Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

A Jewish man and a Jewish woman meet and while attracted to each other find that their worlds are very different. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Adapted Screenplay

Ihhh... I've been dragging this movie since forever. I realized from the start it's not gonna be the comedy it promised to be and so the film experience was really damaged. Goodbye Columbus really is a slow uneventful drama with uninteresting characters. Ali MacGraw looks good for a debut performance, but her acting doesn't rise higher than average.
Maybe there was a need for a more experienced actress, not that the role is that meaty. And unfortunately I didn't buy the love story: while watching I was continuously thinking the guy (Richard Benjamin in an ok performance) is waaaay out of his league and she's obviously too pretty for him. The screenplay itself brings nothing good to the table and the supporting characters do nothing to save the film.
My rating for the film: 4/10. I just don't see the point of it all, and the ending was a miss.

South Park: Bigger Larger & Uncut (1999)

When the four boys see an R-rated movie featuring Canadians Terrance & Phillip, they are pronounced "corrupted", and their parents pressure the United States to wage war against Canada. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Original Song

There is something hilarious in South Park being an Oscar nominated film. If you are used to the tv series (I myself don't watch it regularly, but I knew the characters) or have seen this film version, you know how politically incorrect it gets. And of course there's the swearing: for those hesitating, the Oscar nom came for the song Blame Canada (probably the only decent one) and not for Uncle Fucka or Kyle Mom's a Bitch. :P
But if you're ok with all the vulgarity (I was, with the most of it), South Park is a killer comedy with a veeeeery funny screenplay and a lot of memorable moments. It's never subtle, but it's smart and I am continuously surprised by the creativity of the writers. It IS an offensive crazy-funny animated feature.
My rating for the film: 8/10. Hilarious.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Billy Elliot (2000)

A talented young boy becomes torn between his unexpected love of dance and the disintegration of his family. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Director: Stephen Daldry
Best Supporting Actress: Julie Walters
Best Original Screenplay

For years I had avoided Billy Elliot because I had this suspicion that it's more dramatic than expected. And even though it has its uncomfortable moments, the film is much more positive than I thought it would be. I am happy I've seen it; I don't love it, I didn't fully enjoyed it, but I respect it because it's a beautifully made film.
Julie Walters gives a solid, adequate performance as the witty bitchy ballet teacher, but I still feel like I don't have a Best Supporting Actress 2000 favorite. Jamie Bell has more dancing to do than acting, but that doesn't take away from his performance, which is good, quite emotional at times and maybe he did deserve an Oscar nomination.
Stephen Daldry holds a very interesting record. This is his first movie and since then he has received Best Director nominations for all his first 3 films, which has never happened before. I appreciated a lot his direction here as he nicely combines dance scenes with more dramatic ones. And I'm gonna mention Jean Heywood who plays the grandmother, probably the most heartbreaking character of the film; the short scene where she says goodbye to Billy is very very touching.
My rating for the film: 7/10. Unfortunately, I don't love it as much as I should've. But I totally respect it and understand its Oscar nominations.

The Awful Truth (1937) (2nd time)

Suspicions lead a married couple to begin divorce proceedings, whereupon they start undermining each other's attempts to find new romance. [imdb]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Leo McCarey (WINNER)
Best Actress: Irene Dunne
Best Supporting Actor: Ralph Bellamy
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Editing

I love my Best Actress project on the other blog. It's because of it that I give second chances to such movies that prove to be so great in the end. I wasn't a fan of The Awful Truth, but I certainly became one. It's a screwball comedy, but not one of those very complicated ones. Yet it's still smart, mature and very funny!
The screenplay is delicious with great dialogue and some lines I'll remember a long time from now :) Those who've seen it recently might recall Here's your diploma! :P I'm not sure the direction is Oscar winning level, but it's definitely effective and it shines in silly scenes like the ones with the dog. Cary Grant is his usual good, but the film's about Irene Dunne and her comedic performance is a very charming one, which will really stick with me this time.
My rating for the film: 8.5/10. I was gonna go with an 8, but it remains a funny film I smile when thinking about. It may be the Best Picture of 1937.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pollock (2000) (2nd time)

A film about the life and career of the American painter, Jackson Pollock. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actor: Ed Harris
Best Supporting Actress: Marcia Gay Harden (WINNER)

My instinct was right. I’ve been wanting for a while now to see Pollock again. Not because I loved it a lot years ago, but because I couldn’t remember what I really felt about Ed Harris’s performance. And of course if Marcia’s acting is still as incredible as I thought it to be. The verdict: I was disappointed on all accounts.

