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…


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cimarron, 1931










Not Rated

Adapted from a best-selling novel, this film is Oscar’s first western. The next one wouldn’t come along for another sixty years- “Dances with Wolves”.

Yancey Cravat, a newspaperman and lawyer, tries to claim a plot of land in the Oklahoma Territory Land Rush at the beginning of the film (similar to 1992’s “Far and Away” with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman). A wily woman (later discovered to be a prostitute) tricks him and stakes her claim first, but he still decides to move his family (wife Sabra and little boy Cimarron) to that area from Wichita. He becomes a respected figure in the booming town of Osage; he starts a newspaper and is determined to run out the hoodlums. He is even asked to officiate the first religious meeting in town. He opens it by saying, “Welcome ladies and gentleman to the first meeting of the Osage First Methodist Episcopalian Lutheran Presbyterian Congregational Baptist Catholic Unitarian Hebrew Church.” J

Yancey, played by Richard Dix, is more dashing than handsome really, and sounds as imposing as he looks. He’s a little Curly-esque for those of you familiar with “Oklahoma”. His commanding presence and the way he calls his wife “Sugar” made me a fan…. up until he leaves. When first leaving Wichita, he explains he could never settle in one place for more than five years; he gets antsy. So, when more territory opens up years later, he leaves his family and business and doesn’t return for five years. Let me say for the record, if my husband ever found himself needing something more exciting and took off for five years without any communication, he’d come home to find himself with a key that doesn’t work and some papers to sign. Just sayin’.

But Yancey does it AGAIN, and this time it appears to be for good. By the end of the film, forty years have passed for the Cravat family. The audience gets to see Sabra and Yancey’s two children grown up and married (one to Native American royalty who was also their hired help, and one to one of the oldest but richest men in town). Sabra continued to run the newspaper… but don’t ask me why she didn’t take her husband’s name off as Editor-in-Chief. She is a woman of fortitude having accomplished a great deal in her husband’s absence and is formally recognized when elected into Congress.  

I’m not sure why the Yancey’s son was named Cimarron (nicknamed “Cim”) though. Near the beginning of the story, the mother explains they named their son Cimarron because it means “wild and unruly”. But the story wasn’t about him; nor did he seem that wild of a child. As you’ve read, Yancey was the main character who couldn’t stay in one place for very long. He craved challenges and new adventures (usually involving relocating).

I’m also not understanding the movie poster. I really don’t think that’s a fair or accurate depiction of the film. More specifically, I don’t know what’s going on with the woman on the step OR the woman in the painting behind him. I found another poster online that wasn’t much better. It looks like the cover of some bad romance novel.


Some viewers may be sensitive to the stereotypes of minorities that abound in this movie, but keep in mind when the movie was made. Also, having not lived in that time, I’m not sure how much of what I saw was western clich├ęs or true to form. The men in this film sure liked to battle out every issue with their pistols. They never really had good aim (unless it was critical, conveniently). And several times Yancey shot from his waist- he would steady himself, like he was trying to aim, with his wrist up against his hip. Hmm.

“Cimarron” is considered to be one of the weakest winners in Oscar history in terms of its financial success (and reviews on Imdb.com). It was up against “East Lynne”, “The Front Page”, “Skippy”, and “Trader Horn”, none of which I’ve heard of or seen. It also won Best Adaptation and Best Interior Decoration (um, what?). Another little bit of trivia: This was the first film that technically won Best Picture; the three before this were awarded Best Production (that was the award before the name change).  

FAVORITE SHOT:

The camera pans across to show the little town of Osage start to grow in 1889 and it immediately reminded me of this shot from one of my favorite movies… do you recognize it?


The one on the right is the growing western town of Hill Valley in 1885 from “Back to the Future, Part 3”.

