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…


Monday, December 31, 2012

The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952









Not Rated

“The Greatest Show on Earth” is most certainly not the Greatest Movie on Earth. It’s such a bummer that I had to end this fun challenge with such a crummy film. The story is obviously one about the circus, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey’s to be exact. Its part drama, a little comedy, and part documentary. A narrator comes in every once in a while and gives a detailed account (along with visuals) about the tedious jobs involved in setting up or tearing down traveling circuses. Watching the absolutely enormous canvas tents get laid out fascinated me a little bit, I’ll admit, but overall, I was bored throughout a majority of this movie. Many (long) scenes were just like watching a circus (ie. trapeze acts, elephants, tigers, clowns, parades around the rings….).

I’ve never been drawn to the circus, and it’s not for an obvious reason- I’m not afraid of clowns; I just don’t think they’re funny. They were my least favorite part of Cirque du Soleil. Circuses are just weird. I feel bad for the performing animals and hope they’re being taken care of with love. In watching this film, I wondered why it was ever appropriate to make fun of or laugh at homeless people, aka ‘hobos’.

As far as the storyline goes, Brad the circus owner, played pretty poorly by Charlton Heston, is a man “with sawdust in his veins”. He eats, thinks, and breathes his circus. So much so that he doesn’t have time for a high-flying artist, Holly, who apparently is his girlfriend. (Which reminds me… why was “pigeon” ever a term of affection? I remember the Tramp calls Lady that in the Disney movie. If my boyfriend/husband ever referred to me as a disgusting street bird scrounging for scraps of trash, I’d probably punch him in the throat.) Brad hires The Great Sebastian, another high-flyer who will work the center ring, in order to draw up more business. Holly, distraught over being bumped to the second ring is disappointed in Brad and ends up falling for the suave womanizer Sebastian. She yo-yos between the two vying for their love in return. Her character is absolutely pathetic, and Brad’s is a sap for not doing anything about it. Holly is such a poor example for women (almost as bad as Bella Swan from Twilight). She drove me up the wall the entire movie.

 Holly and Sebastian

The film also stars Gloria Grahame, as another circus performer, who is recognizable as Violet Bick in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Ado Annie from “Oklahoma!”. James Stewart (the lead in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) is also in it… as the clown “Buttons”, who never takes off his make-up. He’s got a dirty little secret that eventually catches up with him. It is a very different role for him and I’m not convinced it was meant for him.
 
Heston and Stewart
 
I have no idea why this film won the coveted award. The story was long, melodramatic, and disjointed, the acting was pretty poor, and the special effects were laughable. I know I shouldn’t knock technology in the 50’s, but SO many scenes are obviously green-screened, that I wonder if these actors ever even left their living rooms. One of the most impressive scenes for the time, was the train wreck, which to me looked like bad special effects from an old Thomas the Train episode. By now, you can tell I wouldn’t recommend this film, but if for some reason, you’re dying to see some circus action and have no opportunity to see a real one, then by all means, grab some popcorn and “enjoy” this spectacle. (I’m sure that’s what director Cecil B. DeMille had in mind when this came out… attract crowds whose town couldn’t host a circus- although I wouldn’t call this a “kid’s movie”.)

My sentiments were confirmed when I read that this film has been considered the Academy’s worst choice for the top prize. Critics believe the Academy felt obligated to honor a great director who had not won an award before as his career was coming to an end. The film somehow was nominated for five awards and won two, including Best Writing: Original Story (please). This film’s befuddled competition was “High Noon” (“the western for people who don’t like westerns” which was expected to win), “Ivanhoe”, “Moulin Rouge”, and “The Quiet Man”. “The Bad and the Beautiful” won the most awards this night (5) but was snubbed a nomination for Best Picture. But most shockingly, “Singin’ in the Rain” also came out this year, was only nominated for two awards, and won none! This was the first year that the awards ceremony was televised- bummer it was such a disappointment.

FAVORITE SCENE:

I refuse to say that the circus stunts were my favorite since I’m convinced they were either involving stunt performers or the actors themselves were really only inches off the ground, I will go for a more human scene. Buttons knows the chances are high that he’ll get caught if he hangs around after the train wreck, but he stays to be a physician to the ailing Brad. It was a selfless move that really made me feel bad for him. That was a moment of decent acting.


LESSONS LEARNED:

Everyone makes mistakes. Academy, I hope you learned your lesson.

Work hard to pursue your dream but don’t trample on or ignore people completely on your way to the top.

Parents, do not raise your daughters to be like Holly, thinking she needs a man, any man, to complete her. Teach her to recognize what real love is.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ordinary People, 1980


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rated R

I can't say I enjoyed this film but it was interesting. It depicts the heart-wrenching story of an upper-class suburban family who is dealing with grief, each member in his/her own way. I figured this film was based on a novel because there were inner dialogues. It’s difficult to translate what is known as “third-person voice” to the screen otherwise. I was right- this best-selling novel came out in 1976.

We learn, through flashbacks and references, that the older son of the family accidentally drowned while out fishing with his younger brother. The surviving high-school-aged son is understandably self-tormented and even suicidal. He spent some time in a mental hospital. The family doesn’t bring up the tragedy and instead walks on eggshells avoiding conversations about feelings. The mother specifically, played by Mary Tyler Moore, disgusts me. I know I shouldn't judge- everyone deals with grief in a different way- but the way she acts as if nothing has happened and doesn’t reach out to her grieving son saddens me. It becomes obvious that she’s always favored/preferred her older son even though she doesn’t cry at his funeral (!), and it’s even more obvious that she’s not getting the help she needs to heal. I wanted to reach in and bear hug Conrad (the surviving son).

