Talk Amongst Yourselves

Remember that long-promised Oscar post, about which films deserved to win the Best Picture prize and which were snubbed? Well, I have been researching the crap out of it, b-rollers. For you. And I have come to the following four conclusions:

  1. Opinions about movies are subjective and intensely personal. Remember this old chestnut of logic and emotional maturity? It’s worth revisiting. Different people like different movies to a different degree, and at times, you will say, “Wait, THAT won? Really?!” Yes, really. We’re allowed to disagree.
  2. Speaking of, there have always been “egregious” oversights. DEAL WITH IT.
    To those who hollered “For SHAME!” over The Social Network‘s loss to The King’s Speech or The Artist’s win over The Descendents (et al): This has always happened. You know what else lost? Apocalypse Now to Kramer vs. Kramer. E.T. to freaking Ghandi. Know what wasn’t even nominated? Singin’ in the Rain, The Seven Samurai and Some Like It Hot. Know what WAS nominated? Babe, Four Weddings and a Funeral (which I like, for the record, but honestly?), and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the Universe. Of the Top 20 films on IMDb’s Top 250 (as rated by users), a third were Best Picture winners (6), a third were nominated but didn’t win (7), and a third weren’t even nominated (7). The good ones will thrive anyway. This is not a national tragedy.
  3. That reminds me: if you want a Best Picture nomination, make a tragic film; if you can’t, make an epic film. If you can make an epic laced with tragedy, book a limo and tux. Did you ever see that episode of Extras when Kate Winslet made a Holocaust film because that was the one sure way to win an Oscar? Them’s the facts.
  4. In a related story, it’s not (just) that Oscar voters lack a sense of humor. More than anything, they lack a sense of adventure. Sure, there’s an astounding lack of recognition of comedic films and performances; that’s well-documented. But it’s amazing to see all of the innovative (and sometimes, admittedly bizarre) work that was passed over in favor of traditional, Oscar-bait dramas. In 2000, neither The Matrix nor Fight Club was nominated for Best Picture – but thank God The Cider House Rules locked down a spot.

So, now that we’re primed with some examples, let’s dive in! I’ve based these on years that I feel comfortable judging, having seen most or all of the nominated films; as always, these opinions are mine and mine alone. Feel free to disagree, and I thoroughly look forward to hearing your reactions, b-rollers. Onward!

Way off, Oscar voters…

1998: Titanic over LA Confidential. I will admit that, at the time, I was fully onboard (Ha! Sorry.) with a Titanic victory. I was 16, and irrationally in love with Leonardo DiCaprio this romantic epic. Then I saw it in college, settled in for the BEST MOVIE IN THE WORLD and realized that…oh. Titanic kinda sucks. It’s waaaay too long (a recurring James Cameron issue – see Avatar), and while the effects are phenomenal, it’s mystifying that Cameron managed to get Twilight-level-awful performances from two of our finest actors, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Meanwhile, have you seen LA Confidential? It’s taut and twisty and brilliant, and unfortunately had the bad luck to be swallowed up in Titanic‘s wake. (I’ll stop.) (Notably absent from that year’s race: Boogie Nights, Donnie Brasco and the clever, prescient Wag the Dog.)

2007: The Departed over Little Miss Sunshine. The more I thought about these movies, the more I realized that Little Miss Sunshine deserved the win. The Departed slowly deteriorates the more you see it – honestly, as great as Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg are, Jack Nicholson lost his godforsaken mind – and Little Miss Sunshine only gets better.

1953: Anything whatsoever (okay, The Greatest Show on Earth) over Singin’ in the Rain. WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT WASN’T NOMINATED?! (Nominated in place of the greatest musical ever: High Noon and The Quiet Man. How did THOSE lose?)

2006: Crash over Brokeback Mountain. At the time, I thought it was a toss-up, but the thing about Brokeback Mountain is that it quietly sneaks up on you. In Crash, people scream, and cry, and, well, crash; Brokeback is all about subtle moments. And Oscar does not enjoy subtlety. (Also that year: nominees Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck. would have been worthy recipients, but seemed to be unfairly tagged simply as “actor showcase” movies for Philip Seymour Hoffman and David Strathairn. They were much more than that, though.)

1965: My Fair Lady over Dr. Strangelove and Mary Poppins. If My Fair Lady wasn’t going to lose to a brilliant satiric masterpiece, it could at least have been bested by a superior musical. But that may be the leftover bias of my childhood speaking; I wore my Mary Poppins VHS out. Step in time!

