The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1960
I have quite fond memories of 1960. Mostly because The Apartment is one of my five favorite movies of all time. The Best Picture nominees this year are also very strong. (Sure, we’d all love Psycho here, but even so — they’re strong.)
Outside of Best Picture, The Apartment wins Best Director for Billy Wilder (talked about here), which is nice to see, though I think we can all agree that Hitchcock gave the better effort. It also should have won Best Actress for Shirley MacLaine, but she lost to Elizabeth Taylor for BUtterfield 8 (talked about here). Most people agree that Liz only won because she was very ill at the time and they feared she was going to die. Best Actor was Burt Lancaster for Elmer Gantry (talked about here), which was a perfect decision. This was probably Lancaster’s greatest performance (this, Birdman of Alcatraz and Sweet Smell of Success are the top three. To me, anyway). He so deserved it. Shirley Jones also won Best Supporting Actress for the film (talked about here), which is fine, though I’d have voted for Janet Leigh in Psycho (because of the tricky nature of the performance). And Best Supporting Actor was Peter Ustinov for Spartacus (talked about here), which is terrific.
Overall, it’s a very strong year. Even the one questionable decision was remedied after the fact, so it’s just a simple, “Yeah, that shouldn’t have happened,” but isn’t so bad outside of the actual category. In all, this is a strong year, anchored by what I consider one of the top ten or fifteen best Best Picture decisions of all time.
BEST PICTURE – 1960
And the nominees were…
The Alamo (United Artists)
The Apartment (United Artists)
Elmer Gantry (United Artists)
Sons and Lovers (20th Century Fox)
The Sundowners (Warner Bros.)
The Alamo — This is basically a telling of the story of the Alamo. I can’t really give you a synopsis, because it’s basically just that. We meet a bunch of characters, there are a bunch of side stories, then the Battle of the Alamo takes place. That’s it.
John Wayne directed this, and most people consider this to be a bit overdone as a film. And I would agree with them somewhat. Wayne was prone to having these long, patriotic speeches that felt more like him talking to the audience than the characters talking. Most people don’t consider him that much of a director. But personally, I really liked the film. Yeah, it drags at parts and is flat at parts, but on the whole, I really enjoyed it. Should it be here? Maybe not. It’s probably here because Wayne did it and spent a lot of money and it feels like it should be. But I liked it, so I don’t mind. Whatever. Let it be here. It wasn’t going to win. I think everyone realized that it wasn’t good enough to win.
The Apartment — This film is perfect. That’s all I got.
Brief synopsis (because it’s one of the best films ever made and is one of my five favorite films of all time, so I like talking about it, so I won’t just say you need to see it and leave it at that): Jack Lemmon works at an insurance company. He lends out his apartment to executives in the company so they can bring their mistresses up there. He’s also got a thing for the elevator operator, Shirley MacLaine. Then he gets a promotion and his new boss says he wants to be the only person to have the key to the apartment. So Lemmon agrees. Meanwhile, we find out that the boss is having an affair with Shirley MacLaine, and one night, when he dumps her, she tries to kill herself in Lemmon’s apartment (not knowing it’s his apartment). So he helps save her with the help of his neighbor, a doctor (who thinks he’s a regular casanova, since he hears all this partying and sex going on and figures it’s all Lemmon). And — well, just watch the film. It’s seriously perfect.
I’m not even gonna pretend like I’m voting for anything else. It’s one of my five favorite films of all time, what did you think was gonna happen?
Elmer Gantry — This is probably Burt Lancaster’s finest screen performance. Man, is he good here.
He plays a hard drinking traveling salesman who one day stumbles across a church revival. You know, one of those things in the tents where they scream and preach and speak in tongues. And he’s like, “Shit, I can do that.” So he goes to the head of the show, Jean Simmons, and starts a partnership with her. And he becomes this fiery preacher, and develops a good cop/bad cop routine with her. And he’s amazing at it. It’s a part that Burt Lancaster was born to play. And eventually he starts sleeping with Simmons, and gets known as this great preacher and starts gaining notoriety. Meanwhile, a former girlfriend of Lancaster’s, Shirley Jones, now a prostitute (because Lancaster slept with her and left town and she was disowned by her father), shows up to blackmail him. And then word gets out and he gets disgraced, but then he saves her when her pimp comes for the blackmail money. So she says it was all a lie, and he goes back to preaching. And then, as they go to open a new church together, it burns down, and Simmons dies with it, unable to give up her religious nature. And after her death, Lancaster decides to stop preaching. And the final line of this film is one of the best I’ve ever heard. He says he’s gonna stop preaching and quotes the Bible by saying, “When I was a child, I understood as a child and spake as a child. When I became a man, I put away such childish things.” Oh man, it’s so good.
