Best Writing (Original): 1963

Official Nominations: How The West Was Won. 8 1/2. America, America. Love With The Proper Stranger. The Four Days Of Naples

While 8 1/2 is the more visionary and original film, I’m always fascinated and awed by epics – every facet of a true epic which spans generational time spans is appealing to me, from a pure entertainment viewing standpoint, to its creation. Without strong writing and characters and epic would be four hours of torture, but when you have engaging writing, memorable quotes, and characters you yearn to see more of, then you’ll have a winner in my books. How The West Was Won is a winner. Elia Kazan’s vanity project America, America is also epic in scope and earned him multiple nominations, including Best Writing, while Arnold Schulman’s Love With The Proper Stranger deals with tough topics but doesn’t hit any peaks. Four Days Of Naples is an interesting enough Italian film, but again doesn’t stir anything in me with regards to writing.

My Winner: How The West Was Won.

 

My Nominations: Dementia 13. Winter Light. Summer Holiday. Shock Corridor. The Running Man. It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. How The West Was Won. 8 1/2.

Sam Fuller was always ahead of his time, and with Shock Corridor he perfects the horror/crime cliché of ‘man goes to asylum to uncover murder case’, both writing and directing skilfully. Dementia 13 shows a young Coppola’s flair, Winter Light is full of Bergman’s venom against religion, Summer Holiday remains popular to this day in Britain, whilst Mad World and The Running Man are good examples of pacing when it comes to writing chase thrillers and adventures.

My Winner: Shock Corridor.

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Let me know your picks for Best Original Writing of 1963 in the comments below!

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Best Music (Scoring): 1963

This year the category was split into Best Original And Best Adaptation Scores, but I’ve bunched them together:

Official Nominations: Tom Jones. Cleopatra. 55 Days At Peking. How The West Was Won. It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Irma La Douce. A New Kind Of Love. Bye Bye Birdie. The Sword In The Stone. Sundays And Cybele.

 

Tom Jones: A light and suitably fluffy suite of music which mimics the lighthearted antics on screen. The slower, more poignant pieces are the most enjoyable, but there isn’t any memorable theme which you’ll recall after the film is over, surprising then that this picked up the official win.

Cleopatra: Alex North gets another nomination (he totalled 15 without a win) for the epic, his soundtrack features, as you would expect, a lot of Eastern instrumentation, sweeping string sections, all giving an evocative whole. Again, the main theme isn’t overly memorable, but a variety of the single pieces are emotive without managing to stay in the memory.

55 Days At Peking: Similarly epic to Cleopatra, Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for 55 Days At Peking is more immediate and punchy, less lavish, more energetic. An odd mixture of Eastern sounds, Old Western themes, and military marches, it’s a difficult score to swallow in one piece, but rewarding nevertheless. It is again let down though by lacking a memorable theme, though ‘Moon Fire’ comes close.

How The West Was Won: Tiomkin passed duties on this one to Alfred Newman, and it is regarded as one of Newman’s best. A rousing score, another epic, this one is more grounded in classic, robust American sounds – it’s a Western soundtrack at heart – big and bold. Finally we get a memorable main theme!

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World: Ernst Gold creates a madcap score, a main theme which has a few memorable moments. if anything it’s evocative of a massive circus, with clowns and trapeze artists flying and falling. Some of the individual character themes are strong too, with Captain Culpeper’s being particularly memorable.

Irma La Douce: Andre Previn picked up a win for his adapted score of the French musical. The central piano theme is quite nice, but the rest of the soundtrack is forgettable.

A New Kind Of Love: Erroll Garner and Leith Stevens create a jazzy, snoozy score for the romance, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before – typical smokey bar mellow, smooth jazz.

Bye Bye Birdie: Johnny Green and Charles Strousse adapt Strousse’s stage music to the screen, giving a lighter, less raunchy tone. Notable for a number of songs, the incidental music simply mimics these and not a lot more. 

The Sword In The Stone: Hardly the most fondly remembered Disney animation from a musical perspective, The Sword In The Stone nevertheless carries some weight. Sherman’s fun songs merged with the music of Bruns make an oft-forgotten, yet still enchanting score.

