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Which Is the Best Best Picture Ever?

Newsday is holding a vote.

First they’re weeding it down decade by decade — then those winners, plus a few wildcards, go head to head for the title of Best Best Picture of All Time.

Here were my votes:

The 1930s: Mutiny on the Bounty. Why? Because I haven’t seen half the flicks (who’s seen Cimmaron and Cavalcade lately, by the way?) and because I thought Grand Hotel was a bore. And because I give Mutiny extra points for sweeping shipboard drama. And because we all know Gone With the Wind is going to win anyway.

The 1940s: Geez, tough decade. Casablanca is possibly my all-time favorite movie. Plus: Rebecca, Mrs. Miniver, Gentlemen’s Agreement, The Lost Weekend — heavy, heavy hitters. Still, I’m giving my vote to… The Best Years of Our Lives. Because it makes me cry. And because of those incredible scenes with Harold Russell. And because of Frederick March as a struggling mensch. And because of the scene where Dana Andrews goes to the old junkyard and climbs into the plane. And because, again, we all know that Casablanca is going to win and I want Best Years to at least get a wild card.

The 1950s: The Bridge On the River Kwai. It’s just too epic to avoid. Another great decade of “big” films: On the Waterfront, From Here to Eternity, Ben-Hur for pete’s sakes. Hollywood hitting on all cylinders. If An American In Paris wins here, I’ll freak.

The 1960s: Surprisingly bad decade! Ach, those musicals. (My Fair Lady? Best picture? Really?) I’m voting for Lawrence of Arabia just for Peter O’Toole. Runner-up would be… what? I can’t bring myself to vote for The Sound of Music and I hated Oliver. In The Heat of the Night, I guess.

The 1970s: Another very tough decade. Every one a winner, really, except Kramer vs. Kramer. Patton especially rocks. But I’m giving my vote to The Sting because it’s full of great actors having a great time. And: salute to Paul Newman.

The 1980s: Good lord, what a mess. Ordinary People? The Last Emperor? Some of these “winners” probably aren’t even out on DVD. One nose-holding vote for Chariots of Fire, for no good reason at all.

The 1990s: Remarkable how little I care about these films. Shakespeare In Love gets my vote, because I wish all screenplays were so clever. (I’m in the minority here, I know. Tough.) The English Patient a half-hearted second; I loved it in the theater, it’s true. Forrest Gump a distant, distant last.

The 2000s: Gladiator. Way to carry the story, Mr. Russell Crowe. The action scenes hold up, even if the Caesar melodrama doesn’t. I didn’t see The Departed or No Country for Old Men because I feared the unredeemed violence would get me down. (And I think I was right.) And who else you gonna vote for, Million Dollar Baby?

Most striking point: how chewing-gum-disposable most everything is from 1980 on. There are only a few movies there — Shakespeare In Love is one — where I would say now, “I’m fond of that movie.” Very strange when you see them lined up like that.

A Beautiful Mind — a well-made movie, interesting topic, but is it anyone’s favorite movie? I can’t believe it. (Not counting you, Ron Howard.) Every best picture winner should be the favorite movie of at least one person, somewhere, somehow. Or at least somebody’s “My most thought provoking movie ever” movie.

Thanks for a fun little notion, Newsday.

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