Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 58

Sorry there was quite a hiatus of almost 6 weeks with the whole 30 Days of Oscar.  I didn't want to double up on posts too much, so we're back now.  Andrew has pulled into the lead of the new leaderboard, but just by 1.  Congratulations to our new winner - he knew some pretty disparate movies to guess this one.

Last Clue:  A son feels responsible for his father's death in Africa while a crusading knight tries to save a city from the Saracen king Saladin.

Answer: The Lion Kingdom of Heaven

Andrew - 2
SDG, Ryan, Dylan, Keith, Dave - 1

New clue: A little boy tries to reconnect with his dead father while a confused man tries to explain the disappearance of a little boy and find a mountain.  

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reel Insight Episode 74: Amy Adams

We had a guest!  It was wonderful have another international guest as Joel Burman from Deny Everything and shepherd of the LAMB joined us to talk about the career of Amy Adams.  It was a fun episode - we talked about our new movies.  Our random topic was the perception of Sweden in cinema, and the state of Swedish cinema.  Turns out Rachel knows more than I thought!  Let us know what you think at reelinsight at gmail and we'll read all about it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

30 Days of Oscar 2012 Summary

In case you missed the last month here I thought I'd give you a summary of what I saw.  Many of them were Best Picture nominees, and at least 5 were Best Picture winners (How Green Was My Valley, Going My Way, An American in Paris, My Fair Lady and Midnight Cowboy).  Except for the 1930, there is at least two from every decade.  I managed to see both Best Actor and Best Actress winners from 1991 finally (Jeremy Irons and Kathy Bates).   I saw what felt like a LOT of period pieces - Cyrano, My Fair Lady, Vera Drake, Mrs. Brown, Gosford Park, and The Iron Lady, and most of them for the Best Actor (Ferrar Harrison, and Depardieu) and Best Actress (Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, and Meryl Streep).  There were two documentaries in the mix (The Garden and Trouble the Water) and only one foreign film this year (In a Better World).  I still have lots more to see so I'm sure there will be another 30 Days of Oscar in my future.

1931: City Lights
1942: How Green Was My Valley
1945: Going My Way
1948: The Bishop's Wife
1951: Cyrano de Bergerac
1952: An American in Paris
1955: The Caine Mutiny
1964: Hud
1965: My Fair Lady
1970: Midnight Cowboy
1976: Dog Day Afternoon
1980: Kramer vs Kramer, Ice Castles
1982: Absence of Malice
1989: The Accused
1990: My Left Foot
1991: Cyrano de Bergerac, Reversal of Fortune, Misery
1993: Enchanted April, Passion Fish
1998: Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown
2002: Gosford Park
2005: Vera Drake
2007: Notes on a Scandal
2008: The Garden
2009: Trouble the Water
2011: In a Better World
2012: The Iron Lady, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Friday, February 24, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 30: Going My Way

Movie: Going my Way
Year: 1945
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor - Bing Crosby, Best Actor - Barry Fitzgerald, Best Supporting Actor - Barry Fitzgerald, Best Director - Leo McCarey, Writing Original Story, Writing, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Original Song "Swinging on a Star"

Wins/Snubs: I have never seen the same actor nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role, but Barry Fitzgerald did win for Best Supporting Actor and Bing Crosby won for Best Actor.  Picture, Director, both writing awards, and Best Song were all big winners that year. Laura won for Cinematography and Editing went to Wilson neither of which I know.  12 Songs were nominated including "The Trolley Song" from Meet Me in St. Louis, but I really like the winner too.  

I wanted to finish off this year's series with another Best Picture winner I'd never seen.  And after the success of An American in Paris, I went with another famous crooner in the lead role.  Going My Way is the story of Father "Chuck" O'Malley (Bing Crosby) who has been sent to St. Dominic's in New York City (though you'd never know it) to help the aging Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzpatrick) bring the parish back to solvency before the bank forecloses.  Father O'Malley has trouble integrating with the parish at first, but eventually his methods of directing the parish bear fruit and things get better (boys stop stealing and join the choir, people stop being evicted and a young homeless woman gets married).  However, they still need money for the mortgage and the choir rents out the Metropolitan Opera (Father O'Malley's old girlfriend is their new "Carmen") and intends to sell the rights to some songs that Father O'Malley wrote.  Of course it all works out.  

Bing Crosby is very convincing as the young priest who is "going his way" through life, pursuing religion and trying to help people.  He has the helpful attitude that people take seriously but older people are pretty sure might cause trouble.  It's a good movie that obviously follows the morals of the day and though I'm surprised it beat both Gaslight and Double Indemnity, it's very much an Oscar worthy film.  It has the same sort of feel-good-ness that It's a Wonderful Life or Mrs. Miniver or The Bells of St. Mary's does so well.  Here's the video of the choir singing "Swinging on a Star".

Thursday, February 23, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 29: The Iron Lady

Movie: The Iron Lady
Year: 2012
Nominations:  Best Actress - Meryl Streep, Best Makeup

Wins/Snubs: Hard to say - Streep won the Golden Globe, but Davis won the SAG award, so this could go either way.   As for makeup, it's impressive, so hard to say.  It's up against Harry Potter 7.2 and Albert Nobbs.  Since HP hasn't been nominated before, perhaps it will take it, especially since the period pieces might split the vote.  However, it is a really impressive achievement in makeup.

When I was growing up Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher ruled the world, as least as far as I knew.  So I was familiar with her global reputation, but less so with her ratings at home or her rise to power.  Sadly, even after seeing this movie, I only know slightly more about the Falklands war and the fact that she now has dementia.  The movie made the fatal flaw of any biopic - trying to tell us so much, they leave us with nothing.  

