Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) (2nd time)

While Luke takes advanced Jedi training from Yoda, his friends are relentlessly pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke. [imdb]

Nominated for 3* Oscars:

Best Original Score
Best Art Direction
Best Sound (WINNER)
*Special Achievement Award/Oscar for Visual Effects (*WINNER*)

The film had no competition for Best Visual Effects, so a category was not created; that's why it received a special Oscar. Empire Strikes Back is superior to the previous Star Wars, judging by the visual effects; they are better made and more creative, playing with all kinds of constructions. Many consider this sequel to be a better movie than the original; not me.
It's not that there's a big problem with Empire.... It actually has more Darth Vader in it (yaaay!), it introduces the Sith & Yoda and the Art Direction is superb. Another huge achievement is John Williams's excellent music, especially the distinctive Darth Vader theme. So, lots of pluses, but I found the original story of the 1st film more... compelling; more attractive and exciting. I love Empire... and I think it should've won all the Oscars it was nominated for. But the 1977 one was a bit better.
My rating for the film: 8.5/10. A science fiction classic.

Star Wars (1977) (3rd time?)

Luke Skywalker leaves his home planet, teams up with other rebels, and tries to save Princess Leia from the evil clutches of Darth Vader. [imdb]

Nominated for 10* Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: George Lucas
Best Supporting Actor: Alec Guinness
Best Original Screenplay
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Art Direction (WINNER)
Best Costume Design (WINNER)
Best Visual Effects (WINNER)
Best Sound (WINNER)
*Special Achievement Oscar for Best Sound Effects (*WINNER*)

There's one thing I can say about 1977's Best Picture race: please don't make me choose between Star Wars, Annie Hall and The Goodbye Girl. There's all so excellent. Star Wars has always been an alltime favorite. It's not a serious science-fiction like Kubrick's 2001, but it's fun, it has a good story, great visual effects and it changed its genre forever. So keep in mind it's a guilty pleasure of mine.
The fact that it got nominated for Best Picture is an achievement of its own. It doesn't happen to that many SF movies (actually, the only one I can think of right now is E.T. Are there more?). Star Wars is fun and it's somewhat of a fairytale. The key to this type of film is to have great villains. And they got it right: Darth Vader is one of my favorite villains ever. He's so cool, and dark and intriguing. The technical part of the film is almost perfect, so all the Oscars are worthy. Alec Guinness gives a good, difficult performance (it can always turn into a joke if it's not done right), Harrison Ford is hot & funny and Chewbacca is an icon :D
I can tell you right now that good SF/fantasy movies aren't easy to write, especially when you have to invent most of the names, traditions, nations. So, the screenplay nomination is worthy, same with the one for Best Director. Let's not forget that this is the type of adventure that could've easily turned into a flop; but not under Lucas' direction. Yes, the film has a cheesy ending and Carrie Fisher often feels out of place. But I like it, it's always fun to watch and I think it's the best Star Wars ever made.
My rating for the film: 9/10. And don't tell me R2-D2 was not an inspiration for Wall E...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cimarron (1931)

A newspaper editor settles in an Oklahoma boom town with his reluctant wife at the end of the nineteenth century. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Wesley Ruggles
Best Actor: Richard Dix
Best Actress: Irene Dunne
Best Writing, Adaptation (WINNER)
Best Cinematography
Best Art Direction (WINNER)

7 nominations are a lot for those days, when there weren't that many categories. Actually the only category it wasn't nominated for was Original Writing, which couldn't have been possible. So one could say it was nominated in every category. But truth be told: the 4th Best Picture winner is not that much of a movie. :) Actually it ranks between the worst winners ever.

What starts out as a nice enjoyable western ends up as a silly, boring and cheesy drama. The last part was soooo naive and the ending so stupid :) whoever saw it knows what I mean. The leading man, Richard Dix, doesn't give a horrible performance, but he's the most annoying ass you'll ever see :D I don't know if it's him or his character, but he's so full of himself that's it hard to watch. I survived through the film by telling Irene Dunne: don't kiss him, b!tch! Slap him in the face! Can't you see how smug he is?!

This is the film that really introduced Irene Dunne to the world. Thank you for that and what a great actress she was. But not here! Yet I don't blame her, she didn't have much to do in the first place. The Art Direction win is well deserved, the writing one - not so much. Even if I haven't seen the competition, I don't think it should've won BP. It has its good moments, especially in the first part. When there's action, it's ok. When Richard Dicks starts talking, just roll your eyes! And his hair! A lot of unintentional humor.

