Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1947

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

Not much separates 1947 from the rest of the decade, especially in cinematic endeavors. For the Oscars, it would be the first time a foreign film would receive its own special award from the Academy, and they would several times in the years leading up to an official category for them; this inaugural Best Foreign Language Film special citation going to Vittorio De Sica’s Shoeshine. The Oscars would seem to spread the love around quite a bit this year; no film would win more than three awards at the ceremony. One of the films that did manage a trio of wins is Gentleman’s Agreement, which would include Best Picture and Director for Elia Kazan. Kazan’s standing with Hollywood in the future would seem to be in question even with his success, after his cooperation and naming names to HUAC to bolster the Hollywood blacklist, which began after the Hollywood Ten were cited for contempt of Congress in November of ’47. The following day saw the release of the Waldorf Statement, cementing the blacklist in place, and many of those on it (or even seen as being near it), like Oscar-nominated director of Crossfire, Edward Dmytryk, would be almost entirely out of work as a result until the 1960s.

-Ranking the Nominees-

Crossfire

-For once, I actually didn’t think any of the five nominated films were poor overall; the rankings here are thus more about which films are just better or more entertaining and not about eliminating the undeserving or weaker entries. As such, Crossfire is at the bottom just due to it being the most basic and rudimentary of the five nominees; it gets its job done, wraps up the film, and everyone moves on to the next one. I could maybe see one or two other films netting this spot instead of this, but really, this isn’t bad; it’s just not nearly enough to take home this award.

The Bishop's Wife

The Bishop’s Wife is one of those films that provides me a somewhat unnerving dilemma when it comes to these posts; I enjoyed it quite a lot, and it was well-made in the sort of way that exemplified the mood and whimsy the film wanted to have and succeeded in having, but if I’m forced to look at this objectively against the other films, then this is as high as this is getting. Again, it’s not because this is lacking, because it certainly isn’t, but while this is very well made and practically seamless, the remaining films are better made, and so this unfortunately becomes a bridesmaid instead of having a chance at being the bride.

Great Expectations

-David Lean’s Great Expectations would appear at first glance to be the anomaly in this field of nominations, being the British entry and, like Lean’s prior film, a holdover from the previous year. It is indeed a very British film, and adheres strongly to Dickens’ intentions with his original novel, even if it doesn’t adhere strictly to the entire text of it. These combined might be off-putting to some viewers, but Lean as a director makes it work a lot more often than not, and the talents of the cast aid his efforts significantly. In truth, I’m putting this above the previous film because while this might not be as seamless as its competition, it takes much more chances with how it’s crafted and those chances pay off more often than not. The production value of this is aiding its placement, but it of course doesn’t hurt that it’s a good film to boot.

Miracle on 34th Street

-This is one that I’m kinda surprised ended up where it did, but I had to put it here for lack of any reasons to knock it down a slot or two. Miracle on 34th Street comes off as a flighty Christmas film, and many who regard it as a holiday classic might be doing so just on reputation. These notions are, to put it simply, wrong; this is just about a perfect Christmas film if there ever was one, in construction and in the holiday spirit it imbues. Most of this is thanks to Edmund Gwenn’s absolutely flawless rendition of Santa, but the film wrapped around him knows well enough about the story it wants to tell that it manages to tell it perfectly and not pad its length with unnecessary filler to come off as a ‘complete’ Hollywood picture. There’s few flaws for one to find with this, and it’s ending up as high as it does for that reason.

Gentleman's Agreement

-If I’m being honest, though, among the nominees, there couldn’t be any other winner for me than Gentleman’s Agreement. This is well-crafted (though not seamless), has a story to tell (and tells it well enough if not exactly perfectly), and knows how to embody the mood it wants to emanate (even if it takes us some time to get there). What’s separating this from the rest of the pack, however, isn’t how perfectly it’s made or how entertaining a picture it ends up being, but rather the sheer power of its message and, most importantly, how well it gets said message across to the viewer. This could be just a simple message film, but that it goes far deeper than that, and is much more intelligent with how it gets you to consider the things it wants and needs you to consider, is a true gift to the cinema and to audiences both of the 1940s and today. The other nominees are special as films; this, though, is special not just as a film, but as a statement above and beyond that, and as such, this is getting the top spot from me in this field.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

1947 seems to be a bit of an odd year, in that there aren’t really too many films released this year that scream “this should’ve been nominated for Best Picture”. The 1001 List, for instance, has only four films for this year (though there’s one other one erroneously listed in the year before), so this would surely seem like slim pickings. As such, I haven’t seen a majority of the films not on the roster already, so I can’t speak for very much. From what I haven’t seen, films like A Double Life, Body and Soul, and Life with Father have plenty of supporters, and Oscar love in other categories, but didn’t make Best Picture. Green Dolphin Street had a bunch of technical category nominations, while Mourning Becomes Electra had a heck of a cast and a couple acting noms, but both still missed out here. Of what I have seen, I might stump for Monsieur Verdoux and Odd Man Out, if really pressed for it. But there are two films whose absence from the category is most jarring: Out of the Past, and Black Narcissus.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

It actually might be closer than I’d have thought, with how well I took to Gentleman’s Agreement, and it surely was the film that should’ve won among the nominees for the reasons I stated above… But my vote for 1947 as a whole has to go to Black Narcissus. That film has a strength and a power to it, cinematically and through sheer production value, that is unrivaled for this entire year of film; the image of Sister Ruth wrenching open the door in the climax to head outside and try to kill Sister Clodagh by pushing her over the cliff is one of those cinematic moments that is forever seared into my memory, and the rest of the film is just as amazing to look at and experience. It won both of its nominations this year for color cinematography and art direction, and it deserved a hell of a lot more noms (and wins) than it ended up getting, including Best Picture.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

Frankly, with how tepid this year seemed to be going into it, this field actually isn’t too bad. What sticks out most isn’t the poor quality of the nominees this year (because none of them are truly poor), but that the field could’ve been even better with one or two improved choices. The Academy is getting better with its fare, but it’s not quite at the point yet where the field it picks is unquestionably the best of the year. I doubt it will ever truly get to that point, but the striving for it is what makes things like this better; you’ve been striving rather well lately, Oscar, but there’s always room for improvement.

Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street

Christmas isn’t just a day… It’s a frame of mind.

Now, in terms of Christmas films, it’d be fairly difficult to find a more ubiquitous one in the Golden Age of Hollywood than this next film. Many people, myself included, know of Miracle on 34th Street as that charming little 90s film with the girl from Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda in it, but it is actually a remake; this, the original, was also a holiday classic in its day, and a multiple-Oscar-nominee to boot. Interestingly enough, despite the film set during the lead-up to Christmas and dealing with Santa Claus as an actual character, the producers insisted on releasing the film in May, as more people went to the theaters in the summer; hence why the poster up there has Edmund Gwenn’s Kringle character almost hidden in the background, since the release date meant the producers wanted to downplay the film’s holiday themes. Despite that, though, this is a holiday picture through and through, and has more than enough of the charm and magic the season is known for to warm the heart of any moviegoer.

Doris Walker, head planner of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, is indignant to find the Santa Claus she hired for the parade is heavily drunk. In a fine coincidence, the matter is brought to her attention by a man who looks a lot like Santa himself, and he is switched into the parade at the last minute, doing so well he gets hired on as the Santa at Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street. After the man brings Macy’s a ton of great publicity and responses, including even sending customers to other stores for gifts, Doris becomes concerned the man might be mentally unstable, especially as he and the employee card he filled out make the insistence that he is actually the real Santa Claus. Soon enough, after an incident with the staff psychiatrist, it falls upon the court system of New York, and particularly Doris’ would-be paramour Fred Gailey (a lawyer), to prove that the man is in fact the one and only Santa Claus, lest he be found insane and committed to an asylum, against the wishes of all the people (and the children) the man has affected. First off, as iconic a Christmas film as this and its remake are, it’s easy to take for granted what a great premise this film comes up with, and thankfully, it knows how to tell the story it wants to tell, and doesn’t overstay its welcome in the process (the film being a smidge over an hour and a half). The technicals are fine enough, but this isn’t a film about the technicals; they are merely there to present the story in its most believable and engaging manner, and in that the film succeeds incredibly. It’s actually really rewarding to see a film from this era of moviemaking that’s at-once so unlike a regular film of this time and also manages to fit in with those other films as well, that Miracle comes off as pretty much exactly that; something uniquely special and magical. Much of this is the spirit the film cultivates, and that spirit is literally personified by Edmund Gwenn, who is absolutely perfect in every scene as Kris Kringle, and it’s actually an even greater joy to find that he actually won Best Supporting Actor for this; he has truly created one of the cinema’s best renditions of Santa, and that the Academy saw fit to stretch its reputation to award him for it is even more encouraging.

I might be able to see some of the criticisms some may have against this, that it can be rather hokey and perhaps unrealistic with how everything is resolved in the end… But really, such criticisms are against the point. The sentimentality and cheerful disposition with the film’s mood and especially its plot is itself exactly what Miracle on 34th Street aims for, and to hold it to standards attributed to other more “serious” pictures only shows how rigid and cold-hearted one might be themselves. This film does a heck of a lot more to embody the spirit of the holidays than so many other so-called Christmas films, and I couldn’t help but be appreciative of it for also succeeding at this endeavor. It may be a little humorous that it managed to get nominated for Best Picture, but I’m actually really thankful that it did, and it quite possibly fully deserved to be here.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop's Wife

What can I do for you?

It seems that themed movie pairs are the flavor of 1947’s Best Picture field; we’ve had two films about anti-Semitism, and now we have two films that both take place during and deal very much with Christmas-time. First up is The Bishop’s Wife, a cheery little film with Cary Grant front-and-center; so much so that when the box office for it ended up less than ideal, they added Grant’s name onto the title and the film’s business went up 25%. I mean, it is Cary Grant, so I can kinda understand how the film’s producers saw him as the obvious draw, but to be honest, this is still a fully capable film in its own right, almost like the powers-that-be behind it knew the film they wanted to make, and then Grant came along and got attached to the project as a bonus. One may even perhaps call it divine intervention… Well, not really, but I wanted to make a quip like that that was somewhat related to the film anyway.

Grant is the charming, affable, and ever-wise Dudley, an angel sent to Earth to answer the prayers of Bishop Henry Brougham, who wants to build a new cathedral. Dudley, however, knows what Henry really needs in his life, and begins to charm and win over basically everyone in town in order to help each of them, in ways that will hopefully come back around to help Henry, especially after Henry falls under the impression that Dudley is really there to steal his wife. I almost want to emphasize that last part a little more than I think the film intended; I was watching this for a while, having started it thinking it would be about Dudley being all-knowing in a semi-aloof sense so that Henry will eventually learn what he should really be valuing in life, and after a while I was starting to get a little confused… Was Cary Grant’s character really there just to win over Henry’s wife? A lot of time is spent with Dudley showing Henry’s wife Julia how to get more out of her life than she had been, like an inordinately large amount of time, to where I really began to wonder where the film was ultimately going with Dudley’s character. Of course, to say what happens in regards to that and the conclusion of his arc is to reveal the ending of the film, and I wouldn’t want to do that, because this is actually a pretty decent picture. What I especially liked about it was how well-crafted it was; a lot of films from the era would rather just chop a film together enough to get the story across and that be that, but The Bishop’s Wife actually cares enough to try and be more seamless with how it’s put together. It’s shot well (shout-out to Gregg Toland), it’s acted well, but more than anything, it’s incredibly endearing, to where after some time has passed, you forget you’re watching a film. I’ve said before how rare that is for a film to have that quality, and I liked this a lot more because of it.

This was one of the increasingly fewer instances of where I intend to write notes for a film while I’m watching it for this review, but after a while I’ve fallen under the spell of the picture to where when it’s over, I’ve basically written down almost nothing. If nothing else, I’m calling this a winner just because of that. I went into this kinda expecting it to not stack up as a Best Picture nominee just from the plot and how it was sold, but this was a surprising little find. Whether it really is one of the best pictures of 1947 remains to be decided upon, but if you’re a Cary Grant fan and haven’t seen this one yet for whatever reason, or if you’re looking for a nice Christmas film you may not have seen before, this is a great recommendation either way.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

Crossfire

Crossfire

Hating is always the same… always senseless.

It’s kind of an amusing thought that I’d watch Crossfire right after Gentleman’s Agreement, since both deal with anti-Semitism to differing degrees. Where the latter wanted to impart a message to the audience through being a straight drama, with Crossfire we instead have basically a murder-mystery-slash-film-noir that’s using anti-Semitism as the motive behind the crime that’s been committed. Quite a bit has been said about Crossfire being technically the first ‘B-movie’ nominated for Best Picture (though the definition of the term is still kind of a hazy area), and indeed right from the get go you can tell that this is fairly distanced from the high-budget prestige pictures normally up for this award. As such, it became a little confusing both during my watch and after it when I tried to figure out why this had indeed been nominated for the big one; it’s certainly not bad, but it definitely feels like a ‘movie of the week’ instead of one of the best pictures of the year.

A man named Joseph Samuels is found beaten to death in his apartment, and police inspector Finlay quickly surmises the murderer is among a group of military officers on partial leave in the area. After informing one of their superiors, Sgt. Keeley, of his suspicions, and interviewing the men, he comes to suspect an officer named Mitchell, one of Keeley’s buddies. Both men then set out to figure out what really happened the night of the murder, from the perspective of all parties involved, until both Keeley and Finlay decide to set up a sting operation to unmask who really did it. I almost wish there were more to this than just that summary, and I embellished it a little more than I really could’ve just for that reason, but there basically isn’t; this is a whodunit that starts out with us not knowing who did it, then we find out who did it, and we watch as the police try and get their man, and the film ends. That’s that. Besides the plot, the production of the picture is actually pretty well done for a B movie; the cinematography is moody and deliberate, the acting from everyone is strong and believable, and director Edward Dmytryk knows enough to stand back and let the script and the actors do their thing, while also adding to the film through camerawork and a sense of brevity toward its length. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that, even with the level the crew brings to the film, it was in service to a picture that didn’t feel like it weighed anything; it’s absolutely a film that one can watch once and then never need to watch again. Truly, it’s a B movie, and that it is among this field of nominees, to me, says more about the potential field this year than anything else.

I can’t really say that there’s anything wrong with Crossfire, but neither is there anything to get in a stir over; this is that unassuming of a film, and it seems to know it. The dialogue is basic, there’s nothing showy about any of the technicals, there’s virtually no music until the climactic scene of the film; this knows that it’s not going to be among the A crowd, so it does its job and calls it a day. And again, that this did actually manage to get nominated for Best Picture (as well as a few other categories) seems to be just as much a surprise for the film as it is for us, and speaks a great deal toward what the Academy had to consider for 1947. I can’t really go on any further, except to repeat what I’ve already said; this isn’t a poor film, but it is absolutely one that, once you’ve seen it, you won’t ever have to see again.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Gentleman’s Agreement

Gentleman's Agreement

“What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said before?” “Maybe it hasn’t been said well enough.”

Most people, even those who are not just movie fans but Oscar fans as well, might be forgiven if they come up empty when asked what the Best Picture winner of 1947 was; it seems to be a very unremarkable year for film, and in truth, its Best Picture winner is on paper a very unremarkable film. Gentleman’s Agreement is basically a one-sentence premise that has plenty of room for exploration for a good two-hour running time, and most directors in Hollywood would have done just that and called it a day. But not Elia Kazan, and not producer Darryl F. Zanuck. Zanuck himself ran into so many problems just trying to get this picture made; other studio heads encouraged him not to so as to not “stir up trouble”, male lead Gregory Peck was told by his agent that doing the film would endanger his career, and the Hays Code enforcement was seen at the time to be very likely not to pass the film at all. Watching Gentleman’s Agreement, and knowing these facts about it, is an extremely sobering experience, one with a message that may amazingly be even more relevant today than it was back then, and that will hopefully stick in the minds of anyone who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to remember this as a Best Picture winner.

Peck stars as Phil Green, a journalist who’s just relocated to New York City to work for publisher John Minify, and Minify already has an assignment waiting for him: an expose on anti-Semitism. At first unsure of how to approach the topic, especially from a fresh perspective, Green hits upon the idea of pretending he himself is a Jew for an extended time, so as to write about the experience of anti-Semitism firsthand. It’s a novel notion at first, but the environment of 1940’s New York is not as simple a one to make such a notion easy to write about, and Green is forced to learn the hard truths about anti-Semitism he hadn’t considered when his social experiment begins to impose upon his family, and especially his burgeoning relationship with Minify’s niece, Kathy. I stated that the film is basically a one-sentence premise played with for two hours, but my expansion of the synopsis of the film should clue you in that there’s quite a bit more to this than just the bare-bones of the premise for the whole runtime. Even on the technical side, the thriftiness of regular Hollywood editing seemed to be largely absent here; the film meanders quite a bit, and I noticed more than a few shots and sequences that would’ve been left on the cutting room floor in many other films. As best I can figure, the film takes this approach to get you to be a lot more considerate with what it is discussing; the film wants you to think, instead of merely following along with the story and being entertained at a minimum. It knows it has something to say, and it knows that saying it has something to say about this is also something often said, and it knows how to say something even deeper than what’s normally said about it to make its point that much stronger. It’s demure at first, with Peck wandering streets and thinking aloud with family and coworkers before he even takes the assignment, but once the premise is started, it builds, not in a noticeable fashion; that would be far too simple. It builds and builds nonetheless, until we’re convinced we’ve gotten what Peck’s character is after, but no, the film says; you haven’t reeeeally gotten it, and by the time the final title card comes up, we’ve realized the film was right, and how well-portrayed the film is with how it gets this information and experience to us is to be as highly commended as can be. The decision to have no musical score aside from the very beginning and end helps this along greatly, making nothing impact us but what is being said and thought about, and in this I’m frankly a little stunned this didn’t win Best Adapted Screenplay with how well the film carries its dialogue (it was nominated though).

This is gonna be a hard one for me to place just right; I try to be as objective as I can be about films for my Judging Oscar segments, and as such I’ve said before that films with an important message along with just the bare bones of structure and production are very unlikely to be at the top of my ranking over films that are better made and more entertaining overall. My viewing of Gentleman’s Agreement today seems almost deliberately designed by fate to make me eat my words; this is a film all about the power of its message (though it is also well made as well), and just how strong that message is conveyed is something that’s going to be hard for me to ignore, even some 70 years after it was made. I’ll be rather frank about this, if I can; even though the film was made and released right after a world war that was basically all about exactly what this film wants us to face, Gentleman’s Agreement is a film that even the audiences of today almost need to see, perhaps even more than in 1947. It’s more than a little disheartening that that statement is as factual as it is, but that’s the world we live in; and, even after WWII and the Civil Rights movement and the anti-gay crusades and everything that’s been happening and is still happening, that this is still the world we live in just proves that films like Gentleman’s Agreement are still necessary, and still need to be made and watched. I’d like to applaud the makers of this film for doing just that and saying what they’ve said, but me just sitting back and applauding this, by itself, is not enough for someone of my privilege to do, and that that is the point of this film just makes it that much more powerful a reminder for me, and I’m hoping for others as well.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1946

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

After a long, long fight, the Second World War was officially over, and thus 1946 would be the first full year that America, and of course Hollywood, could return to a state of prosperity and growth; and boy did both the country and the film industry let loose with their celebration. With the number of films, and especially the number of great films, released in 1946, both audiences and the Academy had their pick of the litter for entertainment and for awards consideration. Thus, it seemed almost too befitting that William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, the film released post-WWII about WWII veterans readjusting to civilian life in the States, would take home top honors, along with a slew of other Oscars for, in part, Wyler’s direction, Fredric March for Lead Actor, and Harold Russell for Supporting Actor; the latter being gifted pre-ceremony with an Honorary Oscar after the Academy didn’t think he would win his category, making him (in an interesting tidbit) the only actor to take home two Oscars for a single performance.

-Ranking the Nominees-

The Razor's Edge

-I’m really unsure how The Razor’s Edge ended up snagging one of these five slots, especially over some of the other potential nominees. It’s a decent film, in construction and in intention, but it’s the latter that ends up causing the film to kinda go off the rails; the film’s aim is one that grows and expands as the film goes on, encompassing a host of supporting players that don’t really have much importance to the central tenet the film started with, and then the film goes and ends without even being able to come up with an answer to the initial question the main character had, and that launched the film’s plot to begin with. It’s not focused, and as a result it comes off as rather blase, which no amount of excellent production or effort by the cast and crew can overcome, and this one’s production value is only good at best. Other films that got plenty of Academy love this year could’ve, and probably should’ve, been in this slot instead.

The Yearling

The Yearling is ending up above the previous film for basically one reason: the production value. This is filmed in Technicolor (sorry; glorious Technicolor) and largely on location in the untamed wilderness of Florida, and man do those two attributes combined make this a sumptuous film to look at. Other than that, though, this has its fair share of problems also: it doesn’t even touch the actual central narrative until the film is half over, the actors seemingly have never heard an actual Southern accent or dialect in their entire lives, and the film and its characters are so heart-stoppingly saccharine that a modern audience may very well roll their eyes so hard they’d be looking back into their own skulls. I’d wager this got the nomination because of its cinematography, which did win an Oscar in the color category, but this really shouldn’t have been here either.

Henry V

-Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. Even though it is technically two years after its initial release in its home country of Britain, Henry V‘s presence among these nominees is more than a mere welcome one; it would seem to be enough of a film to merit inclusion in a Best Picture field regardless of its release date. This could have been yet another straight adaptation of Shakespeare for the cinema, but Olivier (as actor and director) makes of it so much more than a mere reading of the Bard’s lines; the decision to film it as a performance in the Globe Theater before transitioning almost unnoticed into a full cinematic adaptation is a brilliant one, and Olivier is knowledgeable enough of Shakespeare to make every scene entertaining in various ways even to those who find Shakes largely unpalatable (such as myself). There have been films of Shakespeare’s work before, but this I would say is the first truly great Shakespeare film.

The Best Years of Our Lives

-I can totally see how The Best Years of Our Lives won this Oscar, and really that someone says that sentence, along with that it was the film the country needed right after the war, has itself been said so much it’s become meta-commentary by this point. Here’s what I had to do, then, for this segment: I had to rewatch this film and try and ascertain how it was as an actual film and not merely fulfilling the particular appetite the country had for its post-war entertainment. It’s still a well-made film, and it does manage to succeed mostly due to the unquantifiable attributes it cultivates; it may not have very much plot, or even much production value, but it works due to the pervasive mood it inhabits, and the overall moral value it tries to impart to the audience. With the values and the craftsmanship it does have, I’d be fine with this winning this outright, and really I kind of am regardless; it really was the film the country needed at just the right time.

It's a Wonderful Life

-But then a film like this comes along, that’s not only very nearly perfectly made, but strikes a chord so deep and rich that its power and strength and effect are more than strong enough not just for post-war audiences, but for audiences of all time. It’s a Wonderful Life garnered its status as a holiday classic due to constant replay at Christmastime in the 70s and 80s when it temporarily fell into public domain, but this wouldn’t have happened or worked as well with audiences as it did if the film itself weren’t so good at what it does, and be so seamless with its craftsmanship. In a weird way, this film gets right what I found every other nominee in this field doesn’t; it’s focused in its aim and intent, it’s the right amount of sweet and uplifting without being gag-worthy, and it’s so well made that the film projects that air, that sense of magic about it that only perfectly-made films are able to weave, to where the audience completely forgets they are watching a film. Those who dismiss this film outright or in the sense of it potentially winning Best Picture just because it’s a sentimental favorite are just flat-out wrong; Capra’s last true masterpiece fully earned its reputation, and it should’ve earned this award too.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

Befitting the productivity of the post-WWII era it began, 1946 was actually quite a good year in film, so much so it’s almost a shame that the nominees for Best Picture were trimmed back down to five three years prior. The 1001 List is also aplenty with films from this year, giving us potential Best Picture nominees in The Big Sleep, Notorious, Gilda, My Darling Clementine, The Killers, and A Matter of Life and Death. Among other Oscar nominees, it’s surprising to see films like Anna and the King of Siam, as well as The Jolson Story, not in the running for the big one. David O. Selznick’s Duel in the Sun also took a heaping from the box office this year, and two acting nominations, but perhaps wasn’t accessible enough to the Academy despite its earnings. The foreign front didn’t have much this year, especially for the now-limited category, though Children of Paradise saw its U.S. release and could’ve made it. By far, though, the biggest miss is another holdover from the year prior, and from Britain to boot: David Lean’s Brief Encounter.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

I would’ve nominated, and potentially given the Oscar to, The Big Sleep in whichever screenplay category it qualifies for, and Brief Encounter’s absence from the ballot is fairly glaring… but I still would’ve given this to It’s a Wonderful Life. There’s a lot of great cinema from this year, but that film is just flawless in a unique and magical sort of way.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

Considering the spoils it had to choose from, this field is actually kind of middle-of-the-pack; the top half of the nominees are more than worthy, but there’s a couple of notable misses as well. It can be tough now that the field is back to the five-film limit, but that just means each potential slot has to hold up to that much more scrutiny, and I’m not 100% that Oscar did that this year. I’ll give it some post-war fatigue, but that excuse won’t last for too much longer, Academy.

The Yearling

The Yearling

“Boy, life goes back on you.” “Yes’sir… I reckon.”

Not much about The Yearling seemed all that appealing to me; a film about a young boy adopting a baby deer and raising it in the wilds of Southern USA circa the 1800s would appear to be schmaltzy at best. Good God in Heaven on a pogo stick was I not at all prepared for just how schmaltzy this film would aim for, and largely achieve for itself. The selling points of The Yearling are basically a young Gregory Peck starring with Jane Wyman, that the film is based on a beloved novel, and that it is filmed in glorious Technicolor. Truth be told, the film has all that and more; what the “more” is, however, is a sense of sweetness and happiness that seemed to go on without end or limit.

