Monday, April 20, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1963

The Contenders:

Captain Newman, M.D.
Lilies of the Field
Sundays and Cybele
Tom Jones (winner)

What’s Missing

There are some fine nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay 1963, but also a lot of snubs. Some of those are naturally the sort of films that don’t attract a great deal of attention come Oscar time. It should be worth noting that I’m not sure if The Birds would have been an eligible film. It’s based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, but I don’t know if it was a published story. As for those non-Oscar films, The Raven, a comedy “horror” film loosely based on Poe’s poem would never swing a nomination. The same is true of Black Sabbath. Sadly, it’s also true of the now-classic The Haunting. The Leopard and Contempt were going to be hard-sells based on their not being in English. I wouldn’t nominate Cleopatra, but I’m a little surprised it wasn’t nominated, something I could also say about The Cardinal. There are three films I think do belong here more than several of the nominees. The first is The Servant, although it might have been too dark for Oscar at the time. The Great Escape seems like a significant miss in this category. The biggest miss for me, though, is This Sporting Life.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. First, I’m getting rid of winner Tom Jones. While it’s nice that this is the film that made the career of Albert Finney, there’s not a lot here to recommend it. It’s little more than a fluff piece, and given the other movies released in 1963, I have no idea how it got this much acclaim or how it won anything, let alone Best Picture and this Oscar. If the Academy and its voters had any real sense, this wouldn’t have been able to sniff a nomination in this category.

4. Captain Newman, M.D. is one of those films that has no idea what it wants to be. Is it a drama? A comedy? Kind of both and kind of neither. That makes it difficult for me to look at it with a great deal of enjoyment when none of the parts of it are that great and none of the parts of it are representative of the film. The performances are good enough, but the story isn’t that interesting and I can’t think of a single reason to want to go back and watch it again. It’s in fourth only because it’s less offensive than Tom Jones in real ways.

3. With Lilies of the Field, we’re at least getting to movies that I think have some reason to be here, even if I wouldn’t nominate them myself. In this case, the problem isn’t that I dislike the movie, but that the story isn’t nearly the best part of it. For my tastes, this relies far too heavily on what I think is an uninteresting clash of personalities. I liked it well enough for what it is, but the best part of it is that Sidney Poitier is clearly having a great time in the role. It might be better than I’m giving it credit.

2. Sundays and Cybele is one of those movies I’m happy to have seen, but that is depressing enough that I’m not sure I want to watch it again any time soon. The story is a good one, and if I’m honest, if we’re going to have just one foreign language nominee for this year, this would be my pick. It’s the first nomination where I’m really comfortable that the film deserves to be here. It’s not my pick for the win, but in an open field, it’s the first one that would be somewhere in my list of nominations.

1. This means that, given the five nominations we have, that Hud is going to be my choice. Hud is one of those films that is absolutely dominated and driven by its performances, but it’s also a rare film that has those performances because of a tremendously powerful screenplay. I’m happy with this nomination, and had Hud walked off with the top prize, I would not have complained about it too much. Alas, we live in a world where that didn’t happen, and so I need to take more drastic measures.

My Choice

Depending on the day that you ask me, my top two for this Oscar will be This Sporting Life and The Great Escape. It will really depend on my mood. I think This Sporting Life is probably the better movie in a lot of ways, but The Great Escape is the more important one, and definitely the one that I’m more likely to want to watch. Either one would work for me.

Final Analysis


  1. I think it should've gone to The Leopard as it is a phenomenal film and an incredible story about changing times and a man being forced to accept that everything he represents is about to be gone. I haven't seen Tom Jones though I hope to soon. I've only seen bits of The Great Escape as I would've taken that into consideration as well as From Russia with Love as that is to me, the best James Bond film.

    1. When I think of The Leopard, I tend to think of Burt Lancaster more than anything else. Given the foreign movies of the year, I'm going to stump for Sundays and Cybele every time. The Great Escape is a hell of a good movie--one of those "everyone is in it" casts, too.

      My favorite of the Connery Bond movies is Thunderball for a variety of reasons.

  2. Had Hud won I wouldn't have been disappointed since it's a very fine film and screenplay.

    Sundays and Cybele is a blind spot for me and while I liked Tom Jones and Captain Newman more than you I wouldn't have put either in play. I liked Lilies of the Field the least of this lineup, I didn't hate it by any means I just wasn't terribly impressed so I'd cut it as well.

    The Birds was definitely published beforehand, in the 50's I believe. I like your suggestions of Contempt, Great Escape and This Sporting Life even though I can't say I enjoyed the last much. It was an excellent film with brilliant performances just not a pleasant viewing experience.

    If it were up to me the list would run this way:

    The Birds
    The Great Escape
    High and Low

    Out of that field my choice would be High and Low. It would be hard from there to place them in any sort of ranking since they're all pretty great.

    1. The eligibility of The Birds does change what I would want to nominate, because that's a film that I would want in the lineup. It does complicate things a great deal--I'd love to see The Servant and The Haunting here as well, but I wouldn't specifically want to lose Hud.

      As always, it's a better year than our nominations would show.