Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Free Soul (1931)

An alcoholic lawyer who successfully defended a notorious gambler on a murder charge objects when his free-spirited daughter becomes romantically involved with him. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Director: Clarence Brown
Best Actor: Lionel Barrymore (WINNER)
Best Actress: Norma Shearer

In a movieworld dominated by trailers and spoilers, it's nice to see a film you know so little about. I had little expectations while watching A Free Soul, but I quickly became involved in the story. While it's not a masterpiece, nor a very complex film, it sure tells an interesting story and the acting is quite good.

What also impressed me is the way some scenes were shot, and I'll give credit to the director for that. Norma is a delight and I can totally understand why Lionel Barrymore won his Oscar for this - it could easily be classified as more of an Honorary win, given he was a veteran actor; but there's plenty of good stuff in the performance. Where it does disappoint a bit is in the screenplay: the final scene especially is really out of nowhere, and also Leslie Howard is not giving his best.

My rating for the film: 7/10. Clark Gable creates a charistmatic bad boy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holiday (1930)

The story of two sisters and a young man who is torn between his free-thinking lifestyle and the tradition of his wealthy fiancée's family. [wiki]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Ann Harding
Best Writing, Adaptation

This was the first film adaptation of the play written by Philip Barry, but not the best known one. Nowadays, there's seem to be a lot of passion for the 1938 version, with Katharine Hepburn & Cary Grant, a film I have yet to see. Almost nobody talks about this 1930 stagey film, as few have heard of an actress called Ann Harding.

And it's true: nothing groundbreaking about this film, but it's not bad either. Ann Harding has lots of charisma and energy, so I can understand why the nomination. But it was her bitchy sister played by Mary Astor (gorgeous!) that I would've wanted to know more about. The film itself moves along fine, never too boring, never demanding, but not a great thrill either.

My rating for the film: 6/10. And I will also watch the Hepburn version at one point.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Min and Bill (1930)

Min, the owner of a dockside hotel, is forced to make difficult decisions about the future of Nancy, the young woman she took in as an infant. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Actress: Marie Dressler (WINNER)

Not much to write about this film, which unfortunately holds a length of only about 65 minutes. I don't think it's bad by 1930 standards, but it just looks dated and rushed. And also predictable.

To me, there are 2 reasons why the film is not a massive failure: first, there's Marie Dressler, who is above material here, even if her performance is not without its flaws. However, she's an undeniable presence and a consistent acting force. The second is the fantastic (!) Marjorie Rambeau in a supporting role as the drunken selfish villain; she steals every scene she's in and, had there been a Supporting Actress category back then, she would've easily been in the run for a win. Her big moment towards the end makes for the most delicious 5 minutes this film has to offer.

My rating for the film: 5/10. Many will be much more generous. I'm not. And can someone explain that silly fighting scene?!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gigi (1958) (2nd time)

A rich playboy and a youthful courtesan-in-training enjoy a platonic friendship, but it may not stay platonic for long. [imdb]

Nominated for 9 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Vincente Minnelli (WINNER)
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Color (WINNER)
Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (WINNER)
Best Original Song (WINNER)
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Art Direction (WINNER)
Best Costume Design (WINNER)

Yes, Gigi is the musical that could; it won Oscars for all of its 9 nominations, including Best Picture: making it the 31st winner of this category. It's incredible how memory plays a lot of tricks on you: I remember liking this film a lot, as I had seen it once, many years ago on TCM. I was probably fascinated by all the costumes and nice sets, because otherwise, today, I'd find it hard to explain. The film is a mess in many ways.

While I don't think it's among the worst this category's ever seen, how could I defend the song Thank Heaven for Little Girls, sang by 70-year-old Maurice Chevalier... Unfortunately, I suspect this is a pedophile's dream... But even getting past this, I don't remember/admire ANY of the songs - and when the film is a Musical, that's a huge problem (a very similar problem that I had with An American in Paris, the previous Minnelli BP winner that fails in the music department).

So the songs are either outrageous or uninspired, the film is mostly boring... what's left: ah, the performances - no, nothing there worth mentioning as they're all either mediocre or just ok. Leslie Caron, however, is among the best of the group, at least because she looks so sweet, and does create a character outside the musical numbers.

The costumes are dreamy, the art direction is beautiful, the cinematography is ok, but what makes me more forgiving of Gigi is the subject of the film - this is the thing that charms me: romances with great costumes, rich people, sentimental dilemmas, and there's a scene or two (with Gigi's hesitation of becoming only his mistress) that speaks plenty of truth. I also found the film to be surprisingly & pleasantly non-misogynistic, considering a rather delicate subject matter.

My rating for the film: 6/10. I'm being too generous, but what can I do...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Color Purple (1985) (3rd time)

The life and trials of a young African American woman. [imdb]

Nominated for 11 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Actress: Whoopi Goldberg
Best Supporting Actress: Margaret Avery
Best Supporting Actress: Oprah Winfrey
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
Best Cinematography
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup

You know when you've seen a film once or twice a couple of years before and you are certain it's one of your alltime favorites? So much that you include it in your Top 5 ever? Well, this is what happened to me and The Color Purple - but when I've seen it now, years later, for my blog: some of the magic was lost. :( And I can see the flaws, which are plenty. This doesn't mean I've stopped liking the film, I still think it's magic: only that I can't call it an alltime favorite anymore, if I'm being honest with my choices.

The first 30 minutes are really the weakest, with the story lacking a clear focus and with more of a naive way of telling us what happens. As soon as Whoopi gets on screen as grown-up Celie, everything moves better, with the characters of Sophie & Shug also bringing plenty of great stuff to see. Overall, it remains an impressive achievement, and the film grows in quality as we get more used to the characters. Two scenes are filled with emotions and so representative for the heart of the film; both towards the end: God Is Trying to Tell You Something and the cheesy, but so heart warming reunion at the ending.

