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…


Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957











Rated PG

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” is an epic British POW film set in the jungle during World War II. It is based on the best-selling novel The Bridge OVER the River Kwai. (Personally, I think the latter preposition is more appropriate…) The book is loosely based on true events and a real-life character, the British Lieutenant Colonel. In the story, British soldiers are captured and forced to build a bridge for the Japanese army. The bridge will allow the railway to connect major cities in order to bring in more troops and supplies.  I had never seen this film before and was interested in watching and learning about a different area involved in World War II.

As the captured troops are marching into the camp in the beginning, I immediately recognized the tune they whistled: “Colonel Boogey’s March”. I’m sure if someone whistled it to you, you’d recognize it too. (It is also whistled by the campers in the movie “The Parent Trap” with Haley Mills). The original march was actually written in 1914. The one whistled in this film is in fact a counter-march written by the composer. Supposedly, the British audiences fully understood the underlining humor in this whistle since popular lyrics had been circulating during WWII… Hitler Has Only Got One Ball. Let me move on…

After the British and Japanese Commanders settle their differences about codes of conduct and prisoner-of-war rules, the Colonel leads his men in constructing the bridge. With his men’s help, who seem a little all-too-eager, they work hard and fast to ensure the bridge is completed on time, which at first was deemed an impossible task. Meanwhile, back at the British camp, officers have set out to destroy the completed bridge and the passing train on its maiden voyage. They believe it is their duty to destroy something that is so obviously a benefit for the enemy’s army. It seems that the Colonel’s drive and determination to be a good leader and ‘play by the rules’ has clouded the reality of the situation. He even congratulates his men and what they have accomplished in the face of adversity. He thought this bridge was a symbol of British morale. It becomes clear to him, however, after he is wounded at the very end of the film. He asks himself, “What have I done?” right before he himself symbolically destroys his hard work.

The first half of the film seemed to drag on a bit. I couldn’t quite tell what to make of it or where it was going. But then, the second half picked up and I became very invested. I believe the film did a good job in keeping some ambiguity around its themes of war, pride, and heroism which allowed the viewers to have their own viewpoints and opinions. Each character had qualities you could relate to and understand.

After doing a little more research, I can confirm the film is truly loosely based on true events. The bridge was built over a different river in Thailand, not the Kwai. Later, however, that river was renamed Kwae Yai, in order for tourists to find the famous bridge (it’s the #1 tourist spot in Thailand). The bridge took eight months to build, not two. And the POWs had to build two bridges- a temporary one made of wood, and then a few months later a permanent one, made of concrete and steel. The bridge was destroyed in bombings in 1945, not a couple of days after it was completed. This railroad is called the “Death Railway” because of the number of workers/prisoners who perished while constructing it. Sadly, the treatment of these laborers was not accurately depicted in the film. In fact, the construction of the bridge has been considered a war crime.

The real bridge:


“The Bridge on the River Kwai” was the number one box office success of 1957. This movie was up against “Peyton Place”, “Sayonara”, “12 Angry Men”, and “Witness for the Prosecution” for Best Picture. I’m not familiar with the other movies; I have seen the play version of “12 Angry [Jurors]”.  The movie won seven of the eight awards it was nominated for including Best Director and Best Actor. The Award-winning Director went on to win again several years later for his other epic film and Best Picture winner, “Lawrence of Arabia”, which I will blog about at a later date. William Holden, the actor who played American POW Shears was snubbed a nomination in my opinion. I thought his performance was just as deserving of an award as the lead actor (who won).

The movie also won for Best Musical Score which I found a little surprising. Perhaps it was fabulous for that time period, which I need to keep in mind, but there were times I thought the score was laughable and definitely not appropriate in areas. The music played much too suspenseful in some parts and dragged on when nothing significant was happening. The worst was at the end which I noted below.

FAVORITE SCENE:

The last ten minutes of the film had me glued to the screen. The suspense pulled me in as I watched the different characters that I grew to understand react in their own ways. (After the deed is done though, watch the remaining few minutes on mute… In my opinion, the music kills it.)


LESSONS LEARNED:

Determination is a good value and character quality, but beware. Do not become too driven that you fail to see what is real or important.

