1960196119621963196419651966196719681969
* Indicates that the film/performance was not nominated for an Academy Award in this category

 

1960
The Apartment
Actor: Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gantry)
Actress: Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8)
Supporting Actor: Peter Ustinov (Spartacus)
Supporting Actress: Shirley Jones (Elmer Gantry)
Director: Billy Wilder (The Apartment)
The Apartment
Actor: Anthony Perkins (Psycho)*
Actress: Deborah Kerr (The Sundowners)
Supporting Actor: Peter Ustinov (Spartacus)
Supporting Actress: Janet Leigh (Psycho)
Director: Billy Wilder (The Apartment)
 

After years of only considering expensive superproductions to be the best film of the year, the Academy broke all the rules in 1960, ignoring impressive epics like Spartacus and Exodus for Best Picture and selecting a black and white comedy that performed only moderately at the box office. But for once the Best Picture really was the best picture, as Billy Wilder's melancholy tale of a nebbish junior executive lending out his bachelor apartment to his bosses for their extramarital escapades and finding love in the process is as entertaining and touching today as when it first premiered. The Academy's selections weren't universally discriminating in 1960 - their preferences for the mediocre work of Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8 and Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry for acting awards have been continually derided in the decades since, and they overlooked classics like Psycho, Spartacus, and Inherit the Wind for a Best Picture nomination in favor of John Wane's interminably self indulgent The Alamo - but naming The Apartment as Best Picture just might indicate that Oscar has a heart beating behind his golden chest. It features superb work by Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and the under-appreciated Fred MacMurray (who gave unforgettable performances as villains for Wilder in this and Double Indemnity while spending the rest of his lucrative career playing bland nice guys for everyone else), and Wilder became the first person to take home three Oscar statuettes for the same film for his screenplay (with I.A.L. Diamond), production, and direction.

Worst Award

Elizabeth Taylor had the good fortune to come down with life-threatening pneumonia just before the voting for the 1960 Academy Awards, so the Academy (apparently fearing that they might never have another opportunity to honor her) gave her the Oscar for one of her worst performances: the nymphomanical Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield 8, a role she only accepted so that she could move on to the richer financial pastures of Cleopatra. It's not that Taylor was bad (she was too much of a professional not to turn in interesting work), but she was saddled with a poorly written character that she clearly had no enthusiasm in playing. The Academy is populated by accomplished, intelligent people, but the award to Taylor brings to mind the expression "None of us are as dumb as all of us." By selecting her as the year's "best actress" over such remarkable performances as Deborah Kerr in The Sundowners, Melina Mercouri in Never on Sunday or Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment is a clear indication that the Academy's taste is as mundane as any other collective.

Biggest Oversight

The most enduring characterization of 1960 was certainly Anthony Perkins' performance as the troubled Norman Bates in Psycho, a depiction so finely etched in the collective consciousness that it's impossible to imagine another actor in the part. But as good as Perkins was, his unnominated performance can't be considered the biggest oversight because of the wealth of superior male performances that year. Best Actor nominees Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind, Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer, Jack Lemmon in The Apartment and Trevor Howard in Sons and Lovers all turned in indelible work that could have easily won the Oscar in a coin toss over deserving winner Burt Lancaster for Elmer Gantry, with the unnominated Robert Mitchum in The Sundowners, Peter Sellers in I'm All Right Jack and Alec Guinness for Tunes of Glory waiting in the wings. In the face of competition like that, the Academy can be forgiven for overlooking Perkins, but with the ludicrously sentimental nomination and win of Elizabeth Taylor, the snub of Jean Simmons for Elmer Gantry is far less understandable. Always underappreciated, the twice-nominated Simmons turned in the performance of her career as an Aimee Semple McPherson-like evangelist taken in by Burt Lancaster's huckster-cum-revivalist.

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1961
West Side Story
Actor: Maxmillian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg)
Actress: Sophia Loren (Two Women)
Supporting Actor: George Chakiris (West Side Story)
Supporting Actress: Rita Moreno (West Side Story)
Director: Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
(West Side Story)
West Side Story
Actor: Paul Newman (The Hustler)
Actress: Natalie Wood (Splendor in the Grass)
Supporting Actor:George Chakiris (West Side Story)
Supporting Actress: Rita Moreno (West Side Story)
Director: Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
(West Side Story)
 

West Side Story did not do well at the 1957 Tony Awards, winning only one trophy for Jerome Robbins' landmark choreography (the big winner that year was The Music Man). The film did rather better, winning a near-record 10 Academy Awards including being the first of four musicals in the 1960s to be named Best Picture. West Side Story is far from perfect - the Jets are a rather timid bunch reminiscent of the Bowery Boys, whose idea of violence runs along the lines of throwing rocks and cans at their opponents (they wouldn't last five minutes in the world of Boyz N the Hood), and Richard Beymer's performance as Tony is as stiff as plywood. But the dancing is miraculous (despite the fact that Robbins was fired from the film with less than half the shooting done because of his costly perfectionism) and most of the performances are superb, particularly Russ Tamblyn as Riff, and Oscar winners Rita Moreno and George Chakiris as Anita and Bernardo. Chakiris is especially effective as a passionate and very dangerous angry young man, conjuring images of James Dean; it is a mystery that his subsequent film career amounted to nothing. Natalie Wood's performance of Maria is sometimes criticized for her vocal dubbing by Marni Nixon and her in-again out-again Puerto Rican accent, but her dancing is splendid in the "I Feel Pretty" number and she does a spectacular job in the dramatic scenes (although her character is strangely unmoved by the murder of her own brother), particularly the powerful final scene. For all its faults, West Side Story is a stunningly moving film, which is a rare accomplishment for a musical.

