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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1953-1954)

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.

1953

From Here to Eternity

Julius Caesar

The Robe

Roman Holiday

Shane

Analysis:

From Here to Eternity is an American classic. Even the name is known by non-film fans as being an exalted film from the golden days of Hollywood. It just exudes prestige.

It’s about a bunch of soldiers at an army base in the days before Pearl Harbor. Montgomery Clift is a soldier who used to be a boxer but killed a guy so now he doesn’t want to do that anymore. The C.O. puts him through hell in order to get him to capitulate. Meanwhile, he starts up a relationship with a prostitute. Burt Lancaster is the C.O.s aide who starts sleeping with the C.O.’s wife. And Frank Sinatra… is pretty much just Frank Sinatra.

It’s a great movie. One of the most famous in the history of Hollywood, and you completely get why it won Best Picture and can’t really argue against it having won.

That said — I’m not gonna lie. There’s another film I love more than this, so I’m not gonna vote for it. It’s all about being open. So, I get why this won and I’m fine with it, but I’ll never vote for this.

Julius Caesar is one of the most famous plays of all time. Which means you’re not getting a synopsis.

Speech speech, stab stab, give me your ears, vengeance. You know the story.

This is a nice, classy version. I’m still surprised that these movies are getting Best Picture nominees this far in. I don’t get it. Did we need this?

The Robe is pretty much the film that Hail, Caesar is basing its fictional film on. It’s also the first CinemaScope film ever, so there’s that.

Richard Burton is a Roman soldier. We follow him through a romance and the rise of Christianity and all that. Eventually he’s put in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion and wins Jesus’ robe in a dice game. (I am not kidding.) Then there’s this scene at the middle where he has a change of heart and becomes a Christian. To some, it’s this big moment of guilt turning into faith. To me, it’s one of the most ridiculous moments in cinema history. He puts the robe on his face to cover himself from the rain and then freaks out like he’s just had acid thrown in his face and then decides, “Oh man, I like Jesus now!” And then he converts, and everyone hates him and eventually he’s sentenced to death, because if there’s anything religious people love, it’s being martyrs.

The movie’s not that bad. It’s just so dated. I completely understand why they nominated it, but I’d legitimately take Julius Caesar over this, that’s how poor a choice I think this would have been as a Best Picture winner. These big Technicolor Roman-era epics are never something I’d vote for. That’s the point here. I just can’t resist a good shot at simplistic religious messages designed to appeal to the one-dimensionally pious people out there the way certain films now assume the presence of an American flag will mean something to the audience. Still, it’s a very solid film. But fifth in the category no matter how you slice it.

Roman Holiday is a perfect film. You can show this to anybody and it will hold up. When they say “they don’t make them like they used to,” this is the type of film they’re talking about.

Audrey Hepburn is a European princess visiting Rome. Trouble is, she’s not actually visiting the places. She’s taken from place to place and never actually gets to see the sights. Bored, she decides to fake sick and sneak out. She ends up with Gregory Peck, an American reporter. Peck, pretending to not know she’s the princess, maneuvers his way into being her American “guide.” The idea being, he’ll know where she is and gets the exclusive story that no one else will have. Though of course he falls in love with her and she with him. So you have him realizing he can’t actually go through with this story because it’ll harm her, and her knowing that she’ll eventually have to leave him and go back to her duties as princess.

I’m serious when I say this is a perfect movie. This is, bar none, of the greatest films in American history. I will take this film in this category 100 times out of 100. That’s just the reality of the situation, and there’s no point sugar-coating it.

Shane is one of the most famous westerns of all time. It’s iconic, and now even millennials are getting in on it, with it now being not only shown but quoted in Logan. And I remember what it was like being 13 and seeing old movies referenced in stuff. That was huge for getting me to see them. You know how I discovered The Maltese Falcon for the first time? The movie Swordfish. Not kidding. Travolta has a monologue at the end of the movie where he recounts the end of Maltese Falcon. And I went, “What the hell is that movie?” Because I’m 13. I’m not into this stuff yet. So I sought that movie out. The point here is, Shane is awesome.

A homesteader and his family are threatened by a ruthless gunslinger hired by a land baron to drive all the homesteaders out. In rides the mysterious gunslinger Shane, who wants to keep to himself and not have any trouble. But of course he gets close to this family and ends up helping them against the gunslinger. (If you saw Logan, you’ll see a lot of parallels.)

It’s a great movie. An all-time western and an all-time classic. There are moments that don’t quite hold up now. Like the shirtless tree stump removal scene, or the final scene. Not the “Come back, Shane!” part. There’s a part before it where… well, let’s just say that it uses some language that meant different things than it does now, so it gets some unintentional laughs.

