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…


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cavalcade, 1933











Not Rated

This British drama won Best Picture for the 1932/33 Awards show held in March of 1934. It was the only time nominations were gathered from a 17-month period. From this year forward, the Academy kept the nominations from films in a single year. This film is one of only two that you will NOT find on DVD. You can rent it on VHS or be lucky enough to catch it on the TCM channel, like I did. It definitely wasn't the most riveting film I've seen though... it took me three nights to get through.

After looking up the title word of this movie, I’ve concluded that it must refer to its third definition. Its story is surely a cavalcade, or “noteworthy series of events”- unfortunate ones at that. This film was loosely based on a play by the same name and spans thirty years, from New Year’s Eve 1899 to New Year’s Eve 1932. It is basically the story of an upper-class family and their working-class family servants. The dawn of the century brings with it changes and hardships that have to be endured by the families. As viewers, we see the impact of the Boer War [did I fall asleep in history class when we discussed that one…??], the death of Queen Victoria, World War I, the sinking of the Titanic, and at the end, the birth of jazz.  I’m not sure I would say this is an “anti-war” film but it definitely expresses how irrational and wasteful war can be. War is referred to as a way for men to earn their stripes and for nations to flex their muscles. The butler even tells his maidservant wife, “We have to have wars every now and then just to prove we’re top dog”.

I often wondered throughout the movie if people really talked that way and especially if they kissed that way. They were the type of rather short but passionate kisses where they (almost violently) pull each other so close as if trying to take up no more space than one person would- the kind you only see in movies.

The movie ends with a montage of scenes and sounds, one incorporating a jazzy tune with the lyric “chaos and confusion”. I realized that this was the epitome of their lives back then. It was a time of extreme change and obviously accompanying confusion. You feel for the characters as they learn to deal with the tumultuous times.

I caught a little boo-boo in the film however… My husband often jokes that I should be a fact-checker or editor on a movie set; I wish I was around for them in 1932. When the honeymooners (that I discuss later in MY FAVORITE SCENE) finish their conversation aboard a massive ship, they walk away to reveal a life preserver that says “TITANIC – Southampton”. And the music goes, “Dun, dun, DUN!” First, let me say, that I wasn’t at all surprised by this, like the other viewers I read about. Perhaps that is because I’ve seen that Best Picture winner from 1997 over fifteen times and am actually a little obsessed with that ship. The scene starts with the title “April 14, 1912” for goodness sake… I thought everybody in America knew that’s when it went down. Anyways, my point: the real Titanic was registered in Liverpool, not Southampton. So there.

“Cavalcade” was up against “A Farewell to Arms”, “Lady for a Day”, “The Private Life of Henry VIII”, “Smilin' Through”, “State Fair”, “I’m a Fugitive from a Chain Gang”, “Little Women”, “She Done Him Wrong”, and “42nd Street”. I’ve only seen the last one simply because I’ve had the pleasure in starring in that musical twice. The Director of “Cavalcade”, Frank Lloyd, won for Best Director and inadvertently embarrassed the other director, Frank Capra, when they both stood up to receive the award after the host said, “Come on up and get it Frank!”. Frank Lloyd is one of the 36 founders and later became the President of the Academy. The movie won one other award for Best Art Direction/Decoration.

FAVORITE SCENE:

This poetic scene takes place on one of the decks of the Titanic. The honeymooners are reveling in their love for each other when the new wife simply states that she wouldn’t mind dying; she could even die tonight. She adoringly looks into her husband’s eyes, saying, “We could never in our whole lives be happier than we are now.” Even though it is a morbid thought, I know I want to feel that way before I die.   



LESSONS LEARNED:

Stemming from my favorite scene…
Don’t be afraid of anything.
Be happy right now.
You never know when you’re number is up, so live life joyfully. Then, in turn, you shouldn’t be afraid of death.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forrest Gump, 1994











Rated PG-13

Ah… Forrest. Forrest Gump. How do I begin to write about a movie that has been ingrained so deep in popular culture? I bet if you stopped anybody on the street today, s/he could recite at least one "Gumpism" from this movie. How did a movie get away with SO many memorable phrases without being corny?

