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.

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1949

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

After the studios’ show of non-faith and frustration the previous year, Academy head Jean Hersholt lobbied to hell and back to get the Awards a permanent home at last, after getting bounced around from theater to theater the past few years. Finally, he pulled it off; with the studios back on board, the Oscars set its flag at the corner of Hollywood and Vine at the Pantages Theater, the very heart of Hollywood, and would remain there for the next decade. The Academy would honor its outgoing President for his efforts with an Honorary Award, two others of which also went to Cecil B. DeMille and Fred Astaire; the Italian neorealist film Bicycle Thieves would also get an honorary award, as foreign films still had a few years before they’d get a category proper. It seems the voting body wanted to pass honors around a wide arc indeed, as each one of the five films nominated for Best Picture took home multiple awards that night, the first time this had happened (as well as this year being the final year every Best Picture nominee was a black-and-white film). And despite producer/director/writer Robert Rossen missing out on Best Director and Best Screenplay to Joseph L. Mankiewicz, he would happily get the big one when All the King’s Men took home the award for Best Picture.

-Ranking the Nominees-

Battleground

-It’s honestly a little strange, looking from the outside in, that Battleground is ending up at the bottom of my ranking, what with it being the second highest grossing film of the year. Of course, stepping into the door and taking a look-see at my review, the picture becomes clearer; while plenty of people enjoyed what Battleground had to offer, I found all that these people were touting as selling points to be eye-rolling features at best and cringe-inducing at worst, to the point that I almost had an existential crisis trying to figure out why everything everyone else loved about this was exactly why I ended up disliking it. Oh well, to each their own; that’s about all I can say, I guess.

Twelve O'Clock High

Twelve O’Clock High is the other war film in the field, and I was honestly expecting this to end up last when I watched it, with how boilerplate and unremarkable it was in just about every way. It opts for strict authenticity in its attempt to honor this part of the war effort, but it ends up shooting holes in its own wings in doing so, as the resulting picture feels less like a soaring experience than a plane slowly sliding down through the air to a landing strip as it coughs puffs of smoke from one or two engines. It may have been given a stamp of approval from the boys who really went through the fiction of the film’s plotline, but it’s not getting one from me.

All the King's Men

-It definitely feels like Oscar wanted to award the big one to importance and timeliness in giving the award to All the King’s Men. In this effort, they probably succeeded; this film more than any of the other four has a lot to say about the country and the state of politics both then and even now some 70 years after it came out. It’s a solid picture, with a solid amount of things going for it, but I still struggle in mustering up enough enthusiasm to say that this should have won this award. Given that there are other films in this field that, while I might not be able to muster myself in that way, I at least did get more personal enjoyment out of, this is ending up right in the middle instead.

A Letter to Three Wives

-I still feel pretty strongly that Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the right two Oscars for A Letter to Three Wives; it also so happens that I liked the hell out of this film right after my first watch. A Letter to Three Wives is that rare sort of film that really doesn’t make a misstep; you may not love the film all over or in individual pieces (and indeed, I carefully chose the word ‘like’ in my previous sentence), but you really can’t say that it does anything wrong or incorrectly. It’s got a great premise, and it makes of that premise exactly what it should, and I appreciated that a bunch. However, it doesn’t make more of what it has, only just enough, and it’s that that is keeping this film below the one left in this field.

The Heiress

The Heiress is very unassuming at first glance, and even right there is the film’s first ingeniously deliberate decision. You can have plenty of films up for this award that are here for importance or to make a statement, and then you can have certain films that just hit you over the head in ways you had forgotten a film really could do, and The Heiress accomplishes that with panache. It’s got Olivia de Havilland in possibly her best performance, a supporting cast each up to the same level in their roles, a production second to none, and most importantly, more emotional wallops than quite possibly the rest of the field combined. Really, it comes down to picking either the most ‘important’ film of the year, or the film that one has overall gotten more out of than any of the others while still being a strong film as well. For me, this year, that film is The Heiress.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

It’s getting harder each year that passes to discern what could’ve (or should’ve) gotten a nom here instead of some of the actual field, with more films being released and thus more and more possibilities that I likely don’t know enough about slipping through the cracks. The Academy, for instance, seemed to avoid box office totals almost entirely for Best Picture consideration, with Battleground being the sole exception of the top-grossers to get in; perhaps they didn’t want to seem too indebted to popular opinion, but it does leave out a lot of high-grossing films from this field. Some of these did get other Oscar nods, like Jolson Sings Again, Pinky, Little Women, and Sands of Iwo Jima. Two other Oscar heavy-hitters that year, Champion and Come to the Stable, somehow missed out here. With all the seriousness in the nominees, the Academy might’ve been apt to throw another light-hearted comedy in there like Whiskey Galore or Kind Hearts and Coronets; the latter could’ve also seen a potential acting nom for the eight-fold duty Alec Guinness pulls. Some might stump for On the Town just to get a musical in here, but I won’t. The Third Man would’ve absolutely been among my picks, if it didn’t qualify for the following year’s Oscars instead.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

With nothing outside the field sticking its head in too visibly this year, it seems my Oscar vote would’ve defaulted to The Heiress. Not to say that that tepid confirmation is indicative of that film not being a really good one; it’s just not quite the clear-cut winner I’m usually looking for each year.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

This definitely feels like a weaker field overall than I’m starting to expect from Oscar. There’s one or two solid choices, maybe three if I stretch, but it’s hard to look at these five and say unquestionably that these are the best of the year. With color films now guaranteed to intrude upon this category, though, I’m hoping that will help mitigate this feeling somewhat going forward. As long as Oscar doesn’t muff it up because of it.

