The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

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Mike Gebert

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The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 11:01 am

I saw on a movie blog a list of the Best Picture winners that were still worth viewing. Of course it was weighted toward the present (no It Happened One Night!) and included plenty of duds. So I decided to take a note from Andrew Sarris and classify them according to more useful criteria. For my purposes, Sunrise, winner of the Artistic Quality of Production award, counts next to Wings as co-winner in 1927. I make no comparison against other possible choices, so How Green Was My Valley and Oliver! are not dinged for being made in the same years as Citizen Kane or 2001.

SUBLIME AND TRANSCENDENT: Sunrise, It Happened One Night, Casablanca, The Best Years of Our Lives, All About Eve, On the Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Deer Hunter, Schindler's List, The Return of the King, No Country For Old Men

SUPERIOR WORKS OF THE SYSTEM: Wings, All Quiet on the Western Front, Grand Hotel, Mutiny on the Bounty, Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, How Green Was My Valley, Hamlet, From Here to Eternity, The Bridge on the River Kwai, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, A Man For All Seasons, In the Heat of the Night, Oliver!, Patton, The French Connection, The Sting, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Annie Hall, Ordinary People, Amadeus, The Last Emperor, Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy, Unforgiven, Titanic, Million Dollar Baby, The Hurt Locker, 12 Years a Slave, Spotlight, La-La Land

LIGHTLY LIKABLE: The Life of Emile Zola, An American in Paris, The Greatest Show on Earth, Marty, The Apartment, Tom Jones, Chariots of Fire, Terms of Endearment, Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, The Departed, The King's Speech, The Artist, Argo

PICTURES OF THEIR TIME: Broadway Melody of 1929, You Can't Take It With You, Mrs. Miniver, Going My Way, Around the World in 80 Days, Rocky, Platoon, Dances With Wolves, Braveheart

MIDDLEBROW MEDIOCRITIES: The Lost Weekend, All the King's Men, Ben-Hur, My Fair Lady, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Gandhi, Out of Africa, The Silence of the Lambs, The English Patient, American Beauty, Chicago, Crash, Slumdog Millionaire, Birdman

COLOSSAL BORES: Cimarron, Cavalcade, The Great Ziegfeld, Gentleman's Agreement, Gigi, Forrest Gump
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 11:32 am

COLOSSAL BORES: Cimarron, Cavalcade, The Great Ziegfeld, Gentleman's Agreement, Gigi, Forrest Gump


Totally disagree here about the first four. All excellent IMO.

I'm totally indifferent to GUMP.

Agree with GIGI, joined by CRASH and AROUND THE WORLD as the all-time duds.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 11:48 am

I am not just indifferent to Forrest Gump. I am actively offended by its beetle-browed pseudo-populism.

I think what Mike calls "superior works of the system" I call Studio pictures, the sort that can be produced with what would be called a strong bench in baseball. I notice a similar disdain for spectacle unbacked by thought.

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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 12:17 pm

Cavalcade also falls under 'Pictures of Their Time' for me, in that it was absolutely revered in its day but now seems so high-minded as to be vaguely ridiculous. The same could be said for American Beauty.

Ditto The Great Ziegfeld, to a certain extent. It's severely hampered by what was considered the 'right' way to do an Oscar-baity biopic at the time (leave out all the controversies, stay lugubriously faithful to everything else). You only have to watch Ziegfeld Follies (1946) to see how dynamically that story could have been handled.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 12:41 pm

As for Gentleman's Agreement. There seems to be a real dislike for this film. Maybe it was a post-war film of its time. I think it's still timely and very well done. I can't remember the last time a great film won the big Oscar.

Times change. So do we. I liked CHIACGO when it won, but now I can't stand it.

I have MANCHESTER BY THE SEA from Redbox for tonight. I hope I haven't wasted my $1.59.....

