I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…


Monday, December 5, 2011

Wings, 1927










Not Rated

This film won the Academy’s very first distinguished top honor. “Wings” won Best Picture for the 1927-28 season and is the only silent film that has won (to date that is… ironically, there’s currently some “Oscar buzz” about “The Artist” which is a B&W silent film out now in select theatres). “Wings” is also one of only 3 winning films in history to NOT have the Director up for Best Director. In addition to that, it is the only film in history to technically win the award for “Best Engineering Effects”…. It’s because they scrapped that category the following year. It came back in the ‘40’s as Best Special Effects and is known now as Best Visual Effects. Considering the year of its release and the technology available then, I am not surprised it won such an award.

The competition wasn’t as stiff back then as it was only up against “The Racket” and “Seventh Heaven”. (For some reason, two other films were omitted from the list.) Interestingly, the first “talking picture” came out this year but was ineligible for the win because it wasn’t fair competition for the other silent films. However, sound effects were actually recorded for some of the action scenes involving airplanes and explosions in “Wings” and were played during the film in some theatres. It’s kind of confusing though, because there were really two Best Picture wins… The Academy originally wanted two winners and so they awarded “Wings” with Most Outstanding Motion Picture Production (which became known as Best Picture) and another silent film “Sunrise” with Most Unique, Artistic, Worthy, and Original Production. Did you understand that? If so, can you explain it to me? I would assume a film that was outstanding was also unique, artistic, worthy, and original. The next year, they scrapped that superfluous second category and for history’s sake, “Wings” became known as the first Best Picture winner. One of these days I’ll get around to watching the film whose award describes it as the better picture.

You used to be able to only buy this film on VHS or be lucky enough to catch it airing on TCM (the Turner Classic Movie Channel). Netflix doesn’t even offer it. But, if you’re interested in it after reading my post, you’ll be able to buy it on Blu-ray for the first time on January 24, 2012.

The story is about two young men, Jack and David, who leave to fight in World War I as pilots in 1917. They leave behind a girl they both have their eyes on, in addition to another girl, Mary, who is hopelessly in love with Jack, but he doesn’t notice. (Mary eventually joins the war too by driving first aid trucks.) The men do such a good job fending off the Germans in their planes, that they get decorated. With that, comes a leave to Paris and a night of too much champagne. However, they’re immediately called back because it’s time for “The Big Push” (all the Allies fighting together in a last big attack). David is attacked in his plane and goes down (with apparently eight more lives though). He’s able to hijack a German plane to fly back to base. But in one last ironic twist of fate, his best buddy Jack shoots him down in the enemy plane. Here they are in a touching scene very near the end:


After reading some commentaries online, I found there’s some mixed thoughts about this film. Some see the intense relationship between Jack and David as romantic. And one might think so if looking at the picture above. There’s even a kiss (on the side of the mouth) just after that shot. My personal thought is that that’s how intense relationships among same sexes were back then. The next year’s Best Picture winner, “The Broadway Melody”, for example, had the sisters share a kiss that lasted longer than a couple seconds. In this film, David gives his mother a big kiss goodbye, on the lips. I think that’s just the way it was done. But I am no expert on homosexuality in early theatre, and judging by the look on Mary’s face in this picture, maybe there is something more going on there… who really knows?


This was my first viewing of a silent film all the way through and I knew beforehand that I’m not one to really appreciate them. Even the ever-present, constant, never-ending organ music couldn’t keep me completely focused or invested. The film has black screens that pop up every once in a while for dialogue which help clarify some scenes but overall, it is a simple enough story to follow. What I find interesting though, is that the dialogue most definitely does not fit the words coming out of their mouths (verbatim). I’m not the best lip reader, especially when it seems as though the film was shot a bit faster than real time, but anyone could tell the words don’t match. I guess the point is just to get the gist. The actors make up for not being heard with their extreme facial expressions and body movements throughout most of the movie. (Hopefully, if I open my eyes wide enough, he will know I’m scared/angry/surprised….) I also don’t like how the camera would cut off an actor mid-word or sentence. Can’t the guy get a full shot before you cut to the other actor (or dialogue card)??

I know little about aviation and I was surprised at how these men flew planes with absolutely no covering over their heads AND no helmets. I mean, really. If the plane were to go down (from 10,000 feet!), wouldn’t you want a little bit of insurance if it just meant putting on a hard hat? But, I guess that would prevent them from being able to look around in every direction for attackers. The aerial footage is another thing that makes this film special. The dogfights made the planes look like birds circling around prey down below. It was artistic and I can only assume how incredibly difficult it was to get the amazing shots of those fight scenes and crashes… something we take for granted now with CGI. What’s even more amazing is that I read these two actors really were up in the air. There were no rear projections screens or cinema “tricks”.

