February 19, 2010

What are the weirdest Best Picture nominees in history?

While doinking around on the internet, I found an article called "Is A Serious Man the weirdest movie ever nominated for Best Picture?". I expected to find the piece comparing ASM to nominees of yore, but instead it was just a straight review/analysis of the movie's weirdness, which is fine. But it got me thinking...what other truly weird films have been nominated for Best Picture? The Academy has a reputation for playing it safe, but every once in a while something will slip through the cracks (and I'm talking about movies that are intrinsically weird, not "isn't it weird that it got nominated?"). Below, some of the great weird nominees, some of which are so canonized you may have never stopped to think how weird they truly are (in chronological order):

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
All fantasy films are inherently a little kooky, because they can make up their own rules of reality. But what makes this seem stranger than, say, the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings films is that the world is decidedly less cohesive, probably because it's all in a young girl's subconscious (SPOILER ALERT!). Tin men, scarecrows, lions, midgets, witches, flying monkeys, ruby slippers, and a "wizard" with a strange complex sound pretty nonsensical on paper and, well, it's pretty nonsensical on screen too - but it's so charming and captivating that it became a classic anyway.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder was Lynchian before Lynch was. It's a self-referential, gothic comedy of decay...can that phrase be used to describe any other movie ever made?! In being a part of the Wilder canon, which includes the sparkling, madcap comedy of Some Like It Hot and the bittersweet wistfulness of The Apartment, audiences can forget how truly strange this film is. I mean, when we first meet Norma Desmond, she's having a funeral for a monkey. A FUNERAL FOR A MONKEY. Like A Serious Man, people often have no idea what to make of this film's tone, or have vastly differing interpretations. That, to me, is a sign of truly dynamic cinema.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
I recently saw this film for the first time (no use berating me...I saw it, didn't I?) and for the first 25 or so minutes I absolutely could not believe it was considered a classic. It's certainly not unworthy of that distinction, but what I mean is how did something so out-there become a must-see of American cinema unquestionaly endorsed by everyone (even the stuffy and polite suits at the AFI)? It becomes distinctly less bizarre after the beginning, but that sets the mood for an unparalleled psychadelic and ultraviolent journey. The only thing that could have made it weirder is if the menage-a-trois scene was shown as originally filmed - an unbroken, 28-minute take!

Cries and Whispers (1973)
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I have not seen this movie. But I did see a clip. And even if the rest of the movie is a formulaic romantic comedy (which yes, I know it's not), that clip alone guarantees its inclusion here. Any film featuring a heavily arranged soundtrack of screams and heartbeats is usually way too out-there for Oscar. Maybe the prestige factor of Bergman secured the spot?

Taxi Driver (1976)
Movies that can be accurately classified as "feverish nightmares" don't usually score too well with the Academy, but the 70s were a different time, I guess. What solidifies the weirdness most of all is the false-note happy ending that resonates similarly to the ending of Blue Velvet - is he dead? Dreaming? What just happened, exactly?

All That Jazz (1979)
A jazzy, autobiographical musical about death. Yup. Again, that phrase describes exactly zero other movies.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
If this film seems pedestrian now, it's only because it spawned a million imitators and its style became the norm. Let's add up the elements: man-rape in a torture dungeon, soliloquies about cheeseburgers and foot massages, a hitman finding God, a man called in specifically to teach two formerly-tough hitmen how to clean a car. It's nuts!

And that's just what I know of. The 20s or even the 80s have many now-obscure nominees that may contain volumes of weirdness. So it looks like A Serious Man has some pretty awesome company, and it goes to show that sometimes, when the stars align, the Academy will recognize great films outside the usual comfort zone.

What Best Picture nominees do you find weird? (If you need your memory jogged, the full list of nominees and winners is here.)


Scott Nye said...

There Will Be Blood, for the way it flies off the rails at the end.

Dr. Strangelove, for pretty much everything.

JFK, because, as I recall, at one point Tommy Lee Jones is covered in body paint dancing at a gay costume party. Or...something. Anyway, it's a lot weirder than you'd expect going into it.

Julie said...

How did I miss Dr. Strangelove?!
That's just embarassing.