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, September 21, 2011

The Sting, 1973










Rated PG

I had never seen this playful little “dramedy” before. Robert Redford and Paul Newman play con-artists, or “grifters”, during the Depression and Prohibition era in Chicago and they are out for revenge. They spend a great deal of time and resources in devising just the right “sting” that will accomplish that. I’m a little surprised that it won Best Picture though… don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. But I definitely don’t think it would win in today’s time- it’s a little too silly. I don’t think it needed to be over two hours long, and I don’t agree with the PG rating. There are a few murders in addition to a woman shown dancing around in pasties.

Johnny Hooker, (who unfortunately, is called by his last name), is played by Redford who is absolutely darling in this film. His poor character though is being sought after by the FBI for counterfeiting and by a New York racketeer named Lonnegan for swindling him out of thirteen grand. If there was any other distraction from Redford’s cutie-patootie face, it was the piercing gaze from Paul Newman’s gorgeous blue eyes. Seriously. My favorite outfit of Hooker's in the film is the one pictured below. The tie, in my opinion, is the best accessory.  


The ‘bromance’ Redford and Newman had working on ‘the sting’ together was cute. Hollywood and audiences were already big fans of theirs from their earlier film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. My friend pointed out how much Redford looks like Brad Pitt in this film!!


There are several twists in their operation that have the audience second-guessing what’s real and what’s planned. Being the gullible movie-watcher I am, I gasped out loud at some moments not knowing what was faked or authentic.

Aside from winning Best Picture, this film won six other awards including Best Music Score Adaptation. Marvin Hamlisch adapted Scott Joplin’s piano ragtime ditties for this film. Throughout the movie, you can hear “The Entertainer” among other of his tunes, and it is quite ‘entertaining’. It works well with the Norman Rockwell-esque title cards that flash on screen to indicate certain scene changes/chapters (similar to the movie poster).
This film was up against “American Graffiti”, “Cried and Whispers”, “The Exorcist”, and “A Touch of Class”. It’s interesting to learn which movies won this award versus which ones have become more popular through the years. Obviously, “The Exorcist” is now a very well-known movie from this year. (I haven’t seen that one in order to fairly compare, but I will never see it.) "The Sting" won seven of its ten nominations. Redford was unsuccessful in nabbing the Best Actor award. He was also in “The Way We Were” with my girl Babs this same year which failed to receive a nomination for Best Picture.

FAVORITE LINE:

When an FBI agent catches up with Hooker, he demands this loose cannon’s attention: “Sit down and shut up, will ya? Try not to live up to all my expectations.”

FAVORITE SCENE:

Obviously, my favorite scene had to be ‘the sting’ at the end because it kept me in suspense. The men are trying to pull off their fake horse betting in order to cheat Lonnegan out of a half a million dollars. Will it work!?


LESSONS LEARNED:

If you’re going to play with a cheater, you may as well cheat also. I hate when people cheat, especially at board games, but if it’s inevitable, you may as well try to even the playing field.

When devising a plan (for anything, really), it’s best to think out all possible outcomes. Be prepared with plans A, B, and C.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The English Patient, 1996










Rated R

This was the first time I’ve seen this film, and I still don’t know how I feel about it (four days later). Juliette Binoche (who strangely looks like Julia Roberts in this movie) and Ralph Fiennes (who I couldn’t help but think was really Lord Voldemort- he even sounds like him!) star in this Oscar-winning romantic drama based on a British novel about a French-Canadian nurse who cares for a dying man gunned down from his plane over the African dessert during World War II. He is badly burned and guessed to be English, even though he’s really a Hungarian count (therefore, he’s the “English patient”). He is a mysterious man who recounts his story of the past decade, revealing in flashbacks his tragically-doomed relationship with a married woman whose husband joins his team of desert explorers.

At first, I questioned Hana’s character (Binoche) for basically forgoing her nursing duties in the army to take care of one dying patient. Actually, so did Almasy (Fiennes). Her excuse was that the war was over and he couldn’t continue to be repeatedly transported in his condition. But still, I would have assumed a nurse would’ve wanted to try to help as many wounded soldiers or civilians as she could. She ends up starring in her own love story within this love story as she falls in love with a bombs specialist played by Naveen Andrews from the TV show “Lost”.