Worst Award

Before the advent of cinematic miracles like CGI, morphing and digital animation, the films that had the best chance of winning the Best Special Effects Oscar were war movies. The Academy was so impressed with the explosions generated by films like I Wanted Wings, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Bridges at Toko-Ri that they were awarded the Oscar even though they weren't any more impressive than the explosions generated by countless other war movies. They continued that tradition with the selection of The Guns of Navarone, a superb World War II adventure that won its only Oscar for its run-of-the-mill special effects. 1960 had only one other film nominated in that category, the Disney comedy The Absent-Minded Professor; an inferior film with vastly superior and more imaginative special effects. But with all the awards going to West Side Story, the Academy apparently wanted to toss a bone to The Guns of Navarone. All those explosions appear to have paid off.

Biggest Oversight

James Cagney was nominated for three Oscars in his career: his New York Film Critics Award-winning turn in Angels With Dirty Faces, his Oscar-winning performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and as Marty 'The Gimp' Snyder in the musical Love Me Or Leave Me. In the Hindsight Awards race, Cagney would have been recognized more frequently: for these triumphs as well as for his definitive gangster performances in The Public Enemy and White Heat. But Cagney deserved another nomination for his penultimate performance as a Coca Cola executive in East Berlin in One, Two, Three. Cagney's change-of-pace role in Billy Wilder's frenetic comedy was far more memorable than nominees Charles Boyer in Fanny, Stuart Whitman in The Mark, or the perennial and overrated Spencer Tracy in Judgment at Nuremberg. Cagney didn't appear in another film until 1981's Ragtime, and by that time he was old, rusty, and just as fantastic to watch as he ever was.

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1962
Lawrence of Arabia
Actor: Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Actress: Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker)
Supporting Actor: Ed Begley (Sweet Bird of Youth)
Supporting Actress: Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker)
Director: David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia)
Lawrence of Arabia
Actor: Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Actress: Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker)
Supporting Actor: Jason Robards
(Long Day's Journey Into Night)*
Supporting Actress: Angela Lansbury
(The Manchurian Candidate)
Director: David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia)
 

1962 was one of the more memorable years in film history, and the classic Best Picture nominees in To Kill a Mockingbird, The Longest Day and The Music Man might all be sure things in any other year (final nominee Mutiny on the Bounty was a mediocre entry that found a place in the final five only because of the deep pockets of the MGM PR department). The year also boasted such classic non-nominees as The Miracle Worker, David and Lisa, The Manchurian Candidate, Through A Glass Darkly and Lolita, any one of which might have taken the Oscar if they had been released in the far weaker 1963. But even against competition like this, there was no contest in the Best Picture race. David Lean’s compelling biography of soldier/author T. E. Lawrence was that rare epic that succeeded in dazzling the senses with pageantry while never losing sight of the intimate human story it told. The film is not perfect – it tiptoes around Lawrence’s homosexuality, and the casting of non-Arab actors like Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn (who wears a prosthetic nose that is laughably phony) is no more believable than Paul Muni and Luise Rainer playing Chinese peasants in The Good Earth - but it is so skillfully made and so brilliantly acted (especially by nominees Peter O’Toole –who had the bad luck to give his greatest performance the same year that Gregory Peck had both sentiment on his side in addition to his own career-defining performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird - and Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish - who had the bad luck to give his greatest performance in a year when the Academy showed appalling taste in the Best Supporting Actor Award) that one forgets its flaws and mammoth length (it is the second longest film to win Best Picture after Gone With the Wind) and is completely swept away by storytelling in the grandest of manners.

Worst Award

Ed Begley’s Oscar win as Tom 'Boss' Finley in Sweet Bird of Youth was considered a major upset in 1962, and now that over forty years have passed it seems nothing more than puzzling. It’s not that Begley wasn’t effective or well cast as a bombastic small-town autocrat, but the role and performance weren’t markedly different from anything Begley had done before in his career. In a weaker year, he might have been a perfectly unobjectionable choice, but 1962 was filled with brilliant work by actors in supporting roles. Superior performances were turned in by Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (who was considered the surest of sure things to win the award that year) and Terence Stamp in Billy Budd (who were joined by run-of the mill nominees Victor Buono in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Telly Savalas in Birdman of Alcatraz); but even more surprising were the superb performances that weren’t nominated: Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Peter Sellers in Lolita or the always-wonderful Paul Ford in The Music Man. Begley had been in films since 1947, and its impossible to believe that sentiment did not play heavily in his victory against his fellow nominees (Stamp and Buono were nominated for their film debuts and Sharif for his English-language film debut). He was an reliable character actor who turned in effective performances in Twelve Angry Men and the stage and television productions of Inherit the Wind, but to select him over opposition the likes of which he faced this year is questionable indeed.

