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. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1970 winner Patton. Is it better than Crash?
I’ll say this: this was the easiest movie on the list to pick out a picture for.
Patton is dramatic, funny, and challenging. It’s a sweeping view of one part of one person, but it’s by no means simple. George C. Scott won — and refused — an Oscar for his portrayal of General George S. Patton, and I’m not sure anyone has ever done a better job of portraying a character.
It’s a character, for sure, because it’s such a thin version of a person. Patton doesn’t care about anything aside from military conquest. He can’t keep control of his troops because he keeps screwing up basic stuff, but he’s a brilliant tactician on the battlefield. He, like so many of us, can’t do the dumb things he’s gotta do every day — like, well, not piss off Russia — to get to the part of life that he cares about. He just wants his troops to follow him, unwavering, to battle. He cares about conquest and victory in a very romantic sense. He’s a warrior-poet, emphasis on both, and he needs his story told in blood.
What makes it work so well is that it isn’t a sort of un-Full Metal Jacket. It’s still not a very rosy view of military life or battle, it’s just a more complicated view of the men who care about such things. Patton isn’t the everyman and he isn’t supposed to be a suggestion of the proper way to feel about patriotism or war. He’s supposed to be an over-the-top view of the military. He’s what we’d all be if we actually gave ourselves to work. He’s too far gone.
War movies are almost always the story of why we shouldn’t go to war. Those are fine — many on this list are more than fine — but Patton wants to talk about George S. Patton more than war. It’s about how we love our heroes when they’re being heroic, but we don’t want to deal with the things that keep those people human. We want them to go back into a box until there’s more heroism needed. George C. Scott’s Patton wants to keep being heroic all the time, and when he runs out of villains to find he starts constructing them himself.
The Best Part: Maybe it came across here, but if there’s any doubt I shall put it to rest: GEORGE. C. SCOTT. Go watch the first 10 minutes of Patton. It’s the iconic “pep talk” scene in front of the giant flag. Go do it, right now. Don’t even read the rest of this section first. I could put anything here, because no one is reading it, because you are watching the first 10 minutes of Patton. I’m gonna put my Social Security number here.
The Worst Part: I hate to keep coming back to length. A good third of Best Picture winners are 2.5 hours or longer, and most of them definitely don’t need to be. Patton doesn’t sag under the weight of 170 minutes, but it’s impossible to not mention. It’s supposed to feel enormous, like the full weight of the man’s struggle against the system he so didn’t understand, and it does. It just wanders a little bit toward the middle; there’s some especially repetitive scenes of Patton losing his shit and losing his army that don’t add to anyone’s understanding of the General himself.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? Patton, if nothing else, is the triumph of George C. Scott. He’s exceptional in Dr. Strangelove, but he’s all-time great, here. It would not be unreasonable to say that this is possibly the greatest single performance on the list, and this is one hell of a list. There are flaws with Patton, to be sure, but none of them come from Scott’s consistent, terrifying performance. He sells you on a difficult concept: that a man who loves war, and only war, is more than a monster. Exceptional art challenges the viewer, and Patton does. I’m not even going to talk about the other movie right now.
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 Slave | The Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather | Casablanca | Grand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton
Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @alexbad.