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So The Departed won the Best Picture of the Year Oscar, huh? Did you see it? I didn’t, but that’s not all that unusual.

Y’see, these days, I generally prefer what broadcast television has to offer over what’s playing down at the multiplex, even the films that earn themselves statues of the coveted tiny golden eunuch. I much prefer an episode of 24 to most big-screen action flicks, an hour of Gilmore Girls to a majority of Hollywood’s romantic comedies, sixty minutes of Smallville to most cinematic super-hero adaptations, and a late night broadcast of Saturday Night Live to most any movie starring an SNL alum (Elf being a distinct exception)!

That being said, there was a time in my life (several, actually) when I fancied myself quite the cinephile. As a kid, well, sure I watched certain films - the Universal monster series and the Abbott and Costello canon come immediately to mind - but it wasn’t until I reached my mid-teens that I began actively seeking out quality films from the past. Once committed to the task, I’d regularly page through my Leonard Maltin Guide (first edition, no less) looking for four-star movies, and then scour the listings in the TV Guide to determine just what I could manage to eyeball that particular week. Sundays were always something else - I’d start the day off with some lighter fare (usually a Bowery Boys entry commencing around 11 AM), then view a classic or two during the afternoon (Mildred Pierce, High Noon, Arsenic and Old Lace, Twelve Angry Men, Fail Safe, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), followed by something fresher during prime time (Cat Ballou, Some Like It Hot), with a late night nightcap featuring an otherwise unheralded flick starring the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, or good ol’ James Stewart. Whew - those were some long, long days, lemme tell ya! But I’d later dutifully put a red check mark next to the Maltin review after making my way through each film, hoping one day to have nearly the entire book marked in red! Didn’t happen, but hey, it WAS a nice idea!

Once me and my buddies were old enough to drive, that once rare trip to the local popcorn palace (totally dependent on my stay-at-home parents) suddenly became a weekly - even bi-weekly - event. We didn’t always pick the BEST movies to see, true, but just by the law averages, we did manage to take in some contemporary classics (MASH, They Shoot Horse, Don’t They? , Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid).

But probably my most pervasive cinematic period occurred during four years in the mid-seventies while I was a student at SUNY at Buffalo. Not only did they offer recent releases (six months or older) for the bargain price of a buck on weekends in their own theater in the campus commons building (including such odd fare as Altman’s Three Women and DePalma’s Get To Know Your Rabbit), but, best of all, each Wednesday night, in one of those 500 plus seat lecture halls over in the college’s science building, true classic movies were shown on a big screen! I caught The Bride of Frankenstein there for the umpteenth time (but the ONLY time on a large screen), as well as Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Ace In The Hole (aka The Big Carnival), to name but a few. Those were some great times, friends - and did I mention it was all free?

Well, after leaving the campus environs, Lynn and I continued to take in our share of flicks - some on the ever shrinking big screen, some on pay cable channels like Showtime, and some on rented videotapes (later, DVDs). The last big burst of movie viewing came in the months just before our daughter Julie was born. We rented an average of three or four films a week in her last trimester, as there really wasn’t much else for my darlin’ dear wife to do at the time. We watched all kinds of stuff besides Oscar winners, including some of Spike Lee’s early movies, as well as some pretty bad SNL-derived comedies.

Then Julie arrived, and suddenly Disney became very popular hereabouts. Sitting down and watching OTHER movies? Not so much so. And going out? Hah! So, I settled instead into the network TV routine that I pretty much remain in to this very day. But even with this on-and-off relationship I’ve had with the movies over the years, I HAVE seen my share of feted films. I realized as much the other day when I was looking over a list of all the Best Picture winners posted on my buddy Roger Green’s blog (Relentlessly Rambling With Rog).

Roger indicated which of the movies he had seen, under what sort of circumstances and when he’d seen them, and offered impressions - if any - that he’d retained from viewing them. After going through friend Green’s list, I was all set to pitch my own two cents into his comments section, but then I was struck with maybe a BETTER idea - why not just steal his whole format and tick off my own Oscar-worthy memories? Yeah, I’m well aware that lists like this are pretty much pointless - that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun, though! So Roger - and anybody else who’s made it through my ponderous preface - begging your indulgence, here now MY Academy Award Best Picture of the Year Winners roll call!!

1928 - Wings: This hasn’t got anything to do with Paul McCartney, does it? No, I didn’t think so. Haven’t seen it.

1928 - Sunrise: Nope. 1928 just wasn’t my year.

1929 - The Broadway Melody: Or 1929 - I never saw this one either.

1930 - All Quiet on the Western Front: I watched this anti-war classic during one of those long-ago Sunday afternoon marathons, and unlike most of what flickered across my old black and white TV screen back then, a lot of this film remains with me. I should point out that, of all the popular film genres, the one I shy away from almost entirely is the war movie - unless it’s one that clearly makes the case that war is NOT a good thing, which this World War One-set scenario did brilliantly.

1931 - Cimarron: I’m not all that big on westerns, either, though I’ve seen my share. Not this one, though.

