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…


Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Artist, 2011

Rated PG-13 (I’m not sure why…)

I had the privilege of seeing this delightful film on the big screen on a date-night with my hubby before it won Best Picture. It wasn’t as hard as I thought talking him into seeing this with me. After the buzz about this movie, I had a feeling it would win the coveted prize this year, so I started typing out notes before I knew for sure. J

I find it ironically poetic that the year I am challenging myself with this blog is the same year a black and white silent film wins, with the only other one winning as the first Best Picture ever in 1927. I feel like we’ve come full circle in a way. I see this film’s win as homage to the era that started it all. It reminds us why we go to the movies… for great stories and great characters, simple as that.

This story centers on George Valentin (played award-winningly perfect by Jean Dujardin), who is, what else?.. a silent film star. This famous actor literally bumps into Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who is a peppy young dancer aspiring to get her foot in the door of show business. George is asked to come on board and start acting in “talkies” since the production studios feel silent films will soon be phased out. In his stubbornness, he refuses, believing these talking pictures are just a fad. (If we could only have told Valentin to wait 80+ years to 2011 when people WANT to see a silent film and actually vote for it to win the best film that year… He would finally be vindicated!) So he struggles to make money on his silent films no one wants to see, while Peppy really makes a name for herself in the new popular films with sound (thanks to George who got her foot in the door). The two have formed a special relationship though and the story continues to reveal how they help each other. She has a desire to protect him and he wallows around in self-pity for a while before discovering what’s important.

Silent films are known for overacting. After all, without words, we’re forced to rely on the first language we ever learned: body language. Facial expressions and gestures have to be more pronounced in order to convey meaning without dialogue. While I’ll admit there is a bit of overacting in this film, it’s just the right amount. Dujardin’s expressions are fantastic; that man was born to play in silent films. You can’t help but smile along with him.

In a silent film, there is an obvious emphasis on the importance of music. It is imperative that the musical score complements the film, not distracts from it. It should carry us through the actors’ emotions without making us feel slapped in the face with them. We should just be able to say, “Wow, that was a really beautiful scene” instead of “That music sounded really pretty there,” and I believe “The Artist” achieved that, thus earning its award for Best Original Score. Aside from the score, it’s actually not an entirely silent movie which makes it very unique. I urge you to check it out for yourself to discover what I mean. And the ending is simply perfect.

I can only compare this film to the other silent film I’ve seen, “Wings”. Obviously, so much has changed in technology, that even when trying to recreate a film from the late ‘20s, there are still advances that make it noticeably more entertaining… although there’re not necessarily things I can put my finger on. One thing is for sure: the camera is steadier.

This unique film was up against 8 other films, making it the first year for an odd number of nominees: “The Descendants”, “War Horse”, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, “Hugo”, “The Tree of Life”, “Midnight in Paris”, “Moneyball”, and “The Help”. I’ve seen the last two… I thought “Moneyball” was a little long and uneventful and that Brad Pitt didn’t do anything spectacular to deserve a Best Actor nod- he could’ve been replaced by anybody in my opinion; and I thought “The Help” was good (I shouldn’t need to say, ‘not at all as good as the book’) but I felt it was made a little too comical compared to the harsh situations the book described. Plus I felt the characters just stepped out of the musical “Hairspray” with their vibrant-colored costumes and perfectly coiffed bouffants... and don’t get me started on the many differences of Skeeter’s character… I could just write another whole post. Anyways, I intend to see a few more of the nominees now because they sound quite interesting, but for now, I am thrilled that “The Artist” received great recognition.

FAVORITE SCENES:

There’s an adorable scene when Peppy has found herself in Valentin’s empty set dressing room. She spots his suit jacket hanging on the rack and imagines herself in his arms. She acted this delightfully.
The dog in this film has received as much buzz as the movie… In this scene, Valentin mimics the dog’s movements at the breakfast table and their perfect timing had me laughing out loud.

I like to consider myself a tapper (even though I haven’t danced that way in several years), so I especially enjoyed the ending. I don’t want to give too much away because I think it is one of the many things that makes this film so unique. Go see it!

