publication Spring 1979


The change started slowly at first. Few people noticed and fewer people cared. Two or three new girls every week donned burgundy and gold uniforms. Of course, these were usually girls who were already on the brink anyway, with a constant inane smile on their faces and an inability to carry on an intelligent conversation.

I could not condemn them. After all, I had once been involved in rallies and had yelled for the team at games. But soon all but a few of the uglier girls in the library and smoking grounds were pushing candy.

Most of the girls seemed almost possessed. They were incapable of remaining still for any length of time without breaking into a spasmodic rendition of one of the many routine routines.

I knew something had to be done. Finally I realized I could no longer be uninvolved. I walked slowly into the student activities office.

Inside was Mr. Andy Ed, the pep squad advisor, a man with a mad gleam in his eye as he rose to greet me.

“When will it all end, Ed,” I asked with more than a twinge of disgust in my voice.

“Never,” he replied in the pseudo-calm voice of a mad man from Poe. “They thought I was finished after the flag team and the tumblers. But then I made the card team, the baton twirling team, the paratroopers, the manure tossers, go-go and belly dancers. But I’m not done. Next week I’m starting a guys’ yell-leading team, guy tumblers, guy song leaders and cheer leaders, till not one person in the school sits in the bleachers during rallies except the thumb-twirling team.”

“Surely you can’t believe that, Ed,” I replied. “The way you talk, ever the football team will be waving pom-poms.”

“Don’t be mad,” replied Ed dryly. “They’re doing hula routines.”

“You’re insane. I know I won’t wear one of your silly skirts, and there are plenty of other people who won’t either.”

“We’ll see about that. In about a month, you too will be screaming:

We’re got a team that’s out of sight,
Get it on in the morning,
Get it on at night.
Uh-huh, Un-huh, Uh-huh

and other moronic vulgarities, usually found only in the lyrics of disco songs.”

Hearing these disturbing words, I hurriedly left the office in an unexplainable state of fear. The following week, I spent more than one sleepless night, thinking of the strange curse Ed had put on me. But soon I put it out of my mind. Perhaps I would be one the few to escape this odd mental aberration known as school spirit.

Now, exactly a month later, I sit in shame and disgust. For I am now wearing burgundy and gold and am the leader of the Writers-of –Stories-with-Idiotic-Endings Team.