Monday, August 31, 2009

Fearless (1993)

A man's personality is dramatically changed after surviving a major airline crash. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actress: Rosie Perez

I'm seeing this for Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown. Otherwise, I would've probably kept on avoiding it for a couple of years. The project just didn't seem to attract me and I was right: the movie is quite disappointing. Peter Weir directed it and I can feel a touch of his magic here and there, but unfortunately he did nothing for his actors.
And I'll going str8 for the acting because it is what bothered me most. Isabella Rossellini, John Turturro and (a very young) Benicio Del Toro has nothing to do with this; the first two were just painfully bad! Really! Jeff Bridges was decent as a whole, even though he did nothing for me for 2 thirds of Fearless. Rosie Perez deserved her nomination, but the performance felt inconsistent at times. The best thing about the film is the plane crash flashback at the end; the direction is good and the effects make it look very believable. That's what kept from totally attacking this mostly boring film.
My rating for the film: 4.5/10. I am being most generous; probably one of Peter Weir's worst.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kate and Leopold (2001)

A love story between a 19th century baron and a 21st century businesswoman. Some kind of a fantasy romance.

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Original Song

My mother wanted to see this on tv the other night and I went along with it, without knowing it would be less charming and more boring. And it's 2 hours long, which is way too much for this type of romantic comedy. Well comedy is a stretch; I don't remember laughing once. How could one take this seriously?!

Yes, Hugh Jackman is rather charming, but so what; it doesn't help the film THAT much. Meg Ryan looks a bit too old to date him and plays her usual tricks. The screenplay is filled with gaps and somewhat predictable; that twist at the end it rather ridiculous. I'm not sure the song nomination is worthy either, because it's not that much of a tune. You might think I hated it; not really, because once it started I realized quickly I should go low expectation. That's why I'm so generous with the rating.

My rating for the film: 3/10. Well, it did introduce Hugh to the world (as a romantic figure I mean, not as Wolverine).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The ups and downs of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., famed producer of extravagant stage revues. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Best Actress: Luise Rainer (WINNER)
Best Writing, Original Story
Best Editing
Best Art Direction
Best Dance Direction (WINNER)

The 9th Best Picture winner is a big production, Ziegfeld style. I didn't understand at first why THIS was named the best film of the year, but once the impressive musical moments started, I got an idea. The beginning of the film is boring and mostly a cliche; it goes like this for an hour or so (the film has almost 3 hours). But when A Pretty Girl is like a Melody explodes (yes, this is the word) onto the screen, magic happens. What a fascinating musical moment, and the art direction, cinematography, costume design - all goes right! fabulous!
Other than the music & dance numbers, there isn't much left to care about. To make it clear: this biopic is so far from the facts, one should be ashamed to call it that. Ziegfeld was a womanizer and not this nice guy. Anna Held was previously married and had a child and no mentioning here; it wasn't she who left Ziegfeld and so on and on and on... So the dialogue and action part is rather boring and untrue, especially in the first half. Luise Rainer won the Oscar for playing Anna Held, a star that Ziegfeld brings to America. I wasn't impressed by her acting and I think the win is just silly. William Powell is mediocre at first, but in the last half an hour his performance turns more dramatic & touching. It was nice to see the beautiful Myrna Loy, but she appears 2 hours and 15 minutes into the film, which is way too late.
My rating for the film: 7/10. Tough to rate, because I was bewitched by the musical numbers and this film probably has some of the best costumes I have ever seen on film (and that says a lot).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Love Affair (1939)

French playboy Michel and American Terry McKay fall in love aboard ship. They arrange to reunite 6 months later on the top of the Empire State Building, but destiny prepares an unfortunate surprise. [imdb]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Actress: Irene Dunne
Best Supporting Actress: Maria Ouspenskaya
Best Original Screenplay
Best Original Song
Best Art Direction

I had first seen (years ago) the 1994 remake with Warren Beatty & Annette Bening; though it's considered a bad film, I remember being captivated by the plot and especially fascinated by the ending. So I said to myself: the original must be a classic! And ignoring the 1957 Cary Grant version, I went str8 for this one. A classic it is, even though it has its flaws.
My concern is with the second part, as the film slowly loses its emotional punch; until that classic ending, that is. Love Affair is a delicate movie, focused on romance and on the fantastic charisma of the two leading actors. Both of them managed to put a smile on my face: Charles Boyer is adorable and Irene Dunne is glowing. Her Oscar nomination was well deserved but she was nowhere near winning; and the songs she sings are beautiful, memorable. Maria Ouspenskaya has a short, but important role as the one to predict the love story that will follow.
I am just a bit :( by the fact that Love Affair was not even 90 minutes long; they could've added more scenes and resolve the screenplay gaps from the second half. But still: an unforgettable love story.
My rating for the film: 8.5/10. It was almost a 9. And I think I'm gonna post this film on youtube.

