The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1960

I do not want to talk about this category. I want to skip over it and leave it as is. I can’t win no matter what I do here. On one hand, Billy Wilder wins this category for a film that, along with Some Like It Hot, defines his career. On the other hand, Alfred Hitchcock directed Psycho. Wilder had an Oscar (three, in fact) already. He won for directing The Lost Weekend and producing it (it won Best Picture). Then he won Best Screenplay for Sunset Boulevard. He also won Best Screenplay this year as well. So in all he won 6 Oscars. Hitchcock won zero. And yet, The Apartment is probably one of my top ten or twenty favorite films of all time. So I can’t win no matter what I do. I hate that.

As for the rest of 1960, The Apartment wins Best Picture, which, I feel is one of the best decisions of all time  (but, I’m biased. Still, I think most people can agree that it’s a very good decision). Best Actor was Burt Lancaster, for his fantastic turn in Elmer Gantry. Shirley Jones also won Best Supporting Actress for the film. Best Actress was Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8, which is one of the more — controversial Best Actress decisions of all time. Most people acknowledge that Liz won because they thought she was dying and that Shirley MacLaine really should have won. Best Supporting Actor this year was Peter Ustinov for Spartacus.

So, overall, I think this is a pretty good year. I personally would have went another way on Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress — and then there’s the matter of this category — but overall, I think this is a very successful year. This feels like a strong 4/5 movie. And I like that.


And the nominees were…

Jack Cardiff, Sons and Lovers

Jules Dassin, Never on Sunday

Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho

Billy Wilder, The Apartment

Fred Zinnemann, The Sundowners

Cardiff — Sons and Lovers is a film I expected to be really, really boring. I figured, this dude is a cinematographer by trade, so, really, all I’m gonna get out of this film is a crisp, good-looking film, that’s basically just a chamber drama or something. Instead, I really found myself drawn into the story and really engrossed by what was going on.

The film is about — well, I’m not really sure. It’s just about a family. Dean Stockwell (the kid who played Nick Jr in the later Thin Man movies) is technically the main character, though the film really doesn’t have a single protagonist. It’s more about a bunch of people. Stockwell is the son of Trevor Howard and Wendy Hiller. And they’re the couple that are together because she got pregnant and had to get married. And he’s a guy who works at the coal mine (very reminiscent of How Green Was My Valley, in some ways), and comes home and gets drunk every night, and he’s spending a lot of their money on the drink, but he’s the man of the house so he’ll do as he pleases, and she’s trying to keep everything together, and then some nights he’ll be really belligerent — that kind of family. And then Stockwell ends up leaving, despite Hiller, who is very overprotective, and her hold on him. And he goes to London and works in a textile store or something, and then starts having an affair with a married woman played by Mary Ure, and the film is basically about these people. I think it’s based on a D.H. Lawrence book, so you can find out what the actual plot is from there. But, I found the film very engaging if not all that perfect.

I think it’s the kind of film that was like Rachel, Rachel. An “Academy”-type project, directed by someone greatly respected within the industry. You just knew they’d nominate it for all the major awards. I can understand and even sort of agree with its nomination. It’s just — it doesn’t feel like a film that was ever going to win anything. You know? It’s still really good though.

Anyway, Cardiff does a good job directing it. It does look really good. He shot it in black and white too. The only thing is though, in a year like this, he’d never be more than fourth, which is what he is, purely because the competition is just too strong. You’ll see what I mean in a second. He won Best Cinematography for this film, which was really his reward anyway. So, never gonna get a vote, but, great job. Very good film.

Dassin — Yeah. Another one of the foreign films that I just couldn’t get into. I don’t know what it is with me and foreign films. I just feel like I should warn you all at the top. If you like foreign films, chances are you might end up liking this more than I did. Just because my list of foreign films that I like is just not very big. I mean, I don’t hate them, I just, am pretty indifferent toward most of them. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent the better part of two years watching the foreign films the Academy thinks are the best ones, and that’s skewed my opinions. Either way just know that off the top, I’m pretty indifferent toward a lot of foreign films the Academy has nominated. (Not all, though. There are some great ones that got nominated.)

Anyway, the film is about a hooker with a heart of gold. Really. Melina Mercouri is a Greek prostitute who sleeps with the people she likes and doesn’t even charge them. She just likes fucking. She fucks the people she likes. And Jules Dassin, casting himself, plays a Frenchman who loves Greek shit, who falls in love with her and tries to get her to stop being a whore. And it’s a romance. Kind of a Pygmalion story, in a weird way. It’s not a bad film. I enjoyed myself for the 90 minutes. It’s worth watching, too, because Mercouri seems to be having a lot of fun with it. Dassin — well, not sure why he didn’t cast somebody else. But the film is pretty good. But — never gonna vote for it in a million years. My rationale for this is — 8 1/2. If they didn’t vote for that in a year that was clearly the year for a film like that to win — why should I vote a lesser foreign film? Ya follow?

Hitchcock — It’s fucking Psycho. I think that’s all I need to say. Everyone needs to see this movie. If you haven’t seen it, go out right now and pick up a copy. Then when you watch it, you will understand why Alfred Hitchcock is the only person who really deserved the title of Best Director for 1960.

The end.

Wilder — The Apartment is legit one of my top 20 favorite films of all time. I never officially came up with a list past the top five (and even after top three, I’m not entirely certain unless I check all my DVDs), but I know for certain, at worst, this film would appear between 11-20 on a list of my favorite films. Not only that, it’s a perfect film. As romantic comedies go, the Academy Awards have done a really good job of voting for only the really best ones.

The film is about Jack Lemmon as an insurance agent who works in a giant office building — the kind with like, 60 floors — who is pretty nameless as a worker goes, with the exception that he allows the executives within the building access to his apartment, so they can bring all their mistresses over there to have sex with them without getting caught by their wives. Like, he’ll make appointments, kept in a book, and that night, leave the key under the mat, go somewhere else, and the executive will do his business, and leave. And all the neighbors in his building think he’s a huge womanizer and party animal, even though he’s Jack Lemmon — the same nebbish character he always plays. And it’s funny, because, what you have is all these executives on a first name basis with Lemmon, even though they should have no idea who the fuck he is.

And the film is about Lemmon, in love with Shirley MacLaine, who is an elevator operator inside his building. And he tries to ask her out, as does everyone (though he’s less sexual harassment-y when he does it), and she pretty much ignores them all. And then one day Lemmon gets invited up to the big boss’s office. The big boss is played by Fred MacMurray. And the boss tells Lemmon he wants the key to his apartment (Lemmon thought it was for a raise). He works out a deal whereby he is the only one who is allowed access to Lemmon’s apartment, and in return, Lemmon will work his way up the ladder. He gets an office and everything. And Lemmon goes along with this. And he still continues trying to go out with Shirley MacLaine, even getting a date with her. But then she doesn’t show up to it. And we find out that she’s actually the one who is having an affair with Fred MacMurray. And then, midway through the movie, MacMurray breaks off his fling with MacLaine, and what she does is go back to Lemmon’s apartment (she doesn’t know it’s his), and takes a bunch of sleeping pills.

And Lemmon comes home later on, figuring everyone’s gone, and finds her in the bed. And then there’s one of the best single sequences I’ve ever seen put to film, because it’s so — realistic. Lemmon runs over to the doctor across the hall, who disapproves of his lifestyle, and calls him over. And the doctor comes over, and Lemmon has to pretend he’s the one having parties and stuff, and he even has to tell the doctor she tried to kill herself because of him. And the doctor literally pumps Shirley MacLaine’s stomach, and the film takes a real dramatic turn for a second. And then they give her lots and lots of coffee to flush out her system and keep her awake, and Lemmon has to walk across the floor with her for like four hours in order to keep her awake. And after all that — this is my favorite part of the entire film. The first time I watched it, I was reading the script alongside it, and this line just broke my fucking heart when I read it — Lemmon is putting Shirley MacLaine into bed, and she’s come out of her near-death state and is now able to string a few words together, and the first things she says to him as he puts her into bed is, “Why didn’t you just let me die?” Oh man, that line kills me every time.

And then the rest of the film is MacLaine stuck in Lemmon’s apartment for the weekend (you see, MacMurray broke up with her on Christmas Eve). So they spend the weekend together, and Lemmon has to keep her inside, so no one finds out about it, while also trying to get her to not try to kill herself again. And they sort of get closer, but not really, since she ends up going back to MacMurray later on in the film anyway for a brief moment. But it all ends well. You know how it is.

But, the film is fucking perfect. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s really just a perfect film. Wilder directed the hell out of it. And, simply because it won Best Picture, I’m very okay with him winning Best Director based on that. But, in this category, in context, up against Hitchcock, Wilder really just didn’t need to win. That’s why I’m so torn about this category. I love Billy Wilder, but — it’s Hitchcock. It’s Psycho. It hurts my brain to have to pick between them.

Zinnemann — And The Sundowners. Wow I fell in love with this film hard. This film is perfect in its own way. It’s really just wonderful. It’s about a family who go around driving cattle for a living in Australia. Robert Mitchum is the father and Deborah Kerr is the mother. And he likes to go around, taking job after job, never settling down in one place, and all she wants is to settle down in one place. And that’s the major point of conflict during the film. Most of the time, Kerr goes along with what her husband wants, because she loves him. Sometimes she tries to get him to change his mind, sometimes she tries to be sly about it and manipulate him into changing it, and other times she puts her foot down. That sort of thing.

And the film is mostly just about them. It’s almost like Rio Bravo in the sense that, it’s kind of a hangout movie. Nothing major happens, and yet, it’s just the characters, doing shit. And that’s the most interesting thing that could possibly happen. Like, they take on a job at the beginning, pick up Peter Ustinov as they do, and start hiring people. And there’s a whole thing where the men they hire don’t believe Deborah Kerr is a good cook. So she has a competition against their chef and there’s a big taste testing scene where they see if she can do it. Little things like that. And the whole time it comes back to her trying to get Mitchum to settle down and him not wanting to. Then there’s a great little bit in the middle of the film where they have a sheep shearing contest. Mitchum, you see, is the champion. He can shear more sheep than anyone. And one dude challenges him, and they have a contest. They have rounds, that are like an hour long, and they just shear sheep after sheep, and once the hour is up, they stop. And they keep tally, come back after a break, then keep going. And it’s just the most fascinating thing in the world, watching this happen. It’s so amazing.

Then later on, they try to settle down, but need money, so they enter a horse race for the money, and there’s a big horse race at the end. It’s really just a fascinating film. I think everyone should see it, because I feel like it’s one of those films people will just be drawn into and end up liking a lot, just because it’s so interesting to watch. I really think it’s great all around and love every second of the film.

Zinnemann really directed the hell out of the film. But, against Hitchcock, who had far and away the best effort here, as well as Wilder, who directed the Best Picture winner, he’s really no better than third choice. Plus he won one already (and should have had two) and got that second one six years after this, so I really feel no pressing need to vote for him, which — thank god — since I love this film to death. I’m glad I don’t have to think about voting for him. Because I might have, actually. Still, this film is amazing and I think everyone should see it.

My Thoughts: Like I said — Hitchcock gave the best effort. And it’s really clear when you watch the film too. It’s just, so far and away better than almost any directorial effort ever put to film, you wonder how it lost. But, Billy Wilder is a sentimental choice, so, despite this kind of being a terrible decision in many ways, you’ll never actually hear me call it one, simply because I love Billy Wilder and I love the film. But, really, Hitchcock was the vote here. Wilder just didn’t need this.

My Vote: Hitchcock

Should Have Won: Hitchcock (come the fuck on, now)

Is the result acceptable?: I have to say it is. Even though it also kind of isn’t. I love Billy Wilder, so I’m never going to say him having an Oscar is a bad thing. But on the other hand, Hitchcock really should have won this. Really. But, it is what it is. I refuse to make a big sweeping statement, because, I love both films to death, and really, no matter how much I’d try to dislike this decision, I’m still not that against it past — Hitchcock really should have won. Wilder had five other Oscars. He only really needed to win Screenplay here.

Ones I suggest you see: The Apartment and Psycho are essential films. If you haven’t seen them, then we’re done here.

The Sundowners is a brilliant film, and utterly engaging on every level. Think Bazz Luhrmann’s Australia, only better and more low key. It’s literally just a story of a family. And it’s fantastic on every single level. One bit of trivia to note — a guy who died a year or so back who’d claimed to have seen (or had the reputation for having seen) more movies than anyone else (or something similar), said that The Sundowners was his favorite film of all time. Also — if I were compiling a list of films I thought you needed to see — this film would be on that list. So see it. Because you trust my opinion.

Sons and Lovers is also a really great film. Very slow, and very family drama — but also very good. I was surprised at how engaged I was. Really good. But, not for everyone. And yet — it was directed by Jack Cardiff, who is top five on any list of the best cinematographers. Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes – this man was a photographic genius. So, since he directed this film and didn’t just DP it — I think that makes it worthwhile for any real fan of film history. Trevor Howard is also really great in it. Highly recommended.

And, Never on Sunday — yeah, it’s there. The more I watch them here, the more I notice, my ratio on finding foreign films I like is very small. I either really like them, or I’m pretty indifferent toward them. So, I’m pretty indifferent toward this. But, some people — you crazy hardcore film people — will love it. They just like this sort of thing. So I’ll say, if you like foreign films, you’ll probably like this. But who am I to say? I’m really only qualified to talk up the stuff I love. So, I’ll say, it wasn’t bad, which means, if you’re at all interested in these types of films, you’ll probably like it.


5) Dassin

4) Cardiff

3) Zinnemann

2) Wilder

1) Hitchcock

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