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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1947-1948)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1947

The Bishop’s Wife

Crossfire

Gentleman’s Agreement

Great Expectations

Miracle on 34th Street

Analysis:

The Bishop’s Wife is one of the seminal Christmas films. It only really takes place over the Christmas season, but hey, it works I guess.

David Niven is a bishop trying to build a new church but doesn’t have the money for it. He prays for guidance. Enter Cary Grant, an angel. He comes to help out. Only Niven knows he’s an angel. To everyone else, he’s basically just Cary Grant. So we watch Grant go around, charming everyone. He also spends time with Loretta Young, Niven’s neglected wife. Problem is… he starts to become attracted to her. And Niven has to realize what Grant is actually there to do is to guide him, not help him build the church.

It’s a nice movie. Not perfect, but very nice. It’s one of those movies that’s fine as a nominee, but it’s never gonna get votes. That kind of movie that everyone likes but nobody votes for. In a year like this, it only serves to weaken the rest of the category. It’s probably a fourth choice for me, though for a lot of people it’ll be outright fifth. There’s no real reason to vote for it.

Crossfire is, what I like to call, the B movie version of Gentleman’s Agreement. It’s not really fair to say that, but it does get to the heart of how A pictures and B pictures deal with subject matter. So we’ll run with it.

A man is found dead. The police investigate. They find the man was hanging out with a group of soldiers shortly before he died, and that one of the soldiers may be the murderer. They question each of the men, and we follow the investigation as they uncover who the killer is.

What we eventually find out is that the murder was done out of anti-semitism, which is why I call it the B movie version of Gentleman’s Agreement. But actually it’s just a noir and police procedural more than anything. It just has the antisemitic theme running below the surface.

It’s a really solid film. I’m surprised it got nominated for Best Picture. It’s the first B movie to ever have that distinction. I don’t love it enough to vote for it. There are some who might, or at least those who like the idea of something different. Which I get. But for me it’s the last film I’d take in the category. It doesn’t do a whole lot for me.

Gentleman’s Agreement is the “antisemitism is bad” movie. Somehow this manages to not be dated, even though it should be.

Gregory Peck is a magazine writer who decides, for his next story, to tell people he’s Jewish, just to see what it’s like for Jewish people. And when he does, he uncovers this undercurrent of antisemitism that permeates every level of society. People who work with and for him start to say, “Oh, you’re Jewish too? I changed my name.” And he hears all these stories. And pretty soon, places won’t let him in. They start making up excuses like, “Oh, we had too many rooms and had to cancel your reservation.” They won’t admit that it’s because he’s Jewish, but it’s pretty clear that it is. And that’s the film.

It’s pretty great. Put this in any other year around this and it wouldn’t be my vote. But 1947 is one of the weakest Oscar years there’s ever been, and this very quickly rises to #1 in the category. Not gonna think too much into it. The best choice is the best choice.

Great Expectations. It’s hard out here for a Pip. When he’s trying to get this money to be a gent.

By the way, I’m hilarious, in case you guys didn’t know.

It’s Great Expectations. Read some Dickens, people.

This is the best version they’ve ever made of this movie. David Lean does a hell of a job with it. This is so good it might even be the second choice in this category. But we all know me and literary classics winning Best Picture. All I need is any excuse to go somewhere else with the vote and I will. Fortunately I have two here. Barely two, but I can make cases for others over this. So I wouldn’t take it. The fact that it even gets a “You know….”, shows you how weak this category is.

Miracle on 34th Street is the second Christmas movie on this list. How insane is that? Within a two year span three Christmas classics were nominated for Best Picture.

Macy’s hires a nice old man to be their Santa Claus for the holidays. He insists he’s the real Santa. He starts to perform these little miracles that convince people he’s the real Santa. Plus, everyone loves him. Eventually it becomes a giant trial to decide whether or not the man is actually Santa Claus.

It’s a wonderful holiday film and an American classic. Should it have won Best Picture? No. But it’s a weak year and you have to consider it. Fortunately, I already have Gentleman’s Agreement, so I don’t need to worry about this as a potentially bad winner. It’s great, though.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Gentleman’s Agreement is really the only choice. The Bishop’s Wife is a soft winner. Miracle on 34th Street is a nice, sentimental choice, but after It’s a Wonderful Life not winning the year before this, how bad would that look? Crossfire shouldn’t have won. It would have immediately dropped to bottom five or ten all-time had it won. And Great Expectations? Really? It’s only Gentleman’s Agreement. That’s the only one I’d take and the only one that would really hold up okay. I’m not looking into it any further than that. The category’s really not worth the unnecessary complexity.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Gentleman’s Agreement
  2. Miracle on 34th Street
  3. Great Expectations
  4. The Bishop’s Wife
  5. Crossfire

Rankings (films):

  1. Gentleman’s Agreement
  2. Miracle on 34th Street
  3. Great Expectations
  4. Crossfire
  5. The Bishop’s Wife

My Vote: Gentleman’s Agreement

Recommendations:

Gentleman’s Agreement is an all-time classic, a Best Picture winner, a great film and an essential film. You have a winner all around here.

