The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1961-1962)
The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.
I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.
This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.
Federico Fellini, La Dolce Vita
Stanley Kramer, Judgment at Nuremberg
Robert Rossen, The Hustler
J. Lee Thompson, The Guns of Navarone
Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins, West Side Story
La Dolce Vita. First let me start off by saying, holy shit, this category. Three efforts for sure you could vote for any day of the week and not be questioned. And a fourth that could be a sentimental choice. Good luck.
Okay, La Dolce Vita is Fellini, and one of his two great masterpieces. It is a week in the life of a paparazzo. Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg star. It’s three hours but you are never bored. The movie is gorgeous, and of course its most famous scene is Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain.
It’s a great effort, and an all-time film. It’s definitely worth a vote. You couldn’t fault anyone for voting for this. Would I vote for it? Probably not. But I have reasons. It’s a solid choice though, of at least three this year.
Judgment at Nuremberg. Great film. Trial film. Another all-time film.
It’s about the Nuremberg trials. Spencer Tracy is an American judge brought in to help decide the fate of these war criminals. And we follow him and the trial. And it is RIVETING. I’ll get to the performances later, but they’re so fucking good. All of them. It’s a perfect movie. Any trial movie is worth watching, and this one is spellbinding. I thought Inherit the Wind was a perfect movie, but this one… and he made them back to back!
This could easily be the choice. Watching how he shoots these scenes, you could definitely make a case for him #1. But again, Kramer, Fellini and West Side Story. It’s almost an impossible choice. Sophie would have a hard time with this. Oh, and not to mention…
The Hustler. One of my favorite movies. Problem is, here, it feels almost like an afterthought. It’s a sentimental favorite for a lot of people, meaning a lot of people are gonna want to look for a way to vote for this, now giving us four choices in the category.
It’s about “Fast” Eddie Felson, a pool hustler (one of Paul Newman’s many iconic performances), who comes to take on Minnesota Fats (a great Jackie Gleason) in a winner-take-all game. Eddie loses, and quickly spirals out of control. And then we pick up with him later on, as he starts to put his life together. He’s then met by George C. Scott, a gambler, who agrees to bankroll him and get him back on his feet, leading to another eventual showdown with Fats.
It’s a perfect movie. Really is. I love it, but I also can’t see how this isn’t the fourth choice in the category. Sentimentally, I want it to be higher, but I also can’t intellectually justify voting for it. This is a rough category.
The Guns of Navarone. Love the film. Great action movie. Surprised it got nominated, but happy.
For those who only know this movie from a passing reference in Pulp Fiction (you know that’s most of you), it’s about a WII team sent to cross over into Greece to take out some massive guns that are controlled by the Germans. It’s like Ocean’s Eleven meets The Bridge on the River Kwai (but the “taking out the bridge” part). It’s great.
It’s fifth choice in the category, but that’s not the film’s fault at all. It’s incredibly well-directed and is one of the more underrated great war films, but — year’s too strong. It happens.
West Side Story. This movie is a fucking wonder. I watched it in 1080p last year… holy shit. That changed my vote forever.
We all know the story. And if you don’t, see the movie. What the hell are you doing? Sharks, Jets, Tony, Maria, “I Feel Pretty,” “America.” All-time classic that everyone is aware of.
Just seeing this movie restored in its most perfect form… I have to vote for it. It’s hard to compare the three (or four) choices, so it’s gonna come down to which film moves you the most. And for me, that’s this.
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The Reconsideration: Sorry to J. Lee Thompson, but you’re the only one no one is voting for in this category. I feel bad, but look at this category. Jesus, is it strong.
So now you have four choices.
Rossen — might be a lot of people’s favorite film on this list. I can’t argue. It’s top two for me. The effort is really strong. I think it’s probably fourth, maybe third. I feel bad that he never got to win for All the King’s Men, but I’m not going to let that affect what I do here. I guess you could make a case for him, but he feels like a #2 effort for most years that you might want to vote for. Here, with at least two #1s and one maybe-1, maybe-2, I don’t think he can get all the way there for the vote.
Kramer — I love the effort. I think it’s very underrated. Maybe some people will put Rossen above him for third, but I won’t. I appreciate how he could take three hours of people talking in courtrooms and get so much out of it. That’s truly impressive to me. So him and Rossen I think are battling for those middle spots.
Then there’s Fellini. Could be the #1 and could be the vote. I couldn’t argue with that at all. I have him second. But that’s because of how I feel about West Side Story as a film. In another year, I might just take Fellini for this film. But again… Wise + Robbins, I think this is the best directed American musical of all time. I whole-heartedly agree that it should have won and that’s gonna be my vote.
There are four viable choices here, but I need to take the one that I feel strongest about, and for me, that’s Wise and Robbins.
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- Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, West Side Story
- Federico Fellini, La Dolce Vita
- Stanley Kramer, Judgment at Nuremberg
- Robert Rossen, The Hustler
- J. Lee Thompson, The Guns of Navarone
- West Side Story
- The Hustler
- Judgment at Nuremberg
- La Dolce Vita
- The Guns of Navarone
My Vote: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins, West Side Story
West Side Story is a film you need to have seen simply by being alive. Life essential.