This film is incredible. It deserves to be here as much as any of these other films. Though, against The Apartment, it wasn’t winning. Them’s the breaks. (But Lancaster got his due, which is more than enough. And Jones won, and it won Best Screenplay. So it did real well, all things considered.)
Sons and Lovers — This is based on the D.H. Lawrence novel and was directed by the great Jack Cardiff.
The film is basically about a family. The early bit is the family at home, with the father being a hard working coal miner who drinks hard when he comes home. And we follow their home life, as the mother tries to make ends meet with his meager salary and him drinking most of it away. And then the mother starts to shift her affections to her son. And we see the son grow close to his mother as he grows up. And he goes out on his own, and starts seeing a woman, and — the whole thing is basically about how the mother basically smothers the son, and makes him so dependent on her that he cannot have a relationship with a woman.
It’s a good film. It’s not amazing, but it’s really good. I did like it quite a bit. It’s definitely the weakest film on this list, though. Or maybe second weakest. Either way, it shouldn’t have won. It’s definitely not the best film here.
The Sundowners — The Sundowners is one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and I knew nothing about this film before I embarked on this Quest.
It’s such a simple story and yet, so great. It’s about a family of “Sundowners,” which basically means they sleep wherever the sun goes down. It takes place in Australia. And Robert Mitchum is the father and Deborah Kerr is the mother. And he loves doing what he does (which is being a sheep and cattle drover), but she wants to settle down in a house. And she keeps trying to get him to agree to settle down, and he keeps saying yes but then taking another job anyway. And the film is pretty much episodic. We follow them on one of the drives, as they pick up Peter Ustinov to help them. And there are a bunch of little moments, like that sheep shearing contest, which is just incredible. It’s — you can’t explain this film. You just need to see it. But it’s incredible. This is one of those films that I’ll just watch all the way through. I’ll start watching this and look up and go, “Oh man, two hours just went by.” It’s that riveting.
This film, honestly, were it not for The Apartment, would the film I’d vote for. I love it that much. But, in another year…
My Thoughts: It’s The Apartment all the way for me. It’s one of my five favorite films of all time. Of course I’m gonna vote for it. (Plus it’s really the only choice in the category.)
My Vote: The Apartment
Should Have Won: The Apartment
Is the result acceptable?: One of the best decisions of all time.
Ones I suggest you watch: If you haven’t seen The Apartment, you’re dead to me, we’re not friends, and you don’t really love movies. I’m serious. Top five of all time for me. We don’t speak unless you’ve seen it.
The Sundowners is also an essential movie for me. In that, if I know you and like you, and I know you like movies, I will show you this movie. It’s one of the best movies from the Oscar Quest and quickly became one of my favorite movies of all time after I saw it. It’s just so damn good. So I say it’s essential. The fact that it’s not so well known anymore makes it even more so. It’s like a a club, this movie. Come join the club. You’ll see why it’s so great.
Elmer Gantry is a film I highly, highly recommend. It’s so good. Lancaster is amazing, and the film is great. You should seriously see it.
The Alamo is a film I liked a lot. I know it takes shit for being unwieldy or whatever, but I think it’s a good film. I think it’s definitely worth a watch. (Plus, just about every movie John Wayne is at least partially watchable. Here, you have a famous event, a large cast of characters — I don’t see why you wouldn’t see this.)
Sons and Lovers is a good film, though not for everyone. It’s a melodrama, and will definitely turn some people off with its pacing, but it’s a very strong film and definitely worth checking out. I feel as though one’s instinct would be to not see this, but I think it’s worth seeing, because more people who see this against their instinct will end up feeling good about that decision rather than bad.
5) Sons and Lovers
4) The Alamo
3) Elmer Gantry
2) The Sundowners
1) The Apartment