Talking Oscar, you surely know the film holds an unfortunate record: it ties The Turning Point (1977) for most nominations for a film, without a single win; it deserved better than this. Also, its director, none other than Steven Spielberg, didn't get nominated although he had won the prestigious Directors Guild Award, usually an Oscar indicator. Whoopi Goldberg was a favorite to win and had the chance to make history as the first African American to win Best Actress, but lost to veteran actress Geraldine Page. Margaret Avery & Oprah Winfrey give fantastic supporting performances, and any of them would've deserved a win.

I hope I'm never asked to choose a Best Picture winner for 1985, as you might remember my renewed love affair with winner Out of Africa. Having to choose between that one and The Color Purple would be an impossible task for me.

My rating for the film: 9/10. If you haven't seen it, run to it immediately.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it. [imdb]

Nominated for 8 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: David Lean (WINNER)
Best Actor: Alec Guinness (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Sessue Hayakawa
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Cinematography (WINNER)
Best Editing (WINNER)

The Bridge on the River Kwai is an excellent film that is also the 30th winner of the Best Picture Oscar. I had seen scenes from it before, I knew the ending, but I never enjoyed it from beginning to end and I gladly did it now for my Best Picture series. It's a beautiful action film, interestingly divided in chapters with some that are simply fantastic. The first hour-hour and a half is the best. Guinness and Hayakawa both deliver remarkable performances and it's in their scenes that the film reaches the highest quality of writing, acting, directing.

It was very enjoyable seeing the two working together, as their scenes of rivalry are really entertaining, in a dramatic way. While I didn't care so much about the William Holden part of the film, I understand its role and it does contribute to the action element of this picture. The cinematography, the music, the editing, the art direction are all fascinant and very efficient. David Lean's direction is subtle and it's another proof that he was a great storyteller.

The film's final hour is not as captivating as the first part, but the fabulous ending is exactly the right choice. It probably deserved most of its wins, though I'm holding back a bit on Guinness - he's great, he really is, but he was competing against Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution, so it's difficult to choose between such fascinating performances.

My rating for the film: 8.5/10. Good piece of action-drama.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sweet Dreams (1985) (2nd time)

Lange portrays Patsy Cline, the velvet-voiced country singer who died in a tragic plane crash. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Actress: Jessica Lange

Sweeeeeeeeeeet nonsense. And it's not even sweet. Whoever wrote this (by the way, he also wrote Mommie Dearest) has real limitations as a screenplaywriter. The film fails massively and mostly because of the writing, and also because of a very very lazy direction.

I actually HATED the writing, to be honest: the film is so much about the relationship between the two, and not enough about her music, her personality, her individuality. Also, it sickens me how much it justifies the abusive behavior of the husband. Seriously! It's insane! Other than Patsy's songs, there isn't much (or anything for me) to rally behind; and it's not even accurate for most part.

I know some go crazy over Jessica Lange here, I don't; had problems both seeing her as Patsy and dealing with her Southern girlish atittude. But more on that performance on the other blog, in a day or two.

My rating for the film: 3.5/10. To have Patsy calling her abusive husband's name right before she dies (something we know didn't happen) is BEYOND offensive.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Chalk Garden (1964)

A grandmother seeks a governess for her 16 year old granddaughter, Laurel, who manages to drive away each and every one. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actress: Edith Evans

There isn't much to say about this film, as it was mostly a very uninteresting cliched experience. The film focuses on 4 performances, of which I'm sorry to say Deborah Kerr's is the most boring. Nobody is fantastic, or even great, but each of the other actors has a good scene to put a bit more effort into.

Famous teenage-actress Hayley Mills does the best she can and shares an intense scene with her real-life father, John Mills. But I mostly payed attention to Oscar nominated Edith Evans, waiting for something to justify the nomination. It's a fine performance, which I'm sure some would really like. She gets plenty of screentime in the role of the grandmother, but I was not entirely convinced and didn't find the role to be as demanding... so a win would've seemed too much for me. Though she surely had a shot at the trophy.

The film lacks in story; it's based on a successful play, but judging from the film it's hard to say why the success. There's nothing fascinating and it ends up looking too predictable, with a flawed direction.

My rating for the film: 4/10. I don't hate it, but it's hard to find real qualities.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Adaptation of Jules Verne's novel about a Victorian Englishman who bets that with the new steamships and railways he can travel around the world in 80 Days. [imdb]

Nominated for 8 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Michael Anderson
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Cinematography (WINNER)
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design

The Best Picture winner for 1956 is considered by many to be one of the worst in Oscar's history. As I go to each of them chronologically, I was quite happy to reach this one, as I suspected it would be easy to watch, maybe even fun. And I was right: I think the critics are overreacting; it's not a terribly smart film, it doesn't even explore its own potential, but it's far from worst.

Out of its competition, I've only seen Giant which is a better film, and definitely more serious & important. Around the World starts out very well, but loses focus along the way, or maybe it all seemed to rushed. It has a good story, but the writing could've been better in the second half, and the ending is not what I might've hoped for. Best in show is Cantinflas, a Mexican celebrity/actor playing the servant: he's very funny here and most of all likeable, and the success of this film depends a lot on his charisma.

How did this win Best Picture? Probably because it was the cool stuff, and it was also a competitive year, so Giant and The King and I were real contenders and could've split the votes. The Art Direction is very impressive and the film looks well-done technically.

