Monday, March 6, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1959

The Contenders:

Anatomy of a Murder
The Nun’s Story
A Room at the Top (winner)
Some Like It Hot

What’s Missing

We’ve got a good crop of nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for 1959, but as usual, there’s a little room for improvement. The biggest surprise for me is that The Diary of Anne Frank wasn’t nominated. I wouldn’t nominated it, either, but it seems like a natural. I’m less surprised by Eyes without a Face not being here, since gory horror films aren’t typically on the list (and this one is alternately listed as a 1959 or 1960 release). On the Beach might have been too much science fiction for 1959. Rio Bravo, though, seems like it should be here. The one that I’d most like to add, though, is Suddenly, Last Summer.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m not going to apologize for not loving The Nun’s Story. I liked it a little more than I thought I would, but I still didn’t like it much. It’s overlong, and that’s probably the biggest crime it commits. I like that it goes in some unusual directions; it’s easy to write a religious story that is predictable, and The Nun’s Story doesn’t go there. I don’t even really hate that it was nominated. Suddenly, Last Summer and Rio Bravo deserved to be here more, though, and I’ll stand by that.

4. As much as I’m surprised at the missing nominations of a few films, I’m a little surprised that Ben-Hur didn’t win. I wouldn’t want it to win, but it was a big, blustery Biblical epic in a time when that sort of thing had a lot of fans. This is an indication that even when Oscar doesn’t get the right film, it sometimes manages not to compound its errors by getting swept up in the moment. Ben-Hur is all about the chariot race. It’s the heart of the film and the sequence that almost certainly won the film all of the Oscars it did. And really, you have to wonder how much of that is actually in the screenplay.

3. Anatomy of a Murder is a film that had the bad luck of being nominated and released in a year where the competition was simply too stiff. This is a good movie and a tightly-written script that manages to stay tense and interesting for its entire running time. It also managed to push the envelope on what could be said in the movies by including language that wasn’t really what nice people talked about in 1959. In a different year, it would have more of a shot from me, and I like that it was nominated. It just doesn’t get to win.

My Choices

2. My guess is that by the time the comments stop coming in on this post, the area below will be filled with people pushing for Some Like It Hot to have won. I get that, and had it won, I’m not sure I would disagree that strongly. It is a wonderful film and still funny after nearly 60 years, a feat that most comedies can’t manage. I would pick it in almost every other year in the ‘50s and most of the ‘60s. Just not in 1959, where it is barely edged out by another film. If you’d pick Some Like It Hot, I won’t tell you you’re wrong, but I will tell you that I disagree.

1. A Room at the Top is the best adapted screenplay of its year. What makes this film work, aside from some great performances, including a career-defining role for Simone Signoret, is a screenplay so tightly wound that it is just about to break. The beauty of A Room at the Top is that our main character slowly gets everything he wants, and with everything he gets, he becomes more and more dissatisfied with his life. It is as if someone wanted to write “The Monkey’s Paw,” but set it entirely in the real world. It works perfectly and the film was righty rewarded.

Final Analysis


  1. Yeah I'm one of the ones that would have gone for Some Like It Hot. But then I would go for SLIH in every major category that year but Supporting Actress (LOVE Sweet Sue as much as I do and how Joan Shawlee plays her there's not enough of her to rate a nom) but both Room at the Top and Anatomy of a Murder are great pieces of work and I couldn't fault either's selection as the winner.

    I might flip-flop Nun's Story and Ben-Hur only because outside of the chariot race and Stephen Boyd B-H is a monotonous slog, and I say that as one who LOVES a good Biblical epic. But neither would finish anywhere near the money for me either.

    1. Your opinion on this is kind of how I feel about it. Anyone who wants to pick Some Like It Hot for the winner here isn't going to hear a word of complaint from me. If someone wants to pick Anatomy of a Murder, I might give 'em a raised eyebrow, but not much more.

      Both The Nun's Story and Ben-Hur are miles behind these three.

  2. Really, all the evidence points to 1959 being a stellar for films. I have actually read the screenplay for SLIH, and it is a great read, and it being my favourite film, you would think that it would be no contest. But Room at the Top is so well written, as you say, tightly applying pressure on its characters. And Anatomy of a Murder is also great, revealing new details about the case and the characters in a clever way.

    How do you compare three very different film? Some Like It Hot pips it, but again this shows the lie at the heart of such awards - not a level playing field.

    1. I don't disagree. This really was a great year for film, and all three of these films could win a lot of awards in a lot of other years.

      And, of course, my favorite film is North by Northwest, which is from this year as well.

  3. Sounds like I really should watch Room at the Top...
    Not having seen it I really am unable to dicuss your top picks. Further down the list the one movie I am missing is Eyes Without a Face. That is such an interesting implementation of a story that it deserves some credit. Being French though did not helkp it with the Academy.

    1. Yes, you should watch A Room at the Top. It's dark and kind of terrible, but a hell of a good movie. I think it's Simone Signoret's best work, and that says a hell of a lot.

  4. Imitation of Life (1959) would be up there for me, adapted from the Fannie Hurst novel. It's actually my #1 of that year.

    1. I haven't seen the 1959 version. I've seen the one from 1934 and I've been told that the '59 version is worth seeing. I just haven't gotten to it.

      Admittedly, that's one of the problems with doing these posts; there's always a ton of worthy films I haven't seen.