Here 'tis - my Top Ten Films of 1968! Honorable Mentions: The Boston Strangler, Bullitt, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, The Detective, The Fixer, Funny 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.
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."
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?
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.
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....
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.
This week, the Oscars of 1968 continue with the nominees for Best Supporting Actor, Best Score (Not of a Musical), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, and finally - Best Actress! The movies we'll be talking about are:
Do y'all know the podcast This Had Oscar Buzz, in which Joe Reid and Chris Feil "perform the autopsy" on films that "at one time or another had lofty Academy Awards aspirations, but for one reason or another, it all went wrong?" In a recent episode, Reid pointed out that they mainly cover films from the late-90s and beyond, as that period - coinciding with the domination of Miramax - is where Oscar Buzz and the Awards Season as we know it really came into its own. True! But I could not help thinking of the failed 1968 Oscar prospects of Petulia and The Boston Strangler. Neither landed a single nomination; both were early favorites for Best Actor.
Petulia's George C. Scott (as a divorcing doctor entangled with an unhappy socialite) was critically praised, even a runner-up for Best Actor honors from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. But The Boston Strangler's Tony Curtis (as the real-life serial killer who terrorized the Massachusetts capital in the early 60s) is a prime example of what Reid and Feil have in mind: in John Gregory Dunne's 20th Century Fox exposé The Studio, the Oscar campaign is discussed even during pre-production; Ebert 's uneasy review still calls Curtis's performance his best in a decade; LA Times columnist Joyce Haber predicted a nomination (according to Mason Wiley and Damien Bona's Inside Oscar); and he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama.
Oscar watchers were stunned, then, that it all came to naught, with room instead being made for NYFCC Award winner Alan Arkin, Golden Globe winners Ron Moody and Peter O'Toole, National Board of Review winner Cliff Robertson and...Alan Bates for The Fixer? Have any of you even heard of The Fixer? I hadn't before I started this project, and I have to say...well, you'll see what I have to say. After the jump.
Usually, I like to group the Score categories together - Musical/Adapted/Song Score with Original/Comedy or Dramatic Score - since, you know, they're sister categories. For 1968, I decided to do things a little differently and pair Musical Score with Original Song, mainly because it's only natural for there to be overlap (and there is!); even better, it saves me room on the tags.
Some great music...and some dull music! All after the jump.
The idea of an Original Screenplay sounds straightforward enough - indeed, in 1968, the category's official name was Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (emphasis mine). Yet...
Do we discount 2001: A Space Odyssey because it is suggested by, and an expansion of, a number of Arthur C. Clarke stories from the 1950s? Is The Battle of Algiers any less original because the writers used Saadi Yacef's memoir Souvenirs de la Bataille d'Alger as a jumping-off point? What about Faces, scripted but with input and improvisations from the actors? And why no love for WGA Award nominees The Brotherhood, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, or Star!?
Original, somewhat original, original enough...whatever the case, these are the nominees Oscar voters designated as The Best, after the jump.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke
The Jupiter Mission is a suspenseful sequence - artificial intelligence, technology run amok. The sequence right before is intriguing enough with its businesslike approach to space discovery. Imaginative all around. I also have to admit I don't really get it.
The Battle of Algiers
story by Franco Solinas and Gillo Pontecorvo
Embeds us within both camps - the revolutionaries and the authorities - without fully becoming a "both sides" appeasement nor a whitewash of the devastating violence. It's thoroughly on the side of the freedom fighters, but oh, the cost! Intimacy without melodrama - clear-eyed, personal, passionate.
Love the idea of power dynamics between men and women, of the transactional nature of sex, of the ways we avoid meaningful and productive conversations in favor of sweet nothings. But every scene feels at least ten minutes too long - self-indulgent is the word.
Ira Wallach and Peter Ustinov
Slight conman caper that feels both sketched and stretched. No pretensions about itself - it's here to make the adults have a chuckle, and at that it mostly succeeds. A fun time overall...but is it really nomination worthy?
Not every joke has aged well, which can be expected when much of the humor is designed for shock value. Mostly still relevant, though, as it eviscerates every aspect of show business: the creatives who believe their own bullshit, the grifting businessmen, and the audiences who play at self-righteousness only to lap up digestible trash.
Fun thing I always forget but is nice to remember: the Oscar went to (still-living!) comedy legend Mel Brooks! Actually makes the Don Rickles bit preceding the win kind of appropriate:
And honestly, my own vote goes to...
Yes, I co-sign the Academy's choice!
Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Original Song - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, For Love of Ivy, Funny Girl, Star!, and The Thomas Crown Affair - and the nominees for Best Musical Score - Finian's Rainbow, Funny Girl, Oliver!, Star!, and The Young Girls of Rochefort.
How does one judge Best Director separately from Best Picture? It's a question many awards watchers, obsessive and amateur alike, ask annually; it's especially relevant in a lineup like this one, where who wasn't nominated was just as much a talking point as who was.
I'm talking about Paul Newman, making his directorial debut with the Best Picture nominee Rachel, Rachel. Newman was up for the Directors Guild Award and won both the Golden Globe and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director. His absence was the shocker of nomination morning. Wife Joanne Woodward, herself a nominee in Best Actress for the same film, threatened to boycott the ceremony, but the good sport Newman convinced her otherwise.
Tomorrow begins our journey through the cinema of 1968. In his book Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris describes 1967 as the great turning point of cinema, when New Hollywood began to definitively shove Old Hollywood for power in the arts. You still see it in 1968, with Golden Age director William Wyler's swan song Funny Girl nominated in the same ceremony as one of the ultimate acid trip movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This week, we'll look at six categories - Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song, Best Musical Score, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. Then, over the weekend, I'll have more in-depth looks at many of these nominees. They are: