Tag Archives: oscars

Oscar Bait – Mrs Miniver

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Progress: 86/89

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Progress: 459/1007Title: Mrs Miniver
Director: William Wyler
Year: 1942
Country: USA

Mrs Miniver has the rather odd distinction of being the only propaganda film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. In the two years of the films production a lot happened which caused the US to go from being a neutral observer to a post-Pearl Harbour combatant. This meant that the level and the type of propaganda had to change – which ended up with the film being rushed for release by the President of the United States himself.

Considering all that, how could this not win the Oscar? Especially when you throw in an excellent performance by Greer Garson as the titular Mrs Miniver.

The issue I have with this film is that it, at times, feels awfully disjointed. It is very much of the type where we spend the first act becoming acquainted with the central family as they were and then we see them in the throes of war. It is a tried and true formula that was expertly carried out by Gone With The Wind only three years earlier.  Mrs Miniver, however, takes way too long to set this scene.

The film also falls victim to the classic casting problem: children. The casting of all three Miniver children (including the adult son Vincent) just did not work. There was a part of me hoping that one of the two sons would be the member of the main family sacrificed to hammer home the horrors of war. No such luck.

There are a number of bright spots that made this a compelling film though. The scene in the bunker, for example, displayed something that actually felt real. It cut through the bullshit of the stiff upper-lipped village and their flower competition and showed the war from the perspective from bombed Brits.

It also pains me to say it, but I also got slightly taken in by the rousing propaganda-friendly speech made by the village priest as he stood in his bombed out church. Then again, Dresden.

Brass tacks though – I never really felt that this film engaged me. End of story.

Oscar Bait – All Quiet on the Western Front

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Progress: 85/89

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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.

Oscar Bait – All The King’s Men

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Progress: 82/88Title: All The King’s Men
Director: Robert Rossen
Year: 1949
Country: USA

You would be excused for having never heard of this film before. There are a number of films that have won the Oscar which most members of the general public would not be able to name. All The King’s Men, much like Cimarron and Cavalcade would be one of these films.

1949 was one of those interesting years at the Oscars. The Bicycle Thief took an award for Best Forgeign Language picture. The Heiress wins the most awards (the ever-brilliant Olivia de Havilland taking home her second Oscar) with four. All The King’s Men takes home Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Why would that make it an interesting year? Mainly because, whilst you the two classic movies I just mentioned (The Heiress and The Bicycle Thief) it was a weak year for nominations. Especially so when you see then in the following year you had Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve, Harvey, Adam’s Rib and The Third Man all battling it out in various categories.

Is this my way of saying that All The King’s Men is a poor film? Not by any means no. It wasn’t the best film out that year (then again it is so rare for the Academy to give the honour to the best film of that year), but it is still a really good film. It actually made me want to read the book.

Going in cold I had no idea that over the course of two hours you see the complete political career of Willie Stark, a once honourable man who wants to just make the world better. Did I say once? Why yes I did, because a big part of the film is about his fall into extreme corruption in order to achieve his dream of making it big.

Broderick Crawford absolutely shines in this film in the role that won him his Oscar for Best Actor. He is able to play the role of both the idealistic and honest politician and then slowly mutates into one of the greatest political villains that I have seen on film.

At no time does Crawford’s Stark go into pantomime evil, that would be too easy and remove the impact. He is an extreme, and rather adept, Machiavellian who would have probably remained honest if the establishment had not so maltreated him.

As a Brit I could look at this man and have one man creep into my mind as an equivalent – Tony Blair. Cheap shot? Maybe, but there is a parallel of a man starting out so extremely well loved and just becoming a figure of hatred and disappointment amongst those that once voted for him and loved him.

In reality, All The King’s Men was based on a book that was loosely based on a real life of Huey Long, a Louisiana senator who was assassinated on the steps of the Capitol building. Knowing this makes me want to read the book. After I finish Clarissa… whenever that is. Long book. Very long book.

Oscar Bait – Million Dollar Baby

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Progress: 81/88Title: Million Dollar Baby
Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 2004
Country: USA

As of now, the most recent winner of the Best Picture trophy at the Academy Awards is Terms of Endearment. It has been a long time coming, but finally I have gotten around to watching Million Dollar Baby. What put me off? The name.

I know it sounds like a pathetic reason, but you have to admit that as film names go it is pretty damned terrible. Also, when I was checking out the synopses online nothing really grabbed me – and this is with me actually knowing the twist in the end. Yes, thank you so much people I used to take the train to school with for ruining that emotional impact for me.

The twist is quite a known twist, but I hate people who reveal twists – so I won’t here. Needless to say, even though I knew what was coming there I was still able to feel for the characters in the scene.

With all this background I went into Million Dollar Baby expecting a ‘worthy’ Oscar bait film that would piss me off. The fact that it has Clint Eastwood everywhere did not help this assertion – nowadays I swear he just plays shades of the same grumpy, yet misunderstood, man that most people loved in Gran Torino. I don’t get that film, I just don’t.

What I DID get was how great Hilary Swank was in the titular (maybe) role of boxer Maggie Fitzpatrick. As an actress she had to do a lot in this role, including having to train up her body and gain muscle whilst being sick. It’s not one of the biggest transformations in cinema history, but that’s a lot of dedication.

I know that I am going to sound like a philistine here… but I preferred this film to Raging Bull. I mean, I find it hard to watch a film that I can’t sympathise with (my same problem with The Wrestler) so Million Dollar Baby has that stitched up.

My big question, however, is whether Million Dollar Baby deserved the award. Probably not. Hotel Rwanda and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be a lot higher on my list.

Oscar Bait – Grand Hotel

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Progress: 80/88Title: Grand Hotel
Director: Edmund Goulding
Year: 1932
Country: USA

It’s February, which means that it is well and truly Oscar season. After Grand Hotel there are eight films to go, plus whatever carries home the title in a few weeks time. So, 2016 should be the year where I am able to cross this off of my list. The first of the ‘in progress’ items to be completely crossed off, kinda cool.

Grand Hotel is one of those films that, when Sporcle does a Oscar winner quiz, people tend to leave out. It’s probably not as unknown as Cavalcadebut it is still considered an Oscar deep cut.

The thing is, it really shouldn’t be. I mean sure, it is not a classic like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca or The Godfather, but it is a good romp. And yes, I think romp is the word that best describes my relationship with this movie.

The setting of this movie is in the Grand Hotel, Berlin. It is a very expensive and decadent hotel, which has high-flying businessmen, members of the aristocracy and world-famous entertainers staying. With that last one I am not making reference to Hollywood royalty Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford who were starring in this film.

I have seen Grand Hotel referenced as being similar to Gosford Park in the way it is able to start out the film with multiple vignettes that all marry up in the end to form a brilliant climax. I would agree with this completely. I was amazed at how well this film knitted all the characters together at the end.

I was equally surprised at how fast-paced the film was. At two hours long they were able to pack a lot in. Whatever you think is going to happen, about fifteen minutes later you are one step further along in the story.

One thing I have to say, however, is just how bad I felt for Greta Garbo’s ballerina at the end. Granted, she is a bit high-maintenance and a primadonna, but oh my god I don’t want to know how she reacted an hour after the film ends. Everyone else? I would be remiss to say that it would be how I would have expected. A nice mixture of happy and sad… but poor ballerina.

Oscar Bait – Wings

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Progress: 79/88Title: Wings
Director: William A. Wellman
Year: 1927
Country: USA

Wings was the first film to win a Best Picture (or equivalent) at the Oscars. In the ceremony two such awards were given out; the other going to Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. 

Set in 1917, Wings is centred around three Americans from the same town who go to war. Two of them (Jack and David) go to fight as pilots whilst Mary follows the man she loves and takes on the role as an ambulance driver.

Thing is, that is not what makes Wings a really interesting film to watch. In fact, it is one of those films that should really be on the 1001 list, and here is why.

Firstly, the battle sequences are astonishing. Considering the fact that this is 1927 and that pretty much all of the fights were done using actual planes and pilots it was a joy to watch the acrobatics. I mean, I have seen quite a few battle sequences in silent movies (some of the best were in Intolerance), but these aerial battles were another thing.

And then, there is the scene from the picture that I chose to represent this film. Wings depicts two men kissing. Granted it is a kiss of friendship as a way to deal with one of them dying, but it is far more loving and tender than any of the other ‘romantic’ scenes. It was beautifully done and there is no doubt that it is all completely platonic – or at least it is love but not in that way.

This film was ground-breaking and whilst a lot of the battle scenes run a bit too long it is remarkably honest and arresting for a silent film.

Oscar Bait – Hamlet

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Progress: 78/88Title: Hamlet
Director: Laurence Olivier
Year: 1948
Country: UK

No, just no. In this year, the following films all saw a release: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Rope, The Snake Pit, The Red ShoesBicycle Thieves and Letter From An Unknown Woman. Yet, Hamlet won the Best Film awards at the Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTA, the Bodils and the Venice Film Festival. To be fair, Bicycle Thieves won the BAFTA a year later – but my point stands.

This is a place of honesty, I fell asleep during this film twice.

It is not that I am against slow paced films, period dramas or adaptations of Shakespeare plays. I have got a lot of examples of films that I have enjoyed that match any or all of these criteria. It’s just that this film did not work for me at all.

I’m not even sure that it was because Laurence Olivier being twice the age of the actress playing his mother was part of this. I am aware that this was a conscious choice to up the Oedipal nature of the text, so that’s fine. Odd, but fine.

What gets me, I guess, is how Olivier cut out half of the play and yet the full four hour version of Hamlet by Kenneth Branagh felt more interesting and better paced. I mean, how can you have an adaptation of Hamlet without Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? You can’t.

