The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1945
I don’t really have much to say about 1945. It was the end of the war, and the year is actually kind of a lost year, Oscar-wise. (Fitting, I guess.) There’s not much memorable about it, which I guess is owed to a pretty weak set of Best Picture nominees (which, for the record, do not include National Velvet or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). Though, the year is to be commended for choosing a strong, bold film such as The Lost Weekend. This film deals with a subject most of Hollywood wouldn’t go anywhere near. (And if you think that’s progressive, just wait until we get to 1947.)
Aside from Best Picture, The Lost Weekend win Best Director for Billy Wilder (talked about here), which he deserved between this and Double Indemnity the year before this, and Best Actor for Ray Milland (talked about here), which was also well-earned. Best Actress this year was Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce (talked about here), which was well-deserved. Best Supporting Actor was James Dunn for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (talked about here), which was an amazing decision for a great performance in a terrific film. And Best Supporting Actress was Anne Revere for National Velvet (talked about here), which was so deserved.
In all, this year was actually really strong. All the winners were fantastic decisions. So it’s weird that I continue to think of this year as being weak or forgotten. I guess it’s because it gets lost on the shuffle amongst other 40s years. (Plus the nominees this year are very weak. Just because the best performances and films won doesn’t change that.) But this is actually one of the strongest years I’ve seen.
BEST PICTURE – 1945
And the nominees were…
Anchors Aweigh (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
The Bells of St. Mary’s (RKO Radio)
The Lost Weekend (Paramount)
Mildred Pierce (Warner Bros.)
Spellbound (United Artists)
Anchors Aweigh — I’m really surprised this was nominated here. It’s a great musical, but — I don’t know if this gets nominated in a year that’s not end of the war where people want something positive.
The film is about two sailors who have a four day leave. They’re Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. And Kelly has a girl all lined up, but Sinatra doesn’t. Sinatra is the young guy whose never even seen a real woman before and looks up to Kelly. So he follows him around since he has no place else to go. And all Kelly wants to do is get to this girl he’s been writing to, and get some pussy. However, they meet up with a young boy who wants to join the Navy and keeps sneaking away from home to go try and enlist (he’s nine). So they’re ordered to bring the kid back to his mother. And they go bring the kid back to his mother, and then Kelly starts falling for her, and then Sinatra gets a girl, and — it’s a musical, you can guess what happens.
It’s a really great film. Lot of fun, absolutely wonderful. That said — it should not be anywhere near this category. A film like this is one where you might go, “But why not this for Best Picture?” But if it actually won, we’d all go, “That? Seriously?” It wouldn’t hold up at all. It’s great, but — no.
The Bells of St. Mary’s — You know Going My Way? Well, this was a direct sequel to that. And it’s just as good and just as fun, only here, I’ll tell you up front, they realized, “We should not vote for this at all.”
It begins with Father O’Malley getting his next assignment — a parish that’s about to be sold to a rich businessman who wants to tear it down and put a parking lot for his mall there. And Ingrid Bergman is the nun in charge, and they try to figure out a way to get the man to not demolish the parish. And there’s lots of little fun episodes in between (the scene where Bergman teaches one of the boys how to box is particularly stand out), and of course there’s divine intervention at the end where the man suddenly decides he won’t tear the parish down, despite wanting to for 99% of the film (you see this a lot in cartoons nowadays. Those episodes where the dude randomly has a change of heart at the end after hearing an impassioned speech about how much this building meant to someone thirty years ago. And he’s sitting in the bulldozer crying, like, “I can’t do it! You can stay open! And I’ll give you money too!”). But that’s the kind of film it is.
It’s a fun film, but you know it shouldn’t have won. The first one shouldn’t even have won. Do you really think they were gonna give these films Best Picture back-to-back? Nuh uh.
The Lost Weekend — This is a film about an alcoholic.
Ray Milland is an alcoholic writer. He’s been on the wagon for ten days, or so his brother believes (he secretly has a bottle of whiskey hanging out of his window). He and his brother are about to go on a weekend vacation. He tells his brother to go to a show and take a later train, and he’ll hang out at home. His brother, thinking he got rid of all the alcohol hidden in the apartment, agrees. Plus he knows Milland is broke. So he leaves for the show, and Milland (stealing the money that’s supposed to go to the cleaning lady) goes to his favorite bar. And he ends up spending too much time there and misses his train. And his brother leaves without him, not wanting to deal with him anymore. So Milland goes back home. Then he goes to a bar and recounts his relationship with his girlfriend. This is all on day one of the weekend.