The father has a healthier relationship with his son, seems more open to communication, (which is refreshing to see in a father and a husband), and it’s because of him that Conrad agrees to see a psychiatrist. (This part of the film becomes very “Good Will Hunting”- in fact, I wondered if Robin Williams and Matt Damon watched these scenes before filming their own bonding sessions.) The psychiatrist, played by Judd Hirsch, (who plays David Levinson’s very Jewish father in “Independence Day”) is equally fantastic and gives us my favorite line (below).

Newcomer actor, Timothy Hutton, plays the teenage lead in this his debut film. In addition to being in high school and all the drama that implies, Conrad’s also balancing his own guilt and grief, dealing with insensitive adults (including his swim coach), and trying to make/keep friends. I think Hutton is a terrific actor in this film and deservingly won the Best Supporting Actor award for his honest portrayal of this complex character (although I really can’t figure out why it was considered a Best Supporting role…) making him the youngest winner in that category, at age twenty. Interestingly, Donald Sutherland, who plays the father quite brilliantly as well, was denied a nomination. In fact, he’s never been nominated in his whole career, which surprises me because I think he’s a good actor. (You may recognize him from “The Hunger Games”, “Cold Mountain”, and “The Italian Job”, to name a few.)

This film certainly isn’t a “feel-good” movie and won’t leave you with a happy ending (a nice ending piece of dialogue- yes, but a nice ending- no). But if you’re up for a film filled with good acting and deep issues, this is a pretty good one. I shed a few tears at times and feel I learned a few parenting lessons from it.

"Ordinary People" was up against "Tess", "Coal Miner's Daughter", "The Elephant Man", and "Raging Bull". I've heard of all of those but seen none of them. Interestingly, most of the films were about "ordinary", struggling, "real life" people. The winning film walked away with four awards from its six nominations, including Robert Redford for Best Director. Some may think the movie “The Shining” was snubbed a nomination this year; I will never know if I agree because I will never see that movie.

PUZZLED:

The mother hands out true candied-apples to trick-or-treaters on Halloween, served on a silver tray and all. Did people seriously do that in the early 80’s?? Where would kids put them? Did they have to scarf them down before making it to the next house? ‘cause those were big apples...

FAVORITE SCENE/LESSONS LEARNED:

All of the psychiatry sessions are brilliant, but the last one that they had together was especially poignant. Conrad finally admits that he’s afraid to feel, inferring it’s easier for him to go numb. Dr. Hirsch responds, “Feelings are scary and sometimes they’re painful. If you can’t feel pain, then you’re not gonna feel anything else either. You’re here and you’re alive.”
 
 
Denial is a powerful thing.

Communication is key. Keeping emotions and thoughts bottled down does damage to oneself and one’s loved ones. Find help.

Forgiveness is also key. I think this goes hand in hand with communication and healing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Great Ziegfeld, 1936









Not Rated

I’ll admit I was thrilled to see this film as soon as I heard what it was about… This biopic is about Florenz  Ziegfeld, or “Ziggy”, who became one of the most famous names in showbiz. The film reveals to us how he came from lowly beginnings to create what he’s known for:  his “Follies” and their elaborate costumes and productions. He basically created the American chorus girl and put on the most extravagant creations on stage. At his death, a friend said to him, “You’ll leave them with the memories of the finest things ever done on the stage”; I only wish more people recognized his name. I “know” him as the man who hired Jewish comedienne Fanny Brice (played brilliantly by Barbra Streisand) in one of my favorite movies of all time, “Funny Girl”. I was eager to see his story (especially when I read the real Fanny Brice starred in it) and even more excited to see it with my mom who was visiting, since she was with me when I first saw “Funny Girl”.

This was MGM’s most expensive film to date costing them $2 million. Rightly so, this movie needed a big budget to correctly mimic Ziegfeld’s life and career on the stage. It is a three hour “musical extravaganza” with seven production numbers and twenty-three songs, but interestingly, I wouldn’t categorize this film as a musical. The musical numbers merely show us what Ziegfeld accomplished rather than being a part of the storyline. Ziegfeld was known to seesaw from extreme debt to extreme riches a few times in his life. His fast-talking showmanship definitely helped his business, but at his death, he was in debt yet again, and left that debt to his second wife, Broadway maven, Billie Burke. (A little Hollywood trivia: in order to work off his debt, she had to star in a few minor roles, including Glinda the Good Witch in “Wizard of Oz”. J If you’re a fan of that film that came out three years later, you’ll recognize both the Scarecrow and the Wizard in this film.)

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with this film and definitely want to see it again. If you enjoy the life of the musical stage, big showmen, complicated love stories, and/or have seen “Funny Girl,” I recommend you see it too.

This film was up against “Anthony Adverse”, “Dodsworth”, “Libeled Lady”, “Mr. Deed Goes to Town”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “San Francisco”, “The Story of Louis Pasteur”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, and “Three Smart Girls”, and won three of its seven nominations that evening. I haven’t seen any of the other competitors, so I can’t rightly compare, but I’m sure glad this one won so I got to see it for this challenge! Although, I am interested in seeing “San Francisco” now that I’ve read it stars my new old-movie crush, Clark Gable, at the time of the great ‘quake. This was the first year that the categories of Best Supporting Actor and Actress were added to the Academy’s ballot.

FAVORITE SCENES:

In one particularly extravagant production, Ziegfeld designed a rotating stage in which silk curtains slowly moved to reveal singing actors on higher levels designed a bit like a wedding cake. My mom and I sat amazed at the scene wondering when the rotating and climbing was going to stop and how on Earth they filmed that. It had to be the biggest stage I’ve ever seen. (Turns out, cameras back then couldn’t hold that much film, so the cameraman would zoom in on a character, change the reel, zoom back out, and continue panning.)


