Thursday, March 30, 2006


My 10 Worst List

Since we are nearing the end, I thought I'd go ahead and unveil my own list of the 10 Worst Best Picture Winners. I didn't want to do it any earlier to avoid looking like I was trying to influence the outcome. Since the final verdict is approaching, I figured I'd go ahead — especially since the announcement post threatens to be very long and I didn't want to clutter it up with my choices. So, here are the ones I voted for:

1. The Broadway Melody: I've actually seen (or endured in many cases) all 78 best picture winners and the second winner ever still holds the title for the worst for me. It's the creakiest and most dated of musicals. I know musicals were a relatively new genre once pictures could talk, but listening to this dialogue, you almost wish movies had stayed silent.

2. Cimarron: Another early winner that's as dusty as the Oklahoma land rush it depicts. The acting is staid, even from the great Irene Dunne, and it's just unbearable.

3. Gentleman's Agreement: I think it was Jack Warner who once said, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." While its message against anti-Semitism is certainly worthwhile,it's executed in the most stilted way and is one of the earliest examples of a film depicting discrimination where the hero is a white guy who isn't part of the oppressed group. What's even worse: this wasn't even the best film concerning anti-Semitism that the Academy nominated that year — Crossfire was much better.

4. Around the World in 80 Days: Cameos galore, globe hopping — what's not to love? Actually just about everything.

5. The Greatest Show on Earth: Cecil B. DeMille's circus epic is somewhat contradictory. It is truly terrible, but so much so that it's almost like a car wreck you just can't help but gawk at. The movie's one plus: James Stewart hidden beneath clown makeup in an unusual enigmatic performance.

6. Gladiator: Ugh. How did this mess manage to win? I can't remember what critic wrote it but I've always loved the line about Russell Crowe's Oscar-winning performance that asked why a Spaniard fighting for the Romans had an Australian accent. I think the answer is simple: Nothing in this movie mattered. You can almost excuse the Academy for some of its early awful winners, but by the year 2000, they should have known better.

7. The Deer Hunter: I just rewatched this within the past few months and boy was it worse than I remembered. It's overlong, borderline racist and xenophobic and it's a miracle the actors managed to give good performances when there is no character depth to choose from. Ostensibly about Vietnam, there is really only one sequence of actual combat before it delves into its Russian roulette metaphor. There are lots of scenes that seem to make no sense or go nowhere — you see Meryl Streep's character abused early by her father, but that seems to go nowhere. I'm still not clear about the conflict between John Cazale and John Savage over Savage's bride. (BLOGGER'S NOTE: An anonymous poster caught my original goof when I called John Savage John Heard. That's what I get for doing these thing in a sleepy haze in the middle of the night). The entire film is just a mess and its attempts to elicit emotional responses usually fail — by the time the survivors start singing "God Bless America" around the dinner table, instead of being touched I felt more like laughing out loud.

8. Ben-Hur: Sort of an earlier template for Gladiator — except Russell Crowe, who didn't deserve his win, can at least act while the win by the stiff Charlton Heston makes the journey through this overlong tripe nearly unbearable. A great chariot race does not a best picture make.

9. Braveheart: Mel Gibson's epic portrayal of the story of William Wallace is undermined by needless homophobia and a choppy pace. Maybe it would have played better in Aramaic.

10. Platoon: Oliver Stone's first swipe at the monkey on his back is nearly unwatchable now. It does score points for at least actually depicting combat in Vietnam, but by framing it in the most simplistic of good versus evil metaphors as exemplified by Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger and laying on top of that obvious and trite voiceover narration by Charlie Sheen, it just looks silly now.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


"It's not satire, it's sheer reportage"

NOTE: Ranked No. 7 on my all-time top 100 of 2012

By Edward Copeland
Those words are Sidney Lumet's frequent replies to people who have complimented him over the past 30 years on his great film Network and his words grow truer with each passing year. Each time one revisits Paddy Chayefsky's masterpiece, you are startled by yet another section of near prophecy within it.

