2001: A Space Odyssey
The Battle of Algiers
The Producers (winner)
The five nominated films are about as diverse as possible, ranging from far-reaching science fiction to crime farce. There were a few other notables that might be worth mentioning, though, although the Academy did a decent job of nominations this year. Once Upon a Time in the West seems like a miss, although I’m not entirely certain it would have been eligible for this award. If…. would have been another interesting choice, and The Thomas Crowne Affair deserved a look as well. Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed two films in 1968: Skammen and Hour of the Wolf, and I think a strong case could be argued for either. Head was always going to be a long shot, and Night of the Living Dead had no chance, but it’s fun to dream.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I enjoyed Hot Millions when I watched it, but it seems far too lightweight to really be much in consideration. It’s a smart film, which always helps, but it suffers from an ending that feels too pat and cobbled together to give us the conclusion that we want but that we and the characters on the screen haven’t deserved. It’s a good screenplay and a fun script, but hardly a great one, and nominating this instead of one of Bergman’s films seems very much like a slight. This is by far the weakest of the nominations.
4: When a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey is nominated for Best Original Screenplay, it’s important to remember that the screenplay isn’t exactly the same thing as the script, at least in my head. There’s not a great deal of dialogue in huge parts of the film. I have a mild suspicion that 2001 was nominated here because the Academy realized that not nominating it for Best Picture was a terrible oversight. I respect what the film does, but I have a hard time thinking it’s a worthy nomination when a large part of the film makes me drowsy. Kubrick geeks, feel free to put your objections in the comments below.
3: The hardest decision I had for this entry in this series was if I should put Faces as a weed-out or as one of my choices. I ultimately decided to put it below the fold because of how well-written it is. The dialogue throughout the film feels very real. The camera work and film quality looks amateurish, but this only forces the viewer to focus more on the characters and the dialogue, and both of these are impeccable. This is the sort of dialogue that can only be written by someone who is a very close student of human behavior. It might be the bottom of my three choices, but had this won, I’d have thought it a solid choice.
2: The Battle of Algiers is a difficult film to enjoy and even more difficult not to respect. What could have easily been a polemic against Algerian terrorism or a strident screed against French use of torture is instead a nuanced depiction of a terrible situation. It’s a damn smart film because it doesn’t specifically choose a side, but presents both sides in the French/Algerian conflict as being guilty in their methods and—at least in their own minds—justified in using them. You know you’re in the right when you piss off both sides of the conflict. Even better is when your film doesn’t answer questions but asks harder and harder ones.
1: So what’s left? The film that actually won. The musical remake of The Producers may have cost the original a bit of its luster, which is a terrible shame. The Producers is one of the genuinely funniest films ever written. It helps that both Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel are on the top of their respective forms here, and a great deal of the quality of the screenplay is made evident by their performances. The Producers is exactly the kind of risk that a great screenplay takes. It’s daring and edgy, and it wouldn’t be a shock to find that something that contains a set piece of dancing Nazis to have fallen flat. But it doesn’t. It’s tuned perfectly and is screamingly funny from start to finish. It deserved to win.