Tuesday, September 22, 2015

1951--The Year in Review

Vincente Minnelli's boisterous cinematic adaptation of George Gershwin's An American in Paris is certainly one of the more florid Best Picture winners ever--a radically stylized flight of imagination, gorgeously filmed and performed with verve, its cast led by the magnificent team of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. But, for me, as superb as it is, it's not even the best musical of the year (that position would go to Powell and Pressberger's nearly psychedelic adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's 1881 opera The Tales of Hoffmann). Instead, I hand the bulk of this year's citations to Elia Kazan's vibrant filming of Tennessee Williams' stage masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire--a work so stunning that it can be enjoyed again and again in all of its sweaty, battered glory. Kazan opens the play up perfectly to cinema standards (it's ridiculously splendid to look at, even if it takes place in sloppy surroundings--poverty has never looked so good). And he directed his cast to such towering heights that the movie came dangerously close to sweeping the acting awards in both my and the Academy's estimation (I left Karl Malden's wonderfully sheepish Mitch behind and instead lauded Peter Ustinov's odious but highly amusing Nero in Quo Vadis?, while the AMPAS foolishly left then-newcomer Marlon Brando waiting a few years for his first Oscar, choosing to instead make up for decades of Humphrey Bogart ignorance by giving the legendary actor a still justified nod for his terrific show as Charlie Allnut in John Huston's superb The African Queen; I'm happy Bogart finally won but he should have won years before, while Brando deserved the award in '51, even if he had played Stanley Kowalski hundreds of times before on stage). At least they knew they couldn't ignore Vivien Leigh's hypnotizing, graceful take on Blanche Dubois! Largely ignored by the Academy were three of the years greatest films: Billy Wilder's still-relevant takedown of media hype called Ace in the Hole (known as The Big Carnival in its original release), Alfred Hitchcock's incredibly taut thriller Strangers on a Train, and Yasujiro Ozu's magnificently elegant Early Summer. The Academy displayed much love for George Stevens' lavish tale of murder A Place in the Sun--and deservedly so--but there were at least 30 more movies this year worth singing about. 1951 was a particularly rich period. Again, with the short films, Warner Brothers and Bugs Bunny (this time famously paired with Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd) illustrated that absolutely no filmmaking team in Hollywood was working at a higher level than those at Termite Terrace (it both kills and mystifies me that the Academy's board of animators--throughout this entire golden age at Warner Brothers--instead decided they loved the very blah Tom and Jerry cartoons--what the hell were they thinking?). And my choice for Best Song is one that wasn't even nominated, though, still today, the song has solidified its place in the popular culture. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold. 

PICTURE: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (US, Elia Kazan) (2nd: Strangers on a Train (US, Alfred Hitchcock), followed by: Ace in the Hole (US, Billy Wilder); A Place in the Sun (US, George Stevens); The African Queen (UK, John Huston); Early Summer (Japan, Yasujiro Ozu); The Tales of Hoffmann (UK, Michael Powell); An American in Paris (US, Vincente Minnelli); The Lavender Hill Mob (UK, Charles Crichton); The Diary of a Country Priest (France, Robert Bresson); The Day the Earth Stood Still (US, Robert Wise); On Dangerous Ground (US, Nicholas Ray); The Red Badge of Courage (US, John Huston); The River (India/UK, Jean Renoir); The Tall Target (US, Anthony Mann); Quo Vadis? (US, Mervyn Le Roy); Europa ’51 (Italy, Roberto Rossellini); Fourteen Hours (US, Henry Hathaway); Detective Story (US, William Wyler); The Man in the White Suit (UK, Alexander Mackendrick); Decision Before Dawn (US, Anatole Litvak); Alice in Wonderland (US, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson); Royal Wedding (US, Stanley Donen); A Christmas Carol (UK, Brian Desmond Hurst); The Steel Helmet (US, Samuel Fuller); Death of a Salesman (US, Laslo Benedek); Miss Julie (Sweden, Alf Sjöberg); The Thing (from Another World) (US, Christian Nyby); M (US, Joseph Losey); No Highway in the Sky (US, Henry Koster); Fixed Bayonets! (US, Samuel Fuller); The Browning Version (UK, Anthony Asquith); Miracle in Milan (Italy, Vittorio de Sica); The Racket (US, John Cromwell); The Bullfighter and the Lady (US, Budd Boetticher); Rhubarb (US, Arthur Lubin); Along the Great Divide (US, Raoul Walsh); When Worlds Collide (US, George Pal); David and Bathsheba (US, Henry King))

ACTOR: Marlon Brando, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (2nd: Robert Walker, Strangers on a Train, followed by: Kirk Douglas, Ace in the Hole; Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen; Chishu Ryu, Early Summer; Alastair Sim, A Christmas Carol; Alec Guinness, The Lavender Hill Mob; Gene Kelly, An American in Paris; Montgomery Clift, A Place in the Sun; Fredric March, Death of a Salesman)