1932 - Grand Hotel: I THOUGHT I saw this one on the big screen during my college days, but after a quick consultation of my yellowed Maltin tome, I soon realized that I was confusing it with 1933’s similarly multi-storied Dinner At Eight. Both films feature Wallace Beery, after all, but it’s the latter one in which a radiantly sexy Jean Harlow shines in a comedic role (and a slinky dress), while the ‘32 production offered instead the less yock-inducing allure of Greta Garbo. Guess I’m gonna hafta check into Grand Hotel someday. Room please - I vant to be alone!…

1933 - Cavalcade: I had to look this one up cuz I had NO idea what it was about. Turns out it was a lavish adaptation of an episodic Noel Coward play - songs included - starring a group of actors whose names I didn’t come anywhere close to recognizing! An early example of the Academy valuing the snooty over the popular, I’m guessing. Needless to say, I’ve never seen it, will probably never have a chance to, and - I can honestly say - I’m okay with that…


1934 - It Happened One Night: This was the one that won ‘em ALL: Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Actor (Clark Gable) , Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), and Best Screenplay! And this was one I saw at a very early age - around ten or so - on the tube with my parents. It was breezy fun, and had several memorable scenes - the hitchhiking scene, the blanket that served as The Walls of Jericho between improvised sleeping quarters of the two leads - though the concept of sexual tension went right over my head at that tender age. I may have seen this one a couple more times shortly after that initial viewing, but not since. Still a quality film I’m sure, it’s nonetheless long been eclipsed in the Capra canon by the Oscar-less It’s A Wonderful Life in both stature and popularity. An angel doesn’t get its wings every time Claudette Colbert hikes up her dress out on the highway, after all (more’s the pity…).

1935 - Mutiny on the Bounty: Another Clark Gable starrer, another Sunday afternoon classic. Charles Laughton as the tyrannical Captain Bligh made for an unforgettable bad guy, one that really got my teen-aged outrage stirred up! THAT was the end of the sailor’s life for me, lemme tell ya! Oh, and unless otherwise noted, like most of the movies here, I’ve only seen this one once, but based on nearly my forty year old recollections, I’d still recommend this one.

1936 - The Great Ziegfeld: Inasmuch as I was a bit tardy in coming to appreciate the musical form - and I NEVER grokked the bio film (the sole dubious exception being the pair of movies retelling the life story of Al Jolson - sorry, Roger…) - this one never even made it onto my radar. I MIGHT consider watching it if the chance presented itself nowadays, but I can’t say I’d ever seek it out…

1937 - The Life of Emile Zola: A 19th century French writer I’d never heard of portrayed by Paul Muni, an actor (save for the original Scarface) whose films I’ve never seen? Uh uh - another one that I blithely passed by. (But dig the subjects of these two biographies. Hollywood went for the prestigious historical figures in those days - in recent years, we’ve instead been treated to big budget takes on the likes of Sid and Nancy, Ed Wood, Andy Kaufman, Larry Flynt, and even the autobiography of Howard Stern! Not a Louie Pasteur in the bunch - now, THAT’S progress, huh?…)

1938 - You Can’t Take It With You: Another Capra production, this one a stage adaptation concerning an eccentric family, with James Stewart taking the Lily Munster role. I caught this one during the mid-eighties, renting a VHS tape of it from Alice In Videoland during a tubing phase wherein I made a really concerted effort to catch up on some of the classics I’d somehow overlooked in earlier times. It was pleasant, funny even, but not quite in the class of the superior Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (although Mr. Oscar was inexplicably out to lunch that afternoon…).


1939 - Gone With the Wind: When I was a kid, my mom and dad only rarely endured the hour plus drive on out to the Cinerama theater in Syosset, Long Island, but when we did, it was always for a darn good reason. After seeing such triple-sized epics (because, young folks, that’s what Cinerama was - three massive screens perched right alongside one another, curved in at two joints) as How The West Was Won, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, my parents treated us all to a mid-sixties revival of the as-yet-to-be-telecast Civil War epic in the most impressive of surroundings available! Hey, we even bought us a commemorative booklet! This was a film I enjoyed immensely, and in fact have seen several times since (including on a big - if not exactly Cinerama sized - screen while in college). Hey, I even read the book in tenth grade when it was offered as one of several options - even instead of tomes clocking in at two to three hundred pages less, which oughta tell you something! The third Clark Gable starrer on this list - I was never a particularly big fan of his, but I have to admit he really brought the goods to each of these roles - the true star was the beauteous Vivien Leigh, whose performance hit all the right notes - alluring, annoying, determined, if perhaps a little TOO hung up on Leslie Howard’s Ashley Wilkes (I never quite understood THAT fixation as a kid, and I still don’t). The scope of the film (i.e. the burning of Atlanta) is literally jaw-dropping at times. And it boasts a good solid story that keeps moving along at a nice clip. That said, my pal Roger’s never been able to make it all the way through the picture, and inasmuch as I’m a white guy and he’s not, that’s understandable - it’s being filtered through a whole ‘nother perspective for my Mr. Green. Truth is, Rog, while it’s hardly three hours of Steppin’ Fetchit-like antics, I CAN see how some of even the well-intentioned characterizations can be cringe-inducing (”Oh lordy, I never delivered me a baby before!” screeched Butterfly McQueen at a very high pitch, waking sleeping dogs for miles around…), and there’s a whole sequence towards the end regarding the burning of a shanty town that resembles Klu Klux Klan-like justice far too closely for my tastes. But, on a happier note, Gone With The Wind is one of two Best Picture winners to feature - however briefly - the talents of the small screen’s future Man of Steel himself, George Reeves! (And no, the other Tarleton twin was played by Fred Crane, not Kirk Alyn - now wouldn’t THAT have been something, huh?…) Frankly, my dear Rog, most folks didn’t give a damn, but hey, I sure did!


1940 - Rebecca: Saw this one on video in the mid-eighties, another one of my attempts to play catch-up. I’ve probably seen at least half, maybe two-thirds of director Alfred Hitchcock’s ouerve. This one’s pretty good, if not outstanding compared to some of his later work (my two favorite Hitch’s would be Strangers On A Train and Rear Window, and I also enjoyed the novelty aspects of both Lifeboat (taking place in a single, cramped setting for nearly the entire movie) and Rope (filmed solely in several long, ten-minute plus uninterrupted takes). Judith Anderson as the hatchet-faced housekeeper is memorably creepy, though - this AIN’T no Sunnybrook farm, y’know!

