Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Oscar Files: Best Picture

One last category to survey before I bound onward into more screenings. Recall again that I have a thing for round numbers: 100 Best Actress nominees left to see, 100 Best Supporting Actress nominees to see, and in Oscar’s top category, where 450 movies have been nominated as Best Picture, I’ve seen 300, a ratio of exactly two-thirds. Exquisite, like a lunar eclipse!

The wide range of quality for which Oscar is so notorious has been pretty well indicated by my last two forays—on the good side, George Cukor’s cheeky and genial Born Yesterday, in which Judy Holliday brings a minor explosion of inspired creativity to almost all of her scenes, and on the far side of sub-mediocrity, Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman wilting before the stultified camera and dead air of Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s.

Like most of us, I have the recent years in Oscar annals better-covered than the early history. I’ve seen every nominee from the past 21 years, a streak that halts at Norman Jewison’s A Soldier’s Story (1984), whereas more than half of the films I’ve missed date from 1943 or earlier—a.k.a., from the first 16 years of Academy voting, when the Best Picture list often encompassed as many as 10 or 12 films per year.

As I mentioned in the Best Actress post, Goatdog is way out ahead of me in covering the Best Pictures, and I gather from all of you who have posted comments recently that he’s probably not alone in having me beat at this game. But, to quote the title of one Best Picture nominee, the more the merrier! At this point, I’m having even more fun reading all of your lists than I am making my own, so I’ll show you mine if you show me yours, etc.

And, given that we're dealing with almost twice is large an archive with Best Picture than we were with Supporting Actress, allow me to expand the range of my lists:

Nominees I Have Left to See: 9The Broadway Melody (1929), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), The Life of Émile Zola (1937), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), and Gandhi (1982)

My Ten Favorite Winners So Far:
1. Casablanca (1943)
2. All About Eve (1950)
3. It Happened One Night (1934)
4. Annie Hall (1977)
5. The Godfather (1972)
6. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
7. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
8. Rebecca (1940)
9. Gone With the Wind (1939)
10. Titanic (1997)
Note: I saw Hamlet (1948) and The Godfather Part II (1974) so long ago that I almost don't feel that I've seen them. I doubt Olivier's film will shake up these lists all that much, but upon revisiting, Coppola's well might. Oh, and I'm not offering any apologies about Titanic.)

My Ten Favorite Losing Nominees:
1) The Piano (1993)
2) Citizen Kane (1941)
3) Nashville (1975)
4) Chinatown (1974)
5) Grand Illusion (1938)
6) The Thin Red Line (1998)
7) Taxi Driver (1976)
8) Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
9) Apocalypse Now (1979)
10) The Conversation (1974)

My Least Favorite Winners:
1) Out of Africa (1985)
2) Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
3) Rain Man (1988)
4) Going My Way (1944)
5) Forrest Gump (1994)
6) Braveheart (1995)
7) Gladiator (2000)
8) Cavalcade (1933)
9) Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
10) You Can't Take It With You (1938)

Years in Which I've Seen Every Nominee: 27 — 1945, 1948, 1964, 1968, 1975, 1981, and every year from 1985 through the present

From Among These Years, the Best Overall Fields...
Privileging consistent high quality over peak contenders
1) 1975Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville (my pick), and *One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (for my money, the only non-masterpiece)
2) 1993The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano (my pick, obviously), The Remains of the Day, and *Schindler's List (not a bum in the bunch)
3) 1996*The English Patient (a great literary epic), Fargo (a brilliantly mordant comedy, and my pick), Jerry Maguire (a great mainstream romance), Secrets & Lies (a great drama), and Shine (four out of five ain't bad)

Hon. Mention: Sorry for the cliché, but 1939: Dark Victory, Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and The Wizard of Oz are all stunners, Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Wuthering Heights have their moments, and I have high hopes for Love Affair, Ninotchka, and Of Mice and Men

...and the Worst
1) 1945Anchors Aweigh (subpar Gene Kelly hoofer), The Bells of St. Mary's (lame proselytizing), *The Lost Weekend (awkward, overdone Expressionism), Mildred Pierce (enjoyably slick trash, and thus my pick), and Spellbound (subpar Hitchcock)
2) 1989Born on the Fourth of July (turgid), Dead Poets Society (mawkish), *Driving Miss Daisy (feeble), Field of Dreams (whaaa?), and My Left Foot (literally, the redeeming feature)
3) I don't think any of the others I've checked off deserve to be on this list, though there's a lot of pressure on M*A*S*H and A Soldier's Story to make up a lot of lost ground in 1970 and 1984.

