The Academy Awards used to be held in March, a month with 31 days. And so it made perfect sense for Turner Classic Movies to turn March in a 31 Days of Oscar marathon. Then the Academy Awards ceremony was moved into February, the Mickey Rooney of the calendar year. And yet still Turner Classic Movies will be offering 31 days of Oscar, spanning two months, just like Mickey Rooney’s reign as box office king spanned two decades, from 1939 to 1941.
I’m not a big fan of Turner Classic Movies channel’s 31 days of Oscar. For one thing, the number of black and white movies undergoes a substantial decrease during this celebration and for another there just aren’t as many good movies on because in order to qualify, any movie shown during 31 Days of Oscar has to have been nominated for Oscar. In other words, Lord Love a Duck won’t be shown during February, but Men in Black will. The simple fact is that more good movies never even got a nomination than bad movies that did, but those bad movies get air time during 31 Days of Oscar while the good movies don’t.
This year, however, Turner Classic Movies is doing something that I consider really interesting. Not necessarily enlightening or entertaining, but it’s almost certainly got to be unparalleled in the history of television. From February 22 through February 25, Turner Classic Movies will be showing a marathon of almost thirty Best Picture Oscar winners, ranging from the 1930 anti-war masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front to the 1999 Kevin Spacey tour de force American Beauty. Twenty-eight Best Picture Oscar winners in a row-trainspotting for Academy Award junkies. And the nifty thing is that quite a few of them are actually good. Three of four might even have deserved the honor.
One of the more fascinating choices for the Best Picture marathon on Turner Classic Movies is the little-seen 1931 flick that was the only the western to ever win Best Picture until Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves. Cimarron was at the time one of the most expensive movies ever made–maybe the most expensive movie ever made–and came in at over two hours, virtually unheard-of for any movie at the time, much less a western. I haven’t seen it myself, but reports indicate it is severely dated and contains some very offensive portrayals of blacks and Jews, but one must take into consideration that those portrayals are probably not any more offensive than in any other movie of the era.
Among the Best Picture winners I would deem deserving in this Oscar marathon would be the Montgomery Clift Pearl Harbor drama From Here to Eternity. If all you know of this film is the beach lovemaking scene between Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster, then you really need to check it out. William Holden won the Best Actor Oscar that year for Stalag 17-which would have been equally or even more deserving of Best Picture-but my choice would have been Clift, with Lancaster a close second. The Best Years of Our Lives is a kind of thematic sequel-made previous-to From Here to Eternity. Whereas From Here to Eternity tells the story of soldiers in the months before America entered World War II, The Best Years of Our Lives is a heartbreaking account of what happened when those men came home. Real life war victim Harold Russell won a Best Supporting Actor award as a war victim who lost his hands and is often the focus of the film, but make no mistake; as with every film he ever appeared in the miraculous Frederic March is the real reason to watch this movie. It is interesting that probably the best pre-war movie and the best post-war movie contain what in my opinion were the two best actors covering those spans.
Maybe the best thing about the Turner Classic Movies Best Picture marathon is the chance to see some terrific acting. From Kevin Spacey’s giant among titans in American Beauty-is there any performance in that movie that doesn’t rank as the best thing any actor in it ever did?-to the Hoffman/Streep Oscar duet in Kramer v. Kramer, to the Oscar-nominated triad of Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone and Clark Gable in Mutiny on the Bounty, the best thing about most of these 28 movies are the performances. You can argue that most of them maybe didn’t deserve to win Best Picture, but you can’t deny that with very few exceptions-An American In Paris, Gigi, On the Waterfront-these movies aren’t packed with terrific acting.
The marathon begins at 8:00 PM ET on February 22 with Ben-Hur and ends with the 6:00 PM airing of Casablanca on February 26.