1941 - How Green Was My Valley: Somehow, the notion of John Ford directing a story about a family of Welsh coal-miners somehow just never managed to get me in front of the tube (and most likely never will), but with a title like THAT, how ever did my pal Roger GREEN let it slip by unwatched I’m wondering?…

1942 - Mrs. Miniver: A story about war-time in England filmed during the actual war-time - somehow, that very fact seemed to date the movie for me (I could be wrong), so I never went anywhere near it. On the other hand…


1943 - Casablanca: THIS was a war-time story filmed during the actual war-time as well, and THIS one I’ve seen at least a dozen times! Mostly, that was due to a VERY HEAVY Humphrey Bogart phase I went through in my later teen years. I wasn’t the only one - the decade-long deceased actor was going through a tremendous revival towards the end of sixties. I happened upon an article about him which peaked my interest around then, and when a local station ran a Bogie week during their late-movie slot soon afterwards, I stayed up way past my bedtime that Monday all the way through Friday to watch each one of ‘em. No, Casablanca WASN’T included in the mix (first up was High Sierra - which sold me right then and there - followed by Sahara, Dead End, and my two very favorite Bogart pictures of all, The Maltese Falcon, and the magnificent The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). Fact is, the first time I saw Casablanca, I didn’t quite understand its appeal. I later realized - upon seeing it on a big-screen at a Greenwich Village revival house circa 1970 - that my initial viewing of the classic (aired during a 4:30 to 6 afternoon movie slot) was horrifically truncated - they took out all the flashback sequences so as to fit in more commercials in! Can you imagine? Filled with great supporting actors - Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains - this is a movie that just seems to get better and better with each subsequent viewing! Watch it again, Sam - and you too Bill, Tom, Terry, and Roger!

1944 - Going My Way: Oddly enough - especially with the recent bout of Bing-mania that’s infected my CD player over the past decade - aside from his Road pictures with Bob Hope, I still seem to have mustered little interest in actually watching der Bingle act - especially as a clergyman, Oscar or no. So no, I haven’t seen this one, though there IS a chance(especially if there’s a heretofore unreeled scene featuring ol’ ski-nose in the confessional!…).

1945 - The Lost Weekend: Forget Hitchcock, Capra, Ford, or Huston - by far my favorite director from Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age was Billy Wilder! Which makes it surprising that it took me til my belated mid-eighties cinema cramming to view not only this celebrated film, but the other Wilder entry on this list (The Apartment) as well. Ray Milland - though he’ll always be first and foremost X, The Man With The X-ray Eyes to me - is outstanding in his award winning performance as an alcoholic. It’s an excellent movie, certainly a trailblazer of sorts regarding some largely ignored social issues of the day, but in the Wilder resume, personally I prefer Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, Stalag 17, Double Indemnity, and Ace In the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) - how come you didn’t vote any of THOSE pictures the coveted Best Picture Oscar, Academy voters? (And let’s not forget The Major And The Minor, Wilder’s directorial debut, in which a fully grown, 30 year old Ginger Rogers pretends to be 12 years old in order to save on train fare, and then accidentally - and improbably - becomes involved in a sober if apparently near-sighted Ray Milland, and the military school he runs! I saw this well-played farce at a very, very young age - probably before hitting ten - and after seeing it again many years later, I clearly understood how the idea of the fresh-faced Rogers as a girl only a few years my senior could’ve left such an indelible impression on me - wotta sweetie! Y’know, I never DID find a twelve year old nearly as cute as Ginger - and no, Chris Hanson, I’m NOT still looking!…)


1946 - The Best Years of Our Lives: I saw this one in UB’s science lecture hall. Quite a powerful film, it concern several GIs coming home from the recently ended second World War, including the year’s Oscar winning supporting actor, Harold Russell. Russell wasn’t a professional, but he sure gave a convincing performance as a returning vet whose hands had been replaced by metal hooks - probably because he had to live the role, as those hooks were real. I remember this to be a mostly depressing film, softened by a modest dollop of optimism. Worth seeing, at least once.

1947 - Gentleman’s Agreement: Writer Gregory Peck pretends to be Jewish so as to expose anti-Semitism. I never saw it. Maltin says its once daring approach is tame now - and Len wrote THAT back in 1969! I’d be mildly interested in seeing this one someday. (Can you believe I’ve never seen the Peckster in To Kill A Mockingbird either? THAT one should be a bit higher up than this one on the too-see list I’m thinking…)

1948 - Hamlet: Shakespeare? Regular readers of my “Fred Sez” blog know where I stand on The Bard - once a year, I go to my daughter’s school and enjoy their annual Shakespeare offering, and that’s IT. I’ve never seen ANY of Willy the Shake’s film work, and even when I recently expressed some interest in getting me some much needed culture via one of the renowned playwright’s cinematic adaptations, several folks (hi, Tom!) warned me off this version. To watch or not to watch - there’s really NO question! I ain’t watching this one, sorry…

1949 - All the King’s Men: I saw this one in some pretty unique circumstances - someone at our high school decided it would be a swell idea to screen this in the auditorium for the entire school to see, the one and only time that ever happened. Broderick Crawford, years before he joined the Highway Patrol (and even longer before he appeared as perhaps the most openly nervous host in SNL history) plays a corrupt politician in a story based on real-life events. I recall it as being a decent movie, though viewed in surroundings not necessarily conducive to maintaining one’s full attention (”Hey! Cut it out with those spitballs!”), so it’s hard for me to say much more about the film.

1950 - All About Eve: This Bette Davis back-stage showbiz expose was another classic rented from the fine folks at Alice In Videoland during the eighties. I enjoyed it well enough, but can’t muster up much of anything else to say about it - insert your own “it’s going to be a bumpy ride” gag here.

