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…


Saturday, April 30, 2011

Titanic, 1997





Rated PG-13

Two weeks ago, we passed the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so I thought it would be appropriate to watch this movie again this month. I adore this movie for many, many reasons, so no one had to twist my arm to sit down and watch it for the umpteenth time.

I had mixed emotions about writing this post though. I saw “Titanic” seven times in the theater and quickly learned that I needed to bring my own box of Kleenex with me each time. I've seen the film countless times since then. It sparked a new fascination in me about any and everything related to Titanic, both the film and the actual ship. But, I know this movie has become a pop-culture cliché what with the tragic love story starring cutie-boy Leonardo DiCaprio and the over-the-top ballad at the end of the film by diva Celine Dion. I think it’s gotten a bad rap as being cheesy or sappy. This movie was created so meticulously, I find it hard not to be in awe. I believe the film does a remarkable job of recreating the tragic events of that fateful night, from the complexities of the ship’s destruction to the array of reactions from its passengers. It is a heart-breaking story.

I won’t waste time re-capping the film; I assume everyone at least knows the story of the real Titanic. The film was a dramatic recreation of that story made more emotionally personal since it followed the fictional love story between betrothed upper-class debutante Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) and lucky last-minute third class passenger Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio).

In 1997, I dragged my boyfriend (now husband) to the theater to see “Titanic” with me of course. I think he was a little intimidated by my passion for the film. He may also have been put off by the fact that I was also calling Leo my boyfriend and signing my name as "Amy DiCaprio" on my high school textbook covers. I went so far as to sign papers to give to my friends saying they'd be worth something later since they "knew me when".

I could go on in detail about this movie’s incredible special effects, beautiful score, touching characters, but I’d end up writing a thesis. Yes, this movie truly has it all in my humble opinion. The amazing James Cameron wrote, produced, directed, and edited this film which is astonishing in itself. (This is the same man who brought you the phenomenon "Avatar". I say "you" because to this day, I have absolutely no desire to see it.) His meticulous attention to detail about the ship's reconstruction is amazing. He built a model of the real Titanic in three-quarter size. From the carpeting and woodwork to the china dishes and ashtrays, everything is exactly how it looked on the ship in 1912 according to documents, photos, and artifacts. And at 194 minutes long, Cameron is able to show the disaster unfolding in almost real time. I love how the movie started out with Cameron’s real footage from his marine voyages to the wreckage. It gives us, who will never make that trip to the bottom of the ocean, a rare glimpse at how the ship has been preserved in darkness. 

This time around, a scene that especially made a lump rise in my throat was when the third class passengers are being kept from boarding the lifeboats, held back by locked gates and angry officers. A woman bends down to explain to her little daughter that they have to wait patiently and be ready for their turn when the officers are through boarding the first and second class passengers. The same woman is later seen briefly tucking her two little children in their bed and telling them a sweet bedtime story. As a mother, I cannot begin to imagine the fear she was feeling and the strength she had not to panic but to accept the reality and do what she could to keep her children unaware and peaceful.

That year, “Titanic” was up against “Good Will Hunting”, “As Good as It Gets”, “L.A. Confidential”, and “The Full Monty”. I've seen all of those films nominated except for the last one and the winner was obvious. I enjoyed and own “Good Will Hunting” but I believe it was the year's second best film. No movie came close to “Titanic” with regards to popularity and box office sales. In fact, to date, it is the most successful film of all time grossing close to two billion dollars worldwide! It is one of two films in Oscar history that had the largest amount of nominations for awards (14) and it is one of three films to win the largest amount (11). No awards were given to actors though. Interestingly, this was the first time in Oscar history that two females were nominated for playing the same character in the same film (Kate Winslet for young Rose and Gloria Stuart for old Rose.) This didn’t happen again until 2001 when Kate Winslet, of all people, played the younger version of a character also played by Judy Dench.

If I haven’t inspired you to see the movie (for the first time or again), I at least encourage you to visit the traveling “Artifact Exhibition” about this magnificent ship. It is a remarkable experience. Visit http://www.titanictix.com/.

FAVORITE LINES:

When Jack sketches Rose wearing only La Coeur de la Mer, Rose comments on his rosy complexion…
Rose: "I believe you are blushing Mr. Big Artiste. I can't imagine Monsieur Monet blushing."
Jack: "He does landscapes."