I had to look up the word “Heinies” since the pilots throw that word around a bit. I was correct in assuming it was a term for the Germans- a derogatory one that was short for the common German name Heinrich. I only was familiar with my Grammie’s use of that word for “buttocks”.

At the very beginning of the film, it is written: To those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated. I think this is a beautiful dedication and it makes me think… Books are often dedicated to the people who inspired the authors; why aren’t more movies?

FAVORITE SCENE:

The last few scenes kept me pretty glued to the screen following David’s trek back to the safe land. The friend’s farewell scene (pictured above) is tender and heartbreaking.

LESSONS LEARNED:

The fraternal bonds formed in war are profound and unbreakable. David and Jack learned together, flew together, and looked out for and defended each other, even though they started out fighting over the same girl. I know that men who fight in wars together have an unmistakable bond.

Don’t go chasing after a boy who doesn’t love you. Thankfully for Mary, Jack does realize that he loves her, but for a while, she was looking a little desperate, and that’s not attractive.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Godfather, Part II, 1974










Rated R

I had seen both Parts 1 and 2 once before this challenge and I remembered far more about the original film than the sequel. I still think this film is entertaining, but I guess that’s an indication of its lasting impression on me.

The second film in this trilogy serves as a prologue as well as a sequel. We left the first film with Michael Corleone being privately hailed as the new “Godfather” of the family/community after his father Vito’s heart attack. This film flashes back in time, mainly to 1920’s New York to show Vito Corleone’s life prior to and becoming the “Godfather”. Interspersed in that, is the continuing story of Michael in present day 1958. He’s invested in casinos in Las Vegas and Cuba and trying to make sure the Corleone name isn’t tarnished (for being what they really are: a mafia family). This film doesn’t have as much bloodshed as the first, but what it does have is more graphic, so beware.

A young and rather dashing Robert DeNiro plays the younger Vito and over time, he flawlessly takes on the same raspy voice Marlon Brando used to voice his character.


And although they obviously never acted in a scene together, I could still appreciate this picture I found of Al Pacino and him online.


This sequel is quite lengthy (3 hours, 22 minutes) and requires two discs. I’m sure that could’ve been shaved down a bit as the beginning hour is rather uneventful. The film finishes, in my opinion, with several questions left unanswered. I’m pretty sure they weren’t intending on making a third film 16 years later, so they must’ve wanted to leave things open-ended to allow for varying interpretations. I prefer my movies to wrap up all loose ends. Otherwise, it makes me nervous.

I forgot to add in my post about the previous film, how brilliant I think Robert Duvall is in these films. He plays the role of “consigliere” (advisor, trusted lawyer, friend, right-hand man, son/brother they never had). He is stoic, confidant, and just plain smart in these films. I was first introduced to Duvall in my favorite Disney musical, “Newsies”, when he played newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer.

This film beat out the following films for the top award: “The Conversation”, “Chinatown”, “Lenny” and “The Towering Inferno”. I haven’t seen any of them so I can’t rightly compare. This sequel was up for AND won more nominations than the original film. Many critics think it’s better than the first, but I maintain that nothing compares to the original "Godfather". De Niro deservingly won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and became the first actor to win the award primarily speaking a foreign language (Italian, Sicilian dialect). (He previously had auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone in the first film; Coppola remembered him and asked him to come back for the sequel.)

FAVORITE SCENE: (SPOILER ALERT)

I’m disturbed that my favorite scene involves a homicide, but I think the way it was artfully done and the significance it holds are what make it intriguing to me. Near the end of the film, we see the young Vito commit his first murder- the catalyst for his future family reputation. The town “bully” Fanucci is demanding that Vito and his friends owe him a cut of their business. Instead of giving in (and continuing to let Fanucci rule Little Italy based on fear), he decides to take him out of the equation. We hear him reassure his friends and utter those famous words for the first time in his life, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” A festival is going on in the streets and Fanucci, dressed in a white suit, is walking home. Vito is stalking him from the rooftops across the street and enters his building, catching him off guard, and shoots him (an unnecessarily) 3 times. The scene is suspenseful, the camerawork interesting, and the music paired appropriately.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Revenge is not the answer. It is the problem. It is a cycle, really.