2002: A Beautiful Mind over Moulin Rouge!. See my earlier comments re: originality. A Beautiful Mind is a lovely, well-acted film; Moulin Rouge! is a genre-bending work of art. Some hated it, which is fine and kind of the point; it was so original that you’d never, ever seen anything like it, so if it wasn’t your cup of tea, fair enough. As for me, I marvel at it. (Excluded from the race that year: the also-thoroughly-unique Amelie and Memento.)

1983: Ghandi over E.T. and Tootsie. See above, but seriously? A classic example of the holier-than-thou Oscars at work. Thank God the classics survive.

2005: Million Dollar Baby over the not-even-nominated Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I unabashedly adore Eternal Sunshine – it manages to be both strange and clever and knock-you-out heartfelt, and I didn’t think Jim Carrey was capable of that kind of restraint. It’s a great, underrated love story. Meanwhile, though I sobbed through Million Dollar Baby at the time (didn’t you?), it’s a movie I have no desire to watch again, and the memories I have of it are not aging well.

It’s arguable, but this could’ve gone either way.

2011: The King’s Speech over Inception and The Social Network. I have already shared some thoughtson this matter, though I will admit it was close. That being said, while the race ultimately narrowed to King’s Speech vs. Social Network, Inception was a big, brainy blockbuster that deserved more recognition than it got.

1995: Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption. I loved Forrest Gump, and still do. Now, I’d probably go with the less sentimental but beautifully felt Shawshank – which is, incidentally, the top-rated film on IMDb – but it’s not a slam dunk. Pulp Fiction deserves to be part of the conversation, though it’s not favorite.

2009: Slumdog Millionaire over the not-nominated The Dark Knight, Tropic Thunder and WALL-E. I thoroughly enjoyed Slumdog, and think it was a worthy honoree; that being said, I still think WALL-E was the best film of that year, and The Dark Knight and Tropic Thunder were superb films that far surpassed their standard “comic book movie” or “raunchy comedy” labels.

1978: Annie Hall over Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s hard to overlook the visionary Star Wars (or Close Encounters), but Annie Hall is a classic of its genre. The standard “what’s your pleasure” choice.

2010: The Hurt Locker over Inglourious Basterds. Inglourious Basterds is the only Quentin Tarantino film I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, so I may be a bit biased, but I liked its cleverness and enthusiasm. The Hurt Locker was a wonderful choice too. (And no, I will not consider Avatar. Stunningly beautiful, but SO BORING.)

1994: Braveheart over Apollo 13 and the (snubbed) Toy Story and The Usual Suspects. Not a shock that Oscar went with the sweeping epic, though I think Apollo 13 is the superior film. Also, if “we” knew then how revolutionary Pixar would be – to animation and to the film industry in general – would Toy Story have gotten more recognition than it did? Interesting thought.

2001: Gladiator over Chocolat and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I know Chocolat is slight, but oh, how I adore it. And Crouching Tiger is absolutely breathtaking, immersive from start to finish. (I remember reading an interview with Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee, and Spielberg was stunned by the fact that Lee didn’t use storyboards on Crouching Tiger. Just imagine a scenario in which Steven Spielberg is overwhelmed by another director’s skill.) That being said, Gladiator was that rare epic that was extremely human, thanks to Russell Crowe, so we’ll allow it. 

1977: Rocky over Network, Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men. As much as I love inspirational sports films, I can’t BELIEVE that All the President’s Men and Taxi Driver lost to a boxing movie. But it is THE boxing movie and one of THE all-time inspirational sports films, so I don’t think it’s overwhelmingly egregious.

Totally got it right. Well done.

1999: Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan. Oh, the outrage. Look, here’s why I agree with this: Shakespeare in Love is erudite, well-acted and playful. It’s not a trifle. But when what is, in essence, a romantic comedy beats two war movies and a Holocaust film, mass hysteria ensues. Folks, let’s not overthink this; it’s okay to like the non-heavy movie more. Really. Take a few deep breaths. It’ll all be okay.

2003: Chicago over The Pianist and Gangs of New York. In a related story…I know that The Pianist is a beautiful film, but it’s not inherently better simply because it’s a tragic true story. Chicago was sensational, and a brilliant example of how to make a modern musical. It deserved to win. 

1992: Silence of the Lambs over JFK and Beauty and the Beast. I love what JFK was doing, but as is so often the case, Oliver Stone kind of loses the thread. And while Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s greatest achievements, there was no beast like Hannibal Lecter.

