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 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
The second of three films so far to win the five major Academy Awards (Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, and Screenplay), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest remains an astounding film that continues to be an unfortunately relevant depiction of the ways many mentally ill people are treated almost like criminals or as sub-human. It has a heavy subject material, as Jack Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy gets himself placed in a mental facility to avoid jail time but finds the treatment even worse at the hands of Louise Fletcher’s tyrannical Nurse Ratched, but it still finds time to explore humor arising from the situation. As McMurphy encourages rebellion from all of the patients against the system that traps them, the outbursts are often amusing but they prompt a deep recognition of the humanity of all these people and the connections that could be easily fostered between everyone if there weren’t deliberate measures to keep them apart. The performances are all incredible and the film perfectly alternates between the funny situations and the depressing to make a number of simple moments tear-inducing and even if the end doesn’t entirely feel like it’s on the same level as the rest of the film, it’s so well executed up until then that it can hardly be faulted for a small misstep.