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 67th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: Forrest Gump, Quiz Show (4), Four Weddings and a Funeral (2)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: October 29th – 31st, 2017
The snacks: mini tacos twice.
The year: 1994.
Did I skip any of the movies?: Yes; both The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction received seven nominations each.
So why did the other movies lose?
According to the IMDb Top 250, Forrest Gump is ranked #12, Pulp Fiction is #7, and The Shawshank Redemption is #1. The other two films I watched didn’t even crack the list.
That’s not to say the IMDb Top 250 is by any means the say-all of film quality, but it’s clear we’re talking about three incredibly well-made movies, and then two other sub-par ones. That’s precisely what happened here.
The real question regarding Four Weddings and a Funeral is not why it lost to Forrest Gump, but why it was even nominated. The film is quirky and interesting at the start; each wedding has a unique attribute despite having the same usual characters/attendees (which is bizarre in itself). But then it falls into a rut of cliches and predictable dialogue, the protagonist is hopelessly in love with a woman (MacDowell) that magically appears at these events, and in rooms Charles (Grant) happens to enter. They have completely unwarranted sex, and then the film wrings the sponge out on the sex motif — one cringey scene involves Carrie listing all of her sexual partners in a laborious fashion. Carrie even delivers lines using British dialect despite playing the role of a Southern American. I admit that Grant/MacDowell have excellent chemistry, but the dialogue is miserable and spoils everything, forcing them to resolve to sex scenes. The whole film feels insincere: “You really like her.” “I liked that you said that.” Ugh. The film broke British box office records, which is sort of like saying “Cheerleader” was a #1 single, so is this a sympathy nod?
Quiz Show is considerably better and more interesting, but strangely not quite as memorable. One misstep involves the gamut of characters; it takes the in media res approach and gets us right into the game show, and rightfully so, because the controversy and subsequent fallout is the crux of the plot, but this forces us to identify with several characters before taking a breath. There’s a squeaky clean feeling to the film, but we sense that something is off right away. Herbert Stempel (Turturro) personifies both prejudice and everything wrong with television. His wife later outshines him as an interesting personality. Enter Charles van Doren, played by Ralph Fiennes at perhaps the height of his career, who is the runaway best performance in the film. He ends up doing the right thing by unveiling the television schtick, but rightfully to no avail in the end. The ending felt true (and it was true to life, of course), but also left an unsettling sensation.
So why did Forrest Gump win?
Forrest Gump is a monument of a film. While films like Pulp Fiction serve as underground quality cinema and Shawshank Redemption resound in television cult status, Gump plays a sweet melody in the ears of the everyman, endearing us about two minutes in and never letting up. We love the “Mama always said,” motif and the overcoming of odds as a child — who wouldn’t love to shatter leg braces and race away from bullies like that? — and it addresses abuse, war, prejudice, religion/God, and death with tremendous meaning. The film employs the Oscar-esque stuff in production: majestic zoom-and-rise shots, playing up music at key moments, prolonged moments between friends and loved ones with grins and last smiles. Gary Sinise is snubbed for Best Supporting Actor; perhaps it was unfair with Gump already cleaning up with six Oscars.
The movie that should have won: Forrest Gump
So far, no Academy nominee has been a more convincing winner than Forrest Gump in the 67th Oscars. Tom Hanks is a monster of an actor, a complete master in the 1990s, and he is at the top of his game in this one. Some might contend that it’s overly sentimental, but even the hardened man will be swallowing golf balls when they arrive at the final scene with Bubba.