1940194119421943194419451946194719481949
* Indicates that the film/performance was not nominated for an Academy Award in this category

1940
       
Rebecca
Actor: James Stewart (The Philadelphia Story)
Actress: Ginger Rogers(Kitty Foyle)
Supporting Actor: Walter Brennan (The Westerner)
Supporting Actress: Jane Darwell
(The Grapes of Wrath)
Director: John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath)
The Grapes of Wrath
Actor: Henry Fonda (The Grapes of Wrath)
Actress: Katharine Hepburn(The Philadelphia Story)
Supporting Actor: Jack Oakie (The Great Dictator)
Supporting Actress: Jane Darwell
(The Grapes of Wrath)
Director: John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath)

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1940
 

Alfred Hitchcock's film of Rebecca is considered by some film historians as a major turning point in the evolution of Hollywood, because it signaled the end of the reign of the producer as the dominant force on the making of a film and the beginning of the age of the director. Rebecca is a memorable film that contained classic Hitchcock touches, the usual sumptuous David O. Selznick production, and some of the most awe-inspiring cinematography in the history of film by George Barnes (winning the film its only other Oscar). But Rebecca loses track in the second half as it shifts the emphasis away from the travails of the second Mrs. DeWinter (a magnificent performance by Joan Fontaine) and concentrates on the far less engaging premise of what became of her predecessor. It is hardly surprising that it was honored over most of the more deserving nominees, because they were comedies: The Great Dictator, The Philadelphia Story and the non-nominated His Girl Friday and The Bank Dick never had a chance over the dramatic histrionics of Rebecca.

But it took all of Selznick's Oscar campaigning skills to wrestle the Best Picture Prize over the far more deserving winner, John Ford's devastating adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck's dust bowl drama came to gut wrenching life and pulled nary a false note, even in the face of the censorial limitations of the period. It features a remarkable cast with staggering performances by Jane Darwell, John Carradine and the remarkable Henry Fonda, who gives the finest performance by an actor in a year of memorable performances in the role that he seemed born to play (and had to sign a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox to secure it). The Grapes of Wrath is unique in being a film that has its finger pressed squarely on the sensibilities and concerns of its contemporary audience without seeming at all dated when viewed today, because the material was handled with such unusual skill, candor, and honesty.

Worst Award

James Stewart is one of the greatest actors in motion picture history, so it is frustrating that he won his only Oscar for his weakest nominated performance in The Philadelphia Story. It is generally thought that his Oscar for The Philadelphia Story was awarded as a consolation prize over his losing out the previous year for his vastly superior work in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Stewart turned in his usual fine work in The Philadelphia Story, but his performance was not on a par with the nominated work of Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, Charles Chaplin in The Great Dictator, Raymond Massey in Abe Lincoln in Illinois, or Laurence Olivier in Rebecca, nor of such overlooked accomplishments as Edward G. Robinson in Dr. Erlich's Magic Bullet, Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro, or Cary Grant in His Girl Friday. The Oscar pantheon would not be complete without Stewart and had the Academy waited, they might have given him a more deserving Oscar for his classic turn in It's a Wonderful Life, his New York Film Critics Award winning role in Anatomy of a Murder, or his unnominated tour de force in Vertigo.

Biggest Oversight

The Academy's disregard of comedy has been well documented, and no one seems to have be affected by it as much as Cary Grant. Grant was twice nominated for his dramatic work for Penny Serenade in 1941 and None But the Lonely Heart in 1944, both excellent performances that were worthy of recognition. But Grant was always overlooked for the sophisticated comedies on which his reputation was based. The Academy's patronizing attitude towards Grant's true calling was never as apparent as it was in 1937, when his delightful comedy The Awful Truth was not only nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay; but it won for Leo McCarey the first of his two Best Director Oscars. With the high regard the Academy held The Awful Truth in, Grant's snub in the Best Actor race seems all the more puzzling. The Academy's failure to recognize Grant's artistry continued this year, when thet nominated five distinguished actors in Stewart, Fonda, Chaplin, Laurence Olivier, and Raymond Massey. Fonda certainly gave the outstanding performance among the nominees, with his strongest opposition coming from Grant in what was probably his best performance, His Girl Friday. This remake of The Front Page added a brilliant dimension to the Hecht/MacArthur comic melodrama by switching the gender of ace newspaperman Hildy Johnson (without bothering to change the character's name) and having him played by the wonderful Rosalind Russell (another glaring omission); the result being a crackerjack screwball romantic comedy that is led in its frenetic pace by the driving force of Grant's newspaper publisher Walter Burns.

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1941
       
How Green Was My Valley
Actor: Gary Cooper (Sergeant York)
Actress: Joan Fontaine(Suspicion)
Supporting Actor: Donald Crisp
(How Green Was My Valley)

Supporting Actress: Mary Astor (The Great Lie)
Director: John Ford (How Green Was My Valley)
Citizen Kane
Actor: Gary Cooper (Sergeant York)
Actress: Barbara Stanwyck (Ball of Fire)
Supporting Actor: Sydney Greenstreet
(The Maltese Falcon)

Supporting Actress: Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon)*
Director: Orson Welles(Citizen Kane)

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1941
 

Whether or not Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made is a subject of debate, but it was certainly the greatest film made in 1941 and even the Academy knew it, anointing the masterpiece with nine nominations including four for wunderkind Orson Welles. It never had a chance in the Best Picture race because of factors that had nothing to do with its qualities as a motion picture: it was a box office flop made by an arrogant neophyte that infuriated one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Kane was not an accurate depiction of Hearst's world, especially in its libelous characterization of Heart's talented movie star girlfriend Marion Davies as a no-talent wannabe opera singer. But it is unquestionably a brilliant piece of filmmaking that was vastly superior to anything else released that year, including the highly enjoyable albeit undeniably sentimental winner How Green Was My Valley. In the Hindsight Awards race, John Ford's idealized view of a Welsh mining town wouldn't have even placed (that honor would have gone to John Huston's brilliant remake of The Maltese Falcon), but it is a memorable movie very much in the safe and tested Academy Award mold.

