Best Picturesque: The 40th – Bonnie and Clyde Coming to Dinner in the Heat of the Night

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 40th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde (10),  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (10)
bold = winner italics = losers (nominations) ]

When I watched these: February 11th – February 13th, 2018

The snacks: Taquitos, mini-tacos, pudding, and peanut butter M&Ms.  It was the best of the best on parade.

The year: 1967.

Did I skip any of the movies?: Nope.

So why did the other movies lose?

Bonnie & Clyde takes itself far too seriously for trying to make rampant, thieving, murderous young adults seem like tragic figures, and even trying to squeeze in one-liners and laughs throughout.  It has no desire to develop a plot, since it felt as if the couple’s crime spree was erratic in itself; instead, akin to Jesus calling the disciples forth, Clyde (Beatty), fresh out of prison, manages to summon the uber hot and lonely Clyde (Dunaway) for a very long car ride. They rob stuff, they shoot tons of people, and they sorta kinda have sex a bunch of times. Really, that’s the crux of the movie. And then about halfway through, we realize these kids aren’t coming back, and the film attempts to unsuccessfully garner empathy from the audience. I didn’t feel sorry for them at all.

At least Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner sets up to be funny, ironic, and all about a social statement, all of which it accomplishes successfully.  In what became Sidney Poitier’s landmark year, and perhaps the greatest year ever for an African-American in the Oscars in any category, he stars in the film as Dr. John Wayde Prentice, Jr., professionally important but reluctantly accompanying his fiance Joey (Houghton) to meet her parents.  Her parents are progressives but still taken aback when they discover her fiance is a black man.  It doesn’t take long for John to prove himself, but then he calls his own parents and everything goes bananas. Spencer Tracy subsequently delivers a monologue worthy of the greatest courtroom dramas in cinema, largely saving a film that essentially serves as a “what-if” situational com-dram.

So why did In the Heat of the Night win?

The other Poitier film is basically Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but not funny.  It starts with a murder in a small town, and for whatever reason an African-American dude (Guess Who!) is at a train station around the same time.  The local police (OBVIOUSLY racist) wrangle him and bring him to the station, only to discover he’s a Philly homicide detective — one of the best, and higher paid than anyone in the station, to the chagrin of the police chief Gillespie (Steiger). Both characters are forced to swallow their pride and work together to solve this thing in a community that wants nothing to do with their cooperation, almost costing Tibbs his life a few times. The film tests your stress level and teaches you, with no restraint and with tremendous effect, about prejudice in the south. Poitier as Virgil is an absolute beast. He delivers a line for the ages (“They call me Mr. Tibbs!”) and, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, teaches us what quiet restraint truly looks like.

The movie that should have won: The Graduate

“What?? Black film icon Sidney Poitier shows up in two films, both effectively discussing the evils of prejudice, and you think some other movie should’ve won? You racist bigot!” Indeed, the Oscars are intended to highlight the best of the best films of the year, and indeed, In the Heat of the Night is a fantastic and memorable film that had me rattled by the end, but it’s not the best among the nominees. But, in 1968 (mind you, days after MLK Jr. was tragically gunned down), the Academy had a stance to make, and doing otherwise would’ve risked not appeasing a majority of viewers who cheered on both Poitier characters as he navigated through the tall and thorny shrubbery of racism. The fact that the Oscars are rather political (see 1942’s nominees if you think otherwise) is reinforced with their selection for Best Picture. In terms of pure cinematic achievement, however, The Graduate is a better film, driven by a landmark performance by Hoffman, humorous situations without blatantly setting us up for them, and endless dialogue and unspoken tension nuggets for all time movie posterity.

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