Biggest Oversight

Jason Robards rose from complete obscurity in 1956 with landmark performances in two of the greatest roles written by Eugene O'Neill. He started the year with his legendary, Obie Award-winning turn as Hickey in The Iceman Cometh at the Circle in the Square. That production was such a success that O'Neill's widow disregarded his instruction that his masterpiece Long Day's Journey Into Night not be performed until twenty-five years after his death, and allowed Circle in the Square to mount the premiere, giving Robarbs one of his greatest roles as the alcoholic James Tyrone, Jr., a part based on O'Neill's brother. Robards received the first of his record eight Tony nominations for the role, and repeated the performance to equal acclaim in Sidney Lumet's 1962 film version, winning the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival (along with his costars Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson and Dean Stockwell). Surprisingly, only Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar, but Robards is the one who makes the greatest impact in the film. He went on to become the greatest interpreter of O'Neill's work, winning additional Tony nominations for Hughie, A Touch of the Poet and A Moon for the Misbegotten, in which he reprised his definitive performance as James Tyrone, Jr.

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1963
Tom Jones
Actor: Sidney Poitier (Lillies of the Field)
Actress: Patricia Neal (Hud)
Supporting Actor: Melvyn Douglas (Hud)
Supporting Actress: Margaret Rutherford (The VIPs)
Director: Tony Richardson (Tom Jones)
The Great Escape*
Actor: Albert Finney (Tom Jones)
Actress: Leslie Caron (The L-Shaped Room)
Supporting Actor: Hugh Griffith (Tom Jones)
Supporting Actress: Edith Evans (Tom Jones)
Director: Federico Fellini (Federico Fellini's 8 ½)
 

1963 was one of the worst years in film history, with very few films rising above the status of mediocre. In this weak mix, it’s not surprising that Tom Jones won almost all of the year-end awards. Based on Henry Fielding’s “classic” novel (a classic being, in Mark Twain’s definition, a book people praise but don’t read), the film was praised for its naughty-but-nice sexuality and inventive direction. But its status has fallen badly in the years since its initial release, and what seemed inventive in 1963 now comes off as merely gimmicky. It does boast a collection of madly entertaining performances (especially by Hugh Griffith and Edith Evans, whose Oscar chances were diminished by the fact that she was one of three actresses from the film who were nominated for Best Supporting Actress, a record that is still unequaled), but it is ultimately defeated by a mutually contradictory combination of 60’s pseudo-mod and Masterpiece Theatre stuffiness.

Almost completely overlooked in the nominations was one of the most popular escapist films ever made – literally. The Great Escape was the perfect war movie for a country soon to be embittered by Vietnam – fun, unchallenging, and nobody got killed if they had high enough billing. Even more than in the 50s, America longed for a time of easy answers and the further away we get from World War II, the more black and white that conflict seems (an interred Japanese American would probably take issue with that). The POW camp that The Great Escape took place in was a place of movie fantasy (at time when women living in London couldn’t get silk stockings, James Garner had no difficulty “scrounging” them from his cell; and whereas Alec Guinness was stuffed into a torturous tin box when he had solitary confinement in A Bridge on the River Kwai, Steve McQueen was allowed to play baseball in a relatively spacious, well-lit and airy barracks), but that’s part of the fun of the movie. Though far too unpretentious to be considered for the Academy Award, The Great Escape was certainly the most enduring film made that year and the one that is viewed with the most pleasure today.

Worst Award

The widescreen three-camera process called Cinerama was an incredibly powerful audience draw in the 1950s, with the travelogues This is Cinerama and Cinerama Holiday being number one box office attractions. It wasn't until ten years after the process had been introduced that the Cinerama Releasing Corporation decided to try it with a dramatic story, and the one they chose was as big as the widescreen process they were displaying it with: How the West Was Won was an all-star, two hour and forty minute super epic that purported to tell the story of how the west was tamed in the grandest manner. It was big, it was impressive, it was amazingly boring. Cinerama had so much faith in its three-camera system that its executives overlooked the fact that James Webb's vapid screenplay seemed to take more time to tell the story than the pioneers took to tame the west. The Academy took no notice if it either, and gave Webb the Oscar for Best Story and Screenplay over the far more complex scripts for America, America, Federico Fellini's 8 ½, The Four Days of Naples, and Love With the Proper Stranger. Particularly annoying was the snub of 8 ½ , which became only the third foreign language film to be nominated for Best Director (the first two were Fellini for La Dolce Vita and Pietro Germi for Divorce - Italian Style in 1961 and 1962) as well as winning the Oscars for Best Black & White Costume Design and Best Foreign Film. Fellini was nominated for Screenplay Oscars eight times (a record for a non-winner) and four times as a director, but his only wins came in the Best Foreign Film award race.

Biggest Oversight

The Great Escape received only one Oscar nomination, for Best Film Editing. Overlooked were its director John Sturges, its cinematography and supporting actor Donald Pleasance (who was rarely well used in films despite a stellar career on the stage). But the most overlooked aspect of the film was the work of a man who was accustomed to being overlooked – composer Elmer Bernstein, who received only a single Academy Award (for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967) in twelve nominations. Bernstein scored over 250 films in his illustrious career including such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Magnificent Seven, but The Great Escape was one of his most memorable compositions and arguably the most underrated achievement of this underrated film.

