The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

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movielocke
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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#176 Post by movielocke » Mon Oct 05, 2009 3:50 pm

reno dakota wrote:1951:
A Streetcar Named DesireAll of my problems with this film boil down to one thing: Blanche DuBois. I can’t decide if it’s Vivien Leigh’s performance that I don’t like, or just the character itself, but either way it simply does not work. She is acting in an entirely different register from the rest of the cast, which makes her performance (and the character) both out of place and intensely irritating to watch. Thank heavens for Marlon Brando’s emotionally raw and sensual performance, and Kim Hunter’s subtle and affecting work, both of which make the film enjoyable overall.
I really enjoyed all the comments for these two years and agreed with pretty much all of them except High Noon. I particularly like these comments on Streetcar though. I've been conflicted about this film since I first saw it, but on revisits I've gradually come to realize that it wasn't Vivian Leigh's performance I was hating it was the character of Blanche herself. Blanche lives in her own world and exists in a completely different reigster from everyone else around her. That makes her incredibly grating to watch, and she's so utterly out of step with the rest of the cast that her scenes constantly remind you you're watching a movie, breaking the spell the other actors effortlessly wind around you. And despite that I don't think Vivian Leigh is entirely to blame, I think her work is true to the character of Blanche, and is excellent work if taken by itself, but I don't think it works cohesively with the rest of the cast. On the other hand I'm not entirely sure it's a role that should be cohesive with the rest of the cast. :shrug: In any event, Hunter, Brando and Malden make this an absolutely enthralling film, even if I can't stand Blanche as a character, I still want to rewatch the film because she's the catalyst that makes everything in the story possible, and you don't have much of anything if you take away the lynchpin.

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Sloper
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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#177 Post by Sloper » Mon Oct 05, 2009 4:14 pm

Yes, I have a love/hate relationship with Streetcar: I love it when I'm in the mood to sympathise with Blanche, but some days she just seems like a royal pain, and the the whole film feels awkward and over-egged.

Also, much as I hate 'biographical' readings of performances, it does feel like Leigh is putting an awful lot of herself into this role. Watching her madness develop is very scary at times, and a bit of me feels uncomfortably voyeuristic... I've seen it many times, but the last time I couldn't finish it - just too uncomfortable.

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reno dakota
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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#178 Post by reno dakota » Mon Oct 05, 2009 4:39 pm

movielocke wrote:I really enjoyed all the comments for these two years and agreed with pretty much all of them except High Noon. I particularly like these comments on Streetcar though. I've been conflicted about this film since I first saw it, but on revisits I've gradually come to realize that it wasn't Vivian Leigh's performance I was hating it was the character of Blanche herself. Blanche lives in her own world and exists in a completely different reigster from everyone else around her. That makes her incredibly grating to watch, and she's so utterly out of step with the rest of the cast that her scenes constantly remind you you're watching a movie, breaking the spell the other actors effortlessly wind around you. And despite that I don't think Vivian Leigh is entirely to blame, I think her work is true to the character of Blanche, and is excellent work if taken by itself, but I don't think it works cohesively with the rest of the cast. On the other hand I'm not entirely sure it's a role that should be cohesive with the rest of the cast. :shrug: In any event, Hunter, Brando and Malden make this an absolutely enthralling film, even if I can't stand Blanche as a character, I still want to rewatch the film because she's the catalyst that makes everything in the story possible, and you don't have much of anything if you take away the lynchpin.
I agree that Blanche is supposed to be out of place among the other characters, but I kept wondering about other ways in which Kazan and Leigh might have accomplished this. Leigh certainly seems to be giving everything she has to this role--a performance this affected and mannered cannot have been easy to construct or control--but knowing how hard she is working doesn't make me like the performance or the character any more than otherwise. Perhaps Williams deserves most of the blame for having created such a caricature in the first place, but Kazan and Leigh seem to have ramped it up (so to speak) rather than to have (wisely) toned it down. I have to admit, though, that without Brando's performance, I would happily write off the entire film and not feel as conflicted (as I do now) in doing so.

As for High Noon, I do like the film, but I cannot bring myself to praise it very highly. Where westerns are concerned, I prefer more subtlety in both plot and character than Zinnemann provided, and I prefer for the tensions within the film to be developed through action and character, rather than by way of added narrative devices (voiceovers, expository dialogue, intrusive/repetitive scoring, etc.). High Noon is very much tied to what I think are unnecessary narrative devices, and it suffers as a result.
Sloper wrote:Also, much as I hate 'biographical' readings of performances, it does feel like Leigh is putting an awful lot of herself into this role. Watching her madness develop is very scary at times, and a bit of me feels uncomfortably voyeuristic... I've seen it many times, but the last time I couldn't finish it - just too uncomfortable.
Agreed. My most recent viewing was only my second, but the Blanche passages were even harder to watch this time through.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#179 Post by nighthawk4486 » Mon Oct 05, 2009 5:05 pm

Sloper wrote:Yes, I have a love/hate relationship with Streetcar: I love it when I'm in the mood to sympathise with Blanche, but some days she just seems like a royal pain
Though I am a big supporter of the film and the performance, I can totally understand this latter viewpoint. Do people feel the same way about Norma Desmond? Because again, I think, brilliant performance, and there are times I sympathize with her like I do with Blanche, but I can understand not sympathizing with her as well.

