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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Every Best Picture Winner I Have Seen, Ranked in Order of My Enjoyment

The Oscars are almost here, and I love lists, so I thought now was a perfect time to rank the Best Picture winners I have seen in order. Some thoughts:

-I was a little disappointed that I hadn't seen more of the winners. Biggest omissions are Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Deer Hunter, and Schindler's List.
-Going through the list it really strikes you how unrepresentative the Best Picture Oscar is of the best movies of all-time. I can tell you that Goodfellas, Citizen Kane, Fargo, Social Network, and many others would be high up on this list if awards voters had been a little smarter.
-Crash is one of the stupidest movies I've ever seen.

Here they are, 40 Best Picture winners, ranked for your entertainment:

1. Casablanca
2. The Apartment
3. The Godfather
4. On the Waterfront
5. The Bridge Over the River Kwai
6. The Godfather, Part II
7. The Sting
8. All About Eve
9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
10. You Can’t Take It With You
11. Annie Hall
12. The Lost Weekend
13. Patton
14. The Silence of the Lambs
15. Rocky
16. Unforgiven
17. The French Connection
18. West Side Story
19. In the Heat of the Night
20. American Beauty
21. Gandhi
22. From Here to Eternity
23. Marty
24. The Departed
25. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
26. No Country for Old Men
27. Going My Way
28. Rain Man
29. Braveheart
30. The Life of Emile Zola
31. Forrest Gump
32. The Sound of Music
33. My Fair Lady
34. The King’s Speech
35. The Hurt Locker
36. Titanic
37. Slumdog Millionaire
38. Driving Miss Daisy
39. The Greatest Show on Earth
40. Crash

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pictures at a Revolution

Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris, who currently writes about the Oscars for Grantland, is a fascinating look at the film industry of the mid to late 1960s. Harris convincingly portrays the era as a watershed for Hollywood, when a number of forces came to bear on the studios, creating whole new ideas for what movies could be.

The conceit of the book is a strong one. Harris takes the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967 (The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Doctor Dolittle, and winner In the Heat of the Night) and shows how the making of each film highlighted the massive changes of the time.

Among the major issues covered by Pictures at a Revolution are race relations, the influence of foreign movies, changing audience tastes, the effects of television (especially color television), and the death of censorship and the restrictive production code.

The stories of each film's production will make you wonder how any movies ever get made. Some of these movies are among the most successful and beloved of their or any time, and yet each of them faced substantial resistance, even after they started shooting.

Harris conducted an astonishing number of interviews for the book, and the payoff is that it really feels as though Harris is intimately familiar with all of the people in the book. I enjoyed getting to know all of these colorful figures, the heroes and the villains of each production.

The heroes are people like Robert Benton and David Newman, the screenwriters of Bonnie and Clyde, who waited five years to see their screenplay filmed, and then only after the director turned them down three separate times. Sidney Poitier is a major figure in the book, as he starred in two of the five films and nearly took a role in Doctor Dolittle as well. Poitier's part in the novel is kind of tragic. Stuck in a strange position as really the only prominent black actor, Poitier struggled with his career decisions, and ultimately wound up alienating many black people by playing dehumanized, idealized black men.

There is also the story of Spencer Tracy's and Katharine Hepburn's last film together, as they filmed Guess Who while Tracy was clearly running short on time. And the disastrous, incredibly ill-conceived production of Doctor Dolittle will make you laugh, and will make many aspiring movie actors reconsider.

For anyone with an interest in this era of film history, Pictures at a Revolution is a must-read. Anyone with an interest in insider stories of the movies will also find it enjoyable.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My Favorite TV Characters of All-Time

A tweet from SI's Richard Deitsch about his five favorite TV characters got me in the list-making mood, and I enlisted the help of the only two people I know who care about TV more than I do and we got to work.

Here's my final list of my 10 favorite TV characters, most of whom are from pretty recent shows, but there are some classics on there too:

1. Liz Lemon (30 Rock)
2. Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke Show)
3. Leo McGarry (The West Wing)
4. Ernie "Coach" Pantusso (Cheers)
5. Ron Swanson (Parks and Recreation)
6. Gregory House (House)
7. Boyd Crowder (Justified)
8. Jack Donagy (30 Rock)
9. Toby Ziegler (The West Wing)
10. Al Swearengen (Deadwood)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One Hundred Years of Solitude

I don't really feel capable of reviewing One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's epic magical-realist novel about a centur in the life of a secluded village and its founing family, the Buendias.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is just too expansive, too full of events, emotions, too full of life for me to really get a good handle on what, if anything Garcia Marquez is driving at. Instead, I basically enjoyed it as a chronicle of increasingly absurd and fascinating events.

Your level of enjoyment will depend greatly on your capacity to suspend disbelief and to accept that the village of Macondo is not a place where the rules of time and space apply. Some of Garcia Marquez's flights of fancy were off-putting to me, but on the whole they were a joy to read.