Friday, February 16, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1965

The Contenders:

William Wyler: The Collector
John Schlesinger: Darling
David Lean: Doctor Zhivago
Robert Wise: The Sound of Music (winner)
Hiroshi Teshigahara: Woman in the Dunes

What’s Missing

There were plenty of interesting movies in 1965, many of which were interesting from the director’s chair as well. Horror is always the rented mule of the Oscars, but Roman Polanski’s work on Repulsion seems to fit most of the criteria here. Since we have a horror movie and a foreign language movie in the mix already, Jacques Demy and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was likely left out. The same could be said for Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos and The Shop on Main Street. There was still a fair market for war movies in 1965, which makes the absence of both The Train (from John Frankenheimer and an uncredited Arthur Penn) and Von Ryan’s Express (Mark Robson) interesting. Cornel Wilde and The Naked Prey would have been an interesting choice, as would have Martin Ritt and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. My one add here, if I could add only one would be Norman Jewison for The Cincinnati Kid. The one that it seems like I should nominate but wouldn’t is Help! from Richard Lester. I like it, but not here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. If I’m honest, there are three directors here that I’m not sure belong here. It’s also probably trite at this point for me to put Robert Wise on the bottom for The Sound of Music. I’ve certainly softened on my stance against musicals in general over the last few years, but not this one. I genuinely dislike The Sound of Music in almost every aspect. Sure, it’s colorful and some of the songs are pretty good, but it’s far too long and far too saccharine, and Wise has to get at least some of the blame for that. What I like here is hugely overwhelmed by what I don’t. I get why Wise won; he just shouldn’t have.

4. I tend to like the work of David Lean, but I’m pretty unimpressed with Doctor Zhivago. That’s odd, since it has a great deal in common with a lot of Lean films that I like. Those long shots and sweeping landscapes that make Lawrence of Arabia so special are just long shots and sweeping landscapes here. That brings up a very interesting realization for me. I love all of that movie nerd cinematography stuff as much as the next person, but if I’m bored by the movie, there’s a good chance I’m going to be bored with that as well. Here, that’s exactly the case.

3. Darling is not an easy film to watch and it’s not one I plan on watching again any time soon. John Schlesinger’s choice to film in black-and-white is an interesting one, and it fits the film well. Beyond that, though, the best part of the film is absolutely the performance of Julie Christie, who is vibrant, terrible, and fierce. Sure, Schlesinger gets credit for being the guy to get that performance from her, but certainly a vast amount of the credit should be hers, right? And if there’s not much else, I’m not really sure why he’s here.

My Choices

2. I’ve made no mistake in the past that The Collector is my favorite film of this year. I’m a little sad that I hadn’t seen it when I wrapped up Best Picture for this year. I think William Wyler would be a fine choice for this—he manages to get a great deal here that works with a limited set and a cast of essentially two. It’s not a film for everyone, and while I think everything about it is great, much of what makes it great is how Wyler makes everything work as well as it does. I’d be satisfied with him winning.

1. But my real winner is Hiroshi Teshigahara for Woman in the Dunes. This is such a strange and upsetting film, one that works in such subtle ways, making small moves that suddenly have us trapped in a terrible and deadly web. The film and story are so simple and yet are presented with such tremendous power. Teshigahara makes the dunes of the title a character in their own right, both dangerous and vital. There is an odd, hypnotic power to this film and a strange sensuality to it as well. It’s a masterpiece of direction, and Teshigahara should have been rewarded.

Final Analysis


  1. I've seen all five of these these movies, four of them within the last year or so. (Heck, I saw Darling two or three days ago.)

    I don't feel like I can be objective about since I haven't seen it since I was a kid and I kinda hated it back then. (My mom was a big fan. The soundtrack played a lot in our house and I remember seeing it on stage a couple of times, and my brother and I were rolling our eyes and thinking "NOT THIS AGAIN!") So I'm going to reserve judgment until I see it again. (I keep putting it off because it's SO LONG!

    Aside from liking Darling more than you did, I pretty much agree with your rankings of the nominees. Woman in the Dunes is a remarkable film. The Collector is great and would have been my pick in a lot of other years.

    1. Woman in the Dunes is so surprising in so many ways. It really shouldn't work, but it does.

      I liked Darling well enough; I just don't know that it's worth sitting through again. It's not an easy watch.

  2. I'm at a slight disadvantage here since I haven't seen Woman in the Dunes though I intend to but there are only so many hours in a day! So with that out my winner in this grouping is a film I didn't enjoy but appreciated the great skill with which it was made-The Collector. I found it and especially the ending disturbing and unpleasant but it kept me in its thrall throughout. That's thanks to Wyler.

    I agree about Darling, so much of the film's success is due to Julie Christie but it's a diamond hard film about a not terribly likable woman.

    I loved pieces of Dr. Zhivago but it was endlessssss and at the conclusion I was relieved not moved.

    Conversely I love The Sound of Music, it's too long, often too cute and the tone is all over the place but I still enjoy it especially Eleanor Parker's delightful Baroness. I also think Robert Wise was a skillful director most of the time able to handle many different genres expertly but his work on this isn't anything special and certainly not win worthy.

    Of all these nominations that I've seen I'd retain only Wyler so there was plenty of worthy work left out. I like all your suggestions though I think of Umbrellas of Cherbourg as a '64 release. But my list would include Robert Aldrich for The Flight of the Phoenix, Stanley Kramer for Ship of Fools and Otto Preminger for Bunny Lake Is Missing.

    My winner however would be Polanski for Repulsion. Once again I didn't enjoy the picture but it's brilliant and how Catherine Deneuve missed out on a nomination is mystifying-though I suppose it was the same reason Polanski did. You know how much I adore Julie Christie but this year's award belonged to Deneuve.

    1. I didn't realize Repulsion was 1965. I remember watching that on cable in the 1990s and I was afraid of creepy apartment for months. It's definitely in contention.

    2. Unlike you, I do genuinely like The Collector for so many reasons. I think the performances are as good as the direction, and the direction is top-notch.

      The Umbrellas of Cherbourg very well may have been a 1964 release, but it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 1965, which puts it here. Based on that, I'd love to see it nominated.

      Repulsion would make my list. But really, Woman in the Dunes does everything right, even things that absolutely shouldn't work.