Feature: "Will We Remember Them? Oscar Winners From the Past"

home page
Previous Features

Will We Remember Them? A "Vertical Viewing" of Oscar Winners

By D. Scott Apel

No one was seriously surprised when Titanic won the Oscar for best picture. But now it's time to ask the next question: Will it be remembered? Will we still watch Titanic 10 years from now, or 20, or 30? Or will it become, half a century hence, as forgotten a winner as Cavalcade or Cimmaron?

One way to test the timelessness of the Academy's choices for best picture is to look back at previous winners and judge whether or not we still recognize and watch them. In order to cut the list down to manageable size yet still consider a representative sampling, we can borrow a concept fromwine snobbery and perform the video equivalent of a vertical tasting -- call it a "vertical viewing" -- by skipping back from the present in 10-year increments to test the longevity of these earlier-honored classics -- and compare them to the other films nominated for best picture that year.

The Last Emperor (Columbia TriStar; rated PG-13; 2:20), director Bernardo Bertolucci's sweeping epic of the Chinese emperor (John Lone) destined to become the pawn of the imperial court, Japanese invaders and eventually the Communists, was the best picture Oscar winner only a decade ago. Praised for its visual beauty, it's authentic costumes and locations (it was filmed on location in the People's Republic), it remains a timeless tale, full of irony and intelligence. Emperor also won Oscars for its screenplay, cinematography, editing, score, art direction and costume design.

Won over: Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Hope and Glory, Moonstruck.

Annie Hall (MGM; CBS/Fox; PG; 1:34), director Woody Allen's cockeyed comedy about relationships, was the big winner 20 years ago -- and the most recent comedy to win a best picture Oscar. Annie elevated Allen to star status, but ironically, while he was awarded Academy honors for his picture, his directing and his script, and his co-star Diane Keaton won for best actress, the Woodman himself lost thebest actor Oscar to Richard Dreyfuss, star of The Goodbye Girl.

Won over: The Goodbye Girl, Julia, Star Wars, The Turning Point

In the Heat of the Night (CBS/Fox; unrated;1:49), director Norman Jewison's finely-crafted police drama also won Rod Steiger a best actor Oscar, as well as Academy Awards for its screenplay, sound and editing. Racial tension was the emotional center of the plot, which concerns a black homicide expert assigned to investigate the murder of a rich white man in a small Mississippi town -- a move which generates resentment in the town's white police chief (Steiger).

Won over: Bonnie and Clyde, Dr. Doolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

The Bridge Over the River Kwai (Columbia TriStar; 2:41), director David Lean's epic WWII drama, combined spectacle with character in the absorbing tale of a British POW (Alec Guinness, who won a best actor Oscar in the role) tasked with building the railroad bridge of the title -- but who becomes so obsessed with the effort that he losessight of the big picture. Bridge also won Awards for itscinematography and editing, as well as for its screenplay -- an Oscar presented to Pierre Boulle, author of the novel, who served as a front for blacklisted screenwriters Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson.

Won over: Peyton Place, Sayonara, 12 Angry Men, Witness for the Prosecution.

Gentlemen's Agreement (FoxVideo; 1:58; B&W), director Elia Kazan's story of a magazine reporter (Gregory Peck) going undercover as a Jew to expose prejudice at "restricted" hotels, is generally agreed to be Hollywood's first attack on anti-Semitism. The film won Kazan a best director Oscar and Celeste Holm a best supporting actress Award.

Won over: The Bishop's Wife, Crossfire, Great Expectations,
Miracle on 34th St.

The Life of Emile Zola (MGM; 1:57; B&W), stars Paul Muni in this intense courtroom drama, more the story of the Dreyfus case than the title might imply, as author Zola risks his fortune and good name to defend the reputation of his fellow countryman, a falsely accused army officer.

Won over: (Note: In 1937, Academy Award nominations were not limited to five in each category; in this year, for example, 10 films were nominated for the honor): The Awful Truth, Captains Courageous, Dead End, The Good Earth, In Old Chicago, Lost Horizon, One Hundred Men anda Girl, Stage Door, A Star Is Born.

Wings (Paramount; 2:19; B&W; silent), can't technically be called the first "best picture" winner, as the category did not exist until 1930. Wings, however, was the first film to be honored with an Academy Award as Most Outstanding Production. The silent, black and white, WWI aviation epic had dogfights in the air and the pilots' rivalry for Clara Bow on the ground -- and is still interesting enough tobe worth the price of a rental.

Won over: The Last Command, The Racket, Seventh Heaven, The Way of All Flesh.

D. Scott Apel is the former video columnist for the San Jose (CA) Mercury News, and is author of the video guideKiller B's: The 237 Best Movies On Video You've (Probably) Never Seen.

Previous features:
Oscar's Cinema Lineage
Love Makes the World Go 'Round
Buried Treasures of 1997
It's a Wonderful Film: Frank Capra's Christmas gift to the world.
Intelligent alien connections with"Contact" ... and other benign close encounters.
Die Laughing: 13 flicks guaranteed to rattle your funny bones.
Film Noir: Build a library of some classic B-pictures.
Thanksgiving turkeys: A giblet-eye view of the worst of 1997.

| Contents | Resources | VidNews | KidVid | Calendar |Sell-Through | Reviews |

E-mail: mail@cyberpod.com
©1996, 1997, 1998 CyberPod. All rights reserved
CyberPod and OnVideo are trademarks of CyberPod Productions.
March 15, 1998