We’re 88Nine’s Justin Barney and Milwaukee Film’s Kpolly. We’re buds, we like cinema — we’re Cinebuds.
Here we continue our series talking about ALL of the Academy Award Best Pictures. The 1940s were marred by WWII, and many Best Pictures were showing support for the troops, or establishing a national morality in its wake. The 1950s show a step out of the stage acting and take a big leap into modernity. Camera techniques improve, productions move out of the studio and into the world, and most notably, movies are in COLOR. The ’50s are a wild display of variety and fun, starting with the Best Picture of 1950, “All About Eve.” There is a moment about three minutes into the film where the frame freezes and a voice over comes on to explain the action. I felt myself let out a shallow, “whoa.” It was a narrative technique that felt truly modern. It was a full 10 years before Godard’s “Breathless” and in some ways seemed to beat French New Wave to the punch.
Of course, there were bloated, self-important period pieces dragging over the three hour mark and insisting that they were Important by sheer force that were simply irresistible to the Academy. “The Bridge on the River Kwaii” kicked dirt into the face non-English speaking countries war practices and furthered a narrative of racial superiority. “The Greatest Show on Earth” was dazzling when it was trying to be a documentary about how circus’ ran in the 1950s. But also tried to cram in four other dramatic arcs and ended up trying to say so much that it said nothing really at all. And “Ben-Hur” retreated right back into the studio comfort zone being a three and a half hour period drama which spent so much money that, to not get the Oscar would have been embarrassing. It holds up okay. And the chariot scene is cool.
The highs in the ’50s were truly high. My personal favorite, and probably all around sleeper of the decade was 1955’s “Marty.” It was a story so simple and clear that it is kind of astounding that it won, though I think rightfully so. Ernest Borgnine plays a portly man that is having trouble finding love. That is it. It is unpretentious and elegant. The characters innocent and real. “Marty” was a real joy. So were the Vincente Minnelli movies. There were two of them, “An American in Paris” and “Gigi.” “An American in Paris” was so striking because it was in COLOR. The first to use color in ten years and only the second Best Picture to be in color. It sounds kind of unimpressive now, but after watching a month of black and white movies, seeing color was truly eye popping. And boy, do they use colors. The sets, the sounds, the COSTUMES. Everything about the Minnelli pictures is calculated and manicured to perfection.
These are just my thoughts though. Kpolly agrees on some of the assessments, (I didn’t even get to how much we loved “On the Waterfront” here) and disagrees with others (you should hear his thoughts on Vincente Minnelli). Check it all out in the podcast below.
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