Worst Award

The Academy threw Citizen Kane a bone by anointing it with the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, but the category that it should have run away with was Best Black-and-White Cinematography. The failure of Gregg Toland's celebrated deep focus photography to win the award was attributed to the petty resentment towards Orson Welles, an unfortunate omission that is indicative of the political infighting that frequently accompanies the Academy Awards. In another year, Arthur Miller's work on How Green Was My Valley would have been a deserving winner; but in 1941 it was an embarrassing selection motivated by studio politics.

Biggest Oversight

After years of playing second string gangsters for Warner Bros., Humphrey Bogart had one of the great breakout years in screen history with his back-to-back performances in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon. He deserved a nomination for either role (and indeed might have canceled himself out in the balloting with this impressive one-two punch), but his Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon was particularly deserving of recognition. This was acting in a new vein: the cynical anti-hero who seemed to be the selfish antithesis of the usual movie leading man. Most actors couldn't have gotten away with it, but Bogart's unique charisma made the sleazy character spellbinding. Bogey was finally admitted to the pantheon of Oscar nominees two years later, for his signature role as Rick Blaine in Casablanca. It's hard to quibble with the nominees the Academy decided on in 1941: Gary Cooper in Sergeant York, Cary Grant in Penny Serenade, Walter Huston in All That Money Can Buy, Robert Montgomery in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. But Bogart's romantic cynicism seemed to personify the dark years of World War II, and his performance as Sam Spade was the first true display of the mystique that makes him as big a star now as he was at his creative height

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1942
       
Mrs. Miniver
Actor: James Cagney (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
Actress: Greer Garson (Mrs. Miniver)
Supporting Actor: Van Heflin (Johnny Eager)
Supporting Actress: Teresa Wright (Mrs. Miniver)
Director: William Wyler (Mrs. Miniver)
To Be or Not to Be*
Actor: James Cagney (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
Actress: Greer Garson (Mrs. Miniver)
Supporting Actor: Sig Ruman (To Be or Not to Be)*
Supporting Actress: Teresa Wright (Mrs. Miniver)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch (To Be or Not to Be)*

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1942
 

It is hard to fault the Academy for selecting MGM's smash-hit piece of war propaganda, Mrs. Miniver, as Best Picture. It certainly struck a chord with its contemporary audience who could relate to the noble struggle of a family trying to carry on their lives in a world torn apart by war. But when watching it today, the film seems like it is being viewed through a time machine, and the well-heeled and attractive Miniver family are much too idealized to carry any true dramatic resonance. Still, it boasts a magnificent performance by Greer Garson in the title role and by Teresa Wright as her daughter in law (although Wright competes with costar Richard Ney - Garson's future husband playing her son in the movie - as having two of the most unconvincing English accents in motion picture history). At its best, Mrs. Miniver is superb; especially in its memorable sequence of a German soldier briefly taking over the Miniver household, or bringing home the grim truth of the war when Wright's character is killed by enemy fire. But the film is undeniably softened by all the gloss MGM could cover it with, and its harsh realities were delivered with a hefty serving of Hollywood palatability.

1942 audiences were too close to the situation to appreciate Ernst Lubitsch's brilliant comedy of a Polish theatre troupe giving the Nazis fits, To Be Or Not To Be. Lines such as the famous exchange where a disguised Jack Benny asks a Nazi officer what he thinks of Benny's abilities as a Shakespearean actor and the officer responding "What he does to Shakespeare, we are doing to Poland," struck 1942 audiences as being in very bad taste, especially when the film was released shortly after the tragic death of star Carole Lombard. Now that time has healed some of the wounds opened by World War II, To Be or Not To Be can be enjoyed as the brilliant satire it is, and Mrs. Miniver can be written off as the deftly made although ultimately rose-colored salve for the soul that it was.

Worst Award

MGM head Louis B. Mayer won a Special Oscar "for its achievement in representing the American way of life in the production of the Andy Hardy series of films." The Andy Hardy series was a cash cow for MGM in the 1930s and early 1940s and Louis B. Mayer's personal pet project about his own idea of the very narrow values the American Dream should encompass (as embodied by Mickey Rooney, who in real life had to be taken aside by Mayer and asked to stop posing for publicity photos at race tracks), and totally forgotten today except as a dated period piece. What the inscription should have read was "for its achievement in representing MGM head Louis B. Mayer's unrealistic idealization of American life, where people of color do not play a part in society and where economic hardships are nonexistent."

Biggest Oversight

Ernst Lubitsch was one of the greatest directors in history (immortalized for giving his films a singular airy charm that came to be known as "The Lubitsch Touch"), and one of the few who was a success in the silents who made an even greater mark in the talkies. Twice nominated for Best Director for The Patriot (1928/29) and Heaven Can Wait (1943), Lubitsch served as a mentor to the many expatriate German filmmakers who came to Hollywood to escape the Nazis (notably Billy Wilder who received his own first nomination for writing Lubitsch's 1939 classic Ninotchka). Lubitsch might have received additional recognition for Ninotchka, The Big Parade, The Smiling Lieutenant or Trouble in Paradise, but he should have taken the award home for his courageous mockery of Hitler in To Be Or Not to Be. But the film cut too close to the truth for its contemporary audience, and prophets and satirists are not recognized in their own time.

