Last January, Roger Ebert caught a lot of flack for refusing to rank his selections for best films of 2009. Instead, he listed his top picks alphabetically. Despite his constant complaints that ranking films is a ridiculous practice (see his introductions to his Great Movies books), this year, he coalesced and ranked the best films of 2010.
When considering my selections for most enduring Oscar winning films, I think I understand his frustration. Finding objective criteria to rank such a subjective topic has already been daunting. So I’ve come up with what I hope to find a more firm set of three guidelines:
How does the film relate to its era? Is it a sort-of time capsule? For example, In the Heat of the Night is a terrific snapshot of racial attitudes of the 1960s. While the film was progressive at the time, it’s fascinating to look back at the film and see where our nation was and how far racial attitudes have come (or how to see how little progress has been).
How timeless is the film’s topic/plot/theme? This is how I chose Platoon and Amadeus for the 1980s. While Platoon is a terrific depiction of war from the perspective of a grunt, the overal theme is the death of innocence and the battle good and evil fight for that innocence. Amadeus, an equally crafted film, is about a man driven mad by jealousy. The main character’s internal battle is as epic and timeless as a Shakespearean tragedy.
How enduring is the craft of the picture? Nowhere is this more evident than in my choice for the 1970s: The Godfather. Gangster films had been done before, but never with such an operatic style. Family films had been done before, but not with such a morally polarizing characters. Period pieces had certainly been done before, but after about ten minutes into the film, the sepia-photography leads me to feel like I’m watching a film made in the 40s.
With these criteria in mind, I’ll proceed with my selection for the most timeless Best Picture of the 1970s…