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.