“Forrest Gump” is a drama with basically no plot. I’ve seen this movie several times before, but I still asked myself about an hour into it, “What’s this movie about??” It’s a series of recollections spanning four decades that Forrest walks us through while he sits on a bench waiting for a bus. He entertains at least 4 other citizens on that bench while he regales us of his life’s unbelievable journey for over two hours. Forrest is a gentleman with a lower-than-average IQ who proves to us that life is indeed like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna get.

Forrest’s hodge-podge of life adventures include fighting in the Vietnam war, shaking the hands of three US Presidents, discovering the Watergate scandal, becoming an international ping-pong champion, becoming a successful shrimp boat captain, and also somehow coming up with the smiley face icon and the catchphrase “sh*t happens”. Oh, and he’s the one responsible for Elvis’ famous moves.

Although the film invokes a few “come on!”s… there are some deeper and more meaningful moments to take away. While speaking at his beloved Jenny’s grave at the end of the film, he says “I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it's both.” The computer-generated white feather that flows “freely” around in the air at the beginning and end of the movie obviously symbolizes Forrest’s free spirit. Just as the feather blows wherever the wind takes it, Forrest’s life experiences are just as random. I think the use of a feather is especially significant because of its delicate nature. Forrest’s spirit is a delicate one, but not breakable like a dried leaf; he is a resilient individual. Another awesome spark of symbolism I noticed this time around was the sight and sound of birds leaving the tree when Forrest walks away from Jenny’s grave- when she was young, she had prayed for God to make her like a bird so she could fly far, far away. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from the film is the impact that Forrest had on those around him. He is a selfless individual who stays devoted to his loved ones and influences friends and even passerby.

“Forrest Gump” won six awards from its thirteen nominations on Oscar night. This movie was up against “Pulp Fiction”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, and “Quiz Show”. I’ve seen the first two additional nominations and figure this was a tough choice for the Academy. “Shawshank” is one of my favorite movies that I could watch again and again and I think it got snubbed by walking away with no wins. “Forrest Gump” also won Best Visual Effects and Best Film Editing thanks to its cutting-edge editing that allowed for impossible scenes (ie. Forrest meeting the Presidents, his presence at the first day blacks were allowed at school, and Gary Sinise’s amputated legs). And of course, Tom Hanks won for “Best Actor” which is to be expected. I found it fascinating when I learned that this role was first offered to John Travolta, who turned it down. Could you imagine? No worries for him though; he went on to make the cult classic “Pulp Fiction” that year.

FAVORITE SCENES:

Forrest decides to get up and run one day and it results in a cross-country running trip that lasts 3 years. I find this funny because there is nothing I hate more than running. I never FEEL like running. In fact, I often make fun of marathoners (to no one other than myself, really) because they PAY to run. I feel like telling them, “You know, I can run too. Except I can do it anywhere I want and for FREE.”



Forrest’s devotion to his friends in this movie is so moving. When fighting in Vietnam, he goes back into the strike zone and rescues his lieutenant and fellow soldiers because he couldn’t leave them to die.



LESSONS LEARNED:

A promise is a promise. If you make a promise, you better deliver. Forrest promises to join with Bubba to be captains of a shrimp boat and even though his friend perishes, he goes on to do it alone (and gives the money to Bubba’s mama).

Do want you want to do in life. Whether it’s running (ahem), becoming an all-star athlete, chasing after the woman you love, or being the best Mommy you can be, but your whole heart into it and do it to the best of your ability. Life is too short to put things off and you shouldn’t placate yourself with “it’ll get better” or “I’ll do it later”. Do it now. Be happy.

