The Wizard of Oscar – 1963

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Doctor Who airs on BBC

Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream” speech
Marvel releases first X-Men comic
Winner: Tom Jones
 – America, America
 – Cleopatra
 – How the West Was Won
 – Lilies of the Field

Tom Jones *** out of ****

Director: Tony Richardson
Starring: Albert Finney, Susannah York
Wins (4): Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Score
Nominations  (10): Actor (Albert Finney), S. Actress (Diane Cilento), S. Actress (Edith Evans), S. Actress (Joyce Redman), S. Actor (Hugh Griffith), Art Direction (Color)
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
With Tom Jones, I feel like there’s something below the surface that I’m aware of, but not totally getting.   The film jests at the idea of these period pieces that were so prevalent leading up to the mid-60’s.  It’s a convoluted story based on the classic novel by Henry Fielding, “The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling”.  At the estate of a Squire, Tom Jones (Albert Finney) is scandalously born the illegitimate son of two servants of the Squire.  They are fired and Tom is then raised as the Squire’s own son.  We follow Tom as he regularly gets into trouble, whores around and breaks the 4th wall.  Amid all of his adventures, Tom pretty much ignores Sophie, (Susannah York) the one woman who really cares for him.  All in all, Tom Jones is fun and a decent film.  This is not a Best Picture, though
Favorite Scenes/Shots:  The scenes in which the characters are lavishly and messily feasting on fattening and greasy chicken legs; a wink at so many cliché scenes of feasts in films during that time.
Final Verdict: Should Have Been Nominated
America, America  *** out of ****
Director: Elia Kazan
Starring: Stathis Giallelis
Wins (1): Art Direction (B&W)
Nominations (4): Picture, Director, Original Screenplay
Rotten Tomatoes:  N/A
Elia Kazan directs a cast of virtual unknowns in this very independent film about a young Greek man, Stavros, as he travels to Constantinople to work with his father’s cousin in the hopes of gradually moving the rest of his family there.  However, Stavros’ own intentions are to make enough money to go to America.  As always, nothing goes as planned.  Travesty after travesty occur Stavros.  He is hoodwinked by shady characters and he himself does a bit of hoodwinking, as well.  America, America is 3 hours long and is a slow-burning and compelling story.  You can tell from watching that film that this is a passion project for Kazan, who was making it for himself.  It’s shot in a grainy black and white and there’s nothing fancy about it. 
Favorite Scenes/Shots:  Stavros being followed around by a deranged scoundrel that total screws Stavros over.  Stavros gets the last laugh, though
Final Verdict: Should Have Been Nominated
Cleopatra  *1/2 out of****
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison
Wins (4): Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color), Costume (Color), Visual Effects
 Nominations (9): Picture, Actor (Rex Harrison), Score, Sound Mix, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Cleopatra is a catastrophe directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  The film was a disaster from the beginning and almost sent 20th Century Fox into bankruptcy.  Cleopatra originally had a $2M budget, but ended up spending $44M on production ($320M 2010 equivalent).  The first 6 months of filming was completely unusable when the first director, Rouben Mamoulian, split.  What’s more, the film is awful and is over 4 hours long.  It drifts along without any real direction or point to the story.  It goes nowhere.  Cleopatra is basically the relationship of Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) and Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) for the first half and then the relationship of Mark Antony (Richard Burton) and Cleopatra in the second half.  Cleopatra herself is an afterthought.
The costumes and set design is fantastic, but it all just culminates to a bunch of style over substance.  Much like other epic films from the 60’s and before, the sets are larger than life and the production design is pristine, but Cleopatra is filled with melodramatic acting and poorly written dialogue.  Cleopatra is the prime example of films that are heralded as masterpieces before filming is even complete and it’s the elephant in the room when you talk about how the film industry changed in the late 60’s.  I would wager that Cleopatra is the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.
Favorite Scenes/Shots: The battle scenes at sea.  The boat props are very silly.
Final Verdict:  Should Not Have Been Nominated
How the West Was Won   ***out of ****
Director: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, Richard Thorpe
Starring: Everyone and their mother, including Jim Stewart, John Wayne & Gregory Peck
Wins (3): Original Screenplay, Sound Mixing, Film Editing
