From Here to Eternity (winner)
The nominations for 1953’s Best Picture race are strange in many ways. I like four of these movies, two of them a great deal, and yet I still can’t help but think there’s a lot to be improved upon. This is a great year for foreign films, starting with Summer with Monika and continuing through such classics as M. Hulot’s Holiday, Ugetsu, The Wages of Fear, and Tokyo Story. It was also a damn good year for military films. In addition to From Here to Eternity, which won, we had both The Cruel Sea and Stalag 17. While House of Wax really didn’t stand a chance of a nomination, The Big Heat might have, as might have Pickup on South Street. These days, we’d be talking about The Bigamist, but a woman director in 1953? Never happen.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Of these five movies, The Robe is the one I genuinely don’t like at all. While there are some fun performances in it, it is dominated by the obscene scenery chewing of Richard Burton and a plot that is long on Biblical bullshit and short on plausibility. Seeing Burton have some sort of conniption when he touches the robe of Christ sounds like a great time, but the reality is a great deal less. As Biblical epics go, this one leaves a great deal to be desired in almost every category. I imagine it was nominated more for its theme than any real quality it exhibits.
4. I liked Julius Caesar a lot more than I thought I would, enough that I’m a little guilty placing it in fourth. It’s a very good version of one of Shakespeare’s better plays, and that Marlon Brando could pull off the Mark Antony role is genuinely surprising. The problem here is that there’s really nothing more here than just the play. There’s not a great deal done to make this more than just a filmed version of the stage production. That’s fine, but it’s not really enough for something that wants to be Best Picture.
3. Winner From Here to Eternity is a movie that has surprising guts for 1953. Less than a decade after the end of World War II, this is a movie that goes directly after military culture in a big way. I respect the hell out of that. In fact, in a lot of other years, this would be a clear choice for me for the win, and I fully understand the win it got. It’s not my choice for a variety of reasons, though. Still, it has a great reputation for a reason, and it’s one of my favorite Deborah Kerr performances. If it’s your choice, I get it; it’s just not my choice.
2. I think there are a lot of westerns that are better movies than Shane, but there are no westerns that are more Western than Shane. Every single possible trope of the genre is here and is here bigger than life. Because of this, because it is so central to its genre, I think it’s an easy film to overlook in terms of just how good and effective it is. If you’re going to talk about the genre, this has to be in the conversation for all the right reasons. It’s a classic, and I’m not going to apologize for putting it this high.
1. There is almost nothing to dislike about Roman Holiday, though. This is a movie that is sweet and lovely. It has an entertaining premise, gives us a glorious ride, and ends not as we think we want it to nor as we fully expect a Hollywood movie to, but as it should. It absolutely perfectly and beautifully sticks the landing. That it also gives us a near-perfect pairing of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck is just a bonus. Given an open field, I’m going elsewhere, but with the five I’ve got, this is my winner.
I do have an open field, though, and my choices for 1953 are both foreign language movies. Of all the movies I have rated for 1953, only Tokyo Story and The Wages of Fear have five stars from me, and I’d stand by either of those as being movies that it would be virtually impossible to improve upon. Either one would take the win for me.