by John Walters
Best Picture Rewind
We have dire fears not of Vladimir Putin’s “invincible”weapon, but rather that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will win Best Picture on Sunday night at the 90th Oscars. It’s the most manipulative, disingenuous, unrealistic (they place the cop in the same hospital room as the man he tried to murder not long before?) piece of tripe we’ve seen since Zombeavers—beavers who are zombies—but at least that was fun.
Oscar will get it wrong on Sunday night, but it’s hardly the first time. Some years you know that Oscar got it wrong as it happened; others it takes a few years to appreciate. It would be wonderful, but also unrealistic, if the Academy put a five-year waiting period on Best Picture to see how films matured or simply aged. Hindsight here really is 20/20.
With that in mind, the MH staff is going to review the past 42 years of Best Picture winners. We’ll tell you what won and then add our (inexpert) opinion as to what should have. To be a Best Picture, a film should have a show-it-again quality even though you can recite much of the dialogue by heart; and it helps if the film comes off as truly original as opposed to derivative, a la The Post.
With that in mind, let’s begin:
Winner: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
MH Pick: Jaws
Spielberg’s problem here is that Hollywood had never experienced the “summer blockbuster film” phenomenon—much less Spielberg— yet. Immensely entertaining but also a wonderfully crafted film.
It’s difficult to pass on All The President’s Men, but no one who saw the film in a theater will forget the feeling they had during the film’s final 10 minutes. Yo, Adrian!
Winner: Annie Hall
MH: Annie Hall
Put your light sabers down, Star Wars fans. It’s an excellent franchise and an entertaining film, but as Siskel & Ebert pointed out, it’s basically a Western in outer space. As for the winner, La di da, la di da, la la…
Winner: The Deer Hunter
MH: Animal House
Two comedies in as many years? Sure, why not. Did we surrender when the Nazis bombed Pearl Harbor?
Winner: Kramer vs. Kramer
MH: Apocalypse Now
Okay, so AN is basically The Heart of Darkness, but we think by this point in the Seventies Hollywood was just tired of giving Francis Ford Coppola the statuette.
Winner: Ordinary People
MH: Raging Bull
The easiest call for any year. When did Hollywood go full milquetoast? In the end of the Jimmy Carter era, with this film and the winner the year before focusing on domestic situations. Get a therapist, Oscar! And leave us out of it.
Winner: Chariots of Fire
MH: Raiders of the Lost Ark or Gallipoli
Brits running on a beach. We get it. Gallipoli, starring a young Mel Gibson, is the superior World War I film and Raiders was simply the most entertaining movie since Rocky.
Is it over yet? Great humans do not always equate to captivating films. Our resistance to this film is not passive. Meanwhile, Dustin Hoffman had quite a run in the Eighties, and this is one of two films in which he was better than he’d been in K v. K. In the conversation: Sophie’s Choice and My Favorite Year.
Winner: Terms Of Endearment
MH: A Christmas Story
Go ahead and laugh; which film have you seen half a dozen times and would be happy to see yet again? We even think Risky Business, perhaps the smartest teen comedy of them all, deserved the nod.
So many bad films were released this year, as most of the Eighties would be a fallow period for quality cinema. We’ll go with this pick due to the two outstanding performances (Tom Hulce went from kid who did it on the football field in Animal House to Best Actor to where-is-he-now?). Wouldn’t have minded seeing This Is Spinal Tap win, though. It birthed the mockumentary genre.
Winner: Out Of Africa
MH: Anything Else (but we’ll go with The Breakfast Club)
Has there ever been a more honest and insightful screenplay written for and about teens? John Hughes had to die before Oscar gave him his moment on stage a few years back, but this movie stays with you. Demented and sad, but sociable.
“I AM reality.”
Winner: The Last Emperor
MH: Broadcast News
This is one of the picks about which we are most certain. BN may have been the smartest, most self-aware film of the Eighties. The kind of film you would’ve seen in the golden age of Hollywood, and yet just cynical enough to fit in with modern times.
Winner: Rain Man
MH: Rain Man
Winner: Driving Miss Daisy
MH: Do The Right Thing
It’s fascinating that DTRT and When Harry Met Sally were released in the same year. Either would’ve deservedly won Best Picture although they depict two completely different versions of New York City. Neither were even nominated, though you’ve seen them both and enjoyed both more than the winner.
Winner: Dances With Wolves
The Academy screws Martin Scorcese (and Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci) for a second time in 11 years. Another no-brainer call.
Winner: The Silence of the Lambs
MH: The Silence of the Lambs
You picked the wrong year to be released, Thelma and Louise.
Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot Unforgiven
We’re trying to tackle this the way the NFL does further review. There needs to be clear and indisputable evidence. We’d probably vote for A Few Good Men or even A River Runs Through It, but we’ll let Clint Eastwood’s film stand.
Winner: Schindler’s List
MH: Schindler’s List
As much as we want to put Groundhog Day here, we’re going to let it go.
