Look, I didn't go back to every movie ever made, including those not even nominated for Best Picture, and pick the worthiest one that lost out to whatever sentimental nonsense took home the Oscar that year. And I'm so not going down the "Star Wars is better than Annie Hall" road, or the "Saving Private Ryan is better than Shakespeare in Love" path. Therein lies the way of madness.
Nope. What I did was run down the list of every movie that's ever won Best Picture -- and I have seen all of them -- and asked myself: Which one really, really makes me cringe to know that it will forevermore be known as an Oscar-winning Best Picture?
Which left me with little choice: It's 1956's Around the World in 80 Days. It sucks as a Best Picture winner because it's not a movie, not really: it's a travelogue, a collection of pretty pictures in glorious 70mm Technicolor from a time when you couldn't turn on the National Geographic Channel in HD to see the pyramids or the Himalayas or the Parisian skyline at night. I'm sure the film was charming half a century ago, when the 12-inch console black-and-white was a veritable miracle in your living room, but you can go all the way back to the silent era, to the very first Oscar Best Pic, Wings, and still find a damned compelling story. Not so here.
There's ostensibly a story in Victorian nutball Phileas Fogg's (David Niven) bet that he can circle the planet in the titular amount of time. With his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas), Fogg journeys across Europe and Asia, the Pacific and the United States, and finally back across the Atlantic to England by any method that will carry him: train, balloon, boat, elephant. Along the way Passepartout fights a bull in Spain, Fogg hooks up with an (East) Indian princess (Shirley MacLaine, obviously in a previous life), Passepartout is captured by savage Sioux in America's wild west, and Fogg is constantly dodging a British detective who's following him. It's all quite leisurely, and chock full of starry cameos and astounding scenery, and honestly, the whole point of this movie is to linger with Fogg and Passepartout as they drink in the beautiful countryside and exotic cities as they float languorously by.
But today, we've seen these places on television a hundred times -- in fact, PBS ran a documentary series a few years ago in which Michael Palin retraced Fogg's route. Absent a decent other reason to revisit this flick -- like, oh, memorable characters -- why bother? And that's not something that can be said for any of the other Best Picture winners ...
MaryAnn Johanson (email me)
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