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Sloper
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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#180 Post by Sloper » Mon Oct 05, 2009 6:06 pm

Norma Desmond is one of my all-time favourite characters, and I think Sunset Boulevard works whether you sympathise with its protagonist(s) or not. That's partly because it can be (and I think usually is) enjoyed on the level of comic grand guignol, whereas Streetcar - at least as Kazan films it - is one of those deadly serious '50s melodramas where you either buy into its overheated quasi-tragic elements or you have a rotten evening.

Sunset, which always shies away from taking itself too seriously, and rarely strains for sentiment, gets more moving every time I watch it. I mean the ending, of course, and the scene with De Mille, but most of all the 'Happy New Year, Norma...Happy New Year, darling' scene, which is both terribly sad and really quite frightening.

People always describe it as a cynical film, but it's actually full of genuine, unexpected kindness of a kind that you don't often see in films - especially Hollywood films, and especially Wilder's.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#181 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Tue Oct 06, 2009 8:48 am

Leigh's melodramatic overacting contrasts the naturalistic acting of the rest of the cast because that's the very point of the play - the battle between the Old South (represented by Blanche) and the New (with Stella in the middle but able to adapt to changes in society).

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#182 Post by nighthawk4486 » Tue Oct 06, 2009 11:27 am

For a project I am currently working on, I have come up with "consensus" Best Pictures for each year. By that I mean looking at the various awards groups and what a critical consensus of various groups chose as Best Picture. I have kept my own opinions out of it, except in how much weight I place on each group. For the purposes of 1927-68 and what groups existed then, I give even weight to the Academy, the BAFTA's and the NYFC, slightly less to the NSFC (which only comes in in 1966 anyway) and a little less for the Globes and NBR. I give half points for being nominated by the Academy, BAFTA or Globes. I'm only gonna list years in which the "consensus" winner didn't win the Oscar (and I'll put the Oscar winning film's rank). It starts with 1935, because that's when the NYFC began and we have more than two groups weighing in (NBR began in 32).

1935 - The Informer (Mutiny on the Bounty - #2)
1936 - Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (The Great Ziegfeld - #2)
1938 - The Citadel (You Can't Take It With You - #2)
1939 - Wuthering Heights (Gone with the Wind - #2)
1940 - The Grapes of Wrath (Rebecca - #2)
1941 - Citizen Kane (How Green Was My Valley - #2)
1943 - In Which We Serve (Casablanca - #5)
1948 - Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Hamlet - #2)
1951 - A Streetcar Named Desire (An American in Paris - #2)
1952 - High Noon (Greatest Show on Earth - #2)
1958 - The Defiant Ones (Gigi - #2)
1965 - Dr. Zhivago ties with The Sound of Music
1968 - The Lion in Winter ties with Oliver!




notes:
NBR and NYFC agreed five times early on, but never on a film that won at the Oscars. The first film to win both those groups and the Oscar was On the Waterfront.

Going My Way was the first to win three awards (Oscar, NYFC, Globe)
The Best Years of our Lives was the first to win four (Oscar, NYFC, BAFTA, Globe)
Bridge on the River Kwai was to first to win all five, essentially sweeping - in 1963 Tom Jones would repeat this, as would A Man for All Seasons in 1966, except Man doesn't sweep due to the arrival of the NSFC - the only film to sweep since is Schindler's List which won Oscar, all 6 major critics groups, BAFTA, Globe, PGA

Casablanca was so low because NYFC and NBR in 1942 both agreed on In Which We Serve, a film eligible in 43 and the 43 awards were split between Watch on the Rhine and Ox-Bow Incident

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movielocke
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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#183 Post by movielocke » Tue Oct 06, 2009 8:08 pm

interesting there were only 13 or so 'disagreements' in the first forty years of oscar, how many times did the consensus differ with the oscar BP in the second forty years?

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#184 Post by nighthawk4486 » Wed Oct 07, 2009 7:24 am

It actually disagreed 22 times in the second 40 years. And of those 18 times they did agree, it includes all of the last 3 years. It tends to go in waves during the last 40 years. I'll throw that up when we start the next group.

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reno dakota
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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#185 Post by reno dakota » Fri Oct 23, 2009 8:09 pm

(domino- I know we are now beyond your proposed deadline, but I'm going to keep going until you call time and bring us to a vote.)

--

1953:

From Here to Eternity – A mixed bag from Zinnemann. Without question, the ensemble work from the cast—particularly Montgomery Clift’s emotionally wrenching performance—is the film’s greatest strength, and it carries the film through the rough patches of its overly ambitious screenplay. I would have preferred a more condensed approach to the wide-reaching one we have here, where characters and story arcs appear briefly before being dispatched for long periods of time. Still, the film gathers strength as it moves forward, and it’s full of memorable passages and intriguing characters, so it’s hard to complain too much.

Julius Caesar – I have never been very fond of this play, but Mankiewicz and company adapt it here about as well as can be expected. The early goings are slowly paced, but the film hits its stride during the oration sequences, and it carries that energy through to the closing battle sequences. I don’t think there is much here that transcends the play, though, apart from Marlon Brando, who delivers another iconic performance.

The Robe – A frustratingly uneven film. The first hour or so is promising, though rather ordinary in style for a film in this genre, but from there the narrative grows more episodic, the writing abandons what subtlety it had, and Koster’s direction loses focus. Stong acting might have made the film seem more cohesive, but sadly there are no commanding performances here. And the ending has to be the most cringe-worthy of any nominee since Our Town.