Peyton Place (1957) (2nd time)

Coming-of-age story set in a small New England town whose peaceful facade hides love and passion, scandal and hypocrisy. [imdb]

Nominated for 9 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Mark Robson
Best Actress: Lana Turner
Best Supporting Actor: Arthur Kennedy
Best Supporting Actor: Russ Tamblyn
Best Supporting Actress: Hope Lange
Best Supporting Actress: Diane Varsi
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography

This is one of the few films that have received 5 Oscar nomination for acting. Don't be fooled by the poster on the right; Peyton Place is an ensemble piece, with lots of stories going on and Lana Turner is the lead just by title and not by screentime. It's a very soapish film, focused on the characters' actions and not so much on deep stuff. Yeah, it's mostly superficial, but pleasant to watch.

I don't think the Oscar nominations for Picture and Director are worthy. From the acting ones, I would say only 2 or 3 were correctly chosen, with Hope Lange (as a rape victim) and Arthur Kennedy (as the rapist stepfather) being the highlights and also offering the best storyline; Lange deserved to win the Oscar. Lana Turner is ok playing a frigid woman (yes, the poster is deceiving, I've told you), but it's a very one-note performance so it didn't wow me. Her love interest, played by whatever-his-name-is, is the most annoying thing about this film; his voice drives me mad and brings down the credibility of the romance.

My rating for the film: 6.5/10. But it can also work as a 7; it depends on the mood while watching. But don't expect greatness, just over 2 and a half hours of soap opera.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Agatha Christie tale of a man on trial for murder: a trial featuring surprise after surprise. [imdb]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Billy Wilder
Best Actor: Charles Laughton
Best Supporting Actress: Elsa Lanchester
Best Editing
Best Sound

A classic I had never seen before, but I've heard this week that it has one of the trickiest twists in all movie history, so I thought of checking it out. The second reason: I wanted to see what's all about Marlene Dietrich's NOT-Oscar nominated performance and if the debate on the performance is justified. And also because Charles Laughton is easily becoming one of my favorite actors.
It's hard to talk about the film or Marlene without spoiling the plot. I, for one, did not expect the twist up until the last minute, nor that big character surprise (can't say it outloud) that's the key to the film. Both were deliciously interesting and in the pure Agatha Christie style. What I did not enjoy were the last 3-5 minutes, an ending that felt exagerated and could've functioned better.
Charles Laughton is excellent as the old lawyer and I think he deserved to win the Oscar. Elsa Lanchester won the Golden Globe (what the hell?!) and received an Oscar nomination for a pointless performance (just like her previous nomination for Come to the Stable). Tyrone Power was good and Marlene would've deserved a Best Actress nomination, but not a win, as her acting does feel a bit dated at times. I need to watch The Bridge on the River Kwai again and get familiar with 12 Angry Men to say exactly which one deserved the Best Picture win. Witness for the Prosecution is a solid, serious film, relaxing and intriguing.
My rating for the film: 8/10. Too bad for those last minutes and thank God for Charles Laughton.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) (2nd time)

Fletcher Christian successfully leads a mutiny against the ruthless Captain Bligh on the HMS Bounty. [imdb]

Nominated for 8 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Frank Lloyd
Best Actor: Clark Gable
Best Actor: Charles Laughton
Best Actor: Franchot Tone
Best Screenplay
Best Original Score
Best Editing

And so I continue my Best Picture winner odyssey with the 8th winner: Mutiny on the Bounty. I had first seen the film probably about 5-6 years ago, so watching it now I knew plot and that made it difficult to sit through the first hour. But once you get past the cruelty and first impressions, you realize this is quite a good film. It's well directed, well written and the ensemble cast is great.
As a piece of trivia: this film is considered to be the cause for introducing the Best Supporting Actor/Actress the following year, due to Franchot Tone who got a Best Actor nomination, even though his role is supporting; this resulted in 3 Best Actor nominations for the same film (still a record today), probably unacceptable, giving birth to the much needed supporting acting categories.
Charles Laughton is so cruel & mean and his casting is perfect, with him giving an Oscar worthy performance. I've even enjoyed Clark Gable, even though it's not my type of character and Franchot Tone's speech at the end of the film is dead on. The direction is smart & often difficult and the technical part is believable. I found the film to be very enjoyable, especially in the second half and I couldn't really find major flaws to it. I haven't seen its main Best Picture contender (John Ford's The Informant), but this one is a worthy winner.
My rating for the film: 8.5/10. I've enjoyed it more this time around.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

A boat has been destroyed, criminals are dead, and the key to this mystery lies with the only survivor and his twisted, convoluted story beginning with five career crooks in a seemingly random police lineup. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actor: Kevin Spacey (WINNER)
Best Original Screenplay (WINNER)

