war

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.

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Worst Best Picture: Is The Best Years of Our Lives Better or Worse Than Crash?

bestyears

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 1946 winner The Best Years of Our Lives. Is it better than Crash?

The Best Years of Our Lives is the best movie on this list that you’ve never heard of. It’s loads better than Crash. This could be the shortest one yet, but I’m going to try to convince you to go watch a movie from 1946.

The film is about three men returning to Smalltown, USA after World War II. They have a hard time readjusting to civilian life: Fred can’t get a job good enough to impress his wife, Al can’t seem to return to his job at the bank, and Homer has much, much bigger problems than both of them.

Homer is played by Harold Russell, and it’s important to note that Russell received two Oscars for his portrayal. Russell, like his character Homer, lost both hands in World War II. The result is a captivating performance that would be played now through special effects. The choice to have an actor who actually knew the experience and could be shown as he really was — as war really was — is the cornerstone of the film.

Homer returns to his girlfriend and they must confront his new life with hooks for hands. I don’t want to rob Homer’s storyline of any surprise, but it’s beautiful right up to the big reveal and his choice about how to engage his world after such a big change.

Al and Fred have parallel storylines that both involve love and work. They represent the difficult job market post-war, even for veterans, and the struggle of returning to a relationship as a different person. War changes everything, but The Best Years of Our Lives is interested in a part too often unexplored: the life at home.

You should see it to focus on the struggles involved and the timelessness of this cycle: America goes to war, America sends Americans, Americans come home from war, America doesn’t know what to do with the war or the Americans. We’re a country obsessed with the idea of war, but we’re not always one that knows what to do with everything that goes into that. We already weren’t in 1946, and you should see this movie just to be shocked by how relevant it all feels.

The Best Part: This has to go to Harold Russell. His character is compelling beyond the hooks for hands detail, but it’s obviously the most interesting detail in the movie. You really have to see it.

The Worst Part: Everyone in the movie, right down to the bar owner at the bar where they all drink, gets a full backstory… except for Fred’s wife Marie. She’s young and impulsive and thus has no time for her husband’s difficulties in finding a job. I suppose the message is “some people are just awful, even to good people” but that’s hardly a message worth focusing on. Some depth to make her complicated rather than just evil for evil’s sake would be nice.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashIt’s not spoiling anything to say that our heroes do have one run-in with a guy who challenges their “heroics” and says they fought in a meaningless war. That’s a standard scene for any war movie, but it’s surreal to see it done with regards to World War II. It’s hard to imagine a time when anyone could tell a World War II vet to their face that Hitler wasn’t really all that dangerous, and it’s stranger still to watch it happen. The timelessness of the situation, though — that bravery is often a challenged concept — is what keeps the movie fresh 60+ years later. Crash is not fresh now, and it’s at least in color.

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 |

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.

Image: rogerebert.com

Worst Best Picture: Is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Better or Worse Than Crash?

Frodo_and_Sam_at_Mt_Doom

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. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 2003 winner The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Is it better than Crash?

You’re not supposed to read comments online. Everyone knows that. I try not to, but I had to see what people hated about one of the most decorated Best Picture Oscar winners of all time.

There are 15 negative reviews for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on Rotten Tomatoes. One review says that the epic story of orcs, hobbits, and elves lacks “believability.” One calls it racist. One says it “lacks substance.” None of these are actually reviews of the movie, they’re reviews of the book masquerading as movie reviews. They are all written from a perspective wherein the reviewer either isn’t aware of the wildly popular source material or doesn’t care. All 15 are varying degrees of mad at Peter Jackson for supposedly making “The Lord of the Rings” idea up, and they all seem to believe he shouldn’t have bothered.

Whenever you can’t stand something that everyone likes it can be easy to entrench yourself. All 15 reviewers there saw a movie that made a billion dollars and tied Titanic and Ben-Hur as the most decorated Academy Award-winning movie of all time. They saw this movie, they hated it, and they demanded the world know of their hate. Awards and box office totals aren’t the only measures of a good movie – Crash won three Oscars and made nearly 100 million dollars and the entire point of this series is to prove that it is a very specific kind of awful movie – but it is easy to see how those 15 people had to swing for the fences.

The final Lord of the Rings movie went up against Lost in Translation for its Best Picture award. The contrast there is interesting, and I have to wonder if there’s a bigger possible disparity between “loud” and “quiet” in two movies. The Return of the King was a slam dunk in many ways, especially because its award seemed like destiny after A Beautiful Mind and Chicago beat the first two installments.

It’s a strange experience to rewatch it in 2014. It’s very hard to avoid the Lord of the Rings movies in our world. There has to be some broadcast law about one of them being on TNT or FX every single day. I sat down and watched it again and was left with a feeling of great contentedness. I was glad to see that a movie I remembered as a masterpiece held up. It’s strange at times and wonderful in unexpected ways at others, but it is a mammoth achievement of filmmaking that deserves the accolades it gets.

I also briefly considered exploring how Faramir’s attempts to earn his father’s respect parallel the attempts of Terrence Howard’s character in Crash, but then again, life is way too short to think about that even long enough to finish this sentennnnnnnnc ugh ugh ugh ugh.