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1948

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

The Academy Awards for 1948 had plenty of gold to give away, and more than the usual amount of recipients to give it away to. Father and son Walter and John Huston would be the first such pair to be Oscar winners, for Supporting Actor and Director of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; another Huston film this year, Key Largo, would also win Best Supporting Actress. The first Oscar for Best Costume Design was also awarded, to the historical epic Joan of Arc, which managed to break the record for most Oscar nominations without one for Best Picture. The Hollywood studios, however, were more than a little miffed that so many nominations went to overseas films, and ended up pulling their funding of the ceremony, requiring the Academy to find a new venue and fund it themselves. Their fears might’ve indeed been justified, as the award for Best Picture went to the British production of Hamlet, the first time Best Picture would be awarded to a non-Hollywood film.

-Ranking the Nominees-

Hamlet

-Among this era of five Best Picture nominees, it should probably be something more than it is that I’m putting Hamlet, the winner of the award, in last place (indeed, upon revisiting my past segments, this is the first time I’ve ranked the Best Picture winner last in my rankings). But, honestly, it’s not really a surprise to me; while Hamlet isn’t really bad, it does nothing more with the material it’s given than it could’ve, and this is made even more egregiously obvious by Laurence Olivier’s production of Henry V a few years before doing exactly that. Olivier is fine as a director and an actor here (indeed, becoming the first of only two people to direct themselves to an acting Oscar), and I can see this being in the nominee fields for both awards, but I really struggle a lot trying to justify this winning those Oscars. It’s nice that Olivier won Best Actor, and that a Shakespeare film won Best Picture, but if I’m being honest, this really shouldn’t have been the film to hold up those two particular honors.

Johnny Belinda

Johnny Belinda really threw me in terms of trying to write about it, mostly because everything about it works so well together that it’s hard to pick it apart and find individual aspects to laud. Perhaps the one major one, the lead performance by Jane Wyman, is the obvious exception, and her win for Best Actress is absolutely deserved, but the rest of the film is just overall a really good film and that’s about it. It is easy, however, to discount Johnny Belinda from potentially being in this field because of how nondescript it is, when really the fact that the film is as good as it is along with how well everything blends together is itself more of an indicator of this film’s quality than may be apparent at first glance. As I said in my review, I’m peachy that this did manage this nomination, but it’s ending up where it is basically because of the film it is, especially in comparison to the other films in the field, and really no higher than that.

The Snake Pit

-I didn’t think much of The Snake Pit when I first went into it years ago, but by the end I had become a staunch advocate. There’s plenty of films dealing with mentally-ill people, but very few that deal directly with the system that treats them, and how said system can be both beneficial and detrimental to their recovery; The Snake Pit is one of, if not, the best examples of a film that does just that, examining the psychoanalysis treatments of the era with both a stern and hopeful eye, while also encompassing a sort-of mystery-thriller about Olivia de Havilland’s character and what happened that got her to be institutionalized in the first place. Even with my rewatch, I’d been prepared to count The Snake Pit as making this field of nominees mostly for de Havilland’s powerhouse performance, but once again the film threw me for a loop with how well done it is overall, both in production and in how it tackles the subject it does. I’m pleased as hell that this is here, even if I wouldn’t ultimately vote it the top of its field.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

-This is where this gets hard. There’s going to be a great deal of confoundedness over my putting The Treasure of the Sierra Madre not at the top of this list, and honestly, part of the reason it took so long for me to complete 1948 was due to my indecision between these two top films and my struggle to ultimately resolve that indecision. So, here’s how I ended up where I did; Sierra Madre is an excellent story, both as an entertaining tale and a moral lesson, and is put to the screen by excellent performances from its main trio (Bogart, in particular, should’ve outright won Best Actor for this, and it still amazes me he wasn’t even on the ballot). Anything past that, though, and you’re reaching for things to say; the location filming does help the story, and the cinematography gets the job done, but aside from these two aspects, this could’ve just as easily been a stage play for the theater as it is a film. It is absolutely not a bad film, by almost any reckoning, and it may very well have deserved to win Best Picture if it were up against plenty of other nominees.