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1964
My Fair Lady
Actor: Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady)
Actress: Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins)
Supporting Actor: Peter Ustinov (Topkapi)
Supporting Actress: Lila Kedrova (Zorba the Greek)
Director: George Cukor (My Fair Lady)
Dr. Strangelove
Actor: Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady)
Actress: Julie Andrews
(The Americanization of Emily)*
Supporting Actor: Sterling Hayden (Dr. Strangelove)*
Supporting Actress: Lila Kedrova (Zorba the Greek)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove)
 

My Fair Lady was the theatrical event of the 1950s, and its film version was one of the most anticipated openings since Gone With the Wind. The film didn't disappoint, being a smash hit (although it lost money in its initial release because Warner Bros. was forced to pay a record $5.5 million for the film rights) and still a delight today. With wonderful performances by Broadway originals Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway (who were cast in the film only after Cary Grant and James Cagney turned the roles down) with equally fine work by Audrey Hepburn, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper and a pre-Sherlock Holmes Jeremy Brett, director George Cukor brought Lerner & Lowe's musical adaptation of Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion to unforgettable life. But as good a film as My Fair Lady is, it is frequently derided as a terrible choice for Best Picture, because 1964 was one of those years that boasted an unusually large number of Oscar-worthy films. If A Hard Day's Night, The Servant, Goldfinger, The Pink Panther, The Americanization of Emily, The Night of the Iguana or Fail Safe been released in 1963, they all would have been likely nominees for Best Picture and might even have taken home the award. But none of them were nominated in this embarrassment of riches year, which saw Becket, Dr. Strangelove, Mary Poppins and Zorba the Greek compete with My Fair Lady for the top prize.

In the final analysis, any one of the five seems a reasonable choice for the Oscar (if any one of them had been released a year earlier or a year later, they would have swept the awards), but the strongest candidate is Stanley Kubrick's anti-war satire Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Nominated for four Oscars (including Peter Sellers' triple-threat performance as the United States President, an English air force officer serving on a US Marine base as part of the "International Officer Exchange Program," and the title role - a character that seems a disturbingly accurate prototype of Henry Kissinger; but not for the equally spectacular work of George C. Scott, Slim Pickins, or most memorably Sterling Hayden as an insane general who lives in fear of the communist infiltration of his "precious bodily fluids"), but failed to take any home. With the Vietnam war waging, some Academy voters might have felt that giving the Oscar to the antiwar Dr. Strangelove to be perceived as a statement on world events, and handing out the trophies to (brilliant) escapist fair like My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins less likely to rile up sensitive agitators. But whatever their rationale for handing out the awards in 1964, it was a helluva year for movies, with something for everyone.

Worst Award

Jack Warner created a furor by passing over Julie Andrews for the role of Eliza Doolittle in the film of My Fair Lady after she had created the role so memorably on the Broadway stage, and Andrews responded to the snub by accepting the title role in Walt Disney's film of Mary Poppins as her movie debut. Both choices turned out to be good ones, as the tandem of Audrey Hepburn and Marni Nixon made a wonderful Eliza, and Andrews became generations of children's ideal of a "practically perfect person" as the magical nanny. But as memorable a film as Mary Poppins is, the Academy went overboard in awarding her the Oscar for her performance in it. Andrews is charming as Mary Poppins, but the role offers very little scope and her Academy Award seems more like a consolation prize for losing Eliza than for her histrionic efforts watching Dick Van Dyke dance with animated penguins. It's a shame, because Andrews did give the best female performance of 1964, but in her role as a sexy WWII war widow in her second film, The Americanization of Emily. Its failure in its initial release was ascribed to Andrews' radical departure from her sweet-as-sugar screen image, but her brilliant performance makes one wonder what she might have been capable of if she hadn't thrown herself into all those ghastly G-rated musicals throughout the 60's.

Biggest Oversight

A Hard Day's Night was a revelation in 1964, and the Academy recognized its brilliance by giving it nominations for Alun Owen's inventive screenplay and George Martin's adaptation score. But when one thinks of A Hard Day's Night, Alun Owen and George Martin are not the first names that leap to one's mind. In addition to their delightful performances, John Lennon and Paul McCartney contributed some of their most memorable songs to the film's soundtrack, including "And I Love Her," "Can't Buy Me Love," "I Should Have Known Better," "Tell Me Why," "This Boy" and "A Hard Day's Night." The Beatles composed a number of songs that were eligible for Oscars, including "Help," "The Night Before," "Ticket to Ride," "Only A Northern Song," "All Together Now," "Hey Bulldog," "It's All Too Much," "Let It Be," and "The Long and Winding Road"; but they were never nominated in this category, being passed over in favor of tunes with titles like "Star, Pieces of Dreams" and "`Til Love Touches Your Life." The immortal classics which were honored this year were deserving winner "Chim Chim Cheree" from Mary Poppins and nominees "Dear Heart," "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte," "Robin and the 7 Hoods," and "Where Love Has Gone," none of which got much radio play in the ensuing years or made the kind of impact in their respective movies that the Lads from Liverpool did with theirs. The Fab Four were finally determined to be Oscar-worthy after they had broken up, collectively winning the statuette for the original song score of Let it Be.

