Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ranking the Best Picture Winners - Part 3 of 8

60. Crash (2005)
What Should Have Won:
Munich, although I know I was in the minority of that opinion, and so in the Crash vs. Brokeback Mountain dogfight, put me down for Brokeback.
What Was Snubbed: David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence was his best film, and hugely acclaimed, so it should have got a spot.
Review: Crash is a rather simplistic look at modern race relations. Yes, it is well acted, but it beats you over the head with its message too often. I am not one of those people who hate Crash, and ludicrously call it the worst choice the Academy ever made (seriously people, go back and watch some of the shit that won this prize in the past), but no, I don’t think Crash should have come close to winning the Oscar this year.

59. My Fair Lady (1964)
What Should Have Won:
Dr. Strangelove is the one of the best comedies ever.
What Was Snubbed: Not surprisingly, they overlooked Hitchcock’s great Marnie.
Review: Rex Harrison is wonderful, and Audrey Hepburn is luminous, so I forgive some of the movies more blatantly obvious flaws, and the inherent sexism of the whole enterprise. While, some of it anyway. I don’t think My Fair Lady represents the pinnacle of great musical movie making as many do, but it certainly is an entertaining movie. I just wish it weren’t at least an hour too long.

58. Gandhi (1982)
What Should Have Won:
They should have went with their hearts and gave it to ET. Or hell, Tootsie. Or maybe even The Verdict.
What Was Snubbed: Blade Runner is perhaps the quintessential sci-fi movie of the era. Too bad they didn’t see that.
Review: Gandhi is actually a fine biopic, and Ben Kingsley is quite outstanding in his “debut” performance as the Indian leader. But it’s one of those “important” movies you see once and then never really feel the need to watch again. It would fine for the classroom, but as cinema, it is merely good, not great.

57. Braveheart (1995)
What Should Have Won:
I don’t know, Apollo 13? Babe? Sense and Sensibility? All were better than Braveheart – none were among the best of the year.
What Was Snubbed: Leaving Las Vegas, Nixon, Heat, Casino, Dead Man Walking and the list goes on, and on and on – seriously possibly the worst best picture lineup ever.
Review: Braveheart does have some thrilling battle scenes, but the problem is that director/star Gibson never connects to all that crap that goes on around it. Gibson as a filmmaker is a sadist – he loves inflicting pain on his characters, and the audience, and is incapable of any subtly whatsoever. All that being said, I do enjoy this film more than it sounds like I do – it is never boring – but it doesn’t mean anything.

56. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
What Should Have Won:
Saving Private Ryan was clearly the best film nominated, although I wouldn’t complain if The Thin Red Line had taken the prize.
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.

55. 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.

54. 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.

53. 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.

52. 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.

51. 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.

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