After I decided I was going to watch all of the movies that have been nominated for best picture, I typed up a list of all the nominees and winners by year and crossed out all the ones I had already seen. There were two years where I had seen every single nominee, but not the movies that had actually won best picture. 1956 was one of those years. (If you’re curious, the other one is 1995. No, I’ve never seen Braveheart. Don’t judge.) So this week was a week of watching some old favorites and way too many epic movies (three of the movies this week were three hours or more) and trying to figure out why in the world The Ten Commandments hadn’t won best picture; I thought biblical epics had always been favorites for best picture wins. But I also got to see a fun new movie that I probably would never have watched if not for this blog.
Having seen so many of the movies and having loved so many of them for so long makes it really hard for me to be impartial. Do I think The Ten Commandments deserved the award for best art direction-set direction because I love the movie, or do I truly think that it was better than The King and I? Actually, no, I think The Ten Commandments should have gotten that one. And best costume design. And since I also love The King and I, I’m not showing too much favoritism, right? But it would have been a hard year to vote on some things. The music in all the movies I watched was equally good. While Yul Brynner did an excellent job in The King and I, and I don’t begrudge him the award at all, James Dean was equally good in Giant. Actually, I’m a little bit surprised that James Dean didn’t win; sentimentality often plays a part in who wins, and James Dean’s nomination was posthumous. Anyway, a lot of good things happened in motion pictures in 1956.
However, I don’t agree with the best picture winner. Around the World in Eighty Days was fun, and the cinematography was amazing, and the sheer amount of work that it must have taken is mind-boggling. While it deserved recognition for all of that, the movie that I think is the best of the five didn’t win a single Academy Award. Friendly Persuasion is my pick for best picture. In a year of epics, it stands out as a quiet movie about a single family. Everything about it is good, from the acting to the music to the screenplay. The characters are all so alive; they have their virtues, but they also have flaws. Many of the characters are facing inner struggles, which are hard to portray in a movie, but the actors are so good that you can see the struggle inside. The characters aren’t judged for their decisions, either. Each one makes his choice, but the movie doesn’t condemn anyone for what they do. The viewers may or may not disagree with what everyone does, but that’s left to the viewer. The movie itself is neutral, which isn’t often the case, especially when it comes to war movies. I think that was a real feat in and of itself. That’s why I think Friendly Persuasion was the best movie from 1956.
How do I rank the nominees?
3. Around the World in Eighty Days and The Ten Commandments (tie)
2. The King and I
1. Friendly Persuasion
Why a tie? Around the World in Eighty Days drags a bit at times, while The Ten Commandments is interesting all the way through. However, the screenplay for The Ten Commandments is not the best. Around the World in Eighty Days has an excellent screenplay. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I always admire in a movie. I would have given The Ten Commandments the edge just because I like it so much, but that’s not fair, so it’s a tie.