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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1949-1950)

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.

1949

All the King’s Men

Battleground

The Heiress

A Letter to Three Wives

Twelve O’Clock High

Analysis:

All the King’s Men is one of two movies to win Best Picture and be based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. (Gone with the Wind is the other.)

The film tracks the rise and fall of Willie Stark, who begins as a “hick candidate” shouting on street corners about change. We follow him through his initial failed campaigns until he learns the system. We watch him realize you have to get dirty to win, and pretty soon he gets really dirty. The dirtier he gets, the higher he rises. And then we watch him, with all his power, without any of the ideals, slowly start to lose grip on it, as some of the wrongs of his past threaten to send it all tumbling down.

It’s a great film. It’s one of those… any other year around it, it wouldn’t win at all. But this year, there’s not a whole lot else to vote for. So it ends up competing based purely on that. Though this category is pretty strong. I could go one of five ways with this.

Battleground is a badass war film. I love it.

It’s pretty simple — it’s Bastogne. For those who don’t know what Bastogne was — American troops are trapped in a Belgian town over the winter, with Germans on all sides of them. They can’t get any supplies in and have to survive until someone can come back them up.

If you watched Band of Brothers, those are the best two episodes, the ones that deal with Bastogne. This movie is really fantastic. Might be my favorite film in the category. Not sure it needed to win Best Picture, but I’d have been okay with it if it had. We’ll see if I take it. This category’s pretty open for me.

The Heiress is such a great drama.

Olivia de Havilland is a spinster who is under the thumb of her domineering, disappointed father. He doesn’t think she’ll ever get married and pretty much simultaneously prevents her from getting married. She meets Montgomery Clift, who actually seems to be in love with her. She asks her father for his blessing, but he says Clift is only after her money. She tries to convince him to change his mind, and eventually decides to elope with Clift. I’ll leave it at that, because it gets great.

It’s a wonderful film and Olivia de Havilland deservedly won Best Actress for her performance in this film. It’s a film I like a lot, and I think it deserves to be here, but I wouldn’t vote for it in this category. The previous two films will always be the vote over this. This is a #4 most years and maybe a #3 this year on points. But otherwise it’s just something I like but wouldn’t take.

A Letter to Three Wives is another really solid drama.

Three women go on a school trip with their children. They’re going to an island where they will basically be cut off from the world for the afternoon. As they prepare to sail, they get a letter from another woman in the neighborhood who says she’s about to run away with one of their husbands. The three women must spend the entire afternoon wondering which of their husbands it is. So we watch as each of the women flashes back, wondering if it’s her husband who has ran away. And we get glimpses of each of their home lives, and get to guess which husband it is, until they eventually get home that night to see which one it was.

It’s a great film. Really well done and really engaging. Deservedly nominated, but never the vote. This would probably be an overall fourth choice if this category was given to a large number of people. I can’t see this coming out on top ever. At best this is a third choice for me, though very likely a fourth choice.

Twelve O’Clock High is a great war film. Took me a while to fully appreciate it, but it’s wonderful.

It’s about an air force bomber group that’s had some horrible luck, losing way more pilots than the rest of the companies. The men are incredibly dejected, and their commanding officer is relieved of duty. Enter Gregory Peck. He felt the previous C.O. was too close to his men, so Peck remains cold and distant. He comes across as unnecessarily harsh. The men hate him at first, but he quickly whips them into shape. Eventually Peck lets his icy veneer drop and befriends the men, just as the missions start to get much more dangerous.

It’s a great film. I like it more and more every time I see it. Definitely shouldn’t have won, and might be the all around fifth choice in the category, but I really like this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I feel like I say this every time I talk about this category, but it’s true: it’s a category full of #2s without a #1. These things happen. I like all of these films a lot, but I don’t necessarily love any of them enough to make them the vote. So we’ll work our way through it…

Between the two straight dramas, I prefer The Heiress to A Letter to Three Wives, so that’s one off. Between the war films, I prefer Battleground, so that’s two off. I wouldn’t take The Heiress, so that’s off.

It’s pretty much either All the King’s Men or Battleground. Battleground is great but doesn’t feel like it needs to win Best Picture. Not that All the King’s Men particularly does either. It makes sense as a winner, and I suspect it’s the best choice. But I prefer Battleground, so I’m just gonna take that. When in doubt, go with your preference.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. All the King’s Men
  2. Battleground
  3. The Heiress
  4. A Letter to Three Wives
  5. Twelve O’Clock High

Rankings (films):

  1. Battleground
  2. All the King’s Men
  3. The Heiress
  4. A Letter to Three Wives
  5. Twelve O’Clock High

My Vote: Battleground

Recommendations:

All the King’s Men is a Best Picture winner, making it basically essential for all. It’s also a terrific film at that. So let’s just call it essential.

Battleground is an essential war movie and a great film. Not all-time essential, but very, very highly recommended. If you like war movies, see it. If you saw Band of Brothers and really liked the Bastogne episodes, see it. I say seek it out, and if it’s on TCM (which it is, a lot), definitely watch it. It’s great.

The Heiress is essential for Oscar buffs, a great drama, and a movie that I very highly recommend. It’s fantastic.

A Letter to Three Wives is essential for Oscar buffs, really great, and highly recommended. It’s good, with great actors, and an engaging story. Definitely worth seeing.

Twelve O’Clock High is fantastic. Highly recommended. They’re all good here. This is a war drama. More drama than war. Great performances, really engaging, and very much worth a watch. This is one of those categories that’s very solid overall. They’re all ones you should see.

