Friday, October 13, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1964

The Contenders:

Peter Glenville: Becket
Stanley Kubrick: Dr. Strangelove
Robert Stevenson: Mary Poppins
George Cukor: My Fair Lady (winner)
Michael Cacoyannis: Zorba the Greek

What’s Missing

Looking at the nominations in general for 1964, I have to wonder if the Academy realized that there were more than five movies released in this year. The nominations for Best Director are exactly the same as those for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Certainly there are some other options here. In the “I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard good things” category we have Cy Endfield and Zulu, Don Siegel’s version of The Killers, Arthur Hiller and The Americanization of Emily, and Sidney Lumet’s Fail-Safe, which I literally have sitting on my desk at the moment. On the “not in English” front, we have Vittorio de Sica and Marriage Italian-Style, Phillipe de Broca’s interesting That Man from Rio, Jacques Demy and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Kaneto Shindo’s work in Onibaba. I’d want to nominate Hiroshi Teshigahara for The Woman in the Dunes as well, but he was nominated the following year. Bryan Forbes for Séance on a Wet Afternoon might make the cut from me, as might Samuel Fuller and The Naked Kiss. One of the films with the longest impact from1964 is A Hard Day’s Night, and much of that comes from Richard Lester.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I didn’t like Zorba the Greek as much as I thought I would in part because it wasn’t the movie that I thought it was going to be. That’s not specifically Michael Cacoyannis’s fault, but he is the man responsible for the film. That’s also not why the film and Cacoyannis are landing in fifth. No, the reason is that I’m not sure what he actually did that is particularly noteworthy here. It’s a fine film for what it is and the direction is good, but I don’t particularly see it as anything that noteworthy, especially with the films that were left off.

4. I can say about the same thing for Peter Glenville and Becket. It’s a fine movie with two tremendous performances, but beyond those performances, I’m not sure what Glenville did here. When you consider that those two monster performances came from Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, Glenville’s accomplishment at directing them seems a bit diminished. Again, while the movie is good and Glenville is certainly at least partially responsible for that, with the directors who were left off here, I don’t think he belongs.

3. I rather like My Fair Lady and I like a lot of the work of George Cukor. I think it could be fairly argued that Cukor, who in 1964 earned his fifth nomination and first Oscar win, won because he hadn’t before despite being so important in the earlier days of Hollywood. His nomination for My Fair Lady came more than 30 years after his first nomination, and Oscar certainly has a history of giving lifetime achievement awards to people in the guise of a competitive one. Sure, Cukor deserved an Oscar in his career. He just didn’t earn this one.

2. Of these five movies, Mary Poppins is my least favorite. I understand that a great number of people have fond memories of it and view it through a haze of nostalgia, but I’m not one of them. These days, it’s nothing particularly special to direct actors essentially in front of a green screen, but in 1964, it was considerably rarer. Stevenson managed to do this and make a coherent film despite a good part of it not being there. I like this nomination despite not loving the film, and I could even see arguing for Stevenson to win.

My Choice

1. There are some people who don’t like Dr. Strangelove. I know this because every time I mention the movie on this blog, someone comments how they don’t really like the movie that much, and it’s not always the same person. Regardless, this is my blog and I get to pick the winner I want, and for 1964, that winner is Stanley Kubrick. The genius of the film is that everyone plays it completely straight when there is nothing straight about the entire film. Everything builds from that, and it’s what makes the whole thing work. Kubrick wins.

Final Analysis


  1. Great call on the Academy missing Lester, who took pretty much a plotless film and made it coherent. Two others that should have been considered are Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger) and Blake Edwards (A Shot in the Dark), who were both more deserving than Glenville and maybe Cacoyannis.

    1. I considered Hamilton in the top paragraph, and I'm not entirely convinced I was right to leave him out. Based on the fact that he's more worthy than (as you say) Glenville and Cacoyannis, he probably should have been mentioned.

  2. I love two of these films-Becket and Mary Poppins-really like My Fair Lady am somewhat neutral on Dr. Strangelove and loath Zorba the Greek but I'd still hand this to Kubrick because the tenor of Strangelove is the trickiest to get right.

    However in an open field he wouldn't be my winner though still a nominee. My vote would go to Jacques Demy for The Umbrellas of Cherbourgh which is just a wonderful achievement overall.

    Otherwise I'd include Arthur Hiller for The Americanization of Emily and one you didn't mention but would be a heavy contender for me-John Huston for Night of the Iguana.

    1. Demy would definitely be in my top 5. Of the nominees, I'd likely keep only Kubrick and Stevenson. Throw in Demy and Lester, and probably Shindo or Fuller to round it out.

  3. Agreed on Hamilton. His direction on Goldfinger laid the groundwork for pretty much all the Bond films (and many action films) to follow. And I love the long tracking shot that starts the Miami sequence at the start of the film.

    1. Yeah, I probably should have put him at the top.

  4. He would have never been nominated, and indeed no one in Hollywood had probably even heard of him in 1964, but Sergio Leone deserves a shout for what he did with A Fistful of Dollars. In an open field I would place Leone second behind Kubrick.

    When you get to them, I look forward to your reviews of The Killers and Fail-Safe -- I found both to be terrific. Fail-Safe should always be on a double-bill with Dr. Strangelove -- two completely contrasting takes on the same topic, and both excellent. And surprisingly I liked the 1964 version of The Killers better than the 1946 original.

    1. Truthfully, I'll probably never review them even though I'll watch them. That said, I might just watch and review Fail-Safe tonight just for the hell of it.

  5. You are right, Richard Lester managed to make a non-existent story intersting and funny and a lot more than just the music. That is the credit of the director.
    I was mesmerized by the two Jaapanese entries this year and both of them carry the mark of their director. thumbs up on those.
    Kubrick has to be the winner. There is a sardonic Kubrick stamp on this movie that makes it more than just a dark comedy. This could have gone terribly wrong and in actually almost get too silly (not sure I actually needed the Dr. Strangelove character), but Kubrick balance it very well and should have won.
    My Fair Lady I disliked with a vengeance, but I am not sure it is the fault of the director. Still it would never be my winner.

    1. I rather like My Fair Lady, but it plays into my interests in language, so I admit bias. That said, it's all about Kubrick for me with this year, although with a different slate of nominees, we'd be talking about a much closer race.