The premise is simple: Suppose there were a single Academy Awards ceremony that included all the top movies and performances of all time? Would “Casablanca” beat “The Wizard of Oz”? How would you pick between Ingrid Bergman and Cher? Who would win lead actor, director? Whom would you choose as host?
And if, in this Oscar fanatic’s fever dream, you had all those great performers — Marilyn Monroe, Brad Pitt, the Marx Brothers — in the same audience, would there be some sort of ego overload? Would the universe fold over into itself like a lousy omelet?
That would make good television, as they say.
So, bear with me now as I take a stab at this Ultimate Oscars concept. My list of nominees is personal and reflective of too much tequila over too short a time. It is suffused by a rather sanguine outlook on life that doesn’t necessarily overlap with the dutiful way academy voters typically see things, as if movies were penicillin that could cure all the wrongs of the world.
My list is not based on total Oscar wins, or historical significance. Shamelessly populist, it salutes the pure joy of moviegoing. Remember, I am more of a fan than a critic. I like what I like.
The common thread is that each movie or performance gets better with every viewing:
“Back to the Future”
“It’s a Wonderful Life”
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
“The Wizard of Oz”
And the Ultimate Oscar goes to: I want to say “Chinatown,” I want to say “The Graduate,” both of which are brilliant from start to finish. But for sheer entertainment value, the Ultimate Oscar has to go to “The Wizard of Oz,” which somehow blends every genre: a coming-of-age saga, comedy and horror, into one unforgettable flick. It’s probably the only movie nearly everyone in the world has seen.
Ingrid Bergman, “Casablanca”
Katharine Hepburn, “The Philadelphia Story”
Marilyn Monroe, “Bus Stop”
Meryl Streep, “Sophie’s Choice”
And the Ultimate Oscar goes to: I want to say Bergman because — as writer Susan King points out — she wasn’t even nominated after “Casablanca” came out in 1942. I also want to say Streep. But I can’t forgive her for “Ricki and the Flash.” So it’s Cher in an upset win, though she’s had some real clunkers too.
Anthony Hopkins, “The Silence of the Lambs”
Samuel L. Jackson, “Pulp Fiction”
Lee Marvin, “Cat Ballou”
Jack Nicholson, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
James Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life”
And the Ultimate Oscar goes to: I want to rock your world and go with Lee Marvin, for his performance in perhaps the most underappreciated movie of all time. But nominating him is probably enough. I’ll pick Stewart as the winner here, an Everyman who overcomes a breakdown with honesty, charm and quivering fingers.
Frank Capra, “It’s a Wonderful Life”
Francis Ford Coppola, “Apocalypse Now”
Francis Ford Coppola, “The Godfather”
Roman Polanski, “Chinatown”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
And the Ultimate Oscar goes to: You could get a pretty good term paper out of the similarities in these five wonderful movies. They all have flawed characters, grit and passion, enhanced by a great director’s vision. They make your mind work and your heart beat. I could close my eyes and point. But I won’t. Coppola for “The Godfather” (though “Chinatown” is the better movie).
“Chinatown,” by Robert Towne
“Do the Right Thing,” by Spike Lee
“Notorious,” by Ben Hecht
“The Princess Bride,” by William Goldman
“The Producers,” by Mel Brooks
And the Ultimate Oscar goes to: “Chinatown” might be the great American novel, so the statuette goes to Towne. But props to all, especially Goldman. Technically, “Princess Bride” was based on a novel. But it was Goldman’s novel. The brilliant novelist/screenwriter wrote more great movies than anyone, though Brooks is close.
And the host for the Ultimate Oscars should be: In another upset, Jimmy Kimmel. Hey, I warned you it was my list.