The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1959

1959 is one of the easiest years to recap, Oscar-wise. It’s a “checkpoint year.” The year where you look at it, go, “Oh, okay,” and can rest for a moment because you know what won was always gonna win and doesn’t require much thought.

Ben-Hur wins just about every award it’s up for including (outside of Best Picture Best Director for William Wyler (talked about here), Best Actor for Charlton Heston (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actor for Hugh Griffith (talked about here). The two awards it didn’t win (because there are barely women in the film) were Best Actress, which went to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top (talked about here), which I consider one of the worst decisions of all time in the category, but is somehow made okay (in a way) by the fact that everyone else in the category who probably should have won (mostly Audrey, but I’ll accept Liz or Kate) had Oscars already or would win two (or in Kate’s case three) after this. Still, not a particularly strong winner. And then it also didn’t win Best Supporting Actress, which Shelley Winters won for The Diary of Anne Frank (talked about here). I don’t really like the performance as a winner (particularly against Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner from Imitation of Life), but Shelley Winters is amazing, so it’s okay.

Really, when you look at 1959, you see Ben-Hur and go, “Oh, yeah.” That’s 1959.


And the nominees were…

Anatomy of a Murder (Columbia)

Ben-Hur (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

The Diary of Anne Frank (20th Century Fox)

The Nun’s Story (Warner Bros.)

Room at the Top (Continental)

Anatomy of a Murder — What a film this is. Otto Preminger sure could make ’em. When he was on, he was on.

The film is about Jimmy Stewart as a small-town lawyer who spends most of his time fishing and drinking with his buddy, Arthur O’Connell (who was also a lawyer but is now more of a drunk). One day, Stewart gets called by Lee Remick, whose husband (Ben Gazzara), an army man, is accused of murdering a civilian. The husband says he killed the guy, but he did it because the guy raped his wife. So Stewart agrees to take the case, and then there’s basically two hours of this film that’s nothing but trial. The whole film is basically this trial taking place. And it’s spellbinding. This might be the best trial movie ever made. I’m not kidding. It’s perfect.

I can’t even say anything more about this movie. Go see it right now. It’s that good.

Ben-Hur — It’s a four hour film, and it’s Ben-Hur. You’re not getting a full synopsis, and you should have seen it.

Charlton Heston is a Jewish prince. He ends up being betrayed by his best friend (who joined in with the Romans) and sold into slavery. He then ends up saving the captain of his ship, who adopts him. Heston then becomes a Roman nobleman and a famous charioteer. Then an Arab sheik shows up wanting to make a bet on the races, and he ends up in a chariot race with his former best friend (the famous chariot race). He wins and the friend dies. And then the friend tells him his mother and sister (whom he banished) are living in the land of the lepers. So Heston goes and rescues them, and then they come back to Rome, where they witness the crucifixion of Jesus.

It’s a long movie, but it’s amazing. One of the greatest achievements in the history of film. Of course it deserved to win.

The Diary of Anne Frank — This film details Anne Frank and her family’s days hiding in the attic of a friend from the Nazis. That’s the film, it’s amazing, and you need to see it. Believe me when I say this is one of the most riveting films you’ll ever see.

The Nun’s Story — Now this is an interesting film. Those who say Audrey Hepburn never played against type have obviously never seen this movie.

The film is about a girl who decides she wants to become a nun. She breaks off an engagement to join a convent. And we follow her throughout her life. We start with her in “nun school,” essentially, and then on her first assignment, going to the Congo and a mission hospital. And a lot of the film takes place there, where we find her struggling with her duties, as well as a sexual attraction to a surgeon. Then she comes back to the continent until World War II breaks out. And the whole film deals with her struggling whether or not to stay with the convent or go back into the world. This comes to a head during World War II when she is ordered not to take a side, but finds it increasingly difficult.

It’s a great film. It really is. I don’t do religious films, but I loved this one. Audrey is amazing, the film is great — it definitely should be here. Shouldn’t win at all, but it should be here.

Room at the Top — Yeesh. This one. It’s hard for me to be objective on this one. But I’ll do my best.

Laurence Harvey is an ambitious man, looking to get somewhere. He takes a job at a company, looking to get with the boss’s daughter so he can get a cushy job and be taken care of for life. And he goes about doing this, and manages to make the boss’s daughter fall in love with him, even though he doesn’t love her. But then, unexpectedly, he falls in love with another woman. An older woman, who is still married, but is essentially divorced from her husband. The two openly sleep with other people (or rather, he does, and I don’t think she does often. Or at all). So he starts an affair with that woman, and finds himself actually falling in love with her. So he has to decide between the cushy position for the rest of his life and not being in love, or being in love and being poor. And eventually the older woman dies, even though he was gonna choose her, so now he’s stuck married to a woman he doesn’t love and unhappy to boot.

It’s not a bad film at all. It’s really not. I just don’t like it because I don’t think Simone Signoret should have won for it. That’s really tainted my opinion of it. Plus I don’t think it was good enough to be nominated for Best Picture. I’m sure it’s not that bad. And I’m sure if I watched it again, I’ll like it a lot more. But either way, it wasn’t going to win, so it doesn’t matter. I just want to let you know that, at this moment, I can’t yet be objective about this movie, though I’m pretty sure it’s actually really good.

My Thoughts: Ben-Hur wins this in a landslide, and it should have won in a landslide. However, I’m voting for Anatomy of a Murder, just to show my support for that film. I do that with complete confidence that it would never have won.

My Vote: Anatomy of a Murder

Should Have Won: Ben-Hur

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It’s one of the best accomplishments of filmmaking ever achieved.

Ones I suggest you watch: You have to watch Ben-Hur at least once. End of story.

You also need to see The Diary of Anne Frank. Don’t be a schmuck.

Also, Anatomy of a Murder — it’s essential. I deem it essential. One of the best trial movies ever, and if you don’t see it, we can’t be friends.

The Nun’s Story is a strong film. Mostly an Audrey Hepburn movie, but it’s one of her best dramatic performances (if not her best). Highly recommended.

Room at the Top — meh. See it, don’t see it. It won Best Actress, so that’s something. Otherwise, I don’t really like it. It’s okay.


5) Room at the Top

4) The Nun’s Story

3) Ben-Hur

2) The Diary of Anne Frank

1) Anatomy of a Murder

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