What Should Have Won the 1963 Best Picture Oscar?

Chickens of the world, beware! Tom Jones is coming!

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

“Think of the movie Tom Jones as the lesser cinematic equivalent of Beatlemania, which was occurring at the exact moment the Academy was voting this year. I don’t think it’s an understatement to suggest that the British Invasion the Beatles heralded here with their early February appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show really launched the Sixties as we remember them. The Swinging Sixties are rooted in these events, and Tom Jones is an excuse to get naughty while still staying respectable. The original 1749 novel by Henry Fielding is a long-acknowledged classic (especially by people who’ve actually read it…). Albert Finney plays the young foundling who can’t keep from pursuing the ladies, especially Susannah York. As we learn from the opening, he is a scoundrel: “Tom Jones, of whom the opinion of all was that he was born to be hanged.” He’s a swinger, more or less, a hipster in ye olde costume. Little else about the film is traditional. Director Tony Richardson and writer John Osborne chose to break with any number of expectations, including having the characters be aware of the camera (which Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had done many times, as had Bugs Bunny and Oliver Hardy). The two avatars of the Kitchen Sink School, the Angry Young Men of the British New Wave, turned to comedy as a break from what was becoming a realist straitjacket. To escape that restraint, they opened a (somewhat underpopulated) looney bin. What has been remembered ever since, however, is the gorging feast in which Finney and married paramour Joyce Redman tear through all the food on the table as if they were devouring each other. After watching that, I may never serve chicken to my kids ever again. Finney approaches the lead in Tom Jones with a wicked grin and a priapic willingness to indulge the variety of ladies who keep propositioning him. It’s a wonder his face (and other parts) didn’t freeze in position. ”

The other official nominees included Elia Kazan’s paean to his Greek immigrant family, America, America; Twentieth Century Fox’s bankrupting paean to Elizabeth Taylor’s semi-naked assets, Cleopatra; a trio of directors and their star-studded Cinerama paean to the mythology of the American past, How the West Was Won; and Sidney Poitier singing paeans with a bunch of German nuns in Lilies of the Field.

Other choices released in the US this year include Paul Newman becoming a vicious bastard in Hud; Richard Harris being a vicious bastard in This Sporting Life; Jack Lemmon being the exact opposite of a vicious bastard in Irma la Douce; Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood in urban romance in Love with the Proper Stranger; Leslie Caron in the aftermath of urban romance in The L-Shaped Room; Tom Tryon stifling love (and other vices) in The Cardinal; Federico Fellini not stifling anything in 8 1/2; Gregory Peck trying to stifle mental illness in Captain Newman, M.D.; Richard Chamberlain and Claude Rains trying to defend a murderer in Twilight of Honor; Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor trying to escape an airport in The V.I.P.s; the odd relationship of a grown man and a girl in Sundays with Cybele; Charlton Heston trying to escape a horde of angry Chinese rebels in 55 Days at Peking; a horde of all-stars chasing down the cash under the Big W in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World; Paul Newman chasing down his wife Joanne Woodward in A New Kind of Love; everybody chasing down an Elvis clone in Bye Bye Birdie; Disney going Arthurian in The Sword in the Stone; Audrey Hepburn going Cary Grant in Charade; Frank Sinatra swingin’ in Come Blow Your Horn; a bunch of prostitutes swingin’ from The Balcony; Robert Stack fighting Joan Crawford in The Caretakers; Joanne Woodward fighting her clothes in The Stripper; Dean Martin tries to get serious in Toys in the Attic; Van Johnson and Janet Leigh go suburban in Wives and Lovers; Lucino Visconti and Burt Lancaster find a way to produce a masterpiece in The Leopard; Hitchcock goes avian in The Birds; Peter Brook and a bunch of boys unleash The Lord of the Flies; Ray Harryhausen crafted what may be his finest moments in Jason and the Argonauts; Steve McQueen and James Garner break free in The Great Escape; Mario Bava relishes the horrors of Black Sabbath; John Wayne and John Ford try for the magic one more time in Donovan’s Reef; Sean Connery gets into Soviet Bondage in From Russia with Love; John Huston has all star cast in disguise (or does he?) in The List of Adrian Messenger; Jerry Lewis breaks himself up in The Nutty Professor; Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara keep their family together in the Waltons’ preview in Spencer’s Mountain; Jack Lemmon goes scumbag lech in Under the Yum Yum Tree; Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price make what has to be in the running for the funniest horror picture of all in The Raven; Samuel Fuller enters Shock Corridor; Price goes Poe again in The Haunted Palace (which is actually Lovecraft) and Twice-Told Tales (which is actually Hawthorne); Tom Courtenay fantasizes in what may be John Schlesinger’s funniest film, Billy Liar; Francis Ford Coppola gets terror in Dementia 13; Laurence Olivier tries to teach in Term of Trial; Robert Wise creates a haunted house for Julie Harris in The Haunting; Kirk Douglas orders his men to kill an enemy prisoner in The Hook; Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster work with mentally handicapped kids in A Child Is Waiting; Satyajit Ray explores the end of an era in The Music Room; Kurosawa goes modern in High and Low; Bergman looks one last time for God in Winter Light; Roman Polanski sneaks a small masterpiece by his communist masters in Knife in the Water; Robert Bresson goes even more minimalist in Pickpocket; and Orson Welles goes Kafka in The Trial.

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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