The Red Shoes

-But this… this is cinema in its most absolute and finest form. The Red Shoes could’ve just been a very pretty film about a very aesthetically pleasing subject like ballet dancing, but it is so much more than that. For me, this gets the nod over Sierra Madre not because it is an objectively better film (if one can even decisively conclude between the two), but because where Sierra Madre gets the job done being a really great story packaged inside a basically good filmmaking wrapper, The Red Shoes is a great story (simple, yes, but surprisingly multi-layered if one digs underneath the surface) that is realized on the screen in all the ways that cinema can take a really good story and elevate it to something so much more than words and actions and characters. And yes, it is also sumptuous to the eyes and ears, to an almost extreme level. Huston’s picture is probably the better story, and it tells that story about as well as it can, but The Red Shoes makes of what it has so much more than it otherwise would’ve had it not been a film, and that, if anything, is what the Best Picture of the year should be.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

Despite generally liking this field of five (even if I thought Hamlet could’ve been so much more than what it was), more than a few films ended up on the outside looking in that could’ve possibly broken through. The 1001 List gives us potential contenders in Rope, Red River, and The Lady from Shanghai; The Paleface took in a hefty box office, but I wouldn’t consider it good enough for Best Picture. As said in the opener, for as much as Joan of Arc got in terms of Oscar noms, it surprisingly missed Best Picture, despite producer Walter Wanger getting an Honorary Oscar for making the film; similarly Oscar-loved films like The Search and I Remember Mama would also miss out. The foreign front saw the release of Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, arguably the peak of Italian neorealism, but the film would have to settle for a special award for Foreign Language films in the following year’s Oscars.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

With nothing else coming close to my top two, and as much as I want to have Sierra Madre win it so I potentially don’t lose face, I gotta give it to The Red Shoes. Very few films accomplish that special something akin to magic, and this is absolutely one of them.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

I’m pretty pleased with this field; of what other films from 1948 that I have seen, I don’t think I can really say any of them deserve one of these slots over the five that we have. The only real slip-up is Oscar picking quite possibly the least of the bunch to give the award to; aside from just wanting to stick it to the studios for dropping their funding over petty xenophobia, I really can’t fathom why they gave it to the film they did. Even still, that the decision was down to these five is at least something to be proud of, Oscar. Let’s see how things shape up from here.

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.

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.

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.

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1944

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

Not too much of note separates the year of 1944 from the other war years of the time, cinematically or otherwise. Inside the Academy, however, things were finally turning; after almost a decade of the expanded category, the Academy Awards for the films of 1944 would finally see the Academy trimming the nominations for the big one back down to five, a restricted slate that would stand until after the turn of the millennium. In another small revision, the official name of the category would be altered for the third time, dropping the Outstanding in favor of the simplicity of Best Motion Picture. The tighter race for the big one would seem to invite a hotter competition for the win, until the awards themselves started, and Going My Way, the year’s top-grossing film, made a point of sweeping most of the awards it was up for (even somehow nabbing a dual-nomination for Barry Fitzgerald in both Best Actor and Supporting Actor, a strange bureaucratic oddity that the Academy would ensure did not happen again in the future), including Best Picture.

-Ranking the Nominees-

Wilson

-Why is Wilson here, among this field? I can only imagine the answer to that question is that producer Darryl Zanuck lobbied to hell and back three times over for it, and that the Academy acquiesced because the picture is at least kinda nice to look at. For any and every other reason, Wilson does not belong in a field of Best Picture nominees, in this or really any other year around it; it makes just about every mistake a film of its kind can make, without actually culminating in a technically bad film. Wilson is watchable, sure, but just not enjoyable, and it is absolutely not one of the five best films of 1944.

Since You Went Away

Since You Went Away suffers from almost the exact same faults as Wilson; it’s too long, not substantial enough, and seems to only be here because its producer (David O. Selznick in this case) wanted it to be here so, so very much. It’s more enjoyable than the former film, though, and is why it’s ended up higher than it; other than that, this really doesn’t belong in this field of nominees.

Going My Way

-While I can totally see why Going My Way won this Oscar, with how much of a warm and feel-good escape it was for war-exhausted audiences of the time, I really can’t agree with it; it gets by on nothing but its warmth and feel-goodiness, with the addition of a couple choice songs from the always-serenading Bing Crosby. It is absolutely what audiences of 1944 needed, and definitely what they took to the most, but it really isn’t the best picture of this year.

Gaslight

-What I especially liked about Gaslight was, rather than be a regular murder mystery with the standard bits in place and little else, the film puts a hell of a lot of effort into its production in order to stand out from the rest of the pack. This is a moody, morose, and devilish picture, knowing full well how to engage the audience in its premise by basically doing the same to the audience as what is done to the ingenue played by Ingrid Bergman in the story itself. A lot of other films of this era would have easily missed that opportunity, but Gaslight (and director George Cukor) seize hold of it and wring it for all that its worth, much to the film’s benefit. It ends up this high in this ranking as a result, but it does end up missing the top of the podium.