My rating for the film: 4/10. I'm being quite generous.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) (2nd time)

After three years of fighting in the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker concludes his journey towards the Dark Side of the Force, putting his friendship with Obi Wan Kenobi and his marriage at risk. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Makeup

Another desired moment of brainless fun. The difference is that Episode III is actually quite a good movie; for someone who knows both trilogies. And I'm sure it wasn't easy to make, as the film has to fill the gaps and make a connection with Episode IV, the 1977 Star Wars. It works out pretty well and it's always more enjoyable when you have to deal with the Dark Side.
The biggest handicap of the film is of course Hayden Christensen (and not just because he deservedly won another Razzie); everytime he's on screen, the film's quality drops a couple of points. The best performance is by far given by Ian McDiarmid, playing senator Palpatine/The Sith; he's so evil and excellent at it. It's a tricky role to play and he does it perfectly; I would even say he deserved an Oscar nomination for this. He's great.
The Oscar nomination for Best Makeup is well deserved and it should have actually won it. This is also the only Star Wars film not to receive a nomination/special award for Best Visual Effects. That's a pitty, because the effects were excellent (also the battle scenes), much better than the ones from Episode II. So boooo on you Academy, for instead nominating talking animals from Narnia.
My rating for the film: 7.5/10. I thought of being generous. What? Come on, it was fun and far more interesting than episodes 1 and 2.

Friday, June 26, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

A young German soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Lewis Milestone (WINNER)
Best Writing
Best Cinematography

The 3rd Best Picture winner is a very fine adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's famous novel. It's an interesting experience to watch it, as it's nice to see the story from a German perspective (it reminded me a bit of Letters from Iwo Jima and the Japanese view on the WWII battle). As a war film, it's excellent. As a movie experience in general, it's good. There are 3 or 4 aspects worth mentioning.
First one is that Lew Ayres, playing the young leading man Paul, gives a very good perfromance, touching and dramatic, especially considering this was just his 2nd big role and he was a 21 year old actor. I think he would've deserved a nomination. Another surprising fact for me was what they could get away with while doing a film in the 1920s and 30s. I didn't expect the brief male nudity shown here (you can see the boys' behinds while they're in the water bathing and swimming) :D I've noticed this type of freedom also in the previous BP winner (The Broadway Melody), where they showed women in their underwear :D I'm just mentioning it because I don't think such nudity would've been allowed in the 1940s or 50s American cinema.
There are one or two battle scenes that are quite impressive. I think Milestone did a very good job directing, so his Oscar is well deserved. And although I haven't seen its contenders, I would say that the film does look like a Best Picture winner should, having both the buzz factor (the importance), but also the quality. It's very touching at times and, unlike previous winner Wings, it has a strong message against war, definitely not glorifying it. I actually almost cried during a battle scene, to be honest :)
The film doesn't work that well when the fighting's not happening, showing flaws in the adaptation of this great novel. Looking at the poster, one might think that guy is the leading actor. Actually, I have no idea who that is. :) It's true. I think I might have seen him for like 2 minutes in the film, but I can't explain their decision to put him on the poster. Can someone explain?? Maybe they felt like giving an anonymous face to the soldiers represented in this film. I don't know.
My rating for the film: 8/10. I disagree with the ending which doesn't include the title of the film, as the book does. It's a smart explanation and I doubt everyone watching the film understood it, as they didn't bother to include it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bullets Over Broadway (1994) (2nd time)

In 1920s New York, a struggling playwright is forced to cast a mobster's talentless girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Director: Woody Allen
Best Supporting Actor: Chazz Palminteri
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Tilly
Best Supporting Actress: Dianne Wiest (WINNER)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design

Bang! Bang! I just wish some films could get (even) better when you see them the 2nd time around. Bullets... is one of those very smart Woody Allen comedies. It's deliciously written and the acting is excellent all around. I wanted to like it more the 2nd time because it seems to have the perfect recipe for a knock out film. I still found it good, but not great.

The strength of the film lies in its actors. Dianne Wiest is BRILLIANT as the vain actress Helen Sinclair and her win is one of the most deserved ones that this category's ever had. Her dialogue is so difficult and such a challenge, but because she's always in control the result is a classic performance. Also excellent is her fellow nominee Jennifer Tilly playing the annoying Olive, the mobster's girl. She gets the most comedy of the film and delivers a fun, memorable performance. I guess this is why Woody received the Best Director nomination: for being able to direct an ensemble cast towards greatness.