Roman Holiday – For a film that presents itself as a comedy, it is neither very cleverly written (its physical gags feel well-worn and its condescending presentation of Italians is exhausting), nor is it all that funny. However, it does have a certain whimsical charm about it, thanks (almost) entirely to Audrey Hepburn. She is the film’s greatest strength and her playful innocence gives life to the rather rote plot and makes the whole experience worthwhile. Particularly impressive also is the ending, which is just about perfect.

Shane – I’m not entirely convinced of Stevens’ chops as a director of westerns, but he turns in a respectable effort here. While he does not always seem to be in command of his material—the narrative sprawls in a shapeless way for far too long—his actors certainly know what they are doing, and the writing is just lean enough to leave an air of mystery surrounding Alan Ladd’s character. And this, I think, is its greatest strength. I appreciated that the film did not attempt to put too fine a point on Ladd’s intentions/motivations, or to tie up all of its loose threads at the end. Oddly enough, the film works as well as it does precisely because it doesn’t try to do too much.

My vote: Basically a three-way tie, but I suppose I like Shane the most.


1954:

The Caine Mutiny – I had high hopes for this one, but alas it cannot decide whether it wants to be a war film, a love story, a character study, or a courtroom drama. Its ultimate indecision leaves us with little more than a messy assortment of rather tedious, disconnected episodes—and a fairly charismatic performance from Fred MacMurray—told at great length. At one point, one of the characters, who was mercifully allowed to leave the film midway through, says, “Boy am I happy to get out of this madhouse.” When the end titles finally appeared, those were my sentiments exactly.

The Country Girl – It had been almost a decade since the Academy last nominated a really terrible Bing Crosby film, so I suppose we had this coming. Still, there are so many things wrong with this film that it’s hard to know just where to begin. Every element of the production is an enormous miscalculation—the screenplay has only one note and it hammers away at it without the least bit of subtlety or nuance; every word and gesture of Grace Kelly’s overly mannered performance rings false; and Seaton’s direction does nothing whatsoever to shape or energize the dismal material on display here. True to form, though, the film won Oscars for its most glaring weaknesses.

On the Waterfront – Here is another classic whose reputation I have never understood. The problem, for me, is mostly in the writing—every long stretch of dialogue is calculated to push the film’s agenda, and even though it is a noble one, there really is no excuse for allowing didactic passages to replace genuine storytelling. But, as was the case with Streetcar, I like the way Kazan and crew have constructed the film’s atmosphere—it’s beautifully shot and the first cue of Bernstein’s score is lovely (the rest is loud and intrusive). It’s just too bad that Kazan gives us little to care about here, aside from another good Brando performance.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – Yet another awful musical nominee, this one even worse than An American in Paris. I disliked just about every element of this production—from its head-splitting songs and its horrendous acting, to its attempt to make the rape of the Sabine women seem like a charming historical footnote. I know there are those who love this film, but its charms are lost on me.

Three Coins in the Fountain – A really tiresome travelogue romance. It’s obvious from the start where the romantic threads are leading (which in itself is not a bad thing), but the film does not develop any of these threads in a compelling way. The characters remain flat, the writing never rises above the banal and obvious, and even the Roman backdrops cannot breathe passion into the story.

My vote: The best of the field (which is far and away the weakest set of nominees since the 1928-29 slate) is On the Waterfront, but that is not to say that it’s a very good film.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#186 Post by domino harvey » Fri Oct 23, 2009 8:16 pm

There's no real deadline for the foreseeable future. Keep going. And pretty much echo all your 1954 assessments. If you really want to punish yourself, watch High Society, which repairs Crosby and Kelly, adds Sinatra, and reconfigures the Philadelphia Story as a horrible Cole Porter musical. One of the worst musicals ever made, so it's amazing it didn't sweep the Oscars

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#187 Post by reno dakota » Fri Oct 23, 2009 8:27 pm

domino harvey wrote:There's no real deadline for the foreseeable future. Keep going. And pretty much echo all your 1954 assessments. If you really want to punish yourself, watch High Society, which repairs Crosby and Kelly, adds Sinatra, and reconfigures the Philadelphia Story as a horrible Cole Porter musical. One of the worst musicals ever made, so it's amazing it didn't sweep the Oscars
Thanks for the extension (or, rather, the flexibility). Watching the 1954 nominees was punishment enough, but High Society does sound terrible. Perhaps the Academy voters heard about Porter's involvement, thought it might be good, and avoided it.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#188 Post by reno dakota » Sun Nov 08, 2009 10:09 pm

1955:

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing – A problematic, but marginally effective, romantic weepy. The production values here are strong and the acting is effective, but the screenplay is a real disaster. For one thing, the writing itself is stiff and obvious, and lacks an ear for dialogue. For another, it makes far too much of the Eurasian ethnicity of Jones’ character, when what is actually keeping her character and Holden’s apart has less to do with cultural differences and more to do with bad timing. If the Academy really wanted a worthy romance in the mix, they should have nominated Sirk’s outstanding All that Heaven Allows instead. This film feels shallow and amateur by comparison.

Marty – A small, charming film. The story itself is tightly constructed and simply told, and Mann shows a great deal of compassion for his characters. The film does have a tendency to feel a bit slight, given its restrained scope, but I appreciate that no one involved felt the need to ramp things up or add unnecessary subplots or artificial drama. I’ll take a distilled approach over a bloated one any day.

Mister Roberts – This one was quite a surprise. Knowing nothing of the source material, I expected an austere war drama on the order of (a more coherent) The Caine Mutiny. What I didn’t expect was that this film would turn out to be as funny, and ultimately as moving, as it is. The cast turns in excellent work, and the screenplay moves us from one delightfully irreverent sequence to another. In a year when the Academy overlooked so many outstanding films in this category, this supremely entertaining film is the one that is most worthy of its nomination.

Picnic – The first sex-comedy nominee for best picture, and boy there is certainly no shortage of skin on display here! I liked the sexy playfulness of the first half more than the melodrama and histrionics of the second half, but it is still fun even when it goes over the top. William Holden is not bad here (better than usual, I would say) and Rosalind Russell gets many of the film’s funniest lines, and some of its saddest, too. This nomination is surprising, given how bawdy this material is, but it’s an enjoyable picture nonetheless.

The Rose Tattoo – I am no fan of this sort of shrill turmoil-drama, where every element of the production seems calculated for maximum irritation. The repetitiveness of the writing in the early goings, along with Anna Magnani’s emotive, scenery-chewing performance, stripped away most of the goodwill I had for the film by the halfway point. Then Burt Lancaster shows up, in one of the silliest performances I’ve seen him give, and the whole thing takes a turn toward screwball territory. The second half was funnier than the first, for sure, but the end result is too narratively messy and tonally erratic to be worthy of its nomination.

My vote: This set of nominees is compelling evidence that Academy voters in the ‘50s did not like good movies. Mister Roberts is the best of the nominees, but wouldn’t a lineup of The Night of the Hunter, All That Heaven Allows, Rebel Without a Cause, Kiss Me Deadly, and East of Eden have been great?


1956:

Around the World in Eighty Days – Little more than a tedious, overlong compendium of tracking shots of landscapes and shallow depictions of local color, accompanied by an obnoxious score. While watching this one, I very desperately wanted to be doing anything else. This is, so far, the worst film I’ve seen specifically for this project. Just awful in every way.

Friendly Persuasion – Quakers, the Civil War, an aggressive goose and more ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ than you’ve probably ever heard in a two-hour span—what’s not to like? This was a slow starter, and it did have a tendency to feel a bit unfocused during its first half, but it gathers strength and urgency as it moves along. There is a fair amount of whimsy on display here, as the characters deal with temptations ranging from dancing to organ-playing, and the leads—Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire and Anthony Perkins—do a fine job of giving us well-developed characters to anchor the rather episodic story. This is likely to be a polarizing nominee, but I really enjoyed it.

Giant – This was certainly the year of the overstuffed, underwritten epic! I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be swept away by the scope of the story, or moved by the development of the central characters (or both), but neither of these elements of the production is particularly strong. On a positive note, James Dean is great here—the scene in which he marks off his land is probably my favorite in the entire film—and Dennis Hopper is quite good, too. Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, on the other hand, are not very impressive at all (or maybe it’s just that their characters are so dully drawn). Not a terrible way to spend 201 minutes; just hope you only have to do it once.

The King and I – The Academy continues its practice of nominating mediocre musicals with this selection. Some of its sequences are beautifully staged—particularly the Uncle Tom’s Cabin performance—but nothing else works very well. The songs range from inoffensively dull to downright irritating, the screenplay deals too heavily in caricature (which does provide some humorous moments, but not enough to sustain the picture), and the whole thing is just too long for such a lightweight story. Even the grace and charm of Deborah Kerr was not enough to win me over to this one.

The Ten Commandments – Better than I expected it to be, but not without its problems. Epics of this scale work best, I think, when the writing has the depth and richness of a novel. Here, the writing falls short by spreading its story too thinly, leaving long passages to be carried by some rather stiffly constructed dialogue. Stronger performances might have masked this inadequacy, but there’s only so much the actors could have done here. This is yet another stagy and lavish production that I think would have benefited from a more distilled approach or, at the very least, more judicious editing. I am still no fan of DeMille’s work, but I did like this one more than any of his others that I’ve seen.

My vote: In this ordeal of a year in this category, with nominees clocking in at a punishing total of 872 minutes, Friendly Persuasion is the best of the lot.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#189 Post by movielocke » Tue Nov 10, 2009 4:59 pm

Enjoying your thoughts as always, Reno. I'm particularly looking forward to revisiting Marty when the Golden Age of Television set comes out. I wonder if the movie expanded the teleplay at all or was the same. I too like the fact that the film was one of few BP nominees at the time which was not a roadshow epic.

I think in the fifties, the studios had transitioned away from B pictures (after the Paramount antitrust decision) and had worked out a new business model of making only A list pictures, and they got bigger and more opulent each year. The best way to stay afloat when you're transitioning from a large and diverse product line to a very small and more narrow product line was to make big road show pictures that could travel for a long time and rake in a lot of money by being a must see whenever it came to a town (and having higher ticket prices, likely an intermission and so on). You even see this in Disney's prestige pictures like 20,000 leagues, Pollyanna and Mary Poppins, so everyone tried to get in on the bigger and better game. The studios relied entirely on these movies being profitable, and so there was also a great need for oscar success as well. I think up until the mid-late sixties there was more ballot stuffing by studios to get their big films nominated than in any other period (though studios of course still practice ballot stuffing for BP noms whenever they can, I think it was more egregious and viewed as more necessary at that particular era when the monopoly was over but old hollywood hadn't yet retired, new hollywood brought with it new business models).