With the recent release of a sparkling 2-disc DVD set of the film, I returned to Network once again. I've watched this movie countless times, but it seems I always learn something new. The moment of prescience in the 1976 film that grabbed my attention this time is when Howard Beale urges his audience to stop an Arab front company from buying the corporation that owns the TV network and mentions in passing all the U.S. entities Arabs control including, "The Port of New Orleans." Gee — how about the for pre-9/11 mentality? I wonder if Dubya had watched the movie before the port deal went bellyup, he might have tried to deliver a rousing Ned Beatty-esque speech on corporate cosmology, but I imagine that speech contained far too many big words for Dubya to wrap his mouth around.

I've loved Network for a long time, but I'm curious as to how it would play to fresh eyes today when so much of what once seemed absurd, seems commonplace today. That's what makes George Clooney's screwball notion of remaking Network as a live TV event even nuttier. Clooney himself argued that he was shocked that kids today didn't get the satirical elements — so how exactly would re-doing it fix that — especially on network television, where the language would be sanitized — and he would try to find ways to update allusions to things such as Patty Hearst to today's audience. George, you've got your undeserved Oscar for supporting actor, now go back and make Ocean's 13 and leave well enough alone.

Excuse my rant, but it seems only appropriate when revisiting Network to let a little ranting shine through. You can almost follow the throughline from the appearance of Howard Beale to the likes of Morton Downey Jr. into the right-wind radio ravers of today.

One thing I learned from this new DVD set that I didn't realize before, since even the previous laserdisc version wasn't of the best quality, was the conscious decision Lumet and his great cinematographer Owen Roizman made to corrupt the image as the characters in the film are corrupted. It starts with almost all-natural lighting, then by the end it grows more and more artificial until it resembles, as Lumet says in the commentary track, "a Ford commercial."

Lumet also mentions in his commentary that everything the film foretold has come true except for the killing of a network anchor over lousy ratings. When you think about it, when CBS had to dump Dan Rather, weren't you a little surprised that they didn't kill him live on the evening news?

The acting is still as great as ever. William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight all deserved their Oscar nominations (and in the cases of Finch and Dunaway, their wins). The only regret to me is that Robert Duvall's great work in the movie always has been lost in the praise.

What's more amazing to me than Chayefsky's prescience is the brilliance of his dialogue. Has there ever been a movie with this many great, memorable lengthy monologues? When is the last time you saw a movie that had any lengthy monologue comparable to the bountiful supply Chayefsky's script produces. Of course, Finch gets the bulk of the great ones, but Beatty and Straight were essentially nominated for one great monologue each. Holden gets a couple as well. Really, Faye Dunaway's character is the only one who doesn't really get a lengthy monologue — and that makes perfect sense because, as Holden's character puts it, she is "television incarnate" and lacks the attention span for such lengthy language.

One criticism I've often heard made against Network is that it's preachy and really, I don't think that is true at all but stems more from people viewing it through the prism of what television is like today. It may seem like it's taking easy swipes at news as entertainment and reality TV — but those things, especially the latter, weren't as prevalent or widespread in 1976.

As for the DVD set itself, it's a must for any fan of the film. Not only is it the best copy of the film I've ever seen, Lumet's commentary is great — even if he repeats a lot from the excellent documentary on Disc 2 and his Robert Osborne TCM interview. The real find on the set though is an appearance by Paddy Chayefsky himself on The Dinah Shore Show surrounded by guests like Steve Lawrence. Unless you are a Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino, when is the last time you saw ANY screenwriter as a guest on a talk show (and George Clooney doesn't count).

Network has been on my all-time 10 best list for a long time — and I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon.

OSCAR ADDENDUM: Coming off this year's Oscars, where four films tied for the most wins with three each, it's worth noting that in 1976 Network and All the President's Men tied for the most with four wins each — but best picture winner Rocky only managed to take home three.