I have mixed feelings about the main love interests (Almasy and Katharine, played by Kristin Scott Thomas). There seemed to be some chemistry between them, but throughout most of it, I wasn’t really convinced that she was madly in love with him, or he with her for that matter. It is eventually and obviously apparent that there was lust, but the verdict was out for me regarding love. I guess because of that, I never really rooted for them as a couple. And probably because I don’t think adultery is romantic.

The ending was emotional and tension-inducing. I had to grab a couple of tissues in order to still make out what was happening on screen. Even though you know how it ends (because the opening scene is also one of the last scenes), you don’t know HOW it will end. Almasy’s devotion to Katharine is intense and I became convinced they loved each other. I only wish it didn’t have to involve sneaking around. Keep in mind, this film is rated R; there is nudity, (which I don’t think is needed in a film), in addition to a couple of sexual scenes.  

The film is very artfully and artistically done fully deserving its award for Best Cinematography. Many scenes could be paused and admired for its beauty and contrasts. One in particular is mentioned below as my favorite scene.

“The English Patient” won nine of its twelve nominations. It was up against “Fargo”, “Jerry Maguire”, “Secret and Lies”, and “Shine”. The first two other nominated films are obviously very popular…. and I can’t recall if audiences felt its win was an upset. This year was dubbed “Year of the Independents” because four out of the five nominated films came from independent studios, and four were low-budget films. (Ironically, the following year was the opposite with the big-studio, big-budget film “Titanic” sweeping the awards.)

FAVORITE SCENE:

Katharine is badly injured in a plane crash and Almasy carries her a long distance in order to find shelter in a cave. The landscape of desert cliffs is stunning against their solitary figures but what is even more beautiful is the thin white parachute that Katharine is wrapped in billowing out behind them in the wind. There was no screen shot that caught this wide angle online, so I got the best two I could find. (I must say, Fiennes does look quite dashing and debonair in this film.)


LESSONS LEARNED:

If you are determined enough, you will find the will power.

Don’t live a lie.

Have compassion for others.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Driving Miss Daisy, 1989










Rated PG

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this movie. I’ve seen it quite a few times now, and each time I ask myself why I don’t own it on DVD. This is the heartstring-tugging sentimental movie about a feisty old Jewish woman, played perfectly by Jessica Tandy, and her loyal African American chauffeur Hoke, played equally as perfect by Morgan Freeman. The story takes place in Atlanta and starts off in the late ‘40s/early ‘50s. The film spans a quarter of a century, so the audience gets to witness the changes and growth in their relationship/friendship. The film was adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play whose writer based it on memories of his grandmother and her chauffer. (I had no idea that Morgan Freeman stared in the stage version first and asked to star in the movie!)

Throughout most of the movie, I was thinking it should’ve been titled, “Putting up with Miss Daisy”. Seriously- her grown-son Boolie certainly has to put up with her obstinacy, but the hired help obviously do too. Miss Daisy is more picky and stubborn than me, and that’s saying something. When she’s being silly or difficult, Boolie says, “You’re a doodle, mama”. That’s my new favorite phrase. [Husband: if you’re reading this, that would be a good code word to call me to get me to lighten up.]

At first, Miss Daisy refuses to have a chauffeur, but once she gives in, she becomes the world’s worst back-seat driver. “Slow down, Take this road, You went the wrong way, Slow down.” It’s quite humorous but sad at the same time. You’d think because of her stubborn nature, that she wouldn’t want things to change or that she doesn’t accept change well. But, she surprises you with this comment about Martin Luther King Jr. coming into town: “It’s wonderful the ways things are changing here.”

This is my favorite role of Morgan Freeman with his role in “The Shawshank Redemption” as a close second. I loved his laugh in this movie. Just loved it. Even the way he said “Yes’m” was so sweet. I just wanted to reach in and give him a hug. Hoke is able to break down the barriers, a little at a time, and over the years, his relationship with Miss Daisy develops into a friendship, even if it is silently acknowledged. He becomes a valued and trusted friend of the family.

