Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1953-1957

Winner: From Here to Eternity
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

If you think you don't know anything about this movie, you are probably wrong. This is the movie with the famous scene of the couple making out on the beach as the waves crash over them. It's been spoofed and referenced so many times that I find it unlikely that most people haven't seen something alluding to it. People apparently went back to liking war movies because this is the first of a few in the next decade. This one is about soldier stationed in Hawaii, a few months before the Pearl Harbor attack. It has an all-star cast including: Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Cliff, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, and Donna Reed. There's a legend around Hollywood that Sinatra got the role because of his ties to the mafia, but most dismiss this claim and point towards the fact that Sinatra's then wife, Eva Gardner, was friends with the studio head's wife. The legend, true or not, created another legend. It is said that the rumor of Sinatra using his mafia ties to get a part influenced a similar subplot in The Godfather. Whether they are true or not, it's still interesting. Sinatra was desperate for the part of Maggio, and lucked out when Eli Wallach had to drop out of the role. The film did extremely well in theaters and not only became the highest grossing films of 1953, but one of the highest for the whole decade. The film won over other strong films like: Roman Holiday, Shane, The Robe, and Julius Caesar. With the cast and popularity though, it was the clear favorite that year. It would also win for director, adapted screenplay and best actor and actress in a supporting role (Sinatra and Reed, respectively).

Winner: On the Waterfront
Director: Elia Kazan
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Marlon Brando stars as the former fighter and current longshoreman, Terry Malloy, who tries to fight the mafia controlled union that has taken over the waterfront. If you know the line, "I coulda been a contender," but don't know where it's from, well look no further. It's muttered by Brando's character because his brother made him throw a fight so the corrupt union boss could win money betting against him. The movie deserves the win, but film historians look at the snub for A Streetcar named Desire two years earlier as another reason the Academy decided to not only give Waterfront the Oscar, but also Brando and Kazan (both were nominated for Desire). The playing field was surprisingly sparse for this year considering that Seven Samarai, A Star is Born, and Rear Window weren't nominated, but The Caine Mutiny, Three Coins in a Fountain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and The Country Girl were. Yikes, no wonder On the Waterfront was the clear winner. It does help that they had Brando in his prime, though. The movie is still loved today and is one that I'd really like to watch.

Winner: Marty
Director: Delbert Mann
Distributed by: United Artists

Hey, come on, who doesn't love Ernest Borgnine? Nobody that's who! Especially in the 50's apparently because this film was a huge hit. Based on the teleplay of the same name, it went on to win not only Best Picture, but also the Palme d'Or at Cannes, the only film other than The Lost Weekend to do so. The film is basically about two people who fall in love almost despite themselves. It's a feel good story, and apparently that's what people wanted. Marty is one of those films that definitely should have won in the running that it had. But, when you take into consideration all the classics that were snubbed like East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Night of the Hunter. Yep, none of those got nominated. It seems weird now, but opinions on movies are always different when they first come out. Marty was a first in a few ways; it was the first TV special to be turned into a Oscar winning movie, and it was the first to be shown in the Soviet Union. I guess communists like Ernest Borgnine? Quick! McCarthy! Oh wait....you've been discredited already.

Winner: Around the World in 80 Days
Director: Michael Anderson
Distributed by: United Artists

Adapted from Jules Verne's novel, the story details a bet that Phileas Fogg makes with a bunch of rich skeptical idiots. He takes his valet, Passapa....parsalpa...Snagglepuss with him and they go shooting off in a hot air balloon and go on crazy hijinks. What the film is most noted for, besides the globe-trotting epicness of it all, is the amount of cameos. I'm not talking about a few, this film has basically everyone famous in it. It is basically the first of the Hollywood "makework" films in which a ton of fading personalities from Hollywood appear. Among the cameos are: Frank Sinatra, Peter Lorre, Red Skelton, Buster Keaton, John Carradine, Cesar Romero, and that isn't even counting the main actors. David Niven plays Fogg, Cantinflas plays Snagglepuss, Shirley MacLaine as Princess Aouda, and Robert Newton plays Mr. Fix. The film beat out such films as The Ten Commandments, Friendly Persuasion, Giant, and The King and I. 80 Days had the bigger budget and the most stars so you can imagine it wasn't hard for the academy to choose. This is another year where the best films of the year were not even nominated like The Searchers, The Red Balloon, and The Man that Knew Too Much. This isn't near the top of anyone's best Best Picture winners, so don't run out to see this one. Well, at least don't go see the newer one with Jackie Chan. All of it's cameo's consist of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Winner: The Bridge on the River Kwai
Director: David Lean
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

OK, I will try my hardest not to be biased on this one, because this is actually one of my favorite films of all time. Honestly, there was nothing that the other movies nominated could have done. This film is just too good. The only one that even had a chance was 12 Angry Men. The story is about P.O.W.'s from the allies having to build the Burmese Bridge for the Japanese. Alec Guinness plays the British officer determined to follow the rules of the Geneva Convention and keep the men's spirits up by helping the Japanese build the bridge. On the other side of things, you've got William Holden's crew who want to destroy the bridge. I won't go any further into the story, but just know that it is a good one and really worth a look. The film took home the Oscars for Best Director, Best Actor (Guinness), and Best Adapted Screenplay among others. The funny thing about the Screenplay win was that it was awarded to someone who hadn't even been a part of the writing process. The real writers, Micheal Wilson and Carl Foreman, were blacklisted and could only work on the project secretly. The award was instead given to Pierre Boulle, a man that couldn't even speak English. The Academy eventually retroactively awarded the other two with Oscars in 1984. Took them long enough! This goes to show you how incredibly damaging the work of McCarthy and the HUAC was to Hollywood.

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