LESSONS LEARNED:

Do not underestimate a woman’s drive for a successful career and/or the desire to provide for her family. I give Sabra much credit for forging full steam ahead with her life after Yancey leaves (especially the second time). She didn’t give up or try to marry again in order to have help or financial assurance. (I’m sure her reason was because of her unfailing love for Yancey, but still, it wasn’t easy). Not only did she survive, she prospered, making for herself a name of prominence.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Life of Emile Zola, 1937










Not Rated

The beginning of this film starts with a paragraph stating that “This production has its basis in history. The historical basis, however, has been fictionized for the purposes of this picture.” First of all, I’m pretty sure they made up the word ‘fictionized’. Second, what? I hate when movies and books write things like “Aside from the actual people, events, and locales in the story, all names, incidents, and places are used fictitiously.” Didn’t they just use synonyms of those words and basically say, “Everything is true and real, except for when it isn’t”?? Great, that cleared it right up.

This story is apparently about the 19th century French literary novelist Emile Zola. He devoted his life to writing “the truth” but often got criticized and censored by the government.  Dreyfus, an officer in the French Army, gets ridiculously and unjustly convicted of treason and exiled to the infamous isolated French prison on Devil’s Island. When Zola discovers the truth, he risks his reputation (and life) to setting the record straight. The corrupt court system doesn’t believe him either, unfortunately. I won’t give away the ending in case you’d like to see it. Perhaps I’m becoming more of a fan of older movies, but I actually enjoyed watching this film too. The storyline kept me captivated. If you find yourself in a mood to watch an old black & white film, I would recommend it.

As to be expected from films based on actual people and events, some liberties were taken with the screenplay. Supposedly, part of the real reason Dreyfus was railroaded, was because he was a Jew, but this is never mentioned in the film; I don’t know why.

Paul Muni, who plays Zola, was only in his early forties when he starred in this film. I found that fascinating because he certainly looks much older with the age make-up and hair. Spencer Tracy won the Best Actor award this year. I didn’t see his winning performance, but I thought Paul Muni definitely deserved his nomination at least. [I’m not sure why that is the movie poster (above)… I guess it does kind of resemble the actor who plays Zola, but he never looked that way/young in the movie. Here’s the more common movie cover:]


I recognized the man who played the cowardly General as the man who played Grandpa in “Meet Me in St. Louis” seven years later. I LOVE that movie and loved his character, so it was difficult for me to see him as such an ass in this film. (Sign of a good actor, though). According to imdb.com, he was in nineteen movies in 1937! The guy must’ve lived on a movie set. He was also in “Gone with the Wind” and I look forward to recognizing him in that film when I re-watch it for this blog.

This film was up against “The Awful Truth”, “Captains Courageous”, “Dead End”, “The Good Earth”, “In Old Chicago”, “Lost Horizon”, “One Hundred Men and a Girl”, “Stage Door”, and “A Star is Born”. Geez, were there any other films made that year that felt left out? In addition to Best Picture, it also won Best Supporting Actor (the man who played Dreyfus, which was well deserved) and Best Screenplay.

There was one Oscar snub in my opinion: Disney’s first full-length animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” came out in 1937. It was only nominated for Best Score (and it lost!!) but I think it should’ve been thrown in the huge pile of Best Picture nominees for its feat of animation. And supposedly, it was surprising that one of the biggest romantic tearjerkers of all time, “Camille” starring Greta Garbo, wasn’t also nominated for Best Picture.

FAVORITE SCENE:

When Zola finally takes the stand in the dramatic court room scene, he pleads with the jury not to be blinded by fear, pressure, or ignorance. He swears on his life that Dreyfus is innocent. It is quite a lengthy monologue, but definitely a climactic moment of the movie.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Zola’s motto in life and the theme of the film: Let truth conquer.

People can battle for justice in more than one way. The military use weapons. Authors, like Zola, use pens. Other citizens can attend protests, write letters, and pray, among other things.

Don’t give up fighting for what you believe. Even though it looked bleak, Zola risked his career for a man he never met because he believed in the power of honesty and righteousness.

