Friday, January 29, 2016

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

Introduction

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)

6 comments:

  1. posting next weeks order ruins the suspense. nice work though, interesting

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  2. posting next weeks order ruins the suspense. nice work though, interesting

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a worthwhile endeavor. I'll be following this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you John! Hope you enjoy tomorrow's post

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  4. Which version of Tom Jones did you watch? The theatrical cut can be difficult to get a hold of. Which version of Amadeus for that matter? This is pretty neat by the way. I'm trying to watch all the ones I haven't this year.

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  5. Enchantment spins around Corky Withers, a psychotic stage mystical performer and ventriloquist who turns into a sudden dance club accomplishment with his ribald vaudeville act when he adds refuse talking sham Fats to the appear. 'Moonstruck'' Oscar winner

    ReplyDelete