Lawrence of Arabia (winner)
The Longest Day
The Music Man
Mutiny on the Bounty
To Kill a Mockingbird
With 1962, we have a year with a couple of tremendous nominees and a few also-rans that stood in place of some films that really should have been nominated in their place. The Manchurian Candidate and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are two that jump out at me right away as having been looked over, possibly because of their subject matter, although Bette Davis swung a nomination for Baby Jane. I like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as well, although maybe not enough for an Oscar nomination. What about Cape Fear? Or Dr. No? On the foreign front, Cleo from 5 to 7 is a big miss in my opinion, but not nearly as big as The Exterminating Angel. My Life to Live might (but only might) warrant a nod here as well. Oh, this was also the year of release for The Birds, and that might deserve some attention as well.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I really should start off by saying that I liked all five nominees well enough, so when I drop Mutiny on the Bounty first, I’m not saying that I thought it was a bad film. It’s not. It’s just my least favorite of the five presented here. The main reason it sits in fifth place is that it’s far too long and that there’s not a great deal to recommend it beyond the story and that it’s in color this time. I can live with the changes in the story, but a full hour could be excised from this and it would not only hurt the final film, it would improve it. The only reason it’s an epic is the length, and that doesn’t deserve to be rewarded.
4: My issues with The Longest Day are almost the exact opposite. It’s not that it’s too short (it isn’t) but that it tries to do too much with the time it has. The Longest Day attempts to encompass all of D-Day in a single film, and it’s just too much to do. Something that handled maybe one of the beaches and used that to extrapolate to the entire invasion would have done the task more effectively. There’s a lot good going on here and the film is worth seeing, but the lack of focus detracts from the story that is being told. Make this a mini-series and it would be better. It’s too short for what it wants to do and has aspirations far too large for it to handle.
3: I liked The Music Man a lot more than I thought I would. Sure, it’s a dippy musical and everyone sings their feelings and knows the choreography immediately, but I can live with that when the end product is entertaining. The Music Man is entertaining. It would have to be a very strange year for me to think it’s the greatest film of that year, but I’m not really upset with the nomination, even if there are more important and meaningful films made that weren’t nominated. It’s fun and it’s really well made. It doesn’t hurt that the songs are good, too.
2: When I agree with the Academy, I usually leave that winner in its own category, but not so for this year. Had To Kill a Mockingbird won, I would disagree with the decision, but I also wouldn’t be able to fault that decision. It’s a hell of a good movie and it features one of cinema’s truly perfect performances in Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. That the book it’s based on is regularly taught to middle schoolers doesn’t detract from its power. More importantly, the message is still one that resonates and director Robert Mulligan treats the story with the respect it deserves. It wouldn’t be my pick, but I won’t disagree with anyone who says it’s his or hers.
1: Lawrence of Arabia is my pick, and this is a place where the Academy might the right choice in a difficult situation. Lawrence is nearly 45 minutes longer than Mutiny on the Bounty but never feels it. It tells a grand story and tells it completely. The cinematography is legendary, and along with the chariot race in Ben-Hur remains the single best argument for letterboxing in existence. There is, frankly, nothing about Lawrence of Arabia that I don’t like. When I ranked the Best Picture winners a couple of years ago, there’s a reason it landed in my top-5. It was the right pick.