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…


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Amadeus, 1984










Rated R

I feel like I should have already known all about this movie since I was made to watch it every year in my high school choir class, and if I recall correctly, sometimes more than once a year. I think it was my favorite teacher’s “go-to” movie to put on if he wasn’t feeling well. Instead, I took it as an invitation to doodle on my binder or flirt with the cute senior who is now my husband (time well spent, in my opinion). Alas, all I could say was I knew it was about a crazy musician who I assumed was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

 “Amadeus” is based on a play and is the story of Mozart and fellow composer Antonio Salieri. I’m sure you’re thinking, Boring! There’s no way I want to see a movie about 18th century classical composers. But give it a chance. Mozart’s pink wig and maniacal laugh (that you love to hate, or hate that you love) might just help change your mind.  And the intense jealousy that comes from his competitor Salieri will keep you in suspense.

In an attempt to entice you to rent the film, I’ll give the synopsis…The film is told in flashback form starting with an old Salieri confessing to Mozart’s murder and his own attempt at suicide as a result of the guilt. Mozart was a child prodigy who quickly found favor in the court and rises to celebrated status (although he is often controversial). Salieri, also favored in the court, is not pleased with this newcomer since he makes him look more mediocre. Instead of “playing for God” as he once wanted to do, Salieri starts devoting his time to destroying Mozart’s career, convinced God is playing an unfair game of favorites. He mysteriously commissions Mozart to compose a Requiem (a funeral mass). His plan is to murder him, claim the piece as his own, and ironically play it at Mozart’s funeral. Plans get foiled, but it seems that Salieri did still play a role in his death: Mozart collapses under the pressure of composing something so magnificent so quickly, and his death becomes rather poetic.

It is brilliantly acted by both Tom Hulce (Mozart) and F. Murray Abraham (Salieri). I wish they could have split the Best Actor award (maybe with the slight edge to Tom); both were nominated but Abraham walked away with the statuette. You have to use your imagination a bit as Tom looks and sounds about as American as they come, but his performance as the flamboyant musical genius is entertaining. Mozart was like other artists who loved to gamble, drink, take medication, and work too hard. There are moments in the movie, you think he’s actually gone mad. (And those parts reminded me a little of Gene Wilder in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”.)


Mozart composed “The Magic Flute” just one year before his death. I think it is a remarkable piece. The woman who has to sing those notes, specifically in :45-1:00, is nothing short of amazing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OP9SX7V14Z4

Once again, I find myself having an issue with the original movie poster- this time, with its tagline “Everything you’ve heard is true”. Well, kind of. Even a special feature on the DVD says they used a “storyteller’s dramatic license”. Supposedly, Salieri did not write out the dying man’s music in real life as he does in the film, but that just makes for awesome irony, doesn’t it? Salieri DID feel tremendous guilt during the rest of his life however, and did “confess” to Mozart’s murder and his own attempted suicide, which found him a place in an insane asylum. I was surprised to learn that Mozart died penniless (because of his debts) and was buried in a pauper’s grave.

I recognized Cynthia Nixon (from “Sex and the City”) this time around as the small-part maidservant who Salieri hires to spy for him in the Mozart household. She looks so young and plays the part of the timid and terrified hired help quite well.

“Amadeus” was up against “The Killing Fields”, “A Passage to India”, “Places in the Heart”, and “A Soldier’s Story”, none of which I’ve heard of or seen. Although “Amadeus” made the most at the box office that year, it tied with “A Passage for India” with eleven nominations each, so that also must have been a popular film. “Amadeus” won eight of its eleven nominations including the obvious Best Costume Design and Best Make Up awards. 

FAVORITE SCENE:
The one that had my eyes glued to the screen was one near the very end. Mozart is lying on his deathbed dictating the music in his head to Salieri who is ferociously writing it down (in hopes of eventually claiming it as his own). I am in awe of talent like that, on both their parts. Mozart hears the many instruments playing simultaneously in his head and is able to express that to another musician who can also be made to hear it (though not as fast or well) and can write it down correctly. Amazing.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Jealously is a scary thing, especially if you let it overpower you. Learn to applaud others for their accomplishments. Don’t take it as a direct hit to your own self-worth. Recognize the good in yourself and have a healthy desire to strive to be better.