1951 - An American in Paris: During the early eighties, after long ignoring movie musicals, I went through a phase where I became overly enamored with the work of Gene Kelly. This was likely due to my vast appreciation for his performances in both On The Town and Singin’ In The Rain (the latter of which I’ve seen multiple times, and is my favorite of all movie musicals). So I eagerly rented An American In Paris! Eh. Some nice dance sequences, but ultimately, it left about as much an impression on me as did one of Gene’s later works: Xanadu - and THAT one boasted a Marvel Comics adaptation to help jog the ol’ memory (not to mention an Olivia Newton-John/ELO soundtrack to boot!). Guess I really missed seeing Singin’ In The Rain co-star Debbie Reynolds in that French setting - now, she was truly an eye-full!

1952 - The Greatest Show on Earth: This is one of those movies that critical revisionism would have you believe really, REALLY shouldn’t have taken home the big prize! They’re probably right, but inasmuch as this was likely the very first of ANY of these films to be viewed by yours truly when I was but a lad of single digits - and not once since - I can’t say definitively. The only thing I do recall about this circus picture was the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo of a silent Hope and Crosby, sitting in the bleachers, sharing a carton of popcorn. This was one time when the boys were clearly on the road to an easy payday, lemme tell ya…


1953 - From Here to Eternity: Omigosh, but this one is a REAL goodie - you’ve gotta make a point of seeing it Rog! I first caught in on one of my housebound Sunday afternoons at the cinema, but mere months later, it was memorably run, thirty minutes at a clip, over a weeks time in my 9th grade English class! And it was during that group viewing experience that I clearly recall more than one of my fellow students calling out “Hey look - it’s Superman!” when George Reeves appeared on screen (his role having been pared down only weeks before the film’s release because the very same thing happened during previews), making this the second Best Picture winner to feature the faux Kryptonian (What? You were expecting maybe Superman Versus The Mole Men?…). Beyond that, the cast is superb - Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Ernest Borgnine, and featuring an Oscar worthy turn - and career reviving performance - from Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra! All this, and you’ve got the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor for your big finish! Lotsa story here, and it moves at a brisk pace. So what if I didn’t quite realize that Paul Peterson and Shelley Fabare’s TV mom was supposed to be a high-priced call girl when I originally watched it - it was still plenty engrossing! Highly recommended!


1954 - On the Waterfront: As is this one! Watching On the Waterfront as a teen, alone in my room, this gritty Elia Kazan directed expose of union corruption packed quite a wallop. I’ve seen it several times since, including on the big screen up in Buffalo. Marlon Brando is at the absolute top of his form, and is there any more iconic scene featuring the legendary actor than the one set in the back of the cab shared with brother Rod Steiger? “I coulda been a contenda” indeed! (By the way, it sure was nice to see co-stars Brando and Eva Marie Saint together again last year in Superman Returns - he as the Man of Steel’s Krytonian dad, she as his earthly foster-mom - wasn’t it? Too bad Steiger was unavailable - he’da made a keen Luthor!…)

1955 - Marty: How’d I ever miss this one? Captain McHale dating Lou Grant’s boss, Mrs. Pynchon? But I did. Maybe someday…

1956 - Around the World in 80 Days: Despite the myriad of star cameos - over forty! - I never mustered the prerequisite stamina necessary to sit through this adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic overseen by one of Liz Taylor’s early, doomed hubbys. But if I ever feel the need to go on a Cantinflas kick, this’ll be the first movie I’ll look to!

1957 - The Bridge on the River Kwai: This one I saw on one of those prime-time NBC Saturday Night at the Movies thingies during the mid-sixties. Long and epic, I also wasn’t overly impressed - sorry. This highly respected film concerning British soldiers building a bridge while being held in a Japanese prison camp during World War Two - and the American who wants to blow it up - wasn’t exactly The Longest Day (a re-release of which friends dragged me to in the early seventies), but it wasn’t Paths of Glory, either, and like I said earlier, I prefer my war movies more along the lines of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece rather than anything featuring John Wayne (there, I’ve said it - I don’t like John Wayne, whether he’s on a horse or sitting in a tank! He WAS pretty good on I Love Lucy, though…). If nothing else, this film produced the most popular tune ever whistled - that is, until the Andy Griffith Show commenced production few years later!…

1958 - Gigi: A musical set in turn of the century (the one before last, that is) France, starring the aging Maurice Chevalier singing about the praises of little girls - gee, how’d I ever let this one get past me? But I did. Maybe someday, but please - I’d advise no holding of the breath…

1959 - Ben-Hur: Full scale Biblical epics have never been this ol’ heathens cup of tea, and I honestly didn’t think I’d ever actually seen this until I sat down to write this. Now, dimly, I DO recall viewing a mid-sixties prime-time airing. Way cool chariot race, but otherwise…

1960 - The Apartment: Jack Lemmon, Shirley Maclaine, Fred MacMurray, all working under the direction of the great Billy Wilder - you’d figure me to absolutely LOVE this picture, wouldn’t you? Well, I don’t. It’s…okay, but still, to me, lesser Wilder. Of course, I only saw it a single time, via a tape rented from a girl named Alice. Maybe this is one film on the list I truly owe a second look…


1961 - West Side Story: Remember how I said made it a point to always avoid musicals? Well, I did my best to duck this multi-feted video adaptation of the popular Broadway production for a long, long time - and that’s the way things may well’ve stayed if gal pal Lynn hadn’t dragged me along to see a re-release of one of her favorites back during our Buffalo days. Gang, that’s ALL it took - I absolutely LOVE this movie! LOVE! AND the music as well - I have me the original Broadway cast recording, the movie soundtrack, even an all-star CD that features (among others) Little Richard singing “I Feel Pretty”! I’ve seen the movie at least three times, most recently on the tube with daughter Julie, who also dug it, but as I’ve played the various CDs so often - and they always bring the story so vividly to mind - it seems like I’ve seen it far more times than that! And every time, every single time, I get all weepy at the end! Sniff. If I had to pick my single favorite film from this entire list, well, I’m not saying this would be it, but it sure would be among the finalists! And hey, if you DON’T dig West Side Story, what else is there to say, save “Krupe you!”