Let's just say I had never seen this film before, even though I was very familiar with the subject, seen a couple of scenes and knew the ending and WHO is Keyser Soze. Did the fact that I knew the twist spoil it for me? Not really, because I don't think I would've enjoyed it anyway. Usual Suspects has a reputation of being a mystery masterpiece, with a huge fan base and an imdb rating that's through the roof.
The two scenes I enjoyed from this movie are the action-packed ones: the attack on the police car and the elevator scene. Bryan Singer really knows how to direct action shit, but the screenplay was a bit too complicated to work and the historical twist left me cold, as I thought it was just thrown there and it didn't explain many other holes from the screenplay. So, I would've given the Original Screenplay Oscar to Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite. Kevin Spacey gives a good, almost leading, performance, but I'm not sure he deserved to win. At times, he's either boring or forcing the line reading.
My rating for the film: 7/10. Some good action shit, but overrated and less spectacular than promoted.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Raintree County (1957)

A graduating poet/teacher falls in love with a Southern woman, and then the Civil War and her past create problems. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:

Best Actress: Elizabeth Taylor
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design

This is the first of Elizabeth Taylor's 5 Best Actress nominations (4 of which are consecutive, starting with this one). Unfortunately the film, which is a wannabe epic Gone with the Wind style, is a huge flop and for most part a waste of time, camera work and potential. It's not an epic, but a badly acted, directed, written film lacking the fluidity it needs to put some sense into the story.
The technical nominations are worthy, I guess. Elizabeth's is not the real leading character, but the problem is that she benefits of such terrible screenplay, storyline, all cheesy, putting the fatal mark on her performance. She's not THAT bad, but her performance is replaceable & unspectacular, even though it's nice to see a pretty face onscreen. Montgomery Clift is as boring as always, but I forgive him because during the filming of this he had the infamous car accident that left him a drug addict. The direction of the film sucks, just like the Civil War scenes. And don't get me started on the screenplay...
My rating for the film: 3/10. Easy to watch, but too superficial to be taken seriously. And they've even made Eva Marie Saint seem annoying.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Apollo 13 (1995) (2nd time)

True story of the moon-bound mission that developed severe trouble and the men that rescued it with skill and dedication. [imdb]

Nominated for 9 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Supporting Actor: Ed Harris
Best Supporting Actress: Kathleen Quinlan
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Visual Effects
Best Sound (WINNER)

Does a film get more American than this? That's not always a good thing, especially if you're an European watching it. Apollo 13 starts cheesy and ends cheesy, with the traditional happy ending all the way; you even get a cliffhanger every 5 minutes. The recipe is a cliche and I bet the story is not THAT faithful. But other than that: it's a good movie, done well.
The technical part is very good, not overcooked. The acting nominations are not worthy, but not bad either. Ed Harris gives a subtle unspectacular performance and Kathleen plays the wife and gets sh!t from the screenplay; but she's a nice screen presence, her eyes are expressive, yet nothing to work with. Apollo 13 did deserve a best director nomination, but not a Best Picture win. Tom Hanks is good, but he's had much much better roles. I look at what I wrote and I get the false impression I didn't like it. I enjoyed it! A lot at times! All the space scenes are impressive through their... clarity! Ron Howard kept it clean and that's great.
My rating for the film: 7.5/10. An enjoyable film, less blockbuster than one might think and NOT a visual effects driven movie.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Il Postino (1994/95)

A simple Italian postman learns to love poetry while delivering mail to famous poet Pablo Neruda; he uses this to woo local beauty Beatrice. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Michael Radford
Best Actor: Massimo Troisi
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Original Score (WINNER)

I think this film got a reputation for 2 reasons that are actually interconnected. First: its leading actor died of a heart attack less than a day after the filming ended. And second: I still don't understand (and I bet I'm not the only one) how a small Italian film released in 1994 and in the USA in June 1995, without any big names attached to it, ignored by the Golden Globes, with an unknown director and a very slow story received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director!!! I think it's one of the most confusing Oscar nominations of its decade.

The film itself is not bad. It's just that it's sooooooo slow in the first hour. And I don't have a problem with foreign language film, I actually understand a bit of Italian. But there's nothing going on and Massimo Troisi's acting goes from bad to confusing to plain ordinary. He does get much better towards the end of the film, but I suspect the nomination can be justified just by the tragic story surrounding the actor (and the fact that the category had 2 empty seats). Not worthy. The direction is fine, again, especially in the ending, but not worthy of a nomination (not when Ang Lee, Ron Howard and Scorsese were ignored that year).

There's nothing to hate about this film, except for Troisi's acting in the first part. The last 30 minutes go from good to very good to a spectacular unexpected ending; and quite emotional. I do suspect it was the ending that got the voters. The adapted screenplay nomination is fine with me, also the win for Best Original Score (I can't decide between this music and the one from Braveheart).

My rating for the film: 7/10. Boring, slow, but with a very good last chapter. Yet, mostly overrated.