Going My Way (winner)
Since You Went Away
For a dozen years before 1944, the Academy nominated between 8 and twelve films for Best Picture every year. In 1944, the Academy reverted to five nominees, which means this seems likt the first year in more than a decade where there are plenty of possible additional nominees. We don’t need to stray that far to find a few worthy nominations that belong here more readily than one or two of the actual nominations, in fact. Both Laura and Lifeboat seem like films that could belong here. While it’s not a film I like much, Meet Me in St. Louis does seem like something that would normally snag a nomination as well. To Have and Have Not and Murder, My Sweet could be argued as well, as could Olivier’s version of Henry V. How about Arsenic and Old Lace?
Weeding through the Nominees
5: Wilson is the film that most clearly doesn’t belong here. While it’s certainly pretty to look at in terms of how it was film, it’s too long, too dull, and far too willing to treat Woodrow Wilson as a saint. This is less a biography than it is a hagiography, and the canonization of Saint Woodrow, frankly, isn’t that interesting. Trim this down by a third and I might be a lot more amenable to it. As it is, I’d like all of the films I mentioned above—including Meet Me in St. Louis--over this one in the mix. Some of those might still end up in fifth place, but they’d deserve it more.
4. I have a similar complaint about Since You Went Away. I like this film better, but it suffers from at least one problem in common with Wilson: it’s far too long for the story it tells. This is a two-hour story told in three hours. Another problem is that it’s terribly predictable. I guessed the fate of virtually every character in the film correctly and did so far in advance of the film’s conclusion. I get the desire to make an American version of Mrs. Miniver, but it could stand some more interesting events and a serious trim to make it worth being on this list.
3. With Gaslight, we’re getting to the films here that I actually like pretty well. I was surprised that I liked this as much as I did, since I expected nothing from it going in. It’s pretty engaging, though, almost in spite of itself. It benefits greatly from having Joseph Cotten in a main role and from being an entertaining costume drama with a good amount of suspense. I don’t think it deserves to win, but it’s the first nomination that I’m happy with, even if I still might replace it with some of the other choices I listed above.
2: No one was more surprised than I was that I liked Going My Way. I also understand precisely why it won—in a country mired in war, tired and wanting only to have a few hours of peace, Going My Way served that role perfectly and beautifully. It helps that Bing Crosby is almost immediately likeable on screen. It helps that the songs are really good. It’s a feel-good film and it’s a film that genuinely makes the view feel good while and after watching. I get it. It might even well have been my choice in 1944 because of what the film really meant to the people at the time. But it’s not my choice now.
1: Objectively—and I say that rarely—there is no film from 1944 that has had a bigger impact on film and on filmmakers than Double Indemnity. For as good as Going My Way is at temporarily curing the ills of a weary country, for as entertaining as Gaslight is, for as much as Laura or Lifeboat earned the right to really be here, Double Indemnity is the only real choice. It’s not only my favorite film from 1944, I think I could argue that it is truly the best film from this year. It should have won, even if I fully understand the reasons it didn’t.