Tag Archives: films

Oscar Bait – All Quiet on the Western Front

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 85/89

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 458/1007Title: All Quiet on the Western Front
Director: Lewis Milestone
Year: 1930
Country: USA

Well, like I said in my post on The Red and the White – I prefer a war film to be more on the grim than on the gung-ho. All Quiet on the Western Front just continues to reinforce this view with it’s frank depiction of German soldiers engaging in World War 1 trench warfare.

So picture the scene. It is 1930. An American film studio decides to make a film from a German book about how German soldiers dealt with life as a soldier in the trenches. It won the Best Picture award at the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony.

When you add all those pieces together the fact that this occurred is extraordinary. Especially since it’s not a feat that has been achieved since. Sure, we have had hugely successful war films and anti-war films since that depict World Wars One and Two. How many of these have been told from the perspective of the ‘opposition’, been produced by Hollywood studios and released into cinemas? Honestly, after Letters from Iwo Jima I draw a complete blank.

That’s why All Quiet on the Western Front is such an important film. It’s also a film that I really wish that my school would have shown when they taught us about World War One. Then again, the reason schools tend to not do that comes back to quote from Jerusalem by Guy Delisle:

It’ll always be easier to fight others if you reduce them to a single word or look at them just one way.

It’s so true about so many things both past and present. I guess it’s a hard concept to get across to children and, sadly, a lot of adults.

Rant aside – this is a brilliantly bleak and honest film about World War One. A film that we should possibly put on the television in early November to remind everyone that enemy soldiers are just the same as ours. Humans who were just born on a different patch of soil.

XL Popcorn: The Snake Pit

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 420/1007mv5bmtk2mdexndg5m15bml5banbnxkftztywodk2nzm2-_v1-_sx450_sy343_Title: The Snake Pit
Director: Anatole Litvak
Year: 1948
Country: USA

Olivia de Havilland is easily one of my favourite actresses. I say this having only seen her in three films prior to The Snake Pit, but she never fails to captivate me. I have never understood why she (and her sister Joan Fontaine) were frequently cast as the ‘plain girls’ as they are both beautiful… still I am not going to focus on that for now. What I will say is how much work she put into this role, including sitting through psychiatric lectures and actually watching a number of the treatments depicted in the film.

The Snake Pit is one of those films that was rather big upon the time of release and has since faded somewhat, but still finds its way onto a number of Top 1000 films lists. I mean it was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture. I have no explanation of this as it was a very good film, it’s just what happens to films.

The reason it gained a bit of notoriety at the time was due to it being one of the first films in the mainstream to deal with mental illness in a more profound way. Olivia de Havilland plays Virginia, a woman in a psychiatric hospital after she has had a breakdown… not that she remembers that or most things. She experiences a lot of time loss and is unable to recall simple facts about her life without a lot of prompting.

The whole point of the film is to watch her doctor, the remarkably patient (and somewhat dishy) Dr. Kik, help her to uncover the reason behind her illness and, ultimately, cure her. Along the way the film renders bare the state of the American mental health system complete with use of electric shock treatments, hydrotherapy and the open plan wards where patients are unable to escape from each other.

There is a rather interesting shot used as Virginia finds herself condemned to Ward 33 (which houses the worst patients in the hospital) where it zooms out from her position to the point where the writhing movements of the surrounding patients make the room resemble the titular snake pit – the idea of a treatment where something that would make a sane person go mad can help someone regain their sanity. Her cure comes from using talking therapies over the more archaic methods employed in the hospital, and at the time, to the point that her recovery (although sped up for the sake of the film) feels very much plausible.

Upon release this was an accurate and unflinching representation of the state of care for the mentally ill, complete with dances between mentally ill patients of the adjoining male and female wards (something that actually happened apparently) over half of the then 48 US States went through reform for these hospitals and censors in the UK had to qualify that this was not a representation of UK hospitals. In many ways, this film may have actually improved the lot of the mentally ill in America. How many movies can say that?

Oscar Bait: Cavalcade

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 72/87

cavalcade-1933Title: Cavalcade
Director: Frank Lloyd
Year: 1933
Haul: 3 awards in total

Cavalcade had the dubious honour of being the only Best Picture winner to not have its own DVD release in the United States. Whilst it appears on a number of collections there is no specific Cavalcade release. I think this goes a long way to talk about the legacy left behind this film which beat well regarded classics like 42nd Street and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. It is also a film that was one of the highest grossing of 1933, so why does it lay alongside the likes of Cimarron as a Best Picture winner that has been forgotten? It’s fairly simple really; it is incredibly dated.

