Sunday, September 26, 2010
This film is spectacular. The story is fascinating, the character development is superb, the performances are fabulous, the shots are framed beautifully; it's just amazing. Alec Guinness never ceases to amaze me, and his portrayal of Nicholson won him a much deserved Academy Award. The movie's kind of on the long side, but it's never dull. I also love that, while it's about World War II, it's fundamentally about different kinds of people and how they react to desperate situations. Nicholson, Shears, and Saito all have different ideas of what it means to be a soldier and follow one's duty. They demonstrate three sides of a dilemma that many people, soldiers and civilians alike, have to face. All the characters are believable, which is extremely important in a great film. It's a good, effective, powerful movie: just what a Best Picture should be. I also noticed that the Japanese soldiers appeared to be played by Japanese actors, which was refreshing after the last film I watched. Anyway, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a classic, and it's one of those classics that I think everyone can appreciate.
Coming up next: Gigi
Saturday, September 25, 2010
So this film is definitely not my favorite Best Picture winner. I think it deserved the award more than The Greatest Show on Earth did, but only slightly (funnily enough, there was a circus scene in this film, but it was very brief). David Niven is a perfect Phileas Fogg, so he's fun to watch. But a lot of the "action scenes" go on way too long and are really boring, like Passepartout fighting the bull or the Indians chasing the train. It certainly didn't need to be three hours long. Also, this may come from watching the film more than 50 years after it was made, but I felt that it insulted my intelligence. Did the filmmakers really expect me to believe that the sets were real? Did they really expect me to believe that white people in makeup were members of different races? I find it disturbing that Shirley MacLaine even tried to pass for a princess from India, especially since she didn't really have any dark makeup on. Audiences might have gone for it in the '50s, but not today. This is definitely not a timeless classic.
By far my favorite aspect of the film was all the cameos, some of which I didn't even pick up on until the credits at the end (which were some of the coolest ending credits I've ever seen, I must admit). The ones I did catch were very fun to spot: Peter Lorre, Red Skelton, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Glynis Johns, and many others. If I ever see this film again, it will be to look for the cameos that I missed.
Next up: The Bridge on the River Kwai (oh, good, I thought it was about time for another depressing war movie)
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
This is the shortest Best Picture winner ever, and in my opinion it's the perfect length. It tells a story, it makes a statement, and it doesn't spend a half hour showing people eating popcorn at the circus (okay, so I still haven't gotten over The Greatest Show on Earth...I don't know if I ever will). I really liked this film because it's about normal people facing normal problems, but it never gets boring. Ernest Borgnine is wonderful as the friendly, down-to-earth title character, which is ironic because two films ago I just saw him as the evil stockade sergeant beating up Frank Sinatra. Borgnine definitely deserved his Best Actor Oscar for this role because he played it spectacularly. I cannot picture Marty being played by anyone else.
It also makes me really happy that this film won Best Picture because it's not super profound, or super long, but it's still thought-provoking and entertaining. I haven't come across too many films as simple and well-made as this one. In short, this is one of the movies I hadn't seen before that make me really glad I decided to watch the Best Picture winners.
The next film on the list is Around the World in 80 Days, which is three hours long (maybe they were trying to make up for this film only being an hour and a half)
Sunday, September 19, 2010
This is one of those films that I've been meaning to see for a long time but never got around to until now. I definitely need to watch it again at some point because for the first twenty minutes or so I was extremely confused. But once I finally caught on, I was hooked. This film has already been praised to the skies by film critics and historians and viewers alike, but at the risk of being superfluous, I'll tell you what I liked about it: pretty much everything except the premise. I'm not really into mobster films, so at the beginning I didn't think I was going to like this one much. But this is not just another mobster film. This is a film about people making difficult choices. All the characters are believable, and the casting was brilliant. Of course, I can't say anything about Marlon Brando that hasn't been said already, but suffice it to say that I now understand why so many people think he was one of the best actors ever. He won Best Actor for this film, and it would have been a crime if he hadn't. Eva Marie Saint and Rod Steiger both gave fabulous performances, especially since they were playing opposite him (she won Best Supporting Actress; he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor). And Karl Malden was, as always, a magnificent supporting actor (he was nominated for an Oscar, too). The performances alone could have made this film great, but it's the performances combined with everything else that makes it a timeless classic.