God gives each of us natural gifts. Cultivate those gifts and help them to grow as a way to please and thank God.

Know when to say, “Enough is enough”. Sometimes we need to slow down or stop altogether when our schedules get packed. Before we know it, time has passed too quickly or, like Mozart, we can fall ill.

*Mr A... I apologize for not appreciating this film when you showed it to us; I hope I have done you proud now.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

West Side Story, 1961










Not Rated

One of the greatest musicals of all time won Best Picture when it was adapted for the big screen in 1961. I doubt that anyone out there is completely unfamiliar with the storyline, but just in case, it is a modern-day (in the ‘60s) version of “Romeo & Juliet”. Two gangs of teenage boys (of different races) fight to defend their turf and their pride on the streets of Manhattan. Maria, (played by a not-at-all Puerto Rican Natalie Wood), falls in love at first sight with Tony, a “Polack” from the city. Pride is too important and unfortunately meaningless deaths occur, although only one of our star-crossed lovers dies at the end of this story.

I’m being completely honest when I say I didn’t know the feuding was due to race when I watched this when I was younger… very young. Race was one of those things I didn’t really seem to notice. Much like I didn’t even know the Cosbys were African-American. I figured the “Jets” and the “Sharks” were fighting because they were silly boys and that’s what testosterone can do to a male. (I still think fighting is silly, though.)

The soundtrack, in my opinion, is classic and flawless. Every song is meaningful and well placed in the story. Many of them have beats that make you want to get up and dance along with them (although I doubt you’ll look as graceful and athletic as them). I’m dedicating this post to my Dad who went around the house singing any one of these songs throughout most of my childhood, including some of the dialogue like, “Now I know Tony, like I know me” (said with a thick NY accent).

The dances’ choreography is beautiful and the dancers perform it with such stunning synchronicity. In fact, choreographer Jerome Robbins was awarded a special statuette at the ceremony for his remarkable achievement in the art of choreography. There’s also great camerawork during the dance scenes. Sometimes the camera is slightly above them in order to see their formations.


And speaking of camerawork, it was almost as if they took the rules of the theatre to heart in the film version as well: in the majority of the scenes, no one is really blocked from the camera. In groups, they are strategically placed so that the audience can see every face. See below:


I particularly noticed the costumes this time around and how the different “sides” were in similar hues at the town dance. The “Sharks” and their girls were decked out in purples, reds, and blues, while the “Jets” clashed with their mustard yellows, oranges, and grays.


“West Side Story” won an amazing ten of its eleven Oscar nominations and was up against “Fanny”, “The Guns of Navarone”, “The Hustler”, and “Judgment at Nuremberg”. I haven’t seen or heard of any of those. This was the first (and only) time that co-directors have won the Best Director(s) award (Robbins and Wise). Natalie was not nominated for Best Actress for this role, but she was for her role in another movie this year “Splendor in the Grass” (which I didn’t particularly enjoy). Interestingly, both leads’ singing voices in this film were dubbed over by other voices. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was another film that came out this year but wasn’t nominated for the top award; it did win Best (Dramatic or Comedy) Score and Best Song ironically!

FAVORTIE SCENES:

I like to consider myself a dancer, even though I haven’t done so regularly since high school (aside from the time I took ballet when I was pregnant). This is probably why I’m drawn to the main dancing scene of the film where the two gangs refuse to mingle while doing the Mambo, among other dances. (It reaffirmed why I like watching “Dancing with the Stars”.)


This time, I particularly enjoyed the pretend wedding scene in Maria’s family’s dress shop where she and Tony confirm their love for each other. I thought the angle they shot it at was unique.


And as lover of psychology, one of my favorite songs is “Officer Krupke”. The Jets sing about their juvenile delinquency and it is quite witty, while at the same time, sadly and considerably true.



LESSONS LEARNED:

Don’t be so territorial (or too proud). Those boys needed a lesson in sharing space.

