The Guns of Navarone
Judgment at Nuremburg
West Side Story (winner)
I like, or at least respect, four of the nominations for Best Picture from 1961, which means we need at least one replacement. La Dolce Vita honestly would not make my final list of nominations, but it is a film I like better than at least one we have here. Staying with foreign movies, both Divorce, Italian Style and Yojimbo would be much more likely to get support from me. Horror rarely gets its just due from the Academy, but The Innocents deserved a great deal of attention that it just didn’t get. Limited to a single nomination, though, the one that I’d most want to see here is Splendor in the Grass.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. If you need evidence that the Academy has changed in some respects, I offer the nomination of Fanny as proof. There’s no way in hell this movie gets within 50 feet of a nomination for anything today, let alone the five it got including Best Picture. It’s not an equivocation to suggest that Fanny is almost literally a musical without the singing. It follows that basic plot from start to finish and has many of the same issues that older romances do, including a girl under 20 being romanced by a man in his 60s. It just comes across as creepy in so many ways. Even if you can get your mind around that, it’s hard to think it belongs here.
4. If I ranked these five films in terms of my enjoyment, The Guns of Navarone would not be in fourth place. In terms of the value of the movie, though, this is really the only place it can go. It’s a boy’s-own adventure story, perhaps one that glorifies war a little too much, but it is a great deal of fun. It’s exciting and, for the time, badass. I appreciate it for everything that it is, especially for just how much it makes me feel like a little kid watching war movies with my brother again. It is a hell of a good film, but in terms of Best Picture, I’m not entirely convinced it belongs in the nominations.
3. For West Side Story, we need to talk about bias. In this case, it’s not a bias against musicals, which I have in many ways overcome. No, in this case it’s a bias against the source material. I genuinely dislike Romeo and Juliet as a story, which means that even in the best of circumstances, West Side Story is going to be a great example of a story I dislike. And that’s exactly what it is. I don’t honestly begrudge it the Oscar at all. In many ways, it is the best picture of its year, and I get that. My putting it in third is personal, and I fully understand that in an objective sense, it probably is the right choice.
2. There are a lot of things to recommend Judgment at Nuremburg from the difficult story, the huge and stellar cast, and the guts to be one of the first mainstream films to show footage of Holocaust victims. It’s the sort of film that demands being seen. It’s not always enough to simply confront and defeat evil; evil needs to be understood so that when it happens again, we know where it comes from and perhaps have some insight into how to stop it. In a lot of years (several in the ‘50s, for instance), this would be my clear winner without any hesitation, but in 1961, there’s one I feel is more deserving.
1. I like just about everything there is to like about The Hustler, from the devastating performance from Paul Newman to the dark and shadowy cinematography. This is a film that, had it been made 15 years previous, would be held up as one of the great exemplars of the film noir style. It’s a crushing story that doesn’t fight against its inherent seediness, but embraces it as a necessary aspect. Everyone in this film is terribly broken, and it’s that brokenness that makes them all so compelling and drives the story the way it does. 1961 was probably too early for Oscar to award something this dark, but it certainly could have started here.