The camera work is phenomenal, perfectly capturing and enhancing the actors' performances. The score is intense at all the right times. It was filmed on location, which makes it seem all the more real. The story is intriguing, albeit somewhat confusing at the beginning. In short, this film is kind of hard to watch, and it's certainly not a fun movie, but to anyone who knows even a little bit about filmmaking, it's pretty awe-inspiring. Thank you, Academy, for restoring my faith in you; I was getting a little worried after 1952. At least this year, you picked the right film.
Stay tuned for: Marty
Okay, so it's another depressing war Best Picture. But it's also really good. The story is intriguing, powerful, and moving, and it has very well-developed characters. The casting was excellent, particularly in supporting roles. Frank Sinatra made a major comeback as Maggio, and he and Donna Reed (who played "Lorene") won Best Supporting Actor and Actress for their performances. It's fun to see Donna Reed in a not-so-wholesome role. I also like seeing Deborah Kerr play an American.
This film is well-done from a technical standpoint as well. Everything was shot and framed perfectly; I particularly liked one shot of Sgt. Warden as he leans against a wall next to a calendar that tells us it's Saturday December 6. It's so effortlessly stuck in, and it's a perfect reminder that something is coming, for viewers who are paying attention. Little things like that make this film brilliant. It's probably most famous for Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing on the beach, but there's so much more to it than that. Yes, it's depressing, but it's a well-told story, and that's what a film should be.
Next: On the Waterfront
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Remember when I watched Grand Hotel, and I said that star-studded films are either really good or really bad? Grand Hotel was one of the former; this was unquestionably one of the latter. There are some pretty big names in the cast - Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, James Stewart, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, etc - but they were not enough to save this film, especially since some of them were giving their worst performances. James Stewart was probably the best, but he didn't have much of a part to work with. I've never liked Charlton Heston, but I found him even more obnoxious than usual in this film.
Don't get me wrong; it wasn't the worst film I've ever seen. There were parts that were actually quite entertaining. But it's the kind of film you watch to make fun of it; certainly not what I would call Best Picture material. So why did it win? Were the films of 1952 particularly bad? The only other nominated film from that year that I've seen is High Noon, which I think is infinitely better than this film. Also, 1952 was the year of Singin' in the Rain, which is now considered by many (including myself) to be one of the best films ever made. So the question remains: what was the Academy thinking?
If I had to guess, I'd say this film won because of its color and special effects. It was certainly very bright and colorful. I think the special effects were good for 1952, maybe, but now they're just laughable. Watching this film is kind of like going to the circus, except instead of being able to look wherever you want, you have to see what the camera decides to show you. And I'm sorry, but watching people eat popcorn while clearly reacting to nothing is not really what I want to look at. So nice try, Mr. DeMille, but I'm sorry. It didn't work.
Coming up next: From Here to Eternity (which is actually a good film)
Thursday, September 16, 2010
In many ways, this is a fairly typical Hollywood musical of the era, but it's one of the better ones. Most of the songs are exceptionally good, and the dancing is superb. The writing has just the right amount of cheesiness. The story may be hopelessly predictable, but it's not bad. It pretty much has everything those kind of musicals are supposed to have: love overcoming all obstacles; characters who randomly break out into perfectly harmonized songs and perfectly choreographed dances (if only life was really like that); and a magic piano that sounds like a full orchestra. And let's not forget the 20-minute dream ballet sequence: you know, the ones that have really fake sets and go on forever and have nothing to do with the story except to reiterate what the characters are feeling (even though it was pretty obvious already), that are really only there to show off the stars' dancing abilities and to look like vaudeville? Yeah, there was one of those at the end of this film, and while Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron are really, really, extremely good dancers who are fun to watch, I think that scene could have easily been cut in half. But maybe that's just me. Anyway, for the most part, I really liked this film. It's not super deep and powerful like a lot of other Best Picture winners, but that's okay because it's not trying to be. It was made to be entertaining, and that's what it is.
