Oscar Flashback: Best Picture Nominees Of 50 Years Ago Get New Life

Hollywood  has been busy this season celebrating the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture.

Of 1961.

Of course there has been lots of attention paid toward the nine nominees for Best Picture of 2011 too, but how many of them will we be talking about and still watching on big or little screens 50 years from now? Will they manage to have the same staying power and influence that Oscar’s crop of best picture nominees from the Academy’s 34th year?

Consider the nominees.

West Side Story, Judgment At Nuremberg, The Hustler, The Guns Of Navarone, Fanny.

And if there were nine nominees as there are this year, the list almost certainly would have included Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Splendor In The Grass,  El Cid and La Dolce Vita.

In 2062 what will we be saying about The Artist, The Descendants, Moneyball, Hugo, Midnight In Paris, The Tree Of Life, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, War Horse  and The Help? Will there be major restorations, elaborate boxed home entertainment sets, hand and footprint ceremonies at Grauman’s Chinese, special evenings at the Academy, new books devoted to their dissection, Broadway adaptations?  Well those are exactly some of the ways the industry has been remembering the Oscar-laden class of ’61.

West Side Story was the year’s big winner , earning 11 nominations and winning 10 including Best Picture, a major sweep for the musical that recently enjoyed a successful Broadway revival and has been chronicled in detail in a recent book, Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination by Misha Berson. The film grossed an estimated $43 million (equivalent of $300 million today) and according to the book is rated by American Film Institute as one of the two greatest musicals ever made , second only to Singin’ In The Rain.  MGM has released an elaborate 4-Disc 50th anniversary Blu Ray package to celebrate the film and , 50 years after its opening  Russ Tamblyn, who played Riff as well as Supporting Oscar winners George Chakiris (Bernardo) and Rita Moreno (Anita) got their hand and footprints in November at the Chinese theatre  where the film originally premiered.  According to  Berson , “Since the 1961 release, the movie has maintained its status as an omnipresent classic and a cross-cultural, universal crowd pleaser. In the second decade  of the twenty -first century, it’s still frequently screened at film festivals and at rep cinemas specializing in classic movies”.

Consider Judgment At Nuremberg, Stanley Kramer’s powerful look at the Holocaust as seen through the prism of the famed Nuremberg Nazi trials. It was almost unheard of to deal with that subject at the time in such a big , all-star Hollywood movie and it too received 11 Oscar nominations, winning two for Abby Mann’s adaptation of his Playhouse 90 TV play and Best Actor Maximilian Schell. The film co-starred Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich and others. On October 11th  the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honored it with a special 50th anniversary evening for which Schell flew in from Switzerland. At that screening Rabbi Marvin Heir called the movie ” a trailblazer and Schell told stories of its making.  Tom Brokaw, Alec Baldwin and co-star William Shatner contributed taped remembrances of the daring film that Heir saluted for its “genius of a director and cast”.

Consider The Guns of Navarone. Ask any kid who grew up circa ’61 and this probably tops the list of favorite adventure movies – ever. Gregory Peck , David Niven and Anthony Quinn starred in the sensational World War II -set epic that has been painstakingly digitally restored by Columbia  and now just released on Blu Ray in honor of its 50th.  American Cinematheque hosted a world premiere screening of the restoration on October 21st at the Egyptian in Hollywood. It received 7 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and won for Special Effects.

Consider The Hustler. In her just released autobiography co-star Piper Laurie writes of her disppointment with the film. She is probably the only one. It remains a classic, earned nine nominations including Best Picture,  Laurie for Best Actress (which she terms “unbelievable”), Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott (which he declined) and won for Black & White Art Direction and Cinematography. It even sparked a sequel 25 years later , The Color of Money that finally did win Newman an Oscar as ‘Fast Eddie Felson’. Fox released The Hustler  recently in a pristine Blu-ray edition and Warrior director Gavin O’Connor has co-written a stage adaptation to take to Broadway later this year co-starring Renee Zellweger.

The fifth nominee Fanny (5 nominations) was an attempt from director Joshua Logan to recapture the magic of 1958’s big Oscar winner, Gigi, by reteaming its stars Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier along with Best Actor nominee Charles Boyer is the only one of the ’61 crop to be largely neglected. A small distributor finally has put the original Warner Bros.  release out on DVD and Caron told me it remains a personal favorite but what film prints exist are not in good shape. It would be great to see this one restored. It is 1961’s forgotten treasure.

Ironically perhaps the most  lasting and beloved movie of 1961, Breakfast At Tiffany’s , was not a Best Picture nominee at all but did manage 5 nominations including a Best Actress nod for Audrey Hepburn and won for Original Score and its iconic song , Moon River. The style and  fashions in the film have been endlessly copied its constantly selling out revival house screenings and Parmount just issued it on Blu-ray and recently premiered a major restoration at the Academy and TCM Classic Film Festival.  Several recent books have been written recently on its making including Sam Wasson’s Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. and  Sarah Gristwood’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s The Official 50th Anniversary Companion.  It has even been the subject of a 90’s rock hit, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”  by the band Deep Blue Something.

Will any 2011’s lineup get this kind of tender loving care and attention a half-century from now? I will be writing a follow-up to this article in 2064. Stay tuned.

  1. Hey Pete,

    This is a rhetorical question…right?

    “Will any of 2011’s line up…”

    Not a chance…but, these were good films in 2011…just nothing classic in the long run.

