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:
1934 - IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
1943 - CASABLANCA
1957 - THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI
1962 - LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
1972 - THE GODFATHER
1992 - UNFORGIVEN
1993 - SCHINDLER'S LIST
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.