Tag Archive for 'Oscar'

Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List (8/21/15) TMC (1993 ****) Directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the book by Thomas Keneally, starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and Embeth Davidtz. A German industrialist and profiteer rubs elbows with the director of a concentration camp and manages to save more than a thousand Jews from Hitler’s “final solution.” It’s hard to believe more than twenty years have passed since this film was released, a film that would go on to win Best Picture and Best Director awards. It truly is an amazing film and one that is worthy of the awards it won. At the time, it was seen as somewhat of a departure for Spielberg, one that couldn’t be any more different from the other film he directed that was released in 1993, Jurassic Park. Still, it has many moments that feel absolutely Spielbergian. And yes, even in the most dire circumstances, there were moments of humor. Highly recommended.

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (1/12/15) DWA Screening (2014 ***1/4) Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone. An aging actor best known for playing the superhero “Birdman” decades before risks everything to mount a Broadway production based on the writings of Raymond Carver. Also, he may or may not have telekinetic powers. I have unusually mixed feelings about this film, and to be honest, I still don’t know whether I actually enjoyed it or not. The single-camera technique was cool, made for a wild ride and was used to create an effect of intimacy, but it was also very distracting. As seamless as the edits were, I still kept looking for the seams. It’s hard not to make a comparison with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), which was also shot as though it was was all done in a single shot, and had far more obvious “seams.” But enough about the technique. I believe part of why I’m unsure how I feel about the film is that I don’t honestly think I “got” it. Birdman seemed to be saying something about individual relevance (or irrelevance), but that was mixed up with what it was saying about authenticity of experience, which got uncomfortably tangled up with the nature of acting. In a meta / situational sense, this was further complicated by the fact that I watched the film a day after Michael Keaton won a Golden Globe award for best acting, an award he won for playing an actor whose life depended on his ability to deliver a convincing performance.

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 (12/8/14) DWA Screening (2014 ***1/2) Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, featuring the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, Damon Wayans Jr. and James Cromwell. When a teenager’s older brother dies in a tragic accident, the teen takes over his brother’s science project and transforms an automated health robot into a super-powered force for good. I was very impressed by the pro-science premise of this film as well as the animation. However, it never grabbed me emotionally and I’m sad to say I predicted the movie’s major plot twist “shocker” within 30 seconds of the villain being introduced. Still, it’s a terrific and fun animated super-hero film that’s based on a Marvel property I’m unfamiliar with. Given Disney’s ownership of both Marvel and Pixar, it’s not hard to imagine a full-on feature animated blockbuster someday based on one of Marvel’s many properties.

The Great Ziegfeld

The Great Ziegfeld (1/4/14) TCM (1936 ***) Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Luise Rainer, Frank Morgan and Fanny Brice. Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. may have had vision to spare and a predilection for risk-taking, but he clearly lacked anything resembling business acumen. I had watched this Oscar-winning 3-hour long “biopic” once before, back in my college days. Did Flo Ziegfeld (who’s not exactly a household name in 2014) have a life engaging enough to warrant a 3-hour film? I suppose the depression-era public of 1936 thought so. I always find it interesting to watch old biographical movies: Almost invariably, the “real” people in the films come across as so stylized and flatly characterized that you have to wonder just how much of the subjects’ actual persona remained. In the case of this film, one of the individuals portrayed was Ziegfeld’s wife Billie Burke (played radiantly by Myrna Loy), a working film actress who would appear onscreen three years later as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel (3/17/13) TCM (1932 ***1/2) Directed by Edmund Goulding, based on the play by William A. Drake, starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery. To paraphrase the song, you can check into Berlin’s Grand Hotel, but you can never leave. This Best Picture Oscar winner was apparently a real novelty at the time. The idea of populating a film with FIVE stars engaged in interlocking storylines was quite a sensation. And it’s worked ever since, in classic masterpieces like The Towering Inferno and Airport ’77. Hell, these days five movie stars is sometimes the minimum required to get a film green-lit in Hollywood. It was a kick to watch this film on TCM as part of its Essentials series, especially since Robert Osborne’s co-host was Drew Barrymore. She spoke with great affection for the movie, her great uncle Lionel and her grandfather John. On an unrelated note, I can never think of this film without remembering the classic scene in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment in which Jack Lemmon sits down to eat his TV dinner and watch Grand Hotel… along with its numerous commercial interruptions.