Double Indemnity

-As amusing as it ended up being that my rankings ended up in perfect reverse-alphabetical order, I can’t say that the film that ended up on top is not deserving of it. I was only mildly fond of Double Indemnity when I first saw it, mainly because I had gone through most of the 1001 List’s selections of noirs already and thus didn’t see what all the fuss was about. My rewatching it for this segment to gauge it against the other four films was an absolutely solid decision on my part; where almost every other film in this field has the balance between things it does right and things it does wrong either even or swinging toward the latter, Double Indemnity does a hell of a lot right and hardly anything wrong, and it does a bang-up job of solidifying the appeal of noir for the many years that would follow. Even ignoring the influence it would later have, this is obviously the best of this slate of five, and probably among the rest of the year’s output as well.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

Even with the limiting of the field, the nominations this year could’ve seen some shifting around. Among the other multiple-Oscar nominated films that weren’t up for the big one, Laura and Meet Me in St. Louis stand out as somewhat glaring misses. Double Indemnity is here, while the equally noir-y film noir Murder, My Sweet missed the ballot. The war propaganda era of Best Picture nominees would appear to have passed, which leaves out box office darlings like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Winged Victory. I’ve heard good things about Arsenic and Old Lace, but I haven’t seen it. Some might also argue for To Have and Have Not, though I wouldn’t; it’s basically Casablanca 2 but nowhere near as good, though that hasn’t stopped the Academy from nominating spiritual sequels before.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

The pickings of the rest of 1944 having been sifted through, nothing really tops Double Indemnity.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

If I had to give the now-finally-reduced slate of nominees a letter grade, it’d probably be a B-/C+; I said I’d be more discerning now that the field is back down to five, and while Oscar did pick some good ones, I can’t say they hit the mark on every choice. Perhaps things will improve once we finally get out of the war years, but who’s to say for now.

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1943

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

The war effort was in absolute full swing by the time of this Academy Awards ceremony, the first to be held in a public setting (Grauman’s Chinese Theater, of all places). Thanks to Bette Davis, this radio-broadcasted ceremony offered free passes to men and women in uniform, and the Oscar statuette was made in gold-painted plaster due to precious metals being relegated for the war machine. This likely didn’t bother the Supporting Acting winners, who would finally be awarded full-size Oscars instead of smaller plaques for the first time; those that did win plaster Oscars would later be able to exchange them for gold ones after the war. The cost of the Oscar statues would seem to be a pittance compared to the box office returns that year, mostly buoyed by the copious morale-booster revues distributed to American audiences to get them invested enough to buy war bonds, though some dramatic films like For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Song of Bernadette would find their way into the top 10 grossers that year. Also among that top-grossing field was a little film by a Hungarian-American director called Casablanca, which in addition to tearing up the box office, would surprise everyone by winning Best Picture (and Best Director) as well.

Watch on the Rhine

Watch on the Rhine ending up at the bottom is the littlest surprise for me, considering it’s really the only nominee that I can say I squarely disliked. Melodrama has its place (I guess), but this was more (or, to a sense, less) than just melodrama; this film tries to up the drama so much that it hopes people wouldn’t notice how poorly-made the film is. Perhaps it worked in 1943, but it didn’t work to my modern eyes, even with my deliberate attempting to watch each film in this odyssey as if I were watching it in the year it was released. To me, this was just incredibly stilted filmmaking, and despite my ambivalence towards some of the other nominees, I can at least see why they were nominated; this one, however, escapes me.

Madame Curie

-Close behind in my “How did this get nominated” assessing (though not quite over the line like the previous film) is Madame Curie, which exists as a film solely to be Mrs. Miniver Part II, without those troublesome things like continuing the same narrative. Even if we ignore the sales pitch of the film and just look at it as a film, this still doesn’t entirely work; it’s far too milquetoast, and doesn’t have enough of what actually made Marie Curie and her husband the names they were. It goes through the motions of being a film, without actually wanting to be something of itself, and that does not speak of Best Picture to me.

The Human Comedy

The Human Comedy falls into the trap of not being substantial enough to make a go at this award. It’s a slice-of-life picture, told in vignettes than in an actual narrative, and while that shouldn’t be held against it when it comes to Best Picture, this doesn’t do enough to get past the trappings of what kind of film it aspires to be to be a great film. It’s good, but it’s nowhere near the best picture of the year.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

-I’ve had quite a poor track record with literary adaptations up for this award, and that track record is continued with For Whom the Bell Tolls. Aside from the good production value (which includes the Technicolor cinematography) and some decent acting from the cast, this is just way too mammoth a film for the story it is telling. For me, it didn’t totally feel three hours long, but I could still discern that the film did not need to be nearly that long in the first place. If there weren’t better films in this roster, I could maybe see having this here, but as it is, I’m passing on this one.

Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait is the other film in this field in color, and it does make good use of it (at least, in the scenes taking place in the Devil’s office). But, if pressed to add additional comments towards what this film gets right or wrong, I’m probably going to come up empty-handed. This is an Ernst Lubitsch film, which means that, with the Lubitsch touch, it escapes concrete definition; trying to figure out why this film works or doesn’t work in any sort of an objective sense is to be grasping at clouds. It did kinda work for me, but not enough for this to get any higher in my list.