At the end of the film, Zola’s longtime friend leaves the audience with this wisdom: “You who are enjoying today's freedoms, take to your hearts the words of Zola. Do not forget those who fought the battles for you and bought your liberty with their genius and blood. Do not forget them and applaud the lies of fanatical intolerance.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oliver!, 1968







Rated G

Funny story… I had never seen this movie before and I actually watched the second half of it first. By accident, of course. I thought I chose the “widescreen” format side of the disc (over the “fullscreen” version); turns out, I put in “widescreen, side B”. You’d think the beginning music entitled “Entre Act” would have given it away but my excuse is that I had just put the kidlets down for a nap and I was fiddling with their monitors, too preoccupied to notice. I’m somewhat familiar with the storyline thanks to a little Disney movie called “Oliver & Company”. No really, I’m familiar enough with the storyline of Charles Dickens’ novel, “Oliver Twist”. So I thought it was really strange that it was missing some very recognizable songs and the plot seemed a little disjointed. Mind you, it didn’t really click until I put it back in the mailbox to send back to Netflix and realized I only watched an hour of film. So, I put it back in and finished with the beginning. I don’t recommend that style of viewing.

“Oliver!” is about the orphan boy who got busted for asking for more. As a nine year-old, he gets kicked out of the orphanage for having the audacity to ask for more gruel for supper. He’s sold for practically nothing and runs away to find a “family” of orphan boys (ironically) living with an elderly man who teaches them how to “Pick a Pocket or Two” to survive. I won’t go into the plot here, but naturally, there’s conflict and then a happy resolution (but not before a couple of deaths). The film has a pretty recognizable score in my opinion with well-known songs including, “Food, Glorious Food”, “Consider Yourself”, “I’d Do Anything”, and “Where is Love?” I’m a fan of live theatre so I would recommend seeing this one on the stage over watching the film if the choice presented itself to you.

Overall, I thought the singing was average and the acting fine, but not Oscar-worthy. To date, this is the only G-rated film to have won Best Picture. “Oliver!”’s win was a major upset. It was up against “The Lion in Winter”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Rachel, Rachel”, and “Funny Girl”… more on that later, believe me. It also won Best Director, Best Musical Score, Best Art Direction/Set Direction and Best Sound, all of which I contest. It also won a sixth Honorary award for its choreography which I’ll let slide.

FAVORITE SCENE:

I enjoyed watching the choreography of the musical number, “Consider Yourself” (even if Oliver is the only one off beat when he joins the gang in the last bar of music). The whole town is singing and dancing while they go about their daily routine of buying and selling goods in the marketplace, while the Artful Dodger is reassuring Oliver that he will soon feel at home. I’m still waiting for the day when my town will do a spontaneous but collective song and dance routine. My character shoes are by the door.


LESSONS LEARNED:

If you want something, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Well, in Oliver’s case, it kind of did… but it did end happily for him.

Don’t trust just anybody. Just because someone appears to be trustworthy, doesn’t mean they are.

* * * * * * * * * *
 
I’d like to entitle the second half of this post:  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!?!?!

This is the second movie I’ve come across in my blog so far where I completely disagree with the Academy’s choice for Best Picture (first one was “American Beauty”). If you know me, you know I’m a fan of musicals, so well done “Oliver!”, thank you for adding another musical to the short list of musical winners. HOWEVER, the award should have gone to another G-rated musical “Funny Girl” starring the absolutely fabulous Barbra Streisand. “Hello gorgeous…”


This movie is based on the real life of vaudeville comedienne Fanny Brice, a Jewish girl who rises from the slums of New York’s Lower East Side to become a star in Ziegfeld’s Follies. She falls in love with Nick Arnstein, who is addicted to gambling, and remains devoted to her man even though the gambling and her fame take a toll on their marriage. The film has an incredible soundtrack including one of my favorite songs of all time, “People”.


This was 22 year-old Barbra Streisand’s film debut (in a role she had perfected on Broadway in 1964). Barbra is a phenomenal actress and singer. Her voice is flawlessly and technically sound, seriously. Whether you like her style of singing or not, you still have to admit she is a brilliant musician.


