Friday, July 17, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1959

The Contenders:

The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cent Coups)
North by Northwest
Operation Petticoat
Pillow Talk (winner)
Wild Strawberries (Smultronstallet)

What’s Missing

I have almost no complaints about the nominations for this year in this category. No, really. The only movie I can think of that might belong here as an original screenplay is Pickpocket. Every other movie I considered as being a snub turned out to instead be an adapted screenplay. So, kudos to the Academy. That doesn’t happen very often. Incidentally, I realize this is also the year of release for Plan 9 from Outer Space. However, if you honestly think that deserved a nomination, you should probably find another blog.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Operation Petticoat is a cute movie and it’s entertaining, but if there’s one film that shouldn’t be on this list, it’s this one. Part of the problem is that I’m not sure that Operation Petticoat knows what it wants to be. Is it a war film? A goofy romance? A comedy? It’s kind of all of them, and because of that, it’s also kind of none of them. I like it just fine, but Pickpocket would have been a much better choice for this list.

4. Eventual winner Pillow Talk suffers from problems different than Operation Petticoat. The biggest issue here is that the film is just so damn fluffy that it’s difficult to take seriously. It’s a comedy, so “serious” isn’t necessarily the goal. There’s a lot of cliché here, though, since the movie is based entirely on the idea that the best way to win a woman’s heart is to lie to her about who you are. Good dialogue helps, but it doesn’t completely cover the fact that too much of this comes off as retread.

3: I’ll no doubt take some grief for sticking The 400 Blows in third place, but I’ll stand by it. There’s some good subtext in this film and it’s worth watching, but there’s a part of me that is almost always a little disappointed by the work of Francois Truffaut. I generally want to like his work more than I actually end up liking it. This is a good movie and it’s one that is absolutely worth watching. It just doesn’t have as much for me as the other two movies on the list.

2: When I started this project more than five years ago, I knew pretty much nothing about Bergman beyond the fact that he was Swedish. Now I consider myself a fan. Wild Strawberries is an interesting film in that it deals simply with the life and memories of an old man, but it also touches on areas much more akin to the typical horror film. This is a dense film worth seeing multiple times. I like other Bergman films better, but this one might be the most narratively dense under the surface, and that’s worth exploring.

My Choice

1: There should be no shock here that I’m picking North by Northwest; it is my favorite movie, after all. But it’s also one that I can justify in terms of the screenplay. Cary Grant’s other nominated picture in this category in this year is Operation Petticoat, a film that wants to be too many things and ends up being none of them. North by Northwest has similar ambitions. It’s a thriller, a romance, a spy movie, and even a comedy, and it all works and blends seamlessly. This is Hitchcock at his best, and at his best in part because he had such a great starting point. No shock for regular readers, but this one was a no-brainer.

Final Analysis


  1. I have seen 4 of the 5 films. I have not seen Operation Petticoat. I think you make a strong case for North By Northwest. I would go with the 500 Blows. I think it had the biggest impact on me out of the 4.

    My order would probably be:
    4. Pillow Talk
    3. Wild Strawberries
    2. North By Northwest
    1. The 400 Blows

    As always great job.

    1. I'm okay with that. I came very close to putting that second. But really, this one is completely personal preference. I'd pick North by Northwest even if the rest of the world were against me for the same reason you'd pick Les Quatre Cent Coups.

      Operation Petticoat is cute and worth seeing, but it's not really worth going out of your way to find.

  2. When I read the nominees, I knew what would be number 1. I don't disagree.

    I'm not a fan of The 400 Blows, either. It was yet another of the late 50s/early 60s European films that critics pee themselves over that I just wasn't that impressed by. I like some of them just fine, and I don't dislike them, but whatever made them special when they came out just isn't that impressive to me in the present. Perhaps if I had seen them when they came out I would appreciate them a lot more because of how different they were then. Wild Strawberries falls into the same category. As you said, there are other Bergman films I like more.

    1. I try to approach these with as much honesty as I can. I can assure you that just because North by Northwest wasn't nominated for Best Picture I will not go on a rant when the relevant article comes up. In this case, though, there's really only one choice for me.

      I think Wild Strawberries is a great film. It's just not a very enjoyable one.

  3. There are a lot of great choices by the Academy here. And I think with almost any other year, North by Northwest would be my choice.

    But I love Wild Strawberries! It was my favorite Bergman for a long time, and I still think it's one of his best movies even if I'm a little more partial to Smiles of a Summer Night in recent years.

    So for me, Wild Strawberries.

    1. Smiles of a Summer Night is one of the Bergman movies I'd rank above Wild Strawberries. I don't think it's really a wrong pick. Honestly, I think any of my top three are ones I could justify.

  4. Re: The 400 Blows pic

    Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance.

  5. I love Pillow Talk so much, it's sweet and sometimes clever but a huge chunk of its success is tied to the starring trio of Doris Day/Rock Hudson/Tony Randall and to a lesser degree Thelma Ritter. I'm variable on Bergman films but Wild Strawberries is perhaps my favorite, though I know others are more praised but I'd still put North by Northwest ahead of it.

    1. I enjoyed Pillow Talk quite a bit, but as you say, the vast amount of pleasure I got from it came from the main stars and their relationships. North by Northwest is my favorite film even if I recognize it's not a perfect film. It does have a great screenplay, though, and something would essentially need to be perfect for it to move me away from that being my choice.

  6. North by Northwest is such a great story that it deserves a win here, at least among the three movies I have seen.
    Smultronstellet was a very possitive surprise and a story you can dig deep into. A safe second.

    1. You can probably skip the two you haven't seen. Pillow Talk is cute, but wildly regressive in terms of its sexual politics. The same is true of Operation Petticoat, only moreso.