The Ox-Bow Incident

-Oftentimes, with both modern and classic cinema, I’ve railed against a film for not having a message to it, or something to say in particular. This criticism is all but impossible to levy against The Ox-Bow Incident, which exists solely to convey its particular message, and it does so strongly and effectively. The question then becomes, how good a picture is this overall against the rest of the field, and not just how well it conveys its message? The answer is basically where this ends up in my ranking; it’s a highly effective film, but I wouldn’t say it’s enough of a film to get any higher in this list. Incidentally, as of the present, this is the last film that was nominated for Best Picture and for no other Oscars, which I would disagree with if it were up to me; this deserved perhaps a couple more noms than it ended up getting. It might have also deserved to be among this field, but I wouldn’t say it deserved the win.

The Song of Bernadette

-I have a sneaky feeling the one placement in my list that is going to get me the most clapback is having The Song of Bernadette as high as I have it. This film is a weird anomaly for me; there’s reasons it should work and reasons it shouldn’t, and for me, that my addition of this particular mathematical formula ended up in the positive when a good amount of others doing the exact same math end up with a negative result is frankly more than a little incomprehensible to me. I don’t know why this worked for me and not others, especially when the same aspects that I found helped the film detracted from it in others’ eyes; at this point, I’m just ready to chalk it up to divine intervention and keep moving along. I liked this, but objectively I wouldn’t put it above any of the other films I have higher.

The More the Merrier

The More the Merrier, on the other hand, worked for me in ways that totally make sense and link up to how I found others felt about it. This film, to me, seemed to be this year’s The Talk of the Town, coincidentally also directed by George Stevens; it has a good premise, and makes of it something a lot more than anyone expected it to, including me. It’s snappy, and has more than enough know-how to get done exactly what it wants to get done and also to not keep going once it’s done, which is more than I can say for any film in this list up to now. Like Stevens’ previous effort, I liked this a lot, and I appreciated it a heck of a lot more than that, so it’s ending up above the fold with a good amount of breathing room under it.

In Which We Serve

-Even with what I just said about the previous film, I don’t think any film this year blindsided me quite the way that In Which We Serve did. Not only was this far, far better than I was expecting, it manages it despite starting off with more than a few marks against it; it’s a war propaganda film, with a one-man auteur’s name all over the credits, it’s a British film to a very nearly disgusting degree, and it forgoes conventional narrative to instead opt for character flashbacks to tell the story it wants to tell. And yet, it just works… and what’s more, the reasons it shouldn’t work are exactly the reasons that it does, in what I can only ascribe to directors Noel Coward and David Lean and their prodigious skill and belief in the film they were making. It’s a heck of a film that they did make, and it might’ve taken the crown in a number of other years. This year, it comes close, but there’s something else stopping it.

Casablanca

-There’s some of these years where the race is significantly close even up to the top, and then there’s some years where there’s such a clear winner that everything else is leagues behind. For 1943, it is absolutely the latter, and among the nominees along with the rest of the year’s output, there couldn’t possibly be any other winner for Best Picture than Casablanca. This isn’t just the best picture of 1943; this is one of those rare films that leaves an indelible mark on the entire tapestry of cinema, that sets a new standard for films of its kind for decades to come. The only asterisk to this win is that the film was technically made and first shown at festivals in 1942, only having its qualifying general release the following January, but regardless, it’s here among this field, and there’s no question it’s the best of the bunch; and, truly, it’s among the best films to ever win the big one.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

In terms of box office, most of the top-grossing films not already on the ballot are films only loosely by definition, being mostly morale-booster song-and-dance productions that the public was all-too-willing to consume. The ones that weren’t are either among this field already, or not particularly well-received enough for Oscar to take note of. The rest of the year doesn’t offer too much either in possibilities, at least among the films that weren’t present at the Awards already in other categories. Considering the noms it did get, that So Proudly We Hail missed the ballot is a little surprising; so too with The North Star and the latest adaptation of Phantom of the Opera. Jean Renoir would dip into English-language films with This Land Is Mine, which was far better received than a good number of the actual nominees. The 1001 List doesn’t give us too many other options, though films like Fires Were Started and I Walked with a Zombie would’ve been interesting choices. It does, however, give us two very conspicuous misses, especially considering the directors’ past successes with Oscar: the Powell and Pressburger war epic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

If I would’ve picked anything other than Casablanca, as a lover of cinema, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to sleep at night.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

Oscar did have quite a task to it to assemble this field during the war effort, but it managed to do all right overall. Some hits, some misses; pretty standard for Oscar up to now. Next year, however, will be the start of when Oscar finally reduced the Best Picture field down to five films, and as such I will likely have a sharper eye towards the selections going forward. Ball’s in your court, Oscar.