Peck and Wyman are Ezra and Orry Baxter, two parents trying to live whatever lives they can in the mostly untamed wilderness that is post-Civil War Florida. While Ezra, or Penny as he goes by, is the consummate working farmer, tending to his property and providing for his family, Orry is noted to be somewhat reserved and hardened, mostly because three of her four children are already dead. The surviving son, Jody, is his father’s little helper in every way, from hunting and farming to trading in town and even in scraps that his father might end up in. It’s when his father gets bitten by a rattlesnake and has to shoot a nearby deer to use its liver and heart to draw out the venom that Jody’s long-expressed dream of having a pet comes true when he convinces his father and mother to let him care for the doe’s now-orphaned youngling. From there, it’s a coming-of-age story with Jody alternately caring for the fawn and trying to make sure it doesn’t do, well, deer things like eating his family’s crops, until the inevitable rears its head and Jody is forced to become a man a little swifter than he might’ve wanted. So, about those selling points I mentioned: The Yearling seems to think the best way to go about using them is to have all of them in the film in ridiculous amounts. By that, I largely mean the cinematography and the setting of the film; very nearly all of the picture is shot on-location in the thick wilds of Florida, adding a degree of production value that is frankly enough to gag on compared to the regular studio pictures of its contemporaries, and it’s all captured in color as well, so the film is, if nothing else, an absolute feast for the eyes. The film, however, is more concerned with its story and the characters populating it, which would be more than fine if the characters were portrayed with any decent amount of acting skill. The film takes place in the thickest of the thick part of the South, and as such has all the characters drawling their speech with Southern dialects, or at least what Hollywood guesses is a Southern dialect in the 1800s. This goes beyond mere “yes’m” and “I reckon”; damn near every actor in the film, I can only imagine, figured the best way to portray an 1800s-era Southerner is to deliver their lines as stilted as possible, as if every character were trying to learn how to speak by reading aloud text from a book despite not quite knowing how to read either. Of course, the worst offender of this ‘style’ of acting are the child actors, and considering we have a child actor as the main character of the film, we get a LOT of this type of diction thrown at us; though, that’s not to take some of the blame off even the adults like Peck and Wyman, who while able to emote a bit more than the kids, do still deliver their lines the same way. I’ll also throw some additional shade at the film being so wrapped up in its setting that it hardly knows how to tell the story it wants to tell; it is actually over a full hour into this two-hour film that Jody finally finds his young deer, with the film up to then just having the characters meander around the wilds doing various things, though there’s not very much that really happens after Jody gets his pet anyways.

I couldn’t help but feel that the film, in its efforts to be as saccharine and uplifting as possible, ended up shooting off its own foot by going that much more overboard with it than was necessary. There’s a sequence in the middle, for instance, where Jody goes frolicking with his new pet fawn, and by frolicking I mean full-on running with the young deer and mimicking its every hop, skip, and jump, until a whole herd of deer end up joining in, and I just felt that we were one musical number away from a cinematic sense of joie de vivre unrivaled in the entire history of the silver screen. Some people can enjoy something like that, but for a viewer like me, whose scale of cinematic happiness is roughly from 1 to 100, to be bombarded with scenes like that felt like the film was aiming for over 1,000 with no regard as to whether it would be actually palatable. You can like sugar, sure, and you can even like sugar in your drink and your food, but when you’re made to eat nothing but pure sugar, poured down your throat like someone were trying to waterboard you with it, there’s some point at which sugar loses its appeal. Even with the life lesson it tries to hammer home with the way the film and its story ends, The Yearling was absolutely one of those kinds of films, and even with its excellent production value and color cinematography, it’d be a struggle for me to find an audience that would fully be able to digest this much sugar in one sitting.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

The Razor’s Edge

The Razor's Edge

Just look what you’ve done with your life, and with mine. What in heaven’s name are you trying to prove?

I’m not really sure why I ended up putting off The Razor’s Edge as long as I did; simultaneously, there wasn’t really a whole lot about it to get excited over, either. The stars of the picture aren’t any that really scream star value; same for director Edmund Goulding. It’s another literary adaptation up for the big one, though that’s not as much of a death knell lately as it has been in the past. Truly, aside from producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s presence, this would seem to be a ghost of a film to try and market, and I was wholly unsure of how to approach it. Weirdly enough, this is almost exactly the same mindset that the film itself has toward its central character, which I guess is as good a leaping-off point as I’m bound to have with this.