Next winner: The Greatest Show on Earth
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The other day, my brother told me that this is his favorite black-and-white movie. I wouldn't necessarily say the same for myself, but I agree that it is a remarkably well-put-together film. The writing is witty, the story is intriguing, the camera work is brilliant. The film is carried forward by three strong actresses giving fabulous performances: Bette Davis as Margo, Anne Baxter as Eve, and Celeste Holm as Karen. But they're not alone. Thelma Ritter, that wonderful character actress, plays Margo's original assistant, and Marilyn Monroe has a small role as well. The only male actor who really gets to shine in this film is George Sanders; Gary Merrill and Hugh Marlowe are pretty important, too, but they don't get to do much except shout at each other and at Bette Davis. Still, the performances are incredible, and so is pretty much everything else.
Although this film is a little on the long side (aren't they all?) it is absolutely never dull. It's totally unpredictable, and viewers are always wondering what Eve and Margo are going to do next. Sometimes I find Bette Davis hard to watch (blasphemy from a self-proclaimed old movie lover, I know), but there are some scenes in this film in which I can begin to appreciate why everyone raves about her.
All About Eve was nominated for 14 Academy Awards - a record that has never been surpassed and only matched once in 1997 (guess what film) - and won 6. One could argue that it deserved more, and maybe if they had nominated Anne Baxter for supporting actress instead of Best Actress against Bette Davis they wouldn't have cancelled each other out, but who knows? The fact is, this is a really good movie about the lengths to which some people will go to make it in show business. It's disturbing if you think about it too long, but you can also just watch it for entertainment.
Coming up next: An American in Paris
Sunday, September 12, 2010
While the film was well made from a technical standpoint, I didn't like it. The beginning was very confusing, and it took me a long time to figure out if the story was about Willie or Jack. Then, once I figured that out, I really didn't like the direction the story went. The message of the film is disturbing, but I'm sure that was intentional, so I guess the filmmakers succeeded in making their point. I think the shots were framed very well, and I like the way the camera angles were adjusted ever so slightly to give viewers a different impression of the characters, especially the low angles of Willie when he starts to gain power. Broderick Crawford won an Oscar for his thoroughly convincing portrayal of Willie Stark, and John Ireland was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the tormented Jack Burden. The film told its story well; I just didn't particularly like the story. Part of it is that corruption, and a lot of times politics in general, really irritates me. If you like watching dishonest people justify their corruption by pretending to be honest, this is the film for you.
Next up: All About Eve, another film about dishonest people pretending to be honest
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Hamlet, as his name suggests, is a role for hams. While Olivier's portrayal of the title character is not nearly as melodramatic as some I've seen (cough, Kenneth Branagh, cough cough), to call it a tad over-the-top would not be untrue. Still, overall, this film was better than I expected. It's long and it drags a bit, but that's Hamlet for you. I really liked the way a lot of the shots were framed, and I especially liked the camera movement. Those, combined with the soundtrack and the fog machines, created the mood more than anything the actors did. But all in all, the performances were good, though the casting choices were a bit odd.
For instance, the actress who plays Queen Gertrude was significantly younger than Laurence Olivier, who plays her son. Jean Simmons, who plays Ophelia, was significantly younger than everyone else, so although she gives a delightfully haunting performance, she always seems out of place. The actor who plays Polonius wasn't actually that old, but he seems like he's about 85 or 90. I'm guessing this was acting, but I wonder why he played it that way, when Jean Simmons was supposed to be his daughter, and she seemed young enough to be his great-granddaughter. It's no big deal when Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, because he looked like he was going to die of old age soon anyway.
