Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Oscar Look Back - 1958

We’re now back 60 years – to a year that had two of my top 10 films of all time released, and nominated neither one.
Best Picture
1. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
2. The Defiant Ones
3. Separate Tables
4. Gigi - WINNER
Not Seen By Me: Auntie Mame

Why This Ranking: I have not seen Auntie Mame – in part because for a while I was an idiot and hated musicals, and so I still need to catch up with some. I will always be mystified why people love Gigi – which I found insufferable in so many ways, and creepy to boot – and I normally love Vincente Minelli. Separate Tables is the kind of big, star studded drama that they used to make – and it’s fine, but rather dull. There is no real denying that seen through today’s eyes Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones is old fashioned (hell, it’s racial politics are essentially the same as Green Book – to let you know how out of date that film is) – but the two central performances are great, and if you remember it was 1958, it goes down easier. But out of these nominees, the clear best one is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – which sure, is neutered a little bit so it could be released, but those performances by Newman and Taylor give you absolutely everything you need to know about them, and the film is dripping with sexual energy. I love it.
Who Was Overlooked: Two of the very best films of all time were released in 1958 – Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is his masterpiece, but was a critical and commercial failure at the time and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil was neutered at the time, but that genius still shines through. Of the films they may have actually nominated – they did give a lot of nominations to Minelli’s 1958 masterpiece Some Came Running – but not Best Picture.

Best Director
1. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  - Richard Brooks 
2. The Defiant Ones - Stanley Kramer
3. I Want to Live!  - Robert Wise 
4. Gigi  - Vincente Minnelli - WINNER
Not Seen By Me
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness - Mark Robson

Why This Ranking: I haven’t seen The Inn of Sixth Happiness – and I wonder if it would make me cringe to watch in 2019. Again, I love Vincente Minelli – and I love that he won an Oscar  - but Gigi is my least favorite of all of his films and I just really dislike it. I find the nomination of Robert Wise for I Want to Live! To be somewhat odd – it’s a fine movie, with good performances, but I’m not sure why they went with him as a lone director nominee. A lot of people hate on Stanley Kramer – with reason – but The Defiant Ones is probably my favorite of all of his films, exciting and tense, as well as dramatic – and yes, it has a message. Again though, Richard Brooks should have won for his great work on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – which is as good as this kind of movie can get.
Who Was Overlooked: I’ll sound like a broken record, but Alfred Hitchcock made Vertigo this year and Orson Welles made Touch of Evil this year – two of the greatest directing jobs of all time, and neither got nominated – and they should have. The foreign language film winner this year was Mon Oncle – and it’s one of the best directing jobs of Jacques Tati’s career.

Best Actor
1. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  - Paul Newman 
2. The Old Man and the Sea - Spencer Tracy
3. The Defiant Ones - Sidney Poitier
4. The Defiant Ones - Tony Curtis 
5. Separate Tables  - David Niven – WINNER

Why Think Ranking: David Niven is actually quite good in Separate Tables as far as things go, but I’m not even sure it’s the best lead actor performance in the movie (Burt Lancaster is also quite good) let alone of the year. Of the two nominated performances from The Defiant Ones I think Tony Curtis is not quite as good as Sidney Poitier – but that could be because I think Curtis is so good in other films (Sweet Smell of Success, Some Like It Hot for example) – while I would prefer Poitier winning for this other than Lilies of the Field. Spencer Tracy is a true one man show in The Old Man and the Sea and he really makes a film that shouldn’t work as well as it does. Finally though, we could have avoided decades of why has Paul Newman won an Oscar yet hand wringing had they just given him the Oscar for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – it’s truly one of his best performances.
How Was Overlooked: I think I’d include James Stewart’s performance in Vertigo on a list of the 10 best screen performances of all time, so yeah, he should have been there. Frank Sinatra gave perhaps his best performance in Some Came Running. Finally, I love Gary Cooper in Man of the West – which would make an interesting double bill with his Oscar winning High Noon.
Best Actress
1. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  - Elizabeth Taylor 
2. Some Came Running  - Shirley MacLaine
3. I Want to Live!  - Susan Hayward  - WINNER
4. Separate Tables  - Deborah Kerr
Not Seen By Me
Auntie Mame  - Rosalind Russell