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Monday, March 13, 2006


Maureen Stapleton (1925-2006)

Four-time Oscar nominee and one-time Oscar winner Maureen Stapleton has passed away at 80. A quick look back at some of her career highlights.
  • Lonelyhearts (1958): Her feature film debut also earned her her first Academy Award nomination for supporting actress in this fair but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to transfer Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts to the screen. Stapleton though was superb.
  • Airport (1970): The prototype of the '70s disaster film craze earned Stapleton her second nomination, though she lost to co-star Helen Hayes' cutesy stowaway. However, Stapleton's performance was the better of the two, bringing true pathos to a woman who realizes her husband is so desperate he is going to do something terrible and there is nothing she can do to stop it.
  • Plaza Suite (1972): Walter Matthau was the real star in this adaptation of Neil Simon's stage hit and Stapleton's segment may have been the weakest of the three, but she did her job.
  • Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975): Stapleton truly shined in this made-for-TV movie as an older woman finding new life and love in ballroom dancing. The movie later inspired the stage musical Ballroom.
  • Interiors (1978): Stapleton earned her third supporting actress nomination for Woody Allen's first attempt at straight drama and whenever her character came on screen, she gave the movie a vitality that the rest of it was sadly lacking.
  • Reds (1981): The fourth time was the charm for Stapleton who won the Oscar for her work as Emma Goldman in Warren Beatty's bloated telling of the Russian Revolution. Interesting sidenote: Of that year's acting winners, Stapleton was the youngest at merely 56.
  • Johnny Dangerously (1984): I was never a fan of this Michael Keaton comedy, but Stapleton was a hoot as his mom.
  • Cocoon (1985): One of the great ensemble of older actors, Stapleton was fine as Wilford Brimley's wife, even though many of the other actors got much meatier scenes.
  • Heartburn (1986): Nora Ephron's underrated roman-a-clef of her marriage to Carl Bernstein included a sly turn by Stapleton as Meryl Streep's therapist.

  • There were many other titles I've never seen — I've heard that 1987's Sweet Lorraine was a particularly great moment for Stapleton.

    RIP Maureen Stapleton.

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    Thursday, March 09, 2006


    Enough with the remakes already

    By Edward Copeland
    I've long ranted against remakes, usually when they remake movies that were good in the first place and inevitably make an inferior product. I've also argued that the only ones worth remaking are movies that were flawed significantly in the first place. (Example: The remake of Ocean's 11 was better than the original because the original wasn't that good.) The only example I can think of where a remake was better than the original that was also good is His Girl Friday and The Front Page.

    Anyway, enough of my repeating myself. My point is that remakemania is out of hand — no matter what the original source was. Two remakes are opening tomorrow alone. Look at this list of remakes of movies and TV shows released or to be released this year alone — and these were all I could find with a cursory look.

    When a Stranger Calls
    16 Blocks (pretty much a remake of Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet)
    The Pink Panther
    All the King's Men
    The Hills Have Eyes
    Last Holiday
    The Shaggy Dog
    The Omen
    Miami Vice
    Charlotte's Web

    I'm not even listing countless sequels or "reimaginings." That may not look like a lot, but there are even more in various stages of production that may or may not show up in 2006. Look at what 2005 brought us.
    The Amityville Horror
    Assault on Precinct 13
    The Bad News Bears
    The Bridge of San Luis Rey
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    The Dukes of Hazzard
    The Fog
    Fun With Dick and Jane
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    The Honeymooners
    House of Wax
    King Kong
    The Longest Yard
    Oliver Twist
    Pride and Prejudice
    War of the Worlds
    Yours, Mine and Ours

    I even gave a pass to The Producers since it was an adaptation of the stage musical, not an exact remake of the 1968 movie, though it might as well have been. Then Hollywood scratches its collective head, wondering why box office is down.



    Friday, March 03, 2006


    Nashville's rise onto my Top 10 all-time list

    NOTE: Ranked No. 4 on my all-time top 100 of 2012

    By Edward Copeland
    Joining in the Robert Altman Blog-a-Thon ahead of his overdue and richly deserved honorary Oscar on Sunday, I wasn't sure what approach to take. I could do a more detailed overview of his movies that I love or I could concentrate on one. I've chosen the latter tack because Nashville is on my short-hand list for my 10 favorite films of all time and I love it more each time I see it. I'm not going to waste time doing a full-blown review of it — I just want to get personal and chart the course of my relationship with his 1975 masterpiece.