I am thankful for my sons’ godfathers (godparents, actually). 1. Because they’re not involved with any mafia (that I know of) and 2. Because my husband and I truly feel confident in them being the other moral guides of our children as they grow.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935










Not Rated

I set my DVR to record a number of these older Best Picture winners back in February when the Turner Classic Movie channel was gearing up for the Oscar season by playing past winners. Last month, I sat down to watch this one and watched the entire 3 hour movie before I discovered I was supposed to have watched the version from 1935… I watched the one made in 1962. After banging my head against the wall, I am now trying to make lemonade from lemons:  I can adequately compare the two versions of the film. Yay. (But will someone please pour me some Bacardi to go with my lemonade…?)

This film is based on the true story of the HMS Bounty, a British ship under the command of the sadistic Captain Bligh in 1787, which undergoes a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian. I discovered this was actually the first remake to win Best Picture. There was one even before this (in 1933)! And geez Louise, there was another remake done in 1984 with Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson, which is apparently the most accurate. (People need to stop making newer versions of this movie. We got it.)

Captain Bligh believes that fear is the best weapon and has no problem inflicting physical pain as punishment for any issue, big or small, aboard his vessel. He is the archetypal villain and you can’t wait for what the title of the movie promises. (For both films, the beginning is pretty slow-moving.) The ship’s mission is to sail to Tahiti where they will pick up the breadfruit plant and transport it back to England. Fletcher Christian (whose last name is truly poetic) is second-in-command and takes his post seriously, but on their way back home, he finally has enough of Bligh’s treatment of his men, and organizes a mutiny.

In this version, Mr. Christian is played by Clark Gable (sans ‘stache). This was my third Gable film, and I’m realizing that he pretty much acts the same in all his roles; which is ok- he’s still charming to me. He’s a very fast talker too.


In the later version, Marlon Brando plays Fletcher Christian and he reminded me of Billy Zane in “Titanic”. Both Clark and Marlon played the role well.



There were so many little (and big) differences in the storylines of both versions that I’m wondering which was more true… or was the real-life story kind of vague so Hollywood padded it with more drama or suspense? The bigger differences came at the end. In the winning film, Bligh and his followers are cast off in a small boat to fend for themselves. After having run out of food on an impossible 40+ day journey at sea, we later see him on a huge ship (like the Bounty) demanding to find Fletcher. Whaaat? In both films, Fletcher and his mutinous crew decide to head back to Tahiti than face their deaths in England. In this version, Fletcher marries his fling (from their brief stay on the island) and they have children. In the 1962 version, the Bounty is set ablaze by Fletcher’s crew after they hear he wants to return to England. Fletcher dies from burns trying to save it. Bligh makes it back to England and receives a slap on the wrist for his treatment of his crew in the second film, and a minor congratulation for his impressive sailing in the first. And in the real-life version, Bligh was later promoted in the British Navy!! Appalling.

Although it had eight nominations, “Mutiny on the Bounty” only received the Best Picture award which is very unusual. This film beat out the following films for the coveted award: “Alice Adams”, “The Broadway Melody of 1936” (I’m confused because it’s only 1935….??), “Captain Blood”, “David Copperfield”, “The Informer”, “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Les Miserables”, “Naughty Marietta”, “Ruggles of Red Gap”, and “Top Hat”. I have seen none of those films, but I know that some of these nominees have become classics. Clark Gable lost the Best Actor award which is a little ironic considering he won it the year before for the low-budget light-hearted romantic comedy “It Happened One Night” (which I recommend).

A bit of trivia for ya: this was the first year that the gold statuettes were named “Oscars”. (I honestly didn’t know that name went back that far…)

FAVORITE SCENE:

I’m sorry, I don’t have a favorite scene in this film… but there was one shot in particular that caught my eye:


It immediately reminded me of the part of Pirates of the Caribbean (the ride at Disneyland) where the boat you’re seated in comes through a misty tunnel and you spot the pirate ship in the water for the first time. (Wish I could’ve found a picture of that online.)

LESSONS LEARNED:

Stand up against violence. Granted, Christian let it go on longer than I could have stomached, he did eventually throw the rules overboard (pun intended) and put a stop to the unnecessary cruelty, risking his career and life.

I would not survive one day aboard a ship like that. What with the nauseating back and forth motion of the water, the claustrophobia below decks, the stale food and restricted rations, the back-breaking manual labor in order to make the ship sail, and nowhere to hide from the weather, I’d be shark bait for sure.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946









Not Rated

Veteran’s Day was just last week, so I thought it appropriate to see a film about three veterans of World War II coming home and adjusting to life in their civilian clothes. Al, a sergeant in the army, Fred, an officer in the air force, and Homer, a sailor, all return home to Boone City (a typical small-town suburb) and share a cab from the airport.

