1973-1977: ‘Heavyweights’ dominate the Oscars

The creative teams involved in making the Best Picture winners from 1973-1977 feature “heavyweight” directors, actors, themes and, yes, even a movie about heavyweight boxers.

The heavyweight directors  included Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Milos Foreman, and George Roy Hill. The actors included Allen, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Robert  De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and Sylvester Stallone.

The Sting, 1973, directed by George Roy Hill

Many critics loved (with the exception of  Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) “Butch Cassidy and “The Sundance Kid” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, but it didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture.

When the actors teamed up again for director George Roy Hill’s “The Sting,” however, they won the Academy Award for Best Picture. This comic, caper film is filled with twists and turns in what in many ways is about getting revenge for a late friend.

The “sting” of a big-time racketeer pits brain against gun and brawn. The tale is told with the marvelous music of Scott Joplin and is bolstered by great acting.Others competing for the 1973 top honor included “The Exorcist,” “Cries and Whispers,” and “American Graffiti.”

The Godfather II, 1974, directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II

 

For once a sequel is deserving of the honor of its predecessor. “Godfather I” won the Best Picture award and with the acting assistance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro among others, director Francis Ford Coppola wins the honor again with this outstanding crime drama.

Of course, The Godfather movies are about more than crime. They were about families, culture and acceptance in a world that was resistant to letting them into the great American melting pot.

In this second movie, we witness a family betrayal and death, finding a way to gain political favors, the long-reach of one’s family in the old world, and revenge on the family’s perceived enemies.

Mr. Coppola truly deserved a Best Picture honor for this 200-minute epic.

Other competitors for the 1974 Best Picture honor included “Chinatown,” “The Conversation,” and “Lenny.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975, directed by Milos Forman

You would have to be “cuckoo” not to find something to like about “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the 1975 winner of the Oscar for Best Picture.

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Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, (who became a counter-culture hero with his Merry Pranksters), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the beneficiary of a bravura performance by Jack Nicholson

The story is about a second-rate crook who pretends to be insane in order to avoid prison and be sent to what he expects to be an easier experience in a mental hospital. He proves to be an uplifting spirit for his fellow patients, but runs into a difficult adversary in the head nurse.

The cast is outstanding with several actors on the verge of stardom. That cast includes Louise Fletcher, Danny Devito, Christopher Lloyd, Will Sampson, and William Redfield.

Others contenders for the 1975 Best Picture Award included “Barry Lyndon,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Jaws” and “Nashville.”

Rocky, 1976, directed by John Avildsen

“Rocky” is not only about a Philadelphia underdog boxer taking on the heavyweight champion of the world, it also is a testament to the behind-the-scenes story of unknown Sylvester Stallone getting the movie made, starring in his film and for it to win the 1976 Best Picture Oscar.

In addition to Stallone, the fine cast includes Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, and Carl Weathers.

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Rocky

This was the first real sports movie to win the Best Picture Oscar even though “On the Waterfront” had a sports backdrop. The score is an uptempo joy.

The only problem with “Rocky” is that it led to far too many sequels.

Other contenders for the 1976 honor were “All the President’s Men,” “Bound for Glory,” “Network,” and “Taxi Driver.”

 

Annie Hall, 1977, directed by Woody Allen

Woody Allen had completed numerous outstanding films before his “Annie Hall” won the 1977 Oscar for Best Picture.

This semi-autobiographical film about his relationship with Annie/Diane Keaton is a whimsical comedy that takes on the issues of loneliness and love, family, communications, maturity, city life, careers and even driving.It’s filled with classic scenes including one with a lobster, one with Paul Simon, and many more.

As with most of Woody Allen’s movies, “Annie Hall” has a great cast. In addition to those previously mentioned, the cast include Allen regular Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Marshall McLuhan (check out his sudden appearance while Woody is waiting in line to see a movie),

Annie Hall

legendary interviewer Dick Cavett, Shelley Duvall, Colleen Dewhurst, Jeff Goldb added hislum, and Christopher Walken.

Another major plus for this movie was the cinematography of Gordon Willis, who also added his touch to Allen’s 1979 black and white visually and musically dazzling “Manhattan.”

The crop for Best Picture Oscar in 1977 was bountiful, but “Annie Hall” deserved the honor. Other contenders were “Star Wars,” “Julia,” “The Goodbye Girl,” and “Turning Point.”