Margaret Thatcher (an unrecognizable Meryl Streep) is living with a debilitating dementia, and much of the movie is shown as flashbacks, from her childhood as a shopkeeper's daughter to her first failed attempt to run for office and ultimately her life as Prime Minister.  She also marries Dennis Thatcher (an amazing Jim Broadbent), who supports her and has now begun to haunt her dementia after his death.   The problem with trying to just show us her entire life is that they can't show a full picture of any part of her life.  Yes, she was the first female Prime Minister, but she wasn't the first female Member of Parliament, yet the movie doesn't show any others.  They gloss over that entire concept by showing an ironing board in the ladies room and business being negotiated in the men's room.   Yes, she had to navigate a new path to be taken seriously as Prime Minister and had consultants advise her.  That idea is shown entirely in a discussion of pearls and a lesson on lowering her voice so as not to be "shrill".  There were some interesting moments about her struggles going to war and making decisions both as a mother and a Prime Minister.  

Meryl Streep did a terrific job in this, and as much as I LOVED The Help and Viola Davis, I wouldn't be disappointed to see Meryl win.  However, I do think Viola should win as she took a role and elevated the movie with her performance.  Meryl took a role and did a good job despite the movie.  

One of the annoying things I do when a movie is dull or shallow like The Iron Lady is I sit and think of ways they could have done the film in a way I might have enjoyed more.   Jim Broadbent's performance as Dennis Thatcher was fascinating.  He was a man in the 1960s who was able to support a wife who became the most famous woman in the world for a time.  They had a long, mostly successful marriage.  When he's haunting her, he's funny, bullying, kind, rude, and everything in between.  I think telling her story through his eyes would have given us more of the story - we see really well how she ended up, but the story of how she got there just wasn't well done.  My alternative movie His Iron Lady would have shown us what she was like at the END of the day deciding to send troops to the Falklands and how he felt about nearly being blown up at a hotel by the IRA because he was the Prime Minister's husband.  I thought his story was much more interesting and would have given a direction toward telling the important parts of her story.  A disappointing attempt to tell a story that I really want to hear.  And since this always pisses me off - the trailer on IMDB shows the course of her life, but not a single moment of her present circumstance which is about 2/3 of the film itself.  Argh. 2.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 28: An American in Paris

Movie: An American in Paris
Year: 1952
Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director - Vincent Minnelli, Art Direction, Cinematography (Color), Costume, Score of a Musical, Writing, Editing

Wins/Snubs: It won Best Picture over A Streetcar Named Desire (which took most of the acting awards) and A Place in the Sun (which won Best Director for George Stevens) so I'm actually okay with it as they're both really depressing.  Paris won Cinematography for color, and A Place in the Sun won for Black and White, as well as for Editing and Score of a drama.  Except for Bogart winning Best Actor for The African Queen, these three movies won all of the rest.  

I can't believe I'd never seen this as I really enjoy musicals.  In many other years it wouldn't have been the winner, but it split with 2 other films and took all the awards.  It stars Gene Kelly as the titular American, Jerry Mulligan, an artist trying to make a go of it in Paris.  He meets a rich patroness, Milo (Nina Foch) while he's selling his paintings.  She mostly gets a thrill dating bohemian artist.  One night when they're out with her friends, he sees Lisa (Leslie Caron) and falls in love.  Of course that pisses of his patroness Milo, and Lisa isn't all that interested. However, Jerry is a persistent stalker and and she agrees to go out with him.  Because it's a musical, there has to be a bigger complication. Jerry's friend Adam (a pianist) is friend's with famous actor Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary) who is engaged to a lovely woman named Lisa.  
The music and lyrics are done by George and Ira Gershwin, so there are a lot of recognizable songs - "I've got rhythm (Who could ask for anything more", "S'wonderful", plus many in the background/score that you'll recognize, "Strike up the band".  There are also two really extended dance numbers - one of Jerry fantasizing about being with Lisa, and another of Henri describing how terrific Lisa is.  Leslie Caron (all of 19 at the time) is an exceptional dancer - ballet, jazz, etc. and she really gets a lot of screen time to showcase this talent - however, I'm not a fan of dance (particularly for 10 minutes at a time) so I lost a bit there.  Gene Kelly is remarkably compelling though - he's fun, does a great tap dance with his neighbor kids, falls in love at the drop of a hat, and can sing too.  He and Lisa don't really have much chemistry, but man can they dance and the beautiful setting of Paris is vibrant and colorful and full of hope.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 27: How Green Was My Valley

Movie: How Green Was My Valley
Year: 1942
Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director - John Ford, 
Best Supporting Actor - Donald Crisp, Best Supporting Actress - Sara Allgood, Editing, Cinematography (Black and White), Art Direction, Sound, Score, Screenplay

Wins/Snubs:  This movie will probably be most famous for beating Citizen Kane for Best Picture, Director and Cinematography and Art Direction.  Donald Crisp won for Supporting Actor and totally deserves it.  I think Maureen O'Hara should have been nominated for Supporting Actress.  Sara Allgood was beaten by Mary Astor in The Great Lie.  

