Will We Remember Them? A "Vertical Viewing" of Oscar
By D. Scott ApelNo 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
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.
Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Hope and Glory,
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: The Goodbye Girl, Julia, Star Wars,
The Turning Point
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
Won over: Bonnie and Clyde, Dr. Doolittle,
The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
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
over: Peyton Place, Sayonara, 12 Angry Men, Witness for the
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: The Bishop's Wife,
Crossfire, Great Expectations,
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.
Miracle on 34th St.
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.
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.
over: The Last Command, The Racket, Seventh Heaven, The Way of All
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.
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
Previous features:Oscar's Cinema Lineage
Makes the World Go 'Round
Buried Treasures of
It's a Wonderful Film: Frank Capra's
Christmas gift to the world.
connections with"Contact" ... and other benign close encounters.
Die Laughing: 13 flicks guaranteed to rattle your
Film Noir: Build a library of some
Thanksgiving turkeys: A
giblet-eye view of the worst of 1997.
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