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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1951-1952)

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.

1951

An American in Paris

Decision Before Dawn

A Place in the Sun

Quo Vadis

A Streetcar Named Desire

Analysis:

An American in Paris is a great musical. I’m still amazed it won. But I guess Hollywood does love itself a good musical, huh?

The real question you have to ask yourself is — because this movie won, did that lead to Singin’ in the Rain not winning the year after this? Or is the win irrelevant to that? There’s no real way to know, is there?

Anyway, Gene Kelly is (insert title here). He’s a painter trying to get noticed. He gets an older female benefactor (she’s paying for his room and board, and he’s basically sleeping with her), and also in the meantime falls for Leslie Caron, a dancer. He and his friend fall for Leslie Caron. And the film is about all of this playing out in wonderful Technicolor with great song and dance numbers.

Great film. No denying this is a great film. But — winner? Ehh. Average at best. Below average when you factor in what it beat. Lovely film, but I wouldn’t take it. Third choice all around for me.

Decision Before Dawn is a really great war film that even pretty hardcore film buffs don’t know anything about.

World War II is ending. It’s pretty clear who’s gonna win. An American officer enlists a bunch of German POWs to go back into Germany and spy on their fellow Germans. That’s the film. It’s great. It’s really great.

I love that this was nominated, because now I get to tell people how awesome it is and get more people to see it. In terms of the category — fourth choice all around. Nothing more than a very solid fourth choice. Would never take it, but love that it was nominated. It’s always great when the films you wouldn’t take are films you like a lot. Because at least you can talk about how great they are rather than how much you wouldn’t vote for them.

A Place in the Sun is an American classic. Just incredible all around. I used to not like it for whatever reason, but there’s no denying how terrific it is as a film.

Montgomery Clift is a poor man whose uncle is a business owner. So he gets an entry level job in his uncle’s factory. There, he meets Shelley Winters and the two start a nice little life together. A nice, humble existence that would follow with steady jobs and a modest house and some kids. Clift, however, does have some aspirations. And pretty soon, as his stock ascends within the company, he finds himself in the social circle of Elizabeth Taylor, a socialite. And the temptation of her starts to threaten what he has with Winters. Especially when, right at the moment where he’s going to dump winters for Taylor, Winters says she’s pregnant. And boy… things don’t go pretty well from there.

This movie is a classic and it’s a real treasure of cinema. I somehow hated this movie five years ago and didn’t want to vote for it at any cost. And perhaps, because of that, I keep finding myself wanting to go back and give this movie it’s due and give it a fair shake to win and try to find a way to put it up for the vote. And every time I come back to this category, I’m constantly like, “Yeah, this is the time! … Oh, right, Streetcar.” So that’s really what this is gonna be up against. This vs. Streetcar is the choice for the vote. I have my work cut out for me, it seems.

Quo Vadis is another one of those big color costume epics. The Academy nominated a bunch of these this decade. They always seem the most dated of all the nominees.

It’s about the rise of Christianity in Rome mixed with the fall of Rome. Robert Taylor is a Roman soldier who falls for a Christian woman, and all this is mixed with Nero and his fear of Christians and burning of Rome in order to blame it on them. All that good stuff.

It’s a big Technicolor religious epic. This and Ben-Hur and The Robe are all the kinds of movies that Hail, Caesar! was parodying. Which means that you basically know what it is and what it’s about.

I like the film, but I’m not that huge a fan of it. I don’t think this needed to be nominated. I’m fine with it being here, but it’s a fifth choice all around for me. These costume epics don’t really do it for me in the Best Picture category. Only really transcendent ones get legitimate consideration. This is not one of those.

A Streetcar Named Desire. One of the most famous plays ever written and one of the most famous films ever made. You should probably know what it is.

This movie is so perfect. I try so hard not to automatically make this my choice, but I don’t see how that’s possible. It’s too good.

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The Reconsideration: This one. I tell myself every time I’m coming back to it that this is the time I go elsewhere with the vote. But who are we kidding — Streetcar will always be my choice. I love it too much. A Place in the Sun is a fantastic film and would be my choice otherwise, but Streetcar’s just so good. So that’s my continued choice. The heart wants what it wants.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. A Streetcar Named Desire
  2. A Place in the Sun
  3. An American in Paris
  4. Decision Before Dawn
  5. Quo Vadis

My Vote: A Streetcar Named Desire

Recommendations:

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the most essential movies ever made. Must see, non-negotiable.