Ten Remaining Nominees I'm Most Psyched To See...
1) I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1933)
2) The Turning Point (1977)
3) The More the Merrier (1943)
4) Dodsworth (1936)
5) Tess (1980)
6) Sons and Lovers (1960)
7) The Racket (1928)
8) M*A*S*H (1970)
9) Heaven Can Wait (1943)
10) Four Daughters (1938)

...and Ten I'm Putting Off
1) Doctor Dolittle (1967)
2) Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
3) Fanny (1961)
4) The Longest Day (1962)
5) Wilson (1944)
6) Here Comes the Navy (1934)
7) The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
8) Cleopatra (1963)
9) Test Pilot (1938)
10) 100 Men and a Girl (1937)

P.S. I'll follow up some time with Oscar Files for Director (sooner than later), Actor, Supporting Actor, and Cinematography (truly, later). I've already got my work cut out for me in these categories, plus there are exceedingly few male actors who incite my loyalty, and there were sooo many nods for so many decades in Cinematography, my other favorite category, that it's an enormously daunting task.

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Blogger John T said...

This is so much fun! My personal lists would like (I'm not up to two-thirds, I'm more like 1/3, but I'm working hard):

Ten Favorite Lists:
1. Casablanca
2. The English Patient
3. Gone with the Wind
4. Titanic (I feel you here Nick)
5. The Godfather
6. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
6. Lawrence of Arabia
7. All About Eve
8. The Sound of Music (I love it, I don't care-I was a big fan of Nathaniel's love-in for this movie)9. The Godfather, Part II
10. It Happened One Night

My Ten Favorite Losers
1. A Streetcar Named Desire
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
4. Brokeback Mountain
5. The Philadelphia Story
6. Beauty and the Beast
7. Citizen Kane
8. Chinatown
9. Sunset Boulevard (I would have had to toss a coin this year, with Sunset & Eve on the ballot)
10. Moulin Rouge!

My Ten Least Favorite Winners:
1. Braveheart
2. Gladiator
3. The Lost Weekend
4. How Green Was My Valley
5. Rocky
6. Crash
7. Million Dollar Baby
8. In the Heat of the Night
9. Platoon
10. Dances with Wolves (though I need to rewatch slot 9-10, which I disliked when I first saw them, but feel I should give them another chance)

Ten I'm Most Looking Forward To (a note, I know there are some big ones missing, but I'm getting on it):
1. Midnight Cowbody
2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
3. Raging Bull
4. A Clockwork Orange
5. A Room with a View
6. Nashville
7. Apocalypse Now!
8. Sunrise
9. Secrets and Lies
10. Cries and Whispers

11:14 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger OhMyTrill said...

1996 must have been a great movie year...it appears in each of your categories so far as one of the best lineups!

And I totally agree with you on Out of Africa...

11:39 PM, March 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More love from Nick! You've made my week (and these posts would make my week even without the love). And now the stats.

Winners left to see: 6 (The Greatest Show on Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, My Fair Lady, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Ordinary People... and Gone with the Wind)
Nominees left: 55
Years not completed: 38 (1927/28-35, 1939-41, 1943, 1946, 1951-56, 1958-69, 1971, 1975, 1977-80, 1983, 2003)
Thus, years completed: 40

Ten favorite winners:
1. Schindler's List
2. Casablanca
3. The Godfather II
4. Dr. Strangelove
5. It Happened One Night
6. All Quiet on the Western Front
7. All About Eve
8. Best Years of Our Lives
9. The Godfather
10. The Apartment (yeah, I know)

Least favorite winners:

1. The Broadway Melody
2. The Sound of Music
3. Tom Jones
4. Titanic
5. Crash
6. Oliver!
7. Cavalcade
8. Gladiator
9. Forrest Gump
10. Driving Miss Daisy

Ten favorite losers:

1. Notorious
2. Chinatown
3. Apocalypse Now
4. The Red Shoes
5. Citizen Kane
6. Pulp Fiction
7. Raging Bull
8. Treasure of the Sierra Madre
9. Goodfellas
10. The Wizard of Oz

Best year: 1993. You're right: not a bum in the bunch.
Worst year: 1955. When Mister Roberts is the best nominee, you have problems.

