This is a continuation of the post on past Academy Awards, comparing the winners with my own choices, that I began last week. I'll be covering the years 1961-1965, presenting my thoughts on one year each day this week. Today: 1963.
The Winner: Tom Jones
My Pick: Tom Jones
The Winner: Tony Richardson, Tom Jones
My Pick: Tony Richardson, Tom Jones
The Winner: Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field
My Pick: Albert Finney, Tom Jones
The Winner: Patricia Neal, Hud
My Pick: Leslie Caron, The L-Shaped Room
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Winner: Melvyn Douglas, Hud
My Pick: Melvyn Douglas, Hud
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Winner: Margaret Rutherford, The VIPs
My Pick: Margaret Rutherford, The VIPs
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Winner: 8½
My Pick: 8½
Tom Jones and its director Tony Richardson were the right choices for best picture and best director. This was only the second time a truly British film had taken the best picture award, the first being Olivier's Hamlet in 1948. (The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia were UK-US co-productions.) It's an immensely entertaining movie that packs a tremendous amount of plot into its two-hour running time without ever relaxing its brisk pace. Its irreverent treatment of a classic of British literature is a real treat, as far as imaginable from a stuffy version of a literary classic. It's hard to imagine the film would have been so successful with anyone else playing its roguish hero but Albert Finney, and I picked his performance as the best by an actor that year. In truth it was a toss-up between Finney and Paul Newman's self-centered louse in Hud (for me his second-best performance after The Hustler), but I had chosen Newman just two years before, and that was the deciding factor.
Now about Patricia Neal. The New York Film Critics, who didn't then distinguish between lead and supporting performances, named her best actress for Hud, and the Academy obediently followed with a nomination as best actress. But I just don't see this as a lead performance. She was third-billed in the credits, after second-billed Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas was nominated, and deservedly won, as best supporting actor. When Neal appeared with Robert Osborne on TCM, she agreed with Osborne that her performance in Hud was really a supporting one. (These days it seems to work in reverse, with actors in roles that by any measure should be considered leads accepting nominations in the supporting categories, either to avoid competition with a costar or to increase their chances of winning.) I would gladly have voted for Neal in the supporting category, but I couldn't bring myself to vote for her as best actress. I thought the strongest of the rest of the best actress field was Leslie Caron's sensitive performance in the British film The L-Shaped Room. Caron received both the Golden Globe and a BAFTA award for this performance. Interestingly, Neal received a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress but lost to Margaret Rutherford. Without Neal, the best supporting actress race was a curious one, with three of the five nominees coming from Tom Jones. I chose Margaret Rutherford simply for being Margaret Rutherford. Roman Polanski's first full-length film, Knife in the Water, received a nomination for best foreign language film, and in another year I would gladly have voted for it. But Fellini's great 8½ was also nominated, and it simply knocked the Polanski film, as good as it was, out of the running. Biggest omission: Julie Harris, best actress for The Haunting, my own pick as best performance of the year by an actress.
Tomorrow I'll continue with my thoughts on the Academy Awards for 1964.