Everyone's life is valuable and has purpose, no matter the IQ. I take this lesson especially personally because I have a younger sister with special needs. There is no doubt in my mind as to the amount of positive impact she has had on her world, as I am thankfully directly affected. Because of charmingly unique individuals like her, there is always a need for compassion in this world.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979











Rated PG

This movie, based on the best-selling novel, is the dramatic story of a couple’s separation, divorce, and custody battle, and the ramifications it has on the newly-single father’s career and family obligations. The novel was a best-seller at the time because it dealt with popular issues such as divorce, custody, feminism, and parental roles.

Dustin Hoffman plays the role of the father, Ted Kramer, absolutely brilliantly thus winning him his first coveted Best Actor award. The movie opens with the mother, Joanna, leaving her husband. Joanna’s friend tries to defend her in a later conversation with Ted, saying she had the courage to leave him. He poignantly asks, “How much courage does it take to walk out on your kid?” From that moment on, you feel for his character and want to root him on as he attempts to tackle single-parenting. I got the impression he might not have been the most hands-on and “aware” dad prior to the split when he asks his son, “What grade are you in?” when dropping him off at school. But, by no means does he throw a pity party or give up and call in help. In fact, he does the opposite. He explains things so well to his little 7 (?) year-old and he continues to speak of his ex-wife with respect when explaining things to him throughout the movie. When divorce can cause such animosity, it was refreshing to see that Dustin’s character kept what was most important as his priority: raising his son in a loving and compassionate home. The looks this father-son team give each other can pull at your heart strings and move you to tears. (The 8 year-old boy who played the son had a well-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor; he was, and still is, the youngest nominated actor.)

Meryl also won her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this movie. (Her face reminds me a little of “Pam” from the “Meet the Parents” trilogy.) Her character doesn’t come back into the movie until half-way through; after being away for 18 months, she comes back asking for her son. Meryl does a fine acting job portraying such a weak character in my opinion. (By “weak” I mean, “you must have no backbone since you left your young son for over a year and a half!”) I was convinced, however, that she truly cares about her son and feels she is better equipped now to care for him, but I still couldn’t get over the resentment I held from the beginning (and the fact that I was so proud of the father that Ted Kramer becomes).

We get to see Kramer vs. Kramer in the courtroom drama and it is emotional to say the least. At the end, while the tears were flowing, I was satisfied with how it was concluded. Both parents knew what was right for their son.

This movie was up against “Norma Rae”, “Apocalypse Now”, “All That Jazz”, and “Breaking Away”. I have heard of the first three but haven’t seen any of them. It won 5 of its 9 nominated awards that night. It was an inexpensive film to make, but it dominated the box office for that year. Once again, I find myself a little surprised at the PG rating- there was some VERY brief full frontal female nudity. I’m also not the biggest fan of the title… maybe if their last name was different, it would work. But all I think of now is that annoying character from Seinfeld.

FAVORITE SCENE:

Father and son are making their morning French toast for what appears to be the last time. It is done in silence but speaks volumes. They are in sync.



LESSONS LEARNED:

Parenting is the hardest and most rewarding job. It is easy to underestimate child-rearing. Everything we do and say is being watched and evaluated by a younger audience who look up to us like idols. Therefore, it is imperative to think before we speak/act. The “I love you”s are worth their weight in gold.

When life gets tough, the tough get tougher. Ted Kramer is a hard-working businessman who shifts priorities in his life to accommodate his son. It isn’t easy for him (or any single parent). A good parent is one who works to be a better one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Green Was My Valley, 1941











Not Rated

“How Green Was My Valley” is a movie based on the best-selling book about the tight-knit Morgan family in a small Welsh coal-mining community at the turn-of-the-century. The story is told through the eyes of the youngest son Huw, who is now a middle-aged man, who recounts the impressionable events during a chunk of time in his childhood. The family’s sentimental story chronicles several years of trials and injustice, as well as issues of family loyalty and romantic but unsatisfied love.

The father was the head of the house and believed in eating dinner in silence for “no one’s talk was better than a good meal.” Huw muses, “If my Father was the head of the house, my Mother was the heart.” When watching how the Father interacts with his sons, I couldn’t help but sadly think, ‘gone are the days when a father can just look at his adolescent boys and command silence and respect.’

