53. The King’s Speech (2010)
This was the year when many critics were rooting for The Social Network, a film I actively despised. So I wasn’t exactly disappointed when this perfectly charming, well-acted, inoffensive dramedy ended up winning instead. (Tom Hooper winning Best Director is another story.) And so we enter the “damning with faint praise” portion of our program…
52. On the Waterfront (1954)
Discussed here. I still have trouble stomaching the politics of this movie, even if Marlon Brando’s performance is so good it almost makes me cry.
People love to beat up on this movie for being schmaltzy, ingratiating, ideologically horrible, and so on. Placed side by side with the peerlessly cool, ironic, stylish Pulp Fiction, another Best Picture nominee that year, its sincerity and sentimentality look painfully old-fashioned. Personally, I find it mostly enjoyable in spite of all that, and it’s got enough of a sense of humor that I can forgive it its frequent lapses into mawkishness.
Paddy Chayefsky and Delbert Mann’s quasi-Neo-Realist portrait of working-class Italian-Americans in the Bronx is kind of like an Alexander Payne movie minus the cutting humor and undercurrents of quiet despair—which is to say that it’s vaguely tiresome and sentimental. It does win points for being short (at ninety minutes, the shortest Best Picture winner). Weirdly, this also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
I’m as big a Coen Brothers fan as anyone, but I’ve never understood the love for this movie, which strikes me as workmanlike and chilly, and a poor representation of their body of work. Why this film won a Best Picture Oscar and not Fargo, A Serious Man, or True Grit—and why Inside Llewyn Davis wasn’t even able to secure a nomination—is baffling to me, unless those films were not felt to be “serious” enough by the Academy. I think No Country doesn’t work for me because it sacrifices the comedy and levity that make the Coens’ films so much fun for a “seriousness” that feels labored and inauthentic. Maybe better to think of it as a great Cormac McCarthy film but a bad Coen Brothers film? I give up!
Vulgar, expensive, overlong, and tremendously fun, especially if you can see it screened theatrically. My favorite thing about these big epics from the ’50s and ’60s is usually the music, and Miklos Rosza’s love theme makes this score one of the best of its kind.
Also known as Braveheart 2, it’s slightly better made than its “predecessor.” I’ve never been much of a Russell Crowe fan, so any appeal for me here derives from this film’s old-fashioned qualities. Its pleasures are not so different from those of Ben-Hur, which may explain why I’ve ranked them next to each other.