1962 - Lawrence of Arabia: Another David Lean epic blockbuster, and another movie that has eluded me over the years. I was nine when this hit the theaters, and my most vivid contemporaneous memory of the film was the issue of Mad magazine - one of the very first that I’d ever bought - featuring Norman Mingo’s painting of Alfred of Arabia on the cover!


1963 - Tom Jones: Okay, now I’m ten years old, and people keep talking about this bawdy English film with the suggestive eating scene in it! How can eating be suggestive, I wondered? Well, even though I have seen that particular clip several times over the past few decades, I’ve never actually seen the film proper. And if you think avoiding Tom Jones has somehow improved my table manners, well, that’s not unusual, is it?…

1964 - My Fair Lady: Again, a musical I’ve long ducked. I should probably cut it some slack and check it out someday - which is more likely to happen than with Gigi, I’m thinking…


1965 - The Sound of Music: Hey, I saw THIS one - and more than once! Fact is, the whole family hopped in the Chevy and drove on down to the Cinerama theater (even though it wasn’t actually filmed in Cinerama) to view this Julie Andrews star-making vehicle soon after it’s initial release - and yup, I even have the souvenir book to prove it! I was quite taken with it at the time - I used to spin around on my next door neighbors front lawn, croaking “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” until I got dizzy and fell down! But as the sixties rolled on, the film gained a reputation of being vastly uncool - and being the impressionable rebel that I was, I quickly bought into that perception. It wasn’t until, in an effort to move on up from a diet of non-stop Disney fare, we rented a copy of it and showed to young Julie back when she was 7 or 8. After which, it was all my long-suffering wife could do to keep me from warbling and twirling in the living room! (Julie liked it, too.) (Oh, and do look for a young Nicholas Hammond, TV’s first Spider-Man, among the older children. Sadly for Nick, few folks are ever likely to shout out, “Hey look - it’s Spider-Man!” when this film is revived…). It was a lot better than I remembered it to be, honestly…

1966 - A Man For All Seasons: This one’s all about ancient British history! My head hurts just thinking about it - even Gigi’s got a better shot at grabbing my attention…

1967 - In the Heat of the Night: Hard to believe, but somehow, I’ve never actually seen this one. It hit the theaters about two years before me and my buddies got behind the wheels of a car, which severely restricted our access to new releases (I didn’t see another widely written about examination of race relations, Hollywood style, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, until I caught most of the last two-thirds of that film on a hotel TV in the early eighties, by which time it just seemed…quaint. Not sure how Steiger and Poitier’s efforts would look forty years on, but I’ll admit, I’d be mildly curious to find out.)

1968 - Oliver!: The last gasp of the Hollywood musical, and from what I’ve heard, it was no My Fair Lady - or even a Gigi. Never seen, and odds are I never will, guv’nor!

1969 - Midnight Cowboy: Saw this a couple of times, though not right after it came out - it was originally X-rated, remember? And I was only 16 at the time. I probably caught a 1971 re-release, and then saw it again during my college stay in Buffalo. It certainly wasn’t the prurient movie I was expecting (did I mention the X-rating?), so as a thrill seeking teen, I was initially disappointed, but I was able to appreciate it far more upon my second viewing. Good acting all around, and a heart-breaking ending. 1970 - Patton: My buddies dragged me to this one (we finally had our licenses - yay!), but outside of the opening with George C. Scott pontificating in front of an enormous American flag, and then later when the general slaps the private’s face, there’s not much I recall about this film - save that aside for those two scenes, the whole things seemed like the sort of standard issue battle picture I strove to avoid. After going along with this, I think I talked my pals into taking in Robert Altman’s follow-up to MASH, Brewster McCloud - and lemme tell ya, I NEVER heard the end of that one! Bud Cort building a set of wings so as to fly in the upper reaches of the Houston Astrodome just didn’t seem to resonate with my friends. Philistines!…

1971 - The French Connection: The movie that put Poughkeepsie on the map - and now I live in the very next town over! Ain’t life crazy? It also put future Lex Luthor Gene Hackman on the map in his role of Popeye Doyle (Hey! ANOTHER comics reference!), one of the first big screen cops that didn’t always go by the book or look like Steve McQeen, but still clearly was the good guy. This film went over just fine with the gang, even though it’s probably no true cinematic classic. Still, that car chase sure was thrilling to see up on the big screen…

1972 - The Godfather: Another book brilliantly brought to the screen. Yeah, I realize it’s, um, a tad violent Rog, but there’s SO much else there to compensate for the liberal use of caro syrup (though that horse head in the bed scene remains the single most unsettling moment in the film). I’ve seen this one several times, once upon it’s original release, once up at college, and later on the small screen. The acting is first rate all around, with Al Pacino giving perhaps the most interesting performance as we see his character slowly but inexorably evolve over the course of the film. Epic in a good sense.

1973 - The Sting: Saw this when it came out. I remember it as being light fun (though clearly not as memorable as Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s earlier triumph, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid), and the Scott Joplin soundtrack became so pervasively popular, the background music for my college tenure - at least a small portion of it - was ragtime! Who’da thot? Otherwise, I recall no other details, save for the fact when the sequel came out, the leads made themselves unavailable, so the studio hired Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis to headline The Sting Two instead! Sure - makes sense to me! Hard to tell those four apart when you get right down to it, eh?…

1974 - The Godfather Part II: Even without Mac and Jackie, THIS follow-up proved to be even better than the original! And to make up for Marlon Brando’s Godfather absence (he died - peacefully even - in the first film), Robert DeNiro ably filled in as the same character in flashbacks to Vito Corleone’s earlier days. I haven’t seen this one in a while, but I’ve long been meaning to watch the resequenced mash-up of the two films that’s known as The Godfather Saga (I’ve never seen the third, largely panned, chapter either, but I really should, if only just because…).

