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 1942 winner Mrs. Miniver. Is it better than Crash?
If Patton is the story of people who choose to make war their entire life, Mrs. Miniver is the story of people who don’t have a choice about it. It’s an entire movie about the homefront in war. It focuses on events at home — both mundane and not — and how they are complicated by the ridiculous nature of war. Cavalcade and The Best Years of Our Lives are also about that, but they’ve got much different messages than Mrs. Miniver.
This one is entirely about suffering and liking it. In another setting, a movie about being resilient in the face of strife on this scale would be a tough sell. A movie about the British resistance at home during WWII, though, we’re comfortable with that story. The entire international perception of England was changed by WWII. It is taken as fact that the British are tough and can handle the worst without complaint. It’s just one of those “things” now, and Mrs. Miniver was an important part of that myth-making.
There’s nothing going on in Mrs. Miniver other than the war. Men decide they need to go to war to protect Britain and the women need to stay home and be brave and true and good. It’s full on propaganda, but it’s distinctly Western propaganda (and Allied, I suppose, which is an even easier sell) so an American audience may not feel as manipulated. It’s just two hours of bad things happening and good people staring into the middle distance while they wonder how they’ll move on.
They’ll move on because they’re British and because they must, is the message, and it’s told again and again. There’s no real reason to watch this in 2014. You’ll get everything you need from any particularly badly written history book. The bombing of London is one of the iconic domestic tragedies of our time and a movie about the bravery and difficulty involved in surviving it is nothing to roll your eyes at, but at one point the entire family reads Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland under a staircase and it’s just a ton. It’s heavy and it should be, but other than the patriotism, there’s no there there.
The Best Part: The titular Mrs. Miniver captures a German soldier in her garden and they have a terrifying conversation in her kitchen. She makes him a meal at gunpoint before getting his gun away from him. This scene is either the greatest or worst part of the movie, and it probably depends on what you want Mrs. Miniver to be. If you want to marvel at strangeness, look no further.
The Worst Part: The entire movie is “climax” but my least favorite dramatic scene is a flower competition, and I would write more about it, but it’s a flower competition. Right before it there’s an unexpected death and right after it there’s a bombing. You can skip the flower competition. Please skip the flower competition.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? I hate to say it, but I’m only 100% sure I’ll never watch Mrs. Miniver again, of the two. I’m going to watch Crash again this week for a rewatch, but I feel no need to watch Mrs. Miniver again. I got it. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s one-note and it’s fairly repetitive. Crash is much worse, to be sure, but only because there’s not really that much in Mrs. Miniver to love or hate. If you boiled down any movie to three words you’d be missing nuance, but I don’t think you miss anything with a three-word summary here: British people endure.
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
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.