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…


Friday, June 17, 2011

From Here to Eternity, 1953









Not Rated

“From Here to Eternity” is based on an 859-page best-selling and controversial novel about Army life on a Hawaii military base just prior to the surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor. Apparently, the book is quite explicit on different levels, so the movie script had to be changed and edited.

The book and film’s title comes from a line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Gentleman Rankers”: “damned from here to eternity.” A gentleman ranker is a soldier who is qualified by either experience or education to be promoted to officer but chooses to remain a soldier. That description can apply to almost every main character in the film, if not directly, than symbolically, and because of that they have damned themselves or their relationships.

Deborah Kerr plays the part of a neglected captain’s wife who has been cheated on, so in return is also adulterous. She starts a secret relationship with Burt Lancaster’s character who is a sergeant who even after her pleading refuses to accept a promotion that would relocate him. I remember Kerr from “An Affair to Remember” and “The King and I”. I never really warmed up to her character in this film; I think she has an affinity for playing somewhat cold characters.

Montgomery Clift plays ex-boxer Robert Prewitt who is the best bugle player in the corps (but has possibly the worst posture I've ever seen). He refuses to box again for the army since the last time he did, he rendered a man blind. He is a stubborn man and won’t succumb to the conniving schemes attempted to get him to change his mind. With his stubbornness though is a strong bond and loyalty for friends. He falls for Donna Reed’s character who works in what is basically a whorehouse off base. Of course, I recognized her from one of my favorite Christmas classics “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I wasn’t as big a fan of her character in this film however… She’s quite selfish and deluded. Even the end left my sister and I wondering… Was she lying about the death of her “fiancé” because she was misled or because she was fantasizing since she apparently had no pride?

Frank Sinatra, whom I’ve always been a fan of, plays the part of Italian-American Angelo Maggio who has a brotherly bond with Prewitt. I thought he was excellent in this role and deserving of his Academy Award. His character is also quite stubborn which unfortunately leads to his demise near the end.

I couldn’t help but think of the more recent movie “Pearl Harbor” from 2001. That also is the story of romance on an Army base. While I am a fan of that movie, I will admit, I don’t think they got the vernacular and overall way of life correct of the ‘40s. I will applaud them on their authentic re-creation of the attacks though.

“From Here to Eternity” was up against “Julius Caesar”, “The Robe”, “Roman Holiday”, and “Shane”. It won 8 of its 13 nominations with Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed taking home character awards (their firsts and only). Only because I am fixated on anything Disney, I will include this bit of trivia for you from this year’s award ceremony: Walt Disney achieved a milestone as the individual with the most Oscar wins (4) in a single year. He won in four categories: Best Cartoon Short Subject: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, Best Documentary Short Subject: The Alaskan Eskimo, Best Documentary Feature: The Living Desert, and Best Two-Reel Short Subject: Bear Country.

I post the original movie posters at the beginning of my posts, so I thought I would include this famous scene shot here. This is the more recognizable cover now on DVDs and posters. I’m not much of a water baby, but to me this is anything but sexy and romantic…


And here’s what Deborah Kerr said about shooting it:

“It had to have rocks in the distance, so the water could strike the boulders and shoot upward — all very symbolic. The scene turned out to be deeply affecting on film, but, God, it was no fun to shoot. We had to time it for the waves, so that at just the right moment a big one would come up and wash over us. Most of the waves came up only to our feet, but we needed one that would come up all the way. We were like surfers, waiting for the perfect waves. Between each take, we had to do a total cleanup. When it was all over, we had four tons of grit in our mouths—and other places.” — Deborah Kerr

Sorry Deborah, it may be a generational thing, but I wasn’t “deeply affected” by the scene.

Probably the most touching scene for me was the one when Prewitt played the bugle in memory of his friend and fellow soldier Maggio. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this scene shot online.) I never gave the bugle much attention and didn’t realize that the note-playing all comes from the placement of the tongue.

Another scene that mesmerized me was when the Japanese planes first started flying over the base. The soldiers are caught in such a state of panic that they are in the large grass courtyard literally running in every direction. The scene was shot from the angle of a plane overhead and they looked like ants scattering after their hill is kicked in. (Sorry, I was unable to get a picture of that scene either.)

