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February 28, 2014

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Jeff McMahon

Very entertaining, just not sure I understand the motivation - OCD-esque timekiller?

jbryant

Awesome-sauce, in more ways than one. Nice to see kind words for Driving Miss Daisy and Going My Way -- doesn't often happen in lists of this kind. I hope some middlebrows drop by to sputter about How Green Was My Valley finishing so high -- "But -- but -- it beat Citizen Kane!"

Blankemon

A fine list. Nice to see the HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY love.
Now I'm hungry.

Shawn Stone

Was impressed that when I finally saw Cavalcade after all these years, on that nice Fox Blu-ray, it was as bad as it's reputation.

After Margaret Lindsay and what's his name talk about how glorious their honeymoon has been, I imagined the shot of the life preserver labeled "Titantic" replaced with one labeled "S.S. Minnow."

Also, now I'm hungry.

MarkVH

Aaaaaaaaawesome list. Love, love, love How Green Was My Valley and Best Years of Our Lives in the top five. Also love that you didn't shit on Mrs. Miniver as so many are wont to do (clearly I'm a Wyler guy). Sorry It Happened One Night and The Apartment couldn't crack the top 10 (I'd personally swap them out with Annie Hall and No Country), but that's picking nits. Great stuff.

Also I'll add that I'm forever in your debt for posting this at 4:15 on a Friday. You just killed about 20 minutes of what's left of my work week. Thank you.

Tony Dayoub

We're in agreement on many of these. Thank you for ranking HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY so high. I just saw it for the first time last week. It rankles that the movie has gotten so much grief because it beat CITIZEN KANE that year. Must it be an either/or? HOW GREEN is just as fine a film IMHO.

partisan

Here's how I would categorize the winners:

Winners that were actually the best Picture of the year: All Quiet on the Western Front, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, A Man for All Seasons, The Godfather, Annie Hall, Schindler's List, The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King

Winners that were worthy of being nominated for best picture: Gone with the Wind, The Best Years of Our Lives, All About Eve, Around the World in Eighty Days, Oliver!, The Sting, The Godfather, Part II, Gandhi, The Last Emperor, The Silence of the Lambs, The English Patient, The Hurt Locker

Winners that almost deserved to be nominated for best picture: An American in Paris, The Apartment, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Midnight Cowboy, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Unforgiven

Winners that are perfectly enjoyable: Grand Hotel, It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, You Can't Take it With you, The Bridge on the River Kwai, My Fair Lady, The Departed, Slumdog Millionaire, The Artist

Winners that are perfectly reasonable: Hamlet, From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront, Patton, The French Connection, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ordinary People, Amadeus, Out of Africa

Winners I'm largely indifferent to: Cavalcade, Rebecca, How Green was My Valley, The Lost Weekend, All the King's Men, Marty, In the Heat of the Night, Terms of Endearment, Rain Man, Million Dollar Baby

Irritating Oscarbait (benign edition): Wings, The Great Ziegfeld, The Greatest Show on Earth, Gigi, Driving Miss Daisy, Dances with Wolves, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, The King's Speech, Argo

Irritating Oscarbait (malign edition): The Broadway Melody, Cimarron, The Life of Emile Zola, Mrs. Miniver, Going my Way, Tom Jones, Rocky, Kramer vs. Kramer, Chariots of Fire, American Beauty, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind

Special talented but meretricious category: Ben-Hur, Forrest Gump, Titanic, No Country for Old Men

Just bad movies: Braveheart, Crash

I have never seen "Gentleman's Agreement." It never shows up on TCM and "It Happened on Night" and "How Green was My Valley" never seem to be on TCM at the best time for me to rewatch them. Michael Wood said that "Oliver!" is actually a pretty good movie, it's "The Agony and the Ectasy" (which I've never seen, or read) where the rot set in for Oliver Reed. "The Apartment" would have made my top 5 for 1960 if there were not four foreign language movies that the Academy, of course, would never have nominated. It is kind of cheap to point out that "How Green was my Valley" beat out "Citizen Kane." It also beat out "The Maltese Falcon," "Hellazoppin," "Dumbo," and "The Lady Eve." As for Zinnemann, "The Sundowners" may not be a great movie, but it's arguably as good as Preminger's fourth best movie.

MarkVH

The "How Green beat Citizen Kane therefore it must be flogged" cliche is one of the laziest in all of mainstream movie writing and has absolutely thrashed the movie's reputation over the years, which pisses me off to no end, because it's a magnificent movie and vintage Ford. Just pop it into a Google News search around Oscar time and you'll get scores of "biggest Oscar travesties" pieces. It's become so ubiquitous that I really shouldn't let it bother me like I do, but it grinds my gears every year.

