Best Picture #60: The Last Emperor

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 Last Emperor (1987).

The first western film allowed to film inside the Forbidden City, The Last Emperor makes excellent use of its setting to create a gorgeously rich visual feast for its first segment as it follows Puyi, China’s last emperor, during his childhood confined entirely to the Forbidden City. It’s an immense attention to detail that ranks up there with any of the great historical epics in scale and sheer magnificence but unfortunately the film begins to falter as Puyi grows up and the Forbidden City becomes less central to the story and the material becomes drier with the sense of childlike wonder left behind. It’s still a fascinating story about someone from recent history who few know about and it’s immaculately crafted, but long political disputes and segments showing Puyi’s imprisonment feel far too concerned with showing the full picture of his life and not with the cinematic value of it. Certainly they have a place and I did enjoy learning about the history and being inspired to do research of my own after seeing it, but until the end when we see the man who once ruled China forgotten within his own lifetime, it didn’t recover the strength of its initial portion. 

The Real Best Picture:

I’m a sucker for a good historical epic but I also have an immense love for “That’s Amore” which is featured prominently in Moonstruck (shoutout to Cozy for getting me that Criterion!), another great nominee from the year which also happens to be a romcom so it gains bonus points. That said, the part in Broadcast News where they broadcast all that news was absolutely classic and I’d place it leagues above those other films as the deserving winner.

Best Picture Winners

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