The Feb. 24 2012 issue of Entertainment Weekly has a story about the most overrated Best Picture winners.  I've already covered one of them this year: My Fair Lady which you can read about here before I knew it was considered "overrated".  Since I had 5 days left, I thought I would cover some of them and see if I agree.  One of their most "overrated" is also one of my favorite movies of all time, so I won't bother looking at Out of Africa because I am totally biased thinking it deserved every accolade it got.  But this is the first one, and it has HUGE historical importance in film for winning over Citizen Kane.
**Some spoilers if you've never seen it.
How Green Was My Valley follows the Morgan family in a small coal-mining village in southern Wales in the 1930s.  Based on a novel of the same name, you see the story through the eyes of the youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowell) who admires his father and older brothers and has a crush on his oldest brother's wife, Bronwyn (Anna Lee).  His parents, played by Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood, want him to grow up to be more than a coal miner.  This is the time when coal was being mined less and unions were on the rise.  The brothers want to unionize but Mr. Morgan won't have it.  Mrs. Morgan and Huw go to talk to the brothers and are injured coming home.  It looks like Huw won't walk again, but thanks to some help from the local preacher Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon), he does eventually.  Huw's sister Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) is in love with Mr. Gruffydd, but marries someone else (ultimately divorcing causing a scandal!).  Of course, there is eventually an explosion in the mine and accidents ensue with Mr. Morgan getting trapped and dying and causing Huw to remember "how green was his valley" when all his family was alive, well, and living together.

Because this movie was filmed after the outbreak of WWII, it couldn't be filmed in Wales, and was filmed on a created set in California.  Only one of the minor actors was even Welsh.  That gave everyone a very odd accent.  Perhaps it was spot on, but it sounded more like they were all mocking Apu from The Simpsons with an odd Britishness (though Walter Pidgeon speaks American for no obvious reason).  So that was particularly disconcerting.  Second, the story is rather simple and the dialogue really basic (though very much of that era in film).  So there's not a lot to really impress you.  Generally, the movies of that era have something particularly unique or ahead of their time, and I didn't really see much in this.  It's very good, don't misunderstand, but as the film that won the Best Picture Oscar, it's only okay.  I can see it being a favorite of many people - the many characters offers something for everyone, and it would be an enjoyable experience watching in a theater on a big screen, but on a random afternoon after work, it wasn't anything particularly special.  

On a random note, given that the color green is in the title, I couldn't help wondering while watching the terrific cinematography how this movie would actually appear in color.  The red of Maureen O'Hara's hair, the black dust of the coal mines, the white of the flowers in the fields, and of course the green valleys.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 26: Two-fer Cyrano de Bergerac

Movie: Cyrano de Bergerac
Year: 1951 and 1991

Nominations 1951: Best Actor - Jose Ferrar

Nominations 1991: Best Foreign Film (France), Best Actor - Gerard Depardieu, Art Direction, Makeup, Costumes
Wins/Snubs 1951: Jose Ferrar won for playing Cyrano in English.  He beat Jimmy Stewart in Harvey and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride.  It's such an over the top character, it's hard to decide if he was acting or just having fun!
Wins/Snubs 1991: The movie won the Oscar for Costumes.  Gerard lost to Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune.  Art Direction and Makeup went to Dick Tracy.  Journey of Hope from Switzerland also won.  

I adore this play.  It was one of the first I was able to actually read in French.  The story is really easy to follow, so it's an experience in "getting the joke" because Cyrano is so articulate he's constantly mocking people, creating double entendres, and basically trying to win the girl and keep people from mocking his nose.   The basic premise - It's a few hundred years ago in Paris, during a time of war.  Cyrano has a REALLY big nose.  For that reason, he knows he'll never get the girl.  When his dumb friend Christian falls for the beautiful Roxanne, Cyrano gives him the words to make her fall in love.  Of course, eventually Roxanne figures out the truth, but it's too late for her to do anything about it.  

After seeing Jose Ferrar on the defense in The Caine Mutiny I thought I'd check him out again.  This version is in English - though they do a terrific job bringing out the playful, if sad, spirit of Cyrano.  It's much more of a dated film that mirrors the "Saturday matinee" swashbuckling films of the 1950s.  Jose Ferrar does a good job as Cyrano, holding the screen and hoping he'll win the girl.  But he feels much more like a caricature of the big-nosed hero than an authentic representation.  The movie also cuts much more from the original play so there are some odd contrivances.  I'm really surprised Jimmy Stewart didn't take it for Harvey, particularly since Ferrar's was the only nomination for the film.    

The Gerard Depardieu version feels more like the original play, and not just because it's in French.  Depardieu is equally convincing as a sword-fighter, but in a more gentlemanly way.  You'd never call Depardieu a swashbuckler.  Instead, he's fit, charming, and a romantic.  It's just the nose.  This version is much more true to the play and is the better for it.  I love watching this - the subtitles aren't terrific if you speak French, but the translation is good enough that the jokes and mocking are pretty funny.  

The more recent Roxanne with Steve Martin is an EXCELLENT adaptation along the lines of 10 Things I Hate About You adapting "Taming of the Shrew".  Here's the best scene - it's BRILLIANT in French in the original play, but this is good too.  Many of them are direct translations.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 25: Enchanted April

Movie: Enchanted April
Year: 1993

Nominations: Best Supporting Actress - Joan Plowright, Best Adapted Screenplay - Peter Barnes, Best Costumes
Wins/Snubs: Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, Howard's End, and Dracula took the above awards.  Very odd year for nominations and winners -  it was Unforgiven or Howard's End for many awards, with quite a few others that have stood the test of time (A River Runs Through It, Scent of a Woman, A Few Good Men).  