I
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 1:09 pm

I should think it frightfully hard to classify films into categories such as Mike has done that everyone would agree with, but I must say that I like the heading "Middlebrow Mediocre" as one could virtually shove all of the Hollywood product into this classification. :D

Just so as I can be totally controversial I hated "Titanic" as I thought it a complete travesty. It had 1912 complete with late 20th Century dialogue and was fraught with impossible situations. I liked "Forrest Gump" because I don't think I have ever seen a picture which crammed so much into it. Then, I could also do a few re-classifications. But, hey, this is only a demonstration of just how each of our opinions are different.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 1:33 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:I saw on a movie blog a list of the Best Picture winners that were still worth viewing. Of course it was weighted toward the present (no It Happened One Night!) and included plenty of duds. So I decided to take a note from Andrew Sarris and classify them according to more useful criteria. For my purposes, Sunrise, winner of the Artistic Quality of Production award, counts next to Wings as co-winner in 1927. I make no comparison against other possible choices, so How Green Was My Valley and Oliver! are not dinged for being made in the same years as Citizen Kane or 2001.[

COLOSSAL BORES: [i]Cimarron, Cavalcade, The Great Ziegfeld, Gentleman's Agreement, Gigi, Forrest Gump


Would definitely add DANCEZZZZ WITH WOLVES to that group. My ex dragged me to see the bloody thing when it came out. I was at first appalled by how long the thing was going to be and she kept waking me up when I was dropping off nicely...
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 3:00 pm

I also thought GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT was better than i remembered, and unfortunately still timely. I have a soft spot for CIMARRON, largely because it's not really a western but a woman's epic, and it doesn't go where you think it's going. I always thought GIGI was loathesome.

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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 3:17 pm

I'd add the following to "Colossal Bore": Schindler's List, All About Eve, Grand Hotel, Mutiny on the Bounty, How Green Was My Valley, Hamlet, From Here to Eternity, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, A Man For All Seasons, In the Heat of the Night, Oliver!, Patton, Ordinary People, The Last Emperor, Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy, Million Dollar Baby, The Hurt Locker, 12 Years a Slave, La-La Land, The Life of Emile Zola, An American in Paris, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Apartment, Tom Jones, Chariots of Fire, Terms of Endearment, Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, The Departed, The Artist, Broadway Melody of 1929, You Can't Take It With You, Mrs. Miniver, Going My Way, Around the World in 80 Days, Dances With Wolves, All the King's Men, Ben-Hur, My Fair Lady, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Gandhi, Out of Africa, The English Patient, American Beauty, Chicago, Crash, Birdman.


90% of all Best Picture winners are irredeemable tedious crap as far as I'm concerned. Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, Out of Africa and The English Patient in particular can be lost forever in a fire and I'm totally fine with that. Add all the films of the grossly overrated Vincente Minelli, while you're at it.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 3:20 pm

One thing I notice about myself. I've seen all the recent winners, but CHICAGO is the latest winner I ever watched more than once.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 3:50 pm

My major changes:

SUBLIME AND TRANSCENDENT: How Green Was My Valley

SUPERIOR WORKS OF THE SYSTEM: An American in Paris, On the Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, Midnight Cowboy,

LIGHTLY LIKABLE: The Great Ziegfeld, Gentleman's Agreement, The French Connection, The Sting, Chicago,

PICTURES OF THEIR TIME: Cimarron, Cavalcade, Gigi,

MIDDLEBROW MEDIOCRITIES: Terms of Endearment, Dances With Wolves, Shakespeare in Love, A Beautiful Mind

COLOSSAL BORES: The English Patient, Gladiator, Crash,

I would propose a category between "Superior Works of the System" and "Lightly Likable." I think there's enough good stuff in ZIEGFELD above and beyond the Telephone scene to rate it a bit higher. and I like GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT and CHICAGO a lot. And while I understand the corrosive sexual politics (and it's 10-15 minutes too long) I still like GIGI: it sparkles the way the film of MY FAIR LADY *should* have, but didn't.

And I may be the only person who is unapologetic in liking BROADWAY MELODY on its own terms, especially when compared to its nominated competition (had APPLAUSE or GOLD DIGGERS OF BROADWAY been nominated, I might be persuaded otherwise.) I find the first half pre-code fun, The second half is soapy but is saved by Bessie Love's breakdown scene.

