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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1965-1966)

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.

1965

Darling

Doctor Zhivago

Ship of Fools

The Sound of Music

A Thousand Clowns

Analysis:

Darling is a very 60s film. And it’s a great film at that. I think I voted for this last time.

Julie Christie is a model. She’s married, but starts an affair with another guy. And we watch her as she pretty much sleeps her way to the top. The more men she sleeps with, the better she does, and the worse she feels. That’s really all you need to know. And it’s so good.

This movie is incredible. It might be my favorite movie in the category. I voted for it last time because the other two seemed so big I got disinterested and went for the smaller movie. Mostly I was avoiding the one vs. the other vote and went off the board. It wouldn’t have been a good winner and I knew that and I know that. The question is now, if it’s still my favorite film in the category and if I’d take it over the other two classics going against it. We’ll see. I still love this movie regardless.

Doctor Zhivago is an all-time classic. The third of David Lean’s trilogy. Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago. Not a bad run.

This film is about Yuri Zhivago and his love affair with the woman Lara. That’s really all you need. It all is centered around the Russian Revolution, and it’s just great.

This movie is, like the other two Lean films, good enough to have won Best Picture and held up. Was it a great choice? Sure. Did it need to win? No. It’s fine just being nominated. I recently rewatched this and was reminded how good it is. But I’m not sure this is my favorite film or the film I would want to take. We’ll see though. It’s top two or three in the category no matter how you slice it.

Ship of Fools is a big, epic movie that I just do not care for very much. Something about this movie never quite clicked for me.

A bunch of people are on a ship… of fools.

They’re on a boat sailing from Mexico to Germany in the pre-Nazi Germany days. And we follow all their different stories and all their dramas. That’s pretty much it.

It sounds like the kind of movie I’d really like, but for some reason I just think it’s okay. Hasn’t particularly held up and is a fourth choice at best in the category. It’s my least favorite film, so I wouldn’t take it.

The Sound of Music is a classic musical. I can point to at least a half dozen iconic moments and images from this movie without even blinking.

It’s hard not to love this movie. I try to deny my love for this movie every chance I get, but let’s be honest — it’s amazing.

It’s top two no matter what you think of the rest of the category, and it’s gotta be in the conversation for the vote even for people who don’t particularly like the film. So it’ll be there for me. The question is whether I give into my love of the film fully and vote for it or continue denying it.

A Thousand Clowns is a film that I loved when I saw it the first time. I haven’t gone back this time to rewatch it, and I imagine I’d like it a bit less than I did the first time, but I still have very fond memories of this one.

Jason Robards is an iconoclast who recently quit his job writing for TV. He’s in the care of his young nephew, who he takes out every morning to watch other people going to work. They stand there and he tells the kid how they’re all suckers. He’s basically refusing to go to work and lives off unemployment. The kid starts espousing these views and that gets him a visit from child services. And the film is basically about them trying to see if he’s fit to keep the kid, his brother trying to get him his job back, and him trying to keep the kid and avoid a job at all costs. It’s fun.

I’m not sure this is something that needed a Best Picture nomination, but I’m cool with it, because I really like the film. It’s definitely one of the more dated nominees, I’ll say that much. It’s clearly fifth in the category even if you like it, and there’s no way I (nor probably anyone) would actually ever vote for it. The real question with this one is how you feel about it as a nominee. I imagine I’m more lenient on it than most.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: There are two very big films in this race, and I have a smaller third one that I really, really like. So it’s a three-way discussion for me. Ship of Fools I’ve never cared for, and despite my really liking A Thousand Clowns, not only would I not have taken it, it shouldn’t have won. So it’s pretty clear what the contenders in this one are.

The Sound of Music: near-perfect musical, amazing film, all-time classic, and I love it, despite wanting to pretend I don’t.

Doctor Zhivago: incredible film, grand epic, classic for all time, really fantastic, and the only real knock on it is that it’s not quite as perfect as Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. Which is kind of like saying, “Godfather III, you know…”

Darling: the little film of the bunch. Absolutely incredible. Really well made. Clearly the lesser of the choices in terms of how classic it is, but it might be my favorite.