As a third class passenger runs along the top deck to board a lifeboat, he passes by the band and says, “Music to drown by. Now I know I’m in first class.” If the legend is true, and those gentlemen played to the last minute, I applaud them for their pride in their work.

FAVORITE SCENES:

The last scene of the movie is the most touching for me. As Rose passes away as an “old, old lady warm in her bed” (as Jack foretold), the camera pans across the picture frames that she insisted accompany her on her travels. The photographs document her life after Titanic and we can clearly see that she “never let go” of that promise to Jack: she carried on and enjoyed her life. (The instrumental music that plays appropriately in the background is Celine’s “My Heart Will Go On”.) Here are a few of the pictures that make me smile and tear up at the same time; a few of them are specific things that she and Jack talked about doing together after their voyage.

   
  
I also enjoy watching the dinner scene when Jack dresses to impress at the first class meal he’s been invited to. It has some great lines. The “unsinkable” Molly Brown taught me that when faced with multiple serving utensils, you just “start from the outside and work your way in”.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Make it count. This is what they toast to, (Jack’s mantra), at the above-mentioned dinner scene. He believes that “life’s a gift and [he doesn’t] intend on wasting it.” Amen brother.

Prepare for the unexpected. I don’t mean to be insensitive, honestly. The biggest lesson the White Star Line learned from the sinking, was always have enough lifeboats even if it does make the decks look cluttered. This lesson can be applied practically (i.e. Earthquake preparedness kits), emotionally, and spiritually.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It Happened One Night, 1934











Not Rated

This is the first time I’ve seen Oscar’s first romantic comedy winner, “It Happened One Night” and I LOVED it! This movie is a backwards Cinderella story where the lead female Ellie, played by Claudette Colbert, is a runaway heiress who ends up falling for a recently-fired newspaper reporter Peter, played by the charmingly handsome Clark Gable. Their clashing personalities and backgrounds make for entertaining comedy. Peter assures Ellie that he isn’t interested in her at all, but I didn’t buy it for a second. The two actors have great chemistry and the script is fantastically witty. It hooked me immediately.

A crush I never knew I had materialized for the darling Clark Gable. I have a thing for dimples (as evidenced in the three males in my family). There was something about him/his acting/his character that had me captivated. Even when he refers to Ellie by his pet-name for her (“Brat”), I was smiling.

I personally think men’s fashion in the thirties had a sexy sophistication about it. However, when Gable starts to undress in a scene, he reveals that under his jacket and vest, his pants are practically pulled up to his nipples. Don’t ask me why suspenders are still needed, but apparently they were. (My new crush still pulled it off though. And supposedly sales of undershirts went down after this movie since Gable takes of his dress shirt to reveal his bare chest.) This is just before he snuggles up in bed and smokes a cigarette. Ahh… nothing like the taste of nicotine to soothe you to sleep.

Peter teases Ellie in a scene accusing her of being scared of him. He sings the first two lines of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” I thought this was very interesting, because as a Disney-buff, I know that this song was written just the year before for the famous cartoon short with the three little pigs. It was immediately a HUGE success and the song became a “theme song” so to speak during the Depression. The wolf symbolized the stock market crash and subsequent economic crisis and the sing-songy lyrics lifted the spirits of audiences. I wonder if Columbia Studios had to pay royalties…

This movie did surprisingly well at the box office. Nobody expected much from it. Even Colbert walked away from filming and said, “I just made the worst picture in the world”. Perhaps Columbia Studios didn’t give the film enough credit for its ability to take audiences out of the sobering reality of the Great Depression and transport them to a time and place where love can triumph over socio-economic status. Yes, this movie was juxtaposed with the epics and dramas that were expected to be produced, but obviously, it was what the average citizen needed to see during this time of financial hardship. It did so well that it won the top 5 coveted Academy Awards that year: Best Picture, Best Director (Frank Capra, who directed one of my all-time faves “It’s a Wonderful Life”), Best Actor (my new crush), Best Actress, and Best Adaptation. It is rare that this happens for a film and it didn’t happen again until 1975 and again in 1991.

It was up against “The Barretts of Wimpole Street”, “Flirtation Walk”, “Cleopatra”, “The Thin Man”, “The Gay Divorcee”, “Here Comes the Navy”, “The House of Rothschild”, “Imitation of Life”, “One Night of Love”, “Viva Villa!”, and “The White Parade”, none of which I’ve seen. (Although I’ve wanted to see “Cleopatra”… I’ll have to save it for next year.)