A Place in the Sun is an essential film all around. Oscar winner, all-time classic, American treasure. Must see.

An American in Paris is a Best Picture winner and an all-time musical. Which means it’s essential for film buffs and you need to see it. (It’s also a lot of fun, which helps.)

Decision Before Dawn is a great movie and a hidden gem of the 50s. If you like war thrillers and even espionage thrillers, this is for you. This is very much for you. High recommend and one of those movies that you definitely should watch because no one remembers it and it’s one of those movies you’re gonna enjoy having discovered. Trust me on that.

Quo Vadis is a solid costume epic. I don’t love it, but it’s very entertaining. Most of them are. Solid recommend. Worth a watch, even if it’s not essential at all. You’re more than fine without it.

The Last Word: No matter how you slice it, this isn’t a great choice. An American in Paris is a great film, but it shouldn’t have won Best Picture. Both Streetcar and A Place in the Sun are better and more respected films that would have held up as better choices. We’re left with a good film and a weak choice that looks okay, but there are clear better choices that there could have been.

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1952

The Greatest Show on Earth

High Noon

Ivanhoe

Moulin Rouge

The Quiet Man 

Analysis:

The Greatest Show on Earth is a drama about circus folk. Seriously.

Charlton Heston runs a traveling circus. And we follow him and all the circus folk as their individual dramas play out. That’s pretty much the story. The highlight for me was Jimmy Stewart playing a clown named Buttons, who may or may not be a doctor who killed a patient and is on the run.

It’s actually a really good film. Don’t let the fact that it won take that away from it. It’s immensely entertaining and there’s a lot of great stuff in it. The only gripe against it is the fact that it won. That’s it. I wouldn’t take it, you wouldn’t take it. It won. That’s not the film’s fault. Blame the Academy, not the film. Still, I wouldn’t take it. It’s a third choice at best for me. But it’s still a solid third choice. There are way worse choices to be had.

High Noon is one of the all time classic westerns. And one that transitions over into simply being a great film, that just happens to be a western.

Gary Cooper is a retiring town marshal who is about to get married and leave town. However, just as he’s about to leave, he gets word that one of the men he put away is about to return to the town. The townspeople tell him to leave and let them worry about it. But, as we all know… a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Despite his wife (a quaker)’s protests, he returns to the town to confront the man. However, when he returns, he finds the townspeople unwilling to help him. He goes around (in basically real time), asking for help, and the townspeople who preciously loved him now turn their backs on him.

It’s a wonderful film. And yes, in its way, it’s a statement against McCarthyism. But you don’t even have to see it as that. It’s just a great film. It’s one of the all time greats and it’s one of my favorites. Five years ago this was for sure my choice. Now… kinda got a big thing for The Quiet Man. So we’ll have a nice 50/50 between those two later on.

Ivanhoe is a big medieval knight kind of movie. It’s the lesser Robin Hood. Robin Hood actually is in this movie.

Ivanhoe is a knight who served under King Richard. Richard goes missing while coming home from the Crusades (if you’ve seen Robin Hood, you get the idea) and is being held for ransom. Ivanhoe goes about, collecting compatriots and collecting money to pay the ransom. There are a lot of double crosses and sword fights. All the great stuff you would expect.

It’s a fun movie. Not something that holds up overly well, but the kind of movie you can go back and enjoy. It’s probably underrated. But as far as this category goes — yawn. These movies aren’t interesting winners this late in the game. It seems okay now. Mostly it’s just a blank in the category. Later on, these are the types of movies the Academy will hold onto that will seem so terrible every time they get nominated. For now — it’s a fifth choice. Solid movie, but not a winner.

Moulin Rouge is a biopic of Toulouse-Lautrec. For those of you who saw the Baz Luhrmann movie of the same name, he’s the dwarf painter played by John Leguizamo in that movie.

This is a biopic. And it’s not as fun as the Luhrmann movie. Toulouse-Lautrec was a drunk and a very unhappy man who led a very sad life. We watch as he basically trades his paintings for bar tabs and consorts with a hooker who doesn’t feel anything for him and basically wants to rob him of his money. It’s one thing after another for this guy. But it’s a great movie. John Huston directed this.

