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 The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
The first Best Picture winner to be made after the end of the Second World War, William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, was fittingly about the struggles servicemen faced returning to civilian life after the war. Even three quarters of a century later, the film remains an evoking and honest depiction of what it is like for people who signed up to save the world coming back from that to find a world that is not what they left and doesn’t always have a place for them anymore. The film is long and at times it feels it, but its heavy subject material is always delicately executed in a forward thinking way. Wyler managed to sneak a depressing condemnation of American society through the studio system and find major success by attaching lighthearted charm and uplifting moments to it but never letting any of that get in the way of the real messages being discussed.
The Real Best Picture:
Though I think The Best Years of Our Lives is excellent, I prefer It’s a Wonderful Life as a film. However, given the time when the films were released and the timeliness of The Best Years of Our Lives, I think the right film won Best Picture.