Tuesday, November 1, 2022

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1946: Best Picture

It's been a long delay for a number of reasons. Work, other work, a book I'm reading, a podcast I'm about to guest on, life stuff - and, honestly, trying to get my thoughts together on five films that I felt a lot more about than I expected.

The nominees, as we've pointed out before, were mostly released in Los Angeles at the end of the year, their studios crossing fingers that being most recent would result in more love. Clearly, they were correct, though no one would get more love than The Best Years of Our Lives: eight nominations, seven wins including Best Picture. 

Let's get into it:

The Best Years of Our Lives
Samuel Goldwyn Productions
BAFTA Award Winner for Best Film From Any Source, Golden Globe Winner for Best Picture, NYFCC Awards Winner for Best Picture; National Board of Review's Top Ten Films of 1946

Three soldiers return from World War II and adjust to life at home. Oft lauded for not being 100% optimistic, regarded as a "humane" film, it's certainly one of the most empathic ones I've seen. Ending on a note of hope, it still acknowledges that the road ahead is going to continue to be a tough one to travel, not just because the soldiers have to readjustment to life after the traumas of war, but because we have to readjust to having them back in our lives. Children have grown, spouses have gone astray, and serving your country does not automatically qualify you for a raise or a better job. It deals with all this without feeling like a finger-wag or a message: The Best Years of Our Lives merely presents the truth, the good and the bad - the funny and the tragic.

Henry V
J. Arthur Rank-Two Cities Films
National Board of Review's Best Film of 1946; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Film

I think it's one of the most impressive interpretations of Shakespeare the cinema has ever seen, not just embracing the source material's stage roots, but its production history; not just filming the play for cinema, but embracing the different medium with its voiceovers, supernaturalism, and free adaptation of established works. Olivier's Henry V is fresh and alive! It serves its patriotic purpose as a call to arms, no matter how lop-sided the odds may seem - yet it does not ignore the meditations on the cost of war and fighting, nor the machinations that make personal problems into national ones. It's a celebration of British art through the centuries, a valentine to the power of theatre! When the stage of the Globe suddenly becomes the fields of France, it is not just to stage a more effective battle, but to remind us of how transporting great theatre can be. I was awed!
It's a Wonderful Life
Liberty Films
National Board of Review's Top Ten Films of 1946

I'd spent decades priding myself on not liking It's a Wonderful Life. Turns out I'd just seen clips wandering through the living room. The general theme of every individual's life mattering, of people being here on earth to help each other, of not leaving family behind no matter how incompetent Uncle Billy is - it's not subtle, but what does it matter when it's delivered with such conviction? The forcibly optimistic finale seems less forced now that I know most people really do put themselves out there for each other. And George Bailey reminds me of my father: a dreamer who constantly delayed his own ambitions to tend to the needs of those around him...and wound up building a community and a legacy that was greater than he could have imagined. A film that you can look at and say, "Yeah, I know that man, those people," is a great film.

The Razor's Edge
20th Century-Fox

Must be one of the worst Best Pictures I've seen. It is not poorly acted, nor badly scored, nor even is its exploration of a man searching for deeper meaning while unwilling to lose his rich, fun friends bad. It's just so fucking boring, every scene running 30-60 seconds longer than necessary - points are made, rehashed, repeated a third time, then eventually the editor decides to get us out of there. Ad nauseum. There is nothing in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime that it does not cover in the first 45 minutes, and it's all anchored by the blankest Tyrone Power you've ever seen. Boring, self-important bullshit.

The Yearling

Envelops one like a warm blanket. The story of a boy and his parents on their Florida swamp ranch post-Civil War - the yearling of the title is an orphaned deer the boy comes to adopt. Despite not always knowing quite what to do with the mom (though Wyman, bless her, knows), overall, the film is a beauty. Anchored by a compelling lead performance by newcomer Claude Jarman, Jr., though, golly, visually so remarkable you could just mute the thing and bask in the warm glows recreating the unique beauty of Florida sunsets. I believed it all, you know? Even when I could which sets were sets, I bought it. 


I know I went long and personal on one, but honestly, it's not the movie I would pick as my best. In fact, look at the star ratings - it's pretty clear there's only one movie that I both admired and adored. It meant so much to me watching it. The Best Years of Our Lives may have won the Oscar, but I would give my vote to:


Tomorrow: with 67 films screened, it's finally time for my Top Ten of 1946!

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