Friday, October 9, 2015

1956--The Year in Review

It's kind of a hiccup in film history here, with a short list of absolute masterpieces arriving at the pinnacle, chief among them two very different perceptions of the West's passage to the modern age. I have a softer place in my heart for George Stevens' rousing adaptation of Edna Ferber's Giant than I do for John Ford's landmark tale of a Civil War veteran's quest for the comforts of home and hearth. But The Searchers remains the most lauded movie of the year (though it was a critical disappointment upon release); it has some down points in the introduction of failed comedy in its middle, but then again, Stevens' Giant loses mojo in its final third (once James Dean disappears from it), and just in general, Stevens is aiming lower (though I think Giant has more to say about American/Mexican relations nowadays than The Searchers has to impart about troubled American/Indian kinship). So I had to balance these two similar films out and, in doing so, inevitably had to side with Ford because the film is so incredibly iconic. But four very cutting-edge pieces challenged these twin, essentially nostalgic films: Kubrick's riveting breakthrough The Killing, among the most thrilling heist films; The Wrong Man, Hitchcock's very personal, filmically groundbreaking, nearly documentary-like tale of wrongful arrest (still his most underrated work); Nicholas Ray's vibrant tale of medically-induced madness called Bigger Than Life; and Robert Bresson's magnificently elegant prison yarn A Man Escaped. I'm glad I was able to recognize, this year, three absolutely stellar stars (Taylor as an early feminist, Dean--in my favorite of his few eternally dynamic roles--and Mason, who nails the horrific with his portrayal of a tortured schoolteacher), while the fourth was a newcomer embodying an EXTREMELY nasty kid so perfectly that she'd never make a mark on cinema again (though she did show up in David Chase's The Sopranos decades later)). Note: rock and roll makes its first appearances in the Best Song category, while the science fiction genre takes a galactic leap this year with three fine contributions: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Forbidden Planet and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers. Plus Roger Corman arrives fully on the scene as the King of the B's with It Conquered the World. On the Academy's part, they totally blew it by lauding the big-budgeted, star-studded widescreen travelogue Around the World in 80 Days. I challenge anyone to sit through this garbage now. It Conquered the World would be a better choice for Best Picture than this bloated, industry-stamped hoodwinkery. Final note: in the short film race, familyman and 8mm filmmaker Robbins Barstow contributes Disneyland Dream, surely the greatest home movie ever produced (only Wallace Kelly's 1938 film Our Day can compete). 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: THE SEARCHERS (US, John Ford) (2nd: Giant (US, George Stevens), followed by: Bigger Than Life (US, Nicholas Ray); The Killing (US, Stanley Kubrick); The Wrong Man (US, Alfred Hitchcock); A Man Escaped (France, Robert Bresson); Aparajito (India, Satyajit Ray); Bob le Flambeur (France, Jean-Pierre Melville); The Silent World (France, Louis Malle and Jacques-Yves Cousteau); Baby Doll (US, Elia Kazan); There’s Always Tomorrow (US, Douglas Sirk); Early Spring (Japan, Yasujiro Ozu); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (US, Don Siegel); The Harder They Fall (US, Mark Robson); The Girl Can’t Help It (US, Frank Tashlin); Forbidden Planet (US, Fred M. Wilcox); Written on the Wind (US, Douglas Sirk); Somebody Up There Likes Me (US, Robert Wise); Attack! (US, Robert Aldrich); Patterns (US, Fielder Cook); The Burmese Harp (Japan, Kon Ichikawa); The Bad Seed (US, Mervyn Le Roy); The King and I (US, Walter Lang); The Ten Commandments (US, Cecil B. DeMille); Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (US, Fritz Lang); Seven Men from Now (US, Budd Boetticher); Moby Dick (US, John Huston); Bus Stop (US, Joshua Logan); The Mystery of Picasso (France, Henri-Georges Clouzot); Lust for Life (US, Vincente Minnelli); Samurai Part Three: Duel at Ganryu Island (Japan, Hiroshi Inagaki); The Rainmaker (US, Joseph Anthony); The Man Who Knew Too Much (US, Alfred Hitchcock); A Kiss Before Dying (US, Gerd Oswald); Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (US, Fred F. Sears); While the City Sleeps (US, Fritz Lang); War and Peace (US, King Vidor); 1984 (UK, Michael Anderson); ...And God Created Woman (France, Roger Vadim); It Conquered The World (US, Roger Corman))

ACTOR: James Mason, BIGGER THAN LIFE (2nd: Henry Fonda, The Wrong Man, followed by: John Wayne, The Searchers; Yul Brynner, The King and I; Sterling Hayden, The Killing; Kevin McCarthy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Rock Hudson, Giant) 

ACTRESS: Elizabeth Taylor, GIANT (2nd: Vera Miles, The Wrong Man, followed by: Carroll Baker, Baby Doll; Katherine Hepburn, The Rainmaker; Marilyn Monroe, Bus Stop; Deborah Kerr, The King and I; Nancy Kelly, The Bad Seed