1993: Schindler’s List over The Fugitive. Well, duh. There was no competition that year, even though The Fugitive is one of the all-time great action films. But Schindler’s List is Spielberg’s masterpiece.

1997: The English Patient over Jerry Maguire and Fargo. I’m about to contradict myself by picking the sweeping, tragic epic over the comedies, but…The English Patient was a great freaking movie.

1944: Casablanca over everything. Casablanca beat nine other films for the top prize: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Heaven Can Wait, The Human Comedy, In Which We Serve, Madame Curie, The More the Merrier, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Song of Bernadette and Watch on the Rhine. Would you pick any of those over Casablanca? I didn’t think so.

Best years in movies ever?

1940: Gone With the Wind over Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, John Ford’s Stagecoach, Olivier’s Wuthering Heights and The Wizard of Oz. Dear God in heaven. (That being said, I really don’t like Gone with the Wind. Call it my Northern bias or love of historical accuracy, but the film’s introduction – There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow… – triggers my gag reflex.)

Alternately, I bring you…

1968: In the Heat of the Night over Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and the not-nominated Two for the Road. Not a bad year when you have TWO landscape-altering films (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate) that lose to a worthy movie.

Maybe the worst year for movies ever?

2008: And the nominees are No Country for Old Men (winner), Juno, Michael Clayton, Atonement and There Will Be Blood. I liked Juno (though it did seem to be standing on the “quirky, clever Sundance” shoulders of Little Miss Sunshine the year before), and enjoyed Michael Clayton in an “I’m glad I saw it” kinda way, but thought the rest of these films were pretty meh. Did any of them truly wow you? Me either. (I might have switched in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd or Ben Affleck’s terrific Gone Baby Gone, but I didn’t think they were other-worldly, either.)

I’m not informed enough/care deeply enough to make a call, but talk amongst yourselves.

How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon (1942); Driving Miss Daisy over Born on the Fourth of July, Field of Dreams and Dead Poets Society (O Captain, My Captain!) (1990); From Here to Eternity over Shane and Roman Holiday (1953); Midnight Cowboy over Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1970); Rebecca over The Grapes of Wrath and The Philadelphia Story (that one hurts) (1941); The French Connection over A Clockwork Orange (1973); Bridge on the River Kwai over 12 Angry Men (1958); An American in Paris over A Streetcar Named Desire (1952); Going My Way over Double Indemnity (1945); All About Eve over Sunset Boulevard, Born Yesterday and The Third Man (not nominated) (1951).

What say you, b-rollers?

3 comments

  1. Such insight. But I liked Babe! Correct my facts if they’re off. I need a whole post to Best Actress 1997-present. A travesty when Kristin Scott Thomas wore black Yves Saint Laurent and still lost for Patient. KST is still owed in the Winslet fashion, in my opinion. (Indeed I know just the role and intend to write it.) Annette Bening losing twice to Hilary Swank (How do you do that for American Beauty? She IS that film). Being Julia had a great role for her. Helen Mirren losing for Countess Tolstoy BUT winning for QEII I don’t get. I hereby invent a Hunger Games rule, by which It’s o.k. if the Oscar goes to two of them, provided they come from the same district, namely, I chose one of them. PS Jennifer Lawrence deserves to be nominated for Katniss. Win, I expect not, but certainly deserving a nomination for this. PS in the future, everybody in the Capitol dresses like Helena Bonham Carter for Jean-Paul Gaultier. We gotta get on this! And how awesome is Stanley… Tucci? Also Elizabeth Banks-Harrelson made me forget The Walker; thank you.

  2. Hi, Bets
    Great job, as usual. Can’t say I disagree with any of your comments (and, no, despite what I wrote earlier, I don’t think The Ox Box Incident is better than Casablanca). Liked your placing the lists in categories which made it easier to follow. Isn’t it amazing how many really good flicks come out in bunches? There are 2 really great periods (1939-about 1943 and 1950-about 1954) where there are an inordinate number of really good movies made. Then there are the 1980s (Raging Bull maybe?). Shame about Network and I also hate that awful opening for Gone With the Wind, but I love the movie (or maybe I just love Vivien Leigh).
    Keep up the good work.and now take on actors/actresses 🙂
    v

    1. and a quick follow up because I failed to add it to the above post. The worst snub in my opinion is when The Searchers wasn’t even nominated for best pix. Wonder how they missed that?
      v

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