Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
My Fair Lady (winner)
Zorba the Greek
While the five movies selected for 1964 are an interesting mix, there are a few others that are worth bringing up, either as potentially serious contenders or as simply noteworthy movies from that year. Goldfinger, arguably the best of the James Bond movies, came out in 1964. On the Western front, we have A Fistful of Dollars, now considered a true classic. I’m also a fan of A Hard Day’s Night, although that’s not really a serious contender. It’s a strong year for non-English films as well. I’d have been unsurprised by nominations for The Red Desert, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Onibaba, Band of Outsiders or (and especially) The Woman in the Dunes, although it’s worth noting that Teshigahara’s film got a nomination the following year.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: Say goodbye to Mary Poppins right away. This has nothing to do with this being a musical. It has a little bit to do with the fact that I dislike the two kids, hate Dick Van Dyke’s terrible accent, and wish it weren’t so syrupy. It mostly has to do with the fact that I genuinely dislike this story. I don’t think there’s a good message here. I stand by the comment I made in my review of this film: I get how kids might be entranced by this (or were in 1964), but I can’t for the life of me understand how an adult would find this charming or entertaining. Like many a kids’ film, it creates unrealistic expectations and a world of whimsy and magic that simply doesn’t exist. Shame on the Academy for its nomination.
4: My reaction to Zorba the Greek was to be underwhelmed by it completely. The fact that it’s showing up fourth on this list may well be a function of my expectations of the movie being dashed by its reality. I thought this would be life affirming and fun, sort of an ouzo-scented Fiddler on the Roof, and that’s not what it is at all. It’s hardly the film’s fault that it wasn’t what I expected it to be, but it’s not at all the film’s fault that its story is ultimately depressing and bleak. All the Greek dancing and bouzouki music in the world won’t change that.
3: Once again, deciding between third and second place proved to be the toughest choice this week. Ultimately, I’ve decided to put Becket here not because I think it’s worse than the next film on the list but because of personal reasons involved my second-place choice. If I really want to justify keeping this film above the money area, I’d say that it’s too cerebral for one thing, and that it’s also nothing without the performances of its two stars. Minus Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton, there’s nothing here to interest anyone. It’s also far too long at nearly 150 minutes, especially since the bulk of the “action” is either people thinking or talking to each other.
2: So now it’s two weeks in a row that I’m putting a musical in my choices, and this time it’s a real, traditional musical. I like My Fair Lady despite Audrey Hepburn actually being pretty annoying through a good part of it. I freely admit that a big part of this is that it’s a film about, beyond the romance, linguistics. Well, I studied linguistics. I got a degree in linguistics. Of course I’m going to love a film that uses phonology as a plot point! More than that, though, I have found that I genuinely like Rex Harrison. I like the way he sing-talks, and I like watching him on screen. I get why this was chosen, and I think it was a solid choice.
1: Of the five nominated films, my favorite is Dr. Strangelove, hands down. I can understand why some people might not like this film. It’s the sort of film that really needs to be watched closely and carefully, and for a comedy, it has very few moments of genuine belly laughs. It’s a sardonic funny, the kind that elicits a sneer rather than a laugh. It probably didn’t really have a chance of winning, but I love that it was nominated. More significantly, of the five nominated films, it’s the one that’s had the biggest and most lasting impact on the films that have followed it. It’s a brave film in a lot of ways and it takes a lot of chances, paying off on all of them.