Ranking the Best Picture nominees, 1950s edition

To get an idea of 1950s American ci-ne-mah, look to the 1954 race. On the Waterfront won Best Picture? A fraught movie, intelligently photographed, magnificently acted, and at least the Budd Schulberg script wrestles, often maladroitly, with McCarthyist hysteria. But Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or Three Coins in the Fountain could have won. Or The Caine Mutiny, a triumph for Humphrey Bogart. Or, dear god in heaven, The Country Girl, one of those movies in which the director has the bright idea of having an actress wear glasses in an attempt to quash her beauty.

In the Ike era, Americans had it bad for men in sandals trudging down dusty streets speaking English that sounded like a Chasen’s maitre d’s idea of British English. See. Quo Vadis, The Robe. The mania for Freudian psychotherapy was a boon to Tennessee Williams, who after A Streetcar Named Desire could get lesser claptrap like The Rose Tattoo and William Inge’s Picnic nominated, the latter a triumph for William Holden’s pecs. Speaking of Holden, he became American film’s go-to guy for cynicism as Bogart faded. Besides Picnic, below are Sunset Boulevard and The Bridge Over the River Kwai, of course, but also The Country Girl, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (romancing noted Asian Jennifer Jones), and Born Yesterday.

So for these ten years the pictures are bigger and camp-er. Auntie Mame, the meh-est of queer-approved Hollywood fare, deserves to fade. The Ten Commandments, the biggest and campest of them all (Ramses: “Water of life, give life to the desert, make green the meadow”), deserves more plaudits for its expert choreography of crowds, subtle ironies (think of the shot that pans away from a triumphant Moses leaving the palace to a grieving Nefertiti, her son’s lifeless body in her arms, smote by Moses’ God), unfuckingstoppable momentum. Go ahead, laugh. The smart set did. They were also crowding art houses to watch the latest Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, etc.

 The Hague

The Greatest Show on Earth
Around the World in Eighty Days
Ben-Hur
Picnic
Sayonara
The Country Girl
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Three Coins in the Fountain
Gigi
Separate Tables
The Robe
Shane
Witness for the Prosecution
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
The Caine Mutiny

Meh

Auntie Mame
Quo Vadis
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Quiet Man
Friendly Persuasion
Marty
Moulin Rouge
The Rose Tattoo
The King and I
High Noon
A Place in the Sun
King Solomon’s Mines
Mister Roberts
Peyton Place
Born Yesterday
The Defiant Ones
Decision Before Dawn
Ivanhoe

Solid, Sound Entertainments

The Ten Commandments
The Nun’s Story
Room at the Top
Giant
Roman Holiday
The Bridge on the River Kwai
An American in Paris
Julius Caesar
Father of the Bride
12 Angry Men

Good to Great

All About Eve
Anatomy of a Murder
Sunset Boulevard
On the Waterfront
A Streetcar Named Desire
From Here to Eternity

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