The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1943

This is the last year of ten nominees. I never mentioned the number of the nominees yet. The way it had been until this point was: three the first year, no official nominees the second, then five from 1930-1932, then they went to ten from 1933 until this year (with the exception of 1934 and 1935, the two “write-in” years, which had 12 nominees). After this year, they went strictly to five, which lasted until 2009.

Outside of that, the great thing about this year is that it’s the year of Casablanca, which makes it quite easy to discuss. Two things to note about the film: first, while the film did premiere in November of 1942, it didn’t go into wide release until early 1943, which is why it counted amongst the films of 1943. (It’s basically the same as a film getting that late December limited release nowadays to qualify for Oscars, but not getting a wide release until January, only with different rules since it was 1943.) The other thing is that: while the film is a classic and one of the best films ever made, it also is a war film. The story is about Bogart, a neutral man, choosing a side in a war. So it does actually fit with the times. Oh, and, aside from Best Picture, Michael Curtiz won Best Director for the film (talked about here). Nice to see him finally get his due.

Other winners this year included Paul Lukas as Best Actor for Watch on the Rhine (talked about here), which is one of the worst Best Actor decisions of all time (it’s so bad), Jennifer Jones as Best Actress for The Song of Bernadette (talked about here), which was deserved (since Ingrid Bergman was nominated for the wrong film), Charles Coburn as Best Supporting Actor for The More the Merrier (talked about here), which, despite my love for Claude Rains as Louis Renault, is a good decision, and Katina Paxinou as Best Supporting Actress for For Whom the Bell Tolls (talked about here), which — meh. So, overall, many of the individual categories are either forgettable or not particularly memorable, yet the year remains strong simply because of the Best Picture choice. Which again shows how a good or bad Best Picture choice can make or break a year.


And the nominees were…

Casablanca (Warner Bros.)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Paramount)

Heaven Can Wait (20th Century Fox)

The Human Comedy (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

In Which We Serve (United Artists)

Madame Curie (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

The More the Merrier (Columbia)

The Ox-Bow Incident (20th Century Fox)

The Song of Bernadette (20th Century Fox)

Watch on the Rhine (Warner Bros.)

Casablanca — It’s Casablanca. If you need a synopsis, you might also strongly consider emigration.

For Whom the Bell Tolls — This film is based on the Hemingway novel, which I imagine is either much better than the film, or just as boring as it. I’ve never read it, so I cannot comment.

This film was boring. It’s a Spanish Civil War film. Gary Cooper is an American who has joined the guerilla fighters against the fascists. And we follow him and the group over the course of the film. And he falls in love with Ingrid Bergman, and their romance takes place against the backdrop of all this fighting.

I’ve watched this film three times, and all three times I didn’t like it. I was just bored by the whole thing. It felt like one of those films that’s made to be a surefire Oscar winner, yet is actually pretty flat and gets nominated a bunch anyway just because it “should.” I also consider this to be the reason Ingrid Bergman didn’t win Best Actress this year, which also doesn’t help. My point is — no, I’m not voting for this. I don’t like it.

Heaven Can Wait — This is not an earlier version of the Warren Beatty film. That’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan, from 1941. This is a completely different film. (They just took this title and that film and put them together. Which was actually a smart move.)

This film is about Don Ameche, who dies and goes to the gates of hell. And he recounts his entire life story, saying that he’s done enough bad things in his life to warrant entry. It’s a real nice twist on the story we’re used to seeing. And we flash back over the events of his life as the man at the gates decides whether or not he was immoral enough to enter hell.

The great thing about it is that Ameche wants to enter hell. (Though of course, as we see the events of his life, we find out that he was actually, despite his protestations, a good man, and is sent instead to “that other place.”) The film is also colorful as hell (pun ridiculously intended. The set design here is amazing. It’s also hilarious and touching at the same time. This is a real masterpiece, this film. I’m surprised it doesn’t get more notice than it has. It’s quite amazing.

However, against Casablanca, it has no chance. (But it’s amazing, and you should go out and see it right now.)

The Human Comedy — This is an amazing film. I love when films don’t follow the standard narrative progression. They really stand out. Because there are hundreds of films on this Quest. Only a few really do break from the narrative norm.

This film, like Our Town, in a way, doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just a series of little episodes, which, combined, create a plot. It’s about Mickey Rooney, a teenager whose father is dead and whose brother is off fighting in the war. And in order to help make ends meet, he takes a job at a telegram office run by Frank Morgan (the great and powerful Oz himself). And basically, all the episodes show what it’s like to be on the home front during the war, and culminates with Rooney getting a telegram saying his brother is dead. It’s a powerful film.

I really loved this movie. Though, in a year like this, it had no shot. It’s definitely in the top half of the nominees, but nothing beats Casablanca here. Nothing.

In Which We Serve — This is, as the film tells us, “the story of a ship.” We follow the history of this ship from its creation until it’s eventual destruction, told by the men on the ship as it sinks through their memories of it. There’s not really much else to say here, without going over a moment by moment retelling of the plot, but basically we follow the story of the ship, as well as the stories of the men on it, and all of this adds up to a really compelling and terrific film.

It’s a really strong film. Really strong. But again, nothing is beating Casablanca here.

Madame Curie — This is a biopic of Marie Curie. I assume you know who she is.

