OSCARS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction (B&W), Best Film Editing
NUMBER OF OSCARS: 5
Billy Wilder is one of my absolute favorite directors. He just has this quality that is inserted into all of his films that makes it feel timeless and like it was made today. His undoubted masterpieces are Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity with Some Like It Hot thrown in there as well. They are all so so good. It is hard to make one masterpiece let alone three. But if you look closer at Wilder's career, the only one of his films to win Best Picture was 1960's The Apartment, a film about life in that era and a man who rents out his apartment so that his co-workers can bring women over and have sex with them. It is a very good film that has all of the traditional Wilder qualities, but for me didn't match up to his masterpieces.
As I said, The Apartment is about CC Baxter (Some Like It Hot's Jack Lemmon), a man who works at a cubicle farm and allows his bosses to use his apartment for drinking and sex. He is a complex character who is really conflicted about what he is doing but it helps him climb the ranks at the office and so he keeps doing it. His predicament also prevents him from having much of a life. Baxter eventually decides that he will go out with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), an elevator operator, until he learns that she had a fling with his boss, Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). One night, Fran overdoses on sleeping pills at Baxter's apartment and the film then deals with their relationship after that.
The plot of The Apartment is a really good one. Like the rest of Wilder's films, it is funny, it is dark, and it is absurd. But it always has the human touch to it that makes it really interesting. Then there is the cinematography. The black and white in this film is stunning as it is in all of the other Wilder films. He knew how to shoot in black and white and when you watch his films you understand why he did. It fits them perfectly. Wilder deserved the director win at the academy awards.
The acting and screenplay are also very good. Lemmon gives a great performance and I found it to be much more enjoyable than his loud, shrill, overdone performance in the otherwise great Some Like It Hot. MacLaine is also good in her role. Part of the effectiveness of their characters is the script. Part of it is that they are just great actors. They make two extremely flawed characters who make questionable decisions characters that you can relate to and that is not an easy thing to do.
I really enjoyed the film yet there was just something about it that didn't feel right. When I first watched Sunset Boulevard, I was sucked in and watched the whole thing without stopping. When I first watched Double Indemnity, I was sucked in and didn't want to stop watching. Same with Some Like It Hot. With The Apartment, I didn't feel that way. I didn't immerse me in the story like the other films did. Plus, it is kind of a quirky picture. Unlike something like Silver Linings Playbook (I know, fifty year difference), it isn't a seamless blend of drama and comedy. I walks the line a little too close.
But in the end, Wilder's The Apartment has a ton of redeeming qualities and is definitely worth the watch. However it wasn't my favorite of his films. Then again, when you're going up against three all time greats. You are likely going to lose.