Friday, January 29, 2016

My Year at the Oscars - Academy Award Best Picture Winners Ranked Pt. 2


In case you missed last weeks post, in 2014 I decided to watch every Best Picture winner in a single year and then rank them.  In part one, I got through the films I had ranked from 87 to 66.  Today, I'm going through the next 15 to get us into the Top 50.  Hope you enjoy Part 2 of My Year at the Oscars!

Pt. 2: #65 - #51

This part, along with the next two, will only be 15 movies so that the last week will be a Top 20 post.  Part 3 will be 50 through 36 (Friday 2/5/16), Part 4 will be 35 through 21 (Friday 2/12/16) and Part 5 will be the top 20 (Friday 2/19/16).

#65: Chariots of Fire

Director: Hugh Hudson
Release Date: March 30th, 1981
Ceremony: 54th
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Writing, Original Screenplay; Best Original Score; Best Costume Design)
Nominations: 7 (Best Director; Best Supporting Actor - Ian Holm; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: Atlantic City; On Golden Pond; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Reds

This is a movie that, while quite good, will eternally be remembered mostly for Vangelis' score.  Seriously, the epic soundtrack in Chariots of Fire is miles ahead of the rest of the film (race pun intended).  This is a well made sports biopic that is more of a character study than anything else.  It frequently jumps between the characters so haphazardly that it can be hard at times to focus or get fully invested in either character, leaving the film feeling disjointed.  It is easy to be overtaken by the magnificent score embellishing the cinematically breath-taking opening and closing running on the beach sequences, but a great deal of the scenes in between tend to fall flat.

#64: Hamlet

Director: Laurence Olivier
Release Date: May 4th, 1948
Ceremony: 25th
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Actor - Laurence Olivier; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Art Direction - Set Decoration, Black-and-White)
Nominations: 7 (Best Director; Best Supporting Actress - Jean Simmons; Best Dramatic or Comedy Score)
Other Nominees: Johnny Belinda; The Red Shoes; The Snake Pit; The Treasure of Sierra Madre

Where does one rank arguably the greatest actor of all time performing a rendition of what is considered one of the best plays ever written?  Apparently at #64.  There were complaints about how much was cut, in particular the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aspect of the play, but cuts had to be made, and it still clocks in well past two hours.  While the acting is truly exceptional throughout, it also felt more like watching a couple of cameras filming a Shakespeare company performing Hamlet on a stage with outstanding set pieces rather than a film adaptation.  There are times, in particular the "play-within-a-play" sequence, that were directed outstandingly by Sir Olivier and you felt fully as if this were a full-on Shakespeare cinematic experience.  Then there were times when you can practically hear him say, "let's do this exactly as we do in The Old Vic, go stand at the tape on the floor over there, and... scene".

#63: 12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen
Release Dates: August 30th, 2013 (Telluride Film Festival); November 8th, 2013 (U.S.); January 10th, 2014 (U.K.)
Ceremony: 86th
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress - Lupita Nyong'o; Best Adapted Screenplay)
Nominations: 9 (Best Director; Best Actor - Chiwetel Ejiofor; Best Supporting Actor - Michael Fassbender; Best Production Design; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyers Club; Gravity; Her; Nebraska; Philomena; The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years a Slave is a film that tells an incredible and moving story rich with message and heart, but in my opinion, it didn't pull it all together as well as it could have.  Chiwetel Ejiofor gives one of the more incredible acting performances I've ever seen, and the rest of the cast isn't at all far behind.  My problem with this film for the most part are the choices made by the director and how he could have benefitted from tactful subtlety.  Many of the classic movies about difficult subject matters are able to get their message across by allowing the viewer to experience the horrors and difficulties of what happened without whacking them in the face with a mallet and dragging it out.  The audience frequently leaves horrified, appalled and moved, but not uncomfortable.  Many times a glimpse followed by an emotionally charged description shows more depth in the character and a film as a whole than, for example from this movie, showing the main character standing and tiptoeing to not be hung by a noose for almost three minutes.  This criticism is exactly why other people enjoyed the film, but that is my opinion of why this is in the lower half of Best Picture winners.

#62: The Last Emperor

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Release Dates: October 23rd, 1987 (Italy); November 18th, 1987 (New York City Premiere); December 18th, 1987 (U.S.)
Ceremony: 60th
Wins: 9 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Original Score; Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Sound)
Nominations: 9 (ALL WINS)
Other Nominees: Broadcast News; Fatal Attraction; Hope and Glory; Moonstruck

The 80's were a time of period pieces and historical dramas, most of which remain technical masterpieces to this day.  This film is no exception, and has an important tale to tell.  If films were to be graded on technique alone, between the explosion of color in all the set pieces and costumes, the cinematography that defies scope and the soundtrack including contributions from Talking Heads' David Byrne, this would be towards the top.  Unfortunately for The Last Emperor, there are other factors that come into play when judging a movie.  The storytelling method of jumping between timelines works sometimes and feels out of place at others, leaving long, drawn out segments on one timeline or the other that seem superfluous in the scheme of the entire story.  It is a movie that is more impressive in moments than it is as an entire work.  That being said, if you're a fan of lengthy historic biopics, I highly recommend this movie because it is quite the technical achievement and is informative about an interesting figure in history.

#61: Mrs. Miniver

Director: William Wyler
Release Date: June 4th, 1942
Ceremony: 15th
Wins: 6 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress - Greer Garson; Best Supporting Actress - Teresa Wright; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White)
Nominations: 12 (Best Actor - Walter Pidgeon; Best Supporting Actor - Henry Travers; Best Supporting Actress - May Whitty; Best Sound Recording; Best Film Editing; Best Special Effects)
Other Nominees: The Invaders; Kings Row; The Magnificent Ambersons; The Pied Piper; The Pride of the Yankees; Random Harvest; The Talk of the Town; Wake Island; Yankee Doodle Dandy

As I was watching all of these movies, I found Mrs. Miniver to be perhaps the most interesting war-time film.  While it occasionally loses momentum as the protagonist stares off into space for long stretches or the dialog goes off the rails, it is incredible that this film about World War II was made in the middle of WWII.  There was no knowledge of the outcome of the war or the future of the country, and you could feel that the characters who were previously concerned with the expense of hats and floral competitions were relatable to anyone watching the film in 1942 who suddenly had a life with very different realities and priorities.  While it isn't a perfect movie and suffers a less than stellar first act, the emotional impact is real, the characters are memorable and there are moments that will leave you shaken.

#60: Tom Jones

Director: Tony Richardson
Release Date: September 29th, 1963
Ceremony: 36th
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; Best Substantially Original Score)
Nominations: 10 (Best Actor - Albert Finney; Best Supporting Actor - Hugh Griffith; Best Supporting Actress - Diane Cilento; Best Supporting Actress - Dame Edith Evans; Best Supporting Actress - Joyce Redman; Best Art Direction - Set Decoration, Color)
Other Nominees: America, America; Cleopatra; How the West Was Won; Lilies of the Field 

There aren't many comedies that have won Best Picture, so that alone makes Tom Jones stand out. Honestly, it didn't need much help. This film is incredibly strange and at times, incredibly funny. It gets by to a great extent due to Albert Finney's charm and penchant for breaking the fourth wall, a technique that is used quite well throughout.  It's nice that the Academy switched it up and chose a very lighthearted movie to take the big prize, even if it is inconsistent and frequently comes off as utterly insane.  If British humor doesn't do it for you, skip this one as you'll likely be lost. 

#59: Rain Man

Director: Barry Levinson
Release Date: December 16th, 1988
Ceremony: 61st
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Dustin Hoffman; Best Writing, Original Screenplay)
Nominations: 8 (Best Original Score; Best Film Editing; Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography)
Other Nominees: The Accidental Tourist; Dangerous Liaisons; Mississippi Burning; Working Girl

Rain Man serves as one in a long list of amazing performances by Dustin Hoffman, who earned his second statue for this role. Plus, an underrated Tom Cruise gets to do what he does best: be a total and complete ass. I speak about the acting because that is what stands out the most in this hybrid family-drama/road-movie/con-film.  The opening few acts are great examples of engaging storytelling, but by the time Hoffman and Cruise hit Vegas, just like many real life extended road trips, you just want them to get home. 

#58: The King's Speech

Director: Tom Hooper
Release Dates: September 6th, 2010 (Telluride Film Festival); January 7th, 2011 (U.K.)
Ceremony: 83rd
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Colin Firth; Best Original Screenplay)
Nominations: 10 (Best Supporting Actor - Geoffrey Rush; Best Supporting Actress - Helena Bonham Carter; Best Original Score; Best Sound Mixing; Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: 127 Hours; Black Swan; The Fighter; Inception; The Kids Are All Right; The Social Network; Toy Story 3; True Grit; Winter's Bone

There are some movies that have such a unique tale to tell that once you put competent actors in the leading roles, you're pretty much set. The King's Speech falls into this category and that isn't it's fault. It is an interesting story told in a straightforward manner and all of the actors do remarkable jobs, most of all Colin Firth. It just doesn't have that extra creative element that helps the iconic biopics gain their reputation.  It is well-made and a good, if not great movie, and that is enough to get it where it is on the list. Well, hat along with the closing sequence, which is a perfect example of how music can be used in a scene. 

