84 years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got together and said, “There are a lot of movies out there. We should give awards to the good ones.” And thus, the Oscars were born. Well, not really like that, but nevertheless, the Academy does hold a certain amount of prestige which it transfers to those films that are deemed the best for that year. While I’ve seen all of these Best Pictures, I don’t necessarily agree with some of the choices that have been made over the years. Take 1933 for instance. In that year, we saw such classics as Duck Soup, King Kong, and 42nd Street among other great films. But what won Best Picture? Cavalcade. I could guarantee to you that, with the exception of a few film fanatics such as myself, no one has heard of Cavalcade (and for good reason: it was awful). However, there have been some excellent films to don the title of Best Picture, and this week’s two highlight the current bookends of the list.
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours
Long before the announcement of the 2011 Best Picture winner, The Artist had been getting Oscar buzz. The brilliant homage to the silent films of the early 20th century was touted as a loving look back at what had made movies great. As soon as it was nominated for the Best Picture prize, the comparisons started flying. While not entirely silent (for effect), The Artist was the first silent film in almost a century to be nominated for Best Picture. Some would say that this is a step backwards, but I think that the fact it won shows that our society is tired of the current state of entertainment. Society longs for the simplicity of the silent era.
Of course, this film focused on the end of that era. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) has suddenly become an out-of-date film star when silent pictures are replaced by “talkies”. However, he’s still convinced that more can be achieved by acting in silent films and goes to great lengths to prove his point by funding, directing and starring in his own production, Tears of Love. Yet, as Valentin’s popularity wanes, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is rising the ranks of the acting world. Of course, she had to start small, on the set of one of George Valentin’s films. With her rise to stardom, she never forgets her roots, or the man who helped her get her foot in the door. As George falls on hard times, Peppy takes it upon herself to repay the favor he did her long ago.
Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours
If the very first Academy Awards were held a year later, there would have been a good chance that no silent films would have even made the list of nominees. Hot on the heels of the first talking picture in 1927 (The Jazz Singer), it took what seemed like a few mere months for everyone in Hollywood to produce one of these new, technologically advanced films. Yet, as it stands, the winner of Best Picture at the very first Academy Awards was Wings. This silent, war-time epic certainly deserved the title. However, at the time this title was “Most Outstanding Production”, which essentially split the distinction of “Best Picture” with the “Most Artistic Quality of Production” winner: Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans.
At the base of Wings is a complicated love story. Two small town men love the same girl. David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) comes from a higher class family, and the girl loves him back. However, the other (Jack Powell, played by Charles Rogers) is from the middle class, and his love is unrequited. And yet, the “girl next door”, Mary Preston (Clara Bow) is completely smitten with Jack, despite her love also being unrequited. As America enters World War I, all three enter the armed forces. Amid spectacular dogfights and tragic developments, the two men become fast friends, despite longing for the same girl. By the end, the war has forced everyone to learn important life lessons, the most important one being an understanding of what’s important in life.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 silent Best Pictures