This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made a couple of announcements that will, perhaps, shape the future of the Oscars. A couple of years ago, the Academy decided to go back to its roots and expand the Best Picture category from five nominated films to 10. The idea was that this move would help improve the telecast’s ratings by allowing films with a wider viewership and fan-base have a better shot at grabbing a nomination. (There was a bit of an Internet uproar when high-grossing films like The Dark Knight and Wall-E were snubbed from the Best Picture race in 2009.)
During the 1998 ceremony, ratings were huge because most people had seen Titanic, the one film that stood a shot at scoring big that night—and it did. The film had such a large following that those fans were glued to their TV screens to watch Titanic‘s smooth sailing towards the Best Picture prize. Since then, arguably no nominated film has achieved the same level of interest (except for, maybe, Avatar), and the Oscars’ lagging ratings have reflected this. Now, the vast majority of nominated films are indie darlings that don’t have the same type of national or international distribution as their big-budget counterparts. So what does this mean? Fewer eyeballs. Fewer people watch the films that are nominated, and if they’re not familiar with the films that are nominated, there’s no good reason to tune into the Oscars. (And fashion is not a good reason.)
Currently on my DVR is the 1982 classic Sophie’s Choice. This is the story of a Holocaust survivor and her lover as they befriend a writer who lives in their Brooklyn boarding house. This film earned Meryl Streep her fourth Oscar nomination and second win. (She had previously won three years earlier for her supporting role in Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer.) In total, the film earned a total of five Oscar nominations, with recognition also given to its cinematography, costumes, music, and writing. Sophie’s Choice is based on the William Styron novel of the same title.
This film was not on AFI’s original “100 Years … 100 Movies” list, but it did find a spot on the organization’s 10th anniversary list, creeping in at #91. No doubt, its ranking as one of the greatest 100 American films of all time is partly due to what some consider Streep’s greatest performance.
Director: Alan J. Pakula Screenwriter: Alan J. Pakula Producers: Keith Barish, Alan J. Pakula Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol Genres: Drama, Romance Distributor: Universal Pictures Runtime: 150 min.
As is noted in the 170 Greatest Films section of this blog, the foundation of the 170 list is AFI’s original “100 Years … 100 Movies” list from 1997. Ten years later, the esteemed organization took another look at the greatest American films with a new, fresh perspective. Citizen Kane topped the list both times, but there were some modifications in 2007. Some films fell off the list. Some were added. Among those added was this 1972 classic, which I recently watched for the first time.
Cabaret was The Godfather‘s primary competition at the Oscar ceremony that honored some of the greatest films of 1972. (The Godfather ranked third on the original 1997 AFI list, and jumped to the runner-up position in 2007.) Many consider Coppola’s film to be “the perfect film,” but there were some doubts it would win the top prize at the Oscars that year. Throughout the night, Cabaret beat The Godfather in several categories. In total, Cabaret won an impressive eight statues out of its 10 nominations. The Godfather, however, took home just three out of 10 nominations. (Well, technically, only two went home since Marlon Brando refused his Best Actor award.)
Currently on my DVR is the 1956 classic Giant. This is the story of a wealthy land owner and cattle rancher and his spoiled Virginian bride, and the conflicts that arise at home in Texas regarding race, class, and changing traditions (paraphrased from Yahoo! Movies). The film is as big as its title implies—and just as epic as the story and runtime is the cast. Hollywood heavyweight filmmaker George Stevens directed a monstrous cast that reads as a who’s who in classic Hollywood, including Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Mercedes McCambridge, and Dennis Hopper.
This film sits comfortably on my 170 list and is also one of just three films to star Dean before his untimely death the previous year, in 1955. Giant earned 10 Oscar nominations and one win, for Stevens’s direction. Among the nominations were Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and honors for Hudson and McCambridge for their leading and supporting performances, respectively. Dean also received a nomination for his leading performance—his second posthumous nomination (the other being for 1955’s East of Eden, which is also on my 170 list).
Director: George Stevens Screenwriters: Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat Producers: Henry Ginsberg, George Stevens Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo Genres: Drama, Epic, Romance, Western Distributor: Kino International Runtime: 201 min.
Currently on my DVR is the 1927 classic Wings. It’s the story of two men—one rich and one middle class—who share a common interest in the same woman as they become fighter pilots during World War I. Starring one of the biggest actresses of the time, Clara Bow plays a woman whose affections for one of the pilots are largely unnoticed. A 25-year-old Gary Cooper appears in this classic.
Wings earned the distinction of being the very first Best Picture Oscar winner. It’s also the only silent film to win the award. During that very first Oscar ceremony in 1929, the film beat out The Racket and 7th Heaven for the Outstanding Picture honor. It also went on to win for its “engineering effects,” a category that only existed that first year.
Director: William Wellman Screenwriters: John Monk Saunders, Hope Loring, Louis D. Lighton Producers: B.P. Schulberg, Lucien Hubbard (uncredited) Cast: Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Richard Arlen, Jobyna Ralston Genres: Drama, Romance, War Distributor: Paramount Pictures Runtime: 139 min.