The Last Word: All the King’s Men seems the be the best overall choice in the category. The others wouldn’t have particularly held up well. You can go with just about anything here and it would be a decent vote, but All the King’s Men was the one that has (and would have) held up the best. So they made the right choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1950

All About Eve

Born Yesterday

Father of the Bride

King Solomon’s Mines

Sunset Boulevard

Analysis:

All About Eve is one of the most famous films ever made. A true classic.

Bette Davis is an aging (yet not over the hill) stage actress. One day, an adoring fan meets her at the backstage door and says she’s her biggest fan. She allows the girl into her life, thinking she’s harmless. Pretty soon, the girl has managed to work her way into Bette’s inner circle, and seem to be intent on taking her place…

It’s all about the backstage politics and backstabbing of theater people. It’s so great. When I firs started watching movies, I liked this a lot, but like most people, immediately would have taken the alternative in the category. Now, five years later, I’m not so sure…

Born Yesterday is a wonderful romantic comedy. It’s one of those movies that benefits from pitch-perfect lead casting. Without that, this might not be as classic as it is.

Judy Holliday plays the girlfriend of Broderick Crawford, a gangster. He’s come to Washington to influence some important people. That’s what you do after you conquer city crime. You move to the government. Him and her are like the My Cousin Vinny of D.C. They stand out. He thinks she’s not refined and could use some tutoring. So he hires William Holden, a professor, to teach her. The film is wonderful. I know it sounds slight, but when you see Judy Holliday in this movie, you’ll see why it works so well.

I get why they nominated it, and it would have looked okay in other years. But here, you have two of the hundred greatest films ever made on it. Next to those, everything looks weak. It’s not the film’s fault.

Father of the Bride is a lovely film that had the misfortune of being nominated against two of the most classic films ever made.

Spencer Tracy is Elizabeth Taylor’s father. She announces she’s going to be married. Tracy finds himself along for the ride, dealing with all the planning and such that comes with that. He also has to confront the fact that he’s about to lose his daughter (and his own advancing age, etc).

It’s a wonderful film. Doesn’t hold up against the big two contenders in the category, but it’s a decent enough nominee. No way I’d ever think to take this. At best it’s a fourth choice, and even then, that’s only due to the category. Most years this would be outright fifth.

King Solomon’s Mines is one of those forgotten Best Picture nominees.

It’s pretty much just a Technicolor adventure film. Nominated for three Oscars and won the other two aside from Best Picture. Not sure how it managed to get on here too, but hey, here we are.

Alan Quartermain is a big game hunter who helps Deborah Kerr look for her missing husband, who got lost looking for the titular mines.

If you like Indiana Jones movies, this is in the vein of that. It’s definitely a fine film, but I’m not sure it needed to be nominated. And even so there’s no way it can compete next to All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard. Few movies can. It’s pretty much a fifth choice in the category.

Sunset Boulevard is one of the most famous films of all time.

William Holden begins the film, floating dead in a pool, as he starts to tell his story. As a broke screenwriter, he ends up in the home of Gloria Swanson, a silent movie actress who hasn’t worked for years. And she’s ready for her closeup…

This movie is perfect. Five years ago there wasn’t even a question this was the vote. Now… it’s a toss-up between this and All About Eve. Both of them are terrific choices and would have been great winners. No idea which way I’m gonna go.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Let’s cut to the chase: It’s All About Ever or Sunset Boulevard. Nothing else. I’m not gonna waste time on the other films, despite their all being solid.

Five years ago, no question, the answer is Sunset Boulevard. Now… I’m not so sure. They’re both so good. And I can feel my tastes maturing and changing slightly as I get older.

A few months ago, I was sure that All About Eve was gonna end up being the choice. Now, I’m back to 50/50. I think it comes down to which of the two I see most recently. That tends to be the one I want to vote for.

I think where I’m at now is… Sunset Boulevard is still my favorite film of the two. But I think All About Eve might have been the better choice, if that makes any sense. Mostly I’m fine with either one, and I still give a slight edge to Sunset Boulevard, though I’m happy with either one. so I’ll take Sunset Boulevard, but we’re at the point where it’s a straight toss-up. I might swing over to All About Eve in five years.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. All About Eve
  2. Sunset Boulevard
  3. Born Yesterday
  4. Father of the Bride
  5. King Solomon’s Mines

Rankings (films):

  1. All About Eve
  2. Sunset Boulevard
  3. Born Yesterday
  4. Father of the Bride
  5. King Solomon’s Mines

My Vote: Sunset Boulevard

Recommendations:

All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard are two of the 50 most essential movies ever made. Must be seen by all film buffs, no exceptions.

Born Yesterday is a really great film. Very highly recommended. If you don’t know Judy Holliday, you will after this. She’s so good. A great romantic comedy, and one of the most iconic performances in film history. Essential for Oscar buffs and one I’d probably call essential even if it necessarily isn’t.

Father of the Bride is a great comedy/drama. If you saw the Steve Martin version, this is that, only better. Highly recommended. Great stuff. Plus Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, directed by Vincente Minnelli. Why wouldn’t you want to see this?

King Solomon’s Mines is a fun 50s adventure movie. Worth a watch, not something you need to see. But if you like Indiana Jones, there’s no reason not to see this. It’s a good time at the movies.

The Last Word: You can’t argue with whichever way they went here. Both were perfect choice and both would have ended up being top 20 or 25 choices all-time. Sometimes you get lucky that way. I can’t really parse which one would have been the better choice, though, with All About Eve as a winner, I do feel like they made the right choice. But Sunset Boulevard would have been just as good a choice. So it’s a win-win, this year. Take either one. You’re right.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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