Can 'West Side Story' Score a Second Best Picture Win?

Sunday December 5, 2021
Originally published on December 1, 2021

When "West Side Story" hit the screen in 1961, it was a cultural phenomenon. It was the highest grossing film of the year, won 10 Oscars (out of 11 nominations), and its soundtrack topped Billboard charts for 54 weeks — a feat that hasn't been duplicated since.

Now there is talk that the film's COVID-delayed remake could win the work a second Best Picture Oscar, as well as win Rita Moreno a second Oscar. She won Best Supporting Actress playing Anita in the first version. In the new film, directed by Steven Spielberg with a new script by Tony Kushner, she plays the widow of Doc, whose drug store is the hang-out for the Jets. The role has been expanded with the character now singing "Somewhere," the musical's hopeful anthem.

Positive reactions to screenings this week in cities across the nation went viral and have heightened the buzz. "Something's coming, something good, at least if the early responses to Steven Spielberg's remake of /West Side Story/ are any indication," reports the Oscar prognosticating site Gold Derby.

"The highly anticipated 20th Century Studios film had its first screenings in New York and Los Angeles on Monday night and left audiences thrilled with how Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner reconceptualized, reconfigured, and restaged the 1961 musical adaptation from Robert Wise that won Best Picture."

Back in September, the late Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the musical's lyrics, gushed about the film to Stephen Colbert.

"It's terrific," Sondheim said. "Again, touting my own work. No, it's really terrific. Everybody go. You'll really have a good time. And for those of you who know the show, there are going to be some real surprises because Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay, has done some really imaginative and surprising things with the way the songs are used in the story. And the whole thing has real sparkle to it and real energy and it feels fresh. It's just really first-rate and movie musicals are hard to do and this one, Spielberg and Kushner really, really nailed it."

Reviews are embargoed until Thursday, but here are some of the responses from Twitter from some who attended early screenings: