Oscars

Friday A/V Club: Welcome to Oscar Season

This is what Academy voters actually believe.

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Yesterday the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released that annual guide to Hollywood backscratching and middlebrow taste that we call the Oscar nominations. In response, I give you a classic Kids in the Hall sketch from 1991:

Here, by the way, is a list of all the Best Picture winners since the awards began. Take a look, then head down to the comment thread and answer these two questions:

1. Which ones, if any, really are the best movies of their respective years? (Not the best of the nominees—the best, period.)

2. What's the worst film on the list?

My answer to number one: The Apartment and The Godfather, definitely; Annie Hall and No Country for Old Men, probably; It Happened One Night and Unforgiven, maybe. And that's pretty much it. (N.B.: I've only watched one of the last six winners. I've seen all the older ones, though.)

My answer to number two: You can make a case for Crash, but I vote for an earlier ham-handed picture about prejudice, Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement. As I wrote a few years back, the 1947 film

Points for the pulp-fiction art, though.
20th Century Fox

stars Gregory Peck, dripping with even more sanctimony than usual, as a gentile journalist who goes undercover as a Jew so he can describe how anti-Semitism feels first-hand. (Presumably no actual Jews were available to write the article.) It's a sign of how careless the screenwriters are that so much of the anti-Semitism he encounters isn't first-hand; he just hears about it from other people. Still more of it consists of someone not realizing that Peck is supposed to be Jewish and saying something bigoted in his presence, an experience he had surely already endured before he started his research. The only difference is that now he can respond by claiming to be Jewish himself, and then everyone feels a little awkward, and then it's on to another adventure.

Peck's character has a young son who disappears for long stretches of the narrative, appearing only when the story requires it. His absences may be hard to explain but his constant presence would be worse, since the boy turns in one of the most grating child-actor performances in Hollywood history. The reporter himself is supposed to be a brilliant wordsmith, but for most of the picture we never actually hear any of his work—a wise choice, since the filmmakers obviously didn't have any good writers on hand to produce it. When we finally do hear a passage, it's completely banal, though it's supposed to be searing and heartfelt.

The sad thing is that there really was an effective indictment of anti-Jewish prejudice in theaters that year: Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire, a solid film noir about an anti-Semitic murder.

Crossfire was nominated for several Oscars. Naturally, it didn't win any of them.

(For previous editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

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  1. Silence Of The Lambs probably was the best film of 1991, but that’s more an indictment of 1991 than a comment on the film’s superiority.

    1. Highlander 2 was in 1991 you infidel.

      Although, I guess you maybe didn’t count it since it was a documentary filmed in real time.

      1. Is that the one where you find out they come from outer space?

        It’s not only the best Highlander film, it’s also the best twist in cinema.

        1. PS SPOILER ALERT

      2. Oh Oh another ISIS lover…….
        That’s where they got the idea…..

  2. I watched Gentleman’s Agreement on a flight from the US to the UK one time. It really is god-awful. A true waste of time lost in my life that I can never reclaim.

  3. Going My Way beating both Double Indemnity and Gaslight is some serious bullshit. I wonder if the latter two split votes.

  4. Wow, good questions.

    1) Lawrence of Arabia (up against some serious contenders), Patton, Godfather, Rocky,The Deer Hunter, The Silence of the Lambs, No Country for Old Men.

    2) The English Patient

    1. No Country for Old Men” was a terrible movie. Why do people keep heaping praise on something with such gaping deficiencies in basic storytelling?

      1. I was going to say something sort of similar about how its odd so many people credit it for superior quality when its not really a proper ‘movie’ in the traditional sense.

        As for ‘deficiencies in basic storytelling’ – we may be talking about the same thing, or we may not.

        I read the book before the movie, and the funny thing is = they are the same (more or less). If anything, the book has a longer denouement from the anti-climax, where the Sheriff has a long tete-a-tete about the nature of man with his crippled pa. The same end scene, but much longer.

        Its *supposed* to be the way it is. It has no real climax, no heroes, no moral logic, and doesn’t even try to suggest what happens to any of the characters after the film ends.

        I don’t think these are inherent ‘deficiencies’ so much as they are not necessarily well-suited for making a movie. There’s a reason people write novels instead of making movies.* (although some people have argued that McCarthy wrote the book with the intent of it being a film – it was originally a screenplay, then converted into book form)

        I personally think “There Will Be Blood” makes a strong case for being a better ‘movie’.

  5. How Green Was My Valley, Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York, and Suspicion were all 1941 nominees. Is there another year anywhere nearly that good?

    1. Whichever year “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” won.

  6. Wow did the early aughts suck. With the exception of Sideways there is not a single movie on that list from 2002 to 2006 that is worthy of being a nominee most years let alone Best Picture.

