The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1959-1960)

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.


Anatomy of a Murder


The Diary of Anne Frank

The Nun’s Story

Room at the Top


Anatomy of a Murder is one of the best trial films of all time.

Jimmy Stewart is a former D.A., now small-town lawyer, who takes the case of a young Army officer who murdered a guy. He claims the guy raped his wife. We watch as Stewart researches and tries the case. At least half of this movie is trial, and it’s great. Actually great great.

This is my favorite movie in the category. I get why it didn’t win. The subject matter is difficult for 1959. They wouldn’t have voted for it, especially up against a surefire winner like Ben-Hur. That might not prevent me from taking it, though. Sometimes an easy winner allows you to be completely free in your voting.

Ben-Hur is an all-time classic. They made it three times, and this one is the benchmark.

It’s about a Jewish prince and his relationship with an adopted brother of his. He gets sold into slavery, becomes a charioteer, and is there when Jesus is crucified. It’s four hours long and it’s as epic as epic gets. A literal cast of thousands.

There was no way this wasn’t winning this year, and it’s so big that it almost has to be the choice. It’s a fantastic film, but I like at least one other movie over it, so I doubt I’m gonna take it. Especially since — you know it’s gonna win. So why add to it if you prefer another film over it?

The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most famous pieces of literature ever, and they turned it into a really great film. This would have swept the Oscars if not for Ben-Hur.

It’s self-explanatory what this is. And the film is near-perfect. It’s really good. A bit sentimental, but still it’s very good and would have made a good winner had Ben-Hur not been here. But since Ben-Hur is here, it’s a second choice at best. And even personally, it’s a second choice for me. A very good second choice, but a second choice nonetheless.

The Nun’s Story is a story about Audrey Hepburn being a nun.

That’s pretty much the movie. We watch her from a young age, taking her vows, through her training and all that and going off to cure diseases in the jungle through World War II.

You guys know my opinions about religious films — this isn’t one of those. I really like this movie a lot. It’s a very worthy Best Picture nominee. Fifth choice by far, but I still like it a lot. It’s great. This was a really strong year for movies.

Room at the Top is a great romantic drama that I never fully appreciated the first time around on this Quest.

Laurence Harvey is an ambitious man who sets his sights on a wealthy industrialist’s daughter. The idea being that if he marries her, he’ll be taken care of with a job and a future and the social status he so desperately desires. A problem arises when he meets and falls in love with a middle-aged divorcee, which wasn’t part of the plan.

It’s such a fantastic movie. It’s so good. This was one of the movies I was most wrong about the first time I did this Quest. That said, it’s no better than a fourth choice here. The category is too strong. It’s a stronger #4, but it wouldn’t have held up as a winner.

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The Reconsideration: Ben-Hur is the winner here. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s not my favorite movie so I feel no need to actually take it. Anatomy of a Murder is my favorite film, so I’ll throw a vote to that. There’s really no way I can lose here, with the top three films all being worthy winners and films I’d feel very confident voting for most years. So I’ll take Anatomy of a Murder and feel good about whatever happens.

Also, damn shame about The Diary of Anne Frank. That would have been such a great winner too. But it had no shot here. Oh well.

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Rankings (films):

  1. Ben-Hur
  2. The Diary of Anne Frank
  3. Anatomy of a Murder
  4. Room at the Top
  5. The Nun’s Story

Rankings (films):

  1. Anatomy of a Murder
  2. Ben-Hur
  3. The Diary of Anne Frank
  4. Room at the Top
  5. The Nun’s Story

My Vote: Anatomy of a Murder


Ben-Hur is more than 100% essential, if that even makes sense. One of the 100 most essential American films ever made. This one of those where, a lot of people haven’t seen it, but they know they haven’t seen it and know they need to. That’s where this is at. Still essential for all.

The Diary of Anne Frank is completely essential. Not even just for film buffs. For life. This movie is so exquisite. You’re doing a disservice to yourself by not seeing this movie.

Anatomy of a Murder is an essential film. Just watch it, you’ll see what I mean. It’s perfect.

Room at the Top is an all-time romance. Essential for Oscar buffs, and just a great film all around. High recommend, and it’s really effective as far as romantic dramas go. They certainly don’t make them like this anymore.

The Nun’s Story is an awesome film. Most people who love film love Audrey Hepburn, and she’s terrific here. It’s one of the few religious films I wholeheartedly recommend. High recommend, though not essential. If you’re a Hepburn fan, this is essential.

The Last Word: Ben-Hur is one of the best winners of all time. It’s just one of those epics that fits and makes sense. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily hold up the way another epic coming up does, but that doesn’t make it any worse a winner. This is a top twenty choice all-time. It just is.

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The Alamo

The Apartment

Elmer Gantry

Sons and Lovers

The Sundowners


The Alamo is John Wayne’s epic about the place with no basement.