Although Fanny’s name was quite high in the billing, she had such a bit part in the film. But, being the comedienne she is, she owned that scene. Here is “Flo” presenting Fanny with a mink coat as his way of inviting her to the Follies. She, naturally, thinks he’s an imposter and the banter between the three of them is fantastic. (Fanny is on the right.)
 
 
FAVORITE LINE:

A very broke Ziegfeld and his new star, Billie Burke, declare their love for each other and Burke utters the most beautiful line ever (which ends up being their proposal to each other)…

FZ: There’s little I can offer you, nothing I can give you except my love.

BB: That isn’t good enough. I’d expect part of your ambition, half of your trouble, two thirds of your worries, and all of your respect.

LESSONS LEARNED:

I vow to look at my marriage through the same lens that Billie Burke did. I appreciate the way she looked at the special relationship.

If you have enough ambition, passion, and confidence, go for broke! You may actually wind up there, but then those qualities should put you right again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Crash, 2005


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rated R

Nobody feels comfortable admitting that there are racial stereotypes, but there are. In this film, an ensemble cast of recognizable actors shows us how those stereotypes affect us all and how though we may not know each other, we can still affect one another. Each character in this film is jaded in his/her own way and falls prey to racial profiling. This is not a “politically correct” film and the filmmakers wanted that way. They felt a “PC” film wouldn’t be portraying the truth.

This film takes place in Los Angeles over the course of thirty-six hours. There are six stories that are delicately woven together up to the very end, insinuating that we are all connected. Since their lives cross, it gives you a “small world” feeling. I like ensemble casts (BIG fan of the hit TV show “Friends”) and I especially like stories that intertwine. The downside to ensemble casts, and my husband’s argument, is that because there are no true lead characters, one can’t get truly invested in someone’s plot (or plight) before being whisked off to another scenario. I believe this film does it well. You are concerned for each character and invested in their decisions and actions.

I’ll admit I walked away from my first viewing saying it was okaaaay. I got more out of it this time around and am glad I “had” to watch it for this challenge. I was put off by the racism and violence the first time. Now I realize that’s exactly what the director wanted. In watching the special features on the DVD, I learned that the writer/director wanted to make a film about strangers affecting strangers- how a person can affect another without knowing or even touching them. He knew the views could/would be polarizing but he believes that when people get angry, they start talking, and it’s when they start talking, that issues can start to be resolved. Most importantly, he wanted us to question, “Is this about me?” Sadly, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to getting issues of racism and prejudice resolved. We’ve made progress, yes, but the task ahead is monumental.

Don Cheadle, who plays a detective in the film, told an interviewer “You want to laugh but you ask yourself, ‘should I laugh? Why or why not? A movie that makes you think or question is always good’.” Sandra Bullock, who plays an uptight upper-class housewife in the film, added that “we’re not safe from ourselves and our prejudices”. Don is right on… some of the lines in the film reflect extreme stereotypes and are funny but you war with yourself as to whether laughing is appropriate- for that reason, I’m glad I didn’t see this in a packed theatre.

Rapper Ludacris plays one of the ensemble and his character runs his mouth like he’s got society all figured out. The beauty of this film is that every character walks away having learned something and been impacted. There is no “happy” ending, but knowing that each life is changed appeases that.

The theme of “crashing” is particularly evident in this movie and I wouldn’t really call it symbolic- it’s just obvious. Cheadle’s character even states in the beginning of the film that we are so desperate for human touch that eventually we will just crash into each other.

This incredibly low-budget film was up against “Brokeback Mountain” (highest-grossing film this year), “Capote”, “Good Night, and Good Luck”, and “Munich”. I’ve seen two of those and wasn’t a fan of either. Don’t ask me why “Walk the Line” or “Cinderella Man” weren’t nominated! (Another one of my favorites this year was the winning documentary “March of the Penguins”.) No one film was a top-nominated film and all six top awards were split between six winners (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actor). “Crash” walked away with three awards from its six nominations, including the deserving Best Original Screenplay. Audiences were a little caught off guard about its major win since it wasn’t even up for nomination at the Golden Globes (which is usually a good predictor of the winners at the Oscars).
 
I think the picture on the movie poster was an interesting pick. It may seem like such a random shot to put up there to advertise your movie, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated what it represented. The repercussions of our actions can be serious. Misunderstandings happen all the time. Hopefully, we can be blessed with second chances when we realize our wrongdoings.

FAVORITE SCENES:

One of the characters is in a car crash and a cop, who she unfortunately had an incident with before, is first on the scene to rescue her. She refuses to let him help her, and part of you can’t blame her. But then you see a shift take place in each character, and I think it’s pretty powerful to witness.
 

Michael Pena places the role of a working father and has a couple scenes with his little daughter that just melt your heart… like this one where he takes off his invisible protective cape so that she can wear it and have nothing to be afraid of.
 
 
LESSONS LEARNED:

Exactly what Sandra said: We are not safe from ourselves and our prejudices.

Think before you speak. Your words, though perhaps unintentionally, may hurt someone.

Stand up against racism. Have a no-tolerance policy about speaking ill of a certain race, religion, etc.

Do your part to make this world a more peaceful and accepting place to live.

Every person has their own fears, anxieties, and insecurities. That’s another thing that connects us all as human beings.

Try to go into new situations with an open mind (including watching new films).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Schindler's List, 1993


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rated R

This is one of those films that everyone needs to see at some point, and preferably more than once. It is a powerful masterpiece that is incredibly eye-opening, moving, and influential. It is a historical dramatization (based on Keneally’s novel from 1982) about the Third Reich’s Holocaust and how Oskar Schindler ended up saving the lives of more than 1,000 Polish Jews (because of his infamous list).

