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 Unforgiven (1992).
Almost 30 years ago, after Dances with Wolves had briefly revived the Western genre, Clint Eastwood gathered up some of the finest older actors in Hollywood and created its swan song. Though there have been some solid films in the genre since and, somehow, Clint has kept making films as he’s gone from an old man to the oldest man, but both genre and filmmaker reached some of their greatest heights with Unforgiven. Though hardly two hours in length, it manages to evoke and question all of the most important parts of the Western mythos through a handful of storylines that often never intersect but never feel extraneous. Subtly exploring the betterment of a man that was only possible through his rejection of the common ideas of what a man must do, Eastwood seems to be a continuation of all of his famous characters, finally reaching the happiness gunslinging could never bring them and making it heartbreaking to see him forced to return to the neverending cycles of violence and to continue to bear it longer than anyone else. It’s a role no one but a legendary western star could’ve played as the knowledge of his past is so informative to the film, and it’s hard to imagine it ever being replicated now that we’re so far past the Golden Age
The Real Best Picture:
Unforgiven was the end of the most American genre and worthy of the recognition.