Palminteri's nomination is quite an unusual one, but I accept it. I know many loved his performance, I thought it was just ok. John Cusack, Tracey Ullman and Jim Broadbent are also very good. All the nominations seem worthy: I actually think it should've won Best Costume Design, because the characters look so glamorous and Dianne Wiest's dresses are all fabulous. I'm not sure if it should've won Original Screenplay, because it was a very very tough category with Pulp Fiction and Four Weddings and a Funeral being nominated.

My rating for the film: 8.5/10. It's a great achievement, very intellectual and fun to watch. Dianne Wiest rules!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) (2nd time)

Anakin Skywalker shares a forbidden romance with Padmé Amidala while his teacher, Obi-Wan Kenobi, makes an investigation of a separatist assassination attempt on Padmé which leads to the discovery of a secret Republican clone army. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Visual Effects

Here's the truth: I was tired at 1 am and I wanted an fx driven movie that won't require much brain activity; just some science fiction and some outrageously stupid screenplay. And I got what I was looking for. And you know what? Even though objectively it's a bad film (it even has 7 Razzie nominations!), it was fun to watch and relaxing.
The screenplay is terrible: what were they thinking?! The dialog is awful and the story is dumb and filled with plot holes. The film itself seemed unbearable until the fighting started. It wasn't that spectacular, but at least there wasn't anyone talking. By the way: the special effects aren't that good at all. The fact that LOTR: The Two Towers won that category is a no brainer. Christopher Lee is the only cool actor and Ewan McGregor actually tries to act something. The big revelation, Hayden Christensen is sooooo bad that's it's actually funny to watch his serious scenes; that Razzie win for Worst Supporting Actor (even though he's lead) is much much deserved.
My rating for the film: 3.5/10. It's mostly crap but I enjoyed the big battle towards the end.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Sound of Music (1965) (3rd time)

A woman leaves an Austrian convent to become a governess to the 7 children of a Naval officer widower. [imdb]
Nominated for 10 Oscars:
Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Robert Wise (WINNER)
Best Actress: Julie Andrews
Best Supporting Actress: Peggy Wood
Best Cinematogaphy, Color
Best Adapted Music (WINNER)
Best Art Direction, Color
Best Costume Design, Color
Best Sound (WINNER)
Best Editing (WINNER)
It really is one of the best known / most seen musicals of all times. In a way, that's highly justified: the songs are wonderful, catchy and memorable. It's also considered a family movie: the songs & the funny childish stuff for the kids and the love story & Nazi plotline for the parents. It's a feel good movie and one of the last Hollywood musical hits.
And what's interesting about it is that its fame has nothing to do with it winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Did it deserve it? Not really, but being such a feel good and (some might say) complete movie, the decision seems rather justified. Julie Andrews is superb, as always (but I'll write about her this week on the other blog). The children can be a bit annoying, but ignorable and Christopher Plummer was better than expected. Seeing it through my adult eyes, I find it less fun than when I was a kid, but still very enjoyable and great light entertaining. The direction is just fine and the technical part very good.
My rating for the film: 8/10. The songs are a dealbreaker here. If you have them on your computer and listen to them very often, than you'll understand my rating. If not, you'd probably be less generous.
Now that I've seen all the 1965 nominated films for Best Picture and Best Director, I'm gonna rank the nominees from Most Deserving to Least. [If you'll scroll down to the other posts, you'll find the profile of each of these films.]
1. Darling
2. The Sound of Music
3. Doctor Zhivago
4. Ship of Fools
5. A Thousand Clowns
3 months ago I would've had Zhivago as #1. In my opinion, A Patch of Blue would've deserved the nomination and the win. But that's just me. None of them are excellent, but the first 4 are quite good movies, from various reasons and with different flaws.
1. Hiroshi Teshigahara - Woman in the Dunes
2. John Schlesinger - Darling
3. David Lean - Doctor Zhivago
4. Robert Wise - The Sound of Music
5. William Wyler - The Collector
Tough call, with the first 2 being a head above the rest, but still very different directions to compare. 3 months ago I would've went for Lean. But all 5 are good, solid directions; so it's a great line-up. Actually, I would say the directions are better than the actual films.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Broadway Melody (1929)

Harriet and Queenie Mahoney, a vaudeville act, come to Broadway, where their friend Eddie Kerns needs them for his number in one of Francis Zanfield's shows. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Harry Beaumont
Best Actress: Bessie Love

The 2nd Best Picture winner in Oscar history is a big bleah. It's actually some kind of an excuse to play one or two songs and show a couple of big stage dance numbers. It was difficult to watch, mostly because of the awful writing and the bad performances.

