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, 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.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Unforgiven, 1992





Rated R

No other name, aside from John Wayne’s, is associated with Westerns like Clint Eastwood’s is. And before this, I had never seen an Eastwood Western. He starred in a few “spaghetti westerns” in the ‘60s and since I had no idea what that term meant, I looked it up: a western made cheaply in Europe by an Italian director (or a Spanish director when referring to “paella westerns”). This was the third Western to win Best Picture, following the second just two years earlier: “Dances with Wolves”, and the first from way back in 1931.

The story takes place in the 1880s in the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming. One night, two men come into a brothel seeking some nighttime pleasure. One of them, irritated that the prostitute laughed at his “size”, slashed her face a few times with her knife (it’s not graphic). Obviously, the rest of the whores get pissed and secretly put out a reward for whoever kills those two men after the corrupt sheriff (Gene Hackman) of the town refuses to do anything but require a few horses from them. Will Munny (Eastwood) gets wind of this reward, and even though he’s a retired and repentant gunfighter who’s sworn off a life of violence since meeting his (now-deceased) wife, decides to go after these women-beaters. He enlists the help of his pal Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and they join forces with a guy who’s practically a kid. They creatively call their third wheel, “Kid” and we soon discover he talks a big game. So those three are after the abusive men and the crooked sheriff and other men of the town are after the three of them (for attempting to take the law into their own hands).

There are some thought-provoking themes running throughout the film: justice vs. the untamed West, feminism vs. masculinity, repentance vs. revenge, honor vs. pride. I’m not sure why it’s titled “Unforgiven” though. Does Munny consider himself unforgiven for the way he acted before he reformed? Is the woman-beater still unforgiven even though he paid his debt in horses? Regardless, after hearing from the special features that the original title was “The Cut-Whore Killings” (no joke), I’m glad it was changed.

Can you believe that before this film, Eastwood hadn’t even been nominated for an Oscar before? To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with Eastwood’s work in this film… I preferred his acting performances in “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino”. But I will admit, the guy’s voice is fantastic. There’s just something about its timbre that makes you listen.

The competition for the film included “The Crying Game”, “Howards End”, “A Few Good Men”, and “Scent of a Woman”. I have only seen the last nominee and think that definitely should have won over “Unforgiven”. Al Pacino is nothing short of magnificent in that film (and beat Eastwood for the Best Actor award). Chris O’Donnell’s not too shabby either. I recommend THAT one to watch from this year. I know that “A Few Good Men” is also very popular, but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t compare. Another popular film this year was “My Cousin Vinny” for which Marisa Tomei won the Best Supporting Actress award. I also thought “The Last of the Mohicans” was a good film.

FAVORITE SCENE:

The end scene was by far the most climactic- a gun-slingin’ bar fight.

LESSONS LEARNED:

Just ‘cause they’re down doesn’t mean they’re dead. Don’t get cocky.

Keeping you’re cool can be more important in a fight than your aim. If you’re hurrying and flustered, you’re more likely to miss.

Sometimes you’re not as brave as you think you are until the situation arises, so don’t talk a big game.

Have a plan B when your life’s on the line.

Camaraderie is respected.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Patton, 1970








Rated PG (which might be a little too lenient)

BOOORIIIIING! And forgettable…. like in the amount of time between my watching it and sitting down to write this blog. (And again, I must be in the minority… I read that this is an “American classic” and it scored a 97% on rottentomatoes.com.)

This film is a (long) biography about an American commander during World War II, a true non-conformist if nothing else: General George S. Patton. He was temperamental and controversial but successful in certain commanding areas. “Patton” is considered a war film, but it’s not really about the war- it’s all about Patton, also known as “Old Blood and Guts” (??).

This film’s subtitle (A Salute to a Rebel) was aimed to attract a younger crowd at the time of its release. This rebel believes in harsh discipline and has no patience for cowards. He is determined to lead his men to victory, but his loud mouth and quick temper get in the way. He believes “there's only one proper way for a professional soldier to die: the last bullet of the last battle of the last war.”