The only daughter of the family was played by the beautiful Maureen O’Hara (who I remember from the original “Parent Trap”). She falls hopelessly in love with the town’s preacher, Mr. Gruffyd, whose voice, some musical-lovers like me might recognize as the great Mr. Zeigfeld in “Funny Girl”.

At one touching part in the movie, the Father reads a symbolic passage from Scripture: Psalm 23. He reminds his sons that even in the darkest times in their life, the Lord is with them and will guide them along the right path. This movie is indeed a tender story of life, love, and devotion.

I found it fascinating when I learned that this movie could have been shot in Technicolor, but the director and producer chose to shoot it in black and white. They believed it would make the film more dramatic. It also helped hide the fact that they disguised the hills of Malibu, California as the hills of South Wales. This movie was intended to be a four-hour epic film like “Gone with the Wind” shot on location, but with the impending war and budget cuts, it had to be shortened. On the Netflix wrapper and other online sites, I read that this movie "spans 50 years in the life of the Morgan family". Unless my Mom and I fell asleep for about 45 of those years, there were really only about 5 years documented. Bizarre...

“How Green Was My Valley” was up against “Blossoms in the Dust”, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, “Hold Back the Dawn”, “The Little Foxes”, “The Maltese Falcon”, “One Foot in Heaven”, “Sergeant York”, “Suspicion”, and “Citizen Kane”. I have no doubt that when you read that last movie title, you thought, “‘Citizen Kane’ didn’t win!?” I think most the population would join in that chorus. “Citizen Kane” is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. I’ve seen it and remember being a little bored… I should probably watch it again; but I wasn’t bored with “How Green Was My Valley”. “How Green…” was nominated for ten awards that night and won five. It was an interesting time in Hollywood because Pearl Harbor was bombed just a couple of months before the award show. The community rallied together to boost morale and provide entertainment for the troops.

MY FAVORITE SCENES:

Mr. Gruffyd has a poignant private moment with young Huw in a pasture where he tries to teach him about the importance of prayer. “Keep clean your spirit... by prayer, Huw. And by prayer, I don't mean shouting, mumbling, and wallowing like a hog in religious sentiment. Prayer is only another name for good, clean, direct thinking. When you pray, think. Think well what you're saying. Make your thoughts into things that are solid. In that way, your prayer will have strength, and that strength will become a part of you, body, mind, and spirit.”


In a more light-hearted scene, but still with undertones of seriousness, the town’s boxer pays a visit to Huw’s school teacher. Previously, the teacher whips young Huw for practicing boxing/fighting in the play yard with the other boys. Enraged by the abuse, the older brothers want to give the teacher a taste of his own medicine, but Huw requests that they not.  Instead, Dai Bando (the boxer) and his buddy, make a secret trip there while school’s in session and “teach” the teacher how to box, rendering him passed out on the floor.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Pay attention to lessons taught by an older generation. They are wise for a reason and are trying to pass their wisdom onto you, if you have the heart to listen.

"With strength goes responsibility - to others and to yourselves. For you cannot conquer injustice with more injustice - only with justice and the help of God." This is a quote straight from the good Mr. Gruffyd himself. It reminded me of Martin Luther King Junior’s speech.

You can disagree with a family member and still be respectful and have respect for him/her.  Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, but as long as it is addressed in love and respect, it can prevent the family from being torn apart.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Terms of Endearment, 1983











Rated PG

This movie is what some consider a “hybrid” comedy since it’s kind of a romantic comedy and a romantic drama. “Terms of Endearment” was based on a novel and stars Shirley MacLaine (Best Actress winner) and Debra Winger (Best Actress nominee) as the mother-daughter duo whose relationship is dysfunctional and co-dependent, but honest. The very first scene of the movie shows how smothering Shirley’s character, Aurora, is when she climbs over into the crib and wakes up her newborn daughter to see if she’s breathing. (But, to be honest, I’m pretty sure I climbed halfway into the crib at night to see if my first son was still alive too.)

