Monday, February 11, 2019

Oscar Look Back - 1968

The fifth look back brings us to 1968 – a year that features one of the very best films ever made – and yet it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture (but Best Director? – Sure!)
Best Picture
  1. Rachel, Rachel 
  2. The Lion in Winter
  3. Romeo and Juliet
  4. Funny Girl 
  5. Oliver!  - WINNER
    Why This Ranking: The winner was Oliver!, which was a little odd, but then again this was the 1960s, and for all the experimentations going on in film, the Academy still loved their big, budget, old fashioned, very long musicals. It isn’t a horrible film – the biggest problem is that the Oliver himself is so darn boring, and the film is way too long. Funny Girl, another big winner, wasn’t all that much better, and suffered the same basic problems – over length to try and charge the extra charges in big movie houses, although at least Barbra Streisand is a joy to watch as Fanny Brice. I know many still think that Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is the definitive film version of Shakespeare’s play – and perhaps it is – although it’s far from my favorite Shakespeare play, so perhaps that’s why I’m basically lukewarm on the movie itself. I do quite love The Lion in Winter, which is admittedly an old school type costume drama with Peter O’Toole as Henry II, and Katherine Hepburn as his wife Eleanor, as everyone schemes from the throne – just really well done, with O’Toole in particular at his best (he was even better in Becket, playing the same King). But it is Paul Newman’s nearly forgotten Rachel, Rachel that I like most out of these films – a quiet film about a woman (Joanne Woodward_ who had given finding love, and then surprising herself, even if things don’t end well. It isn’t the type of film that normally got nominated then (or now) – and perhaps that’s why I love it so much.
    What Was Overlooked: Do you really need to ask? Just look at the Best Director lineup and you’ll see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released this year, and it is one of the greatest ever. And it didn’t get in. While we’re at, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby was also released this year, and is also better than anything nominated. For a film that the Academy just completely ignored there was Richard Lester’s brilliant Petulia – whose reputation has grown in recent years, and should continue to do so.

Best Director

  1. Stanely Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey
  2. Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers
  3. Anthony Harvey, The Lion in Winter
  4. Franco Zeffirelli, Romeo and Juliet

5.     Carol Reed, Oliver! – Winner

Why This Ranking: As often seems to be the case, the directors branch had better taste the Academy as a whole – as far and away the two best nominees are the ones who didn’t have their films nominated for best picture. I find it hard to believe that someone like Gillo Pontecorvo for The Battle of Algiers would get in today – but it’s a great nomination just the same, a really groundbreaking film. And that has nothing on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 – which is one of the best directed films in history. As for the three Best Director nominees from Best Picture nominees, they’re all fine, and I went into the film themselves above – but the lone director nominees are clearly the best ones nominated.
What Was Overlooked: Next to Kubrick, another of the best directed films of the year is by Roman Polanski for Rosemary’s Baby, he really should have been nominated. And how cool would it have been had George A. Romero got in for Night of the Living Dead?


Best Actor

  1. Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter
  2. Ron Moody, Oliver!
  3. Cliff Robertson, Charly - WINNER
Have Not Seen
The Fixer - Alan Bates
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter - Alan Arkin
Why This Ranking: First of all, I like both Alan Bates and Alan Arkin, but have never seen The Fixer or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and to be frank, I’m not sure I ever will (I’m not adverse to either – but neither is on a “To See” list for me. The rest of the lineup is … not great. Cliff Robertson is a fine character actor, but man did I ever hate Charley – which I thought was smug and silly, and really does play almost like a parody of 1960s film than a real one – I’m not sure it’s Robertson’s fault, but I’m really confused as to why they loved this performance this much that they gave him an Oscar. Ron Moody is fun in Oliver! as Fagin – but much like the rest of the film, it is usually very forgettable. I do love Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter, who is a delight and funny, and also hits some very heavy notes very well. O’Toole – the most nominated actor in history to never win an Oscar – had a very unlucky run, losing to one iconic performance after another (Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull are three of the 8 performances who beat him) – but this has always been that one that I really think was ridiculous that he didn’t win.
Who Was Overlooked: Two of my favorite performances of the 1960s were by iconic actors doing very strange, unlikely work this year. The first is George C. Scott in Petulia as a divorced doctor starting a new relationship in a truly strange, heartbreaking performance. The other is Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer – playing a suburbanite “swimming” his way home through one pool after another. Neither performance is typical for the two great actors – but are both among the very best work either did.