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1943
       
Casablanca
Actor: Paul Lukas (Watch on the Rhine)
Actress: Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette)
Supporting Actor: Charles Coburn
(The More, the Merrier)
Supporting Actress: Katina Paxnou
(For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Director: Michael Curtiz (Casablanca)
Casablanca
Actor: Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca)
Actress: Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette)
Supporting Actor: Claude Rains (Casablanca)
Supporting Actress: Katina Paxnou
(For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Director: Michael Curtiz (Casablanca)

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1943
 

The troubled shooting and on-the-spot rewriting of Casablanca has been told and retold many times, but what many movie fans overlook that it holds an unprecedented spot among Best Picture winners. In our current thinking that a film must be released after Thanksgiving to be fresh enough in the voters' minds to be a Best Picture contender, it is surprising to discover that the Best Picture of 1943 was actually released in New York in November of 1942 to mixed reviews and lackluster business. The film opened in Los Angeles in January to coincide with the peace talks taking place in Casablanca, and finally found the audience that has been embracing it ever since. It hardly seems a surprise that it made such an impact that the Academy chose to honor it fourteen months after its initial release; Casablanca is still going strong and finding legions of new fans in its seventieth year, when most World War II propaganda has been consigned to time capsules or Turner Classic Movies. 1943 was a year when the Academy definitely got it right.

There were a wealth of superior nominated films in this movie year and had Casablanca been out of the running, MGM's The Human Comedy would have been the front runner for the award. But Casablanca is such a sublime mixture of exotic locales, romance, adventure, intrigue and even comedy that it seems to say "the movies" more than any film ever created. It also has the most extraordinary gathering of characters ever assembled in Rick Blaine, Elsa Lund, Victor Laszlo, Captain Renault, Major Strasser, Signor Ferrari, Ugarte, Sam, et al. depicted by the most unforgettable cast of actors ever assembled. When lists of the greatest films ever made are drawn up, Casablanca is invariably named in the top ten (being represented as number two on the AFI list and number nine on IMDb). Madbeast.com places it squarely as number one on the list.

Worst Award

Paul Lukas first played his role of freedom fighter Kurt Muller in Watch on the Rhine on the Broadway stage and repeated the role in the film version of Lillian Hellman's play to universal acclaim, winning the New York Film Critics Award as well as the Oscar. But the choice now seems absurd. Not because Lukas wasn't effective in the role, but that his turn in this now-forgotten bit of hokum was selected over one of the most memorable and beloved marriages of actor to role in screen history: Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca. It is difficult to imagine a better example of a performer transcending mundane material than Bogart's cynical, world-weary Rick Blaine. Another actor in the role would have resulted in a dull melodrama, but Bogart's presence turned Casablanca into art. Lukas was excellent in Watch on the Rhine; but only as good as any number of other actors who would have been cast in the role. Bogart was unique.

Biggest Oversight

Eric von Stroheim got his start in films as an assistant to D.W. Griffith on Intolerance, and became a film legend as a brilliant but erratic director of silent films (Greed, The Merry Widow) and as an aristocratic and villainous actor in the talkies (La Grande Illusion, The North Star). He should have been anointed as a Best Actor contender for his complex depiction of Erwin Rommel in Five Graves to Cairo, only the second film directed by Billy Wilder, but the Academy felt that Walter Pidgeon's typically staid and wooden work as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Pierre Curie in MGM's typically prim and proper Madame Curie or Gary Cooper's stiff performance in Ernest Hemingway's overwritten monument to escapist machismo For Whom The Bell Tolls (featuring blonde Swede Ingrid Bergman as a Spanish freedom fighter) was more deserving of recognition. Von Stroheim's excessive perfectionism (the trademark of his directing career) took a toll on his reputation as an actor and he worked mainly in forgettable B movies through the late 1940s before obtaining most of his work in French cinema. He made an immortal comeback in Hollywood in 1950, finally received an Oscar nomination for his unforgettable Max von Mayerling in another Billy Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard. He was so infuriated at being placed in the Best Supporting Actor category that he considered suing the Academy.

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1944
       
Going My Way
Actor: Bing Crosby (Going My Way)
Actress: Ingrid Bergman (Gaslight)
Supporting Actor: Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way)
Supporting Actress: Ethel Barrymore
(None But the Lonely Heart)
Director: Leo McCarey (Going My Way)
Double Indemnity
Actor: Eddie Bracken (The Miracle of Morgan's Creek)*
Actress:Ingrid Bergman (Gaslight)
Supporting Actor: Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way)
Supporting Actress: Ethel Barrymore
(None But the Lonely Heart)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (Lifeboat)

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1944
 

One of a long string of smash hit Bing Crosby vehicles for Paramount, Going My Way seemed like a change of pace for the singer in his role of a gentle priest who is sent to take over a poor parish over the objections of its longtime pastor played by Barry Fitzgerald. It was a fabulous hit with both audiences and critics, being the far-and-away top money-maker of the year and winning the New York Film Critics Award and the nascent Golden Globe. The award-givers were split on Crosby's and Fitzgerald's contributions, with the Globes naming Crosby Best Actor and Fitzgerald Best Supporting Actor, but the New York scribes awarding Fitzgerald Best Actor (they did not hand out supporting acting awards until 1969) with Crosby the runner-up. The Oscars were totally confused by the pair and, in an unprecedented move, nominated Fitzgerald for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, giving him the statuette for the latter category but passing him up in the leading role category to the top-billed Crosby. The film also became the first to win the Best Picture trophy while also taking home the Best Song prize, for the snappy and memorable Swingin' on a Star (although no honors were awarded to the song Father O'Malley wrote in an attempt save the financial fortune of the church, the morose and depressing title tune).Everyone loved Going My Way so much in 1944 that if they'd thought about it, they probably would have invented a few more awards to honor it for.