The three hour-long epic recreates the period during World War II when Jews, living in Nazi-occupied Krakow, are taken from their homes, stripped of their possessions, and placed in impoverished ghettos and forced labor camps, only then to be relocated to concentration camps, damned for execution. Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and war profiteer, becomes an enamelware factory owner and appoints a Jew, Itzhak Stern (played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley), as his accountant and right-hand man. Although he has his faults, one can see the glimmer of a conscience starting to grow. Stern is keen on his somewhat softening heart and when plans of relocating and refitting the factory are made, helps Schindler create a list of “necessary” employees they’ll need. They both know that their employees’ jobs are the only things keeping them from the gas chambers. Schindler starts to add more and more names (with Stern’s advisement) in an effort to save more and more lives from their inevitable fate, all the while either bribing Nazi officials or going behind their backs. In an incredibly powerful scene near the end, after Schindler has lost his fortune and is now a fugitive, he breaks down, wondering how many more he could have saved had he just tried even harder.
 
 
This is all juxtaposed to the character of Amon Goeth, a soul-less and despicable human being (played by the nominated Ralph Fiennes), who exerts his power over the Jews without restraint or remorse. It is sickening to know that there were/are people in this world capable of such unbridled hatred of others.

Most people remember the pop of color in this black & white film... Before the evacuation of the ghettos, Schindler watches as a little girl walks down the street wearing a red coat. Much later, when piles and piles of clothes and shoes are being burned, Schindler catches that same coat in one of the piles. I’m sure this was a deliberate decision to make this more personal to the viewers… you immediately recognize it and frown. It suddenly snaps you back to the reality of it all in case you were starting to go numb from the sheer volume of unnecessary deaths. It’s not just a pile of coats. Each coat represents a real innocent person. The fact that the coat was a child’s makes you ache even more. (It is her arm that is depicted in the movie poster above.) That is one example of the deservingly award-winning cinematography, in addition to its interesting uses of contrasting light and shadows and some cinema verite (hand-held camerawork).
 
 
A random note about the award-winning music… I recognized the song “Gloomy Sunday” being played at times throughout the film so I looked into it a little more to understand its significance. It is a Hungarian “love” song written around 1933. The original instrumental version was titled “End of the World” until a lyricist told a story about suicide and translated the new version to be “Sad Sunday”. It didn’t become famous in America until Billie Holiday sang it (with slightly different lyrics in English) in 1941 (the version I’m familiar with). It is such a pretty song for being so depressing and it is an interesting addition to the film.
Billie’s version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBIqLqUenz0
I think Bjork’s version adds a certain je ne sais quoi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCEJtUNe90A

“Schindler’s List” won seven of its impressive twelve nominations that night, considering it was the second highest-grossing film this year. This film’s competition was “The Fugitive” (the highest-grossing), “In the Name of the Father”, “The Piano”, and “The Remains of the Day”. Spielberg finally won his first Best Director award; this was his sixth nomination. He also won three technical-advancement awards for another box office hit he produced this year at the opposite end of the spectrum: “Jurassic Park”. A film that I feel got snubbed a nomination is “Philadelphia”- a moving film about a man, diagnosed with AIDS, who is fired from his conservative law firm. Tom Hanks won the Best Actor award for his role in that film, edging out Liam Neeson as well as Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis. Another memorable film that came out this year (and especially meaningful for me since I have a sister with mental retardation) is “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” with one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s finest performances earning him the film’s only nomination (at only 19 years old!).

MOVING SCENE:

It’s wrong to say I have a “favorite” scene in a movie about the Holocaust, so I’ve renamed this section.

One of the most powerful scenes for me was the very very end. I was crying so hard I could barely see the screen. The camera (in full color now) focuses on Schindler’s grave and slowly pans out to show a moving line of people coming to pay their respects by placing a rock on his gravestone. These people are known as the “Schindler Jews”- those whose generations were saved by this man simply marking their name down on a piece of paper. It wasn’t until about halfway through the line, when I started recognizing actors, that I realized each survivor (or descendant) was being escorted to the grave by the actor who portrayed them in the film. It was incredibly moving and respectful and an appropriate ending to the film.


Spielberg paid homage to the millions of victims of this atrocity by making a movie in their honor… the least we can do is watch it.

LESSON LEARNED:

Truly, one man can make a difference.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dances with Wolves, 1990









Rated PG-13

I’ve seen this award-winning film three times now and I know I’ll see it again. It’s a long one, but it’s worth it; I consider it a classic. The film tells the saga of Civil War Union soldier Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) who becomes disillusioned with war and in an attempt at suicide, inadvertently helps the Union soldiers win the battle. Now a promoted hero, he requests to be repositioned out west. The commanding officer (intoxicated and crazy) sends him to a post in the middle of nowhere. Dunbar eventually realizes it has been abandoned, but learns to take care of and live off of the land making the frontier his new peaceful home. We can tell he prefers the solitary life as he is a pensive man, taking notes in his journal daily, but he does make a friend in the hesitant but devoted neighborhood wolf. He also encounters members of the nearby Sioux tribe and after a slow introduction due to their language barrier and preconceived prejudices, he becomes a trusted friend of theirs. Romance is perfectly intertwined with the drama in this film when he falls in love with the only white woman in their tribe (a woman they’ve taken care of since she was an orphaned child played by Mary McDonnell who I recognize as the First Lady in “Independence Day”). Dunbar is accepted into their community and given his new appropriate name: Dances with Wolves.

