Thursday, May 27, 2010

Victor Victoria (1982) (3rd time)

A struggling female soprano finds work playing a male female impersonator, but it complicates her personal life. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Actress: Julie Andrews
Best Supporting Actor: Robert Preston
Best Supporting Actress: Lesley Ann Warren
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Music, Original Song Score (WINNER)
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design

I wrote more about the film on the other blog, because I especially watched it for Andrew’s Celebration of Musicals. I was asked about my favorite and this one is among the best.

So do click HERE to read my short take on Victor Victoria.

My rating for the film: 9.5/10. Because it’s undoubtedly in my Top 20 Best Films ever.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Camille (1936) (2nd time)

A Parisian courtesan must choose between the young man who loves her and the baron who wants her, even as her own health begins to fail. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar (as a 1937 film):

Best Actress: Greta Garbo

I'm sure many have asked how come Greta Garbo didn't win the Oscar for this?! It seems to be the general consensus and based on numbers and context it's a fair question. But I could spot the flaws in the film, and also in the performance. Camille is mostly an excuse to show Garbo in fabulous dresses (bless George Cukor, who loved his actresses to look their best). So, being a star vehicle is a tricky thing, which doesn't always pay off.
Garbo has her moments of shining, and I'll probably write on that sometime next week. But her theatrical charm can only do so much. Camille is never bad, but it looks like a very old fashioned (even for 1936) silent film. What saves it a lot are the camera work and the supporting actors. Laura Hope Crews shines as Marguerite's vulgar, loud friend and she brings much needed humor to the story, as she deserved an Oscar nom.
My rating for the film: 6.5/10. It looks pretty, otherwise I can't justify my generosity.

Babe (1995) (3rd time)

Babe, a pig raised by sheepdogs, learns to herd sheep with a little help from Farmer Hoggett. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Chris Noonan
Best Supporting Actor: James Cromwell
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Editing
Best Art Direction
Best Visual Effects (WINNER)

I love Babe for many reasons. First of all, it's such a well told story, and you can't deny that. Then, it somehow manages to find humanity and emotions in all kinds of unexpected places. It's a compelling, uplifting, both cheerful and dramatic story. The direction and the screenplay are the keys for success and I reeeeally believe Chris Noonan should've won Best Director. What he did was incredibly difficult: give a serious, artistic, professional feel to a subject which sounds ridiculous on paper.

Regarding Best Picture, I would've probably went with Sense & Sensibility out of the 5, but Babe sure is special. The Visual Effects are subtle (yes, I see them as subtle) but terribly effective. It's not a film everybody would enjoy, but it's a relaxing, quiet experience that I have fun going back to.

My rating for the film: 8.5/10. And I feel I wasn't generous enough.

P.S.: I've watched it again because Malcoms asked some people to share thoughts on Best Picture 1995. To see what the general idea was, you can click HERE.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

After an encounter with UFOs, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen. [imdb]

Nominated for 8 Oscars:

Best Director: Steven Spielberg
Best Supporting Actress: Melinda Dillon
Best Cinematography (WINNER)
Best Original Score
Best Editing
Best Art Direction
Best Sound
Best Visual Effects
+ Special Achievement Award for Sound Editing

It so happens that I just never found a good enough reason to see this. I never expected it to be great, and it actually wasn't. To me, it looks more like an experimental student film. It has a consistent budget, but it lacks substance or something... anything... resembling a storyline. Better said, it's an excuse to try some visual effects stuff, without giving it much sense.

It's not bad, it's just a visual experience, of which I've seen better. The technical part is good and the best I can say about Close... is that it gave an iconic face to an alien species (short, with big round heads). I don't think any of the 2 leading noms are deserving, especially Melinda Dillon's as she gets so little to do. Thankfully, the film was not nominated for Best Picture, as I fully appreciate all 5 Oscar had chosen that year.

My rating for the film: 6/10. Give me Star Wars any time of day; different ball game, I know, I know...

