I’m not doing this all at once. I don’t think I could take that. I’m going to take this in stages, mostly just finding little holes in my schedule here and there to pop in five to ten movies at a time. It will probably take me a couple of years to complete this.
So, I want to start with the question of what the Best Picture Oscar means to me: not much. That wasn’t always the case, though. From about 2002-2004 I cared a lot. A lot. And it was all about The Lord of the Rings.
I graduated high school in 2003, and that was when I was first really discovering film, and The Lord of the Rings was one of those big hooks for me. I loved the films. I read the books five times. I needed my tastes to be validated by the Academy of Motion Pictures like nobody’s business. And then, in the early part of 2004, it finally was when The Return of the King won Best Picture. Then came the next year, and my following of Oscar news and predictions lingered for a while to the point where I ended up catching almost every major contender for every major award that year in theaters. And then, early 2006 rolled around, Crash won, and I felt literally nothing. I also hadn’t felt a whole lot the year before when Million Dollar Baby won, but it was the Crash win that marked something different in me. I was neither elated nor disappointed. The Academy rewarding Crash meant nothing to me on any level. I just didn’t care. I stopped watching the Oscars after that.
I picked up the news, as always, because I’m reasonably plugging into the general movie news scene, and I caught bits and pieces of the Oscars every few years (I remember watching 12 Years a Slave win, for some reason), but I had no emotional investment.
So, the Oscars became a curio to me. The list of Best Picture winners from 1927-28 onward were just a list of movies that were, on the whole, pretty good. Did any of the movies represent the best of that year? Maybe, but a movie’s presence on the list does nothing towards my own opinion on that individual film. It’s just there.
My opinion on what the Best Picture award means has shifted, though, and I think the proper way to interpret the list is this: The Best Picture Oscar represents the ideal that the Academy hopes to attain in any given year. It’s a reflection of Hollywood as an industry, about the hopes, dreams, and ambitions of the Academy voters and what they want movies to be at that time. The movies in the list are like insects caught in amber, a reflection of the moment.
Now, I’ve already reviewed a fair number of these by going through all my director lists. Filmmakers like David Lean, Billy Wilder, and Clint Eastwood all came away with multiple wins in the category, and I’ve even reviewed random one-offs like Schindler’s List. I assume I’ll be doing second looks at everything I’ve already seen, but that does mean that I’ll have to revisit A Beautiful Mind…ugh.
One final note: the first year of the Academy Awards, there were actually two Best Picture winners. The award that became the Best Picture film of today was won by Wings, the award called the Academy Award for Outstanding Picture, I interpret as an award specifically designed for producers, rewarding the film that had the most impressive physical production of the year. The other Best Picture award was called the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Picture, which was won by F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, which seemed designed to be an award for, well, artistry. I just find it interesting that something like CODA winning last year was not designed to reward the producers for their impressive production but, instead, to the creative team for being such an artistic picture. It’ll be interesting to see when that sort of mentality switches.
That being said, I’m starting with Sunrise and will then move into Wings.
So, here we go. I’ll probably end up going months at a time without adding to this list, but I won’t have forgotten it. I’ll just be waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
9 thoughts on “The Best Picture Winners at the Oscars: A Statement of Purpose”
My opinion on awards has changed over the years. I’m working on my own blog post about them, but the TLDR version is: they’re bad. And I’m starting to think they always have been.
It’s an industry award. I don’t see how people outside the industry should have any emotional involvement at all in them.
There’s also the question of what the thing is supposed to award. The first few years end up feeling very much like awards for producers and studios for making big movies that made a lot of money. That’s very different from “Best Artistic Success”, which is the implication that people put on the Best Picture award.
See, now I was a sucker when I was young. I thought the Best Picture Oscar should go to the….best picture. And if a picture won that award, then it was worth seeing.
More fool, I.
I long ago abandoned any interest in the Academy, except perhaps the technical awards, those do seem to be merit-based. Now it’s just an excuse to look at hot girls in expensive clothes and idle curiosity to see what got nominated, at least.
But, you should have many movies worth watching until the whole edifice rots completely. So that should be fun. I have probably seen most of these, so I’ll chime in when I have.
I’d already seen most of them. The only serious gaps were in the 30s (stuff like Cimarron and Cavalcade).
But, hell, the whole thing was cooked up by Louis B. Mayer as a way to settle a brewing labor dispute with the talent. The Academy was essentially a union but not quite, and then he used it to hand out baubles to make the talent happy.
It’s always been corrupted, from its founding. Gotta admire Mayer for his balls, though, especially since it worked.
This sent me off to find a list of Best Picture winners and take a quick refresher course. Lots of quality pictures, some all time greats, so lets not be looking down our noses at the winners. Well, many winners, not all winners, Around the World in 80 Days did win.
Going forward they are going to be increasingly irrelevant – nominees more affirmative action than merit based. I found the passage below on diversity requirements for nominees. Can’t find anything that says cooler heads prevailed and they removed these requirements, and the article I got this from is dated March of 2022, so presumably will still go into effect –
Starting in 2024, producers will be required to submit a summation of the race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status of members of their movie’s cast and crew. If a particular movie does not have enough people of color or disabled people or gays or lesbians working on the set—and what is “enough” will be determined by a knotty tangle of byzantine formularies—then that movie will no longer be eligible for an Oscar.
The funniest thing about the diversity requirement?
Parasite is 100% Korean both in front of and behind the camera. Not very diverse.
The diversity requirements are a joke.
But yeah, there are some very high quality films in the list. My favorite Wilder is on there (The Apartment), two of my favorite Leans (Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia), a great Hitchcock (Rebecca), my favorite movie of the 80s (Amadeus), On the Waterfront, Casablanca, My Fair Lady, A Man for All Seasons…
There are a bunch of great movies, and I’m happy to create an excuse to revisit them all.
It’s just there’s also stuff like…Cimarron, and A Beautiful Mind, and, yeah, Around the World in 80 Days…
Eh, Around the World in 80 Days was a fine travelogue.
“It was fine, and here is it’s reward for Best Picture!”
I joke. I haven’t seen it in forever.
You know, it’s better than most reasons for awards. Hey, at least it looked pretty. And, you know, that Matisse guy, he did things that looked pretty! And people were pretty WOW about that guy! And that Monet guy, too. Say, we’re doing pretty good here!