Around the World in 80 Days (winner)
The King and I
The Ten Commandments
At a quick glance 1956 is an embarrassment of riches, particularly compared with the five films listed above. It’s also a year where I am well aware that I have not seen some of the true greats yet, most notably Early Spring. Of the ones I have seen, The Searchers, which I regard to be one of the best three Westerns ever made, leaps out at me as a film that should be here. Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind was probably too racy for the time, but it’s one of my favorites of his. The same is probably true of Kubrick’s The Killing, which showed a lot of promise for a young director. On the science fiction front, 1956 is the year for both Forbidden Planet and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, two films that still have some influence today and are better than their B-movie roots. I also was impressed with both Bigger than Life and The Bad Seed, but I think only the first of those really deserves consideration here. I like The Ladykillers, too, but it’s probably not enough of a film to warrant more than its Best Original Screenplay nod. On the foreign front, both Bob le Flambeur and The Burmese Harp are from 1956, and The Burmese Harp definitely was worth a nod.
Weeding through the Nominees
4: Friendly Persuasion is a good enough film, even if it comes across to me as a very strange one. I tend to like Gary Cooper the more I see of him, and I liked him here. But this film felt disjointed to me. The message felt all over the place. We go into it with this idea of Quaker non-violence that turns into full-on Quaker violence with guns and beating soldiers with brooms. I didn’t hate the film, but I also didn’t love it, and can’t for the life of me understand what puts it on this list above a bunch of those listed above. Not bad, but certainly not one of the best five of 1956.
2: With Giant, we get something that is just as much an “Oscar” film as The King and I, albeit in the completely opposite direction. This is a grand story as well, and contains a big chunk of the sweep of history. I like how grand it is and how personal it becomes, and it’s hard to fault James Dean here in any aspect of his performance. I liked Giant more than I thought I would, which sounds like faint praise. It does feel like too much, though. A little simplifying, a little shorter, and I might push it for a win.
1: I’ve said before that I think The Greatest Show on Earth won in 1952 because the Academy wanted Cecil B. DeMille to have an Oscar. All they really had to do was wait a couple more years and they could have given it to him for The Ten Commandments. Of the five nominees, this would be my choice without too much deliberation. It’s got the pomp, the massive sets, the huge cast, the giant story, and it comes packed with the fury of an angry deity and one of my absolute favorite casting choices: Yul Brynner (again!) as Pharaoh Ramses II. If I’m limited to the five, it’s my pick.
But I’m not limited to the five in my world, and while I like some of the nominations here, none of them would be my choice. For the much-more-likely-to-win category of films made in English, I’d go with The Searchers, which is (my opinion) an objectively great Western and John Wayne’s best film. I’d probably sneak Written on the Wind as a second-place finisher. Overall, though, gun to my head, the best movie of 1956 was the one the really couldn’t have taken home the trophy: The Burmese Harp. Eventually Hollywood learned that films in other languages have merit, but they hadn’t learned it yet. And here it sits, unnominated but worthy of winning.
I haven't seen Giant yet but this whole list of nominees leaves me cold. Looking over my ratings of movies I have seen I 'd have to go with Aparajito. You mention some good options. No way it could have been on an Oscar list but Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one that makes the genre loving part of my heart sing.ReplyDelete
1957 was one of the all-time great years. Funny this one is so spotty.
It's a pretty underwhelming list, isn't it? I've seen four of the five nominees for 1957. I think two are clear winners and a third could win in a different year.Delete
Like you, I love Body Snatchers. It's one of the first scary movies I ever saw, so it has a warm, fuzzy spot in my cinematic memory.
I try to avoid reading your Oscar reviews for the ten or so years ahead of me, but I... just... have... to... peek... and this looks like a horrible year. Is it all that bad? Usually there are a few really good movies in any year. The The Commandments does not look too bad and Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a true classic, even I have seen it.ReplyDelete
There are plenty of good movies in this year, and a lot of the ones that I mentioned as ones I like more than the nominees are on the 1001 Movies list. And, the two nominees I put at the top are the two you'll have to watch. The others I watched on my own. You're pretty safe.Delete
Well, Steve, I am now in a position to say... that I am not far from your pick. My choice would be 1. Burmese Harp, 2. The Searchers, 3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 4. Giant, 5. The Ten Commandments. Sad really that the best nominee is only number four on my list.Delete
Flip the last two, and I think we're in agreement down the line.Delete
As your post rightly points out, a relatively weak list was nominated. It was actually a really interesting year. From the non-nominated 1956 films that I have seen recently, I would recommend watching Baby Doll, Bus Stop, High Society, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Tea And Sympathy. In the context of 1956 I can understand why Baby Doll was ignored, but that doesn't make it any less of a classic.ReplyDelete
I haven't seen Baby Doll yet. I didn't love (or hate, really) High Society or The Man Who Knew Too Much. Haven't seen the others, either.Delete
From what I know about Baby Doll, it was probably ignored for the same reason as Written on the Wind.
As you pointed out, we could probably pick five other movies from that year that are better than all the ones that were nominated. The five nominees are all pretty much even for me. I agree The Ten Commandments is the most epic.ReplyDelete
Of the other films I'd have to go with The Searchers. You and I both feel strongly about how good a film this is. In regards to The Burmese Harp I believe I watched it soon after your review of it because of how much you liked it. I liked it, too, but not quite as much as you.
I like The Burmese Harp a lot, but I could be easily argued to push for The Searchers. It would probably be the easier sell, and I can't say that it's not a deserving film. On Letterboxd, I rated both of them as five stars.Delete
Good to feel the love for Forbidden Planet, one of my all-time favorite movies. Fantastic special effects and incredible, ground-breaking sound design. The acting is stiff and paternal (I'm looking at you, Leslie Nielsen), but the rest is fantastic.ReplyDelete
I also enjoy the Ten Commandments. It's a good movie.
Yeah, it's hard to knock The Ten Commandments. It's a grand production and fun to watch, if a bit long. This was a good year for Yul Brynner.Delete
B movie or not, Body Snatchers would still be my choice.ReplyDelete
In a perfect world, it might be mine. If you've never read it, the original book is fantastic, by the way.Delete