Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wherefore Art Thou, Oscar?

Jack Albertson:
Best Supporting Actor for

The Subject Was Roses


The 41st Academy Awards will go down as perhaps one of the worst in its history due to some thoroughly shocking (and puzzling) nominations, non-nominations, and wins.   Perhaps the fact that the late 1960s were an age of turmoil accounts for some of the films that won, lost, or weren't in the running.

Unlike last year, the Best Picture race had some of the safest, squarest choices possible, some so astonishing that the eventual winner is the only G-rated film in Oscar history to win the top prize.  Making things more astonishing than Oliver! winning (the last musical to win for over thirty years) is how some films that are now considered classics and revolutionary for the time (2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, and Rosemary's Baby) weren't in the running. 

Perhaps the biggest scandal, if we can call it that, involves the Best Actor race.  Cliff Robertson's role in Charly was not expect to win, a situation made worse when the producers of the film he was working on when the Oscars were presented refused to let him attend the ceremony (even after he offered to pay for his own ticket).  He did win, but perhaps this set the precedent for "illness always wins". His role as a mentally-challenged man who is momentarily made a genius before reverting back to his former state now seems almost tailor-made for the Oscar treatment, and it wouldn't be the last time an Oscar-winning performance came courtesy of playing disabled either mentally or physically (I'm looking at you, Eddie Redmayne).

The ceremony included a rare tie in an Oscar category (there have been a total of six in all).  While a tie had been declared in 1931/32 between Fredric March and Wallace Beery for Best Actor, the tie between Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand was an actual tie (as Beery had one less vote than March but per the rules, coming within three votes constituted a tie).  If memory serves correct, the Academy had waived its traditional three-year wait rule to allow Streisand membership in the Academy, and one wonders if she hadn't been there to vote for herself would history have been different?

At a time when America both politically and artistically was going through a wild cultural revolution, nothing says 'forward-thinking' than Oliver!

As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).



Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
For the Love of Ivy: For the Love of Ivy
Funny Girl: Funny Girl
The Windmills of Your Mind: The Thomas Crown Affair
Star!: Star!

It's a rather peculiar situation that The Windmills of Your Mind from The Thomas Crown Affair is the most progressive song among the lot, and that song is a lovely ballad that builds upon itself.  Square is as square does, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, well...As for Star!, this big, lavish musical was the film credited for sinking Julie Andrews' string of guaranteed hits, and the song itself is not one people sing today.  In fact, with Star! the musical genre was seen as having gotten so big, so overblown, that the genre took a hit from which it has yet to recover.

What's curious is that there was another song in a film that has stood the test of time, still beloved today, integral to the plot, that wasn't nominated.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Funny Girl: Funny Girl
Springtime for Hitler: The Producers
A Time for Us: Romeo and Juliet
The Windmills of Your Mind: The Thomas Crown Affair

From The Producers, Springtime for Hitler, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks

Firmly in the tradition of a musical number, Springtime for Hitler proves you can make ANYTHING into a delightful musical romp...even The Fuhrer of the Third Reich.  Listening to the song, the lyrics are quite in keeping with its subject (Don't be stupid/Be a smarty/Come and join the Nazi Party).  If you eliminate the lyrics, the melody could come from any Broadway show, complete with dance number.  It's a delightful ditty and almost loving homage to the lunacy of theater...and the thorough cluelessness of actors.  In turns outrageous and catchy, this is I'm sure, a song much more remembered than Star!


Anthony Harvey: The Lion in Winter
Stanley Kubrick: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Gillo Pontecorvo: The Battle of Algiers
Carol Reed: Oliver!
Franco Zeffirelli: Romeo and Juliet

I think Reed's win for Oliver! is one of the biggest, well, not disasters, but certainly one of its most questionable.  As I already gave Pontecorvo the Oscar for The Battle of Algiers two years ago (when the film was released), I don't see why I should do it again. It received this nomination I figure when it was eligible, but foreign film's eligibility versus release dates can be so confusing.  Part of me makes me want to think that SIR Carol Reed (as he was announced at the roll call of nominees) had a certain cache, and mounting that lumbering production with lavish musical numbers certainly must have impressed Academy members (a few of whom I imagine had met Charles Dickens and told him Oliver Twist would make for a great musical).  Still, in terms of actual directing, particularly newcomers and youngsters, to bring life to Shakespeare which can be done really badly, I go for Zeffirelli.

