The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1965
I love 1965. It’s such a strong year. And the decisions were largely great. In fact, almost all great.
The Sound of Music wins Best Picture. That’s pretty clear cut. Best Actor was Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou (talked about here), which, as I say, is a good decision because Lee Marvin is awesome, but a terrible one because Richard Burton and Rod Steiger gave much better performances. Best Actress was Julie Christie for Darling (talked about here), which is a top ten Best Actress decision for all time. Best Supporting Actor was Martin Balsam for A Thousand Clowns (talked about here), which was a good decision in what was one of the weakest Best Supporting Actor categories of all time. And Best Supporting Actress was Shelley Winters for A Patch of Blue (talked about here), which was a terrific decision. She was awesome in the film.
And, that leaves us with this category, which — what did you think was gonna happen?
BEST DIRECTOR – 1965
And the nominees were…
David Lean, Doctor Zhivago
John Schlesinger, Darling
Hiroshi Teshigahara, Woman in the Dunes
Robert Wise, The Sound of Music
William Wyler, The Collector
Lean — It’s Doctor Zhivago. Kind of a big film.
David Lean had such a great twenty years, from 1945-1965. Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago. That’s five films, all of which were good enough to win the Academy Award for Best Director. He won for Kwai and Lawrence. This was his last real great film. You can kind of see this one teetering over the edge into indulgence. This is a bit too long, and a drags a bit too much (some might say Kwai and Arabia also do so, but I don’t think they do that much), but it’s still in that zone of really great. Whereas after this — Ryan’s Daughter is way too long, way too boring. And A Passage to India is worse. This one is still in that spot where you could make a case for him to win this award. Easily. I’m probably not going to do that, simply because I’m pretty sure I voted for him all four of the previous times, and this effort isn’t a guaranteed, must-win #3 Oscar. So I have all these reasons why I probably won’t. The fact that the category is stacked also helps.
Schlesinger — Darling is actually my favorite film on this list. It’s one of my favorite films of 1965, actually.
The film is about Julie Christie as an amoral model who pretty much sleeps her way to the top of the industry. And we see her go around, not really knowing what she wants, but just doing. She meets a dude, they leave their people and start an affair, then she flippantly leaves him and goes to someone else. And it’s a character portrait of her, and the whole thing is just fascinating. Julie Christie gives an amazing performance. Her Oscar is totally deserved. And the film is also really, really great. When you think of a “60s” film, that is — that experimental film that came about after the studio stuff from the early half of the decade — like Blow-Up or something — this is one of those movies. One of my favorite shots is this random zoom from the street down below up to a window on the second floor of a building. And it’s like — nobody does a zoom anymore. It’s always a track and a shifting of focal length or something. This is a flat out zoom. Like, at the beginning of The Conversation, zoom.
Anyway, Schlesinger directs the hell out of this, and I felt this effort had the most personality to it, which is why this will be the film I’m voting for. Sound of Music is just too clean and sterile for me, and Doctor Zhivago, I already explained why I’m not voting for Lean. So Schlesinger, having my favorite effort, becomes the vote. (It’s nice that he won for Midnight Cowboy, because not only did I not vote for him there (Butch and Sundance) but he totally deserved it. So everything worked out.)
Teshigahara — This is the one film on this list that I know almost no one has seen. And it’s also, by far, the most fascinating.
The whole thing is completely surreal. It’s like Kafka by way of Seijun Suzuki. A dude is by the seaside collecting insects. He misses the last bus out of there for the night. The villagers tell him to spend the night. They bring him to this house that this woman lives in. The house is at the bottom of a sand dune, and the way it works is — the town has placed the woman there and told her to dig for sand that they can sell. The thing is, though, the house being at the bottom, sand is constantly pouring into the house. So the woman’s return for this is that if she digs for sand for the town, she won’t be buried alive by the sand. It’s the perfect surrealistic scenario, because it doesn’t make sense, and it’s the kind of thing where — there are so many questions there about, “What happens if she stops? Does she just die? Is that the end? But then she perpetuates it by staying alive.” It’s so utterly fascinating a set up.
