With the 85th Academy Awards set to air this weekend on Sunday, February 24, 2013, movie buffs all over the world are speculating about the evening's likely winners and losers. Will "Argo" or "Lincoln" take home Best Picture? How will "Silver Linings Playbook" fare against "Django Unchained" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild?" For a sense of perspective about the long term importance of those little gold statues, we can look back 50 years to the Academy Awards held in 1963 for the best films of 1962. Here's a rundown of the winners and losers half a century ago, as well as a sense of their place in cinema history.
Best Picture - "Lawrence of Arabia"
David Lean's sweeping desert epic still holds up as a masterpiece of cinematography and visual story-telling. Peter O'Toole gives an iconic performance as the title character, and stars like Alec Guinness, Arthur Kennedy, Omar Sharif, and Anthony Quinn help the film remain a winner fifty years later.
The biopic beat fellow nominees "The Longest Day," "The Music Man," "Mutiny on the Bounty," and "To Kill a Mockingbird." Today, only "To Kill a Mockingbird" holds as venerable a place in film history, although "The Music Man" is a popular favorite with fans of the musical genre.
Best Director - David Lean for "Lawrence of Arabia"
The awards for Best Picture and Best Director can sometimes go hand in hand, and they did in this case, with David Lean taking home the prize. Of his competitors, the best known today are Robert Mulligan for "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Arthur Penn for "The Miracle Worker." The other nominees were Pietro Germi for "Divorce Italian Style" and Frank Perry for "David and Lisa." Lean is certainly the most familiar name of the lot; he won Best Director twice and was nominated for the award seven times over the course of his career.
Best Actor - Gregory Peck for "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Peck gives the most indelible performance of his career as Atticus Finch, the paternal lawyer in Harper Lee's classic tale of childhood and racial prejudice in the Deep South. It would be the last of five Best Actor nominations for Peck and his only win, which might have given him an edge over first-time nominee Peter O'Toole. O'Toole would go on to eight Best Actor nominations in all but, sadly, no wins. Given that O'Toole is still working in 2013, perhaps his long-awaited Oscar win is still waiting in the wings.
The other nominees for Best Actor were Burt Lancaster in "Birdman of Alcatraz," Jack Lemmon in "Days of Wine and Roses," and Marcello Mastroianni in "Divorce Italian Style."
Best Actress - Anne Bancroft in "The Miracle Worker"
Bancroft turns in a powerful performance as Annie Sullivan, the famous teacher and friend of Helen Keller, and her Oscar odds benefited from a lack of contenders for the award in "Lawrence of Arabia" and "To Kill a Mockingbird." The win would be the only one of Bancroft's career, although she went on to be nominated five times in all.
Despite the lack of leading ladies in the two favorites of the year, Bancroft did have some high-profile competitors for the award. Bette Davis was nominated for "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and Katharine Hepburn earned a nod for "Long Day's Journey into Night." Both, however, had won before, although Hepburn would actually win three more times after 1962! The other nominees were Lee Remick for "Days of Wine and Roses" and Geraldine Page for "Sweet Bird of Youth."
Best Supporting Actor - Ed Begley in "Sweet Bird of Youth"
Modern audiences are probably more familiar with his son, Ed Begley, Jr., but the senior Begley beat several more memorable actors for the Best Supporting Actor prize. This award would be his only nomination, although he also took home the Golden Globe for the same performance.
Today, popular preference would probably lean toward Omar Sharif for "Lawrence of Arabia." The other nominees were Telly Savalas for "Birdman of Alcatraz," Victor Buono for "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and Terence Stamp for "Billy Budd."
Best Supporting Actress - Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker"
Bancroft and Duke delivered a one-two punch in the Actress categories, and the teenage Duke became the youngest performer to win an Oscar at that time. Although this would prove her only nomination, Duke would go on to lasting fame as a television actress. Modern film fans, however, might be more familiar with her son, Sean Astin, best known for his role as Samwise Gamgee in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Duke had some even more youthful competition in Mary Badham, who played Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Other nominees for Best Supporting Actress were Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate," Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz," and Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth."
Oscar watchers always love to talk about who was "snubbed" during the awards season, so what popular films failed to be nominated for 1962? "Dr. No," the original James Bond movie, earned no nominations. "Lolita" was nominated only for Best Adapted Screenplay (which it lost to "To Kill a Mockingbird"), while "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" was nominated only for Best Costume Design. Considered a classic today, "Cape Fear" also starred Gregory Peck as a Southern lawyer but earned no nominations, despite a terrifying performance from Robert Mitchum as Max Cady. Other Oscar losers included "Ride the High Country," "Advise & Consent," and "Lonely Are the Brave."
For the most part, the biggest winners of 1962 have held up well, with "Lawrence of Arabia" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" occupying well-deserved spots in the cinema pantheon. As always, some films won awards that later made critics and film buffs scratch their heads, while others that became lauded as masterpieces were overlooked. What will the nominees from 2012 look like fifty years from now? Will we still be praising Daniel Day-Lewis for "Lincoln" and bemoaning Ben Affleck's missed chance at Best Director for "Argo?" Only time - and the outcome of Sunday night's awards ceremony - can tell.
Jennifer Garlen writes as the Huntsville and National Classic Movies Examiner. Her book, "Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching," is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.