Tyrone Power is Larry Darrell, who seems to be on the up-slope being engaged to well-to-do socialite Isabel Bradley, even with her uncle Elliott’s disapproval of him. Uncle Elliott does have a small point, though; Larry, having had his life saved by a fellow officer in the Great War (who died on his behalf), has been largely bereft of meaning in his life, to where he has no interests or prospects in getting any sort of job, and he makes the decision to travel to Europe and later India to try to find that missing purpose he’s been looking for, pausing his engagement in the process. Life, however, wants to go on without waiting for Larry, and Isabel ends up marrying a wealthy social climber herself to live the high life she feels she needs. When Larry finally returns to his friends and acquaintances, he seems largely changed, so much so he begins affecting those around him for the better, and Isabel, who was always in love with him over anyone, is now not in a position to end up with him… unless she takes actions of her own. In terms of exemplary features or selling points, there really aren’t any with The Razor’s Edge, as was apparent in my opening paragraph, so I’m kinda left with just the narrative to talk about. There’s a lot in this film that it considers plot, and there’s a host of characters, lead and supporting, that all have turns to take in the film’s story, much more so than even my lengthy plot summary indicated. Amusingly enough, the film even includes the author of the original book as a character in the film itself, interacting with the others and being friends with many, who also serves as a sometimes-narrator, which was a strange decision in my eyes, but it made it work well enough. What I wasn’t entirely sold on was the overall arc of the narrative; for as much as this film has in terms of events that happen and running time to fill, it doesn’t seem to amount to much, or really anything. For all of Larry Darrell’s searching for his purpose in life, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that by the end of the film, he admits he still hasn’t found it, and indeed the film itself seemed to still be searching for what it wanted to do by the time the final title card fades out.

This is a very strange film to try and ascertain its worth and purpose. The film at first seems to be about Power’s character and his search for what eludes him, and how that ends up affecting his fiancee and the others that know him. However, the second half expands the film’s focus considerably, including and bumping up in importance the myriad of supporting characters into nearly fully-fledged character arcs of their own, to where when the film ends (with a considerable whimper, in my opinion), one is left wondering what the actual point or focus of the film really was. It’s a decent watch, and I liked the oddly lackadaisical gravitas Tyrone Power gave to the main character, but there didn’t seem to be a goal that The Razor’s Edge was achieving, or even trying to achieve. The goal itself seemed to be the search for the goal itself, which can be well and good in some cases, but here, it left me questioning why one should spend the time to sit through the film only to end up shrugging their shoulders in uncertainty by the end of it. I don’t know if I can recommend this for that reason, and if I can it is only by the barest of margins. There’s nothing overall wrong with the picture, but there is almost nothing to add to the ‘what it does right’ column either.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1945

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

It took a long time and a hell of an effort, but the second World War was finally over, and Oscar was not about to let the opportunity to once again go all out pass by. All the glitz and glamour that had been shorted for the war effort was back in force, and the Oscar statuettes themselves were once again gold-plated bronze. With all that the world had gone through, for Hollywood, these Oscars were largely one of redemption; Joan Crawford finally nabbed a statue for Best Actress, famously accepting the award from her bedroom while ill (or so she claimed), and after going zero-for-seven with his film the previous year, Billy Wilder finally got his due as well, with The Lost Weekend grabbing Oscars for star Ray Milland, for Wilder himself for directing and co-writing, and Best Picture, becoming the first of only three films to take top honors at both the Oscars and the Cannes Film Festival.

-Ranking the Nominees-

Spellbound

-Even with it being Hitchcock and my being a fan of his, I’m really not sure why Spellbound is here. It seems almost mean to say, but if this had been an identical film directed by someone other than Hitch, and produced by someone other than David O. Selznick, I don’t think this would be within spitting distance of this award. It’s a decent film, and par for the course for Hitch (with the addition of a particularly surreal dream sequence courtesy of Salvador Dali), but ‘par for the course’ shouldn’t mean Best Picture, for almost any director.

Anchors Aweigh

Anchors Aweigh is a musical of the most musical kind, and does almost nothing to transcend that classification; as such, I only moderately liked it, and nothing more than that. That said, I could objectively ascertain that it was pretty well-made, as far as musicals go and maybe even a little farther; it’s this that has it bumped up a spot in these rankings. I can’t really say anything I didn’t already cover in my review of it, other than to try and figure out if this is really Best Picture material or not. I can say I definitely wouldn’t have this winning the award, but at the same time, I’m not too sure I could find a reason (another film or otherwise) as to why this shouldn’t be here.

The Bells of St. Mary's

-It seemed almost a foregone conclusion that The Bells of St. Mary’s would be here, being the sequel to the beloved Best Picture winner of last year, Going My Way. All this had to do was be as good as the prior film, and it had this spot on the ballot wrapped up. Thankfully, it manages to do just that and then some; I actually found this to be a much more substantial film than its predecessor, having what Going My Way had in addition to being more fleshed out in other areas as well. I do think, though, that this film’s spot right in the middle of the pack is apropos; it feels like a “middle of the pack” of Best Picture nominees, even in a lot of other years. That’s not to say this doesn’t belong here, but rather says more about the power of the two films I have ranked higher than this one.

Mildred Pierce

-I didn’t remember much about Mildred Pierce, other than liking Joan Crawford an awful lot in the title role. Rewatching it, Crawford is sure as hell flawless in her performance, but I hadn’t remembered just how much the rest of the film is up to matching her efforts; it was easy to pick up on, though, and the rest of the film (along with how much I enjoyed it) came back rather easily. This is a film that knows exactly what it’s doing; it puts pieces on the board, to where you don’t know what’s going on or what goes where, and then proceeds to flesh out the rest of the story, so that you know exactly how things ended up precisely how they did and how every piece ended up where it did. Couple this with an excellent sense of pacing and storytelling, courtesy of director Michael Curtiz, and an equally good sense of production, and it’s really hard to find a particular flaw with this at all.