I was gonna provide a synopsis here, but honestly, I think not providing one is more accurate. Because this is a very by-the-numbers biopic, and is not particularly interesting whatsoever. This was the third of four films with Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson. And to me, they went in descending order: Blossoms in the Dust, Mrs. Miniver, this, and then Mrs. Parkington. They hit their pinnacle with Miniver (Oscar-wise). This feels like them trying to hit that again.

It basically recounts Curie and her husband’s discovery of radium. It’s extremely by the numbers, and is very watchable. But it should not have won at all. Not at all.

The More the Merrier — Oh, this film is amazing.

It’s about the housing shortage during World War II. Charles Coburn is a millionaire in town to meet a friend of his. However, through a miscommunication, he arrives in town two days early, and finds that there’s no room for him anywhere in the city. But because of the housing shortage, many people are applying to house others. So Coburn applies for housing and goes to Jean Arthur. She takes him in as a roommate. And while there he starts to meddle in her life. He meets a soldier on leave (Joel McCrea), and proceeds to, without telling Arthur, invite him to stay with them for the remainder of his leave. And his goal is to secretly get the two of them together. It’s — hilarious. This is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Charles Coburn is an American treasure. This film is so, so good.

I love this film so much, but, again — Casablanca. It had no shot.

The Ox-Bow Incident — This is one of the best westerns ever made. Bar none.

The film begins with two drifters (Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan) riding into town. And while there, the town discovers that a local rancher has been murdered. So the town bands together, essentially as a lynch mob, and sets out to find the three men responsible. And they come across three men — Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, and… John Ford’s brother, actually. Francis Ford. And they automatically assume these are the men responsible. And the film escalates as the men want to hang the men, while Fonda and Morgan act as voices of reason, saying they don’t even know if these are the men, and saying it’s murder to kill them in cold blood. And eventually the men are hanged, and it’s revealed that they weren’t the three men who killed the man.

I’m not doing this movie justice. It’s so, so good. This is a film that, if Casablanca weren’t here, should have won this year. (It probably wouldn’t have, knowing Hollywood’s feelings about the western, but it should have.)

The Song of Bernadette — This is one of the few openly religious films from this Quest that I can actually tolerate. I don’t love it, but it is a solid film.

The film is about young Bernadette, who comes from a poor family, and isn’t a particularly smart girl. That is to say, she’s not a very good student. And one day, while playing with her friends in a dump, she sees a vision of the Virgin Mary, speaking to her. And she tells people about this, and there’s a huge inquiry into it. Most people don’t believe her, and there’s a whole investigation. But eventually she is so pure in her belief that people start to believe alongside her. And she’s eventually made a nun. And she continues to pray to this vision, until one day she gets very sick. And it’s discovered that the reason she’s seeing this visions is because the dump contained toxic chemicals, and she’s been slowly being poisoned by them all the while. And she hasn’t told anybody about this, despite being in immense pain, simply because she knows that suffering is a party of faith. So she dies and is branded a saint.

Like I said, it’s a very religious film. But Jennifer Jones is really good in it, and it’s actually a good film. I don’t like the openness of the religion, but I can tolerate it. That said, this film should not have won. I do not endorse any film so openly about religion for Best Picture. (Unless it’s amazing. And I don’t know if I’ve seen one yet that is.)

Watch on the Rhine — Jesus. This film…

The film is about a German man and his family who was driven out of Germany due to his anti-fascist activities. And now they’re hiding out in the U.S. and are pursued by German spies. And eventually a spy discovers them, but the father kills the man. Then he goes back to Europe to help free a fellow resistance fighter. And then after a while, the family hasn’t heard from him, and the son declares he’s gonna go look for his father when he’s old enough.

It’s a Bette Davis melodrama that’s also about the Nazis. This film was boring as hell to me. I am amazed that Paul Lukas won Best Actor for this. I don’t get it at all. This film, to me, is the absolute weakest entry on this list and is a film I would never vote for. I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to start attacking a film that is almost certainly not that bad.

My Thoughts: Come on, now.

My Vote: Casablanca

Should Have won: Casablanca

Is the result acceptable?: One of the top five best decisions of all time.

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Casablanca, you shouldn’t be allowed to watch movies ever again.

If you haven’t seen The Ox-Bow Incident, we can’t be friends.

You need to see The More the Merrier. Trust me. You’ll love it.

Heaven Can Wait is amazing. It’s a Lubitsch. That practically makes it essential. If it’s not, then I highly, highly, highly recommend that you see it.

The Human Comedy is terrific. Definitely a hidden gem. Highly recommended.

In Which We Serve is also great, and I definitely recommend it.

The Song of Bernadette is actually a pretty good film. You should check it out. I definitely recommend it.

For Whom the Bell Tolls — meh. I don’t care for it. But it’s big, it’s Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, so I’ll mention it.

Madame Curie — meh. It’s okay. Worth a watch. Nothing special, though.

Watch on the Rhine — I don’t like it, but you should see it to see what beat Bogart this year. Just sayin’, I think it was terrible.


10) Watch on the Rhine

9) Madame Curie

8) For Whom the Bell Tolls

7) The Song of Bernadette

6) In Which We Serve

5) The Human Comedy

4) Heaven Can Wait

3) The More the Merrier

2) The Ox-Bow Incident

1) Casablanca

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