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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 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.

1961

Fanny

The Guns of Navarone

The Hustler

Judgment at Nuremberg

West Side Story

Analysis:

Fanny is an interesting footnote of a film, historically.

It’s part of a French trilogy of plays, which were turned into films in the 30s. They then turned it into a musical in the 50s, but the film has none of the songs. It uses the score of the musical, but not the songs. So it’s weirdly based on the play and the musical but has none of the songs.

Charles Boyer runs a bar in a French seaside town. His son, Horst Buchholz, longs to become a sailor. Boyer wants his son to take over the bar when he dies. Leslie Caron, a local girl, has been in love with Buchholz since they were children. He’s been ignoring her advances since they were children. Meanwhile, Maurice Chevalier is a rich old man in the village who wants to marry Caron so he’ll be less lonely. Buchholz secretly manages to get a job on a ship, and just before he leaves, he spends one night with Caron. She gets pregnant, he goes off to sea. And things play out from there.

It’s a good movie. I liked it a lot. It’s not something that particularly holds up, and feels like a 50s movie that held over into the 60s. It’s definitely one of those examples of the end of the studio system. It feels kind of dated. But if you can get over that, it’s very entertaining.

In this category, it’s a clear fifth choice. It’s not even close to the next highest nominee up. Actually, this category works out — the films actually are in a reverse order of how good they’d have been as winners. You’ll see as we go the stature of each growing exponentially each time. This one is a nice film, but when you see the next one, this is fathoms below the next one in terms of how good a winner it would have been.

The Guns of Navarone is a badass war movie. It’s so good.

A bunch of British soldiers are stuck on an island. They’re unable to be rescued because the Germans have two giant artillery guns on a neighboring island. If they go anywhere near it, they’ll be blown to pieces. A small commando unit is sent in to destroy the guns. Anthony Quayle, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven are on this team. It’s fucking great, this movie.

I wish this could have had more of a shot here, but it got released in the wrong year. 1960, it could have been a second choice. Here, it’s fourth. And it’s an inarguable fourth. Because the next three movies are top tier classics.

The Hustler is such a good drama that they classify it as a sports movie.

Paul Newman is a pool hustler. We first see him as he’s about to take on the best, Minnesota Fats, the best pool player in the country. He does well at first but loses in the end because of his cockiness and inexperience. He’s forced to go back and reevaluate things, especially after his hubris causes him to get his thumbs broken. And we watch as he confronts his constant self-sabotage and picks himself back up by his bootstraps and scratches together enough dough for the rematch with Fats.

This movie is perfect. It’s so good. In my younger and more headstrong days, I probably voted for this straight up as Best Picture. It makes sense. This was the movie that I’d have had the most passion for, and I figured, “West Side Story is such the obvious choice, let me take this and it’ll be a win-win.” But now — I don’t feel any particular need to take this. It wouldn’t have held up particularly well. It would have been a solid winner, but it wouldn’t be on the level as West Side Story is. Films like this don’t need to win. And when you get right down to it… I kinda like West Side Story better than this now.

Judgment at Nuremberg is one of the greatest trial films ever made. Had this come out about 5-6 years earlier, this probably would have swept the Oscars.

It’s about the Nuremberg trials. That’s it. It’s almost all trial. And it’s fucking riveting. This movie is so, so good.

It’s not as automatically as iconic sounding as The Hustler, but this is the more iconic film. This would have been a better winner than The Hustler. It would have been. It’s not the top choice in the category. No matter how you slice it, it’s only the second best choice in the category. It’s my third favorite film, but they’re all so bunched together any one of them would have been a good choice. Not gonna take this, but I love it.

West Side Story is one of the five or ten best musicals ever made. Film or stage.

The Sharks, the Jets, Tony, Maria, iconic song after iconic song. This movie is perfect.

There are two other great films in this category that I love, and they just don’t beat this. This wins.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s West Side Story. No contest. I love The Hustler and I love Judgment at Nuremberg. But they’re not West Side Story. Neither of them would have held up as great as West Side Story holds up. This is a top twenty Best Picture winner all-time. It’s one of those inarguable winners.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. West Side Story
  2. Judgment at Nuremberg
  3. The Hustler
  4. The Guns of Navarone
  5. Fanny

Rankings (films):

  1. West Side Story
  2. The Hustler
  3. Judgment at Nuremberg
  4. The Guns of Navarone
  5. Fanny

My Vote: West Side Story

Recommendations:

West Side Story, The Hustler, and Judgment at Nuremberg are three of the most essential American films ever made. If you made it to high school without having seen West Side Story, how is that even possible? The Hustler is one of those film buff movies that you see before you even really get into film, because it’s so perfect and beloved. And once you are a full fledged film buff, Judgment at Nuremberg is one of the movies you need to see pretty quickly. So all around, all of them must be seen.