1975 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Lynn LOVED the Ken Kesey book this movie was based on, so we were pretty much right up at the front of the line when this one hit the theaters back in ‘75. She wasn’t disappointed, and neither was I. Director Milos Forman and his cast - headed by Jack Nicholson, and featuring future Taxi castmates, Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd - did an amazing job bringing the source material faithfully to life. Still, though, having read Kesey’s novel not long afterwards, I was always somewhat ambivalent about the ending. I’m not sure WHAT exactly I wanted to see (or read), but I felt vaguely unsatisfied by the way things wound up. Maybe that’s why, as good as this film is, I’ve never gone back to take another look…

1976 - Rocky: The little film that could. The big lug from The Lords of Flatbush and Deathrace 2000 (I didn’t always go see the BEST of movies back then, y’know) not only stars in this saga of an underdog boxer, but he WROTE it too! Wow! Talk about playing against type! An enjoyable, sentimental cornball popcorn movie, it was good enough to get me to fork out cash to see the sequel. The sequel, however, WASN’T good enough to wrest anymore money away from me for subsequent sequels (though the latest - some say the last, but we’ll see - episode looks genuinely intriguing) - I never spent any money on Rambo, either. But hats off to Stallone - Rocky’s definitely carved out a place in pop culture history for Sly, and that’s no small achievement.

1977 - Annie Hall: Woody Allen’s best film? Probably. I loved it at the time, though I haven’t seen it since it came out (I instead kept going to each new Allen release for the next decade or so before finally giving up as the funny quotient continued to get smaller and smaller - though I DID see - and liked - Mighty Aphrodite). This one features my all-time favorite Allen gag: Christopher Walken is Diane Keaton’s demented brother, who, upon first meeting his sister’s new beau, describes to an unsettled Allen his fantasy of, one day while out driving, just randomly swerving head-on into traffic in the other lane! Given Walken’s line reading, that’s already creepy funny, but the real topper comes several minutes later, after Walken has been off-screen long enough for the audience to at momentarily forget him. We find out, in an off hand manner, that whoever was supposed to drive Allen and Keaton to the airport had to bail at the last moment, and before we can wonder who’s gonna take over the job, the scene cuts to a speechless, wide-eyed Allen sitting next to Walken, who’s manning the wheel, the windshield wipers going back and forth in the driving rain, Woody’s fear playing palpably - and hilariously - across his face! Y’know, I think of that scene every time I get into my car - hey, anybody out there need a ride?

1978 - The Deer Hunter: Okay, this one I really didn’t like all that much. Hey, I wasn’t the only one - at the nearly packed theater I saw this in, mid-way through the Viet Nam sequences, a fellow got up out of his seat, loudly proclaimed “It wasn’t like that at all!” and stormed out. If we had all been in a movie, the disgruntled vet would’ve opened fire on us, but happily, in real life, he was simply annoyed, not deranged. Too long for my tastes, and far too ambiguously arty as well. And Roger? I’ll gladly take five seconds of a severed horse’s head over the a grueling game of Russian roulette anytime! Man, that’s one sport that’s just plain awful tough to watch (and, in the context of Viet Nam, historically inaccurate to boot). I much preferred the Jane Fonda/Jon Voight returning vet drama, Coming Home, to this overrated bit of business (even though I’ll never, ever sign up for swimming lessons given by Bruce Dern, that I guarantee ya!…)

1979 - Kramer vs. Kramer: It’s Dustin Hoffman versus Meryl Streep for the custody of their young son - thankfully NOT played by Michael Richards - in this well-acted soap opera. I saw it on the big screen when it first came out, but don’t recall all that much about it except that I liked (not loved) it.

1980 - Ordinary People: Another soapy pic, only far more depressing than the previous year’s comparatively fun-filled custody battle. Still, I was happy to pay full price to sit in the dark and watch Mary Tyler Moore play an icy matriarch.

1981 - Chariots of Fire: Once, when we flying to a convention, headphones enabling one to listen to this, the movie that was being projected up front on the tiny silver screen, were being offered for a buck or two. Even though it had just won the big prize, I passed. Having heard the once inescapable Vangelis theme at least, oh, a hundred thousand times, give or take, I figured that about did it for me regarding this one .

1982 - Gandhi: This would seem to have a LOT going against it: it’s a sweeping epic biography, and it was viewed (via a rented video-tape) on the small screen a full half-dozen years after its release. Truth is, I found it very involving and surprisingly moving, with Ben Kingsley’s turn as the title character nothing short of unforgettable. As historical epics go, it’s high on MY list…

1983 - Terms of Endearment: Even without a Russian roulette contest, this rivals The Deer Hunter for the lowest position of all the films on this list that I’ve actually seen. I referred to a pair of films above as soap opera, as I would this one - save they were GOOD soap opera, and this one, well, not so good. A quarter of a century after leaving the theater, I don’t recall many of the story’s details, save for an overwhelming sense of annoyance at both Shirley Maclaine and Debra Winger. Y’know, I never understood the appeal of director Jim Brooks’s Broadcast News either, another vastly overpraised two hours of meandering plot. But he sure was good to Mary Richards (before she got all icy, natch…).


1984 - Amadeus: I LOVE this movie! I wish I’d seen it on the big screen instead of on the tube (via Showtime). It’s funny, gaudy, dramatic, wonderfully acted - sort of like a Ken Russell flick that’s done right (though I DO love his Tommy…)! Who’da ever figured Tom Hulce, the kid from Animal House, to convincingly play a musical genius? Director Milos Forman, whose earlier film version of Hair was neither a popular nor a critical success (but is also much beloved by me after a single long ago viewing on Showtime), finally garnered some well-earned respect for this musically oriented quasi-biography. I’m betting daughter Julie would dig both these movies, as well as some of the others found on this list. Maybe we’ll watch Hair today, Gone With the Wind tomorrow?…

1985 - Out of Africa: Lynn and her mom went out to theater to see this one, but I opted to stay home. I’m not much of an outdoorsy guy, even when that means staying inside and merely WATCHING fresh air footage! I heard this was long, long, long, and that Robert Redford was pretending to be British, so no thanks. I don’t recall any real rave reviews when my wife got home, either. This one I’ll likely never see.