ACTRESS: Vivien Leigh, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (2nd: Setsuko Hara, Early Summer, followed by: Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen; Anita Björk, Miss Julie; Elizabeth Taylor, A Place in the Sun; Leslie Caron, An American in Paris; Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun; Ingrid Bergman, Europa ’51)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Peter Ustinov, QUO VADIS? (2nd: Karl Malden, A Streetcar Named Desire, followed by: Kevin McCarthy, Death of a Salesman; Stanley Holloway, The Lavender Hill Mob; Gig Young, Come Fill the Cup; Leo Genn, Quo Vadis?; Porter Hall, Ace in the Hole; Joseph Wiseman, Detective Story) 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Kim Hunter, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (2nd: Lee Grant, Detective Story, followed by: Mildred Dunnock, Death of a Salesman; Barbara Bel Geddes, Fourteen Hours; Thelma Ritter, The Mating Season; Joan Greenwood, The Man in the White Suit; Agnes Moorehead, Fourteen Hours; Marjorie Fielding, The Lavender Hill Mob) 


DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (2nd: Alfred Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train, followed by: Billy Wilder, Ace in the Hole; Yasujiro Ozu, Early Summer; George Stevens, A Place in the Sun; Michael Powell, The Tales of Hoffmann; Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris; Charles Crichton, The Lavender Hill Mob)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, and Walter Newman, ACE IN THE HOLE (2nd: T.E.B. Clarke, The Lavender Hill Mob, followed by: Kogu Noda and Yasujiro Ozu, Early Summer; George Worthington Yates, Art Cohn and Daniel Mainwaring, The Tall Target; John Paxton and Joel Sayre, Fourteen Hours) 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (2nd: James Agee and John Huston, The African Queen, followed by: Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, and Whitfield Cook, Strangers on a Train; Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, A Place in the Sun; Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, and Alexander Mackendrick, The Man in the White Suit) 

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: DAVID (UK…Paul Dickson); Merry Mavericks (Edward Bernds The Three Stooges); The Tooth Will Out (Edward Bernds The Three Stooges); Let's Go Crazy  (UK, Alan Cullimore)

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: RABBIT FIRE (Chuck Jones; Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) (2nd: Cheese Chasers (Chuck Jones); Drip Along Daffy (Chuck Jones);  Rooty Toot Toot (John Hubley); Canned Feud (Friz Freleng; Sylvester); Daredevil Droopy (US…Tex Avery); Chow Hound (Chuck Jones); The Two Mousketeers (William Hanna and Joseph Barbera; Tom and Jerry))

BLACK-AND-WHITE CINEMATOGRAPHY: Robert Burks, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (2nd: William C. Mellor, A Place in the Sun, followed by: Harry Stradling, A Streetcar Named Desire; Harold Rosson, The Red Badge of Courage; Charles Lang, Ace in the Hole) 

COLOR CINEMATOGRAPHY: John Alton and Al Gilks, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (2nd: Claude Renoir, The River, followed by: Christopher Challis, The Tales of Hoffmann; Robert Surtees and William V. Skall, Quo Vadis?; Jack Cardiff, The African Queen

BLACK-AND-WHITE ART DIRECTION: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, A Place in the Sun, Ace in the Hole, Fourteen Hours, The Day The Earth Stood Still

COLOR ART DIRECTION: THE TALES OF HOFFMANN, An American in Paris, Royal Wedding, Quo Vadis?, David and Bathsheba

BLACK-AND-WHITE COSTUME DESIGN: A PLACE IN THE SUN, A Streetcar Named Desire, Early Summer, A Christmas Carol, Ace in the Hole

COLOR COSTUME DESIGN: THE TALES OF HOFFMANN, Quo Vadis?, An American in Paris, The River, Royal Wedding 

FILM EDITING: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, Ace in the Hole, A Streetcar Named Desire, A Place in the Sun, The Red Badge of Courage 

SOUND: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, A Place in the Sun, Bright Victory, The Tales of Hoffmann, An American in Paris

ORIGINAL SCORE: Alex North, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (2nd: Bernard Herrmann,  The Day the Earth Stood Still, followed by: Franz Waxman, A Place in the Sun; Dimitri Tiomkin, Strangers on a Train; Miklós Rózsa, Quo Vadis?; Bronislau Kaper, The Red Badge of Courage

ADAPTED OR MUSICAL SCORE: Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (2nd: Albert Sendrey, Royal Wedding, followed by: Thomas Beecham, The Tales of Hoffmann; Adolph Deutsch and Conrad Salinger, Show Boat; Oliver Wallace, Alice in Wonderland)

ORIGINAL SONG: "Happy Trails" from PALS OF THE GOLDEN WEST (Music and lyrics by Dale Evans) (2nd: "Silver Bells" from The Lemon Drop Kid (Music by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans), followed by: "In The Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" from Here Comes The Groom (Music by Hoagy Carmichael, lyrics by Johnny Mercer); "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" from The Strip (Music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby and Oscar Hammerstein II); "Too Late Now" from Royal Wedding (Music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner))

SPECIAL EFFECTS: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Strangers on a Train 

MAKEUP: THE TALES OF HOFFMANN, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Thing (From Another World)

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