Sunday, November 17, 2019

Day Ten: Best Picture, 1954

The 1954 Academy Awards gave nominations to several stone-cold classics: On the Waterfront, Sabrina, Rear Window, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Star is Born, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. As usual, the Best Picture lineup does not 100 percent reflect that, though The Caine Mutiny is, I suppose arguable (just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not a classic).

So, what do we have? The Caine Mutiny, in which a Navy crew rebels against their captain after he shows clear signs of mental instability. The Country Girl, in which a hot-shot Broadway director hires a washed-up alcoholic actor for a show, only to lock horns with, and inexplicably fall for, exhausted wife. On the waterfront, in which an ex-boxer working the  waterfront must choose between naming names of corrupt union bosses...or keeping quiet and allowing innocent men to die. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a musical about wild mountain men getting tamed by their brother's wife. And Three Coins in the Fountain, about romance for three American women living in Rome.

For the Academy, and many others, was clear:

As for me? Follow the jump....

Friday, November 15, 2019

Day Nine: Best Actress, 1954

In 1940, at the ceremony honoring the films of 1939, Hattie McDaniel made history as the first black performer to be nominated for an Academy Award. She also made history as the first black winner, receiving the plaque for Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind.

It would take another 15 years for a second black performer to be nominated for an Oscar, which would be history-making anyway (when an industry does its utmost to ignore or handicap you, every step is a milestone). But Dorothy Dandridge's nomination for playing the titular role in Otto Preminger's adaptation of Carmen Jones carries an extra significance: it was the first ever for a black woman in Best Leading Actress. She would never be nominated again, a fact that some blame on Preminger, who during their four-year affair advised her against taking supporting roles in high-profile films, since a Best Actress nod meant she should only take star parts from then on. He was not necessarily wrong, but nor was he some altruist; Preminger had a history of taking actresses under his wing, rocketing them to stardom and Oscar nods, then controlling their careers into oblivion.

To this day, only ten women have repeated the feat, with Ruth Negga being the most recent for 2016's Loving. Monster's Ball's Halle Berry is still the only black winner for Best Actress, and she did so just two years after winning the Emmy equivalent for playing the title role in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Funny how things work out...

Of course, just as I'm crossing my fingers for a three-peat repeat in the supporting categories (ahem, Parasite), I'm also hoping that this year, we can add a few more names to the roster. Earlier this year, I predicted that this would be the first time since 1972 when more than one black actress got a Best Actress nomination, and although the names I have in mind may have changed (Lupitaaaaaaa!), I still expect it to happen. 

But you never knowith Oscar. Sometimes he does the right thing. Other times, he surprises you in unpleasant ways:

The nominees were....

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Day Eight: Best Supporting Actor, 1954

And then there were three...nominees from a single movie, that is! On the Waterfront holds the distinction of being the first film to take up 60% of the Best Supporting Actor category. A rare enough feat that it only happened again twice: for 1972's The Godfather (Caan, Duvall, Pacino) and 1974's The Godfather Part II (De Niro, Gazzo, Strasberg). Please note all the overlap: the Best Actor winner for both 1954 and 1972 was Marlon Brando, for On the Waterfront and The Godfather, respectively; Michael V. Gazzo made his film debut in a bit part in On the WaterfrontLee Strasberg was director of the Actors Studio from 1951-1982, an organization co-founded by Waterfront director Elia Kazan that boasted among its alumnae...basically everyone I just named. 

As I say, On the Waterfront was the first and The Godfather Part II was the last to go for three-for-five in Best Supporting Actor. But it did happen once before in the Best Leading Actor category. In 1935, all three male leads for Best Picture winner Mutiny on the Bounty were nominated: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone. The next year, separate categories for supporting players were introduced. Oh, and in 1963, Best Picture winner Tom Jones got three supporting actress nominations: Diane Cilento, Dame Edith Evans, and Joyce Redman.

This much we can take to the bank: three acting nods in one category means your movie's winning Best Picture. But it also means one of the other two nominees is going home with the Oscar. Only once has a nominee from the threesome won, and that was Robert De Niro speaking Italian while "doing" Marlon Brando. In 1954, the honor went to Edmond O'Brien of The Barefoot Contessa - the only nominee from a film not up for Best Picture:

The nominees are:

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Day Seven: The Scores, 1954

Is there any branch more exclusive than the Music one? In looking up the usual trivia of previous nominees, past winners, etc., I found that of the thirteen composers nominated - and I'm including both Musical and Non-Musical categories - all but two were either previous nominees, previous winners, or on their first of many nominations. Only Larry Adler and Leonard Bernstein, both up for Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, were one-and-dones, though it's worth noting that Saul Chaplin, a co-winner for Scoring of a Musical Picture, would once again triumph in that same category for co-adapting Bernstein's West Side Story compositions for the cinema.

The nominees after the jump, starting with the non-musicals....

Monday, November 11, 2019

Day Six: Best Story and Screenplay, 1954

The screenplay categories always have room for surprises. On the Waterfront being nominated is no surprise, and nor, I think, is it particularly shocking that the latest Joseph L. Mankiewicz joint The Barefoot Contessa or a hit biopic like The Glenn Miller Story have spots here as well. But in what other category could you find these three Oscar-friendly titles up against a quaint British comedy about marriage and classic car aficionados like Genevieve, or a Danny Kaye comic thriller about a ventriloquist entangled with spies like Knock on WoodWriters love weird shit, and God bless them for it.

Let's take a look, after the jump.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

More of the Same

Tomorrow, we continue covering the Oscar nominees of 1954 (in select categories). The categories of November 11th - 15th are, in this order: Story and Screenplay, Score (both Musical and Non-Musical), Supporting Actor, Actress, and Best Picture of the Year. The nominated films are:

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

Films of '54: Eight

Next week, we'll delve fully into the Best Picture nominees. But while we have the weekend, let's take a closer look at some of the films discussed earlier this week that weren't up for Best Picture...

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
nominee - Best Actor (Dan O'Herlihy)

My only exposure to this story was a comic adaptation (I think Classics Illustrated) I read in either fourth or fifth grade. I barely remembered any of it except that Crusoe's deserted on an island and then Friday eventually appears and is more or less adopted, so I was prepared for some problematic times. But wow, I was not ready for such a beautifully-shot satire about stubborn imperialism and white supremacy, in which a spoiled idiot almost dies, spends thirty years trying to recreate a parody of western society, before realizing there are other, non-white people on "his" island. It's hilarious.

Eight more, after the jump......