 

 

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2017 Oscar winners

Some of the winners March 4, 2018, of the 2017 Academy Awards:

Best picture: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Best actress: Frances McDermond, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri

Three Billboards

Best actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman

 

Best directing: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Guillermo

Best supporting actress: Allison Janey, I Tonya

Allison-Janney

Best supporting actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriSam Rockwell

 

 

 

 

1968-1972: An edgy era of winning films

(Editor’s note: This is the ninth part in a multi-part series on the winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture. They are being presented in chronological order with “Wings,” the first winner, included among the movies reviewed and/or described in the first part.)

The five Oscar winners for Best Picture winners between 1968 and 1972 all had a certain edgy quality to them, even the musical “Oliver,” based on a Charles Dickens book and the stage musical, fits that description.

Those films were certainly reflective of the times with social upheavals, the U.S. presidency of Richard M. Nixon, the ongoing Vietnam War and many other issues shaking the times.

Oliver!, 1968, directed by Carol Reed

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Mark Lester as Oliver seeking more food.

“Oliver!,” the 1968 Academy Award Best Picture winner, not only leaves one humming some of its tunes, but thinking about some of the issues the story raises.

Based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” the movie is story is about a young boy swept into a gang of youthful thieves. It’s a story about poverty, too, and what it forces some people to do. That is still a very relevant issue today at it was in 1968 and when Dickens novel was first published as a serial between 1837–39.

At a little more than 2-1/2 hours, Oliver! is plenty of entertainment per entertainment dollar in addition to being thought-provoking. The memorable songs include “Consider Yourself Part of the Family,” “I’ll Do Anything,” “Food Glorious Food,” and “As Long as He Needs Me.”

The cast includes Ron Moody, Shani Walls, Oliver Reed, Mark Lester, Jack Wild and Hugh Griffith.

Other contenders for Best Picture in 1968 included “Funny Girl,” “The Lion in Winter,” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Midnight Cowboy, 1969, directed by John Schlesinger

Although its original rating has been changed, “Midnight Cowboy” is the only Best Picture winner with the distinction of having a “X” rating when it was first released.

The film had been approved with an “R,” but after United Artist executives consulted a psychologist who said that the “homosexual frame of reference” and its “possible influence upon youngsters,” the studio agreed to accept the X rating. The Motion Picture Association of America ultimately changed its rating system and the movie got its R rating.

This is a gritty film about a naive, young Texas man, played by Jon Voight, who thinks he can make a great living as a gigolo in New York City. Once there, he meets the street-savvy, homeless, dying Ratso, played by Dustin Hoffman.

In “Midnight Cowboy,” Hoffman as Ratso yells one of the all-time classic movie lines as he walks across NYC street traffic: ” “I’m walkin’ here!” That line reached No. 27 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.” Additionally, the song “Everybody’s Talkin’,'” which is featured throughout the movie, won Harry Nilsson a Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance

In many ways, this is a very down movie, but sadly the story of beautiful dreams destroyed by harsh realities is still a true story for many people today.

The other contenders for the 1969 Best Picture Award included “Anne of the Thousand Days,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Hello Dolly,” and “Z.”

Patton, 1970, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

The Academy Award Best Picture winning “Patton” is described as a milestone in screen bio-pics by many critics.

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George C.. Scott as Gen. Patton in “Patton”

George C. Scott extensively studied the brilliant, eccentric Gen. George S. Patton in preparing for the role. Scott displays the brilliance and the temper of the general, who was a major figure in World War II.

Scott, who won the Best Actor Award, had refused the Oscar nomination but won the award anyway. In a letter to the Academy, he stated that he did not feel himself to be in competition with other actors.

In addition to Scott, actors in the film included Karl Malden, Stephen Young and, if you dig further down in the credits, Tim Considine.

Other contenders for the 1970 Best Picture award included “Airport,” “Five Easy Pieces,” and “M*A*S*H.”

The French Connection, 1971, directed by William Friedkin

“The French Connection,” the 1971 Best Picture winner, is a high-energy, landmark film about international smuggling of heroin into New York City and a maverick detective’s efforts to try to stop it.

The great chase scenes through NYC streets are among the greatest in film history, which earned the film editors a well-deserved Oscar.. You will catch yourself moving back and forth in your seat (if you can manage to stay in it) trying to dodge the cars.