I’m a little puzzled as to why it’s called “It Happened One Night”… I guess their chance meeting on a bus happened one night, but their relationship transformed over the course of a few days and nights. Maybe it should’ve been “It Happened One Weekend”. But really, my one and only BIG critique… we never get to see Peter and Ellie kiss!  

FAVORITE SCENES:

In order not to be caught, Peter and Ellie have to act like a feuding married couple when detectives come into their bungalow for a search of the missing Ellie Andrews. They later refer to their little act as “The Great Deception”. They put on such a dramatic performance; it had me laughing out loud. When Peter  yells at his ‘wife’, “Quit bawlin’!”, I almost peed my pants.


Another great scene was when Peter was teaching Ellie how to hitch-hike. After some unsuccessful attempts, Ellie decides to give it a try her way…

(Colbert didn’t want to do this scene since it was so racy, but when she saw her leg double, she demanded she do it herself.)

And lastly, this little scene was near the beginning. Ellie falls asleep on Peter during their bus ride(which she is much embarrassed about when she wakes up). The look on Gable’s face had me swooning. He is simply adorable.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Money can’t buy you happiness. This is an obvious and over-used cliché, but I think it’s true. Pursue your true happiness. It’s likely to be something you can’t buy.

Practice humility. Peter warns Ellie to practice humility and not assume that everyone/everything can be bought. Use manners and be sincere.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Broadway Melody, 1929










Not Rated

“The Broadway Melody” is the musical that won Best Picture for the 1928/1929 season, second in Oscar history. It is credited to have been the first full-length movie musical in motion picture history. (Don’t confuse it with “Broadway Melody of 1940”, starring Fred Astaire, which is actually the fourth “Melody” installment.) Some say the ’28-‘29 season hosted some of the weakest films made in American cinema, mostly due to the awkward transition from silent films to the “talkies”. (In fact, there were moments of silence in this film when the sound changed a bit… perhaps it was too expensive, so they stopped recording sound whenever they could.)

The movie is about the Mahoney sisters, a vaudeville-act and chorus girls, who land in New York and try to make it big. It is equally a story/game of who-loves-who. Harriet “Hank” Mahoney (the slightly older sister) is with Eddie Kearns (the gentleman friend who helps them land roles in a Broadway show). But Eddie soon realizes he’s in love with Queenie, the younger sister, while she is being courted by a rich New York socialite. Oy…

Although the acting is not at all what we’re used to, the ladies do a pretty good job playing off each other. At times, I thought I was watching a whocanspeakthefastest contest and was grateful that I had the subtitles on. The big climactic scene at the end got so dramatic though, I found myself chuckling.

Here are some of my random thoughts on the movie that don’t really fit into a cohesive paragraph:
- I thought the flamboyant costumer for the show (within the show) was hilarious. He just had a few lines but he delivered them well.
- One sister was disappointed that she had to show a little more skin on stage, to which her sister replied, “Well, I guess that’s Broad’s Way”. Funny.
- Occasionally, between scenes, a black screen would appear with a description like “the girls apartment, after the party”. Thank goodness we’re smart enough to figure that out on our own now.
- Sometimes I wish I could get all dolled up and go out to a party like it was a normal occurrence (but I don’t want it to sound to everyone like I’m going to a potty [pah-tee].)
- Sometimes when the sisters performed together, I felt like I was watching a bad American Idol audition.
- I was a little perplexed when the sisters kissed each other on the lips… Was this normal back then? It was more than just a “good to see you, sweetie” peck, so I wonder.
- My, how our eyebrows have changed and evolved over the last century! The brows these ladies were sporting were barely curved and barely visible- just thin pencil lines.
- I swear Hank’s character was wearing an animal that was still alive in one scene. I believe they’re called “minks”, but if I HAD to wear one, I’d prefer mine didn’t closely resemble the actual animal. Or else it just looks like you’ve wrapped a long cat around the back of your neck.

“The Broadway Melody” was up against “Alibi”, “Hollywood Revue”, “In Old Arizona”, and “The Patriot” (the last silent film nominated). It is one of three winners in Oscar history that won only the Best Picture award and no other ones that it was nominated for. This was the only time in Oscar history that had two award shows in the same calendar year (in order to standardize the timing between them). The awards show for 1928/1929 was held in April and the 1929/1930 awards show was held in November. (You can see how the dating for this period can get pretty confusing.) This year, there were a total of seven categories and a different movie won for each category- something that hasn’t happened since (nor is it likely to ever happen again).