But this movie is perfect as far as westerns go, even if it’s a bit sentimental (and actually quite simple). I love that it was nominated, even though it’s no more than a third choice here. It would be a fourth choice many other years, but this year has two absolute no-gos in it and it’s also up against two bonafide classics that are just on another level than this one is. So it’s pretty solidly and snugly fitting right in that #3 spot.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Roman Holiday for me and it’ll always be Roman Holiday for me. No discussion there and nothing to reconsider.

From Here to Eternity will always be my second choice and I’ll always be okay with it having won.

Shane is always gonna be the third choice. It’s an iconic film and it’s great, but it’ll never be the choice over the other two.

The last two films — they’re solid, but I’d never take them. Rank them however you want, but they’ll never be voted for.

Roman Holiday is such a favorite of mine and such a perfect film — it’s the only choice for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. From Here to Eternity
  2. Roman Holiday
  3. Shane
  4. Julius Caesar
  5. The Robe

Rankings (films):

  1. Roman Holiday
  2. From Here to Eternity
  3. Shane
  4. Julius Caesar
  5. The Robe

My Vote: Roman Holiday

Recommendations:

From Here to Eternity is one of the 100 most essential American films ever made. Essential all around and must be seen by all film buffs.

Roman Holiday is one of the most essential movies ever made, it’s a perfect film, it’s a masterpiece, it’s an all-time classic, and quite frankly if you haven’t seen it, we can’t be friends.

Shane. It’s Shane. I think the title alone tells you that it’s an essential film. Even if you don’t love it, you know the famous quote, and you need to have seen it just to understand it and reference it. All film buffs must see this. An all-time classic.

Julius Caesar is essential as a play, and this is the best screen version of it. Brando alone should make it something you want to watch. High recommend, not particularly essential, but essential in that Shakespeare way. The best versions of Shakespeare plays are, in their own way, essential. I think you should consider it essential because why would you not? Don’t rush to see it over the previous three films, but it’s something you should see as part of your cinematic education.

The Robe is essential historically. That is, it’s a very important film for film history, being the first CinemaScope film. So for a lot of film buffs, it’ll be essential. For the more casual ones, it’s just something I recommend pretty solidly. It’s very entertaining and looks great. But not something you particularly need to see. Though it might be funny for those who’ve seen Hail, Caesar! and want to see what movies they were parodying. So there’s that.

The Last Word: From Here to Eternity is a very solid winner, all-time. Roman Holiday is my preference and would have been as good a winner. But they made a good choice, and they made the best choice in the category. (There is a likely co-best choice, but they couldn’t have done better than they did.) No gripes here.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1954

The Caine Mutiny

The Country Girl

On the Waterfront

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Three Coins in the Fountain

Analysis:

The Caine Mutiny is one of the classics. I’m surprised it was even nominated. It feels like one of those movies we all love and we all know as a classic, but one that would never get its proper due. So to see it here is nice.

The beloved captain of a battleship is replaced. Humphrey Bogart is the new captain. While the previous captain was nice and chummy with his men, Bogart is cold and distant. And pretty soon he starts exhibiting weird behavior, focusing on things like how the men are dressed and missing strawberries from the mess hall. The men begin to think he’s mentally incompetent and soon, a mutiny occurs. (I mean, it’s in the title.)

It’s a great film, and it’s one of those where, I wish I could vote for it. But I feel like it’s one of those where, no matter what year it was in, it would never be higher than a second choice, which it is here. It’s solid and it’s great, but I don’t know if I love it enough to actually vote for it. Here, it’s a no-doubt second choice at best, simply because it’s up against one of the greatest films ever made. I think it being even a second choice in a Best Picture category is a huge win for it.

The Country Girl is such a great drama. One of those films that’s great when you watch it, very solid all around… and a fourth choice for Best Picture more years it would be nominated. Because it’s nice, but it’s stagy and is more about the performances than the overall film.

William Holden is a playwright casting his new play. He wants to cast Bing Crosby in it. Bing is a washed up drunk who used to be a great star. Holden’s backers think this is a horrible idea. Holden sticks to his guns and believes Crosby can do it. Crosby clearly can be great in the part, but seems to have a lack of confidence in his abilities. Holden believes this to be due to Crosby’s wife, Grace Kelly, who comes across as cold, demanding, and constantly keeping her husband under her thumb. Though the more things go on, the more Holden realizes things may not be as they seem, especially as he falls in love with Kelly.

It’s a really good movie. Not necessarily an all-time classic, but it’s a great film. Great performances and really engaging. Great nominee. Though it’s no better than a third choice (at best) in this category. There are two bonafide classics here, and when you put it against the other middle-of-the-road choice, it could go third or fourth depending on how you feel about either of them. Either way, never gonna be the vote.

On the Waterfront is an all-time classic that I hesitate to give you a synopsis for. Because it’s one of those… if you don’t know what this is and you like movies enough to read this article, what are you doing?