#57: Chicago

Director: Rob Marshall
Release Dates: December 10th, 2002 (Samuel Goldwyn Theater); December 27th, 2002 (U.S.)
Ceremony: 75th
Wins: 6 (Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress - Catherine Zeta-Jones; Best Art Direction; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing)
Nominations: 13 (Best Director; Best Actress - Renée Zellweger; Best Supporting Actor - John C. Reilly; Best Supporting Actress - Queen Latifah; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Original Song - "I Move On"; Best Cinematography)
Other Nominees: Gangs of New York; The Hours; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Pianist

After years of dramas with a couple comedies and other genres mixed in, a musical finally won Best Picture again. Chicago may not be quite on the level of the classics, but it's hard to deny how impressive certain aspects of the film are, namely the production design, choreography and the music itself.  The movie frequently served as a tribute to the stage, as the catchy songs are accentuated by set pieces that have the quality of transforming from cinematic to theatrical seamlessly. It gives the film a unique feel and practically adds another dimension. All in all, anything it lacks in substance, it (mostly) makes up for in technical achievement and sheer entertainment.

#56: Mutiny on the Bounty

Director: Frank Lloyd
Release Date: November 8th, 1935
Ceremony: 8th
Wins: 1 (Best Picture)
Nominations: 8 (Best Director; Best Actor - Clark Gable; Best Actor - Charles Laughton; Best Actor - Franchot Tone; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Score; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: Alice Adams; Broadway Melody of 1936; Captain Blood; David Copperfield; The Informer; Les Misérables; The Lives of Bengal Lancer; A Midsummer Night's Dream; Naughty Marietta; Ruggles of Red Gap; Top Hat

Mutiny on the Bounty only won Best Picture, despite having all three leads nominated for Best Actor. The early Academy Awards sure were something.  What impressed me most about this 80 year old movie was how well the suspense in the end held up. Sure, the acting, the set pieces and the story are all good, albeit slightly over the top, but a film that still manages to keep you on edge until the final scenes is worthy of recognition. It likely isn't going to blow you away, but there is a lot to appreciate about this quasi-classic movie. 

#55: All the King's Men

Director: Robert Rossen
Release Dates: November 8th, 1949 (U.S. Premiere); January 1950 (U.S. Wide)
Ceremony: 22nd
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Actor - Broderick Crawford; Best Supporting Actress - Mercedes McCambridge)
Nominations: 7 (Best Director; Best Supporting Actor - John Ireland; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: Battleground; The Heiress; A Letter to Three Wives; Twelve O'Clock High

There were political dramas before All The Kings Men and there certainly have been many since, but it still stands out as a fine example.  Broderick Crawford absolutely nails the lead role, and it remains one of the best performances of the decade (particularly compared to some of the side character's acting).  Part of what makes this movie work so well is that, while Crawford's politician Stark is the protagonist, the film is viewed through the eyes of a journalist. It gives the viewer a chance to watch in awe, almost as a citizen in the film, as the main character changes throughout his political rise into power.  Well-paced and well-made, if political dramas are something you enjoy, this is a genre classic you need to see. 

#54: A Beautiful Mind

Director: Ron Howard
Release Dates: December 13th, 2001 (Beverly Hills Premiere); December 21st, 2001 (U.S.)
Ceremony: 74th
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actress - Jennifer Connelly; Best Adapted Screenplay)
Nominations: 8 (Best Actor - Russell Crowe; Best Original Score; Best Makeup; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: Gosford Park; In the Bedroom; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Moulin Rouge!

The golden years of Russell Crowe, also known as the early 2000's, were an interesting time for movies. Between the 3-year long awards season threat of Lord of the Rings and most cinema goers beginning to thrive on superhero movies and Harry Potter, an intense drama about a mathematical genius and his problems with schizophrenia seems like it wouldn't do well.  Yet, A Beautiful Mind was a success, with shining performances from Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connely, matched by well-paced screenwriting and direction. What is both a pro and a con of this movie is how little it focuses on Nash's Nobel recognized crowning achievement.  It was an early success in his life that was not fully appreciated until after his most significant dealings with mental health issues, so those being the main focus makes sense for an engaging film.  However, it has been criticized for being an inaccurate representation of large portions of Nash's life in order to tell a story.  I sometimes wonder while watching if the filmmakers picked the right story to tell, even if the story they chose is told well. 

