The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1945

The last of the 1945. We’ll dispense with all the bells and whistles and just recap.

The Lost Weekend wins Best Picture, Best Actor for Ray Milland (talked about here), and this category. Joan Crawford wins Best Actress for Mildred Pierce (talked about here). Best Supporting Actor was James Dunn for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (talked about here), and Best Supporting Actress was Anne Revere for National Velvet (talked about here). All of them were great decisions.

And then this category is self-explanatory. Wilder should have won the year before this, and directed the Best Picture winner this year, so this is cut and dry.


And the nominees were…

Clarence Brown, National Velvet

Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound

Leo McCarey, The Bells of St. Mary’s

Jean Renoir, The Southerner

Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend

Brown — National Velvet is a glorious film and a classic for all time.

Elizabeth Taylor (at age 12) is a young girl who falls in love with a local horse. She goes out to visit it as it roams in its pasture. However, the horse is very wild and the owner decides to sell it because it’s unrideable. He decides to run a local raffle for it. Taylor’s father is the shopkeeper, so he collects all the money and sells all the tickets. While this is happening, Mickey Rooney, a former jockey and trainer (who stopped because he saw another rider get killed and feels responsible) comes to stay with the family to do odd jobs for them. And he ends up buying raffle tickets for the family, just because he sees how badly Taylor wants the horse. And she ends up getting the horse (after a terrific scene of her not winning the horse. That’s the best thing about this movie. They make it character-building. At first, Taylor doesn’t win the raffle, and then she faints. But when she wakes up, she sees them bringing her the horse, and we find out that while her number didn’t come up the first time, the person with that number wasn’t there, and they drew again and her number did come out (and it was totally legit, too, since the town douchebag, who said it was fixed, pulled the number).

So Taylor has the horse, and decides to train it to race in the Grand National horse race. And Rooney helps her train the horse, and she goes there with him to watch it run. And then, of course, at the last second, they don’t have a jockey, so she ends up riding (after cutting her hair and pretending to be a male jockey). It’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. It’s about following your dreams.

The best scene in the movie (as I say every time I talk about this), is when her mother (played by Anne Revere, who won Best Supporting Actress for the role) sees that she really wants to do this, and goes into the attic and pulls out her savings (she won a bunch of money when she was young for swimming the English channel. And she saved it for when she got older, figuring she’d use it for something important) and gives it to her daughter so she can follow her dreams. It makes me cry every time I see it. This movie is incredible.

Clarence Brown directs the hell out of it. The actual racing scene is terrifically shot. It’s like Breaking Away. The final race is just tremendously thrilling. This is actually an effort where, if Wilder and/or Hitchcock weren’t overdue (though I could make the case for Brown over Hitchcock, since to me, Spellbound is not one of Hitchcock’s best efforts (to me) and I’d vote for him for Psycho anyway. But still, sadly Brown gets left by the wayside, which is a shame. But at least we have this film (which really should have been nominated for Best Picture). That’s a nice consolation.

Hitchcock — Spellbound is one of my least favorite Hitchcock films, purely because it’s about psychoanalysis. It seems like psychoanalysis wasn’t widely used as a film topic at the time, because the film is so heavy-handed in its exposition, it’s almost like Inception, explaining the reality of the dream world the whole time.

Basically, Ingrid Bergman is a doctor at a hospital, and Gregory Peck runs it. Only we find out later that Peck is not actually this person, and is believed to have murdered him. But Peck can’t remember, so he and Bergman (who falls in love with him) go on the run and try to figure out the truth. And they use psychoanalysis to figure it out.

Definitely not my cup of tea. The fact that it’s Hitchcock automatically makes me consider it for a vote, but honestly, he’s done better. I refuse to vote for him for a film I don’t like, no matter how deserving he is.

McCarey — The Bells of St. Mary’s is a sequel to Going My Way. It’s basically the exact same story, only they swap out the old Irish priest, and bring in Ingrid Bergman. And this time, it ends happily and there’s no fire. Otherwise, same movie.

Terrific film, great holiday entertainment. Director-wise? No way. He won the year before this when he shouldn’t have. (Wilder or Hitchcock should have won there too.) So while I don’t care about the nomination, no way I’m voting for him. No way.

Renoir — I think it’s hilarious that this is Renoir’s only Oscar nomination. Much like Ran was Kurosawa’s only Oscar nomination. Only more so.

This man made Grand Illusion! And you nominate him for this? Really?

Basically it’s about a dude that decides to start his own farm, and all that entails. The only real interest in the film, for me, was that it was clearly shot on location. It feels like you’re there. Otherwise, this is a joke nomination. Grand Illusion. Seriously, you pick this over that?

Come on, Academy.

Wilder — The Lost Weekend is one of the best movies about alcoholism ever made. Ray Milland is fucking terrific in it, and it’s a Best Picture winner, so you should probably see it.

I’m not eve going to rationalize it — the direction is strong, it won Best Picture, and Wilder was snubbed the year before this. There’s no way he wasn’t winning and I’m not voting for him. I’d like to say Clarence Brown or even Hitchcock, but I can’t. It’s Wilder.

My Thoughts: Pretty good category. Not astounding, but, solid. McCarey is the first one off. Won twice, should not have won the year before this, so he’s off. Then, Renoir — should have won (or even been nominated) for Grand Illusion, but didn’t (and wasn’t), and him winning for this just feels like a cop out. I don’t want Renoir winning for a Hollywood film. I want him winning for one of his own films. Then, Hitchcock –he deserved an Oscar, but I’m gonna be honest with you — I don’t love the film all that much. It’s fine, but, compared to Rear Window, Psycho, Lifeboat — he was nominated for better efforts. And, while we’d probably take any Oscar we could get for Hitch, I’m not voting for this one. I’m just not.

So, really, for me, this comes down to both Wilder and Brown. This provides a problem for me. Because Wilder’s direction was great. It was stark, noirish, and that really helped the film stand out. But I kind of loved Clarence Brown’s direction more. I loved how he shot the horse race, and the whole film just felt like it was alive. Maybe that’s just the sentimentalist in me, though. Honestly, if I didn’t know Wilder would win another one, I’d definitely go with him. Plus, it’s the Best Picture winner, so, let’s just go with Wilder. I’d rather Wilder have two than one anyway. Wilder’s my vote.

My Vote: Wilder

Should Have Won: Wilder, Brown, Hitchcock (not for the film, for the man), Renoir (ditto Hitchcock)

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It was a Best Picture winner, it was (and is, but I started the tenses that way, we’ve gotta ride it out) a great film, great directorial effort — it’s probably one of those makeup/great time Oscars since he should have won for Double Indemnity the year before and just happened to direct the Best Picture of the following year, kind of like Fred Zinnemann in ’52/’53 — plus, it’s Billy Wilder. No matter how you look at it, this is a good decision. Sure, the Htichcock/Renoir thing stings, but I blame the Academy for that. It’s not this one year, it’s the other thirty (or however many times those two could have (and should have) won).

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen National Velvet, we’re not friends.

You should see The Lost Weekend. It’s great, and it’s a Best Picture winner. You have no reason not to see it.

The Bells of St. Mary’s is a great film. Just as good as Going My Way, thoroughly entertaining, a classic film. You should see it. It’s awesome.

Spellbound is a solid Hitchcock film. Not my favorite, but all his films are essential. So just see it.

The Southerner is an interesting film. I liked it. Not amazing, but I liked it. Worth a look.


5) Renoir

4) Hitchcock

3) McCarey

2) Wilder

1) Brown

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