Marlon Brando is a dock worker dealing with the corruption of the boss who runs things. He struggles with having helped his brother (who works for the boss) and the boss’s men kill a friend of his and going along with a local priest, who wants the men to out the corruption on the docks. It’s perfect. I mean —

Is there any question that this wins automatically? Sure, a stronger year, we could have a conversation. But here, nothing comes close to this as a choice. What an easy winner.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is the best musical about Stockholm Syndrome there’s ever been.

A woodsman who lives in a remote cabin with his family decides its time he found a wife. He goes to town and meets one. They come back to the cabin. She meets his six brothers. They see how good she is for their brother and decide, “We should get wives too!” So they kidnap six women (essentially. It’s a musical, so it’s cutesy, but that’s basically what happens) and take them back to the cabin. Trouble is, winter is setting in and the snow blocks the pass to the cabin. So the women are stuck with the men until the snow thaws and the town is stuck on the other side and unable to get their women back. And over the course of the winter, a lot of song and dance happens, and the women teach the men to not live like animals and the men get the women to fall in love with them. Like I said, Stockholm Syndrome.

It’s awesome. It really is. I love this musical. I don’t know why I love it, but I do. Not sure where it ranks as a Best Picture nominee — I can’t believe they actually nominated it. But it’s here, so that’s cool. As much as I love it and would want an excuse to vote for it, even I wouldn’t. Especially not against On the Waterfront. Maybe I could make a case for this as a second choice, but even then — nah. Third choice maybe, on charm. But that’s it. This shouldn’t have won, as much as I love it.

Three Coins in the Fountain is one of those movies that only gets nominated in 1954.

It’s a romantic comedy shot in CinemaScope in Rome on location. Three American women in Rome find love. That’s it. That’s the film. It’s nice, it’s charming, it’s cute, but it’s of no substance and is the easy fifth choice in the category. I’m pretty sure the Technicolor widescreen and locations are 90% of why this got nominated. Because the film is just likable. It’s not great. But hey, whatever. I view these categories more as a history lesson than anything. It doesn’t matter what I’d prefer to see here instead. It’s about looking at the decisions they made and picking what I’d vote for. We clearly already know that part. So all this does for me is shows me where Hollywood was at in 1954. Which I like.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s On the Waterfront. Is there any other option here? I don’t see one. Three Coins in the Fountain would be a very 1954 choice, but have been a horrible winner. Bottom 10 all time. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers could maybe be considered a classic, but it would be bottom 15 all time, winners-wise. The Country Girl would seem classy, but not hold up. Also bottom 15-20 all-time, if it had won.

The Caine Mutiny is one that you could maybe make a case for and could have held up as a decent enough winner. But with On the Waterfront generally being considered one of the 100 greatest American movies ever made, even The Caine Mutiny would have looked terrible having beaten it. There’s only one choice in the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. On the Waterfront
  2. The Caine Mutiny
  3. The Country Girl
  4. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  5. Three Coins in the Fountain

Rankings (films):

  1. On the Waterfront
  2. The Caine Mutiny
  3. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  4. The Country Girl
  5. Three Coins in the Fountain

My Vote: On the Waterfront

Recommendations:

On the Waterfront is — no. I’m not even gonna say it. If you don’t know you need to have seen this by now, I can’t help you.

The Caine Mutinis an essential film. An all-time classic, and trust me, if you start out being a film buff the way we all do (the IMDB route), you’ll get to this really quickly and understand why it’s so good.

The Country Girl is one of the great dramas of the 50s. Not all-time essential, but a very high recommend. It’s essential for Oscar buffs and something I’d consider essential for all film buffs. Grace Kelly, William Holden and Bing Crosby all delivering great performances. If it were up to me, I’d say you needed to see this. It’s terrific.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a great musical. I love it so much. I can’t make the case that it’s overly essential, even though as far as musicals go, I’d say it is essential. I’d also say it’s essential because it’s actually a musical about Stockholm Syndrome, and it’s just incredible to watch. Very highly recommended and something I’d say is essential just because it’s so goddamn fun.

Three Coins in the Fountain is actually a solid film. Not particularly a classic or even that great a film, but it looks good and is fun. It’s worth a watch from a historical perspective, even if it’s not much more than a romantic comedy shot on location in CinemaScope. Worth a watch on TCM and for those delving into film history and the 50s, but otherwise not something you particularly need to see.

The Last Word: Continuing what I was saying up there, the other four choices would have been middling to bad choices as a Best Picture winner. The best case is The Caine Mutiny, which would fall to middle of the pack, slightly higher because people like it. The choice they made is universally regarded as one of the 20 best decisions they’ve ever made. It’s safe to say they made the right choice here.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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