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And the Oscar Goes To…

This Sunday, the Academy Awards will conclude this year’s awards season with it’s usual over-hyped pomp. I don’t care too much for watching it on TV and am happy with the two-minute version I’ll get on the Monday morning news, but in the spirit of the awards I wanted to share some of my favorite Best Picture winners of all time.

1934 – It Happened One Night
Even if you’re not a big black-and-white picture person, this movie is still fresh and funny. Claudette Colbert was as gorgeous then as any woman today.

1939 – Gone with the Wind
This is my all time favorite. I probably watch this movie twice a year. Scarlett O’Hara is, in my opinion, one of the greatest female characters of all time, and all women owe it to their sex to see this movie at least once.

1943 – Casablanca
I think this is one of the best screenplays of all time. The story incorporates romance, action, suspense, drama and comedy all against the backdrop of World War II. Plus, so many memorable lines that people are still saying 62 years later.

1946 – The Best Years of Our Lives
This is one of my mom’s favorites, but I gravitate to it’s sad happiness. I think it’s an honest tribute to the soldiers who came home from World War II. Dana Andrews plays a decorated hero who has to take his old job as a soda jerk; the scene says it all.

1950 – All About Eve
The original up-and-comer-claws-past-established-pro plot that has been redone many times since, this is definitely a chick flick. Bette Davis is my favorite actress to watch and she is phenomenal in this movie. She was snubbed a Best Actress statuette because co-star Anne Baxter, who gave a great performance as a total bitch, was a total bitch and insisted she be nominated for Best Actress as well. The votes were split and neither actress won.

1951 – An American in Paris
Despite how unusual it is for a musical to win Best Picture, the academy couldn’t ignore that the genre was at the top of its game. Gene Kelly fueled this project, and even though I love Singin in the Rain, I think this is my pick as the best musical of all time.

1953 – From Here to Eternity
Maybe I just like movies that take place during World War II… This drama is wrapped around Pearl Harbor. I really like the romantic play that goes on between Burt Lancaster/Deborah Kerr and Monty Clift/Donna Reed; all four have moments of strength and weakness, but you’re not sure who you’re most sympathetic towards. Frank Sinatra is, as always, a welcome cast member.

1954 – On the Waterfront
Brando! Brando! Brando! I actually think his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire is better, but here he stands out amongst some powerhouse male leads. This movie looks and feels gritty–I feel cold just thinking about it. The mob-driven tough-guy plot skews masculine; it’s one that my old-movie-phobic fiance will even sit and watch with me. “I coulda’ been a contenda!”

—–I think I’ll make this a two-parter, there’s so many more I like!

Happy Birthday, Ms. Susann

On August 20th, 1918, Jacqueline Susann was born in Philadelphia. She became famous for writing the novel Valley of the Dolls, published in 1966. Dolls tells three women’s stories as they each rise from humble beginnings and become stars in their own rites. The pressures of romance, beauty, and fame become too much for old fashioned Anne Welles, beautiful Jennifer North and feisty Neely O’Hara, as they cope with their struggles by popping pills. It’s no Ulysses, but it did earn 1966 shock value points and record-breaking sales.

I’m very aware that this book doesn’t have a great rap, and it’s often rejected as campy and melodramatic, but I love this story and I’m not afraid to admit it. I have Jacqueline Susann to thank for writing the first book I read that I literally could not put down–even if I only had five minutes in a waiting room to read two and a half pages. It was also the first time I read a book twice in a row. I haven’t read Dolls in a long time, but I may have to bust it out for old times sake.

In many ways Susann made her own success, living in the exhausting book-touring, autograph-signing, celebrity-interviewing kind of author’s world. She was just as fabulous and loud as the characters in her novels, even basing elements of her fictional world on her own dramatic life. And to those critics who panned her books, she said  “As a writer no one’s gonna tell me how to write. I’m gonna write the way I wanna write!” I don’t really want to be Jacqueline Susann, but I respect her for her unapologetic attitude, saying what others were apparently dying to hear, doing what she loved and being successful, particularly as an outspoken female in the late 60’s.

Jacqueline Susann died of cancer in 1973 when she was just 55 years old. I read this entertaining article about her life, check it out if you’re interested.