I recently read and saw “The Help” (a book and movie about the lives of the colored women who work for Southern white women in the ‘60s) and I immediately recognized a scene in this movie that is evident in “The Help”. The hired help never ate at the same table as their employer. If the employer sat at the dining room table, the help sat at the breakfast table in the kitchen; if the employer sat at the breakfast table, the help sat at the counter. It’s so distressing that a human being, one the employer must’ve trusted, couldn’t even eat at the same table with them. Miss Daisy’s long-time hired housekeeper/cook is seen eating her fried chicken at the counter… Fried chicken being the lunch of choice among Southern black women according to Minny from “The Help”.

The music in this movie just makes me smile. This time, I smiled even bigger when I heard that familiar ditty because I remembered when Jack Black’s character “scatted” it in the adorable Christmas movie “The Holiday” (with Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, and Jude Law).

“Driving Miss Daisy” beat out “Dead Poets Society”, “Field of Dreams”, “Born on the Fourth of July”, and “My Left Foot” for the top award. I haven’t seen the last two films to rightfully compare, but I love and own “Dead Poets Society” so I hope that gave “Daisy” a run for her money. It must’ve been difficult to narrow down the top five movies this year because I think “Glory” and “Steel Magnolias” were also amazing movies that could’ve been nominated. This film won four of its nine nominations including Best Actress (Tandy- the oldest Oscar winner, at almost 81), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Makeup (duh!). The make-up in this movie is phenomenal and the changes are so gradual that you don’t really notice it unless you are forced to look back. They are incredible transformations.

I hope the competition for Best Actor was a close one too because I bet all of the actors deserved it: Daniel Day-Lewis (won), Kenneth Branagh, Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, and Robin Williams. I know from watching their roles that Morgan and Robin just as easily could’ve walked away with the award.

FAVORITE SCENES:

My favorite scenes were near the beginning and then at the end:

When Miss Daisy decides to go to the store, she still won’t let Hoke driver her, so she starts walking on her own. Shortly afterward, he pulls up next to her in her new car and brilliantly makes the car the subject of conversation. (“It’s such a shame that such a nice car sits in that garage all day.”) She’s finally so embarrassed by talking to somebody driving alongside her in a car, she gives in, but she demands they drive below the speed limit because “you save more gas that way”. Hoke realizes under his breath, “You might as well be walking”.


The scene at the end makes my eyes well up. Twenty-five years later, Hoke goes to visit Miss Daisy in her assisted living facility on Thanksgiving. She is so frail, she can hardly do anything for herself, but she demands a few minutes alone with Hoke. He notices she hasn’t finished her pie, so her gingerly scoops up little bites on her fork and feeds them to her as she savors each one. The beautiful scene (and movie) ends with her simple statement, “You’re my best friend.”


LESSONS LEARNED:

Have patience. Hoke knew better than to get angry and give up when Miss Daisy refused to ride with him for a week when he first got hired. Yes, he still asked her and reminded her about the convenience, but it was all done with patience.

Make sure your older loved ones have their licenses checked (or retested). It’s difficult to take away a form of someone’s independence, but sometimes it needs to happen in order to protect them and others.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mrs. Miniver, 1942










Not Rated

This beautiful and sentimental film was made during World War II and is consequently about it. Quite a few of the movies that came out that year (and were nominated for Best Picture) were about the world’s preoccupation with the war. “Mrs. Miniver” was adapted from a series of articles. Winston Churchill commented that its propaganda value was worth as much as twelve battleships; I assume he was referring to the last scene when the vicar was encouraging everyone in the congregation:This is the People's War. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it then. Fight it with all that is in us and may God defend the Right.”

We get a glimpse into the lives of the Minivers, an upper-middle class family living in England, before and during the start of the second World War. It’s a different war movie though. It is more about the family’s, and especially Mrs. Miniver’s, grace under pressure and their calm perseverance to protect and survive. It doesn’t really have a “happy” ending but it is fairly uplifting.