But posterity often has different tastes, and the passing years have judged Going My Way to be - while still enjoyable in its dated way - a maudlin series of episodes with Crosby displaying the same laid back performance and easy singing style that he gave in all those Road movies with Bob Hope (he didn't show his true dramatic chops until The Country Girl ten years later). Going My Way's chief competition at the time was thought to be Darryl F. Zanuck's ponderous biography of Woodrow Wilson (which Zanuck bitterly complained about losing the award three years later, when he won the Oscar for another pretentious piece of "social commentary," Gentleman's Agreement), but the most enduring film of 1944 is certainly Billy Wilder's chilling tale of betrayal, Double Indemnity, co-written with Raymond Chandler from James M. Cain's novel. The filming of the movie was not a happy experience; Wilder and Chandler hated each other so much that at one point Chandler walked off the movie, refusing to return unless a series of demands were met, and Wilder determined that a month into shooting, the blonde wig he had Stanwyck wear looked terrible and back-peddled in interviews by claiming that the fake-looking tresses were intended as a window into the character's artificial soul. The leading lady's hair was the only false note in an otherwise flawless and nail-biting thriller which packs as much punch today as when it was first released, winning seven Oscar nominations (including Wilder's first in the Best Director category, although not, surprisingly, for the stunning performances of Fred MacMurray or Edward G. Robinson, neither of whom received a single Oscar nomination throughout the course of their stellar careers), walking away with a grand total of zero statuettes. The whirligigs of time would have raised that number significantly.

Worst Award

When Leo McCarey won the Best Director Oscar for Going My Way, Billy Wilder was said to have tripped him as he made his way to the podium to accept the award. Wilder can be forgiven for the minor act of assault since he (or fellow nominee Alfred Hitchcock for Lifeboat) were more deserving of the award, but an even worse choice was McCarey for Best Original Story for Going My Way. It's not that Going My Way isn't an entertaining or well written film (its win for Best Screenplay is undeserved compared with Double Indemnity, Gaslight or Laura, but certainly a creditable pick), but its loosely-strung series of episodes doesn't constitute a story at all. McCarey was one of the seminal comedy directors of the 1930s and 1940s, helming such classics as Duck Soup (1933) with the Marx Bros., Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) The Awful Truth (1937, for which he won his first Best Director Oscar), An Affair to Remember (1939) and The Bells of St. Marys (1945) as well as winning immortality as the man who first teamed Stan Laurel with Oliver Hardy. So while we aren't giving him and Hindsight Awards in 1944, we hold him in very high regard indeed.

Biggest Oversight

Preston Sturges was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for both The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero, losing the award twice to Lamarr Trotti's tedious script for Wilson. Morgan's Creek was added to the National Film Registry in 2001, an honor that Wilson (or Best Picture Going My Way) has yet to attain, a solid indication that Sturges' delightful comedy about a ditzy small town girl in trouble (wonderfully played by Betty Hutton) may not have been as highly regarded when it came out, but it is a film for the ages. The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was grossly unrewarded at the Oscars, deserving nominations for Best Picture, Sturges as Best Director, Hutton as Best Actress, William Demarest as Best Supporting Actor, and winning the award for Eddie Bracken's manic yet touching performance as the gentle soul who worships Hutton, displaying a depth and sensitivity lacking in winner Bing Crosby's popular though undemanding turn in Going My Way. The Academy loved Going My Way so much that they not only gave the Oscar to Crosby but nominated Barry Fitzgerald for Best Actor as well as voting him Best Supporting Actor for the film, but it is Bracken (who was also excellent in Hail the Conquering Hero) who displays the most humanity, if you can stop laughing long enough to notice.

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1945
       
The Lost Weekend
Actor: Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend)
Actress: Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce)
Supporting Actor: James Dunne
(A Trees Grows in Brooklyn)
Supporting Actress: Anne Revere (National Velvet)
Director: Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend)
The Bells of St. Mary's
Actor: Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend)
Actress: Joan Bennett (Scarlett Street)*
Supporting Actor: Robert Mitchum
(The Story of G.I. Joe)
Supporting Actress: Anne Revere (National Velvet)
Director: Jean Renoir (The Southerner)

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1945
 

The Lost Weekend was Billy Wilder's indictment of alcoholism, the first major feature film of the sound era to take on the subject. It caused a sensation at the time, with the alcohol industry going so far as to attempt to buy the negative from Paramount to keep anyone from seeing it and was honored as the year's best not only by the Oscars, but the Cannes Film Festival and the New York Film Critis. But viewed today, The Lost Weekend seems badly dated, with its unrealistic happy ending tacked on in order to pander to its audience (the central character is more hopeful as the credits roll, but he really has the same problems that he did at the beginning of the film). The famous scene of a DT-stricken Ray Milland being terrorized by a bat flying around his bedroom and a mouse crawling out of an imaginary hole in his wall doesn't have quite the impact it did in 1945 and the same can be said of Miklós Rózsa's Oscar-nominated, theramin-centered score, which now seems more appropriate for a low-budget 1950s horror movie. But there's is no doubting the effectiveness of Milland's performance and the power of Wilder's direction. It probably was the Best Picture in 1945 but the Hindsight Awards are based on timelessness rather than timlieness so while we respect The Lost Weekend, we'll look elsewhere to give out our top prize.

