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…


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Braveheart, 1995










Rated R

It’s really too bad that Mel Gibson has gone off the deep end, because I do like his body of work. I love the movie “What Women Want” (lead actor) and I also appreciate “The Passion of the Christ” (producer). So I’m honestly sad to see/hear about his poor life choices. In this impressive Best Picture winner however, he was the multi-talented lead actor/director/producer for a film about Sir William Wallace’s fight for freedom in 13th century Scotland. Mel’s piercing blue eyes (which might even be bluer than Ellen DeGeneres’) and his rich accent make him one sexy Scot on a mission.


If you haven’t seen this film, you should. William Wallace (Gibson), a patriot but a nobody, is out for revenge and freedom. After tragically losing his new wife at the hands of the English, he leads his men in battle after bloody battle to unify his nation and break out from under King Edward I’s oppressive rule.

Unfortunately, most critics had a field-day with this film. A Scottish historian once said the film “totally sacrificed historical accuracy for epic adventure”. In 2009, the film was ranked second of “the most historically inaccurate movies”. Another historian got into a tizzy about the kilts (which apparently weren’t worn back then) and had this to say: “The events aren't accurate, the dates aren't accurate, the characters aren't accurate, the names aren't accurate, the clothes aren't accurate—in short, just about nothing is accurate.” Way to be a buzz-kill sweetie, thanks. (If you want to read more about the discrepancies, head to Wikipedia.com.)

THAT said….. I still think it’s a great movie. I am not watching for historical accuracies, (I don’t know much about that part of history anyway), I am looking to be entertained by a good story. Inaccurate or not, it is a compelling film with fantastic acting. I will warn you though that this is a very violent film. The battle scenes are brutal and bloody and even some of the non-battle scenes are too. So if you’re easily affected, keep one hand over an eye. I usually am easily affected by gore; I hate horror films and don’t do well with blood and death. However, I think this film is influential enough to overpower that. (Plus, the color of the fake blood (that even splatters on the camera lens for a split second – ick!) is so obviously fake, that made me feel a little better. I did keep repeating to myself though “No horses were harmed in the making of this film, no horses were harmed….”)

“Braveheart” was up against another movie that I have seen many times and LOVE: “Apollo 13”. I think that is another amazing true story in which the actors were brilliant. It was also up against “Il Postino”, “Sense and Sensibility”, and “Babe”- yes, the one with the talking pig. (That must have been embarrassing for the other nominees. DON’T ask me how that got into the running over “Mr. Holland’s Opus” or “The Usual Suspects”!!!) Gibson won the award for Best Director but was not nominated for Best Actor which is shocking to me. I immediately knew James Horner composed the music to this film; I recognized his “style”. The award-nominated score sounds like a sibling to the scores of “A Beautiful Mind” and “Titanic”.

POWERFUL SCENE:

While it’s not my favorite, I think the ending is very influential and moving; it’s one that I remembered from my first viewing of this film. Wallace has been captured and is going to be executed for treason and murder. England’s treatment of their convicted during the medieval times is absolutely barbaric and horrifying. The scene was well-filmed though. Instead of focusing on the gore, the camera’s focus was on Wallace’s face and the faces in the crowd. Wallace had an astounding amount of fortitude, determination, and love even until death. His last word and what he held in his hand are evidence of that.


LESSONS LEARNED:

In order to please historians when making a historical drama, try to sprinkle more than a few facts into the storyline.

Freedom most definitely comes at a cost. Some think it’s worthy to die for, others do not. Those brave enough who do, deserve our respect.

Have courage. In the words of Sir William Wallace, “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives”.

If you feel born/called to be a leader, be one that people can trust. William Wallace was only able to attract an army to defend him because he was trusted as a leader.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Slumdog Millionaire, 2008










Rated R

This extraordinary little low-budget independent film got practically no publicity, had no Hollywood hot-shots, and was the surprise winner this year at the awards, especially considering what it was up against: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (which I enjoyed), "Frost/Nixon" (which I also thought was interesting), and "Milk" and "The Reader" (which I haven't seen). Other very popular films came out this year but weren't up for the top award even though they grabbed some of the other top five awards: "Doubt" (good), "The Wrestler" (okay), "The Dark Knight" (very good), "Vicky Christina Barcelona" (okay), and "The Changeling" (downright frightening). “Slumdog Millionaire” was the highest-grossing film of the year though, barely beating out “…Benjamin Button”.

