The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1964
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)
Becket — Becket is really the first of the 60s costume dramas, which include A Man for All Seasons, The Lion in Winter and Anne of the Thousand Days (and then Mary, Queen of Scots was 1971). They were all well-written plays (not so much Mary, but the rest for sure) about the British monarchy from earlier centuries. Of the main four, Anne and Man for All Seasons are related in that they both revolve around Henry VIII and his marriage to Anne Boleyn (and Mary is about Henry’s daughter with Anne). This one and Lion in Winter are closely related in that they’re both about Henry II (this is like 400 years before the other films).
This film deals with Henry (Peter O’Toole), who is in a state of suspended adolescence, still going out and drinking and sleeping with women and having fun, despite being the king of an entire country. He hates his boring marriage and doesn’t like how little support he gets from his court. So he appoints his old drinking buddy, Thomas Becket (Richard Burton), as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He figures Becket will go in line with him and will provide him a fun companion to hang out with. Meanwhile, Becket takes his duties very seriously. He starts opposing Henry’s policies, much to Henry’s chagrin. And the film is about this point of conflict between the men. They’re good friends, but once their jobs come into it, they start disagreeing. To the point where Henry actually banishes Becket. And Becket goes to the king of France, who loves tormenting the English. Eventually he is allowed to return to England, where Henry (starting to drink more and thinking Becket to be a traitor) decides to have Becket killed. And once he has him killed (it’s kind of like Michael with Fredo), he immediately feels terrible for having done so.
It’s a great film. It really is. O’Toole and Burton are at the top of their games here. It’s absolutely wonderful. However, in this category — it’s a boring choice for a winner. It would not have held up at all. It really shouldn’t have won. But it should be here.
Dr. Strangelove — I refuse to give you a synopsis for this movie. You need to have seen it. It’s one of the best movies ever made and one of the best comedies ever made. There’s no excuse for anyone to not have seen this movie.
Of course I’m gonna vote for it, because it’s just that good. Though I’m well aware that this had absolutely no chance in hell of ever winning. Which is fine. But — I’m doing my part (and I’m okay with the actual winner, so it’s fine all around).
Mary Poppins — Again, a film you need to have seen. If you haven’t seen this, then I ask if you’ve actually had a childhood worth having.
It’s a great film, and I’m actually kind of amazed it’s here. It wasn’t going to win, but is a great entry into the field. I wouldn’t be so against someone voting for this, since it is a great film and is a personal favorite for many, it’s just — it’s kind of a weak choice against Strangelove and My Fair Lady. It wouldn’t have held up at all as a winner. I’ll just be happy it got nominated and leave it at that.
My Fair Lady — Everybody knows the “Pygmalion” story. It’s been told hundreds of times in hundreds of ways. Professor Henry Higgins finding vulgar flower girl Eliza Doolittle and betting he can make her a proper society woman. Here, look at all the iterations of this story: Pygmalion. You know it.
This film is incredible. It’s so great. Sure, it can be long and maybe too much for some people, but I think it’s wonderful. I like that it maintains the dialogue of the play and also has the benefit of classic songs, like “The Rain in Spain” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” There are a half-dozen great (and classic) songs in this film. I also like that I have this and the 1938 version of Pygmalion to watch. I have one when I just want the streamlined dialogue version and this one when I want all the bells and whistles and songs (and Audrey). So I love them both. It’s a choice that makes absolute perfect sense for the Academy. I’m really only not voting for it because I love Strangelove so much. Otherwise, this would be my vote.
Zorba the Greek — Oh, Zorba. What a fun movie. The film is so simple and joyous. Screw the wedding movie, this is the Greek movie you need to see.
An English writer (who is part Greek, played by Alan Bates) travels back to Greece, where his father owns some land. He has writer’s block and figures he could open up a mine there. Along the way, he meets Zorba (Anthony Quinn), a charismatic peasant who says he knows all about mining and convinces the man to take him along. And basically Zorba teaches him how to live. He’s fun and carefree, while the writer is stuffy and uptight. The plot of the film is irrelevant — just watch the scene of Zorba dancing on the beach to see where this film’s true joy lies. It’s just so happy to be alive. I love that this got here, because it’s a film that doesn’t seem like it normally would.
Of course, the film had no chance at winning, nor would I ever vote for it. But I’m glad it’s here. It makes me smile to know that this film is here.
My Thoughts: Strong field, actually. Very strong. My Fair Lady is your obvious winner. Dr. Strangelove is the popular consensus. I take that, but can accept My Fair Lady, knowing Strangelove was never going to win. The fact that it was even nominated (see: 1968 and 2001: A Space Odyssey) is a blessing. Take that and be happy.
My Vote: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Should Have Won: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, My Fair Lady
Is the result acceptable?: Yes, as much as we’d all like to say no.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Dr. Strangelove, My Fair Lady or Mary Poppins, you’re dead to me, what’s wrong with you, and what kind of childhood did you have?
You should see Becket. It’s amazing. Classic cinema. Alongside Anne of the Thousand Days, A Man for All Seasons, The Lion in Winter — it’s just a great, great historical drama. If you saw and hated Elizbeth with Cate Blanchett, ignore that and see these. It’s so much different and better. And if you loved that movie — this is more.
Also, Zorba the Greek is so damn good. It’s so much fun. You need to see this one. Seriously, if you don’t want to see this — it’s like people who won’t watch Disney movies — you’re no fun.
5) Zorba the Greek
3) Mary Poppins
2) My Fair Lady
1) Dr. Strangelove