The Guns of Navarone
Judgment at Nuremburg
West Side Story (winner)
I like, or at least respect, four of the nominations for Best Picture from 1961, which means we need at least one replacement. La Dolce Vita honestly would not make my final list of nominations, but it is a film I like better than at least one we have here. Staying with foreign movies, both Divorce, Italian Style and Yojimbo would be much more likely to get support from me. Horror rarely gets its just due from the Academy, but The Innocents deserved a great deal of attention that it just didn’t get. Limited to a single nomination, though, the one that I’d most want to see here is Splendor in the Grass.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. If you need evidence that the Academy has changed in some respects, I offer the nomination of Fanny as proof. There’s no way in hell this movie gets within 50 feet of a nomination for anything today, let alone the five it got including Best Picture. It’s not an equivocation to suggest that Fanny is almost literally a musical without the singing. It follows that basic plot from start to finish and has many of the same issues that older romances do, including a girl under 20 being romanced by a man in his 60s. It just comes across as creepy in so many ways. Even if you can get your mind around that, it’s hard to think it belongs here.
4. If I ranked these five films in terms of my enjoyment, The Guns of Navarone would not be in fourth place. In terms of the value of the movie, though, this is really the only place it can go. It’s a boy’s-own adventure story, perhaps one that glorifies war a little too much, but it is a great deal of fun. It’s exciting and, for the time, badass. I appreciate it for everything that it is, especially for just how much it makes me feel like a little kid watching war movies with my brother again. It is a hell of a good film, but in terms of Best Picture, I’m not entirely convinced it belongs in the nominations.
3. For West Side Story, we need to talk about bias. In this case, it’s not a bias against musicals, which I have in many ways overcome. No, in this case it’s a bias against the source material. I genuinely dislike Romeo and Juliet as a story, which means that even in the best of circumstances, West Side Story is going to be a great example of a story I dislike. And that’s exactly what it is. I don’t honestly begrudge it the Oscar at all. In many ways, it is the best picture of its year, and I get that. My putting it in third is personal, and I fully understand that in an objective sense, it probably is the right choice.
2. There are a lot of things to recommend Judgment at Nuremburg from the difficult story, the huge and stellar cast, and the guts to be one of the first mainstream films to show footage of Holocaust victims. It’s the sort of film that demands being seen. It’s not always enough to simply confront and defeat evil; evil needs to be understood so that when it happens again, we know where it comes from and perhaps have some insight into how to stop it. In a lot of years (several in the ‘50s, for instance), this would be my clear winner without any hesitation, but in 1961, there’s one I feel is more deserving.
1. I like just about everything there is to like about The Hustler, from the devastating performance from Paul Newman to the dark and shadowy cinematography. This is a film that, had it been made 15 years previous, would be held up as one of the great exemplars of the film noir style. It’s a crushing story that doesn’t fight against its inherent seediness, but embraces it as a necessary aspect. Everyone in this film is terribly broken, and it’s that brokenness that makes them all so compelling and drives the story the way it does. 1961 was probably too early for Oscar to award something this dark, but it certainly could have started here.
If it comes to personal taste, and at the end the day that is all that really matters, I much prefer the grime and ugliness of The Hustler to the polished, dancing gangsters. Any day.ReplyDelete
West Side Story probably is the best movie of the year in a lot of respects, but I'd rather watch The Hustler any day.Delete
I'm going to just give it to Yojimbo. This is one case where "My Favorite" and "Best Movie" coincide exactly.ReplyDelete
Honestly, I can't say it's a bad choice.Delete
Which is not to say I don't think some of these other movies aren't great.Delete
But Yojimbo is the one that I watch all the time. I was watching it pretty frequently for a while. I would get it from Netflix, watch it, keep it for a few days and watch it again before I sent it back.
The next time I decide to splurge on a Criterion release, it will be Yojimbo.
I've seen all the noms for a change of pace. It would be the Hustler all the way. In an open field I would give a slight edge to Yojimbo.ReplyDelete
The absence of Yojimbo is one of the most egregious flaws for the List. Almost as bad as the absence of Safety Last.Delete
Yeah, agreed. My own yearly list of 10 movies I'd like to see added is coming up. Both Safety Last and Yojimbo have been featured on that yearly additions list.Delete
As for Yojimbo, I do like the film, but it lacks a lot of the complexities of The Hustler. In an open field, it would almost certainly be top-3 for me for this year, but not the top.
The Hustler has my vote. Great movie.ReplyDelete
It is--it's dark and seedy, and I love it because of that.Delete
Oscar rarely gets it right, especially if the films involved Sam Fuller ("The Steel Helmet," "Shock Corridor," "White Dog," "Forty Guns," "The Naked Kiss," etc.) or one of his highly accomplished actors (Barbara Stanwyck, Constance Towers, Peter Breck, Paul Winfield, etc.), but most glaringly missing from the best flicks of 1961 is Fuller's "Underworld U.S.A." It's as good as any of the year's nominated films and better than most of them while being just as topical today (actually more so) as it was then.ReplyDelete
That's a Fuller film I don't know, and I consider myself a Fuller fan. Jeez, Forty Guns...Fuller and Stanwyck. I'm adding Underworld U.S.A. to my list of unlisted films.Delete
Edward G. Robinson, Joseph Cotten, and Myrna Loy never even earned nominations. Neither did Alan Rickman. Neither has Donald Sutherland. Peter Lorre, Mia Farrow...
I have pushed Shock Corridor on people in the past and I'm never sorry about it.
I did not care much for Peter Breck in Stanwyck's "The Big Valley" TV series, but once I saw "Shock Corridor," I completely changed my mind regarding his talent. And to this day, I can't believe how many people sing "The Big Red One's" praises but haven't seen Fuller's earlier, and superior, "The Steel Helmet." But at least Cliff Robertson eventually won an Oscar, even though he wasn't nominated for his work in "Underworld U.S.A."Delete
It's just a shame that the works of Sam Fuller haven't been discovered by a larger audience because he doesn't have a blemish like a "Howard the Duck" or "1941" marring his excellent resume.
I'm not entirely sure why Sam Fuller isn't more appreciated. He had such a completely distinctive style. So much of it was so lurid, but there was something under it as well. These movies, as prurient as they are, have a message and a point.Delete
Someone else who is a Fuller fan said I should check out the original "Die Hard" film, "The Detective" starring some famous singer in a gritty, Fuller-like film. I just can't believe that the singer/actor turned down starring in the "Die Hard" sequel to "The Detective." But he is one of the few actors to realize that being 70, and living one hard-drinking life, would not have made for a convincing action star.ReplyDelete
If you haven't seen "The Detective", it is well worth the viewing as it is one of the first adult films to deal with some rather kept swept under the rug subject matter on several levels never before seen in a mainstream U.S. film.
I'll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the recommendation.Delete