Kevin Costner, co-producer/director/lead actor, could not have been more perfect for this role. Unfortunately, he lost the Best Actor award to Jeremy Irons in “Reversal of Fortune”, and to be fair… I didn’t see that movie, but I thought Costner was fantastic. One can tell this must’ve been a passion project for him; the attention to detail is impressive. I enjoyed watching the “making of” special feature on the DVD almost as much as the film itself. I learned that Costner did a majority of his own stunts, specifically during the scenes of the buffalo migration. It made me appreciate the filming of that scene even more; the cinematography had already impressed me.

I was first shown this film in fifth grade at my Catholic school… the last time I checked, fifth graders weren’t thirteen. Although I remembered a few scenes, I can guarantee you that most fifth-graders aren’t capable of understanding and appreciating this film at that age regardless if they learn about the Civil War in their history curriculum. For example, three things stuck out in my mind: a Sioux man scalping a white man (I covered my eyes then… turns out they didn’t show it); a fast-forwarded sex scene; and the line “Put that in your book” (the man taking Dunbar to his new post is annoyed that he is always writing in a journal, so when he loudly passes gas one evening, he says that hysterical line).

Two questions: What’s up with Stands with a Fist’s hair? Every woman in the tribe’s hair is nicely braided and hers is out of control. I’m sure the messiness was intentional… an unbridled sexiness of sorts, but I just wanted to yell, “Girlfriend needs a comb, y’all!”
 
 
And why is that picture of Costner on the movie poster? This poster quite possibly wins the “worst movie poster ever” award for its irrelevance. It’s a lame close-up and he doesn’t even look like that in the film! When you buy the DVD now, here’s what it looks like:
 

The genre this film was placed in is Western (although some disagree) which makes it only the second Western to win Best Picture in Oscar history (after “Cimarron” sixty years earlier). Its competitors included “Awakenings” (didn’t see), “Ghost” (good), “GoodFellas” (eh), and “The Godfather, Part III” (awful). It won seven awards from its astounding twelve nominations even though it was not the highest-grossing film that year… “Ghost” was. Another popular movie that came out this year was another one of my faves and a permanent resident of pop-culture, “Pretty Woman”.

FAVORITE SCENE:

Nobody can dislike the scene when Dunbar is trying to find the word for “buffalo” in order to communicate to Kicking Bird… it’s a fabulous game of charades. TATANKA!
 

LESSONS LEARNED:

You should try to learn from and accept people who are different from you.

Travel to what’s left of the frontier and marvel in the beauty God made.

We all need time away (from people, schedules, and technology) to “regroup” and/or reflect about the persons we are and who we want to be. Take time to take a deep cleansing breath.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rocky, 1976









Rated PG

You may remember that I’m not a fan of boxing from my previous post “Million Dollar Baby”… I find no appeal in it whatsoever, so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing this film for a second time. (My husband made me watch it shortly after we got married when he discovered I hadn’t seen this classic.) I ended up enjoying it more this time around but it’s still not one I need to rush back to.

Oscar’s first sports film Best Picture winner features “The Italian Stallion”, Rocky Balboa, (played by Sylvester Stallone) as South Philadelphia’s underdog/has-been boxer from the slums. Rocky explains that he was simply told, “You weren’t born with much of a brain, so you better start using your body.” But he’s what the field calls a “southpaw” meaning he’s left-handed. This can throw off a boxer’s timing so proper training is even more crucial.

Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world, decides to challenge somebody from the town and picks ‘a nobody’: Balboa. Rocky accepts the challenge to “prove he’s no bum”. And therein starts the infamous comeback.

Intertwined with the boxing drama, of course, is a love story. Rocky falls hard for the local shy girl, Adrian. Their opposites complement each other; in his words (when defending their relationship to her brother): “It fills gaps, I guess. She’s got gaps. I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.”  It’s not as memorable a line as “He completes me” from “Jerry Maguire”, but it has the same meaning. He talks too much and she doesn’t talk at all. In time, he brings her out of her shell and she goes through quite a transformation.

My dad (who’s a BIG fan of this film franchise… I believe there’s six of them now) brilliantly pointed out to me (how did I miss this??) that the Disney/Pixar movie “The Incredibles” is a cartoon version of this story… the has-been comes out of “retirement” for one last hoorah, trains night and day, and becomes the hometown hero once again. Wouldn’t you guess, my dad’s favorite Disney movie is “The Incredibles”. J
 
My hubby and I visited some friends in Philadelphia a few years ago and stopped inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. No, I didn’t run up the stairs and reenact Rocky’s triumph like hundreds of tourists do each year, but I did remember that scene from the movie. Nearby the museum, there is even a statue of Rocky.
 
This fighting film was up against “All the President’s Men”, “Bound for Glory”, “Taxi Driver”, and “Network” and big surprise here, I haven’t seen any of those. This very low-budget film had an impressive ten nominations and walked away with three awards including Best Director and Best Film Editing. I did not know that Sylvester Stallone also wrote this film (in a three-day time period)! He was nominated for two awards, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, putting him in the same group as Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles- the only other two people ever to have been nominated for those two awards. Stallone was an unknown, unemployed struggling actor trying to catch his break. Boy did he. After writing 32 previously-rejected scripts, he demanded he play the title role in this film if it got picked up.

FAVORITE SCENES:

Rocky and Adrian’s first kiss is pretty romantic and I can see how the filmmakers appealed to the women in the audience with this love story.

Another emotional scene was when the old boxing coach comes around asking to be his manager for the big fight. Rocky gets infuriated that this man wants this respectful job when he never had any faith in him. But he changes his mind and chases after him in the street.

LEAST FAVORITE SCENES:

When Rocky starts his heavy training, he wakes up before dawn and immediately cracks six eggs into a glass and drinks it. I, meanwhile, audibly gagged. You couldn’t pay me to do that.
 

Another scene that grossed me out, but is a scene that’s famous in this film, is when Rocky starts hitting the hanging slabs of meat in the butcher’s refrigerator like a punching bag. Just yuck.
 

