This year's Academy Awards ceremony is now less than 24 hours away, so my giddy excitement is a-brewing. While working on my predictions, I went back and forth on a number of categories, eventually contradicting some of what I wrote in the last few posts. The fact that the Best Picture winner is not at all clear (it's a tight race between Argo and Lincoln) is brilliantly exciting, especially for all those office Oscar pools, whose winners may well be decided on the last category of the night. Here are my humble predictions.
From the 85th Academy Awards to the 15th, here's my take on the next Best Picture nominee from 1942...
The Magnificent Ambersons
(based on the novel by Booth Tarkington)
Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Richard Bennett
The wealthy Amberson family is the talk of a small town in the late 19th century when daughter Isabel (Costello) rejects the love of her life, automobile pioneer Eugene Morgan (Cotten), in favour of the boring Wilbur Minafer. Many years later, Eugene returns to town a widower with his beautiful daughter Lucy (Baxter). Isabel has a child, too - a terribly spoiled brat of a son, George (Holt), who takes as much a liking for Lucy as he does a disliking for Eugene. When Wilbur dies, Eugene and Isabel begin their love affair anew, much to the annoyance of Isabel's sister Fanny (Moorehead), who always harboured a thing for Eugene. Mind you, Fanny's disdain of Isabel's and Eugene's relationship doesn't hold a candle to the possessive deep-seated rage that George expresses.
The Magnificent Ambersons holds an interesting place in film history. Its acclaim as a classic is tainted somewhat by the controversy over the film's final cut. Writer/director Orson Welles lost a battle for control to RKO, the studio that financed the film, outspokenly decrying the version that was released to the public. While it is true that RKO excised a great deal of footage from the film and even reshot the ending without Welles' participation to give it a slightly more upbeat closing moment, it still can't be considered a happy ending by any stretch of the imagination. And in fact, the ending that exists is apparently more faithful to the source novel, anyway. Furthermore, it turns out that Welles' own rough cut fared poorly when presented to preview audiences, so perhaps a little snip is what it needed, especially considering it now holds a place in the US National Film Registry.
A pre-Bewitched Agnes Moorehead (pictured) steals the show as the down-trodden Fanny. She is consistently natural and delivers a heartbreaking climactic scene, enough to garner her a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Joseph Cotten also shines as the amiable Eugene. Adding to the film's drama is Bernard Herrmann's beautifully expressive score. Although, Hermann requested his name be removed from the credits due to a sizable portion of his music being edited or replaced, so I can't be entirely sure that what my ears enjoyed was his work. Nonetheless, the music is striking, whoever wrote it.