As we draw closer to the 2011 Oscars and all eyes turn towards what Natalie Portman’s wearing on the red carpet and whether co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco will be able to muster any convincing on-screen chemistry, we may well find ourselves wondering what the Oscars are really about and whether they truly deserve the hype. Film-makers covet the awards: they offer unrivalled prestige and publicity to the happy winners. But how much should we trust the Academy’s opinion? Looking back at some of the decisions it has made in the Best Picture category over the last 83 years suggests we should keep an eye out for the runners-up…
1944 – Going My Way v. Double Indemnity and Gaslight
Perhaps distracted by the largest scale war the world had ever seen, the Academy decided to give the Best Picture Oscar to the now largely forgotten Going My Way, in which Bing Crosby plays a young man entering the Roman Catholic clergy, as opposed to Billy Wilder’s unforgettable and utterly gripping film noir, Double Indemnity or the equally memorable mystery-thriller Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman.
1952 – The Greatest Show on Earth v. High Noon
High Noon, the renowned Western set in real time which featured Grace Kelly alongside Gary Cooper, may have lost out on the Oscar that year to circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth but it has since been deemed the 27th Best Film of All Time (American Film Institute 2007) as well as being named “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress, which has selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
1969 – Midnight Cowboy v. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Whilst Midnight Cowboy, the story of a naïve gigolo in New York, has not been forgotten and did gross over $40 million at the U.S. box office, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid grossed over twice that amount and brought us the unforgettable pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
1970 – Patton v. M*A*S*H
Best Picture was just one of 7 Oscars won by World War II film Patton but it remains debatable whether it truly won the battle of the 1970 war films as rival nominee M*A*S*H, the satirical comedy set in a field hospital during the Korean War, is much more popular today, having spawned the hugely successful television series of the same name which ran for eleven years.
1976 – Rocky v. All The President’s Men and Taxi Driver
It’s perhaps a little surprising that the Sylvester Stallone boxing film Rocky should have prevailed at the 1976 Oscars, motivational soundtrack and training montage aside, when this was also the year that brought us All The President’s Men, the ground-breaking political thriller based on the journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal (played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) and the hugely influential Martin Scorsese-directed Taxi Driver, the film which had Robert De Niro ask himself if he was talking to himself.
1982 – Gandhi v. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Tootsie
If it were a question of who you’d like to speak at your graduation, Gandhi might be more of a sensible choice than a wrinkly alien or a cross-dressing thesp, but when it comes to the films which depicted these unforgettable characters, it is less clear-cut: Richard Attenborough’s 8-Oscar film helped make a name for the formidable Ben Kingsley and was certainly the most serious and ‘worthy’ of the three…but has his Gandhi stood the test of time in the same way that Spielberg’s irresistible E.T. or Dustin Hoffman’s endearing ‘Dorothy Michaels’ (Tootsie) has?
1985 – Out of Africa v. Witness
Unlucky with Tootsie, director Sydney Pollack got his hands on the prize three years later with the colonial Kenyan love story played out between Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa but the captivating romantic thriller, Witness, in which Harrison Ford falls for an Amish girl is arguably much better-remembered, especially the scene featuring the Sam Cooke song ‘Wonderful World’ (where he doesn’t know much about history…).
1990 – Dances with Wolves v. Goodfellas
The ‘90s began with another questionable choice as director Martin Scorsese missed out once again with mobster film Goodfellas to 3-hour epic Western Dances with Wolves starring Kevin Costner. However, the Academy’s decision paralleled US Box Office figures, with Dances with Wolves grossing almost four times more than Goodfellas.
1994 – Forrest Gump v. Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and Quiz Show
Tom Hanks’s Forrest Gump was undoubtedly a landmark event of ‘90s cinema but this was an especially hotly contested year and many would disagree with its choice over very popular rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral, much-lauded drama The Shawshank Redemption, greatly influential Tarantino creation Pulp Fiction and acclaimed historical drama Quiz Show, directed by Robert Redford. I suppose films at the Oscars are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know which one’s going to get picked…(and you often end up with the sticky, sickly one).