My rating for the film: 6/10. I just wish they had paid more attention to the second half.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Out of Africa (1985) (2nd time)

In 20th century colonial Kenya, a Danish baroness/plantation owner has a passionate but ultimately doomed love affair with a free-sprited hunter. [imdb]

Nominated for 11 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Sydney Pollack (WINNER)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep
Best Supporting Actor: Klaus Maria Brandauer
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Cinematography (WINNER)
Best Editing
Best Art Direction (WINNER)
Best Costume Design
Best Sound (WINNER)

I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills... [I melt]

I really like this film. It's no masterpiece, but I really really like it, because it's so pretty and well put together. It's definitely one of my favorite Best Picture winners of all times. It has a nicely organized screenplay, allowing the story to flow properly, and I'm sure it was not an easy adaptation to do. Its focus is on Meryl's character, the very interesting real-life Baroness Karen Blixen, and I especially appreciated the way the character is put together - there's nothing incredible about this woman, but on her feelings and reactions I could really stand behind, and found them believable.

Redford is just a pretty face, Klaus has charisma, but I don't think it's an awards-worthy performance. Meryl is beautiful & great, but more on her on the other blog. The original score is one of the best I've ever heard, and the cinematography is dreamy. Pollack's direction is not perfect (what's up with the obvious studio screen in 2 scenes?!), but he sure also made some smart choices. I think the beginning of the film is perfect, and the ending is nearly just as good. Yes, you should always start a film with fabulous music & a voiceover from Meryl. All films should have that.

My rating for the film: 9/10. From its competition, I'd probably go for Color Purple, but this is a great winner.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Agnes of God (1985)

When a naive novice nun is discovered with a dead newborn in her convent quarters, a court appointed psychiatrist investigates her case. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Actress: Anne Bancroft
Best Supporting Actress: Meg Tilly
Best Original Score

I'm not gonna spend too much time writing about this; to keep it short: I honestly believe it's a mess. The worst thing about it is the screenplay, offering some RIDICULOUS dialogues, not only too stagey, but with no rhythm and sense of how people really talk. It's predictable, overhyped and doesn't live up to the tension and mystery it tries to build.

The performances are nothing special. Meg Tilly is in her own universe, I'll write about Anne on the other blog very soon & Jane Fonda is trying the hardest, but there's only so much you can do with such bad dialogue. A big mess, with only one or two better scenes, one of them being the second hypnosis (nicely shot, but a silly idea to begin with).

My rating for the film: 3.5/10. The deconstruction will continue on the other blog.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Swing Shift (1984)

A woman finds romance when she takes a job at an airport plant to help make ends meet after her husband goes off to war. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Supporting Actress: Christine Lahti

Oh boy, this film is a mess. I wanted something easy to watch, also with some Oscar nominations, and I chose this, because I had previously seen some scenes on TV. But it wasn't really what I expected (some romantic drama); in fact, it's a boring, predictable, melo non-sense with only one good performance.

Christine Lahti did deserve the Oscar nomination, because she's clearly the best by far; her acting gives such a contrast it's embarassing for the rest of the cast. With such a bad screenplay, she manages to create a likeable character, and the only real emotional one. Ed Harris is ok, Kurt Russell is ignorable, but Goldie Hawn gives... her worst performance ever. She can't even manage the easy scenes, while also being surprisingly dislikeable. It's sad.

My rating for the film: 3.5/10. I can't believe Jonathan Demme directed this waste of time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Marty (1955)

Marty is a 34-year-old butcher whose Italian family is constantly after him to get married. He then meets plain-looking schoolteacher Clara. [imdb]

Nominated for 8 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Delbert Mann (WINNER)
Best Actor: Ernest Borgnine (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Joe Mantell
Best Supporting Actress: Betsy Blair
Best Writing, Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White

You don't hear many people talking about Marty these days, even though it won Best Picture for 1955, making it the 28th winner of this category. There's a reason for the lack of interest nowadays, and mostly because it's a very very low-key film. As the film started, I actually enjoyed it and found it pleasant to watch. However, it quickly turned into pure misogyny and the ending especially managed to annoy me quite a lot.

I'm not a fan of Borgnine, and I'm sure had James Dean not died in 1955, he would've given him some serious competition for East of Eden. But given the situation, Borgnine had an easy win for Best Actor, one I can't fully agree with, even though it's not a bad performance. I just didn't like the character and didn't feel the role was challenging enough. This is strange case of film which I would've preferred more had it been a bit idealized. It gets a bit too cruel, misogynistic as I said, and also too crowded with uninteresting supporting characters.

Betsy Blair gives a flawed performance, and I guess she got nominated just because of the film. The same with supporting actor Joe Mantell, who does almost nothing in his role. The direction is better than the screenplay & the film itself, but far from being a justified winner. And yet how did Marty win all these top prizes? Simple enough: very weak competition, with a surprisingly strange Best Picture line-up of nominees.

My rating for the film: 6/10. Some will enjoy it more. It lost my interest towards the end. It sure don't look like a Best Picture winner to me, though that didn't affect my rating for it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Trip to Bountiful (1985)

The film, set in the 1940s, tells the story of an elderly woman, Carrie Watts (Page), who wants to return home to the small town where she grew up. [wiki]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Geraldine Page (WINNER)
Best Adapted Screenplay

I didn't know this film was a teleplay before it was taken to stage by Horton Foote; it's usually the other way around. Legendary Lillian Gish first played the leading role on TV in 1953. Without knowing how that one worked out, I was a bit saddened by the way they chose to do this film, which starts off very stagey, and not in the good way.