The only one who does something right (or at least really tries to) is Oscar nominated Bessie Love, playing the tough but always good hearted sister. She gets one or two good scenes that make for the only emotional stuff in the film. Other than that: blah blah blah. And the men (both the actors AND their characters): totally annoying and acting like idiots; how annoying was the leading man?! The dance numbers are ok, same for the costumes and the glittery stuff (interesting to see something Chicago-like done in its contemporary era).

My rating for the film: 4/10. Why am I being so f*cking generous?! I used to think Crash was the worst BP winner ever; I might change my mind.

Wings (1927)

Two young men, one rich, one middle class, who are in love with the same woman, become fighter pilots in World War I. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:
Best Picture, Production (WINNER)
Best Effect, Engineering Effects (WINNER)
***This film has the distinction of being the first film to win the Oscar for Best Picture (in 1929); it's also the only silent film to ever win in this category. By mentioning it here, I'm announcing my intention to see all the Best Picture winners, mainly in chronological order, though exceptions will happen. Even if I've seen a certain BP winner already, I'll watch it again if I hadn't profiled it already here on the blog.
...And getting back to Wings: I was fooled by the fact that this was a silent film and I'm not that much of a fan. But don't make the same mistake I did: despite the shaky, naive beginning, this is an excellent war film. I'm telling you: I was shocked by the incredible camera work (!!!) and the visual effects are stunning! It took me by surprise. And I didn't expect the direction to be so cohesive; especially knowing that 27 years later, William Wellman also directed the shitty High and the Mighty.
The not so good part about this film: everything NOT connected to the war scenes. :) This is where it gets dated. But I've forgiven most of it; come on, it's been 82 years! The two men give decent performances and Clara Bow is gorgeous, sweet and touching! (it's funny how Clara, being the big star of those days, gets the top billing, even if she's obviously a supporting character). I would love to talk about the tragic events happening 15 minutes before the film's over, but I don't want to spoil it in case somebody's reading this; it was unexpectedly emotional, especially while it happens.
My rating for the film: 8/10. It's hard to rate a silent film, but I think 8 is right. I respect it, admire it, but don't love it. It's a must see, especially for the 2nd half. Way to start, Oscar! (no irony intended).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sleepy Hollow (1999) (3rd time?)

Ichabod Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the decapitations of 3 people with the culprit being the legendary apparition, the Headless Horseman. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Cinematography
Best Art Direction (WINNER)
Best Costume Design

I've catched this on tv the other night. It's a film I've adored ever since I first saw it almost 10 years ago. It's probably my favorite Tim Burton film! I correct that: it's definitely, not probably. I've read something today: that the film has few in common with the original short story written 200 years ago. Honestly, I can't say I care, because the plot of Sleepy Hollow is so interesting & captivating I doubt it could've been much better.
If there is such a category, then I name Sleepy Hollow my favorite Gothic film. The mood of the film is so fascinating, and that's due to the excellent direction and the gorgeous cinematography from legendary Emmanuel Lubezki (who also shot The New World and Children of Men); the tones of gray are sublime. Actually, all the technical part is fabulous: the costume design, the art direction (a much much deserved Oscar!), the original score, the makeup, the fx, the editing. The performances are good, with a special mentioning for the short (but very memorable) performances given by Christopher Walken (!!!) and Miranda Richardson. And Christina Ricci looks better than ever.
It's rare that you find a film to satisfy both the blockbuster hunger in me (we all need a bit of action and scare once in a while), the desire for a great story and mystery (you have it here), the need to see something executed without technical flaws (perfect!) and to have something that's both a fantasy and a costume drama :D
My rating for the film: 9.5/10 I hesitated a bit. But I'm going with 9.5. Sleepy Hollow probably makes it in my Top 30 ever. A smart captivating fantasy, with style and class.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rachel, Rachel (1968)