There were a few movies which had legitimate claims for the Hindsight Award for the best film of the year. Of the nominated films, Mildred Pierce, Joan Crawford's comeback vehicle after being released by MGM, was an effective soap opera that still packs a powerful dramatic punch, and Anchors Aweigh was possibly the most entertaining teaming of Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in an MGM musical (if only for the classic dance number between Kelly and Jerry, the cartoon mouse from the studio's Tom and Jerry franchise). Non-nominated legitimate contenders for the top prize were the horror classic The Body Snatchers; the finest film of French director Jean Renoir's brief Hollywood career, the poetic The Southerner; and the perennial classic National Velvet. But the best film of this weak year was Leo McCarey and Bing Crosby's smash hit follow-up to Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary's; in which Crosby reprised his Oscar winning role as compassionate priest Chuck O'Malley, this time locking horns with a slightly implausibly beautiful nun in the person of Ingrid Bergman (who is isn't so strict that she's above teaching one of the boys in her care how to defend himself in a fist fight). While no less sappy or manipulative than its predecessor, The Bells of St. Mary's was equally entertaining; containing the usual Crosby charm and an endearing performance by Bergman as a kind, but no-nonsense Bride of Christ and featured a far-bettered structured story than the episodic Going My Way. The Crosby/Bergman pairing lacked the chemistry or tension of Crosby and Fitzgerald (who strangely appeared in only two other films together - the 1947 smash Welcome Stranger and the forgettable 1949 entry Top O' the Morning), but this feel-good piece of hokum is more memorable than any other film released this year.

Worst Award

It's hard to gather any enthusiasm (positive or negative) for any selection made in this forgettable year, but the most lamentable choice is probably Charles G. Booth's Oscar for Best Original Story for the cliché-ridden The House on 92nd Street, a forgotten film about a double agent for the FBI in a Nazi spy ring. A far superior choice would have been Richard Flournoy and László Görög for the frothy Joan Fontaine comedy The Affair of Susan; but given the Academy's distaste towards froth or comedy, it's not surprising that it was overlooked.

Biggest Oversight

Producer Val Lewton produced a series of superb psychological horror films in the mid-1940's, the best of which was The Body Snatcher, loosely based on a tale by Robert Louis Stevenson. It boasted a superior screenplay by Lewton and Philip MacDonald, and intense direction by future Oscar winner Robert Wise; but what truly made the film stand out was Boris Karloff's finest performance since Frankenstein. Karloff was respected for his stage work (he gave legendary Broadway performances as Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace and as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and received a Tony nomination for The Lark) but failed to be taken seriously in Hollywood because of the genre in which he worked, even after memorable "straight" performances in The House of Rothchild and The Lost Patrol. Regrettably, he was never nominated for an Oscar.

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1946
       
The Best Years of Our Lives
Actor: Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives)
Actress: Olivia deHavilland (To Each His Own)
Supporting Actor: Harold Russell
(The Best Years of Our Lives)
Supporting Actress: Anne Baxter
(The Razor's Edge)
Director: William Wyler
(The Best Years of Our Lives)
It's a Wonderful Life
Actor: Laurence Olivier (Henry V)
Actress: Celia Johnson (Brief Encounter)
Supporting Actor: Lionel Barrymore
(It's a Wonderful Life)*
Supporting Actress: Myrna Loy
(The Best Years of Our Lives)*
Director: Laurence Olivier(Henry V)*

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1946
 

1946 was a magnificent movie-going year, with bona-fide masterpieces It's a Wonderful Life, Henry V and The Yearling up for Best Picture against winner The Best Years of Our Lives (fifth nominee The Razor's Edge was just rounding out the field), and major classics like Brief Encounter, The Killers, Anna and the King of Siam, and Open City hot on their heels. It's impossible to fault the Academy for selecting the moving and timely The Best Years of Our Lives - one of the greatest movies ever made - as its depiction of soldiers returning home from World War II to an America trying to adjust to a new peacetime has its finger on its contemporary America more accurately than any other Hollywood film (with the possible exception of The Grapes of Wrath). But that is both the glory and the irritation of the film: it is so firmly rooted in the world and challenges of 1946 that it sometimes feels like a relic from a time capsule when watched now. But it is an undeniably great film and a creitable choice for the top film of the year. 1946 was one of those incredibly rare years when there were so many great films made that it's really a coin toss to determine what was the "best" among so many memorable achievements, and if you prefer The Best Years of Our Lives (or Henry V, or Brief Encounter, or any of the other miraculous works of art of this watershed year) as your final choice, we can't really disagree with you.

It is therefore with some hesitation that we submit Frank Capra's beloved fable of a man reclaiming his seemingly wasted life, It's a Wonderful Life, for the mantel of 1946's top film. To be sure, this idealized vision of small town life is "Capra Corn" at its most saccharine; but if you were to scan most movie fans list of favorite films from this watershed year, the tale of George Bailey and his guardian angel would probably be listed more than any other. James Stewart presents a startling contrast to the "aw, shucks" roles he specialized in before the war and depicts Bailey's descent into desperate despair with moving honesty while never becoming so morose that the audience loses its connection with him. And as the film juxtaposes the Mayberry-esque cosiness of Bedford Falls at the beginning of the story with Bailey's dark vision of life without him, the actors are allowed to create a truly disturbing society in which every individual living in it seems alienated, even in the midst of a crowd of other people. Yet the story's darkness is always buoyed by the encouraging theme that it only takes the presence of one inspring individual to change everything. It's a message that still packs an emotional punch even after a million viewings, so we're going to call it the best film of a remarkable year.

