Which Is The Better Best Picture: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King or Gone With the Wind?

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Few Oscar contenders have enjoyed the aura of inevitability that surrounded The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003. Nominated for 11 awards, the Middle Earth epic scored a rare clean sweep: Best picture, director, adapted screenplay, original score, original song, visual effects, art direction, costume design, make-up, sound mixing and film editing. And long before director Peter Jackson took to the podium to a rousing ovation, there seemed to be a collective understanding that the night’s awards went far beyond the third Lord of the Rings installment, which found Frodo (Elijah Wood) ascending Mount Doom and overcoming his internal demons to destroy the Ring of Power once and for all. It was widely understood that this Oscar celebration was less about a singular achievement than the commemoration of one of the most audacious, and adept, trilogies in cinematic history. Filmed in one extensive shoot, commissioned by New Line Cinema in a colossal financial gamble and entrusted to a single filmmaker who was empowered to mold his singular and distinctive vision, the Lord of the Rings films were works of fantasy that transcended the genre, entrancing both mainstream audiences and Hollywood heavyweights.



At the time, with its full overture and closing music, producer David O. Selznick’s 1939 adaption of Margaret Mitchell’s beloved novel was, at 2 minutes shy of four hours, the longest movie ever made. There were no complaints from audiences, who made the Civil War saga about the messed up romance of Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and divine rake Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) the highest grossing picture of all time, a record it held until 1966. While setting records, it also broke barriers, most enduringly one of color; Gone With the Wind featured an Oscar-winning supporting actress performance by Hattie McDaniel, the first black actor to ever be nominated, let alone win. That and its best picture victory put Gone at 8 wins for 13 nominations, also the most of its time and a record that held for decades. Adjusted for inflation, the movie still ranks in the top three all-time box office champs. But while those statistics are impressive, Gone’smany fans are more likely to recall its magnificent images of resilience — Scarlett standing in various piles of ashes, some literal (Atlanta, plantations) some figurative (her love life) — and its unforgettable lines,  from Rhett’s “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” to Scarlett’s “Tomorrow is another day.”

See the results of yesterday’s faceoff—Annie Hall v. The Apartment