As an actress/singer/director/writer/composer/producer/designer/activist/philanthropist, she is one of only 13 EGOTs out there (someone who’s received an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award). If you haven’t noticed already, I’m kind of a fan of Babs. Thankfully she won Best Actress for her role in “Funny Girl”. (Actually, she and Katharine Hepburn TIED for that award for the first, and so far, only, time in Oscar history.)

My point is: if you’re going to rent/borrow a film from 1968, choose this one. Heck, if you’re going to rent/borrow a film PERIOD, choose this one. And then call me and we’ll “talk amongst ourselves”…

Sunday, August 7, 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930










Not Rated

This film is now known as one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. It is based on a novel about a group of German school boys who proudly go to war (WWI, the Great War) to defend and protect their country. They quickly become disillusioned and see war for its reality: fear, danger, and death. After Hitler’s rise to power, this film was banned in Germany because of its grim outlook on war.

The boys were so green going into this war, it was sad to see the harsh reality set in for them. As they initially settled into their bunks, they excitedly took turns sharing what area of training they desired: cavalry, bayonet drill, infantry, etc. Shortly after that, they play a prank on a higher-ranking officer, the mailman they knew from home. I can’t even imagine that would fly in today’s day and age. Not long after that, they literally start going crazy in the bunker from the sounds of the guns and bombs above. To be honest, there was a moment I was about to go crazy myself just from the incessant background sound effects, but I will bite my tongue since I find myself in the comfort of my home while there are soldiers out there now selflessly defending our country. The film ends up highlighting Paul Baumer, one of the boys, who I think got snubbed an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (or Supporting Actor?). He gives us a more personal view into the challenging life of a young soldier.

There were a couple of scenes that showed the men learning to march which had me questioning its history and current relevance. To me, it seems that marching as a collective group served an obvious purpose during wars like the Civil War when armies literally squared off and/or attacked on foot on large battlefields. I questioned the importance of it now when wars are fought more from a distance or with small groupings of soldiers. I sought education from my cousin-in-law (my cousin’s husband) who is currently in the Army Reserves). He explained that there is platoon-size (20+) and company-size (100+) marching and formation which is basically for ceremony and to instill discipline. It is important for a group that size to look uniform (no pun intended) and in sync at all times. But there is also field march, or tactical march, which is used more in the field. There you’ll see a platoon-sized group staggered AND separated on either side of a road (or by at least 10 feet); this is for protection against roadside bombs or ambushes. [Thank you Justin… We love you and are praying for you.]


This was only the third movie to win Best Picture, so keep in mind, the visual effects aren’t amazing. For example, soldiers sometimes fell down injured or dead before the bomb even exploded near then. Or some reacted to a bayonet stabbing when it wasn’t even close. That’s ok though; I overlooked it. I thought the final scene was well done though. It showed the boys marching away, each taking his turn to look back directly into the camera, while the imposed soft background showed a plain of white crosses.


Overall, I was generally entertained by this film. I even caught myself smiling at some of the dialogue. But on a more serious note, I was impacted by the boys’ reactions to war. This film was up against “The Big House”, “Disraeli”, “The Divorcee”, and “The Love Parade”, none of which I’ve seen. It also won for Best Director, winning two of its four nominations.

INTERESTING LINES:

After having an unusually large dinner, the group of boys starts wondering aloud…

“Well, how DO they start a war?”
“Well, one country offends another”
“You mean there’s a mountain over in Germany gets mad at a field over in France?”
“Well, stupid, one people offends another”
“Oh, well, if that’s it, I shouldn’t be here at all. I don’t feel offended”
“Well it must be doing somebody some good”

I thought this dialogue was so innocent. It shows how clueless these boys were in their position in the war. They just knew it was an honor to fight. Sadly, because of my lack of involvement in politics, I can relate to their line of thinking sometimes.