Why This Ranking: I like Rosalind Russell a lot – she probably should have won an Oscar at some point – but I haven’t seen Auntie Mame. Another oft-nominated, never won actress – Deborah Kerr was up for Separate Tables – but she has never been my favorite part of that large ensemble (again, I kind of think Rita Hayworth should have been nominated here instead). The winner was Susan Hayward for I Want to Live = who like Russell and Kerr was nominated a lot, and finally won – it’s a fine melodramatic performance to be sure, and she owns the screen when it’s on, but there is a reason the film doesn’t get talked about much anymore. I dearly love Shirley Maclaine in Some Came Running, it’s one of her best performances, even if it’s not exactly a role that would be looked upon nicely through today’s lens. But of the nominees, I absolutely loved Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – who is fiery and intense throughout, and puts Newman through his paces – and that should won her the Oscar.
Who Overlooked: Kim Novak in Vertigo gave one of the best performances of all of Hitchcock’s blondes, so while Stewart always gets the recognition he deserves, Novak isn’t talked about nearly as often.

Best Supporting Actor
1. Some Came Running  - Arthur Kennedy  
2. The Big Country  - Burl Ives - WINNER
3. The Defiant Ones - Theodore Bikel
Not Seen By Me
The Brothers Karamazov - Lee J. Cobb
Teacher's Pet  - Gig Young

Why This Ranking: I’ve never seen Teacher’s Pet – probably because my mother loves Doris Day, and this was my way of rebelling, so how good the great Gig Young was in it remains a mystery (probably pretty good – they don’t nominate this kind of thing often). I always love Lee J. Cobb – but for a long time The Brothers Karamazov was hard to find, and it’s still not exactly easy. Theodore Bickel in The Defiant Ones is fine – but it’s the kind of “nice guy” role that makes you role your eyes a little bit, because it doesn’t strike you as authentic., It’s odd that the Academy went with Burl Ives’ work in The Big Country – which is great, and not Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which was even better, and in a film they loved more – but it’s certainly a worthy winner for either. My favorite though is the great Arthur Kennedy in Some Came Running – the last of his five nominations (he never won) – and perhaps his best, playing Sinatra’s hypocritical brother, who should won this won.
Who Was Overlooked: One of absolute favorite performances of his career – Orson Welles in Touch of Evil – as the corrupt Sheriff is amazing. While I didn’t see the film he was nominated for, I also love Lee J. Cobb in Man of the West this year.

Best Supporting Actress
1. Separate Tables  - Wendy Hiller - WINNER
2. Some Came Running  - Martha Hyer
3. The Defiant Ones - Cara Williams
Not Seen By Me
Auntie Mame  - Peggy Cass
Lonelyhearts  - Maureen Stapleton

Why This Ranking: Yes, I know, I need to see Auntie Mame and Peggy Cass. I loved Mauren Stapleton – but try finding Lonelyhearts somewhere. Cara Williams in The Defiant Ones has a small role – but a good one, as a woman who seems so nice on the surface, but whose racism is exposed. I like Martha Hyer in Some Came Running quite a bit – but playing the “good girl” isn’t nearly as much of a performance as what Maclaine gets to work with in her role. But, this time the winner is probably actually the right choice – because even if as a film Separate Tables isn’t as good as Some Came Running or The Defiant Ones, Wendy Hiller is perhaps the best one in the cast, and the best part of the movie – so her win doesn’t bother me at all.
Who Was Overlooked: In a just world, Janet Leigh’s performance in Touch of Evil would be as well-known as her work in Psycho – easily the two best performances of her career.

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