Monday, March 4, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1954

The Contenders:

The Caine Mutiny
The Country Girl
On the Waterfront (winner)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Three Coins in the Fountain

What’s Missing

For a year this far back in Oscar history, the Academy did a pretty good job in terms of the nominations. I think three of these movies are not just good, but extremely good. That’s not bad for Oscar in any year. But there are a few places where we could make some improvements. Let’s get rid of The Creature from the Black Lagoon right away. I mean, I love it but it’s not the kind of movie that Oscar likes for much of anything. Seven Samurai is one of the big “why isn’t this here?” movies, but it’s nominations came in 1957. Sansho the Bailiff is one that might get attention now, but probably wasn’t really in the cards for 1954. Given the desire to have a musical in the mix, my choice would have been A Star is Born over the one we got. The Barefoot Contessa would have been an interesting nomination, as would have been Sabrina. The biggest miss, though, is clearly Rear Window.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I genuinely dislike Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This is not a “Steve doesn’t like musicals” thing at all. It’s entirely about the plot and the events that happen in the movie. When your main characters take a story called “The Rape of the Sabine Women” as their cue for how to behave and find wives, you can expect that there are going to be some ugly moral issues raised in the plot. I call this Stockholm Syndrome: The Musical for those reasons. I know people like it. I just don’t.

4. I could say a lot the same about Three Coins in the Fountain. I didn’t dislike this movie as much as I probably could have, but there wasn’t a great deal about it that I liked. I feel like this is a movie that didn’t really know what the hell it wanted to be. Is it a romance? Kind of, but it’s also darker than it needs to be in places, and yet the darkness is often treated lightly. It’s weird in terms of its tone, and I could never really get a solid handle on it. I feel like it didn’t know what it wanted to be, and that’s never something that sits well with me.

3. Now we’re getting to the movies that I don’t merely like, I like a lot. The Country Girl is the one that is perhaps the strangest in terms of it being nominated, but I like it far more than I expected to. It’s such an odd movie in so many ways that I’m surprised the Academy nominated it. I’m also of the opinion that its nomination is probably what prevented Rear Window from being put into the mix. Two movies that are oddly dark and disturbing was probably one too many for 1954. Still, I’m rather impressed that it was chosen.

My Choices

2. On the Waterfront is one of those movies where its reputation is perhaps a little more than the movie itself can bear, but only a little. This really is a dynamite picture all the way through, with great performances top to bottom. There’s not a weak link in cast, with Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden, and Eva Marie Saint killing their roles in support of one of Brando’s truly great film moments. I get why it won, and I don’t really object. The truth is, I simply like the other contender more. If this is your choice, you get no objection from me.

1. I really like The Caine Mutiny a lot. I love the way the whole thing plays out, the way that ultimately everyone in the film ends up being the heel. I love Bogart playing against type. I think it’s an argument that could be made that Rear Window is an objectively better movie. You can probably make the same argument for On the Waterfront. Given the choice, though, The Caine Mutiny is the film I’m going to rewatch nine times out of ten, and for me, that’s going to be the deciding reason I put this in first.

Final Analysis


  1. That’s an interesting and surprising choice for the winner, I expected Waterfront. I liked Caine Mutiny when I watched it but it’s been quite a while, I’ll have to give it another go.

    My choice out of these, without looking at Mutiny again, would be On the Waterfront. It really is a powerful film.

    But my choice in an open field would be Rear Window, Rear Window, Rear Window!! It seems incredible in hindsight that it wasn’t nominated, though I see you’re point about The Country Girl taking its spot. To me it’s a weak sister and a sorry substitution for the other. The same goes for Grace Kelly’s performances in each, though I recall you’re a fan of her work in Country Girl.

    I agree that the general premise of Seven Brides is icky, it does have some great dancing and a few excellent songs but it doesn’t belong among the nominees. If Warner Brothers hadn’t taken a hacksaw to A Star is Born between its premiere and its general release to cram in more showings I think it would have definitely been a contender from looking at the restored version.

    Three Coins in a Fountain….why? It’s pretty, it’s puffy, it’s completely out of place.

    Though Rear Window would always by my top choice there are a couple of others that could have conceivable been in the mix. Senso like all other foreign films at this point had no hope of recognition but Executive Suite seems right up the Academy’s alley. It probably was somewhere just out of the money. There is one more that was surely too niche in ’54 for any sort of serious traction-Johnny Guitar-but it is a weird challenging picture.

    1. For me, this really does come down to what I'd want to watch again--The Caine Mutiny is one of those movies that hits a very personal chord for me for whatever reason. I don't for a second think anyone who would vote for Rear Window or On the Waterfront is picking poorly--I could argue all three, I think. Like I said above, Rear Window is probably the objectively the best of these.

      I do like The Country Girl because it's so surprising in so many ways. I am a sucker for playing against type, and that's certainly Bing Crosby playing against type really, really hard.

      For what it's worth, I was not a huge fan of Johnny Guitar.

      My nominees are probably The Caine Mutiny, On the Waterfront, Rear Window, The Country Girl, and A Star is Born, working under the assumption that Seven Samurai gets its nominations in 1957.

  2. Well, since Seven Samurai was nominated in 57 I cannot pick that, can I? It would have been a no-brainer for given I would place it is top 5 of all time great movies.
    That out of the picture Rear Window is my choice. I have watched it many times already and I love it every time.
    I never watched The Caine Mutiny and that is probably a mistake. Should remedy that.
    Dancing cowboys does not belong on any list if quality...

    1. Putting myself in the mindset of the time, I'm not really surprised at the nomination for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. While it's morally problematic, especially by today's standards, it's bright and shiny and has some great sequences. The barn raising scene is pretty damn great.

      But yeah, I agree.