Once home, they soon discover how things have changed. One immediately decides to paint the town red with his wife and daughter and drinks himself into oblivion. One can’t seem to get a job with decent pay and later realizes his wife kept busy while he was away. The other becomes conscious to the awkwardness that people (his family, girlfriend, and townfolk) have toward him because of his new handicap. Although this film is a drama, there are some comedic lines and there’s romance too- a little bit of everything for everybody.

The title of the film is somewhat ironic. You get the impression not long after they’ve arrived home that their years of service were these men’s “best years of their lives”. The hardships they have to face when they come home make for a rude awakening in many ways. However, you could also see that they may feel at times that they gave up the “best years of their lives” by going off to war. People changed while they were away and they’re not the men they once were.

This film was poignant for its time because it gave the audience a look at the effects the war had on the servicemen who returned. Many suffered from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) but no one really knew what that was or how to deal with it. The air force officer seems to be fighting off depression coupled with nightmares, and his maddening wife asks him, “Can’t you get it out of your system? C’mon, snap out of it!” Because of this, I think it was a very appropriate win for its time. The war was just barely over and audiences were really dealing with these issues in present day. There was a noticeable difference in war movies then. Films that came out during the war were very patriotic and supportive, rallying troops to do the right thing and defend their country. Post-war films shed light on the effects.

In one of the beginning scenes, the three men are in the cockpit of a small plane (coming home) and they start smoking! Seriously. It reminded me how much those old signs that are still in the airplane lavatories bug me: “Do not throw cigarettes in trash receptacle.” Obviously, they were relevant back then, but now, really? They told us we can’t smoke on the plane… so, why don’t they update it and say “Do not throw guns, knives, or bombs in here either please.”


One particular bit of dialogue caught me off-guard in the film. The ex-sergeant is presenting his teenage son with some “souvenirs” from the war (a Japanese flag, etc.) The son tells his father, “The Japanese attach a lot of importance to their family relationships.” He responds, “They’re entirely different from us.” I didn’t know how to take that. Did the audience laugh at that line because it was meant to be sarcastic? Or was it meant to be the truth? Perhaps the importance of traditions can vary from culture to culture or even family to family, but I’d like to argue that we Americans place a high value on family relationships too.

A few minutes later, the daughter excuses herself to clean up the kitchen. Apparently the Dad is surprised they don’t have help and she defensively explains, “It’s okay Dad, I took a course in domestic science.” Nice. I didn’t know it was a science. I should start telling people I’m a stay-at-home mom with a PhD.   

There is a wedding at the end of the film (I won’t tell you whose) and the Wedding March is sung. Here are the lyrics in case you didn’t know:
“Here comes the bride, all dressed in white,
Sweetly serene in the soft, flowing light;
Lovely to see, marching to thee,
Sweet love united for eternity.”
And here I thought it was “Here come the bride, all dressed in white. Here comes the groom, skinny as a broom.”

This film was up against “Henry V”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” which would have won my vote (and surprisingly took home NO awards from its five nominations), “The Razor’s Edge”, and “The Yearling” another nominee based off a children’s novel. It won seven of its eight nominations. Frederic March won Best Actor for his role of the alcoholic ex-sergeant in this movie, but I think James Stewart should have won that hands down for his role of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I’m sure Gregory Peck gave him a run for his money too though. First-time actor Harold Russell won Best Supporting Actor for his role of Homer. The real-life double-amputee received another Honorary Oscar “for bringing hope and courage to fellow veterans” making him the only actor in Oscar history to win two awards for the same role. This film also won Best Director: he is the same man who brought us another war film, “Mrs. Miniver”.

FAVORITE SCENE:

Homer starts to shut himself off from receiving his girlfriend’s love for fear she will run the first time she sees how dependent he is. He finally invites her up to his room to see how he gets ready for bed. I was happy to see the stubborn guy realize this woman truly loved him for who he is, not what he looks like. The pity party he was throwing himself (in terms of romance only) was starting to irritate me.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Are you living in the “best years of your life”? No matter what age you are, live life with passion and vitality so you’ll never have to say, “those were the best years of my life”. (Of course, feel free to look back with fondness and appreciation over the good times though.)

Pray for our veterans and remain sensitive when talking about their service. Adjustment is hard and many of them may think we have no idea what was really going on “over there”. If they’re willing to share their stories, listen and learn.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Last Emperor, 1987










Rated PG-13

I didn’t particularly enjoy this movie. It took me several days to finish, which is never a good sign. I didn’t think it was that captivating and I had a lot of questions that arose when watching it. Many of them I’m sure came from the sad fact that I know very little of Chinese history, culture, and government. But it just wasn’t a movie that excited me, and I’m realizing by looking at other reviews, that I am in the minority.

