Hard to find fault with the Academy this year — although I’m sure there are people who will try! I oughtta know — I’m generally one of those people, especially given how incredibly rich this year was in American and world cinema! But when their choice for Best Picture is this:
Here is part of what I had to say in v. 3 of WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars, 1953-1963:
“Lawrence of Arabia is perhaps the greatest epic ever filmed. Critically acclaimed science fiction writer Mike Resnick even goes as far as this: “Lawrence of Arabia is the greatest film ever made. When creating a list, there’s Lawrence and then there’s Everything Else. Simple as that.” Certainly, a candidate for the greatest film ever made. I have noticed a trend among viewers: those who have seen it in the theater tend to agree; those who have only seen it on TV, tend to act a little puzzled about all the enthusiasm. I’ve had the great fortune to see it in the restored widescreen re-release, with the missing footage put back in where it belonged (producer Sam Spiegel unconscionably and arbitrarily removed approximately twenty minutes for the American premiere, without informing David Lean). Lawrence of Arabia is like one of those immense Romantic paintings Jacques-Louis David made during the French Revolution: one has to be in the actual presence of the film in order to appreciate it fully. Peter O’Toole plays T.E. Lawrence, the British operative in Arabia who trained the Bedouin how to fight against the Ottoman Turks, using terrorism, trickery, and audacity. Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, and Anthony Quinn are his allies among the tribes; Claude Rains is a diplomat working behind the scenes against Lawrence’s plans for an independent Arab state; Jack Hawkins, Donald Wolfit, and Anthony Quayle are his military superiors. Although there have been those who have challenged the representation of history here, I think far more have been woken to the scale and complexities of history through seeing Lawrence of Arabia than almost any other movie. Certainly, my own interests in the period have been piqued with every viewing. So too have been my sense of cinematic aesthetics, and my respect for the actors involved.”
The other official nominees included the star-studded WWII epic The Longest Day; the amazing Robert Preston in an outstanding musical The Music Man; Marlon Brando in a very odd performance in the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty; and Gregory Peck at his very best in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Other choices might include: Burt Lancaster going avian in The Birdman of Alcatraz; Jack Lemmon diving into another bottle in Days of Wine and Roses; Marcello Mastroianni adultery-ing in the black comedy Divorce, Italian Style; Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke dancing in the dark in The Miracle Worker; Joan Crawford at the mercy of Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?; Katharine Hepburn and Jason Robards at their darkest in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night; Paul Newman trying to impress the local yokels with Geraldine Page in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth; those nutty kids in David and Lisa; Robert Ryan terrorizing Terence Stamp while Peter Ustinov watches in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd; Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, and Laurence Harvey in the deeply disturbing The Manchurian Candidate; Ingmar Bergman searching for God (??) in Through a Glass Darkly; John Huston trying out the psychiatrist’s couch with Montgomery Clift in Freud; Alain Resnais chopping up time and space with Last Year at Marienbad; Doris Day somehow managing to catch Cary Grant in That Touch of Mink; James Mason, Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers tackling Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece Lolita; Natalie Wood stripping in Gypsy; Jackie Gleason mumming in Gigot; Cinerama grimming and bearing it in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm; Robert Mitchum in a mid-life crisis with Shirley MacLaine in Two for the Seesaw; Jason Robards diving in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night; Charlton Heston going for laughs (?) in The Pigeon That Took Rome; Jane Fonda and Jim Hutton yukking it up in Period of Adjustment; John Wayne shooting animals in Hatari!; John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart shooting Lee Marvin in John Ford’s late masterpiece The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; Anthony Hopkins going Greek (well, not that way…) in Phaedra; Shirley MacLaine going Japanese (well, not that way either…you people have dirty minds!) in My Geisha; Jane Fonda going dirty (well, she thinks it’s dirty…) in The Chapman Report; Sean Connery getting into Bondage in Dr. No; an all-star cast goes politicking in Advise and Consent; Robert Mitchum terrorizes Gregory Peck and family in Cape Fear; the movie that put me off being a vegetarian, The Day of the Triffids; Kirk Douglas alone in the West in Lonely Are the Brave; Anthony Quinn getting pummeled in Requiem for a Heavyweight; Kirk Douglas and Edward G. Robinson trying to film in Two Weeks in Another Town; Sam Peckinpah makes his first great Western in Ride the High Country; Michelangelo Antonioni gets mysterious in La Notte and L’Eclisse (both released in the US in 1962); Luis Bunuel with one of his many great films, Viridiana; Francois Truffaut in what many think of as his best movie, Jules et Jim (Shoot the Piano Player was also released in 1962 in the US; King Kong and Godzilla going kaiju to jaiju in King Kong vs. Godzilla; another kaiju classic, Mothra; Jimmy Stewart going bonkers in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation; the unsettling Peeping Tom; and Agnes Varda explores the life of a vapid blonde in Cleo from 5 to 7.
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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