1986 - Platoon: The only thing that appeals to me less than a war film is a brutally realistic war film. I put the cap on my Viet Nam viewing with The Deer Hunter, and even though this HAD to’ve been a better film, I decided to steer clear. Even as big a Kubrick fan as I am, I’ve also avoided Full Metal Jacket. And Saving Private Ryan? All I had to do was read a review that declared the first twenty minutes of that particular movie to be nearly as harrowing as actually being in combat for me to ask the simple question, “And I would want to experience that WHY?…” So sorry, no Platoon for me - I’m much happier with my Sgt. Bilko and Gomer Pyle reruns!…

1987 - The Last Emperor: Reading descriptions of this sumptuously filmed tale of a three year old Chinese emperor, I can’t quite determine if I’d be dazzled by it - or totally bored? Seems like it could either way. If I ever get around to actually seeing it, I’ll be sure and let you know which way the pendulum swung…

1988 - Rain Man: This was one of those pre-baby video rentals Lynn and I watched in 1990, and probably my favorite of the three Dustin Hoffman starrers on this list (What? No Tootsie?..). Tom Cruise acquits himself quite nicely as well. Worth seeing at least once.

1989 - Driving Miss Daisy: Another entry in the “Waiting For Julie To Arrive” film festival, and this well-intentioned, stagy drama starring Morgan Freeman made for an interesting contrast to the Spike Lee “joints” we were renting during the same time period. Watching this not long after Do The Right Thing was a rather fascinating juxtaposition (and frankly, the latter film was the one that made the deeper impression…).
Then the baby arrived and the drought truly began. I’ve only seen ONE Best Picture winner since 1990 - and that was about six months ago - though several others are at our fingertips. And looking over this list at Wikipedia, I’ve determined that, out of the fifty nominated films up for the Oscar from 1980 through 1989 (and aren’t you way glad we’re NOT canvassing every single nominee? I sure am!…), I’ve seen exactly twenty-five. You don’t need to have Russell Crowe’s beautiful noggin to figure out that that’s fifty percent. However, of the eighty-five flicks in contention since 1990? Six (seven when we go see Little Miss Sunshine, which both Lynn and I want to see, and soon). Stay at home parents, that’s us. A quick look at the winners then during the littlest Hembeck’s lifetime…

1990 - Dances With Wolves: I prefer Kevin Costner when he’s playing baseball (Field of Dreams and Bull Durham are both favorites), but I’d probably be as likely to see Waterworld as I would this one…

1991 - The Silence of the Lambs: Oooo, scary - maybe TOO scary for me. But considering Julie recently talked me into watching Candyman, a film based on a Clive Barker (my first, Pinhead fans!), maybe, just maybe I could make it through this one as well. No snacking in front of the tube, though..

1992 - Unforgiven: Westerns don’t much appeal to me, pardner, so I reckon I’ll ride out into the sunset without ever giving this one a look see…

1993 - Schindler’s List - Okay, I really SHOULD see this one, it’s just that I find anything to do with the Holocaust to be a tremendous bummer - and it’s not like I need to be convinced it happened, y’know? Still, someday I’ll take a deep breath and screen this one. Haven’t set a date yet, though…

1994 - Forrest Gump: This one is not only the most recent movie on this list that I’ve actually seen, but it’s also the most recent movie on this list that I’ve actually seen, if you catch my drift - Julie’s friend Courtney suggested they rent it for a sleep-over last summer, and since it was week-long rental, Lynn and I checked out the tape a few days later. After watching it, I just couldn’t understand all the fuss - yes, it’s a good movie, but a great one? I really don’t think so. For one thing, it’s all over the place - it’s a comedy, it’s a tearjerker, it’s a docudrama, it’s a war movie, and the tone veers from being an ersatz episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC, to that of a doomed romance, and then back again! Tom Hanks is fine, but when it was all over, all I could think was, was THAT what people have been going nuts over for the last ten years? Nice soundtrack though…

1995 - Braveheart: There was a time when I would’ve named The Road Warrior among my very favorite movies of all time - I watched it over and over on Showtime - but I don’t think I’ve seen a Mel Gibson flick since that third, largely disappointing Mad Max entry hit the theaters. I have zippo interest in watching this one, and I assure you, the Jews had NOTHING whatsoever to do with my feeling that way (Lynn lets me watch whatever I want, bless her li’l heart….)!

1996 - The English Patient: I remember the clips of this that ran on the Oscar telecast as being really, really boring - and if THAT was the best they could do in trying to promote the flick to their coveted world-wide audience, well, I’m thinking even emptying bedpans might be preferable to sitting through the actual movie!

1997 - Titanic: We own a VHS copy of this film! Lynn went on a bit of an eBay buying splurge a couple years back, and she saw a copy of this for an extremely cheap price and quickly scarfed it up. The fact that we have yet to find the three plus hours in our not-really-all-that-busy schedules to actually watch it says something about both us AND the movie. Fact, I kinda forgot we had it until I went through this here list. I WOULD like to see it - preferably on the big screen, but that ship’s sailed, hasn’t it? Let me get back to you on this one as well, okay?…

1998 - Shakespeare in Love: Bard Lite! This looks like it could be fun - I’d be amenable to renting a DVD of it sometime. And after all, taking a peek at Gwyneth Paltrow’s thespian chops might not be such a bad idea - hopefully, this award winning actress can prove worthy of being the screen’s first Pepper Potts!