This historical epic is the true story of Pu Yi, who became the last emperor of China at the age of three. The film spans almost sixty years and is told in flashback form. This is as much as I understood of the storyline: not long after he is installed as Emperor, China becomes a Republic, but Pu Yi is to remain “protected” in the Forbidden City. He develops a trusting friendship with his Scottish tutor played by Peter O’Toole*. Pu Yi decides to marry (two wives) and as an adult, clears the palace of corrupt employees (?) who have been stealing and basically holding him prisoner. The City gets invaded and Pu Yi goes to Japan. But then he goes back to Manchuria, which is now called Manchukuo, and I got the impression he is some kind of political pawn and that he really has no power anymore. (This is now during World War II.) They’re then invaded by the Russians and he is taken prisoner for treason and conspiracy (…I think, but I don’t know why or if it’s true). After years of rehabilitation, he is released as a citizen into Communist China and works as a gardener. He visits his temple in the Forbidden City as a tourist one last time before his death.

So if that storyline intrigues you or you know so much more about it than I, please feel free to watch it and let me know what you think. As I said before, I was somewhat bored and confused. There were so many things I just didn’t understand. Why was a three year old appointed Emperor in the first place? Why, when he grew up in the Forbidden City, was he sheltered from the new government that was being formed outside the City walls? Why was he accused of being a traitor? I also didn’t understand why as a ten year old, he still needed a wet nurse…. that is an image that continues to haunt me. Another scene of confusion: Before being clued in that the Empress is addicted to opium, we see her sit down and start eating flowers in the middle of a party… greens and all. I didn’t know if this was a type of edible plant in Japan and normal in their culture or if she was just going crazy and suffering from some adult-form of Pica Syndrome.

I get the impression this film was kind of a big deal. I’ll give it props for being the only film ever to be filmed within the walls of the Forbidden City in China. It also had 19,000 extras and 9,000 costumes, so that’s impressive. But “The Last Emperor” walked away from the award show with a clean sweep! It received awards for nine of its nine nominations. Only two other films have accomplished that: “Lord of the Rings” in ‘03 and “Gigi” in ’58.

I don’t think this was an especially fantastic year for movies. It was up against “Broadcast News” (haven’t seen it but it won NO awards), “Fatal Attraction” (which I know is popular but I haven’t seen it; it also won NO awards), “Hope and Glory” (haven’t seen it but it won NO awards), and “Moonstruck” (which I also haven’t seen but know that Cher infamously yells, “Snap out of it!” and slaps Nicolas Cage in it; it won only three awards). “Good Morning Vietnam” (which, surprise!, I haven’t seen) was also made this year but not up for Best Picture. If I could go back in time, I would pull a Kanye and pull the microphone away from the winner and announce that I thought “The Princess Bride” should’ve won!

*I can’t believe I didn’t recognize Peter O’Toole from “Lawrence of Arabia”… my, how twenty-five years can change a face! But my husband immediately recognized him as the voice of Anton Ego in “Ratatouille”. (I love my hubby a little more for that detection.)




FAVORITE SCENE:

No scene stood out as my favorite, but anytime a grand shot like this was shown, it was hard not to be in awe.


I also could’ve reached into the film and kissed his Majesty’s cheeks to death in the beginning. He’s so smooshy.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Don’t trust politicians. (Pretty sure I learned that lesson in “All the King’s Men”.)

Three year olds can’t affectively run the country. This is not news to me as I have a three year old, but apparently China learned that lesson.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Godfather, 1972










Rated R

This movie is straight up gansta. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, (whose winery in Sonoma is amazing by the way), this landmark film about the Italian mafia family of New York was the highest grossing film of its time. (I didn’t know that it was a modern take on Shakespeare’s King Lear.) It is a story of crime, power, corruption, honor, and justice in the 1940’s.

Marlon Brando plays Don Vito Corleone, the patriarch of the crime family/“the Godfather”, superbly. His cheeks are as famous as he is in this film; supposedly, he stuffed his gums with cotton balls in order for his character to appear like a “bulldog” and then had a custom mouthpiece made for the filming. There are five other crime families in New York and “The Don” finds himself and his family in a bit of trouble when they refuse to operate a drug trade with the other families.