Enchanted April is the story of 2 women in 1920s London - Lottie (Josie Lawrence) and Rose (Miranda Richardson).  The first is in love with, but afraid of, her husband (Alfred Molina).  The second is in a lonely marriage, seemingly of convenience, to a writer (Jim Broadbent).  They decide to escape for the month of April and rent a castle in Italy.  To defray the costs, they find 2 other women to join them - Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) and Caroline (Polly Walker).  Mrs. Fisher is just a stuffy old prim lady who wants a chance to sit and read.  Caroline is high society and wants a "rest cure" which seems to be doing nothing and avoiding social situations.  After they've been in Italy for a few days, they realize you can't actually escape your life and you have to acknowledge it.  Lottie invites her husband to visit - he's excited because as a financial manager, there are lots of prospects for business among the ladies.  Rose's husband, in his career has befriended Caroline, and comes to see her, which Rose doesn't figure out and it saves their marriage (she thinks he does actually love her, and he pretends and all is well).  The women decide to stay friends.  And Italy is beautiful.
This movie doesn't rely much on plot - a few simple devices give the women enough character to have conversations.  The rest is based on getting away and seeing Italy.  Mike Newell directed this just before Four Weddings and a Funeral which was also nominated for Oscars.  It's an odd set of neuroses combined into one house - there is the woman who loves her husband but hates being bossed around by him.  There's a woman who seems to be in a loveless marriage to a man who uses his writer alter-ego to be a part of society.  Then there's a lonely older woman who is overly proper, but insanely rude (that's how Plowright got her nomination - she's funny and rude).  Then there's a spoiled woman who doesn't want to be part of society but can't avoid it.  The movie seems to be trying to show a feminist stream of women finding independence and friendship, but it seems dated in a way I have trouble articulating - is it possible to have dated opinions about 1920s feminism?  Of course it is, but I don't know enough to comment well, that's just how it felt to me.  An odd flick that deserved the costume nomination, and only in the odd year of 1993 would Plowright have been nominated.     

Friday, February 17, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 24: Passion Fish

Movie: Passion Fish
Year: 1993

Nominations: Best Actress - Mary McDonnell, Best Original Screenplay - John Sayles
Wins/Snubs: Emma Thompson won for Howard's End, which I would now put behind McDonnell's performance, which is also behind Catherine Deneuve in Indochine, but that's just me.  The Crying Game won for Original Screenplay.

Passion Fish is about May Alice (McDonnell) who has awakened in a hospital a paraplegic.  We find out later she was in a random taxi crash.  She was a famous soap star (think Susan Lucci) and we see the bitch she's become taking on some of her character.  She has no interest in actually rehabilitating and learning to use her body in a different way.  She goes back to the Louisiana home she grew up in, accompanied by a nurse, who doesn't last long.  A quick succession of nurses follow (all with more problems than assistance).  All May Alice wants to do is watch TV and drink.  Finally, the agency sends Chantell (Alfre Woodard) who has a few secrets of her own but is finally a match for May Alice.  Eventually, though many different ups and downs, they settle into a life together.  We get to find out Chantell's secret's and her own struggles too.

This movie could easily have been a Hallmark special, or barely watchable, but the writing is sparse rather than sappy and the acting is strong and rarely over the top.  We see May Alice struggle, mostly physically to find her life forward.  They don't resort to the montage of her getting into shape or Chantell learning to cook.  There are so many ways it could have fallen into cliche and somehow it doesn't.  If the Academy had been recognizing more than 5 films, I'm sure this would have made the top 10.  I vaguely remembering seeing this in high school, and I'm happy to say it has aged remarkably well.  Avoiding stereotypes and cliche does keep its originality particularly fresh.  David Strathairn has a supporting role as a high school classmate of May Alice - the bad boy everyone had a crush on.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 23: The Caine Mutiny

Movie: The Caine Mutiny
Year: 1955

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor - Humphrey Bogart, Best Supporting Actor - Tom Tully, Best Screenplay, Editing, Score, Sound
Wins/Snubs: On the Waterfront took Best Picture, and Actor for Marlon Brando.  Their 3 nominations for Supporting Actor seemed to split the vote and it went to Edmund O'Brien from The Barefoot Contessa.  This was a year of strange breakdown in awards for writing - there's an award for 
"Story", "Screenplay" (which became Adapted Screenplay), and "Screenplay and Story" (which became "Original Screenplay").  On the Waterfront did win for "Screenplay and Story", The Country Girl (with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby) won for "Screenplay".  Best Story was eliminated as a category in 1957.  Also separated out at this point is sound recording for "non-musicals", which The Caine Mutiny also didn't win in favor of The Glenn Miller Story.  

This is the first disappointing movie of Oscar 2012.  I was curious to see one of the also-rans from the year of On the Waterfront - and it stars Humphrey Bogart, whom I adore from The African Queen. However, I didn't care for it, and I'm surprised it got nominated for anything.  We follow Ensign Keith (Robert Francis) through his graduation from officers school into his commission on the USS Caine, a Naval mine-sweeper during WWII.  He's in love with a club singer his mother hasn't met.  He hates the Caine - the Captain (Tom Tully) and other officers (including Fred MacMurray) have resigned themselves to their awful assignment aboard a nearly defunct ship and barely follow the rules.  The Captain is soon replaced by a battle hardened no-nonsense Captain Queeg (Bogart).  Of course, enforcing rules makes him seem like a hard-ass.  And eventually his obsession with the rules starts to lead to mistakes and obsessions - they accident cut a towing line and Queeg becomes obsessed with who ate the last of the strawberries.  This wouldn't matter except they end up in a typhoon and Queeg's obsession with following the rules nearly kills them all.  The executive officer Maryk (Van Johnson) relieves him of duty.  Of course, that means Maryk is sent to a court martial.  His lawyer (Jose Ferrar - George Clooney's uncle) argues very convincingly that because Queeg has an unimpeachable reputation, there must have been another reason he nearly killed them all.  This convinces people he must have been crazy and deserved to be relieved of duty.  