The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremberg and La Dolce Vita are essential movies for film buffs. You need to have seen them. Nuremberg is actually half crossing over into life essential as well, just because of what it means for history.
The Guns of Navarone is such a great and fun war movie that I highly recommend. Not essential, but awesome and should be seen. One of the great war movies, with a hell of a cast on it. You should see it. It’s a great experience.
The Last Word: Four choices. Wise/Robbbins, Fellini, Kramer, Rossen. Make a case for any of them and I could understand it. Wise + Robbins and Fellini feel like the two that rise closest to the top for me, but if you make a legitimate case for Kramer or Rossen, I could understand it. You have options here, and I say you go with the one that you feel the strongest about that really makes you go, “Oh, no, it’s that one.” For me, that’s West Side Story.
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Pietro Germi, Divorce, Italian Style
David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia
Robert Mulligan, To Kill a Mockingbird
Arthur Penn, The Miracle Worker
Frank Perry, David and Lisa
Divorce, Italian Style. Again, another foreign language film. The 60s, every year in the decade, except for 1967 (and 1964 is questionable. Zorba is in English, but is definitely not an American film) has at least one foreign language film nominated for Best Director.
And actually, looking further… 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976. 1971 has a British film, but not a foreign language film. Interesting. A solid run there. Anyway…
Marcello Mastroianni is an Italian with a title who has no money. He hates his wife and loves his cousin. Since divorce is illegal in Italy, he thinks about how he can kill his wife. He finds out that honor killing is okay, so he works to have his wife start an affair with another man so he can kill her legally. It goes comically wrong.
It’s a fun movie. He got nominated for Best Actor for it. I’m probably due to see it again. I’m not sure why this was nominated. I say that in the way I mean for all these foreign language movies. Why this? Where did they decide, “Yes, that’s the movie”? I’m so fascinated by how they thought and voted during this era.
Anyway, the film is well-directed, but at best it’s a fourth choice. I have it fifth, because the other four are so strong. But I guess you can make a case for fourth, maybe third. But I can’t see any higher than that, given the competition at the top of the category.
Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most perfect films ever made. If I had to list the greatest screen achievements of all time, this would be on that list. Every time. This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.
I’m not even gonna go over the plot. Peter O’Toole, T.E. Lawrence. This is so beyond essential that either you’ve seen or it you know you need to.
This movie wins this category every time. The end. This is one of the best directed films of all time. As much as I love the next film on the list…
To Kill a Mockingbird is another film where, if you have a pulse, you’ve heard of it and you know what it is. And if not for Lawrence of Arabia, it wins this. This film comes out one year after this, it sweeps the Oscars.
I love this movie dearly, and it’s one of my all-time favorite movies. But Lawrence of Arabia is just better. Sorry. It deserves to win this category more. Gotta be honest here. I love this movie, but I can’t vote for it here. I just can’t.
The Miracle Worker is another classic. People know about this story and most people should recognize the title. It’s about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. That’s the movie. She helps get Helen to communicate. It’s great.
The film is really good, and I like that they recognized Penn, but – third choice. Maybe fourth. No one beats Lean here. Foregone conclusion. Penn does a great job with the film, but he’s not beating those previous two. They’re too strong.
David and Lisa is one of my favorite films that I discovered during my watching of all these movies. It’s beautiful.
The film is a romance between two mental patients. That’s it. The guy is very distant, probably has some form os Asperger’s, and the girl has two personalities: one who doesn’t speak and one who only speaks in rhymes. It’s beautiful.
I love that Perry got nominated here, but the nomination is the reward. It’s Lean. It’s always Lean. I could maybe make a case for Perry third, but he’s probably fourth. I could study this vs. Arthur Penn and decide who goes higher, but in a category like this, no one is beating David Lean, so it’s a moot point.
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The Reconsideration: Nothing changes. Lean wins in a landslide, Mulligan goes 2, and Penn and Perry are there are 3 and 4. No change, it’s always Lean. One of the five easiest Best Director categories ever. There’s barely anything to consider, let alone reconsider.
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Rankings (category and films):
- David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia
- Robert Mulligan, To Kill a Mockingbird
- Arthur Penn, The Miracle Worker
- Frank Perry, David and Lisa
- Pietro Germi, Divorce, Italian Style
My Vote: David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia is an essential movie for any film person. If you ever have the chance to see it in 70mm, do not hesitate. Trust me.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a life essential. If you’re alive, you see it.
The Miracle Worker is a cross between film person essential and life essential. You probably should see it as a human.
David and Lisa is a great film that I love. One of the best hidden gems of all the Oscars. Highly, highly recommended.
Divorce, Italian Style is a very entertaining movie. Can’t call it essential, but I do recommend it. If you can handle foreign films and like comedies, this is worthwhile.
The Last Word: It’s always gonna be Lean. You can’t argue against that movie.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)