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1965
The Sound of Music
Actor: Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou)
Actress: Julie Christie (Darling)
Supporting Actor: Martin Balsam (A Thousand Clowns)
Supporting Actress: Shelley Winters
(A Patch of Blue)
Director: Robert Wise (The Sound of Music)
The Sound of Music
Actor: Rod Steiger (The Pawnbroker)
Actress: Julie Christie (Darling)
Supporting Actor: Michael Dunn (Ship of Fools)
Supporting Actress: Shelley Winters
(A Patch of Blue)
Director: John Schlesinger (Darling)
 

It was back to earth in 1965, another mediocre year for movies that did yield one film that ranks as a genuine event: Robert Wise' mega-smash The Sound of Music, whose unprecedented success started an unfortunate trend for elephantine G-rated musicals that lasted five years (the trend that is, although some of the musicals seemed as though they lasted that long as well). Judging the artistic qualities of The Sound of Music is entirely dependent on each viewer's palette for saccharine-flavored optimism; it ranks as the favorite film to legions of devoted followers and as unwatchable pap to legions more (including madbeast.com). The other nominees for Best Picture were Darling, Dr. Zhivago, The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, and Ship of Fools, all second string entries that can be safely described as rounding out the field. Without any landmark artistic achievements available, The Sound of Music's status as a social phenomenon can be reasonably acknowledged.

Worst Award

It was slim pickings in 1965, and it seems unlikely that Oscar winners Lee Marvin or Martin Balsam would have even received nominations if their award-winning performances had been released in 1964. But having grudgingly acquiesced to its selection as Best Picture, the Hindsight Awards draws the line at Robert Wise' win for Best Director. Wise was the deserved co-winner of the Oscar for West Side Story in 1961 and did a phenomenal job on classics like The Body Snatcher and The Day the Earth Stood Still, but his work on The Sound of Music is enough to induce diabetes. He returned to form with the satisfying (although overlong and somewhat-overrated) The Sand Pebbles (1966) and the compelling sci-fi thriller The Andromeda Strain (1971), but then descended into cinematic atrocities like Audrey Rose (1977) and the lamentable Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979); a sad ending to the career of the man who edited Citizen Kane. His final stab at a big-screen musical was another Julie Andrews vehicle, Star! (1968), a three-hour long musical biopic of British stage star Gertrude Lawrence that had been in development at various studios since 1955. Star! was such a fiasco at the box office (even after it was substantially reedited and re-released with the title bland Those Were The Happy Times) that it effectively ended the trend for elephantine musicals that the pair had reached the peak of with their Oscar-winner.

Biggest Oversight

Sean Connery wasn't considered much of an actor in the 1960s, so its a shame that his superb performance in The Hill was overlooked in its initial release. Connery played a persecuted soldier in a prisoner of war camp who is forced to run up and down a steep dirt hill until he collapses, and his brilliant performance was far superior to the nominated work of Laurence Olivier in Othello (whose performance was a filmed record of the landmark production at the National Theatre of Great Britain, and looks and sounds like a videotape of a rehearsal in an empty theatre - albeit a brilliant rehearsal) or Oskar Werner in the overlong and pretentious Ship of Fools. Connery was never considered for an Oscar until he finally won the Best Supporting Actor trophy for The Untouchables in 1987 on his only nomination, despite stellar work in The Man Who Would Be King, Robin and Marian and The Hunt for Red October. But The Hill represents the finest performance of his career, sadly overlooked in its own time because it was thought that that he could only play James Bond, and it wasn't until the unfortunate George Lazenby took over the role in On Her Majesty's Secret Service that anyone realized just how difficult that was.

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1966
A Man for All Seasons
Actor: Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons)
Actress: Elizabeth Taylor
(Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Supporting Actor: Walter Matthau
(The Fortune Cookie)
Supporting Actress: Sandy Dennis
(Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Di
rector: Fred Zinnemann (A Man for All Seasons)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Actor: Richard Burton
(Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Actress: Elizabeth Taylor
(Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Supporting Actor: Walter Matthau
(The Fortune Cookie)
Supporting Actress: Sandy Dennis
(Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Director: Mike Nichols
(Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
 

1966 was another bland year for films, although there were two legitimate contenders for Best Picture honors that were both based on Tony Award winning plays. Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons first appeared on Broadway in November of 1961 to universal reverence and a respectful appreciation for the depiction of Sir Thomas More's refusal to endorse Henry VIII's divorce from Anne Bolyn by Paul Scofield and ran a successful 637 performances. Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? made its debut on the Great White Way the following October and outraged New York theatre audiences with its four-letter vocabulary and contentious depiction of married life and ran for 664. The former seemed like a last gasp of the old vanguard that looked back to ancient history and legends so that the lessons it tried to teach wouldn’t cut too closely, and the latter created a sensation as the voice of a new breed of angry young men who picked up the ills of our contemporary society and stuck them firmly in the audience’s face.