LESSONS LEARNED:

Whatever you decide to do in life or whatever goal you make for yourself, put your whole heart into it.

Rocky imparts some of his wisdom when trying to convince the local “gangster” girl to go home and stay away from the riffraff. He plainly states, “You hang out with smart people, you get smart friends, you see? It’s simple mathematics”.

Adrian: “Why do you wanna to fight?”
Rocky: “Because I can’t sing or dance”
Always choose to sing or dance.

Monday, July 30, 2012

You Can't Take it with You, 1938









Not Rated

This delightful little comedy is an adaptation of a Broadway stage play and is directed by Frank Capra (who brought us one of my all-time holiday favorites eight years later, “It’s a Wonderful Life”). The story follows the eccentric Vanderhof/Sycamore/Carmichael extended family that lives in a large house in Manhattan. The granddaughter of the family, Alice, works at a bank alongside her beau Tony (who is the bank owner’s son and second in command). Mayhem and comedy ensue as Alice invites Tony (played adorably by Jimmy Stewart) and his uppity family over for dinner… only they come a night early and surprise the Vanderhofs. It turns out that Tony actually planned on having them come over a night early in order to catch the Vanderhofs in their natural state (and not trying to put on airs for his wealthy family). This, naturally, leads to a heated argument between Alice and Tony… will they get back together!? Each actor in this film performs his/her character’s uniqueness perfectly; it’s what makes this film so fun to watch. If you’re a fan of my Christmastime fave, you surely won’t be disappointed with this one.


For those of you who have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life”, you’ll see a few familiar faces in this film… for one, the lovable James Stewart (who’s also in Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”). Lionel Barrymore (Drew’s granduncle) who plays the crotchety miser Mr. Potter, plays the simple-minded but wise Mr. Vanderhof (aka Grandpa) in quite an opposite role. You’ll also recognize George Bailey’s father. I guess Mr. Capra enjoyed working with people he felt comfortable with and accustomed to… although I do know that back then, actors had contracts with studios, so he may not have had any say in the matter.

The title of the film comes from the dialogue that Mr. Vanderhof has with Mr. Kirby (the bank owner) during their surprise dinner visit. Mr. Vanderhof doesn’t see the point of stashing riches, of “making more money than you can ever use. You can’t take it with you, so what good is it? The only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends.”

Interesting little thing I noticed: while cleaning the house, one character appropriately starts whistling the tune “Whistle While You Work”. Now I’m sure you all know that this song is originally from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, but did you know that it came out only the year before? It had already become so popular and engrained in pop culture (just like another Disney song reference in the Academy’s first comedy win “It Happened One Night”.)

This film’s win was a bit of a surprise given it was a comedy. It had an impressive seven nominations but only received two wins (including Best Director). It was up against “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Boys Town”, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “Four Daughters”, “The Citadel”, “Grand Illusion”, “Jezebel”, “Test Pilot”, and “Pygmalion”. I haven’t seen any of those though I’ve seen the “modern day” version of “Pygmalion”: “MyFair Lady”.

FAVORITE SCENE:

The best scene in this film is when the Kirbys come over for “dinner” and surprise the clan in all their glory. Each family member is a little oddball in their own way and you simultaneously feel embarrassment and delight in their new predicament. Since the food was not going to be ordered and made until the next day, Penny Sycamore is in a tizzy about what to do for dinner. Mr. Vanderhof seems unaffected and simply lists some items they have on hand and can prepare in a hurry: “Get some beer, canned salmon, frankfurters, canned corn, and sauerkraut”. I was crying laughing watching Mrs. Kirby’s reaction as she looks as if she’s about to vomit.

LESSONS LEARNED:

I couldn’t helped but be reminded of this Bible verse after Grandpa’s little speech to Mr. Kirby: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” Matthew 6:19-20. In today’s society, we place a lot of emphasis on material goods. Keep in mind we can’t take them with us and should be practicing important virtues of patience and love with one another here on earth.

Along those lines and at the risk of sounding cliché: money can’t make you happy. You can’t buy your happiness- it comes from within. And it’s what you do with your money, property, belongings that really matters.

I’d like to revise Mr. Vanderhof’s last part of his lesson though… you can take the love of your friends AND family and the kindness you bestowed on others. It’s important to do nice things for others (not just the people you know well).

We’re all embarrassed by our families. But remember, our individual quirks and insanities, if you will, are our own family inheritance. So c’mon- let’s put the fun back in dysfunctional! J

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gandhi, 1982









Rated PG (may be a little lenient)

I thought I’d follow up my last post with another post about a religious and historical film. Interestingly, this is the second year in a row that a film with religious themes won the top honor (following “Chariots of Fire” the year before).

My husband knows practically everything there is to know about me (and vice versa) since I’ve been with him now for more than half of my life. But, when we sat down to watch this Oscar winner, I was surprised that he had never seen this before. He was equally surprised that I had seen this twice already. (How can you NOT have seen “Gandhi”??, I thought.) Thanks to my parents, I saw this when I was young, (actually too young to really appreciate it), but many things stayed with me encouraging me to watch it again when I was an adult. I got even more out of it watching it a third time. I highly recommend this film to anyone; it is a good history lesson in addition to having valuable lessons in servitude, humility, and faith.

This three hour-long epic is the life story of Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi, a man who became a prominent Indian leader promoting civil disobedience through non-violence. In his early life, Gandhi was an established lawyer in South Africa who helped attain civil rights for Hindis and Muslims through acts of non-violence. Upon returning to impoverished India in 1915, he decides to actively continue his campaign of non-violence and non-cooperation while “fighting” for India’s independence from Britain. He also works for the emancipation of the “untouchables”- the lowest class on the caste system required to clean latrines, sweep, and scavenge. He selflessly forsakes worldly possessions and fasts many times in his life, even to the brink of death. He is imprisoned for political offenses but continues to preach peace and truth and “fight” for a self-sufficient India up until the day he is assassinated in 1948. (As you can see, the film covers a good chunk of time.)