Although it seems I may be spoiling it for you, I'm not. This next information is given to the audience at the beginning of the film... Eighteen-year old Jamal Malik, an orphaned boy from the slums of Mumbai just won 20 million rupees (the top prize) on India’s game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The creator of the show is obviously surprised and is convinced he cheated so he orders two men to get the truth out of Jamal by way of unpleasant treatment. Jamal then recounts every question from the show, in flashback form, and “explains” how he knew the answers by giving us glimpse of his past (again, in flashback). Is he a genius or was he just lucky? He’d argue that his past wasn’t one filled with luck. Turns out it was his destiny.


I’ll warn you that there are a couple of disturbing scenes, especially the one showing the slumlord’s treatment of the child "dogs" he picks up to make money for him on the streets. The flashbacks show us the harsh living conditions that Jamal amazingly survived.

The flashbacks do a pretty good job of showing us how Jamal knew the correct answers to some obscure questions on the game show, but one question this film failed to answer for me was how he got on the show in the first place. If it’s anything like the version here in the States, you have to call in and “audition” by answering tough questions correctly over the phone. But I guess it’s better not to kill the magic of the movie and just let it be…

This film won seven other awards including Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song (“Jai Ho”) which is played at the end during a Baliwood-esque dance number. I’m not surprised at these wins and I imagine this is a fun soundtrack as the music played throughout is fitting and catching. “Slumdog Millionaire” had no acting nominations which is rare for a Best Picture winner; in fact, only 10 other films in the past have been in the same boat. Interestingly, almost half of the twenty available spots for best acting (and supporting-) performances were filled by first-timers, but there wasn’t one for poor Dev Patel (Jamal) who did a fantastic job.

FAVORITE SCENE:

The whole movie held my attention, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. But I did particularly enjoy watching Jamal reunite with Latika. I’m a hopeless romantic….


LESSONS LEARNED:

I know it's cliché and I used it as a lesson learned from the last film I watched, but it IS obvious in this film: don't give up. Jamal is separated from his childhood friend and is determined to reunite with her again. His love for her is clearly driving his determination to find her and he refuses to call it quits on his search. In fact, he never cared about winning the show; he was only on it because he knew she was out there somewhere watching.  

Your struggles in life shape who you are. I’m reminded of something Tow Mater says in the Disney/Pixar film “Cars 2” (which I’ve been watching on repeat since my son got it for Christmas)… Mater is proud of his dents because he “earned” every one of them with his best friend- they remind him of fun times. While Jamal’s memories were not made in the most pleasant of times, it made him the man he is today. Perhaps he wouldn’t have even had the determination to fight for what was right or to not give up on his love had it not been for overcoming the hardships of his past.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The King's Speech, 2010










Rated R

This movie is like a mini-reunion with the cast of "Harry Potter" (Dumbledore, Bellatrix, and Wormtail)… I guess we like to use the same British actors. But add to them the incredibly talented Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, and this film boasts quite a group of actors.

Obviously based on historical people and events, this feel-good movie does a magnificent job at generating true empathy from its audience, not just sympathy. After the death of his father, King George V, and the controversial abdication of his brother, King Edward, the Duke of York (or “Bertie”) has now found himself in the unwanted predicament of being the new King of England. The problem is he has had a stammer for as long as he can remember and public speaking, which is the main role of the royalty now (in addition to creating a sense of security for its people), literally terrifies him into silence.

Firth does an exquisite job as King George VI, well deserving of his Best Actor award. His wife, and loving and tireless supporter, is played well by Helena Bonham Carter (but it’s actually a rather boring role to see her in). Instead, the couple to focus on in this film is King George and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Rush does an equally amazing job as the therapist with unorthodox practices and treatments. It warmed my heart learning that such a distinguished man with such a debilitating problem found solace, and companionship with someone who was able to bring him hope and confidence. That’s not to say the relationship was always an easy one. In one scene (I’m paraphrasing here), Bertie gets so aggravated with Logue that he screams “Listen to me!” and Logue nonchalantly responds with, “Why?” Bertie shouts, “I have a voice!” This film honors his quest to find it.

