January 21, 2013
The Winner: In the Heat of the Night
My Pick: Bonnie and Clyde
The Winner: Mike Nichols, The Graduate
My Pick: Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde
The Winner: Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night
My Pick: Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate
The Winner: Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
My Pick: Anne Bancroft, The Graduate
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Winner: George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke
My Pick: Gene Hackman, Bonnie and Clyde
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Winner: Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde
My Pick: Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Winner: Closely Watched Trains (Czechoslovakia)
My Pick: Closely Watched Trains
This was the year of the revolution in American film, but for best picture the Academy made a predictably conservative choice, In the Heat of the Night. A rewatching of the film awhile back for the first time in many years showed just how shockingly it has dated. With every redneck stereotype and Southern cliché in the book, and its black superman played by Sydney Poitier—not only is he the most brilliant deductive investigator since Sherlock Holmes, but an expert in forensic evidence and a shrewd psychological manipulator of witnesses and suspects—it seems a condescending fantasy cooked up to make white Northerners feel superior. Its message of racial tolerance, an important one even in this questionable context, made it a safer choice for best picture than either of the year's two most important American films—The Graduate, the generation-gap update of the screwball comedy, and the almost New Wavish Bonnie and Clyde with its unprecedented level of graphic violence.
I've never been as big a fan of The Graduate as some. It runs out of steam before the end, about the time the feral Mrs. Robinson fades into the background. So I went with Bonnie and Clyde, for me the key American film of the 1960s, the one that paved the way for what may be the most fecund period ever in American filmmaking. The Oscar for best director went to Mike Nichols for The Graduate, a reasonable choice but not my own. He should have won the year before for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and maybe Academy voters were thinking of that when they chose him. I think of Bonnie and Clyde as much more of a director's movie than The Graduate and therefore more deserving of recognition for its direction by Arthur Penn.
For best actor the Academy went with Rod Steiger as the Southern sheriff in In the Heat of the Night. He's an actor I find hard to like; his ego shows through too much. But I suppose the Academy enjoyed seeing his gum-chewing racist get his comeuppance and felt that giving Steiger the Oscar would make up for his unexpected loss to Lee Marvin in 1965. For best actress the Academy unaccountably chose Katharine Hepburn in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, a wonderful actress in an insipid role in an abysmal film. For best actor and actress I picked the costars of The Graduate, Dustin Hoffmann and Anne Bancroft. These are two of the most memorable characters in American film played by two actors who inhabit their roles to a tee. For supporting actor and actress I chose Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons (the latter also the Academy's choice) in Bonnie and Clyde. I concurred with the Academy in its choice of foreign language film. This wasn't because of any great enthusiasm for the film—I find these Eastern European New Wave films of the late sixties charming but lightweight—but because it was the best of a weak field. Biggest omission: Point Blank for best film, director (John Boorman), actor (Lee Marvin), supporting actress (Angie Dickinson), supporting actor (Carroll O'Connor).
The Winner: Oliver!
My Pick: Romeo and Juliet
The Winner: Carol Reed, Oliver!
My Pick: Franco Zeffirelli, Romeo and Juliet
The Winner: Cliff Robertson, Charly
My Pick: Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter
The Winner: Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl (tie)
My Pick: Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Winner: Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses
My Pick: Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Winner: Ruth Gordon, Rosemary's Baby
My Pick: Ruth Gordon, Rosemary's Baby
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Winner: War and Peace (Russia)
My Pick: Stolen Kisses (France)
Maybe the shock of 1967 took a bit of time for the industry to recover from, because in comparison to 1967, the next two years in American film seem pretty dull. In 1968, Oscars for best picture and director went to Oliver! and its director, Carol Reed, an overdue honor for a great filmmaker whose best work was long behind him. This was the fourth time since 1961 the Academy had honored the film adaptation of a popular Broadway musical and its director. The only one of the best picture nominees I have unreserved enthusiasm for is Franco Zeffirelli's spirited film version of Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli brings his considerable experience staging operas to the film, keeping the youthful fervor, the intense emotions, and the physicality of the story going full tilt the entire time. He wraps the whole in a gorgeous evocation of Renaissance Italy that can only be described as operatic in its richness. The film seems such a product of Zeffirelli's vision that I went ahead and chose him as best director.
Cliff Robertson's win for Charly must surely be one of the biggest Oscar upsets of all time, ranking right up there with Grace Kelly's over Judy Garland in 1954, Lee Marvin's over Rod Steiger in 1965, or Adrien Brody's over Daniel Day-Lewis in 2002. Some have attributed Robertson's surprise win to his extensive ad campaign in industry trade papers. Whatever the reason, the award clearly belonged to Peter O'Toole, his only real competition being Alan Arkin's sensitive performance in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The real quality acting in the lead category was, for once, by the nominees for best actress. This is the year that race ended in a tie, with the Oscar shared by Katharine Hepburn giving her last great movie performance in The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand giving her very first movie performance in Funny Girl as Fanny Brice, a role she seemed born to play. Under the direction of husband Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, who took the NY Film Critics award, was equally noteworthy in Rachel, Rachel. But my choice is Vanessa Redgrave for her inspired and intense performance in Isadora, one of the great film performances by an actress, a performance that was seen by few at the time and isn't remembered today the way it deserves to be.
Jack Albertson's nomination as best supporting actor in The Subject Was Roses was another example of a lead performance being labeled supporting to improve the nominee's chances, but once you accept that, Albertson had no real competition in this category. Nor did Ruth Gordon, both the winner and my own choice for best supporting actress in Rosemary's Baby, one of only two nominations the film received and its only win. For best foreign language film I went with François Truffaut's Stolen Kisses, very good though not great Truffaut, but still the best of the nominees. (Disclosure: I have never seen the highly praised seven-hour long Russian film of War and Peace. I rarely watch movies that are too long for me to watch in one sitting.) Biggest omission: Rosemary's Baby for best picture and director (Roman Polanski), and for best actress Mia Farrow, giving the performance of her career, one of the most incredible Oscar nomination oversights ever.
What are your picks for these years? You can search the Academy Awards Database for a complete list of nominees.
Labels: Academy Awards