I loathe THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Jim and I both endured GLADIATOR thinking the other was enjoying it. That was the last time we "did our duty" to see best Picture nominees/winners on the big screen. We'll go if we think it's worth it.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 4:07 pm

perhaps there should be an additional category:
ABSOLUTE RUBBISH
I could fill that quite easily with nearly all the modern films I watch. :D
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 8:22 pm

I would put The Return of the King (or as I refer to it, one third of The Lord of the Rings) under "Colossal Bores." On its own, it's exciting enough. However, a few years ago, I caught an all-day screening of LOTR at the Aero, finally able to take it in as a single movie. By the time we reached part 3, it became an endless, noisy, numbing stream of battles, made worse by glaring missteps, such as shoehorning in characters that no longer affected the plot (*ahem*, Orlando Bloom). The favorable audience by this time began to openly deride the movie. Not a lot, but it was shocking, given that fans made up the majority of the audience. When it was all over, my opinion of the movie had plummeted.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 9:57 pm

I'd place The Broadway Melody in "superior works", although there are elements that almost push it toward transcendent for me. The songs and dances are wonderful, Charles King is an authentic touch of Broadway, and most of all the picture shows how cruelly a person's (or a sister act's) aspirations can be mocked when exposed to the real world and reshaped by forces other than oneself. Mary Doran isn't credited, but her nastiness, and the fact that Hank has to eventually team up with her, is what makes the plot memorable for me.

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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 12:06 am

I'd put both THE APARTMENT and THE LOST WEEKEND in the Superior works, and both are by Billy Wilder. Both are still timelly as well.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 2:38 am

How Green Was My Valley

Overshadowed by the largely forgotten near contemporary "The Stars Look Down" , which has a somewhat similar setting and theme.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 5:48 am

I agree with all good comments about The Broadway Melody, a film I have always liked a lot. Bessie Love is a marvel, but don't forget Anita Page, who has a couple of great scenes toward the end. The music is wonderful.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 6:42 am

I'm with Alexander Pope. Can't be a writer, then be a critic.

I love 'em all. They're all of their time or they wouldn't have been made then.

Shakespeare was thought to be so far out of his time within 150 years that Nicholas Rowe re-wrote several of his plays and became Poet Laureate besides. Nicholas who...? Chaucer was considered in the triumvirate of Chaucer, Gower and Lydgate for 400 years. Lydgate...? (Yeah, maybe Gower...)

Time, time, time...ladies and gentlemen...

Julius Caesar was destined to take Rome to glory...

Oh, good god, and we're worried about "Around the World in 80 Days"...

It's over...
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 7:50 am

This is how I would categorize them. I'll only list those that I've seen, of course.

SUBLIME AND TRANSCENDENT: Gone With the Wind, Mrs. Miniver, Casablanca, On the Waterfront

SUPERIOR WORKS OF THE SYSTEM: Wings, All Quiet on the Western Front, Grand Hotel, It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, Rebecca, The Best Years of Our Lives, Gentleman’s Agreement, All About Eve, In the Heat of the Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Titanic, American Beauty, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The Departed

LIGHTLY LIKABLE: The Broadway Melody, An American in Paris, The Greatest Show on Earth, Gigi, The Apartment, My Fair Lady, Oliver!, The Godfather, Annie Hall, Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy, Dances With Wolves, Chicago, Slumdog Millionaire, Spotlight

PICTURES OF THEIR TIME: From Here to Eternity, West Side Story, Midnight Cowboy, Unforgiven, The Hurt Locker

MIDDLEBROW MEDIOCRITIES: The Great Ziegfeld, You Can’t Take it With You, Amadeus, The King's Speech, The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave

COLOSSAL BORES: The English Patient, No Country For Old Men, Birdman
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 7:53 am

These kinds of lists are fun, but I don't want to get into where I agree/disagree at the moment. My question: which was the last (including La La Land) Best Picture Winner that actually deserved to win? For me, it would be either No Country for Old Men (2008), which was certainly a deserving film although I might have gone with There Will be Blood, or Schindler's List (1994). Truthfully, they get it wrong so often (in most of the categories), I don't even know why I still watch. This year promises to be especially galling, as the mediocre La La Land is expected to clean up. (Has anyone in the Academy seen Singin' in the Rain or The Band Wagon?) TCM is showing The Thin Man followed by The Third Man Sunday night...
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 8:53 am