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1942

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

For the first full year that America was in the second World War, it should come as no surprise that a majority of the nominees for Best Picture this year are war propaganda films, or otherwise have war-time settings or plot devices in them. Fitting, then, that the race for the big one would basically come down to “Which war film is the most ‘war-film-iest’ of them all?” That race and title would ultimately be claimed by Mrs. Miniver, which was also the highest grossing release of the year, along with winning the most Oscars, so I guess MGM came away pleased. Some who weren’t pleased had to have been the audience at the Oscars that year, who had to sit through Greer Garson’s nearly-six-minute-long acceptance speech; a now-legendary anecdote that would prompt time limits on Oscar speeches from then on. In addition, documentary features were awarded for the first time, combined with documentary shorts in one category that awarded four awards from a list of 25 combined nominees; the shorts and features would have their own categories the following year onward.

-Ranking the Nominees-

Wake Island

-That Wake Island ended up at the bottom of my ranking really doesn’t surprise me; even with how much I did manage to enjoy it, it was almost entirely thanks to the production value in the bombing scenes that I was able to. Otherwise, this was poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly managed overall. I’d be fine with replacing this one with other, worthier films.

Kings Row

Kings Row sells itself as a melodrama, and holy hell on a stick in a handbasket in January in the dead of night does it ever earn that label. It ends up one slot higher than the other film basically because it’s slightly better made, especially with the light and camerawork; other than that, this was hammier than even Orson Welles’ legendary voice could make a ham sandwich seem hammy. I can enjoy ham every now and then, but with this, I’ll go for the turkey instead.

The Pied Piper

The Pied Piper is the first of these nominees that I did kinda legitimately enjoy to a degree, though that is mostly thanks to the nominated Monty Woolley and the fact that the film was comparatively short against the rest of the field. I said in my review that a Best Picture nominee needs a degree of weight to it to really earn that label, dramatic or comedic, and The Pied Piper unfortunately doesn’t have that. It might satisfy if one does sit down and watch it, but it certainly doesn’t belong in this field.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle Dandy has two things going for it: the songs by subject of the film George M. Cohan, and Cohan’s portrayal by a never-more-energetic James Cagney, who won Best Actor for this. The rest of the film, however, is fairly by-the-numbers, and tended to focus on the musical aspects over the story and narrative of Cohan’s life, which makes the plot of the film feel very glossed over. It was for that reason that I could only barely recommend the film, and it’s for that reason that this is getting no higher in the rankings than this.

Random Harvest

-It is only by the barest of margins that Random Harvest is ending up above the previous film. It really suffers from many of the same faults as the Cohan biopic, though some may be in slightly different forms; really, the only reason I’m putting this one slot higher is because this has a little more semblance of a film, rather than a song-and-dance showcase with a plot holding it up. Even so, the film that this has a mere semblance of is really only a handful of plot points strung together by a lot of waiting and needless narrative, and it really isn’t going to matter much which of these two films is above or below the other; they’re both ultimately ending up below the fold for me.

The Pride of the Yankees

-The films up to this point might’ve had a couple good points, but generally didn’t work overall. The Pride of the Yankees, despite being technically very basic, really works at what it tries to be, and for that, it’s ended up this high. But, if I’m looking at it as objectively as I can, I can’t put it any higher; the remaining films are just better made, and also work at what they try to do as well. I can probably see this remaining a nominee in an expanded field with some switching out of the nominated films, but I wouldn’t say this is at the top.

49th Parallel

49th Parallel, released in America as The Invaders, was the film that surprised me more than any other in this field, though I really shouldn’t have been with this being a Powell & Pressburger film. Despite not being in color like their later work, this is handled with the same expert touches that the duo are known for, and has an added degree of intelligence with how it goes about being a propaganda film. Even with these aspects, there are some shortcomings that are still present; the duo of P&P are good here, but they definitely have room to grow even better, which they absolutely will do. This is a good film, but it’s a little too empty with the production value to be the best of the year.

Mrs. Miniver

Mrs. Miniver has some things in common with 49th Parallel; I appreciated that it’s one of the films on this list that actually tries to be a film, instead of being a platform or showcase. Granted, as a propaganda piece, it basically is a platform by nature, one to hold up an attempt to get people invested in the war effort, but Mrs. Miniver at least has a bit more to show for itself than just the circumstances for its creation. It does, however, unfortunately fall into the trap of being far too exactly the film that it was needed to be as opposed to the film it could’ve been; said a better way, the film settles for being by-the-book, instead of taking a risk or two to potentially make the film better. While this is a good flick, and definitely a great propaganda piece for WWII, I can’t justifiably put it at the top of this ranking, and I’m not going to.

The Talk of the Town

-Here’s another film that kinda blindsided me with how I expected to merely get through it, and ended up enjoying the hell out of it. With The Talk of the Town, you have a film that purports to be essentially a romantic comedy involving the extended resolution of a love triangle, and ends up taking that premise and putting a heck of a lot of effort around it to make itself more than “just a romantic comedy”. I seriously appreciate the types of films that not only try to be a lot more than the standard kind of film it could settle for being, but that succeed at doing just that. That’s The Talk of the Town all over, and that it ended up as high in my rankings as it did is testament to that.

