Friday, May 29, 2009

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

The children of 2 very different families fall in love. But when the rich stuffy family meets the other good-natured but eccentric one, disaster ensues.

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Frank Capra (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actress: Spring Byington
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Cinematography
Best Editing
Best Sound

I started watcing this film quite sure that I won't like it; I had seen a couple of scenes from it before, so I was familiar with its mood and story. However, I was part wrong: it's a sweet little movie, easy to watch and with a couple of laughs here and there.
It's not as wacky or screwball as they wanted it to be, and although it's a good movie, I'm not sure it deserved the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (I haven't seen the competition, so I really can't tell; however, it doesn't really feel like an... Oscar movie). The nomination for Best Supporting Actress is rather absurd as the actress playing one of the mothers does nothing else but sit around, with no big scenes and no subtle moves either. Lionel Barrymore (playing the grandfather of the crazy family) is quite great and he would've deserved a Best Actor nomination.
It's fun at times, very talkative (thaaaa, it's based on a play) and with lots of moral stuff in it. Jean Arthur (the blonde chick) is sweet and funny; James Stewart is ok, but rather ignorable. It's a film that has boring moments, but when it goes really nutty, you can spot one or two creative ideas that will actually make you laugh.
My rating for the film: 8/10. I'm being generouse; it's a feel good story.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bugsy (1991) (2nd time)

The story of how Bugsy Siegel started Las Vegas. [imdb]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Barry Levinson
Best Actor: Warren Beatty
Best Supporting Actor: Harvey Keitel
Best Supporting Actor: Ben Kingsley
Best Original Screenplay
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction (WINNER)
Best Costume Design (WINNER)

So not as good as I remembered it to be; fortunately enough, it was The Silence of the Lambs who won the Oscar for Best Picture. Bugsy is a fine drama, well done technicaly. The screenplay is ok, the direction is good, but I somehow... I don't like it. There's nothing attracting me to it, making me LOVE it, or at least an aspect of it.
If you'd ask me, Warren Beatty's performance is overrated. He's ok, maybe good, but that's it! My problem with him is his lack of generating true emotion and I can see moments in his performance when he did look lost, and it wasn't the character. Also, Annette Bening's performance is mediocre at best; I really can't see how she got a Globe nomination for it. The supporting actors are fine and the nominations (judging by a weak category) seem relevant.
I'm not sure if the wins for Art Direction and Costumes are fair. I seem to say only bad things about it: but as I've said, it's an ok movie that lacks that certain charm that would make you fall for it. It's not a biopic, and it's not a big budget drama. It's the story of a flawed man and his dream.
My rating for the film: 7/10. Hmmm. Am I being too generous?

The Landlord (1970)

At the age of twenty-nine, rich Elgar Enders "runs away" from home. This running away consists of buying a building in a black ghetto. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actress: Lee Grant

This one is a film I saw out of curiosity. And because (what a silly reason) it's rather difficult to find. Does that make it somewhat precious? :) hmmm, not really. It's a dramedy looking like an independent feature; it's also I think the directorial debut of Hal Ashby and probably some kind of movie vehicle for the rising star Beau Bridges (who is just adorable here).
The direction is daring and very playful, like any debut should be. The story is not that interesting, nor that funny. It has some moments of drama, but they're not heavy. The film always sticks in the middle, sometimes a bit higher than mediocrity. It's an easy watch. Lee Grant got her nomination for playing Elgar very excentric (often way too exagerately presented) mother. I'm not sure if her nomination is worthy; I tend to say yes, because I like wacky supporting characters and hers is memorable from the excentricity point of view.
My rating for the film: 6.5/10. A film you might like, but I doubt you'll love it.