    My first exposure to Nashville came in the late 1970s when I was in grade school. This was back when the three television networks routinely and frequently filled their schedules with theatrical films. ABC in particular loved to promote upcoming titles and I believe that was my first exposure to Nashville — in an ABC promo of what movies were coming up. It looked interesting to me, but I don't remember it actually ever playing or having watched it then.

    Flash forward to my junior high years when my Oscar obsession was in full swing, my family had finally relented and said goodbye to our Betamax in favor of a VHS and Blockbuster appeared. This was back when Blockbuster seemed to be a movie lover's utopia before I turned on it and never went back into a store. They had a cassette of Nashville so I took it home to watch. Of course, it was cropped, but I wasn't a proper ratio stickler then, and the print was really faded. Still, I fell in love with it almost immediately, even to the point of eventually hooking up two VCRs and dubbing an illegal copy of it, which was of even worse quality than the original.

    I'm not sure what initially attracted me so strongly to the movie, but I'm sure part of it is the large ensemble. At the time, my favorite television shows were large-cast dramas such as Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere and Nashville's broad canvas of characters appealed to me, To this day, I still have a soft spot for multicharacter movies (unless they are undercooked and absurd Altman knockoffs such as Magnolia) and TV shows. (I worship HBO's The Wire — and even I sometimes lose track of who some of the characters are.) The large casts seemed more reflective of life, which at that time centered around school with several teachers and countless students interacting with me throughout the day. It was the same way through college and to my eventual career in newspapers — my life always had a large cast, so TV shows and movies with large casts made sense to me.

    Over the years, I returned to Nashville again and again, finding new things each time. My interest in it even led me to watching O.C. & Stiggs on late-night pay cable. I had no idea at the time that it was an Altman movie, but it contained references to Nashville's political candidate Hal Philip Walker and I figured it must be worth a look. Of course, the movie really wasn't, but Nashville is one of those rare films that left me wanting more. There were rumors that Altman would cut a longer version for television and after the success of The Player in the 1990s, even talk of a sequel. I usually frown upon sequels, but I longed for the extended version or a chance to revisit those characters.

    Finally, in 1998 or 1999, I happened to be in New York when Lincoln Center held a showing of a restored print of the film — and it was a revelation. Getting to see it in its widescreen glory with crisp colors, I fell in love all over again. I think I spent most of the train ride home humming "It Don't Worry Me." Finally, a few years back, it finally got the DVD release it deserved (and never got on laserdisc) using the restored print and with an Altman commentary. Altman is not only one of the all-time great directors, I've also found him to be the most consistently interesting on audio commentary tracks of his films.

    Once I had a chance to interview Altman (alas, it was for the wretched Ready to Wear) and he said one thing that has always stuck with me and that I think certainly applies to Nashville. He said with most movies, it's always better watching them the second time, because the first time you are too preoccupied with what is going to happen. With a second viewing, you can relax and just let the film unfold before you. I think that is true of many of Altman's films —but it's not enough to convince me to look at Ready to Wear again.

    I can't remember for sure when Nashville leaped onto my top 10 list — or even when I finally got around to making one, but it's remained there until this day alongside Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Dr. Strangelove, Goodfellas, Network, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Rear Window, The Rules of the Game and Sunset Blvd. My personal rule for a film to be eligible for my all-time list is that a film has to be at least 10 years old, so I can have time to revisit it and not to rush to overpraise it in my initial euphoria. Goodfellas is the most recent film on the list, unfortunately bumping Singin' in the Rain down to 11, but I haven't seen anything between 1991 and 1996 that I think has a shot of landing on this list some day. Perhaps it will happen, but Nashville's place on the list is fairly secure and I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon. Now, if you'll excuse me, I feel like popping in my CD of the Nashville soundtrack.

    P.S.: Here's where the 24 actors who made up the main ensemble of Nashville are today.

    David Arkin (Norman) had previously appeared in the Altman films MASH and The Long Goodbye would also appear in Altman's Popeye. It was his last film. He committed suicide in 1991. He was 49.

    Barbara Baxley (Lady Pearl) last appeared in the 1990 films The Exorcist III and A Shock to the System. She died the same year of a heart attack. She was 67.

