Friday, May 23, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1964

The Contenders:
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Mary Poppins
My Fair Lady (winner)
Zorba the Greek

What’s Missing

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.

My Choices

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.

Final Analysis


  1. Yeah, Dr. Strangelove rules! Maybe I am just a little strange, but this was a laugh out load, belly clasping, knee slapping movie for me. I love the sardonic wit and the underplayed puns. The presidents phone conversation with his Russian counterpart found me screaming with laughter. Yes, this is hands down the best movie of the year.

    1. There are a couple of moments in the film that make me laugh, but most of the time, I sit there with something akin to a smirk on my face.

      And yeah, it's 1964's best.

  2. I'll make it unanimous for Strangelove. Peter Sellers should have won as well.

    I haven't seen Mary Poppins all the way through since childhood, so I'll reserve judgement for now.

    1. You're not missing much on Mary Poppins, but that's only my opinion.

      Sellers would've been a solid win, but I haven't gotten there yet.

    2. I would also have liked to have seen Sterling Hayden or George C. Scott in the supporting category, though neither one was nominated. I also really love Stanley Holloway in My Fair Lady, who was nomintated but didn't win.

  3. Years ago I sometimes would see posts on IMDB where you were supposed to name your favorite film from the year you were born, or even name your favorite film for every year since you were born. It was mostly a non-starter for me since I was born in 1964 and at that time hadn't really seen anything that truly impressed me. Oh sure, I had seen films that were a lot of fun (i.e. Goldfinger) or that had great songs (My Fair Lady), but none that I'd have picked as a "Best Picture".

    Nowadays I still wouldn't pick any of the five nominees to win, but I also wouldn't raise up any of the non-nominees over them, either. If I had to pick one of the five I'd probably go with Becket, although I do agree with you that it's the acting performances that carry the film.

    1. Becket isn't a bad choice. I contemplated putting it below the fold, as it were, and as a possible choice. It just doesn't quite get there for me, though.

  4. 1964 was the year I was born and I really enjoy it whenever I come across some random film on cable from that year and I end up watching some pretty arbitrary films just because they're from 1964. This year I saw Kwaidan, Dead Ringer (with Bette Davis), Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Murder Most Foul (with Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple) and two that I've seen before, Strait-Jacket (with Joan Crawford) and The Comedy of Terrors.

    I still haven't seen Zorba the Greek, but I've seen all the other Best Picture nominees. As much as I love Strangelove, My Fair Lady, Hard Day's Night and Goldfinger, my personal favorite movie from 1964 is:

    Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster!

    I would guess that a lot of people like it, but I'm probably the only one suggesting it for Best Picture in 1964.

  5. If you're a Ghidorah fan, you really need to read some of Nolahn's reviews at

    I loved Seance on a Wet Afternoon. It's such a well-made little film that turns very carefully on its creepy and upsetting plot. I wish more people knew about it.