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: 1964.
The Winner: My Fair Lady
My Pick: Dr. Strangelove
The Winner: George Cukor, My Fair Lady
My Pick: Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove
The Winner: Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady
My Pick: Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady
The Winner: Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins
My Pick: Anne Bancroft, The Pumpkin Eater
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Winner: Peter Ustinov, Topkapi
My Pick: Stanley Holloway, My Fair Lady
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Winner: Lila Kedrova, Zorba the Greek
My Pick: Lila Kedrova, Zorba the Greek
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Winner: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
My Pick: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
I've always felt that in general Hollywood has been more successful with musicals based on original material than with those adapted from Broadway plays. Such films are obligated to follow their stage antecedents closely; that's why they get made in the first place. So the emphasis becomes not on re-imagining the play for the screen, but in going all out for production values while preserving as much of the original stage version as possible. That is exactly what keeps My Fair Lady from being a great musical film rather than just a very good one. George Cukor has said he deliberately chose to reproduce the stylization of the stage production, and the result is a film that is in all its details superb—lovely sets, costumes, and photography, and few musicals have songs this good or this well integrated with the plot—but as a whole a bit sterile. Dr. Strangelove, though, is as bold as My Fair Lady is cautious, a political black comedy that is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying, Duck Soup for the nuclear age. So Dr. Strangelove and its director, Stanley Kubrick, get my votes for best picture and director.
For best actor I still went with Rex Harrison's Prof. Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, the signature role of his long film and stage career. It not only preserves for posterity one of the great stage performances, but it's also a great film performance. For me Anne Bancroft is the great American screen actress of the 1960s, and I chose her intense performance in The Pumpkin Eater as the best of the year, a performance that also won her a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award. I'm a longtime fan of the veteran British character actor Stanley Holloway and chose him as best supporting actor for his exuberant Alfred Dolittle in My Fair Lady, a role he played in the Broadway production. For best supporting actress, I went with the Academy's choice of Lila Kedrova in Zorba the Greek, in a role of great pathos that Simone Signoret had originally accepted but backed out of at the last minute. The Academy gave the award for best foreign language film to Vittorio de Sica's pleasant but slight comedy Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. At least two of the other nominees were clearly better—the Japanese film Woman in the Dunes (whose director, Hiroshi Teshigahara, received a nomination as best director the following year, after it opened commercially in the US) and my choice, Jacques Demy's charming musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Biggest omission: The Servant for best film, director, actor (Dirk Bogarde), supporting actor (James Fox), and supporting actress (Sarah Miles).
Tomorrow I'll continue with my thoughts on the Academy Awards for 1965.