Best Picturesque: The 26th – From Shane to Caesar

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 26th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: From Here To Eternity, Shane (6), Julius Caesar (5)
bold = winner italics = losers (nominations) ]

When I watched these: December 18th – 20th

The snacks: took a break from snacks this week.

The year: 1953.

Did I skip any of the movies?: Yep.  We own Roman Holiday (10) and watched it recently when going through the IMDb Top 250.

So why did the other movies lose?

Shane feels like a true American film.  A way of life in the west is jeopardized by a gang of thugs strong-arming rightful claimants to the Homestead Act in the state of Wyoming. Shane (Ladd) shows up in humble superhero fashion (of course, the guy knows how to shoot), and faces Ryker and his gang head on.  A fantastic bar room brawl is included in this picturesque and low-grit western movie. It lost the Oscar because it wasn’t quite enough ‘Murica and was too much smiling and nodding for a “serious” film.

Shane and Julius Caesar run parallel with some differences: lofty Shakespearean prose, lengthy monologues, and huge armies and sets contrast the simplistic and pastoral approach of the colorful western. Alan Ladd does take over his film, but Marlon Brando as Marc Antony is compelling stuff. His discourse before the people of Rome resembles Chaplin’s convincing plea for peace in The Great Dictator, satisfying the conscience while fueling the machine of proactivity. James Mason as the murderous Brutus provides a three dimensional human figure who justifies his actions, as any of us might in the same circumstance.  Perhaps Caesar doesn’t quite have enough patriotism (though it has plenty of justice, like Shane) and might be too long winded for an American audience. The Roman historical drama might have been played out as well.

So why did From Here to Eternity win?

The attack on Pearl Harbor is something we’ve never forgotten as a nation. The incident was still fresh when From Here to Eternity was released; only eight years after World War II’s conclusion, this film provides a human perspective on the soldiers stationed in the area a few weeks prior. While I felt the leads are largely forgettable, Frank Sinatra plays a convincing apathetic and perpetually drunk private, characterizing the hopelessness (and perhaps foreshadowing the impending doom) of Pearl Harbor’s stationed Navy. There are two romances (one scandalous), an iconic beach makeout scene — surprisingly brief for its cinematic weight — a murder, and the attack on Pearl Harbor itself, which is pure 1950s Oscar bait if I didn’t know any better.

The movie that should have won: Shane

Shane is executed better despite Ladd’s larger-than-life depiction of the fictional western hero.  It’s a feel-good movie for sure, but it examines autonomy, freedom, and the right to life in such a profound and inspiring way. For those looking for realism, there’s plenty of it — look for the cold showdown between Torrey and Wilson, how the gunslinger sort of looms over the helpless yet hot-tempered Torrey just before the inevitable result.  The real charm is in Shane and little Joey’s relationship, however, depicting how we all have idolized heroes and inherited their traits.

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