Their relationship is one I cannot empathize with… and I speak from a little bit of experience having lived across the country from my Mommy for some years. I’ve NEVER wanted to curl up on my mom’s bed with a cup of tea and talk about her sex life.
Emma (Debra Winger) and Flap’s (Jeff Daniels) marriage is tumultuous from the start as they try to fend off Aurora’s constant interference, deal with financial hardships due to a growing family, and ultimately succumb to wandering eyes. The relationship puzzled me at times… it seemed that they were always honest with each other. Although Flap’s affair upset Emma, she wasn’t going to let it break apart her family. Hypocritically, she’s also having an affair and keeps it a secret even on her deathbed. Emma is dying from cancer in the last scenes of the movie and has a sincere conversation with Flap about the custody of their kids. How could she be so direct when talking about her boys’ future, but not release some of Flap’s guilt by admitting her own infidelity?? I also had mixed emotions about the goodbye scene with her sons in the hospital. It is heartbreaking to watch the youngest boy cling to his dying Mommy and say he misses her at home. But she tells the older boy never to feel guilty for not saying “I love you” to her before she died. She assures him that she knows he loves her. I guess as viewers, we’re supposed to hope that he grows up and understands her wisdom and doesn’t feel guilty, but all I wanted to do was reach in the TV screen, shake him, and yell, “Show some respect to your mother!!”

Jack Nicholson (Best Supporting Actor winner) plays the astronaut and next-door neighbor who eventually entices Aurora into bed. While he had moments that I thought he fit the role perfectly, there were other times that I literally cringed when watching him flirt. He was the stereotypical creepy and intoxicated uncle who invades your personal space while trying to talk to you at family functions… (side note: I’ve truthfully never had that uncle though.) His character comes through in the clutch though when he surprises Aurora at the hospital’s near-by hotel to offer his support. He even seems to start a bond with the older son at Emma’s funeral (although part of me flinched when the son denied his father’s attempt at bonding.)

Overall, I can’t say I was a big fan of the movie. It wasn’t the tear-jerker I read it to be, for me anyways. Of course, I got choked up at the end because I have children of my own now and can’t imagine having to say goodbye like that. But I don’t think I got incredibly invested in the characters- go ahead, call me cold and heartless. I can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s rated PG though. Although there were no sex scenes, there were plenty of innuendos and a use of the F word. I would have rated it at least PG-13, so please keep in mind that some definite parental guidance is necessary. I also can’t recall a single "term of endearment" that was muttered by any of the loved ones by the way…

“Terms of Endearment” was up against “The Big Chill”, “The Dresser”, “The Right Stuff”, and “Tender Mercies”. I haven’t seen any of the other movies or even recognize their names. “Terms of Endearment” was clearly the frontrunner in Box Office sales almost doubling what the next nominated film brought in. It still kind of surprises me though that a “chick-flick” won the award. I was shocked to discover that the movie/musical “Yentl” was not even nominated that year. I would watch that movie over in a heartbeat if given the option with this Best Picture winner. I believe Barbra Streisand got snubbed for the Best Picture, Best Actress, AND Best Director nominations. “Terms of Endearment” won 5 of its 11 nominations that night.

MY FAVORITE SCENE:

A scene that sticks out in my mind as especially endearing was near the beginning when Aurora comes into young Emma’s bedroom at night just after becoming widowed. She asks her daughter, “Do you want to sleep in my bed tonight?” Emma responds cutely, “No… would you like to sleep in my bed?” Aurora gets in and they snuggle up together. She already knew that her Mommy needed her too.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Don’t infer that people know what you’re feeling or thinking or that they even feel the same way as you. Every person is different. Say what you feel and be honest.

Tell the people who are close to you that you love them, no matter what. Even in hard times, love can keep you from sinking.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Sound of Music, 1965










Rated G


This has to be one of my favorite movies of all time, so I had to start my blog with this musical. Who didn't dream of growing up in a large family that sang choreographed songs in coordinating outfits made from curtains?!