Damage (1992) (2nd time)

A member of Parliament falls passionately in love with his son's fiancée. Lots of sex. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actress: Miranda Richardson

I'm not a fan of this highly pretentious British movie. It's drama, with lots of fucking in it: sometimes less justified. It's suppose to be very European, I guess; and it is, in some ways. It has a mysterious Juliette Binoche (nice looking, but her character's edge is not that believable, so her screen presence often comes as absurd) and a very horny Jeremy Irons, who tries to act, but what can you do when the screenplay is so... so... naive.
Oscar nominated Miranda Richardson is probably the only one giving a really good performance. Her madness scene towards the end is played with lots of skill, so the nomination is worthy, but a win would've been too much. An interesting thing about her: she was probably 33 when she filmed this, but in the movie she's meant to be like... 45+ I guess (as she has a 20 something son); strangely enough, you believe her.
My rating for the film: 5/10. Nice music and Miranda Richardson save it a bit.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Howards End (1992) (2nd time)

A man ignores his wife's deathbed wish to leave an estate to a woman friend. [imdb]

Nominated for 9 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: James Ivory
Best Actress: Emma Thompson (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actress: Vanessa Redgrave
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction (WINNER)
Best Costume Design

Ever sincer since I first saw it, this film has been in my Top 50 ever. I might just keep it there. To me it's an almost perfect British drama: it has great performances, excellent technical work, sharp direction, a very interesting story and a good screenplay and... and it's a costume drama, as (I guess) the action takes place sometimes around the beginning of the 20th century.
All the Oscar nominations are well deserved. If it was up to me, it would've also won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Original Score. The cinematography in particular is breathtaking, perfectly capturing the gorgeous England landscape. The direction is subtle and reassuring and the two Oscar nominated performances dead-on. Emma Thompson gives one of her best performances ever, even if for most parts it's low key. And Vanessa... she on the screen just for the first 40 minutes (playing the woman who dies), but her character is a crucial one and her performance is, I dare to say, the most memorable. The only wrong casting choice for me was Anthony Hopkins: a rather weak performance with clumsy acting choices.
My rating for the film: 9/10. A very relaxing drama; some might find it boring, but I am spelled. It fills my heart with romance, grace and arrogance. :D

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Woman in the Dunes (1964/65)

An amateur entomologist searching for insects by the sea is trapped by local villagers into living with a mysterious woman who spends almost all her time preventing her home from being swallowed up by advancing sand dunes. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 (1+1) Oscars:

Best Foreign Language Film: Japan (for 1964)
Best Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara (for 1965)

To explain that, it's something that the Academy doesn't allow anymore: for a film to get nominated in two different years, in one of them as representing its country for Foreign Language Film and in the next year for representing itself (judging by the American release date).
Now this is what I call and ART FILM. It's so unusual, so stylish, with excellent excellent excellent camera work and fascinating direction. Is it a film I would consider seing twice? I don't think so, but that doesn't take away the impact of the first watch. You can easily tell this one is a special film even from the first frames. The subject is so strange, but it gets to you; it's not a feel good movie, it's like a painting: intimidating to look at and I have lots of respect for it.
The only other auteur I can connect it with is some early Ingmar Bergman.
Of course it deserved the Best Director nomination. It would've even deserved the win, but the nomination itself is a huge achievement (as the Oscar has NEVER went to the director of a foreign language film; I think Ang Lee came closest with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). It also deserved many other nominations: like Best Actor, Best Cinematography (!!!), Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay...
My rating for the film: not sure :) I have no idea. I wish the ending would've been perfect, but it wasn't. I'll go with 8.5/10. I might move it to a 9 pretty soon. I don't love it, but I'm humble in front of this great achievement of moviemaking.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Doctor Zhivago (1965) (2nd time)

Life of a Russian doctor/poet who, although married, falls for a political activist's wife and experiences hardships during the Bolshevik Revolution. [imdb]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture:
Best Director: David Lean
Best Supporting Actor: Tom Courtenay
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Color (WINNER)
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Art Direction, Color (WINNER)
Best Costume Design, Color (WINNER)
Best Sound
Best Editing