Honestly, this is tough for me. If I let myself be governed by the notion of what the best “choice” is, then Darling is off from the top. If I go by my favorite, then Doctor Zhivago is off first. If I decide, “I don’t want to take the popular choice,” then Sound of Music is off first. If I want to split the difference, then the answer is probably The Sound of Music. And honesty, I think I’m leaning toward that. I love Doctor Zhivago, but I’d rather The Sound of Music. I love Darling, but I’m not sure I actually want to take that. I think I want to take that just because it’s easier for me to not choose between the big two and go for something different. That’s usually my lot in life. Picking my own way regardless of what the narrative says. But if we’re being totally honest, I think my heart is with The Sound of Music, so I’m gonna take it this time and see what happens in five years. I think this is a category that’ll serve me better in my 30s in terms of pure honesty. Some of them I knew would be best to go over now. This one I think we need another five years on.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. The Sound of Music
  2. Doctor Zhivago
  3. Darling
  4. Ship of Fools
  5. A Thousand Clowns

Rankings (films):

  1. The Sound of Music
  2. Darling
  3. Doctor Zhivago
  4. A Thousand Clowns
  5. Ship of Fools

My Vote: The Sound of Music

Recommendations:

The Sound of Music and Doctor Zhivago. Not wasting my time here. If you’re anything resembling a real film buff, you already know how essential these are.

Darling is a film I think is essential. A very high recommend if not. Essential for Oscar buffs. A great film, and Julie Christie at the height of her powers. Or maybe not. Maybe 1975 was the height of her powers. Either way, great all around. Amazing film that I think you need to see.

A Thousand Clowns is a movie I like a lot. Not remotely essential, but I love it. So high recommend from me, but it can easily be skipped. Only essential for Oscar buffs. Otherwise just something I think is terrific that some of you may agree with.

Ship of Fools is decent. A nice ensemble drama. Not my favorite. Moderate to solid recommend. See it, don’t see it. You’re fine either way.

The Last Word: It’s one of the great decisions of all time. It just is. You can’t really argue against it, the stature it has. Doctor Zhivago is the only other choice that could have held up nearly as well. You could love the other films, but they wouldn’t have held up as winners. I think they made the best choice, and it’s one that’s in the top half of the winners for all time for sure, probably in some higher tier but I can’t see this one specifically where it lands. It’s still one of the better choices historically.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1966

Alfie

A Man for All Seasons

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

The Sand Pebbles

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Analysis:

Alfie is a really… not progressive, but yeah, in a way, progressive, film. Not like, thematically. Alfie’s a horrible misogynist. I mean narratively. Him talking to the camera is something film hadn’t done before this.

Michael Caine is a womanizing limo driver who slowly begins to realize how awful he is. That’s kind of the movie. He treats women like objects and openly derides them, and then he catches TB and slowly reevaluates his life.

It’s actually a very strong film. I get why they’d nominate it, because it’s a nice forbearer of the coming films that would push the buttons, thematically, the way the more “safe” films of Hollywood did not. That said, it’s no more than a third choice here. Wouldn’t have held up as a winner, and it’s only a movie I like a lot. Not something I’d take.

A Man for All Seasons is perhaps the best of the 60s period costume dramas. It’s between this and The Lion in Winter, most would say.

It’s about Sir Thomas More, England’s Lord Chancellor. Henry VIII wants to divorce his wife and needs the church’s consent for one. Problem is, the church doesn’t approve of divorce. More is faced with either granting the divorce and going against God, or not granting the divorce, and basically being killed by his king. It’s a great film. All-time performance by Paul Scofield and just a fantastically written film.

This is a great film, but it should be like the others — a second choice at best. Probably a third choice, if not fourth, depending on the strength of the year. I like it a lot, but normally this wouldn’t be anything I consider voting for. Here, it’s top two. It’s almost the choice. I’m probably not gonna take it, just because I’d almost never take it given how much I like its primary competition, but it is right up there in this category.

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. (Insert witty statement about the current state of American politics and how it relates to this movie fifty years later.)

It’s about a Russian submarine landing off the coast of Cape Cod. The Russians just want to get the parts to fix their sub, but the townspeople freak out and the situation goes (comedically) off the rails, threatening to turn the Cold War into actual war.

