I’m going to admit something to you. Some of you will find it shocking, while others will be relieved that your suspicions are indeed true. Are you ready for it?
I have never been in or directed a movie. It’s a shock, I know. I’m just an average Joe.
In fact, many of us are just simple average Joes or Janes. There’s nothing overly special about us individually. I am not George Clooney, no matter how much I’d like to be.
But why did I mention movies earlier? For starters, I love them. Second, movies, in my mind, force our minds into an extraordinary “out of body” experience. As soon as the opening shot is gone from the screen at the start of a movie, we’re instantly hooked. We’re drawn into a world that may or may not exist at a time which is likely not our own. We are introduced to people we’ve never met before and soon we’re asked to root for them or not based simply on some lines, shots of them and a little tone-setting music.
At the end, we judge the movie based on if we thought it was “good” or not, whether you’ll see it in a bargain DVD bin at Walmart in four months or if it will live on through the halls of storytelling history.
We love movies. They connect us and they allow us to be who we can’t. They drive conversation, divide generations while others leave us perplexed. The enormous power of movies in our everyday lives cannot be overstated.
And behind every single movie is a hoard of creatives, financiers and specialized tradesmen that work round the clock to bring us beautiful stories of the human experience and to make us experience being human. However, not all movies are created equal. Some of them work while many of them don’t. You’re either remembered or you meet an ignominious end. But still, the creatives, financiers and the specialized tradesmen work on movies because of everything that a movie does to us.
As for me, I try to see what they do to us. But movies don’t affect us just because they’re there. No, they speak to us in ways that we can’t even perceive as it’s happening. Only after multiple screenings of some movies, like No Country For Old Men, do we really understand the deeper meaning and what motivates the characters to do what they do. This is the real genius of the “moving pictures:” sometimes you really need multiple screenings to get the idea. The concepts of character, plot and pacing are conveyed so well that we don’t even know what all is happening during each frame of the movie.
To get to the bottom of this subtext takes a lot of work and by golly that’s what I’m here to do. In order to learn the most, I choose to learn from the best. But there are so many good movies out there (too many to count, really) so how could I possibly know where to begin? Fortunately, thanks to Hollywood’s love of itself and its craft, we have the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has awarded one movie per year with the Academy Award for Best Picture. There are 89 of them. Each of them was voted on by members of “The Academy” to honor the best and most outstanding movie.
That’s where I will start. Over the next several months, I will personally watch each of the Best Picture winners and form my own judgements about them. The goal is to compare and contrast each of the films that won the award.
When I was contemplating this project, I had to first figure out the order in which I wanted to do them. The most obvious order is to do them in the order in which they won the award, starting with Wings up until Moonlight. To be honest though, I didn’t want to spend my first 20 posts being stuck pre-1950.
I considered going backwards, starting with Moonlight and ending with Wings. This approach comes with two problems. First, the reverse of the above problem. I feel like focusing on modern movies first would do a disservice to the movies upon which the foundation of good filmmaking was built. Second, there’s no way I can get this project finished before the next Oscars in 2018.
This summer, though, I was presented with another idea: alphabetical order by director’s last name. That’s the ticket. The order is simply randomized based on sheer chance. Additionally, of the 89 Best Picture winners, 62 of their directors have won Best Director. So, Best Picture winners go hand-in-hand with great directors.
If one director has won more than one Best Picture, then I will review them in chronological order, starting with the earliest.
First on the list is 2012’s winner, Argo, directed by Ben Affleck. Interestingly enough, this movie is one of only four winning movies in which the director was not nominated for Best Director.
Because I’m a red-blooded American, I have seen all or part of many of the winners:
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Sound of Music (1966)
Rain Man (1988)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Forrest Gump (1994)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
No Country For Old Men (2007)
The King’s Speech (2010)
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
However, each of the above movies will be subjected to the same critiques that this blog is centered on.
You might have noticed some films that were missing from that list like All Quiet on the Western Front, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Ben-Hur, Patton, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, Rocky, Dances with Wolves, Schindler’s List and Braveheart. You read that right, I have never seen those movies. In fact, I haven’t seen 75 of the best picture winners. However, I feel like this uniquely qualifies me for this kind of project. I’ll be seeing most of these movies for the first time and hopefully I can bring some new light and perspective to so many classic movies. This is truly a unique opportunity to still discover so much about movies that I just haven’t had in the past.
There are some rules, though. I will watch each movie exactly twice. I will rate the movies on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being the movies that meet or exceed my expectations.
I will rate the movies based on the following criteria:
For each of the categories, I will assign a one or zero to that category based on how I feel it meets my own expectations. If a movie has less-than-stellar set design for example, that category will receive a zero. If it meets or exceeds my expectations, that category will receive a one. Basically, if I think it’s good, it’ll get a one. If not, then it’s a zero.
I will have three “wild card” points that I can assign to any category that I feel did something extremely well. I am not required to use any wild card points. At the end, I add up the points and assign the film a score.
All of my readers will not agree with what I have to say about each of the categories of specific films. That’s fine. I encourage that kind of discussion and critical thinking. You are always welcome to share your opinion with me but, at the end of the day, it’s my blog and what I say goes.
I don’t have a set format for each of these posts. Some may be longer than others, some may have more background into the history/backstory of the movie. My judgements may be right on the money or they’re off by 1,000 miles. But the point of this is to learn. I’m not an expert in movies now, but I will be once I get through all these movies.
Anyway, Argo is first up. Here is the trailer. Happy watching!