The film fails on many many levers, mostly by having some pretty bad actors creating some very boring supporting characters. Who cares about them?! when you have such an intriguing leading female character. It should only focus on Mrs. Watts, not on some frustrated, badly cast performances. Geraldine carries the film is so many ways and you can easily tell her acting puts all the rest to shame. But there's only so much she can do, and the screenplay really lets her down in the ending.

My rating for the film: 6/10. Without Geraldine it would be a 4 or so.

Friday, August 26, 2011

On the Waterfront (1954) (2nd time)

An ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses. [imdb]

Nominated for 12 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Elia Kazan (WINNER)
Best Actor: Marlon Brando (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: Lee J. Cobb
Best Supporting Actor: Karl Malden
Best Supporting Actor: Rod Steiger
Best Supporting Actress: Eva Marie Saint (WINNER)
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Original Score
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (WINNER)

As I am continuing my Best Picture series, I'm at winner no. 27, On the Waterfront, a film I had already seen a couple of years ago. It remains one of the most talked about Best Picture winners of its era, mostly because of Marlon Brando's iconic performance. I didn't like it that much the 1st time, I thought it was better now, but it definitely has its flaws. I dunno why, but the second part felt a bit flat to me, inconsistent, unsatisfying. I fell there was more potential that needed exploited.

It should be known I'm not a fan of Elia Kazan's personal life-changing testimonies, and how funny it is that he directed this film, a film about unions and such. Where did he get the balls to do this... If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click HERE.

But all of this did not influence my perspective on the film and I did try to be as objective. Talking about direction, it has a lot of great moments, but also some unfortunate choices towards the end, one of which is using a stunt-double in a scene, and we can clearly tell it's not Brando.

The best element of the film is the acting. Brando gives an Oscar-worthy performance, and he did win, being his 4th consecutive nomination. While I admit he has some impressive scenes, and probably is above competition, I don't find it to be one of the best male performances in history - it's just a very good one, but not the one. The supporting men are terrific, all 3 receiving very worthy nominations; Lee J. Cobb is like a 1950s Tony Soprano and he's great at it, while Karl Malden is probably the best of the bunch, playing a very honest determined priest.

Eva Marie Saint won the trophy for this, but I question the choice, as I know at least one other better performance in her category; you can tell she lacked some acting experience. The win for Art Direction is a bit silly, but the Cinematography is quite impressive. The film works nicely, but I didn't find myself to be connected to any of the characters and while it starts great, I feel they could've found a less happy, more believable ending.

My rating for the film: 8/10. I was tempted to go for more, but in my BP lineup I just can't have it above All Quiet on the... or Wings.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

From Here to Eternity (1953) (2nd time)

In 1941 Hawaii, a private is cruelly punished for not boxing on his unit's team, while his captain's wife and second in command are falling in love. [imdb]

Nominated for 13 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Fred Zinnemann (WINNER)
Best Actor: Montgomery Clift
Best Actor: Burt Lancaster
Best Actress: Deborah Kerr
Best Supporting Actor: Frank Sinatra (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actress: Donna Reed (WINNER)
Best Writing, Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (WINNER)
Best Original Score
Best Editing (WINNER)
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White
Best Sound (WINNER)

I'm continuing my Best Picture series with winner number 26, a film that still enjoys a certain amount of popularity. I myself was not a fan the first time I saw it - not that I've changed my mind, but now it feels a bit better. Of course, the film was much more relevant back then, considering only 12 years separated it from the attack on Pearl Harbor - respectfully ilustrated towards the end of the picture.

Otherwise, the film carries a bit too many stories, none of them fully described; it's a bit too segmented and often enough relies on hard-to-believe screenplay decisions. The acting itself seemed a bit different the 2nd time: now I think Monty is pretty bad in the role and I just don't get it why he was considered a good actor in those days. Frank Sinatra himself is quite loud here and the performance seems to be far from Oscar material. I was more impressed with the ladies: Deborah Kerr has much too limited screentime to be considered a lead, but she's intriguingly playing an against-the-type character and she gives a good performance. Donna Reed was better than I remembered, while Burt Lancaster does justice to a very macho role.

While it was a huge success in its era, it feels dated. It has good acting moments, one or two wise directorial choices, but I just don't see it as a classic or anything.

My rating for the film: 6.5/10. The final scene is completely wrong, and I just don't see what they were going for.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) (2nd time)

An aging, reclusive southern belle, plagued by a horrifying family secret, descends into madness after the arrival of a lost relative. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actress: Agnes Moorehead
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
Best Editing
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

The story behind this film is maybe much more interesting than the film itself; as you know, it was supposed to reteam real-life rivals Bette Davis & Joan Crawford, but Bette did all she could to push Joan away from the project, and got it her way. An entire soap opera behind it, and I recommend the trivia page on imdb for details.

I knew this was gonna be cheesy, with a feeling of B-series horror. I remembered it like that, but it actually proved much more satisfying. The second time around I learned to appreciate Agnes Moorehead's performance - I actually thought she was quite great as the loud-mouthed noisy housekeeper; it's overacting at its best. The screenplay is kinda messy, but Aldrich's directing is quite solid, something you wouldn't expect from a horror flick. Personally, I'm also a bit surprised Bette Davis didn't get nominated for this; sure, it's a performance gone to far at times, but it does have its highlight, and the field was pretty weak.

My rating for this film: 7.5/10. It's no Baby Jane, and I might be a bit too generous, but it does have its charm, for sure.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

At a big city Catholic school, Father O'Malley and Sister Benedict indulge in friendly rivalry, and succeed in extending the school through the gift of a building. [imdb]

Nominated for 8 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Leo McCarey
Best Actor: Bing Crosby
Best Actress: Ingrid Bergman
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
Best Editing
Best Sound (WINNER)

I usually like to put here the original poster of a film, but I just couldn't do that for Bells of St Mary's because it was way too ridiculous: the original one has Crosby & Bergman on it, but in street clothes, as if just coming home from dinner. :)) how silly is that, considering they stay in their priest / nun outfits during the entire film.

Also good to note that this is the first sequel to get nominated for Best Picture. It is, of course, the sequel of Going My Way, the film that had won way too many Oscars in the previous year, including Best Picture, Director & Actor. Considering I wasn't a fan of it (look for my review in the tags on the right), I had hoped that the new presence of Ingrid Bergman might bring a breath of fresh air and avoid another dull film. It succeeded in a way, but not completely.

Ingrid is fine, though the role could've been richer. Crosby, I thought, was actually better than in Going My Way, mostly because of the emotional scenes at the end. The biggest problem can be found in the screenplay which, sometimes predictably, goes for plenty of cheesy moments, mostly boring ones and any excuse to make Bing Crosby sing another song. I was actually well prepared to give it a 5 until the last 10 minutes, which completely changed the quality of the film; not only is Bergman fantastic in the end, but the screenplay finally brings some emotion to the leads.

My rating for the film: 7/10. Too bad it didn't make the right choices earlier that it did; but better than Going My Way, for sure.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Favorite Wife (1940)

Ellen Arden arrives 7 years after being given up for dead in a shipwreck, to find her husband Nick just remarried to Bianca. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Writing, Original Story
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White

I've seen this film of course because it had Cary Grant & Irene Dunne in it, because I've heard it was a romantic comedy, and I knew it would be easy to watch. And it proved easy to watch, but it sure didn't have the comedy that The Awful Truth gave. Leo McCarey produced this one, but didn't direct, though the direction is not its problem.

Unfortunately, the screenplay isn't that funny. It has a great idea, but doesn't know what to do with it. The film tries too much to be like The Awful Truth and it fails for most parts (the ending & the pretending scenes are practically reinterpretations from the 1937 comedy, but without that charm & freshness). Irene is wonderful, but Cary is completely unfocused. It could've been much much better.

My rating for the film: 6/10. A couple of kinda funny moments, but almost no laughs.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Tempest (2010)

Shakespeare's epic play is translated from page to screen, with the gender of the main character, Prospero, changed from male to female. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Costume Design

This was, I think, the only Oscar nominated film I didn't get to see in time for my annual AIM Awards. Having seen it now, I can't say I've missed too much, and it would've definitely not made any of my lists. With the major box-office failure of this, and the failure of Spider-Man on Broadway, 2010 really hasn't been much of a year for director Julie Taymor.

The Tempest sure has a style of its own, and I appreciated that. But the occasional flashy style and Ben Whishaw as Ariel, the spirit (he's unusually erotic with this performance) are the only elements of the film to go above average. Helen Mirren is ok, but the role is not challenging enough. And the worst is how boring the film is - I couldn't care less about the characters, and there's only so much of Shakesperean language I can take when there's no major plot to carry the weight.

And don't get me started on Sandy Powell's costumes... Sure, some are fabulous, but at one point the young man was wearing what looked like black jeans and undershirt... Really, Sandy, I know it's part fantasy, but why make him look so L.A.?!

My rating for the film: 3.5/10. A film I could definitely live without. They should make one all about Whishaw's spirit.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

The story revolves around a femme fatale who entraps a husband and commits several crimes motivated by her insane jealousy. [wiki]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:

Best Actress: Gene Tierney
Best Cinematography, Color (WINNER)
Best Art Direction, Color
Best Sound

According to Wikipedia, this film was Fox's highest-grossing picture of the 1940s, it got only positive reviews, it has 100% positive on Rotten Tomatoes and it's one of Martin Scorsese's favorite films... The only thing I can say is that all of them need a reality check. This is a film that hardly makes any sense, and that's because of the completely unjustified actions of the leading character.

While watching it I could only think: who wrote this?! Who actually believes that this woman would've deliberately done all those things. Don't tell me she's a psycho, that's not how the film presents it. SPOILER ALERT (though it happens in the first hour): What woman would kill her husband's younger brother just because she doesn't want him around, because she's too possessive?! Few things in this film make sense. Gene Tierney is not talented enough to make it coherent, the direction is ignorable, the cinematography is fine but not Oscar worthy; and I've seen 2 Cornel Wilde films in a week, and let's just say I'm not in the mood for more.

My rating for the film: 4/10. I'm being generous; it's easy to watch just because it's mediocre all around.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

The dramatic lives of trapeze artists, a clown, and an elephant trainer against a background of circus spectacle. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Best Writing, Story (WINNER)
Best Editing
Best Costume Design, Color

I'm continuing to see the Best Picture winners, and winner number 25 was Greatest Show on Earth, a film I've heard only bad things about. Many seem to consider it one of the worst to get Oscar's big prize, but as I always say: You've probably never seen Cavalcade. Anyway, I started watching it with low expectation and guess what: it's not a good film, but it's definitely not the least deserving. I can defend it by saying some of the scenes were entertaining and the film itself never annoyed me.

Its biggest problem is that it doesn't take itself seriously - sure, the costumes are fine, the art direction is good, the story has potential to be interesting, but the direction is lazy, the editing is sloppy and the film as a whole feels quite cheesy, and very dated today. Betty Hutton is a charismatic lead, while Gloria Grahame is definitely more interesting than in her Oscar-winning role in The Bad and the Beautiful. James Stewart gives a nice, low-key performance, while the big train scene at the end is nicely shot.