In one particularly memorable scene, Mrs. Miniver finds a wounded German soldier passed out in her yard. She tries to grab his gun, but he awakens and chases her into the house. I was terrified for her and tried to think what I would do. A policeman and a doctor come and she assures the soldier he’ll receive the best medical attention. What?! I asked my husband if that was typical and part of the ‘rules of war’, to which he responded, “Absolutely.” I’m not sure how I feel about this… Obviously, if one of our soldiers is wounded, I would want him/her to be well taken care of, but selfishly, I have problems with the reciprocity. How do you justify spending tax dollars on an enemy’s medical bills when s/he was just trying to kill you?


Greer Garson, who plays Mrs. Miniver, looks shockingly like a young version of Meryl Streep; I think she is gorgeous in this film. I thought she sounded familiar but I couldn’t recognize her… I discovered she also narrated the Christmas claymation classic “Little Drummer Boy”, a show that I watch every December. Greer won her well-deserved Best Actress award and gave Oscar’s longest acceptance speech in history… almost 6 minutes! (Maybe that’s why the music cues actors to move along now after 15 seconds…) Another fascinating bit of trivia: She married the man who plays her SON in this film the following year. She’s only twelve years older than he is, so it was more of a stretch for her to play a mother of three (with one being an adult), than it was for him to play her son.

Walter Pigdeon, who plays Mr. Clem Miniver, also plays Mr. Zeigfeld in “Funny Girl”, so I obviously recognized him (his voice first, really). He also plays Mr. Gruffyd in “How Green was my Valley” from the year before. He was charming and I laughed out loud at several of his lines. He apologizes for his son’s rash behavior by explaining that he is “suffering from an acute case of maturity”. I also completely agree with another one of his statements: “No matter what time I wake up, it’s time for breakfast”.

I found it interesting to learn that the actors that played Mr. and Mrs. Miniver had played a romantic couple in another movie just the year before (“Blossoms in the Dust”), and they played husband and wife in even several more films after this one! It was obvious they had good chemistry together.

Henry Travers plays possibly the most endearing and adorable character ever, Mr. Ballard. He is the town’s station master but he also tends to a garden and this year has produced a perfectly beautiful rose he would like to enter into the town’s annual contest and name “The Mrs. Miniver.” When asking her permission, he explains that “no matter how hurried you are, you always have time to stop and have a word with me”. He is the same actor that plays Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, basically solidifying the fact that I wish this guy was my friend.

This film walked away with six awards from its twelve nominations including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best B/W Cinematography, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. William Wyler, the director, is the most nominated director in Oscar history with 12 nominations and 3 wins. This was his first directorial win but he had seven Best Picture nominations in a row before this film finally snagged him a win. It was up against “Kings Row”, “The Invaders”, “The Magnificent Ambersons”, “The Pied Piper”, “The Pride of the Yankees”, “Random Harvest”, “The Talk of the Town”, “Wake Island”, and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. I haven’t seen any of the other ones but I’ve added “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to my list of movies to watch next year (when this blog is all over) because I was in the stage version back in 1995 (called “George M.!”); the actor who played George M. Cohan won the Best Actor award over Walter Pigdeon.

FAVORITE SCENE:

Lady Beldon is used to winning the prize for Best Rose at the annual flower show, but this year, she’s got some competition with my man Mr. Ballard’s beloved beauty. Although she’s a bit of a crotchety old woman, she has a selfless and redeeming moment at the flower show. It was the scene that made me smile the most, but I don’t want to give it away, so go rent the film!

(There’s the future “Mr. Greer Garson” on the left…)

LOADS OF LESSONS LEARNED:

*Carol Beldon, who became Mrs. Miniver’s daughter-in-law, has some fabulous lines in the movie as well, most of them directed to her soon-to-be fiancĂ©. I think they make good lessons learned…

“I know how comfortable it is to curl up with a nice, fat book full of big words and think you're going to solve all the problems in the universe. But you're not, you know. A bit of action is required every now and then.” It’s easier to sit around and act smart, (or be smart), and wait for others to do the work, but it’s better to get proactive.