Gene Hackman is the star of this film, but the great cast also includes Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, and Tony LoBianco.

Other nominees for the 1971 Best Picture honor included “Clockwork Orange,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Last Picture Show,” and “Nicholas and Alexandra.”

The Godfather, 1974, Francis Ford Coppola

Hollywood has given us many notable gangster or mob films, but the two Oscar Best Picture winning “Godfather” movies gave us a greater sense of that world than ever before.

“The Godfather,” 1972, and “The Godfather Part 2, 1974, hold the distinction of being the only films that both the original and the sequel won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In the first movie, we see Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, the “godfather,” in a role that some critics view as his greatest film performance. The other members of this great cast include Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, singer Al Martino, and Alex Rocco.

This is a story about gangsters, but also one about families, not just crime families but in this case about Italian families seeking their version of the American dream and power.

It’s hard to imagine any other movie winning the 1972 Oscar for Best Picture than this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, but the other contenders included “Cabaret,””Deliverance,” “Sounder.”

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Marlon Brando As Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.”

 

1963-1967: Social issues, musicals, earthy comedy films win top honors

(Editor’s note: This is the eighth part in a multi-part series on the winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture. They are being presented in chronological order with “Wings,” the first winner, included among the movies reviewed and/or described in the first part.)

The five years from 1963-1967 were years of great diversity and competition for the Academy Award for Best Picture. They were in a variety of genres. The stories happened in the United States Deep South, England, and Austria.

 

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“Tom Jones,” 1963, directed by Tony Richardson.

The young, hilarious and clever Albert Finney as Tom Jones helps make the somewhat bawdy “Tom Jones” comedy a delight to watch. It’s based on the novel by Henry Fielding about the wild life of a playboy in 18th century rural England.

When the film premiered in October 1963, The New York Times critic wrote, “Prepare yourself for what is surely one of the wildest, bawdiest and funniest comedies that a refreshingly agile filmmaker has ever brought to the screen. …They have whipped up a roaring entertainment that develops its own energy (not just from the massive book) as much as from its cinematic gusto as from the racy material it presents.”

In addition to Finney, the cast includes Susannah York, Hugh Griffith,and Dame Edith Evans.

The others seeking the 1963 Best Picture award included “Cleopatra,” “How the West Was Won,” and “Lilies of the Field.”

“My Fair Lady,” 1964, directed by George Cukor

“My Fair Lady,” which won the 1964 Best Picture Award is one of this writer’s favorite musicals, but there may have been better films that were nominated for the 1964 honor.

In my childhood home, I grew up hearing my father play over and over the Original Broadway Cast soundtrack of “My Fair Lady,” which featured Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. Andrews was replaced in the movie by Audrey Hepburn. The songs are permanently ingrained in my head.

“My Fair Lady” is based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” The tale is about pompous phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) who is so sure of his abilities that he takes it upon himself to transform a Cockney working-class girl into someone who can pass for a cultured member of “high society.” His subject turns out to be the lovely Eliza Doolittle, who agrees to speech lessons to improve her job prospects. Higgins and Eliza clash, then form an unlikely bond — one that is threatened by an aristocratic suitor.

Even though this is a great musical that I love, my preference for the 1964 best picture might have been (if I wasn’t in my early teen years at the time) “Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Peter Sellers is magnificent playing three characters in this Stanley Kubrick classic satire.

Other contenders for best picture included “Becket,” “Mary Poppins.” and “Zorba the Greek.” By the way, Julie Andrews, although not cast in the Best Picture-winning “My Fair Lady,” was compensated with a Best Actress award for her dazzling performance in the title role of “Mary Poppins.”

“The Sound of Music,” 1965, directed by Robert Wise

The Academy Award Best Picture winning “The Sound of Music”was based on the true story of the von Trapp family. It was loved by many, but not all.

Star Christopher Plummer wasn’t a fan of the movie. He said in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview, “Because it was so awful and sentimental and gooey. You had to work terribly hard to try to infuse some miniscule bit of humor into it.”

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Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”

in the Hawkins family, my mother and sister went to see the movie in a downtown Louisville movie theater while my father and I headed to Crosley Field in Cincinnati to see the Reds play (it was a much better team then) that same day

It took me decades to get past this masculine bias against the movie, but when I finally viewed it I enjoyed it and realized that it wasn’t a threat to my masculinity.