But I have included comments about the fashion seen in this movie by my sister and guest blogger, Alli:

High waists are probably the iconic image that comes to mind when thinking about 1940s swimwear, as demonstrated in the famous beach scene from this movie. The belly button did not see sunlight until the 1960s when it became the naval of fashion, literally, with cropped tops. It is my guess that since belly buttons are mostly hidden in today’s haute couture, there is a rising attraction to retro swimsuits with flattering high-waists, halter straps, sweetheart necklines, and skirt bottoms.
For history: http://www.vintagedancer.com/vintage-retro-1940s-and-1950s-swimsuits-history-and-shoping-guide/
For shopping: http://www.modcloth.com/store/ModCloth/Womens/Swimwear and http://www.popinaswimwear.com/.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gigi, 1958










Not Rated

I had the pleasure of watching this film with my sister who is visiting for part of the summer. Being two French girls who enjoy musicals, we thought it would be appropriate to see together. Neither of us was very invested in the first half and we were probably too critical. But, we did enjoy the second half more the next day.

Leslie Caron plays the courtesan-in-training Gigi. (I’ll be watching the film that made her famous later: Best Picture winner “An American in Paris”.) She takes lessons from her great Aunt Alicia, whose bedroom looked like the inside of a Victoria’s Secret store circa 1999.

Louis Jourdan plays the rich playboy Gaston Lachaille. (I wondered if Disney chose that name for the archetypal good-looking and sought-after playboy/villain of “Beauty and the Beast” because of this movie.) He proclaims that everything “is a bore.” He’s especially bored with women, hence the playboy reputation. Side note: I was going to knock the romantic leads’ French accents until I read online that they were indeed born in France. Oops. =/

Honoré Lachaille, Gaston’s uncle and influential guide to the ladies, is a consummate playboy and reminded me a bit of Hugh Hefner. He’s most known for his opening song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” (which I had no idea came from this movie!). But perhaps the song my sister and I got the biggest kick out of was “I Remember it Well” which is a duet he "sings" when he is reminiscing with his old flame about their last date. The lyrics go on to reveal he does everything BUT remember it well. He used to date Gigi’s grandmother, hence the families' continued friendship… It took me a while to figure out why Gaston was frequenting Gigi’s grandmother’s house for friendly conversation and snacks.

I could already tell where the movie was going romantically and I was thinking I’d be a little creeped out if Gaston and Gigi got together at the end. The age and maturity difference made their relationship seem too much like a sibling’s. But, being the hopeless romantic I am, I eventually found myself rooting for them as a couple.

It’s impossible not to see hints of “My Fair Lady” in this movie since both the costumer and composers were the ones working on the stage version of that show. They were recruited to work on Gigi’s musical film adaptation from the Broadway non-musical version. The storyline also shares a slight likeness: grooming the unlikely girl to be deserving of the man of wealth. But other than those similarities, this musical doesn’t hold a candle to the musical numbers and acting talents of the film “My Fair Lady.”

This is another movie where the songs aren’t actually sung. They are more spoken to the beat of the music. I found it a little frustrating to hear the melody behind their voices and know the actors were not hitting the notes. Perhaps the actors were hired on their acting ability or famous faces alone, and not their singing talents.

Eva Gabor played Gaston’s last girlfriend who unsuccessfully commits suicide (supposedly for the fourth time) upon their break-up. One could say she’s a bit dramatic. It’s hard for me not to associate her voice with the characters she gives life to in Disney’s “The Aristocats” and “The Rescuers”. And speaking of voices (and “Beauty and the Beast”), the consummate playboy Honoré  sounded like Lumiére. I half expected him to wave his gold walking stick around and bust out “Be Our Guest”. 

“Gigi” was up against “Auntie Mame”, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “The Defiant Ones”, and “Separate Tables”. It won nine of its nine nominations, which was the most won by any film to date. Sadly for them, they only held that honor for a year. They also won Best Director, Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Art/Set Direction, Song, Musical Score, Costume Design, and Editing. I’m a bit surprised it won all these accolades… I didn’t think it was THAT wonderful, but I haven’t seen any of its competitors.

FAVORITE SCENE:

There are very few screen shots online, so I can’t find the image that made me laugh the hardest. When Gaston takes Gigi and her grandmother to Trouville for a vacation, there is a montage of scenes of them playing tennis, riding horses on the beach, swimming, etc. There is one shot where an extra is “playing” tennis. Imagine this if you can: She is simply standing still in the middle of the court wearing her 1900’s elaborate garb extending her racket-weilding arm and hitting the tennis balls that repeatedly head her way in the exact location for her to make perfect contact (almost) every time. You could imagine the poor sap on the other side of the court running all over the place to ensure that precision. I envision this is how I would like to play tennis. It had me laughing out loud.

