Friday, November 6, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1962

The Contenders:

Lawrence of Arabia (winner)
The Longest Day
The Music Man
Mutiny on the Bounty
To Kill a Mockingbird

What’s Missing

With 1962, we have a year with a couple of tremendous nominees and a few also-rans that stood in place of some films that really should have been nominated in their place. The Manchurian Candidate and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are two that jump out at me right away as having been looked over, possibly because of their subject matter, although Bette Davis swung a nomination for Baby Jane. I like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as well, although maybe not enough for an Oscar nomination. What about Cape Fear? Or Dr. No? On the foreign front, Cleo from 5 to 7 is a big miss in my opinion, but not nearly as big as The Exterminating Angel. My Life to Live might (but only might) warrant a nod here as well. Oh, this was also the year of release for The Birds, and that might deserve some attention as well.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I really should start off by saying that I liked all five nominees well enough, so when I drop Mutiny on the Bounty first, I’m not saying that I thought it was a bad film. It’s not. It’s just my least favorite of the five presented here. The main reason it sits in fifth place is that it’s far too long and that there’s not a great deal to recommend it beyond the story and that it’s in color this time. I can live with the changes in the story, but a full hour could be excised from this and it would not only hurt the final film, it would improve it. The only reason it’s an epic is the length, and that doesn’t deserve to be rewarded.

4: My issues with The Longest Day are almost the exact opposite. It’s not that it’s too short (it isn’t) but that it tries to do too much with the time it has. The Longest Day attempts to encompass all of D-Day in a single film, and it’s just too much to do. Something that handled maybe one of the beaches and used that to extrapolate to the entire invasion would have done the task more effectively. There’s a lot good going on here and the film is worth seeing, but the lack of focus detracts from the story that is being told. Make this a mini-series and it would be better. It’s too short for what it wants to do and has aspirations far too large for it to handle.

3: I liked The Music Man a lot more than I thought I would. Sure, it’s a dippy musical and everyone sings their feelings and knows the choreography immediately, but I can live with that when the end product is entertaining. The Music Man is entertaining. It would have to be a very strange year for me to think it’s the greatest film of that year, but I’m not really upset with the nomination, even if there are more important and meaningful films made that weren’t nominated. It’s fun and it’s really well made. It doesn’t hurt that the songs are good, too.

My Choices

2: When I agree with the Academy, I usually leave that winner in its own category, but not so for this year. Had To Kill a Mockingbird won, I would disagree with the decision, but I also wouldn’t be able to fault that decision. It’s a hell of a good movie and it features one of cinema’s truly perfect performances in Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. That the book it’s based on is regularly taught to middle schoolers doesn’t detract from its power. More importantly, the message is still one that resonates and director Robert Mulligan treats the story with the respect it deserves. It wouldn’t be my pick, but I won’t disagree with anyone who says it’s his or hers.

1: Lawrence of Arabia is my pick, and this is a place where the Academy might the right choice in a difficult situation. Lawrence is nearly 45 minutes longer than Mutiny on the Bounty but never feels it. It tells a grand story and tells it completely. The cinematography is legendary, and along with the chariot race in Ben-Hur remains the single best argument for letterboxing in existence. There is, frankly, nothing about Lawrence of Arabia that I don’t like. When I ranked the Best Picture winners a couple of years ago, there’s a reason it landed in my top-5. It was the right pick.

Final Analysis


  1. The Academy absolutely got it right even considering the good films that weren't nominated. Among those, The Manchurian Candidate is for me the most glaring omission.

    1. This is another one of those surprisingly deep years that crop up now and again. There are a lot of movies here that could've easily gotten nominated in other years.

  2. I agree with the top 2 and their order. I also agree that it was a hell of a year with both of those nominated. To Kill a Mockingbird could have won any number of other years, but it just happened to run into Lawrence of Arabia. I agree The Manchurian Candidate was a miss by the Academy. I'd drop any of the other three nominees for that one.

    1. I think for English-language films, The Manchurian Candidate is probably the biggest miss. I know Cleo from 5 to 7 didn't work for you, but I liked it. If I could add only one movie, though, it would probably be The Exterminating Angel with The Manchurian Candidate second.

  3. This is a tough year because it’s so deep with choices. It’s one of those years where the now expanded field of contenders would have been most welcome. Aside from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane Billy Budd, Divorce Italian Style, Last Year at Marienbad, Gypsy, Sweet Bird of Youth, Jules and Jim, Lolita, Peeping Tom, Birdman of Alcatraz and The Miracle Worker could all have cases made for their inclusion.

    I just saw Cleo from 5 to 7 this past week for the first time and while I thought it was a good film I didn’t think it was nomination worthy. Wasn’t The Birds a ’63 release?

    However my ballot of five would include none of them nor any of the nominees.

    My list would be:
    How the West Was Won
    Lonely Are the Brave
    Long Day's Journey into Night
    The Manchurian Candidate-This would be my winner
    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

    As to the actual contenders:
    I’m sure this is going to get me a rap but I detest Lawrence of Arabia. I do agree that letterbox is essential for the film and I’ve never seen it in a theatre which I’m sure enhances it, though the thought of sitting through it again to do so gives me the heebie jeebies. It took me several tries just to get through it once. Love the cast, love David Lean as a director usually but for me the film was an unending struggle of endurance. I know the majority of people adore the film but I also know several people who feel about it as I do.