There was no contest as to which would win Best Picture when the films went head to head: the impeccably made A Man for All Seasons was exactly the kind of safe, dull and dispassionate film that the Academy loves to honor, beginning with Cimarron and following through to The English Patient and A Beautiful Mind. It’s a well-made and magnificently acted film, but it is permeated with a high-mindedness which leaves the viewer with something of a detached feeling while watching it. Detached is hardly the feeling one gets when viewing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which carries us along a razor’s edge of marital tension throughout it’s 134 minutes. And while A Man for All Seasons is beautifully acted, the performances in Virginia Woolf are nothing short of explosive, especially by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor doing the finest work of their film careers in roles they seem to have had no business playing. Taylor successfully buried her movie star looks to play the harridan Martha (unlike Grace Kelly in The Country Girl, who merely put on a loose sweater and a pair of glasses) to give a performance of sheer intensity, and the virile and powerful Burton submerged himself in the part of a castrated male trying desperately to put up one last fight (James Mason and Jack Lemmon were the original choices for the role). In a decade when the Academy was only making the safest of choices, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was far too much of a ticking time bomb for them to anoint with their highest prize.

Worst Award

It’s hard to criticize any of the picks the Academy made in 1966; all of the films they honored were outstanding in their categories, and in most cases they really were the “best” among the films that were up for consideration that year. How can you argue with Fantastic Voyage for Best Special Effects or Grand Prix for Best Sound? And does anyone really have an issue with Born Free being named the best movie song of the year? But not making a choice would be a cop-out, so we’ll zero in on Robert Bolt, who won for Best Adapted Screenplay for A Man for All Seasons. Bolt actually did an outstanding job of opening up his play for the screen and it seems like a shame to pick on him, but an even bigger shame was that the distinguished screenwriter Ernest Lehman never won an Oscar after having written such films as Sabrina, North By Northwest and West Side Story, never winning despite four nominations as a screenwriter and two as a producer. Edward Albee was critical of Lehman's adaptation his his play, saying that Lehman added only two lines of dialogue: "Hey everybody, let's go to the road house" and "Hey everybody, let's leave the road house." But the final screenplay of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a masterpiece, no matter who wrote what.

Biggest Oversight

Zero Mostel was a unique talent whose broad style seemed best suited for the stage, winning Tony Awards for Rhinoceros, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof. But Mostel was effective on film as well, and it’s a mystery that he never received an Oscar nomination. It seems a particular oversight that the most effective translation of one of his stage roles to film was overlooked in this weak year, for his Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was the best thing about that gimmicky (though still enjoyable) film, and certainly superior to the nominated work of Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles. The performances of Jack Gilford and Phil Silvers (who would also win a Tony playing Pseudolus on Broadway, as would Nathan Lane) were equally deserving of supporting nominations, but the only nomination the film received was for its score (which it went on to win). Mostel was later passed over for the film version of his signature role of Tevye in the film version of Fiddler on the Roof (director Norman Jewison preferred that a first or second generation Russian Jew be cast), but he went on to give memorable performances in The Front and as the immortal Max Bialystock in The Producers (another role that Lane would put his own stamp on decades later), still being overlooked by the Academy but never by audiences.

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1967
In the Heat of the Night
Actor: Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night)
Actress: Katharine Hepburn
(Guess Who's Coming to Dinner)
Supporting Actor: George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke)
Supporting Actress: Estelle Parsons
(Bonnie and Clyde)
Director: Mike Nichols (The Graduate)
The Graduate
Actor: Sidney Poitier (In the Heat of the Night)*
Actress: Audrey Hepburn (Two for the Road)*
Supporting Actor: George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke)
Supporting Actress: Estelle Parsons
(Bonnie and Clyde)
Director: Mike Nichols (The Graduate)
 

In The Heat of the Night was a terrific whodunit that was made important because of the racial aspect of the story that pitted a black Philadelphia homicide detective against a small-town Southern sheriff. The by-play between the two was compelling, and the film features a magnificent performance by Sidney Poitier and an Oscar-winning one by Rod Steiger. In another year, it would be an excellent selection for Best Picture. But 1967 was a year that saw the premiere of two of the most influential films ever made and continue to resonate to viewers while In The Heat of the Night has the musty air of a relic of the 60s about it, despite its message of tolerance that maintains its relevance today. The films the Academy matched it up against for the nomination were the evergreen Bonnie and Clyde, a classic gangster film made unique by the intricate depiction of its title characters and by its graphic violence and sexuality, the questionable choice of the popular but simplistic comedy about interracial marriage Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and the ridiculous selection of the expensive and inteminable box office flop Doctor Dolittle. Looking at the nominees, one would think that timeless classics like Two for the Road, In Cold Blood and Cool Hand Luke were somehow deemed ineligible for the Best Picture category, leaving In The Heat of the Night the only film of quality to choose from. But that still doesn't explain the ultimate snub of the fifth film to be included amongst the Best Picture nominees and the definitive cinematic examination of youthful alienation, The Graduate.

Based on Charles Webb's novel, The Graduate told the story of Benjamin Braddock, who's "a little worried about his future" and made a star out of Dustin Hoffman in the role of a 21 year old everyman who has no idea what direction he should take next (a guest at Benjamin's graduation party who suggests that his future is in plastics is of no help at all). Hoffman was actually a thirty year old Obie winner when he played Braddock, and to take the role he had to turn down another film that he'd already been cast in (The Producers, in which he was to have played the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind). It's impossible to imagine another actor in the part now even though Robert Redford, Charles Grodin and a 19 year old Richard Dreyfuss were seriously considered for the role; and equally fine work is offered by Anne Bancroft as the infamous Mrs. Robinson, Katherine Ross as Elaine and William Daniels (who is actually only ten years older than Hoffman) as Ben's father. The Graduate won the Best Director Oscar for Mike Nichols (for only his second film after Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), one of the few films to capture that trophy and nothing else. In retrospect, it also should have won for Calder Willingham and Buck Henry's clever and insightful screenplay, Dave Grusin and Paul Simon's unnominated musical score, and the Oscar for Best Picture.

