What Shoulda Won? Best Picture Academy Award – 1995

The Nominees:

“Braveheart” – Mel Gibson’s stirring epic would take home a slew of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, perhaps deservedly. I know I’ll get crushed, but I don’t love it. Just my $.02; these types of historical epic action dramas aren’t my thing. I appreciate the movie more than I enjoy it. I never got the whole controversy, which painted the movie and Mel Gibson as homophobic. The supposed outrage felt completely inorganic, manufactured, and just plain phony.

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“Sense & Sensibility” – Never seen it. Look, there are people who don’t go see “Fast Five” one time, much less three times, and there are people like me who do. The people in the latter camp typically don’t watch movies like “Sense & Sensibility.”

“Apollo 13” – Good movie that spawned the lamest catchphrase of the decade and made “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” a wee bit less challenging.

“Il Postino: The Postman” – I seem to recall it was the dark horse favorite to win Best Picture and the odds on favorite to make me throw up in my mouth. It didn’t win. And, whoa, I kinda liked it.

“Babe” – Seriously. No, really, seriously? A talking pig movie?

What should have been nominated:

“The Usual Suspects” – I’m still baffled that this ended up here. I can see not liking it. But c’mon, Roger.

“Casino” – I remember dragging my wife to see this. She resisted. Something about it not being appropriate viewing for our honeymoon. Oh, yeah. We had just gotten married. We argued about it — playfully — and I reminded her that she was the one who picked a wedding date that coincided with the opening of the new Scorsese movie. The playful tone vanished as she hissed, “I chose this weekend because you made me move it from the previous weekend so you could go to the Georgia-Auburn football game!” How is it I’m still married?

“Get Shorty” – When Travolta is on, as he is in Sonnenfeld’s fantastic adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, he is so very on. Everyone in the movie is great, and the dialogue, true to its source, is perfect. Gene Hackman seems miscast, but once you warm to the idea of him playing a chump, he wins you over.

“Toy Story” – Changed movies, ushering out the classic 2D animation and ushering in the dominance of computer animated movies. Before “Toy Story,” Disney produced the vast majority of animated movies. And most of the non-Disney animated movies were underwhelming at best. Pixar has made everyone step up. No one can top Pixar still, but “Kung Fu Panda” beats the hound dog out of “Rock-A-Doodle.”

“Babe” – That’s right. A talking pig movie. And it’s totally awesome.

And the winner is…

In all fairness, for me this is pretty much a four way tie between “Babe,” “Toy Story,” “The Usual Suspects,” and “Get Shorty.”

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I actually saw “Babe” pretty early on, and was one of its defenders when people said, “Seriously? A talking pig movie? No really. Seriously?”

But has there ever been more of an underdog than the runt Farmer Hoggett won at the fair ? Sure, Rocky was a million to one shot against the Master of Disaster. And Daniel LaRusso faced long odds against defending All Valley champ Johnny Lawrence. But they were men against men. Babe transcends his place on the food chain to achieve victory in a game he’s never meant to play.

By being nice.

From the sun-dappled cinematography and the subtly funny dialogue to the total feel-good vibe, “Babe” is pretty much a masterpiece. The movie grabbed me about a minute in, when Farmer Hoggett (Best Supporting Actor Nominee James Cromwell) holds up the runt pig, gazes into its eyes as the Narrator observes, “The pig and the farmer regarded each other. And for a fleeting moment, something passed between them. A faint sense of some common destiny.”

As the film opens, the narrator tells us, “This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart.” When Babe first arrives at Hoggett’s farm, he quickly learns the hierarchy, meets his neighbors, and encounters prejudice at every turn. Everyone on the farm is resigned to the way things are simply because, “The way things are is the way things are.” Even Ferdinand, who refuses to eat lest he become Christmas dinner, woefully reasons, “I suppose the life of an anorexic duck doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.”

When he observes Babe herding hens, he gets an idea: he gives the pig a shot at herding sheep. Babe fails miserably because the Sheep don’t take him seriously. It’s not his place to herd sheep. They laugh at him. His surrogate mother, Fly, a Border Collie, suggests he play rough with the sheep. Fail. Finally, the sheep themselves suggest he try just asking nicely.

Babe’s aspirations upset Fly’s mate, Rex, a proud champion. The movie is ultimately about “The way things are,” and observes that things are the way they are because of everyone’s preconceived notions about everyone else. Rex’s career as a champion sheep dog was cut short, Fly explains, because of the undeniable stupidity of sheep, who refused his help during a storm. They drowned and even after a couple of days of recovering by the fire inside Hoggett’s house, Rex was left partially deaf. Late in the movie, it’s revealed that the sheep find the dogs as ignorant as the dogs find them stupid. If Rex had been nice to the sheep, they would have been saved and he would be a champion.

Babe’s ascension irks Rex. When Babe falls ill, he’s the one by the fire, inside the house, a turn that stuns the barnyard community — a pig in the house? Who could imagine such a thing?

Babe never whines about his place in the hierarchy. He has doubts about his ability to perform. He overcomes the prejudice around him by being true to himself. When he learns that Hoggett will probably one day eat him, he suffers a crisis of faith. But Hoggett pulls him through.

It takes a lot of work, but Babe’s actions and determination convince the other barnyard animals that the way things are doesn’t have to be set in stone. Which leads to the sheep trials, a sheep herding contest, where Hoggett and Babe face angry judges and a mocking crowd. With his mortified wife watching at home, Hoggett stands firm in his decision to let Babe herd sheep. Babe wins the crowd over, leaving them speechless, leading to one of my favorite closing lines in movie history:

Narrator: And though every single human in the stands or in the commentary boxes was at a complete loss for words, the man who in his life had uttered fewer words than any of them knew exactly what to say.

Farmer Hoggett: That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

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