I finished watching all the nominees, and only two years from the first forty years of BP nominees makes my overall top ten years:

4. 1964
7. 1957

and 1962 at 11 is just a hair behind number 10 1980

Despite that, 8 of my top ten nominees are from the first forty years of BP nominees:
1 1962 Lawrence of Arabia
2 1941 How Green Was My Valley
3 1960 The Apartment
5 1943 Casablanca
7 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird
8 1938 Grand Illusion
9 1946 It's a Wonderful Life
10 1950 All About Eve


Only one year from the 1930s even makes the top fifty:
29. 1939

one other year from the 30s sneaks in at 53 and then the remaining 8 years from the 1930s are all in the bottom 15. it really was the worst decade, just too many nominees of substandard quality bringing the average down.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#190 Post by nighthawk4486 » Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:46 pm

The early years were indeed awful. 1929 and 1931 have groups of nominees that don't even average *** from me. And it wasn't until 1935 when the nominees managed a truly decent average (a low ***.5). They got weaker for a couple of years, then got stronger continually until the later 40's, peaking in 46 and 47, for me the two best years of nominees in this stretch of 40 years.

In the 50's, while 1956 was the only particularly bad year, each year had at least one nomination that I find to be a complete embarrassment as a nominee, and in 52 and 58 the Academy made it worse by actually giving that nominee the Oscar.

For the most part the 60's were pretty good, except for 1963 which was the single worst year for nominees since 1931. On the other hand, from 53 to 63, they gave the Oscar to what I thought was the best of the nominees 7 times.

Strange thing here - what do Platoon, Last Emperor, Rain Man, Dances with Wolves, Gladiator and Million Dollar Baby have in common?

From 1982 to 2008 they are the only Best Picture winners to finish in the middle of my pack. For the other 21 Oscar winners in that stretch, I either thought they were the best choice of the 5 (12 times) or the worst choice of the 5 (9 times). In the previous 54 ceremonies I only thought they made the best choice 13 times and the worst choice 2 times. Lately, they either get it right or they get it way wrong.

Out of the 468 BP nominees (or the 465 I've seen), I rank 51 of them at **.5 or lower. Of those 51 films, 42 of them were nominated during this first stretch of 40 years. And even 5 of the remaining 9 were nominated before 1976. So in the last 33 years, I really only think there are 4 truly bad nominations. A much better track record (those 4 are Out of Africa, Fatal Attraction, Scent of a Woman and Braveheart).

The main reason 1947 ranks so high is because of a lack of bad nominations. It didn't actually get a single film in my top 100 of nominees, but 1940 had 4 (among its 10 nominees) and 1946, 1962 and 1964 all had three, but each had a stinker to go along with it, dragging the overall average down. 1941 had two in my top 20, but no others in my top 225.

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reno dakota
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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#191 Post by reno dakota » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:49 am

movielocke wrote:I think in the fifties, the studios had transitioned away from B pictures (after the Paramount antitrust decision) and had worked out a new business model of making only A list pictures, and they got bigger and more opulent each year. The best way to stay afloat when you're transitioning from a large and diverse product line to a very small and more narrow product line was to make big road show pictures that could travel for a long time and rake in a lot of money by being a must see whenever it came to a town (and having higher ticket prices, likely an intermission and so on). You even see this in Disney's prestige pictures like 20,000 leagues, Pollyanna and Mary Poppins, so everyone tried to get in on the bigger and better game. The studios relied entirely on these movies being profitable, and so there was also a great need for oscar success as well. I think up until the mid-late sixties there was more ballot stuffing by studios to get their big films nominated than in any other period (though studios of course still practice ballot stuffing for BP noms whenever they can, I think it was more egregious and viewed as more necessary at that particular era when the monopoly was over but old hollywood hadn't yet retired, new hollywood brought with it new business models).
I agree that the quality of the nominees drops significantly in the '50s and my suspicions about why this happened are similar to yours. However--and this is something that didn't occur to me until I began suffocating under the oppressive weight of the 1956 nominees--I suspect that Academy voters may have been voting for the studios themselves rather than the films on the ballot. I doubt that industry people in the '50s were that different from industry folks today who are willing to vote for films they have not seen, or for the one film that they have seen, and (in some cases) will openly admit to doing so. Put differently, what are the odds that more than 1/5 of Academy voters actually made it all the way through Around the World in Eighty Days, let alone with enough good will left toward the picture to vote for it to win? These wins (and many of the nominations as well) actually make more sense if they have little to do with the films themselves.

I do love the idea of the big roadshow picture, though. It's just too bad that the films that filled that role in the '50s were so empty.
nighthawk4486 wrote:Strange thing here - what do Platoon, Last Emperor, Rain Man, Dances with Wolves, Gladiator and Million Dollar Baby have in common?