1999 - American Beauty: This is another one I was sorely tempted to go out and see, and only sloth - and some mixed reviews - kept me from the big screen. But it’s pretty high on my list for my next round of playing cinematic catch-up. Plus, here’s yet another example of an actor turning Oscar gold into funny book fame - Kevin Spacey IS Lex Luthor! Just like Award Winning Gene Hackman was before him!…

2000 - Gladiator: Nope. Not my cuppa.

2001 - A Beautiful Mind: I remember digging that great episode of Freaks and Geeks featuring a tense mathlete competition, but that’s about as far as I want to go with watching people do addition on either the big or little screens, sorry (unless of course Russell Crowe signs on as Happy Hogan to Gwyneth’s Pepper Potts - THEN I might reconsider…).

2002 - Chicago: A friend gave me his copy of Moulin Rouge awhile back (cuz I don’t think he liked it), but if this musical is half as enchanting as that one was (yeah, I dug it), I really owe it to myself to see it, don’t I? Consider it way up top the list…

2003 - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. This bears some explaining. First off, I haven’t seen ANY of the three Rings movies. Second off, I have the extended 4 DVD box-sets of each in my possession (the ONLY films on this list that I own, though I ALMOST bought the double DVD of West Side Story when it came out last year). I’ve never read the source material, and I assure you I never will - that sort of fantasy has never appealed to me. The reason then that I have the three films is that wife Lynn DID read the trilogy (though a way long time ago now); the movies are supposed to be really, really good; and I waited for the extended versions to come out because I figured, if I’m gonna watch these, I might as well see EVERYTHING! While I knew I was losing something not seeing these on the big screen, by having all three chapters at my disposal concurrently, I wouldn’t have to wait a year in between entries - AND I could pause the DVD anytime I wanted to go tinkle and not miss a beat! However, daughter Julie saw parts of the second installment at a friends house one night, and decided then and there that she wanted nothing to do with our plans to watch them. That’s fine by me, but it also made me think twice about watching them with her around - when would we ever find three nights in a row when Julie would refrain from interrupting us for nearly four hours at a time? Can’t be done - trust me. But we’ve finally come up with a solution - if all goes as planned, Julie will be going off for a month long pre-college art course in another state this summer, and - ah ha! - THAT’S when I’ll finally learn if those cute little guys ever do find those rings! There’s only one sliver of controversy left, and maybe some of you folks out there can help me - Lynn wonders if we should perhaps just watch the versions as released to the theaters, figuring all the additional footage might drag down the pace of the films as intended, while I’M of the opinion, hey if I don’t watch all this extra stuff now, I ain’t NEVER gonna go back and sit through these cinematic endurance tests ever again! Opinions? (And please bear in mind, I prefer one that agree with me…)

2004 - Million Dollar Baby: More Clint Eastwood. A lady boxer. I hear there’s a surprise, bummer of an ending. Somehow, I’ve never stumbled upon the secret. Makes me a mite curious (don’t tell me - this ain’t an invitation to blab, people!), maybe even increasing the possibility I’ll see this one someday.

2005 - Crash: The Saturday after the Oscars last year, Lynn, Julie and I actually went out to see this, but the line at the multiplex was enormous, and Crash was already sold out for the evening, so we went home and watched a Three Stooges marathon instead! (No, not really - we DID head home, but I forget just exactly what we did after we got there…) Considering the mixed reviews this one got, I’ve been a bit ambivalent about whether I truly want to see it or not. Let’s give it a big solid “maybe” and be done with it, okay?…

2006 - The Departed: Y’know, I’m glad Scorsese FINALLY won the award, but the odds of me running out to see this (or rent it) aren’t very high. Funny thing, in a way - I saw Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (the only Scorsese film to spawn a sitcom!!), New York, New York, and The Last Waltz all on the big screen, while I caught Raging Bull and King of Comedy on cable (no, somehow I’ve never managed to see Taxi Driver). I enjoyed each of those movies to varying degrees - Lynn, too - but after awhile, I kinda just tired of gangsters killing each other in as bloody a manner as possible, all the while swearing up an effin’ storm. For me, a little of that goes a long, long way. So, if I ever do check out another of Marty’s flicks, it’d most likely be the seemingly more genteel The Aviator, or the (personally) overlooked Taxi Driver, not this most recent opus. But hey, good for him - he truly deserved the award WHATEVER the quality of this latest film!

And now I’m FINALLY done with going through the entire list (thanks for the idea Roger - I think…), and what have I learned? Well, that only a precious few of my very favorite movies were ever voted Best Picture of the year by members of the Motion Picture Academy. Why is that? Well, looking over the group of films above, you’d have to agree that a vast majority could be at least categorized as better than average, but I really believe the quality of the work is secondary. I think what the Academy folks are TRULY voting for are the films that’ll give them the most prestige. Seriousness trumps entertainment value, simply put. Oh, it’s nice if a film has both, but whichever film is going to make the motion picture industry look best in the eyes of the world, THAT’S the one that gets the lion’s share of the votes. Sometimes those movies endure, sometimes they don’t. But truth is, I’d happily swap Elf for most of ‘em! (Not to mention Bean, but most folks would find THAT concept just out and out demented, so forget I mentioned it, okay?…)

But Roger? Do see From Here To Eternity when you get the chance, okay? Just please, outta respect, DON’T scream “Look - there’s Superman!” when George Reeves comes on the screen, okay? The poor guy’s been through enough of that already, y’know? It’s enough to make you play a game of Russian roulette - with bullets in all the chambers…

And the Oscar goes to - Hembeck.com for Best Website To Never Mention A Wayans Brothers Movie Like Little Man! (Until now - oops…)

-Copyright 2007 Fred Hembeck


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