I noticed this film’s very interesting cinematography... there are unusual or different angles used and the actors are rarely centered on screen. There is often a lot of “dead space” in the shot but unique backgrounds provide color, design, and a "texture" to the screen (especially the large wall in Lionel's office, pictured below). I also think it's more of a PG-13 movie, but I understand the profanity used in a few scenes warrant the "R".

This year, the Academy hearkened back to the good ol' years by having a whopping ten films nominated for Best Picture (too many in my opinion). The fellow nominees were: "Black Swan", "The Fighter", "Inception", "The Kids are Alright", "True Grit", "127 Hours", "The Social Network", "Winter's Bone", and "Toy Story 3". This was a busy year for me (what with having a baby and all), that I sadly only saw ONE of those films: the last one (and the highest-grossing film of that year I might add; “The King’s Speech was the 4th). I took my two year-old to it. And even though I'm a staunch Disney-fan, I think it's ridiculous that it was up for Best Picture; it belonged only in the Best Animated Feature Film category, not both!

FAVORITE SCENES:

King George finally gives in to the eccentric therapy of Lionel. There is a scene that shows clips of the unique exercises the Duke is forced to do. It's humorous and educating at the same time.


My other favorite scene is THE speech at the end: the one the film prepares us for, basically. Bertie is in a room alone with his dear friend who redecorated the small area just to help His Majesty relax. Watching the two of them, made me realize the true trust and respect they had for each other. I also thought the little bit of dialogue following the speech was interesting:

Lionel: “You still stammered on the W.”
King: “Well I had to throw in a few so they knew it was me.”

At first, I thought it was a rude comment after such an amazing accomplishment, but from watching the special features on this DVD, I discovered those were actual words uttered by the two of them according to Lionel's diaries. Very interesting.


LESSONS LEARNED:

The obvious one is don't give up. Personal challenges can be discouraging no matter how they materialize in your life, but working on them can make you stronger. With dedication, practice might not make perfect, but it can result in improvement. 

Similar to that, another obvious one is have patience. If you're the one struggling to improve, results will probably not be apparent immediately. Also, if you're the one assisting a person in need, your patience with their progress will encourage him/her. And lastly, if you are just someone who comes across a person with a disability, remember to show compassion; you probably have no idea what their life is like.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Out of Africa, 1985










Rated PG

This film is based on the memoirs of Karen Blixen, a woman storyteller who took on the masculine nom de plume "Isak Dinesen" in order to publish her books. Specifically, this movie chronicles two decades of her life spent in Africa overseeing a coffee plantation. She marries for convenience in order to become a Baroness (from Denmark). The man she marries is only interested in her money really, although they’re good friends.

Karen is played by Meryl Streep. Her husband goes on frequent hunting expeditions that keep him away a rather long time. She discovers that he is unfaithful and as a result, she contracts syphilis during one of his brief stays at home. The only hope for a cure is to return to her homeland and undergo arsenic treatments (which sounds barbaric). But before that, she befriends Denys (Robert Redford), another hunter, and comes to appreciate the quality time and conversations they share while her cheating husband is away. This film is well over two hours, so believe me, I didn’t give away the whole story. I will say I think it’s a little slow-moving at times.

Like "The English Patient", an affair becomes the main romantic storyline, which I don’t particularly like. (And for that reason, I think it should be rated PG-13.) The difference in this film though is that her husband was the first to leave her for other women (she’s not sneaking around). Divorce was scandalous at that time (1913) and one had to accuse the other of something, which naturally resulted in a tarnished reputation. Because of that, it was much "easier" and perhaps wiser to stay in a marriage for society's sake, and so they did. Karen and Denys’ relationship progresses but she can’t have him all to herself either. The story’s ending is not a happy one and it is understandable that the real Karen never returned to Africa.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I picked up on during the film was the varying views of marriage, romance, and commitment. Karen needs someone and needs to be needed in return. Denys demands to be free, not in order to cheat, but in order to feel independent and not tied down to anything (person or place). The ex-husband is her friend and their marriage is for safety and money; the latter he proves again when wanting a divorce in order to marry some other woman who has more money.

