-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-
-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 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.
-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.
-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.
-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.