    Ned Beatty (Delbert Reese) remains one of our most prolific actors. The year after Nashville he received an Oscar nomination for supporting actor for his mesmerizing monologue in Network. He also worked with Altman in Cookie's Fortune.

    Karen Black (Connie White) has really seen her star fall since her heyday in the 1970s. She died after a three-year bout with cancer in August 2013.

    Ronee Blakley (Barbara Jean) never got another role even close to her Oscar-nominated turn in Nashville. Her most recent credit on windup is a 1990 film called Murder By Numbers. She also appeared in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.

    Timothy Brown (Tommy Brown) had a small role in Altman's MASH and would later go on to make several appearances in the TV version of M*A*S*H as Spearchucker Jones. His most recent film credit is 2000's Frequency.

    Keith Carradine (Tom Frank) won the only Oscar that Nashville received for writing the song "I'm Easy." He's worked continuously since and also appeared in Altman's Thieves Like Us and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. He also has worked extensively with Altman's protégé Alan Rudolph. His most recent appearance of note was as Wild Bill Hickok in the first four episodes of HBO's Deadwood. Ironically, he previously had appeared in Walter Hill's Wild Bill as Buffalo Bill Cody, who of course was also the subject of an Altman movie.

    Geraldine Chaplin (Opal) worked again with Altman in Buffalo Bill and the Indians and A Wedding. Her film debut was an uncredited appearance in 1952's Limelight, made by her father, Charlie Chaplin. Most of her work these days is in foreign productions, most notably Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her.

    Robert DoQui (Wade Cooley) also appeared in Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians but as before Nashville, most of his work is guest shots on episodic television. He died in 2008 at 74.

    Shelley Duvall (Marthe aka LA Joan) has worked extensively with Altman in Brewster McCloud, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, 3 Women and Popeye. Outside of those, her most notable films have been The Shining and Roxanne.

    Allen Garfield (Barnett) still works steadily with his most notable recent film being 2001's The Majestic.

    Henry Gibson (Haven Hamilton) also worked with Altman on The Long Goodbye, A Perfect Couple and HealtH. He works steadily in both film and television, appearing on TV's Boston Legal and in the box office hit Wedding Crashers. He died of cancer in 2009 at 74.

    Scott Glenn (Pfc. Glenn Kelly) has been a constant presence in movies since Nashville including such notable films as Apocalypse Now, The Right Stuff and The Silence of the Lambs.

    Jeff Goldblum (Tricycle Man) appeared in Altman's California Split prior to Nashville. He has worked nearly nonstop on stage, screen and TV in films ranging from The Big Chill and The Right Stuff to David Cronenberg's The Fly and blockbusters such as Jurassic Park and Independence Day. He also rotated as one of the lead detectives on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

    Barbara Harris (Albuquerque) always has been a rare presence in movies and television except for this period in the mid 1970s, which also included Family Plot and, close to my heart, her appearance in the original Freaky Friday. She was last seen on screen as John Cusack's mother in Grosse Pointe Blank.

    David Hayward (Kenny) most recently appeared in 2003's A View from the Top. He has done lots of TV work ranging from ER to an appearance in the last season of Soap as Slim, a cowboy who gives Jodie (Billy Crystal) a tip as to whereabouts of his kidnapped daughter.

    Michael Murphy (John Triplette) went from campaign manager in Nashville to the candidate himself in Altman's great HBO series Tanner '88. He reprised the role in the follow-up Tanner on Tanner and also worked with Altman on Countdown, MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial and Kansas City. Other notable films include Manhattan and An Unmarried Woman.

    Allan Nicholls (Bill) also appeared in Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians, A Wedding, A Perfect Couple, HealtH and Popeye, but most of his work has been behind the camera, often as an assistant director, including on Altman's Streamers, Secret Honor, The Laundromat, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, The Player, Short Cuts and Tanner on Tanner. He also has worked as a producer on all three of the films Tim Robbins has directed and Altman's Quintet.

    Dave Peel (Bud) is a bit of a mystery. IMDb lists only one other credit besides Nashville and provides no other information.

