OSCARS: This Year Has Much In Common With 1962 Race

Many have said 2012 has been the most remarkable year for movies in the Oscar race in a very long time. The dense list of quality contenders makes for quite a race, and it’s somewhat reminiscent of another legendary year for cinema a half-century ago.

The year 1962 was an embarrassment of riches, and in many ways, just an embarrassment for the Academy. Yes, they did include the year’s two best films, To Kill A Mockingbird and (eventual winner) Lawrence of Arabia, in the best picture lineup and both have endured as certified classics. Both were worthy. But then the Academy padded out the remaining three spots with popular studio offerings like The Longest Day, The Music Man, and most egregiously, the bloated Marlon Brando remake of Mutiny On The Bounty. OK, these films might have been decent entertainment, but were they the best the Academy could do 50 years ago? Hardly.

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Just consider the films that didn’t make the cut: Blake Edwards’ Days of Wine and Roses; John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman Of Alcatraz, And All Fall Down; Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker; Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?; Otto Preminger’s Advise & Consent; Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita; John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; David Miller’s Lonely Are The Brave—and this is just a partial list! Was it because all these films were in black and white? Well, so were Mockingbird and Longest Day, so that doesn’t explain it. Were they too challenging when compared to the populist films that made the cut instead? The point is, we are still seeing, experiencing, and talking about most of the best picture also-rans today. They have stood the test of time, a feat perhaps greater than ever being nominated for a best picture Oscar.

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It is interesting to note that, just as the Academy has done this year in failing to nominate the directors of best picture nominees Argo, Les Misérables, and Zero Dark Thirty, the Academy’s directors branch of 1962 was just as prickly and contrarian in ignoring the directors of three best picture nominees (Longest Day, Mutiny, and Music Man) in favor of smaller entries like David And Lisa, The Miracle Worker, and the foreign language Italian film Divorce Italian Style, which like this year’s Austrian/French Amour also nabbed nominations for acting and writing, winning for the latter just as Amour could do. The directors of those best picture also-rans were every bit as worthy of the nomination they didn’t get (Frankenheimer’s three 1962 classics should have gotten him a nod just based on volume alone). Some things never change. And, quite frankly, considering the advanced age of some Academy members, many of the same people are still doing the voting.

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The year 1962 was also when James Bond was introduced to the movies in Dr. No starring Sean Connery, still one of the best of the Bonds, yet it didn’t merit a single nomination back then. In fact, Bond has been consistently ignored throughout the past 50 years, with just a handful of technical nominations and awards. A half-century from the time Bond was introduced, it seemed like it was all going to change this year with Skyfall, which was poised to become the first Bond ever to earn a best picture nom. It didn’t happen, just like it didn’t happen 50 years ago. At least the Academy has been guilted into a special tribute to recognize this most successful—and brilliant—of all movie franchises.

Beyond best picture, which did at least go to a very deserving winner in David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia, the acting races across the board were gut-wrenching cliffhangers. I can’t recall the four categories to ever be so competitive as they were that year. For best actor, try to choose among Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird, Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, Jack Lemmon in Days Of Wine And Roses, Marcello Mastroianni in Divorce Italian Style, and Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz. If it weren’t for Peck’s iconic Atticus Finch, which deservedly won, certainly O’Toole would have triumphed the first time out for his glorious T.E. Lawrence instead of going zero for eight and becoming Oscar’s most losing actor (thank God they finally gave him an honorary award).

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Best actress was an imposing quintet with Bette Davis (Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?) in a shocking comeback role, Lee Remick (Days Of Wine And Roses) as a drunk, Geraldine Page (Sweet Bird Of Youth)  as a fading film star, Katharine Hepburn (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) doing Eugene O’Neill, and the winner, Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker), training the blind Helen Keller. Pre-Oscar bets from Hollywood experts were on each and every one to prevail. There were duo Oscar upsets in the supporting races, too. Virtually everyone thought Lawrence’s Omar Sharif would win, but he was upstaged by a career nod to Sweet Bird of Youth’s Ed Begley. And in supporting actress, it was Angela Lansbury as Laurence Harvey’s conspiratorial and chilling mother in The Manchurian Candidate who was seen as a sure thing, only to be passed over for 16-year-old Patty Duke as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. It was the criminally overlooked Lansbury’s to lose—and she did, never getting another shot. Oscar fans are still smarting, though Duke’s performance still holds up.

