Monday, July 22, 2019

Top Ten of 1968

Here 'tis - my Top Ten Films of 1968! Honorable Mentions: The Boston Strangler, Bullitt, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, The DetectiveThe FixerFunny Girl, Hell in the Pacific and Hour of the Wolf.

The Battle of Algiers
dir: Gillo Pontecorvo
pr: Antonio Musu / Yacef Saadi
scr: Franco Solinas, story by Franco Solina and Gillo Pontecorvo
cin: Marcello Gatti

Much like my first viewings of Z (can't wait to revisit that next month) and 1987: When the Day Comes (my pick for 2017's Best Picture), The Battle of Algiers electrified me with its sweeping ensemble, tense action sequences, and the cat-and-mouse game played between the urban guerrilla forces and the forces of the occupying government. No one gets off scot-free: revolution is a messy, bloody business, with innocents slaughtered on all sides. And yet! This is decidely not a both sides appeasement - the condemnation of the occupying forces whose presence necessitates deadly action by people who want to be free is clear as crystal.

The remaining nine, after the jump...

Monday, July 15, 2019

Cinema '68: Gays Upon My Works

In 1959, Sam Spiegel's adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer gave mainstream audiences a good look at homosexuals in the guise of Sebastian Venable, a never-seen, demonic figure who uses the women in his family to "procure" young men desperate for money, using them up before moving on to a new location, a new set of victims. Yeesh. By the 1960s, the Motion Picture Code was loosening up to allow more frank depictions of homosexuality on screen, though the MPAA still chafed at any depictions that ennobled or normalized such people. As Vito Russo says in The Celluloid Closet, "Homosexuality had come out of the closet and into the shadows, where it would remain for the better part of two decades. In the 1960s, lesbians and gay men were pathological, predatory and dangerous; villains and fools, but never heroes. It was sideshow time."

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Day Ten: Best Actress, 1968

Before the Moonlight / La La Land Best Picture fiasco, it was the most iconic moment in Academy Awards history. There are people who know the entire presentation by heart. It's largely regarded by Oscar Queens as Ingrid Bergman's greatest performance. See for yourselves:


So many things are happening in this story. First is Katharine Hepburn's unexpected win - having just won the previous year for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, she became that rarity: the consecutive champion (fitting, too, that the first actor to pull it off was none other than Spencer Tracy). Second is Barbra Streisand's somewhat unexpected win - I say "somewhat" because post hoc, people have accepted that her win happened because of Babs' early admission into the Academy allowed her to vote for herself, therefore leading to a tie; the implication being that it would have been Hepburn's had Streisand not been voting, ignoring the fact that consecutive wins are, as I said, rare, and Streisand was dominating the circuit all year.

Third: the total dismissal, historically, of the three other performances nominated this year, including Patricia Neal's return to film after her strokes and Joanne Woodward's reminding everyone that, yeah, she's got it. Let's give everyone their due, shall we?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Day Nine: Best Picture, 1968

If 1967 was the dawn of New Hollywood, 1968 was a return to values. Yes, the modern is being acknowledged, but wrapped within a more familiar package. The studio musical? We've got two. Historical fiction? We've got two of those, as well. Prestige theatre adaptation? A full four! Rachel, Rachel stands out the most for its frank talk about sex and repression, but Peyton Place was a full 11 years ago - and familiar face Paul Newman was the creative force behind it. So while movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Battle of Algiers, Rosemary's Baby and others are certainly acknowledged, the Academy at large was embracing the familiar.

Which is not to see these movies are bad or boring - they aren't! They're a solid lineup! But they are also clearly the last gasp of the old guard.

The nominees are....

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Day Eight: Best Adapted Screenplay, 1968

In 1968, if you wanted an Oscar, best win a Tony first. Of the five Best Picture nominees, four of them were based on stage plays: Funny Girl (eight Tony nominations including Best Actress in a Musical, Barbra Streisand), The Lion in Winter (Tony Award Winner for Best Actress in a Play, Rosemary Harris), Oliver! (three Tony wins including Best Original Score) and Romeo and Juliet (classic!). Funny Girl and Romeo and Juliet did not repeat the trick for the Best Adapted Screenplay category, leaving the field clear for another Broadway smash: The Odd Couple.


Neil Simon's most famous work was a hit on the Great White Way just four years previously, winning Tonys for Best Author of a Play (back when production was designated separately from playwright), Best Actor in a Play (Walter Matthau), Best Direction of a Play (Mike Nichols) and Best Scenic Design. Funnily enough, the only category it lost was Best Play, which went to The Subject Was Roses, another '68 Oscar contender. A number of Tony-nominated shows from that year would go on to get the Hollywood treatment: Best Musical winner Fiddler on the Roof, Best Actress in a Play nominee The Owl and the Pussycat (the aforementioned Barbra replaced Diana Sands for the film), Best Featured Actor in a Musical winner Oh! What a Lovely War, (with various performers taking on Victor Spinetti's roles), and Luv, which shared Best Director and Best Scenic Design wins with The Odd Couple, as both were Mike Nichols/Oliver Smith collaborations.

Obvious, then, that the eventual winner of the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay would be a playwright recreating his Broadway success...and yet, funnily enough, he wasn't even nominated at the original Tony ceremony! Let's discuss....

Monday, July 8, 2019

Day Six: Best Supporting Actor, 1968

A rarity: not only were the supporting actor nominees of 1968 all first-timers - they were never nominated again! Sure, Gene Wilder would return as a co-writer on Young Frankenstein for Best Adapted Screenplay, but this is the only time he was recognized for his thesping, and no one else would return to this stage. Not Jack Albertson, though he found more solid fame (and three Emmys!) for Chico and the Man, and joined Wilder in the realm of cinematic immortality with Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Not Seymour Cassel, though he kept a solid career and would have buzz again for In the Soup and Rushmore. Not Daniel Massey, the Golden Globe winner - though I suppose the nomination is the reward for British character actors. And not Jack Wild, who found greater fame on the small screen in H.R. Pufnstuf...and tragedy through his long battle with alcoholism. No, these men and boy did not return for more accolades, for more praise. And indeed, only two of them received real competitive nominations throughout the season.


Daniel Massey is the only Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actor to make it to the Oscars. Hugh Griffith was twice-nominated by the HFPA for his cameos in The Fixer (above, left) and Oliver! (above, right) - and I really do mean cameos; one scene per performance, though his Oliver! one is genuinely deserving of the nod. Also among the Globe honorees: Beau Bridges as a young hippie who wants to keep his wealthy family's maid at any cost in For Love of Ivy (terrific), Ossie Davis as an escaped house slave sold to a trapper in the Western comedy The Scalphunters (going by runtime and arc, he's THE LEAD, but whatever), and Martin Sheen as the son in The Subject Was Roses (also category fraud; like Ordinary People, the entire family unit works as a triptych lead).

Faces' Seymour Cassel won the National Film Critics Society award for Best Supporting Actor, beating out two other very arthouse NSFC-type titles: Dirk Bogarde as a sympathetic lawyer in The Fixer and Sydney Tafler as a Jewish gangster in The Birthday Party. Bogarde is aces in his film - hell, he's aces in all his films. Tafler's pretty good, but I couldn't take my eyes off of Patrick Magee.

That's who didn't make it. Here are the one-and-dones that did. After the jump.