world war 2

Worst Best Picture: Is From Here to Eternity Better or Worse Than Crash?

image source: complex

image source: complex

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 1953 winner From Here to Eternity. Is it better than Crash?

From Here to Eternity is about the big things that happen to us when we’re obsessed with our own lives. It’s a war movie, to a degree, but it’s mostly about how people can ignore a war. The entire film takes place in the few months just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Much has been said about that time, but the most fascinating part of this movie is that it never comes up at all. People go about their lives and try to do their best in the military, but there are no foreboding scenes about “what might happen” or the upcoming events. It’s dramatic irony at its best: we know that none of these problems matter because all of these people are about to die, but they care because that’s what people do.

It would be possible for that to diminish the film, but it doesn’t. The performances are so tight that it’s easy to forget that the time and the setting mean that you already know everyone here is doomed. Whether you can look past that or not will determine how much you enjoy the film’s narrative, but you can’t ignore the greatness. It’s an enormous achievement, even if it’s not one that comes up on the list of “greats” as often as other Best Pictures.

Everyone is entangled, which helps to distract from the unstoppable reality of World War II. Private “Prew” Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) joins up with the other enlisted men on Oahu and does not want to continue his famed boxing career. His superiors demand that he does, and the struggle of violence vs. non-violence is on. There’s a quiet symbolism here, and Clift’s character definitely speaks to an America that was strong enough to engage with anyone, but would rather not utilize that strength, if possible. When the company’s Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober) threatens an extreme punishment, his second-in-command Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster, who is outstanding even among so many great performances) offers that they should merely try to break his spirit rather than court-martial him.

Thus the stage is set. People continually try to push Prewitt into fighting, but he won’t strike back. The last time he boxed he blinded a man, and now he’s hung up his gloves for good. The metaphor might sound a little strong in this description, but it’s subtle in the film. Prewitt would rather endure a difficult life than use his strength to hurt a man, but he’s forced into action when his best friend Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra, who won an Oscar himself for what should feel like a weirder role than it does) is brutalized by a superior. Prewitt has to find a way to balance his principles with protecting his friend, and the twain shall never meet.

There are also two beautifully drawn love stories: Prewitt meets a working girl (Donna Reed, who also won an Oscar for her role) in a gentleman’s club and struggles to begin a relationship with her and Warden starts a full-on criminal affair with his superior’s wife (Deborah Kerr) that has its own issues. Both relationships are honest in a nontraditional way, and they have a sense of reality that a lot of movie romances don’t have. They also both are doomed by circumstance as much as by World War II, which plays again into the main idea here: the things you’re working so hard to control might be out of your hands.

Then, as in all war movies, the war comes. You know it’s coming, but no one else does, and neither you or the cast will be ready for it when it happens.

The Best Part: Sinatra’s sad, defeated Maggio is a powerful character, and he’s insanely likable because he’s Sinatra. Lancaster steals the show and his relationship with Deborah Kerr is the iconic part of the movie, but it’s such an odd sensation to watch Frank Sinatra in a movie about Pearl Harbor. Hard to pick between them.

The Worst Part: While it’s important for the narrative that Sinatra and Clift’s characters be ganged up on, some of their antagonists are a little one-note. Ernest Borgnine plays the particularly brutal head of the stockades, and I can’t say I’m a fan of his performance. He’s largely drawn as just “a bully” which seems too simple, based on the motivations around him.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It’s a top-10 film on this list of some of the greatest films of all time. It’s a powerful metaphor about strength vs. demonstrated power and war. It’s an amazing achievement featuring some of the greatest actors and actresses of its day. It cannot be recommended highly enough. Don’t see Crash. I was going to make a joke here about a bad scene in Crash, but I couldn’t decide between the extended fart joke subplot or the country music discussion. Pick neither. Watch From Here to Eternity.

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

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 Mrs. Miniver Better or Worse Than Crash?

image source: nicksflickpicks.com

image source: nicksflickpicks.com

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 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 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

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.

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.