Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Best Picture of 1959

The last year of review took me about three and a half months. I've knocked off about a month this time around, so hopefully that's a sign that things will move at a swifter pace from here on in... But don't quote me on that.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1959 are:
  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • Ben-Hur
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • The Nun's Story
  • Room at the Top
Five nominees with vastly disparate subject matters, united by their intensity and thought-provoking themes. Despite this excess of gripping drama, it was the epic that presented itself as the clear front-runner, no doubt due to its legacy.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the other four films all offer conclusions that could in some sense be described as unsatisfying - not because of any error in the filmmaking, but rather that they're simply just downers of varying degrees. Each of the lead characters essentially fails to achieve what they really want, or if they do, they then realise it wasn't actually what they wanted. Don't get me wrong, though. The climaxes are inevitable given the stories. These four films needed to end the way they did, a large part as to why they are each so provocatively compelling.

It is ironic, then, that Ben-Hur's unsatisfying ending is indeed a story problem - a deus ex machina, to be precise. Nonetheless, the picture's epic nature somehow outweighs such flaws. While its intensity may not quite match the thoughtfulness of its fellow nominees, Ben-Hur is such a cinematic achievement in so many other ways that it's difficult not to call it my favourite Best Picture nominee of 1959.

Best Picture of 1959
Academy's choice:


Matt's choice:


Your choice:

Were you likewise swept away by Ben-Hur's glory, or did you find one of the other four nominees more worthy? Vote for your favourite in the poll above. It is time now to move forward a few years to the early 1970s to review yet another collection of modern classics.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1971 are:
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • The French Connection
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Nicholas and Alexandra
If you'd like to follow along with me, check out these titles at Amazon.


  1. This year was not as clear cut as I thought it would be. I would place Room at the Top and The Diary of Anne Frank at the bottom, and, good as they were, probably would have replaced their nominations with North by Northwest and Some Like it Hot. Some other movies of note for 1959: Rio Bravo, a trio of foreign films: The 400 Blows, Wild Strawberries and Hiroshima, Mon Amour and what many consider the last movie from the classic film noir period, Odds Against Tomorrow. I should also mention one of the earlier Hollywood films shot in Australia – On the Beach. It would be followed a year later by The Sundowners.

    The Nun’s Story registered more with me than I expected. I’m sure my personal background gave me an enhanced interest in the story. The subject matter led me to Australia, once again, and I watched their 1991 TV mini-series Brides of Christ with a young Naomi Watts and Russell Crowe in supporting roles.

    For most of my life, Ben Hur would easily be my pick, and it still has spectacular set pieces and stirring scenes. It does tend to drag on too long after the climactic chariot race. I didn’t watch it again for this vote, so perhaps when I do see it once more (on Blu-ray next time) it may again take the top spot.That spot will now go to Anatomy of a Murder. While it doesn’t offer a necessarily satisfying conclusion, it does stay focused and absorbing throughout and as such gets my vote.

    I mentioned a long time ago that 1971 would be an exciting year to evaluate, with three very strong contenders in three different genres. Well, it has finally arrived. I’ve held off watching any of them since your project began (as well as the other two nominees, one of which I’ve never seen). Glad this year squeaked out a win, although most years from the 70s offer excellent films.

  2. While waiting for 1971 to begin, I decided to review the polls for the years already evaluated. It appears that without an in-depth analysis, there is quite a diversity of selections voted for, yet the overall winners often coincide with what is generally considered the critical favorites. This of course means that the official AA winners matched only about a third of the time.

    I did notice that 1930/31 had a three way tie and that the most recent year looked at, 1959, came closest to a unanimous vote (so far). I must take the blame for being the lone dissenter. Makes me want to change my vote back to Ben-Hur, which was the movie I thought I would vote for before re-watching the nominees.

    It is a little disheartening that the last two years have the fewest votes. Spread the word, we need to expand readership. Matt, your reviews continue to remain incisive and astute. You are doing a great job.

  3. Thanks Mike. The polls are open-ended, so it's no surprise that the polls that have been running longer have more votes. Plus, more recent years tend to garner more interest since those nominees have been seen by more people. Still, an increase in readership would never go astray. No doubt my infrequent posting of late makes that a little more difficult.

    Anyway, nice analysis of the votes. Obviously, these polls are not particularly meaningful due to the small sample size. Not to mention that there's no way to even know if voters have seen all the nominees - just like the Oscars :) Nonetheless, it's always fascinating to see what people vote for.

    And it's funny how seeing those results can influence your own decision. I'm not sure if that's what's happened to you with Ben-Hur, but I know that there are a couple of verdicts that I've made that I now feel a little uncertain about. I wonder if that's how Academy voters feel after the statuettes have been handed out...