Do not tolerate bullying. But don’t combat it with fisticuffs.

I still pray that someday, we’ll find a new way of living, and a way of forgiving. There’s a need for more compassion and humility in our world. We need to tone down our selfishness and think of others.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Apartment, 1960










Not Rated

This film follows C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, who attempts to climb the corporate ladder a little faster by renting out his apartment to his superiors for their extra-marital affairs. And boom! - sexual innuendos and references are no longer watered down in the movies, they’re right out there as the main plot. This movie is considered a comedy/tragi-drama – an interesting genre in my opinion. But I guess it does seem to capture it all.

Baxter is quite a push-over and will even wait outside in the snow or rain waiting for his co-workers’ late dates to wrap up. He ends up falling for the office elevator operator (they had those?) played by Shirley MacLaine. Little does he know though that she is fling #whatever of his boss’s. Fran (MacLaine) is devastated when she discovers she’s just another one of his flames and attempts suicide when left alone in Baxter’s apartment. The film has a pretty light tone overall which kind of eases the tension when things get dark. All ends well though for those worried about a happy ending.

This movie was considered quite risqué for its time. Nothing obviously is shown (in that regard), but the mere talk of it (which is the main premise of the movie) made it daring. This now may not come as a shock to you to find out that this is the same director that brought us “The Lost Weekend” (the first movie to really deal with alcoholism).

“The Apartment” was up against “The Alamo”, “Elmer Gantry”, “Sons and Lovers”, and “The Sundowners”- NONE of which I’ve even heard of… although I hadn’t even heard of the winner either. It won half of its nominations including Best Director, Best Writing, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. I’m not sure about those last three wins… Although, I’m a little surprised it won Best Picture to begin with. Yes, it may have pushed some boundaries (which the Academy historically seems to favor), but overall, the movie was kind of no big deal. It’s not one I would necessarily recommend or rave about. It’s like any other “comedy/tragi-drama” that comes into theatres nowadays. I would have guessed that John Wayne’s big-budget film about the battle for independence at the Alamo would’ve snagged the award. ANNNNDD… guess what other movie was made this year but not even up for nomination? “Psycho”! – I haven’t seen it but I’m pretty sure it’s a popular movie.

SCENE:

In one particularly comical scene, a sick Baxter (from standing out in the cold the night before) is called into his fast-talking superior’s office and questioned about a key that’s floating around the office. Thinking he’s busted for spreading immorality around his work environment, he gets quite anxious and accidentally squirts nasal spray all over the office. Turns out, boss man (Fred McMurray, who is cast against type) just wants in on the action.


And how about when Baxter makes dinner for Fran and strains the spaghetti with his tennis racket…?


LESSONS LEARNED:

Stand up for yourself. Don’t let people walk all over you, even if you think you’ll benefit from it later.

And definitely don’t be the keeper of people’s dirty little secrets.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gone with the Wind, 1939










Not Rated

I’ve seen this masterpiece two and a quarter times now. One of my besties from grade/high school tried introducing this film to me when we were in fourth grade. I fell asleep not long after it started. (I’m not sure if I was just too young to appreciate it or if that was just a time I fell prey to the childhood narcolepsy that I believe plagued me.) Twenty years later, I thought it only appropriate to watch it again with her for my blog. I followed my own advice from “Lawrence of Arabia” (Lessons Learned) and armed myself with my Diet Coke for the beginning of the film and popcorn for the intermission, even though we started it at 8:30 pm. For sure it was because I was caffeinated, but it didn’t seem as long as I remembered. It is the longest Oscar film in history weighing in at an alarming 238 minutes… 2 minutes shy of 4 hours! (But I’d rather watch that than read the 1,037 pages of the best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.)

“Gone with the Wind” was the first color film to win Best Picture. It takes place in Atlanta at the time of the Civil War. It’s hard to condense four hours worth of plot, so I’ll just say that basically it is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a headstrong Southern debutante, and her love-hate romance with Rhett Butler, a professional gambler and veritable black sheep. He was expelled from West Point and disagrees with the war. Miss Scarlett, played by Vivien Leigh, is a willful, manipulative, stubborn, and selfish woman who spends most of the movie with one eyebrow raised… (I was starting to wonder if it was plucked that way).


