I like 1951. I don’t agree with the Best Picture or Best Director choice, but as a whole, I like this year. An American in Paris is a good film, but not one that should be winning Best Picture. There are better musicals to choose from during this period, specifically Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon. I don’t get the preoccupation with choosing a musical over an American classic like A Streetcar Named Desire. I don’t really have too much of a problem with it though. Streetcar pretty much swept all the other categories, so, it sort of balances out. What’s strange is that they gave Best Director to George Stevens for A Place in the Sun. George Stevens is a great director, but as I said here, you have John Huston, Elia Kazan, William Wyler and Vincente Minnelli up as well this year. Okay, Huston has one, Kazan has one and Wyler has two. But why not Minnelli? His movie won Best Picture! (See what I mean? Some decisions are just baffling and inconsistent.)
The rest of this year, though, is pretty straightforward. A Streetcar Named Desire sweeps almost everything. It wins Best Actress for Vivien Leigh, Best Supporting Actor for Karl Malden and Best Supporting Actress for Kim Hunter. All perfect decisions and very deserving actors. So, in all, three really strong decisions, one I don’t like but can accept, one terrible one, and then what remains the most fascinating decision of this year — this category.
Here you have Marlon Brando, who gives one of the most defining performances of his career (alongside the other two he won for, The Godfather and On the Waterfront), and Humphrey Bogart, a living legend who rightfully should have won an Oscar for Casablanca (somehow Paul Lukas wins for a performance that shouldn’t even be nominated, let alone win, there). What makes the category so interesting is that Streetcar won all the other acting awards, and here you have this category, which looks like it should be the biggest shoo-in of all. I mean, Brando — Stanley Kowalski — no contest, right? One of the most powerful performances in the history of cinema. And yet — Humphrey Bogart. And, especially now, after the fact — we know Brando wins two more. So what seems like a very cut-and-dry category becomes infinitely more complex and layered. I really like this category.
BEST ACTOR – 1951
And the nominees were…
Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen
Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire
Montgomery Clift, A Place in the Sun
Arthur Kennedy, Bright Victory
Frederic March, Death of a Salesman (more…)