SUPPORTING ACTOR: James Dean, GIANT (2nd: Elisha Cook Jr., The Killing, followed by: Robert Stack, Written on the Wind; Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life; Ed Begley, Patterns; Eli Wallach, Baby Doll; Jack Palance, Attack!) 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Eileen Heckart, THE BAD SEED (2nd: Patty McCormack, The Bad Seed, followed by: Marie Windsor, The Killing; Dorothy Malone, Written on the Wind; Mercedes McCambridge, Giant; Mildred Dunnock, Baby Doll; Estelle Winwood, The Swan) 

DIRECTOR: John Ford, THE SEARCHERS (2nd: George Stevens, Giant, followed by: Nicholas Ray, Bigger Than Life; Alfred Hitchcock, The Wrong Man; Stanley Kubrick, The Killing; Robert Bresson, A Man Escaped)

NON-ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILM: A MAN ESCAPED (France, Robert Bresson) (2nd: Aparajito (India, Satyajit Ray), followed by: Bob le Flambeur (France, Jean-Pierre Melville); The Silent World (France, Louis Malle and Jacques-Yves Cousteau); Early Spring (Japan, Yasujiro Ozu); The Burmese Harp (Japan, Kon Ichikawa); The Mystery of Picasso (France, Henri-Georges Clouzot); Samurai Part Three: Duel at Ganryu Island (Japan, Hiroshi Inagaki))

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Maxwell Anderson and Angus MacPhail, THE WRONG MAN (2nd: Jean-Pierre Melville and Auguste Le Bretton, Bob le Flambuer, followed by: Rod Serling, Patterns; Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Ursala Parrott, There's Always Tomorrow; Burt Kennedy, Seven Men From Now)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Stanley Kubrick and Jim Thompson, THE KILLING (2nd: Daniel Mainwaring, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, followed by: Robert Bresson, A Man Escaped; Frank S. Nugent, The Searchers; Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat, Giant)

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: DISNEYLAND DREAM (US, Robbins Barstow) (2nd: Toute Le Memoire Du Mond (France, Alain Resnais), followed by: Man in Space (Ward Kimball and Walt Disney); Creeps (Jules White; The Three Stooges); Crashing the Water Barrier (Konstantin Kalser)

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: BROOM-STICK BUNNY (Chuck Jones) (2nd: The Honey-Mousers (Robert McKimson), followed by: A Star is Bored (Friz Freling); Gerald McBoing-Boing on Planet Moo (Robert Cannon); There They Go Go Go (Chuck Jones))

BLACK-AND-WHITE CINEMATOGRAPHY: Joseph Ruttenberg, SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (2nd: Robert Burks, The Wrong Man, followed by: Boris Kaufman, Baby Doll; Lucien Ballard, The Killing; Burnett Guffey, The Harder They Fall) 

COLOR CINEMATOGRAPHY: Winton C. Hoch, THE SEARCHERS (2nd: Joseph P. MacDonald, Bigger Than Life, followed by: Loyal Griggs, The Ten Commandments; Frederick A.Young and Russell Harlan, Lust for Life; Russell Metty, Written on the Wind)

BLACK-AND-WHITE ART DIRECTION: BABY DOLL, Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Solid Gold Cadillac, The Power and The Prize, 1984 

COLOR ART DIRECTION: GIANT, The King and I, The Ten Commandments, Forbidden Planet, Lust for Life

BLACK-AND-WHITE COSTUME DESIGN: THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC, The Power and the Prize, The Proud and the Profane, Early Spring, Teenage Rebel

COLOR COSTUME DESIGN: THE KING AND I, The Ten Commandments, Around the World in 80 Days, Giant, The Girl Can't Help It

FILM EDITING: THE KILLING, Giant, The Searchers, The Wrong Man, Bigger Than Life  

SOUND: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Giant, The King and I, Forbidden Planet, Bigger Than Life 

ORIGINAL SCORE: Dimitri Tiomkin, GIANT (2nd: Victor Young, Around the World in 80 Days, followed by: Bebe Barron and Louis Barron, Forbidden Planet; Max Steiner, The Searchers; Elmer Bernstein, The Ten Commandments

ADAPTED OR MUSICAL SCORE: Alfred Newman and Ken Darby, THE KING AND I (2nd: Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin, High Society)

ORIGINAL SONG: "The Girl Can't Help It" from THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT (Music and lyrics by Bobby Troup) (2nd: "Love Me Tender" from Love Me Tender (Music and lyrics by Elvis Presley and Vera Matson), followed by: "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" from The Man Who Knew Too Much (Music and lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans); "Written on the Wind" from Written on the Wind (Music by Victor Young, lyrics by Sammy Cahn); "True Love" from High Society (Music and lyrics by Cole Porter))

SPECIAL EFFECTS: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Forbidden Planet, Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers

MAKEUP: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Moby Dick

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