Al Pacino (also superb) plays Vito’s son Michael who does not want to get involved in the family business. At the beginning of the film, after telling his girlfriend Kay a quick story about the way his family does business, Michael reassures her, “That’s my family Kay… that’s not me”. However, after his father’s attempted murder(s), at the end of the film, Michael himself, is responsible for many murders and is being “crowned” the new Don of the family, the new Godfather… cue “The Godfather Part II”.

A few times I found it hard to keep track of who’s who especially when the other five mafia families from around the country get involved. There were too many names and deaths. But I did follow the story better this time than when my husband first showed it to me eight years ago. I had to look up the term “guinea” which was being thrown around quite a bit in the film. Apparently, for Italians, it is the equivalent of the n-word for African Americans.

“The Godfather” is at the top of every list of must-see classics. It’s a part of pop culture and references are everywhere. For that alone, I recommend this film… but I also think it’s worth it. The film is home for some of the most unforgettable movie lines. For instance…
- “He sleeps with the fishes.” …which means he’s dead
- “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” …which means he’s going to bribe/force somebody to do something in an illegal and/or dangerous way
- “Go to the mattresses.” …which means prepare for battle/all-out war (I don’t know why it means that, but I’m suddenly remembering that it is referenced by Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Mail”.)

“The Godfather” was up against “Cabaret” with the am-AH-zing Liza Minnelli, “The Emigrants”, “Deliverance”, and “Sounder” (which I remember to be a children’s novel). “Cabaret” and “The Godfather” were tied with ten nominations each. Interestingly, “Cabaret” received eight awards, while “The Godfather” walked away with only three! One of which was Best Actor, but Marlon Brando refused to accept it; he was boycotting on behalf of American Indian Rights and sent an activist to read a speech in his place. Also worthy of noting: the Best Music (Original Dramatic Score) nomination was revoked when it was discovered that the composer’s score had already been used in other films!! Apparently, he wrote some of the music for a comedy in 1958 when it was played brisk and staccato, very different from when it was replayed for “The Godfather”.

FAVORITE SCENE:

One of the most suspenseful scenes is when Michael meets a couple crooked cops at a restaurant in order to straighten things out, but really wants revenge. Most of their dinner conversation is in Italian and is NOT subtitled, so it’s frustrating not knowing what’s being said. You don’t know if Michael has the guts to go through with it and if he does, will he get caught?


LESSONS LEARNED:

Be a man/woman of your word. The Godfather certainly respected and demanded honesty and trust. If you don’t make promises you can’t keep, you won’t get into trouble.

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. It’s easy to take some things personally, even when they may not be intended that way. Stay calm and take a minute to think before you respond out of anger, jealousy, hurt, etc.

And another famous line… “Leave the gun… Take the cannoli.” Sometimes you gotta leave work alone and take time to enjoy life’s finer things. J

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Amadeus, 1984










Rated R

I feel like I should have already known all about this movie since I was made to watch it every year in my high school choir class, and if I recall correctly, sometimes more than once a year. I think it was my favorite teacher’s “go-to” movie to put on if he wasn’t feeling well. Instead, I took it as an invitation to doodle on my binder or flirt with the cute senior who is now my husband (time well spent, in my opinion). Alas, all I could say was I knew it was about a crazy musician who I assumed was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

 “Amadeus” is based on a play and is the story of Mozart and fellow composer Antonio Salieri. I’m sure you’re thinking, Boring! There’s no way I want to see a movie about 18th century classical composers. But give it a chance. Mozart’s pink wig and maniacal laugh (that you love to hate, or hate that you love) might just help change your mind.  And the intense jealousy that comes from his competitor Salieri will keep you in suspense.

In an attempt to entice you to rent the film, I’ll give the synopsis…The film is told in flashback form starting with an old Salieri confessing to Mozart’s murder and his own attempt at suicide as a result of the guilt. Mozart was a child prodigy who quickly found favor in the court and rises to celebrated status (although he is often controversial). Salieri, also favored in the court, is not pleased with this newcomer since he makes him look more mediocre. Instead of “playing for God” as he once wanted to do, Salieri starts devoting his time to destroying Mozart’s career, convinced God is playing an unfair game of favorites. He mysteriously commissions Mozart to compose a Requiem (a funeral mass). His plan is to murder him, claim the piece as his own, and ironically play it at Mozart’s funeral. Plans get foiled, but it seems that Salieri did still play a role in his death: Mozart collapses under the pressure of composing something so magnificent so quickly, and his death becomes rather poetic.