I was incredibly disappointed that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were eliminated from this version, since they provide the comic relief that this story desperately needs. I was very glad, however, that the whole Young Fortinbras storyline was omitted, because I never thought it was necessary. I think the problem is I've seen too many versions of Hamlet, so I couldn't watch this film without comparing it to the others. Still, it was better than I expected, for the most part.
Next: All the King's Men
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I really, really liked this film. I am used to watching films from this era, and they generally avoid focusing on bigotry and prejudice. Films were almost exclusively about how white, Protestant Americans solved their problems. Judaism was pretty much a taboo subject in 1940s Hollywood; ironic, since most of the studio moguls of the time were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Even more ironically, it was one of the few non-Jewish producers, Darryl F. Zanuck, who decided to make a statement with this film. And it worked. This film is very powerful and well-made. The writing is fabulous. The acting is superb: starring Gregory Peck and featuring Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, and other amazingly talented artists all giving incredible performances. I think it helped that they all knew they were doing something profound, so they gave it their all.
Most importantly, this film is believable. It's about real people who face important problems that no one else wants to talk about. It makes a point, but it's not just ramming a message down our throats; it tells an engaging story as well. I also love how it covers all sides of the issue: the discriminators, the people being discriminated against, the people who do something about it, and the people who let it happen.
This is definitely my new favorite film that I hadn't seen before embarking on this project, and it may even be one of my favorite films period. If nothing else, at least watching the Best Picture winners has allowed me to discover this film. And I shall follow it with the 1948 version of Hamlet (which I'm sure is another nice, short, uplifting, light-hearted movie, like so many on this list...right?).
Monday, September 6, 2010
While this film is a little on the long side (it lasts about 2 hours and 45 minutes), it kind of needs to be, as it's telling three different stories. The stories, and the way they are portrayed, are engaging and powerful. The performances are all superb, with a magnificent cast including Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Teresa Wright. But by far the most moving performance is that of Harold Russell, who plays Homer Parrish. It's too bad there weren't more roles for young men with no hands, because that guy could act! At least the Academy recognized his performance with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
This film was made when a lot of people could relate to its story, as the war had just ended. However, even though modern audiences cannot identify with the film as much as the audiences of 1946 could, it remains a magnificently compelling movie to this day. In many ways, it's a sad film, but it's mostly uplifting and encouraging rather than depressing. It's definitely one of my favorite Best Picture Winners so far.
Coming up next: Gentleman's Agreement
Saturday, September 4, 2010
When people get drunk in movies, a lot of times it's comical, and the supporting character who's an alcoholic is funny, or at the very least harmless. This film is completely different. It presents alcoholism as the disease it is, with absolutely no glamour or humor. Don Birnem would probably be a very successful writer if he wasn't addicted to alcohol. This film portrays a single weekend, beginning with Don worming his way out of a trip with his brother and taking him through a major binge. He desperately struggles to find money for "just one drink," but, as one bartender puts it, "One is too many and a hundred's not enough." Don's brother and girlfriend care about him and try to help him, but he refuses their help. As he stoops to lying and stealing for his "one more drink," audiences can't help forgetting everything else Hollywood has taught them about drunks. It's a terrifying, horrific disease, and it's very hard to know how to react to it.
I find it interesting that this film was made at the end of the war. I'm sure a lot of soldiers who came home were struggling with alcoholism, so it's good that they made this film when they did. I also read on the back of the case that this film was almost not released because preview audiences didn't like it. I can see why; it's nothing like the escapist films they were used to. But that's what makes it so brilliant.
