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 1984 winner Amadeus. Is it better than Crash?
If you haven’t seen Amadeus yet, are you going to? Are you, really? Yeah, see?
I would have gone my entire life without seeing this, and I’m still trying to process how I feel about it. I don’t think I’m done with Amadeus, even a few weeks later. It’s an insanely long movie, but unlike a lot of the longer slogs on the list, there’s a ton to cover. Mozart is a young buck who just wants to flirt and get drunk and act like an asshole, while Salieri wants to create the music that will secure his legacy. Just as in life, in Amadeus the asshole is rewarded.
It’s complicated, though, which makes this worth your time. The movie happens in the framing device of an elderly Salieri detailing the sins of his life to a priest. It’s a neat device — and it’s done much better than the nearly identical one in The Last Emperor — and it allows for the telling of a ton of absurd stories. All it needs to be is the central Mozart vs. Salieri conflict, but it’s largely the story of Mozart’s sad life behind his giggling demeanor. There’s some heavy stuff with his dad and his family that feels much more compelling than the standard “he only cares about his work!” stuff in your typical movie about a mad genius. It’s not impressive because it’s risky, it’s impressible because of the scope of the story.
That said, I led this off the way I did because this is definitely what you think it is. It’s a movie about two men battling with classical music, so don’t expect it to wow you if that kind of thing doesn’t wow you. You’re not going to give an eighth of a day to it at this point if you haven’t already, but you will be missing something unique if you don’t.
The Best Part: I rolled my eyes a lot during Amadeus, but Tom Hulce is just a damn delight as Mozart. His laugh will stick with me for a long time, so here’s some guy on YouTube that made a supercut of all of it:
The Worst Part: Holy shit, this is a long movie. A significant number of Best Picture winners are more than three hours long, but few of them feel as long as Amadeus. The most important conflict of the film is that Salieri can’t handle Mozart at all. It’s a compelling conflict, but it centers on Salieri’s shortcomings compared to the great composer. Maybe this is crass, but it’s definitely a bit difficult to feel for a guy whose main failing is that he kinda sucks compared to Mozart.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? This is the halfway point with 43 down and 43 to go. I’m not entirely sure where my mind is at after talking about Crash for most of a year, but it’s nowhere good. I like Crash far less than when I started, which I certainly didn’t think was possible, but I also love a lot of these movies so far. Next week I’m going to do a rewatch of Crash to remind myself what even happens in it, because I’m much clearer on the list of great movies that follows this paragraph now. Comparing it to Amadeus seems impossible. One is the story of a man’s lifetime struggle with the reality that genius pays off more than hard work and one is a testament to how our process for rewarding movies with the “Best Picture” distinction made (at least) one tragic error. I guess they are alike. I did it. Don’t check my work.
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 | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus
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.