Worst Award

There are probably too many Academy Award areas these days, and it's doubtful that when Mira Sorvino or Marisa Thome fill out their Oscar ballots that they have the technical expertise to determine what represented the best achievement in sound effects editing or cinematography. But even with the surplus of divisions, the Academy could do worse than to take a cue from the Costume Designers Guild, who divide their year-end awards into the categories of contemporary design and fantasy/historical. Without this distinction, the Oscar is invariably handed to richly dressed period pieces, and 1967 was no exception, with the award going to John Truscott for Camelot. Truscott's obligatory armor and plush velvet were effective for the needs of the story, but they were indistinguishable from any other period epic. Far more original and influential was Theadora Van Runkle's distinctive design for Bonnie and Clyde, which won only two Oscars out of ten nominations, a fate not dissimilar to Citizen Kane (which went one for nine). In both cases, the films were perceived to have come up short at the Oscars as a backlash to negative perceptions towards their creative forces, Orson Welles and Warren Beatty. Welles never learned to play the Oscar game, whereas Beatty ultimately became a master at it, getting an an absurd amount of recognition for unexceptional films like Heaven Can Wait and Bugsy, the latter actually pulling off the same two for ten Oscar performance as Bonnie and Clyde. It's interesting to consider how Bonnie and Clyde would have done if Beatty was as adept at the racket in 1967.

Biggest Oversight

Sidney Poitier starred in three films in 1967, the run-of-the-mill though undeniably popular To Sir With Love, the now-dated though still enjoyable Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, and the film that the Academy called the year's best, In the Heat of the Night. Poitier undoubtedly canceled himself out in the voting with this trifecta, though his costars Rod Steiger in In The Heat of the Night and Katharine Hepburn in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner each took home an Oscar. Hepburn's surprise victory was considered as an act of compassion following the death of her screen and life partner Spencer Tracy (who gives the finest performance of his career in his final film), but it is bewildering that it was Steiger who won the lion's share of the reviews for his mannered performance as a small town sheriff in Heat, since the film is carried by Poitier in his most memorable role. From the time his Philadelphia homicide detective Virgil Tibbs is discovered sleeping in a train station and immediately assumed to have committed a recent murder because of the color of his skin, Poitier's performance evolves into a characterization of increasing complexity. The competition for the Best Actor Oscar was especially steep this year, and such memorable turns as Orson Welles in Chimes at Midnight, Robert Blake in In Cold Blood, Albert Finney in Two For the Road, Richard Harris in Camelot and Richard Burton in Taming of the Shrew failed to make the cut. But Poitier's Virgil Tibbs was one of the seminal performances of the decade, and deserved recognition.

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1968
Oliver!
Actor: Cliff Robertson(Charly)
Actress: Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter)
and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl)
Supporting Actor: Jack Albertson
(The Subject Was Roses)
Supporting Actress: Ruth Gordon (Rosemary's Baby)
Director: Carol Reed (Oliver!)
2001: A Space Odyssey*
Actor: Peter O'Toole (The Lion in Winter)
Actress: Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter)
Supporting Actor: Gene Wilder (The Producers)
Supporting Actress: Ruth Gordon (Rosemary's Baby)
Director: Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey)
 

1968 was one of the most tense years in American history, with the Vietnam war at its peak, the country reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the violent demonstrations that culminated at the Democratic National Convention and Kent State. In such troubled times, it's not surprising that the nation craved escapist fare, and the Academy recognized their tastes, naming an unprecedented four musicals and two comedies as Best Picture in the decade. But they really got carried away in their preference for lumbering, overproduced musicals in 1968, selecting the lead-footed Oliver! as the best film of the year. Oliver!, which reduced Dickens' dark novel into a sugary extravaganza of gaudy production numbers, wasn't even the best musical of the year (that honor surely belonged to Funny Girl) and it now seems ridiculous that this tedious nonsense won the top prize when such memorable films as Planet of the Apes, The Producers, The Odd Couple, Rosemary's Baby and 2001: A Space Odyssey weren't even nominated.

Selecting a "best" from this diverse group is difficult (none of the actual nominees Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel and Romeo & Juliet would probably make the final five today, although all were markedly superior to Oliver!), but the award should have gone to the sublime and original 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece received four nominations, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, but it was overlooked in the Best Picture race and wound up winning only a single award, for its groundbreaking special effects. The Academy never had much use for science fiction, nominating only Star Wars and E.T. for its top prize, but 2001: A Space Odyssey took a genre whose trademarks had been ray guns and hubcaps that passed for flying saucers and transformed it into something sublime. The American Film Institute ranked it number 22 of its 100 greatest films (no other film from this year made the list), and for the Academy to prefer the trivial Oliver! over this landmark film shows just how vapid the tastes of their membership were at the time.

