I love 1961. It’s so top-heavy. Look at your three major contenders for Best Picture: West Side Story, Judgment at Nuremberg, and The Hustler. I always say a year’s strength begins at Best Picture, and right there, this establishes this year as a strong one.
As for the rest of the decisions — Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins win Best Director for West Side Story (talked about here), and George Chakiris and Rita Moreno win Best Supporting Actor (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress (talked about here), respectively, for the film as well. These decisions all make sense and are good (even though I probably wouldn’t have voted for any of them). When you remember the film, these all seem like good choices, but when you look at the categories, I feel as though there were better choices historically (since in Supporting Actor, you had both Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott, who were great in The Hustler and Montgomery Clift in Judgment at Nuremberg. And then in Supporting Actress, you have Judy Garland, who most people feel was horribly snubbed for Best Actress in 1954. So why wouldn’t you give it to her?). Then Best Actor was Maximilian Schell for Judgment at Nuremberg (talked about here), which I think is one of the worst decisions of all time in the category, since Schell wasn’t really a lead in the film, and because Paul Newman was so good in The Hustler (so good, in fact, that the Academy tried to remedy this snub 25 years later when he reprised the same role). And Best Actress was Sophia Loren in Two Women (talked about here). I don’t like this decision at all, but it’s tough. I love Sophia Loren, and I like that she has an Oscar, but I feel, based solely on the category, that Natalie Wood deserved it, giving a great performance in West Side Story and a great performance in Splendor in the Grass. How do you not award a year like that?
So, 1961 is a year with good decisions, though ones that — I don’t know — maybe could have or should have gone another way. But it all comes back to it being a strong year, where you can quibble about one or the other even though the actual decisions were strong. This year is a luxury year. We should be lucky to have one of these.
And the nominees were…
Fanny (Warner Bros.)
The Guns of Navarone (Columbia)
The Hustler (20th Century Fox)
Judgment at Nuremberg (United Artists)
West Side Story (United Artists) (more…)
Pic of the Day: “Bald Mountain according to tradition, is the gathering place of Satan and his followers. Here, on Walpurgnisnacht, which is the equivalent of our own Halloween, the creatures of evil gather to worship their master. Under his spell, they dance furiously until the coming of dawn and the sounds of church bells send the infernal army slinking back into their abodes of darkness.”
The reason I love 1962 is because of two films (at least, in this category), but look at those two films — Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s justified.
The year is actually quite simple to recap as well — Lawrence of Arabia wins Best Picture and Best Director for David Lean (talked about here). There was no way it wasn’t winning either of those two awards. To Kill a Mockingbird wins Best Actor for Gregory Peck (talked about here). No one can disagree with Atticus. Then Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress were Anne Bancroft (talked about here) and Patty Duke (talked about here) for The Miracle Worker, which were both perfect decisions. The only real outlier is Best Supporting Actor, which Ed Begley won for Sweet Bird of Youth (talked about here). I don’t really see how Omar Sharif doesn’t win this for Lawrence of Arabia. Still, that decision isn’t enough to ruin the other five.
And here — it’s pretty simple. One film or the other. We know which was going to win, but many of us (including myself) have to choose the other for personal reasons. Either way, it’s pretty clear this was gonna be a good one whichever way they chose.
BEST PICTURE – 1962
And the nominees were…
Lawrence of Arabia (Columbia)
The Longest Day (20th Century Fox)
The Music Man (Warner Bros.)
Mutiny on the Bounty (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
To Kill a Mockingbird (U-I) (more…)
1963 is one of the toughest Academy years to deal with. It’s arguably worse than 1968, since, at least there, the film that one is a okay choice depending on the category. Here — you don’t know what to vote for. And it’s not that the year itself is horribly weak (though the nominees all-around were on the weak side). It’s just that the more daring films like 8 1/2 and The Cardinal weren’t nominated. So it leaves us with a category where we wonder — what do we do? (Which is probably how we got our eventual winner.)
Tom Jones, aside from Best Picture, won Best Director for Tony Richardson (talked about here). It’s not a good decision (How does Fellini not win?), but it’s understandable. Best Actor this year was Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field (talked about here), which is a great decision historically, but they really did pick one of the worst performances to award him for (he’s seriously playing a magical negro). Best Actress was Patricia Neal for Hud (talked about here), which I don’t love as a decision, but I guess is okay. Melvyn Douglas won Best Supporting Actor for the film (talked about here), which I am okay with. (It’s his second win, in 1979, that I hate.) And Best Supporting Actress was Margaret Ruherford for The V.I.P.s (talked about here), which — there really was no other choice in the category, logistically. So, meh. Whatever.
Overall, what 1963 got right was giving Sidney Poitier an Oscar. Otherwise, the other decisions are either forgettable or just okay. The real weakness for this year is the fact that the Best Picture category consisted of a comedy, a religious film that’s not really about anything, an epic western that’s more entertainment than “Best Picture,” a film about a Greek immigrant, which is terrific but seems to be little-seen (the kind of movie that would be nominated that people wouldn’t know about), and an epic failure (that’s great, but still thought of as a disaster). What do you vote for with that?
And the nominees were…
America, America (Warner Bros.)
Cleopatra (20th Century Fox)
How the West Was Won (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Lilies of the Field (United Artists)
Tom Jones (United Artists) (more…)
Pic of the Day: “People do not give it credence that a young girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood. But it did happen. I was just 14 years of age when a coward by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down and robbed him of his life and his horse and two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band. Chaney was a hired man and Papa had taken him up to Fort Smith to help lead back a string of Mustang ponies he’d bought. In town, Chaney had fallen to drink and cards and lost all his money. He got it into his head he was being cheated and went back to the boarding house for his Henry rifle. When Papa tried to intervene, Chaney shot him. Chaney fled. He could have walked his horse, for not a soul in that city could be bothered to give chase. No doubt Chaney fancied himself scot-free. But he was wrong. You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free, except the grace of God.”
I’m very torn about 1964. There’s a lot of, “Yeah… but, oh… but, yeah…but –” involved. I love My Fair Lady. I love it. I really do. But, on the other hand, it’s kind of old-fashioned, and a bit overly long, and a bit on-the-nose as a winner. And yet — (see what I mean?)
Outside of Best Picture, My Fair Lady wins Best Director for George Cukor (talked about here), which — finally! Holy shit, was the man overdue. Him winning here is like Martin Scorsese winning for The Departed. It’s like, “Where was this 25 years ago?” It also won Best Actor for Rex Harrison (talked about here). It was a good decision. I love Rex Harrison (and Peter Sellers — he was never gonna get it, so it’s not really worth griping about). Best Actress was Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins (talked about here), which, first, she was Mary Poppins, and second, this probably (or possibly) kept her from winning the year after this, when Julie Christie really should have won (and did). Best Supporting Actor was Peter Ustinov for Topkapi (talked about here), which was a spirited decision in a rather weak category. And Best Supporting Actress was Lila Kedrova for Zorba the Greek (talked about here), which was fine, I guess, but how they could continue to pass up Agnes Moorehead, the epitome of this award (kind of like the way they kept passing up Claude Rains for Supporting Actor) is just ridiculous.
So, in all, an okay year. It’s just — here. We all love Dr. Strangelove. And we all think it should have won. But we all know that it would never win. We know it wouldn’t. Not here. (Maybe not ever.) So it’s a moot point about what should have happened. The most we can do is vote one way and accept the other.
BEST PICTURE – 1964
And the nominees are…
Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Columbia)
Mary Poppins (Disney, Buena Vista)
My Fair Lady (Warner Bros.)
Zorba the Greek (20th Century Fox) (more…)