How the West Was Won
Lilies of the Field
Tom Jones (winner)
There are years like 1963 where it looks like the Academy spent a couple of hours sniffing glue before announcing the nominees. This is not a case of a couple of snubs, but one were I think I would keep a single nominee of the five I have for Best Picture because I think that I can only make a strong case for one of them. And it’s not a particularly weak year. Movies from 1963 include the highly-acclaimed 8 ½, The Leopard and Hud, for instance, all ignored for this award. The Servant is dark and weird, but well-acted enough that I think I’d want it here. I love Shock Corridor as well, even if it’s probably too lurid to be in contention. But Winter Light should probably be here. I’d want The Haunting in consideration as well. But the big miss in my opinion, the one that is an embarrassment for the Academy for skipping is The Great Escape.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Winner Tom Jones is the film I have the hardest time making a case for. This isn’t a terrible film by any stretch. It’s certainly well-made and beautifully filmed. But it’s so lightweight and silly that I have trouble taking it seriously as a contender, let alone a winner. There are a lot of fourth wall breaks and sped-up film used for comic effect, and while it works, it somehow feels like something that I don’t really want to watch again. This feels like all frosting, no cake, and for something to be even nominated for Best Picture, I feel as if there should be at least a little cake there.
4. Cleopatra was apparently originally conceived as two films. It certainly feels like two films, and I don’t mean that simply because the damn thing runs four hours. No, this legitimately feels identical to two different films with the same basic cast more or less glued together through the magic of a short intermission and some still photography. It feels like a film that was nominated on reputation—all of the money and the sets and all of Elizabeth Taylor’s wardrobe changes. How could they not be nominated for something? Sure, it’s epic and all of that, but the fact that it’s an epic and cohesive doesn’t mean that it’s worth four hours out of your life. It might be, but it’s not something that belongs on this list.
3. America, America is another epic in a year filled with them, this time about Elia Kazan’s ancestors coming from Greece to the United States. As such, it’s one of those stories that seems to be uniquely American, much like The Emigrants or Avalon. The problem I have is that the motivation of the main character isn’t really explained. We know that he wants to come to America, but we don’t really know why this becomes such an obsession for him, particularly when he has a good, comfortable life in Greece already planned out. You’d think that a good three hours of screen time would give us ample opportunity to discover this, but alas, we never do. That’s a problem.
1. Of the nominated films, I’m giving this to How the West Was Won, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I probably like this a little less than I like Lilies of the Field, but this film has a hell of a lot more ambition and a lot more at stake, and I appreciate that. It’s a grander film and probably objectively better, even if I think Lilies of the Field is the one I’d probably rewatch. How the West Was Won has some problems in terms of its episodic nature, though. Based on the films I have to work with, it’s my pick. But based on all of the films of the year, Iitmight barely make it into the nominees.
I could make a case for a lot of the films I have listed in the first paragraph above. Anyone who needs the winner to be a true epic could to worse than The Leopard, although I wouldn’t go there. No, to me the only film that is even within the ballpark of winning this is The Great Escape, which is where I would have gone with a write-in ballot. Oh, you don’t get to do that anymore? I’d have still done it, because this was a much better year than the weird list given above. How it avoided a nomination, I’ll never know.