    Cristina Raines (Mary) has worked mostly on TV since Nashville, including as a regular on the nighttime soap Flamingo Road.

    Bert Remsen (Star) was a frequent presence in Altman's films, appearing in Brewster McCloud, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us, California Split, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, A Wedding and a cameo in The Player. He died of heart failure in 1999 at 74.

    Lily Tomlin (Linnea Reese) followed up her Oscar-nominated turn in Nashville with much work on stage, screen and TV, including working with Altman again on Short Cuts and the forthcoming A Prairie Home Companion.

    Gwen Welles (Sueleen Gay) also appeared in Altman's California Split. She died of cancer in 1993 at 42.

    Keenan Wynn (Mr. Green) was a familiar character actor before and after Nashville. He also appeared in another of my top 10 films of all time, Dr. Strangelove. He died of cancer in 1986 at 70.

    Because I can't get enough of Altman this weekend, I thought I'd also toss in a list of my 10 favorite Altman movies.
    1. Nashville
    2. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
    3. MASH
    4. The Player
    5. Short Cuts
    6. The Long Goodbye
    7. California Split
    8. Streamers
    9. 3 Women
    10. Thieves Like Us

    Finally, a self-indulgent trivia question relating to my all-time top 10 list in this piece. Four performers appear in two movies on the list. Who are they?

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    When was the moment that you felt the Oscars betrayed you?

    By Edward Copeland
    My good friend Matt Zoller Seitz has went on a rant at his blog about how if Crash should pull an upset victory Sunday night for best picture it would be the most indefensible Oscar win since Around the World in 80 Days and he will cease to care about the awards. In a way, I know how he feels. I don't share his sentiments about Crash, but I think any movie buff with even a casual interest in the Academy Awards always gets riled by their picks. We don't like to admit it — but that's part of the enjoyment of the whole enterprise — getting thoroughly pissed off over what the Academy picks when it doesn't matter in the end and we'll come back for more anyway. In a way, it's like some of us are in an abusive relationship with Oscar — we threaten to leave every time he smacks us, but something convinces us that Oscar loves us anyway and we refuse to leave him.

    The first truly outraged moment (actually moments) I can remember all involved the 1985 race. First, there were the nominations where The Color Purple got 11 nominations but none for Steven Spielberg as director. At the time, Spielberg was like a demigod to many of us, so our outrage was fierce and palpable, though when time passed and some of us saw The Color Purple again, we had to wonder if it would have gotten the notice it did if Spielberg's name hadn't been attached.

    Then the real straw that broke that camel's back came on Oscar night itself — even though we knew victory was a near certainty. Don Ameche got supporting actor for Cocoon — and he wasn't even the best supporting actor in Cocoon. He didn't do his own breakdancing either. Not to mention, the truly worthy winners he defeated, namely William Hickey in Prizzi's Honor and Klaus Maria Brandauer in Out of Africa. Hell, even Robert Loggia in Jagged Edge or Eric Roberts in Runaway Train would have been better choices. My friend Dave and I declared that Oscar was dead to us — that night Sydney Pollack took director over John Huston and Akira Kurosawa as well, so the whole night qualified as cultural crime against humanity.

    I got over it. I always come back for more, but their winners don't have the ability to really anger me much anymore. I admit — I did almost physically retch when Russell Crowe, who I like as an actor, won for his nonrole in Gladiator, but that's the closest I've come to the 1985 feeling. I can't remember what critic wrote it but I loved the line about Crowe in Gladiator who asked why a Spaniard fighting for the Romans had an Australian accent.

    If you look through the entire history of the Oscar, the times the Academy got it wrong overwhelmingly outnumber the times they got it right. Look at its best picture winners — of that list the only winners I would truly call the greatest of films, in the all-time sense, are It Happened One Night, Gone With the Wind (and that wouldn't even have been my pick for 1939), Casablanca, All About Eve, On the Waterfront, The Apartment, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, Annie Hall, Amadeus and Schindler's List with several near greats such as All Quiet on the Western Front, Rebecca, The Sting, The Godfather Part II, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Terms of Endearment and The Last Emperor.