The Magnificent Ambersons

-Still, for all that the other nominees did in being good Hollywood films (and propaganda films for most), there’s just nothing in Hollywood like what Orson Welles was doing. Even in its fragmented form, The Magnificent Ambersons stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field; it’s not just that it’s made different, but that the choices it makes that make it so different make the film so much better as a result. It’s a win-win, and that it still remains as entertaining and attention-grabbing as it does is a win-win-win. I have no qualms about this topping my ranking, and if I were an Academy member in 1942, I probably would’ve voted for it as well.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

Even with all the war films taking up most of the slots (and also despite most of them being fairly good), this field of nominees could’ve seen some improvement, especially on the lower end. In terms of just box office gross, most of the top from this year are here already, with the notable exception of Cecil B. DeMille’s Reap the Wild Wind. For critical acclaim, Bette Davis had a heck of a year with both Now, Voyager and The Man Who Came to Dinner, getting her fifth consecutive Best Actress nom for the former; both films could’ve easily been on the docket. 49th Parallel is here, though Powell & Pressburger’s follow-up (and the first film they did proper as the duo Powell & Pressburger and the production company The Archers), One of Our Aircraft is Missing is, well, missing. Preston Sturges would once again be ignored by the Academy, this time for The Palm Beach Story. By far the biggest miss, however, is Ernst Lubitsch’s biting satire, To Be or Not To Be, though it was generally misunderstood when it was released, and indeed only registers as a miss by the Academy due to the benefit of hindsight.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

While Lubitsch’s Nazi-lampooning comedy was definitely ahead of its time (and thus largely why it’s not on the actual ballot), and for me would probably be a close second, I gotta give it to Orson Welles yet again. For this period in cinema, there’s just no one better.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

Sure, this field is largely part of the war effort, but it manages to get the job done. I have to remember not to expect the best of the best out of Oscar every single time, and here, with what 1942 had to offer, they did okay in my book.

Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1941

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

The first Oscars to take place after America’s official entry into World War II, the 14th Academy Awards had a few firsts and other notables. John Ford became the newest member of the three-time Best Director club, and the first director to win the award in consecutive years. This was also the first time documentaries were honored with their own category, though none of them were nominated for Best Picture (and, indeed, none have ever been). Orson Welles, the wunderkind of Hollywood, also became the first person nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay for a single film, though his Citizen Kane would notably only win for the script, an award shared with Herman J. Mankiewicz. The actual Best Picture winner would turn out to be John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, which still has probably the most Oscar-bait-sounding title of any film to win the award, in my opinion.

-Ranking the Nominees-

One Foot in Heaven

One Foot in Heaven, being one of a few films in history nominated for Best Picture and nothing else, is getting the boot immediately. I’ve said numerous times in the past in these segments that ‘nothing films’ should be nowhere near Best Picture. Well, One Foot in Heaven takes it a step further in being not just a film that does nothing to warrant a Best Picture nom, but a film that does nothing to warrant it even being made at all. Even if you’re going through the Best Picture fields like I am, you might be forgiven if you “accidentally” managed to pass this one up.

Blossoms in the Dust

-I hate to say it, but Blossoms in the Dust may actually be a worse film than the one below it in the ranking, just because of all the things it tries to do right and ends up getting wrong. Really, the only reason I’m not placing it dead last is because it’s not a nothing film; it actually tries, and it has some nice cinematography, a decent Greer Garson performance, and a true story behind it. But that’s it; everything else about this film was just incorrect filmmaking, and I’m more than a little bothered by it.

Hold Back the Dawn

-With Hold Back the Dawn, you have a film that is also a film that tries and doesn’t quite get it right, but at least it doesn’t go the full way into getting it wrong instead. Much of it, for me, was the film’s silence in the score department, and while I don’t need a swooning and fully-intensive score to feel everything a film wants me to feel, when I expect there to be at least something there, musically, during a film, and all I hear is a noticeable silence, that’s a problem for me. Hilariously enough, this somehow managed a nomination for Best Original Score, though that may have been more the result of there being two categories for scores that year at the Oscars, with a combined thirty (THIRTY. THREE-ZERO.) films nominated between them, twenty for dramatic pictures alone, so that’s more on the Academy still figuring things out in the still-somewhat-early years.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Here Comes Mr. Jordan won Best Adapted Screenplay, and now, even still, I cannot wrap my head around why or how that happened. The screenplay is the weakest aspect of this picture, which actually has some things going for it, but seeing as the screenplay is and should be the foundation, the skeleton upon which everything else about a film is built from, then this isn’t getting anywhere near a Best Picture win from me.

The Little Foxes

The Little Foxes broke the Oscar record for the most nominations (nine) without winning any of them. I can kinda see why; the nominations for this film seemed to be totally a preconceived notion before the film was even released. I mean, you have William Wyler directing, with Bette Davis starring, Sam Goldwyn producing, a screenplay adapted from a stage play, some black-and-white cinematography that doesn’t suck; do I need to go on? The film itself, though, only manages to get by, with a couple of standouts in the acting department and a handful of scenes that do manage to really work, but that’s about it.