The defense is really the only interesting dialogue and acting in the movie.  They ask Fred MacMurray to give evidence and he lies so he doesn't get accused of mutiny too.  And their strategy of proving he had to be crazy instead of incompetent because it's better to accuse a Naval commander of insanity than dereliction of duty was really impressively done.  However, watching Queeg go nuts was slow and boring.  The main youngster, Keith (Robert Francis) was so unlikeable and unconvincing that it's really hard to get drawn into the movie as a whole.  Can't say I liked this, even with Bogart.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 22: Trouble the Water

Movie: Trouble the Water
Year: 2009

Nominations: Best Documentary Feature
Wins/Snubs: It didn't win - Man on Wire won that year, which I have seen and it's a better made film, though not necessarily a more worthy subject.   That's often the problem with the documentary short and feature films - it's almost like you're judging the subject as  much as the final product.  I've now seen 4 of the 5 nominees from 2009, and I still think Man on Wire was the best film. 
For authentic "documentary" feel, Trouble the Water is amazing - exclusively done with a hand camera and no producer.  Kim Roberts is a rap artist (one song she wrote about the experience is terrific) and she and her husband Scott spend a lot of time filming themselves and their lives in New Orleans, which became a lucky break during Katrina, as they have a ton of raw foot of the storm, and the days and weeks afterward.  It doesn't feel like a heavy handed film, or a political message, it feels like they're presenting facts as they knew them to be.  One friend who was with them was living in a halfway house during the storm, and lost everything, but as he had no proof of address left, he can't get compensation for losing everything he owned.  The main characters, Kim and Scott, don't whine.  Sure they complain about things being hard, but not in a way that makes you think they want a hand out.  After the storm, when the National Guard hadn't gotten to their neighborhood to find all the dead bodies, they started doing it themselves (the stink was taking over).  It feels very much like an authentic look at the storm through the eyes of people who couldn't believe it was happening, but did everything they could to make sure they didn't become victims.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 21: Reversal of Fortune

Movie: Reversal of Fortune
Year: 1991
Nominations: Best Actor - Jeremy Irons, Best Director - Barbet Schroeder, Best Adapted Screenplay - Nicholas Kazan

Wins/Snubs: Jeremy Irons won, along with Kathy Bates in Misery, thankfully defeating Kevin Costner from taking a sweep of the awards with Dances with Wolves which took Picture and Director.  I really like Wolves, but I can see that it's definitely not Best Picture material compared with Goodfellas or even Awakenings, though I'd still be a proud chick-flick cinephile if Ghost had won.

A Scene from The Lion King:

Young Simba: Hey Uncle Scar, when I'm King, what'll that make you? 
Scar: A monkey's uncle. 
Young Simba: [laughs] You're so weird. 
Scar: You have no idea.

Okay, I know it's odd that this was my favorite moment in this otherwise good (if confusing) film, but Jeremy Irons always seems so stiff, but the fact that he could parody his Oscar winning role in an animated film makes me like him even more.  It turns out the last two lines of the above quote are directly from Reversal of Fortune.  
Sunny von Bulow (Glenn Close) lies in a brain-dead coma and narrates the events that got her there - or at least some of them.  Her second husband, Claus von Bulow (Irons) has been accused of her attempted murder and his case is up on appeal.   He hires Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver - Dershowitz wrote the original material on which the movie is based) to defend him.  Sadly, due to his odd, cold, European demeanor no one really likes Claus and its impossible to figure out whether he did it or not.  Certainly Dershowitz and his law students (including a very young Felicity Huffman) spend a lot of time trying to find ways to prove he did or didn't do it.  

We do get to see Sunny in some of her alive moments and her interaction with Claus (and the affairs they both have) and Glenn Close does a good job making it clear why Claus would want to kill her.  She's mean, paranoid (with reason) and basically lived a rich, snobby life and wanted Claus' title.  They really don't seem to like each other, but Claus might have killed her, so he is entitled to a rigorous defense and we get to see Dershowitz attempt to do that even though he thinks Claus probably did it.  
The film feels really dated - it could be the title, the accents, and the posh New England "estates" they live on that makes it feel like an oddly out of place.  Overall, I did enjoy watching the legal drama unfold, and watching Jeremy Irons really get a chance to star in a strong, complex role where you don't know if you want to hate him is a pretty good afternoon.  Now I've seen both of the winners from 1991 - blind spot filled.

Monday, February 13, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 20: Gosford Park

Movie: Gosford Park
Year: 2002
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director - Robert Altman, Best Supporting Actress - Maggie Smith, Best Supporting Actress - Helen Mirren, Art Direction, Costumes, Original Screenplay - Julian Fellowes

Wins/Snubs: Original Screenplay.  This was the year of A Beautiful Mind, which took Picture, Director, and Supporting Actress for Jennifer Connelly.  Moulin Rouge took Art Direction and Costumes.  I think the film is definitely Best Picture material, and with the success of "Downton Abbey" maybe we'll get more of these movies.
A murder mystery set in 1932 in an English country estate with numerous guests visiting for a shooting party, as well as a house full of servants, Gosford Park stars some of the greatest actors ever.  Michael Gambon is the unlucky head of the house who is murdered.  Kristen Scott Thomas is his unhappy wife.  Jeremy Northam is a famous actor visiting with Bob Balaban, a Hollywood movie producer, with his valet Ryan Phillipe.  Gambon's aunt, Maggie Smith is being mean and torturing her maid, Kelly McDonald.  Also visiting are Gambon's married daughters who seem to want to ask their father for jobs or money for their husbands.  Meanwhile, Helen Mirren runs the house, and about a dozen other recognizable British actors fill out the cast. 

