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 Dances with Wolves (1990).
Bringing the western back to the Academy and prompting a brief resurgence in popularity for the genre, Dances with Wolves was a welcome change from the formula the westerns of old followed. It was refreshing to see a western that portrayed Native Americans as real humans rather than archetypes and plot devices, and the film had such an impact on their portrayal on screen that Costner was adopted as an honorary member of the Sioux Nation. The film runs a fair bit longer than really felt necessary, especially in the nearly four-hour extended version, but the scale of it was impressive for a story that was somewhat insular. It presents an interesting idea that makes us question how things could’ve been different if there were people who were interested in learning about others rather than killing them and appeals to the same fantasies as all westerns that anything is possible in the American frontier if you’re daring enough to try.
The Real Best Picture:
A rare year where I actually like all of the nominees. I’m one of the few people who prefers The Godfather Part III to Goodfellas (Scorsese has done so much better so many times) for that year’s mob film but neither gets my vote because neither had anything as good as the pottery scene in Ghost.