Gandhi is known as “The Father of the Nation” in India and his birthday, October 2nd, is a national holiday and celebrated worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence. This is an excerpt of a speech given at Gandhi’s funeral (also in the film): The object of this massive tribute died as he had always lived - a private man without wealth, without property, without official title or office. Mahatma Gandhi was not a commander of great armies nor ruler of vast lands. He could boast no scientific achievements or artistic gift. Yet men, governments and dignitaries from all over the world have joined hands today to pay homage to this little brown man in the loincloth who led his country to freedom. Pope Pius, the Archbishop of Canterbury, President Truman, Chiang Kai-shek, The Foreign Minister of Russia, the President of France... are among the millions here and abroad who have lamented his passing. In the words of General George C. Marshall, the American Secretary of State, "Mahatma Gandhi had become the spokesman for the conscience of mankind, a man who made humility and simple truth more powerful than empires." And Albert Einstein added, "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” After reading that, who wouldn’t want to see this movie and learn more about this remarkable man!?

There were quite a few terms thrown around in this film that I was naïve to their meanings: Sammie (a derogatory term for an African-American), coon (an offensive term for a black person), kaffir (an insulting term for a black African), coolie (a Hindi word for West-Indian baggage carriers, turned derogatory), and fakir (a Muslim or Hindu who lives solely on alms). I had heard of “coon” before, but all of these words were derogatively used towards Gandhi (an Indian), so that’s why I was confused. Name-calling is so childish; I don’t understand it or have patience for it.

Perhaps I’m being too conservative, but I think this film is violent enough to warrant a PG-13 rating. There are beatings, riots, and open shootings in crowds; that and the subject matter should be saved for someone old enough to understand and handle its meaning.

From its impressive eleven nominations, “Gandhi” walked away with eight awards including a well-deserved Best Actor award for Ben Kingsley. Kingsley became Gandhi. His transformation in looks, mannerisms, and speech is amazing. This winner was up against “E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial”, “Missing”, “Tootsie”, and “The Verdict”. I am confident that the correct film one; no other competition comes close, even though “E.T.” was clearly the blockbuster hit this year, and I do enjoy that film. (“Gandhi” only grossed one-seventh that of “E.T.”). However, I am very surprised to learn that a very influential movie was left out of this year’s nominations: “Sophie’s Choice”. That is a powerful and emotional film with one very traumatically scarring scene (her choice) that I think should have deserved a nomination. Meryl Streep won one of her three Academy Awards for Best Actress for her portrayal of Sophie (see another one of her award-winning performances in “Kramer vs.Kramer”).

The real Gandhi (very late in his life) and Ben Kingsley…



FAVORITE QUOTES:

Charles Andrews, an English priest and Gandhi’s friend, walks away with him after narrowly escaping a beating by some neighborhood ruffians…
Charles: That was lucky.
Gandhi: I thought you were a man of God.
Charles: I am, but I’m not so egotistical as to think He plans his day around my dilemmas. 

Gandhi: An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

LESSONS LEARNED:

See last Favorite Quote. Don’t seek revenge; seek forgiveness.

When asked to give the people a message, Gandhi responded, “My life is my message”. Make your life your message. Act and speak the way you want others to, and remember you are all the while teaching younger generations.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Man for All Seasons, 1966










Rated G

I would bet this is one of the most unrecognizable Best Picture winners, and yet I’d seen it before. In the summer of 2006, I was hired as a Kindergarten teacher at St. Thomas More Catholic School in San Francisco. Wanting to know a bit more about the man from the 16th century whose namesake I would be honored to teach under, I was recommended this film by my dad. I’ll be honest and say it is not the most riveting film, but being Catholic myself, I found great interest in it.

King Henry VIII wants to have a son (to secure an heir to the throne) and his current wife, the Queen, is barren. He has taken up a mistress who “is fertile” and therefore requests a divorce so he can marry her. Now that is against Catholic teaching. The Pope, did however, grant him a dispensation allowing him to marry his brother’s widow “for state reasons” (ensuring him a child) but the King does not want that… apparently he’s also in love with his mistress.

Sir Thomas More (now a saint) is a very respectable and respected member of the King’s Council and a staunch believer and follower of the Church’s teachings. Therefore, he personally discourages the King to seek divorce. The rest of the Council is displeased with STM for not acquiescing to the King… can’t he go along with it like the others to make the King happy? The Cardinal, specifically, reprimands him for being the only member opposing the divorce and making it “a matter of conscience”; if he could only look at the “common sense” instead of “through his moral squint”. Ouch.


In short, Sir Thomas More resigns as Chancellor in attempt to keep the peace by keeping his mouth shut, but his stubborn refusal to give his approval results in his confinement in prison and eventual beheading. This was obviously during a time when there was no separation between Church and State. It was very important that the royalty be supported by the Church. Further, a marriage was not something that could be dissolved by common-law courts since it was an institution granted by the Church. Since the founding of America, there has been this separation of Church and State for us, but I can’t help but wish we were somehow held responsible to a good moral compass.

This film raised questions for me about divorces versus annulments. I read that playboy King Henry VIII ended up having three annulments (and obviously broke away from the Catholic Church forming his own Church of England). But from what I’ve known, infertility is not grounds for an annulment unless this was information that was purposefully kept from the spouse prior to marriage. Deception or dishonesty are key requirements in most cases for annulments, so the King must’ve gone about his annulments another way.