Live like a human being. I’m stealing this quote from the American soldier in the movie. I’m paraphrasing, but his lesson to another commander was this: “You’re too concerned with dying like a gentleman or dying by the rules, when the only important thing is how to live like a human being”. Sometimes the rules need to fly out of the window so you can really live, show emotion, and respond with truth.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Fair Lady, 1964










Rated G

It is with great *shame* that I admit that this is the first time I have seen this movie… and in fact, I can't recall if I've ever even seen the stage version. I grew up performing in and watching musical theatre so I know this comes as a shock to many of my friends. I apologize; I know am not worthy. However, having said that, I was able to sing along to more than half of the songs during the film. It’s amazing how the musical score for that film has become so legendary and celebrated. As have the costumes!... but I’ll get to that later.

“My Fair Lady” won Best Picture in 1964 and was one of four Best Picture winners that were musicals in the 1960’s alone. It was even up against “Mary Poppins” that year, another musical. It was also the most expensive film made to date with almost a third of its budget just going to secure the rights of the story. (I would imagine another third HAD to go to the costuming department!)

The adorable Audrey Hepburn plays cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle who agrees to let misogynistic linguistics Professor Higgins teach her to “talk more genteel”. Rex Harrison reprises his Broadway role as the Professor for the film and accepts the challenge more as a game with eagerness, and albeit some frustration. And when he succeeds, he congratulates himself and his dialect partner with no regard for poor Eliza’s hard work. She runs away; a day later he chases after her; she berates him for his treatment of her; he goes back home to sulk and listen to her record (of vowel sound practice) and she returns. (That takes three hours, folks.) Just when I thought the writers wanted us to believe that people can change, Professor Higgins tips his hat over his face and yells, “Where the devil are my slippers?” 

Professor Higgins has some incredibly funny lines all the while maintaining that he is not a very redeeming character. I raised an eyebrow every once in awhile at the language used towards Eliza (i.e. hussy, wretch) and wondered if these two masochists were not meant for each other. I guess we’ll never know since the ending is left unclear (in my opinion). Does she return to Higgins’ house to be with him or does her presence there imply forgiveness and she ends up marrying Freddy (the gentleman who pines for her)? I applauded Eliza’s character for calling out Professor Higgins for his behavior, but you could see there was still some admiration in her eyes which leads her back. So you be the judge.

Even after Audrey went through intense vocal training for this film, being a non-singer, she was told her voice still wasn’t good enough for the soundtrack so she was dubbed with another singer and a mixture of their voices sang the songs. Rex, on the other hand, sings his songs without singing; something I remember him doing in another one of his films a few years later, “Dr. Doolittle”. [That title strikes me as very odd at the moment…]

There was a bit of an upset when Julie Andrews, who played Eliza Doolittle in the stage version but was not offered the part for the film version, won the award for Best Actress for her role in Mary Poppins, while Audrey Hepburn was not even nominated. (Supposedly her not singing completely had something to do with it.) When Rex won Best Actor for the film, he dedicated it to his “two fair ladies”, Julie and Audrey.

“My Fair Lady” was up against “Mary Poppins”, “Zorba the Greek”, “Becket”, and “Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb”. Um… seriously, what’s up with that last title? It should come as no surprise by now that I have only seen “Mary Poppins” from that list and I am even so bold as to say I think that should have won. If there is something I am, it is a musical theatre geek, but even more so, I am a Disney musical theatre geek. But honestly, I think the cutting-edge special effects, endearing storyline, superb acting, and time-honored score are awe-inspiring. “My Fair Lady” received seven other awards that night including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Musical Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and of course, Best Costume Design.


FAVORITE SCENES:

My favorite scenes were any that had Eliza walking about in some iconic costume. I would just stare open-mouthed at her graceful entrance into a room and how she commanded the attention of her surrounding public. (I’d like to know the secret to her not falling over backward from the size of her hairdo though!) Not only was she stunningly beautiful, the costumes were exquisite. Wouldn’t it be loverly to wear one of those sometime… 



LESSONS LEARNED:

“You will get further with the Lord if you learn not to offend His ears”. I learned this from Professor Higgins. Even though he’s referring to Eliza’s awful cockney dialect, I believe it can be true in other ways. Taking the Lord’s name in vain and speaking unkindly about others are just a couple of examples that are not pleasing to Him… and I know I’m guilty of it.

One should not judge on first impressions alone. Although Professor Higgins certainly judged Eliza on first impression, I think he realized what a true flower she blossomed into because of her innate personality. I often think about first impressions when people encounter different American accents. I have lived in areas that regard the southern drawl as less sophisticated or intelligent. And also having lived in and spent a good amount of time in the south, I can tell you that is not the case. An accent or dialect is just as much a part of the culture as food and dress may be and has little to do with one’s education.