LESSONS LEARNED:

Audiences DO appreciate old Hollywood and were yearning for a unique “throw-back” film to break up the monotony of R-rated (and violent) drama winners. I appreciate that.

Know when to accept changing times. Valentin was reluctant to face the inevitable. In doing so, he spiraled into a depression that caused him many heartaches. Just last year, I realized these “smart phones” weren’t just a fad, so I finally got the Internet on my cell phone…. And a friend of mine said, “Welcome to 2007”. I’m glad I finally accepted the change in technology… although five minutes after I got my phone, it was outdated.

Swallow your pride.

Be careful not to emasculate a man when offering help.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On the Waterfront, 1954









Not Rated

This was my first time seeing this film, considered a semi-documentary/expose/thriller, which follows the corruption among New York dockworkers and its mob-run labor union in the ‘50s. I had a little crush on Marlon Brando who plays the ex-heavyweight boxer turned longshoreman, Terry Malloy,  who refuses to allow the corruption to continue; he’s a tough guy with a soft center and he plays it perfectly. I admire him more as an actor now… I’ve seen a few of his films and I think he picks great characters and can turn out good accents.

When the attractive sister of an innocent victim of the union mob walks into Malloy’s life, he soon realizes he can change his fate, challenge the higher-ups, and potentially reform the workforce.  He teams up with the town’s priest and they both fight (literally and metaphorically) to stop the problematic working conditions. Edie, (the sister, who I think is the only female in the movie), follows along trying to bring justice as well.

This was a low-budget film that brought attention to the oppression on such docks and critics hailed the film because of that. It was filmed on-location in Hoboken, New Jersey (in actual cargo holds, alleys, bars, and rooftops) and some of the actors were ex-heavyweight boxers themselves.

One question: Malloy (and a couple of neighborhood kids) appear to have a collection of caged pigeons on the roof that they regularly visit and care for…. WHY? Are these filthy birds worth analyzing? Encouraged to breed? I understand these must be homing pigeons but I still feel like I’m missing something here. I vividly remember a scene from “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” (yes, you read that right), when Big Bird goes up on the roof to wait for Santa Claus… There are caged pigeons up there too who he says hello to before accidentally nodding off. It must be a New York thing. After reading a little about the film, I realized there’s an obvious irony there… Terry Malloy becomes a marked “pigeon” of the mob (meaning they’re comin’ after him) since he’s willing to testify against them.


This film was up against “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Country Girl”, “Three Coins in a Fountain”, and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. I have only seen the last nominee (naturally, because of my love of musicals). “On the Waterfront” had an impressive twelve nominations and won eight awards. Marlon won Best Actor for this role, but it was a surprise to the public- Bing Crosby was the favored actor in one of his four dramatic roles. Kazan also won for Best Director, following his win from “Gentleman’s Agreement” seven years before. The film was nominated for Best Musical Score but didn’t win; I’m surprised it was even nominated because I even commented to my hubby during the film that the music was actually more distracting than it was fitting. It got far too loud at some points and didn’t always match the mood or emotion perfectly.

FAVORITE SCENE:

Terry takes Edie for a walk, engaging in their first real conversation since the death of her brother. She is shy and demure, he’s a self-proclaimed “bum”, but he is obviously entranced by her. You can tell things are clicking in his head and a change is going to take place.


LESSON LEARNED:

This film raises some interesting questions about the nature of power in the workforce. At great risk to himself and his family, Malloy still stands up for what’s right. It takes incredible courage to combat a more powerful contender in the wrong. Malloy does so courageously and admirably.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ben-Hur, 1959










Rated G

I saw this epic masterpiece for the first time with my mother-in-law who told me it was her favorite movie. (I’m actually really surprised I hadn’t seen it before what with my Christian upbringing.) I was mesmerized and I now put it up there with the ranks of “Gone with the Wind”. For one, the story is riveting and long (too much detail to write in a blog post); the score beautifully entwines the story; the costumes are flawless; and the acting superb. Please take the time to see this if you haven’t already; Good Friday seems like an appropriate day.