MarkVH

Gladiator is not "irritating Oscar bait." It came out in May of 2000, a couple of weeks after Mission: Impossible 2, and was marketed as a summer action epic (if I recall, Kid Rock's "Bawitaba" was used extensively in the advertising). That made it an incredibly strange choice for an Oscar front-runner and, when it did become that, it was a real head-scratcher. But it was not made or marketed as an Oscar movie, and therefore it does not fit the traditional definition of Oscar bait.

Jeff McMahon

My top 5: Godfather II, No Country, Schindler's List, Lawrence, The Godfather.

My bottom 5: Out of Africa, Slumdog, The Greatest Show on Earth, A Beautiful Mind, Crash (just the worst).

I never thought of Gladiator as an Oscar-bait movie but rather as a popcorn movie that broke through in an otherwise weak year for odd reasons.

MK

I don't hate most of these films, but I don't feel passionately in favor for an overwhelming majority of the winners either.

My ten favorites:

10: Rebecca
9: Unforgiven
8: The Hurt Locker
7: The Best Years of Our Lives
6: The Godfather
5: No Country For Old Men
4: How Green Was My Valley
3: Annie Hall
2: Lawrence of Arabia
1: The Godfather, Part II

partisan

Yes, I admit "Gladiator" isn't the best example of Oscarbait, nor does "Chariots of Fire," which at the time was lucky to get nominated. But I vaguely recall "Gladiator" as a front runner for best picture as early as July, and it kept that position up until it won. Once its makers realized that it had appealed to a certain section of Academy voters nostalgic for a pseudo-serious epic, they worked that appeal for all it was worth. Likewise "Chariots of Fire," once nominated did manage to win for particularly bad reasons: it was more serious than "Raiders" it was not as left-wing as "Reds," and it was so much more pleasant than "Atlantic City." Also it plays on snobbish anglophillia, which even the New York Review of Books thinks is Vernacular American for Internationalism. I think that you can include both movies if you expand oscarbait to move beyond Mirimax productions to any undeserving movie that cunningly plays on bad reasons to win the award.

Mitchell Aitchbee

Your comment on #34 is just right, sir. Good stuff.

Also, Curt Bois, yes, awesome. Every time I click through his filmography, I'm reminded that there is a batshit-sounding version of "The Woman in White" that features Sydney Greenstreet as Count Fosco. I need me some of that.

MK

I forgot "Sunrise" - I don't care what the Academy says, they can't retroactively redefine its Oscar as anything less than Best Picture. And not only was it the best of that year, it's arguably the best American silent film ever.

alex

I forgive Broadway Melody, Cimamron and Calvacade winning best picture oscars-the academy was a young institution. What I can't stomach is phony movies like American Beauty and Crash being honored. Those 2 get my vote for worst ever Best picture winners. I really hate both of them. And Martin Scorsese Won his oscar for his worst movie.
Best "best" pictures- Godfather, Godfather 2, On The Waterfront, Sound Of Music, Casablanca, It Happened One Night, Annie Hall, Ben Hur , Bridge on The River Kwai and On The Waterfront,

jbryant

As far as that goes, several other films partisan designates as "Oscarbait" seem like no such thing to me. How could WINGS, the first winner, be Oscarbait? The awards had very little public profile the first couple of years, so no one was making films with an eye on the prize at that time. I can't imagine GOING MY WAY, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, ROCKY or AMERICAN BEAUTY were made with Oscar in mind either.

Also, partisan, you meant Carol Reed, not Oliver (though Oliver does appear in, uh, OLIVER!

lazarus

I'll beat this tired drum one more time: The English Patient has a lot more going on than a Casablanca rehash, and I'm surprised that Glenn even tried to make connections between the two, as I thought most people just thought it was a 90s version of Lawrence Of Arabia or Out Of Africa (also underrated). Familiarity with Ondaatje's abstract novel makes the adaptation more impressive, but I'll tell you, you could find a lot worse ways to spend 2.5 hours than listening to the commentary with Minghella, Ondaatje and Zaentz to fully appreciate the unique alchemy that occurred on this production. Plus, Walter Murch's deft navigation of the flashback structure is like ballet, especially when working with Minghella's matched audio/visual cuts. That guy's presence alone should garner more respect. The film never can never catch a break from either side because it's too poetic and its politics too nuanced for people that are partial to classic romantic Hollywood epics, and yet it's too Miramax prestige/Golden Age wannabe for indie snobs.