    Contrast those though with the mediocrities that prevailed. I'll give Wings a pass only because I've never been able to see its competitors and the Academy shuffled the year's masterpieces The Crowd and Sunrise to a separate category called "Artistic Quality of Production" which it promptly abandoned after the first year, as if they knew the Oscar was destined to aim for the middlebrow audience.

    They proved it the following year with The Broadway Melody which remains my choice for the worst best picture ever. Try watching it — it's so creaky you'll expect your VCR or DVD player to fall right through the floor.

    Then there were more mediocrities: Cimarron, The Great Ziegfeld, The Life of Emile Zola — for the most part the '30s played like that whole section of 19th century presidents when we had Fillmore, Pierce and the like.

    The '40s weren't much better. There was the watch-paint-drying exercise that is Mrs. Miniver, the overlong hokum of Going My Way, the noble but awful Gentleman's Agreement.

    Then we hit the 50s — with some of the most mind-boggling winners ever. I know there are many fans of An American in Paris, but it's never done anything for me. Of course, this decade also went with The Greatest Show on Earth, Around the World with 80 Days and a pair of the most overrated films of all time — Bridge on the River Kwai and Ben-Hur.

    Things improved a bit in the 1960s, even if the best films still didn't win. The only winner I truly don't like is Tom Jones.

    The 1970s have given us a crop of winners that largely have aged badly. Patton and The French Connection to be sure. Rocky, whose worst crime is being picked over the likes of All the President's Men, Network and Taxi Driver. Then you get to 1978 and the interminable, xenophobic, borderline racist and character-less Deer Hunter which defeated the equally dated Coming Home and Midnight Express. I haven't seen An Unmarried Woman recently to see how it holds up, but at this point it looks like Heaven Can Wait is likely to emerge as the best of their lot.

    In the 1980s, we start out with the kitchen-sink melodrama Ordinary People conquering Raging Bull. In 1981, we get the dull Chariots of Fire whose most exciting moment was being the last time a best picture winner was a surprise. Gandhi is OK, but over Tootsie and E.T.? Out of Africa beating Prizzi's Honor? The now laughable Platoon topping not only Hannah and Her Sisters but A Room With a View as well. Rain Man
    don't even get me started.

    Then the 1990s started with the outrage of outrages when the masterpiece Goodfellas lost to Dances With Wolves, though the outrage would have been just as great if it had lost to ANY of its competitors: Awakenings, Ghost and The Godfather, Part III.

    1995 may have been another lowpoint for Oscar, not only because Braveheart won but because the field was so weak that my favorite film may have been about a pig that herded sheep.

    The bore that is The English Patient won the next year over the monumentally overrated Fargo and the Rain Man with a piano tale that was Shine. The best of their weak lot was Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies, but he's done better, and Jerry Maguire. The true crime of 1996 was that Lone Star wasn't even in the top five.

    The next year brought Titanic, the effects extravaganza with dialogue so putrid the movie would play better if you brought something else to listen to — and it beat the exquisite L.A. Confidential to boot.

    The Aughts have not been much kinder. There has yet to be a winner that I think will truly be one for the time capsule. Chicago and Million Dollar Baby are fine, but forgettable. A Beautiful Mind almost defines mediocre. Return of the King was more a testament to them feeling they owed Jackson's bloated epic something. Fellowship was the only one I liked overall. The rest were just good sequences surrounded by lots of boring scenes and dialogue that sounded like George Lucas' worst Star Wars dialogue with delusions of grandeur. I think the whole trilogy would have been helped if instead of Elijah Wood, they'd actually picked a lead who I believed for a moment might be tempted by the ring. It says a lot about the trilogy that the best character was computer generated.

    Then there is the absolute bottom of the barrel of the aughts — Gladiator — whose win to this day boggles my mind.

    Yes, Oscar will seldom get it right and seldom has — and I haven't even touched and the outrages of acting wins like Helen Hunt and her wandering accent in As Good As It Gets. Oscar always makes us mad — and that's really why we love Oscar. It's the same impulse that sends us to every new ridiculous Entertainment Weekly or AFI list just so we can complain about them.

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