Nominations (8): Picture, Score, Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color), Costume (Color)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
This film is a spectacle.  How the West Was Won tells the story of the Prescott family from the early 1830’s through the 1880’s as they travel across the United States.  The film was shot in an extremely wide Cinemascope and it’s quite easy to tell.  Scenes that are meant to go in a straight line, like covered wagons being chased by horse-back Indians, tend to curve at the edges of the screen, but we get a very wide scope.  The film exists for this very reason.  The story progresses because of and in order to show off the cinematic technology at work, much like 3D is today.  I must say that How the West Was Won can absolutely stand on its own.  If it were shot in a normal format, then the story could easily hold up.  The film is over 2 ½ hours long and is split into 5 parts.  It was directed by 4 different directors including: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall and Richard Thorpe.  The film is full of cameos that at times are a bit distracting, but not to the detriment of the film.
Favorite Scenes/Shots: Wide open shots not suffering form the curvature issue.  
Final Verdict: Should Have Been Nominated
Lilies of the Field  ***1/2 out of ****
Director: Ralph Nelson
Starring: Sidney Poitier
Wins (1): Actor (Sidney Poitier)
Nominations (5): Picture, S. Actress (Lilia Skala), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography (B&W)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Homer, a handy man, has car trouble and breaks down in the desert and stops at a farm inhabited by German, Austrian and Hungarian nuns.  The film focuses on their relationship, including their different backgrounds and religions.  In exchange for a place to stay, Homer does work on their property and over time builds them a new church.  At night, Homer helps the nuns with their English.  Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his part as Homer.  The film is really about the relationship between Homer and these immigrant nuns.  All religious and all outsiders, they benefit from and find solace in each other.  This is a great little film and is the best of the nominated films.
Favorite Scenes/Shots: Night time language lessons
Final Verdict: Should Have Been Nominated
Other Films Not Nominated
Hud is a modern day Western (for that time) starring Paul Newman as Hud, a cowboy who works on his fathers farm in the day time and parties, drinks and sleeps with other men’s wives at night.  It’s a story of this cowboy and his damaged relationship with his father and the developing relationship with his dead brother’s son, Lonnie.  Both Lonnie and Hud are in love with Alma, their maid, played by Patricia Neal.  Paul Newman was nominated for Best Actor and Martin Ritt for Director.  Hud won for Cinematography black and white, Best Actress for Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas for Supporting Actor.  Hud is the best film of 1963 and it’s really a shame that it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.
The Great Escape stars Steve McQueen in another strong alternative to the non-nominated films.  It’s based on the true story of POW’s in WW2 that relentlessly tried to escape from their prison camp.  The prisoners built 3 underground tunnels, one of which actually worked, and many escaped.  The inner-tunnel scenes are expertly designed and give that feeling of claustrophobia.  It’s a bit long, though.  One of the great things about this movie is the scenes of the building of and using the underground tunnels.  The tension of the escape scenes is executed nicely.
8 ½ is another film from this year that deserves mentioning.  Fellini got the director nomination, but not the Picture nomination.  This is heralded as Fellini’s masterpiece and is loved by the critics today.    Stylistically, it’s a beautiful film and may just be Fellini’s greatest work.  Fellini does things in 8 ½ that were never before done.  The film is perfect in this way.  However, it is so cumbersome to keep up with reality that it prevents me from enjoying the film as much as I could.  One of Fellini’s greatest strengths as a director was his ability to cast women.
The Birds
No.  Hitchcock’s most overrated film.  Unbalanced and too long.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a fun, slap-sticky film about a dozen different people that all stop to help a dying car wreck victim who tells them where a buried treasure is.  They race toward the money while trying to not let the others know that they are doing so.  When the truth comes out, crazy things happen.  Vehicles get demolished, alliances are made, gas stations get destroyed and friends become enemies.  It’s endless mayhem.  It’s a Madx4 World is a pretty fun movie, but again, it’s long.  This film is creeping on 3 hours and that’s too long for a film like this.