The Lost Weekend

-Still, for this year, there’s just no topping The Lost Weekend. There’s the power of an uncompromising look at alcoholism and how it affects those under its thrall, the groundbreaking nature of smashing the stereotype of the “comic drunk” into pieces, and there’s a damn fine film (and filmmaking) overall; The Lost Weekend is all three. Even with my normally disliking literary adaptations up for this award in the past, this is a clear and unequivocal exception; it won four Oscars out of seven nominations, and it earned every single one, including and especially this one.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

I would think there would be a slew of potential improvements to the ballot, especially now that it’s back down to five, but not too much else from 1945 pops out at me as an obvious miss. The 1001 List has Detour and I Know Where I’m Going, neither of which I would argue for. Given the nominations it did get, along with its Oscar-favored cast and crew, it’s a little surprising National Velvet didn’t find a spot on the ballot; same with the Frederic Chopin biopic A Song to Remember. Foreign-language films would still have a hard time getting the Academy’s attention, leaving out films like Children of Paradise and Rome, Open City (though the latter would get a screenplay nod the following year).

-What I Would’ve Picked-

Definitely The Lost Weekend; that film is an important and sympathetic statement on addiction, and a great film to boot.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

Considering what the Academy had to pick from this year, I’m actually kinda pleased with this field; not to mention they managed to get their pick for the win right on the money. Oscar has its ups and downs, but they did right in a lot of ways with their winner here, and I can only hope they continue to do so.

The Bells of St. Mary’s

The Bells of St. Mary's

Looks like St. Mary’s is in a bad way… a trifle.

I had a lot of nagging thoughts about how I should approach The Bells of St. Mary’s, from a judgmental standpoint. Chiefly, this is the sequel to last year’s Best Picture winner, Going My Way; indeed, in my looking into it, I believe this is actually the first proper sequel that was nominated for Best Picture. As a sequel, the main nagging thought I had was: should I be judging this compared to Going My Way, or on its own merits? It once again stars Bing Crosby, is once again directed by Leo McCarey, and has much the same mentality and narrative devices as the previous work; indeed, to try and avoid comparison to Going My Way would be to do so completely conspicuously and deliberately, the only way in which one could even try. It seems that fate, or perhaps even divine intervention, had other plans for my viewing of this film: I went into it wondering how it would compare to its predecessor, and I came out of it all too wrapped up in the film itself to realize that I hadn’t even given my consideration any thought while watching the film.

Crosby is once again Father Chuck O’Malley, and once again he is sent in to a parish to do his good work in revitalizing the church in the way that only he can. This time, he is sent to St. Mary’s, which along with a church is also a school for children through grades 1-8. The parish, and the school in particular, are fairly run down; so much so that local businessman Horace Bogardus wants the property condemned and sold to him to make way for a parking space for his new office complex he is building next door. Naturally, the sisters in charge of St. Mary’s, particularly their Sister Superior played by Ingrid Bergman, are lack of anything to prevent this, save for their prayers and the grace of God. God, it seems, has sent Father O’Malley, who while initially clashing with the Sister Superior over how to handle the children of the school, also seems to have a way about him that will hopefully, God willing, bring about a change in Mr. Bogardus as well. So, to get the elephant somewhat out of the way, I ended up comparing this to Going My Way quite a bit after it was over, but only because I’d failed to do so while I was watching it; I had been completely engrossed in the picture itself, which is a first notable difference between this and its predecessor. Where Going My Way seemed to get by solely on the warmth of the O’Malley character and his interactions with Father Fitzgibbon, in addition to some songs for Crosby to sing, The Bells of St. Mary’s has a lot more actual plot to it, a lot more meat on its bones. The narrative is better-handled and weightier, the characters are overall more engaging and interesting (making them easier to pay attention to and invest in as an audience), and the script seems a lot more equipped toward the film’s decisions with how the plot needs to go and how the characters express themselves with how things do go. Crosby is much the same as he is in Going My Way, and it works just the same as it did there, and thankfully the film adds Bergman to give a more emotive and empathetic foil due to the film losing the Father Fitzgibbon character, and she delightfully embraces the character she plays in every moment. Just like Going My Way, the film does take a few opportunities to get Bing Crosby to croon over a handful of songs, opportunities that rather stick out from how the rest of the film is structured, but this is really my only real criticism of how the film is handled. Hell, there were even a few moments (like, more than just one) that I actually caught myself laughing out loud at certain scenes, which is probably the thing I’d expected the least of all.

Man, was I surprised by this, especially to my reaction to it. Where I was only satisfied that I’d gotten through Going My Way, with this I was actually invested in the film the whole way through, to where when it was over I hadn’t even realized I’d gotten through the whole thing. Whatever charm people were falling for with Going My Way that somehow eluded me, it hit its mark squarely with The Bells of St. Mary’s, and indeed I’d go so far as to say that this is a better film than its predecessor. It has more to it, and all of it is handled better, to where there actually felt like a real story being told rather than just having a string of events happen with a heaping of warmth and fuzziness on top to make it palatable. I’m perfectly okay and aware that this is an opinion, though, and that it may be one that might not be shared by others; or rather, that most would hold Going My Way in higher regard than this one. For me, though, it’s definitely the other way around; I liked this much more than the former, and I think it does a better job at being an overall film as well.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10