Monday, October 21, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1962

The Contenders:

Frank Perry: David and Lisa
Pietro Germi: Divorce, Italian Style
David Lean: Lawrence of Arabia (winner)
Arthur Penn: The Miracle Worker
Robert Mulligan: To Kill a Mockingbird

What’s Missing

1962 is one of those stealth years of film that is surprisingly good without anyone seeming to realize it. The actual nominations for best director are a fantastic group of films, with four out of the five rated by me at four stars or more and two at the full five stars. And even with this there are improvements that can be made. As usual, I’ll start with the directors who couldn’t buy a nomination if they tried. In this case, that Herk Harvey for Carnival of Souls, a film that is far more effective than in should be in no small part because of his work. We could almost say that about Robert Aldrich and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but that did earn some nominations elsewhere. The foreign language slot being filled already leaves out some towering performances. Most notable of these are the great Yasujiro Ozu for An Autumn Afternoon, Luis Bunuel for The Exterminating Angel, and the great Agnes Varda for Cleo from 5 to 7. To a slightly lesser extent, I’d also include Serge Bourguignon for Sundays and Cybele. Cape Fear may have been too rough for the time, leaving out J. Lee Thompson. The Manchurian Candidate certainly could have gotten some play for John Frankenheimer. The quintet of directors for The Longest Day was probably more than Oscar could handle. It could be argued that Sidney Lumet didn’t do a lot for Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but he got incredible performances from his whole cast. John Ford managed a lot of egos on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Finally, I think a lot of the credit for Days of Wine and Roses belongs to Blake Edwards and rightfully should.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of the five nominations for Best Director, the one that I simply don’t understand is that of Frank Perry for David and Lisa. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the movie (nor particularly amazing), but there’s also not a great deal here for the director to have done. Sure, the performances are good, but with the number of quality films produced in 1962, I am sat scratching my head regarding what Perry actually did to earn the nomination. Ah well, what do I know? I’d rather have just about everyone from the previous paragraph instead.

4.The Miracle Worker is a fine movie, but it’s a performance film more than anything else. Certainly as the director, Arthur Penn deserves at least a little of the credit for that and for getting those performances out of his cast. But for all that the performances drive the film and make it work, there is absolutely no shock nor question that this is a film based on a stage play. It looks like a stage play and it feels like a stage play because it is one. It may be unfair of me, but I always feel a little ripped off when a movie just feels like the director could have put a few cameras in a theater and gotten essentially the same thing.

3. There are a lot of really good foreign films from this year, and while both Ozu and Varda could make very good claims for themselves (as could Bunuel), if I'm limited to only one, my choice might well be Pietro Germi for Divorce, Italian Style. This is a film that wants to do a great deal in terms of hitting various genres and manages to do most of it effectively. It's smart and funny, and a great deal of that goes back to Germi. In a lesser year, this is an easy choice and I like the nomination a lot. Too bad this is a substantially stronger year.

2. Sometimes, two films come out in the same year that both deserve as many of the top awards as possible. If only To Kill a Mockingbird could have been released a single year later, it would have swept through the award year like an Oscar-attracting cyclone, and deservedly so. Robert Mulligan’s work on the film is smart and delicate, giving us subtle insights into the characters and the story. It’s beautiful and tender work, and in a lesser year, I’d be happy to award him a statue. If only they’d waited a single year!

My Choice

1. This could only be David Lean’s Oscar. Lawrence of Arabia is an achievement that has seldom been equaled in film. Lean’s work manages to make the desert a character in its own right, and long shots of vast expanses that would be boring on paper instead become moments of both beauty and slowly building tension. Lean became a master of massive landscape and if he didn’t learn all of it here, he used all of it here. There’s not a lot to say and nothing that needed to be changed. Lean was the right choice even in a year this packed with quality.

Final Analysis


  1. Yeah, you can't go wrong with David Lean as Lawrence of Arabia is an astonishing achievement. There's so many other filmmakers that could've been nominated like Agnes Varda, Michelangelo Antonioni for L'Eclisse, Robert Bresson for The Trial of Joan of Arc, Roman Polanski for Knife in the Water, and for me personally, Jean-Luc Godard for Vivre Sa Vie.

    1. I agree. It's such a lush and gorgeous film, one where even to a novice film viewer the scope and scale of what is happening and being shown becomes something special.

      It's a great year in so many ways, and that is surprisingly easy to overlook.

  2. David Lean was a very fine director and I suppose his helming of Lawrence is looked at dispassionately an awesome achievement but words really fail me about how much I hated that film!

    I never would have included those last three in the nominations so I guess by default my choice would be Mulligan for Mockingbird even if he wouldn't be my choice in an open field.

    I agree with all your alternate suggestions...well maybe not Carnival of Souls...and would add Sam Peckinpah for Ride the High Country and maybe David Miller for Lonely Are the Brave though that's really all about Kirk Douglas's performance. But my winner would be John Frankenheimer for The Manchurian Candidate with John Ford runner-up for Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

    1. We'll disagree on Lawrence of Arabia, which I think is one of the best-ever Best Picture winners.

      That said, I don't hate Frankenheimer for the win (although not in this year), and he'd probably make my short list.