  2. I dont think increasing the number of nominees was a good idea- Sure for money it would seem like it is, but, in my opinion, its Oscar that keeps Film at the pinnacle of the Arts.Its Oscar , and the desire to be nominated, to win, that keeps honest integrity safe and surpasses money as the driving force to create. More nominees-less integrity as artist who would continue to strive, can now rest, falsley believing a desired and highly prized goal has been met. Oscar is the oringinal and the standard, the Grammys, Emmys, Tonys,Golden Globes,and Oscar suffer loss of integrity loss of prestige when dilluted by more award events or changes in tradition.TRADITION TRADITION…..be careful EHVII

  3. Thanks for running this Pete. I’ve maintained since last year’s disgrace that we’re living the “also-ran” age of Oscar winners. In 50 years, no one will remember HURT LOCKER, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE KING’S SPEECH, or THE ARTIST on the level of AVATAR, DARK KNIGHT, SOCIAL NETWORK. This year was a weak year for film, there’s no stand-out movie that’s unarguably better than THE ARTIST, but it will still be forgotten over time. AVATAR’s cinematic quality is debatable, but for it’s sheer profit and the fact that it’s the watershed movie for 3D as a format, it has its spot in history.

    SOCIAL NETWORK was a masterpiece that found a way to be contemporary and somehow feel like a story that will outlive facebook in terms of relevance.

    SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was a very average film with no standout acting, decent-at-best writing, and great directing. But it will always be in the shadow of Nolan’s Batman.

    KING’S SPEECH was Harvey working his Oscar magic. Great performances covered up a below-average script and average at best directing. But the talent assembled behind the camera pales in comparison to TSN, with Fincher, Sorkin and Rudin leading a cast that now includes the Lone Ranger, Spiderman, and the US’s Lisbeth Salander.

    I think the Oscars have lost a lot of relevance over the past several years and are doing nothing to regain it.

  4. Time may prove me wrong, but I can’t see any of the nominees from this year being talked about in 50 years, except for maybe The Tree of Life, which has absolutely no chance of winning. This is the most boring group of Best Picture nominees that I can remember (and I’m in my 50s). I guess this is what we get from an overwhelmingly old, white, and male Academy. Time for some new blood!

  5. By 2062, everyone will have films beamed directly into thier head via the iTunes store and Apple’s new, iBrainControl app. People will be able to access all the old nominees from the Academy’s cloud, but they will skip that in favor of watching ‘Transformers 23’ and ‘JFK-Werewolf Hunter’ (Nick Cage will of course be playing JFK).

  6. Greetings from the year 2062. I just came back from seeing “Hugo and the Robo-War-Horse” at my local cyber-plex and it’s a great voomie. That’s what we call movies in 2062 because they are all in 5-D and they voom right off the screen at you. I’m told that 50 years ago Hugo and War Horse were both Oscar nominated. We no longer have the Oscars now we have the Felix awards. “Hugo and the Robo-War-Horse” is a remake/reboot and Hugo is a robot boy and the War Horse is also a robot. It takes place during World War IV in the year 2037 and it’s nonstop action and excitement. I pity you poor people in 2012. You are living in the primitive age of cinema. You think 3-D is the greatest thing ever. Hah! Wait until you see voomies in 5-D if you start living healthy maybe you’ll live long enough to experience the awe and majesty of voomies in 2061. This is Future Boy over and out!

  7. you folks DO remember babel or lost in translation with fondness do you?? uhhh neither do i

    in regards to the sorry ass movies hollywood makes nowadays and to answer peter hammond’s question:

    “….how many of them will we be talking about and still watching on big or little screens 50 years from now? Will they manage to have the same staying power and influence that Oscar’s crop of best picture nominees from the Academy’s 34th year?”


  8. I remember that year and its movies. I couldn’t have dreamed of the world we live in now. In those days, the closest you could get to a home movie presentation was an 8mm cut-down of a feature from Castle Films and usually silent and b&w. In fifty years, the world will have changed yet again and those looking back will see these films in a different light than we do now. After all, in 1961, Guns of Navarone was well regarded but it was just another action film. West Side Story was derided as much as it was embraced. The Hustler, again, was considered a good movie but hardly a future classic.

  9. Thanks for delving into some Oscar history, Pete. I’m of the opinion that increasing the number of nominees is just great! The purpose of the Academy is to honor the talent that keeps the movies alive – and if we can honor a few more movies per year, why not. If you go back in history, as you have done for 1961, there were other movies that didn’t make the top five and richly deserved to. So now, we can correct that mistake. Believe, we should salute any filmmaker that can get a movie off the ground these days! They all deserve it. But only a select few get the certificate and, maybe, the award.

  10. I have lived long enough to see movies under-appreciated and as time passes by then appreciated and then as further time goes by just plain dated. THAT to me is the test of time. 2001; dated, West Side Story; not dated, Aliens 2; dated, Alien; not dated. Most films from the 40’s and older; dated, Film Noir; not dated. Sometimes the films you think would be classic and stand the test of time are bumped aside by some supposed “no name” films that people just can’t stop watching like, It’s A Wonderful Life or even Groundhog Day. I think many of the films from the 80’s are already dated but I am withholding judgement after that.

  11. “Ironically perhaps the most  lasting and beloved movie of 1961, Breakfast At Tiffany’s”

    Yeah, among those were either born before 1930, or who are members of the Gay Men’s Chorus.

  12. Are you people kidding? The Artist will not be remembered or talked about in 50 years? It was the first major silent film release of this century. It will always be remembered in cinema history.

    Other than that, The Tree of Life, Hugo and probably Moneyball will be fondly remembered in 50 years as classics.

    1. “The Tree of Life” – oh, that Carl Sagan/PBS Nova special with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn playing that dead guy?

      “Hugo” – was that the movie about the kid running around the train station looking for robot pieces?

      “Moneyball” – oh, yeah, I remember that baseball flick with Brad Pitt, right?

  13. Oh, come on! No one outside of Hollywood knows the movies that get nominated for the most part. They haven’t for years.

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