The songs such as “Maria,” “My Favorite Things,””Climb Every Mountain” and “Do Re Mi” are memorable, if a bit saccharine for some tastes. The story of the family’s music and its escape from the threat of the Nazis is a worthy story for the Best Picture Oscar.

Other contenders for the 1965 Best Picture honor included “Doctor Zhivago.” Ship of Fools,” and “A Thousand Clowns.”

 

A Man for All Seasons, 1966, directed by Fred Zinnemann

“A Man for All Seasons, the 1966 Best Picture winner, was another winner based on a great Broadway play.

This winner is about ethics in addition to being an excellent historic drama. It is the story of the heroic Sir Thomas More resisting King Henry VIII’s demands that More give in and sanction his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

The New York Times reviewer stated, “‘A Man for All Seasons’ is a picture that inspires admiration, courage, and thought.”

The great cast includes Paul Scofield as More, Robert Shaw as the king, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Orson Welles, Susannah York, John Hurt, and Vanessa Redgrave.

Other nominees for the 1966 Best Picture honor included “Alfie,” “The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming,” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

In the Heat of the Night, 1967, directed by Norman Jewison

“In the Heat of the Night,” the 1967 Best Picture winner, was true to the dangerous times of the 1960s. It’s about a black detective from Philadelphia who is in the Deep South when a murder takes place and he is picked up as a suspect.

Sidney Poitier delivers a spot-on performance as Detective Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger delivers a stinging performance as Police Chief Bill Gillespie. Tibbs ultimately helps solve the murder. The confrontations between Tibbs and Gillespie during the course of events is fascinating.

When Tibbs is asked by the racist southerners what people call him back home, Poitier delivers masterfully the “They call me Mr. Tibbs” line, one of the great lines in movie history.

Others in the cast include Warren Oates and Lee Grant.

Other nominees for the 1967 honor included “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Graduate,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

 

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From  left, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) and Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) argue about a murder case in “In the Heat of the Night.”

 

 

1958-1962: Musicals, comedy, a religious drama plus a spectacular adventure win

Four of the five best picture Oscar winners between 1958-1962 were big picture productions, including two musicals. The fifth was a comedy.

Gigi, 1958, directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Thank heaven for musicals like “Gigi,” the 1958 winner of the Oscar for best  picture.

And for director Vincente Minnelli  it meant another Oscar for best picture.

The story surrounds young a Parisian girl being trained to be a “courtesan,” but finds herself drawn to a man known to be a womanizer.

The New York Times reviewer in 1958 wrote, “There won’t be much point in anybody trying to produce a film of ‘My Fair Lady’ for awhile because  (producer) Arthur Freed has virtually done it with ‘Gigi.'” Actually, “My Fa Lady” became a film and won an Oscar for best picture in 1964. More about that movie in a future post.

Aside from the similarity to “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi” was one of the first MGM films to be shot on location. The film is filled with tributes to the French lifestyle.

The memorable songs for this movie include “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” and “I Remember It Well.”

The cast includes Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold and Eva Gabor. The screenplay’s music by Frederick Loewe and lyrics and screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner.

Other competitors for the 1958 Oscar included “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and the Defiant Ones.”

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Charlton Heston in Ben Hur

Ben Hur, 1959, directed by William Wyler

Though many watch this just for the chariot race or watch it as their Easter weekend tradition, “Ben Hur” also is a powerful, deeply religious, nearly four-hour long movie that is rich enough in detail to merit several viewings.

Although this movie is largely a Christian movie, agnostics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and others can find meaning in this William Wyler-directed extravaganza. It’s about learning to forgive, being loyal to one’s family, the healing power of belief and, of course, about the story of Jesus Christ as viewed by the author, and about the clashes between the Jews and the occupying Romans.

Although based on Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace’s novel, the story had previously been produced on stage (no kidding) and in films. But this version was the most spectacular yet.

For this writer growing up in Louisville, Ky., this move was such a spectacular for our family that we had to see it in one of the fancy downtown movie theaters, not one of the usual drive-ins where we could bring our beverages and homemade popcorn.  If we wanted popcorn, we would have to buy it at the Brown Theater concession stand.

The outstanding cast for this movie included Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Sam Jaffee, Haya Harareet, and Hugh Griffith.