There are areas that could use improvement in each of us. If we are motivated enough (and especially if we are able to take constructive criticism well… which I’m working on), we can find something about ourselves or our lives to better.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Certainly Eliza knows this one. Whether it’s the area that needs improvement or a new task, don’t get discouraged- try again and harder!

ADDENDUM (added 2/10/12):
I am currently reading Julie Andrews' memoir "Home" and she writes details of her stage performances in the Broadway and London versions of "My Fair Lady". She mentions how strict Rex and some producers were in keeping the script identical with the the original play, "Pygmalion" by Bernard Shaw. Even though a beautiful song was written for Julie in which Eliza expresses her feelings for Professor Higgins, it was cut in order to stay true to the original: the characters never once speak of love. Instead, they wrote "I Could've Danced all Night" which still conveys Eliza's emotions but without mentioning the word. I think this is very interesting because I, myself, didn't really see this film as a love story.

Another song was cut and used in the strikingly similar story, "Gigi": "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight".

Warner Bros. needed a big name for the marquee and called upon Audrey Hepburn for this role over Julie Andrews even though she was the woman who made it famous. Audrey and Julie became friends and one day, Audrey said to her, "Julie, you should have done the role... but I didn't have the guts to turn it down."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Going My Way, 1944












Not Rated

Man! “Going My Way” was NOT going my way…. This took me about 5 or 6 nights to finish. It never did hook me. I guess that’ll help keep this entry a little shorter.

This movie was a feel-good movie during the war and served as a distraction to raise spirits. It is considered a musical comedy (although I think I can count the number of songs it had on one hand) and stars my man Bing Crosby as the male lead. He won his only Best Actor award for his portrayal of young and charming Father Chuck O’Malley who is sent by the Bishop to St. Dominic's Catholic Church to help the stubborn older priest (see bottom right headshot on movie poster) revive his congregation and help relieve its debt (without the old man knowing). He influences some people along his way including the delinquent boys of the neighborhood, rounding them up into what else? A choir. This movie put the crooner on the map in regards to acting; he was no longer considered just a singer.

I felt that the scenes and sub-plots were a little disjointed. I didn’t quite know the purpose of some of them. The momentum of the movie lagged in areas and I felt some character resolutions weren’t quite there… or perhaps I drifted off at those parts. For example, there’s a scene where Father O’Malley visits an old girlfriend who’s become a performer and claims she never received his final letter to her (the one stating he was going into the seminary). I don’t know what happens to her…

Bing reprises his role in this movie's sequel, “The Bells of St. Mary’s”. Ironically, I’ve heard of the sequel but not this one. Hmm.

“Going My Way” was up against “Double Indemnity”, “Gaslight”, “Since You Went Away”, and “Wilson”. Again, none of them I’ve heard of or seen. This was the first year that the Academy lessened the number of movies nominated for Best Picture from ten or twelve, like in the past, to five. This was also the first year that the Award show was nationally broadcast on television. The movie also snagged awards for Best Supporting Actor, Best Song, Best Original Story, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Needless to say, it was a very popular movie and the highest grossing one of that year. Interestingly enough, the man nominated (and who won) for Best Supporting Actor was also nominated for Best Actor… I guess they couldn’t define the importance of his role. The Academy changed the rules after this happened. In my humble opinion, the Academy overlooked a very important musical that year… one I’ve watched many times with fondness: “Meet Me in St. Louis” with dear Judy Garland. Boo Academy.

FAVORITE SCENE:

Of course my favorite scene involves Bing singing. After a heartfelt conversation about life “back home”, Father O’Malley sings “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (That’s An Irish Lullaby)” to Father Fitzgibbon and subsequently sings him off to dreamland. It is a very sweet scene where the father-son relationship these priests have seem to be reversed for a moment.
(Can anyone tell me why this song is on my Bing Crosby Christmas album?! That’s not a trivia question… I really want to know.)



LESSONS LEARNED:

Don’t do good wishing to be honored or acknowledged for it; do it out of the goodness of your heart. Bing’s character was so sweet to never let on to Father Fitzgibbon that it was he who was really running the show and improving things. He remained humble and gleeful at the same time.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade (or something else cheesy to that effect.) When their beloved church burns down, the priests don’t get (too) discouraged; they hit the pavement fundraising and keeping the hope alive.

Finish movies in two days or less and don’t drift off to sleep. While this last lesson wasn’t IN the movie, it’s a lesson I learned nonetheless. After two days, my movie amnesia starts to kick in and I have to re-watch scenes.