Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1950

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

1950 for the Academy would seem to be a down year, if the nominees for Best Picture were an indication; and indeed, not too much of note occurred this year. At the Oscars themselves, fashion would start the decade off with a roar, courtesy of notable dresses worn by presenters Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe; this being Monroe’s one and only appearance at the Awards. It might’ve seemed a shorter night than most given the attendance, as many of the nominees were actually in New York celebrating with Gloria Swanson at her 52nd birthday bash; the Oscar nominees listening in on radio. Indeed, the race seemed all about the crowded Best Actress field, with Holliday receiving congrats from Swanson as she heard her name over the speakers. As for Best Director and Screenplay, those were all about Joseph L. Mankiewicz for the second consecutive year, the only time in history one person would win both awards two years running; and, unlike the previous year, he and producer Darryl F. Zanuck would be pleased that Best Picture turned out to be all about All About Eve.

-Ranking the Nominees-

King Solomon's Mines

-As I said in my review of it, King Solomon’s Mines makes the same mistakes Trader Horn did a couple decades prior; it’s an exhibition of footage shot of the wilds of Africa, not an actual film, and yet it somehow managed a nomination here. Evidently it was really something for the audiences of 1950, ending up as the second-highest grossing film of the year and the biggest profit margin for its studio, MGM, so perhaps the Academy felt pressured to bow to public opinion. Either way, they were wrong; there were several films that got a lot of Oscar love this year and had more nominations to them than this, and yet this managed it? Come on.

Father of the Bride

-Sadly, Father of the Bride fails at this nomination for similar reasons, though it’s actually trying to be a decent film (and a comedy at that) and as such makes me not want to be particularly mean toward it. Whether or not you’re a father with a daughter seems to be the deciding factor as to who will enjoy this film, as it hammers on that one note it has so hard that it starts to ring in your ears even when the piano isn’t playing. If that note is one you kinda like, Father of the Bride will be a knowing bundle of chuckles for you; unfortunately, I’m traipsing through this odyssey looking for films that actually are fully realized and could stand a chance at this award, and this is definitely not one of them.

Born Yesterday

-In terms of comedies that are up for this award, at least this year, the Academy seemed to at least have one decent shot with Born Yesterday. Even with my lukewarm reception to it when I watched it, I had to admit that I did laugh aloud a few times, mostly at Judy Holliday and her absolutely razor-sharp comedic timing and characterization that won her Best Actress over the likes of Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson in career-best performances. Deciding that race is a task for another day (perhaps); as for this race, I’m still ambivalent on whether or not this really should be here. Considering the other two films below it, definitely, but 1950 has quite a lot of quality to it that this field wouldn’t otherwise indicate, and at five nominees, I could see this ending up below the marker with some of the other potentials in the mix.

Sunset Blvd

-Really, when it comes down to ranking this field of five, it was always going to come down to ranking a field of two. Deciding between this particular pairing was never going to be easy, or definitive (if indeed one could possibly settle such a debate), and truly, the major factor separating these two is basically mood; if you like straight dramas, you’ll prefer one, and if you prefer a noir that drips off the screen, you’ll prefer the other. For me, I can take either one, so my putting Sunset Boulevard second in this list should on no account be an indicator that it is really second in almost any way. This is a film for anyone who loves classic cinema, both because it is an example of it itself and because it does so much with the concept of looking back on that era under a more modern eye. And, of course, it’s got that noir feel in spades, diamonds, and every suit you can think of.