Other 1959 competitors for the honor included “Anatomy of a Murder,” “The Diary of  Anne Frank” and “Room at the Top.”

The Apartment, 1960, directed by Billy Wilder.

“The Apartment,” the 1960 Academy best picture is both a comedy and a morality tale about assisting others’ infidelity.

Under the direction of “all-star” director Billy Wilder, the film involves a bachelor (Jack Lemmon) who turns over the key to his apartment to the hierarchy of his employers,  a situation he doesn’t like. When gives the key to one boss (Fred MacMurray), he finds that the woman (Shirley MacLaine) he brings is someone Lemmon’s character knows and is attracted to.

Lemmon drew high praise for his performance in this part, following his starring role in “Some Like it Hot.” A New York Times critic wrote Lemmon “takes precedence as our top comedian by virtue of his work in this film.”

This was quite a different role for MacMurray, whom some of us were just getting to know as the dad in “My Three Sons.”

Other contenders for best picture in 1960 included “The Alamo,” “Elmer Gantry” and “The Sundowners.”

West Side Story, 1961, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.

Academy Award winning best picture “West Side Story” is one of the best-loved musicals even by those shaking their heads at ballet-style dancing gang members.

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Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the story is about gang and ethnic conflicts on New York City’s West Side. A ground-breaking musical, the story follows the Jets and the Sharks as they fight for their turf while Maria and Tony fight for love.

The magnificent music is by Leonard Bernstein and  Stephen Sondheim. The cast includes Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn.

Other films nominated for the 1916 best picture Oscar were “Fanny,” “The Hustler,” and “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, David Lean

While based on a true story, David Lean’s Academy Award best-picture winning “Lawrence of Arabia” is about a descent into madness even though the basic story is a action-filled tale regarding how Brit T. E. Lawrence helped Bedouins in their battle  against the Turks during World. War I.

This spectacular movie needs to be seen on a big screen. The cinematography by David Lean’s crew is spectacular showing the beauty and terrors of the desert. It’s truly one of my favorite movies to watch, an intelligent and visual delight as nearly all of David Lean’s films were.

The descent into madness by Lawrence is exemplified by his increasingly dangerous tactics and even his seeming loss of identity. The movie is loosely based on T. E. Lawrence’s “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” Although Lawrence is very heroic, he eventually starts to lose his British identity, takes more and more chances, wears Arab garb and takes on action in the desert that few would chance.

Lawrence is played marvelously by Peter O’Toole in his first major film. Others in this great cast include Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Omar Shariff, Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains

Films competing with this Lean masterpiece for the 1962 best picture honor included “The Longest Day,” “The Music Man” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

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Coming soon: 1963-1967, the age of “They call me Mr. Tibbs,” “The Rain in Spain” and much more.

 

1953-1957: Big stories on bigger screens

By the early 1950s, movie studio executives realized that television was a real competitor and they needed to take action to bring audiences back into the movie theaters.

The Turner Classic Movies documentary series “Moguls and Movie Stars” includes an episode on the period from 1950 to 1960 titled, “The Attack of the Small Screens.” Cinerama, Cinemascope and 3D were among the innovations the studios tried, but the solution was big stories told on the big screen in powerful ways.

Several of those big stories hit the big screen between 1953 and 1957.

Best Picture winners

 

“From Here to Eternity,” 1953, directed by Fred Zinnemann.

“From Here to Eternity” is a prime example of powerful film-making in the mid-1950s.

From-Here-To-Eternity
The Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr kissing on the beach is one of the most famous kissing scenes in motion picture history and has been imitated and lampooned many times.

This Oscar Best Picture winner draws from the deep well of memories and emotions tied to the days before and day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as its immediate impact. It’s a story of romance, ill-fated affairs, ladies of the evening’s hopes for the future, the military life, the masculine lifestyle and occasional cruelty of the early 1940s, all drawn from the 850-page novel by James Jones.

And, of course, it leads to the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to as “a day that will live in infamy,” the day of the surprise attack (at least to most people) on Pearl Harbor.

This film includes one of Frank Sinatra’s finest performances and it’s a non-musical role for the legendary singer. Others in the outstanding cast include Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, a gorgeous Donna Reed and many others in relatively minor roles who would become much better known over the years.

