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The ‘replay’ test

Which Oscar winners are obsessively re-watched and which have been wiped clean from memory?

Over the years, some 91 films have won the best picture Oscar, and come April 25/26 — depending on which part of the world you’re in — a new winner will be crowned. This isn’t going to be a discussion conjecturing who will lift the statuette this year. Instead, let’s consider which ones we remember.

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Debates over whether the winners were worthy or not will continue raging as long as there is a medium called cinema and there are Oscars. The winner is decided after members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, more than 10,000 of them this year, vote. Every person’s reaction to a work of art, be it painting, sculpture, music or literature is deeply personal. One woman’s Tom Jones (best picture 1963) may be another man’s My Fair Lady (best picture 1964), as it were. Applying the remembrance test, My Fair Lady is more likely to have instant recall value than Tom Jones.

Some best picture winners have stood the recall test of time, like say, Gandhi (1982), or The Silence of the Lambs (1991), but some have not, unfairly. Take Kevin Costner’s epic Dances with Wolves, which, deservedly, in my opinion, swept the board at the 1990 Oscars, winning seven statuettes. I watched the film at Singapore’s magnificent Capitol Theatre (now sadly redeveloped) and drank in the vistas. The next day, I went back and watched it again. Today, the film hardly ever gets mentioned and there are some revisionist reviews doing the rounds that are a far cry from the near universal acclaim from when it was released. I pay no heed to the carping and, instead, settle down with my four-hour extended version Blu-ray of the film secure in the knowledge that I am having the last laugh.

A still from ‘Gandhi’ 

More recently, there are some best picture winners that have been deservedly forgotten, and not a moment too soon. Take 2017 winner The Shape of Water, for example. What? I hear you say. Exactly. Let us forgive it as an aberration in Guillermo del Toro’s otherwise terrific career. How about 2011 winner The Artist or 2012 champion Argo? What about them indeed? Do aficionados go back and re-watch them obsessively like they would The Godfather films (1972 and 1974) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962)? Or are they likely to go the way of Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) or Patton (1970) — undeniably impressive films, but just not part of the zeitgeist. How many of you have revisited Driving Miss Daisy (1989) or Ordinary People (1980), hand on heart?

It’s anyone’s game this year, despite the impressive number of wins at other awards; especially the BAFTAs Nomadland carries into the ceremony. Whoever wins, is the victor memorable enough? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, if you have access, try the 1944 winner Going My Way. Skip Frank Capra’s 1934 winner It Happened One Night for the 100th time and embrace his 1938 winner You Can’t Take It With You instead. The rewards will be immense — so what if you haven’t heard of it or have forgotten about it.

Naman Ramachandran is a journalist and author of Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography, and tweets @namanrs

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