  7. I’d take the Bishop’s Wife over Gentleman’s Agreement but hamhanded or not, it’s still better than The Godfather.

    1. I didn’t watch “The Godfather” till recently. It kicks ass, and now we watch it over and over.

      *calls for a hit on Cdr Lytton*

      1. Call Clemenza.

      2. Go ahead. At least I’ll never have to watch it again.

  8. Best is a hard one;

    Unforgiven?
    Patton?
    The Godfather?
    The Sting?

    The worst is easy. Chariots of Fire is not only the worst movie to ever win best picture, but may be the worst movie ever made.

    1. “Chariots of Fuck Up” as we referred to it when it came out. Good call.

      1. Ok, I can agree with this one. That goddam music.

        Oliver! is a close second.

        1. Haven’t seen the movie, but I like to call the tune “Chariots of Ice Cream”. Eventually, inevitably, I did hear it played by an ice cream truck.

  9. And the award for the best movie of all times goes to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

    End of discussion.

    1. Wrong.

      The correct answer is Big Trouble In Little China

      1. End of discussion means further words are invalid.

        1. Great wrongs must be righted.

      2. That’s a good answer, it’s just not the correct answer, which is Aliens.

        I cannot believe how well that movie is holding up. It helps that it doesn’t use CGI.

        1. It hold up, to be sure, but Wrath of Khan has everything. EVERYTHING.

          1. Does it have fine corinthian leather?

      3. Wrong, Escape from New York….
        There, undid your “End of discussion”….

  10. “Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire, a solid film noir about an anti-Semitic murder.”

    Dmytryk’s name sounds familiar:

    “Summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1947, Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood Ten who refused to testify and were cited for contempt of Congress, serving jail terms.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E….._Committee

    Could that have anything to do with him not getting an Oscar during the same period?

  11. Oh, I forgot that Saving Private Ryan lost out to Shakespeare in Love. Fucketh thou, greatest generation!

  12. Best Best Picture? Three way tie between Rebecca, Mrs. Miniver, and The Best Years of Our Lives.

  13. I know it’s been like 12 years but I still can’t believe they gave it to Chicago over Gangs of New York back in ’02.

  14. 1) I thought There Will Be Blood was better than No Country for Old Men, but it was close. Also, How did Coppola have Godfather II AND The Conversation out it one year? They’re both two of the greatest movies ever and he made them the same year, within two years of his other masterpiece. Way to use all your genius credits up at once.

    2) I hated Deer Hunter, but I think I’m in the minority on that one. They were too close to the ’60s to realize how late ’70s everything looked, and the second half of the movie is just dumb.

    But, yeah, Crash. What a pile of shit.

    1. Wait, I didn’t really answer 1:

      Godfather, Godfather II.

    2. I thought There Will Be Blood was better than No Country for Old Men, but it was close.

      I don’t think it’s close, actually.

      Which movie would you actually watch again? One of those I have already seen another 2-3 times. The other, although a fine film, I wouldn’t watch again even if it came up while I was channel-surfing.

      1. I’ve seen There Will Be Blood 3 times. I’ve seen No Country for Old Men once. Going into it, I didn’t expect to like TWBB as much as I did.

        1. Huh. I have the opposite experience. De gustibus etc etc.

  15. Annie Hall, probably;

    Over Star Wars?!?

    You are dead to me, Walker!

    1. Star Wars has the Metallica effect. Stuff produced later was so bad it actually went back in time and made the early stuff worse.

      That being said, I still think it beats Annie Hall.

  16. Best movie on the list that actually won? Unforgiven. Or The Bridge on the River Kwai. Or In the Heat of the Night. Or Titanic.

    The Godfather is out because it spawned The Godfather Part III.

    1. It seems like to make a trilogy work, you might have to make them all really close together in time like with LoTR. Making a movie and revisiting the themes in sequels, at least one isn’t going to work well as a movie – happened to The Matrix, Star Wars (damn ewoks), The Godfather.

      That said, there were six Thin Man movies made from ’34 to ’47 and they all hold up OK.

      1. The Godfather Part III might have been okay had they not rushed it and had the actors they wanted been available and FOR FUCK SAKE SOFIA COPOLLA WAS NOT AN ADEQUATE SUBSTITUTION FOR WINONA RYDER.

        1. That opera sequence in Godfather III is genius. Unfortunately everything else in the movie ruined it.

  17. Jaws over One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 75.

    Jaws may be the best move ever made.

    1. After Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, of course.

    2. I thought the best move was the aforementioned “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”

      1. The best move was this

  18. I’m still angry about Forrest Gump.

    It was the third best movie nominated.