Sometimes Oscar races leave lasting scars. It’s about what could have been. And in a year as good as 2012 was, will we still be arguing the outcome 50 years from now just like we still do about ’62?

  1. This simply demonstrates again how truly meaningless the Oscars are. Great movies and great achievements are remembered because they’re great, regardless of awards. Not that we shouldn’t have the awards: they do generate interest and money for films and the business, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They simply don’t signify the works that will stand the test of time.

  2. “Embarrasment of riches” is correct, these films nominated this year are good (I think they all deserve to be nominated) but don’t hold a candle to 1962.

  3. 1962 Oscars… Pete Hammond brings up a fine debate, that was a fabulous year for Oscar worthy movies, with so many becoming eternal classics. However, when you compare it to the Oscar choices of today, well let’s just be kind and say they don’t make
    them like they used to.

    The 1962 Oscar year was proof enough that to pit great films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES etc, etc; against each other, is all very subjective. They were all deserving of best picture, they were all different -it’s apples and oranges is’nt it?

    The poetic irony of the Academy Awards, it deplores actors who use the event to make political speeches for one cause or another, but at the same time it’s all about politics itself. Years ago, studios always knew how academy members voted, because they worked for the studios, and nothing was secret. Many second-rate films got nominated just to boost their boxoffice figures. These days the super agents have the power.

    To be fair, in a very competitive year with a wide range of great movies, there should be multiple winners. But then, being as Oscar is the world’s biggest TV show, it has to provide clear winners and losers, to an audience that won’t remember either!

  4. Angela Lansbury gave one of the greatest performances ever in The Manchurian Candidate and should’ve easily won that Oscar especially considering her other very impressive turn in John Frankenheimer’s All Fall Down that year.
    Ms. Lansbury is a great actress and the epitome of a legend and it’s such a shame she never won an Oscar despite 3 nominations (two of them were for her first two films, which still makes her the youngest 2-time Oscar nominee by the age of 20).
    Now, at the age of 87 she still waits for that Honorary Oscar. Or better yet, can some one offer her a decent film role so she could win a competitive one?

    As for John Frankenheimer, he has to one of the most underrated directors in the business: The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Train, Birdman of Alcatraz, Seconds, Ronin, All Fall Down – and not a singe Best Director nomination.

  5. The Dark Knight Rises is the biggest snub of the year – it’s an excellent film that makes Skyfall look silly in comparison. The across the board exclusion including technical categories is absolutely absurd. This movie along with the rest of its trilogy will stand the test of time as a modern classic.

  6. The academy has no clothes…my favorite blunder was in 1974 when “The Towering Inferno” (an expensive TV movie) won best cinematography and “Godfather Part 2″ wasn’t even nominated.

  7. Stanley Kubrick. Alfred Hitchcock. No Oscars. Which just about renders the awards meaningless. Orson Wells. How on earth are we supposed to take it seriously? No fucking way Jose!

  8. A nice piece. I like these retrospective articles.

    Still can’t believe that Peter O’Toole has been nominated 8 times, and lost every single one. I almost thought the Academy would just give it to him out of pity a few years ago for “Venus.” He had such a sad, dejected look on his face when they instead announced Forest Whitaker. At least he’s got the honorary one, I guess (which he at first refused to accept).

    What amazing crop of 1962 films you’ve mentioned Mr. Hammond. “Lawrence of Arabia” ranks as one of my favorite films of all time. It is a beautiful story. Frankenheimer’s “Birdman of Alcatraz” is such a moving film (with a great Burt Lancaster), and his “The Manchurain Candidate” is just plain awesome (and was unnecessarily remade).