#53: Midnight Cowboy

Director: John Schlesinger
Release Date: May 25th, 1969
Ceremony: 42nd
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay)
Nominations: 7 (Best Actor - Dustin Hoffman; Best Actor - Jon Voight; Best Supporting Actress - Sylvia Miles; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: Anne of the Thousand Days; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids; Hello, Dolly!; Z

When I reflect on Midnight Cowboy, part of me wants to rank it higher. After the run of musicals interspersed with the occasional drama all throughout the 60's, this movie really set the tone for what I consider to be the best decade of Oscar winners. It was controversial in its explicitness, centered around a solid cast and for the bulk of the movie focused on characters more than events. However, as groundbreaking of a film as it is, it doesn't hold a candle to many of the later classics it influenced. It was at times hard to watch, and not just because of its subject matter.  Scenes would go on for too long and while the leads were both great when interacting with each other, they occasionally became dull when interacting elsewhere (a big exception being Jon Voigt's interaction with Sylvia Miles, who was nominated for Supporting Actress despite only 5 minutes of screen time). It felt right on the brink of a true masterpiece, yet not quite there (though I'm sure many will disagree with that.)

#52: Ben-Hur

Director: William Wyler
Release Date: November 18th, 1959
Ceremony: 32nd
Wins: 11 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Charlton Heston; Best Supporting Actor - Hugh Griffith; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; Best Art Direction - Set Decoration, Color; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Special Effects; Best Film Editing; Best Sound Recording)
Nominations: 12 (Best Adapted Screenplay)
Other Nominees: Anatomy of a Murder; Room at the Top; The Diary of Anne Frank; The Nun's Story

Think back on any epic that has come out since 1959 and they all, at least in some part, owe something to Ben-Hur. Yes, as epics can tend to do, it is ridiculously long and occasionally unnecessarily so, such as showing the chariots circle around the arena for three minutes before the race kicks off. But once the chariot scene happens, you're right back to being amazed at the pure spectacle that is Ben-Hur. Why it is this higher on the list above some other "spectacle" movies is because it tells its story well underneath the technical achievements. Charlton Heston is outstanding and cuts through the exciting conversations just as well as he does through the tedious and unnecessary ones. Watching now, it is hard to say that it is a perfect movie, but it sure is an impressive feat of cinema. 

#51: Shakespeare in Love

Director: John Madden
Release Date: December 3rd, 1998
Ceremony: 71st
Wins: 7 (Best Picture; Best Actress - Gwyneth Paltrow; Best Supporting Actress - Judi Dench; Best Original Screenplay; Best Original Musical or Comedy Score; Best Costume Design; Best Art Direction)
Nominations: 13 (Best Director; Best Supporting Actor - Geoffrey Rush; Best Sound; Best Cinematography; Best Makeup; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: Elizabeth; Life is Beautiful; Saving Private Ryan; The Thin Red Line

Shakespeare in Love gets a bad rap for a lot of reasons, from how it was campaigned for to what it beat out, but beyond all of that we are left with a film that is undeservedly disliked.  It does everything it sets out to do: it is entertaining, sad, and in the end, a great historical fiction scattered with the elements that made Shakespeare's own work so enjoyable.  Sure, it definitely toes the line of cheesy, but it would be hard to make a romantic film about the greatest romantic of all time without a bit of cheesiness.  Every element from the script to the costumes to the acting channel the literary icon himself and we are left with an enjoyable film. Nothing more, nothing less.  Side note, it is only the second Shakespeare related film to win Best Picture, the previous one being 1948's Hamlet, exactly 50 years before. 

Part 3 (#50-36) will be coming next Friday, 2/5/16

List so far:
87 - The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
86 - Cimarron (1931)
85 - The Broadway Melody (1929)
84 - Dances With Wolves (1990)
83 - Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
82 - Cavalcade (1934)
81 - Crash (2005)
80 - Out of Africa (1985)
79 - The Lost Weekend (1945)
78 - How Green Was My Valley (1941)
77 - Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
76 - Ordinary People (1980)
75 - Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
74 - Terms of Endearment (1983)
73 - The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
72 - A Man for All Seasons (1966)
71 - The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
70 - Braveheart (1995)
69 - Going My Way (1944)
68 - Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
67 - Oliver! (1968)
66 - Million Dollar Baby (2004)
65 - Chariots of Fire (1981)
64 - Hamlet (1948)
63 - 12 Years A Slave (2013)
62 - The Last Emperor (1987)
61 - Mrs. Miniver (1942)
60 - Tom Jones (1963)
59 - Rain Man (1988)
58 - The King's Speech (2010)
57 - Chicago (2002)
56 - Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
55 - All the King's Men (1949)
54 - A Beautiful Mind (2001)
53 - Midnight Cowboy (1969)
52 - Ben-Hur (1959)
51 - Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Friday, January 22, 2016

My Year at the Oscars - Academy Award Best Picture Winners Ranked Pt. 1

Introduction to the series

In 2014 I decided to watch every Best Picture winner in one year.  That is roughly 12,000 minutes of movie, or 8.3 days.  Some of them were incredible classics I couldn't believe I had never seen, some of them were previous favorites I had been watching for years, and some were extremely questionable decisions made by the Academy.  You win some, you lose some, but these are all technically winners so they deserve to be ranked!