  19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/74th_Academy_Awards

    Goddammit, the 74th Academy Awards were terrible.

    The worst part is that the 74th Academy Awards had Memento on the ballot for best screenplay, but it wasn’t even nominated for best film even though it’s better than any that were nominated.

  20. Out for Justice
    Death Wish III
    Cobra
    Bloodsport
    Invasion USA
    Roadhouse
    Commando
    Universal Soldier
    Lethal Weapon
    Tango and Cash

  21. I love Kids In The Hall. I just take a look at the dumb face on Kevin McDonald and I start laughing.

    The correct answers are:
    1. Cuckoo’s Nest, Annie Hall, The Last Emperor, No Country
    2. Titanic

  22. Better question: which was the greatest injustice of all time?

    I vote for Shakespeare in Love being chosen over Life is Beautiful AND Private Ryan in 1998. But there are many excellent candidate years.

  23. In other news…

    watched Amazons’s first episode of the adaptation of PKD’s Man in the High Castle last night. Very impressed, by far the best screen interpretation of a PKD novel to date. I want them to continue this series so bad!

    1. “by far the best screen interpretation of a PKD novel story to date”

      WHAT!?

      but… PAYBACK?

      no, but really = isn’t that setting the bar a little low?

      Other than Blade Runner, Scanner Darkly…. uh, the competition is a bit… well, French, or just embarrassing*.

      *starring ‘Alanis Morissette’

      (I noted ‘story’, since the majority of adaptations were all actually short stories; and I’d probably argue that his stories make for far better conceptual platforms than his novels)

      1. Yeah PAYBACK.

        I like Bladerunner mostly, but its more style than substance and doesn’t really grapple that well with PKD’s obsessions, the real versus fake, authentic versus inauthentic, human versus non-human.

        Yes, they’ve surely mined the short stories…and there’s a ton of them of them to mine.

        The novels flesh out his beliefs, philosophy etc more fully with his characters, typically the small guy grappling with life’s slings and arrows…wife’s just left me, front door refuses to open unless I feed it a quarter and I’m broke, aliens have invaded etc.
        They go after the stories I think for the imaginative fast-moving plots and PKD’s hyper active (and very funny in a very black sense) imagination.

        1. “The novels flesh out his beliefs, philosophy etc more fully”

          *exactly*

          which is why they’ve been generally avoided, or revised.

          That said – do you know the series schedule for the rest of the High Castle episodes? I poked around and all I see is that the first bit has aired, but nothing about what the plans are for the future.

          1. Only one episode has been filmed. Future episodes being made are predicated on viewer response presumably.

            The reviews at Amazon are extremely positive (4.8/5), basically screaming for more.

            What’s interesting is that the positive response is shared by both those who have never heard of PKD and fans of his work.

      2. The French love PKD, he’s a bestselling author there.

        1. “The French love PKD”

          YOU TAKE THAT BACK!

          (*usually, saying, “The French love X” is a mortal insult to whatever X is)

          Feast upon the list of “American things the French ‘J’adore’“, and despair

          WARNING = #1 and #2 are ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘Woody Allen’. And it just gets worse from there

          Although i’m surprised = Mickey Roarke is not even mentioned.

          1. LOL!

            Hint…if you’re a starving young novelist with a snarky attitude towards mainstream american culture (Manhatten society excepted) hawking your manuscripts to French literary agents or moving to France or both is an excellent career move!

    2. Wait WHAT?

      I had heard that this was going into production but it is already HERE?

      1. The first episode has just been released by Amazon, they are asking everyone to watch it and review it for them. If they get enough positive response they will commision more episodes presumably.
        I watched it last night, very, very impressed, there are changes but they appear to be keeping the overall main arc of the novel both in terms of plotline and themes.
        Check out the reviews its been getting on Amamzon, they are very positive, people are screaming for more.
        Please watch and give your feedback to Amazon.

  24. Flashdance
    Strictly Ballroom
    You Got Served
    Breakin’
    Dirty Dancing
    Step Up
    Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
    Bring it On
    Stomp The Yard
    Save the Last Dance

  25. Likin ur choices gilmore. you dance?

  26. Question 3: what year had the most films that would have deserved to win Best Picture had they come out in a less competetive year?

    1. 1976: Rocky won, but that year had All The President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver nominated. I love Rocky, but even I’ll admit that it probably shouldn’t have won that year, as iconic as the movie became. And how on earth do you pick from the other three?

      1. The one with the biggest tits?

  27. And The Winner Is?The Suicide Prevention Hotline #oscars2015 http://wp.me/p3tCLD-H9

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