This film, based on the Noel Coward play of the same name, recounts 30 years in the life of a well-to-do London family as they go through the major events of the early 20th century. Touted as the ‘picture of the generation’ and ‘A love that suffered and rose triumphant above the crushing events of this modern age! The march of time measured by a mother’s heart!’ you can see why this film was so popular. We were in the Great Depression and a film that centred on someone overcoming the odds would be very appealing. The fact that a number of these events (which included the death of Queen Victoria and a rather tasteless use of the Titanic) would pale in comparison within the events of the subsequent 15 years… speaks volumes.

It isn’t just the events and the importance that is placed upon them that feels dated however. It is very easy to see that this film began life as a play since a lot of the acting and staging is still remaniscent of this. As such, many of the scenes feel a rather odd mixture of over the top and wooden. The storyline involving the servants (since this is a film set in Britain so OBVIOUSLY there is a life upstairs and a life downstairs split in the story) is, at times, infuriating since they are written with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. In fact the only time there was a real laugh in this film was because of a child screaming with rage at having not won a teddy bear in some beach sideshow. Also we have a number of needless musical scenes whose main purpose appears to be padding out the movie, with the exception of the final number which does act as a good closer.

In the end this is a film shows the benefit of hindsight when evaluating films and how things like the 20/20 Awards are a cool idea. The Academy Awards, like every award, make mistakes in terms of longevity. For every Casablanca and Gone With The Wind there is a Greatest Show On Earth and Gigi but I guess that is what makes watching all of these winning films so interesting.

Here’s To You Mr. Ebert

MrEbertLike many film lovers the world over Roger Ebert was my idol. He was the guy I went to when a film came out to see what he thought about. Okay, we didn’t always agree but I could always respect his opinions since he had seen pretty much every film ever released that was worth seeing so he had much greater means of comparison than I have (or ever will have to be honest).

It’s one of those strange things when the person you idolize dies. You are left feeling with an emptiness inside that no one will ever really fill again. His death coincided with the end period of my making this bucket list… so it seemed obvious to me that he should have a place on it.

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 168/409

One of the things I loved most about visiting Roger Ebert’s website was reading up on all the essays that he wrote accompanying what he called his “Great Movies”. A list that includes everything from a documentary about a pet cemetary to however you would go about describing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

So, this post marks the opening of another ongoing item where I will be making my way through the films the good man saw fit to call great. This is a large list so it will take me years to see them all (especially since I am going through a bit of an animation binge and there is only one on his list that I have not seen yet). For now though I leave a link to the list in the image below, I’ll get round to watching more of these soon enough.

ebertcounter

 

Oscar Bait: The English Patient

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 71/87

After dismantling the jigsaw puzzle, which was oddly traumatic after spending hours and hours constructing it, I needed to watch a movie to take my mind off of it. So rather than going for another foreign flick I thought that I would hit up the Academy Award Best Picture winner list which resulted in this:

englishpatientTitle: The English Patient
Director: Anthony Minghella
Year: 1996
Haul: 9 awards in total

I have an odd memory related to this film. I remember GMTV (a morning TV show) being on and them covering the sweep made by The English Patient with a montage of numerous actors and members of the film community declaring “and the winner is… The English Patient“. This is something that really should have meant that I might have seen this film earlier but so much commentary has swirled declaring it as over-rated so I have left it until now.

As someone who lists Fargo as their 4th favourite film of all time was always going to be hard for me to watch the film that beat it to Oscar glory. Then again Frances McDormand took the Best Actress win so I guess that’s something.

Still, with both the Fargo-beating and the spectre of this being an overrated film hanging overhead I did not exactly go into watching this film clean. Then I saw the illuminating face of Juliette Binoche as French-Canadian nurse Hana and knew everything was going to be okay. Fine, I know that it is cheap to sit up and pay attention when an actress you enjoy watching but this is what happened with this film.

The story of the film, in brief, is told primarily through flashback as we learn the identity of the eponymous English Patient (Ralph Fiennes) who lays in an abandoned monastery covered in burns. He recollects his story primarily to Nurse Hana and a Canadian thief (Willem Dafoe) and we learn of the patient’s previous life as a desert mapmaker and of his affair with the, very much married, Katherine (Kristen Scott-Thomas).

Despite Ralph Fiennes doing solid work in his lead role (and by God is he just exuding the silent sex appeal when he is not knee deep in latex) this is really a film that belongs to Binoche and Scott-Thomas. The fact that the original studio pushed for Demi Moore to play Katherine is perplexing (not least because it is painful to imagine the accent she would have to affect).

There is so much to this film that makes it a compelling watch but at 162 minutes it feels a little bit bloated and I know exactly where it could be trimmed. The dinner scene where a drunk Fiennes reproaches his fellow cartographers, some of the occupation scene with Dafoe and (sad to say this) a number of scenes with Colin Firth could have been edited without losing the formation of his intense jealousy.