This was actually a remake of the most expensive silent film ever made from 1926. (I can’t imagine sitting through this story in silence, even if it is an hour shorter.) Both were based on a novel from 1880 by General Wallace. Authors can actually thank him for their protection under the copyright law made by the Supreme Court ensuring rights for any film version made of their work. The award-winning Best Director of this version was the “Extras” director for the original directed by Cecil B. DeMille. As I reflect back on an opening scene, I remember it was written: “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ”. Yes, Christ is a character in the story, but he’s only in a few (albeit, pivotal) scenes, he doesn’t speak, and the careful camerawork never reveals his face. It is truly the story of Judah Ben-Hur.

In a nutshell, it is peculiarly similar to the story of “Gladiator”. This is the striking story of a Jewish prince who defies a Roman tribune (and childhood friend), who becomes a slave, who then becomes a charioteer, (and then receives salvation).

Charlton Heston, who is known for playing historical figures (ie. Moses in “The Ten Commandments”), won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Judah Ben-Hur; it was his only win and sole nomination in his career. He is perfect in the role even if he is the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed cast member. At the night of the award ceremony, fellow nominee James Stewart took him aside privately, shook his hand, and whispered, “Chuck, I hope you win. I really mean it.”... a testament to how notable both those men are.

The chariot race is one of the most famous and thrilling scenes from the film (and it’s all done with no background score). An amazing 15,000 extras were used for that scene alone. The arena was actually built on the outskirts of Rome. A unique “matte shot” covers the now “modern” Rome, but the amazingly tall statues are real and the stands are three times taller than those constructed for the Coliseum in “Gladiator” (before CGI). There is a legend that a man died making this film and one would assume it had to be the rider (stuntman) who is gruesomely run over by a passing chariot in the race. I rewound it because I couldn’t tell if that was a real person or a dummy. According to Filmsite.org, “There are contradictory reports about the fatality of a stuntman during the dangerous scene in the film, yet no published discussions of the film mention the accident, and Charlton Heston's 1995 autobiography In the Arena specifically stated that no one was seriously injured (beyond a cut on the chin) during the filming of the scene.” This is also confirmed on Snopes.com and in the special features of the FOUR-DISC Collector’s Edition of Ben-Hur that I currently own. So, it most likely was a dummy, or maybe that stuntman miraculously walked away with only a scrape on the chin instead of a broken neck.


This film was THE movie to see when it came out and was touted as the “entertainment experience of a lifetime”. Because of its unprecedented popularity and success, even the Japanese emperor at the time decided to leave his palace to see a movie in a theatre for the first time ever! Like it’s silent predecessor, this film was the most expensive film made at its time and it was the most honored film (with eleven wins and twelve nominations) until “Titanic” came along 38 years later, and then “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”. This epic was up against “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “Anatomy of a Murder”, “The Nun’s Story”, and “Room at the Top”. I haven’t seen any of its fellow nominees, but I’m positive they can’t compare.

FAVORITE SCENES:

Obviously, the chariot race is the most mesmerizing scene (for reasons listed above). It’s hard to believe that Charlton performed all of his own stunt work in this race aside from one little shot (where he flips over the top of his chariot). The adrenaline’s in full effect and you can practically smell the testosterone.


Another scene I thought was visually stunning was the one below. (I could only find this shot, but I was more impressed with the opposite view- looking up the mountain at the droves of people.)


Ben-Hur passes a multitude settling in on a mountainside. It is clear they are assembling to hear Jesus preach. (I am unsure if it is representing the well-known sermon on the mount or the miracle of feeding five thousand with a few loaves of bread and fish.) I loved the colors and seeing this historical scene brought to life for me on the screen.

LESSON LEARNED:

Forgiveness and mercy are far more healing than revenge. Ben-Hur learns this priceless lesson at the end of the story after spending so much energy on vengeance.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Casablanca, 1943











Not Rated (although my DVD says PG)

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”… that’s how I would describe my new relationship with old black and white films. I had seen this timeless masterpiece once before in 2003 and I have a new admiration for it this time around. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen a number of black and white films now thanks to this Oscar challenge, but I’ve begun to see and appreciate its appeal. Possibly the most famous romantic drama ever, this film never leaves the top ten of all-time best films lists. 

