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The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1968

Talk about a really tough year. 1968 is, quite literally, the transition year for Hollywood. This is the year the business went from Old Hollywood to New Hollywood. (Oscar-wise. In terms of the actual movies, the transition was there until 1970/1971.) The year before this, you had the landmark films like Bonnie and Clyde, and the year after this, you’ll see one of them win Best Picture. Here — you get the last gasp of old Hollywood. All the choices here as so unabashedly old Hollywood. And in return we get a pretty weak set of nominees. 1966, this would have been a good list. 1968 — not so much.

Oliver! wins Best Picture, mostly because it’s the lesser of five evils. If you’re gonna give in, might as well have fun with it. The film also wins Carol Reed his twenty years-overdue Best Director statue (talked about here), which is not a great decision, since Kubrick really should have won for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Carol Reed needed to win, so it has to be acceptable. (This year feels a lot like 2006, where there was no winner, and someone needed to win Best Director, so they went and voted for their film too for Best Picture, because, “Why not?”) Best Actor was Cliff Robertson for Charly (talked about here), which I don’t particularly like, simply because this was Peter O’Toole’s one chance to really win. Best Actress was a tie (the only exact tie in Academy history) between Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl (talked about here). They were the best in the category, so it worked out fine. Best Supporting Actor was Jack Albertson for The Subject Was Roses (talked about here), which was a fine decision, he was really great in the film. And Best Supporting Actress was Ruth Gordon for Rosemary’s Baby (talked about here), which I wouldn’t have voted for but is a fine decision.

So, overall, they did the best with what they had to work with for 1968. Still, though — it’s pretty weak. But, it is a prime example of “out with the old.” I do like it for that reason.

BEST PICTURE

And the nominees are…

Funny Girl (Columbia)

The Lion in Winter (Avco Embassy)

Oliver! (Columbia)

Rachel, Rachel (Warner Bros.)

Romeo and Juliet (Paramount)

(I’d also like to point out — 2001: A Space Odyssey — not nominated. Just sayin’.)

Funny Girl — I sum up this film thusly… Barbra Streisand is a force of nature here.

I don’t think there have been many stronger debuts than this one. Other than Julie Andrews coming out of the sky as Mary Poppins (which also won her an Oscar), I don’t know how many more memorable screen debuts there have been than, “Hello, gorgeous.”

The film is a biopic of Fanny Brice (which, if you see clips of Fanny, Babs was born to play her). And we follow her from being a nice Jewish girl in Brooklyn (a homely Jewish girl), to trying to make it in show business, to becoming famous, and then falling in love with Omar Sharif — the film is Streisand ‘s performance. Without what she gives this film, it would’t be very good at all. I’m serious.

As it is, it’s not a very strong Best Picture nominee. But Streisand’s performance does make it acceptable. Still, it’s not any better than a fourth choice here. If you’re gonna choose a musical this year, Oliver! is clearly the one.

The Lion in Winter — I can talk about these films all day. I love them. I love how related they all are.

Quick rundown: This is a sequel to Becket. These two are separated from the other ones (Man for All Seasons, Anne of the Thousand Days, Mary Queen of Scots) in that they take place about 500 years earlier. Still, the subject matter makes them at least somewhat related.

At the end of Becket, Henry II has killed his best friend and is filled with remorse, kind of like Michael after he has Fredo killed. Here, in The Lion in Winter, it’s years later, kind of like Godfather III. And Henry is now ready to choose an heir. And he has to choose between his three sons. And the film is about him trying to make that decision. And he brings his wife, Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), whom he keeps locked in a tower, to him to help in the decision. And most of the film is the family scheming. Eleanor prefers Richard (Anthony Hopkins), later Richard the Lionheart, and really goes about making deals and stuff and trying to manipulate her husband into making that choice. And then one of the other sons thinks he’s going to be overlooked and starts conspiring with France to possibly start a war and give him the thrown — there’s a lot of stuff that happens. This film, like all the other ones of this sort — is a film that puts to the forefront acting and dialogue. Those were always the strengths of these films. They’re just great. I’d put this as my third favorite, after Anne of the Thousand Days and A Man for All Seasons, but those three (and Becket) are just so good that it doesn’t even matter. They’re far and above many other films.

