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 Amadeus (1984).
A king among films that make me say I don’t care one lick if it’s historically accurate as long as it’s a good film, Amadeus is a biopic about the Classical composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri that entirely invents a rivalry between the two based on disproven rumors that Salieri murdered Mozart. Rather than the traditional biopic route of tracing the life of a great man, this one is framed through Salieri’s retelling of Mozart’s life which juxtaposes Mozart’s incredible musical talent and obscene nature with Salieri’s devout nature and inferior talent. We still get the sampling of the greatest works of the composers and the rich period environment with show stopping performances but also the sense that even men of mythic proportions are not without fault. More importantly, it is a film about Salieri and his mediocrity. A man so close to greatness but overshadowed by virtue of the time and place of his birth. I’ve often thought it would be much worse to win the Silver medal than to not place at all. The simple honor of having competed is gone and replaced with the knowledge that you were so close to the top but will instead be condemned to be forgotten by history. It’s rare to get films about these people who are far from ordinary, and thus far removed from the experiences of most filmgoers, but just as far from extraordinary, and to see the bitterness it inspires was profound. No one can hope to be a Mozart but should any of us hope to become a Salieri?
The Real Best Picture:
For once, I won’t go with the David Lean option. Amadeus is wonderful.