I know for a fact I'm not the first person to rank all 87 movies (see, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, Indiewire and pretty much any site that is dedicated to reviewing or discussing movies), but my opinions were formed over the course of a year.  I figure that if you haven't seen Ordinary People since 1980 but you watched The Hurt Locker yesterday, you might prefer one to the other just on basis of memory.  With all of the movies watched in a 365 day period and my 21st century equivalent to pen and paper ready to write notes after each, I believe that this is a very accurate ranking from My Year at the Oscars.

Note: At the time, "Birdman" had not won, but it still counts since I saw it in 2014.

Pt. 1: #87 - #66

This is the biggest batch of movies I will be doing at once. Part 2 will be 65 through 51 (Friday 1/29/16), Part 3 will be 50 through 36 (Friday 2/5/16), Part 4 will be 35 through 21 (Friday 2/12/16) and Part 5 will be the top 20 (Friday 2/19/16).  Might as well get the worst of the best out of the way first.  

#87: The Greatest Show on Earth

Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Release Date: January 10th, 1952
Ceremony: 25th
Wins: 2 (Best Picture; Best Story)
Nominations: 5 (Best Director; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Film Editing)

The worst of the best truly lives up to its reputation, and I am with those who believe it was the Academy's way of honoring Cecil B. DeMille's incredible career (well, incredible minus this film).  The Greatest Show on Earth plays out less like a film and more like a documentary about the circus with 50's grade sexual tension interspersed throughout.  If the random narration over raw footage of the circus and crowds cheering was cut out, this likely could have competed as a short film.  Jimmy Stewart as the clown is the lone highlight here.  That being said, it's a bit ironic that the most exciting scene in this movie is a train wreck.

#86: Cimarron

Director: Wesley Ruggles
Release Dates: January 26th, 1931 (NYC Premiere); February 9th, 1931 (US)
Ceremony: 4th
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Writing, Adaptation; Best Art Direction)
Nominations: 7 (Best Director; Best Actor - Richard Dix; Best Actress - Irene Dunne; Best Cinematography)

It really isn't hard to see why Cimarron was impressive when it was released.  For it's time, the makeup work and the extended timeline had to have been a sight to see.  In terms of watching it 85 years later, the acting is overdone, the pacing is deplorable and the story is mediocre.  The biggest narrative problem comes down to the main character and his wife. He is frequently not present and when he is, he does things such as ignore his wife and spend time defending other women in court, yet his wife remains inexplicably loyal with no real reasoning given.  Just one small example of why some films stand the test of time and this one did not.  

#85: The Broadway Melody

Director: Harry Beaumont
Release Date: February 1st, 1929
Ceremony: 2nd
Wins: 1 (Best Picture)
Nominations: 3 (Best Director; Best Actress - Bessie Love)

On one hand, the 2nd Best Picture winner was worthy of recognition as the first full sound musical.  On the other hand, The Broadway Melody could have really used a better story, script, actors, etc. so its legacy as such would be easier to appreciate.  Some movies from the late 20's/early 30's have become timeless, but this one is so full of unrelatable drama and jokes that either fall flat or make little to no sense more than 80 years later.  What makes later musicals that won iconic (particularly the great musical run of the 60's) was the unforgettable songs, and I walked away from this without humming a single tune. 

#84: Dances With Wolves

Director: Kevin Costner
Release Dates: October 19th, 1990 (Uptown Theater); November 9th, 1990 (US)
Ceremony: 63rd
Wins: 7 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Original Score; Best Sound; Best Film Editing; Best Cinematography)
Nominations: 12 (Best Actor - Kevin Costner; Best Supporting Actor - Graham Greene; Best Supporting Actress - Mary McDonnell; Best Art Direction; Best Costume Design)

The first thought I had at the end of this movie was, "that was ONLY three hours long?"  Dances With Wolves did deserve recognition for some of the technical aspects, in particular, the cinematography which was absolutely beautiful.  And really, the story isn't half bad.  There is just no excuse for it being told over any longer than an hour and a half.  Kevin Costner's nomination for Best Actor is also very strange to me, as his voice over narrations sounds like he was reading the script for the first time.  Overall, this is just a mediocre film that was technically sound enough to mask most of its faults, of which there were plenty. 

#83: Around the World in 80 Days

Director: Michael Anderson
Release Date: October 17th, 1956
Ceremony: 29th
Wins: 5 (Best Picture; Best Writing, Best Screenplay, Adapted; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Film Editing)
Nominations: 8 (Best Director; Best Art Direction, Color; Best Costume Design, Color)

There are some interesting and unique moments to Around the World in 80 Days, but in the end, it comes off an extremely long episodic bore.  I had high hopes when the protagonist pulled ice off of a mountain peak from his hot air balloon to chill his champagne, but all hope was lost when it quickly turned into a "comedy" based solely around exploiting global stereotypes at a glacial pace.  That being said, the scope and amount of manpower required to film this movie still remains impressive to this day.