For those of you who may not be familiar with this movie (and I hope there are none), it is Rodgers & Hammerstein's recreation of the real-life story of postulant Maria, played perfectly by Julie Andrews, who left Austria's Nonnberg Abbey, became a governess to seven motherless children, fell in love with their father Captain Von Trapp, and helped lead the singing family out of Nazi-occupied Austria to Switzerland (and then to America).

The Sound of Music is one of ten musicals to ever win in this category. Perhaps what helped it win was that it is a "bio-pic"- a movie based on real-life people or events; those tend to be favorites among the Academy. This wholesome film even surpassed "Gone With the Wind" (1939) as the #1 box office hit of all time. In 1965, this movie was up against "Darling", "Doctor Zhivago", "Ship of Fools", and "A Thousand Clowns", none of which I've seen, so I can't offer any honest commentary about how it deserved to win. I read that "Doctor Zhivago" had the same number of nominations (ten) and both DZ and SoM won five awards that night, so I bet it was a close race. According to me, however, this movie deserved to win.

Forty-five years after its release, this sentimental movie is just as celebrated as ever. Even Oprah had the cast on her show recently to commemorate this musical achievement in our history. Who out there can't sing a verse or at least hum a little of "My Favorite Things" or "Do, Re, Mi"? The music of this movie has become as famous, if not more famous, than the movie itself. Did the movie become so popular because of its Oscar win or did it win because it was simply brilliant? Both are true, I believe. It is a timeless story of love and perseverance.

My jaw drops every time I remember that the beautiful Julie Andrews was my age (29) when she filmed this movie. Her gorgeous voice and wonderful expressions should have lent her the award for Best Actress, but it didn't. I guess I'll have to settle for her win the previous year for another one of my favorites, "Mary Poppins".

In the summer of 2006, my wonderful husband and I traveled to Europe and decided to stop off in Salzburg, Austria and go on our own SoM tour. I got a map, grabbed us a couple of bikes, and headed off to find the filming locations or the inspirations for the movie. Thanks to our handy travel guide by Rick Steves, we discovered the Von Trapp family mansion used in the movie was actually two separate homes in Salzburg. One house was filmed only from the front when Maria first comes singing and skipping down the lane. A different house was filmed for the backside in order to have the lake behind it. Both of these houses were being lived in when we visited, so we tried avoiding looking like voyeurs as we snapped our pictures from a distance. (The inside of the mansion was filmed on a soundstage.) If any of you are lucky enough to visit this city too, make sure to stop by the gazebo now resting in a local park. And don't forget to check out the real Nonnberg Abbey and Salzburg Cemetary that served as inspirations for the movie sets.


The real Von Trapp family settled in Vermont after coming to the States and even opened a vacation Lodge for the public: http://www.trappfamily.com/. I'm sure this goes without stating, that staying at that Lodge is definitely on my Bucket List.

MY FAVORITE SCENE:

Maria takes the newly-clad children out in Salzburg and has many new adventures; they visit the farmers' market, ride in a carriage, learn to sing, have a picnic lunch, climb trees, and even ride along in (and fall out of) a boat. To me, it's a perfect scene to depict the fun and innocence of youth. The part that always makes me smile is pictured below... Maria teaches the children to sing with the gorgeous backdrop of the green Austrian mountains. The hills were truly alive with the sound of music!


LESSONS LEARNED:

Singing leads to happiness. Whether you're wishing for confidence, distracting yourself from a scary situation, or putting on a marionette show, singing simply makes you smile and feel better.

Children need fresh air and play clothes. Since I can't sew, I choose to buy them for my kiddos, but nonetheless, children need clothes they feel comfortable in while playing outdoors. There's something about fresh air that invigorates the soul (and wears them out for a good nap...)!

And on a more serious note...
The Lord will lead you where you need to be. Our Father has a plan for all of us. If we listen to Him and seek His will in our lives, we shall be content. When our lives become confusing and difficult, fervent prayer can lead us back to Him.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night...