Marriage Italian Style (1964)

It tells the story of a man who kept a woman as his mistress for
several years and now plans to marry another woman until his
mistress pretends to be on her deathbed to trick him to marry her before she dies. [wiki]

Nominated for 2 Oscars* (64/65):

Best Actress: Sophia Loren (as a 1964 film)
Best Foreign Language Film: Italy (as a 1965 film)

From what I can tell I never posted on this blog other movie photos than the film posters themselves. But there's something so kinky and vulgar and glamorous at the same time about Sophia here, that I just had to put it. What a beauty! What a talent!

However, I can't say the same about the film: it's a weak movie, with a paper thin story. The idea is good, but the execution lacks creativity and the film doesn't develop to what it could've been. Marcello gives a mediocre dislikeable performance, so it's all on Sophia's shoulders. And she delivers, especially considering that the screenplay shows all kinds of different ages of the character. She is convincing and funny and sexy, but can only act as much as the screenplay allows. See Marriage just for Sophia.

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. It has nothing to do with the brilliant Divorce Italian Style, one of my alltime favorites also starring Mastroianni.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Lion in Winter (1968) (2nd time)

1183 AD: King Henry II's three sons all want to inherit the throne, but he won't commit to a choice. They and his wife variously plot to force him. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Anthony Harvey
Best Actor: Peter O'Toole
Best Actress: Katharine Hepburn (WINNER)
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Costume Design

Katharine Hepburn broke her first record that year, winning her 3rd leading Oscar (out of 4) in a fierce crucial battle, with both her AND Streisand coming out victoriously in a historical Oscar tie. Both Vanessa Redgrave and Joanne Woodward gave them a run for the award. But getting back to the film: it's a classic and it should've probably won Best Picture. It was at least a favorite, until Oliver! showed up and Oscar remembered how much it loves musicals and needs to kiss and makeup with Carol Reed.
As it's based on a play, there's a lot of pressure on the screenplay and it's a fine adaptation I guess. The dialogue is definitely the star of the film, even though O'Toole and Hepburn probably give career-best performances. But often enough the dialogue lines are too witty to be always functional; it's like Juno for its era :)) Nobody spoke like that, really.
I was exagerating I guess, but you don't need to have brilliant quotes all the time, all around. Hey, I liiiike The Lion in Winter, but it could've been more dramatic and less stylish. The acting is superb all around and it's a classic, maybe among the last of its era before the Midnight Cowboy trend changed everything.
My rating for the film: 8.5/10. Hepburn's best indeed.

The Exorcist (1973) (2nd time)

When a teenager is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter. [imdb]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: William Friedkin
Best Actress: Ellen Burstyn
Best Supporting Actor: Jason Miller
Best Supporting Actress: Linda Blair
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography
Best Editing
Best Art Direction
Best Sound (WINNER)

Cool horror films are unmatchable. I can't wait to see Rosemary's Baby again, as it fits the same category. I like The Exorcist because it's well written and it has a hell of a direction. It takes an ordinary horror film subject and shapes it with respect and passion. All the scenes with Linda Blair and the demon are classics, both in dialogue and the visuals themselves.
I haven't seen The Sting, but it can't beat Exorcist and one of my alltime favs Cries and Whispers. Ellen Burstyn gives a great performance in a solid year for Best Actress (with the probably weakest one winning) and despite the voice controversy (Mercedes McCambridge voiced the demon and not Linda Blair as initially thought), Linda Blair still had to do all those faces :P, the looks and say the lines, even if it wasn't her voice. So, to me, hers is also much deserved + the fabulous male performances, from Miller to Lee J. Cobb and most of all Max von Sydow.
My rating for the film: 9/10. A Hollywood classic and a milestone for the genre.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Lost Weekend (1945)

The desperate life of a chronic alcoholic is followed through a four day drinking bout. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Billy Wilder (WINNER)
Best Actor: Ray Milland (WINNER)
Best Writing, Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Original Score
Best Editing