There's a strong storyline about how the wealthy treat their servants, and the gossip that is inevitable in a house with that many people.  The dialogue is continuous, as in any Altman film, and you have to watch it several times to catch all of the references that you really need to know to follow all the details of the story.  Which servants are sleeping with which of their employers, which of the friends are sleeping together, who knows all, and the ultimate reveal that must come out when a huge murder investigation occurs.  The murder investigation, led by a hysterically oblivious Stephen Fry, is almost secondary to the overall machinations that must take place in a house with so many people.  I've now seen this twice and I discover more and more about it every year.  Either Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren deserved the Oscar more than Jennifer Connelly, but then I don't care for A Beautiful Mind very much.  And Gosford Park, Moulin Rouge or Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring would have made a much better Best Picture than A Beautiful Mind.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 19: Misery

Movie: Misery
Year: 1991
Nominations: Best Actress - Kathy Bates

Wins/Snubs: Best Actress - Kathy Bates.  This does make me wonder how often a single nomination also results in a single win.  Bates is known for this role.

What is it about a sleeveless jumper worn by a grown woman that says creepy right away?  It's odd, but Kathy Bates pulls off innocent and creepy really well.   She plays Annie Wilkes, a nurse who is obsessed with her favorite author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan).  She happens to be following him when his car goes off the road during a blizzard and she rescues him and brings him back to her isolated cabin to recuperate from 2 broken legs and a dislocated shoulder.  Paul has just finished his most recent novel - a departure from his bread and butter, Misery Chastain series.  Annie is so pissed off when she reads his newest Misery novel because she dies.  This throws Annie into a rage and she nearly beats Paul with a table.  This is the the beginning of the insanity.  She forces Paul to rewrite his newest novel bringing Misery back to life.  It takes him just a few days to realize he's her prisoner and if he wants to live, he has to play along.  

Meanwhile, in town Richard Farnsworth is the town sheriff, married to his feisty deputy Frances Sternhagen, and they're trying to figure out what happened to the missing author.  It takes a while, but they're pretty smart.  
The movie itself is not great.  I'd stayed away from it due to the potential "horror", Stephen King aspect to it.  As usual there was much less to be afraid of than I thought.  There was one moment I jumped when Annie appeared (and there's the basic violence when she hobbles him that I turned away from), but in general the movie isn't scary.  It's mostly just watching a psychopath play with a toy.  The way it's filmed - in very tight close-up almost all the time - is supposed to be disconcerting I think, but instead it makes the action almost comical watching everything happen very close up.  The dialogue is good and Caan carries the straight character fairly well, in that you can see he wants to laugh at the ridiculousness of Annie, but knows she's crazy so he refrains.  One of the strangest things about the film is how often they reference the title - Misery is a character and obviously a state of being for Caan, and they're constantly talking about the character and never mention the inherent irony.  An odd flick, but glad I've seen it now. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 18: Vera Drake

Movie: Vera Drake
Year: 2005
Nominations: Best Director - Mike Leigh, Best Actress - Imelda Staunton, Best Original Screenplay - Mike Leigh

Wins/Snubs: Hillary Swank and Clint Eastwood took Actress and Director for Million Dollar Baby, which I dislike, so I'm fairly biased thinking Staunton did a better job thank Swank (or Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine).  Luckily, Eternal Sunshine did take Original Screenplay.  

Given that Mike Leigh uses a lot of improvisation and immerses himself and his actors in their roles, I'm surprised this movie ever got made as well as it did.  Vera Drake follows the title character, played brilliantly by Staunton, on her rounds - cleaning rich houses in the mornings, checking on sick friends, her invalid mother, and still getting home to have tea with her husband, adult son and daughter.  They live together in a tiny apartment in post-WWII London, just struggling to get by.  Vera is admired for her kind, helpful heart.  Only her childhood friend Lily also knows that Vera helps young girls in trouble - by performing free abortions.  In these, too, Vera is kind, efficient and helpful.  Unfortunately, one procedure has poor consequences and the girl ends up in the hospital, and the girl's mother names Vera.  When the police arrive at her apartment, they're celebrating her shy daughter's engagement, and Vera is more upset about ruining her family's party than by the fact that she's being arrested (and has been found out after 20 years of helping girls).  She's sentenced to 30 months in prison.

There is a secondary story following Sally Hawkins as the daughter of one of Vera's employers who is raped by a date, and gets pregnant.  She goes to a doctor and is forced to explain to a psychiatrist why she must have an abortion - which is legal under very specific circumstances.  It shows the other side of the process that really isn't available to the women Vera helps for free (though Lily as the go-between charges a little).  The look at what women had to endure to get an abortion at that time is thorough, from the fear and expense and risk to the shame, pain, and loss.  
Imelda Staunton delivered an amazing performance - she goes from living a relatively optimistic existence, knowing she is working hard, taking care of her family, and helping people before the arrest, to nearly catatonic when she is talking to her husband after the arrest (above photo).  It's an impressive change - her world is shattered and even though she was quick witted before, she can barely articulate her name during questioning and has trouble remembering how long she's been helping the girls.  Staunton deserved her nomination, as did Leigh, both for directing and writing, as the film is really well-paced, draws you into her small existence and makes you feel for her, regardless of your politics.  Really a terrific film.

Friday, February 10, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 17: Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown

Movie: Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown
Nominations: Best Actress - Judi Dench, Best Makeup

Wins/Snubs:  This was the strange year that Helen Hunt won for As Good as it Gets, over Dame Judi, and Kate Winslet for Titanic.  Men in Black took the award for Makeup.  I think her terrific performance in this is a big part of why, just a year later, she won the Oscar for Supporting Actress in Shakespeare in Love with just 8 minutes of screen time.  

