This was coming sooner or later. I should tell you that The Apartment (1960) is my favorite movie of all time, so I might be biased here, but bear with me. I’ve decided to only write this now because it’s New Year’s Eve and this is the movie I associate with it the most, and because I wanted to finish off the year with my favorite movie. I first saw it when I was 15. Billy Wilder-wise (get it?), I’d already seen Some Like it Hot (1959) and Sunset Boulevard (1950) and loved them both. Then, one day, I saw The Apartment. Up until then, I wasn’t quite sure what my favorite classic movie or my favorite movie in general was. I used to go back and forth between Casablanca (1942), All about Eve (1950), and The Philadelphia Story (1940). They are now my second, third and fourth favorites, in that order, simply because The Apartment came along and changed everything.
It’s hard to explain how a movie becomes your favorite or why, but when I saw The Apartment, I knew this was ‘it’. From then on, I decided I wanted to become a screenwriter. I wanted to be like Billy Wilder. I wanted people to feel about my movies the way I felt about The Apartment. The movie is almost 56 years old and it’s one of the big, big classics, so I’m sure I won’t have to tell you the plot. But this isn’t about the plot. It’s about what Billy Wilder and Izzy Diamond do with it. The balance between comedy and drama is perfect, to say the least. Billy Wilder was and still is the king of ‘dramedy’. In the scene where Fran (Shirley MacLaine) talks about how her affair makes her feel (‘wife goes away, the boss has a fling with the elevator girl’), he doesn’t let it get too dark. Like in almost every scene, he brings it back up with a touch of comedy (‘they don’t make these shrimp like they used to’). Oh, that Billy Wilder touch!
The characters, all of them, are morally dubious and undeniably flawed, but we root for them nonetheless. We can relate to them and we want everything to turn out okay for them. Especially for C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), who is undoubtedly one of the greatest characters in movie history. And what a performance! Everyone and everything was Oscar-nominated in this. It ended up winning 5, including for Best Picture and, you guessed it, Best Screenplay. How could it not? The script is flawless. Everything falls into place perfectly and at the right time and nothing is left unsaid or unresolved. It was chosen as the 15th greatest screenplay of all time by The Writer’s Guild of America, but, in my opinion, it should have been at least in the top 10. It’s a masterpiece and a masterclass. This, to me, is the best. Billy Wilder-wise and otherwise-wise. Happy New Year!