Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Whisperers (1967)

It's the story of an old lady, lonely and almost senile, living a depressing life. When it seems her luck has changed, life teaches her a lesson.

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Actress: Edith Evans

I had to write the plot line, because the one from imdb is quite deceiving. With just 181 votes on imdb, there aren't many people who've seen this movie. It's British, it's very low budget, no big names. However, Dame Edith Evans won the Golden Globe, the National Board of Review AND the New York FCC for her leading performance! At age 80, she is the second oldest Best Actress nominee, second only to Jessica Tandy.
But even with all these critics awards, I think her chances of winning the Oscar were very slim! So no shock about it! It's not that she isn't good, but the performance is sooo non-American, subtle, hard to relate to if you're under 40, with no big flashy scenes. So if Kay Hepburn wouldn't have won, it would've been Faye Dunaway or Audrey.
The film itself is too low key and it lacks... well it lacks the stakes. The story is simple - no problem with that - but it somehow doesn't take advantage of the potential to be an author film or a really moving one. It's realistic, beautifully directed, but the screenplay could've been a bit heavier. Obviously, it relies a lot on Edith Evans, who is not as brilliant as I expected (because the screenplay doesn't give her the chance), but gives an excellent performance! Her touching acting in the beginning gives you a lot to think of. And no, she's not playing herself, you can see that! And no, the movie is not about a crazy woman talking to ghosts. There's actually a lot going on for like... 20 minutes. :)
My rating for the film: 5.5/10. First I wanted 6, then 5... It would actually be a 4 if not for Edith Evans, who does miracles with it. I recommend it just to Oscar fans and Best Actress addicts.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Giant (1956) (2nd time)

An epic movie covering the life of a Texas cattle rancher and his family and associates. [imdb]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: George Stevens (WINNER)
Best Actor: James Dean
Best Actor: Rock Hudson
Best Supporting Actress: Mercedes McCambridge
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction, Color
Best Costume Design, Color
Best Editing

It's a giant movie due to it's reputation & cast and not that epic when it comes to what's actually going on. It's a big production, but not a Ben-Hur. :) it tells the story of a family, there's lots of stuff going on in 3 hours, with some parts being more engaging that others. It's a movie event because of Liz, Rock Hudson and especially James Dean, who received his second consecutive posthumous nomination.
I read some comments that James should've been placed in the supporting category and I agree, as the he's not really the center of the film. He might steal the show, but it's not about him. I struggle with the performances: Liz is fine, but she doesn't get to do much; it's all about the boys. Mercedes gives a fine performance, but in a 3 hours movie, her role feels like a cameo. This probably is Rock's finest dramatic performance and from the 2 men, my heart went to him, because he really creates a warm believable character and his performance is fiiiiiine. But not excellent.
And then there's James; I respect the Brando style of acting, but there's something so whiny/half retarded about the character, and his performance only hunts that down, adding some drunk scenes from the same bucket. He does it well, but I'm still seeing almost the same whiny acting from East of Eden. Again: he would've probably deserved a win, but the acting was so different from anyone else's I just don't know if I loved it or found it too much for the classic-moviemaking feel of Giant. Other than that: the direction win is probably deserved, the technical part is a plus and the screenplay... well, it's good. However when the film shifted from the first part (which had a certain dynamic) to the children all grown up, the movie became less interesting. When the 3 leads were not on screen full-power, the stakes were less interesting.
My rating for the film: 7.5/10. I know, I really wanted to give more, but I guess that desire comes from all the James Dean fascination and the fact that the film is eye candy. Objectively, it could've been better. P.S.: I don't know if it would've deserved a BP win, as I shamefully haven't seen any of his competitors. :P

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Written on the Wind (1956) (2nd time)

Alcoholic playboy Kyle Hadley marries the woman secretly loved by his poor but hard-working best friend, who in turn is pursued by Kyle's seductive sister. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actor: Robert Stack
Best Supporting Actress: Dorothy Malone (WINNER)
Best Original Song

I don't even know what to say about this one. It didn't get better with a second viewing; it just seemed shorter (which I guess is good). It's a typical Douglas Sirk / 1950s drama, so it has lots of soap opera, some luxurious settings and a couple of interesting performances to analyze. Interestingly enough, the focus of the film is not on the big Hollywood names, as Bacall and mostly Rock Hudson are really ignorable. The spotlight belongs to the two f&cked up brother and sister, played by Stack and Dorothy Malone.
Robert Stack (who has the screentime of a leading character) plays it too hard and his performance looks ridiculous to a modern audience. Some drunk scenes are fine, but as the screenplay gets more and more cheesy drama, he falls for the cliche and the character becomes a vehicle for unwanted humor. Dorothy Malone on the other hand has her moments of greatness. I admit I was seduced by her look (even more the 2nd time) and Sirk knew exactly how to play it. It's not an easy screenplay to read, but for the most of it: she does it justice (more about her in this month's Smackdown) and definitely brings freshness & fun everytime she's around.
My rating for the film: 5.5/10. Despite all the cliches, it's still quite watchable, with Malone being the strangely comforting element of the film.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baby Doll (1956)