It is brilliantly acted by both Tom Hulce (Mozart) and F. Murray Abraham (Salieri). I wish they could have split the Best Actor award (maybe with the slight edge to Tom); both were nominated but Abraham walked away with the statuette. You have to use your imagination a bit as Tom looks and sounds about as American as they come, but his performance as the flamboyant musical genius is entertaining. Mozart was like other artists who loved to gamble, drink, take medication, and work too hard. There are moments in the movie, you think he’s actually gone mad. (And those parts reminded me a little of Gene Wilder in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”.)


Mozart composed “The Magic Flute” just one year before his death. I think it is a remarkable piece. The woman who has to sing those notes, specifically in :45-1:00, is nothing short of amazing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OP9SX7V14Z4

Once again, I find myself having an issue with the original movie poster- this time, with its tagline “Everything you’ve heard is true”. Well, kind of. Even a special feature on the DVD says they used a “storyteller’s dramatic license”. Supposedly, Salieri did not write out the dying man’s music in real life as he does in the film, but that just makes for awesome irony, doesn’t it? Salieri DID feel tremendous guilt during the rest of his life however, and did “confess” to Mozart’s murder and his own attempted suicide, which found him a place in an insane asylum. I was surprised to learn that Mozart died penniless (because of his debts) and was buried in a pauper’s grave.

I recognized Cynthia Nixon (from “Sex and the City”) this time around as the small-part maidservant who Salieri hires to spy for him in the Mozart household. She looks so young and plays the part of the timid and terrified hired help quite well.

“Amadeus” was up against “The Killing Fields”, “A Passage to India”, “Places in the Heart”, and “A Soldier’s Story”, none of which I’ve heard of or seen. Although “Amadeus” made the most at the box office that year, it tied with “A Passage for India” with eleven nominations each, so that also must have been a popular film. “Amadeus” won eight of its eleven nominations including the obvious Best Costume Design and Best Make Up awards. 

FAVORITE SCENE:
The one that had my eyes glued to the screen was one near the very end. Mozart is lying on his deathbed dictating the music in his head to Salieri who is ferociously writing it down (in hopes of eventually claiming it as his own). I am in awe of talent like that, on both their parts. Mozart hears the many instruments playing simultaneously in his head and is able to express that to another musician who can also be made to hear it (though not as fast or well) and can write it down correctly. Amazing.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Jealously is a scary thing, especially if you let it overpower you. Learn to applaud others for their accomplishments. Don’t take it as a direct hit to your own self-worth. Recognize the good in yourself and have a healthy desire to strive to be better.

God gives each of us natural gifts. Cultivate those gifts and help them to grow as a way to please and thank God.

Know when to say, “Enough is enough”. Sometimes we need to slow down or stop altogether when our schedules get packed. Before we know it, time has passed too quickly or, like Mozart, we can fall ill.

*Mr A... I apologize for not appreciating this film when you showed it to us; I hope I have done you proud now.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

West Side Story, 1961










Not Rated

One of the greatest musicals of all time won Best Picture when it was adapted for the big screen in 1961. I doubt that anyone out there is completely unfamiliar with the storyline, but just in case, it is a modern-day (in the ‘60s) version of “Romeo & Juliet”. Two gangs of teenage boys (of different races) fight to defend their turf and their pride on the streets of Manhattan. Maria, (played by a not-at-all Puerto Rican Natalie Wood), falls in love at first sight with Tony, a “Polack” from the city. Pride is too important and unfortunately meaningless deaths occur, although only one of our star-crossed lovers dies at the end of this story.

I’m being completely honest when I say I didn’t know the feuding was due to race when I watched this when I was younger… very young. Race was one of those things I didn’t really seem to notice. Much like I didn’t even know the Cosbys were African-American. I figured the “Jets” and the “Sharks” were fighting because they were silly boys and that’s what testosterone can do to a male. (I still think fighting is silly, though.)

The soundtrack, in my opinion, is classic and flawless. Every song is meaningful and well placed in the story. Many of them have beats that make you want to get up and dance along with them (although I doubt you’ll look as graceful and athletic as them). I’m dedicating this post to my Dad who went around the house singing any one of these songs throughout most of my childhood, including some of the dialogue like, “Now I know Tony, like I know me” (said with a thick NY accent).

The dances’ choreography is beautiful and the dancers perform it with such stunning synchronicity. In fact, choreographer Jerome Robbins was awarded a special statuette at the ceremony for his remarkable achievement in the art of choreography. There’s also great camerawork during the dance scenes. Sometimes the camera is slightly above them in order to see their formations.