Sundays And Cybele: Maurice Jarre’s score is a mostly soft one, again there isn’t anything too powerful, but it’s a subtle approach to the slightly uneasy, and hurting tragic events on screen.

My Winner: How The West Was Won. The Sword In The Stone.

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My Nominations: The Pink Panther. The Great Escape.

For my list of nominations I’ve cut way back on the chaff and only selected the two best examples of soundtrack for the year, two entries which coincidentally were shockingly omitted (or in the case of The Pink Panther held back until the next year’s Awards). Henry Mancini’s theme for The Pink Panther is one of the most iconic pieces of movie music – simply by hearing the first 2 (or 4) notes you know what it is, and where it is from. The rest of the soundtrack is equally strong, giving a cosmopolitan air of crime capers, jazzy notes, and sultry tones. Equally, Elmer Bernstein’s theme for The Great Escape is just as iconic, acting as both a rallying cry, and a two finger salute. The theme appears frequently in other movies and shows, and sports events, taking on a life of its own. The rest of the soundtrack too features stellar work, with bombastic pieces of hope, and a selection more poignant, slower pieces.

My Winner: The Great Escape.

 Disagree with my choices? Let me know in the comments and poll below!

Best Sound:1963

The categories for sound this year were split into mixing and editing, but I’ll bunch them together. This was the first year that the Sound Editing category appeared, with It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad Word picking up the win, while How The West Was Won won the Sound Mixing Award.

Official Nominations: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad Word (for mixing and editing). A Gathering Of Eagles. How The West Was Won. Bye Bye Birdie. Captain Newman MD. Cleopatra.

My Winner: How The West Was Won.

 

My Nominations: How The West Was Won. Cleopatra. 8 And A Half. The Birds. The Haunting. The Great Escape. Jason And The Argonauts.

My nominations see an almost entirely different roster, with the rip-roaring The Great Escape joining the fold and displaying high quality in the sound fields. 8 1/2 perfects Fellini’s technique of having the actors mouth random dialogue and having the sound, and indeed script added after filming completed, while a whole world of sounds are created in Jason And The Argonauts by Cyril Collick, Alfred Cox, and Red Law to breathe even more life to Harryhausen’s creations, and to create more depth to the mythological world. The Birds and The Haunting are two of the most powerful horror movies of the decade from a sound perspective – both using sound in startling and unusual ways, both using sound as the first harbinger. The calming at first, yet ever more sinister tweets and flapping of wings becomes overpowering and creates a claustrophobic mood in Hitchcock’s classic, while Wise essentially makes sound the central evil presence in his powerhouse. Using a variety of gimmicks, from shouting off camera to pre-recorded soundtracks for his cast to react to, it is the creaking and whispering and shrieking which give the house its character, and make the visual effects all the more effective.

My Winner: The Haunting.

Best Cinematography: 1963

Again this year the nominees were split into Colour and BW, but I’ve merged the two for my nominations:

Official Nominations: Colour: Cleopatra. How The West Was Won. Irma La Deuce. It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. The Cardinal.

Official Nominations: BW: Hud. Lilies Of The Field. Love With The Proper Stranger. The Balcony. The Caretakers.

Ernest Holler had been in the game since 1920, picking up an Oscar for Gone With The Wind. Involved with many striking American classics from the twenties to the sixties, his work on Lilies Of The Field is accomplished, taking the natural beauty of barren Arizona desert and giving it life. With mulitple directors working on How The West Was Won, multiple DPs were brought on too. William H Daniels, Milton Krasner, Charles Lang, and Joseph LaShelle, somehow come together to each shine in presenting the width and scope of land and opportunity in the US.

My Winners: How The West Was Won. Lilies Of The Field.

My Nominations: Cleopatra. How The West Was Won. Alone On The Pacific. The Birds. From Russia With Love. The Great Escape. Jason And The Argonauts. Lord Of The Flies.

My Winner: How The West Was Won.

Let us know your picks in the comments and poll below!

Best Picture: 1963

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!