The city of Casablanca, considered unoccupied France, is the home of Rick, a café owner who is resentfully living out the rest of his life after having been stood up at a train station by his new (but true) love, Ilsa until….. she walks into his bar with her husband, a wanted escapee and leader of the Resistance. They are looking for the hard-to-come-by exit-visas for safe passage back to the States. It’s obvious the second Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) see each other that they have a history together, but the audience does not know the details until a flashback to their brief but passionate romance. Although this is a melodrama, it has clever comedic lines sprinkled throughout. It takes place in the height of the Second World War, so you’ll see anti-Nazi propaganda throughout making it a patriotic film about war in addition to a romance. The film was based on an unproduced script entitled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” but I personally think “Casablanca” sounds more exotic.

If the film had a happy and romantic ending for Rick and Isla, it probably would have been a forgotten film by now. The fact that he sadly and self-sacrificially takes a higher road and ships off his true love with her husband to the States, makes it all that more memorable. Then, of course, throw in a couple more brilliantly-written lines at the end, and it’s bound to leave an impression on audiences.

This was Bogart’s first role as a romantic lead and I think it’s kind of obvious, but in an appropriately fitting way for this film. He looks almost awkward during the flashbacks to Paris where he and Ilsa are wrapped up in their whirlwind romantic affair. He smiles occasionally, but I think he looks much more himself as a cynical hard-shelled café owner in Morocco. He did such a superb job as that character with a severe chip on his shoulder, that his Best Actor nomination was well deserved. A little trivia for you: Mr. Bogart used to let his cigarette dangle from his mouth for far too long that it coined a new phrase, meaning:  don’t hog, steal, or monopolize something. In the 60’s, it was used more when referring to a joint that wasn’t being passed around fairly. Now, one can use it (as I often do) for practically anything that needs sharing, ie. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to Bogart the cookies”, or as evidenced in an episode of “Sex in the City” where Samantha tells Carrie not to “Bogart the [banana] split”.


I was a little surprised the beautiful Ingrid Bergman wasn’t nominated for her role of Ilsa. Interestingly, she was nominated for Best Actress for a different film this year (and still lost).

“Casablanca” holds the record for most recognizable movie quotes including the inaccurately quoted: “Play it again, Sam”; (Neither of them ever actually says “again”). In addition to the one at the start of this post, other popular lines include: “Here’s looking at you, kid” (several times), “We’ll always have Paris”, and “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”. I’d reckon even people who haven’t seen this film could finish any of those lines because they are immortalized in cinema speak. In fact, many movies and TV shows have referenced them too.

Technically, this film came out in 1942 and should’ve been up against “Mrs. Miniver”, but it was only a limited release in New York and came out in Los Angeles in 1943. Therefore, it was up against “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “The Human Comedy”, “In Which We Serve”, “Madame Curie”, “The More the Merrier”, “The Ox-Bow Incident”, “Watch on the Rhine”,  and “The Song of Bernadette”, none of which I’ve seen, although I’m interested in seeing that last one since the lead actress won the Best Actress award for playing young Bernadette from Lourdes in the story of her life. “Casablanca” also won the awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Score by the same genius who brought us “Gone with the Wind”. The popular song from 1931 “As Time Goes By” is played (and heard, instrumentally (a little incessantly)) throughout the film, thus reigniting its popularity.

FAVORITE SCENE

The last scene is suspenseful and the most memorable. (Another bit of trivia: this last scene was filmed in a studio with fog machines, a small cut out of a plane, and little people in order to give the illusion that the plane and its crew was farther away than it was.)


LESSONS LEARNED

Love is not selfish. We can learn this from I Corinthians 13 and from “Casablanca”.

Resentment can eat you alive. Try to relieve yourself of guilt or hurt feelings with forgiveness. No one wants to hang out with someone who’s bitter and you’ll feel happier too without a load of misery and self-pity.