 

Worst Award

Director William Wyler discovered double amputee Harold Russell while watching a documentary chronicling the rehabilitation of a permanently injured soldier during his research for The Best Years of Our Lives. Wyler was so impressed with Russell that he decided to change a character in the film from a spastic to a double amputee in order to cast the war veteran. Russell responded with an earnest though awkward performance which the Academy rewarded with a Special Oscar "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." Russell clearly deserved that award, but the Academy went overboard by also giving Russell the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, making him the only actor in history to receive two Oscars for a single performance. One admires Russell's courage in the film, but he was obviously an amateur among professionals and it clear that he never would have been cast save for his war injury (he did not act in another film until 1980). He ran a nonprofit organization that specialized in finding jobs for people with disabilities and wrote two autobiographies after his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives, and was forced to sell his acting Oscar late in life because he needed money to pay his wife’s medical bills. He said nothing could induce him to sell the Honorary Oscar though, because it would be disrespectful to his fellow veterans. That special award was one of the more insightful selections in Oscar history. The acting trophy is another story.

Biggest Oversight

With so many great cinematic achievements to choose from, it's inevitable that a few would slip through the cracks. The never-nominated Myrna Loy delivered the finest performance of her brilliant career as Fredric March's wife trying to adjust to The Best Years of Our Lives. Lionel Barrymore was overlooked for his most memorable performance as the evil Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life. But the greatest single achievement of 1946 was Laurence Olivier's inspired performance and direction of Shakespeare's Henry V. Prior to Olivier, Shakespeare was infrequently attempted on film and on the rare occasions that it was (Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream or the disastrous Taming of the Shrew with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford), the result was usually an insipid travesty that relied more on pageantry and star-casting than on Shakespeare's poetry. The first film that seemed to indicate the plays could be presented cinematically was Paul Czinner's 1937 film of As You Like It, which featured Olivier as Orlando. But it took Olivier's wildly imaginative Henry V, which effortlessly takes the narrative back-and-forth between an imagined performance at Shakespeare's Globe Playhouse and the historical period of Henry's reign, to show the world that Shakespeare was every bit the writer that the geniuses who cranked out the screenplays for the Bowery Boys films or Deanna Durbin musicals were. Yet despite his success as a director, Olivier failed to make the cut in the nominations, receiving nods only for his performance and production. Olivier certainly should have been the hands-down winner of the Best Actor prize (he won Best Actor from both the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review), but the Academy effectively took him out the running by presenting him with a Special Award "for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen," an honor that Olivier bitterly resented because he felt it was merely a tactical move to take his English-produced masterpiece out of competition against Hollywood product. Olivier did finally win competitive Oscars two years later for his comparatively inferior film of Hamlet (and received his only Best Director nomination in the process), but Henry V represented not only the high water mark of his film career, but of the production of a Shakespearean work on screen, and should have been recognized as the outstanding directorial achievement that it was.

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1947
       
Gentleman's Agreement
Actor: Ronald Colman (A Double Life)
Actress: Loretta Young (The Farmer's Daughter)
Supporting Actor: Edmund Gwenn
(Miracle on 34th Street)
Supporting Actress: Celeste Holm
(Gentleman's Agreement)
Director: Elia Kazan (Gentleman's Agreement)
Miracle on 34th Street
Actor: William Powell (Life with Father)
Actress: Irene Dunne (Life with Father)*
Supporting Actor: Edmund Gwenn
(Miracle on 34th Street)
Supporting Actress: Celeste Holm
(Gentleman's Agreement)
Director: George Cukor (A Double Life)

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1947
 

Darryl F. Zanuck felt that he was robbed of the Best Picture Oscar for Wilson, his excruciatingly self-important drone of a film that pretended to be a tribute to the the twenty-eighth President but was really just a monument to Zanuck's ego. When Zanuck failed to win the top prize for what he considered his finest achievement, he went back to the well of pretension and came up with Gentleman's Agreement, which told the story of a gentile writer posing as a Jew in order to experience anti-Semitism first hand; starting a much imitated (Glory, Tootsie, Dances With Wolves) Hollywood trend of pretending to tell the story of an oppressed group, but doing it from the point of view of a white male. Some effective films were made using this device, but at times it is hard to get past the hypocrisy of the enterprise. If the story were about a Jew writing about anti-Semitism played by, say, Everett Sloan, the film would have opened and disappeared without notice. But because it is WASP-ish Gregory Peck suffering the indignities, contemporary audiences didn't mind sensing outrage at the treatment he received. Zanuck finally won the award he coveted,and when he took the podium to accept it, he used the occasion to comment that he was still bitter that Wilson hadn't won the Best Picture Oscar three years before.

Zanuck should have had to keep waiting to vent his frustrations over Wilson, because a much more memorable and unpretentious film was a far more deserving winner of the award. Miracle on 34th Street, the beloved classic of a department store Santa who may be the real thing, is so familiar that it does have the air of a chestnut roasting on an open fire after too many viewings over a lifetime of Decembers. But watched with fresh eyes, it is a revelation to appreciate not only how charming and clever the story is, but how laugh-out-loud funny the Oscar winning screenplay by George Seaton is. With the Academy's well-documented distaste for comedy, it is a telling indication of the film's quality that it won two Oscars for writing (for Best Screenplay as well as for the original story by Valentine Davies) and for the touching and hilarious performance by Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle (matched every step of the way by Maureen O'Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood).

