In this project, I’ll be watching each Best Picture winner, regardless of if I’ve already seen it, at random years, and then watching the two nominees with the most Oscar nominations for that year to find out, in my pompous assessment, if the Academy made the right choice. If I’ve already seen the subsequent nominee, I’ll move on to the next most nominated for that year.
The 15th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: Mrs. Miniver, Pride of the Yankees (11), Yankee Doodle Dandy (8)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: January 14th – 16th, 2018
The snacks: the shrimp returned, along with a killer 8 layer dip from Costco
The year: 1942.
Did I skip any of the movies?: Nope.
So why did the other movies lose?
World War II was in full swing, and Americans were flocking to the movies to escape the reality of their involvement as a large scale war machine. Ironically, all three of these movies address the conflict and American ideals in general, to almost a condescendingly nationalistic level; the theater may as well been covered with American flags, apple pie served at concessions, and the “Star Spangled Banner” playing before each screening. Perhaps this actually occurred.
For no movie is more bannerific than Curtiz’s musical Yankee Doodle Dandy, which is really a talent showcase for the lively James Cagney as the ultra-patriotic showman George M. Cohan, as well as a means to parade patriotic songs and play the American heartstrings of 1942 moviegoers. The film is paced furiously, but still tidy in terms of editing and screenplay, and each musical number is the perfect balance of show business and cinema (comparable to The Great Ziegfeld). Joan Leslie as Mary is super charming, but it isn’t quite enough to make the film worthy of the Oscar; instead, we feel somewhat condescended to — the film is intended to be biographical, but objectively it’s pretty obvious what this film is for.
At least Pride of the Yankees lets WWII (or any military involvement) be a distant backdrop, but it’s similar in ilk. Take the super stoic Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, a humble man with zero flaws, who falls in love with one girl and sticks with her until his untimely death. He wins over his mother early on, eliminating the only antagonist in the film, and then constantly swats homers and gets the crowd to worship him over time. Oh yes, Lou Gehrig is certainly one of the all time greats, but the movie is blatant hero worship, and plays on his actual death a year prior to garner its accolades.
So why did Mrs. Miniver win?
While the movie sets up like the British version of It’s A Wonderful Life complete with the affluent lifestyles and neighborly pleasantries, it takes a hard turn into suffering and fear as Britain is being bombed and its citizens attempt to maintain normalcy. The U.S. never dealt with the bombardments and invasions as in Europe, so this window seat is a haunting reminder of the ongoing peril occurring overseas. Ultimately the film feels like a propaganda machine, even concluding with a war bonds ad spot, but it makes an impact nonetheless. Greer Garson is a beast, and Henry Travers as Mr. Ballard is one of the more endearing supporting roles I’ve seen.
The movie that should have won: Mrs. Miniver
The all-too-real Oscar winner reminds us of the great cost of large scale warfare, a reality we may never face again, God willing.