I’m not familiar with the history of the British colonization in parts of Africa, but I obviously can't help but feel sorry for the native Masai who had to succumb to the intruders. The British took away their weapons, condemning them because they could not comprehend a different lifestyle from their own. Granted, good things came out of it: education, medical help, job opportunities, but I can’t help but think of our world’s sad history of forceful invasion.

This film was up against "The Color Purple" (with Oprah), "The Kiss of the Spider Woman", "Witness", and "Prizzi's Honor" (the last three I haven't heard of). It was up for an amazing eleven awards with wins in seven categories, interestingly, none of them were for the actors. "The Color Purple" was also up for an impressive eleven awards but walked away completely empty-handed! One of my favorite all-time films came out this year: "Back to the Future". Although the Academy often overlooks fun films like this, I know that pop culture has solidified its standing as an unforgettable film of the '80s. That’s my Best Picture of the year.

FAVORITE SCENE:

It’s nothing really, but I laughed out loud… Riding into her husband’s hunting camp, after a few days’ journey, she looks like this:
And her husband asks, “Are you doing something different with your hair?”

LESSONS LEARNED:

Go to Africa. The sweeping scenes of the African plains and hills were breathtaking. Seeing animals in their natural habitat was intimidating as well as awe-inspiring… something that I felt wasn’t quite there in Disney World's Animal Kingdom, even though they tried.

When you go to Africa and go on a safari, go with a guide who has a gun. Just in case.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All About Eve, 1950









Not Rated

Oscar’s first most nominated film was “All About Eve” in 1950. It was nominated for fourteen awards and walked away with six; the only other film with that many nominations was my beloved “Titanic” (47 years later). The story follows the lives of six characters for the most part: an aging stage actress and her boyfriend (the director), a playwright and his wife, a drama critic, and an aspiring young actress with whom the film is mostly “all about”, Eve. Around them, the film depicts what goes on behind the scenes of New York theatre. Being a big theatre fan (more musical, though), I was intrigued throughout the film.

If there’s one thing I think this movie is known for, it’s that it’s full of fabulous one-liners. Naturally, if I wrote some here, you wouldn’t understand them out of context, so I encourage you to rent this film if you like witty conversations/arguments. I found myself smiling or chuckling out loud at quite a bit of the dialogue. I can easily see how this film reinvigorated Bette Davis’ career… she was so entertaining to watch and it seemed the part was written just for her. Perhaps one of the most famous lines from her is: “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

There’s not a whole lot I can say about this film though… if it were a book, I’d say it’s an “easy read”. Like I mentioned, Davis’ role of the cynical thespian steals the show, but the young woman who plays Eve is pretty fascinating too. I won’t give it away, but I will say that she had me second guessing her throughout most the movie. Knowing she was playing an actress, I couldn’t decide whether to think she was conniving or innocent (until it is revealed, of course).

Bette Davis had an affair with her on-screen boyfriend (the director)during the filming. He later became her fourth husband when both of their divorces became final. Marilyn Monroe has a bit part in the film , no biggie. It also stars Celeste Holm as the playwright’s wife (pictured below). I immediately recognized her as the old “Miss Snow” in the Disney made-for-TV movie “Polly” from 1989 (a recreation of the classic story “Pollyanna” with an African-American cast). I LOVED that show and enjoyed dancing around my Grammie’s living room with my cousin to all the gospel church music.

This film’s measly competitors were “Father of the Bride” (the remake of this is one of my absolute favorite movies), “Sunset Boulevard”, “Born Yesterday”, and “King Solomon’s Mines”. I take that back, “Sunset Blvd” gave it a run for its money; the two films together had 25 nominations. This film also holds the record for having the most female nominations, and surprisingly, they all lost.

FAVORITE SCENE:

Pretty much any scene that had Bette Davis arguing with someone was a favorite scene of mine. The lines written for her were fantastic and her delivery perfect. One that sticks out more than the others, was when she gets inebriated at her own party and retires early. (That's Marilyn in the middle.)


LESSON LEARNED:

Broadway is cut-throat. It’s better that I followed my passion into teaching than my hobby into musical theatre, because I wouldn’t have survived. The conniving and back-stabbing that can happen for roles isn’t for me.