Several I'm psyched to see (I'm at the point where most of the ones that are left are the ones I've been putting off):

All This, and Heaven Too
The Heiress
Patriot (alas, it's lost, so I wait in vain)
Shanghai Express
Three Coins in the Fountain

Ten I'll put off until the bitter end:

1. The Music Man (I've started this one three times)
2. Around the World in 80 Days
3. Doctor Doolittle
4. Cleopatra (1963 version)
5. The Greatest Show on Earth
6. Seabiscuit
7. Norma Rae
8. Judgment at Nuremberg
9. A Midsummer Night's Dream
10. Quo Vadis

Wilson's not bad, nor are Here Comes the Navy and 100 Men and a Girl (I have a thing for Deanna Durbin, so the latter was actually enjoyable). I don't envy you having to sit through The Longest Movie. I hope you love Dodsworth, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, and Heaven Can Wait as much as I do.

12:28 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@John T.: Titanic fans unite! I like all the movies in your Top Ten, in fact, and all of your Favorite Losers, too (though I'm stretching that statement a little to include The Two Towers, which I found pretty draggy). Best of all, for what it's worth, I think you've got ten great times on your horizon, with every single one of your most anticipated pleasures (especially the ones on my list plus Cries and Whispers, Sunrise, Raging Bull, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

@OhMyTrill: I don't know that '96 was actually all that remarkable. It was *horrible* for Hollywood, in fact, which by a standard Converse Law of Academy Physics, means it was great for Oscar. When Hollywood can't honestly look itself in the face and vote for any of its big fat stinkers, they're forced to throw big bouquets to things like Secrets & Lies and Fargo... the sorts of small gems they're usually inclined to overlook. And it WAS a remarkable year for women's performances. If I were making a blog entry about the men's races, it would sadly rank in the mid-to-bottom range for Actor and Supporting Actor.

(Btw, if you're looking to test both sides of the Converse Law of Academy Physics, please note that Hollywood had a superb year in 1999, which led to a pretty gimpy year in Best Picture. Cider House, Green Mile?)

@Goatdog: {{stage whisper: Strangelove didn't win, and Notorious wasn't nominated...}}

{{...and for those of you wondering at home, Dr. S is not, in fact, Dr. Strangelove...}}

Otherwise, Mike: could there be any prouder statement of our bond than that I have an Excel sheet on my computer that tracks your Best Picture watching? (Look, at least I say this stuff in the open, people—I mean, what's on your hard drives?) I've lost the plot somewhere, though, cuz I still have 63 here that I thought you hadn't seen. Looks like I may need that list again... and once I move to Chi-town, we'll be able to support each other through the bleakest times. I've already prepared Derek for this. Maybe we'll just need a day set-aside for an Around the World/Cleopatra/Greatest Show/Quo Vadis? Dubious Epic Marathon. Lots of Raisinets, and maybe some vodka.

To reciprocate some of the positive boosterism, there are some really good performances in Judgment at Nuremberg that make it much more watchable than I expected—no one is playing to the rafters, and it's probably my favorite Stanley Kramer movie—and once I committed to The Music Man, I found that it actually got quite charming. Oh, and though I haven't seen Midsummer, it's based on a truly landmark theatrical production, and the cinematography is supposed to be so good that it won as a write-in candidate. I know lots of people who've watched it, mostly for school (where even great movies can appear tedious), and they've always said very admiring things.

1:08 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:56 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Thanks Nick. I have far too much free time right now, and these posts are definitely helping fill the void . . .

Favorite Winners:
1) All About Eve
2) Gone With the Wind
3) From Here to Eternity
4) Rebecca
5) Annie Hall
6) Casablanca
7) The Bridge on the River Kwai
8) Gigi
9) Oliver!
10) It Happened One Night

Favorite Also-Rans:
1) The Wizard of Oz
2) A Streetcar Named Desire
3) Citizen Kane
4) Brokeback Mountain
5) The Ox-Bow Incident
6) The Heiress
7) A Letter to Three Wives
8) Double Indemnity
9) Nashville
10) Tootsie

I Want My Nommie! (Overlooked Greats):
1) Any number of Hitchcock's best, specifically Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, North By Northwest, and Vertigo (yes, in that order)
2) The Shop Around the Corner
3) Laura
4) Singin' in the Rain
5) The Lady Eve
6) Love Me Tonight
7) The Night of the Hunter
8) Dumbo
9) Written on the Wind
10) Young Frankenstein
And many, many others.

