The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1967-1968)

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.

1967

Richard Brooks, In Cold Blood

Norman Jewison, In the Heat of the Night

Stanley Kramer, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Mike Nichols, The Graduate

Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde

Analysis:

In Cold Blood. Based on the Truman Capote novel. If you saw the movie Capote, then you generally know the story of this film.

Two men go to rob a house, and a robbery turns into a multiple homicide. The police then investigate, track the two men, and pick them up. They are interrogated and arrested and put on trial. And it’s all based on a real situation.

This is a movie you should watch alongside Capote. It is fascinating. It’s shot in black and white and is really well done. Robert Blake also stars as Perry Smith, which is fascinating to me, since, you know…

Baretta Did That Shit

The direction here is really strong, and probably good enough for third in the category. Maybe some have it fourth, I can understand that too. It’s a strong year. But this absolutely deserved a spot on this list, and the only thing I can say against this movie is that it’s not as iconic as any of the other nominees, which is what hurts it in the end in terms of actually getting the vote.

In the Heat of the Night. If you know the line, “They call me MISTER Tibbs!” then you’re at least generally aware of this movie’s existence.

A murder happens in a small southern town. Just afterwards, the chief of police (Rod Steiger) finds Sidney Poitier sitting at a train station. Because he’s black, he’s automatically a suspect. Very quickly at the station, the chief finds out that Poitier is actually someone — a very respected Philadelphia detective. And not only that, Poitier’s chief has told him to stay and help Steiger solve the murder. Neither man is particularly interested in that. So now the black cop and the white cop have to work together. It’s a very progressive film, filled with great moments, including one where Poitier slaps a white man.

The film is terrific. The direction — don’t see it. It’s solid, but I think it’s fourth at best. Maybe third. It’s well directed, but I don’t feel strongly enough about it to want to vote for it. You could make a case for it, though, should you so please.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Sidney Poitier is coming to dinner. Sorry to spoil it for you.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (America’s parents) find out their daughter is coming home to see them. And she’s bringing her fiancé. And he’s black. So pretty quickly, their liberal values are tested. Oh, and Poitier’s parents are coming for dinner too. So very quickly, we have the liberal parents dealing with their daughter having a black fiancé, and trying, not necessarily to prevent her from going through with it, but to warn her how much more difficult life will be for them going forward. It’s a really great film. It might be my favorite film on this list. The way this movie tackles racism and simple human truths is incredibly astounding. And Spencer Tracy in this movie, my god. He died like a week after filming wrapped, and it’s hard not to shed a tear during his monologue at the end.

Despite it being my favorite film in the category (though… between this and The Graduate, it’s close), the direction is clearly fifth. It’s just not a film you vote for in this category. I don’t think anyone votes for this except if they really love the film. And even then. It’s basically a play. I love this and even I have it fifth.

The Graduate.

That says it all. Everyone knows this movie. It’s absolutely hysterical and perfect and really captures the culture of 1967. Recent graduate is home after college, has no idea what he wants to do with his life, and ends up in an affair with an older woman. Oh, and then he also ends up dating her daughter, too. It’s wonderful.

Nichols really directs the shit out of it, too. I voted for him last year, and I’m perfectly willing to vote for him again this year, too, because this movie is great.

This category clearly boils down to this and Bonnie and Clyde. So I’ll save the analysis for the end. Or should I say reanalysis. But either way, I think people who’ve seen all five would say that it’s one or the other for the vote. I think this is objectively the deal with this category.

Bonnie and Clyde. Also really iconic. Clyde Barrow. Bonnie Parker. They rob banks. Simple premise, wonderfully shot by Arthur Penn. The violence is what people remember here. And that’s why it probably didn’t win. That’s the thing that makes this such a marked transition from old Hollywood. It shows graphic violence on screen the way no film ever had. And it pushes the boundaries with sex.

The movie is fantastic, and it’s clearly either this or The Graduate. As iconic as most of the films in this category are, it’s between only two of them for a vote.

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The Reconsideration: Sorry, Stanley Kramer, but your movie is basically a play. Sorry Richard Brooks, but your movie isn’t as iconic as the others. Norman Jewison could be argued for, and I would be fine with that if you could intellectually convince me why you did it. To me, it’s clearly Nichols or Penn. I don’t see how one doesn’t choose either of those two.

To me, I find myself going back to The Graduate a lot more, seeing all these little nuances in the direction. Bonnie and Clyde hits you over the head, but The Graduate stays with you. The way it frames its characters and uses the direction to tell the story — that’s more impressive to me than the in-your-face nature of Penn’s work. Penn admittedly would win this category most years, but I just prefer the richness of Nichols’ work instead. And that’s before I even consider that I thought he should have won the year prior to this and didn’t. So I’m taking Nichols.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Mike Nichols, The Graduate
  2. Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde
  3. Richard Brooks, In Cold Blood
  4. Norman Jewison, In the Heat of the Night
  5. Stanley Kramer, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Rankings (films):

  1. The Graduate
  2. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  3. Bonnie and Clyde
  4. In the Heat of the Night
  5. In Cold Blood

My Vote: Mike Nichols, The Graduate

Recommendations:

Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are ESSENTIAL movies. 100% you must see them if you even care about movies. And if you’re a normal human person, you should probably see most of them. But if you are a movie person, you need to check these off REAL FAST.

And In Cold Blood is also pretty terrific. Worthwhile in conjunction with Capote, because it’s the story of the novel, which works well alongside Capote’s story of him writing the novel and getting close to the killers.