Ray Milland's performance as Don Birnem deservedly won him the Best Actor Oscar. His facial expressions alone are magnificent. The score to this film is creepy and haunting, which greatly aids the portrayal of the film's message. The camera work was superb: I especially liked the use of extreme close-ups and slightly oblique, low camera angles. This film was extremely well-made, and it had a very good and necessary, albeit disturbing, message.
Next up: The Best Years of Our Lives
This film tells the story of an old priest who's been running a parish for 45 years. The church is now struggling financially, so the bishop sends young Father O'Malley (aka Bing Crosby) to take over. The two personalities clash at first, but eventually they start to get along quite well. Father O'Malley decides to turn some of the young delinquents of the parish into a choir. Oh, yeah, and there are a couple of women who are somewhat important to the story but are mostly there to look pretty and sing.
I'll be the first to admit that it's a bit cheesy. It even gets a little boring in places. But it's mostly a really good film. It's about people helping each other and looking out for one another and singing together (obviously Bing Crosby has a lot to do with the last one). It also says a lot about generation gaps. The writing is as un-cheesy as possible. The little boys are cute, even if it's very apparent that their voices weren't recorded at the same time as their images. And Barry Fitzgerald is perfect for the part of the older priest. If you're looking for movies that will restore your faith in human beings, this is a good place to start.
Coming up next: The Lost Weekend
Friday, September 3, 2010
While this film is probably most well-known for its famous lovers, there is actually a lot more to it than that. Every minor character is intriguing, every plot twist thought-provoking. The soundtrack is perfect, and the settings - particularly the contrast between Paris and Casablanca - greatly add to the film as well. The writing is witty and clever (despite a few cheesy lines), and obviously full of catchphrases. The casting is almost too good to mention. All of the performances are magnificent, and I can't see anyone else in any of the roles.
Though the film is dated by its World War II setting, its themes of love and patriotism still strike a chord with audiences today. This is the epitome of a timeless classic, so it's appropriate that its theme song is "As Time Goes By." If it seems like I'm praising it excessively, it's probably because I am, but in my opinion it deserves all the praise it can get. The first time I saw this film I didn't fully appreciate it, but every time I've watched it since - and I believe this was my 6th time - I've noticed something new. There are few movies that I like more every time I watch them, and this is definitely one, which is perhaps why I am praising it so profusely. But seriously, even if it's not your kind of movie and even if you don't like it, you should watch it anyway just to improve your cultural literacy.
Next up: Going My Way
Thursday, September 2, 2010
This film is so good that it's hard to know where to begin praising it. The story is extremely intriguing. It's about a small town in England that is trying to keep a semblance of normalcy during the air raids of World War II. I was going to elaborate, but that's the general premise, and I don't know how to summarize the rest of the story without seeming incredibly long-winded. Basically, they're normal people who try to keep a positive attitude in the face of war and death.
The performances were magnificent. Greer Garson deservedly won Best Actress for her portrayal of the extremely likeable title character. Her husband was played by Walter Pidgeon, which makes this his second Best Picture winner in a row. Richard Ney and Teresa Wright are wonderful as Vin Miniver and his love interest, Carol Beldon. Then there's Lady Beldon, played perfectly by Dame May Whitty (who will nevertheless always be "the diggy biscuit lady from Gaslight" in my mind). And Henry Travers (aka Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life) is adorable as the train station master who names his rose after Mrs. Miniver.
I think what intrigued me most about this film is that it was made in 1942, which means the events that the film portrays were happening as it was made. Therefore, there's no real happy ending because no one knew for sure how the war was going to end. However, the film ends on a hopeful note. I loved how the last title said "The End. America needs your money. Buy defense bonds and stamps every pay day." Naturally, the film struck a deep chord with audiences of its day, but that doesn't make it any less profound now. It remains an incredibly powerful, encouraging film. Yes, it's idealistic, but that's kind of the point. Also, it's nice to know that a film can have explosions and a really good story with decent writing. Hollywood seems to have forgotten that.
I'm very excited because I get to follow this truly excellent film with another fabulous film: Casablanca