Sunday, February 25, 2007

Five Years Oscar Got It Wrong

The Academy Awards take place tonight, and in a year when the only major race that appears to be contentious is the one for Best Picture (conventional wisdom says Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy and—knock on wood—Martin Scorsese have their categories in the bag), we look back on the top five years the Academy had a choice to make in handing out its top Oscar . . . and blew it.

5. 1980
Raging Bull lost to Ordinary People.

Vincent Canby says, “Though it's a movie full of anger and nonstop physical violence, the effect of ‘Raging Bull’ is lyrical. To witness Jake's fury is to swing through the upper atmosphere of the emotions. It's breathtaking and a little scary.”

Dave Kehr says, “[‘Ordinary People’ is] [v]ery much a melodrama of the 80s, following the example of ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ by balancing emotional goo with bleached, sterile visuals.”

4. 1994
Both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption lost to Forrest Gump.

Desson Howe says, “‘Pulp Fiction’ is everything it’s said to be: brilliant and brutal, funny and exhilarating, jaw-droppingly cruel and disarmingly sweet.”

Rita Kempley says, “[‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is] not a typical story from the horror King. Instead, it's a devoutly old-fashioned, spiritually uplifting prison drama about two lifers who must break their emotional shackles before they can finally become free men.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum says, “Judging by the [‘Forrest Gump’’s] enduring popularity, the message that stupidity is redemption is clearly what a lot of Americans want to hear.”

See the top three . . .

3. 1941
Citizen Kane lost to How Green Was My Valley.

Bosley Crowther says, “‘Citizen Kane’ is far and away the most surprising and cinematically exciting motion picture to be seen here in many a moon. As a matter of fact, it comes close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood.”

Kevin Smokler says, “After all, America’s paeans to ordinary people and their dreams hit their peak in 1941, hot on the heels of WPA murals and Dorothea Lange’s photographs. . . . [‘How Green Was My] Valley’ still strikes me some kind of virgin artifact, a relic cast in mythology before it was even born.”

2. 2005
Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash.

Kenneth Turan says, “‘Brokeback Mountain’ is a groundbreaking film because it isn't. It's a deeply felt, emotional love story that deals with the uncharted, mysterious ways of the human heart just as so many mainstream films have before it. The two lovers here just happen to be men.”

Michael Atkinson says, “Full of well-observed supporting riffs, ‘Crash’ might've accumulated more frisson had it cast a clearer eye on how social tension actually plays.”

1. 1964
Dr. Strangelove lost to My Fair Lady.

Michael Wilmington says, “[‘Dr. Strangelove’ is] the greatest nuclear holocaust comedy of all time. . . . This landmark movie's madcap humor and terrifying suspense remain undiminished by time.”

Geoff Andrew says, “[Audrey] Hepburn is clearly awkward as the Cockney Eliza in the first half [of ‘My Fair Lady’], and in general the adaptation is a little too reverential to really come alive.”

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