Sunday, July 23, 2023

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1948: Best Picture

Finally, Best Picture of 1948. Honestly, not one of the strongest lineups. There are two clear-cut masterpieces, alongside three films whose craftsmanship is undeniably good, but as movies...just overall not my thing, I guess. There are lots of films from this year I'd rank above...but we'll get there, never you mind about that now.

The nominees:

J. Arthur Rank-Two Cities Films
BAFTA Award winner for Best Film from Any Source, Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Film; BAFTA Award nominee for Best British Film, National Board of Review's Top Ten Films of 1948, NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Film

I think I've been fair in my assessments of Oliver as director, of his stars, and the score. I loved the same team's previous Henry V and even felt it deserved more. But goodness! This film, though visually striking, kept me at arm's length with a snoozy sense of pacing and a parade of fine but miscast performers. On one level I admire the commitment to the melancholia; on the other, somebody throw a pie!

Johnny Belinda
Warner Bros.
Golden Globe winner for Best Picture, National Board of Review's Top Ten Films of 1948

Lew Ayres notwithstanding, it's impressive how well this melodrama works. If you can get past the infantilizing of deaf-mute Belinda, there's a good story of small-town malice here. It's not the best I've ever seen, but it's put together so well, so convincingly...I don't know, there are worse ways to spend a couple hours.

The Red Shoes
J. Arthur Rank-Archers
BAFTA Award nominee for Best British Film, National Board of Review's Top Ten Films of 1948

Now this one is firing on all cylinders. The tension of the arts - the artists who create, the impresarios who employ, the legends with feet in both worlds - is apparent from that opening scene, where students pile into a performance, only for one of them to realize that his professor, the composer of the evening's entertainment, has stolen his work. From that scene onward, the film is a series of artistic appreciation and manipulation, of powerful men using their position to exploit "their" artists, blocking them from a life outside, and artists finding fulfillment in being able to, you know, work. The centerpiece is The Ballet of the Red Shoes, a glorious sequence that captures how the audience and performer both lose themselves in the dance, surrendering reality to the story they see. Top marks in every element.

The Snake Pit
20th Century-Fox
National Board of Review's Top Ten Films of 1948, NYFCC Awards second runner-up for Best Film

Probably the film that had the greatest impact on American society, in that its popularity brought to light certain defects in the mental healthcare system. I think that's nice, though, in its pursuit of a cozy Hollywood ending, it all too easily cures the heroine's schizophrenia with some Freudian frou-frou. I could overlook such defanging were it not, forgive me, a movie I found just dull. Just could not get into it.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Warner Bros.
Golden Globe winner for Best Picture, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Film; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Film from Any Source, National Board of Review's Top Ten Films of 1948

All my life I've heard this was a masterpiece. Then I saw it and - yeah. Yeah! A pair of down-and-outers that have to fight someone for wages, then when they finally get the money, they spend it all quickly on booze? And somehow they think that when they find gold dust they're going to change - and who is surprised when the most anyone changes, it's undoubtedly for the worst, a full soul-rot? You can feel every moment of their journey - you can smell the sweat caught in Bogart's beard, the black-and-white photography mercilessly emphasizing the baking desert sun. No happy ending, but neither is there a feeling of tragedy at the end - rather, the inevitable consequences of human weakness. Shrug, chuckle, on to the next, anyone want a drink?


Hamlet won, becoming the first British film and the only Shakespeare adaptation to claim the top prize. There's no way they meant it. To me, the Best Picture of this lineup is obvious. My vote goes to:


Tomorrow, my personal Top Ten of 1948. How many of these titles make it - if any?

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