Oscar night: At the movies, we all get a vote(Read article summary)
Best film? Best actor? There are dozens of ways of ranking films besides the Academy Awards. But the most important way is how you rank them.
One tradition of Oscar night â€“ besides the red carpet, the musical numbers, and Jack Nicholson grinning in the front row â€“ is the self-referential film clip. You know the one: Judy Garland, John Wayne, Paul Newman, Ingrid Bergman, or some other combination of famous faces speed by, smiling, grimacing, and dropping signature lines (â€śGo ahead, make my dayâ€ť) while the music swells and Hollywood tells us that movies make us laugh and cry, touch our hearts, change our thinking, yadda, yadda.
Movies arenâ€™t as profoundly important as Hollywood wants you to believe. But movies arenâ€™t piffle, either. Some have powerful messages. You can talk movies with strangers. When a must-see blockbuster is at the multiplex, you can feel the national conversation changing. People suddenly start dropping lines like â€śTo infinity and beyond!â€ť or â€śLove means never having to say youâ€™re sorry.â€ť
Movies mean something, but what? Do they capture the national zeitgeist or are they just escapism? Can they lift a nationâ€™s mood or are they merely made to separate you from your dollars? Critic Neal Gabler, author of this weekâ€™s cover essay, makes a strong case that recent movies reflect our mental state, meaning our collective worry and uncertainty because of the economic difficulties we have been going through.
Although ... one could argue that â€śThe Kingâ€™s Speechâ€ť was more touching and inspiring than bleak. And â€śInception,â€ť like mind-bending shows every year (â€śAvatarâ€ť last year, â€śThe Dark Knightâ€ť the year before), was visually impressive but didnâ€™t seem particularly applicable to daily life.
Or take â€śToy Story 3.â€ť It was just as much a mix of adventure, comedy, and separation anxiety as â€śToy Storyâ€ť 1 and 2 a decade and more ago. (Exhibit A: the toys trying to rejoin Andyâ€™s family in â€śTS-1.â€ť Exhibit B: the heartbreaking neglect of Jesse the cowgirl as her owner grew up in â€śTS-2.â€ť) And besides, making a movie takes three years on average, so nailing the national mood on premiĂ¨re day would be quite a trick.
Nealâ€™s the critic. Heâ€™s thought about these things professionally. As has Peter Rainer, whose writing graces our pages each week. Iâ€™m a rank amateur. But thatâ€™s really my point. When it comes to movies, we all get a vote. We all have our reasons why some movies are great, some are howlers, and some are like a warm blanket that we turn to over and over again.
Is it any wonder that there are a dozen different ways of measuring the best movies of all time? Besides the impressively named Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, thereâ€™s the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes, Peopleâ€™s Choice, Cannes, and many more contests that combine serious judging with the opportunity to showcase celebrities on red carpets.
Go to Metacritic.com and youâ€™ll learn that the way-serious art film â€śBalthazarâ€ť (1966) heads the list.
It doesnâ€™t stop there. All of us have movies we are fond of. Richard Nixon famously watched â€śPattonâ€ť over and over while embattled in the White House. Howard Hughes loved â€śIce Station Zebraâ€ť for some reason.
I need to watch â€śGroundhog Dayâ€ť at least once a year. I have friends who never miss a chance to see â€śThe Big Lebowski,â€ť â€śShakespeare in Love,â€ť or the first and second (never the third) â€śGodfather.â€ť And on any list of favorites, most people would say â€śThe Wizard of Ozâ€ť is one because, well, because of the wonderful things it does.
We all get a vote. Drop me a line and tell me what your all-time favorite is. Iâ€™ll tally them and publish the Academy of Monitor Peopleâ€™s Screen Guild list in a future issue.
John Yemma is the editor of The Christian Science Monitor.