Since the 1960s are ostensibly remembered as a nonstop parade of drug-fueled, artistic counterculture, it is easy to forget the mainstream world it set out to counter. As Hollywood and the American film industry retreated into a nostalgic coma devoid of social introspection or cultural nuance, the Academy settled into a facile routine of rewarding obvious entertainments. Massive roadshow releases emerged as easy favorites, with four mega-musicals (the most in one decade) taking home the grand prize. This move towards detached fantasy would ultimately mark the ‘60s as one of the most backwards-looking decade in Oscar history, giving seven top prizes to movies that dwell on times gone by despite that the social landscape was becoming an increasingly significant player in daily life with its visible strides towards equality.
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Following the more economical wartime cinema of the ‘40s, the 1950s offered a chance for American filmmakers to revel in their newly self-proclaimed #1 status, ramping up production values and grandness to match their hubris and reach. The Academy followed suit, honoring films that celebrated human triumph, even if some of the best-remembered movies of the decade focused instead on the frailty of an increasingly connected world.
Though the decade’s first Best Picture statuette went to the low-key backstage drama All About Eve (1950), it was a period that rewarded large productions. Four of the decade’s winners were returns to the cinema-as-theatrical-spectacle mindset of the form’s earlier days, which would later morph into the action-thriller extravaganzas we roll our eyes at today. Of these, only two can be said to have held up over time, their monumental scope a necessity for themes of an epic nature rather than a plastic exploitation of the more-is-more mentality.