Sunday, February 27, 2011
The very first movie to win an Academy Award for Best Picture was a war film. It was 1927, the first year that the Oscars were held, and the winner was “Wings.” The most recent Best Picture winner was also a war film, “The Hurt Locker.” The shared genre is just about all that these two movies, 82 years apart, have in common. “Wings” was a silent movie shot in black and white and directed by a man, while “The Hurt Locker” was very much a “talkie” shot in full color and directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow. In fact, “The Hurt Locker” was the first film directed by a woman to win an Oscar for Best Picture.
This year, the Oscar for Best Picture will most certainly not be awarded to a war film. None of the current nominees fall into that category. At the 83rd Annual Academy Awards Ceremony in Hollywood tonight, the Oscar will most likely go to one of two “biopic” films, that is, biographical pictures. It seems that the ultimate winner could be a film about King George VI’s speech impediment, “The King’s Speech.” Or, the Best Picture Oscar could go to a film about Facebook’s beginnings, “The Social Network.”
Either way, the 2010 winner will no doubt add to the long list of Best Picture winner “firsts” - a list that began with that first Best Picture in 1927. That list started growing in 1929 when “The Broadway Melody” became the first sound film to win an Oscar for Best Picture, while the first "talkie" war film to win was “All Quiet on the Western Front,” a film that was banned in Germany after the Nazis released rats into theatres to scare off patrons.
The first and only film to date to win an Oscar for Best Picture without a single nomination in any other category was “Grand Hotel” in 1932. In 1934, “It Happened One Night” was the first film to win Best Picture as well as Best Actress and Best Actor. In 1939, “Gone With the Wind” became the first film to win 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. “Gone With the Wind”was also the first Best Picture winner to be filmed entirely in color, in addition to being the first in this category that was also a Pulitzer prize-winning novel.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940-era “Rebecca” was the first and only film made by the legendary director to win a Best Picture Oscar. The first non-American director to win Best Picture was Laurence Olivier, whose production of "Hamlet" in 1948 was the first British film to win a Best Picture Academy Award. This year’s odds-on favorite, “The King’s Speech,” is also a British production - as is the film's director.
In 1950, “All About Eve” was the first (and only) film to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture together with four female acting nominations. The shortest film to win? “Marty” in 1955, while 1958’s “Gigi” was the Best Picture winner with the shortest title - this film also had the distinction of being the first to win 9 Academy Awards (out of 9 nominations) a record shattered in 1959 when “Ben-Hur” became the first Best Picture film to earn 11 Academy Awards.
The sixties were full of Best Picture firsts. In 1961, “West Side Story” won the most Academy Awards for a musical and in 1965 “The Sound of Music” toppled “Gone With the Wind” as the most commercially successful film to date, while in 1967 “In the Heat of the Night” became the first and only mystery film to win Best Picture. Then, in 1968, “Oliver!” became the first and only G-rated film to win in this category. In stark contrast the following year, “Midnight Cowboy” became the first and only X-rated film to win an Oscar for Best Picture.
It was in 1973 that Julia Phillips became the first female producer to win a Best Picture Oscar with "The Sting". In 1974, “The Godfather, Part 2” won the first Best Picture Academy Award for a sequel, and “Rocky” was the first sports film to win, in 1976.
Robert Redford won Best Picture directing his first film, “Ordinary People” in 1980. Then, in 1981, “Gandhi” won 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture – at the time, the first British film to earn this distinction. In 1987, “The Last Emperor” would be the first PG-13 rated film to win and in 1989 “Driving Miss Daisy” was to be the last (to date) Best Picture winner with a PG or lower rating.
The nineties started with a double first for 1991’s Best Picture winner “Silence of the Lambs” – the first and only true horror story winner and the first to have been commercially available on videotape (remember that?) beforehand. In 1994, “Forrest Gump,” with 13 nominations, earned $300 million at the box office – still the most commercially successful Best Picture winner. In 1997, James Cameron’s “Titanic” became the first winner to be written, produced, directed and edited by the same person. At the time, it was also the most expensive Best Picture to make and the first winner to gross over $1 billion worldwide.
In the new millennium, filmmakers went back in time with “Gladiator,” the first film to win an Oscar for Best Picture in 2000, then dove into fantasy with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in 2003, the first and only fantasy film to win. Incidentally, this film was the Best Picture winner with the longest title and the only “threequel” whose third installment won the Oscar. In 2005, “Crash” was the first film festival acquistion to win Best Picture. The following year, “The Departed” became the first and only remake of a foreign film to win the prize. With “No Country For Old Men” in 2007, the Coen brothers (directors) became the only sibling team to win in this category.
Tonight we shall see the golden statue go to the first Best Picture in this new decade. If “The King’s Speech” wins, it will become the most successful independent British film of all time. If “The Social Network” wins, it will be the first movie about the internet to win.