The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1956
A lot of people have strong opinions about this year. I don’t know why. It’s not that surprising a decision at all. Especially compared to 1952. I remember hearing Robert Osborne (of TCM) talk about this, and he mentioned that some famous critic called this the worst Best Picture winner of all time, and he (normally a respectful dude) was just like, “That’s stupid.” Because it is. Sure, it’s not a really strong film, but you can’t be surprised that it won.
The only surprise here was that Around the World in 80 Days only won Best Picture. Which is telling, I feel. Best Director went, instead, to George Stevens for Giant (talked about here). Which is a well-deserved Oscar, for one of the greatest directorial efforts of all time, I feel. It’s also a decision that lessens the impact of the Best Picture win. Then Best Actor was Yul Brynner for The King and I (talked about here), which I like because I like Yul Brynner, but I think it was a weak decision, because Rock Hudson and James Dean (mostly Hudson) gave better performances. Still, it’s okay. Then Best Actress was Ingrid Bergman for Anastasia (talked about here), which I think was a terrible decision. It’s mostly a fairy tale of a film, and there were such better choices in the category, specifically Carroll Baker for Baby Doll (holy shit, was she so much better). Then Best Supporting Actor was Anthony Quinn for Lust for Life (talked about here). The performance isn’t worth it (he’s only on screen for like, eight minutes), but the actor is. Plus the category was pretty weak, so it’s fine. And Best Supporting Actress was Dorothy Malone for Written on the Wind (talked about here). I love that decision. She’s so gloriously over the top. It’s a fun choice (even though Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed was fucking incredible).
So, overall, 1956 is a decent year. Strong categories. And yeah, Around the World in 80 Days is not really a good film. But it’s spectacle. It’s big and it’s spectacle. I understand why it won. Sure, it probably shouldn’t have won, but it’s not that bad. I don’t know. It’s weak, but I can understand it.
BEST PICTURE – 1956
And the nominees were…
Around the World in 80 Days (United Artists)
Friendly Persuasion (Allied Artists)
Giant (Warner Bros.)
The King and I (20th Century Fox)
The Ten Commandments (Paramount)
Around the World in 80 Days — The title is pretty self-explanatory, if you don’t know what the book is about. A nobleman makes a bet that he can travel around the world in 80 days. And he does so. And the film is him on his travels. And he goes to all these exotic locations, and there are all these fun adventures along the way. It’s a great film.
Here’s a list of all the famous people with either roles or cameos in it:
First, David Niven is Phileas Fogg and Cantinflas is Passepartout. And Shirley MacLaine is the female lead. Then, the cameos include: Charles Boyer, Joe E. Brown, John Carradine, Charles Coburn, Ronald Colman, Noël Coward, Andy Devine, Marlene Dietrich, John Gielgud, Hermione Gringold, Cedric Hardwicke, Trevor Howard, Glynis Johns, Buster Keaton, Evelyn Keyes, Beatrice Lillie, Peter Lorre, Victor McLaglen, John Mills, Robert Morley, Alan Mowbray, Edward R. Murrow, Jack Oakie, Gilbert Roland, Cesar Romero, Frank Sinatra, and Red Skelton.
It’s a grand adventure, and despite being of absolutely no substance past entertainment, is a really good film. A weak choice in terms of substance, but hardly one of the worst decisions of all time. The people who put this in the worst ten decisions of all time are terribly misguided. It’s not at all. Sure, it’s not an amazing film, but it’s not one of the worst decision of all time at all.
Friendly Persuasion — This is a film about Quakers. And I was surprised as you probably will be when you see it and enjoy it. It’s a really good film.
Gary Cooper is the head of a family of Quakers, and we follow them on their lives. They work farms and refuse to practice violence. And then this is put to the test when the Civil War breaks out. It’s mostly episodic, but manages to build a strong narrative out of those episodes. I like when films do that.
It’s a really strong film, and should be on this list, though it should never have won. It’s probably the weakest film on this list, in terms of what I’d vote for.
Giant — This is one of the greatest films ever made. It’s an epic to rival the greatest of epics. It’s so good.
The film begins with Rock Hudson, the heir to a big cattle empire, coming to buy a prize racehorse from a family. And while there, he falls in love with the family’s daughter (Elizabeth Taylor), and marries her and takes her back to Texas with him. And the early part of the film is about her learning to live that ranch lifestyle. At first she’s this dainty society woman and she learns how to ride horses and work outside. There’s also this amazing scene where she tries to sit in while Hudson and all the other ranchers are talking, and they don’t want here there, because it’s not proper. And she can’t understand why she can’t be a part of it. Then she and Hudson have this huge fight, which then culminates (though not explicitly) in earth-shattering makeup sex. And there’s this wonderful transition where, they’re fighting, she gets all seductive like, “Hey partner, why don’t you kick off your spurs?” and then they cut to the next morning and she gets up and opens the blinds like, “Oh — what a glorious morning!” And you can tell she got good and fucked the night before. And Hudson is on the bed, like, “Oh, honey, I’m beat.” It’s amazing.