Worst Award

The Academy nominated four enduring masterpieces for Best Original Screenplay in 1947: Body and Soul, A Double Life, Monsieur Verdoux and Shoeshine. Honoring any of these films would have done credit to the awards, but the script they selected to receive the trophy is a stunning puzzlement indeed: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Sidney Sheldon produced an amusing script for this entertaining Cary Grant/Myna Loy comedy, but to say it surpasses the best work of Charles Chaplin or Abraham Polonsky makes one wonder what the Academy was smoking when they were voting for the awards.

Biggest Oversight

1947 was the first year that the Academy awarded the Best Foreign Film award, with Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine deservedly being anointed a Special Oscar for the honor (it would not become a competitive category until 1956) as well as a nomination for its screenplay. But completely overlooked in the nominations was La Belle et la bête, French director Jean Cocteau's lyrically beautiful version of Beauty and the Beast, one of the most remarkably original films ever made. Had the categories been given awards in 1947, the surrealist masterpiece certainly should have won Oscars for Antonio Castillo and Marcel Escoffier's lavish costume design and especially Best Makeup for Hagop Arakelian's magnificent conception of the Beast's lion head. But those categories weren't instituted until 1948 and 1981 respectively, so those wonderful achievements were overlooked for recognition. But La Belle et la bête also deserved nominations for Christian Bérard's surreal art direction, Henri Alékan's haunting cinematography, Cocteau's sublime vision as director, and if we're going to be honest about it, Best Picture; categories that were all in effect at the time. The Walt Disney Company ultimately took ownership of the Beauty and the Beast story for a cartoon, Broadway musical and live-action film, all of which were wonderful in their own way. But none came close to matching the poetic beauty of Cocteau's masterpiece.

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1948
       
Hamlet
Actor: Laurence Olivier (Hamlet)
Actress: Jane Wyman (Johnny Belinda)
Supporting Actor: Walter Huston
(Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
Supporting Actress: Claire Trevor (Key Largo)
Director: John Huston (Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Actor:Humphrey Bogart
(Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
*
Actress: Barbara Stanwyck (Sorry, Wrong Number)
Supporting Actor: Walter Huston
(Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
Supporting Actress: Claire Trevor (Key Largo)
Director: John Huston (Treasure of the Sierra Madre)

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1948
 

Laurence Olivier followed up his magnificent film of Henry V with Hamlet, and was immediately anointed as the greatest interpreter of Shakespeare's work in film history. That, he surely was (based on Henry V and his superlative performance in his otherwise hit-and-miss 1956 film of Richard III); but Hamlet was never Olivier's role and his 1937 stage performance was universally panned by critics. By 1948 he was impervious to criticism, so no one dared point out that the film, while a decided improvement over Hollywood's earlier attempts to film the Bard's work, is a badly butchered and only tolerably performed adaptation of Shakespeare's play. Olivier and text editor Alan Dent cut the script to the bone, eliminating not only the character of Fortinbras (who is a common casualty of the editor's pen), but Rosencrantz and Guildestern (who are indispensable to depicting a complete version of the story). Olivier said that he was not initially keen to make a film of Hamlet (he would have preferred Macbeth, but Orson Welles was making a film of that play at the same time which would have reached theatres first) and when he did decide to do it, claimed that he would have preferred to cast another actor in the lead but was unable to find a suitable performer who would play the role according to his interpretation (when he did direct another actor in the part, Peter O'Toole in the premiere production of the National Theatre, the result was a notable disappointment). It is unfortunate that Olivier was unable to cast someone else as Hamlet, as he is frankly wooden in the role for which he received such acclaim at the time, and the rest of the cast (with the exception of Jean Simmons as a memorable Ophelia) are forgettable in their various generic characterizations. The resulting film is only a mildly engrossing collection of the play's most famous scenes; Hamlet's Greatest Hits, salvaged only by a truly magnificent rendering of the duel in Act V.

Far more memorable and entertaining was John Huston's immortal film of what greed can do to the human soul,Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The Academy appeared to think so too in the end, giving Huston Best Director over Olivier (despite the fact that Olivier's real achievement was as a director more than anything else), and awarding Treasure the Oscars for best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Walter Huston's immortal performance as a grizzled prospector. It is somewhat surprising that Hamlet won the Best Picture Oscar because there was a backlash against the success of British films in Hollywood, to the point of the major studios pulling out their financial backing of the awards that year. But the garment most closely associated with the Oscars isn't black tie and floor-length evening gowns as much as it the Emperor's New Clothes, and Hamlet is decked to the nines.

Worst Award

1948 was the first year the Oscar was awarded for costume design, with the awards going predictably to elaborately produced period pieces. Hamlet deservedly took home the award for black and white film, but the award for color surprisingly went to the sackcloth and armor Dorothy Jeakins and Karinska pulled out of the RKO Radio costume warehouse for the tedious Joan of Arc over the Viennese finery Edith Head and Gile Stele designed for The Emperor Waltz. Head later admitted that she was stunned by the snub. Producer Walter Wanger wanted Joan of Arc to be the crowning glory of his career even after its lackluster reception, and when the film failed to receive nominations for Best Picture and Best Director Wanger embarrassed himself by throwing such a public tantrum over the imagined snub that the Academy gave him an Honorary award for producing it, not unlike giving an unruly two year old a lollipop to make it shut up.