The 18th Best Picture winner is quite the serious movie, without being a war film. It deals with addiction and takes upon itself the social role of deglaming alcoholism. The Lost Weekend was the first of its kind, from what I hear, and it really tries to make a point without losing the artistic focus. It's the portrait of a man who can't help himself.
As a film, it's well directed, well written and with an Oscar worthy leading performance. Ray Milland IS the film and his acting goes from sympathetic to troubling, yet always on the mark; one of the best wins of this category. However, talking BP and Direction, I couldn't really tell. Though the film is serious, well made and important in a way, I didn't really enjoy watching it. Maybe it hit home,... I don't know. What's sure is that I respect it, but don't love it.
Billy Wilder won for a subtle direction, as I call them. Sometimes (Going My Way) this type of direction is hardly noticeable, but Wilder has a firm hand here, keeping a serious, uncompromising mood for the film and making it look believable.
My rating for the film: 7.5/10. I would've have wanted the other ending, the non-Hollywood one. :)

Stella Dallas (1937)

A young woman from a factory town succeeds in social advancement through a romantic relationship and marriage. However, the marriage is not successful, and she ends up dedicating her life to their daughter's advancement and success. [wiki]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Barbara Stanwyck
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Shirley

Is this the first King Vidor film I'm seeing? Too bad, cause it's not a worthy one. It was probably meant as a vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck, but at least they could've given her some proper material. There are tons of cheesy stuff, with some scenes acted better than others, but you need good writing for this type of character-centered drama.
Anne Shirley is quite replaceble, but I guess Stanwyck's nomination is a worthy one. Though she doesn't fully capture the essence of the character all through-out the film, she does try, creating one or two memorable acting moments. The story is repetitive in the false-suspicion kind of way and the direction... as I said, a disappointment.
My rating for the film: 5/10. It's Stanwyck who improves the material at times.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Almost Famous (2000) (2nd time)

A high-school boy is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies it on their concert tour. [imdb]
Nominated for 4 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actress: Kate Hudson
Best Supporting Actress: Frances McDormand
Best Original Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Editing

On my personal, unofficial journey to set the record straight for Best Supporting Actress 2000, I was confronted with Almost Famous, which I saw for the first time in 2001. I didn’t enjoy it then, and even less so this time. It’s a film I’m most subjective about and I know there are many out there who liked it or really enjoyed it.

I didn’t like the casting, I didn’t like the actors, nor the screenplay. I thought everybody looked dirty and annoying. :) The characters were very dislikeable and unfinished; even though it was a weak year for Original Screenplay, this is far from being a worthy winner (I would’ve probably went with You Can Count on Me).

The kid’s acting is very poor, and just paves the way for a lot of mediocrity. Kate Hudson and especially Frances McDormand really didn’t deserve the honor of Oscar noms, and Jason Lee and the other band members simply created clich├ęd characters and gave unsatisfying performance. Their simple presence on screen was more than annoying to me.

My rating for the film: 5/10. It has small funny moments, I just don’t feel like mentioning them. Why someone would consider this film cool, is beyond me.

Going My Way (1944)

Going My Way is a light-hearted musical comedy/drama about a new young priest (Bing Crosby) taking over a parish from an established old veteran (Barry Fitzgerald). [wiki]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Leo McCarey (WINNER)
Best Actor: Bing Crosby (WINNER)
Best Actor: Barry Fitzgerald
Best Supporting Actor: Barry Fitzgerald (WINNER)
Best Writing, Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Writing, Original Story (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Original Song (WINNER)
Best Editing

Only forced by my Best Picture series I have allowed myself to see the 17th Best Picture winner: Going My Way. Seeing the cast and the story, I knew it was going to be terribly cheesy and all-Bing-Crosby. It really was an effort to sit through it, especially in the first hour. From there on, it got better, even though all his singing got on my nerves.

A positive element of the film is Barry Fitzgerald, playing the older priest: his performance brings a bit of funny to the story and his Oscar win might just be deserved. He also holds the unusual distinction to be nominated for 2 acting categories in the same year for the same performance in the same film. It was a mistake from the Academy, which was corrected from there on.