#82: Cavalcade

Director: Frank Lloyd
Release Date: April 15th, 1933
Ceremony: 6th
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Art Direction)
Nominations: 4 (Best Actress - Diana Wynyard)

Cavalcade is another film that just hasn't aged well.  It is quite evident watching this film that it was directly adapted from the stage, and the overdone theatrical acting seals is fate.  What really defines these early movies are the moments and concepts that remain impressive and Cavalcade does have a few, including the Titanic scene and how the plot of the film is ocassionally furthered and summarized by New Years celebrations throughout the years.  Sadly, there isn't much to talk about at New Years, because not that much actually happens.  

#81: Crash

Director: Paul Haggis
Release Dates: September 10th, 2004 (TIFF); May 6th, 2005 (US)
Ceremony: 78th
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Original Screenplay; Best Film Editing)
Nominations: 6 (Best Director; Best Supporting Actor - Matt Dillon; Best Original Song - "In The Deep")

Crash in concept: "Hey, let's summarize racism in two hours by creating a bunch of characters with little to no depth that are easily lovable or hatable. Then, through a course of events that rely more on coincidence than plausibility, let's make them suddenly not hate the ethnic groups that they've spent their entire life hating, all over a course of two days".  Sure it's well-acted, and there are a few decent moments of insight, but at the end of the movie it is just too hard to ignore how much of it was unbelievable.  It's the brochure equivalent of "Why Racism is Bad", in a movie.

#80: Out of Africa

Director: Sydney Pollack 
Release Date: December 18th, 1985
Ceremony: 58th
Wins: 7 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Original Score; Best Cinematography; Best Art Direction; Best Sound)
Nominations: 11 (Best Actress - Meryl Streep; Best Supporting Actor - Klaus Maria Brandauer; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing)

The cinematography, the score and the acting (for the most part) are all incredible.  It is an 80's historical epic through and through, but that is both praise and criticism.  There aren't adequate words to describe how slowly this movie moves and how little you end up gaining from it.  By the time you finally reach the end you just feel horrible for everyone involved in the story, and more than that you've just been told a story with very little direction or point. I just couldn't wait to get Out of Africa.  But, those shots of landscapes from a plane sure are pretty, right?

#79: The Lost Weekend

Director: Billy Wilder
Release Date: November 16th, 1945
Ceremony: 18th
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Ray Milland; Best Screenplay)
Nominations: 7 (Best Dramatic or Comedy Score; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Film Editing)

I'm sure that in 1945, this film was exceedingly powerful, and a look at alcoholism that wasn't common in that day and age.  But 70 years later, the situations the protagonist manages to get himself into through his drinking problems are borderline silly.  Ray Milland is the best part of this movie, and while he definitely overacts the part, he seems nonchalant in the role compared to the rest of the cast, who in their on-screen sobriety frequently seem more drunk than he does.  The Lost Weekend is just a forgettable, quite lackluster Best Picture winner. 

#78: How Green Was My Valley

Director: John Ford
Release Date: October 28th, 1941
Ceremony: 14th
Wins: 5 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor - Donald Crisp; Best Black-and-White Cinematography; Best Black-and-White Art Direction - Interior Decoration)
Nominations: 10 (Best Supporting Actress - Sara Allgood; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Score of a Dramatic Picture; Best Sound Recording; Best Film Editing)

It took a bit of thinking about where to place this film, since it has such a strong ending.  There are a lot of disjointed episodes through the first hour and a half that don't necessarily add to the film, but suddenly bits and pieces begin building up to a dramatic and truly wonderful ending.  If only the rest of the film was as good as the last 20 minutes, it would be considered a true classic.  It could really use this reputation, since How Green Was My Valley is forever known as the movie that somehow beat out both Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon

#77: Gentleman's Agreement

Director: Elia Kazan
Release Date: November 11th, 1947
Ceremony: 20th
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actress - Celeste Holm)
Nominations: 8 (Best Actor - Gregory Peck; Best Actress - Dorothy McGuire; Best Supporting Actress - Anne Revere; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Film Editing)

Gentleman's Agreement is another movie that just seems like a film of its time without staying power. Elia Kazan is a great director for actors, and the acting is for the most part quite exceptional (minus a few side characters).  The problem with this film is that the story and the situations very quickly become over the top and unbelievable.  It is a movie about the subtleties of society, yet the characters chose to beat you over the head with their points.  