Miracle on 34th Street is one of those movies — not only is it essential, but don’t you automatically end up seeing it just in growing up? Usually people already have this taken care of and don’t have to worry about it. Either way, Christmas movies are, in a way, one of the most essential genres because of everyone growing up with them, and this is one of the most famous ones.

Great Expectations is an all-time classic novel. This is probably the best screen version of it. And it’s David Lean. So that’s about as essential as that’s gonna get. It’s a high recommend as a film. It’s great and you should see it. I’m not sure I automatically call it essential, but I’m pretty sure most people will check it out anyway without my needing to call it essential. But still, I think you should see it.

The Bishop’s Wife is a famous film, a Christmas film, and a classic. You should consider it essential. At worst it’s a high recommend. But no reason not to have skipped this.

Crossfire is awesome. Essential for film history buffs and Oscar buffs, a high recommend for everyone else. It’s very much a B movie noir, but it’s really good. Most film buffs will enjoy this. Big thumbs up here.

The Last Word: Gentleman’s Agreement is the only choice. The only other film that could have maybe been accepted is Miracle on 34th Street. But even that feels like a long shot. Gentleman’s Agreement is pretty standard Best Picture fare. It holds up fine on its own and looks pretty good based on the year and the category. It’s the only one.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1948

Hamlet

Johnny Belinda

The Red Shoes

The Snake Pit

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Analysis:

Hamlet. The greatest play ever written. And, they also turned it into a great movie. Called Ghostbusters.

That, to me, is the single greatest ending in the history of television.

Anyway, this is Hamlet. You don’t get a synopsis.

It’s a very good film. And if I’m being perfectly honest, I could even make a case for this film as high as third choice in this category. But it’s my least favorite film in the category and you all know my dislike of picking classic works of literature as Best Picture. It’s all-time, but especially this late in the game. We’re 20 years in. We’re past this stuff.

Definitely would not take this as Best Picture, though I do retract my previously held bias of thinking this is the single worst Best Picture choice of all time.

Johnny Belinda is a film that I love. I really love this movie. And I don’t really know why. It doesn’t instantly strike you as the kind of movie you’ll love. But hey.

Lew Ayres is the new doctor in a seaside village. He comes from the city and isn’t used to this laid back country atmosphere. But he gets used to it. In visiting a farmer one day he meets the farmer’s daughter, Belinda. She’s a deaf mute. But the farmer, not nowing any better, figures she’s stupid and useless. So he gives her menial tasks and leaves her to her own devices. Ayres realizes she’s actually quite intelligent, and teaches her sign language. This gives her a way of communicating and helps her come out of her shell. She and the doctor grow close, and she starts to fall for him. One day, she’s raped by a guy in the town and becomes pregnant. The town immediately assumes the doctor is responsible, and pretty soon the doctor is the subject of scandal and the farmer’s livelihood is threatened.

It’s… I love it. I can’t explain it. The first half is so great and even when it turns into melodrama (a dramatic death, a trial), I’m still with it. Really love this movie, and were it not for two of the greatest films ever made being on this list, I’d have tried to push it through to a vote. Other years, I could get this to a second choice. Not here, though. Shame, but it’s probably for the best, since this really shouldn’t have won Best Picture anyway.

The Red Shoes is a masterpiece. Powell and Pressburger have made some masterpieces (at least four by my count), but this may be the best one of them all.

Moira Shearer is a dancer who wants to be a famous ballerina. Anton Walbrook is the most famous ballet director there is. She gets a job working for him, and pretty soon he’s featuring her in his new show. And it’s one of those things where he pushes her to be the best, which she wants, but she’s soon torn between striving for the top and having a life and falling in love. It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful movies ever made and the ballet at the center of this film is some of the best 15 minutes ever committed to celluloid.

The fact that this was even nominated for Best Picture is one of the biggest triumphs in history. So I shouldn’t be too upset that it lost. Because this is not much like them at all. In the moment, anyway. After the fact, they can say this is a masterpiece all the want, but in the moment, they don’t go for this shit at all. That said, it’s here, and I can vote for it, so you damn well know that I’m gonna do everything I can to get this a win.

