Official Nominations: America America, Lillies Of The Field, Tom Jones, How The West Was Won, Cleopatra.
1963’s Best Picture list is quite similar to the previous year’s category- a mix of epics on a previously unseen scale versus smaller character pieces. While the epic won in 62, Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Fielding’s Tom Jones charmed the panel this time round with its old style humour and modern techniques. Although it won the big prize, all eyes were on Cleopatra– one of the most expensive and expansive movies ever made, one which made an icon of its star, and one which remains huge today. My winner though is yet another John Ford epic Western- How The West Was Won, his last of any success. The ambition on display surpasses Cleopatra given that it covers not just the course of one woman’s life, but much of North American history. Its accurate portrayal of early frontier life, settlers, and the introduction of rail and beyond remains the benchmark by which historical Western dramas are gauged.
Rounding out the nominations are Elia Kazan’s Roots-like America, America, and Lillies Of The Field, an ultimately boring tale which is important, and memorable mainly due to Poitier’s landmark win.
My Winner: How The West Was Won
My Nominations: 8 And A Half. The Birds. Dementia 13. From Russia With Love. The Great Escape. The Haunting. Jason And The Argonauts.
My choices for nominations this year provide a rarity, in that not one of the official selections appears in my list/none of my selections appear on the official list. Some of my picks did garner nominations in other categories, while others are bewilderingly absent from the ceremony. My first nomination is Fellini’s 8 And A Half, now not only rightly regarded as one of the best examples non-American film making, but as one of the best films of all time. Released and respected with almost universal acclaim it is an influential piece of Avant Garde cinema whose ideas and visuals have filtered through the films of some of the best film-makers to come out of the last 6 decades. Rarely before or since has a piece of art so accurately portrayed the creative building process and the pressures which come with it.
Equally loved and influential is another Hitchcock classic from his most impressive period- The Birds. A horror movie, both visceral and psychological, a romance of sorts, a seemingly simple story with a tonne of dark, shadowy themes bubbling underneath and with characters who may not be what they seem. In a stark twist, not many of these issues are resolved and we are left with an open-ended final scene proving again that Hitchcock was still pushing boundaries and toying with his audience. Filled with scares and iconic moments, it remains a breathtaking thriller today.
My next choice is less well-known but one which has gained some respect in recent years due to it’s director’s star quality-Dementia 13 is a low budget horror movie dealing with meta techniques in a refreshing way. Admittedly rushed and filled with inconsistencies, mostly due to Coppola and Corman’s creative disagreements, this is much more than the Psycho rip ff it was created and billed as. The death scenes are powerful, the scheming characters deliciously evil, the ending superb, and the location and atmosphere many notches above your typical Corman fare.
Following swiftly on from tha huge success of Dr No., From Russia With Love provides more thrills and greater insight into the character of James Bond, and introduces many more of the series staples. Although I find the action less extravagant than the predecessor and the locations less exotic, this is a much more taut thriller and paints Bond as more than a Secret Agent on a mission- here is becomes human, with moral ambiguities and a darker side. The humour is present in every scene, in the writing, the acting, and the visuals thanks to Young’s masterful command, yet it is all done with an abandon which mirrors Bond himself- every action which isn’t for his own interest or for the mission is careless and unnecessary, except for the viewer.
Proving that it was a strong year for clever horror,The Haunting provides more scares which are more the product of our imaginations rather than anything obvious forced upon us. Probably still the best example of the Haunted House film, this has all the creaky floors, tense atmosphere, suspicious characters, dark corners, and brain rumbling sounds that you would expect. It is an example of the old style gothic horror beginning to merge with the new school which would emerge over the next 10 years, sinister, bleak, modern, but still rooted in the scares audiences were accustomed to. Wise gets the most out of Jackson’s story by focussing on sound and character and makes sure that he splits the audience by making us question Nell’s involvement and responses.
Rounding up my nominations are two rip-roaring adventures- one taken from myths and legends, the other taken from recent human history. Jason And The Argonauts remains one of the best examples of Ancient Greek (or otherwise) legends adapted for the big screen. Not only is the action fantastic, the plot engaging, the pace redline, and the special effects astounding, but the attention given to the relationship between God and Man is of great importance. Of any of the old world epics, this relationship was the driving force behind each tale, the reason for each character’s thoughts and actions, and the cause of their emotions written down, and our emotions experienced reading about them. The classic story follows the prophecy of a young man destined to usurp and rule, overthrowing the current tyrant, his voyage for The Golden Fleece, the comrades and dangers he encounters along the way, and it is a highly entertaining tale thanks to some inspired performances and those wonderful effect in each set piece. It is a film which was a big part of my childhood, which is still enjoy today, and which I hope my children will love.
However, my winner this year, and there really can be only one winner, is The Great Escape. A film of Allied spirit which is held dear to this day by the British public, and which remains iconic throughout the world thanks to the characters, the performances, the music, the action, the shocking violence, the camaraderie, the sets, the cinematography, everything. Even with its length, this is one of those films which, if I watch a few minutes of I have to watch it all- those movies are rare and perhaps only a handful appear each decade. The story is based on true events and given an obviously glossy, camp makeover which may instantly turn some critics off, but at the heart this is truly reflective of the hope and despair which POWs went through. It shows the nature of evil, it shows the undying will of human nature, but blurs those lines by showing us treachery, apprehension, and doubt on behalf of the good and bad sides, and never at one point is anything black and white. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading and go watch.
My Winner: The Great Escape.
Who would your pick for Best Film of 1963 be – let us know in the comments, and pick your favourite in the poll!