What makes an Oscar winner? I have no idea, really. But I can take a guess by 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 24th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: An American in Paris, A Place In the Sun (9), A Streetcar Named Desire (11)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: November 20th, 22nd, and 24th
The snacks: took a week off from snacks, unbelievably
The year: 1951.
Did I skip any of the movies?: Nope.
So why did the other movies lose?
The only thing wrong with A Place In the Sun is that it was put out about ten years too early. It’s a scandalous film for 1951: an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a two-timing single man with a baby on the way, the possibility of an abortion, and the mere thought (and planning) of murdering a pregnant woman. George Eastman (Clift) has a renowned last name associated with a wealthy entrepreneurial family. This name gets him a job where he meets Alice (Winters) in his uncle’s factory. His name also leads to an encounter with Angela (Taylor), who he falls in love with despite already impregnating Alice. The pitiful push and pull within George is a bit melodramatic, but ultimately effective coupled with the lighting and pacing of the film. The slow fades throughout and the darkness of the drowning scene are particularly haunting.
A young and hunky Brando, playing the husband of another pregnant woman, is at odds with her sister Blanche (Leigh) in A Streetcar Named Desire. The stark contrast between the socialite Blanche and the rough lower class Stanley (Brando) grates at both parties until chaos inevitably unfolds. Blanche makes several unsuccessful attempts at separating her sister and Stanley, which Stanley perceives from the start, and his spouse Stella (Hunter) appears oblivious to Blanche’s high class goofiness and Stanley’s growing frustration. The film is dark, and the scenes are often tense and cramped in nature. Thematically, the film deals with aging and abuse, both seen and perceived. The viewer might find Vivien Leigh’s portrayal of Blanche somewhat redundant after seeing a virtual duplicate in Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind; Stella is somewhat obnoxious as well. Brando and Karl Malden (as Mitch) turn in stunning performances, the latter somewhat underplayed at times.
So why did An American in Paris win?
Any of these three movies could’ve taken Best Picture, but An American in Paris is the winner because of three blaring reasons:
1) It stars Gene Kelly.
2) It features a romantic take on France, yet retains American nationalism.
3) It’s in color.
Meanwhile, the storytelling method is brilliant, told through narrations, windows and mirrors, dancing and singing, and clever dialogue. We end up liking everyone, so in a way the romance between Jerry (Kelly) and Lise (Caron) is underwhelming with the dilemma involved. There are few musical scores I can think of that measure up to this film’s composition, and there are no dance numbers like the nearly 20-minute ballet climax of the film, which could almost stand alone and is so powerful it manages to outshine much of the film.
The movie that should have won: A Place in the Sun
Flip a three-sided coin and make a case for that nominee for Best Picture, and it would hold up. However, A Place In the Sun lingers in your psyche, reminding us of the capability the human mind has, even with innocent motives, to contrive dark rationales. It’s a film that is real, frightening, and ultimately just and cathartic.