Though it is also up against The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Which is kind of a road block. So we’ll deal with that in a bit. Clearly this is top two no matter how you slice this category.

The Snake Pit is another great film that’s a bit hidden in a category as good as this one.

Olivia de Havilland is a woman in a mental institution. She has no idea what she’s doing there, and through her sessions with her doctor, we come to find that she’s a schizophrenic. We see her past and how she got there, her daily life in the hospital, and her sessions with her doctor who tries to cure her.

It’s a very 40s kind of drama. Not quite melodrama not quite the level of a Lost Weekend. But I think it’s fantastic. Very worthy of being a Best Picture nominee and unfortunately in a year where you have two of the best films ever made nominated. So it’s not going anywhere. At best it’s a fourth choice, and when you factor in the other nominees and how they’ve held up over the years. This and Johnny Belinda are basically unknowns compared to the other three. So I get it. If there’s anything I love about this category it’s that I can introduce this and Johnny Belinda to people, because they’re both fantastic films.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an all-time American classic and one of the 100 greatest films ever made. Period, end of story.

Humphrey Bogart is Fred C. Dobbs, an American down on his luck in Mexico. He and Tim Holt team up with Walter Huston to pitch in and go gold mining up in the mountains. The interest, however, is what happens after they strike gold.

This movie probably should have won Best Picture. It’s such a masterpiece. This far out, it’s between this and The Red Shoes for which movie is considered the best, liked by the most people and held up as the best film the most broadly. For me, this is always the film to beat and the only question is whether or not The Red Shoes has overtaken it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This is an interesting little case study for me. Just because… if I were just picking on how much I like them, I’d say The Red Shoes is a film I like more than The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But when you put them both in the context of the Oscars, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre wins almost every time. I don’t know why that is. But it is. This is one of the strongest categories of all time. You might not necessarily think that by looking at it, but all the films are very strong. Though when it comes to voting, it immediately comes down to those two I’ve already mentioned, just because those are the two that consistently make the list of “best films ever made.” It’s always gonna be a choice between those two. And, as I’ve already said, it’ll almost always be Treasure of the Sierra Madre for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  2. The Red Shoes
  3. Hamlet
  4. Johnny Belinda
  5. The Snake Pit

Rankings (films):

  1. The Red Shoes
  2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  3. Johnny Belinda
  4. The Snake Pit
  5. Hamlet

My Vote: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Recommendations:

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of the most essential movies ever made. It is essential for all film buffs, and it will teach you the answer to the question, “Where’s your badges?”

The Red Shoes is 100% essential, and you’re not a real film buff if you haven’t seen this movie. Sorry to say it, but you’re not. This is a masterpiece.

Hamlet is Hamlet. You gotta see some version of it. This one won Best Picture, which makes it essential for most film buffs. Plus, of the versions of this film, it’s this and Branagh that are the two definitive ones. Might as well see it.

Johnny Belinda is one of my absolute favorite discoveries among the Oscars. I had no idea what this movie was when I got into this thing, and I love it so, so much now. It may not end up that way for all, but I cannot recommend this movie highly enough to all. It’s so lovely. I would consider it essential. Historically, it’s not. Only for Oscar buffs because of the win. Otherwise it’s just a very good drama that is well worth checking out. With great actors giving great performances. Hugh recommend from me. A hidden gem.

The Snake Pit is a fantastic drama. Olivia de Havilland delivers a great performance that almost could have won her a second (third, assuming she’d won again after this) Oscar. And it’s just captivating all around. Another hidden gem that I love. Very high recommend, definitely check this out. A movie that’s not essential that I would consider essential just because more people need to see this movie.

The Last Word: What is there to say here? I consider this one of the weaker choices of all time. Not because Hamlet is a bad film at all. Just because a Shakespeare movie should really not be winning Best Picture. It’s not like this is so good that it transcends into all-time greatness. It’s just a very good film and a very good telling of Hamlet. It’s like Henry V, though more famous in terms of source material. It’s the seminal film version (along with Branagh), but did it need to win? I don’t think so. Had this been 1947, I wouldn’t have argued about it. But here, beating Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a bonafide all-time classic piece of cinema (and The Red Shoes, which I understand it beating, even if I still think The Red Shoes is a much better film) — that to me just makes it a weak choice. Because it’s Hamlet and because it’s a solid film, it’s okay in terms of just pure quality, but historically it’s not a strong choice. It falls to the back half of the pack. Probably bottom third. I just don’t love it as a winner, and I don’t know if that’ll ever change. Very disappointed in this one.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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