This 1948 version just felt needlessly decadent, overly vain and just bad. I know that this is probably me showing myself as a troglotite to a lot of people – but if I can sit and be gripped by a 4 hour silent movie about Napoleon, then something is just wrong here.

Still, at least this wasn’t as bad as Cimmaron.

Oscar Bait: The Life of Émile Zola

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Progress: 77/88

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Progress: 448/1007Title: The Life Of Émile Zola
Director: William Dieterie
Year: 1937
Country: USA

I am so glad that I had read In Search of Lost Time before watching this movie. Within that movie the ‘Dreyfuss Affair’ was a persistent topic of conversation. It meant that going into this film that, despite my lack of knowledge of Émile Zola, I was able to come into this with a good grounding of the social schisms that formed due to this court case.

One thing that got me, something I only knew because of reading Proust, is that this film almost completely removes the references to Dreyfuss’ Jewish background. There is one part where you see it on his personnel file – but that is it. The fact that anti-Semitism was a key component in this case and increased exponentially throughout the French populace after his wrongful conviction.

I can not quite grasp why these references would have been taken out of the film. My only, cynical, guess is that they thought it would stifle their chance at winning an Oscar. As such, the court scenes, which are incredibly captivating, just felt a bit… lacking.

This is no way detracting from the performance of Paul Muni in the title role of Émile Zola. He is a force of nature throughout this film (which makes me think how I really need to see him in the 1932 film Scarface). I can’t judge whether he was robbed as I have not seen Captains Courageous but it would not have helped that he won it the year before.

In taking on the role of a semi-retired revolutionary author that has pretty much reached national treasure status who gets embroiled in a massively controversial court case, Muni is really able to give the gravitas required for the role of Zola. He is able to bring likeability to a character who is fairly pompous to begin with and then just grows and grows into the part.

Would I suggest this film? Definitely, it is a great history lesson into a case that is profoundly shameful for all concerned. It is a also a great lesson for just how profoundly unfair finally delivered justice can be.

Oscar Bait: The Lost Weekend

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Progress: 76/88

(Note – The 1001 Movies book just went through its yearly update. So I have had to adjust my number down by one)

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Progress: 441/1007Title: The Lost Weekend
Director: Billy Wilder
Year: 1945
Country: USA

First I need to say, wow. I am hot off the heels of watching this and… wow.

The more I see of Billy Wilder’s, the more I move towards him becoming my favourite director of all time. Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment the list just goes on and on. I don’t think I he’ll get to the level of admiration that I have for Miyazaki but he’s damned impressive nonetheless.

When I went into watching this I pretty much knew everything about the story of this film. It’s one of those really important Code era movies that pushed the envelope when it came to the role of alcohol in a feature film. It is also the case where, thanks to the autobiographical nature of the source material, you know that there will be a quasi-happy ending.

To be honest I expected the worst of the ending. I hate it when films of this era pull an ending out of their arse just to suit the whims of the censors. The thing is, it didn’t ring false at all. During his 3-4 day bender, Don (Ray Milland in one of the best performances I have ever seen) reaches rock bottom. He steals, he ends up in an alcoholic ward, he hallucinates a mouse being savaged by a (plastic) bat. He even reaches the point of desperation where taking his own life becomes the only foreseeable way out.

In many ways, a film like this is as applicable (if not more applicable) to life as we know it now. Emotionally it still has that punch, it’s just that if it were to be made today there would need to be more of a visceral shock factor to make sure it has the same impact. No longer can a powerhouse performance be weighty enough, one he’d probably have to vomit blood or be punched by a hooker.

A film like The Lost Weekend goes to prove that whilst, yes, sometimes the Oscars can be a little bit weird in who they give Best Picture to (who were they kidding with Tom Jones) they can still award it to an absolute cracker.

Oscar Bait: Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Progress: 75/88

Title: Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Year: 2014
Haul: 4 awards in total

Okay, so I actually saw this a month before the Academy Awards and, after a lot of procrastinating, I have finally gotten around to my own two cents about it… with a lot of movies having been seen in between so of course my brain is a little rusty.

Firstly, whilst I said a while ago that, “I’d love a film like Birdman to gain the title…” if I am being honest it is not the result I would have really wanted. In many ways, I am glad that a film like this did win. I mean, it does not feel like a typical Oscar film and that is one of the reasons that I loved it. This is definitely due to the mostly non-American crew as this felt more European than American.

I mean, I can see how this could have won. The incredible cinematography that went into making the whole film look like it had been shot in one take? Breathtaking. You also have amazing performances from Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Ed Norton to contend with. The intelligent way that the film deals with various aspects of mortality and the importance we attach to actors and critics.birdman2

Thing is, of the Best Picture films that I saw I would rank it third behind The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood. I mean I can see why this would get the award over a more obviously comedic film but why not Boyhood? If you can not win for a film that was shot over 12 years, deals with philosophical questions of growing up and scores 100 on Metacritic then… what can you do.