Winner: Forrest Gump
MH: The Shawshank Redemption
Easily the most difficult year of the past quarter century. If you want to run with Pulp Fiction, which is superior to most of the films on this list, go right ahead. We’ll take Shawshank, narrowly. Gump isn’t bad, even if it can get corny at times. It’s just that this was an incredibly worthy field, arguably the best of our lifetimes.
Winner: The English Patient
Elaine Benes was correct. We also love Jerry Maguire or Trainspotting here.
MH: Good Will Hunting
We know, we know. We don’t loathe Titanic the way some people do, we just love how what probably seemed like an unmarketable concept—an asexual love story between a budding genius and a middle-aged psychologist—turned out so well. And if you want to vote for Boogie Nights or L.A. Confidential, we’d support those, too.
Winner: Shakespeare In Love
MH: Saving Private Ryan
Maybe Oscar felt it had already lauded Tom Hanks enough for one decade. Or He couldn’t get past the D-Day horror scene. Or, like too many of us, He had a huge crush on Gwyneth. Or Harvey W. paid for it to happen. This is one of Oscar’s major flubs, and we actually liked SIL.
Winner: American Beauty
MH: The Matrix
The Matrix really is real, Neo. A prophetic and yet stylish film. Will your grandchildren just be batteries for an A.I. machine? It wasn’t even nominated.
MH: Almost Famous
Actually, we were entertained. This is a tough call, but we’ll stick with it.
Winner: A Beautiful Mind
MH: Mulholland Drive
In a pretty weak year, we’ll go with David Lynch’s bizarre glimpse at Hollywood noir.
MH: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Of the three, this was the best Hobbit film. And Andy Serkis deserved at least a Best Supporting Actor nomination, which he did not receive.
Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
MH: Lost In Translation
Another Coppola gets screwed.
Winner: Million Dollar Baby
MH: Million Dollar Baby
We really did not like this film, but what would you replace it with here? Sideways? We’ll stick with it, but we never quite understood the love. Is it okay if we just put in a Clint Eastwood film from another year that we liked better (Gran Torino)?
MH: Brokeback Mountain
Hollywood’s navel-gazing indulgence pick. We halfway think this is why La La Land did not win last year.
Winner: The Departed
MH: Pan’s Labyrinth
There’s just too many cell phones in this film. We’re fans of The Departed, and maybe what isn’t fair is we’re judging it against Scorcese’s snubbed films. If The Shape of Water wins Sunday, know that Pan’s is Guillermo del Toro’s better movie.
Winner: No Country For Old Men
MH: No Country For Old Men
The best field of this century, as There Will Be Blood is better than most BP winners. Atonement and Michael Clayton were fantastic as well. Hollywood made growed-up, smart films this year.
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
MH: Slumdog Millionaire
Winner: The Hurt Locker
MH: Inglourious Basterds or The Hangover
This is an extremely tough call. THL is the best Iraq War film, while IB has three scenes that are so adroitly written and staged that they more than compensate for the fact that Tarantino just strung the film together with big scenes as opposed to the film having any fluidity. But that’s what he do.
As for The Hangover, it’s the smartest comedy since the original Austin Powers film and it’s the rare comedy where the story holds up from beginning to end. Also, it’s a truly original idea well-executed. Even after you know what happened to Doug, you can watch this film over and hangover. Wasn’t even nominated. Shame on you, Oscar.
Winner: The King’s Speech
MH: The Social Network
The opening scene of Aaron Sorkin’s film is dialogue porn. And “The Crown” is better than KS.
Winner: The Artist
MH: Midnight In Paris or Moneyball
They screwed Sorkin two years in a row. And Oscar has a restraining order out on Woody Allen now.
Winner: 12 Years A Slave
MH: 12 Years A Slave
You remember what Ellen Degeneres said about this film in her monologue, right?
MH: Whiplash or The Great Beauty
A film actor on Broadway or a music student in Carnegie Hall? We’ll take the latter. What if Good Will Hunting had had a sadistic mentor? Here you go. Love the dinner scene.
As for The Great Beauty, it won Best Foreign Film. If you have not seen it, you’re in for a treat.
MH: The Big Short
Spotlight was more earnest and it was easier for Hollywood to condemn the Catholic church than Wall Street. But the latter film crackled with creativity and wit. Not an easy story to tell and yet Adam McKay managed to convey the gravity and the ridiculousness of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the crash. We’ll also listen to cries for Mad Max: Fury Road. This was the best year since 2007.
MH: La La Land
Yeah, it falls apart some in the second half, but it’s so exhilarating and magical during the meet-cute stage, and the final song is heartbreaking. Or maybe we’re just not socially conscious enough.
Winner: Three Billboards*
MH: Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk or The Shape Of Water might win as a compromise vote. We don’t see CMBYN winning, for a number of reasons, not excluding a damaged peach. CoCo, which will win for animation, was as good as anything on the list of nominated films. Three Billboards has a cast of very talented and well-liked actors (Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage) in a film whose popularity flat-out confounds us.
Okay, your turn. What did we miss?