ReelThoughts: October 11, 2009

"All the Best (Pictures)"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


When it comes to reviewing older movies, I'm at my best when some kind of "series" is involved. So, after completing my nostalgic journey through the '80s, which resulted in my watching about 90 movies and reviewing a little more than a third of those, I went in search of something different. The '80s are fine to visit, but being marooned there for a while, even if only via their cinematic output, can be tasking. Initially, I considered doing retrospectives of individual actors and/or directors. While I eventually plan to present "packages" devoted to the likes of Bogart, Hitchcock, and others, I opted for something a little more ambitious and varied for my next effort: reviews of all the films to have won the Best Picture Oscar.

The first Oscars were handed out in 1929, back around the time when Hollywood was transitioning from silent films to "talkies." Still, since the Oscars look back rather than forward, it should come as no surprise that all of the picture nominees for the first ceremony were silent films. 1929 featured two official Best Picture winners: Wings, which won for "Best Picture, Production" and Sunrise, which won for "Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production." Both will be reviewed here. 1930 featured two Oscar banquets - one in May and one in November. The May event was odd because, although the Best Picture winner (The Broadway Melody) was announced, none of the runners-up were officially made public, although the titles became known. In 1931 and 1932, the Academy Awards remained in their late-year slot before reverting to the first quarter in 1934. (This explains why there was no ceremony in 1933 - it was a matter of re-shuffling the schedule, not skipping a year.)

Oscar broadcasts have always been popular, being referred to in recent years as the "Superbowl for Women." In fact, the Oscar telecast traditionally scores the second-highest rating of any program, behind the Superbowl (although there have been years in which a "special event" has slipped ahead of the Oscars into second place). Only the first Academy Awards ceremony was not broadcast. From 1930 through 1952, they were on radio. From 1953 until the present, they were televised, first in black-and-white, then in color. (The first color broadcast was in 1966, the year The Sound of Music won.)

While dozens of actors and other notable personalities have hosted the Oscars over the years, the three most popular were arguably Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal. Hope's tenure started in 1940 and ended in 1978. During that span, he either hosted or co-hosted a record 18 ceremonies. Carson's reign was 1979 through 1984, during the time when he was at his peak as the late-night TV host. In that period, he hosted five of the six Oscarcasts; the only one he missed was 1983. Billy Crystal took over in 1990. Between then and 2004 (his most recent appearance as of this writing), he has hosted eight times. There have been seven Oscar ceremonies with no host, the most recent of which was in 1989.

It's a fortunate thing that nearly all of the Best Picture winners are available for home viewing. Although some are out-of-print, only two have never had a Region 1 DVD release: Wings and Cavalcade. Both of those movies have been transferred to DVD in Asia, but the transfers are poor VHS dubs. At Netflix, all of the Best Picture winners are available for rent except for Wings, Cavalcade, and (curiously) Tom Jones. Copies of all films are available for purchase either in VHS or DVD at any number of major on-line retailers, including amazon.com.

Do "Best Picture" winners truly represent the best? Of course not. Winners are strongly influenced by cultural factors and Academy politics. Over the years, there have been countless oversights, and there is a lively running debate about which of the Best Picture citations was the "least deserved."

Since I began reviewing in 1993, I have written about 40 of the (current as of 2009) 82 Best Picture winners, including all of those handed out post-1990. Over the next year-plus, I will review one of the "missing" Best Picture winners every one-to-two weeks. They will be presented in roughly chronological order, beginning with 1929 and continuing until 1990, with 2010 inserted when the winner is announced. There may be instances when I will deviate slightly from this order, but that won't happen often. My current goal is to complete this project by the end of 2010. (42 reviews in roughly 62 weeks.) There will be a permanent link to this page from the VideoViews section of the website; it will be updated whenever a new review is added. (There are presently links to all of the previous reviews.) New reviews of Best Picture winners will also be announced in the left side bar of the main page as they become available.

Good, bad, and ugly, here they are:

2011: The King's Speech
2010: The Hurt Locker
2009: Slumdog Millionaire
2008: No Country for Old Men
2007: The Departed
2006: Crash
2005: Million Dollar Baby
2004: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2003: Chicago
2002: A Beautiful Mind
2001: Gladiator
2000: American Beauty
1999: Shakespeare in Love
1998: Titanic
1997: The English Patient
1996: Braveheart
1995: Forrest Gump
1994: Schindler's List
1993: Unforgiven
1992: The Silence of the Lambs
1991: Dances with Wolves
1990: Driving Miss Daisy
1989: Rain Man
1988: The Last Emperor
1987: Platoon
1986: Out of Africa
1985: Amadeus
1984: Terms of Endearment
1983: Gandhi
1982: Chariots of Fire
1981: Ordinary People
1980: Kramer vs. Kramer
1979: The Deer Hunter
1978: Annie Hall
1977: Rocky
1976: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
1975: The Godfather: Part II
1974: The Sting
1973: The Godfather
1972: The French Connection
1971: Patton
1970: Midnight Cowboy
1969: Oliver!
1968: In the Heat of the Night
1967: A Man for All Seasons
1966: The Sound of Music
1965: My Fair Lady
1964: Tom Jones
1963: Lawrence of Arabia
1962: West Side Story
1961: The Apartment
1960: Ben-Hur
1959: Gigi
1958: The Bridge on the River Kwai
1957: Around the World in Eighty Days
1956: Marty
1955: On the Waterfront
1954: From Here to Eternity
1953: The Greatest Show on Earth
1952: An American in Paris
1951: All About Eve
1950: All the King's Men
1949: Hamlet
1948: Gentleman's Agreement
1947: The Best Years of Our Lives
1946: The Lost Weekend
1945: Going My Way
1944: Casablanca
1943: Mrs. Miniver
1942: How Green Was My Valley
1941: Rebecca
1940: Gone with the Wind
1939: You Can't Take It with You
1938: The Life of Emile Zola
1937: The Great Ziegfeld
1936: Mutiny on the Bounty
1935: It Happened One Night
1934: Cavalcade
1932: Grand Hotel
1931: Cimarron
1930: All Quiet on the Western Front
1930: The Broadway Melody
1929: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
1929: Wings


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