The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1961
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)
Fanny — This is a film that I’m surprised was nominated here. Especially in 1962. It feels like a film from the 50s. Starring the same people.
Charles Boyer runs a restaurant in small fishing town. He lives with his son, Marius (played by Horst Buchholz, that guy they tried so badly to make a star of who just didn’t take). And it’s a lazy kind of town. They sit around all day and drink and shoot the shit. And Boyer thinks that his son is gonna take over the restaurant for him, but the kid would rather go join the navy and sail around the world. Meanwhile, Fanny (played by Leslie Caron), is in love with the son, and expects to marry him. But the son, despite wanting to marry her, really wants to go away on a ship, so he signs up to go on a ship for a year and goes away. She, upset (because they slept together the night before he left), goes and marries an old merchant in the town (Maurice Chevalier), who wants to marry her because he wants an heir. He knows she loves Marius, but marries her anyway. And they raise the child together. And then Marius comes back and he has to win Fanny back all over again. And then Chevalier dies and leaves all his money to the two on the condition that the kid keep his name.
It’s actually a really great film. I really enjoyed this one quite a bit. I was just surprised it got nominated because it’s really not something that you’d think would be nominated in the 60s. But still, it’s good. Shouldn’t have won at all, but it’s definitely a good film.
Though one thing I’d like to point out — this was originally a musical, and then was turned into a non-musical film. How often does that happen in Hollywood?
The Guns of the Navarone — What a badass movie this is. One of those classic adventure films, of men going on a mission to fuck some shit up.
Basically, the film is about these two guns stationed on a hillside. And they destroy any ship that comes near them. So the army sends a group of guys behind enemy lines to destroy them. The team includes Anthony Quayle, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven. And two other guys. And each has a talent. Niven’s the explosives expert, one’s a knife fighter — it’s kind of like the Magnificent Seven. So they go out and we follow them as they go behind enemy lines to destroy the guns. You really don’t need anything more than this, because it’s a fun adventure film and you should just watch it.
Just know that it’s a great film, a great piece of cinema, and shouldn’t come anywhere near winning this category. It’s awesome that it was nominated and totally deserves the nomination. But it shouldn’t win at all. Still, it’s awesome and you should see it.
The Hustler — You should have seen this, but I’ll give you a quick rundown anyway. Real quick.
“Fast” Eddie Felson shows up at a pool hall to take on Minnesota Fats, the biggest fish in the pond. He puts up all his savings on the game. He does well at first, but his inexperience and cockiness gets the better of him and he loses. Then he ends up going back to hustling local pool halls, and ends up getting his thumbs broken. While healing, he meets a girl, a recovering alcoholic, and they form a special relationship. Then he gets staked by George C. Scott, a gambler who saw him play Fats the first time, and Eddie works his way back up. There’s much more to it than that, and honestly, you should have seen the film.
This film is perfect. It’s one of three perfect films on this list.
Judgment at Nuremberg — This is a film about the Nuremberg trials. I should tell you more, but I won’t. Because you need to see this movie and how great it is. But basically it’s a film about the trials. And it’s spellbinding. Go out and see this movie right now if you haven’t already.
West Side Story — It’s West Side Story. Come on, now. You should know what this is about.
My Thoughts: West Side Story is probably the vote. Judgment at Nuremberg is the topical choice. I love The Hustler most. What do you do? I lean toward either West Side Story or The Hustler. And, to be honest, since I’m aware that West Side Story is the better choice, I’m gonna take that. Since The Hustler didn’t need to win here. It holds up on its own. The Newman win would have been optimal. But — yeah, West Side Story feels like the better choice.
My Vote: West Side Story
Should Have Won: West Side Story, The Hustler
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It’s a great film. Of course it’s acceptable.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen West Side Story or The Hustler, you’re dead to me and you don’t really love movies.
You also need to see Judgment at Nuremberg. I don’t say you need to have already seen it, but you need to see it now. It’s a classic, and it’ll make you a better person. It’s essential.
The Guns of Navarone is an awesome movie, and I say you should see it. Not essential, but awesome. Highly recommended.
Fanny is a film I love very much. It’s Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier — it has that Gigi feel but without the music. It’s just a nice little French seaside romance. I like it a lot. It’s not for everyone, but it comes highly recommended from me.
5) The Guns of Navarone
3) Judgment at Nuremberg
2) West Side Story
1) The Hustler