Hogan's Alley

Friday, February 23, 2007

How Do Past Oscar Winners Stand Up?

If you have ever been certain that the best film of a given year was not selected by the Oscar voters, here is your chance to see that judgment quantified. The folks at Rotten Tomatoes have applied their numerical rating scheme to the 79 films that have won the Best Picture Academy Award over the years. The resultant ranking can be accessed, sadly, only one film at a time.

Suffice it to say that the list includes such dreck as Cimarron and The Greatest Show On Earth at the bottom of the list. To save you some time and to make the point I want to convey, the top ten ranked Oscar winners are:
10. Casablanca
9. The Godfather, Part II
8. Lawrence of Arabia
7. The Best Years of Our Lives
6. Marty
5. Rebecca
4. Sunrise (1927 silent film directed by F.W Murnau)
3. All About Eve
2. On the Waterfront
1. The Godfather

All very fine films, with the possible exception of Sunrise, which I have never seen. What the list highlights is the frequency with which the Academy misses the better films released in a given year. Stories that tug at the heart or are uplifting seem to be favored. (The Godfather films being the exceptions that prove the rule.) Nowhere on the list are such gems as The Maltese Falcon, Ragging Bull, Citizen Kane, and dozens of other great films.

So it may very well be the case again this Sunday night. If uplifting is what is sought, then Miss Sunshine will prevail. If The Academy wants to make a political point of some kind in this very political year, then Babel will win. But what about our view of these films years hence?

If The Queen is selected, will future audiences see it as too bound up in issues of our time, with no broader human lessons to tell? If it is Little Miss Sunshine, will that film come to be seen as essentially a small, quirky, overrated movie, admired only for its very smallness in the face of the vast Hollywood studio machines? Would Letters From Iwo Jima come to be seen as a minor film that rose to prominence only when accompanied by its sister production, Flags of Our Fathers? The Departed, just another crime drama? Babel as episodic, with a long disconnected jaunt into the Mexican desert?

The point is that is possible to imagine such views of five films currently all considered important to the art form, and impossible to know for sure how our view of these films will evolve. My own pick for the most complete and satisfying film of the lot is The Departed, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over the outcome of Sunday's display of wretched excess. Neither should you.

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