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.