A Man for All Seasons (winner)
The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
I admit that I don’t necessarily understand the ins and outs of what makes something adapted or original in certain cases. For instance, I would qualify Blowup as possibly adapted since it came from a story, but it was nominated as an original screenplay. The same appears to be true of Daisies, not that it was nominated. I really like Seconds and think it deserved a nod over one or two of the nominations. While The Shop on Main Street was evidently a 1965 release, Ida Kaminska was nominated, so the screenplay should have been eligible and nominated as well. The Sand Pebbles would have been a possible nomination as well, but I’m not sure I like it well enough over the other films I’ve mentioned. I rather like the adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 as well, and that would probably make my list even with its departures from the book.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: The biggest fault of The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming is that it hasn’t aged well at all. I’m certain that this was much better received in 1966 than it would be now. It’s a comedy, but it works more as a comedy on the whole than it does in specific moments. It’s not particularly funny moment by moment, and that’s a problem for a film that’s supposed to be a comedy. I might have wanted it nominated in 1966, but today there are a number of films I think deserve this spot more.
4. The next three spots are difficult, and I expect I’ll get some disagreement in my placements. I’m sticking Alfie in the fourth spot only because I think the others work a little bit better and because if I’m making my own list, it’s the one of these next three I’m the most comfortable letting go to make room for other films. Alfie works surprisingly well, but I’m convinced that the main reason for this isn’t the screenplay, but the performance of Michael Caine, who ties the film together. With a lesser actor, this same screenplay is almost certainly a failure, so I’m not sure the screenplay stands very well on its own.
3: The biggest problem I see with A Man for All Seasons is that it’s perhaps too heady and too intellectually buried in its own thoughts to be as compelling as I’d like it to be. It’s clearly well-written in that it deals with a difficult topic and intricate details in a way that make sense to the audience. I give it a great deal of credit for that. It’s also a film that, at least for me, requires a specific mood to enjoy. I’m happy to watch films that challenge me in various ways, but I don’t always want an in-depth theological discussion on finer points of religious canon. It’s too much, so it sticks in the middle.
2. For me, The Professionals came out of nowhere in a good way. This is the placement I’ll probably take the most heat for since the responses I got on The Professionals was far less enthusiastic than my own. What I like about this is how much it plays with genre. This is clearly a Western, but it takes place at the tail end of World War I, so there are cars in it. It’s also very close to a film noir in the way the characters behave. More importantly, it’s a rollicking good time watching a movie, and that goes a long way for me. It’s smart and entertaining and while some of that comes from the staggeringly good cast, a lot comes from the script.
1: For me, though, it’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in a walk. It helps that it has a great cast, all of whom were arguably never better in any films they did, but on a base level, they had some incredible material to work with. There’s a reason that when people talk about classic films from this period, this is one that comes up and the other films nominated in this category don’t. Sure, some of that is the people on screen, but don’t downplay the words. This is one of the best of its decade, let alone its year, and Oscar should have given it the statue.