#76: Ordinary People

Director: Robert Redford
Release Date: September 19th, 1980
Ceremony: 53rd
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor - Timothy Hutton; Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay)
Nominations: 6 (Best Actress - Mary Tyler Moore; Best Supporting Actor - Judd Hirsch)

Robert Redford, being an actor himself, made this movie what it is: a well-acted drama.  Seriously, Timothy Hutton should have been nominated for (and won) Best Actor, since he is the main character and is breathtaking in the role.  Mostly, that would have allowed a deserving (and actually supporting) Judd Hirsch to win.  Outside of the acting, Ordinary People is a movie dealing with complicated issues that aren't all resolved, while wanting the viewer to wonder about other things that seem vaguely obvious.  Sure it's emotional, occasionally touching and beautiful, but it's just done so in such a straightforward manner, it was hard to rank it higher.    

#75: Driving Miss Daisy

Director: Bruce Beresford
Release Date: December 13th, 1989
Ceremony: 62nd
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Actress - Jessica Tandy; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Makeup)
Nominations: 9 (Best Actor - Morgan Freeman; Best Supporting Actor - Dan Ackroyd; Best Art Direction; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing)

The 80's, for the most part, was a time of great acting and average films.  Driving Miss Daisy has a reputation of being one of the worst winners, and while it's certainly not the best, it isn't a bad movie by any means.  The problem is that sentimentality can go a long way towards making a good movie, but not a great one.  The acting, while stellar, can't save this film from being a movie where not a lot happens as it slowly circles the drain of boredom.  The charm and heart-wrenching moments throughout just aren't enough to completely distract the viewer from lack of plot depth. 

#74: Terms of Endearment

Director: James L. Brooks
Release Dates: November 23rd, 1983 (U.S. Limited); December 9th, 1983 (U.S. Wide)
Ceremony: 56th
Wins: 5 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress - Shirley MacLaine; Best Supporting Actor - Jack Nicholson; Best Writing Adapted Screenplay)
Nominations: 11 (Best Actress - Debra Winger; Best Supporting Actor - John Lithgow; Best Original Score; Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Art Direction)

Jack Nicholson, as he is known to do, steals the show for most of this movie.  Once again, this is a case of the typical 80's winner: great acting, mediocre movie.  Terms of Endearment bothered me because of how disjointed it felt for long stretches.  You see extended glimpses of a particular life event, then huge parts of the characters lives are explained through 30-second phone conversations.  While touching, sentimental, heartfelt and all those other great descriptors for the family tragedy dramas the decade of MTV and synth pop seemed to love so much, they don't make up for a mediocre movie with turtle pacing.

#73: The Great Ziegfeld

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Release Dates: March 22nd, 1936 (Los Angeles); April 8th, 1936 (USA) 
Ceremony: 9th
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Actress - Luise Rainer; Best Dance Direction)
Nominations: 7 (Best Director; Best Story; Best Art Direction; Best Film Editing)

People love to hate this movie, but just as some movies are exemplary of their time, I believe this is one of the best examples of early Hollywood extravagance.  Is it overacted and too long?  Absolutely.  There is no need for multiple 5+ minute tap dance routines and no amount of charm from the protagonist can truly save the film, particularly when most of his conversations lead nowhere and are irrelevant to the story as a whole.  But watch the staircase scene, if nothing else, and tell me that The Great Ziegfeld isn't at least an impressive relic of its time.

#72: A Man For All Seasons

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Release Dates: December 12th, 1966 (USA); March 1967 (UK)
Ceremony: 39th
Wins: 6 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Paul Scofield; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Costume Design, Color)
Nominations: 8 (Best Supporting Actor - Robert Shaw; Best Supporting Actress - Wendy Hiller)

This is definitely a British stage play, and the adaptation carries on as such.  Paul Scofield is great and really saves the film from being utterly boring.  The major problem I had with A Man For All Seasons was that it requires the viewer to come in with more knowledge than you would expect for a historical drama that is meant to tell a story, not just expand upon already known facts.  I always research and read up on the subject matter after watching a historical film, but this time it was less to broaden my knowledge and more to understand what I had just spent 2 hours watching.  

#71: The Life of Emile Zola

Director: William Dieterle
Release Date: August 11th, 1937
Ceremony: 10th
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor - Joseph Schildkraut; Best Writing, Screenplay)
Nominations: 10 (Best Director; Best Actor - Paul Muni; Best Story; Best Score; Best Art Direction; Best Sound Recording; Best Assistant Director)

The Life of Emile Zola is a relatively straight-forward biopic that, for the most part, is actually quite good for its day and age.  It tends to drag in places and focuses on some boring aspects for a long time and some interesting aspects not nearly long enough.  Similarly, there are lengthy speeches throughout, some well-written and enticing and others wordy snooze-fests.  With a slightly altered focus and some editing, this might have been one of those classic movies that everyone talks about, but as it is, it's one of the more average winners. 

