Worst Best Picture: Is A Man for All Seasons Better or Worse Than Crash?

image source: the guardian

image source: the guardian

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 1966 winner A Man for All Seasons. Is it better than Crash?

Country music is an unbeatable source for stories about divorce. Tammy Wynette sang the classically-sad “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” in 1968, a song about the then-revolutionary idea that women also experience sadness in a divorce.

It must have been going around, because just two years earlier two films obsessed with divorce were nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Man for All Seasons. The former is the better movie. Woolf? is a rager of a film, the story of four people’s lives finally going over the falls of madness and sadness at the same time over one night of debauchery and delusion. The latter, A Man for All Seasons, is the quiet story of a man sticking to his principles up until the point that they send him to his death.

A Man for All Seasons is the story of the end of Sir Thomas More, the man who refused to sanction Henry VIII’s divorce… mostly because it involved Henry VIII usurping the Pope and creating a new religion for the entire nation. More stands his ground as the last reasonable man of God in his world, and he’s pretty much right. His only crime is refusing to give the King what he demands, but in his day that’s about the worst you could do.

It’s the story of principles and the lack thereof. More is played as a saint right up until the end. His antagonists scream at him and threaten him and call him an idiot. More takes it all in stride — though he does imply that they’re all going to Hell, so, well, maybe let’s put “stride” in quotes — but he really handles it well until the court scene at the end. He refuses to give a slimy guy named Richard Rich a job in his court over and over because he sees him as disloyal and opportunistic. When Rich perjures himself to send More to death and More loses his damned mind on him, it’s really a popcorn moment in a pretty dry drama about principles and honesty. It’s weird, but it’s awesome.

I’m just going to come out and say that this movie did not blow me away at first. It feels capital-I Important, for sure, but it doesn’t really get going until the second act. The closing court scene is rousing, but there’s a ton of setup to get there. Everyone is very serious — I mean, the King’s killing folks — but even in the context it gets to be a bit much.

Paul Scofield, though! I’ll admit to not being up on my Paul Scofield knowledge, but he’s apparently in rarefied air: He died one letter short of the EGOT. His performance in this movie is amazing. He earns the hell out of his Best Actor award in 1966 for his portrayal of Sir Thomas More, and beats Richard Burton, Alan Arkin, Michael Caine, and Steve McQueen for the honor. If you aren’t going to invest the full two hours to watch Scofield’s fall, you should do some YouTubing for the courtroom scene at the end at the very least. He shines extremely brightly in a movie that’s not necessarily one for the ages.

The Best Part: A crazy, drunk-off-his-ass looking Orson Welles! He plays Cardinal Wolsey, the brief boss of Sir Thomas More. I say brief because he has two scenes: He shows up and yells at More and then gets hauled off to die immediately in prison. The movie’s cast may be largely unknown to the average modern viewer, but it’s impossible to miss Orson Welles. He looks enormous in Cardinal robes and it’s impossible to imagine that he lived for two more decades after this performance. It’s amazing.

The Worst Part: The setup of the story of Sir Thomas More’s undoing is an interesting part of English history, but it’s not a very fascinating thing to watch. This thing wakes up like it doesn’t want to go to school in the morning. It’s almost 40% of the way into the movie before anything “happens” in a sense.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It’s absolutely not an unremarkable movie, but it feels like an odd choice for Best Picture. Crash seems a ridiculous choice. It seems absurd that it would even be thought of in a positive light in the first place, much less the most positive light. A Man for All Seasons maintains all of the gravitas that won it Best Picture all those years ago, but it doesn’t feel essential. It does feel good, though, so it’s several magnitudes better than Crash.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

 Image source: Oscars.org

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