From 1982 to 2008 they are the only Best Picture winners to finish in the middle of my pack. For the other 21 Oscar winners in that stretch, I either thought they were the best choice of the 5 (12 times) or the worst choice of the 5 (9 times). In the previous 54 ceremonies I only thought they made the best choice 13 times and the worst choice 2 times. Lately, they either get it right or they get it way wrong.
No offense meant, nighthawk, but is this thread really the right place for all of these personal musings and statistics about films from a period that is not under consideration? Maybe I'm just cranky tonight, but I don't see what all of these statistic-laden posts are contributing to the ongoing discussion of the artistic merits of the Best Picture nominees. I, for one, am far more interested in what everyone loves or hates about the nominees themselves, than I am in knowing where each one places on our personal lists and spreadsheets. That said, I look forward to reading your substantive comments about the 1969-2009 nominees when the next phase of the project begins.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#192 Post by movielocke » Wed Nov 11, 2009 6:49 am

reno dakota wrote: I agree that the quality of the nominees drops significantly in the '50s and my suspicions about why this happened are similar to yours. However--and this is something that didn't occur to me until I began suffocating under the oppressive weight of the 1956 nominees--I suspect that Academy voters may have been voting for the studios themselves rather than the films on the ballot. I doubt that industry people in the '50s were that different from industry folks today who are willing to vote for films they have not seen, or for the one film that they have seen, and (in some cases) will openly admit to doing so. Put differently, what are the odds that more than 1/5 of Academy voters actually made it all the way through Around the World in Eighty Days, let alone with enough good will left toward the picture to vote for it to win? These wins (and many of the nominations as well) actually make more sense if they have little to do with the films themselves.
First of all, they weren't watching on DVD, nor at home, but of course you know that.

Secondly, this was the first film (I think) in Todd-AO with quadraphonic sound, so of course everyone in the industry stayed for the entire film, it was brand new potentially revolutionary technology. Plus, even post war there was still the spectacleness of seeing so many exotic locations.

Thirdly, walkouts are very rare among industry folk, we even stay for credits, out of respect. you know which theatres are frequented more by industry folk because 80% of them stay for the entire credits, even if they're twelve minutes long. (it actually makes you feel awkward if you do get up before the credits roll out, so many people are watching them).

and this could be entirely an incorrect remembrance, but I'm fairly certain that while the studios were still run by the moguls the oscar nomination process was controlled by the studios. even after the paramount decision led to the eventual layoffs of most of the studios permanent staff of craftsmen (everyone from DPs to grips from costume designers to seamstresses et al had to go independent) many were still permanently employed throughout the fifties, and those likely to keep their 'staff' jobs were the best, and the best were likely to be in the academy. often times the studios would tell their employees what to put on their nominations ballot. there was usually a threat akin to this fake quote I just made up: "if Doctor Doolittle isn't nominated we're in such trouble it's unlikely any of us will have a job next year. but if we get a nomination we're guaranteed an additional 38 weeks in roadshow first run circulation, and if we get that we just might make it. so all Fox employees who are academy members MUST put Doctor Doolittle as their number one choice in all categories on their nomination ballot, it's essential for all of us. It worked for Cleopatra, we're still working, so let's make the magic happen again people!" This would be the sort of studio ballot stuffing that became more and more essential as the films became bigger and bigger. When you have all your eggs in one basket, you damn well better protect the basket! I have also heard an apocryphal story that at one point nomination ballots went to the studio who filled them all out on behalf of their academy member employees and returned it on their behalf (though they still voted as individuals for the actual winners). I'm pretty certain that Benjamin Button was expensive enough and risky enough that it enjoyed quiet run of similar ballot stuffing this last year.

So yes, there were substantial differences in the basic structure of the studios and the awards season back then. Part of the reason older actors will complain that awards didn't use to be so crazy was because until it got to the actual voting the studios handled a lot of the nominating business internally (if the apocryphal story is true).

Ballot stuffing also helps explain why so many of the films nominated in the thirties were crap. if you only have to earn 1/11+1 nominations to earn one of the ten best picture nominations it all but guarantees that every studio is going to have their one 'prestige' picture, and maybe a back up or two, nominated. 1939 is actually an anomaly in this respect as it's missing Paramount from the 10 nominees (there were several independent films nominated that year, like of Mice and Me, Stagecoach, Gone with the Wind and I think Wuthering Heights).

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#193 Post by reno dakota » Wed Nov 11, 2009 8:40 am

movielocke wrote:Thirdly, walkouts are very rare among industry folk, we even stay for credits, out of respect. you know which theatres are frequented more by industry folk because 80% of them stay for the entire credits, even if they're twelve minutes long. (it actually makes you feel awkward if you do get up before the credits roll out, so many people are watching them).

I'm not suggesting that there were walkouts, but rather something of a piece with this:
movielocke wrote:often times the studios would tell their employees what to put on their nominations ballot. there was usually a threat akin to this fake quote I just made up: "if Doctor Doolittle isn't nominated we're in such trouble it's unlikely any of us will have a job next year. but if we get a nomination we're guaranteed an additional 38 weeks in roadshow first run circulation, and if we get that we just might make it. so all Fox employees who are academy members MUST put Doctor Doolittle as their number one choice in all categories on their nomination ballot, it's essential for all of us.
It's easier to understand how something like Around the World won, if voting actually did work this way. I have a much harder time believing that such a film won because a plurality of Academy voters were passionate about the film itself, but that's just me.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#194 Post by Dr Amicus » Wed Nov 11, 2009 9:52 am

And don't forget, Around the World was a big hit, based on a classic novel, and had about just about every star around in a cameo. It would be interesting if this was the favourite going into the awards - looking back 10 Commandments would be the obvious winner (not based on quality I should add).

Actually, looking again at the nominees - but isn't this the archetypal Sunday afternoon / bank holiday lineup?

