Best Picture #46: The Sting

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 Sting (1973).

Every morning (and some afternoons) for years, I’ve been jolted awake by the first few notes of Scott Joplin’s ragtime hit, “The Entertainer”. Any other song or noise that I could use for an alarm would’ve become the most hateful sound in the universe by now, a constant reminder of the approaching responsibilities of the day, but not so with “The Entertainer”. Instead, every day begins with a lively beat that sends a jolt of energy through me, giving me a few seconds where I feel ready to pull off the big job and retire from the daily routine for good, before the soul-sucking nature of another wasted day begins to sink in. That “The Entertainer” is the only good alarm choice I’ve ever heard of anyone making is, of course, a result of its use in The Sting, a film that came out some 70 years after the song was written, but remains as firmly tied to it in my mind as “Ghostbusters” is to the film with the same name. Of course, the song, one from much earlier than the ‘30s that nonetheless manages to ground the film in the decade, is only a small part of The Sting’s charm, though still emblematic of it. There is no genre that I am as consistently fond of as the heist/caper film, and even within that exemplary category, The Sting is among the greats. It’s a lot of what I love so much about Ocean’s Eleven, we see these cool guys just having a grand time, building sets, playing characters, assembling for a great work before splitting off, maybe forever, and pushing back at the evils of the world. The heist film, and especially these two, is just a film about making a film, and about living the dream of a little bit of hard work for a lifetime of wealth. There are stakes and tense moments in the film, but it’s primarily an excuse to have a fun time with a couple of proper movie stars and feel like part of the crew, and there are few crews I would rather be on than Redford and Newman’s. If anyone is planning an unnecessarily complicated way to steal a lot of money from some corrupt and wealthy individual who wronged them, give me a ring. I think I could do very well as the guy who doesn’t really do anything but make a couple witty remarks.

The Real Best Picture:

Ingmar Bergman is my favorite director and it would’ve been nice to see him win something, but Cries and Whispers is not among my favorites of his works and honestly, apart from maybe Persona and Fanny and Alexander, I would give it to The Sting over any of Bergman’s films. Lawrence of Arabia is the only Best Picture winner I like more. 

Best Picture Winners

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