Biggest Oversight

Humphrey Bogart gave his greatest performance as Fred C. Dobbs, an honest man destroyed by greed in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The Academy chose to overlook Bogart's brilliant work so that they could nominate Dan Dailey for Best Actor as an alcoholic Vaudevillian in the Betty Grable musical When My Baby Smiles at Me. Anyone who looks to the Oscars as the final word on what constitutes superior artistry in film is welcome to try to explain this bizarre behavior any time they want to, but Bogart was curiously snubbed by the Academy throughout the 1940s (save for an inevitable nomination for Casablanca in 1943) despite the great respect for his talent within the industry. He finally ascended to the Oscar pantheon for his immortal performance in The African Queen, a selection that was judged to be heavily influenced by sentimentality as it was made in favor of Marlon Brando's altogether superior work in A Streetcar Named Desire. Bogie received only one more nomination, for his flashy turn as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, despite turning in award-caliber work in The Desperate Hours and The Harder They Fall. His death from cancer at the relatively youthful age of 56 robbed the screen of one of its greatest talents.

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1949
       
All the King's Men
Actor: Broderick Crawford (All the King's Men)
Actress: Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress)
Supporting Actor: Dean Jagger (Twelve O'Clock High)
Supporting Actress: Mercedes McCambridge
(All the King's Men)
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewitz
(A Letter to Three Wives)
The Bicycle Thief*
Actor: Kirk Douglas (Champion)
Actress: Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress)
Supporting Actor:Ralph Richardson (The Heiress)
Supporting Actress: Margaret Rutherford
(Passport to Pimlico)*
Director: Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief)*

 
Hindsight Award nominations for 1949
 

The Academy has nominated only eight foreign language films for the Best Picture Oscar: La Grande Illusion (1938), Z (1969), The Emigrants (1972), Cries and Whispers (1973), Il Postino/The Postman (1995), Life is Beautiful (1998), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and Amour (2012). All were good selections (with the exception of the offensive and atrociously acted Life is Beautiful), but the chance of a foreign language film actually winning the award is as likely as a Libertarian winning the White House. But during the late forties, the finest films were being produced in Europe, and even Hollywood recognized it; creating the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1947 and handing out a trickle of nominations to non-American films. In 1949, the American film industry was on the offensive from invasion not only from foreign films, but from the coming onslaught of an even bigger menace: television. The idea that Hollywood would give its top prize to anything that wasn't home grown was unthinkable.

It's unfortunate that this nationalistic sentiment was so prevalent at the time, because the most memorable film of 1949 didn't come from Hollywood, but from Italian director Vittorio De Sica. The Bicycle Thief, with its story of a man in a desperate hunt to retrieve the stolen bicycle that is vital to his livelihood, is frequently listed second to Citizen Kane as the greatest film ever made.

The film the Academy chose for Best Picture is surprisingly weak: All the King's Men, Robert Rossen's adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize novel based upon the reign of Louisiana governor Huey Long, is an annoyingly one-note affair featuring a typically bombastic Broderick Crawford as a bombastic politician who is so transparently corrupt that he might as well be twirling a cape and tying virginal young girls to railroad tracks. There were a wealth of superior films from among the nominees (A Letter to Three Wives, Battleground, The Heiress) and the non-nominees (On the Town, The Fallen Idol, White Heat). But nothing Hollywood created in 1949 was on a par with De Sica's masterpiece, and it would have been a bold statement for the Academy to recognize that.

Worst Award

The concept of "Best Actor" usually falls into two distinct groups: performers of great skill who submerge themselves so deeply into a role that actor and character become one (Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, John Barrymore in Twentieth Century), and movie stars of limited range who are fortunate to be cast in a role that shows off their strengths more effectively than usual (Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, John Wayne in True Grit). Broderick Crawford definitely falls into the latter category, having the good fortune of being cast in two great roles that showed off his overbearing, blustery shtick (Willie Stark in All the King's Men and Harry Brock in Born Yesterday) before falling back into the comparative anonymity of Highway Patrol. Crawford was brilliantly cast in All the King's Men, but because an actor is well cast does not mean that he is delivering a great performance. He did have the good timing (like Sylvestor Stallone in Rocky) of giving his award-winning performance at a point in his career where no one knew he wasn't capable of doing anything else.

Biggest Oversight

The failure of The Bicycle Thief to receive nominations for Best Picture or Best Director can hardly be described as an oversight in view of the Academy's fiercely nationalistic sentiments of the time. But Hollywood had a bona fide star who delivered one of his greatest performances in this year, only to be overlooked for a nomination. James Cagney made a return to the gangster film genre in White Heat, and delivered one of his most famous performances in the complex role of a sadistic mobster with a mother complex. That the Academy would nominate the limited Crawford or the third-billed Richard Todd for the tearjerker The Hasty Heart over this screen legend in one of his greatest roles continues to be a head-scratcher. The Academy tried to make it up to him with one final Best Actor nomination for a much more run-of-the-mill entry on his gangster résumé in the 1955 Doris Day musical Love Me or Leave Me. I guess after the blazing intensity of White Heat, they were just grateful for a chance to site back and relax for a little while.

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THE TOP 10
FILMS OF
THE 1940s

1
Casablanca

2
Citizen Kane
3
The Grapes of Wrath
4
It's a Wonderful Life
5
The Best Years of Our Lives
6
The Treasure of the Sierra Madres
7
Henry V
8
Miracle on 34th Street
9
La Belle et la Bete
10
The Maltese Falcon

BEST MALE
PERFORMANCE Laurence Olivier
in
Henry V

BEST FEMALE
PERFORMANCE Olivia
de Havilland
in
The Heiress