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#195 Post by movielocke » Wed Nov 11, 2009 7:18 pm

reno dakota wrote: It's easier to understand how something like Around the World won, if voting actually did work this way. I have a much harder time believing that such a film won because a plurality of Academy voters were passionate about the film itself, but that's just me.
ah I was talking about the nomination ballot, not the final voting. final voting was more independent from studio loyalty, otherwise the studio with most Academy employees would win every year.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#196 Post by reno dakota » Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:37 pm

movielocke wrote:ah I was talking about the nomination ballot, not the final voting. final voting was more independent from studio loyalty, otherwise the studio with most Academy employees would win every year.
Yes, I realized that you were talking about the nomination phase, which is why I said that my suspicion was "of a piece" with the sort of voting behavior that you were describing. What I was suggesting is that the final voting may not have been as independent of studio affiliation as we would like to believe. Of course, I don't know that this was the case, but I certainly don't think it's unreasonable to suspect that Academy voters might have had concerns other than artistic merit on their minds when they put a check beside Around the World on the final ballot. At any rate, my tongue was in my cheek when I suggested that some Academy voters may not have made it all the way through that film (what I had in mind was not walkouts, but people falling asleep during the screening :wink: ).

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#197 Post by movielocke » Thu Nov 12, 2009 1:15 am

reno dakota wrote:
movielocke wrote:ah I was talking about the nomination ballot, not the final voting. final voting was more independent from studio loyalty, otherwise the studio with most Academy employees would win every year.
Yes, I realized that you were talking about the nomination phase, which is why I said that my suspicion was "of a piece" with the sort of voting behavior that you were describing. What I was suggesting is that the final voting may not have been as independent of studio affiliation as we would like to believe. Of course, I don't know that this was the case, but I certainly don't think it's unreasonable to suspect that Academy voters might have had concerns other than artistic merit on their minds when they put a check beside Around the World on the final ballot. At any rate, my tongue was in my cheek when I suggested that some Academy voters may not have made it all the way through that film (what I had in mind was not walkouts, but people falling asleep during the screening :wink: ).
ahh gotcha, people do tend to fall asleep, even in academy screenings (so many old folks). And most people will support their 'own' work even if they didn't work on it but their studio or friends/coworkers did, certainly there's a 'voting for yourself' aspect. but I also think then and now a lot of academy members choose to spread the wealth. They may be more loyal to their DP friend or the Post Team than to the studio itself. I can well imagine an academy member saying: that film was shit, but Colleen and Tom did the best work of anything I've seen this year, and they put a check down in tech categories and feel no need to vote for it for best Picture. there's also always other factors in play in doling out craft votes versus a BP vote, hype, backlash, expectations, and 'the movie experience'. Aviator swept it's techs, which were exceptionally impressive, but it didn't have that movie experience that Departed or Slumdog Millionaire did which earned both BD and BP (I think the split here is often because a very well directed movie didn't come off the screen as a memorably great experience, Traffic versus Gladiator for examaple).

BBM comes to mind: "Really great directing, and he deserves one by now, but I'm not going to be pressured by interest groups into voting for a film that I didn't really care for overall, it was just a romance, and I did give him director but it's not a 'both' film for me."

So there's loyalty certainly at play for a lot of studio employees then and now, but I think because everyone votes on everything in the final ballot that most people tend to spread the wealth around between different movies rather than just supporting their own across the board.

Very rarely a film like a Gone with the Wind, Ben-Hur, Schindler's List, Titanic, or Return of the King comes along that everyone votes for across the board because it represents an undeniable and staggering achievement. I think I recall a quote from Harvey Weinstein saying that although he always supports his own films across the board in every category when he votes, even he voted for Schindler's List over The Piano.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#198 Post by zedz » Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:52 pm

I've always assumed that industry politics has far more to do with the Oscar race than the quality of individual films (well, duh!)

There was an interesting piece in Salon in 2002 in which Nikki Finke based her Oscar predictions solely on Academy politics, with no reflection on the quality of the films or performances whatsoever. In a year in which the results were seen as something of an upset (e.g. two African American lead actor nods) this completely cynical approach proved nearly entirely correct. Tellingly, the category she gets wrong is the one where she disregards several of her own rules by ignoring all the signs that the Academy will express their disapproval of Crowe's public shenanigans.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#199 Post by movielocke » Sat Nov 14, 2009 9:22 am

nighthawk4486 wrote: Out of the 468 BP nominees (or the 465 I've seen), I rank 51 of them at **.5 or lower. Of those 51 films, 42 of them were nominated during this first stretch of 40 years. And even 5 of the remaining 9 were nominated before 1976. So in the last 33 years, I really only think there are 4 truly bad nominations. A much better track record (those 4 are Out of Africa, Fatal Attraction, Scent of a Woman and Braveheart).
for a second there, I was wondering how on earth you could claim to have seen The Patriot, then I read the 468 bit again and realized you were including the unique and artistic nominees as well. :-p When football season is over, I intend to try to see East Lynne at UCLA library. :)

I used to do a **** system, for sake of comparison I rank about 50 films, a 2.5 or lower on that scale. and the bottom ten are all 30s/20s films (the eleventh worst is out of africa, ugh), but only 7 films from 1969-2008 are included in that 50, so I would initially agree that the oscars of the last forty years have had a better track record of nominations. but 30 of those fifty come from 1927-1943 so just going to five films in 1944 improved their batting average tremendously.

