I love movies, but I realized how many Best Picture winners I’d never seen. These are all flicks that are talked about and referenced regularly and I thought it was time I got the jokes and references being made about them. Some of them just didn’t really sound appealing. I can’t sit through another long-war epic. It was made in the 30s and it’s just a bunch of cheesy dance numbers with a loose plot of a new girl in New York destined to be a star- you can’t make me watch. But to just give myself the goal to see them all, I discovered a lot of films I really love that I might have never seen.
Watching a film from every year since 1928 also gave a great history lesson in the times, how we changed as a society and what messages were important to us. The journey of racism is fascinating. We start with “Cimarron” (’31), where a little black boy servant swings over to the rich white folks’ table to fan them as they eat, following our feral lead to the west where, god-damn it, he’s gonna settle this territory and put those Injuns in their place. From there we go to 1947 where Gregory Peck fights hard for Jewish rights, completely ignoring any other minority or the misogynistic tone he takes with Dorothy McGuire. But then we finally get to “In The Heat of the Night” (1967), where Sidney Poitier slaps racism in the face and we finally reward it with an Oscar. While Foreign Language films are still rarely even nominated (presumably because they have their own category), Hollywood’s subject matter continues to express various voices from around the world, from “Gandhi” (’82), “The Last Emperor” (’87), and the beautiful “Slumdog Millionaire” (’08). But I guess we still aren’t ready for two gay cowboys. Someday.
Now who really knows the politics behind the awards, but I do feel the entire nominated circle of flicks is usually a pretty good representation of the year. I haven’t watched all the nominated films yet, I’ve usually seen 3-4 of the 5, but I have also been working on step 2 and 3 of this project as well, seeing every Best Actress and Best Actor winning performance films too (I’m about 2/3rds through with both those). So, it’s interesting to see which films clearly held up over time and which did not. The biggest offense (I can’t imagine what the people in Hollywood in 1941 were thinking) was “How Green Was My Valley” winning over “Citizen Kane.” I get Orson Wells was a bitch, but come on.
So, that’s where I’m coming from. This is my list, from today’s standpoint, as to how much I enjoyed it overall. If I connected with it, if I found it emotionally moving, raw and cutting, an important reflection on our society… it ranked high. If it didn’t, whether because it didn’t stand the test of time or it just wasn’t a good flick, it ranked low. You might say, it’s not fair to not take when it was made more into consideration. To you, I say, that shouldn’t matter. “All’s Quiet On the Western Front” from 1929 is still one of the most beautiful and poignant films of all time. Then I’d say, “Go write your own list.” But whether you’ve seen all the flicks or not, I’d love to hear back whether you agree or disagree. And hopefully it might spur you to see a few of them. If nothing else, grab a six-pack and play one of my drinking games and let me know how it went