The film is a clich├ęd biopic, nothing fresh or interesting. It got a bit better in the second half, but the beginning is boring, it didn’t keep my interest. Ed Harris is ok, but far from being his best performance… And Marcia… oh, I’m confused. This time, I saw her acting as being just ok, with 2 big screaming scenes and that’s about it. Best Supporting Actress 2000 confuses me so much, that I don’t even have a favorite. I will quickly watch Billy Elliot (shame on me for never seeing it) and see again Almost Famous (of which I’m not the biggest fan).

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. I just wish I would’ve loved Marcia… Maybe what they say is true: once is not enough, when it comes to seeing a movie.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Good Earth (1937) (2nd time)

The story of a farmer and his wife in China: a story of humility and bravery. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Sidney Franklin
Best Actress: Luise Rainer (WINNER)
Best Cinematography (WINNER)
Best Editing

The Good Earth is not as good as I remember it to be. I’ve first seen it on TCM over 10 years ago and it made an impression. It’s still good or ok, and definitely miles above The Life of Emile Zola, which actually won the Best Picture. The Good Earth is very 1930s, it’s some kind of an epic and quite dated: because it’s funny nowadays to see Caucasian actors with makeup on, trying to look Chinese.

The production part of it is the best: the Art Direction and Cinematography are very good and the Visual Effects in the locust plague scene are very impressive for that era. Luise Rainer gives a good performance and I’ll write more about her acting on the other blog, in my Best Actress series. Overall, it’s a fine movie, perfect if you’re in the mood for something a bit cheesy, but never boring and with a very vintage feel to it.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. Nothing really bad about it.

Hedda (1975)

Henrik Ibsen's enduring drama about a Nordic femme fatale - a neurotic, controlling, strong-willed woman. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Actress: Glenda Jackson

Do you have a movie that you’re just dying to see, so much that you don’t even care if it’s good or not, you’re just so curious about it? Well, Hedda was that movie for me, for quite some time. I think Glenda Jackson is so cool and I was really interested in seeing her 4th Best Actress nominated performance. If you know Oscar stuff, then you know how difficult it is to find this movie.

The movie itself is not really interesting. I’m one of those people who don’t really see the massive appeal for Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and this adaptation is just a filming of the play; the entire action takes place in just one room, so it’s very stagey. Though not completely boring, the film is predictable and gives us little about the characters. This is hardly Glenda’s best performance, but she is definitely the best thing about Hedda. Her acting is fierce and brave, but doesn’t fully guide us towards really knowing who Hedda is or what she feels. It’s an incomplete performance, but even Glenda’s average is way above others’ best.

My rating for the film: 4.5/10. 1975 must be one of the weirdest / weakest Best Actress races. I really want to see Hester Street.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Casablanca (1942) (3rd time)

Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications. [imdb]

Nominated for 8 Oscars (as a 1943 film):

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Michael Curtiz (WINNER)
Best Actor: Humphrey Bogart
Best Supporting Actor: Claude Rains
Best Writing, Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Original Score
Best Editing

We've all seen the 16th Best Picture winner. Casablanca might just be one of the most popular movies in history. I guess its reputation is due to its leading actors and the romance and not so much to the Oscar wins. Isn’t it funny that 2 of the most famous love stories ever: Gone with the Wind and Casablanca give such unusual romance stories?! In GWTW, Scarlett marries twice before finally settling down with Rhet and they don’t stay together for long. In Casablanca, our leading lady is married to another man and at the end sticks with the husband.

I’m not a Bogart fan, but he’s good here and Bergman is even better. However, what I like about Casablanca is that it’s so damn smart and witty without putting much effort. The screenplay is sensational and this is some of the best dialogue you’ll ever hear in this type of movie and from this Hollywood era. Claude Rains gets the best lines, so I was delighted every time he was on screen. The love story is believable, but the action / suspense part of it that makes Casablanca a movie very much worth watching. Oh, yes: and a very good direction from Michael Curtiz.

My rating for the film: 8.5/10. The Catholics must be hating Casablanca because it stopped The Song of Bernadette from winning Best Picture. :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Singin in the Rain (1952) (2nd time)

A silent film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actress: Jean Hagen
Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture

I’m trying to figure out if I’m a big fan of musicals or not… There are definitely some I love, but I guess I just prefer comedy to musical… and drama to comedy. Singin’ in the Rain is fun; and smart; and well made. However, despite listening to some familiar (and good to say the least) tunes, it’s not the music that attracts me to it. That’s probably why I consider it to be just a strong, good movie, and not an all time favorite.

What attracts me the most to it is, OF COURSE, Jean Hagen’s delicious & funny performance. Actually, the film depends too much on her and when she’s not on screen I can feel the difference. She’s funny and wonderful and very similar to Judy Holliday (so I wasn’t surprised when I read the role was intended for Judy). Jean Hagen deserved to win the Oscar and I think that’s obvious to everyone. Her comedic performance is much more important for the film than people give it credit for.

My rating for the film: 8/10. I like the songs, Cyd Charisse’s dance moments, I adore Jean Hagen, I just don’t love the film as a whole.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) (2nd time)

The Minivers, an English "middle-class" family, experience life in the first months of World War II. [imdb]

Nominated for 12 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: William Wyler (WINNER)
Best Actor: Walter Pidgeon
Best Actress: Greer Garson (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Henry Travers
Best Supporting Actress: Dame May Whitty
Best Supporting Actress: Teresa Wright (WINNER)
Best Writing, Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Editing
Best Sound
Best Special Effects

The 15th Best Picture winner is also William Wyler's first Best Director win and one of the most relevant films of its era. Let's not forget it was 1942; I'm sure that back them it really seemed the "Greatest Movie Ever Made", as the tagline suggests. A propaganda film, Mrs. Miniver does stand by itself in many ways, but couldn't be properly judged outside the political context. Here is some great trivia about the film that's worth mentioning:
Winston Churchill once said that this film had done more for the war effort than a flotilla of destroyers.
The Vicar's final rousing speech was printed in magazines like "Time" and "Look". President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered that it be broadcast on the Voice of America, and copies of it were dropped over Europe as propaganda. This speech has come to be known as The Wilcoxon Speech, in tribute to actor Henry Wilcoxon's stirring delivery of it.
And that's very cool. Other than that, Mrs. Miniver shows good performances and a nice story that keeps you interested. The patriotic stuff is the best and about the acting I would underline May Whitty's performance which should've won her the Oscar. Greer Garson is good, but her win can be mostly justified by the excitement for the film. I like this type of war movie mixed with some soap opera. The ending is great and justified, and even though the film is not too deep, it's a fine movie experience.
My rating for the film: 8/10. I swear it was almost an 8.5. Definitely one of the best BP winners, in my opinion.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

At the turn of the century in a Welsh mining village, the Morgans raise coal-mining sons and hope their youngest will find a better life. [imdb]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: John Ford (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Donald Crisp (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actress: Sara Allgood
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Original Score
Best Editing
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Sound

The 14th Best Picture winner is How Green Was My Valley, an old fashioned movie with a nice beginning but overall an uninteresting story. It remains one of the most infamous winners, not really because of its lack of quality (I'm sure most who comment the 1941 race haven't even seen it), but because of the high profile contenders: The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon and, most of all: Citizen Kane. Kane is overrated, but it's still a fascinating film, so I guess How Green Was... won due to John Ford's popularity.
As I said, it has a good start, with a documentary-like touch about the miners and a rougher perspective on the action. But it slowly turns into sentimental nonsense: the "love story" is ignorable and the character become more and more boring or annoying. This loooong film is lifted up a bit by a great child performance from Ruddy McDowall, the best acting of the film. Donald Crisp gives an ok performance, but not good enough for winner level.
My rating for the film: 6/10. I didn't care about it once it was over. Except for the kid. And Citizen Kane should've indeed won.

In and Out (1997) (2nd time)

A midwestern teacher questions his sexuality after a former student makes a comment about him at the Academy Awards. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actress: Joan Cusack

I have absolutely no excuse for watching this film again. I had seen it years ago, I thought it was offensive, but still a silly written "comedy". And I haven't changed my mind about it. It's that type of badly written film with one or two good actors, a lot of stupid jokes, and even though you totally disagree with it, you still watch it... just because.
I won't comment on the gay issue of the film; some call it pro, some call In & Out homophobic and I can understand both sides. But at the end of the day, it still remains an Oscar nominated film :D and Joan's performance is one most difficult to judge. She is crazy overacting, but it's in the spirit of the film (the bad joke the film is) and I was actually looking forward to her scenes, the bar scene being the best. Another good scene: the confessional. But that's it.
My rating for the film: 2.5/10. A pointless movie effort.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ajami (2009)

Ajami is the religiously mixed community of Muslims and Christians in Tel Aviv. These are five stories about the everyday life in Ajami. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Foreign Language Film: Israel

Oh, I love it when I am surprised in a big way. I expected Ajami to be a failure, as it didn’t have much fans among the bloggers who’ve seen it. I didn’t really know what it was about and it’s actually hard to summarize the story. Ajami has a Crash-like structure (but done better) or maybe 21 Grams and it’s not as difficult to understand as some would make you believe. You just need to know a bit about Israel, the situation there and the rest in mentioned in the film.

The screenplay is probably the best part and the direction is simple and efficient. The film is divided in chapters, mostly gravitating around the character of Omar, a teenager with a target on his back. If you are interested in a culturally relevant movie, which is also an action film with a well thought storyline… well, Ajami could be the one for you. On the downside, it feels quite long and I didn’t fully believe the ending scene… not a bad ending, but could’ve been better.

My rating for the film: 8/10. Interesting that it qualified for this category, because it’s mostly in Arabic.

And because (for the first time) I’ve seen all 5 Foreign Language Film nominees, here’s my ranking:
1. Ajami
2. A Prophet
3. The Secret in Their Eyes
4. The White Ribbon
5. The Milk of Sorrow

Milk of Sorrow is probably the only one out of its league.

Rebecca (1940) (2nd time)

When a naive young woman marries a rich widower and settles in his gigantic mansion, she finds the memory of the first wife maintaining a grip on her husband and the servants. [imdb]

Nominated for 11 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Best Actor: Laurence Olivier
Best Actress: Joan Fontaine
Best Supporting Actress: Judith Anderson
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Editing
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White
Best Visual Effects

As someone might remember, months ago I got the idea for this blog to watch (again) all Best Picture winners and gradually rank them. I did the 20s and 30s and stopped after Gone with the Wind, and here was the ranking up to that point (CLICK).

Next in line: Rebecca, a movie I’ve seen many years ago after reading Daphne du Maurier’s book, which remains one of my all time favorites. The subject is so interesting and fascinating and Rebecca is one of the greatest characters even though she never physically appears in the story. The film actually felt better this time and it’s a fine example why Hitchcock is considered a master of directing. Rebecca feels fresh, modern for its time and actually ground-breaking.

The direction is close to perfection and it might’ve deserved the Oscar win, but the real star of the film for me is the cinematography: revolutionary, artsy and perfectly fit for the story and the mood of the film. Definitely one of the best black-and-white camera work I’ve ever seen. The performances are ok: there’s generally a lot of praise for Joan Fontaine’s acting here, I thought she was fine, just not my type of performance. However, she was definitely close to winning. Olivier is his usual British self, but the acting star is Judith Anderson in the creepy role (played much in the spirit of the book) of Mrs. Danvers.

I like Rebecca, even with its flaws. It could never reach the level of the book, but it’s a fine adaptation… actually a great film that everybody should see.

My rating for the film: 8.5/10. Hitchcock rules 20th century cinema.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Passion of the Christ (2004) (2nd time)

A film detailing the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Makeup

I’m first to admit that religious films are hard / impossible to do in a right way which satisfies everybody. I wouldn’t have seen Passion of the Christ again, had it not been for Easter and I also wanted to give it another look, as I felt strongly about it years ago. I’m a Christian, and that’s an important factor. But even so, unlike others, I don’t see it in a… documentary way, to put it like that. I got lost into it a lot, but I also had an eye on the movie making elements.

It’s a good film with very special details to it. Of course, the cinematography is perfect and overall I think it deserved to win at least for its nominations, even with such strong competition. James Caviezel was as good as it gets for such a role and it’s silly his performance was not recognized and neither did Mel Gibson’s direction. I might have a problem with the screenplay at times, especially when trying to make it accessible to the masses: the building-the-table scene, the ruins of the temple and such Hollywood stuff which throw it off balance and make it lose its credibility.

But the direction was really special… I actually think it’s should’ve been raw all the way and more European, because it’s in those scenes that it is most powerful. The scenes with Him on the cross are the most unforgettable. To me, it remains a movie with flaws, but a lot of powerful powerful powerful stuff in it, both due to its subject (of course), but also in a movie-making aspect (the cinematography is spectacular especially in the crucifixion scene).

My rating for the film: 8.5/10. James Caviezel was incredibly right for the role.

The Milk of Sorrow (2009)

Fausta is suffering from a rare disease called the Milk of Sorrow, which is transmitted through the breast milk of pregnant women who were abused or raped during or soon after pregnancy. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Foreign Language Film: Peru

I don’t want to write too much about this one. It probably didn’t deserve the Oscar nomination for this category, but hey: I’m sure there were much worse contenders. It’s not a bad movie really, it’s just not interesting enough and there isn’t much of a story… Not a bad direction… Nothing really sucks, but nothing to shine.

I appreciated the ethnicity of it and it looks like what I imagine to be an authentic portrayal of poor people from Peru. Yet, I guess at the end of it all I’ll still remember it as the movie with a girl who had a potato in her vagina. :) and that’s unfortunate, because it’s about more than that, and quite a dramatic story for that matter.

My rating for the film: 6/10. A good leading performance.