But — on the ranch, James Dean plays a ranch hand who is disgruntled. He doesn’t like Rock Hudson and has a thing for Elizabeth Taylor. And the reason he’s still there is because Hudson’s sister, Mercedes McCambridge, liked him. And when she dies, she gives him some land on the ranch. And on that part of the land, he strikes oil. So the rest of the film becomes about Hudson having cattle money and Dean having oil money. Hudson refuses to drill for oil since his family has always been involved in cattle.
The film is mostly, though, about this family. There’s a lot of marital trouble with Hudson and Taylor throughout the middle of the film, specifically about how they’re going to raise their children. Hudson’s son (played by Dennis Hopper) wants to be a doctor, but Hudson is adamant that he run the ranch when he retires. And all along, Hudson is feuding with Dean, and they both still hate one another. Which causes some issues when Dean starts dating Hudson’s daughter. And then there’s this climactic dinner gala that happens, where Dean gives this amazing drunken speech. It’s — something. The way it’s shot, acted. That’s cinema.
And the other thing this film is about, especially the latter half, is race. Hudson’s son marries a half-Spanish girl, and everyone looks down on her because of her race. And it culminates at the very end of the film when the family (except Hopper) goes to a diner. And at the diner, the owner makes racist remarks toward her and her son and then tries to throw out another Mexican man. And Hudson tries to stop him, and you think it’s going to be this big moment where he beats the guy in a fight, but, he loses. It’s such a powerful moment, him losing that fight.
But, that’s the film. It’s about this family. And oil. And cattle. And money. It’s about everything. It’s a really spellbinding film. I can put this up against anything. This and Gone With the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia are, to me, the three great American epics. Which is interesting, since they’re all sequential in a way. Gone With the Wind is the Civil War, and Lawrence of Arabia is turn of the century, and Giant is right after that, up to the 50s. So I guess the next big epic is gonna be 1960s on. But anyway, this film is perfect, and is the film that I feel, should have won. I almost can’t believe it didn’t. (But, I guess… that’s the Academy.)
The King and I — You should probably know what this is about. Anna and the King of Siam, essentially. She shows up to be a tutor to his children. And she and him disagree at first. They have differing viewpoints. But they find respect and grow to like one another. Honestly, just see the film. It’s a classic. You really should know about it.
The film is great, and it’s colorful and musical and all that. But it shouldn’t have won. It’s been made too many times, and the film isn’t good enough to have won Best Picture.
The Ten Commandments — You need to know what this movie is about. You don’t get a synopsis here.
The film is great and it’s a classic, and while you could think about voting for it, I think it would have been a bad choice. It would have been way too on-the-nose, and sitting firmly between DeMille’s previous film, The Greatest Show on Earth, which shouldn’t have won, and Ben-Hur, which won and deserved to — this would have felt like overkill. I’m glad it didn’t win. It didn’t need to at all.
My Thoughts: Around the World in 80 Days is all spectacle and no substance. I can’t vote for it. And The Ten Commandments — amazing film, but I can’t vote for this so close to Ben-Hur. For me, it’s Giant all the way. That’s a perfect film, and while it’s not glorious entertainment, and not all people would stand behind that as a winner, I think it’s the film that’s held up the best from this list as a classic, great film. So that’s my vote. It just seems like the obvious choice.
My Vote: Giant
Should Have Won: Giant
Is the result acceptable?: No, but also yes. Bad choice, but not as bad as people make it out to be. It’s a big, epic, fun film. Giant, however, is the much better film, and therefore really should have won. But it is understandable, if not acceptable.
Ones I suggest you see: First, who hasn’t seen The Ten Commandments? Don’t let it be you. I feel like everyone’s seen this from their childhood. So see it. Join the club. It’s amazing.
Giant is an essential film. If you love movies, you need to see this. It’s one of the best directed films ever, and is an American classic.
Around the World in 80 Days is close to an essential film. I mean, it won, it’s big, and it’s epic — you should see it. If only so you can fairly weigh in on whether or not it should have won.
The King and I is a great film. It’s fun, it’s musical — pretty much essential, but not totally. You should see it. Its culturally a classic film. Everybody knows this story. I also love that, like many great musicals (My Fair Lady, A Star is Born), it has both the bells and whistles musical version and then the straight story version (Anna and the King of Siam). So yeah, pretty much essential.
Friendly Persuasion is also a really great film. It being about Quakers might immediately turn you off — don’t worry, it did that to me, too. It’s a great film. I’m serious. It’s very watchable. Highly recommended. Definitely a bit of a gem that not a lot of people know about.
5) Friendly Persuasion
4) Around the World in 80 Days
3) The King and I
2) The Ten Commandments