I limited my picks to American films, anticipating an upcoming "Favorite Foreign Films" post.

I think The Greatest Show on Earth (overall) is actually a lot of fun to watch. Paramount put out a DVD containing a stunning transfer of the film, and this pristine print added immensely to my viewing pleasure the last time I watched the movie.

2:06 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

Just discovered this fantastic spreadsheet — http://www.dougweb.org/dvdpro/oscars/

— to fulfil my Oscar statistics needs. It goes up to 2004.

I always find this category the least interesting, somehow. I'm just not a Best Picture kind of guy.

3:06 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Could it be because of the massive G-force of group consensus, perpetually diluting the field? Plus, a lot of the great stuff are the films you've already heard are great.

Still, I do enjoy uncovering the surprises along the way, especially in those early years when so many movies got carried along for the ride. Some great or at least interesting movies I wouldn't have discovered nearly so fast without the Best Picture nom: A Letter to Three Wives, Libeled Lady, Shanghai Express, Five Easy Pieces, The Conversation, Z, Elmer Gantry, The Informer, Rachel Rachel, Missing, Atlantic City...

6:54 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@VP: Ox-Bow is high on my can't-wait-to-watch list. I do love William Wellman.

And Laura is sublimity.

7:07 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey, Nick, until I saw your list I had no idea there was a Hollywood biopic about Woodrow Wilson--I can't imagine it's any good, but I noticed the title role is played by Alexander Knox, whom BBC fans remember for his impressive gravitas in the great Alec Guinness-John le Carre miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (he played Control, the head of SIS). And Cedric Hardwicke plays Henry Cabot Lodge! I may have to rent this thing just for the casting.

I know I'm a stranger to you, but I love your blog and your film crit and have been meaning to leave a comment for a while. And since I love list games I may as well play along at this one while I'm here, if you don't mind::

Ten Favorite Best Picture Winners:
1. The Godfather, Part II
2. The Godfather
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
4. The Best Years of Our Lives
5. Schindler's List
6. On the Waterfront
7. It Happened One Night
8. How Green Was My Valley (but no, I don't think it's better than Citizen Kane!)
9. From Here to Eternity
10. Chicago

Ten Favorite Losers:
1. Grand Illusion
2. Nashville
3. The Magnificent Ambersons
4. Citizen Kane
5. Taxi Driver
6. The Elephant Man
7. Hope and Glory
8. The Philadelphia Story
9. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
10. Dead End

Ten Biggest Stinkers That Won:

1. Dances With Wolves
2. Braveheart
3. Crash
4. Million Dollar Baby
5. American Beauty
6. Mrs. Miniver
7. A Beautiful Mind
8. Titanic
9. Gladiator
10. Amadeus

9:11 AM, March 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, that's what I get for commenting waaaaay past my bedtime. See, in a perfect world, Dr. Strangelove (and maybe Dr. S too) would have won, and Notorious would have gotten a nomination. But before I slink off in shame...

Your list is off because I've seen a handful lately that I didn't review: Here Comes the Navy, Our Town, The Love Parade, and a few others that I can't remember right offhand.

Since you geeked out by mentioning the Excel spreadsheets (I have one labeled "Nick Has"), here's my total geek moment: I know that I have 7,390 minutes (123.17 hours, or 5.13 days) worth of Best Picture nominee goodness left to watch.

10:04 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger StinkyLulu said...

Nick: Holler when you're getting ready to hit Ben-Hur. I have to screen it myself. I think I've been putting it off for about 5 years. Eew.

11:14 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Nope, Hitchock received a Best Director nod, but Psycho was M.I.A. for Best Picture and, just as unbelievably, for Best Actor, but that's another category.

1:25 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Oscar's relationship to Hitchcock totally baffles me. Even the directors couldn't get with Vertigo (opting instead for Mark Robson and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness - ???), though they stuck up for Lifeboat, Rear Window, and Psycho.

Meanwhile, Suspicion, which has GOT to be one of the lamest movies Hitchcock ever made, gets a Best Picture nod in 1941 and wins an Oscar for a predictably tremulous Joan Fontaine. Spellbound, for my money, is only incrementally better, but that movie earned a Picture/Director double nod—the only one Hitch ever scored outside the eminently deserving Rebecca.