The Guns of Navarone is one of the great war films of all time. I call it essential. It’s a very high recommend at worst. Check this out, because it’s amazing. Every actor in it is someone you love, and it’s just a fun, fantastic movie at that. Don’t deprive yourself of this.

Fanny is a movie I love. It’s not essential and not for everyone. I love Leslie Caron, so this was right up my alley. I recommend it highly, but for most it’s just a solid recommend. It’s worth seeing, but not something you need to see. TCM watch.

The Last Word: It’s one of the best winners all-time. You can’t really argue that. It’s so famous and so iconic. Everyone sees this movie just by living. Judgment at Nuremberg would have been an upper-middle-of-the-pack winner and The Hustler would have been about middle of the pack. They’d have been fine, but West Side Story is great. That’s the right choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1962

Lawrence of Arabia

The Longest Day

The Music Man

Mutiny on the Bounty

To Kill a Mockingbird

Analysis:

Lawrence of Arabia is one of the few truly perfect films. Not a wasted shot in nearly four hours.

It’s a biopic of T.E. Lawrence. And you get no synopsis. You need to see this movie. That shot up there, when you see it on the screen for the first time (if you can see this movie in 70mm, do it), you’ll gasp.

This is your winner, no matter how much we all love To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Longest Day is such a great war film, and it’s a complete afterthought in this category. That’s how good Lawrence of Arabia is.

It’s a film about D-Day, told from both the American and German points of view. Just about every famous actor and character actor you can think of is in this movie. And it’s wonderful.

Third choice, at best, in this category. It’s great, but it’s up against Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird. Even this movie’s most fervent supporters have to go “… fair enough” with those two.

The Music Man is a wonderful musical that’s also an afterthought in this category. One of those classic stage musicals that they made into a very good film. This might have had a better shot had it not been up against a juggernaut.

Harold Hill is a traveling salesman who wants to swindle an entire town. He gets them to pay for a marching band, intending to skip town once they pay for everything. Complications ensue when he starts falling for a local girl, forcing him into the position of actually having to start a marching band. It’s a pretty awesome movie.

It’s, at best, a third choice here, and is pretty much fourth all around. It wouldn’t have made that great a winner, and in the same category as Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s no real legitimate case that could be made for this as a winner. I’m not even gonna try.

Mutiny on the Bounty is a remake of the 1935 Best Picture winner, only in color, widescreen and shot on location in Tahiti. So it’s everything you recognize, just much longer and much more beautiful-looking.

Oh, and Marlon Brando plays the Clark Gable part and Trevor Howard plays Captain Bligh.

It’s a solid film. Not perfect, and definitely shouldn’t have won. But it’s a really good movie. Fifth by far in the category. A remake of a film that already won Best Picture. You need to be really good to win after that. And even if you want to think to vote for this movie — how do you beat any of the major films in this category? Easy fifth choice.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a film you know. It’s a book you know and a film you’ve seen. Because we all have.

This movie is absolutely perfect, but it had the unfortunate luck of running up against Lawrence of Arabia. No matter how much you want, it’ll only ever be a second choice here. Shit happens.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Lawrence of Arabia. That movie is too perfect to ignore. It’s one of the 10 greatest American films ever made and it’s one of the greatest Best Picture winners of all time. There’s no arguing with it. To Kill a Mockingbird would have been a great winner, but Lawrence of Arabia is an all time winner. It’s gotta be the choice. It’s that good.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Lawrence of Arabia
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird
  3. The Longest Day
  4. The Music Man
  5. Mutiny on the Bounty

Rankings (films):

  1. Lawrence of Arabia
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird
  3. The Longest Day
  4. Mutiny on the Bounty
  5. The Music Man

My Vote: Lawrence of Arabia

Recommendations:

Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird. Don’t make me say it. You already know.

The Longest Day is probably essential. It’s one of the great war films and it’s really amazing. Every actor you could possibly think of, and it’s just a masterpiece of the genre. Consider it essential. If even as a history lesson.

Mutiny on the Bounty is a classic story and you’ve probably already seen the ’35 version. Why not see this too? This one is in widescreen and looks gorgeous. Plus you have Marlon Brando. What’s not to like? This isn’t as essential as the original, but it’s definitely worth seeing for the visuals.

The Music Man is a classic musical. Essential for the genre, and probably close to essential for all time. I would tell film buffs they need to see it, if only to be able to reference it. Might as well just see it.

The Last Word: You know you have a strong winner when the main film it beat would have been one of the 20 greatest Best Picture winners of all time. This is one of the top five Best Picture winners of all time. They don’t get much better than this.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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