Rachel is a 35 year old school teacher who has no man in her life and lives with her mother. When a man from the big city returns and asks her out, she begins to have to make decisions about her life and where she wants it to go. [imdb]
Nominated for 4 Oscars:
Best Picture
Best Actress: Joanne Woodward
Best Supporting Actress: Estelle Parsons
Best Adapted Screenplay
This film was the directorial debut of Paul Newman (who in real life was Joanne Woodward's husband - for those not familiar with their bios). And it's a rather daring directing effort; however the Academy chose not to nominate him for Best Director - which caused quite a stir back then (because he had already won the Golden Globe AND the New York Film Critics Circle Award for this film); so it was considered a big snub.
Anyway, the film itself is not that good. I can see how it's ahead of its time, but if you dissect it you'll find that there's no real subject to it and, more damaging I would say, there's not really anything to love about it. I can respect the direction and Joanne's adequate (but not brilliant as some consider it) performance, but the leading character is such a mixed bag of emotions, and none that would really make you hope for her or at one point ever care about what happens.
I might be a bit too harsh on it. But it's slow, and not in that Ingmar Bergman good way. Estelle Parson's nominations is almost deserved; a win would've been absurd. I can see why some people would love this (rather impossible to find until this year) movie. They might fall for the artistic part. I myself was captivated by Rachel's daydreaming in the beginning, but too much of something is not always a good choice.
My rating for the film: 6/10. Maybe I could've went for less. I do terribly respect Newman's direction.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Patch of Blue (1965) (2nd time)

A blind, uneducated white girl is befriended by a black man, who becomes determined to help her escape her impoverished and abusive home life. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Actress: Elizabeth Hartman
Best Supporting Actress: Shelley Winters (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White

This is the film that introduced Elizabeth Hartman to the world (funny to see that her name is not on the poster, though she has the only leading character). This film is so touching and emotional and heartbreaking that I can't find the right words to express all that. I'm not sure if it can be described as a tearjerker, but if you like a good emotional story, SEE IT.
This film deserved AT LEAST a Best Picture nomination. Shockingly enough, it wasn't nominated for Screenplay or Director either. It's the story of Selina a blind innocent 18 yo girl who befriends a black man. It's such a pure and touching movie. The acting is great all the way: Elizabeth's take on Selina is excellent (even though she doesn't seem to have much emotion to desplay) and Shelley Winters gives a true Oscar worthy performance playing the evil abusive mother. Sidney Poitier is ok, but the film is not about him. The music is excellent (!!!) and the cinematography very relevant.
My rating for the film: 9/10. I'm not sure it's a film I'd want to see over and over again (that's why I though about giving it an 8.5); but it leaves such a strong impact once you see it (I was as moved when I 1st saw it 3 or 4 years ago), that you want to recommend it to everybody. See it.

***I've watched the film again because of the 1965 Best Actress profiles I'm doing on the other blog. I'll post soon about Elizabeth's performance.

A Thousand Clowns (1965)

A middle-aged man, doggedly avoiding the tedium of employment and conventional life, faces the prospect of losing custody of his young nephew. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Supporting Actor: Martin Balsam (WINNER)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Music, Adapted

I'm not gonna write much. I just don't understand how this film received a Best Picture nomination. It's based on a play and the film keeps using the stagey mood; you also get piles of dialogue. Some of it it's good, but too much talking makes it an exhausting movie and difficult to sit through.
A Thousand Clowns is not funny. It's some kind of a dramedy. The performances are ok, but none spectacular. Jason Robards is the best, but his character is more dislikeable that anything else, so it's hard to give him proper credit. Barbara Harris gives a shaky debut performance and Martin Balsam is ok, quite good actually, but I don't think he deserved the Oscar win.
My rating for the film: 5.5/10. An intelligent, but way too slow movie. I can see it did wonders on stage, but it doesn't work that well on the big screen.

Other 1965 Best Picture nominees discussed here (clickable):

Doctor Zhivago
Ship of Fools

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) (2nd time)

A young Greek woman falls in love with a non-Greek and struggles to get her family to accept him while she comes to terms with her heritage and cultural identity. [imdb]
Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Original Screenplay
I had difficulty deciding on how I should rate this film. First of all, I had no intention of seeing it again. I saw it like 5 or 6 years ago, I thought it was fun, but that's that. However, seeing an interview with Nia Vardalos made me go to youtube and check out the trailer again and I discovered later that the film can be watched online - so no effort. And I was tired and I wanted something easy to watch, Oscar nominated, that didn't require much brain activity. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is that film.
Its biggest problem is that the 2nd part (from the wedding announcement on) doesn't have the same sarcasm and comedy timing like the beginning. But overall it's a good screenplay and I think it deserved the nomination. If they would've cut down on the cheesy part it would've been much better. The acting is good, Nia Vardalos has a great acting debut (she's also the writer) and Lainie Kazan stands out from the crowd, charmingly playing the mother.
My rating for the film: 7/10. I thought of 7.5 first, but the film gets rather predictable and not as interesting. But a very relaxing light comedy.