Best Picture #16: Casablanca

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 Casablanca (1942).

The studio system has its limitations on creative freedoms and the resulting pictures but with Casablanca, it was operating at its very best. Casablanca wasn’t expected to be anything more than standard fare with a bit of a box office draw from the names attached to it, but it proved to be a perfect mistake that created a timeless classic as it went from being a modest financial success to the winner of numerous accolades including Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and eventually a staple of Best Films of All Time lists everywhere. Bogart and Bergman are perfect in their roles and it might be the most quotable movie of all time with one of the most memorable theme songs, but the true strength lies in its willingness to take risks even though it was produced by a system that was meant to be risk averse. In the midst of World War II, war was on the minds of everyone around the world (and studio executives, as the release was even pushed forward as a result of the Allied Invasion of North Africa) but rather than following in the footsteps of the previous year’s Best Picture winner, Mrs. Miniver, and providing a propagandistic look at the war to inspire patriotic sentiments, Casablanca dared to make its lead an American who wasn’t firmly in support of the American and Allied effort until the final minutes of the film. We often remember Casablanca as featuring one of the great romances, and it certainly is an important part of the movie that causes its impact to be multifaceted, but the morally grey areas it is willing to explore and its willingness to explore them in a time when it would’ve been easier to tell a simple tale of Allied heroism are what make it an invaluable cinematic work in my mind. 

The Real Best Picture:

The last year before the number of nominees was reduced to five until the recent change back to the expanded lineup, it really didn’t need all those other spots as Casablanca was, is, and always shall be the king of the 1943 nominees and one of the strongest films to win the award overall.

Best Picture Winners

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