#70: Braveheart

Director: Mel Gibson
Release Date: May 24th, 1995
Ceremony: 68th
Wins: 5 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Cinematography; Best Sound Editing; Best Makeup)
Nominations: 10 (Best Original Screenplay; Best Original Dramatic Score; Best Sound Mixing; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing)

With Braveheart, you are forced to take the good with the bad.  The good, such as some of the more epic fight scenes and memorable lines (screams?), usually stand out above the bad.  But the acting and the excessive length do not help this movie at all.  Many of the battle scenes go on for far too long, but once you get back to the dialogue you're already ready for another battle scene to start.  

#69: Going My Way

Director: Leo McCarey
Release Date: May 3rd, 1944
Ceremony: 17th
Wins: 7 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Bing Crosby; Best Supporting Actor - Barry Fitzgerald; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Music, Song - "Swinging On A Star"; Best Original Motion Picture Story)
Nominations: 10 (Best Actor - Barry Fitzgerald; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Film Editing)

While every situation and scene in Going My Way seems to have the mentality, "how can we make it so Bing Crosby sings", this is usually a pretty good strategy.  This is another movie of moments and when it shines, usually thanks to Bing Crosby or Barry Fitzgerald, it shines quite brightly.  It is the unfortunately slow moments between these that puts it on the lower half of the list.  This movie also changed how actors were nominated, since Barry Fitzgerald was nominated as both a lead actor and a supporting actor.  

#68: Kramer Vs. Kramer

Director: Robert Benton
Release Date: December 19th, 1979
Ceremony: 52nd
Wins: 5 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Dustin Hoffman; Best Supporting Actress - Meryl Streep; Best Adapted Screenplay)
Nominations: 9 (Best Supporting Actor - Justin Henry; Best Supporting Actress - Jane Alexander; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing)

If only Meryl Streep was considered the lead actress this would be right there with It Happened One Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Silence of the Lambs as winners of the "big five" awards.  As it stands, the acting awards were really the most deserved awards in the film, particularly Dustin Hoffman.  Kramer vs. Kramer deals with difficult subject matter and handles it well for the most part.  Not a perfect movie by any means, but definitely an important one.  

#67: Oliver!

Director: Carol Reed
Release Date: September 26th, 1968
Ceremony: 41st
Wins: 5 (6) (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Musical Adaptation Score; Best Art Direction; Best Sound; HONORARY AWARD for choreography)
Nominations: 11 (Best Actor - Ron Moody; Best Supporting Actor - Jack Wild; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Costume Design; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing)

What really defined many of the musicals in the golden age that was the 50's and 60's was a bulk of memorable songs, and while Oliver! has a few, it just can't stand up with the greats.  The honorary award given for choreography was the most deserved win, mostly for the opening scene of the second act ("Who Will Buy"), which remains one of the most impressive numbers in any film.  The fact that the acting is just above average outside of a couple of the leads doesn't help it much either, but it is still quite an enjoyable watch almost 50 years later.

#66: Million Dollar Baby

Director: Clint Eastwood
Release Date: December 15th, 2004
Ceremony: 77th
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress - Hilary Swank; Best Supporting Actor - Morgan Freeman)
Nominations: 7 (Best Actor - Clint Eastwood; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Film Editing)

If you take just the first two-thirds of this movie, it would rank a lot closer to the top of the list, but the last act really pulled down this film for me, no matter how tastefully done.  It goes from an inspirational sports drama to pulling at the heartstrings in a cruel way.  That being said, Clint Eastwood sure does know how to direct a movie, and all of the actors give him incredible performances.   Million Dollar Baby will be remembered for provoking a lot of debates, one of which being how to review a movie without giving away major spoilers.  I stand by the no spoilers rule 10 years later and simply recommend this film to you if you enjoy sports dramas and don't mind being so sad it makes you sick. 

Part 2 (#65-51) will be coming next Friday, 1/29/16

List so far:
87 - The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
86 - Cimarron (1931)
85 - The Broadway Melody (1929)
84 - Dances With Wolves (1990)
83 - Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
82 - Cavalcade (1934)
81 - Crash (2005)
80 - Out of Africa (1985)
79 - The Lost Weekend (1945)
78 - How Green Was My Valley (1941)
77 - Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
76 - Ordinary People (1980)
75 - Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
74 - Terms of Endearment (1983)
73 - The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
72 - A Man for All Seasons (1966)
71 - The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
70 - Braveheart (1995)
69 - Going My Way (1944)
68 - Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
67 - Oliver! (1968)
66 - Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Written by Richard W. F. Swor