Did you watch The Academy Awards last night??
Neither did I, but from catching up online it looks like the powers-that-be predictably followed their usual patterns. American Sniper, a film that normal people love because it celebrates American heroism and doesn’t try to minimize the evil of radical Islam, was overlooked. Some British dude won Best Actor because a) he’s British, and b) he played a handicapped character. Meanwhile, Michael Keaton…freakin’ Batman…gets squadoosh. Julianne Moore, an atheist who is all about abortion and wants to take away your right to bear arms, was awarded with a Best Actress statuette. The dude from the Farmer’s Insurance commercials was named Best Supporting Actor, probably in part because he’s old. A rapper won the award for Best Song. Presenters apparently included Kevin Hart (the only way he’ll ever be on the Oscar stage), The Rock (really??), and noted liberal assclowns Sean Penn, Liam Neeson, Gwyneth Paltrow, & Satan’s favorite talk show host. Tim McGraw took his lips off President Obama’s manhood long enough to perform a song, and somebody thought it was a good idea to give Lady Gaga a microphone, although to be fair the general consensus is she was quite good (see what happens when you toss aside the gimmick and just sing?). All in all I’m glad National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and a really interesting Billy Joel biography kept me entertained.
The truth is that I haven’t had Oscar Fever for several years. That begs the question…why??
There are a hundred different answers to that question, mostly to do with personal preferences & lifestyle, but one big issue is the huge disconnect between Hollywood’s definition of quality and the public’s idea of popularity. A quick look at some of the highest grossing films in recent years is revealing. The Pirates of the Caribbean series. Iron Man. The Harry Potter series. Twilight. The Spider-Man movies. The Star Wars prequels. Popular?? Yes. Profitable?? Obviously. Award winning?? Not really. This isn’t a recent development though. Look back at the 80’s. Top Gun, Back to the Future, & Batman made a ton of cash and were all cool flicks in my opinion, but the “experts” didn’t shower them with trophies. Same deal for pretty decent stuff from the 70’s like Grease, Blazing Saddles, Dirty Harry, & The Poseidon Adventure. Meanwhile, The Academy has given Best Picture statuettes to the likes of Crash, The Artist, Dances with Wolves, The Hurt Locker, Out of Africa, The English Patient, & No Country for Old Men. What’s up with that??
So this train of thought led me to ponder…what films cross over?? What are some of the movies that I appreciate as a fan that were also rewarded by folks who (theoretically) know what makes a movie “good”?? There are only two requirements that qualify a movie for this list…a) I like it, and b) it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Therefore, without further ado, it is my pleasure to present…..
from the home office in Hollywood, FL…..
The Superfluous 7 Best Picture Winners That Matter:
7 Rain Man
Rain Man won Best Picture for 1988. Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor and Barry Levinson won Best Director as well, among other awards. Hoffman beat out Tom Hanks (nominated for Big) for his trophy, which in retrospect is pretty darn impressive. His turn as an autistic savant is poignant and amusing, but not histrionic. It is still one of Tom Cruise’s best performances, and the film itself holds up well thru repeated viewings.
6 The Silence of the Lambs / The Greatest Show on Earth
I’m not generally a horror/suspense/thriller fan, and I still maintain that the book is even better than the movie, but the success of Lambs can’t be overlooked. It was the 5th highest grossing film of 1991 and won Best Picture, Best Actor (Sir Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodi Foster), & Best Director (Jonathan Demme). I became familiar with The Greatest Show on Earth many years ago because I am a big Jimmy Stewart fan. The film also stars Charlton Heston and is kind of a soap opera set inside the circus. It was the top grossing movie of 1952 and won Best Picture, beating out High Noon (starring Gary Cooper).
5 American Beauty
American Beauty is a strange film. It falls into that dramedy category that I seem to enjoy so much. It was the 13th highest grossing film of 1999, but when one realizes that the #1 hit at the box office was Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace the often stark contrast between quantity & quality becomes clear. American Beauty overcame competition from The Green Mile and The Sixth Sense to win Best Picture, and the brilliant Kevin Spacey beat the likes of Russell Crowe, Sean Penn, & Denzel Washington for Best Actor. Spacey is hilarious thru much of the film, making it exceedingly entertaining & watchable, but its darker elements (especially toward the end) and the weird next door neighbors, while adding the gravitas that Hollywood loves, intensifies the eccentricity.
4 Titanic / Rocky
Titanic not only topped the box office in 1997, it is the 2nd highest grossing film in the world…of all time. On top of the obvious mass appeal & financial success it is actually a really good movie that pretty much swept the Oscars and made huge stars out of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and director James Cameron. Sadly there was never a sequel. Conversely, 1976’s Rocky spawned numerous sequels, but none were as good as the original, which was written by Sylvester Stallone himself. Good sports films are almost always treasured by the masses but rarely receive high critical praise. Rocky broke the mold and has stood the test of time.
3 Casablanca / The Godfather Part II
When folks converse about the greatest movies ever made there are a handful of names that almost universally get tossed around. One of them is Casablanca, a romantic drama set against the backdrop of Nazi controlled Morocco during World War II. Casablanca has an elegance & sophistication that almost all modern entertainment lacks and is as great today as it was 70+ years ago. Maybe better, if that’s even possible. No car chases. No explosions. No CGI. No illicit sex or celebration of deviant lifestyles. Just good acting and fantastic writing. Hollywood should try that more often. Some say that The Godfather Part II is superior to the original film. I don’t quite agree, but I understand the sentiment. Part II seamlessly tells two different stories at the same time. Al Pacino returns as Michael Corleone, who is determined to make his “family business” legitimate. Robert DeNiro also stars as the younger version of Don Vito Corleone, as we see how he came to America and rose to power as a mob boss. In essence The Godfather Part II is a sequel AND a prequel…a pretty neat trick. DeNiro and Marlon Brando are the only two actors to win Oscars (Best Supporting Actor for DeNiro, Best Actor for Brando) for playing the same character, and the film was the first sequel to ever win Best Picture. Al Pacino was robbed of the Best Actor statuette…one of the most criminal snubs in the history of film.
2 Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is kind of a divisive movie. Lots of people love it. Some people hate it. Many feel that, in hindsight, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption were superior films and one of them should have won Best Picture. Those same people think that either Morgan Freeman (for Shawshank), John Travolta (Pulp Fiction), or Paul Newman (Nobody’s Fool) might have been more deserving of the Best Actor award. I disagree on both counts. I adore Forrest Gump. I have watched it dozens of times and find it enchanting. Hanks has had a fantastic career, having been in a plethora of solid romantic comedies & animated features, but Gump remains his pinnacle.
1 The Godfather
For those familiar with my 100 Favorite Movies series the top two choices here come as no surprise, as they capped those rankings as well. I have called The Godfather a “nearly flawless” film and I stand by that proclamation. Francis Ford Coppola is a legendary director. Pacino, Brando, James Caan, Talia Shire, Robert Duvall…all legends. The cinematography is brilliant. The music is extraordinary. The Godfather won Best Picture over Deliverance, which is kind of like saying the winner of a free meal at a restaurant chose surf & turf over cold pizza and a bottle of ripple. Brando had zero legitimate competition for Best Actor, but shockingly Francis Ford Coppola did not win Best Director. I am sure there is an “inside baseball” story about that, but I’m far too lazy to do the required research. Needless to say that The Godfather has aged more than well and it is a rare example of the rank & file in flyover country and the elitists in the film industry completely agreeing on something.