    I wonder which current films today we’ll still be holding with such high esteem 50 years from now.

  9. I’m sorry, but there is not one film released this year that is remotely comparable to any of those great classic movies mentioned. Outside of 1939, 1962 was the best year in Hollywood history, hands down.

  10. I would say that 1979 was an equally extraordinary year: though the Best Picture was KRAMER VS. KRAMER, wouldn’t you say that the other four nominees were all better (APOCALYPSE NOW, NORMA RAE, BREAKING AWAY & ALL THAT JAZZ) as well as the non-nominated films like THE CHINA SYNDROME, MANHATTAN, THE BLACK STALLION, BEING THERE and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES?

  11. I have a book in my library by Jim Piazza and Gail Kinn: The Academy Awards – The Complete Unofficial History, and I just love that book. From time to time, I’ll leaf through it and just lose two great hours before I realize the time has flown by. Not only do they not make movies anymore like they did back in that wonderful year of 1962, but they don’t make the Academy Awards show itself like they did back in those days either. That’s a shame.

    I have some photos that I’ve gathered from the Oscar shows back in the 1950s-1960s-1970s, and they are just amazing – the David Niven-streaker moment of the early 70’s, Burt Lancaster carrying co-presenter Natalie Wood in his arms [she’d broken her leg skiing] to the presenters podium back in the late 60s, Walter Matthau and his co-presenter, a chimpanzee, presenting an honorary award to John Chambers for Planet of the Apes, Mitzi Gaynor and her Georgie Girl dance at the 1967 show, Issac Hayes in full boogie-mode performing the Theme from Shaft on the 1972 telecast. They just don’t make stars and talent like that anymore.

    Of the 1962 movies mentioned in this Pete Hammond article, my personal favorite is Days of Wine and Roses. I saw it for the first time in a college film class, and that film just shook me up. I love that picture of Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick that Pete attached to his article. I’d never see that photo before, but it reminds me of Mad Men’s Don and Betty Draper. Perhaps Matt Weiner got inspiration from Days of Wine and Roses. I think we all did – that movie was the perfect metaphor for the times back in the early 1960s – young couples trying to make a go of it, and discovering both the beauty and the darkness of the American Dream.

  12. And how is it possible that Robert Preston was not nominated for his career-defining performance in THE MUSIC MAN?

  13. Here’s an absurd and never-gonna-happen thought. What if a person could only win an Oscar in a certain category once? Does Daniel Day-Lewis really need another statue to prove to everyone that he’s a good actor? Same case for directors, screenwriters, costume designers…etc. Once, lets say, an actor has won, they’ll no longer crowd the category with a nomination and allow for ‘new’ talent to shine through. Just a thought…

  14. —Forget 62, –think 1952, the year
    that the Globalists were yanking MacArthur
    and consigning little Korea to geneocidal
    partition, and RED China to EUGENICS genocide
    itself —and Japan’s Kurosawa produced perhaps
    one of the greatest films ever made —-‘IKIRU’.

    Story of one man, a doomed man, standing up
    to the sleazy capstone of a poisoned society
    —-and triumphing.

    “–When yout time comes —WHAT WILL YOU DO?”
    -IKIRU

    The Tavistock capstone runs your culture,
    Globalism and RED China handover are ‘CON’-solidating.

    ————FORGET franchise slum Hollywood

    —————————WHAT WILL YOU DO?

  15. It is unfair to take a list of films that have had half a century to age well and become classics and say they were ripped off when they were releases, and then take a list of brand new films and say that they can’t hold a candle to the older films. In my opinion there are two points worth remembering:

    1) There is no such thing as an instant classic. A much loved film today will not necessarily stand the test the time. And I’ll go so far as saying that great films are usually, in some way, ahead of their time, and hence their genius is not readily recognized until after the fact.

    2) People have been unhappy with the results of the Oscars for as long as there have been Oscars. That is the nature of opinion. Plus, people find disagreement entertaining.

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