Sidney Lumet: 12 Angry Men
David Lean: The Bridge on the River Kwai (winner)
Mark Robson: Peyton Place
Joshua Logan: Sayonara
Billy Wilder: Witness for the Prosecution
Interestingly, 1957 is a year in which our Best Picture nominees are identical to our Best Director nominees. If you’re under the impression that this might be a repeat of my looking at the Best Picture side of this, you might be right. However, there are a few movies I think are worth mentioning. Given the chance to name the five nominees myself, two or three might stay the same, but there’s a lot of room for improvement here. Director performances that legitimately could have been nominated and deserved consideration include Alexander Mackendrick’s work on Sweet Smell of Success, Delmer Daves and 3:10 to Yuma, and especially Elia Kazan’s work on A Face in the Crowd. More than any of those, though, Stanley Kubrick deserved a nomination for Paths of Glory. On the foreign front, two of the greatest directors in history each created great films. Akira Kurosawa made Throne of Blood and Ingmar Bergman made Wild Strawberries and the now-iconic The Seventh Seal. Just for fun, I’ll toss in Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man because it’s a far better film than its goofy premise.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I like Sayonara the least of these five movies, but that’s not the only reason I’m putting it in fifth place. The main reason is that I have no idea what Joshua Logan specifically brought to the table here. Sure, there are some good performances (the film won for both of the supporting categories, after all), but this seems like a case of the director getting out of the way of the story and letting the story happen. That’s impressive when it’s done because it takes a steady hand to avoid meddling, but it’s not worthy of an award, and in my opinion it’s not worthy of a nomination.
4. Mark Robson’s nomination for Peyton Place feels like the Academy trying to be daring by putting such a controversial film up for major awards. I don’t dislike the film, but the truth is that it hasn’t aged very well in a lot of respects. While this was certainly right on the bleeding edge in terms of mainstream cinema in 1957, it doesn’t hold up over time, and that’s a problem. With this older awards in particular, longevity is critically important. I’d have liked this nomination more in 1957 than I do know.
3. I’ve long been a Billy Wilder apologist and there’s a lot I like about Witness for the Prosecution, bit Wilder’s direction comes pretty far down the list. This is a film that works almost entirely because of the cast and the performances, not from anything Wilder specifically did from the director’s chair. While I’m generally happy to see Wilder getting a nomination, this is a case where I don’t think he really deserved one. Bergman, Kurosawa, Kubrick, or Kazan should have been here instead.
1: It’s all about David Lean and The Bridge on the River Kwai for me. This shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider that I place this in my top-5 list of Best Picture winners in history. I think this is a masterful film, complete, coherent, and telling a grand story without losing the audience for a moment. In truth, with a different set of nominations, I’d have a much harder time here—Kubrick, Kurosawa, and Bergman being placed as nominees would make this a more difficult decision. However, given that if there’s a worthy picture or performance nominated I try to go with one of the nominees, Lean wins in a walk.