Thursday, May 6, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #356: Oscar Winners -- Best Director

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This year, several of the months have, on the first Thursday, a look at movies that won an Academy Award in one or another category. This time around, we're up to Best Director. I decided to go with five movies this time, since they have a common theme:

The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Alfred Hitchcock received his first nomination for Best Director for Rebecca in 1940, but lost to John Ford and his direction of John Steinbeck's book about Okies who migrate to California during the Dust Bowl, led more or less by Henry Fonda.

Going My Way (1944). Four years later, Hitchcock would be nominated again for Lifeboat, and should have won for both a tour-de-force of a movie on an extremely limited set, and an extremely disturbing story about mob violence. The fact that the mob was Americans killing a Nazi (Walter Slezak) probably doomed Hitchcock's chances. Instead, we get an incredibly mawkish story about a couple of priests (Bing Crosby and an absolutely retch-inducing Barry Fitzgerald) at a run-down parish that won a whole bunch of awards it didn't deserve. Almost anything else nominated should have won Best Picture (although I'd go with the unnominated A Canterbury Tale), and Alexander Knox should have run away with Best Actor for Wilson. I have no idea what the Academy was thinking in 1944.

The Lost Weekend (1945). Alfred Hitchcock would be nominated again the following year for Spellbound, but was up against Billy Wilder's daring movie about alcoholism, at least daring by 1945 standards. Ray Milland plays an alcoholic writer with writer's block with a girlfriend (Jane Wyman) who has the patience of Job and a brother (Phillip Terry) on the verge of giving up.

On the Waterfront (1954). Hitchcock would get a fourth nomination for Rear Window, and again did an extremely fine job in a tight set, but when you're up against On the Waterfront, something has to lose. Elia Kazan got an excellent performance out of Eva Marie Saint, along with fine performances from Marlon Brando and the supporting actors, of whom I'd single out Karl Malden as the parish priest. Brando could have been a contender for Best Actor, and in fact won.

The Apartment (1960). Alfred Hitchcock's final nomination was for Psycho in 1960, and once again, he had the terrible luck of being up against a movie that's really underrated. Hitchcock's direction is quite good although the sort of thing where it's obvious to see how it would earn a nomination. Billy Wilder brings more subtle direction to his story, getting another fine performance as a heel from Fred MacMurray; Jack Lemmon as the man who lets his bosses use his apartment for their nights "entertaining"; Shirley MacLaine as the jilted woman; and Jack Kruschen as Lemmon's neighbor who exhorts him to be a mensch. A really fine romantic comedy.


Sara said...

Hitchcock NEVER won an Oscar?? Blashphemy!

joel65913 said...

Fun and inventive theme within the theme!

A good group of movies, I even like Going My Way for the schmaltz fest it is but in no way should it have been in contention for BP let alone won. Hitch should have emerged triumphant for Lifeboat and Rear Window at minimum. Many would say the same for Psycho but there I’d defer to The Apartment.

Mine aren't nearly as inventive grouped but I thought the direction deserved the award they won.

The Awful Truth (1937)-Leo McCarey-A nearly divorced couple (Cary Grant & Irene Dunne) sense that they are making a mistake. Rather than saying it out loud they resort to outlandish pranks to ruin the new relationships the other partner has started. While it’s true McCarey has three of the best comic performers of the day (Grant, Dunne and Ralph Bellamy) at his disposal his deftness and surety of pace and camera angle capture them at peak performance.

Casablanca (1942)-Michael Curtiz-Of all the gin joints in all the world Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks into cynical ex-lover Rick’s (Humphrey Bogart) with freedom fighting husband Victor (Paul Henreid) while Sam (Dooley Wilson) plays “As Time Goes By” until gendarme Louis (Claude Rains) rounds up the usual suspects. Never has a sturdy directorial hand’s great influence been better illustrated. The filming was famously fraught with complications (the cast went through multiple changes before shooting started, the script wasn’t finished almost up to the final day of filming, writers came and went, two endings were filmed etc.) but that master of all genres Curtiz guided it along seamlessly never letting the havoc show onscreen.

A Letter to Three Wives (1949)-Joseph L. Mankiewicz-Three well-heeled ladies (Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern and Jeanne Crain) are about to take a boatload of children on a picnic to an isolated island when a letter arrives from their frenemy Addie Ross stating she has run off with one of their husbands…. without naming who. The women spend the day reflecting on whether it might be their man who has taken a powder. Mankiewicz directs his own screenplay with a just the right balance of humor and pathos eliciting superior performances from the cast.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

Hitchcock won an honorary award in 1967, but never a competitive award. And note that movies like Vertigo didn't even get a nomination.

Joel: Supposedly, Leo McCarey liked to say that he got the Oscar for the wrong movie, as he also directed the excellent Make Way for Tomorrow in 1937 and preferred that.

Cinematic Delights said...

Great theme within a theme, Ted. Hitchcock and Cary Grant had that in common: both received an honorary award but never a competitive award.
I've challenged myself to see at least one film from every actor and actress on the AFI's ‘The 50 Greatest American Screen Legends’ list so many of the films you've mentioned are now familiar to me although I haven't seen all of them yet.

ThePunkTheory said...

Oh, I love the theme within this theme you did :-D

Birgit said...

I love your theme within a theme because Hitchcock deserved a couple of Oscars. I will watch Rebecca over The Grapes of Wrath but Grapes deserved the win. I like Going My Way and watch it almost every year to be honest but Lifeboat deserved the win and was a brilliant piece of film making. To be honest, I would have chosen Rear Window over On The Waterfront because I find it. Brilliant film and highly original. The Apartment deserved the win even though I do like Psycho.