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. I hear all other 4 nominated film from that year were much more deserving. It's possible, I won't argue with that, I've only seen Moulin Rouge.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Valley of Decision (1945)

It tells the story of a young Irish house maid who falls in love with the son of her employer, a local steel mill owner. [wiki]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Greer Garson
Best Original Score

Finally a Greer Garson film without Walter Pidgeon as a co-star... this was one of Gregory Peck's first films, and what a chance starring opposite a star like Garson... who was also I think 12 years older than him... but the romance is not the biggest problem of Valley of Decision. The main thing I can accuse it of is that it has nothing special or surprising in the screenplay; it's a flat story, doesn't feel intelligent enough and it loses focus in the 2nd part.

The highlight of the film is the acting - no, not from the 2 leading stars, but from the strong supporting players. I don't understand how Hollywood legend Lionel Barrymore didn't get a nomination for this - he's GREAT as the angry, obsessed father of Mary; and has enough screentime and emotional shots to create a good performance. A young Jessica Tandy is also impressive as the female villain and Gladys Cooper does something I never seen her do before: she gets to play a gentle, kind, loving woman, which is very different from the roles she used to get.

My rating for the film: 5/10. OK to see for the acting, not for the story.

Friday, July 15, 2011

An American in Paris (1951)

A struggling American painter in Paris, is "discovered" by an influential heiress, while falling in love with a young French girl. [imdb]

Nominated for 8 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Vincente Minnelli
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Cinematography, Color (WINNER)
Best Music, Musical Picture (WINNER)
Best Editing
Best Art Direction, Color (WINNER)
Best Costume Design, Color (WINNER)

I am continuing my series of trying to watch all Best Picture winners, some for the first time. And that's how I got to winner number 24, An American in Paris, a musical I was never really interested in seeing. My instincts were right: had it not been for my dedication to the blog, I might have not bothered. It's not as bad as I make it sound, and definitely not the worst BP winner, but far from the top of the list.

Its biggest problem is that it has no humor; it also doesn't have any great songs. All that it has is good dancing, and a lot of it. The film is never really bad, just terribly boring until it gets closer to the end: I will admit I thought those 20 minutes of dancing moments were mostly nice. Not all, the one with Lautrec was ridiculous, but some were really ahead of their times and one cannot deny the great camera work. It sure helps the film redeem itself a bit. And Leslie Caron looks like a terrific ballerina; I was impressed. The acting lacks greatness, with Nina Foch being the only intriguing one.

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. I still feel like I'm giving it waaaaay to much. And no, no word on Kelly, we all know he's more of a dancer than an actor. The film certainly DIDN'T deserve the Best Picture win.

***Best Picture winner number 23rd, All About Eve, has been previously discussed: click HERE.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Love Letters (1945)

Allen Quinton writes a fellow soldier's love letters; tragedy results. Later, Allen meets a beautiful amnesiac who fears postmen. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:

Best Actress: Jennifer Jones
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White

I'm not sure if you have to be a romantic to like this film or just to ignore the big number of screenplay silly-choices and way-to-convenient solutions. I went through the film constantly surprised by how uninspired the writing is, and can you believe the screenplay was written by the (in)famous Ayn Rand? I would've expected much more. Sure, the subject is interesting, but it's very far from reaching its potential.

There's hardly any mystery going on, with the exception of the scenes towards the end, which are good, but spoiled by a fake-looking Hollywood ending. I generally couldn't care less. The acting is mediocre, even though Gladys Cooper has 2 good scenes as the adoptive mother.

My rating for the film: 4/10. Would only recommend it to Best Actress & Oscar fanatics, who'd see it no matter what.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mildred Pierce (1945) (2nd time)

After her husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce proves she can become independent and successful, but can't win the approval of her spoiled daughter. [imdb]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Actress: Joan Crawford (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actress: Eve Arden
Best Supporting Actress: Ann Blyth
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White

I was quite young when I saw Mildred Pierce on TCM one night, and I was really impressed by it. Now, many years later, I'm not as crazy about it as I used to be back then. It's easier to notice the flaws, but even so it remains an interesting film. It has a great leading role, and Joan Crawford delivers one of her classic performances, though also not as flawless as remembered.

The performances are ok, the direction is good and the cinematography special, definitely helping with the noir mood of the film. The one element stopping the film from being great is the screenplay, which feels very rushed at times, not exploiting enough scenes with a lot of dramatic potential. And it's a pitty, because you can tell there's a lot of juicy stuff here. But at one point it just becomes a succession of scenes and actions.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. I would've given it an 8, but Mildred lost Best Picture to The Lost Weekend, and that one got a 7.5 from me; so now I'm thinking that I'm not really sure if Mildred is a better film. They're very different.

It's worth mentioning that I've seen only 5 minutes of the Winslet mini-series, and have no clear intention of giving it a try; I hate the character Veda, so 5 hours of something that annoys me doesn't seem like much of a treat.

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

The dying words of a thief spark a madcap cross-country rush to find some treasure. [imdb]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:

Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
Best Editing
Best Sound
Best Sound Effects (WINNER)

I saw this film because I suspected I might find it to be entertaining - and it really was. And quite easy to watch for a film way longer than 2 hours. It's a wacky comedy that would probably never work today, but it sure seemed right for that era. It has a couple of boring parts, but also outloud funny scenes, and I love this kind of film chases.

Its biggest asset is the incredible stunt work - those guys who actually drove the cars did more than an impressive job. The acting is as fun as it gets for this kind of comedy - except for Spencer Tracy: sorry to say it, but he was quite bad here, maybe because of age, maybe because of not getting the silly rhythm of the story. The treasure performance for me: Ethel Merman who is crazy funny in the annoying mother-in-law kind of role.