As an ensemble and cinematographic piece The English Patient is a really good watch. If it was just trimmer by 15-20 minutes this could have been even better… as long as no Juliette Binoche scenes are cut.

Around The World in 100 Films – Start Point

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 22/100

Time for me to open up the second of my three film bucket list items with a rather arbitrary goal of seeing films from 100 different nations. Unlike the Oscar list item this is something that can be permanently crossed off unless I suddenly get the urge to add another batch of countries to keep this going.

Now, I have decided to count countries as long as I watched the film after I put this onto my bucket list which was (yes I made a note) on August 5th 2013. This means that some countries (e.g. Finland, South Africa, China and Israel) are not on the list yet despite me having seen them in the past. I figured using this cut off point would serve as a way to make this more challenging whilst also keeping Burkina Faso (still stoked about that one).

Whilst I was preparing this list I saw there were 21 countries on the list and instantly envisioned doing a really cool triangle number diagram as you can see below:WorldCinemaTriangleNotice the problem? Well in making that list I had forgotten that I saw a Polish film at the end of January which means poor Hungary (my most recent nation) has to lay on the outskirts since I decided to do this in order of seeing them. My inner math-geek is not impressed with this. It was later pointed out to me that a film I thought was Australian was from New Zealand, now my inner flag-geek is unhappy too.

Still 22 countries down, 78 to go. Not a bad place to start with, although there are not many of the big film nations left which will make this interesting.

Any film suggestions for yet unwatched countries will be VERY much appreciated. Bear in mind re-watches are not allowed here so films like Tsotsi, Drifting Clouds and Waltz With Bashir will not count.

  1. Germany – Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
  2. U.S.A. – Robocop
  3. Netherlands – De Vierde Man(The Fourth Man)
  4. Czech Republic – Kolja (Kolya)
  5. Italy – La Strada
  6. Burkina Faso – Sarraounia
  7. Argentina – El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)
  8. Japan – Zatoichi Monogatari (The Story of Zatoichi)
  9. Brazil  – Cidade De Deus (City of God)
  10. Denmark – Melancholia
  11. United Kingdom – Blowup
  12. Norway – Flåklypa Grand Prix (Pinchcliffe Grand Prix)
  13. France – La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game)
  14. New Zealand – The Piano
  15. Poland – Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds)
  16. Spain – El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive)
  17. Sweden – Viskningar och Rop (Cries and Whispers)
  18. Belgium – Ernest & Célestine
  19. Greece – Kynodontas (Dogtooth)
  20. Canada – The Sweet Hereafter
  21. Algeria – Z
  22. Hungary – A torinói ló(The Turin Horse)

It’s Okay To Watch Oscar Bait Sometimes… Right?

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 70/87

There are many ways that I will describe myself; geek, Pepsi Max addict, ginger but one label I wear with a true sense of pride is that of cinephile. I absolutely adore films above all other forms of artistic expression which might explain why there are three bucket list items on my list. It is fitting therefore that one of these be the first item I start writing about and the first to be included into my “in progress” section.

Oscars-Seen

Like most film lovers I do have a love-hate relationship with the Academy Awards since I have my own opinions about what films should win each year rather than the one picked by the Academy. In fact there have only been seven years out of the (as of writing) 87 films that I would concede were the best of that year:

  • 1934 – It Happened One Night
  • 1939 – Gone With The Wind
  • 1940 – Rebecca
  • 1965  – The Sound of Music
  • 1969 – Midnight Cowboy
  • 1972 – The Godfather
  • 1984 – Amadeus

So, why have the Oscar Best Picture Winners on this list at all if I rarely agree? Love it or loathe the system, and the incredibly flawed Best Foreign Language Film system, it is seen by many as THE film award. So until a truly global film award comes into existence this is the best we in the English-speaking world have.

oscar+winners

As you can see from the above graphic (which is linked to my film-watching activity) I am already a large part of the way through this list item since it is something I have been actively making my way through for a few years and I am left with only 17 to watch… but of course this is a list item that will need yearly attention once I am up to date.

The films I have left are a fairly mixed batch, but with the exception of The Life of Emile Zola, I appear to have dealt with the film widely considered the worst and borderline unwatchable, yes that is a reference to The Greatest Show On Earth.

I’ll end with the 17 films yet to be watched as I write this:

Wings, All Quiet On The Western Front, Grand Hotel, Cavalcade, Mutiny On The Bounty, The Life of Emile Zola, You Can’t Take It With You, Mrs. Miniver, The Lost Weekend, Hamlet, All The King’s Men, Marty, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Out of Africa, The English Patient and Million Dollar Baby.

Oscars-UnSeen