In terms of the category, this was really the other choice besides Oliver! It’s really only one or the other. To me, this one is a bit more heavy, in that — those on-the-nose Oscar films. Dramas. They just feel heavy when you think about them. They feel like you have to get yourself ready to watch them. Whereas Oliver!, to me, is more, “Oh, fun.” They’re both great films. That one just feels more fun. And I think it being fun makes it a bit easier to stomach how week the year was, and also is less, “Oh god, not another old Hollywood movie!” It’s post-1968. You can’t give another one of these films Best Picture. Still, this is terrific.

Oliver! — “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” — great songs here.

Also, the film is a musical version of Oliver Twist. That’s it. Plain and simple. Quite brilliant, when you think about it. Famous story, great musical numbers — this is how we got My Fair Lady. It’s a great film.

Most years, this wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) win. But here — there’s really not many other choices (if any). At least this was fun (of the five).

Rachel, Rachel — I can’t explain this choice at all. They must really not have wanted to vote for 2001.

This film was directed by Paul Newman, and stars his wife, Joanne Woodward. It’s not a bad film, it’s just — it’s the kind of film you expect to see nominated for the acting awards and not Best Picture.

Joanne Woodward is a repressed kindergarten teacher. She’s never been with a man and lives with her mother. And we follow her over summer vacation as she finds out her friend and colleague is a closeted lesbian who loves her, and as she meets a former classmate of hers, whom she sleeps with, and then finds out he’s not really interested in her and just wanted to sleep with her. Then she finds out she might be pregnant and freaks out, but then finds out it’s just a cyst. But during the pregnancy scare, it gives her the strength to tell her mother off, and then she moves out and quits her job and moves on to live her own life.

It’s a good film, but — it’s just a really weak Best Picture nominee. Really weak. No one would ever vote for this. Probably one of the weakest Best Picture nominees of all time (which is a list I’m really curious to try to compile).

Romeo and Juliet — You better know what “Romeo and Juliet” is.

That’s what this is. Franco Zeffirelli directed it — it’s probably the best film version of this story. (Straight version — Baz Luhrmann doesn’t count.)

My Thoughts: It’s really a case of the lesser of five evils. Rachel, Rachel shouldn’t even be nominated. Funny Girl is way too stagy for Best Picture. Romeo and Juliet is good, but again — stagy. The Lion in Winter is great, but also stagy and way too on-the-nose old Hollywood to win. Which really only leaves us with Oliver!

My Vote: Oliver!

Should Have Won: No preference. But Oliver! makes the most sense.

Is the result acceptable?: Out of context — not really. In context — absolutely. At least it’s a fun choice. It’s really the product of a weak category, so it’s not that bad a choice.

Ones I suggest you see: If you made it through childhood without having seen Romeo and Juliet — fix that right now.

If you haven’t seen Oliver!, what’s wrong with you? Get on it. It’s so much fun. And if you’re educated, you read the book, so why wouldn’t you see it?

The Lion in Winter is an amazing film. Another great costume drama of the 60s. The dialogue is sharp. It’s seriously a terrific, terrific film. Top notch, highly, highly recommended.

Funny Girl is a bit long, but worth it for Streisand. She really is a force of nature in this film. She just commands the screen in a way you don’t see very often.

Rachel, Rachel is a good film and worth a watch, but it is the weakest film in this category. It would have been much better served by some acting nominations and no Best Picture nomination.

Rankings:

5) Rachel, Rachel

4) Funny Girl

3) Romeo and Juliet

2) The Lion in Winter

1) Oliver!

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