I’m not sure if he wasn’t a little bit crazy though too, because when he comes across a vacant battlefield, he tells his fellow commander that he fought there once for Napoleon… so… did he believe in reincarnation? He was “there” two thousand years ago when the Carthaginians were attacked by three Roman legions. Seriously, what?

This is the first PG-rated film that won Best Picture since the institution of the MPAA rating system, however, I’m not sure that’s an appropriate rating. The eccentric general liberally throws around the words ‘bastard’ and ‘goddamn’ among other curse words and crude sayings.  

“Patton” was up against “Airport”, “Five Easy Pieces”, “Love Story”, and “M*A*S*H” (ß the precursor to the TV series). It had a pretty successful evening walking away with seven awards from its ten nominations. Among them, was Best Actor winner George C. Scott (Patton). He was AWOL at the ceremony and became the first actor to refuse the award claiming “the competitiveness was demeaning to actors – ‘a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons’” according to filmsite.org. (The second actor to deny an Oscar would be Marlon Brando two years later for “The Godfather”. And how’s this for strange... Francis Ford Coppola wrote both of those screenplays!)

FAVORITE SCENE:

Perhaps the most memorable was the very beginning. The film starts with a six-minute monologue by General Patton standing in front of the largest American flag I’ve ever seen. He appears to be giving his speech to incoming soldiers. It actually kept my full attention and it was a perfect introduction to who he was.


LESSONS LEARNED:

The Academy likes war films.

If you’re a loudmouth, you need to at least know when to bite your tongue.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Platoon, 1986








Rated R

This is yet another film about the Vietnam War and it stars a lot of well-known actors: Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Kevin Dillon (yes, from “Entourage”), Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley (from “Scrubs”), and even Johnny Depp. (Side note: I had NO idea Johnny Depp was in this until I saw the credits! I had to look up which character he was on imdb.com and then go back and find a scene with him… he looks that different/young.)


After reading the synopsis of the film, I was apprehensive in seeing it because I do not do well with violent war movies, but it wasn’t as hard to watch as my imagination thought it would be (that’s not saying it was easy by any means). It is hailed as an authentic re-creation of the foot-soldiers’ Vietnam experience. As testament to that, some of the images in the film will stay with me my entire life. Having said that, I would recommend this film because I think it is important to be educated about our history and have an idea about what happened in our country’s past. While this is not a completely non-fiction story, there are obviously many elements of this movie that are truer than true.

Although there are many pivotal characters, the film centers mostly around Sheen’s character, Chris, and we hear some of his inner thoughts as he narrates letters he’s written home to his Grandmother. He enters the war as a college drop-out intending on doing something heroic and patriotic. He soon becomes disillusioned. This film also shows the divisions that were made even on our own side among the sergeants. 


After watching the hour-long making-of documentary, I learned that the actors were put through a true boot-camp in preparation for filming. Sheen and the other actors recalled it really being hell on earth- just like the war. The living conditions and food were downright appalling, all of which affected the way they were then portrayed on screen… a somewhat brilliant move of the Director but I wonder if actors would be willing to do that today.

My favorite piece of orchestral music, “Adagio for Strings”, plays during the beginning of this film (and at times throughout). It is such a beautiful piece of music that I found it interesting that it was playing in a war film. It was an attention-grabbing touch of juxtaposition, in my opinion, of the serenity of the music and the harsh conditions in Vietnam. That piece of music is used in many films, actually, but I first fell in love with it in “Lorenzo’s Oil”. (There is also a choral version of it as well: “Agnus Dei”, and it is just beautiful).

This film was up against “Children of a Lesser God”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”, “The Mission”, and “A Room with a View”. I’ve only seen “The Mission” (twice), which is based in South America in the 1750s, and would like to think it was close competition- that is a great film, and Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons are fantastic.

MEMORABLE SCENES:

There are no favorite scenes in this film’s brutal depiction of the war… But like I mentioned earlier, there are scenes seared into my mind. My heart breaks for the families hurt on both sides from the atrocities of this war.

LESSONS LEARNED:

A man (or woman) is capable of just about anything when placed under great stress. This can be said about great strength and great violence.