Very strong movie, very much worthy of being nominated. However, it would have made a bad winner. History has basically forgotten this movie and to see it win would actually be worse than The Greatest Show on Earth. It’s better suited as a nominee and nothing more.

The Quiet Man is one of John Ford’s best movies. I love it so much. And going into it, you wonder two things — John Ford wanted to make this? And, “What the hell is this movie?” Because it’s not really about anything. And yet — doesn’t matter.

John Wayne is an American coming to Ireland to live in the town where he was born. He has a past (which is revealed later), but mostly wants to settle down and live in peace. He befriends a bunch of the villagers, and comes to fall for Maureen O’Hara, a spinster whose brother, Victor McLaglen, is basically the town bully. Wayne wants to marry her, but the problem is — since McLaglen hasn’t married, she’s unable to marry. So Wayne and the town set about trying to find a way to make it so he and O’Hara can marry. It’s awesome. The climax of this movie is a fistfight over a dowry. It’s so great.

This movie is such a classic, and I love it so much. I find myself constantly going back and rewatching this more and more. Five years ago, High Noon would have been that movie I watched over and over. Now, it’s this film. The choice is gonna be between those two. There’s really no other film that comes close.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s High Noon or The Quiet Man. That’s it. The other three don’t rate anything more than “good job, you’re also nominated and you’re good films.” These two — perfect.

Right now, my choice is The Quiet Man. I just love that movie so, so much. I love High Noon, too, but the more time goes by, the more I find myself enamored with The Quiet Man and thinking it truly is the better film. So I’m gonna take that. They’re both great choices though. How can you go wrong?

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings:

  1. The Quiet Man
  2. High Noon
  3. Moulin Rouge
  4. The Greatest Show on Earth
  5. Ivanhoe

My Vote: The Quiet Man

Recommendations:

The Quiet Man is an all-time essential. It is. Oscar winner, classic, and one of John Ford’s five best films. (And he made a lot of great films.) Must see for all film buffs, and it’s a masterpiece.

High Noon is all around essential. One of the most essential films ever made. A top ten western. And a top ten in a major genre is an essential movie. Plus, this transcends that. It’s all-time essential no matter what genre it is.

The Greatest Show on Earth is a Best Picture winner. And while it’s one of the ten least essential Best Picture winners, I still think it should be seen. It’s a great drama with great actors in it, and it’s very entertaining. Now that the circus doesn’t exist anymore, it’s a great reminder of how cool the circus is to watch (despite the whole cruelty aspect). I’d consider it essential. It’s a terrific film.

Moulin Rouge is a really great film. A gem of the 50s that isn’t particularly well-seen anymore. I don’t think enough film buffs are onto this one. Everyone knows the Baz Luhrmann version, and you really need to clear your head of that before going into this, because it’s very different. But it’s a wonderful movie. It’s John Huston. He doesn’t let you down that often, especially when his movies are nominated for awards. I consider it essential, but that’s only because I want more people to see it. At worst it’s just a high recommend.

Ivanhoe is a fun costume adventure. If you like Robin Hood, you’ll enjoy this. This is more of a drama than Robin Hood, which is more the fun adventure story, but they’re similar. This is definitely worth watching because it’s in that vein. Essential piece of literature and just a solid-to-highly recommended movie. Not something you need to see, but worthwhile.

The Last Word: This is one of the poorest decisions they’ve ever made. I think we all recognize this. But — here’s the thing — this is not a situation like Citizen Kane, where they deliberately didn’t vote for one of the choices. They actually preferred this movie. It was the highest grossing movie of the year, it won the Golden Globe, which to this point was the only real precursor that was out there. All signs point to this having been the choice. I can’t necessarily fault them for going with what they wanted, but I can fault them for going with a choice that’s all but forgotten next to two classics. So no, not a great choice. In terms of what the best choice would have been — High Noon or The Quiet Man — it’s close. Both are great and are classics. High Noon is the one that makes more sense on the surface, but in a weird way, The Quiet Man might actually be the better of the two. But that’s all by the bye. The point here is, The Greatest Show on Earth is one of the poorest Best Picture winners in history.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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