Thursday, June 17, 2010

1940's: Decade in Review

So, two whole decades (and two years in the 1920's) of Best Pictures are reviewed and in the bag. Confession time--I'm way, way ahead in terms of watching the Best Pictures. I just re-watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (good movie) last night, and will start the review of All About Eve (fucking great movie) today, which puts my viewing schedule a full 25 films ahead of what I am reviewing.

I look forward to writing about the 1950's Best Picture collection. There decade is basically divided into some of the finest films to ever be awarded the Best Picture Oscar, and easily at least three of the absolute worst. The common factor between most of these films: the advent of television, and how it affected the viewing habits of filmgoers.

As for the 1940's--it was a decade of very good Best Picture winners, one of which is in my opinion, the absolute best film to be awarded the Oscar. Overall, the ten films are much more mature than the batch of films from the 1930's, which is no surprise, given that half of the decade was spent under the shadow of WWII. No less than four of the films in the decade deal with the war at least peripherally. The 1940's Oscar winning films also displayed a strong sense of social consciousness, as filmmakers used the power of their medium to confront social issues their audiences faced daily.

That said, here's how I'm ranking the 1940's Oscar winners:

1. Casablanca (1943): Bogart, Bergman, one of the finest supporting casts ever assembled, one of the greatest and most quotable scripts ever written, and a love story for the ages. "As Time Goes By", Casablanca only gets better.

2. The Lost Weekend (1945): Billy Wilder and his star, Ray Milland, present a terrifying, effective, and altogether unflinching portrait of a man stricken with alcoholism. one of the best social issues pictures ever made, and only one of two films to win both the Best Picture Oscar and the Palme D'Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

3. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): Director William Wyler and cinematographer Gregg Toland nurture compassionate performances in this melodrama about three servicemen returning home from WWII and accepting the changes in their lives.

4. Rebecca (1940): Alfred Hitchcock's masterly creepy thriller about an unnamed woman who must contend with the ghost of her husband's former wife. The film hints at what themes Hitchcock would develop in the next two decades.

5. Mrs. Miniver (1942): William Wyler's effective piece of propaganda encouraging America to help on the European front of WWII by showing the effects of the war on an upper-middle class British family. Greer Garson is magnificent in the title role.

6. How Green Was My Valley (1941): John Ford's film is unfairly maligned because it beat out Citizen Kane for Best Picture, although the films surprisingly share many themes. A nostalgia filled weepie about a Welsh mining family as told through the eyes of its youngest member.

7. Hamlet (1948): Director/star Laurence Olivier's adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy is the first non-American production to win best picture. The adaptation of Hamlet is uneven but proved to be very influential.

8. Gentleman's Agreement (1947): Elia Kazan's drama about anti-Semitism is a little more concerned with its message instead of character to be truly effective.

9. All the King's Men (1949): This drama about a corrupt Louisiana politician has lost its edge when compared with the political scandals seen in real life over the past forty years. A masterful supporting role from Mercedes McCambridge is the standout performance.

10. Going My Way (1944): Total fluff from director Leo McCarey and star Bing Crosby. Imagine if the Whoopi Goldberg film Sister Act won Best Picture. A funny and entertaining film, to be sure, but Oscar material? I don't think so. The same line of thinking should have applied here.

Actor of the Decade: Humphrey Bogart. His Rick Blaine is an iconic American role. Bogart also turned in the finest work of his career in the decade. Runner-up: Laurence Olivier.

Actress of the Decade: Greer Garson. Red-headed Garson brings a magnificent beauty and humanity to her role as Kay Miniver. She was also nominated for five consecutive Oscars in the decade, making her the Meryl Streep of her era. Runner-up: Ingrid Bergman

Director of the Decade: William Wyler. Can't argue with two Best Director Oscars in two Best Picture winners over a span of four years. Wyler, with Mrs. Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives, made two very excellent films that bookended the central conflict of the 1940's, WWII. Runners-up: Billy Wilder, then Michael Curtiz

Studio of the Decade: Warner Brothers. There is relative parity amongst the studios of the Oscar winning films of the 1940's. MGM dominated the 1930's (and will dominate the 1950's), but nine different studios would produce Oscar winners. 20th Century Fox delivered two--How Green Was My Valley and Gentleman's Agreement--but those two pictures don't even come close to adding up to Casablanca, which is the greatest film to ever be entirely shot in a studio. WB for the win.

NEXT BLOG: All About Eve

No comments:

Post a Comment