Some responses:

Early Talkies— I thought about putting Cimarron and Cavalcade in the "Of their Time" category, but the thing is, even for their years they're pretty stiff pictures, sociological-thematic importance unmatched by good filmmaking or memorable performances I'd care to revisit, next to things made the same year. Broadway Melody may be dated but it's got sparkle and strong performances, and can be watched for more than academic interest. The Great Ziegfeld, I just found those enormous musical numbers like three hours of watching equipment move at an airport. William Powell is in My Man Godfrey, a great movie, the same year. Enough said.

Gentleman's Agreement I just found tedious as a movie about a guy having trouble checking into hotels. Even its one strong scene, with Celeste Holm, isn't really dramatized— she just gets a good speech. There is a very fine 1947 movie about anti-semitism that was even nominated for Best Picture that year, and I recommend Crossfire highly.

Billy Wilder— I like Billy Wilder a lot, but if ever someone won for the wrong movies— Lost Weekend is pretty weak, The Apartment is much better, but neither is Double Indemnity or Sunset Boulevard (though 1950, All About Eve vs. Sunset Boulevard, is easily the toughest choice of all time).

Forrest Gump-- like Bob, I not only didn't enjoy this but was offended by its dog's breakfast of the 60s and 70s-- stripper-folksingers? What the hell is that? That's where the smiley face came from? WHO GIVES A F--

Titanic— hey, I don't disagree that it's full of absurdities (mine is that one of the most important paintings of the 20th century, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, goes down with the ship, changing art history forever). But it's a brilliant machine built for teenage girls to go swoony over Leo while state of the art special effects fly by, and like DeMille, you gotta admire cheese that does what it sets out to do on such a scale...

Return of the King— well, don't watch all three back to back, especially after the absurdly overextended Hobbit movies which kind of spoiled Jackson's bag of tricks, but I stand by that trilogy as the epitome of state of the art movie magic for its time while actually having at least the occasional actual good performance (McKellen, Mortensen, John Noble).

Multiple viewings— I've rematched more of the recent ones than I would have guessed, mainly because I end up watching them a second time with the kids after seeing them by myself in theaters. That said, there are a lot that I saw once, went "fine," and see no need to ever revisit— there's nothing to get from things like Chicago or 12 Years a Slave that I didn't get, fully, the first time. I think Spotlight is actually the most rewatchable one of recent years, a rather plain movie but the way they dig that story out is enthralling every time.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 9:40 am

When I saw Gladiator in the movie theater, I walked out after the two old guys started crying into each others' beards about how he wished he was a better father. After it won the Oscar, I thought "Well, maybe I was wrong", rented it and shut it off at the same point.

A similar thing happened with Les Miserables. During the Broadway intermission I stepped outside and kept on walking. When I saw the movie version, I left after Fantine's song. Like far too many musicals in the 2000s (Chicago, The Producers...) it was an attempt to put the show on the movie screen without realizing that, hey, it's a movie now. It calls for different techniques.

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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 9:54 am

If you notice, two Best Picture winners from Dreamworks at that time-- American Beauty and Gladiator-- have the same ending: main character dies but, at the moment of death, has a beatific vision of unity with his family and community that somehow makes life worth having lived. You can tell that this was something Dreamworks cooked up as the way to end a movie on a seemingly serious yet not depressing note, because they also use it in another movie at the same time, In Dreams (1999), though she's saved at the end, which is why it didn't win Best Picture.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 10:56 am

I'm astonished at how many of you still go to theaters, regular theaters not film festivals. Last film I saw in a theater was in Phoenix where I saw Mama Mia. I was in town for a conference and got dragged to a mall. Before that it may have been the Michael Moore anti-Bush movie (forget the name) in Santa Fe. The Streep film was ear-piercing, and with people doing a sing-along and dancing in the aisles, it served as a one-two punch in the gut. I didn't even have a gut back then.... I had seen the stage production of "Mama Mia" in Boston in 2001 and no one danced in the aisle. No one sang along.

