Friday, May 24, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1963

The Contenders:

8 ½
America, America
The Four Days of Naples
How the West Was Won (winner)
Love with the Proper Stranger

What’s Missing

You know what I’m going to say here, right? On an objective level, 1963 was a better film year than the Best Original Screenplay nominations would have you believe. To put it bluntly, there are six movies released in this year that I like as much or better than all five of the nominations. There are naturally a few choices that are not going to ever be the sort of movie that Oscar likes enough to nominate for one of the major awards. These start with X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes and Shock Corridor. I’d put The Nutty Professor in this group, too. It goes too long in places, but that’s more the fault of Jerry Lewis’s acting and oeuvre rather than the screenplay. On the foreign front, both Winter Light and The Organizer (which earned its nomination in 1964) would seem to be misses that could easily replace The Four Days of Naples. Beyond these, Charade is the one I was most surprised wasn’t here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s not been a good couple of days for me with Natalie Wood, who I typically love. I was not a fan of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and I really didn’t like Love with the Proper Stranger, which shows up here. The issue with this movie is that I have no idea who it was made for. There’s a flat-out abortion drama in the middle of this and the last half hour is a rom-com. In what world does this make sense? How did this movie even get made? Putting this here when so many other, better movies were ignored is absolutely baffling.

4. I really wanted to like The Four Days of Naples for a number of reasons, not the least of which was how much I tend to like World War II movies in general. Ones that deal with liberation of German-occupied territory are especially interesting to me, so there was a lot going for this movie when I sat down with it. The problem I have with it is that I found it very difficult to care about any specific character’s story in the grand sweep of the narrative. That may be my issue, but it’s certainly true of the experience I had.

3. I had much the same problem with eventual winner How the West Was Won. This is a story that jumps around from story to story and character to character, and honestly felt like very little was ever conclusively settled to me. I get that there are a lot of stories to tell here, but there has to be a way to do that that doesn’t feel so disjointed. This is especially strange to me when we are looking at something that was not merely nominated for a screenplay award, but that won. Seriously, the biggest problem here is the screenplay.

2. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Fellini; one only has to track down the various reviews I’ve put up here of his films to discover the truth of that statement. 8 ½ comes very close to the film of his that I like the best, but since I genuinely dislike a lot of his films, that’s not saying a great deal. I appreciate that this film manages to feel like it has some weight to it despite the fact that it also feels like it’s complete fluff. It’s surprising that Fellini was able to pull off both in the same film, although in my opinion, he made a lot of fluff.

1. What this means is that my choice of winner based on the five nominations is ultimately America, America, and I have to say that it’s one of the most unenthusiastic wins I’ve ever given an actual nominee. In truth, given a completely open field, I’m not sure I put any of the actual nominees on the docket, with this one being the only one to have a chance. It’s an important story, if an old one, and it could stand to be trimmed down by at least half an hour. That said, it feels like it belongs here, which is the first time I can say that without any reservations of these five nominations.

My Choice

If we’re going to talk about dream choices, I think Shock Corridor might be my favorit screenplay from this year, mainly because of just how insane it truly is. This is just prurient and weird and tremendous because of it. For movies that could genuinely score an actual nomination, Winter Light is probably the best of the bunch.

Final Analysis


  1. I haven't seen The Four Days of Naples but I see what you're saying about the other films.

    I liked Love with the Proper Stranger but must admit it was because of the actors and their performances, especially Natalie Wood whose work was very deep, but the screenplay was all over the place and the weakest part.

    I'm a huge fan of How the West Was Won but again because of its incredible cast and just the epic fun, action and sweep of it. The screenplay is just a bunch of vignettes, some better than others enacted by terrific actors and tied together by Debbie Reynolds but its so episodic it could hardly be called a cohesive whole.

    I borderline hated 8 1/2 finding it self-indulgent and irritating.

    So I guess my choice would be America, America too but just as unenthusiastically as you though I think its a good film, but much too long. However if I have to choose something I'm not that convinced should win I'd rather see the outcome that happened with HTWWW taking the prize since I enjoyed it the most out of these five.

    Shock Corridor is an interesting pick to take the prize in an open field but my vote would go to Polanski's Knife in the Water which opened in America in '63 despite premiering in Europe in '62 so it qualifies. It's a much better screenplay than anything nominated.

    1. Knife in the Water is one I still need to watch. I own a copy somewhere, so I should get to it one of these days.

      Honestly, Shock Corridor would never get a nomination and probably shouldn't, but I love it because of how crazy it is.

  2. I would go with 8 1/2. It is one of my favorite movies of all time. Love America, America but not necessarily for its screenplay. There's a bunch of wonderful screenplays you didn't mention but I assume that's because they are adapted. Knife in the Water is worth seeing though Polanski would improve but become no less perverse.

    1. I can't say your choice is a bad or wrong one; it's just not mine.

      The following movies from 1963 are adapated: The Great Escape, The Birds, Hud, The Servant, The Leopard, This Sporting Life, and a ton of others. Honestly, it was an okay year for original screenplays, but a fantastic one for adapted.