All of this surpasses my understanding, except insofar as it seems utterly customary: Oscar is snide to thrillers, snide to moneymakers, and they don't like it when Jimmy Stewart plays against type, or when men play neurotics (especially fictional ones).

1:32 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger John T said...

Jimmy Stewart's lack of a nomination for Vertigo may be the most glaring acting snub the Academy ever committed. Here he was, giving the best performance of his career, and they don't even notice. And it wasn't like they didn't adore the man.

To be fair on the Fontaine win, there was the grand sibling rivalry thing going on that sent her in, as well as her snub the year before for Rebecca.

3:34 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

ohmygod. i don't show up for a day and i can't even read all of this conversation. but i do want to say 2 things;

1. i'm way behind everyone here which is both impressive (you all rule!) and embarassing (considering what i do site-wise)

2. Nick. I demand that you edit your post right now. I'm sure that you meant for DODSWORTH to be at #1 on the ones you're still most excited to see. Because you know it's one of my all-time favs. and since you know that you MUST be so excited that it's #1. I'm sure it's just a typo. just helping you out. i know you're too busy to proofread ;)

3:59 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

p.s. i love Titanic too.

4:00 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@John T.: As far as Stewart goes, word. At the very least, Paul Newman, whom I normally love, but who doesn't get much of a specific hold on Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, should have been Out. Of. There., to make way for Jimmy.

As far as "snubs" go, I wish the Academy would drop this line of thinking. (Obviously, none of us can drop it till they do.) If you're in Rebecca the same year Kate Hepburn is purring in The Philadelphia Story and Bette's got all guns a-blazin' in The Letter, and then you all lose to Ginger Rogers, that's just how the cookie crumbled. Every year should be a clean slate. Plus, if it's sibling rivalry, why Fontaine over De Havilland? Suspicion barely gives her a character to play, and she doesn't bring any versatility or inspiration to redeem the part.

@Nathaniel: I will only edit my post if you edit your comment, because I know you didn't just say that you stayed off my blog for a day. Why you wanna hurt me. I go to your site every ten minutes.

5:16 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Javier Aldabalde said...

OK so no one has seen "The Emigrants". It's one of the all-time greats, folks. Seriously.

8:57 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Fontaine over her sib for 1941's Best Actress was an easy call, as many (and I think Fontaine's among them) have a Suspicion her Oscar was really for the superlative work she did the previous year for the same director. I think Fontaine really deserved to win for Rebecca (watching the screen tests of other big stars vying for the role, then viewng Fontaine's work, illustrates how impressively the actress inhabited the role of "I").

Too bad Fontaine didn't win earlier, as I think the 1941 Best Actress Oscar should've been Barbra Stanwyck's to have and to hold (not for Ball of Fire but for the same year's The Lady Eve; at least the award would've gone to the right performer). Leaving Stanwyck at the altar again three years later, when she certainly should've sealed the deal with Double Indemnity, cemented Stanwyck's place in cinema history as one of the most talented actresses (along with Garbo, Kerr, and Thelma Ritter) to be jilted by Oscar.

9:05 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@JavierAG: I promise to right this wrong, and with real enthusiasm. I'm excited to catch up with The Emigrants.

@VP: I do think Fontaine was great in Rebecca, but they could just as well have comped De Havilland for losing two years earlier for GWTW. Either way, it doesn't matter, because you are absolutely right that the prize belonged in every way to Stanwyck—and yes, for the unnominated The Lady Eve more than for Ball of Fire.

9:29 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

the lady eve. ball of fire.

tomato. tomahto

why quibble when someone is doubly great?

1:06 AM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree with Javier about The Emigrants--I left it off my list because that was the year of The Godfather, which won the Oscar deservedly over that movie and two others I absolutely love (Sounder and Cabaret). But The Emigrants and its even greater sequel, The New Land, are among the very few movies that can stand alongside the two parts of The Godfather in terms of epic scope and narrative depth--watching them in sequence is like immersing yourself in a 19th century novel, a kind of experience that is very rare in film. (Other movies that achieve this: Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy, Visconti's The Leopard, Kurosawa's Red Beard, Marco Tullia Giordana's The Best of Youth, and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy).

7:55 AM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

True, Stanwyck's great in just about everything, including Fire, but Lady represents her apex as a comedienne. I'd say Stanwyck is doubly great in Lady, as she uses her dual personas to outfox Fonda (no quibbling intented).

6:48 PM, March 16, 2006  

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