The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1963

You can tell a year is a bad one when only two of the Best Picture nominees got nominations for Best Director. The only other times that’s happened since the switch to five nominees (ie, between 1944 and 2008) was in 1954 (only On the Waterfront and The Country Girl were nominated for Best Director, while Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Three Coins in the Fountain and The Caine Mutiny, were not), 1955 (only Marty and Picnic were, while Mister Roberts, The Rose Tattoo and Love is a Many-Splendored Thing were not), and 1966 (A Man for All Seasons and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were, while The Russians are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, Alfie and The Sand Pebbles were not). All other years, at least three Best Picture nominees were also nominated for Best Director.

Not much of a pattern there, except two of them were very weak years, and two were landslides, basically. Waterfront was not losing, so it didn’t really matter what else was nominated (plus Three Coins in the Fountain is a really boring romance that I don’t know how it was nominated, so that probably explains something), and Man for All Seasons and Virginia Woolf were far and away the best two choices that year. The other two, though, it’s clear how weak they were. And this year, 63, is by far the weakest year in Academy history (probably next to 1968, which still isn’t as weak as this is).

The Best Picture for 1963 was Tom Jones. Which is unusual. It makes no sense on any level except, they nominated shitty films and that’s the one they enjoyed the most. Best Actor was Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field, which I’ve talked about before. Best Actress was Patricia Neal for Hud. Best Supporting Actor was Melvyn Douglas for Hud, and Best Supporting Actress was Margaret Rutherford for The V.I.P.s. Pretty ho-hum year. Not memorably in any sense.

BEST DIRECTOR – 1963

And the nominees were…

Federico Fellini,

Elia Kazan, America, America

Otto Preminger, The Cardinal

Tony Richardson, Tom Jones

Martin Ritt, Hud

Fellini — I’m not even going to say anything about 8 1/2. If you’re a film fan (that is, a real film fan. Like, attempt to see at least some of the films you “should see”), you need to see this film. And if you have seen it, nothing I say here is gonna matter. And if you haven’t seen it — well, nothing I say here is gonna matter.

The film is — I can’t believe I’m about to do this — if you’ve seen Nine, the musical (I have to assume that anyone who hasn’t seen it is one of those people who will only know it in relation to the musical. Fucking America. What has become of us?), this is the film it was based on. It’s basically a remake of the film, but with music. Seriously. They just lift shit from it freely. Director, working on a film, has problems with all the women in his life, they’re expecting the film, he’s stuck — that’s it. Lot of fantasy sequences, lot of — you know, just watch the goddamn movie. Trust me, there’s a reason it’s ranked one of the best directorial efforts of all time.

Kazan — What a great film this is. It took me a long time to find this film, since it’s not readily available on DVD, but when I did — oh man. It’s fucking great.

The film is as personal a film as you can get (in the historical sense and not in the, 8 1/2 and All That Jazz sense). It’s about Kazan’s grandfather, who emigrated to the U.S. to make a better life for his family. And that’s the film. Three hours of that. It takes a lot of patience for the modern filmgoer to sit through this, but man, is it worth it. It’s a very engaging film.

I’d consider voting for Kazan but, he has two already, and didn’t win for Streetcar Named Desire, so, can’t do it. Plus Fellini is clearly the best one here.

Preminger — Poor Otto. Never got enough credit. The man was probably the leading force in destroying the Production Code. Or at least, the face of the revolution. Still — nothing to show for it. Two Best Director nominations, zero wins, and none of his films were ever really embraced by the Academy. Too bad.

This is an interesting film. It’s about a young cardinal, who we see basically just going through his career. There’s some family issues, like a sister with an abortion or something, but mostly it’s about the changing times. He takes over for a dying preacher — John Huston is involved in some way as a fellow cardinal — and the film basically tackles all the important issues of the time — race, sex outside of marriage, interfaith marriage, abortion, all of that — and finally finishes with the rise of Nazism. All the biggies. It’s a daring film, and a good one at that. It’s great to see such issues tackled in old films because, if you weren’t paying attention, it would almost be as if they didn’t exist. Still, though, can’t vote for him, which is why I say again — sorry, Otto.

Richardson — Tony, Tony Tony. I did not like this film at all. The opening sequence done like an old silent film with intertitles was interesting. But the rest of the film wasn’t. There was one other scene I enjoyed — which was the famous scene where him and another woman sit at the table of an in, lasciviously eating food together. Basically, them eating food is shot in such a way to clearly represent them fucking each other from across the table. That was interesting. Other than that though, I could care less about this film.

It’s about a cad, born a bastard, basically — his father knocked up a rich woman (he was a servant), they kicked him out, cast the baby aside, and basically now he’s grown up and goes around fucking women. Which, in those days, you were shot for. You couldn’t just be ruining virtues all willy-nilly. This is England. There are rules. So, the rapscallion goes around, fucking women, and he’s trying to marry one, but her father is like, “Fuck that. He’s a piece of shit. He doesn’t have a good name. He won’t get my land.” Because it’s all about the land. And the whole thing is a screwball comedy. He goes around, narrowly escaping the noose for the entire film, until they’re about to hang him at the end, at which point it’s revealed, “Oh, wait, he is actually of noble birth, he is actually supposed to inherit all this property, we just mixed it up because some douchebag misplaced a letter explaining all this. Cut him loose,” and then it’s like Caddyshack, “Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!” and then they dance. That’s basically how it ends.

The film is NOT a Best Picture film. Just watch it. You’ll understand. You may enjoy it, but, still, you can tell. Also, not a film that should have won Best Director. It’s like 2010. Just because they often sync up doesn’t mean they have to.

Ritt — Yeah, this is the most classically shot of the bunch. The DP on the film though was James Wong Howe, which meant gorgeous landscapes. So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice.

The film is about Paul Newman as the ne’er do well son of the moral rancher. And he spends the film doing his own thing while his dad is disappointed. That’s pretty much it. Shit happens, conflicts, resolutions, father dies, Newman repents. One of those films. Meh, it was good and all, but, I like it less knowing it won all the awards it did. It probably shouldn’t have. Mostly Best Actress. It definitely shouldn’t have. But, this is clearly the weak link in this category. And the Academy must feel the same way, since it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.

My Thoughts: 8 1/2 is consistently ranked among the top ten directorial efforts of all time. I think it’s safe to say it should have won. Plus, it’s clearly the best effort of anyone on this list. It’s no contest. Fellini.

My Vote: Fellini

Should Have Won: Fellini. I mean, come on, now.

Is the result acceptable?: Yes and no. A non-American/English director was never going to win this. Come on, this is the Academy. Foreign is one step above black. So, knowing Fellini never would have won, the result of him losing is acceptable. The one of Tony Richardson winning, however — it’s the same as Tom Hooper winning this year. Did you see who he was up against? Even this year, okay, Kazan has two, don’t want to give him a third, fine. But Otto Preminger? Why not Otto? Richardson was a fourth choice, at best. But, since Picture and Director often coincide, while I say it’s not a good decision, it is an understandable one. Though, this is the 2010 of Best Picture/Director choices, without the good competition to make it seem worse than it really is. Still — no.

Ones I suggest you see: Fellini (even if you don’t get it, just watch it. I promise you’ll be blown away by the power of the images), Kazan (though you’ll have to have a really stout heart to sit through this one. I’ll admit it’s long. You might not be able to do it), Preminger (but it’s not necessary. I just remember getting swept up in a story I expected to have zero interest in. Then they made it about Nazis, which, admittedly, I was less interested in).

Rankings:

5) Ritt

4) Richardson (the opening silent sequence with intertitles and sexual food-eating scene earn him at least this)

3) Preminger

2) Kazan

1) Fellini

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