Saturday, February 27, 2016

Every Oscar Best Picture Ranked (Part 3 of 3)

Now that all the technical awards have been handed out at earlier ceremonies, we’ve reached the crescendo of this pomp and circumstance.  The top ten: 

10. Unforgiven (1992)
Credit the success of Unforgiven that, nearly 25 years on, it looks less revisionist by comparison.  Not that it hasn’t been done better before (Boetticher) or since (“Deadwood”), but I think where it looks tame today is largely due to the now well-tread path it forged. 

It’s hard to think that the Academy didn’t anticipate it was Eastwood’s, as well as the traditional Western’s, dusk and—while I wouldn’t trade A Perfect World or Letters from Iwo Jima for anything—I could have largely done without the geriatric tour.  I’m not refusing to take responsibility for my cynicism that has come with age, but I think I would have preferred a romantic end for The Man With No Name instead of a world where Clint makes the empty-chair speech at the Republican National Convention.  Unfair to the art, probably, but it can’t exist in a vacuum either.

Click Here, Nimrods...

Friday, February 26, 2016

Every Oscar Best Picture Ranked (Part 2 of 3)

In the first installment of Every Oscar Best Picture Ranked, we learned that I have little patience for prestige pictures marked by under-representation.  #OscarsSoWhite?  Oscars white by design.  In this installment I blaspheme Audrey Hepburn and deify Bing Crosby.  I wouldn't have guessed it either.

Actual fake concept art for the real fake Argo by Jack Kirby
45. Argo (2012)
A vastly enjoyable suspense film bolstered by the fact that its primary message seems to be that (even imaginary) movies can literally save lives.  It doesn’t amount to much more than empty calories and resonates like tin can, but it’s a ride I’d take again.

44. My Fair Lady (1964)
It’s difficult for me to pin down what I like about My Fair Lady.  I never really buy its romance because Higgins and Pickering are such great closeted characters.  It looks beautiful, but never escapes its staginess which makes it nigh irrelevant.  I love Audrey Hepburn despite being left with a great amount of uncertainty as to whether she can act, dance or sing.  On paper, it should add up to an unholy mess and I’m reminded that I also love The Lizzie McGuire Movie.  The heart has its reasons something something.

43. Schindler’s List (1993)
A thesis titled How to Shift Your Paradigm could be written using, as its exclusive example, my relationship with Schindler’s List.  I vehemently argued against this film as a young man and, while I still believe the tenets I stood for, I don’t trust my intentions.  I went through a spell where Spielberg films were verboten as the anti-indie.  I later distrusted the film as a product of a blockbuster wunderkind wanting another key to the city.  Later, as a prestige picture that garnered the most praise of a decade for its subject and presentation rather than by being prestigious. 

Only, after years of back and forth, I have to admit it is prestigious.  No matter the kind of film Spielberg makes, I can’t diminish his unparalleled gift for visual storytelling.  What’s more, Spielberg doesn’t have a reputation of working with—but creating—big stars.  Neeson, Fiennes and Kingsley are all great. 

My biggest problem with the film is the life it took on as the historic representation of arguably the biggest event of the 20th Century—a film made by a Jew, lauded by a largely Jewish Academy, supposedly about the Jewish experience—yet it has no central Jewish characters.  It’s like the old trick of the Western which makes its heroes both conquerors and victims; I’m not certain that we need what would become the Holocaust story to be about a golden-hearted Nazi.

Click Here, Nimrods...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Every Oscar Best Picture Ranked (Part 1 of 3)

A friend was shocked to learn, about ten years ago, that I hadn’t seen all of the Academy’s Best Picture winners.  Like the IMDb 250, it’s a benchmark of quantitative substance to many but means absolutely nothing to me.  I’m not here to gripe about snubs or give tiresome arguments about who should have really won.  I’m the sort of rare pretentious populist who not only thinks the Academy was correct in selecting Annie Hall over Star Wars, but also thinks Rocky is better than Taxi Driver

No, my beef with the Academy isn’t that a group of insiders rarely pick the best movie of any given year (by my count, this has happened once ever; odds so poor it must indicate we’re simply not judging the same merits), it is that the barometer by which they judge is rarely film for the sake of film.  This is not the same as films about film (which they love), or films which emulate an air of prestige (something they love even more).

Only this year have I seen every Best Picture winner and, trust me, the last few films I begrudgingly got to like a tattered honey-do list I’d correctly judged sight unseen.  These aren’t all great films.  Hell, I’d only call about two-thirds of them decent, but that’s not really a fair point.  The first Academy Awards, held in 1929, might indicate why this is. 

That year, two different “Best Picture” awards were handed out, though neither was called such.  The first award went to box-office hit Wings which won the award intended to honor “the most outstanding motion picture considering all elements that contribute to a picture’s greatness.”  The second award, given to F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans, honored “the most artistic, unique and/or original motion picture without reference to cost or magnitude.”  This states, in no uncertain terms, that artistry, uniqueness of vision, and originality apart from box-office success or in-house production are not really considered “elements that contribute to a picture’s greatness.” 

Both of these films find their way onto my rankings, and we will see where my metric and the Academy’s might not jibe.  The more I see these films (as the fact I continue to follow the awards every year might indicate) the more I understand how the intention to honor films which make statements about the human condition get confused with films that make statements about the industry’s condition.  Film has, from its inception, been relegated to the kiddie table at the banquet of the Seven Arts despite incorporating all seven into its recipe.  The Academy would do well to honor its medium’s fluidity rather than continuing to fall into the trap of dressing up in big sister’s clothes, failing to recognize it reached maturity long ago.

On rare, inspired evenings, it’s done this at least a dozen times.  Bear with this doggedly unabridged list which is more cultural pastiche than cinematic milestone.  These titles are by no means essential viewing.  Many would not be remembered were it not for the catch-22 of the Academy both handing out these awards and, worse, by the template the Academy has created which suggests these are the type of films deserving of them.  A toast to when the snake doesn’t eat its own tail!

Click Here, Nimrods...