William Wyler: Ben-Hur (winner)
George Stevens: The Diary of Anne Frank
Fred Zinnemann: The Nun’s Story
Jack Clayton: Room at the Top
Billy Wilder: Some Like it Hot
It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t put North by Northwest at the top of what is missing here. I think I could argue for Hitchcock being included, and my heart is going to say that this should have been nominated for just about everything and won everything. I’m also in a position where I can’t really look at this movie objectively, so I’m trying to keep that in check. On the foreign front, there are a few worth looking at—Robert Bresson for Pickpocket, Marcel Camus for Black Orpheus (at least for the pageantry), Jean Luc Godard for Breathless and especially Ingmar Bergman for Wild Strawberries jump to mind. Two others that I think could have been legitimately nominated are Otto Preminger for his work on Anatomy of a Murder and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for the surprising Suddenly, Last Summer.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Of the movies that were nominated for this award for this year, The Nun’s Story is not my least favorite. It is the one that I question the most for Best Director, though. I’m not entirely sure what Fred Zennemann did here. The film is too long, but it does avoid being terribly preachy, which I respect. Truthfully, though, the main reason to watch The Nun’s Story is for the radiant Audrey Hepburn and not for anything Zinnemann did behind the camera. Of all of these, this is the nomination I would most quickly and most happily remove. It deserved some nominations, just not this one.
4. I liked The Diary of Anne Frank more than I thought I would, and truthfully, the main reason for that isn’t the acting or the story, but the solid and intelligent direction from George Stevens. The problem that the movie has going in is that virtually everyone who sees it knows exactly how it is going to end and it takes us a good three hours to get us to the ending we know we’re getting. Stevens manages to inject some moments of real tension despite this, and it’s not easy to do. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough. It’s good work, but I don’t think it’s worthy of a nomination.
3. I was suitably impressed with A Room at the Top, but again, this is a case where the performances and the story that we’re given are far more interesting than the telling of that story. This is a case where the screenplay is the real stand out, and the screenplay is demonstrated as being so good because of Simone Signoret and Laurence Harvey. Sure, Jack Clayton gets some of the credit for being able to get those performances from his cast. But he also got out of the way of the story more than he told it. It was the right choice, but I’m not sure he belongs on this list.
2. I like Billy Wilder and I’m predisposed to think well of his direction in general. However, with Some Like it Hot, the things that really come to mind for me are (again) the screenplay and the performances. The difference here in contrast with A Room at the Top is that I can see more of Wilder here than I can of Clayton in the other film. There are moments here that I think scream that this is Wilder behind the camera. Of all of the nominations, this is the first one I think I’d keep if I were creating my own list of five.
1. I said at the top that my heart is always going to vote for North by Northwest and Alfred Hitchcock for this award. This is Hitchcock at or near the top of his craft and is yet another case where he was snubbed for a film where he clearly should have been nominated. But even saying that, I have to hand it to William Wyler and Ben-Hur. North by Northwest is going to remain my favorite movie of 1959, but I can’t deny that Ben-Hur is clearly the biggest and grandest and that it takes the most chances. Wyler’s work is impeccable. The man gave us the chariot race scene, and that is enough to hand him the Oscar.