Fred Zinnemann: From Here to Eternity (winner)
Charles Walters: Lili
William Wyler: Roman Holiday
George Stevens: Shane
Billy Wilder: Stalag 17
I think I picked this award and this year today because it’s a tough one. I genuinely like four of these movies and like the directorial performance of all four of those. Putting in my own additions to a very strong list isn’t that easy. I don’t adore The Band Wagon, but I think a case could be made for Vincente Minelli here. My love of Samuel Fuller is probably what is making me suggest Pickup on South Street. The same could be said of Jacques Tati and M. Hulot’s Holiday. Others worth bringing up include Max Ophuls and The Earrings of Madame de… and the Japanese duo of Yasujiro Ozu and Tokyo Story and Kenji Mizoguchi for Ugetsu. The two biggest misses in my opinion were misses for a reason. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s work in The Wages of Fear was in French, which pretty much left it out of contention in 1953. The Bigamist was directed by Ida Lupino, and the Academy probably wasn’t ready for a woman director in 1953. Others worth thinking about are Fritz Lang for The Big Heat, Federico Fellini for I Vitelloni (which would have the same issues as The Wages of Fear) and potentially Howard Hawks for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I’m dumping Lili and Charles Walters right off the bat. I hate Lili about as much as I hate Gigi, and I hate that one a hell of a lot. More to the point, aside from the weird and rather creepy dance number that happens at the end, I don’t get a good sense of why this would be nominated for Best Director. I admit that I might be allowing my own biases to get in the way here, but when I dislike a movie as much as I dislike this one, it’s probably going to end up on the bottom of the stack no matter what.
4. And here’s where it starts to get tough. I think from this point on, I’ll get a lot of disagreement with where I put things, and I don’t know that I can say that anyone else would be wrong with a different order. As sad as it makes me to put Billy Wilder fourth, and as much as I like Stalag 17, it’s the film I’m putting here. I love the movie and the story, but there are some moments in the film that seem off in terms of tone. That does fall on Wilder, and for that reason, I’m sticking him at the bottom of the nominated films I think could actually win.
3. I like Roman Holiday a lot, and I like how much of it seems to be a love letter to Rome itself. It’s a beautiful film to watch as well as a very sweet and entertaining story. So why is it third? No significant reason except that I think the other two nominees have a better case to make for being in first. This is a lovely film, one that everyone should see at some point, and while I appreciate the nomination for William Wyler, he’s not who I would put on the stand with the statue regardless of how pretty the film is.
2. What I like about From Here to Eternity more than anything is just how ballsy it is. This is a film that goes directly after military culture less than a decade after the end of World War II. In a sense, it’s almost a shock that the film got made in that environment. It also contains one of the most iconic scenes of its decade, with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the surf. There’s a lot to recommend this and to recommend Fred Zinnemann, and I won’t say that the Academy picked poorly. They just didn’t pick my choice.
1. I’d go with Shane, and I’d go with it for a single reason: the closing moment. Since Shane was released, people have argued back and forth about whether or not Shane is alive or dead when he rides off into the sunset at the end. This is the kind of ambiguity I can get behind, and it’s perfectly done. My guess is that this won’t be a popular pick from me, and there were a lot of ways I could see this going. In fact, I’d even be okay with a number of choices from my first paragraph here.