The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1967

1967 was a landmark Oscar year. It’s the year Oscar went from the big-budget musicals of the 60s to the “modern” era. That is, the early 60s was sort of the last gasp of studio power. The studios went down in the early 50s once the Paramount Decision was passed, had to divest of all their theaters. Then all the independent films started popping up in drive-ins and stuff. And TV was around now, too. Then, once the 60s started, Hollywood realized they couldn’t just keep pumping out the same product, because the kids went to all these drive-in movies to see all the low-budget monster flicks and exploitation flicks and stuff.

So they — don’t worry, I’m telling you this for a reason. You’ll notice a parallel in a second — doubled down and decided, “Let’s just maks everything bigger.” And you got these mega budget films like Cleopatra and How the West Was Won, just, huge budgets, grand epic films, because, television is sapping audiences and the kids are going to drive-ins, where they aren’t regulated by adult supervision and could do what all kids want to do when they go to the movie, talk, fuck around and make out with each other (actually watching the films isn’t exactly the primary goal). So, they said, “We’ll differentiate the product,” we’ll make our films so big they’re worth a trip to the theater. And then you had these huge fucking musicals of the 60s like My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, Doctor Dolittle and Hello, Dolly! — not to mention the huge budgeted comedies of the decade, like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. These were films that cost shitloads to make and were expected to make shitloads more to cover costs. And then, people quickly became inured to films like this, because — let’s face it, they’re all variations on a theme. And then 1967 came, and that’s when everything changed.

Bonnie and Clyde came out. Violent, romantic, sexy picture. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — a film dealing explicitly with race in such open terms. The Graduate, a film that defined the youth of the post-Baby Boomer generation. And then, in 1969, Easy Rider came out, a film that essentially just a series of scenes of guys riding around, taking drugs and going places. And these films went over huge. Because they were something different. And then, the 70s happened. Perhaps the greatest single decade in the history of film. (You can see why I’m excited about the box office failing from week to week. Pure optimism that this will happen again.)

1967 is the year that started it all. You can tell by the Best Picture nominees — which were, the bottom four nominees on this list, and Doctor Dolittle. The one holdover from earlier days. Notice how that’s the one that didn’t get a Best Director nomination.

Oh, yeah, to recap the year. In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture, Rod Steiger won Best Actor for it, Katharine Hepburn won Best Actress for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, George Kennedy won Best Supporting Actor for Cool Hand Luke, and Estelle Parsons won Best Supporting Actress for Bonnie and Clyde.


And the nominees are…

Richard Brooks, In Cold Blood

Norman Jewison, In the Heat of the Night

Stanley Kramer, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Mike Nichols, The Graduate

Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde

Brooks — This is the film based on Truman Capote’s book — basically, if you’ve seen Capote, this is the movie that’s going on around Capote as he goes around in that movie. It’s the story of the guys as they end up murdering that entire family and getting caught and hanging for it. The film is shot in crisp, stark black and white, and looks gorgeous. It does a good job of humanizing these killers, the way the book does. It’s a really nice effort, and deserved to be nominated. But, I can’t vote for it. It just wasn’t one you could vote for. You know how it is. A strong effort, nice to be in there, but, you just can’t.

Jewison — Here’s a film that is a good film, but the wrong film to win Best Picture. But we’ll get to that another time.

The film is about a murder in a Southern town. And Rod Steiger, the sheriff, goes on his way to find out who dun it. And it’s a lazy town, so he’s leisurely on his way going about things, and he goes to the train station. And at the station, waiting for a train, is Sidney Poitier. And Steiger, a racist, naturally assumes Poitier is the murderer. He’s not from the town, talks like a northerner, and is black. Clearly, it’s him. Then he finds out Poitier is a top Philadelphia detective. Like, top detective. Very well-respected. So well respected that he’s forced to take him on to help him solve the case. And the movie becomes kind of a buddy movie, where they need to work together even though Steiger doesn’t respect Poitier because he’s black and Poitier doesn’t like Steiger because he’s prejudiced. And they solve the murder together, and over the course of the film, Steiger loosens up and begins to respect Poitier as he learns about him and sees him work. And eventually he shakes his hand at the end, and everybody learns something. And in the middle of all the race stuff, there’s the murder investigation. So the film is definitely engaging.

As for the direction, it’s fine. Nothing outstanding, but, fine. I’d never vote for it, but, you know, it definitely should be here.

Kramer — Stanley Kramer is a filmmaker that was very up on the times. All of his films dealt with very important subject matter in a time when Hollywood was busting out these big budget escapist films.

For example — here are Stanley Kramer’s films: The Defiant Ones, about a black man and white man escaping from prison while being chained together, and having to work together even though they hate one another, On the Beach, a film that takes place in a post-Apocalyptic world after World War III destroyed the earth, Inherit the Wind, about the Scopes Monkey trial, Judgment at Nuremberg, about the prosecution of all the Nazis after the war, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which, actually is a comedy, Ship of Fools, about a ship traveling from Mexico to Europe that basically deconstructs society in the 30s, and, now, this, a film about a white woman who brings home a black fiance to her parents, who think they’re liberal but realize, they may not be as accepting as they think.

This is a great, great film. Everything about it is note-perfect. Except maybe the white woman. She’s a little too high-pitched and whiny at times. But still, it doesn’t detract from the film. This is one of those films I can watch all the time because, it’s just so great. The only downside to the film is, it’s based on a play, and is shot like a play, so the direction, while solid, isn’t very flashy. And since there are two way more flashy nominees on this list, I can’t really vote for it. Which sucks, because, Stanley Kramer is a very, very important filmmaker (nominated for 9 times in his career) and never won an Oscar. It’s really a shame.

Nichols — Mike Nichols. This man is a legend. He’s still making movies, this guy. He’s done it all. He arguably should have won the year before this (which I haven’t gotten to yet), and then, he turned out an even better effort to follow it up. He totally should have won this award.

Just watching The Graduate, you see the amount of images, moments, lines of dialogue, and even songs, that became part of the American lexicon because of the film. Mike Nichols, being the director, is directly responsible for a lot of that. It was his shot choices that led to the shots becoming famous. Plus, as you watch the film, you keep noticing these brilliant little details that really enhance the film and deepen its impact. Really, Nichols deserved this award, and I think it’s universally agreed as such.

Penn — This is the only reason I feel bad about this category. Despite Nichols being very worthy of winning the award, Arthur Penn was too. And it sucks that, like Stanley Kramer, Penn never won an Oscar. This was the film he would have won it for, too. It’s kind of a shame. But, it happens.

Bonnie and Clyde is, of course, a masterpiece. It’s a brilliant film. So well done. If you don’t know, well, I’m not even going to explain it, just watch it. It’s an experience unto itself. And Penn directed the hell out of it. And really if it weren’t for Nichols, I’d definitely be voting for him. I just, like Nichols’ job better. Plus Nichols has the year before working in his favor. Like I said, it’s a shame, but, it happens. Penn did a fantastic job, though.

My Thoughts: Really, the two to vote for here are Nichols and Penn. I feel bad that Penn never got a Best Director statue, but, Nichols really did a great job here. And since he was right in there for 1966 (still haven’t had to decide where I fall on that one), and ended up not winning, this is definitely a year to vote for him. It’s his best directing effort of his career and definitely worth voting for. It’s Nichols.

My Vote: Nichols

Should Have Won: Nichols, Penn

Is the result acceptable?: Yup. The Graduate is a landmark film. Plus, it has so many classic images and songs and just moments in general. A lot of that comes from the direction. Plus Nichols arguably should have won the year before this for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so, this is the best case scenario, since the directing job on this was much better. He definitely deserved this.

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde, what’s wrong with you? If you haven’t seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, you probably should. It’s a great and engaging film. In the Heat of the Night is also very enjoyable. In Cold Blood is interesting, but mostly as a companion piece to Capote or to fans of the book. Appeal seems to be depending on the person. It’s fine though. Not one I’d watch all the time, but a well-directed film.


5) Jewison

4) Kramer

3) Brooks

2) Penn

1) Nichols

One response

  1. BlueFox94

    If Nichols had won for “…Virginia Woolf” the year previously, would Penn be ur choice in that scenario??

    August 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm

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