It isn’t often that a love story wins Best Picture. By my count, loosely including films that are really about something else, like the Civil War or the sinking of an unsinkable ship, there have been only 16 winners in 83 years of Oscar history. Here’s the list.
It Happened One Night 5/5
Gone with the Wind 8/13
An American in Paris 6/8
The Apartment 5/10
West Side Story 10/11
My Fair Lady 8/12
Annie Hall 4/5
Out of Africa 7/11
The English Patient 9/12
Shakespeare in Love 7/13
Slumdog Millionaire 8/10
Most films have love stories in them, of course. But those movies that are about a central love story between two people seem rare, perhaps because there isn’t enough importance to them. The sheer joy of their love, coming together or being ripped apart, isn’t enough to sustain a Best Picture win; another component must be added — a story about the poverty in India, World War II, gang warfare, corruption, sweeping epics. Movies that are really just love stories rarely get nominated, and when they get nominated they rarely win.
However, it’s worth saying that when they do win, they win big. Of course, epics always win more Oscars, but you have to acknowledge how the heart can sometimes get involved when you look at a movie like Slumdog Millionaire, which is our model this year for The Artist, should it come to pass that the little silent that could wins Best Picture, as it super-charges its way through Oscar season, attempting to remain stealth and on the downlow.
The Artist will be most like Slumdog Millionaire in its scrappy underdog-ness. It is unlike any other movie to come along either this year or any other. It is a masterful work of art, a joyous experience and a seriously formidable contender to win the whole thing. For those who think it is just a retelling of old stories seem to miss the point that the movie must do that in order to do what it does best: pay homage to the familiar tropes that movies have always succeeded on. There are breathtaking moments in the film, too, that feel utterly new. It isn’t just a silent movie. It’s a love story. It’s a movie about movies. It’s a movie about us. It’s a movie about us. It will also hit the sweet spot for what we as a country are enduring right now — reflecting our current crisis through the prism of a parallel past for reassurance that there’s a way out of this slump. It is exactly the kind of movie that does well when times are tough.
The only hat trick, of course, is going to be to get people to see it. But if it starts making King’s Speech money, word of mouth money? The thing’s unstoppable. Imagine what it will do not just here but all over the world? The best thing it has going for it is how people are underestimating it. Only one person, Oscar predictor extraordinaire, Dave Karger, has it on his radar to win. Others are slowly coming the realization that not only can it win but at some point we’ll all have to realize, it can’t lose.
The more it wins the more people are going to start hating it. But it’s a hard movie to hate, like The King’s Speech, like Slumdog Millionaire – if you hate it people think you’re a sociopath. The same could be said for the movies listed above. Although I’ll raise my hand and say I wasn’t a fan of Gigi, Out of Africa, The English Patient and Titanic (which is half the best movie ever made and half the worst movie ever made, just like Avatar). The rest of them are some of the best best pictures winners in their history, particularly Annie Hall, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, It Happened One Night and of course, what may be the best of them all, The Apartment.
Do all of you readers have any idea how good The Apartment is? First, we must pause to bow down in awe of Billy Wilder. Let’s just do that for one minute, shall we? Wilder was the kind of writer/director Hollywood just doesn’t see anymore. He single-handedly made the Oscars better.
The Lost Weekend (won BP)
Sunset Blvd (lost BP to All About Eve)
Some Like it Hot
The Apartment (won BP/BD)
The Apartment, though, is like The Artist – you can’t not like this movie, you can’t not be utterly moved by it, you can’t help but be smiling by the end of it.
Brilliant writing throughout, two characters you would die to protect, gorgeous sets, top to bottom great performances, even the bit players are good — The Apartment is a moment in Hollywood and Oscar history to celebrate.
If you’re a Mad Men fan you will see how much they stole from this movie. In fact, Mad Men is like The Apartment told from Fred MacMurray’s point of view. The cigarettes, the booze, the girls…
What else is The Apartment about? It’s about corruption. It’s about rising to the top by doing favors for people in power. Ultimately it’s about having self-respect. But what makes you love the movie, the same way you love Slumdog Millionaire or The Artist, are the two protagonists, the two who come together at the end.
Funnily enough, I never realized how much Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous was an homage to The Apartment until I watched it recently. Without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, there is one scene that definitely seems to be tipping its hat to Wilder.
The Artist reminds me so much of The Apartment. Just as the success of the film, other than Wilder’s brilliant writing and directing, is how charming Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are. Lemmon, in particular, rivals only Jimmy Stewart in the charm department.
The thing is, great love stories are hard to master. You have to get them just right. There has to be something happening more important than the love that develops between the two main characters, or else their problems don’t amount to a hill of beans (*in this crazy world). And yet, when you’re watching, you are so caught up in it, in their stories, nothing else seems to matter.
The idea that The Artist might join the list of the love stories listed above is making more sense by the day. But if, as Scott Feinberg and I discussed yesterday, The Artist sits alongside other films that are sentimental — even if they’re not love stories — it might not be the one that stands out.
For instance, the films that seem destined for a Best Picture nomination right now are:
Midnight in Paris
And then those that haven’t yet been seen:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
We Bought a Zoo
The overriding theme seems to be sentimentality. Midnight in Paris, The Descendants and The Artist are movies that make you swoon. The Help, The Descendants, Moneyball, Loud and Close and War Horse, We Bought a Zoo are/will be movies that (maybe) make you cry. Dragon Tattoo and Tinker Tailor are thrillers. J Edgar is a sweeping epic.
You have to wonder which film will ultimately capture the zeitgeist and why. Moreover, will it be harder for The Artist to stand out among such other sentimental films? Does this mean that a harder edged film might win, to clean the palette from last year’s win? It’s worth thinking about. We still have weeks yet before we know anything for sure.
It is always useful, though, despite what anyone says, to look backwards at when Oscar got it so right.