Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Master of Suspense: Oscar Also Ran

Mr. Alfred Hitchcock is in all likelihood my favorite film director of all time.  He was the first true auteur that I obsessed and dotted on.  I remember a weekend where AMC did a marathon of his work, and I stayed up almost the entire weekend watching everything, and truth be told, it still ranks as one of the best weekends of my life.  I feel such a strong connection to all of his work (I've seen nearly everything), and continue to obsess, the right word I think, since obsession was such a deeply rooted part of his filmmaking.  And yet it still behooves me that Mr. Hitchcock never once won a competitive Academy Award for his efforts.  And for the most part, despite a respectable showing in his career, the Academy foolishly ignored the best aspects of some of his greatest films.  While I fully acknowledge that Hitchcock was in a very primal sense a popcorn film director, one must also acknowledge that his was of a gourmet variety.

Some statistics to mull over:
  • Over his career, his films received 62 nominations, out of which garnered 6 statues, or 8.7%.
  • His films received 3 best picture nominations
    • Rebecca (1940) WINNER
    • Suspicion (1941)
    • Spellbound (1945)
  • He himself received 5 best director nominations
    • Rebecca (1940)
    • Lifeboat (1944)
    • Spellbound (1945)
    • Rear Window (1954)
    • Psycho (1960)
      • 0 wins, but the Irving Thalberg recipient in 1967 where he famously just said "Thank you," before exiting the stage
  • His films received 9 acting nominations
    • 3 for leading actor\actress
      • Laurence Olivier (Rebecca) 1940
      • Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) 1940
      • Joan Fontaine (Suspicion) 1941  WINNER
    • 6 for supporting actor\actress
      • Judith Anderson (Rebecca) 1940
      • Albert Basserman (Foreign Correspondent) 1940
      • Michael Chekov (Spellbound) 1945
      • Claude Rains (Notorious) 1946
      • Ethel Barrymore (The Paradine Case) 1947
      • Janet Leigh (Psycho) 1960
  • His films received 7 writing nominations, winning none
    • Rebecca (1940)-- written by Charles Bennet & Joan Harrison
    • Foreign Correspondent (1941)-- written by Robert E. Sherwood & Joan Harrison
    • Shadow of a Doubt (1943)-- written by Gordon McDonell
    • Lifeboat (1944)-- written by John Steinbeck
    • Notorious (1946)-- written by Ben Hecht
    • Rear Window (1954)-- written by John Michael Hayes
    • North by Northwest (1959)-- written by Ernest Lehman
And while the Oscars were kind enough to remember him-- pretty much all of his major pictures were nominated for something-- usually tech stuff like art direction or score, his greatest Oscar period being in 1940s (unusually since that was he's Hollywood beginning, and arguably the 1950s were even richer), never once was he honored.  The Rebecca triumph, and it is a lovely triumph, was nevertheless back in the day seen as David O. Selznick's win, not Hitchcock's.

My three top Hitchcock films at the moment are:
  • Rear Window (1954)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • Strangers on a Train (1951)
Another sad omission, on which is universally dumbfounded upon, the lack of respect for the acting in his films.  Sure a few were nominated, Joan Fontaine even won, but where's Anthony Perkins' chilling Norman Bates from Psycho, that sweet and dangerous performance just as unsettling fifty years later.  Or Robert Walker's Bruno from Strangers on a Train, a soulful and sad sociopath, one of the finest villains ever put on screen.   Cary Grant, all suave and iconic in North by Northwest-- sometimes movie stars roles are just as addictive and strong as baity ones.  Kim Novack's haunting variation of Hitchcock blonde in Vertigo, easily the strongest female performance he's every coaxed, or Tippi Hedren's hysteria in Marnie.

The biggest acting omission occurs with Mr. James Stewart, who used his innate American goodness to support Hitchcock in four worthy films: Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and his two finest (I'd say) in Rear Window and Vertigo.  I know Vertigo was critically reviled when it was too new, but the performance was golden, how could that not be noticed.

It wasn't just the acting that was taken for granted, but also the other areas of the craft.  For instance, The Birds was rightfully awarded an effects nomination only to lose to Cleopatra, with it's big clunkiness.  Whereas The Birds artfully and frighteningly made for one the strongest and best effects in filmmaking even by today's over the top computerized standards-- it's all seamless, and beautiful.

It says a lot that Hitchcock's legacy will never die, but the Academy is still greatly in debt to this brilliant artist, and some things will never be okay no matter how time has passed.  I continue to obsess, and document my progress.

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