 This is a historical, costume drama based on real events during the reign of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench).  After her husband, Prince Albert, dies, Victoria is inconsolable and withdraws from public life for years (she continued to wear black the rest of her life, they were married 21 years, she was Queen for 63).  One of the things her aides does to console her is to bring her a pony from her Scottish Castle, Balmoral, and Albert's groom, John Brown (Billy Connolly).  Brown obviously had a great relationship with Albert, much more friends than servant, and Victoria treats him with respect and lets him get away with bossing her around a bit.  Victoria was queen in a fairly  suspicious and threatening time (obviously it ebbed and flowed over her 60+ years) and eventually came to rely on Mr. Brown's advice and protection - he encouraged her to stay at Balmoral to remain safe.  They were "together" for nearly a decade and her reputation definitely suffered from her absence, but eventually he gave her the strength to rejoin society and lead the country.  
This movie focuses much more on their relationship than on what was really going on during her reign, and that's  fine.  It doesn't have to be a historically focused movie, but giving neither of the main characters much background makes the movie feel shallow too.  Also it jumps from disconnected event to event years apart, but appear related.  I found that hard to believe - that a particular conversation would have consequences a year later and the other days between don't matter.  But Judi Dench's performance was terrific.  She has to show the struggle between being a practiced monarch and being a woman with a broken heart who just wants to cling to her memories and stay safe.  Also, random - Gerard Butler's first movie as Mr. Brown's younger brother.  Good movie, not great, so I can see how it only got the two nominations.   

30 Days of Oscar Day 16: Dog Day Afternoon

* Sorry this is late, a cold has knocked me back a bit and I just forgot to post after I saw this yesterday.  There will be 2 today.

Movie: Dog Day Afternoon
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director - Sidney Lumet, Best Actor - Al Pacino, Best Supporting Actor - Chris Sarandon,  Editing, Original Screenplay - Frank Pierson

Wins/Snubs: Original Screenplay won - though since this is based on real events, I have a bit of a beef with that. This was also the year that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which I saw last year for this feature) ran the table picking up all the major awards.  

This movie has thus far lived in my "blind spot".  I knew the plot, I knew the actors, I knew the hype, but I'd never seen it.  So I'm pretty sure it felt victim to heightened expectations because it was good, but sadly didn't feel like anything particularly terrific.  However, one of the reasons for doing this particularly feature is to look at the films in the context of when they came out to see what they added to the field of film.  And in that spirit, this movie is pretty amazing. 

Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) go into a bank in Brooklyn at closing and plan to rob it.  They have a fairly simple plan with guns and running out before anyone catches them.  Sadly, they got some key information wrong and arrived AFTER nearly all the money was removed from the bank.  This throws their plan off a bit, and Sonny lights a garbage can on fire and the smoke starts to alert neighbors.  Pretty quickly the whole scheme devolves into chaos - with lots of police (led by Charles Durning), the FBI and of course the media.  However, Sonny isn't a bad guy - he doesn't hurt anyone, and is willing to deal with Durning to get the hostages from the bank safely out - which the media likes and soon everyone seems to be on Sonny's side.  He and Sal are just trying to get away at this point and ask for a limo to go to a jet to get away.  Before they go, Sonny just wants to see his wife - and they cops go to find Chris Sarandon.  It turns out Sonny wanted to rob the bank to get enough money ($2500) to get Chris a sex-change.  This becomes media fodder really quickly, and the gay community also rallies around them.  As with most heist films, this doesn't end well for our leads.  

I don't think I could say that Pacino deserved the Oscar more than Nicholson for Cuckoo, but he did do a great job being likeable and made it believable that he'd risk everything for his "wife" Leon.  I imagine the big reveal that Sonny is gay was a much bigger deal in 1975, so it falls a bit flat in 2012.  And I'm pretty shocked that Chris Sarandon got a nomination - his part is relatively small, and he plays a transsexual very drugged and passive.   I'm glad I've now seen this movie - it is a great heist film that you can tell others have tried to imitate in many lesser films.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 15: My Fair Lady

Movie: My Fair Lady
Nominations:Best Picture, Best Director - George Cukor, Best Actor - Rex Harrison, Best Supporting Actor - Stanley Holloway,  Best Supporting Actress - Gladys Cooper, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, Score, Editing

Wins/Snubs: It won Best Picture, Director, and Actor, as well as much deserved Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume, Sound and Score.  Neither Supporting actor won - Peter Ustinov won for Topkapi and Lila Kendrova won for Zorba the Greek, neither of which I've seen so I can't comment.  However, the big controversy for this year - isn't there always one? - was the fact that Julie Andrews, who originated the role of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway but was passed over for the film role, which went to Audrey Hepburn.  Ironically, Hepburn was NOT nominated for this role, but Julie Andrews WON the Oscar for Mary Poppins in the same year.  I guess you could say she was destined to win the Oscar for 1965 regardless of the role she played.

My Fair Lady is based on the George Bernard Shaw play "Pygmalion" about a speech instructor, Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) who sees a flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) with a strong gutter accent in London and makes a bet with his friend Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White) that with his tutoring, she could pass for a duchess at a ball.  She moves in with them and they attempt to change her speech, but it also involves changing her completely.  Essentially she's no longer able to return to selling flowers - they've raised her speech and elevated her self-confidence and social circle.  Of course, it's hard not to get a crush on the man who changes your life (though mostly Eliza professes to hate Higgins), and Higgins himself has "grown accustomed to her" presence in his life.  There are stronger issues within it, but since it's still a musical, they're moments of depth, but that's about it.  The songs are still fairly light.