An epic film in David Lean style; just not as good as Lawrence of Arabia or other of his movies. Because it was such a hit, it was also the favorite (I guess) for Best Picture. It lost to Sound of Music.
I've had multiple problems with this film even at a 2nd viewing. I just cannot get over Julie Christie being cast as Lara, the object of desire. She IS gorgeous, but I couldn't buy the youth or the decency that the character required. And her acting is not that good to start with. Another casting mystake: Alec Guinness playing Omar Sharif's half brother. What?! And a few other casting failures. But not all actors are bad: Rod Steiger and Tom Courtenay (deservedly Oscar nominated) are both GREAT! and I also liked Geraldine Chaplin's delicate touch of innocence as Zhivago's wife.
The technical part is brilliant and all the Oscars won are rightfully deserved! The Art Direction and Cinematography are spectacular, capturing gorgeous landscape, a ton of set decorations and doing daring shots of the battle scenes. Which reminds me: there's a violent confrontation between the Reds and the Whites that left me like: wow. How did David Lean make those horses fall and film it to look so believable?
As much as the technical and historical parts seem dead on, I was still feeling like there's something I don't like about this movie and I can't put my finger on it: oh, yeah, the fact that I'm not buying a minute of this so called love story. Omar Sharif and Julie Christie don't match and their characters' love intentions don't justify. It just doesn't work. :(
My rating for the film: 7.5/10. A true epic, but the love story and Julie's casting as Lara brings it down. But I could never hate it or dislike it. Oh year: and Omar Sharif did deserve and Oscar nomination (it was a shock back then that he wasn't nominated despire winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor Drama).
Other BEST PICTURE nominees from 1965 mentioned here:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ship of Fools (1965)

Passengers on a ship traveling from Mexico to Germany in the 1930s represent society at large in that era. [imdb]
Nominated for 8 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Actor: Oskar Werner
Best Actress: Simone Signoret
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Dunn
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

This is a real ensemble cast, with 7-8 big names attached. The best performances were given by Oskar Werner (excellent in playing the ONLY leading character of the film: the ship's doctor), Simone Signoret (playing La Condesa, the most interesting character of the book, which I've read years ago) and Vivien Leigh (playing a stiff middle aged American going nuts). This was also Vivien Leigh's last film performance :( she died two years later.
There's a mix bunch of people of this ship. The characters are faithful to the book, though I imagine it was a nightmare trying to adapt 700 pages in 140 minutes of film. Overall, I'm satisfied. It did get the spirit of the book: strangers on the same boat, representing various aspect of society; and somewhat taking a peek at the origins of Nazism. The film however is not always good. It really is boring sometimes, and some might find it quite long. I was curious about this adaptation, so I can say I enjoyed it.
The nominations are mostly worthy. Oskar Werner IS as I've said GREAT and quite touching. Though Simone Signoret gives the best female performance of the film, I bet she's not on the screen more than 20% of the film. So, this could've easily gone supporting instead of leading. The film really isn't about her character.
My rating for the film: 7.5/10. If you're not into slow dramas/ensemble pieces, don't bother.

Husbands and Wives (1992) (2nd time)

When their best friends announce that they're separating, a professor and his wife discover the faults in their marriage. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actress: Judy Davis
Best Original Screenplay

The last film colaboration between and Woody Allen and his long-term girlfriend and muse Mia Farrow (filmed right before Woody got involved with Mia's adopted daughter); that's some trivia, right?!
This is a very smart dramedy about relationships, about how men and women connect to eachother. It has a sharp screenplay (as always), it's easy to watch and the camera work is rather groundbreaking :) for Americans, at least. The film is shot with hand-held camera and often times there's a cut right in the middle of the dialogue. It also has an interview perspective, with actors sometimes talking directly into the camera and someone asking them questions.
To me, it deserved to win both Oscars, especially the one for Best Supporting Actress (Judy Davis). Her energy and dead-on honesty will blow you away. But acting is great all the way, I would've also nominated Mia Farrow for Best Supporting Actress and maybe Sydney Pollack for Supporting Actor. Though I loved The Crying Game's original screenplay, I think Husbands and Wives should've taken the Oscar for it. It also deserved a nomination for Best Director and maybe even one for Best Picture.
My rating for the film: 8.5/10. Though I loved it more the first time around, it still is a great achievement and everybody should see it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Collector (1965)

