Orson Welles: Citizen Kane
Alexander Hall: Here Comes Mr. Jordan
John Ford: How Green Was My Valley (winner)
William Wyler: The Little Foxes
Howard Hawks: Sergeant York
There are a number of movies I like from 1941, but many of them don’t specifically have exceptional performances from the director’s chair. Take, for example, Ball of Fire. Fun movie, but what exactly did Howard Hawks do there? Preston Sturges for The Lady Eve and/or Sullivan’s Travels might be a good call, and I’d have nominated John Huston for The Maltese Falcon. Beyond that, I don’t really have a lot to say here.
Weeding through the Nominees
4: I’m bumping Sergeant York next. There’s something about this film that is like biting on a piece of tinfoil for me, and I can only blame Howard Hawks because I refuse to blame Gary Cooper. This isn’t a bad film, but regardless of how close to reality it sticks, it feels like it’s been run through the washing machine and “Hollywood-ed” up to make it palatable for middle America. That really is my main problem here, and while that might well have come from the studio, the film has Hawks’s name on the director line, so he gets the blame.
3: There’s a part of me that’s a little surprised that How Green Was My Valley made it to third place. This is one of those films that is probably better than I give it credit for being. There’s a certain amount of hangover here that it beat both The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane for Best Picture. It really isn’t a bad movie, but it is a depressing one, and John Ford did a lot better in his career. Ultimately I don’t hate this film or even this nomination; I just don’t love it.
2: When I think of movies of this era, I tend to have particular expectations. The Little Foxes broke a lot of those with the use of camera. William Wyler places a very elaborate game of misdirection here, always keeping us focused exactly where he wants us. We miss some major events happening because Wyler has us focused on other characters in another place, and there’s a particular mad genius to that. I wouldn’t have been terribly upset if Wyler had won, but he still wouldn’t have been my choice.
1: No, it’s all about Citizen Kane. I think I’m a bigger fan of The Maltese Falcon, but Citizen Kane has everything I want in a Best Director winner. This is a film that is innovative, makes use of sophisticated film techniques, uses unique camera angles, and was made with guts, brass, and balls. Welles was personally nominated for three Oscars for Kane and never nominated for another one for his entire career. He won for Original Screenplay, but lost here. He should’ve won here, but that's what you get for making the Academy your enemy.