Friday, October 4, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1960

The Contenders:

Billy Wilder: The Apartment (winner)
Jules Dassin: Never on Sunday
Alfred Hitchcock: Psycho
Jack Cardiff: Sons and Lovers
Fred Zinnemann: The Sundowners

What’s Missing

1960 was a great year for movies, and as is often the case, about half of the nominees demonstrate this. As typical, I’ll start with the movies I like but that I realize would never really get nominated in a million years. These include George Pal’s work on The Time Machine, Wolf Rilla for Village of the Damned, and Lewis Gilbert for Sink the Bismarck. The double-whammy of being not in English and based in horror likely kept both Mario Bava (Black Sunday) and Georges Franju (Eyes Without a Face) off the docket. I’m honestly a little surprised that Jean-Luc Godard didn’t show up with Breathless. Stanley Kubrick never got the love he deserved from the Academy, which explains the miss on Spartacus. Westerns are often overlooked as serious film, which is why we didn’t get The Magnificent Seven and John Sturges nominated. While I might not nominate Richard Brooks for Elmer Gantry, this does feel like a miss. I would absolutely nominate Stanley Kramer for Inherit the Wind. Finally, Michael Powell was clearly overlooked for Peeping Tom. Given the movie’s reputation in 1960 (and what it did to Powell’s career), this is not a shock, but with hindsight being 20/20, it’s a serious miss today.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. In my opinion, The Sundowners has a couple of things going for it. Deborah Kerr is really good in it. It’s also pretty and has massive and beautiful landscapes. I think it’s a movie that was nominated specifically because it looks great on a big screen. With so many good movies that were genuinely improved by their directors to choose from, I can’t really say that I want to see The Sundowners on this list. That’s nothing against Fred Zinnemann, who was a damn fine director. This just isn’t his best work.

4. I wasn’t a massive fan of Sons and Lovers, either, although much of that comes specifically from the story that is being told. That’s not Jack Cardiff’s fault, since with Best Director I am more concerned with the storytelling than the story itself. But it’s hard to divorce that completely. This is a story that seems to ride on the idea of Oedipus pretty firmly, and that’s a turn-off. Ultimately, I don’t really know what Cardiff did to tell the story here other than just tell the story. Again, it’s a case where I don’t know what work he did to really make this his.

3. I was surprised by Never on Sunday as a movie. It’s a film that has as its tremendous upside the fact that it doesn’t take the clich├ęd route through everything and manages to earn the ending it wants to have. I like that in a movie, but that’s also a case for the screenplay, not the director. Jules Dassin did good work here, but the best parts of the movie are the story itself and the free-spirited and wonderful performance by Melina Mercouri. I don’t hate this nomination, but I’m not sure I love it for this award.

2. I am a fan of Billy Wilder in no small part because of how versatile he was in the director’s chair. The Apartment is a fine movie, and one that demonstrates just about everything that I think of when I think of Billy Wilder. It’s funny and tragic and sardonic. It’s mean-spirited in places, but not in a really mean-spirited way. There’s mischief here, but it exists to cover up the heartbreak that lies at the heart of the film. I get why Wilder won, and he’s a good choice. He’s just not the best choice.

My Choice

1. The position of this blog has always been that ties go to the Academy, which is why I’m giving this to Hitchcock for Psycho. I can’t really think of a reason to give this to Michael Powell over Hitch, although I am tempted. The genius of Hitchcock is that Psycho works even when you know the ending, and that he spends so much time building sympathy for a character who ultimately doesn’t really deserve it. Sure, Powell does the same thing, but, as I said, ties go to the Academy. And really, Hitchcock should have won at least one competitive Oscar in his career.

Final Analysis


  1. I've seen Psycho from start to finish five or six times over the years. But the opening segment, from the beginning to the shower scene? I've watched that by itself an additional nine or ten times. I call it "The Adventures of Marian Crane." I mean, the rest of the movie is good. But more than half the time, I stop right there.

    1. For me, the genius of the movie is after that--once Marian is gone, the only person we have left to sympathize with is Norman, so the ending of the movie is a gut punch if you don't know it's coming.

  2. Out of these five the decision really does fall between Psycho and The Apartment. Psycho is nowhere near my favorite Hitchcock film but it's resonance and impact has been immense if only for that it should have won and it is masterfully directed.

    The Apartment is another that I can recognize its quality but that I harbor no special affection for but I can't fault Wilder's direction.

    That's a good lineup of what was missed. The only two I'd add are Luchino Visconti for Rocco and His Brothers and Vincente Minnelli for Home from the Hill.

    It really is shocking that Spartacus and Kubrick aren't here. The film is so in the Academy's sweet spot and while it's a bit overlong Kubrick keeps its epic tale consistently involving and it never lumbers.

    All those are fine jobs of direction but none would be my winner because Stanley Kramer should have been nominated and won for the brilliant Inherit the Wind. Courtroom dramas can be dry as dust and though he receives incalculable assistance from Spencer Tracy and Fredric March Kramer knows just how long to let scenes run and where to focus to keep the audience engaged throughout.

    1. Inherit the Wind is probably my favorite movie from this year, and Kramer would absolutely make my list of nominees. Aside from Powell, who would never be nominated thanks to the movie's reception, he's the biggest snub.

      I didn't love Rocco and His Brothers. Visconti isn't here specifically for that reason.

  3. While I have no problems with Billy Wilder winning Best Director as I love The Apartment, Hitchcock should've gotten the prize instead yet I personally feel like the award should've gone to Federico Fellini for La Dolce Vita in terms of its ambition and exploration of a man's existence in a decadent world. I also would've considered a nomination for Michaelangelo Antonioni for L'Avventura which is another favorite of mine. I agree with you on Michael Powell as Peeping Tom is an incredible film that needs more exposure. I'm also in that camp of those that loved Rocco and His Brothers while I also would've considered nods for Georges Franju for Eyes Without a Face, Ingmar Bergman for The Virgin Spring, and Yasujiro Ozu for Late Autumn.

    Kubrick should've been considered as well for Spartacus though I admit that I consider it one of his weaker features since he didn't have total control of the film and part of it was directed by Anthony Mann before Kirk Douglas fired him.

    1. I hate to admit that The Virgin Spring is a film that is missing in my viewing history, but there it is.

      It's a really good year all the way around. In fact, since it's a year that doesn't get talked about much as a great movie year, is a surprisingly good year.

  4. This was indeed a good year. I think, when you consider a best director award you want a movie that does something else, a director that thinks out of the box. Franju and Powell did exactly that. Most of the nominees are good, run of the mill efforts and only Hitchcock did something else. Therefore, of the nominees, he is the rightful winner.

    1. Don't downplay Wilder here--The Apartment is a very smart movie where his style enhances the story that is there.

      As much as I love Franju's work, it doesn't have a hope of being nominated.

  5. The Apartment all the way for the win! I watch that movie almost every year and it has not gone stale yet!

    1. I can't call it a bad choice even if it's not mine. Wilder was a genius director, and I'm happy he ended up with a stack of Oscars.