A Man for All Seasons (winner)
The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming
The Sand Pebbles
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
It’s an odd set of nominations in 1966, especially considering the other movies that certainly could have been nominated. Let’s start with the kind of movies that don’t tend to get nominated. On the science fiction front, Fantastic Voyage is fun, but probably not worth considering. Seconds, though, is the sort of film that is just strange enough to be interesting for the Academy. While Westerns certainly have a long history of nomination, Italian Westerns don’t regardless of the quality, which explains the miss on The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It doesn’t explain the miss on The Professionals, though. Foreign movies also are often ignored, but there was no reason to ignore Persona or The Shop on Main Street. Other films worthy of consideration that I think belong are Blow-Up and The Naked Prey. Before someone mentions The Battle of Algiers, it got its nominations in 1968.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: It doesn’t surprise me that The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming may well have resonated more in 1966 than it does now, decades after the end of the Cold War. Even with that said, I’m not understanding the nomination at all. Sure, it’s a cute movie and it’s a pretty good farce. There are some decent performances here. But Best Picture? The biggest problem with TRAC, TRAC is that the situation we’re given is a lot funnier than the reality of the movie, and that seems like a really big problem for something that’s supposed to be a comedy more than anything else.
4. For me, the most interesting thing about The Sand Pebbles is that it was Steve McQueen’s only Oscar nomination. I like that nomination, but I don’t really get this as a Best Picture option aside from the fact that it’s well made and a pretty good spectacle. I think it’s a worthwhile film, but it’s also one that, despite having seen it just a couple of years ago, I don’t really remember a lot of it. That’s not a good sign for a film that wants to be thought of as the best film of its year.
3. I liked Alfie more than I thought I would. The primary reason for this is that Michael Caine is completely engaging as a sort of lovable sexist asshole. The conceit of the film is that Caine, as Alfie, tends to spend a great deal of the movie breaking the fourth wall. It actually works pretty well. The problem with Alfie is that it’s a little movie and a little story. It doesn’t have the scope and sweep that tends to be thought of as a Best Picture movie. I like it, but I don’t think it has the grandeur that a Best Picture should have. I love Caine’s nomination, but I’m unclear of why the movie was worthy.
2. A Man for All Seasons won, and I get why it did even though I obviously disagree. Putting it all the way up at second place may even be mildly controversial, because the biggest knock against A Man for All Seasons is that it’s not very exciting. This is a movie that takes place almost entirely inside the minds of the various characters—it’s a mental movie much more than it is anything else. It’s not dull. In fact, it’s pretty smart, and the performances really are good. It simply doesn’t rise to the level of what I think of when I think of Best Picture nominee, let alone winner.
1: With Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? we have finally gotten to a place in 1966 where I actually understand the nomination. Given my own choices, this is the only one of the five actual nominations I would keep, and I think I could argue it as the best picture of its year. It might be a much different race with films like The Professionals, Persona and The Shop on Main Street in the running, and even more different with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly included. Nothing will change the fact that this film is brutal, acted within an inch of its life, and in many ways timeless. It would still be nominated today, and it would have made a much better and more worthy winner.