It’s a fun movie. A solid comedy. Not something I think necessarily holds up as a Best Picture nominee, but hey, it’s there. So good for it.

At best it’s a fourth choice in the category, and that’s only if you really like it. It’s fifth choice when you factor in how good of a choice it would be.

The Sand Pebbles is a movie that most people don’t even know what it’s about. You remember the boat stuff, but does anyone really know what the political stuff is? That’s probably why this movie isn’t overly remembered fifty years later.

Steve McQueen is an officer on a gunboat in China. He’s an engineer and likes fixing machines. The other men hire local workers to do that stuff for him. McQueen works alongside them. And the other men hate him for it. So there’s tensions there. And then there’s tensions because the Communists are on the rise and don’t like Americans. So the locals aren’t taking to kindly to their being there. Plus there’s a subplot about one of the men and his Chinese girlfriend. All that good stuff.

It’s a solid film that would have been awesome had it come any other decade but this one. Here, it seems bloated, dated, and the product of a dying Hollywood system. Or maybe that’s just me. It’s still very good, but feels like such a ho-hum choice that I’d actually vote for it fifth of five. Objectively, it’s more like a fourth choice, but it’s not something that would have looked good had it won. Most of these are like that. That’s the perils of 1966. It’s the boring year before all the new and exciting stuff burst onto the scene.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I’m not even gonna make a title joke. This movie is perfect.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are a married couple coming home from a party. They’ve invited another couple to come to the house for drinks. We watch as they argue and they bring this other, unsuspecting couple into their own marital drama.

This is essentially a play on screen, but it’s so good it transcends that. Streetcar level. It’s exquisite.

This movie is incredible, and it’s good enough to be the vote a lot of years, though in most years it probably shouldn’t be the vote. Put this most other years around this, it’s not the film that should have won. But here, I can’t really say it’s not the film that deserved to win. It’s top two almost any way you slice it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s not a particularly exciting year. The Russians Are Coming would have been the worst winner and isn’t even good enough to take. If you’re gonna vote a comedy for Best Picture, let it be something like Some Like It Hot (not nominated, by the way, but you get the idea). The Sand Pebbles would be such a boring choice and I just don’t like it enough to take it. Give me The Great Escape and I could be persuaded. This? Nah. And Alfie — like it a lot, but that would normally take the place of the #5 or #4 I like a lot but wouldn’t take. I’d have to be beyond desperate to think of taking that.

So I’m left, without much fanfare, to take either Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Man for All Seasons. And right there, I get why they went the way they did. And I automatically take Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, because that’s easily my favorite film in the category and is something that, while very theatrical, can hold up alongside Streetcar as one of those “play” movies that’s good enough to have won Best Picture and seemed okay. Not unhappy about A Man for All Seasons, but I definitely would not vote for it.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  2. A Man for All Seasons
  3. Alfie
  4. The Sand Pebbles
  5. The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

Rankings (films):

  1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  2. A Man for All Seasons
  3. Alfie
  4. The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
  5. The Sand Pebbles

My Vote: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Recommendations:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an all-time classic and essential from name alone.

A Man for All Seasons is a Best Picture winner, a fantastic film, and an essential. Must be seen by all because it’s so incredibly well written. It will leave an impression on you.

Alfie is a classic and I think is essential. It pioneered a type of genre (of sorts), and I think a lot of the elements (and it being a great film) have rendered it essential. Great stuff here.

The Sand Pebbles is a solid film. Steve McQueen. Really solid. Solid-to-high recommend. Not particularly essential, though it has a lot of elements for most film buffs. I think you should see it. It’s good.

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming is a great comedy. Solid to high recommend. Not essential, but awesome. Definitely worth checking out.

The Last Word: Decent choice. Boring choice, but decent. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? wouldn’t have held up particularly better. Maybe slightly on name recognition, but about even on overall quality and strength as a winner. In context, both would be fine choices based on this category. 1966 isn’t that strong a year, so the fact that we have two decent choices in the category is actually quite a bit of luck. They made a choice that’s fair, and holds up about average, maybe slightly below the median, if you’re ranking them all. Of the five, it was the best/tied for the best choice they could have made. So all around decent, and the product of a weak year.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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