INTERESTING SCENE:

There is one scene where some older gentlemen “back home” are talking about the war and complaining about the food at their current establishment in the presence of Paul, who was on leave at the time. One nods to him and says, “After all, you do at least get decent food out there. Naturally, it’s worse here. Naturally. But ‘the best for our soldiers all the time’. That’s our motto.”  Paul remains silent; only the audience knows what his eating routine and menu was like when he was in active duty. He is even so pompous as to accuse and offend the soldier of not knowing anything about the war. Of course he explains Paul knows the “details” but not “how it relates to the whole”.


This leads me to my…

LESSONS LEARNED:

Don’t pretend to know what goes on “over there,” unless of course, you have a loved one telling you specifics.

Pray for our brave soldiers, that they have the strength to continue fighting for and defending our country, that they know how much they are loved by the family and friends who miss them dearly, and that they return safely to us when their time comes. And remember to pray for our veterans and the deceased. They have helped make our country what it is today.

Friday, August 5, 2011

All the King's Men, 1949










Not Rated

This Oscar winner was adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel based on the real-life politician Senator Huey Long, known as “The Kingfish”, and the dangers of a populist dictatorship and corruption of power (although the movie claims to be just a fictionalized account inspired by the book). I was completely unfamiliar with the story/movie although the title rang a bell; I was thinking of the remake done in 2006 (rated PG-13).  I first watched this original movie but after looking at the cast of the remake (Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins), I immediately Netflix’d it to compare. So I will blog about the original film with a sprinkling of comments about the remake. Reportedly, the director of the remake never saw the original film, and adapted his screenplay solely from the novel. I don’t buy it. [I just got word from a reputable source that it is true; my friend's husband worked as an exectuive producer on the re-make.]

The story follows Willie Stark, who is a backwoods small-town lawyer/politician who loves to throw the word “hick” around. He eventually gains enough popularity (with the hicks) to get voted in as governor but starts to lose his principles along the way. As a citizen, he believes the people in office are “stealing” their money, keeping too much in their pockets and not shelling it out where it is deserved (i.e. roads and schools). In charming his public, he winds up charming himself and becomes very hoity-toity. He understands his new power (of persuasion) and uses it to entice or force people to do his dirty work. He starts to rely on the bribe and the threat. Politics after all is dirty work, right? He turns into a real sleaze and ends up cheating on his wife and then cheats on his girlfriend; this isn’t really even part of the plot, but it’s obvious. There’s a great line in both films when the girlfriend goes to Stark’s right hand man, Jack, to complain about his “two-timing”; he shoots back, “He's two-timing Lucy [his wife], so there's another kind of arithmetic for you.”

The remake clarified some things and confused me about others. I was unaware that the criminal at the end was the doctor (the man Starks had just signed a deal with and brother of Jack’s old flame). I don’t know now if I wasn’t paying clear enough attention or what, but the remake made it perfectly clear. I’m still a little confused (from both films) as to how exactly Judge Stanton was being blackmailed by Stark, but I’m not surprised… that stuff usually goes over my head. I also didn’t get from the first movie that either Sadie Burke or Tiny Duffy (both part of Stark’s entourage) tipped off the doctor about Stark’s involvement with his sister. Overall, I preferred the remake. It was more dramatic, perhaps because it was in color with actors I recognized. But interestingly, the older version has a higher rating at imdb.com.

I won’t give away the ending in case you want to see either film. But I thought the final scene in the re-make was done creatively. It was filmed in black and white, perhaps as a nod to the original film, except for the last five seconds or so. It was dramatic and impressive, much more so than the original’s final scene.

This film was up against “Battleground”, “The Heiress”, “A Letter to Three Wives”, and “Twelve O’Clock High”, none of which I’ve even heard of. Supposedly though, this was the front runner. It also won awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

INTERESTING SCENE:

Willie was hung-over (perhaps still drunk) the morning after finding out his initial position is the race was a ruse. He stands up in front of a crowd to announce he’ll still run because he’s in it to provide for and protect the hicks, dammit.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Stand up for what you believe in. If you feel strong enough that there is an injustice, do something about it. (That lesson really just comes from the beginning of the film.)

Beware of silver-tongued politicians.