Best Oscars–Looking Back

I’d have no problem with any of these Academy choices for very good or great films:

1939–Gone with the Wind; big focus: American Civil War as it affected the South; several storylines; strong performances including Gable and Leigh; big scenes–Gettysburg triage, burning of Atlanta; ambitious large-scale movie and a blockbuster

1943–Casablanca–the most nostalgic WW 2 movie; numerous strong performances including cool Bogart, beautiful Bergman; good vs. evil with strong overlayers of romance and heroism

1946–The Best Years of Our Lives–truly well-done study of 3 soldiers returning home; scene-stealing performance by handicapped Harold Russell; looks at many kinds of relationships and post-war adjustment

1948–Hamlet– a dignified romantic take by director-actor Olivier; he catches the protagonist’s passion and poetry; many good scenes; 1st film to make a serious, credible Shakespeare; great b & w look

1950–All About Eve–very catty, bitchy, witty, and funny; numerous truths about ego, vanity, manipulation, acting and theatre; strong performances by Davis, Sanders, and everybody else; still fun to watch; script and direction top notch

1951–An American in Paris–I’m not big on musicals but this one is up there with my other favorite–Singin’ in the Rain–both with a funny, dashing, romantic Kelly; nice use of color and set pieces; Gershwin music a can’t miss

1953–From Here to Eternity–several famous actors, all doing well; who can forget the Sinatra-Borgnine fight and the beach love scene? Based on several-plots Jones novel

1954–On the Waterfront–can’t miss with an essential Brando directed by Elia Kazan (as in Streetcar); an antihero-underdog takes on the crooked waterfront; all about honesty, truth,¬†integrity and the individual vs. society trying to create positive change; very pro-union viewing

1957–Bridge on the River Kwai–Lean’s first big epic about a ‘nut’ (he was fascinated by them–cf Lawrence of Arabia); Guinness outstanding as is his Japanese counterpart and Holden as a stereotypical American hero; the final scene is one of the best, most suspenseful ever filmed–right up there with High Noon

1959–Ben Hur–another big blockbuster which ties in with the Christ story; big, risky, dangerous scenes like the chariot race; memorable ‘minor’ scenes like the leper cave and slave galley scenes; Heston was never better

1962–Lawrence of Arabia–a film masterpiece and Lean’s finest labor of love re. ‘nuts’, nature, big scenes (train explosions), and beauty; O’Toole was robbed of Best Actor; must be seen on a big screen to get the full values of this one–no phone screens!

1967–In the Heat of the Night–well-timed study of a black detective helping a ‘dumb’ prejudiced white sheriff solve a murder case; Steiger and Poitier outstanding; best movie by a Canadian director up to this point in time; a basic primer on civil rights in the ’60s

1970–Patton–Scott is Patton, his finest performance; covers general’s career in WW2–interesting story, colorful larger-than-life character; good cinematography and even better score

1972–The Godfather–whoda thunk–an artsy film about a Mafia family; an essential American dream film; outstanding performances by Brando, Pacino (his first big role), Caan, and many others; several powerful scenes; a film that can be watched over and over because of its feel and atmosphere

1974–Godfather II–an even bigger, stronger film; past and present intertwined nicely; Pacino is remarkable; Coppola at his best

1975–One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest–Jack Nicholson’s best role; a true and funny view of madness with powerful scenes and conflict with the Big Nurse

1977–Annie Hall–still vivid and funny; so much depends on Allen and Keaton–major comedy stars of their time; great script, somewhat loosely but effectively directed by Allen

1980–Ordinary People–Redford’s first major film directed; all strong performances–Moore, Hutton, Hirsch, and an underrated Sutherland; many memorable scenes; best film to that point about a dysfunctional ‘haves’ family

1981–Chariots of Fire–totally from left field (like King’s Speech later); underdog entry surprised everyone at the time; very British story with little known actors; story of two runners; memorable inspiring Vangelis score

1990–Dances with Wolves–Costner’s best work; an atmospheric work about a white outsider who becomes one with the oppressed natives; at times a gentle work taking a sympathetic view of native history and culture

1992–Unforgiven–the meanest western ever made; the first serious (Mel Brooks did the first satirical western) deconstructed western; brutal, vicious and more realistic than 80% of the westerns ever made; Eastwood has never been better as actor or director

1993–Schindler’s List–Spielberg’s first significant artsy film about concentration camps; shot in b & w to capture the harshness and bleakness; good storyline with a nice historical coda; must-seeing re. the Holocaust

2005–Crash–another Canadian success, Paul Haggis; multiple storylines and couples; explores modern America, the sexes, common conflicts, prejudice, and racism; wonderfully and fearlessly political correct at times

2008–The King’s Speech–another unexpected U.K. winner; many people can identify with the public speaking conflict; captures the angst of the protagonist and the times
Other Best Movie choices I would either concur with or be indifferent about. And there are many, especially in the last 20 years that have not lured me to a movie theatre.

Elsewhere, earlier on this blog, see my reviews of Klute, All Is Lost, Branagh’s Macbeth, and various Hitchcocks. I hope to include more reviews from time to time when I get the chance to see something good, memorable, or great.

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