FAVORITE SCENE:

One of the musical numbers had a man flipping women up and over and landing into another man’s arms and I thought that was pretty dang cool. I don’t know if it had something to do with the reel, but it almost looked like a cartoon the way these girls’ lifeless bodies were being flung about. There are very few pictures of this movie online, so naturally, I couldn’t find this specific clip. Instead, I’ve just posted beautiful pictures of the two lead actresses.


LESSON LEARNED:

Don’t go for a man with money if he can’t back it up with some personality. Queenie makes this mistake in the movie before she accepts Eddie’s love.

Starring on Broadway takes talent, in addition to a lot of luck and knowing the right people. There was a short period in my childhood that I answered that age-old question with “I want to be a singer/dancer/actress”; in fact, it’s documented in my eighth grade graduation video. Luckily, I followed my other passion into teaching, but had I challenged myself for a career on Broadway, I know it would have been a tough road.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Annie Hall, 1977











Rated PG

Happy Golden Anniversary Academy Awards! This year’s Best Picture went to director/writer/actor Woody Allen’s semi-autobiographical “Annie Hall”. This movie is a light romantic-comedy which is very rare among winners of this award. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of Woody Allen. I’m sure most would agree he’s kind of a cooky character. Having said that, I guess I haven’t really given him a chance. This is only my second Allen film; I’ve also seen “Vicky Christina Barcelona” (and enjoyed it alright). I enjoyed this one too, alright.

The story is about the totally neurotic Jewish New York comedian, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen). He falls in (and out and in and out of) love with the insecure “singer”, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The movie has a documentary/narrative-type structure which was a breakthrough style at this time (and became something Allen referred back to several other times). It reminded me of the first season of “Sex and the City” when Carrie turns to the camera to explain things to the viewers (without anyone else in the shot aware). Many flashbacks to Singer’s childhood or previous relationships helped you to further understand his neuroses.

Woody Allen is the king of one-liners (that usually end with a question mark). There were quite a few times I laughed out loud (while sitting by myself). I can’t say I was a huge fan of his character though (or should I say, him, since it’s semi-autobiographical?) I think he was acting more like a woman than I do with the constant talking, questioning, and over-analyzing. Sometimes I just wanted to slap him… which then had me apropos over-analyze myself. Touché Allen!

This movie is full of big-name actors (evident in its movie poster), some in very small roles: Shelley Duvall, Jeff Goldblum (he had one line!), and Christopher Walken, among others. I even recognized the woman who plays Marilla Cuthbert in “Anne of Green Gables” as Annie’s mother.

I’m not sure why the movie was titled, “Annie Hall”. Obviously, I understand that she was the lead actress and Alvy’s main love interest; but since the story revolved around him, why couldn’t it be named, “Alvy Singer”? She DID dictate fashion for some years after the movie came out… Anyway, this movie was up against “The Goodbye Girl”, “Julia”, “Star Wars”, and “The Turning Point”. Yep, read that short list of nominees again… I would have put my money on one obvious winner that year. Apparently, others were surprised as well that the major blockbuster hit and highest grossing film that year did not take home the coveted award. I’m still looking for a good explanation. Looking at the other pictures that came out that year, I think there may have been a couple of other snubs for nominations: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Saturday Night Fever”.

Woody Allen won for Best Director but not Best Actor, which supposedly was a big shock. He didn’t even attend the award ceremony though, so I think he was a little nonchalant about it all. In fact, he’s only shown up once to the Awards ceremony and that was to talk about his affection for New York after 9/11.

FAVORITE SCENES:

I didn’t really have a favorite scene in this movie, but there was one that I thought was particularly funny. It’s a split-scene with both Annie Hall and Alvy Singer on their respective shrink’s couches. Their psychiatrists ask, “Do you have sex often?” He responds with “Hardly Ever! Maybe 3 times a week” and she replies with, “Constantly! I’d say like 3 times a week”. Yep, sounds about right.



I also thought this line was cute: “Love is too weak a word for what I feel - I luuurve you, I loave you, I luff you, two F's.” It even found its way onto a poster I found online…


LESSON LEARNED:

Every couple’s relationship has its ups and downs. It’s not proper etiquette to air one’s dirty laundry, so most couples won’t let you know when they’re in a tough spot. Some may, however, if they need support or guidance from good friends. Along the same lines, I believe it’s not healthy to compare yourselves to other couples; what “works” for some, may not work for others.