All About Eve

-So why, then, am I putting All About Eve first? Subjectively, there’s no way to decide; as I said in the previous paragraph, it basically comes down to personal preference. Objectively, both are well-written, superbly-acted, and tied together as best as each film can tie everything it has together; it seems to me, though, that All About Eve is tied just that much tighter, to where the film is such a perfectly blended mixture that picking it apart for individual aspects seems almost impossible – if you find one thing to laud, you’ll find three other related things to also laud about it. With Sunset Blvd, the excellent aspects stick out, like noticeable bumps or seams on an otherwise spherical ball; with All About Eve, every potential bump or seam is matched by something else, to where the texture becomes simultaneously featureless and full of variation. This metaphor isn’t exactly the best in working theory, but it’s the best way I can try to put into words why I’m putting this film atop this field of five, and in particular this field of two.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

Of course, had the Academy taken a better look at the year as a whole, they could’ve possibly made the race much more than a one-to-one bout. Sunset Blvd had the noir slot wrapped up, which unfortunately knocked In a Lonely Place out of the running. A similar fate, I suspect, kept The Asphalt Jungle out as well, especially with MGM apparently throwing all its weight behind a film that really didn’t deserve it. Films like Annie Get Your Gun, Broken Arrow, The Magnificent Yankee, and Harvey got Oscar love in a few categories, but not here; a huge miss in this regard was probably Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah, which also topped King Solomon’s Mines for the highest-grossing picture of the year. The foreign field, if released in the States, gives us Los Olvidados, which might not have seen a nomination through, and Rashomon, which absolutely would’ve deserved it. The Academy also saw fit to bestow a special prize to The Walls of Malapaga for foreign films, but were still averse to the actual category itself, it seems (Rashomon would go on to win this consolation the following year). For all of the above reasons, I suspect, is also what kept one other film out of the running, which is even sadder when you notice the film managed a nomination for Carol Reed in Best Director, and a win for Best Black-and-White Cinematography, but yeah, seriously; where in the freaking hell is The Third Man?

-What I Would’ve Picked-

Deciding the race between the top two of the nominees was never going to be easy; throw in The Third Man as well, and you’ve got an almost impossible dilemma. The Third Man is a personal favorite, and makes me feel all sort of subjective emotions about it; but, if I’m trying to be as objective as I can, which I am, I’m probably forced to go with All About Eve. It pains me inside to do so, but it is, for me, the fair decision.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

Your top two and winner, Oscar, are good picks, but the rest of the field is definitely not what it should’ve been. 1950 is no 1939, but it’s not a bad year for film, despite what this category may have some people believe. C’mon, Oscar; you can do better.

3 thoughts on “Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1950

  1. A very interesting discussion on the top two spots. I certainly see what you mean, but I cannot help using my own filter, which is: “which movie would I first pick on a re-watch”. There I would pick Sunset Boulevard ahead of All about Eve. Throw in The Third Man and the result is given for me: I HAVE picked out The Third Man for both second and third and I think even a fourth watch since reviewing it.
    Rashomon so deserved a nomination…

    • By that criterion, The Third Man is the clear winner for me; I have also rewatched that movie several times since first seeing it for the 1001 list.

      Rashomon did get a call-out ‘special prize’ at next year’s Oscars, but yeah; missing out on Best Picture either this year or next is pretty sad.

  2. It really is a difficult decision between those top two, but based on which I watch more often I’d fall on the side of All About Eve. Sunset Blvd. is such a dark night of the soul it doesn’t always have that easy pleasure that Eve presents despite being an incredible film.

    One or the other would always be my choice for the top prize but the Academy could have done much better in offering some competition to run against them. While I think The Third Man is a very good film I don’t love it as much as so many do. So it would fall somewhere in a top 10 but not a top 5.

    I agree with most of your alternate suggestions though Rashomon didn’t make it to the States until the next year so wouldn’t qualify. What I’d add and would make my list in third (but would probably be my winner most other years) is the adaptation of Hemingway’s The Breaking Point that starred John Garfield (who was robbed of a nomination for his best screen performance). There’s also Night and the City and The Happiest Days of Your Life which I think were worthy of consideration, certainly over the other three that got in but would just miss my lineup.

    If it were up to me the lineup would have run in this order:

    All About Eve
    Sunset Blvd.
    The Breaking Point
    In a Lonely Place
    The Asphalt Jungle

    1950 might not have been as ripe as 1939 but it had considerable high quality pictures to choose from, too bad the Academy ignored much of it.

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