Everyone assumes La La Land will win this year and it probably will, but I give high marks to Manchester by the Sea. I've never given two thoughts about Casey Affleck, but he turned in a terrific performance as did Lucas Hedges as the incredibly selfish teenager. I don't get Michelle Williams. She's a zero to me.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 11:42 am

Ugh, Titanic ... Canada's national theatre chain Cineplex has a monthly classic that they'll show on the big screen a few times each month (obviously) and this month it's James Cameron's hunk of iceberg lettuce, retrofitted for 3D no less. Next month's "classic" is A Few Good Men. Might as well just call the series "Movies that Make You Wish Blockbuster Was Still Around."

At least in two months they're showing something that's almost older than me: The Graduate. Sadly, that's a film whose charms have worn off for me over the years, I'm sure becoming a grumpy old man has something to do with it, although if they were showing Midnight Cowboy, I'd be there in a heartbeat.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 2:01 pm

drednm wrote:Everyone assumes La La Land will win this year and it probably will, but I give high marks to Manchester by the Sea


I agree. I did enjoy La La Land but I'm surprisingly haunted by Manchester by the Sea. Now, mind, it's not that I have a pressing desire to watch it again anytime soon, (yikes!), but I think it will emerge as the better film at some day in the future when we're looking back at the winners. I suspect La La Land will be the Dances With Wolves to Manchester's Goodfellas.

I've uncharacteristically seen nearly all the Best Picture nominees this year and those are the only two that strike me as having any merit whatsoever. The rest are solid 'mehs'...
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 3:31 pm

oldposterho wrote:
drednm wrote:Everyone assumes La La Land will win this year and it probably will, but I give high marks to Manchester by the Sea


I agree. I did enjoy La La Land but I'm surprisingly haunted by Manchester by the Sea. Now, mind, it's not that I have a pressing desire to watch it again anytime soon, (yikes!), but I think it will emerge as the better film at some day in the future when we're looking back at the winners. I suspect La La Land will be the Dances With Wolves to Manchester's Goodfellas.

I've uncharacteristically seen nearly all the Best Picture nominees this year and those are the only two that strike me as having any merit whatsoever. The rest are solid 'mehs'...


I've barely seen any of them this year, luck of the draw. I liked La La Land but if I never see it again I'm good with that. I also like Arrival, but I like the story it's based on better.
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostWed Feb 22, 2017 5:00 pm

I thought Million Dollar Baby was pure tripe - beyond that I'm just not going to get started on this. :D
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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostThu Feb 23, 2017 7:15 am

PICTURES OF THEIR TIME ...

So, like Valley of the Dolls?

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Re: The Pantheon of Oscar Best Pictures

PostThu Feb 23, 2017 7:21 am

Forrest Gump, Titanic, and American Beauty seem to be very polarizing movies between my generation and and my parent's. I was born in '87, so I saw these films at an impressionable age and they struck me as creative, endearing and memorable. All of them stand up to repeat viewings to an extreme degree. I've seen Forrest Gump at least 20 times, and Titanic exponentially more to the point where I can recite large chunks of the dialogue in each. They've become part of the fabric of our culture. To me, that is a mark of greatness.

I think most people who dislike Gump see it as factually inaccurate, and it is. But it is charming in the way it rewrites history and the characters are great, flawed and believable.

Titanic is often dismissed as both historically inaccurate and juvenile in its focus. However, this isn't a documentary. It is a relatively simple love story with exceptionally talented actors that shares the spotlight with the spectacle of the ship. Cameron wove in lots of historical details from recreating the grand staircase, adding in nods to history here and there like in the historical figures present on the ship. He didn't have to do that. It still would have made money. I'd say his attention to small details, to the costumes and the auxiliary characters and the music, are what make it an exceptional movie.

American Beauty. This movie makes a different impression on me each time I see it. It is an examination of the so-called perfect family in suburbia, the things that go on behind closed doors that you don't know about. It is about isolation and hope and what it means to be happy. Every character breathes while also existing as a stereotype. The visuals are unforgettable.

I think most of us are in agreement about the old movies. We love 'em, even the bad ones. It just fascinates me that the new ones can be so polarizing.
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