Oscar Vault Monday – La Grande Illusion, 1937 (dir. Jean Renoir)
I first saw this in college for a class called “Coffee and Cigarettes: The Literature of Anxiety and Boredom” (yes, that’s really the official title of that class). I think we watched it to examine the situation the officers in the film find themselves in: a prisoner of war camp. They’re all educated men, all men who are doers, and suddenly they can’t do anything. At least I think that’s why we watched, I don’t recall much discussion after watching the film. Whatever the reason was, I’m glad we watched it; it’s a fabulous film, filled with amazing performances. It’s also one of the very first anti-war war films, a genre I tend to really love. It was the first foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture and one of only eight to do so: La Grande Illusion (French, 1938); Z (French, 1969); The Emigrants (Swedish, 1972); Cries and Whispers (Swedish, 1973); Il Postino (Italian/Spanish, 1995); Life Is Beautiful (Italian, 1998); Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Mandarin Chinese, 2000); and Letters from Iwo Jima (Japanese, 2006). It was up against nine films the year it was nominated: Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Boys Town, Four Daughters, Jezebel, Pygmalion, Test Pilot, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Citadel and winner You Can’t Take It with You.
Oscar Vault Monday – Sunset Blvd. 1950 (dir. Billy Wilder)
When I first netflixed this film I watched it three times before sending it back – twice back-to-back and then a third time the next morning. I was completely blown away with how wonderful it was, from start to finish. I know a lot of people consider Some Like It Hot to be Billy Wilder’s best film and as much as I like that one, I have to disagree and go with Sunset Blvd. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning three for black-and-white Art Direction, Best Writing – story and screenplay and Best Score. For Best Picture it was up against Father of the Bride, King Solomon’s Mines, Born Yesterday and lost to All About Eve. All About Eve wound up winning six Oscars in all. Another tight race that year was Best Actress, Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. was up against Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in All About Eve, but all three lost to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. Having watched all three of those films within a few days of each other it is my belief that, although Holliday’s performance was stunning, the other three women spilt the vote so severely that Holliday won by default. I’ll say it up front, I enjoyed All About Eve, but I deeply love Sunset Blvd. and think it is by and far the greater of the two films.
Beware: there be spoilers after the cut.