Monday, September 18, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1960

The Contenders:

The Alamo
The Apartment (winner)
Elmer Gantry
Sons and Lovers
The Sundowners

What’s Missing

As is often the case, I find that there are a number of movies from the year in question that aren’t typically considered Oscar quality or caliber that I like quite a bit. Black Sunday has one of my favorite movie openings ever, but as a low-rent horror film, it’s not going to get a lot of play. Peeping Tom ruined the career of Michael Powell and wasn’t appreciated until decades later. Eyes Without a Face has the same problems as Black Sunday, as does Village of the Damned. On the foreign front, we have Breathless, Never on Sunday, and La Dolce Vita, any of which would make an interesting addition to the current list. Other interesting possibilities include Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Magnificent Seven, and Psycho, which did earn a nomination for Hitchcock. The biggest surprise miss in my opinion is Spartacus. I probably wouldn’t nominate it, but I’m a little shocked that it wasn’t. The biggest miss in my opinion, and it’s a big one, is Inherit the Wind.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The Sundowners felt to me like a movie that earned a number of nominations because it features big, wide landscapes and big, blustery stories. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t really care for or about any of the characters in this. Not liking a character isn’t that unusual, of course, but not appreciating a performance from Robert Mitchum is incredibly rare for me, and rather disturbing. Sure, it’s nicely filmed. Beyond that, though, there’s nothing much here to keep me interested, and especially not at this length.

4. The Alamo has some of the same issues. At the very least, we have a big, ol’ battle to anticipate at the end of the film, but it takes a really long time for the movie to get there. It’s a two-hour slog to get to the point where I actually start to be interested in what is happening. Cut an hour out of the first two hours, and you have my attention. As it stands, though, there’s a lot of the first part of this film that genuinely doesn’t have my attention. It’s not a bad film; it’s just not one that I care too terribly much for.

3. Sons and Lovers is a queer duck of a nomination, and comes in third specifically (and only) because I liked it a little more than I liked both The Alamo and The Sundowners. It feels again like its nominations come specifically from being a film that is about the kind of things Oscar voters care about—an artist being held down by society and family and all of that yearning to break free in artistic expression. Fine, but it’s all so damn Freudian that I have trouble taking it that seriously. Like the first two I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t put this in the nominations given the ability to make my own list.

2. I was surprised by Elmer Gantry and liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Part of that comes from Burt Lancaster, Arthur Kennedy, and Shirley Jones. But it’s a much more compelling story than I would have thought going in. This is a film that explores religion in real ways, and I find it fascinating that in 1960 there would be a film that has an avowed atheist as its most moral character. My problem with the film is the ending, which I don’t really buy. That’s an issue, and it’s one that keeps it off the top position.

1. What we’re left with is The Apartment, and given the five movies that were nominated, it’s absolutely the clear choice here. This is one of Billy Wilder’s more interesting movies because it is so much a comedy and a romance and yet is simultaneously so dark in so many ways. I like The Apartment quite a bit, and, given the nominations, am happy to say that Oscar got the right pick. The problem is that the right films weren’t nominated. The Apartment should be in the mix, but it’s not what I would prefer as my winner for this year. Still, for what we have, it's the right choice

My Choice

My choice is Inherit the Wind, which is ultimately one of my favorite movies of the decade let alone the year of 1960. It is that because the story is such a good one and because it is still completely relevant today. It is because of the wonderful performances of Fredric March and Spencer Tracy. It is because it demonstrates that Gene Kelly could do more than just dance and sing. There’s no good reason it was left out of the list of nominees, and had it been nominated, it would be my choice without any hesitation.

Final Analysis


  1. Yes to everything you say and all the placements.

    Of these five The Apartment is without question the best though I liked Elmer Gantry quite a lot, I was shocked that Jean Simmons wasn't nominated for Sister Sharon she's just as strong as Lancaster and Shirley Jones.

    I was a little worried until I got to your last sentence in that first paragraph that you weren't going to mention Inherit the Wind which is my choice for best film of the year as well. It is completely surprising that it missed out on a nomination especially with The Alamo getting in.

    The only film I'd add to the ones you already mentioned is Home From the Hill which has among many other things a much more fully lived in performance by Robert Mitchum than in the Sundowners to recommend it.

    1. I think I've liked every Robert Mitchum performance I've seen more than I liked him in The Sundowners, so it's not saying much to have a film with a better and more interesting Mitchum performance.

      I cannot fathom the miss on Inherit the Wind, which is as good now as it was almost 60 years ago.

    2. I've probably recommended this before but for a great Mitchum performance, along with really top flight ones by Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy, seek out The Lusty Men directed by Nicholas Ray. It's a sparse drama of the rodeo circuit that should be much better known.

    3. I've put it on my list of unlisted movies.

  2. We're in agreement. I've only seen The Apartment and Inherit the Wind. I like The Apartment well enough, but Inherit the Wind is far and away the superior film.

  3. Elmer Gantry is worth your time. The others are increasingly less so as you go down the numbers, but you can get away without watching any of them.

  4. It surprises me that only the eventual winner is in the Book, but then, not of the other nominees sound that strong. The strongest 1960 movies were only recognized later on, still it also surprises me that Spartacus and Psycho were not nominated. Not Hitch or Kubrick's best movies, but in this field they would have done well.
    1960 was not the strongest year ever.

    1. It's not the strongest year, but still not a bad one. I actually prefer Peeping Tom over Psycho because I think it does something much more difficult. We know the killer right away and still sympathize with him.

      Still, Psycho was accepted in 1960 and Peeping Tom really was not.

  5. Of those nominated I've only seen The Apartment, which I absolutely adore, so I am happy it won. But how Inherit the Wind wasn't even nominated boggles the mind. It it up there with Judgment at Nuremberg and Anatomy of a Murder, and they both were showered with nominations. This was a pretty good year for horror, which sadly rarely gets the awards' love it deserves.

    1. It was a really solid horror year. When that happens, sometimes a single movie (Psycho in this case) gets all of the love. Take 1999, for instance. The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project got all of the attention in a year that also included Audition, Ravenous, Sleepy Hollow, and The Ninth Gate. It also included Stir of Echoes, which is similar to The Sixth Sense and better in almost every possible way.