How Green Was My Valley

-The winner of this award, How Green Was My Valley has things that the other nominees don’t that I was able to discern or pick up on; namely a commitment to its production (the period and setting the film takes place in) typical of a John Ford picture, as well as a voiceover narration that adds additional gravitas to the story. Other than this, though, the film ends up far too maudlin to be consistently enjoyable, and amusingly enough given the lengths of the production value, the film seems overstuffed of all the things that films, especially Academy Award winning films, were expected to have at the time. I can see this nomination, given the sheer impressiveness of the production itself, but I can’t say this should have won the award based on that alone.

Suspicion

-Probably my biggest decision in this list was whether to place Suspicion above or below How Green Was My Valley. Ultimately, I’m putting it above the actual Oscar winner for one main reason: while Green is almost without doubt the more impressive production, Suspicion is still the more entertaining picture overall, even with it being just over a mere hour-and-a-half. It was a big decision for me because I know I have the tendency to laud a film that is excellent with the technicals while falling short in the major reason people go to the movies in the first place: to be entertained, and while the award that would become Best Picture started out being called Outstanding Picture, I need to not ignore the factor of a film’s entertainment value in my ranking of films up for this award. It’s ultimately a subjective vs objective debate, and I will likely flip back and forth on such a contest in future years as the struggle of it weighs in my mind, but for this year, the subjective better time at the cinema is getting the respective bump up a slot from me.

Sergeant York

Sergeant York ended up the highest grossing picture of the year, as well as the film with the most nominations going into the ceremony. Both of these things combined would seem to make for a heck of a motion picture, but Sergeant York is content to get by with being a pretty good film and not much more; the box office of the film being a result of constant replay after the war got going, along with the film being an excellent piece of war propaganda, either intentionally or otherwise. Thing is, the film is constructed so basically, you can pretty much see everything that’s going to happen before it does, from the developments of the plot to the incidental actions of the characters; that doesn’t really mean that Sergeant York is a bad film, but it unfortunately keeps it from being a truly great one. I can see why it got the nominations it did, but I can also see why it didn’t end up winning this particular award, and while I’m okay with the nomination, I’d agree with the Academy on this one.

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon has a lot going for it, mostly that it helped considerably to launch an entirely new genre of film, the film noir; publications years after the release of the film would cite it as the progenitor of the genre. Thus, it becomes a little difficult to judge the merits of the film in anything but hindsight; in a sense, how does The Maltese Falcon hold up in 1941, against the other films in the category, and not with the knowledge of how influential and classic it would be in the years since? That was my question during my rewatch of it for this section, and as it turns out, it still has quite a bit to offer that the films ranked lower than it up to this point pretty much don’t; solid performances, a script broken down to the last detail to ensure that nothing is extraneous (a famous claim is that Huston’s extensive notes in the script ensured that not a single line from the screenplay ended up omitted from the final cut), a new standard in chiaroscuro cinematography, and most of all, pure old-fashioned chutzpah to flaunt in the face of all the nominees of years past that settled for being a standard Hollywood film. The Maltese Falcon is not a standard Hollywood film, and for those reasons and more, it ends up being a lot better than one.

Citizen Kane

-But, for lack of a more eloquent way to put it; man, oh man, did the Academy shit the bed with this one. The 14th Academy Awards would become well known as the year that Citizen Kane failed to win Best Picture; so much so that that sentence is lifted almost verbatim off the beginning of the Wikipedia article on the ceremony. The Academy’s fear and susceptibility to the influence of William Randolph Hearst knew no limit, as almost every mention of Orson Welles or the title of Citizen Kane at the Oscars was met with boos and derision. Well, history has had the last laugh indeed; Citizen Kane is, if not the, one of the greatest films ever made, and my putting it at the top of this ranking was as much a foregone conclusion as could’ve possibly been anticipated.

-What Should’ve Been Here-

Given how generally tepid this year’s field of nominees was, it should be easy to come up with a few misses the Academy overlooked, right? Well, 1941 would seem to disagree with you; not much stands out as an obvious miss looking through the year on record. I’m a little surprised the Barbara Stanwyck picture Ball of Fire wasn’t among the Best Picture field, as it managed a few nominations otherwise. Victor Fleming had a new star-studded adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that was left off a lot of categories, but horror has never really been the Academy’s cup of tea, per se. From the 1001 list, High Sierra and Sullivan’s Travels were both released in January, which meant the Academy probably forgot about them come nomination time; possibly the same fate befell The Lady Eve, which was released in February.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

Um… Citizen Kane. I don’t even think I needed to say it.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

The field may have been as average as ever, but the failed win for Citizen Kane is a mark that the Academy will never live down. Really, I’m not sure it ever should, if the lesson is to remain as strong as it needs to be in the decades since this ceremony. You will get it right sometimes, though, Academy. Just not this year.