    Speaking of endurance tests The Longest Day was another that I had to fight my way through. I love epics and all-star casts but you’re right that its ambitions are too vast for the format it’s presented in and in this instance the flock of familiar faces is both hindrance and help. Help in placing characters in so large a cast and a distraction in that with so many it pulls you out of the story by constant star spotting.

    Mutiny on the Bounty suffers from roadshow bloat and the pageantry that it’s stuffed with to fill the then current fad shows why it was such a short lived event. Brando’s fussy performance doesn’t help but the problem with the film is the draggy pace.

    I really like The Music Man, I won’t list it among my favorite musicals but it’s highly entertaining, the music is great and Preston, Shirley Jones and the whole supporting cast work to make it as good as it can possibly be. Still I don’t see it as an Oscar winner.

    That leaves To Kill a Mockingbird. I won’t say it wins by default because it is a fine film just not one I have much affection for, but of the choices at hand it would be my pick.

    1. There are a few you mention here that I haven't seen. With Peeping Tom, I always think of that as a 1960 release, even if it was 1962 in the U.S. Whatever year, it's one I'd mention because I love that movie a lot, but I expect it's one I'll bring up for the 1960 post when I get there. Divorce Italian Style, Sweet Bird of Youth, and The Miracle Worker are still to come for me.

      I'm not a huge fan of Jules and Jim. I get that it's important, but I also think it's completely overrated. I thought about adding Birdman of Alcatraz and Lolita here, but I don't like either of them enough.

      Last Year at Marienbad is a film that I hate with extreme passion. I reviewed it here a few years ago, and it marks the first time I dropped an f-bomb in a review. I kind of see why people like it, but I really, really hate it about as much as I possibly can. In fact, the only thing I can say about it in the positive is that I didn't hate it as much as I hated Vinyl.

      I know that there are people who don't love Lawrence of Arabia. I do, though. I think it's a magnificent piece of cinema all the way through and that the desert could have been nominated as a supporting actor. That's a part of the strength of the film, but I also see that it's not something everyone will gravitate to.

  4. You know why I love 1962? Because it's the only year for which I saw all the films before I even knew they were all Best Picture nominees!

    I almost count 1998 because I love all those movies so much, but I saw them all before the Oscars because of the Oscars.

    And I almost count 1967 because I was planning on watching Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? when I noticed that I had seen all the others.

    But 1962 is the only one where I saw all the films completely independently of whether they were on a list or not.

    About two years ago, I was looking at the Best Picture nominees and looking at the years where I've seen most of the films and marking a few years to keep track of in order to see them all. And the only one prior to 1987 (the year I moved to LA and started watching all the nominated films before the ceremony) in which I had seen them all was 1962.

    Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Music Man are all films I've known and loved since the mid-1980s or earlier. I watched The Longest Day about 2000. And Mutiny on the Bounty I first saw five or six years ago.

    So that's why I love 1962 so much. They're all great movies. I think Bounty and Longest Day are not really in the same league as the others, but they're still great movies.

    For the record, from the nominees I'd pick Lawrence of Arabia. But my favorite movie from 1962 is Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It's not even close.

    1. might make my list of nominations, but it wouldn't before The Exterminating Angel or The Manchurian Candidate. Even in that situation, I'd probably still hand the statue to Lawrence of Arabia. While it may not be my favorite movie from 1962, I think it's the best movie of 1962.

    2. I love The Exterminating Angel! I only saw it once 20 years ago (at a revival house on a double feature with Viridiana) and I think about it all the time.

      I would definitely put it on my list of nominations. I might even pick it before Lawrence. I've seen Lawrence three or four times, but only on the big screen. I absolutely refuse to watch Lawrence on TV, so my viewing chances are limited, especially since I don't live in LA anymore.

    3. I don't mind watching Lawrence of Arabia on a television. I have a large screen, and I can arrange to sit in a position where the screen is pretty much all I can see.

      One of the best jokes from John Stewart's time hosting the Oscars was him watching Lawrence of Arabia on his phone.

  5. Yep, of the nominees, I'd give it to Lawrence as well. But your What's Missing section is spot on. The Manchurian Candidate, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Cleo from 5 to 7, The Exterminating Angel would all make my list.

    1. Three of those would make mine. I'm not prepared to launch either Lawrence or Mockingbird.

  6. I cannot disagree with your first and second. Lawrence of Arabia is so far ahead of anything else from the first haif of the sixties that it is unbelivable it is from 62. I hve never bee more happy for the Blu-ray format on a wide screen.
    I agree on your comments on The Longest Day. It simply lacks focus. The Manchurian candidate and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? are both worthy contenders, but the one I miss here is An Autumn Afternoon. I know a Japanese movie would not stand a chance here, but this one has so many qualities it deserves a nod.

    1. It's a pretty good year, really. Perhaps not one of the truly great years, but I think both Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird could both win in a lot of other years.