And speaking of camerawork, it was almost as if they took the rules of the theatre to heart in the film version as well: in the majority of the scenes, no one is really blocked from the camera. In groups, they are strategically placed so that the audience can see every face. See below:


I particularly noticed the costumes this time around and how the different “sides” were in similar hues at the town dance. The “Sharks” and their girls were decked out in purples, reds, and blues, while the “Jets” clashed with their mustard yellows, oranges, and grays.


“West Side Story” won an amazing ten of its eleven Oscar nominations and was up against “Fanny”, “The Guns of Navarone”, “The Hustler”, and “Judgment at Nuremberg”. I haven’t seen or heard of any of those. This was the first (and only) time that co-directors have won the Best Director(s) award (Robbins and Wise). Natalie was not nominated for Best Actress for this role, but she was for her role in another movie this year “Splendor in the Grass” (which I didn’t particularly enjoy). Interestingly, both leads’ singing voices in this film were dubbed over by other voices. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was another film that came out this year but wasn’t nominated for the top award; it did win Best (Dramatic or Comedy) Score and Best Song ironically!

FAVORTIE SCENES:

I like to consider myself a dancer, even though I haven’t done so regularly since high school (aside from the time I took ballet when I was pregnant). This is probably why I’m drawn to the main dancing scene of the film where the two gangs refuse to mingle while doing the Mambo, among other dances. (It reaffirmed why I like watching “Dancing with the Stars”.)


This time, I particularly enjoyed the pretend wedding scene in Maria’s family’s dress shop where she and Tony confirm their love for each other. I thought the angle they shot it at was unique.


And as lover of psychology, one of my favorite songs is “Officer Krupke”. The Jets sing about their juvenile delinquency and it is quite witty, while at the same time, sadly and considerably true.



LESSONS LEARNED:

Don’t be so territorial (or too proud). Those boys needed a lesson in sharing space.

Do not tolerate bullying. But don’t combat it with fisticuffs.

I still pray that someday, we’ll find a new way of living, and a way of forgiving. There’s a need for more compassion and humility in our world. We need to tone down our selfishness and think of others.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Apartment, 1960










Not Rated

This film follows C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, who attempts to climb the corporate ladder a little faster by renting out his apartment to his superiors for their extra-marital affairs. And boom! - sexual innuendos and references are no longer watered down in the movies, they’re right out there as the main plot. This movie is considered a comedy/tragi-drama – an interesting genre in my opinion. But I guess it does seem to capture it all.

Baxter is quite a push-over and will even wait outside in the snow or rain waiting for his co-workers’ late dates to wrap up. He ends up falling for the office elevator operator (they had those?) played by Shirley MacLaine. Little does he know though that she is fling #whatever of his boss’s. Fran (MacLaine) is devastated when she discovers she’s just another one of his flames and attempts suicide when left alone in Baxter’s apartment. The film has a pretty light tone overall which kind of eases the tension when things get dark. All ends well though for those worried about a happy ending.

This movie was considered quite risqué for its time. Nothing obviously is shown (in that regard), but the mere talk of it (which is the main premise of the movie) made it daring. This now may not come as a shock to you to find out that this is the same director that brought us “The Lost Weekend” (the first movie to really deal with alcoholism).

“The Apartment” was up against “The Alamo”, “Elmer Gantry”, “Sons and Lovers”, and “The Sundowners”- NONE of which I’ve even heard of… although I hadn’t even heard of the winner either. It won half of its nominations including Best Director, Best Writing, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. I’m not sure about those last three wins… Although, I’m a little surprised it won Best Picture to begin with. Yes, it may have pushed some boundaries (which the Academy historically seems to favor), but overall, the movie was kind of no big deal. It’s not one I would necessarily recommend or rave about. It’s like any other “comedy/tragi-drama” that comes into theatres nowadays. I would have guessed that John Wayne’s big-budget film about the battle for independence at the Alamo would’ve snagged the award. ANNNNDD… guess what other movie was made this year but not even up for nomination? “Psycho”! – I haven’t seen it but I’m pretty sure it’s a popular movie.

SCENE:

In one particularly comical scene, a sick Baxter (from standing out in the cold the night before) is called into his fast-talking superior’s office and questioned about a key that’s floating around the office. Thinking he’s busted for spreading immorality around his work environment, he gets quite anxious and accidentally squirts nasal spray all over the office. Turns out, boss man (Fred McMurray, who is cast against type) just wants in on the action.


And how about when Baxter makes dinner for Fran and strains the spaghetti with his tennis racket…?


LESSONS LEARNED:

Stand up for yourself. Don’t let people walk all over you, even if you think you’ll benefit from it later.

And definitely don’t be the keeper of people’s dirty little secrets.