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OSCARS: Not the ‘Best’ pic(k)s!

Monday, February 28, 2011
By Ranjib Mazumder

It’s that time of the year again when the magic of motion pictures has been celebrated and Oscar came home with glitz, glamour and cinematic achievements. Like every other award on this planet, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have faltered on many occasions and gone for populist choices or resorted to atonement for past sins. The ceremony is on February 27 and we look at ten films that were good but not great enough to win the ‘Best Picture’ trophy.
10 The Departed: We all admire Martin Scorsese and we always wanted his films to win Best Picture and Best Director respectively which he missed for masterpieces like Taxi Driver, The Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Gangs of New York or The Aviator.  But that hardly meant that he gets the long overdue for a gangster film which can hardly come close to his earlier underworld greats.  The Departed was good but not good enough in comparison to other Best Picture nominees like Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine and masterpieces relegated to foreign language category like The Lives of Others (Germany) and Pan’s Labyrinth (Mexico). It’s hardly Scorsese’s best work, and it hardly measures up to the magnificently twisted plotting of the film it was based on: Infernal Affairs. When it comes to determining the Best Picture, it should be based on the film in question rather Academy’s idea of correcting its past mistakes.
9 Rocky: The rag to riches American Dream story of Rocky Balboa was a film where Sylvester Stallone mumbled his way through two hours of a formulaic boxing script. It was not a bad film and was okay for its time but pales very badly in comparison to other nominees in the Best Picture category. They had Alan J. Pakula’s brilliant political thriller All the President’s Men, Sidney Lumet’s mindboggling take on media in Network and above all, Martin Scorsese’s showing his brilliance in Taxi Driver. These three movies are major classics of our era on their own. Moreover, Stallone has diluted his cheesy commercial pot-boiler with endless sequels to it.
8 Chicago: Rob Marshall is no Bob Fosse. It’s still a mystery how the Rob Marshall adaptation of the satirical stage musical actually managed to win the big trophy. It had competition from Roman Polanski’s poignant biopic of Władysław Szpilman, The Pianist, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Gangs of New York, a period gangster film from Martin Scorsese. Other prominent films in the run were Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt, Spike Jonze’s quirky Adaptation and Pedro Almodovar’s heartbreaking tale of love, Talk To Her. Even the foreign language category had strong films like Hero by Zhang Yimou (China) and Aki Kaurismäki’s The Man Without a Past (Finland). Forget the human actors, it was also the year when Hayao Miyazaki’s phenomenal Spirited Away won best animated feature. Giving it Best Picture wouldn’t have been a bad idea since it’s a far better film than Chicago.
7 Shakespeare in Love: No, we are not criticising Shakespeare in Love here because it was an innovative and clever romantic comedy, and there are far inferior films out there, but to say that it was the best of that year is something very difficult to digest. Putting “Shakespeare” in the title doesn’t mean that it comes with the Bard’s seal of approval and hence a worthy winner. It was the year when Spielberg unleashed one of the best war epics on us, Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick who makes films very rarely gave us beautiful The Thin Red Line. Foreign films like Majidi’s almost perfect children’s film Children of Heaven, Brazilian film Central Station and Italian film Life is Beautiful were in the race too. The blooper? Well, the biggest cult of internet era, Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski wasn’t even considered for a nomination.
6 Gigi: Gigi won nine Oscars including Best Picture and how sad it is considering it was almost an average film in comparison to some of the films that were released the same year. Alfred Hitchcock made his most personal work in Vertigo, French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s made his delightful visual comedy Mon Oncle and Orson Welles gave us Touch of Evil, another noir classic to relish for lifetime. On its own, Gigi is nowhere close to great musicals that Hollywood has produced and to be honest, there is hardly any dancing or musical footwork going on. No questions about the weak set of nominees in the Best Picture category but worst come worst, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Defiant Ones are also better in assessment.
5 How Green Was My Valley: John Ford is a great director and his story of the Morgans, a close, hard-working Welsh family in the South Wales coalfield made for a decent movie too. Since its big night at the Academy Awards, it’s remembered more as the film that beat Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane which was crowned by AFI as the greatest film and now gets the top place in most of the lists of greatest films ever made. Probably the greatest blunder in the history of Academy Awards, Citizen Kane won only Best Original Screenplay — even though the movie completely changed the way we look at cinema for all time. And the other nominees included the great detective noir The Maltese Falcon, Hitchcock’s Suspicion andHawks’ Sergeant York. Oh wait, even the Disney animation Dumbo is a greater work.
4 Oliver!: Since Carol Reed was largely ignored by the Academy for his noir masterpiece The Third Man, they corrected their error by handing him the Oscar for a musical based on the Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist. Notice the exclamation mark of the title which might be expressing the bewilderment. It was the year when Mel Brooks came up with the hilarious The Producers, John Cassavetes changed the face of independent cinema with Faces, Roman Polanski haunted us with his creepy Rosemary’s Baby and Gillo Pontecorvo produced his highly influential The Battle of Algiers; special mention for the science fiction classic Planet of The Apes. In the foreign language category, we had Miloš Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball, a milestone of the Czechoslovak New Wave and Sergei Bondarchuk’s adaptation of War and Peace which can challenge Gone with the Wind for its grandeur and majestic sweep among others. But the criminal act was Stanley Kubrick winning visual effects Oscar for 2001: A Space Odyssey, the only Oscar he would ever win. And we are not addressing the legacy and influence of Kubrick’s film which George Lucas called ‘hugely inspirational’, while labelling Kubrick as ‘the filmmaker’s filmmaker’.
3 Around the World in 80 Days: Unlike the Jules Verne novel which fuelled the imagination of immeasurable readers worldwide, the film version is a long tedious and not-so-interesting film. With innumerable cameos of from Hollywood starts at the time, it might have won the golden trophy thanks to the people associated with it in one or way or another. Annoyingly outdated, it looks like a dull travel video put up by set piece after set piece minus the focus on plot. And it won against films like The Ten Commandments, Giant and Anastasia which are still high on entertainment quotient. And the embarrassing part is that John Ford’s classicThe Searchers, widely regarded as the greatest western ever made failed to receive a single nomination.
2 Braveheart: Okay, we understand it had one of the best battle scenes in cinema history and grand in scale which the Academy loves but Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s story of William Wallace and his battle against English rule in medieval Scotland has too many negatives going for it even if you don’t consider the other nominees. The film has faltered in reputation with abundant historical inaccuracies which includes the portrayal of Robert the Bruce and alleged anti-gay depictions while The Economist famously called the film ‘xenophobic’. This bloated film of fictional reality came out in the year of Apollo 13, Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas, Se7en, Il Postino, The Usual Suspects and above all the groundbreaking animated film, Toy Story. Do you honestly think that Braveheart was better than those?
1The Greatest Show on Earth: Some of the floated rumours said that the film’s Best Picture Oscar was due to the political climate in Hollywood in 1952 where Senator Joseph McCarthy was pursuing Communists at the time, and Cecil B. DeMille was one of his supporters; another Best Picture nominee, High Noon, was produced by Carl Foreman, who would soon be on the Hollywood blacklist. Whatever the case, this glorious case of Academy’s slip-up has been highly publicised since then as its unworthiness is written during every Oscar season. It had stiff competition from the well deserving High Noon and John Ford’s The Quiet Man in the category of Best Picture. Highly regarded as the greatest musical ever made, Singin’ in the Rain was not even acknowledged by the Academy that year.

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