Monday, March 25, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1968

The Contenders:

Funny Girl
The Lion in Winter
Oliver! (winner)
Rachel, Rachel
Romeo and Juliet

What’s Missing

This is such a strong year regardless of the actual nominees. As usual, let’s get rid of the ones like Witchfinder General that would never earn a nomination. We can put Targets in that category as well, along with Planet of the Apes and, sadly Night of the Living Dead, which has proven to be far more influential and important than anyone could have hoped. Interesting possibilities would include Bullitt and Ice Station Zebra. Had the Academy desired a foreign-language film in the mix, they could have done a lot worse than The Hour of the Wolf. Other interesting possibilities include The Swimmer, Rosemary’s Baby, and Once Upon a Time in the West. The big miss? The epic, “I can’t believe they missed it” nomination? 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s generally believed that the win for Oliver! is more or less the last gasp of old Hollywood trying to flex its muscle. Based on the nominees, there’s no real reason beyond that that a film like Oliver! would be nominated, let alone win. While there’s nothing inherently terrible about the movie, there’s not a great deal that’s great about it, either. And, for whatever reason, I saw this pretty much every year as a kid on television. Well, I don’t have to watch it again, so I probably won’t.

4. Funny Girl reminded me in some ways of Cabaret. That’s a weird connection, I admit, so I should explain. I don’t like Sally Bowles from Cabaret as a character, but I sympathize with her to an extent. The same is true to a much lesser extent with Fanny Brice. I don’t like her as a character because she very much appears to be the sort of person who needs all eyes on her at all times. That’s a trait that bothers me, and because of it, I’m never going to get to a place where I like a movie about that sort of character.

3. We’re in similar territory with Romeo and Juliet. Any frequent readers here will likely recall my comments that I genuinely dislike the play, since that’s something I mention every time R&J shows up here in any respect. The best thing about this version of the story is that our title characters actually look the part and are close to the right ages. This is a decent enough version of the story. It’s pretty far more than it is good, and honestly, that’s all I really have to say about it. I wouldn’t bother to nominate it.

2. Rachel, Rachel is a very odd movie, one that is essentially a coming-of-age story for a 35-year-old woman. It’s not a movie I loved, but it’s the first of these nominees that I can say that I liked at all, and while it’s not a movie I would choose to watch again any time soon and I wouldn’t nominate it based on the other movies available, it’s at least something I think is worth watching and considering. It’s sad that in a year that is ultimately this good that my second-place finisher qualifies there by virtue of “I didn’t hate it.”

1. Of the five nominees, The Lion in Winter is head and shoulders above its closest rival and so far ahead of the others that it can’t see them it the rearview mirror. It’s also the only one of the five actual nominees that would make my list of five. In truth, had The Lion in Winter won this Oscar, I wouldn’t have been terribly upset, and while I think the statue should by rights go elsewhere, I would at least be content knowing that it had ended up in the hands of people who at least came close to earning it.

My Choice

In the most perfect of worlds, Night of the Living Dead and Targets aren’t going to be nominated. Rosemary’s Baby would have a better chance, and 2001: A Space Odyssey would have a chance as well. All three would be better choices than the actual winner. If we put this in the realm of movies that could legitimately be nominated (thus leaving out Night of the Living Dead and Targets), I’d likely add Once Upon a Time in the West and Bullitt. While 2001 is a movie that I find slow, I can’t deny that it is great in all the best and most important ways, and that it is “best” in the ways that Oscar likes. Ultimately, that’s where I’m going even if it’s not my favorite movie of the year.

Final Analysis


  1. I like Oliver! and I LOVE Funny Girl, but then I like musicals, however I agree neither belongs in this race.

    Funny Girl has beautiful music, fantastic costume and production design but it’s constructed almost wholly to spotlight Barbra Streisand and turn her from promising singer into megastar. It does that handily but that doesn’t make it the best picture of the year. By the way the real Fanny Brice was reportedly much more down to earth and subdued off stage than presented in the film.

    Oliver is more lumbering, though it has good performances, but I’d agree that it was the establishment part of the Academy resisting the cinematic new wave that handed it the win.

    Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet is gauzy and romantic but aside from the leads being the right age there are better versions of the story and the director’s own The Taming of the Shrew from the previous year was a superior film to this one.

    I respected the craft of all involved in Rachel, Rachel more than liked the picture, and am frankly surprised that it received a nomination, it wouldn’t have from me but it’s not a bad film. Just not the best of the year.

    The Lion in Winter is an amazing film and I can’t believe that having been nominated it lost, what were they thinking? I say the same thing about Peter O’Toole’s performance. What’s really surprising is that even though it has earmarks of New Hollywood about it the film fits equally into what the older members of the Academy usually migrated towards. It even had a star of their vintage to draw them to it. Its loss is mystifying. It would be the only one I’d retain on my own list and no matter what else was nominated it would be my winner.

    I have to confess I hate 2001-I suppose considering the time it was released and the innovations it offered I understand why it’s considered so highly but I was bored stiff and unmoved by the film.

    Other than it and the ones you already mentioned I’d add The Young Girls of Rochefort, The Bride Wore Black and perhaps the dark comedy No Way to Treat a Lady, though it would probably come in sixth behind Rosemary’s Baby (which isn’t really my type of film but is expertly made and once again Mia Farrow was robbed of a nomination), Bullitt, the two foreign films I mentioned and Lion in Winter.

    1. I honestly don't love 2001 beyond understanding how much of a revelation it was when it came out. It's a film that I think is "great" in the sense of being important and impressive. It's objectively great in that sense. That said, my review of it is called something like "In Space, No One Can Hear You Snore," so I think it's pretty clear that I don't find it that thrilling.

      The Lion in Winter wouldn't bother me as a winner. It hits a lot of the right notes, and I can't really believe that it didn't win.

  2. I like a lot of these movies, and I'm partial to The Lion in Winter. But I couldn't remember what I have marked as my favorite film for 1968 on my IMDB list. So I checked … Oh yeah! Pretty Poison!

    Despite lots of great movies already mentioned, I'm sticking with Pretty Poison.

    1. I can't say I've seen it, but Tony Perkins, Tuesday Weld, and the great Beverly Garland? That's hard to top.

  3. That is a very odd selection of movies. On my list, leaving out Night of the Living Dead because we both know it would never be nominated, Lion in the winter would have to fight it out with Bulitt on the fourth and fifth place. Once upon a time in the West and Rosemary's Baby are both better and in complete a agreement with you 2001 A Space Odyssey was the movie that should have one. Seriously, there were five movies in 1968 that set the standard for how movies were going to look like for the next decades and none of them were nominated. Shame on the Academy.

    1. I'd punt four of the nominees as far as I could. The Lion in Winter deserves to be here, but the other ones don't.