The Oscar Best Picture honor was a great choice by the Academy. Other contenders included “Julius Caesar,” “The Robe” and “Shane.”

“On the Waterfront,” 1954, directed by Elia Kazan.

The strikingly powerful, Oscar-winning “On the Waterfront” featured Marlon Brando’s greatest performance in a career filled with outstanding acting.

This story is about a dock worker who believes he could have been a champion boxer, but now is subject to the whims of a mob-run union* with which his brother has strong ties. Now, he faces major moral decisions.

Brando’s character is pulled in different directions by people including union bosses (including his brother) who want him not to talk to Congressional investigators and by a Roman Catholic priest and a love interest who want him to testify at a hearing.

In addition to Brando, the great cast includes Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger.

This movie won eight Oscars.

Other contenders for the Best Picture award included “The Caine Mutiny,” “Country Girl” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

On the Waterfront
Terry (Marlon Brando), right, tells his brother (played by Rod Steiger) that his life could have been better. “You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money. You don’t understand. I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.” 

 

“Marty,” 1955, directed by Delbert Mann.

The Oscar-winning picture “Marty” was a nice, relatively small movie compared to the other four films that won that award between 1953 and 1957. The competition for the award wasn’t as strong as in some previous years.

The story was adapted for the big screen from a television play written by Paddy Chayefsky. It is a story about a Bronx, N.Y., butcher played by Ernest Borgnine who unexpectedly finds love. He escapes family squabbles and finds the strength to escape from what he believes is a meaningless existence.

Borgnine won the best actor Oscar for his sensitive performance. Also in the cast were Betsy Blair, Joe Mantell and Esther Manciotti.

Other contenders for the 1955 best picture Oscar included “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” “Mr. Roberts,” and “Picnic.”

Around the World in 80 Days, 1956, directed by Michael Anderson.

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From left, Shirley MacLaine, David Niven and Cantinflas while trying to travel around the world in 80 days.

“Around the World in 80 days” is a rollicking, Oscar Best Picture winning adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. It’s a lot more fun than many Best Picture winners, even though some critics claim it has lost much of its charm over the years.

David Niven heads up the extraordinary cast that includes some new stars in major roles and several existing stars in cameo roles. The other stars in this film included Shirley MacLaine in another breakout role (after winning a Golden Globe award earlier for her part in The Trouble with Harry), the outstanding comic Cantinflas, and Robert Newton. The cameos included Buster Keaton, John Gielgud, Robert Morley, Marlene Dietrich and even Frank Sinatra.

Set in the 19th century, the story is about an Englishman’s bet that he could travel around the world in 80 days. The means of traveling around the world in this pre-airplane and pre-automobile era were by ships, trains, stage coaches, hot air balloon and even elephants.

If you get a chance to see this on the big screen or even a 4K Ultra HD or HD television, go for it..

Other contenders in 1956 included “Giant,” “The King and I” and “The Ten Commandments.”

“The Bridge on the River Kwai,” 1957, directed by David Lean.

I confess “The Bridge on the River Kwai” is one of my all-time favorite films, at least in my top 50. I like it so much that when I saw it was available on 4k Ultra HD, I ordered it.

It is a big screen extravaganza with big messages about the madness of war. Toward the end of the movie, a doctor calls what has happened “madness.” Directed by David Lean, one of the all-time great directors, his “Lawrence of Arabia,” which won another best picture Oscar in 1962, also showed a major character’s descent into madness. More about that in a future post.

The madness here is not just the Japanese forcing British prisoners of war to build a bridge, but a British colonel played by Alec Guinness who persuades the Japanese to let the British control the building of the bridge. The colonel believes that activity will keep up morale for his fellow British soldiers, whom had been ordered to surrender by the British hierarchy.

In the meantime, a former American prisoner of war (played powerfully by William Holden) who had escaped the inescapable island is recruited to join a British team that intends to blow up the bridge.

By the way, there is a great deal of similarity between the POW camp commanders’ warning/welcome to the new POWs in Bridge and the Klingon commander’s warning to Capt. James T. Kirk and Dr. Leonard McCoy in “The Undiscovered Country” when they arrive as prisoners on an icy planet that is known as being an alien graveyard. What the Japanese commander first warns and decades later the Klingon warns is that there are no guard towers because there is no need for them. If you check out the two scenes, you will be struck by the similarities.

