patton

Worst Best Picture: Is Gandhi Better or Worse Than Crash?

gandhi

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. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1982 winner Gandhi. Is it better than Crash?

There’s kinda a lot going on in Gandhi. It’s an extremely detailed look at the man himself, but it’s also a broad morality play about race’s role in war and government. Gandhi has become history’s symbol for peace through resistance, and while the movie about his life is definitely interested in telling that story, it also wants to complicate the character a (very) little bit, which is ambitious.

When we look for a stand-in for evil we find Hitler, and Gandhi has become just as iconic of a symbol for good. It’s challenging to tell the tale of how someone became so good that we use him as a replacement for the very idea of goodness, and it’s even more challenging to do so any not come off a little bit preachy. Most of the modern reviews seem to take issue with how preachy it is, but I don’t see it. You can’t tell the history of “goodness” without being talking about how good the guy was. If it’s preachy to say that Gandhi wanted a better world and worked for it, well, then maybe I don’t mind that kind of preaching so much.

In the first five minutes, Gandhi is shot and killed. It then cuts back to his youth and spends three hours working up to his own death. Gandhi spent his life fighting against British rule of India, and while successful in one regard, his fame and success led him to be the face of many other resistance movements. He was never able to make everyone happy with every decision, and his inability to reconcile the different groups within India cost him his life. It’s a fairly straightforward portrayal, aside from the time jump after his murder.

Your enjoyment of Gandhi will depend on how complicated you want your biopic to be. Patton does a better job of this, for my money, and it’s a superior film because Patton in Patton is complex. He’s dark and misunderstood, but he’s also heroic and powerful. The only real diversions from “Gandhi was the greatest guy in history” are some youthful boasting and some mild run-ins with his wife. Gandhi likes the spotlight, but the movie doesn’t paint that solely as pride. I don’t know how much they really need to show the dark side of Gandhi, but it feels a little slight at times as a result. It’s possible that there’s no badness to show, and I’m taking issue with Mohandas Gandhi for not having enough faults. Jerk!

It’s a little difficult to talk about because there isn’t much to it beyond Ben Kingsley’s Oscar-winning role. He’s exceptional and the movie feels huge with a cast of hundreds of thousands, but nothing really sticks beyond him. Martin Sheen is totally out of place as a journalist covering Gandhi’s early life and a Life magazine reporter towards the end is even sillier. Other than Kingsley, there’s nothing really to talk about with regard to the acting. He’s everywhere, and the Patton comparisons continue because he consumes the screen in every shot. It’s really a lifetime role, and it’s especially strange to see right after Schindler’s List because his two roles are so different.

It’s worth your time, I think, but any review that says “it’s what you think it is” is also true. Gandhi is the story of Gandhi, and it doesn’t really go much deeper than that. They clearly wanted to, and Kingsley brings out just how truly annoying Gandhi must have been, which is worthy of note. Some of the sweeping shots of hundreds of thousands of people are breathtaking, but whether that justifies a three-hour run time or not, I don’t really know.

The Best Part: I touched on it briefly, but I want to restate here: Gandhi is annoying. It’s really a great choice to portray the man most consistently identified with “resistance” as being difficult to deal with. He’s a gifted leader and a man on a mission, but he’s also tough as hell to deal with.

The Worst Part: There is a lot of filler here. The movie opens with a shot that apologizes for leaving out so much of the life of Gandhi, but I can’t imagine what their ideal cut would look like, because it’s already painstakingly detailed. There’s nothing at all that comes from a 10-minute scene with a reporter from Life, but it happened to Gandhi, so it’s left in.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? The scene where a line of men all take a beating, one after another, in honor of the spirit of one of history’s greatest men is iconic and will endure in your mind long after you see Gandhi. The only scene like that in Crash is where Ludacris talks about coffee and spaghetti, because you will wonder why he wants coffee with spaghetti for the rest of your life.

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 | 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 GodfatherCasablancaGrand 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 | On the Waterfront | Unforgiven | Million Dollar Baby | My Fair Lady | HamletBraveheart | Oliver! | The English Patient | Lawrence of Arabia | Cimarron | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest | All Quiet on the Western Front | The Great Ziegfeld | Out of AfricaSchindler’s List | Gandhi

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.

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Worst Best Picture: Is Patton Better or Worse Than Crash?

image source: oscars.org

image source: oscars.org

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. 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 SlaveThe 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 GodfatherCasablancaGrand 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 readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.