Why let the Oscars have fun?
In honor of this year’s Oscars, Medscape and WebMD asked readers to choose the best of the best health-related movies and performances. More than 250 readers weighed in on more than 50 characters and 25 films to select the best portrayals of medicine on the big screen.
Readers were allowed not only to select from shortlisted candidates, but could also write to their favourites.
So, without further ado, the Meddy moves on to…
• Best Medical Film: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Criminal Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) pleads insanity and finds himself out of prison, but in an institution overseen by the iron-fisted nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). The 1975 drama won multiple Oscars, including Best Picture (one of its producers is actor Michael Douglas), Best Actor (Nicholson), Best Actress (Fletcher) and Best Director (Milos Forman ).
The film got 42% of the vote in our reader poll, followed by ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ (15%), ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ (10%), ‘The Hospital’ (7%) .
Upon its release, The Hollywood Reporterpraised the actors of the film and its directorcalling the film “a chillingly persuasive portrait of an eminently sane man driven to the outer limits of his sanity by the need to conform to hospital rules and regulations”.
Drew Ayers, PhD, associate professor of filmmaking at Eastern Washington University, said the film’s excellent ensemble depicts the emotions of most times.
“It was in the mid-1970s, and the movie was about alienation and non-integration, especially Randle McMurphy,” he said. “There was this quest for freedom, but it was unattainable, as in Easy Rider Where Bonnie and Clyde.”
Wayne Grody, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, pediatrics, and human genetics at UCLA School of Medicine, as well as a frequent consultant for movies and TV shows like ITUCunderstands the call of the great victor.
“Certainly, it is a classic. It is considered one of the greatest films ever made by director Milos Forman,” he said. “As with Ken Kesey’s original text, the film adaptation embraces that kind of sensational, magical sense of realism that takes it from a true depiction of psychiatry to something more Hollywood-like – which clearly resonates.”
• Best Doctor: Robin Williams, Awakenings
In a shock to many at the time, Williams was not nominated for an Oscar for his role as neurologist Malcolm Sayer, MD. That honor went to her co-star, Robert DeNiro, as patient Leonard Lowe, the recipient of an experimental drug used on catatonic patients. Williams is actually tied with DeNiro for Best Actor honors from the National Board of Review.
Awakenings, which earned a Best Picture nomination, is based on the memoir of the same name by Oliver Sacks, the inspiration for Williams’ character. When the film was released in 1990, film critic Roger Ebert called it one of Williams’ “best performances, pure and uncluttered, without the rambunctious distractions he sometimes adds—the shtick where nothing is needed.”
In our poll, Williams was the overwhelming favorite, with 55% of the vote. Jennifer Garner in “Dallas Buyers Club”, followed by Omar Sharif in “Dr. Zhivago” (12%) and Michael J. Fox in “Doc Hollywood” (10%).
For Ayers, Williams’ portrayal of the real doctor and real drugs, mixed with a little Hollywood fiction, is part of what makes the film and its performances so realistic.
“[Sacks] was a well-known doctor and that gave credibility, as well as the real story behind the drugs,” he said. “This is probably the most faithful representation [of the nominees].”
• Best Nurse: Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The aforementioned Fletcher not only won an Oscar, but also a Golden Globe and honors from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for her role as cultural icon Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In her Oscars speech, she thanked the organization with the line, “all I can say is that I loved being hated by you.”
Our audience also loved Fletcher, with 47% of the vote. Emma Thompson’s Nurse Emily in “Angels in America” finished a distant second, followed by Ben Stiller’s role as Greg Focker in “Meet the Parents.”
For Grody, the role of Fletcher is “an iconic moment in the history of cinema”.
When the American Film Institute compiled its list of top movie villains in 2003, the strict nurse ranked #5 behind Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Darth Vader and The Wicked Witch of the West. In 2018, Fletcher told Vanity Fair that the idea of having the nurse speak placidly was her idea – which director Milos Forman ultimately agreed to – and that she had cooked up a backstory for the character shared with no one else on self or to date.
“The role is memorable,” Ayers said. “This depiction of a nurse is clearly not one to emulate, but it is memorable.”
• Best patient: Tom Hanks, Philadelphia
Tom Hanks won the first of his two consecutive Oscars for the role of Andrew Beckett, a gay Philadelphia lawyer forced to hide his sexuality and HIV status from his partners at a powerful law firm. Hanks’ portrayal in one of the first major studio films to address the AIDS crisis broke the mold of him as a largely comedic actor, while providing significant portrayal of gay characters to a wide audience.
After receiving the Trailblazer Award for her role in 2015 by Our magazinepointed out journalist Nathan Smith the importance of a recognizable actor playing Beckett: “What Philadelphia shown was this: Tom Hanks gave homosexuality a face. Tom Hanks has given life with AIDS a face. Tom Hanks has given a face to being both gay and living with AIDS.
Ayers called the depiction of Hanks and the film itself “historically significant”, in how it addresses homosexuality, the AIDS crisis and mainstream understanding – and perhaps more specifically, fear. – of the virus, stimulating public debate.
Grody agrees that Philadelphia has played a pivotal role in shaping public perception of people living with HIV/AIDS. “The film showed that people living with HIV and AIDS are just like everyone else and Tom Hanks’ portrayal was key to proving that point – he just plays such an admirable character.”
Hanks’ role resonated with our audience, with 46% naming him best on-screen patient. Jack Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” garnered 27% of the vote, followed by Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Lisa Rowe in “Girl, Interrupted.”
• Best Worst Goaltender: Kathy Bates, Misery
As for the person our audience least wants to receive care from, Annie Wilkes from the 1990 film Misery was the big winner with 60% of the vote.
Kathy Bates’ portrayal of the antagonist in the film based on a Stephen King novel won her the Academy Award for Best Actress. Wilkes’ upbringing of novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) following a car accident proved that not everyone is adept at caring for others.
Grody agrees that for best worst goalie, Annie Wilkes was the only choice. “I don’t know who else you could choose for this category,” he said. “No one else could come close to winning this award.”
The late film critic Gene Siskel said Bates’ performance elevated the film from being a “routine thriller” to his “wonderful performance…as a crazed fan who alternates between compassion and violent madness, all the while smiling blissfully and with a little gold cross hanging around his neck.”
Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Hannibal Lecter of “Silence of the Lambs” (21%) and Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein of “Young Frankenstein” (13%) finished second to Bates in our poll.
For Ayers, the film is less about caregiving and more about something very prevalent today, 30 years after the film’s release: toxic fandom.
“It’s about owning or controlling the art or the thing that’s being done, feeling it’s right ‘for them’ and therefore deserving to have access to it,” he said. “It speaks to today’s social media and how some attack and actor or author over something they’ve done because they feel it’s theirs.”