Best Picture Catchup: Patton, Lawrence of Arabia, Braveheart and Unforgiven

Everyone has movies they’ve never watched that makes other people exclaim, “How can you have possibly never seen that movie?!!”

And one obvious category is the Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards.

Although the Oscars are very flawed and the winner is usually not everyone’s favorite movie that year, it’s a snapshot on what some people thought what the best movie at the time. We look at lists of Oscar winners on Wikipedia pages and we tend to think that gold statue means something. If it won Best Picture, it must be worth checking out at some point.

Unfortunately some Best Picture winners sit in our Netflix queue for years and you keep meaning to watch it one day but instead you rewatch a few episodes of “The Office.” It’s late, you’ve been working all day and you don’t feel like investing in the 3.5 hour runtimes of “Ben-Hur” or “Lawrence of Arabia.”

“The Godfather Part II” is nearly three and half hours as well.

Clocking in around three hours are “Titanic,” “Braveheart,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Schindler’s List,” “The Godfather” and “Patton.”

Obviously, I’ve seen some of these classics but admittedly a few are on my “I can’t believe you haven’t seen it” list.

If you go back to 1950, I’ve seen 44 out of the 70 Best Picture winners. So I’ve decided to catch up on a few that I’ve missed. Here’s what’s on my list:

The English Patient (1997)

Braveheart (1996)

Unforgiven (1993)

Dances With Wolves (1991)

The Last Emperor  (1988)

Out of Africa (1986)

Terms of Endearment (1984)

Chariots of Fire (1982)

Ordinary People (1981)

The Sting (1974)

The French Connection (1972)

Patton (1971)

Oliver! (1969)

In the Heat of the Night (1968)

A Man for All Seasons (1967)

My Fair Lady (1965)

Tom Jones (1964)

Lawrence of Arabia (1963)

Ben-Hur (1960)

Gigi (1959)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1958)

Around the World in 80 Days (1957)

Marty (1956)

From Here to Eternity (1954)

The Greatest Show on Earth (1953)

All the King’s Men (1950)

During the COVID-19 crisis, I had some time to tackle a few of these longer offerings and I crossed four Best Picture winners off my list.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

The long run time had scared me for years but I’m glad I tackled this one. I ended up buying a copy and I know I’m going to rewatch it (even though I know I might fall asleep before finishing it). Peter O”Toole gives an amazing performance in a film that defines the word “epic.” The cinematography is gorgeous and the music is perfection. Yes, it’s a long movie and there are some moments that get slow (one person commented on my Facebook post that they were tired of seeing him lost in the desert) but it’s masterful filmmaking and I’m sorry I had not watched this one sooner. Definitely ranks in the greatest films ever made.

UNFORGIVEN

I’m not a big western person. Or at least I don’t think I am. Maybe I just haven’t watched the right ones. I had not seen “Tombstone” and I watched it for the first time and thought it was a lot of fun. I still haven’t watched many of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is on my to-watch list (I know it’s a huge oversight on my part). I do really like Clint Eastwood’s recent work and I’d argue his string of films he directed between 2003 and 2008 (“Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Changeling,” and “Gran Torino”) is a five-year stretch that can’t be beat. Part of the reason I really liked “Unforgiven” is I can see where Eastwood developed his more mature style of filmmaking, breaking from the “Dirty Harry” and “Any Which Way But Loose” films (which are fun though). “Unforgiven” isn’t a flawless movie. Some scenes aren’t needed and I wish Richard Harris was in it more. But the acting is fantastic and the tone is on point. It’s one I’d revisit.

BRAVEHEART

I’m not a huge Mel Gibson fan. I was never into the “Lethal Weapon” or “Mad Max” movies and I always got a weird vibe from him. I wasn’t all that surprised when he turned out to be a lunatic. Despite being a crazy person, the man knows how to direct a film and “Braveheart” is one I wish I would have watched earlier. It’s chock full of action and if you’re a fan of “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones” you can see how the massive fight scenes were inspired by Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart.” Literally every two seconds something crazy is happening on the screen and it’s hard to not look away. A horse falls through a window! So many great moments and a sweeping James Horner score. What more could you ask for? I don’t care if it’s historically inaccurate. It kept my attention for nearly three hours. That’s a lot. Back in 2005, one Web site voted it the worst movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars. That’s ridiculous. I know “Crash” didn’t come out until 2006, but “Shakespeare in Love,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and “A Beautiful Mind” are much worse. 

PATTON

Of the four I watched, this was my least favorite. George C. Scott was fantastic, although I liked him better in Dr. Strangelove. The film is directed by Franklin J. Schnaffer, who also did “The Planet of the Apes” and “The Boys from Brazil,” both visually interesting movies with creative premises. So it’s disappointing to see such a straight-forward biopic. The best visual flair comes in the memorable opening monologue by General Patton in front of a bright American flag. It’s an often-quoted scene and it’s probably why Scott won the Oscar for Best Actor. Unfortunately the rest of the movie isn’t nearly as interesting. It has some good lines and moments but often falls into hero worship, choosing to make Patton out to be a flawless heroic figure, which is quite boring. Perhaps “M*A*S*H*” or “Love Story” should have won Best Picture that year. 

Which Best Picture winners should I watch next? Comment below or message me at adamaasen@gmail.com.

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