The Last Word: Seems like a category between Arthur Penn and Mike Nichols. Maybe you make a case for Norman Jewison. Kramer’s film is basically a play and Brooks’s film isn’t as iconic as the others. So really, it’s two choices. You could go with either. One is more of an explosive choice, and the other is subtler. I’m taking the subtler, but either is a good decision.

– – – – – – – – – – –

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1968

Anthony Harvey, The Lion in Winter

Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers

Carol Reed, Oliver!

Franco Zeffirelli, Romeo and Juliet

Analysis:

The Lion in WinterGreat film. An indirect sequel to Becket. The same character years later.

King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is deciding which of his three sons to crown king. They all want it, and he’s got them all home for the Christmas holiday, along with his wife, Eleanor of Antiquaine (Katharine Hepburn), whom he is letting out of the tower he keeps her locked in so she could spend the holidays with him. And the rest of the film is Henry’s wife and children conspiring for the throne. She has her favorite (Richard the Lionheart, played by Anthony Hopkins), and she works to convince Henry to go with him, without making it seem like she’s conspiring. And the other sons are conspiring to make war against their father.

It’s a terrific movie. One of the best written movies I’ve ever seen. But, this is Best Director, not Best Screenplay. And all of these movies are basically plays on film. They’re well-made, but I can’t vote for them here, I just can’t. At best, this is fourth in the category. Maybe third in a toss-up. But probably fourth.

2001: A Space Odyssey. There is no way I can describe what the plot of this movie is. You just have to experience it. And if you like movies, you will experience it.

I will also say — it’s 2001. Of course this is far and away the winner in the category, and after seeing all five of the nominees, I don’t see how anyone would argue that. It’s not even close.

The Battle of Algiers. Your token foreign nominee for this year.

This movie has the distinction of being the only film to be nominated in two non-consecutive years by the Academy. How did it manage that, you ask? It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 1966, and then when it was released stateside two years later, they nominated it here, and also for Screenplay. Fun piece of trivia for you.

The movie reconstructs the events of the Algerian War of Independence. The plot doesn’t matter, just watch it. It’s an experience. Pontecorvo directs the shit out of this movie, and in another year, he would be someone to vote for. But not here. I know it feels like I’m not giving the people of this category their due, but no one comes close to beating the cinematic experience of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Oliver!. Most people know this story. “Please sir, I want some more.” This is the My Fair Lady version of Oliver Twist. You don’t need songs, but they gave them to us.

It’s a good movie. Good performances. I have no idea how or why this won Best Picture, but okay. It’s entertaining. I like the film, and I like that Carol Reed has an Oscar. But I don’t see much of anything here that makes me want to vote for him. It’s like My Fair Lady without the quality of the songs. It’s big, kind of lumbering, and the direction is fine but not spectacular. The music takes care of itself, and no one really remembers any images from this movie. It’s definitely no Sound of Music. At best, Reed is a third choice here. You might even make the case for fifth. I think third or fourth makes the most sense.

Romeo and Juliet. You may have heard of it.

This is the most famous classical telling of this story. Of course everyone knows the Baz Luhrmann version. Any decent English teacher will show you both versions. This one is the classical one, the way Olivier’s Hamlet is the classical one. That’s the one you see to get the most sense of the text. And the Luhrmann version is the one you see to have fun with it.

This movie is great. It’s the best version of this play. And I’m including Luhrmann’s version. The direction is really solid, but it’s really just battling The Lion in Winter for fourth. One is fourth, one is fifth. They’re both at the bottom of this list. They’re plays. That’s all they are. And this is Best Director. I can’t do it. Especially with 2001 on this list.

– – – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: In most years, Gillo Pontecorvo is the vote. He does an incredible job putting you in the events. It’s a docudrama. It’s really great. But it’s not 2001. Kubrick honestly wins this by a landslide. Iconic imagery, pure cinematic experience — it’s not even a question. You give this category to 1000 people, at least 90% of them are taking Kubrick. The effort speaks for itself.

Zeffirelli, Reed and Harvey are all solid contenders, but no one’s coming even close to taking down Kubrick. I’m stunned he didn’t win. (Though, really, no I’m not.)

– – – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey
  2. Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers
  3. Carol Reed, Oliver!
  4. Anthony Harvey, The Lion in Winter
  5. Franco Zeffirrelli, Romeo and Juliet

Rankings (films):

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  2. Oliver!
  3. Romeo and Juliet
  4. The Lion in Winter
  5. The Battle of Algiers

My Vote: Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Recommendations:

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most essential films you will ever see.

Romeo and Juliet is life essential if you have any sort of an education. How do you get through high school without having seen this?

Oliver! is almost essential. I mean, most of us read Oliver Twist in high school — why not just watch this too? It’s an easy watch for a story you know. And it won Best Picture. There’s really no reason not to see it.

The Lion in Winter is absolutely astounding, and is near essential. Possibly the best of these costume dramas of the 60s. It’s not in the essentials list off the top, but once those are done, this is right there as something you need to see.

The Battle of Algiers is one of the best directorial efforts nominated in the 60s. It’s incredible. Highly recommended, and while it’s not essential, you should see it because it’s such a departure from how Hollywood made films in this era.

The Last Word: It’s Kubrick. I don’t need to get any more complicated than that. And Pontecorvo is a regretful second, but that happens. It doesn’t get much better than 2001.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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