I still haven’t watched my 4K disc of The Sting yet. The knowledge that it won the Best Picture Oscar in 1973 has set me thinking about other Best Picture winners that I have yet to see (then again, its even worse when I consider all the best Picture nominees from each year that I’ve also not seen). Mind, the credential of a film winning Best Picture means very little in my eyes. ‘Best Picture Oscar’ is almost a oxymoron: I’ve been curious about it since back in 1978 when Star Wars didn’t win the award. In hindsight I realise its almost a wonder that Star Wars even got nominated (no science fiction film has ever won, I believe) but when one considers the impact the film had on Hollywood and pop culture, how popular the film was… I know, the Best Picture isn’t a judgement of popularity (at least outside of Academy voters) but back then when my twelve-year old self tutted in disgust when something called Annie Hall won…. thus began my long disgust with that Oscar statue.
Okay, maybe Annie Hall was (and is) the better movie by some criteria. But is Annie Hall talked about today as much as Star Wars still is? Did later generations watch Annie Hall as much as Star Wars? Does such perspective even matter?
Looking back on some of the Best Picture nominees and winners is awfully interesting though. Oliver! (yep, never seen it) won in 1968, and 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t even a nominee (Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel and Romeo and Juliet were). Its probably a bad example as its raising my genre leanings but all the same, 2001 was one of the most important and ground-breaking films ever made and never even registered a nomination? Its like the Academy favours ridicule. But that’s me judging that year’s awards through the lens of my personal leanings and the benefit of fifty years of hindsight (fast-forward to 1989 and Driving Miss Daisy winning Best Picture, or 1998 when Shakespeare in Love won over both Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line for more examples of Academy nonsense- don’t they know movies?).
So anyway, it set me thinking. I’m not going to go rush out and watch each years nominees and see if I agree with the winner, because I know already that most of the time I wouldn’t. The Oscar for Best Picture is an hoary old chestnut that surfaces every year, and looking at some of each years lists, even the lists of nominees (limited to five in the past, although that’s since been relaxed for some odd reason) is rather dubious, as 1968 teaches us. But some years were bloody daft. 1979: Kramer vs Kramer (won), All That Jazz, Breaking Away, Norma Rae and… Apocalypse Now (okay, that’s just insane, Coppola was clearly robbed).
Some years were just incredible mind, especially during the 1970s. 1974: The Godfather Part II won, can’t really begrudge it that, but its competition included nominations for Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny and the bizarre wildcard that was The Towering Inferno. What a year. 1975: One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest won, but other nominees included Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws and Robert Altman’s Nashville. What a bloody year THAT was. The following year was just the same; 1976: Rocky won, its competition was All the Presidents Men, Bound For Glory, Network and Taxi Driver. I think that year puts 1977’s failure to award it to Star Wars in some perspective, because with awarding it to Rocky clearly set a precedent for popular films winning Best Picture over better and more important pictures. See, my twelve-year old self clearly knew something was wrong.