The other scene my sister and I liked was right before that, when Gaston announces he will take them on vacation. They collectively sing “The Night They Invented Champagne” and dance around the grandmother’s house. It made me want to join them in the drinking and dancing.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Find somebody who’s not a bore. Surround yourself with people who enjoy your company and vice versa.

Don’t be surprised to find love in the unexpected. This can be true of a future spouse or even a friend.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chariots of Fire, 1981










Rated PG

I’ll admit that the first time my husband made me see this movie, I was quite bored. It just goes to show, that perceptions can change. Perhaps I’ve just done some “growing up”, but I was much more intrigued by this movie this time around. And as a Christian, I am very proud that this movie was chosen as the Best Picture of the year; I feel like movies about religion and devotion to God often get ignored by Hollywood.

This inspirational movie that came out in the year of my birth, is the true story of two of Great Britain’s athletes in the 8th Olympiad in 1924: one is Harold Abrahams, a Jewish Cambridge student who feels he needs to win to prove his worth, and the other is Eric Liddell, a missionary from Scotland who “feels God’s pleasure” when he runs.

The movie opens (practically) with the iconic scene of the athletes in white running through the water. I bet you almost anyone could hum that infamous music (and I’ll further bet that there are some who don’t even know what movie it’s from).

The juxtaposition of the two male leads’ drives is evident in the way the film crosscuts between each man’s life as he trains for the competition. Abrahams admits, “I’m forever in pursuit, and I don’t even know what I’m chasing.” He is obsessed with winning. Liddell on the other hand, runs for God. He explains to his sister, “God made me for a purpose… But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” You can literally see that Liddell physically feels pleasure at the end of a race. He also believes the Sabbath is the Lord’s day. It pains him to opt out of a qualifying race on a Sunday, but he won’t compromise his beliefs. Thankfully, someone steps up for him… watch the movie to see the moving scene I’m referring to.

One obvious and appropriate Biblical quote that I found missing in this movie is from 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” This would have been a poignant line for Liddell near the end.

“Chariots of Fire” is a sports film that showcases good sportsmanship and the support of fellow team members which I think is less common now in our society with its “win at all costs” mentality. This film was the second sports film to win this award in Oscar history; the first was “Rocky” in 1976. However, one does not have to be a sports fan to enjoy this movie, (Lord knows I’m not), one just needs to appreciate the human spirit. “Chariots of Fire” was up against “Atlantic City”, “On Golden Pond”, “Reds”, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. This win was a major surprise and upset and I’m sure you can figure out which other nominated film people had their money on. In fact, “Chariots” only made a quarter of what “Raiders” did that year.

The actor who played Abrahams’ friend, Aubrey Montague, reminded me a little of John Krasinski from “The Office”, or at least his facial features did. Also recognizable in one scene was Richard Griffiths who plays Uncle Vernon on the “Harry Potter” films, and plays the head porter of Caius College in this film.

UNFORGETTABLE LINES…. TURNED INTO MY LESSONS LEARNED:

* Liddell encourages a gathering to “take part in [the race]” (not literally a running race, but the race of life). He compares faith to running a race and explains that “the Kingdom of God is within you” (from Luke 17:21). Your power comes from within. And guess what?... The Kingdom of God is within you… Therefore, the power comes from God.

* Abrahams is so discouraged after coming in second in a race and his girlfriend tries to console him knowing he can try again. He explains to her, “If I can’t win, I won’t run.” She fires back eloquently, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.” You’ve got to try in order to succeed. Accept failure as a learning experience and grow from it, don’t give up because of it.

 * Abrahams’ coach tells him, “You can’t put in what God’s left out,” implying you’re either born with a natural gift or you’re not. While this doesn’t sound like very motivating advice for anyone, keep in mind he’s talking to an Olympic medal hopeful, not the everyday mere mortal. He was assuring Abraham that he does have the talent necessary to compliment his hard work and dedication. We should try to “put in” everything we can to compliment our God-given gifts.

* And lastly, follow Liddell’s example and don’t let anyone make you compromise your beliefs.

FAVORITE SCENE:

The movie starts and ends with the same memorable scene. I love how the camera pans across the main characters. You can get a glimpse of their personalities just in their expressions when they run. This scene also makes me smile because twelve years ago, my boyfriend (now husband) carved our initials in a mossy rock on the West Sands Beach of St. Andrews.