Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Rebecca (1940).
Though heralded as one of the greatest directors in history, Alfred Hitchcock never won the Academy Award for Best Director, and only one of his films, Rebecca, won Best Picture. The film that opened the first Berlin Film Festival is characteristic of much of the director’s work as a tragic psychological drama featuring superb performances and a haunting atmosphere that all further cement Hitchcock’s status as the master of suspense. It’s an altogether great film and certainly among the better winners of the Best Picture prize but it suffers in comparison to other Hitchcock’s films, lacking that special something that cements many of his as not just great films but the preeminent examples of the great classics. For that reason, despite being the lone Best Picture winner, it rarely receives the widespread recognition, even among those who aren’t well-versed in cinema, that is enjoyed by other Hitchcock films like North by Northwest, The Birds, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho (which I’m personally not fond of), and so many others. Were it most any other director that had made Rebecca, it would likely be seen as their masterpiece but it doesn’t even crack the top ten entries in Hitchcock’s filmography.
The Real Best Picture:
Just as it would seem a stronger entry in a filmography that wasn’t Hitchcock’s, Rebecca would seem a better winner if it hadn’t come out in such a strong year. The Grapes of Wrath would’ve made a fine winner, perhaps better than Rebecca, but The Philadelphia Story is by far my favorite of the year’s nominees.