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 How Green Was My Valley (1941).
Though generally best known as the film that beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture, How Green Was My Valley is quite a solid film on its own merits. Though maybe a story about miners doesn’t pack the same punch for many today as it did upon its release, the human drama in a working class community is universal and continues to be moving. John Ford directed nearly 150 films and won Best Director four times, the most of any director, but this is the only one of his films to win Best Picture and it does stand above most of his generally great work with superb cinematography and design work reinforcing his strong direction. Had it come out in a year that didn’t also have the film often touted as the greatest of all time, How Green Was My Valley would almost certainly have the respect of many more as one of the great epics and one of the best depictions of the struggles of the working classes, but unfortunately, it is often relegated to a footnote in the history of a more highly regarded film.
The Real Best Picture:
How Green Was My Valley is an excellent film and it is a great sadness that it will always be perceived as the film that stood in Citizen Kane’s way. It is also a great sadness that The Maltese Falcon, one of my very favorite films, always gets left out of this discourse entirely despite being up for the same award. That being said, the award absolutely should have gone to Citizen Kane. It’s rare that a film is on that level so of course the Academy didn’t reward it. Yet sixty years on, I still hold out hope that they’ll surprise me and choose the best one every year when the ceremony comes on.