The Best Part: The fight at Minas Tirith feels huge and important, and the shifting perspective from inside and outside the castle walls makes it feel more like a fully realized fight. There are multiple “starts” to the fight that all allow for different discussions of heroics and bravery. There’s nothing to not like about how the whole thing is handled, and the most fascinating part of it is just how early it happens in the movie. There’s an entire hour of “climax” after Minas Tirith, but it’s in that battle that the movie won its Oscar. Watch something like Troy try to do the same thing and you will gain more respect for it.

The Worst Part: It’s tempting to call this the length – the unextended version is well over three hours – but it’s more just the ending itself. The movie is great at pacing until it absolutely is not, at all. This is especially telling because the actual end to the novel has even more than the movie does. It seems like if they had already decided to cut off a big part of the ending, then what’s the harm in going even farther?

Is It Better or Worse than CrashCrash has no hobbits in it, so of course it is a lesser movie. No, but really, it’s possible to consider The Return of the King an oversized popcorn movie or to judge it on length. It’s also worth discussing to question if it represents the source material completely; there’s a lot left out that some viewers might see as worthy of inclusion. Whatever stones you turn over to try to pick apart the best of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, though, you will not find a problem that helps you compare it to 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 SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon |

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.

 Image source: Oscars.org

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

1987_iconic_picture_platoon

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. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 1986 winner Platoon. Is it better than Crash?

If someone asked you to see a movie about the evils of war and the dual nature of man with regard to good and evil, you might be on board. If someone told you that movie had Charlie Sheen at the center, you would need to ask what year it was.

Charlie Sheen’s career is a curious one. A few years back people were going to Charlie Sheen live shows just to see what he’d do. He went crazy in public and everyone gawked at it because mental stability is razor-thin. Everyone is afraid to lose their mind. Everyone is fascinated to watch it happen to someone that, apparently, no one really wants to help.

Tiger blood and whatever aside, Platoon is Charlie Sheen in Oliver Stone’s manifesto about how war is hell. He joins a huge cast that also includes Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, John C. McGinley, Keith David, and Tom Berenger all yelling at each other about how best to handle being left in Vietnam with no clear purpose. It’s certainly about Vietnam, but it’s also about how adversity changes a person. The titular platoon is divided into two camps. One follows Dafoe’s by-the-book approach of not murdering and raping people, the other sides with the crazed Berenger and his apparent plan to save the village by destroying it.

This may sound odd, but there’s an awful lot of actual war in this war movie. People who watch Full Metal Jacket for the first time are often surprised that the entirety of the scenes and quotes they know all happen in the first half hour or so. All of Full Metal Jacket‘s cultural cache happens before they even get to the damn war. Not so with Platoon. Oliver Stone makes a deliberate choice to keep the camera on the violence. Over and over, the cast is thrust into the jungle to get shot at again. It’s a two hour movie and at least a full hour of it takes place with gunfire in the background.

The effect is very real: War is everywhere, and when you are at war, doubly so. It makes for an uneasy viewing that constantly drills home what Oliver Stone wanted to say: Do not ever romanticize this. He’s said that he made the movie because he felt that too often audiences were only presented with positive and heroic portrayals of war.

Platoon is a brutal movie. When McGinley’s character saves himself during a firefight by hiding under dead bodies, it is both frightening and sad. The Vietnam War is never an easy subject to discuss in American history, but the general consensus seems to be that it was at the very least a damned shame. Platoon is essential viewing to understand the American experience, and whatever you think of Oliver Stone’s personal politics, this movie’s only agenda is tough to debate.

The Best Part: For sheer memorability, the scene where McGinley covers himself with a body to survive stands out. The firefights are so arresting that even 30 years later they still create a sense of anxiety and dread. Forrest Gump‘s ‘Nam is very similar, but it doesn’t feel like it matters. This feels real — too real — and the movie hums because it scares and depresses the viewer.

The Worst Part: Berenger’s character is a brutal villain. War movies often only show one side of a conflict, so it can be tough to discern a “villain” in the classic sense. In this movie, it’s definitely him. He tries to sow dissent through violence and threats. He reacts to someone saying that he should cool down by burning down a town. He’s the violence in all of us wrapped up into one scarred up guy. If there’s an issue with him, it’s that he’s never really explained. He’s left as this uber-asshole, just a guy who wants chaos for chaos’ sake. Those people assuredly exist, but he could be deeper with some motive.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It can be tempting to just say that Platoon is good and Crash is not, but it’s about the whyPlatoon stirs the pot by forcing Americans to watch one of their greatest nightmares on camera. Crash stirs the pot by demanding that present day is worse than we admit. War and racism are both complicated and both bad, but we’re on board for that. The challenge is to find something new to say, and Platoon does. The “good” guys in Platoon are still burning down a town and at war. They’re still racists and violent lunatics — they’re just less so than their counterparts. Platoon introduces shades of grey into what war does to a person. Crash suggests that shades of grey are just what we pretend exist because we won’t open our eyes. Both are negative messages, but one is without hope, and that’s just not interesting. It’s not the pessimism that dooms Crash, it’s how damn happy to be “right” about its message that does.

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 |

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.

 Image source: Oscars.org