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 76th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (10), Seabiscuit (7)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: February 18th – February 24th, 2018
The snacks: potstickers and party mix, but we didn’t really eat much
The year: 2002.
Did I skip any of the movies?: Nope.
So why did the other movies lose?
Master and Commander sits somewhere between the claustrophobia and nervous tension of Das Boot and the swashbuckling filth and action of the second Pirates of the Caribbean installment. Russell Crowe and company ride out on a mission to sink a French ship somewhere in the middle of the vast Atlantic and parts of the Pacific. It’s not clear why they have to go that far, but we’re along for the ride, cannons and seasickness and all. True to life on the seas, there’s almost tranquil quiet for the majority, and then sudden punctuated chaos in the form of a battle or a storm. Folks die, there’s mourning, and the crew rebuilds and carry on because there’s no other choice. The film tries to be huge and important, even borrowing from Saving Private Ryan with an echoey PTSD moment out of Crowe, but it just turns out to be bloated and boring.
Seabiscuit is far friendlier and warmer. A trio of underdog characters run the film, headed up by three superb actors: Spiderman, The Dude, and that gay dad from American Beauty. Disney cliches aside, the film looks awesome, and it’s a pleasant break from the tension and violence usually correlated with Best Picture noms. I’m not a big fan of horseracing, but I’ve seen footage of the Secretariat run at Belmont Stakes in 1973, and to make a film about a horse that didn’t do that run felt like a tall order to fill. There’s multiple storylines going, all running through the Great Depression and its effect on the characters which proves to be compelling enough, but it’s all broken up with Ken Burns documentary-styled flashbacks. The moment of the film is the Seabiscuit/War Admiral showdown — the acting and sound and cinematography all sync up here — but this inspirational story really plays out with stereotypical characters rather than fleshed-out people. It’s not a Best Picture winner at all, in the end.
So why did Return of the King win?
Peter Jackson hypothetically entering the Academy head honcho’s office:
“Dude, you owe me one.”
“You got it.”
“On second thought, you owe me more than one.”
“All of them.”
“Say no more.”
The Lord of the Rings trilogy really shouldn’t have won all three Best Picture nominations, just to be nice to the other movies in the early 2000s, but it could have. The tremendous Return of the King, the capstone for the series, is HUGE. Running at nearly four hours, and starting out with one of the more disturbing opening sequences in cinema — at least, among Best Picture winners so far — and never really relenting, I’m always exhausted by the end of this one, and there are few movies that are so dramatic and suspenseful even on repeat viewings. Despite being a sequel, the film lets us in on several “in case you forgot why” moments in the form of flashbacks and intentional leading dialogue. CGI abounds and it’s all sheer fantasy, but the Smeagol/Frodo/Samwise storyline is the most compelling in the film and among the more emotional and human sequences in cinema altogether. The nearly tragic Faramir side story holds its own as a dramatic tale we can all identify with.
The movie that should have won: Return of the King
It’s not fair that the other films had to saddle up alongside Peter Jackson’s magnum opus, but really, the other films can’t measure up to this epic legend of a movie. Few films deserved to sweep every nomination like this one did.