Then, the next day, the dude wakes up to find the ladder gone. He’s now trapped down there too. They tell him he has to help her. And he tries to escape, but then relents when everything he tries fails. Like, he kidnaps the woman, but then realizes they are his only source of water, so he relents in order to stay alive. Then he escapes one morning from the dune, but they chase him into some quicksand. Everything he does, he somehow ends up back in the pit. Then, over the rest of the film, we see him adapt to this new existence, much like Robinson Crusoe. We see him perfect these systems of survival. Not to mention starting an affair with the widow.
And the best thing is at the end, when he actually does have a chance to escape, and then decides to stay there. And the film ends with a missing persons poster of him, saying he’s been gone for seven years.
Fascinating, fascinating film. I’m curious to know if I’d have voted for this film had it come out nowadays. I really liked this film a lot. I almost want to vote for it, but there’s a whole series of — logistical things that will prevent me from doing so. But I really, really liked this movie and this effort.
Wise — It’s The Sound of Music. Come on.
To be fair, aside from how classic the film is, I don’t see this effort as “must-win.” But, on the other hand, it is really well-made. So there’s that.
Wyler — The Collector is a great, great movie. One of my favorite pseudo horror/thrillers. You know I don’t do horror movies, but only like them when they’re grounded in some kind of realism, like Rosemary’s Baby or Carrie, which downplay the horror elements and hook you into a story first and foremost. This is kind of like that, only this isn’t so much a horror movie. It’s basically like Silence of the Lambs, told only from Buffalo Bill and the woman’s perspective.
Terrence Stamp is a butterfly collector (which leads me to believe that Lambs was totally influenced by this) who has become infatuated by an art student (Samantha Eggar) in town. He slowly follows her, studies her every move, and one day, abducts her. He puts her in the basement of his house in the countryside, and tells her that he’ll let her go once she loves him. And he keeps her hostage there, feeding her, keeping her safe, but simply telling her that she’ll only be free when she loves him. Naturally she tries to escape, which never works, since he’s planned this really well. And she keeps trying all these different ways to get out of there, all of which get foiled in some way. It’s a great, great film. I don’t want to spoil what happens by telling you, but it’s really amazing. Stamp and Eggar are terrific, and this does not seem like the kind of film William Wyler would be directing.
Wyler does a really good job of directing, and I like that it was him who did it, because it’s classically shot. The suspense is built through editing and not through all the shit they do nowadays. Which is why I think this holds up better than most of today’s horror/thrillers. It’s really great.
Unfortunately, though, Wyler had three Best Director Oscars by this point, and didn’t really need a fourth. So he goes to the back of the list here, despite his effort being absolutely terrific.
My Thoughts: I love this category. All the nominees were really, really strong. Gonna count this one down.
Wyler was great, but won three times, so he’s not getting my vote. Teshigahara did a really great job, but he shouldn’t have won. It would have been more trouble than it was worth. The nomination is the reward. Be glad for that. At least now people get to see this great film. Then Lean — won twice, I voted for him I think three times — not voting for him here. He didn’t need it. Zhivago is great, but he didn’t need it.
So that leaves Schlesinger and Wise. Wise obviously was gonna win, but I’m gonna take Schlesinger. His direction here was really great, Wise won before, and honestly — I didn’t vote for Schlesinger when he won in 1969, and he deserved an Oscar, so why not? It’s not affecting anything. Wise was always gonna win. So I’m gonna take Schlesinger.
My Vote: Schlesinger
Should Have Won: Schlesinger, Wise, Lean
Is the result acceptable?: Of course. It’s the Best Picture winner. Schlesinger got his Oscar four years after this anyway. So, it’s fine. All the potential winners here had Oscars, so this was a very acceptable result.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Sound of Music, you’re dead to me, and you don’t really love film.
If you haven’t seen Doctor Zhivago, you really need to get on that. It’s essential.
You need to see Darling and The Collector, or we can’t be friends. End of story.
Woman in the Dunes is an amazing, amazing film, and real film fans will really dig this one. It’s surreal as hell, and is well-directed to boot. It’s hypnotic too. Check this one out. Definitely a hidden gem. Highly recommended.