On day two, He starts going to bars he hasn’t been to before, just because the people who know him won’t serve him, because they know he doesn’t have any money and won’t let him start a tab. And at one bar, he steals a woman’s purse to pay his tab. He also ends up passing out at one of the bars and wakes up on the drunk ward of Bellevue. And he goes through a horrible detox process. Though he does end up escaping the ward at one point and steals some whiskey from a liquor store. It also makes him hallucinate. And his girlfriend shows up to stay with him, but while she’s sleeping, he pawns her coat to buy a gun. And she finds him with the gun and tries to get it away from him, and eventually she convinces him that what he thought were two separate entities of himself, “the writer” and “the drunk” are in fact the same person. And this makes him realize that he does have a problem. So he agrees to get sober, and decides to write a book about the events of that weekend, and the final shot of the film is him finally removing that bottle of whiskey that’s hanging out of his window (a symbolic gesture) and wondering how many other people struggle with alcoholism.
It’s a great film. It really shows alcoholism in a stark, realistic way. Films of this era just didn’t do that. It’s a really standout film. Plus the category is so horribly weak, this is really the only film that could have and should have ever won here. So it’s pretty much a perfect scenario for this film.
Mildred Pierce — This is an interesting film. The film and how they adapted it. Because the book is very melodramatic. If you saw the HBO miniseries, it’s much closer to the book. Here, they turned it into a noir. Which is reflective of the times.
The film begins with a murder, and it is implied that Mildred Pierce killed the guy. Then we flash back to how we got there. Mildred is married to a man and gets divorced. She gets custody of her two daughters. Her oldest daughter, Veda, despises her. She is just a mean bitch to her. And when she finds out that Mildred has been working in a restaurant, berates her even more. And Mildred works her way up to owning her own restaurant after many years (she also loses the younger daughter along the way. She gets sick and dies), and she ends up dating (and marrying) a wealthy man simply to win her daughter’s respect. The film is basically about Mildred doing all this stuff just to get her daughter to respect her, and her eventual realization that it’ll never work, and that her daughter is just a cunt. This culminates when Mildred’s husband is seduced by her daughter, and then when he won’t marry her instead of her mother, she shoots him. And Mildred, at the end, realizes she can’t cover up for her daughter anymore, and admits that her daughter killed the dude.
It’s a great film. It’s a film that was stronger than I thought it was. I watched it the first time and went, “Meh.” Then I rewatched it later on to write it up for the Quest and was like, “Damn, this is really good.” Though I don’t think it should have won. Even in a category like this, which is horribly weak.
Spellbound — This is actually one of my least favorite Hitchcock films. That’s not to say it’s a bad film (did he make a bad film?), it’s just — I don’t really like it. The reason I don’t like it is because it’s about psychoanalysis. And on top of that, it’s about psychoanalysis in an era where no one really knew what that was. So it was really explanatory, the way Inception was explanatory about the nature of the dream levels.
Ingrid Bergman works at a psychiatric institute. And Gregory Peck shows up as a new doctor. And Bergman starts noticing some strange things about Peck. He has some peculiar phobias. And then she eventually discovers that he isn’t who he says he is. The guy whose name he assumed is dead. But she also believes that he wasn’t the one who killed him, so she goes on the run with him and tries to figure out who he is. And he has this one constant vision that keeps coming to him, and they both go to her mentor, an older doctor, who does psychoanalysis on him and analyzes his dream, and they use those clues to figure out who he is and who actually killed that other guy.
I look at this film an I go — “So?” First off, the use of psychoanalysis to solve a murder, to me, is not interesting. I’d actually rather watch someone spend an hour trying to cup water in their hands to move a piece of lint down the wall of the shower than watch that happen. It’s just not interesting subject matter to me at all. So I was bored out of my mind during this film. To me, I’m amazed it was even nominated. This was nominated, and somehow Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho — these films weren’t. I just don’t get it.
My Thoughts: Good year, but I still can’t find a winner. I don’t like Spellbound that much, so that’s out. The Bells of St. Mary’s — no. Anchors Aweigh — no. Mildred Pierce — I like it, but… no. Oh, wait, that actually was pretty easy. The Lost Weekend it is. Though this wouldn’t win in any other year. It would have been, at best, a Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay, I feel. See what I mean when I said that if Double Indemnity came out this year it would have won?
My Vote: The Lost Weekend
Should Have Won: The Lost Weekend
Is the result acceptable?: Oh hell yeah. Best decision in the category.
Ones I suggest you see: You need to see The Lost Weekend. It’s amazing, it’s a Best Picture winner, and it’s a Billy Wilder. I can’t think of any recipe with those ingredients that wasn’t essential.
If you saw Going My Way, why wouldn’t you see The Bells of St. Mary’s? It’s just as good.
Anchors Aweigh is so much fun. If you don’t see it, then you’re not a fun human being.
Mildred Pierce is terrific. It’s a great melodrama/noir. Seriously, it’s great. It’s so different than that HBO miniseries, so don’t think seeing that allows you to skip this. Check it out. It’s amazing.
Spellbound — I don’t love it, but it’s Hitchcock, and that pretty much makes it essential. So see it.
4) Anchors Aweigh
3) Mildred Pierce
2) The Bells of St. Mary’s
1) The Lost Weekend