Federico Fellini: 8 ½
Elia Kazan: America, America
Otto Preminger: The Cardinal
Martin Ritt: Hud
Tony Richardson: Tom Jones (winner)
Sometimes I hate this project, and Best Director for 1963 is one of those times. This is such a drab and dreary collection of nominations that I have to wonder what the hell was going through the head of the Academy. The Academy managed to somehow never give a competitive Oscar to Ingmar Bergman and failed to nominate him in this year for Winter Light. Robert Wise, who did win an Oscar or two, could certainly have stood in this group for The Haunting. John Sturges, who directed The Great Escape in this year was also overlooked for some reason, as was Alfred Hitchcock, whose 1963 movie was nothing less than The Birds. I’d also love to see Lindsay Anderson for This Sporting Life on the docket. Finally, I realize that I’m not entirely serious when I suggest Sam Fuller for Shock Corridor, but wouldn’t that have been great?
Weeding through the Nominees
5. For some reason, Oscar often thinks that things that are of epic length are absolutely warranted to be of epic length and are therefore good. The Cardinal isn’t terrible as a film, but it’s certainly not the sort of thing that requires the 180 or so minutes of its running time. It’s long and it drags, and for someone of my non-religious predilections, the fact that it is essentially a three-hour apologetic for the Catholic Church rubs me the wrong way. I have no issue with Otto Preminger as a director, but I would have more respect for this film with an hour or so removed.
4. I think I’m supposed to love 8 ½ a lot more than I actually do. Of course, I think I’m supposed to love Fellini a lot more than I actually do as well. There is nothing specifically bad or wrong with 8 ½ in general; it’s just that I tend to find Fellini both opaque and self-indulgent. Most of what I get from his films is “Look at me! I’m making a movie!” and in the case of this movie, it’s essentially an autobiographical jaunt about his making a movie. It’s a hell of a lot of navel gazing. I mean, it’s stylish navel gazing, but it’s still navel gazing.
3. I’m completely unenthused about Tom Jones as a movie, so it’s kind of a wonder that Tony Richardson has made it to the middle of the pack. And yet, his direction is something here that I can genuinely respect. The thing he does very well here is keep the tone light and comic. He does this by using a few interesting techniques, like speeding up the film, silent film-style pantomime, and fourth wall breaks. He’s smart enough to use these techniques, and smarter still not to overuse them. I don’t love the film, but he did this well.
2. I tend to like Elia Kazan, and I didn’t love America, America, which again makes it interesting that he has made it this far in the running. This is a deeply personal film for Kazan, and that shows in almost every frame. The reason I’ve put him this high in the rankings for a film I am honestly ambivalent about is that, despite this, America, America never drags for feels long despite its close to three-hour length. Kazan has made a film here that, while not specifically enjoyable, still moves well and provides interest. That’s an accomplishment.
1. What this means is that, given the five nominees, I’m going with Martin Ritt and Hud. He’s not going to be my ultimate choice, but it’s worth saying that Ritt wouldn’t be a bad choice for a number of reasons. The first is that Hud is loaded with amazing performances. The second is that this is a film that breaks a number of genre stereotypes and does so in interesting and meaningful ways. Ritt made pretty much all of the right decisions with Hud, and while he’s not going to be my ultimate choice, he’d be a good one, and one I’d support.
For this award for this year, my heart is always going to be with John Sturges and The Great Escape. Some of that is almost certainly nostalgia, since the movie is a favorite of mine as a child. But the work here is good—a massive cast and a massive story made understandable and clear, and that’s not easy. I’d also give a lot of consideration to Hitchcock for The Birds, even if I like that a little less (only a little) than everyone else.