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The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1953

I consider 1953 on of the golden years of cinema. It is one of the strongest years for film ever. And that’s reflected in the Best Picture nominees (mostly). Even though the five they chose might not have been the best five from the year, they were a nice representation of the year from an Oscar standpoint. So I like that.

From Here to Eternity wins Best Picture, Best Director for Fred Zinnemann (talked about here), Best Supporting Actor for Frank Sinatra (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress for Donna Reed (talked about here). The great thing about all of those is that you could vote for someone else, but the year is so strong that it doesn’t matter because nearly everyone was deserving. (Also, of those, Zinnemann deserved it the most after being horribly snubbed for High Noon the year before this.) Then, Best Actor went to William Holden for Stalag 17 (talked about here), which, while it wasn’t an amazing performance, Holden is great and deserved an Oscar and the film is great. So it works. And Best Actress was Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday (talked about here), which — oh, I love her. I love the film. It’s one of my top twenty favorite films of all time.

I love this year so much. Even though you could vote for one film over another, every winner definitely deserved it. It’s so nice to have the luxury of multiple good choices.

BEST PICTURE – 1953

And the nominees were…

From Here to Eternity (Columbia)

Julius Caesar (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

The Robe (20th Century Fox)

Roman Holiday (Paramount)

Shane (Paramount)

From Here to Eternity — What a classic piece of cinema. When I think classic American Oscar film, this is one of the first ones that springs to mind.

The film is about Montgomery Clift, a soldier who is transferred to Pearl Harbor. He has had trouble in his other regiments because he used to be an army boxer, but accidentally killed a man in the ring. So now he refuses to fight. However, the commanding officer of the base loves the matches, and he really wants Clift to fight. So when Clift refuses, the man starts making Clift’s life a living hell until he does. And then there’s the subplots of Frank Sinatra as the charismatic Private who likes to go out on weekend leave and party, and gets in trouble with the soldier who runs the stockade (Ernest Borgnine). And then there’s Burt Lancaster, as the C.O.’s chief aide, who starts an affair with the C.O.’s wife (Deborah Kerr).

It’s an amazing film. It’s one that was no doubt going to win here. It’s amazing. It’s everything you’d want (or they’d want) a Best Picture to be.

Julius Caesar — It’s Julius Caesar. You should know what it’s about.

It’s a really strong film. The performances are good, it’s never boring. But it’s way too on-the-nose. Hamlet was basically the same thing, and that was on-the-nose five years earlier. Films like this shouldn’t have won Best Picture after 1938. So it’s great, but it should not have won at all.

The Robe — The Robe is the first Cinemascope film. (Read: Widescreen.) That’s pretty much why it’s here. Plus it’s big and epic and classy and all that stuff that typically gets films nominated here in the 50s. It’s like Quo Vadis, only widescreen.

The film is about Richard Burton, a Roman soldier who is present at the crucifixion of Jesus. While there, he inherits a piece of Jesus’s tunic, which, when he touches it, changes him. Suddenly he has an epiphany and becomes a Christian. And the rest of the film is about his conversion. Of course, Rome isn’t happy and wants him to repent, but now he’s a Christian, and — it’s one of those movies. It’s quite entertaining, and Burton is good in it (though he’s hilariously over the top at times. Watch the scene where he is “burned” by the tunic. It’s good stuff). It makes sense why this would be here, but this was clearly the worst choice in the category. It shouldn’t have won at all. It would not have held up.

Roman Holiday — Oh, perfection. This is one of my favorite films of all time. I love this so much.

Audrey Hepburn is a princess on a tour of Europe. She’s bored, being unable to see all the sites in these countries she’s visiting, so she sneaks out one night in order to have some fun. And she runs into Gregory Peck, and American reporter, and basically the rest of the film is the two of them going around Rome and falling in love. You should have seen this, so I don’t feel bad not saying more.

This is a perfect film, and even though From Here to Eternity is the obvious winner here, I’m voting for this because I love it so much. (Plus I think it would have held up just as well had it won.)

Shane — It’s Shane. You have to know what Shane is about. It’s a classic.

But, quickly — a group of homesteaders are threatened by a railroad man who brings in an outlaw to terrorize them off of their land so he can build there. And out of nowhere, Shane comes and starts helping them defend themselves. And the main emotional conflict is the film is how Shane badly wants a family like the man (Van Heflin) has, while the man’s son (Brandon de Wilde) looks up to Shane and there’s the idea that the father wishes he were the type of man Shane is. And then there’s a big climactic shootout, and that final image of Shane riding away, and the kid shouting after him. It’s an amazing film. And, it’s also unintentionally homoerotic. That tree stump scene… man. There’s this undercurrent throughout the entire film, that comes to a head at the very end, when Shane is leaving and tells the kid to “grow up strong… and straight.” It’s hilarious.

Anyway, the film is amazing and it’s a classic. Though, here, it shouldn’t have won. It’s a #3 at best. (Though, if Stalag 17 were nominated, it would be a #4.)

My Vote: Roman Holiday

Should Have Won: Roman Holiday, From Here to Eternity

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It’s a classic film and deserved to win. One of the better decisions of all time.

Ones I suggest you see: This will be easy. They’re all, in their own way, essential. So, let’s rapid fire it:

If you haven’t seen Roman Holiday, you’re dead to me.

If you haven’t seen From Here to Eternity, stop watching movies. You’re doing it wrong.

If you haven’t seen Shane, you don’t really love movies.

If you haven’t seen Julius Caesar, what kind of childhood did you have? Everybody sees this in English class.

If you haven’t seen The Robe, you should. It’s essential in that — it’s the first real Cinemascope movie, and is kind of a landmark in terms of film history. So if you’re serious about loving film, this is a film you need to see. Plus it’s pretty awesome on top of that.

Rankings:

5) Julius Caesar

4) The Robe

3) Shane

2) From Here to Eternity

1) Roman Holiday

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