“Every moment is precious; we mustn’t waste time with fear.” It is not healthy physically or spiritually to dwell on the fear of what “could be” or “might happen”.

*Lady Beldon made me chuckle with this little lesson on humility…

“Don’t try to be better than your betters… Everyone nowadays has mink coats and no manners”.

*Lastly, to draw a lesson from dear Mr. Ballard…

Don’t be so hurried through life, that you fail to acknowledge other people. I think we’re all guilty of this in today’s world of smart phones and ipods, but don’t forget to raise your gaze and recognize the real world.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The French Connection, 1971









Rated R

This film is about the real-life story of two undercover narcotics officers who made the biggest drug bust in history in New York in 1962. Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (played by Gene Hackman) works alongside Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (played Roy Scheider), but it is he who becomes passionate about cracking this case and proving he IS on to something. To be completely honest, during the first half hour or so of the movie, I couldn’t decide if I thought Doyle was a good cop or not (“good” meaning “not crooked” AND “good at his job”). The movie was actually adapted from a book about the real life cops (with different names) and those two men had minor cameos and served as technical directors for the film.

Doyle discovers some sketchy individuals who he learns are involved in an impending drug exchange. It leads to his obsessive stalking and researching. He learns the other exchangers are from France who traveled to New York to do business (in film). Doyle finally tracks down the car they’re using and he orders it to be stripped because he knows its “dirty”. I have never seen a car completely dismantled like that before. It was pretty amazing to see all these men ripping apart a car down to its frame in order to find the hidden drugs. Which leads me to something that confused me… In the next scene, we see the car completely put back together so that “the bad guys” can have it back to make their exchange (where the cops will bust them later). I’m not convinced that the car could’ve been put back together in such a pristine way that it wouldn’t tip the bad guys off. What happened? Bad editing? Did it really happen that way in the real-life story?

The film literally ends with a bang… and we don’t know who is hit. Subtitles appear and state what happened to each character in real life. It doesn’t clear up the last gunshot but it lets us know what did (or did not) happen to the officers and the bad guys. I’ll just say, it may not be safe to travel to France just yet… ;)

It’s not a movie I would see again though… for me, it was a little boring and uneventful, at least up until the last twenty minutes. There’s a fabulous chase scene at the end as Doyle is trying to catch one of the bad guys. He barrels around the streets of New York under the elevated train as he tries to catch up with the guy that’s on board. It looked pretty dangerous and it was shot well, but it has nothing on the Bourne trilogy’s chase scenes. J

Some of the dialogue was lost on me and I don’t know if that was a 60’s thing, a cop thing, or a NY thing. The Props/Make-Up department had THE WORST fake blood I’ve ever seen in a film. Some gunshot wounds were almost comical. I know, that’s a horrible thing to say, but honestly, that’s what kept me from being grossed out during some unsettling scenes.

This film won against “The Clockwork Orange”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “The Last Picture Show”, and “Nicholas and Alexandra”. I’ve only seen “Fiddler” and even though I LOVE the music in that play/film, I was honestly a little bored during that movie too. In addition to Best Picture, “The French Connection” also won Best Director, Best Actor (Hackman’s first Oscar), Best Screenplay Adaptation, and Best Editing (which I think it deserved).

FAVORITE SCENES:

Trying to remain undercover and inconspicuous, Doyle trails one of the bad guys to the subway. The guy knows he’s being followed and has fun with him by getting on and off before the train leaves. For example, he gets out again to throw away a tissue and Doyle must find a reason to exit the train too. I was nervous for Doyle getting caught inside or out but I was also smiling because it was a cute game of cat and mouse.

The chase scene was another scene I got nervous watching… especially here when he had to swerve to keep from hitting that lady and her baby pram.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Follow your gut. Just make sure you’re right.

There are lots of good hiding places in cars that I never thought of … but the police (and car mechanics) would find whatever it is anyway.

It’s probably safer to take cabs when in New York City.