I dislike Bing Crosby due to his private life, but objectively: his performance here is definitely NOT Oscar worthy. There’s nothing special to it and I guess he charmed the voters with his singing. The silliest win is for Best Director and by all means Going My Way is one of the most unfortunate Best Picture winners, considering heavy competition from Gaslight and especially Double Indemnity. Most of the acting is uninspired, the screenplay is quite simple and nothing shined fully in this production.

My rating for the film: 5/10. What lifts it up is the last chapter.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Star Is Born (1937) (2nd time)

A young woman comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom, but achieves them only with the help of an alcoholic leading man whose best days are behind him. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: William A. Wellman
Best Actor: Fredric March
Best Actress: Janet Gaynor
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Writing, Original Story (WINNER)
Best Assistant Director
Honorary Award for the Color Photography

When I first saw it yeeeeears ago, I was quite pleasantly surprised. This film is the original A Star Is Born, the one that started it all. And to this day, it’s my favourite of all 3 versions. The subject is fascinating and truly all-Hollywood, and it’s the feel-good story that gives hope to many of us: that something great might always happen.

The film is about Janet Gaynor’s character (and I’ll write about her performance on the other blog), but Fredric March was the one that got my attention. His performance as the fading movie star is very good and a scene stealer. The role of a drunk is never easy to pull, but he does it so well, yet always showing the good side of Norman Maine AND the failure that he has become.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. A must see for old-Hollywood fans and as a nice trivia: it’s the first film in color nominated for Best Picture.

Beetlejuice (1988) (2nd time)

A couple of recently deceased ghosts contract the services of a "bio-exorcist" in order to remove the obnoxious new owners of their house. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Make-Up (WINNER)

Beetlejuice is a proof of Tim Burton’s early craziness. Though far from perfection, the film shows a lot of vision and it mixes nicely the scary with the funny (or better said light than funny). I would’ve preferred more horror and Michael Keaton (who I think gives an Oscar calibre supporting performance), but Geena Davis is fun and Winona’s breakthrough performance is quite memorable.

The best parts are the afterlife waiting-room scenes and of course Beetlejuice :P If Kevin Kline managed to win the Supporting Oscar that year for A Fish Called Wanda, I don’t see how Keaton wasn’t even nominated. He’s great, hardly recognizable and THE real funny element of the film.

My rating for the film: 7/10. Relaxing, with great potential.

A Single Man (2009)

A story that centers on an English professor who, after the sudden death of his partner tries to go about his typical day in Los Angeles. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Actor: Colin Firth

I’ve waited a long time to see it and only The Last Station stands now between me and finally putting an end to 2009. Getting to the film, I didn’t fool myself thinking it was gonna be an easy ride. I imagined it was going to be overstylish and it WAS, but I can still appreciate Tom Ford’s artsy debut direction. I hope we’ll see more films from the acclaimed designer, but I would recommend a bit more thought on the screenplay.

A Single Man could have been more in the story department, where it didn’t fully convince me. Because it’s so artsy and unbalanced at times (rushed or too slow), I didn’t perceive it as a big dramatic film. And the ending was disappointing to me. The cinematography is incredibly pretty and so sugary, the art direction and costume design much adequate, but the original score is too present in the movie.

Colin Firth gives a gooood performance, but once a scene was over, I found it hard to fully remember his acting. He is most effective in the quieter scenes, but (consider me crazy) I don’t see this as the most demanding role, so that’s why I would most likely go with Jeremy Renner from the 5 nominees. Julianne is fine, but not great, yet definitely better IMO than 4 of the 5 supporting nominees.

The big achievement of A Single Man: those 10-15 minutes of pure sexual tension, which actually convinced me of Ford’s directorial potential. I was on the edge of my seat / drooling from the bar scene all the way to the end. Of course, Tom Ford understand man candy, boy candy and it’s nice to see someone cool & beautiful & sexually emancipated REALLY knowing how to direct scenes so sexual & cool & beautiful & teasing.

My rating for the film: 7/10. I admire it, but it has weak moments, often in connecting with the audience.