Sunday, February 6, 2011

Top Ten Favorite "Best Picture" Oscar Winners

I've never hidden the fact I am not a fan of the Academy Awards. If you mention to some people a movie won an Oscar it may in fact intrigued them to see that particular film. In my case it does nothing. It is the wrong approach to take if you want me to see a movie.

A lot of people simply cannot understand my strong anti-Oscar sentiment. It is a award show, it is all in good fun. Most people just like to see what the movie stars are wearing. It is something fun to do on a Sunday night. Sit back, relax, maybe order a pizza and watch the 18 hour show. But, I feel to simply look at the Academy Awards in that light in not fair and completely misses the point. Hollywood, and by way of brainwashing manipulation, society put a lot of stock into the Academy Awards. It means a lot in the business. It is at the very least a terrific marketing device. Look at all the ads in newspapers which proudly display in giant letters "Academy Award nominee". And as I said, it catches people's interest. They will seek out that film if only to see what all the fuss is about.

And that leads to my problem with the Academy Awards. The ceremony is given a great deal of prestige. To win an Oscar is suppose to signify the greatest artistic achievement. It is about honoring the best. But more often than not the Academy does the exact opposite. For several reasons. One of the most disturbing, to me, is how gosh darn political the whole process is. How image conscious the Academy is. It is not about presenting the "best film" or "best director" with an award, but, rather, all about publicity and saving face. What will make the greater headline in the next day's paper.

What you also have to consider are all the ridiculous rules the Academy has created and their bias towards certain films. How is it that no foreign language film has ever won an Oscar for "Best Picture"? But Alex, some of you will say, the Academy Awards are an American show, honoring only American films. That is and isn't true. Some foreign language films have been nominated for the top prize but they never win. My problem is, if we are going to truly celebrate artistic achievement why not play fair and say for this particular year the best film was made in a non-English language country (some smart alec will say a few U.K. productions have won the prize. So I must specify I mean a non-English language film).

Also, you must remember in years past, in the foreign language category voters weren't even obligated to see all of the nominated films! How on Earth can people vote for something when they haven't seen everything which was nominated? The Academy Awards, many times, feel like nothing more than a popularity contest.

But what bugs me the most about the Academy Awards goes along the lines of the popularity contest. How many great artist have not won an Oscar? The Academy tries to back pedal their ignorance and present these people with an "Honorary" Oscar, the Lifetime Achievement Award. This is the Academy's way of saying, "we are sorry we are a bunch of ignorant morons who did not recognize artistic merit when we saw it and instead over-looked you so we could let the latest flavor of the month win". Remember a few years back, Peter O' Toole didn't want their honorary Oscar because he knew what it signified. He felt he still stood a chance at winning a competitive Oscar (he was nominated that year for "Venus" (2006), but naturally lost). Think of all the great artist who never won a competitive Oscar; Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Greta Garbo, Fritz Lang, Ingmar Bergman, Istvan Szabo, Cary Grant. I can actually do this for days.

Still, despite the Academy's ignorance sometimes they fool themselves and actually allow a great film to win. Believe it or not this has actually happened. Here are my ten favorite "Best Picture" Oscar winners. The films will be presented in chronological order. You'll notice the 1940s is the most celebrated decade with four films from the decade, followed by the 1930s with three films. And I even had room to celebrate two "modern" films from America's last great decade, the 1970s. Here's my list!

1. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930) - The third "Best Picture" Oscar winner is one of the all-time great war films. For my money and time it is better than "Wings" (1927), the first "Best Picture" Oscar winner.

2. Grand Hotel (1932) - A movie years ahead of its time. I reviewed this masterpiece before. It had an all-star cast consisting of; Greta Garbo, John & Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Berry and Joan Crawford. Not just one my of favorite "Best Picture" winners, but, one of my favorite movies of all time.

3. Gone With The Wind (1939) - Maybe the greatest movie of the decade. One of the all-time great Hollywood epics. If anyone ever tells you classic Hollywood films are boring, tell them to watch this. And if they don't like it, simply never speak to them again. Every compliment that has ever been said about this film is true and well deserved. An American classic.

4. Mrs. Miniver (1942) - Another one of my all-time favorite films. The film was actually made mostly to keep up the moral of the British army. England was in the war a lot longer than the United States and the war was starting to take its toll on the people. This great film is about life on the home front. An emotional, sentiment film.

5. Casablanca (1943) - Like "Gone With The Wind" an American classic. That's about the highest compliment you can pay the film.

6. The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946) - Made right at the time when soldiers were actually returning home after WW2, here is a film that addressed the problems these men must face. Whether it is psychological, financial or bodily harm. Talk about a movie which represented the times. William Wyler's second films to win a "Best Picture" (he also directed "Mrs. Miniver").

7. A Gentlemen's Agreement (1947) - Seen as one of the first films to deal with anti-semitism, which was a very serious social problem after the war, even in America folks!

8. The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957) - In my opinion the 1950s were a low point in cinema. Very few of the "Best Picture" Oscar winners impress me, but, this David Lean epic is an exception. One of Lean's all-time great films.

9. The Godfather (1972) - A no brainer. There was no way I was going to make a list like this and not include this film. One of my all-time favorites. The acting in this film is remarkable. Every performance is near perfect. Who else could play these characters?

10. Annie Hall (1977) - Woody Allen's only film (to date) to win a "Best Picture" Oscar. It too is a film which resents its time period quite well. It is also one of the all-time great romantic comedies establishing the formula for all future romantic comedies. There would be no "When Harry Met Sally..." (1989) if "Annie Hall" wasn't made first.