Worst Award

Oliver! was the first film to win the Best Director Oscar that had not first won the Director's Guild Award (which was won by Anthony Harvey for The Lion in Winter). The DGA definitely showed far better taste, since the bloated musical is the worst film to win the Best Picture Oscar since Cimarron. It is particularly puzzling that the Academy chose to award its top prize to such a mundane film when the public taste for over-produced musicals had passed, with the studios counting their losses on mega-bombs like Doctor Dolittle (1967), Star! (1968) and Hello, Dolly! (1969). While Oliver! performed well at the box office, the only other awards group which gave the film its top prize was the always-dubious Golden Globes. The acting is forgettable (Mark Lester's performance of the title role is timid and glum while his singing is simply monotonous, and Ron Moody is the personification of lovable as Fagin - played so memorably by Alec Guinness in David Lean's 1948 film - one of the least lovable characters in English literature), the production numbers overlong and Vernon Harris' screenplay reduces one of the greatest works of art in the history of mankind to obtuse, G-rated mush.

Biggest Oversight

There were an abundance of overlooked accomplishments in 1968, including 2001: A Space Odyssey in the Best Picture race, the unforgettable performances of Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison, Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock and Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse; Michael Wilson and Rod Serling's superb screenplay for Planet of the Apes; and Ennio Morricone's memorable score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Academy felt so guilty about snubbing Morricone that they gave him a Special Oscar in 2007 (the first time that a composer had received the honor) and spent the majority of his introduction focusing on his work with Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood despite his receiving five nominations for other scores in the ensuing years. The films that were nominated in 1968, The Fox, Planet of the Apes, The Shoes of the Fisherman, The Thomas Crown Affair and winner The Lion in Winter all had terrific scores, but Morricone's work on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is among the seminal themes in movie history and did as much to elevate the film it supported as any ever written.

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1969
Midnight Cowboy
Actor: John Wayne (True Grit)
Actress: Maggie Smith
(The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie)
Supporting Actor: Gig Young
(They Shoot Horses, Don't They?)
Supporting Actress: Goldie Hawn
(Cactus Flower)
Director: John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Actor: Dustin Hoffman (Midnight Cowboy)
Actress: Maggie Smith
(The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie)
Supporting Actor: Gig Young
(They Shoot Horses, Don't They?)
Supporting Actress: Dyan Cannon
(Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice)
Director: George Roy Hill
(Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
 

After selecting a G-rated musical for Best Picture in 1968, the Academy did a 180º turn in 1969, awarding an X-rated drama about a New York street hustler. Midnight Cowboy was a brilliant film for its time, featuring remarkable performances by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman (who was robbed for the Best Actor Oscar as the Academy turned the award into a sentimental testimonial for John Wayne), but it now seems badly dated, in part because of the many derivative rip-offs it has spawned over the years. Far fresher and more watchable is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, George Roy Hill's deconstructionist western that began the trend for "buddy" movies that continues to this day. Paul Newman and Robert Redford's chemistry is so easy that it's surprising to learn that the role of the Sundance Kid was originally offered to Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando, neither of whom wanted to accept second billing to Newman. It's doubtful that the film would have succeeded as well with that casting, since anyone who's seen Ishtar or The Countess from Hong Kong know that comedy is not either of those actor's forte.

Worst Award

Some legendary screen performers were never considered for the Academy Award because of the perception that they always gave the same characterization in all of their films: Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, Mae West. Still others received the Oscar despite turning in variations of the same performance in all their films including the one they were awarded for: Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Yul Brynner. The distinction between the two groups is murky, but Goldie Hawn certainly falls into the latter category. Hawn’s nomination and win for Cactus Flower were both major surprises, and she has never tampered with her ditzy blonde shtick ever since, turning in interchangeable samplings of the same performance in every film she’s appeared in, from There's a Girl in My Soup to The Banger Sisters. Why the Academy felt she deserved recognition for Cactus Flower, a tired generic sex farce in which Hawn and costars Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman don't exhibit the slightest chemistry with each other, and not Shampoo or Best Friends (in which she did essentially the same thing) continues to be a mystery.

Biggest Oversight

The Academy hadn't completely given up on musicals by 1969, nominating the film version of Hello Dolly! as Best picture despite mediocre reviews and a less-than-adequate performance from a miscast Barbra Streisand in the title role. Also nominated was the interminable historical drama Anne of the Thousand Days, whose ten nominations were attributed to a lavish Oscar promotion campaign by Universal Studios, which included filet mignon and Champagne at its screenings. Not nominated was one of the landmark films of the decade, Easy Rider; a financial smash which captured a whole new movie-going audience. Although the film has not withstood the test of time very well (its hippie protagonists now seem remarkably self-indulgent), it represented a major turning point in film history, and its exclusion is another indication of the unenlightened point of view of the Academy at the time. Nominated only for its screenplay and for Jack Nicholson's star-making performance, Easy Rider was certainly the most important film of 1969 and should have received a Best Picture nod as well.

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THE TOP 10
FILMS OF
THE 1960s

1
Lawrence of Arabia

2
The Graduate
3
The Apartment
4
Dr. Strangelove
5
2001: A Space Odyssey
6
To Kill a Mockingbird
7
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
8
West Side Story
9
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
10
A Hard Day's Night

BEST MALE
PERFORMANCE Gregory Peck
in
To Kill a Mockingbird

BEST FEMALE
PERFORMANCE Elizabeth Taylor
in
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?