Steamy tale of two Southern rivals and a sensuous 19-year-old virgin. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:

Best Actress: Carroll Baker
Best Supporting Actress: Mildred Dunnock
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White

What an unpleasant movie; it's just one of those films I'll never want to see again, except if I'm forced too. It's not as scandalous as I expected it to be. It tries to be a lot of things, but fails in a big way: it's not dramatic, not funny, the acting is ok but not excellent, the set is too stagey, the direction too slow & tries to hard, the screenplay too crowded, not emotional nor suspenseful.
So it bored me a lot. I can understand how some people might feel differently appreciating the mood and stuff like that. The most annoying thing was probably the ending, with lines that seemed so fake trying to give it a feel like the entire movie was some kind of epic or an important journey of some kind. It wasn't. I'm happy Elia Kazan didn't receive a Best Director nomination, as it's probably one of his least natural efforts. Carroll Baker is nice to look at, gives a decent performance, but I didn't see the revelation. Dunnock's performance is cartoonish, while Malden and Eli Wallach show lots of energy, but the screenplay is too theatrical.
My rating for the film: 3/10. A good dinner scene, but Baby Doll thinks it's much more than what it really is.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)

The fictional story of Angie Evans, a nightclub singer who interrupts her career to marry struggling songwriter Ken Conway. As he discovers success, she turns into an alcoholic, gradually destroying her life.

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Susan Hayward
Best Writing, Original Story

Oh what a title, right? :) Screams cheesy soap-opera ever since the beginning! And that's half true. I didn't plan to see this movie so soon, but I somehow found free time at work during mornings and watched it on youtube for 2 days. And might I say: it was more enjoyable that expected. With such a title and subject, I expected the worst. The story is nothing new, but it doesn't suck either.

Susan's performance is clearly the highlight of the film! She's natural, sings great and plays one of the most believable drunks I've seen on screen, adding much more to the character than was supposed to. The film itself managed to surprise me once or twice, when I expected super cliches to step in (the baby dying, the evil other woman), but the film turned them around and it didn't go that far. However I would've preferred a more dramatic final scene.

My rating for the film: 6/10. Very 40s melodrama, but with a nice pace and Susan's performance really lifts it up!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Farmer's Daughter (1947)

Katie Holstrom leaves the farm to become a nurse, but is sidetracked into domestic service, romance, and politics. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Loretta Young (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Charles Bickford

The people who made this movie should've seen My Man Godfrey at least 3 times before starting to film this so-called romantic comedy. That's how you conquer this genre. I've seen worst attempts than The Farmer's Daughter. And it's actually not THAT bad: but it's too simple, predictable and not funny. I smiled once or twice, but that's it. NO comedic timing.
Loretta's win is mindblowing considering it's such a one-note & no laughter character. She tries; she really tries to do a bit more with it, but the screenplay knocks her down. I'll talk more about it in a couple of days on the other blog. Charles Bickford gives a nice grumpy performance as the butler, but again: not enough good material to highlight his talent.
My rating for the film: 3.5/10. Easy to watch, but so predictable, hardly believable and not funny.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Divorce - Italian Style (1961)

A married Sicilian baron falls in love with his cousin and vows to wed her, but with divorce illegal he must plan a crime of passion to get away with murdering his wife. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Director: Pietro Germi
Best Actor: Marcello Mastroianni
Best Original Screenplay (WINNER)

Even though this is a 1961 movie, at the Oscars it competed as a 1962 film, so it was up against Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird. And you know what? Judging by how much I enjoyed it, I actually choose it over the 2 previously mentioned! Divorce Italian Style is a killer comedy and so smartly written!
Mastroianni gives a very funny, light & believable performance! Of course, it helps that he has an excellent screenplay to work with! This Oscar win for writing is one of the most deserved this category has ever had. It's crazy sharp, just like the direction. The choices that Pietro Germi makes are impecable and the film has a very nice flow. All the nominations are worthy and I would've also given it a Best Picture nom, for sure. And the comedy: it's funny, smart, situation comedy. Not that the dialogue isn't perfect, but the story itself and the action bring the biggest laughter or appreciative smiles. And talk about the actress playing the wife: brilliant casting!
My rating for the film: 9/10. I would've gone for a different ending scene, but it's still the best film I've seen in a while. Doesn't disappoint!