24 March 2011

War of the Decades: Best Pictures

With The King's Speech (2010) capturing the first Best Picture Crown of the Decade my thoughts began to turn towards Legacy. I'm curious about Trends in Best Picture winners - which decade ended up truly honouring the films that we still watch and quote with relevancy today. Naturally it's not often the Academy flows in such nice Census-Year lines but it's worthwhile for this debate. Now, the 1920s only have a pair of winners, and neither are that significant (Wings in 1928 and The Broadway Melody in 1929. Both involved significant firsts [The Broadway Melody for example, is considered first complete musical but kind of sucks] but aren't much beyond that). So let's talk about what movies we're still talking about today from each decade:


1930s - Depression...but WE GOT BOOZE BACK!
Time and shifting tastes have hurt this decade, but somehow Gone With the Wind (1939) is still relevant, quoted and parodied pretty regularly. Adjusted for Inflation, it's still at the top of the charts and really unlikely to ever fall at this point. It peaked at this awesome time when everyone everywhere had nothing better to do that go to the movies and it became that epic event movie. It also held the  All-Time Box Office Record from its peak in 1941 until it was surpassed by The Sound of Music (1966). In fact, with a re-release in 1971 it took back the all-time record! When a movie is the All-Time Highest Grosser for 26 years, destroying any other competition, it reamins part of the heritage. Not to mention that when it was first shown on NBC in two parts on November 7th and 8th, 1976 it was the most watched program in US History at the time and got an insane 47.7 rating. Can you imagine any TV movie ever EVER getting ratings like that these days? Of course without video or DVR or anything, when that shit was on - you had to tune in! Needless to say this movie really had an impact and makes up for everyone forgetting the rest of the 30s that weren't The Wizard of Oz (1939) and breadlines.

1940s-  Shit! There's a War!
The 40s had its share of great films but only one really stands out - Casablanca (1943). I suppose that during World War II our country had a few other things on its mind. It also doesn't help that the sheer number of films made in this decade was ridiculous, most of them cheap and forgettable. Casablanca though has a ridiculous ripple effect, you see it everywhere. It's the 40s single entry but it's almost as strong as Gone With the Wind.

1950s- Russians and Elvis
The 50s boast a nice little collection of Best Picture Winners. From Here to Eternity (1953) is apparently slightly more than a beach kissing scene, Brando's performance in On the Waterfront (1954) is still a huge innovation felt today and Marty (1955) has held up remarkably well. As the 50s progressed some of the bigger films such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Ben-Hur (1959) have their share of famous moments that echo throughout pop culture. At least with the Unforgivable Guy. Always good for a lean night.

1960s- Love, Peace and More War
When the 60s roll through we start getting some true classics. I notice based on my own personal criteria of "Shit I Recognize through Parody" we seem to favour the first half of this decade. This is probably because the second-hal of the 60s were Batshit Insane and people were lucky enough if they didn't have their cultural leaders shot or fall off a balcony while tripping on acid much less pay a nickel for the theater. There are definitely some immortal films here though like West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965). In fact I'd say the 60s got a lot of Best Pictures correct in the sense of honouring Cultural Value. We can add Midnight Cowboy (1969) to that list of relevant films as well.

1970s- Let's Go Disco Dancing!
Alright. I'll give it away - it's the 70s. The 70s win. Going through this decade is ridiculous. We start with Patton (1970)'s American Flag speech, move on to The French Connection (1971) chase, too many to count from Both Godfathers (1972 & '74) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). I still don't agree with Rocky's 1976 win over Network, but Rocky's probably the most permeating Best Picture of the decade (though nearly all of Network came true at some point and Peter Finch's catchphrase caught on). 1977's Annie Hall vs. Star Wars is almost the same deal, though clearly Star Wars is one of the most influential movies of all time but Annie Hall still rules. Lastly, The Deer Hunter (1978), that movie was hilarious.

1980s- I'm Paul Allen!
After a couple great decades that really again, rewarded maybe not the best movie of the year, but probably the most immortal of the nominees, the 80s are terrible. All I can gather is Platoon (1986) and Rain Man (1988). Actually I can barely believe either of these are Best Picture winners. The Me Decade has unbridled pretension and really started rewarding typical Oscar Fodder worse than any other decade. It's terrible. It's not like they should be getting pumped for Gremlins (1984), but this was also one of the last decades for really great Tentpole films like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) or Back to the Future (1985). No love.

1990s- My Pants Have Eight Colors on Them Now
Maybe it's just that the 90s were more recent, but I feel like there's a lot more here than the 80s in terms of great influential and deserving Best Pictures. If not for the heavy influence it clearly had on MAVATAR (2009), I may have left off Dances With Wolves (1990) (read: ripped-off). The Silence of the Lambs (1991) echoes through our culture as does Braveheart (1995) and Forrest Gump (1994) very thoroughly. Hell, that flick's still on TV twice a week. I was hesitant but decided that both Unforgiven (1992) and Schindler's List (1993) should barely make my cut, as does American Beauty (1999). And just because everyone has seen it and it dominated so long of a zeitgeist in the late 90s, Titanic (1997) is really this decade's most epic film.

2000s- The Worst Thing That Happened Today was That My Ipod was Deleted.
I actually don't think that Decade we just wrapped up has a whole lot of Best Pictures that will last. I think The Hurt Locker (2009) is debatable if it can ever catch on, because it's an incredible movie and one of my favourites of the decade, but it remains the Least-Grossing Best Picture as far back as these records go. Yeah, without inflation.Other than that we're stuck with the twin blockbusters from early in the Decade, Gladiator (2000) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). The latter is likely the most immortal of this Decade tho the source material sure helps. After that we've already felt some cultural resonance from Million Dollar Baby (2004) and The Departed (2006), and I believe that No Country for Old Men (2007) will also stand the test of time. I really think that the latter two I mentioned are the only Best Pictures of this decade that can stand on equal ground with those of the 70s.

So there you have it. Argue and debate my criteria and picks as you like. In terms of mass cultural appeal decades beyond its time, I have to give the 1970s the prize for the Best Best Picture winners. The rest are shit. As for The King's Speech? I'm going to say that Inception (2010) and Chris Nolan's direction in particular are going to stay with us for much much longer.

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