There’s really not much to say in the way of a plot. It’s about the battle of the Alamo and all the people involved. This was a huge movie at the time and Wayne put a lot of effort into it. It was a big disaster upon release but it still managed to get the big Oscar nominations. It was never going to win, and isn’t really that great a movie. It’s fine. It’s entertaining, but it’s not one of those movies that people go back to and really respond to. It’s just decent. It would have been a bad winner, even though it would have made sense on paper. But people would have hated it winning because it’s not a good enough film to have held up after a win. Fourth choice for me, even though it’s the fifth best film in the category.

The Apartment is a perfect film. There’s not a wrong note in it. It’s also one of my five favorite films of all time, so I’m not gonna pretend like this isn’t where the vote is going.

Jack Lemmon is an employee at an insurance company. He’s just another nameless guy at a desk. The only reason the higher-ups know who he is — he allows his bosses to use his apartment for their dalliances with their mistresses. He lives a simple, lonely existence. The high point in his day is when he gets to talk to Shirley MacLaine, the elevator operator (who everyone in the building has a thing for). Everything changes for him when the big boss at the company notices him… until he tells him he’ll only give him the promotion if only he can use Lemmon’s apartment to see his mistress. Things get complicated when he actually starts to get somewhere with MacLaine.

It’s — if you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s one of the greatest films ever made. This is my choice 101 times out of 100. It’s too good to pass up, and I’m glad there’s no real competition for it here, because now everyone can (and probably will) take it too.

Elmer Gantry is such a great film. If you love Burt Lancaster (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love this movie.

Lancaster plays a hard-drinking, womanizing con man who goes around selling various wares. One day he stumbles upon a religious revival tent and sees the ultimate scam. He works his way in there and becomes a fire and brimstone preacher, using his great public speaking skills to drive up membership to the church and make a lot of money. He also starts weaseling his way to the woman who runs the church as well. Things start to get out of hand when it seems like he starts to believe his crusading persona, which causes his past to come bubbling up again.

It’s really fantastic. Lancaster takes what could have been a decent film and makes it great. It’s a solid nominee. It would normally be a fourth choice at best most years. Here it’s third for me, but it’s not something that should have won. Especially not over The Apartment.

Sons and Lovers is based on D.H. Lawrence and directed by the master cinematographer Jack Cardiff.

It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy who wants to be an artist whose father is a coal miner and whose mother is domineering. And we watch him grow up and get out from under the thumb of his mother.

It’s a very good film. Great drama with good performances. Very London, too. If that makes sense. London in the 60s — those films just look and feel differently from American films.

I like the Best Picture nomination but it shouldn’t have won. It’s a fifth choice here for me. I’d probably prefer it winning over The Alamo, but it would have held up worse than that would have, if that’s even possible. Not something I’d take.

The Sundowners is one of the best films most people have never heard of.

Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr are husband and wife. He’s a sheep drover who is constantly moving. The family never stays in one place. He keeps bringing them with him as he goes from job to job. Kerr wants nothing more than to settle down and for the kids to have a stable existence. But Mitchum is not that type. So we watch them as they go from job to job, adventure to adventure. And it’s GREAT. I’m serious. Anyone I meet who generally likes older movies and wants to see more, I’ll put this on and guarantee they’ll enjoy the shit out of it. Because everyone does. There’s a sheep-shearing contest in the middle of the film and it’s better than most sports scenes in movies. It’s so great.

I love this movie so much and if not for The Apartment, I’d want to take it. I don’t care that it wouldn’t have held up overly well as a winner, it’s just so good that I’d want to take it regardless. It’s a second choice for me and the only thing keeping me from looking to take it is the fact that The Apartment is a top fiver for me.

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The Reconsideration: It’s The Apartment and everything else is an also-ran. What else do you take here? Is there any other choice in this one? The Apartment is a perfect film and one of the greatest American films ever made. Everything else is just solid. It’s no contest. That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

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Rankings (category and films):

  1. The Apartment
  2. The Sundowners
  3. Elmer Gantry
  4. The Alamo
  5. Sons and Lovers

My Vote: The Apartment


The Apartment is one of the 100 most essential American films ever made. It’s note perfect, and it’s one of my five favorite films of all time. So if my opinion means anything to you, this should be a film you see almost immediately if you haven’t.

The Sundowners is a perfect film. I love this movie so much. I call it essential, even though all-time it’s probably like, second tier, colloquially essential. People who’ve seen this movie will say it’s essential, and it’ll appear on enough lists that will make it worthy of being called such. I’m saying you must see this movie because it’s absolutely incredible.

Elmer Gantry is so great. Burt Lancaster is incredible here, and the film is just so, so good. I say it’s essential but objectively it’s probably just a very high recommend.

The Alamo is a big epic movie about a subject most people know. John Wayne directs and there are a lot of stars. The movie’s just solid and not overly great. I’d give it a solid recommend and not much more. You don’t need to see it, but there are enough good things in it to make it worth having seen it.

Sons and Lovers is a very solid drama. Well made, worth seeing. Catch it when it’s on TCM. You’ll probably like it.

The Last Word: This is one of the top twenty best decisions ever made. The film is perfect and it was the only choice. Nothing else would have been in the top half of good winners. They made the best (and only) decision they could have made.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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