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 34th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: West Side Story, The Hustler (8), The Guns of Navarone (7)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: October 8th – 10th, 2017
The snacks: chicken taquitos almost swept the series, but some mini tacos broke the streak on day two. Way too much sour cream consumed.
The year: 1961.
Did I skip any of the movies?: Yes – Judgment at Nuremberg (11).
So why did the other movies lose?
This first venture was difficult from the start. Judgment at Nuremberg is a beast of a movie, and it has all the attributes of freedom and justice that people love. But in terms of character and humanity, I admit it didn’t have the same punch the other three. But it almost won. Sort of.
The remaining films could not be any more different. The Guns of Navarone plays the WWII card, and that card probably weighs about eighty pounds. It immediately unveils the mission and backstory with a baritone narration, then does the assembly of near-stereotype characters who role play the entire film, except for the beast that is Gregory Peck. Once everyone kind of settles into their roles, we see a string of awesome moments of action and clever workarounds that make you laugh out loud but kind of cheer too. Guns also features the highest tension, naturally being in a war setting with death lingering behind every misstep, but the action is sort of marred by some sloppy editing and a lack of character depth, along with one of the worst developed “romances” I’ve seen.
Paul Newman instead shines as the most convincing and dynamic character of all nominees in The Hustler, a tale (or tragedy, of sorts) of a pool shark who plays proud but ultimately proves insecure at the core. Eddie (Newman) and Sarah (Laurie) are absolutely perfect together, yet play painfully flawed personas that drag themselves through the filth of the underground pool circuit and get plastered at drunken rages that darken what seems like a romantic idea on the surface — who wouldn’t want to play games for a living? — that turns everyone into monsters. Fats and Bert are well-developed heels in the film. But it wasn’t quite enough, apparently.
So why did West Side Story win?
America, prejudice, violence, Shakespeare, brilliant cinematography, terrific music and dancing, and one of the greatest romances in film history between Tony and Maria — this film really worked all the big angles. If you don’t dig musicals, this film might seem overwrought and even dry at times. It nearly blinds you with so many characters and colors, only arresting your attention with some sharp dialogue and tense skirmishes. But if you decide to include the music and dancing into your assessment, the film soars and seems to edge out the rest.
The movie that should have won: West Side Story
The Academy seemingly made the right choice. My personal favorite is probably The Guns of Navarone, but that’s because I’m a dude and, y’know, ‘Murica. Or Allies. Same thing.