What Should Have Won the 1959 Best Picture Oscar?

As I used to joke as a child, Ben-Hur was a him…take one look at that fabulous chariot race, and we’d all want to be him too!

Here is part of what I had to say in v. 3 of WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars, 1953-1963:

Ben-Hur set the record for most Oscar wins at a staggering eleven. Like The Ten Commandments, the central conflicts in Ben-Hur are between faith and secular pursuits, between freedom and enslavement. Those conflicts are surrounded by an explicitly Christian agenda, which the subtitle of the original novel makes clear: “A Tale of the Christ.” The Jewish family clearly becomes Christian at the end, which is somewhat ironic, given that director William Wyler was Jewish (as were most of the founders of the studios, none of which seemed to matter when they realized there was money to be made from the goyim). Those parts of the movie remain the least inventive and most formulaic, and were I not a practicing Christian, I might find myself offended at the implications. Ben-Hur really is two movies: the religious picture, which often lies flat on the screen and fails to work in cinematic terms, and the revenge picture, which succeeds brilliantly. They come together in the end, when Charlton Heston finds peace in his reborn faith. That Ben-Hur works as well as it does is a credit to Wyler and Heston.”

The other official nominees included what may be Otto Preminger’s finest film, Anatomy of a Murder; the tender sadness of The Diary of Anne Frank; Audrey Hepburn in her best serious role in The Nun’s Tale; and the British turning on the sexy and the social criticism in Room at the Top.

The Academy ignored Billy Wilder’s greatest comedy, Some Like It Hot, Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest entertainment, North by Northwest, Francois Truffaut’s breakout French New Wave debut, The 400 Blows, and Howard Hawks’ last truly great Western, Rio Bravo. Other potential Best Picture nominees include Doris Day and Rock Hudson tweaking the Code with clean sex jokes in Pillow Talk; Paul Muni in his last major film role in The Last Angry Man; Elizabeth Taylor, a white bathing suit, a nutty Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift, and some fine young cannibals in Suddenly, Last Summer; Paul Newman lawyering in The Young Philadelphians; Lana Turner and Juanita Moore in Douglas Sirk’s remake of Imitation of Life; Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and the pink submarine in Operation Petticoat; Ingmar Bergman exploring old age and memory in Wild Strawberries; Ava Gardner meets Gregory Peck go post-apocalyptic On the Beach; Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge go Gershwin in Porgy and Bess; the musical goes hillbilly in L’il Abner; Disney goes back to the fairy tale in Sleeping Beauty; Danny Kaye goes Dixieland in The Five Pennies (which may have the finest color footage of late Louis Armstrong); Frank Sinatra goes Capra in A Hole in the Head; Gary Cooper goes Western in The Hanging Tree; Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, and Laurence Olivier go Shavian in The Devil’s Disciple; John Ford makes another fine Western with The Horse Soldiers; Ed Wood makes the worst movie (?) ever in Plan 9 from Outer Space; Yul Brynner tries to go Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury; Donald Crisp puppies it up in A Dog of Flanders; James Mason going subterranean in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth; Howard Keel going biblical in The Big Fisherman; Glenn Ford in George Stevens’ black comedy, The Gazebo; Satyajit Ray’s second installment in the Apu Trilogy, Aparajito; John Cassavetes going independent with Shadows; Disney going canine in The Shaggy Dog; Peter Sellers in three separate roles in The Mouse that Roared; Carnival in Brazil with Black Orpheus; the British Kitchen Sink in Look Back in Anger; Ingmar Bergman and The Magician; heisting again in Odds Against Tomorrow; Bette Davis and Alec Guinness in The Scapegoat; Doris Day, Jack Lemmon, and Ernie Kovacs in It Happened to Jane; my favorite French gangster flick, Bob le flambeur; Max Ophuls’ last completed picture, the lush Lola Montes; and Akira Kurosawa’s 1948 Drunken Angel.

Feel free to add other choices, but for foreign films, please use the AMERICAN release date, as that is how the Academy runs things.

As always, I have much more to say in my book:http://www.amazon.com/WHO-Irreverent-Look-Oscars-Volume/dp/069232318X

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