Anthony Harvey: The Lion in Winter
Stanley Kubrick: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Roman Polanski: Rosemary's Baby
Franklin L. Schaffner: Planet of the Apes
Franco Zeffirelli: Romeo and Juliet

Despite some great films this year (sorry, Ollie), I see nothing to change my mind.


Lynn Carlin: Faces
Ruth Gordon: Rosemary's Baby
Sondra Locke: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Kay Medford: Funny Girl
Estelle Parsons: Rachel, Rachel

As the 'sweet little old lady' who is really part of a Satanic plot to bring the Antichrist to Earth, Gordon always leaves a little room to think that maybe there is something dark and sinister underneath that loving exterior.  She certainly is still well-remembered for this role, and I can't see any of the other nominees beating her out.

And she gave a great speech too!

However, I'm going for another performance this year, so apologies to you, Miss Gordon.

Ruth Gordon: Rosemary's Baby
Pat Heywood: Romeo and Juliet
Kim Hunter: Planet of the Apes
Sondra Locke: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Kay Medford: Funny Girl

I don't think we've had a better film version of the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet than Pat Heywood's interpretation. In turns bawdy and tender, Heywood got the humor and love the Nurse had.  Her double entendre were funny and appropriately risqué, but when she plays serious (as when she advises Juliet to commit bigamy), she can be just as dramatic as anyone.

I cannot understand how the cast of Romeo and Juliet were completely overlooked, while those singing urchins of Oliver!...


Jack Albertson: The Subject Was Roses
Seymour Cassel: Faces
Daniel Massey: Star!
Jack Wild: Oliver!
Gene Wilder: The Producers

It's the battle of the EXCLAMATION POINTS! as Star! goes against Oliver! for Best Supporting Actor.  Both lost, and the Oscar went to Charlie Bucket's Grandpa Joe (let's be honest, how many of us remember Jack Albertson from The Subject Was Roses).  I claim no great insight into this particular category, or even if they made the wrong choice this year, but I cannot help but favor Wilder's wild turn as the forever nebbish accountant roped into a wild scheme to bilk investors in the worst musical ever made...that becomes the biggest hit of the year!

Having said that, I still think someone who never got a nomination, not even an Honorary Oscar, merits the award.

Jack Albertson: The Subject Was Roses
Daniel Massey: Star!
Roddy McDowall: Planet of the Apes
Walter Pidgeon: Funny Girl
Gene Wilder: The Producers

It is difficult to act with a rubber mask and make the emotions come through, but McDowall was if nothing else a first-rate actor, a character actor who has the rare distinction of playing both father and son of the character he created.  He never got the credit he deserved, and his Cornelius is now iconic (as is his 'son', Caesar).


Katharine Hepburn: The Lion in Winter
Patricia Neal: The Subject Was Roses
Vanessa Redgrave: Isadora
Barbra Streisand: Funny Girl
Joanne Woodward: Rachel, Rachel

As there was a tie declared (the only Best Actress tie so far), we can say that both impressed the Academy enough to have them split the vote.  I'm not going to cry for Woodward, Neal or Redgrave as the first two already had Oscars and the third would get one later.  However, I'm not a fan of ties and try to not use them whenever I can avoid it (1939's tie between Clark Gable and James Stewart for Best Actor being a rare exception).  Therefore, if I had to choose, I'm going with...

Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter as the bitter yet still powerful Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most fascinating women of all time (sorry, Hillary).  Hepburn, I have found, has many detractors who find her style odious, but even they acknowledge that The Lion in Winter is her best performance.

Still, while I'm leaving both winners up there, I am going for another, also iconic, who stole my heart with her performance when I saw it for high school.

Faye Dunaway: The Thomas Crown Affair
Mia Farrow: Rosemary's Baby
Katharine Hepburn: The Lion in Winter
Olivia Hussey: Romeo and Juliet
Barbra Streisand: Funny Girl

Hussey was all of 15 when she played Juliet, two years older than the character's age.  It certainly was more believable than having 34-year-old Norma Shearer play the part...and SHE got an Oscar nomination for that fluttery piece of camp.  Hussey, I think, is the best Juliet we've ever had on the screen: gentle yet strong, more mature than the older Romeo, and brought the ecstasy of first love and the heartbreak of its loss to life.