My rating for the film: 7/10. Not always interesting, but easy to watch, with a satisfying feeling to it. I do recommend it for a light-comedy mood, despite the 7 I gave it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Predator (1987) (2nd time)

A team of commandos, on a mission in a Central American jungle, find themselves hunted by an extra-terrestrial warrior. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Visual Effects

For every heavy film, one must see a predator - either to appreciate the previous heavy film if that's the case OR just to relax his mind with something so silly it's entertaining. Predator was easy to watch, unfortunately it was far from being as good as I remembered it. The problem is not the excessive bloody-mood, but the ridiculous choices in the 2nd part.

Truth is: there should've been more Die Hard in the story. Predator starts out well, but it sure loses focus along the way, especially when Arnold is the last man standing. There were some really stupid choices in the screenplay, the monster walked like a guy in a costume and the screenplay solutions are above what's imaginable or partially reasonable. But guess what: even then it was easy to watch & captivating at times.

My rating for the film: 6/10. Mindless fun. But that Oscar nom: quite undeserved, the visual effects don't impress.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

7th Heaven (1927)

A street cleaner saves a young woman's life, and the pair slowly fall in love until war intervenes. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director, Dramatic Picture: Frank Borzage (WINNER)
Best Actress: Janet Gaynor (WINNER)
Best Writing, Adaptation (WINNER)
Best Art Direction

It's true, I might've had high expectations for this film, because people tend to write only good things about it, and it's easy to see it came very close to winning Best Picture on Oscar's 1st edition. As it usually happens, the film just didn't do it for me. It started nicely, with a good story and character introduction and the first half an hour or so really worked. But after that, for me it turned uxpectedly boring.

The problem is in the screenplay, which goes silly in the 2nd half: in one continuous scene Chico asks Diane to marry him, someone comes and tells Chico the war has just started and they have to leave in 15 minutes :))), Diane puts the wedding dress on, Chico informs Diane he has to go, they change vows, Chico leaves, 30 seconds later Diane is attacked by her abusive sister, Diane wins. All this in 15 minutes :D kills believability like you can't imagine and turns from romantic and easy-going into soap-opera that's hard to rally behind.

Janet Gaynor turns the little she has to do into something nice, but this is yet another Frank Borzage film that sinks in misogynism and often poor choices. It has its charm, that's for sure, but the story lacks consistency and I just can't justify the Writing & Director wins. I'm very happy Wings won Best Picture, because it's a far superior film.

My rating for the film: 6/10. Why do the fans ignore the major flaws?!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hey, guys! I'm on twitter now, because I'm tired of reading so much stuff and not being able to reply! :)

So tell me: who else is outthere. Let me know! :D

If interested, you can click on the right or just go at my link here:!/AlexInMovieland

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sadie Thompson (1928)

Sadie Thompson arrives in Pago-Pago on her way to a new life, but extremist missionary Davidson lashes out against her lifestyle. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actress: Gloria Swanson
Best Cinematography

The film seems to be considered today a great classic from the silent era. That's of course because of Gloria Swanson, and the much-deserved popularity that Sunset Blvd. has nowadays. I'm not gonna say Sadie is not a good film in some ways, and Gloria truly is wonderful to look at, but this is hardly a classic.

The attraction towards the film must come from the 2 leading performances. As I said, Gloria is quite likeable and gives a strong performance (she might've won had it not been for Janet's 3 different films) and just as intriguing is Lionel Barrymore, veteran Hollywood actor, very convincing as the fanatic missionary. Those who've seen it might recall that unforgettable devilish look in his eyes.

While it doesn't really have to do with judging the film, you might know that the last 8 minutes of Sadie Thompson are completely lost, and what they did was to recreate the ending using the screenplay and some production stills. It's a pitty, considering it was the ending above all and Gloria seemed to look smashing in the photos of the final scenes. But putting that aside, the ending itself is disappointing and doesn't live up to the tension created up to that point.

My rating for the film: 6.5/10. It has its good, intense moments, but misses opportunities just as often.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

All the King's Men (1949) (2nd time)

The rise and fall of a corrupt politician, who makes his friends richer and retains power by dint of a populist appeal. [imdb]

Nominated for 7 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Robert Rossen
Best Actor: Broderick Crawford (WINNER)
Best Supporting Actor: John Ireland
Best Supporting Actress: Mercedes McCambridge (WINNER)
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Editing

I would've probably not have seen this again, had it not been for my desire to catch up (again) with all Best Picture winners and write about them here. It's been a very VERY slow project, but it's rewarding in its own way. For example, I discovered that All the King's Men is not as ok as I remembered it to be: it's actually messy and inconsistent in many ways.

The highlights are the 2 Oscar winning performances, especially Crawford's - he's very energetic and convincing in the role, a scene stealer and way above his acting company. Mercedes is also fine, though seeing all nominees from her category, I might say one of the ladies from Pinky would've made for a worthier winner.

The lowest points in this film come from the screenplay which has no focus on dialogue or character motivations and, of course, the acting of some of the cast members. John Ireland is actually a co-lead and he was nominated for an Oscar here, but it's gotta be one of the WORST acting nominees I had ever seen. He brings nothing to the character, nor to the film, he just floats around with no ability for emotion. Also, the actress playing Anne Stanton: awful.

My rating for the film: 6/10. The beginning is much much better than the second half; and someone should've taken the Costume Designer aside: I've never seen such poorly fitted clothes in a film.

Special Best Picture Ranking

Once every film decade, I update this list. I hope it will go a bit faster from now on. :) In bold, the Best Picture winners of the 40s. Some predictable love (Casablanca), some very low-ranked shockers (Best Years... , Hamlet). To get to them, look for the film's name on the Tag list on the right.

