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 1965 winner The Sound of Music. Is it better than Crash?
What’s the most commonly viewed Best Picture winner? What’s the one of these that you can be sure everyone has seen? Is it a timeless classic like The Godfather or Gone with the Wind? Is it an inescapable modern movie like Titanic or Forrest Gump? I’m not sure I know, but my guess is that it’s the one from everyone’s childhood: The Sound of Music.
For better or worse, The Sound of Music is “our” musical. You can get by with a passing knowledge of My Fair Lady and West Side Story, but not so with Julie Andrews. You know Julie Andrews. If I start one of these songs around you, you will be compelled to finish it. You can’t going to leave “Doe, a deer, a female deer…” hanging out there. You’re going to have to sing about a drop of golden sun, no matter how much of a heartless bastard you are.
That’s the charm of The Sound of Music. It’s totally inescapable. For starters, the bad guys are Nazis. In most musicals the bad guys are “people who don’t appreciate someone leaving their station in life” and in The Sound of Music they are racist murderers. That’s a leg up on most stories, right there. The plot centers on Maria (Julie Andrews) as she serves as the governess for the von Trapp family, seven children and their strict father (Christopher Plummer). I feel a little ridiculous explaining the plot of The Sound of Music, since my premise here requires that this be unnecessary for anyone. Short and sweet: Maria falls in love with their father, the children fall in love with Maria, their father falls in love with Maria, everyone watching the movie falls in love with Maria, and the Nazis come to ruin everything.
I watched this movie a number of times when I was very young. I rewatched it for this review and I couldn’t believe how little I picked up as a kid. I basically remembered that Julie Andrews was really great and that there was a lot of singing, and I somehow glossed over the darkness of the film. The oldest daughter (who sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” which is much sadder than I remember it) experiences some troubles with her boyfriend that definitely exceed your typical romance. The main love story is almost derailed in a particularly cruel way. The entire nature of religion in the movie deserves a much longer look. There’s a lot going on in The Sound of Music beyond Julie Andrews cheering everyone up with a guitar and a positive attitude.
I typically respond poorly to “feel good” movies, but I think what works about The Sound of Music for me is that background darkness. Julie Andrews floats through the movie and consistently demands everyone just try a little bit harder to have a smile in a tough time, but she’s carrying a lot while she does that. It’s a tough sell to say that this is a “complex” movie, especially because it gets exposed to so many people when they’re 10. Most people who see The Sound of Music don’t dwell on poor 16-year-old Liesl von Trapp singing about agency between men and women or the sadness of her boyfriend’s decisions in the end, but that’s okay. Even if all you know about The Sound of Music is the actual music, that should be enough to carry it for you. If it’s too saccharine for you, I get that, but have you really listened to “My Favorite Things” lately? C’mon, grumpo.
The Best Part: Despite my campaigning for a deeper reading of “Julie Andrews Saves the Family the Movie” I’m just going to go with the sweetness of Julie Andrews. We’ve talked about a lot of snubs in this space, but it’s totally crazy that she didn’t win Best Actress for this, right? Go watch her lead a puppet show through “The Lonely Goatherd” and try not to be charmed. YOU. CAN’T.
The Worst Part: A lot of people take issue with the portrayal of the Nazis in The Sound of Music. Most of the brutality is suggested rather than directly stated, and until the end they are played mostly as an idea rather than a real threat. As a legitimate history of the von Trapp family or of Austria it surely doesn’t work, but then again, I wouldn’t show this in a history class.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? The Sound of Music is an iconic part of film history, but I have to admit that I get why some people hate it. Julie Andrews is probably insanely annoying for a certain kind of viewer. There’s probably too much positive energy here for some people. It’s definitely believable that the fifth song about having a good attitude every day is the breaking point for some folks. What I can’t believe is that there’s someone who thinks The Sound of Music is obnoxiously sunny, but that the tone of Crash nails it. The dourness and the ability to destroy the one good man in the world of Crash may not be the exact opposite of Julie Andrews telling everyone she has confidence in sunshine, but it’s definitely close. The “more positive” movie isn’t always better, of course, but even with Julie Andrews being a living angel The Sound of Music feels more real 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 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 | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire | The Deer Hunter | Around the World in 80 Days | Chariots of Fire | Mutiny on the Bounty | Argo | From Here to Eternity | Ordinary People | The Lost Weekend | All the King’s Men | Rebecca | A Beautiful Mind | Titanic | The Broadway Melody | The Sound of Music
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.