A man kidnaps a woman and holds her hostage just for the pleasure of having her there. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Director: William Wyler
Best Actress: Samantha Eggar
Best Adapted Screenplay

Someone called it a missed opportunity. In a way, that's exactly what it is. But on the other hand, it still is a very interesting story. I didn't know about the storyline, so I was curious. The ending - booooo, not that interesting, but William Wyler is such a good director that the tension was always present, despite being a rather static film (with only 2 characters).
I bet the book is excellent, I haven't read it. But I'm quite sure the screenplay could've had more meat on the bones during the middle of the film, where there isn't much happening and even so it feels rushed at times. But then again: the legendary director William Wyler really knows what he's doing. He has a couple of scenes so strong that they really make it worth watching: the dragging through the rain and, before than, when she wakes up and he's standing by her bed, with his face in the dark looking almost monstruously.
I'll write about Samantha Eggar next week on the other blog. Though shaky at first, her performance got better and better. She has one or two scenes that knock your socks off.
My rating for the film: 7.5/10. It's mostly because of the interesting concept (and not so much the final chapter) and the great direction.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Cousin Vinny (1992) (2nd time)

Bill and Stan are mistaken for murderers while on vacation, and Bill's family sends his cousin Vinny to defend them for his first case as a lawyer. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei (WINNER)

This was one of the most surprising wins in Oscar history. It was indeed an open field, but for other 3 actresses, not for Marisa. I don't think such a surprise could be possible today, because of how crazy & influential the Oscar campaigning has been in the past 5-10 years.
The film is a mediocre happy ending comedy that doesn't require much brain. I will admit that the 2nd part is much better than the awful double language comedy style from the beginning. Marisa, who's playing Vinnie's white trash but good hearted girlfriend, is not that bad. She has one or two good moments, but you can see her trying, as it doesn't always come natural. Not a fair win, but she was the only American actress of the 5 nominees, so that's your explanation.
My rating for the film: 5.5/10. I smiled a couple of times, in the 2nd half. :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Darling (1965) (2nd time)

A beautiful but amoral model sleeps her way to the top of the London fashion scene at the height of the Swinging Sixties. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: John Schlesinger
Best Actress: Julie Christie (WINNER)
Best Original Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (WINNER)

I bet it's good to be Julie Christie. Boy she was GORGEOUS. And this is a very special film that I really recommend to all movie lovers. It's very British and very 1960s, which were a huge boom for European directors. I've seen this film again for my Best Actress discussions happening on my other blog. I'll be doing 1965 next and I'll be posting Julie's profile soon.
The big star of the film is the director. John Schlesinger deserved an Oscar for this, even with the strong competition he had. Unfortunately, no win (he won 4 years later for Midnight Cowboy, but this was better). His direction is subtle, creative, surprising and in a great mix and understanding of the screenplay. Fabulous.
The film is rather easy to watch. It's a drama, but not a complicated one. Even when there's crying, it still feels light, with a lot of sarcasm and a bit of a comedy touch. Julie's performance is not your usual Oscar performance; it's mostly playful and kind of subtle and when she goes for it it's not the loud crying/shouting you're expecting to find in an Oscar actress. I'm not sure yet if she was the best of the 5, but it's a very inspired, creative performance. And the casting in dead on!!!
The screenplay is very witty so the win comes natural. Yes, it's a very good screenplay, especially in the 2nd half. The costumes are contemporary, but it was a weak category and that's why it won.
My rating for the film: 8/10. Really can't say why not more. I appreciated the parts of it, but maybe they didn't always glue together. Anyway: I totally recommend it!