The Cardinal is the 3rd film that was nominated for Best Director, but not Best Picture.  This film is a train wreck.  It’s about a priest’s journey to Cardinalship and everything about it is lackluster.  The lead actor, Tom Tryon, has no chops and looks uncomfortable throughout the whole film.  The Cardinal has absolutely no direction and I don’t understand how it was nominated for Best Director.  The story doesn’t flow.  The set design and costumes are decent, but a film about Catholicism has plenty to work with in this regard.  It must be quite frustrating for our young Cardinal that he is constantly surrounded by such beautiful women (Lynley & McNamarra).  John Huston’s very small part is the only silver lining in this ominous cloud.

Should Have Won: Hud

Should Have Been Nominated:

 – America, America
 – Lilies of the Field
 – How the West Was Won
 – Tom Jones
Not only is it a crime that Hud didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, but it should have won.  Hud is the only really solid film in 1963, with the exception of Lilies of the Field and 8 ½.  Overall, it was a disappointing year for film.
This was also a crazy year in that only 2 of the 5 Best Picture nominees were nominated for Best Director.  The 3 films with a Best Director nomination and no Best Director nomination were Hud (Martin Ritt), 8 ½ (Federico Fellini) and The Cardinal (Otto Preminger).  In the 65 years that the Best Picture and Director categories both nominated 5 films, only 6 of those years did only 2 films match between the two categories:  1954, 1955 1962, 1963, 1966, and 1995

That’s just 9%!  Interestingly enough, 3 of these 5 years were in the early to mid-60’s; a tell-tale sign of the changes to come in the movie industry.  Perhaps films were getting awarded with a Director nomination for their artistic value.  Perhaps this is a sign of a movement to a more independent style of films; a movement away from the big epics.  With the BP nomination of America, America and the Best Director recognition for 8 ½ and Hud, one can detect a movement in that direction.

The Help ***

The Help is a film based on the widely popular book written by Kathryn Stockett that centers on a couple of black maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the 60’s.  Director Tate Taylor makes a relatively smooth transition from book to film.  My expectations were not what you would call high.  In fact, I readied myself for a couple of hours of uneasiness and boredom.  However, the mere level of effectiveness to which the film was executed was enough to keep me engaged.  I fully expected a chick flick exploiting the touchy subject that is racism and a tear-jerker to boot.  It might have been all of those things, but not in an exploitative way.  There was some element of delicacy to which all of it was handled and it certainly didn’t go too far overboard on the hokey factor.  That is to say I was able to overlook it for my own good.  The Help was not nearly as corny and sappy as I was expecting it to be.  The idea of race from this perspective is a sensitive subject, but I believe the film isn’t naïve and tells the story without ignoring the elephant in the room and without shooting it, either. 
Perhaps the highest praise I can give the film is the performances of a loaded cast including: Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek and Octavia Spencer.  It’s no accident that the aforementioned stars are all females.  Indeed, there are very few males in the film.  This is a movie about women and for women as one can tell by the huge success of following that the book as garnered.  However, it doesn’t kick the males out of the theatre if they’re interested.
The Help has its issues.  It needs a good 20 minutes of editing.  The cuts are obvious.  There’s a storyline involving the love interest of Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, that if cut would make things flow more smoothly.  This relationship is not pertinent to the film and is slightly unbelievable due to the disastrous nature of their first date and the quick turnaround and subsequent chemistry between the two throughout the film.  Also, the quick nature of which the relationship itself ends further supports the weakness of the relationship itself.  Cut it.

All in all The Help is a success.  The acting alone is worth going for.  Viola Davis has a slight chance at