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Re: The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)

#200 Post by reno dakota » Sun Dec 06, 2009 11:35 pm

1957:

The Bridge on the River Kwai – Having seen this only once (and recently), my thoughts on it have yet to crystallize. However, I will say that it is a very accomplished film with depth in its characterizations and plenty to say about the nature of loyalty and personal integrity. The psychological stand-off of the first half is oddly riveting, if incredibly calculated, and the bridge project itself unfolds in a fascinating way. I’m not sure I like where Holden’s storyline goes in the second half, but I suppose it was dramatically necessary as a way of reaching that wonderfully tense final sequence. If Lean (or his editor, or the studio) had not chosen to linger so long on its aftermath—with that strange regressing long-shot—or tried so hard to be poetic in the final image, the ending would have been just about perfect.

Peyton Place – A wonderfully rich drama that strikes me as being quite bold for its time. The narrative covers a lot of ground—from teenage sexuality to the darker recesses of human nature—but it does so in such an assured and elegant way that the film doesn’t feel nearly as long as it is. Lana Turner is quite good here, as is Arthur Kennedy, but I was particularly impressed with the younger members of the cast whose performances carry a great deal of the film’s emotional weight. I do wish Robson and his screenwriter had not turned to a courtroom sequence to resolve the film’s dramatic tensions in the end (my allergy to this sort of narrative device is getting worse), but otherwise I was very impressed with this one.

Sayonara – If you loved Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, but wished it had gotten even more bogged down in racist ideologies, then this is the movie for you. The screenplay that fuels this polemic against social resistance to interracial marriage is clumsy in the way that it calls in its supporting characters to drive home its political message, all the while forgetting to involve them in the larger dramatic elements of the story. The core characters fair better, but only the storyline involving Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki (both of whom give solid performances) is truly involving. Marlon Brando’s performance is, unfortunately, a bit underwhelming—oh, that accent!—and his storyline does not have much to offer that is not right there on its (artificial) surface.

12 Angry Men – A finely directed character-piece that is compellingly acted and beautifully shot. The screenplay is strong insofar as it has a good ear for dialogue and it realistically captures the way people confront one another under pressure, but I had hoped that the twists and turns of its plot (such as it is) would be more subtly constructed. Too often, the discovery of a new and crucial detail is telegraphed in a way that, ultimately, makes it feel obvious when it should feel fresh and startling. But that’s a minor criticism of an otherwise strong film that showcases yet another great (and overlooked) Henry Fonda performance.

Witness for the Prosecution – A very weak effort from Wilder. His screenplay tries too hard to be witty and clever in its early goings, playing like a failed attempt to script a Lubitsch project. Charles Laughton is charming here, but mostly over-the-top in his very up-front and showy performance. The rest of the cast turns in forgettable work, and the story grows increasingly banal as it moves along. And then there are the film’s final twenty minutes, which are packed to the gills with outrageous twists and double-crosses. Had the whole film been presented as comedy, with this final material as its screwball peak, Wilder might have had something special here. As it is, though, the whole film just feels like a labored mess with a ridiculous ending tacked on for good measure.

My vote: [EDIT: After taking another look at 12 Angry Men, I find that it doesn't work as well as I originally thought. So, my vote swings to Peyton Place.]


1958:

Auntie Mame – A great example of a strong performance carrying an entire film. In this case, it’s Rosalind Russell, whose energy and wit animate some rather ordinary material and keep this overlong film moving at a good pace. I would praise the screenplay as well, but I think its charms are mostly due to Russell’s exquisite line-readings—she’s inventing the film’s comedic tone as she goes along, and the whole production is better for it.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Caveat: I have a soft-spot for Paul Newman (but who doesn’t?) and it often causes me to like his films far more than they deserve. Such is the case here. The film is really too shrill, histrionic, and overly populated with caricatures of Southern excess, to be worthy of much praise. But Newman’s performance—particularly in his scenes with Burl Ives—is sublime. The intensity of his brooding, which hints at things the screenplay certainly could not say, is more than enough to redeem the entire production.

The Defiant Ones – An engaging film that works best as a character-study. Its clunky manhunt passages struck me as out of step with the more earnest tone of the rest of the film, and its treatment of racism is often heavy-handed and not as progressive as it aims to be. But, it’s a gorgeously shot film and its on-the-run passages contain some great character-work from Sidney Poitier (especially) and Tony Curtis. Their scenes together, as they come to grips with just how much they will have to depend on one another, are the film’s highlight and make the whole picture worthwhile.

Gigi – Devoid of substance and excruciatingly dull. It was great to see Maurice Chevalier again—still a ham, though still charming—but nothing else in the film impressed me in the slightest. With its vapid characters and its celebration of the superficial, this one challenges Around the World in Eighty Days for its distinction as the worst film I’ve seen specifically for this project.

Separate Tables – This one probably sounded much better on paper than it turned out to be on screen. There is a great story idea here—a glimpse at one evening in the lives of an assortment of lonely, long-term residents at a cozy hotel—but Mann and his screenwriter have executed it poorly. For some reason (star-power, I would imagine) they choose to spend the most time developing the weakest thread of the story (the Lancaster/Hayworth storyline), while largely neglecting the most interesting character on the scene (Wendy Hiller). How David Niven’s bit-part garnered him an Oscar—over better work from Poitier and Newman—is a real mystery. This one could have been better in countless ways.

My vote: It’s not a great film, but The Defiant Ones is the best of these weak nominees.
Last edited by reno dakota on Wed Apr 28, 2010 6:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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