She has a few redeeming qualities but I spent most of the movie disliking her. Clark Gable, my adorable new crush from “It Happened One Night”, plays the almost-equally obstinate but incredible dashing Rhett Butler. He didn’t win the Best Actor award even though in my opinion, he deserved it.

I have an issue with the original movie poster; that is NOT a scene in the movie. Yes, Rhett carries her upstairs in a red dress but it is not falling off for Pete’s sake, nor is his shirt open. In fact, his ascot is still in place, and she’s kicking and fighting him in his arms. Just like “Cimarron”’s poster, it just looks like a trashy romance novel to me.

The movie’s enormous $4 million budget was record-breaking for its time. That alone might make you think it was a shoo-in to win Best Picture, but “Gone with the Wind” was up against quite a few well-known and respected films: “Of Mice and Men”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Ninotchka”, “Love Affair”, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, “Dark Victory”, “Stagecoach”, “Wuthering Heights”, and “The Wizard of Oz”. I think it was unlucky that “Wizard of Oz” was made the same year, because I think that is a celebrated classic that deserved this award as well. (Note: Judy Garland did receive a special juvenile Oscar that year for her portrayal of Dorothy at only seventeen years old!) GWTW was awarded eight of its thirteen nominations including: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (to the first African American performer ever nominated and the FIRST ever invited to the ceremony!!!!), Best Screenplay (the first posthumous award given out), Best Color Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration (still not really sure what this means), and Best Film Editing. This is another movie whose Cinematography award was well deserved. The visual aspects of this film are incredible. Sure, some were enhanced, probably even more so once restored onto DVD, but the wide screen shots emphasizing color, lighting, or grandeur are breathtaking.



FAVORITE LINES:

While at an afternoon BBQ, the invited ladies all retire to a room upstairs for a nap. Mammy argues with Scarlett that “well brought up ladies takes naps at parties”. Man, how I wish that were still true…


This next quote probably seems silly but I was laughing out loud at this old man talking to poultry in the yard: A house servant is stalking a scrawny chicken with an axe in the rain hoping he can become Christmas dinner “for the white folks”. He pleads with the chicken, “Come on, old gentleman. We’s ate all your wives. We’s ate all your little chicks. You got nobody to worry your head about leaving… Don’t go getting so uppity. Even if you is the last chicken in Atlanta”.

Probably the second-most famous line from the movie is said by Rhett when he realizes that Scarlett, although she declares otherwise, really wants to be kissed by him. He stares at her face with her eyes closed leaning up thisclose to his own and says, “No, I don't think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.” {Sigh} I believe this is true of every woman.


The most recognizable movie line of all time also comes from Rhett at the very end once he’s had enough of Scarlett’s selfishness and finicky behavior, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

MEMORABLE SCENE:

Scarlett implores her Mammy to make a new elaborate dress for her so she can appear respectable in front of Rhett Butler, when they really have no money. Mammy makes her a dress out of one of the only things the Civil War scavengers didn’t take, green curtains. Not only is the dress hysterical, but so is Carol Burnett’s comedy sketch about it that she performed on her show back in 1975: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEPUnGfZMWY&feature=related
If you don’t have time to watch the 9 minute clip, at least watch her come out in the dress at 3:20.


TOUCHING SCENE:

Scarlett is (accidentally) pushed down the stairs by Rhett and subsequently loses her baby. She is laid up in another room while the doctor cares for her and Rhett is about to lose his mind in their bedroom. We see stubble for the first time on his face and his eyes are puffy from crying. Melanie Hamilton, who has been a dear friend to Scarlett (which unfortunately isn’t reciprocated), comes in to console him. The words they exchange are incredibly touching. He opens up to her and she comforts him in a loving way.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Don’t be too proud to ask for help. But also, don’t ask for it without at least trying it yourself, first.

Don’t put off important issues to “think about it tomorrow”. Yes, sometimes we need a little time to really weigh out the options before we make important decisions, but don’t be naïve and just “not deal with it”.