Monday, October 18, 2021

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Cinema '62: Best Director

Although we've seen this before, rare indeed is the Best Director lineup where the majority of nominees are representing films not nominated for Best Picture. Indeed, I believe since the category went five-wide in 1936, three lone directors have only occurred five times: 1954, 1955, 1962, 1963, 1966. Curious that they're all within a 12-year span, coinciding with the winnowing-away of the Hays Code and the growing appreciation for international cinema. 

The lone directing nominees here represent David and Lisa, a drama about youths in a residential home for mental health issues; Divorce Italian Style, an Italian comedy about a man who plots the death of his wife so he can seduce his teenage cousin; and The Miracle Worker, a surprise Best Picture snub, about Anne Sullivan teaching Helen Keller how to communicate. The directors "snubbed" are The Longest Day's triumvirate of Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, and Bernhard Wicki (with significant though uncredited contributions from Gerd Oswald and Darryl F. Zanuck); The Music Man's Morton DaCosta; and Mutiny on the Bounty's Lewis Milestone (with uncredited filming from Carol Reed, who was fired mid-production). Here's who made it:

Pietro Germi
Divorce Italian Style
first and only nomination for directing; DGA Awards nominee

Germi's grasp of POV makes what could have been a sexist story into the story of a sexist. The dramatic score, the broad performances, the sudden poetic quiets in a garden at night, even the unibrow on the wife: all exaggerations, reflections not of reality, but of his protagonist's poisoned, pathetic worldview.

David Lean
Lawrence of Arabia
past winner, fifth of seven nominations for directing; DGA Awards winner, Golden Globe winner, National Board of Review's Best Director of 1962

A triumph of epic scale and intimate portraiture. His sense of space communicates both the geography of battle and the intimacy between friends...and enemies. It is, after all, those polite conversations behind closed doors that lead to brutal bloodshed across the desert; Lean gets, in performances, in composition, in editing, how the curt calculations of the former are behind the wild passions of the latter. 

Robert Mulligan
To Kill a Mockingbird
first and only nomination; DGA Awards nominee, Golden Globe nominee

Nails the child's-eye memory, gradually allowing Atticus to dominate so that the Big Courtroom Climax can have its proper effect. The decision to film Atticus's final statement in one single take, trusting the strength of the actor, the writing, and what's come before - bold, pays off. And he gives us not just one, but three great - genuinely GREAT - kid performances. 

Arthur Penn
The Miracle Worker
first of three nominations; DGA Awards nominee

The dinner scene - Penn shows his chops as an action director, not just in terms of blocking and progression, but in terms of how character informs each slap...and vice versa. Great performances from all, and never judgmental - he won't allow anyone to be too haughty or too insensitive or too petty; if they are, they must be reasonably, recognizably so; no matter what anyone says, we get it. And it's filmed beautifully! 

Frank Perry
David and Lisa
first and only nomination

Does an admirable job of depicting mental health issues as, indeed, health issues, avoiding the temptation to make his ensemble of young neurotics into either a cuckoo's nest of insanity or a house of quirks. It's no small feat, considering Lisa's whole rhyming thing. A promising debut.


No suspense necessary, Oscar and I both choose:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay: David and LisaLawrence of Arabia, Lolita, The Miracle Worker, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

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