Anyway. I'm glad Glenn gave some props to The Last Emperor, which usually gets disparaged as sellout Bertolucci or whatever. I screened it recently for friends and people really liked it.

And Gladiator becoming a major contender was strange to me back in 2000/2001 because I just thought it was a deeper-than-normal summer blockbuster. But Traffic was perhaps a bit too "intellectual" or cool emotionally to win the big prize, even if it wound up taking writing, directing, and editing honors.

Kurzleg

For years I used a gravy recipe from Mrs. Scorsese I found in Entertainment Weekly back when Goodfellas came out. Curiously, her recipe did not call for the razor method for the garlic. In fact, I believe she called for whole cloves in the sauce. Whatever the method, nothing quite like spending an afternoon cooking a nice red sauce.

jbryant

I recently watched If Only You Could Cook, 1935 William A. Seiter comedy touted by Dave Kehr in the NY Times and on his late blog. In it, Jean Arthur lands the job as a cook for classy Italian mobster Leo Carrillo by being the only candidate who uses his preferred method for adding garlic to a sauce. While others add whole cloves, Arthur just kind of waves it six inches over the pan (it's gotta be six inches).

Cameron

A couple years ago around Oscar Season™ I tried to catch up on all the Best Pictures winners I hadn't seen. I trudged through about a dozen before I hit a wall somewhere around OUT OF AFRICA. (Is there a more gruelling form of Oscar-bait than the three-hour epic directed by a non-auteur? Never made it to Richard Attenborough's GANDHI.)

Anyway, I'd like to speak on behalf of two Best Pictures that landed with a thud near the bottom of your list: CIMARRON and BROADWAY MELODY.

They ain't bad.

I can understand attacking CIMARRON's hokey manifest-destiny narrative, its patriarchal moral pieties, and its often blithe racism (which I think is counteracted somewhat by a few sorta sympathetic scenes featuring black characters). But for me, the film remains a fascinating example of an early “talkie” epic, with awkwardly hushed sections clearing space in every dialogue scene, and a compositional style that ranges from stiff proscenium staginess to God’s-eye-view mass formations on the open plain. I love Richard Dix in the pic, too (shout out to THE GHOST SHIP, yo), especially during his hair-flopping defense of a hooker in court, and when he lies crushed in the mud at the end, looks up to Irene Dunne and says, with perfect corn and poignancy: “Wife. Mother. Stainless woman. Hide me in your love...hide me in your love....”

As for BROADWAY MELODY: Well, again, this has to do with my fondness for early talkies, when everybody seemed caught in that awkward reverie of newly recovered voices. The musical numbers aren’t so great, but the movie keeps sparkling on account of the lead performances by Bessie Love and Anita Page (who was, amazingly, still alive six years ago). Their sisterly confidences are natural and charming, and one has to lament the fact that in the 80+ years since this movie was made, Hollywood has only gotten worse at narratives of female affection and camaraderie. Unfortunately, the movie does set a precedent for teary-eyed pining after dull male leads.

Both problematic films, to be sure. But also more pleasurable than countless dull, self-important pictures that went on to win the category after them.

Finally: DRIVING MISS DAISY is drippy vanilla-chocolate swirl soft-serve. Still, the Worst Pictures for me are FORREST GUMP and THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

mw

Personally, I rarely have any interest in watching the Oscars and consider its choices just a few hairs more relevant than the grammys. Most years, Jethro Tull wins for best heavy metal performance. But for some reason, I do like reading about it. Thanks for the gravy.

edo

My favorites in rough order would be:

How Green Was My Valley, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Unforgiven, Lawrence of Arabia, On the Waterfront, Annie Hall, Million Dollar Baby, The Apartment, It Happened One Night, No Country for Old Men, Going My Way, Casablanca, Rebecca, The Departed, All About Eve

That said, notable ones I haven't seen or have only vague memories of:

All Quiet on the Western Front, Gone With the Wind, Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, Hamlet, An American in Paris, The Bridge On the River Kwai, Gigi, My Fair Lady, Ben-Hur, The Sound of Music, Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Rocky, Driving Miss Daisy

Jette

May I just say how much I love that you are using the term "gravy" for a tomato-based sauce. My husband winces and complains whenever I use the New Orleans-ism "red gravy" and says that up North where he's from (Boston-ish), intelligent people call it "tomato sauce." I've always suspected he's full of shit on this point, and now I feel vindicated.

PS: Would you share your gravy recipe?

The Siren

Loved this. Glenn and I have been pals for so long that I think he could, all by himself, go through and pick out which choices I second, and which make me drop on the fainting couch. So I won't bother. Glenn may not realize, though, that I am warming up to Greatest Show on Earth, although it will always have Betty Hutton to shred my nerves.

Cameron, wonderful spirited defense of Cimarron and Broadway Melody, two movies that hardly anybody ever sticks up for. Hope Ed Hulse sees it.

Joe Walsh

Great read! Some instant reaction;

1. Is CRASH really that bad?
2. AMERICAN BEAUTY really is that bad.
3. SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at 59; too high.
4. AMADEUS at 56; too low.
5. WINGS > MRS. MINIVER.
6. Spot on re: PLATOON.
7. HURT LOCKER > TITANIC.
8. Actually PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING > TITANIC.
9. Can we get over GONE WITH THE WIND already?
10. Can we get over REBECCA already?
11. Be careful not to add any CIMARRON to the gravy ba dum I'll be here all week try the veal.


Thanks for the list! Enjoy the feast!

Cameron

Thanks Siren!

Now I'm curious to know what it is about THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH you're "warming up to." Aside from the justly famous train crash scene Glenn alluded to, I can't think of a thing to recommend it. Does a more lavishly boring BP winner exist? I mean, we're subjected to, like, 40 minutes worth of circus performers and animals promenading on slow-moving floats. Then of course there's Jimmy Stewart's creepy clown with a "secret past" (I think we all guessed "serial killer"), and Betty Hutton gee-gollying every one of her lines...

Larry Gross

Glenn--
I love you, but there's a big boo boo here-- you managed to omit the greatest best picture of them all: Murnau's Sunrise. I blame the fumes. And despite Stone's recent work, Platoon deserves higher than 33.

Glenn Kenny

Larry—Because this was a real-time exercise, mistakes were/are built in. But as I compiled, I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head...concerning "Sunrise." But as it happens (and this explains its absence from the Buzzfeed list too), "Sunrise" is not on the Academy's own list of Best Picture Winners...because it was given a an award for "Unique And Artistic Production," while "Best Picture" went to "Wings." Odder still, the award was not a special one; "Unique And Artistic Production" was a category itself, with other nominees that year, which were Cooper and Schoedsack's "Chang" and Vidor's "The Crowd."

All that said, "Sunrise" is great and immortal and would surely have been in my top three had it been a Best Picture winner.

partisan

How does theyshootpictures.com rank the best picture winners? Let's take a look

33. American Beauty #944
32. Out of Africa #882
31. No Country for Old Men #815
30. An American in Paris #670
29. Titanic #661
28. All Quiet on the Western Front #599
27. Rocky #590
26. Forrest Gump #548
25. The Silence of the Lambs #537
24. The French Connection #534
23. Rebecca #505
22. Ben-Hur #495
21. Amadeus #441
20. The Sound of Music #384
19. West Side Story #349
18. Midnight Cowboy #346
17. The Bridge on the River Kwai #330
16. Schindler's List #309
15. Unforgiven #291
14. How Green was My Valley #290
13. It Happened One Night #280
12. The Deer Hunter #188
11. The Best Years of Our Lives #187
10. On the Waterfront #157
9. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest #135
8. All About Eve #109
7. Gone with the Wind #102
6. Annie Hall #92
5. The Apartment #61
4. Casablanca #37
3. Lawrence of Arabia #22
2. The Godfather, Part II #20
1. The Godfather #7

The following movies have appeared on the top 1000 in the past, but not anymore (#34-49)

Dances with Wolves
From Here to Eternity
Gandhi
Hamlet
In the Heat of the Night
The Last Emperor
The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King
A Man for All Seasons
Million Dollar Baby
Mutiny on the Bounty
My Fair Lady
Ordinary People
Platoon
The Sting
Tom Jones
You Can't Take it With you

The site has a top 250 movies of the 21st century which ranks the best pictures of this century as follows:

The Hurt Locker #22
No Country for Old Men #31
Million Dollar Baby #42
The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King #61
The Departed #76
The Artist #132
Gladiator #159
Argo #164
The King's Speech #170
Crash #249

Chicago, Slumdog Millionaire but NOT A Beautiful Mind have appeared on this list in the past.

Wings and Crash are also on the top 1000, but they're not the best picture winners.

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