Best Actress

  1. Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel
  2. Katherine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter - WINNER

3.     Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl – WINNER

  1. Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses
Have Not Seen
Isadora  - Vanessa Redgrave
Why This Ranking: I do love Vanessa Redgrave – but honestly, does anyone talk about Isadora anymore (or ever?) – which is why I’ve never seen it. I love Patricia Neal in The Subject Was Roses – who is the subtlest of the three leads of the movie (and best) – but that’s also part of the problem. It’s hard to fault Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl who is really doing it all – but it’s not exactly a deep performance. Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter is terrific – but I’m still trying to figure out why they left to give her second Oscar in two years for it – and nothing for O’Toole. Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel delivers her favorite performance of mine – a subtle, devastating piece of work – that was better than her Oscar winner work a decade before in The Three Faces of Eve.
Who Was Overlooked: I have no idea how they didn’t nominate Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby – one of the great performances of all time. I have spoken of my love of Petulia above, so it’s no surprise that I think Julie Christie should have been nominated as well. And how about Gena Rowlands in Faces – when she’s in a Cassavetes movie, she is always brilliant.

Supporting Actor

  1. Gene Wilder, The Producers
  2. Seymour Cassel, Faces
  3. Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses - WINNER
  4. Jack Wild, Oliver!
Have Note Seen
Daniel Massey, Star!
Why This Ranking: I will be honest, and say I am not likely to ever see Star! – the type of big budget studio musical from the 1960s that I typically do not like even the well regarded one, let alone this. I do quite enjoy young Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! – but it doesn’t much stand up. I think Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses is quite good (although winner seems a bit much) – particularly since he is basically doing a stage performance on screen. Seymouyr Cassell is excellent in Cassavetes’ Faces – but I’m amazed he got nominated at all. Still, the most legendary performance here is clearly by Gene Wilder in The Producers – one of the great comedic performances of all time, so of course he didn’t win.
Who Was Overlooked: I am not sure if he was eligible, but if he was it would have been amazing to see Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West get nominated for playing the heartless villain – it would have been a better late period win than On Golden Pond 13 years later.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Ruth Gordon, Rosemary's Baby - Winner
  2. Lynn Carlin, Faces
  3. Estelle Parson, Rachel, Rachel
  4. Kay Medford, Funny Girl
Have Note Seen
Sondra Locke, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Why This Ranking: Again, I have not seen The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – although I’ve been tempted since Sandra Locke’s recent passing so who knows. I’m sorry, but I’ve completely forgotten Kay Medford’s role in Funny Girl – it strikes me as the type of nomination where they ride the films coattails. Estelle Parson in Rachel Rachel is great – but it is the type of supportive friend role that gets nominated, without quite the depth of others (and it’s nothing compared to her Oscar winning roles in Bonnie & Clyde the previous year). Again, I love the fact that the Academy nominated a couple of performances from John Cassavetes’ Faces – and Lynn Carlin is terrific in that role. Still, I do think Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby is one of the great Oscar winners of all time – in part because she is terrific in the role, and also because it’s a horror film, and they don’t win ever.
Who Was Overlooked: I feel like I’ve beat the drum on Petulia enough – but I really like Shirley Knight in that film as well. And let me also sing the praises of Delphine Seyrig in Stolen Kisses – as the older woman, in the best of all The 400 Blows sequels from Francois Truffaut.

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