This completes this year's series of posts on past Academy Awards, comparing the winners with my own choices, that I began last week. Today I'll be covering the year 1965.
The Winner: The Sound of Music
My Pick: Darling
The Winner: Robert Wise, The Sound of Music
My Pick: John Schlesinger, Darling
The Winner: Lee Marvin, The Ballad of Cat Ballou
My Pick: Rod Steiger, The Pawnbroker
The Winner: Julie Christie, Darling
My Pick: Julie Christie, Darling
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Winner: Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns
My Pick: Michael Dunn, Ship of Fools
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Winner: Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue
My Pick: Maggie Smith, Othello
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Winner: The Shop on Main Street
My Pick: Kwaidan
I found little to agree with in the Academy's winners this year, duplicating its choices in only one of the major categories. Some people find Darling dated. But I've seen it more than once, most recently about a year ago, and I find it holds up quite well, a vivid rendering of its time and place, mid-1960s Britain. It's brilliantly written, stylishly directed, and features some great performances, not least of which is Julie Christie's as the mercurial lead character, Diana Scott. This is one of the first portraits of a person who wants to be famous for being famous, and still one of the most devastatingly acerbic of a person whose highest aspiration is to become a celebrity. I've heard it said that Academy voters probably also had Christie's performance as Lara in Dr. Zhivago in mind when they voted for her (her win was a bit of a surprise—I would have expected the popularity of The Sound of Music to carry Julie Andrews through to a second Oscar in a row), but her work in Darling alone is Oscar-worthy, as is director John Schlesinger's and the film itself. Dirk Bogarde is also excellent, and both he and Christie won BAFTA awards for their performances.
The best actor race was a curious one. Rod Steiger received near-universal praise for his intense performance in The Pawnbroker and seemed certain to win. Yet the winner was probably the least likely nominee, Lee Marvin for an atypically comic performance in The Ballad of Cat Ballou, and that surely must have been a huge upset. I'm not a particular fan of Steiger. He's not a subtle actor, and his inability to disguise his large ego makes him a hard actor to like. Despite this, I still picked his performance as the best of the year for the simple reason that it was. I also disagreed with the Academy's choices for best supporting actor and actress. Shelley Winters's harpy in A Patch of Blue seemed awfully familiar, basically a reprise of the character that had won her an Oscar in this category a few years earlier, Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank. I much preferred Maggie Smith's gentle Desdemona in Othello. Martin Balsam was a fine actor, but I can't see that there was enough to his tiny and rather bland role in A Thousand Clowns to merit an Oscar. So I went with Michael Dunn as the narrator in Ship of Fools, Stanley Kramer's ponderous adaptation of Katharine Anne Porter's only novel. My choice as best foreign language film was the spooky multi-part Japanese film Kwaidan, based on four stories of the supernatural by Lafcadio Hearn. Biggest omission: Repulsion for best picture, director (Roman Polanski), and actress (Catherine Deneuve).