In addition to Holden and Guinness, the outstanding cast included Jack Hawkins (no known relation), Sessue Hayakawa, James Donald and Geoffrey Home.

The other contenders included (who didn’t really have much of a chance against Bridge) Peyton Place, Sayonara, Twelve Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution.

 

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*A personal note: this writer believes unions have done much more good than harm, even though that doesn’t apply to all unions. The writer and his family members have benefited from what his father earned because of his union.

1948-1952: An era of giants

From 1948-1952, giants of the entertainment world — including the motion picture –industry played prominent parts in the movies that won the Academy Award for best picture.

Those names would include Laurence Olivier, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Cecile B. DeMille, Charlton Heston, Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, Leslie Caron, Anne Baxter, and in a relatively minor role Marilyn Monroe.

Even William Shakespeare got in on the action.

“Hamlet,” 1948, directed by Laurence Olivier.

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Laurence Olivier in Hamlet

This Oscar-winning version of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was the first time one of The Bard’s great plays received the Academy Award for best picture.

This production was a creation of Laurence Olivier who directed the movie and played Hamlet. The film version was shortened considerably from the four-hour play to 153 minutes. Shot in Denmark, it was lauded for its photography.

In case this is new to you,  the story is about the prince (Hamlet) “who just couldn’t decide” and was seeking revenge for the death of his father.

The great cast included Jean Simmons, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Stanley Holloway, Eileeen Herlie, Basil Sydney and Felix Aylmer.

Among other nominees for the top prize were”The Red Shoes” and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

“All the King’s Men,” 1949, directed by Julian Jarrold

Based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren, this incredible political drama is the fictional story of a politician who rises to the governorship fighting corruption but then falls to the same demons.

The movie and book are supposedly based on the life and death of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, who called himself “The KIngfish.” He served as the governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a member of the United State Senate from 1932 until his assassination in 1935. There’s also a bit of Major League Baseball Commissioner and former Kentucky Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler in the character, but Chandler wasn’t assassinated.

Set in the depression era, it starred Broderick Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, John Ireland, Joanne Dru and John Derek (future director/photographer and husband of Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, and Bo Derek). This was a big break for Crawford whom many of us boomers remember from the “Highway Patrol” TV series.

A remake in 2006 starring Sean Penn doesn’t have quite the same power as the original.

Other contenders for the 1949 top picture Oscar included “A Letter to Three Wives” and “Twelve O’Clock High.”

 

“All About Eve,” 1959, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewciz

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Anne Baxter, left, and Bette Davis talk in “All About Eve.” Also pictured, from left, are George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Marlowe.

“A’ll About Eve” is the ultimate backstage drama with Anne Baxter’s character taking over the Broadway role and life of aging star Bette Davis’ character .

In addition to Davis and Baxter, the great cast of this best picture winner includes  George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill and Thelma Ritter. Marilyn Monroe also appears in several scenes.

This movie deservedly won six Oscars. Among the other outstanding films competing for the best picture Oscar were “Born Yesterday,” “King Solomon’s Mine,” and “Sunset Boulevard.”

An American in Paris, 1951, directed by Vincente Minnelli

Best picture winner “An American in Paris” serves as a great showcase for the marvelous dancing skills of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in addition to the great music of Gershwin.

The plot involves Kelly, playing an artist in Paris, being torn between two women. The songs, choreography and production are what makes this a delight to watch, not the plot.

This is not this writer’s favorite Kelly musical. “On the Town” and “Singin’ in the Rain” rank higher on my list of favorite Kelly musical vehicles. Yet, it is an outstanding film, worth watching several times if you appreciate great productions.

Other nominees for the best picture Oscar included “A Street Named Desire” and “A Place in the Sun.”

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Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron  in “An American in Paris.”

The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

This Oscar winner might have been about the greatest show on Earth, but it wasn’t the greatest movie of 1952.

“The Greatest Show on Earth” is a romance and fugitive story under a circus big top. This film lives up to Cecil B. DeMille’s reputation as a fabulous creator of big productions.

The outstanding cast includes Jimmy Stewart. Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston and Dorothy LaMour.

This writer’s problem isn’t that this is a bad film, but that there were better movies nominated for the 1952 Academy Award for best picture. Those included “High Noon,” “The Quiet Man,” and “Moulin Rouge.”