Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rethinking Oscars Past

I heard a piece on NPR the other day about the Oscars of 1968. They discussed the five films up for Best Picture that year, and I was amazed at how wonderful the top five movies were, but I still wondered if the same picture that won would still be considered the best of the five 40 years later. The first film is good, but was never a real contender in my opinion, Doctor Dolittle was a musical version with Rex Harrison of a children's book about a man who could speak to animals and more importantly could understand the animals too. A great film, yes, and probably nominated because musicals had been big winners in the recent past (My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, West Side Story), but those were the last winners until Chicago in 2002. Now the other four movies nominated in 1968 are all incredibly famous and have really stood the test of time. Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, and the winner In the Heat of the Night. Bonnie and Clyde is a period piece about bank robbers from the early 1930s. The line "We rob banks." - Bonnie Parker lives on in the greatest lines of movie history. The story is huge, violent, based on a true story, and starring two Oscar nominated (and later Oscar winning) actors. Definitely a film ripe for Oscar glory.

However, in a year like 1968, it doesn't make the top 3 (again in my opinion). Actually, one of my other favorite movies from 1968 didn't even get nominated for Best Picture - Cool Hand Luke. What an amazing year. Sidney Poitier wasn't even nominated in an acting category even though he starred in TWO of the nominated films. Guess who's coming to dinner is an amazing look at race relations from a high-brow society perspective in just one family. With superb acting throughout, it was actually a miracle it got made (according to this NPR story). The movie couldn't even be shown in 16 states without riots, and just months before its release laws against miscegenation were ruled unconstitutional. Talk about a timely story being made to put a hollywood face on a public issue. It's a wonderful movie that still holds the test of time, even when few people would be shocked by inter-racial couples, due to the intricate writing and complex family relationships.

More has probably been written about The Graduate than any of the other films. They even made another movie about The Graduate origins (Rumor Has It). "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me." will always be recognized and being Mrs. Robinson was what people used to call "cougars" I think. Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft tear up the screen throughout this movie. I can't possibly due it the justice it deserves, but I'll assume everyone knows the movie, if only from the soundtrack. But I'm not sure it was the best movie.

I do think the best movie of the lot won for Best Picture. In the Heat of the Night is an awesome mystery story with an unlikely hero. Virgil Tibbs, a renowned Philadelphia homicide detective, is wrongly accused of a crime in rural Mississippi. Fighting all kinds of racism, he decides to help the police find the real criminal. Poitier is wonderful playing a character not often seen on film at the time. His simmering hatred for the people who belittle him is carefully controlled with the knowledge he is their superior in every way. It's a terrific suspenseful movie, that might even have grown greater over time for its snapshot of history. I watch it every time it's on. "They call me Mr. Tibbs" - Det. Virgil Tibbs.

Anyway, I sort of wanted to see what other people thought of these 5 films and if they would have chosen a winner differently than the Academy.


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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would go with "The Graduate." Still one of my favorite movies. Saw it twice the week it opened in 1968 and countless times since.

I want to be Vice President, too! said...

Forgot to sign!