Even now, it's her Juliet we tend to see, not Claire Danes (unless your high school English teacher really thinks you're stupid and thinks you can't figure things out without putting a 'contemporary' spin on Shakespearean language).


Alan Arkin: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Alan Bates: The Fixer
Ron Moody: Oliver!
Peter O'Toole: The Lion in Winter
Cliff Robertson: Charly

There is only one thing that comes to mind when I think of the Best Actor of 1968 race: WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?!?!

Perhaps 'illness always wins', though to be fair to Robertson from the little I can remember of Charly he wasn't that bad...at least when we hasn't playing the mentally-challenged part.  However, I don't think anyone thinks today that Robertson was better than O'Toole in one of THE performances of all time.  His Henry II was titanic, powerful, a man of rage and perhaps even a little regret as he enters the twilight of his years and reign.  I don't think there has been or perhaps will be a better interpretation of Henry II (a role he played before in Becket, making him the rare nominee to be nominated for playing the same part twice in two separate films).  O'Toole once said he could make a whole career out of playing Henry II, and I can believe it.

Sorry, Charly...

Tony Curtis: The Boston Strangler
Charlton Heston: Will Penny
Steve McQueen: The Thomas Crown Affair
Peter O'Toole: The Lion in Winter
Omar Sharif: Funny Girl

I think Heston could easily have been nominated for Planet of the Apes, but I opted for a quieter performance, one where he is at his most against-type.  In fact, with the exception of O'Toole all my nominees played against type: the charming Curtis as a serial killer, the action star McQueen as a dapper, elegant thief, and the sophisticated Sharif as the gambler on the losing streak in more ways than one.  Still, it's O'Toole in one of his best roles that wins out.


Funny Girl
The Lion in Winter
Rachel, Rachel
Romeo and Juliet

Ah, Oliver!

I have a funny Oliver! story.  The first time I saw it, I put the disc on and the big musical number Who Will Buy? played in all its glory.  I thought, 'what a great way to start a musical film!'   Then I saw two strange figures, one of whom I recognized as The Artful Dodger, looking on rather menacingly.  We quickly go to where this motley group is discussing how they had been watching Oliver for two whole days...and I thought, 'wait, what?  Who are these guys?  What's going on?'  It took a few minutes for me to figure out I had started watching the second half of Oliver! first, and quickly popped the disc out, flipped it over, and got the Overture.

Oliver! is not a bad film.  It has memorable songs (Who Will Buy?, Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, and Reviewing the Situation among others).  However, let's face facts: I don't think people actually remember Oliver!, let alone remember it actually was named the Best Picture.  In many respects, it's slow, lumbering, even a bit dull.  It also has the female character almost justifying the physical abuse she gets in song (As Long As He Needs Me), a number I find personally disturbing in its suggestion that it's OK that a man can assault a woman...as long as he needs her.

Oliver! to me was the Old Guard's last hurrah, its last gasp of defiance against an industry that was becoming more experimental, more brazen, more open with regards to violence and sex.  New themes, new ideas were starting to force their way to films, but Oliver! would have none of it.  The Academy was going to celebrate a long, lumbering, sweet and inoffensive musical with a large cast and elaborate dance numbers (and I do agree that choreographer Onna White deserved her Honorary Oscar for her work). 

However, out of the nominated films, I think Romeo and Juliet still towers over them all, and as such, I name Romeo and Juliet the Best Picture of 1968.

2001: A Space Odyssey
The Lion in Winter
Planet of the Apes
Romeo and Juliet
Rosemary's Baby

The revolutionary work of 2001: A Space Odyssey (which to be fair has its fair share of detractors), the allegorical Planet of the Apes, and the horror/tragedy of Rosemary's Baby are all better remembered than little Oliver!, but I still hold that Romeo and Juliet is a film for the ages.  One of the best adaptations of Shakespeare and I think the best version of the tale of more woe, I hold that Romeo and Juliet is the Best Picture of 1968.

Next Time, the 1969 Academy Awards


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Thank you.