Wings

Wings (3/7/13) TCM (1927 ***1/4) Directed by William A. Wellman, starring Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Richard Arlen and Jobyna Ralston, with Gary Cooper. Jack and David are two WWI flyboys in love with the same girl back home. This silent film’s claim to fame is that it won the very first Best Picture Oscar, and after all these years, it’s still surprisingly entertaining. In my experience, most of the feature-length silent films I’ve seen (and granted, there haven’t been that many) suffered from pacing problems when viewed by twenty-first centrury eyes. However, Wings seemed to have been shot and edited for a much more modern sensibility. On the trivia front, in addition to its first Oscar status, Wings also included an brief appearance by a young Gary Cooper as the painfully obviously doomed Cadet White.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (8/10/12) Netflix (1975 ****) Directed by Milos Forman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey, starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, with supporting performances by Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Scatman Crothers and Brad Dourif. Sanitarium inmate R.P. McMurphy matches wits with the sadistic Nurse Ratched, armed only with his boyish charm and a deck of nudie playing cards. It’s sadly rare when I find myself watching a film and thinking, “Holy shit, this is a truly great movie!” Nicholson’s performance was pitch-perfect and Milos Foreman crafted a seemingly effortless naturalistic tone poem on the effects of institutionalization on the human condition. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest deservedly won five Oscars, including Best Picture, netting an Oscar for none other than Michael Douglas as one of its producers. I don’t always watch DVD “making of” featurettes, but I was so impressed by the film’s quality that I simply had to. The film had a fascinating backstory: Michael Douglas’ father, Kirk Douglas, originally bought the rights to Kesey’s book in the early 1960s. The elder Douglas even had a play written by Dale Wasserman, in which he subsequently starred during its short run on Broadway. And so the film was somewhat of a “family affair.” I also found it more than a little amusing to learn that co-screenwriter Bo Goldman had based Nurse Ratched’s speech patterns on his own mother-in-law, who he described as “having a PhD in passive aggression.” Great film!

Casablanca

Casablanca (4/14/12) TCM Classic Film Festival — Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood (1942 ****) Directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid. Saloon owner Rick Blaine is content to walk between the political raindrops until former flame Ilsa Lund shows up… with her husband Victor Laszlo. As my father (who’d flown out for the film festival) and I sat in the theater waiting for the show to begin, we discussed whether or not Casablanca truly deserved to sit as high on the “Best Films” list as it does. (AFI’s list has it as #3, after Citizen Kane and The Godfather.) The film was introduced by beloved critic Leonard Maltin, who made the pronouncement that it was his favorite film of all time. After which, my father and I sat in the dark with hundreds of fellow classic film fans and watched a movie we’d both seen many times before. And when it was all over, neither of us could spot a single false note. Every shot, every line, every nuance was pitch perfect. Casablanca really is that good. And as it turns out, it truly does deserve the admiration (and adoration) it has enjoyed over the years. (Favorite)

The Apartment

The Apartment (1/17/12) TCM (1960 ****) Directed by Billy Wilder, screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray. Manhattan insurance man C.C. Baxter has found a clever — albeit morally slippery — route up the corporate ladder: Lending his upper west side apartment to executives so they can cheat on their wives. This is a great movie with brilliant dialogue, and it mixes suicidal depression with comedy like no other. For people of my generation who grew up watching Fred MacMurray as the Absent-Minded Professor and the dad on My Three Sons, it was especially delightful to see him play the sleeziest slime-ball executive of all time. On a personal note, young Shirley MacLaine looked so much like my wife in this film, including many of the same mannerisms. The irony is that when I first saw this wonderful movie as a young man I identified with Jack Lemmon and prayed that God would someday send me an adorable woman like MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik (but without the “sleeping with a married man” business). It took awhile, but He or She finally did. (Favorite)

The Artist

The Artist (1/9/12) Academy Screener (2011 ***1/2) Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell and John Goodman. When the movies start talking, silent movie star George Valentin steps aside to make room for adorable ingenue Peppy Miller. This film recently won “Best Picture” at The Critics Choice Awards and is certainly in the running at The Oscars. I greatly admired the filmmaking that went into it as well as the chutzpah it took to produce a silent film in 2011. However, as much as I enjoyed it, I didn’t think the film was necessarily a slam dunk. Much of the magical effect of The Artist relied on the suspension of disbelief that I was watching a period film, and that effect varied for me throughout, depending largely upon casting. While Dujardin was amazing and perfectly cast, Bérénice Bejo (in my humble opinion) was not, and every time she was on the screen, the rhythms of her body and modern acting style reminded me that I was watching a new film. My wife pointed out that the contrast between acting styles may well have been intentional (old versus new), but I’m not convinced. Is The Artist an accomplishment and a film worth watching, particularly for film buffs like myself? Absolutely! Is it the best film of 2011? I’m not so sure.