Watching this again (I once owned this on 2 VHS tapes and now on DVD) and seeing it as Oscar-fodder, I'm even more surprised that Stanley Holloway didn't win the Oscar for Supporting Actor.  He plays Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle, common dustman (which I think means he shoveled coal).  When he finds out she's moved in with Higgins, Alfred goes to shake down Higgins for a little money so he can get drunk - he sees Eliza's change in situation as a lucky moment for himself ("With a little bit of luck" - top photo).  After he gets a few pounds from him, Higgins sends his name to a friend who leaves Alfred a ton of money in his will -forcing him to be respectable (bottom photo).  His girlfriend is making him marry her "I'm getting married in the morning" is one of the best songs in all musicals.  

There's a lot I could say about how amazing the music, and costumes, and direction are throughout this - they do a great job incorporating the music as a natural part of the story.  It's easily deserving of its Oscars.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 14: My Left Foot

Movie: My Left Foot
Nominations:Best Picture, Best Director - Jim Sheridan, Best Actor - Daniel Day- Lewis, Best Supporting Actress - Brenda Fricker, Best Adapted Screenplay

Wins/Snubs: This is a rather controversial year - Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture and Oliver Stone won Best Director for Born on the Fourth of July.  I haven't seen July but I really like Daisy - though I know quite a few who don't, some vocally (*cough, FMD).  I actually would still propose Field of Dreams is the Best Picture from 1990, but Dead Poet's Society is amazing too (here's .my favorite scene).  Luckily Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker both took home the awards - Day-Lewis beating excellent actors (Robin Williams, Morgan Freeman, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Cruise), as Fricker beat out Angelica Huston, Lena Olin, Julia Roberts and Dianne Wiest.  The one I would actually argue with is Driving Miss Daisy winning Adapted Screenplay over this movie.  

My Left Foot is the story of Christy Brown, a Dubliner with cerebral palsy born into a large family in 1932.  The only part of his body he has active control over is his left foot - particularly his toes.  His family assumes that because he can't speak as a child, he must also be stupid.  Thankfully, using chalk in his toes, he's eventually able to gain enough control in his body to spell out MOTHER.  He increases his dexterity with his left foot as he gets older and learns to paint.  His speech improves so that his large family, except his dad, can understand him.  The fact that his dad never really learns to understand Christy exemplifies his detachment from his disabled son.  One day Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw) is shown his art and offers him a place in her clinic attempting to help people with CP, particularly helping him improve his speech.  Since he's led a relatively isolated life, he mistakes her attention with affection and falls hard for her.  Not that you can blame him for having a poor ability to express anger, but he's kind of an asshole, and attempts to become a drunk, but that requires someone help him.  

The whole movie is told as a flashback from adult, and presumably successful, Christy's perspective as he's being honored for writing his memoir.  This is more evidence convincing us that he's a bit of an asshole at heart as he argues with the nurse assigned to help him while the speeches are going on.  However, there haven't been many performances that can rival Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in this - probably one of the 10 best male performances of all time in terms of raw acting - he contorts his body, mangles his speech in a consistent way, while maintaining an Irish accent.  Just watching it from the perspective of knowing he won the Oscar makes for an amazing film.  Brenda Fricker is terrific as his always pregnant, struggling and winning Irish mother, but it's a fairly standard Oscar-worthy performance.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 13: Absence of Malice

Movie: Absence of Malice
Nominations:Best Actor - Paul Newman, Best Supporting Actress - Melinda Dillon, Best Original Screenplay - Kurt Luedtke

Wins/Snubs: Henry Fonda won for On Golden Pond, but this is hardly Newman's finest work - ALL of that went unrewarded (and by finest, I mean when he was young and hot - he was ALWAYS a good actor).  Maureen Stapleton won for Reds, and Chariots of Fire won screenplay

The concept for this movie is actually better than the execution, but it'll take me a while to figure out why.  The tagline for this movie describes what they were going for: "Suppose you picked up this morning's newspaper and your life was a front page headline... And everything they said was accurate... But none of it was true."  The title comes into play next - the law says that with an absence of malice, you can't prove libel, so the newspaper (or I suppose blog) is in the clear.  I love this concept, but the execution doesn't quite live up to that idea. 

Megan (Sally Field) is a reporter in Miami.  She is talking to an assistant DA (a very devious, young Bob Balaban) and sees a report on his desk that suggests a man named Gallagher (Newman) might be responsible for the local union boss' death.  She publishes that information, and Gallagher's life starts to unravel.  Nothing she publishes isn't true - he is the son of a former suspected mob boss, he does own a liquor warehouse, and the DA does consider him a person of interest.  Gallagher is pissed and goes to try to get it retracted and find out why he might be a suspect. He contacts the department of justice's organized crime division to try to become an informant.  Since they know his family connections run deep, they cooperate with him and get his name cleared.  However, Megan's been digging into the story too and finds Gallagher's alibi - a friend he was taking to get an abortion (Melinda Dillon).  She can't be an alibi because it's 1981 and getting a legal abortion was less than 10 years old, so she really doesn't want anyone to know.  Fearing what will happen, she commits suicide, causing Gallagher to want revenge for the series of events that led to her death.  

Dillon is very convincing, though I had to go back and figure out why she'd killed herself because in 30 years an abortion becoming public seems to have become a minor reason to kill yourself.  This movie is dated, partly because Sally Field's hair and clothing couldn't be more 80s, but the newspaper business doesn't work quite the same way at all.  I would actually like to see this movie remade and I think it could be improved with the right cast and a little revision of the writing.  The concept is terrific, so I'm glad it got a nomination for screenplay, but it doesn't come across quite as well as it might.