Just because it’s rated G, doesn’t mean I would let little kids see it… only because they would be bored to death with the subject matter and dialogue; it’s too cerebral. It’s rated as such because there is nothing worrisome like language, violence, etc.

I watched this movie for the second time on my portable DVD player while on a long flight. Apparently, the gentleman behind me also watched it because when we started to deplane, he asked what it was. I told him, and seeing the puzzled look on his face, explained about my Oscar challenge. He admitted he was reading the subtitles and was confused… He thought it was going to be a movie like “Monty Python”. “I kept expecting it to be funny… I’m not sure it should’ve won,” he finally said. I smiled and said, “That’s the great thing about this challenge- there are so many different movies that won and for different reasons,” while in my head, I was saying, “I’m not sure the creepy guy behind me, who should have prepared his own in-flight entertainment, should be giving the Academy advice on their picks, okay pumpkin?”

The other nominees this year included, “Alfie”, “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming” (sounds hysterical), “The Sand Pebbles” (sounds incredibly boring), and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (the sequel to Disney’s “Three Little Pigs”). I jest. I haven’t seen any of those so I can’t rightly compare. The last nominee was its closest competition with a very impressive thirteen nominations (compared to eight), and interestingly, these two films were both rewritten from stage plays. “A Man for All Seasons” won 6 awards that evening including Best Actor (well-deserved) and Best Director, among others.

This is not a film I would recommend to just anybody. If you have an interest in history, English history, Church history, or would just like to see some fine acting, then please, watch this film and let me know what you think.

FAVORITE SCENE:

The last ten minutes of the film kept me pretty focused.  Sir Thomas More was finally given a “trial”. He was found guilty of treason and executed. The dialogue that happened at the very end was perfectly poignant:

Sir Thomas More: I die His Majesty’s good servant, but God’s first. (Turning to his executioner), I forgive you right readily. Be not afraid of your office. You send me to God.
Archbishop: You’re very sure of that Thomas?
STM: He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to Him.

LESSONS LEARNED:

Sir Thomas discusses occupations and positions with a young gentleman (who eventually betrays him). He desires a political position with a lot of power but Sir Thomas recommends becoming a teacher. “If I was…” he asks, “who would know it?” Sir Thomas simply replies, “You, your pupils, your friends, God- not a bad public, that.” Do what you feel called to do using the gifts God has given you not because you seek fame or wealth, but because it brings glory to God.

If you get nothing else out of this movie, you at least can be inspired by Sir Thomas More’s courage. It calls to question: what are you willing to die for?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In the Heat of the Night, 1967









Not Rated

The 1968 Academy Awards show was postponed two days due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. just several days earlier. This also was the year that the cinematography categories were merged back together (after 28 years) meaning there would no longer be separate awards for black and white films versus color. Now, aren’t those two very interesting tidbits of information considering this year’s Best Picture winner is about an African American man encountering racism in a Southern white town?  I sure thought so.

This story opens, as you’d guess, in the heat of the (middle of the) night, in Sparta, Mississippi. A well-known businessman has been killed and found lying in the streets. The officer on duty is told to search for subjects and stumbles across a black man- the only man sitting in a deserted train station: Virgil Tibbs (if this famous line popped into your head: “They. Call. Me. Mister. Tibbs!”, then you’re right, it’s from this movie: ). He’s immediately silenced, searched, and taken into custody. The chief ends up putting his foot in his mouth when he discovers his officer just arrested Philadelphia’s leading homicide detective. Well, isn’t that a nice coincidence though? After realizing just how knowledgeable and valuable this guy is, the chief recruits him to help figure out the case. But being in the South, the locals aren’t too keen on a colored man, much less a colored law enforcer, in their community, so tension arises thus adding to the heat.

I had never seen a film starring the great Sidney Poitier and I was satisfyingly impressed; I loved him in this film. He has a certain presence in this film that demands respect. Sure, it could have just been the character he was portraying, but he gave off the air of a respectable actor. (It amazes and saddens me to learn that having an African-American man in a leading role was so controversial during that time that many scenes had to be filmed in Illinois- far, far away from the Deep South!) This was not the only film Sidney Poitier starred in this year… he was in the other racially-charged fellow nominee “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” which was the first mainstream movie made about inter-racial marriage, in addition to “To Sir, With Love”. I was very surprised to see that Rod Steiger won the Best Actor award from this movie for his portrayal of the bigoted cop instead of Sidney Poitier… Sidney wasn’t even nominated! It looks like it was stiff competition though which included Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, and Spencer Tracy.

This film is a classic murder mystery/”who-dun-it?” which is very rare to find in the long list of Best Picture winners, making this film’s win a bit of a surprise, especially considering on specific film it was up against. Nonetheless, it brought home five awards from its seven nominations. This film’s competition included “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Dr. Doolittle”, “The Graduate”, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of “Dr. Doolittle” when I was growing up- (it’s with Rex Harrison from “My Fair Lady”)- and don’t think it needed to be nominated. “The Graduate”, however, is a very popular movie (that I haven’t yet seen). Because of this film’s success, two sequels were made and Sidney reprised his role for both: “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!” in 1970 and “The Organization” in 1971.

FAVORITE SCENE:

I loved it when Mr. Tibbs reveals the depth of his knowledge of homicides to the officers at the station. Although it’s still infuriating that they doubted him so, it’s a little bit of ‘ha HA! In your face!’ satisfaction. (I couldn’t find a picture of this scene online, so instead I found this for you….)


and Disney’s nod…

LESSONS LEARNED:

Pray for ignorance to be extinguished and for racism to end.

Treat people with respect, especially if you want it in return.

Don’t let pride or embarrassment keep you from apologizing, especially if you’re wrong.