Anatomy of a Murder
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Nun’s Story
Room at the Top
When you talk about great years for movies, 1959 needs to be one of the first years that gets mentioned. There are so many great movies from this year that it’s tragic that the nominations were limited to five. Ten wouldn’t have been enough. I’ll drop the noteworthy films that aren’t really the kind that get nominations for Best Picture. These start with Black Orpheus and Eyes Without a Face. I also love The House on Haunted Hill, but it’s not a film that would be nominated in a million years. Foreign films don’t get a lot of Best Picture nominations, either, so films like The 400 Blows, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Wild Strawberries, Pickpocket and Breathless probably wouldn’t get nominations in all but the weakest of years, which this isn’t (and I wouldn’t nominate Breathless). Now, let’s get serious. There are at least three movies that bear serious consideration and that I would pick over at least two of the nominees. The first is Suddenly, Last Summer, a bizarre and creepy film that goes to some very weird places. Second is the classic Some Like It Hot, considered by many to be the funniest movie ever made. Third, and for me the biggest miss, is North by Northwest, the greatest move ever made.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I think The Diary of Anne Frank was nominated not because of its quality (it’s not bad), but because of what it is. It’s a sentimental nomination, the sort of film that feels like it should be nominated and held up as one of the great achievements of the year. Were this a more generic tale of a family in hiding during the Holocaust—change the names and nothing else—I don’t think it winds up here. It’s not a bad film, but in a year this good, it’s not even one of the ten best films of the year, let alone one of the five best.
4. The Nun’s Story is interesting, but it has some real problems. The main problem is that it’s far too long for the story it tells. At just shy of 150 minutes, it’s at least a half hour longer than it needs to be, and probably a bit more than that. Again, it’s good, but it wouldn’t crack my top-10 for 1959, let alone be considered as one of the best films of the year overall. Not even the particular and wonderful charms of Audrey Hepburn can change the fact that it needs not just a trim, but a serious cut to make it worth watching a second time.
3. Ben-Hur almost certainly won because it’s a huge Biblical epic, and that screams “Best Picture” to a lot of people, especially in this Hollywood era. I think an argument could be made for the chariot scene being the main reason that the film won, and it is perhaps the most spectacular piece of cinema since the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind. I give the film a great deal of credit for that, and while I understand completely why it won, that scene—as good of an argument as it is for letterboxing—isn’t enough to give it the top position.
2. Anatomy of a Murder is one of the first films I reviewed on this site, going all the way back to the second day of film reviews. Hundreds and hundreds of movies later, and I still remember a great deal of it. It was edgy for its time, which makes the nomination a little surprising. There’s a lot to like with this film, It serves as an indictment of the American legal system in many ways, which also seems surprising in Eisenhower’s America. I could see putting it on the top of the nominations we have.
1. That leaves us with Room at the Top, which features a fantastic performance from Simone Signoret and the typical cold, calculating performance from Laurence Harvey. I think the story is just about perfect. It works by giving everyone in the story everything he or she wants and then having them realize that it’s the worst thing they could possibly have. The story still works as well now as it did when the film first came out. Of the five nominations, it would be my pick almost every year, with Anatomy of a Murder winning perhaps one in five. But it’s not the real pick.
C’mon, really? Of course I’m going to pick North by Northwest, although I could absolutely see picking Some Like It Hot just as easily. Those are the two best movies from this year without question, and I don’t know anyone who will disagree. If you do, please let me know below, but know now that you’re wrong.