There we go:

1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
2. Casablanca (1943*)
3. Rebecca (1940)
4. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
5. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
6. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
7. Wings (1927-1928)
8. Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
9. It Happened One Night (1934)
10. You Can't Take It With You (1938)
11. The Lost Weekend (1945)
12. Grand Hotel (1932)
13. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
14. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
15. All the King's Men (1949)
16. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
17. Going My Way (1944)
18. Hamlet (1948)
19. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
20. The Broadway Melody (1929)
21. Cimarron (1931)
22. Cavalcade (1933)

Is there anyone who doesn't think Casablanca is the best of the 40s winners?!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

She Done Him Wrong (1933)

New York singer and nightclub owner Lady Lou has more men friends than you can imagine. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Picture

This film was a delight and it opened my appetite for Mae West and her work - unfortunately, she didn't get to do as many films as she would've wanted. Boy, was she something; no one came close in matching the combination of outrageous and classy and feminine.

Of course, she was a better writer than an actress and that applies to She Done Him Wrong too. The film is just 66 minutes long (making it the shortest film ever nominated for Best Picture), so we don't get to see enough of Mae. But when she's on screen, it's hard to match that dialogue. Her lines are always funny, smart, seductive.

I didn't care too much about the supporting cast, Cary Grant included - trivia break: Mae discovered him while looking through the window and she cast him in this film, his big breakthrough. The direction itself is shaky. But I can't be tough on this film, it's ahead of its time in many ways.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. Why don't you come up some time and see me? I'm home every evening. :))

Outside the Law (2010)

A drama about the Algerian struggle for independence from France after WWII. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Foreign Language Film: Algeria

There are so many bad things to say about this film, I have to take a deep breath before starting. First of all, allow me to be shocked that THIS made the list of 5 nominees for Foreign Language Film - do we need a bigger proof the system is flawed? Who from the committee sat through 135 minutes of this film and thought: I want Outside the Law to be nominated because it's so good?!

Don't get me wrong: it's not Country Strong bad, which takes the crown by far. But at least there was some unintentional humor with that one and I was curious how bad the screenplay will continue to be... With this one is pure boredom. Maybe one good scene, but boring boring boring.

Its biggest sin: it takes itself too seriously. Also, it's completely narrow in perspective, anti-French till it becomes ridiculous, historically inaccurate, old fashioned and not in a good way, filled with silly writing, directed in an amateurish way, cheesy and much more. Ok cinematography and maybe one good performance, but otherwise from messy to mediocre.

My rating for the film: 3/10. Too generous am I. The nomination is a sad shocker.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

In 1930s New Jersey, a movie character walks off the screen and into the real world. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Original Screenplay

In bed with high fever again, so it seemed like a good opportunity to sit and watch a classic. The Purple Rose of Cairo was the only BIG Woody Allen film I never saw, so I kept it there because I knew it would be special, and I just wanted to save one from his good ol'days. The film is a great achievement in many ways, but maybe not my type of film.

On the good side: the direction which is creative, impressive, and also the dialogue with a lot of smart one-liners. I know there are many people who think it's his best: it wouldn't really get close to a top 5 for me, because I just couldn't fully connect to it and the silliness. I loved the scenes in the movie, but the real-life just felt flat at times. I also am not a fan of the ending, even thought I can guess what he was going for.

Mia Farrow gives a good performance, not the year's best, but she sure gets the character and as always works out well with delicious, complicated dialogue. Jeff Daniels is just fine, and I loved the supporting players: Dianne Wiest, plus all those actors in the film.

It's ridiculous to have Witness win Original Screenplay, with both Purple and Back to the Future way better. I have yet to see Brazil and The Official Story - but I suspect them to be interesting and highly creative.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. A must-see, but give me Annie Hall, Interiors or Husbands and Wives over this.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Biutiful (2010)

Connected with the afterlife, Uxbal is a tragic hero and father of two who's sensing the danger of death. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Actor: Javier Bardem
Best Foreign Language Film: Mexico

First of all, why was this film nominated for Mexico, when it all takes place in Spain? I get it: the director is Mexican, but otherwise there's hardly a connection. On the film itself: it's a special one that I'm sure it gets better in time. I understand why some don't like it, but I fell for it, especially for the second half.

Javier Bardem is, of course, fantastic! He starts on the right foot giving a subtle, quiet performance that turns spectacular as we're heading towards the end. There's a scene with him giving the two magic stones to his children - really touching and emotional and beautifully acted. The film itself is slow at first, but after the first hour I was really engaged. Inarritu does a good job afterall, with an incredible care for details; the cinematography also stands out.

My rating for the film: 8/10. The scenes with the wife were uncomfortable, I wish there were less of those.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Barney's Version (2010)

The story of the politically incorrect, fully lived life of the impulsive, irascible and fearlessly blunt Barney Panofsky. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Makeup

The films I have to see to stay connected to Oscar... :) I'm exagerating a bit, Barney's Version is not one of the year's worst. But I would've probably not have given it 130 minutes of my life. It has its good moments, but it's really uneven throughout, going from bad to fine, from mediocre comedy to sometimes relevant drama.

I don't think the Oscar nomination for makeup is worthy, there were notable mistakes especially is Rosamund's aging makeup. Its other big award recognition was the Golden Globe win (Comedy/Musical) for Giamatti: it seemed like a pretty weak category in the funny department and I'm sure he won more for the dramatic scenes (which is called cheating!) than for the more funny ones which are rather superficial. And he does give a good performance, but boy is that character dislikeable. There's always a problem when I don't give a damn if my lead character lives or dies, is happy or not.

Dustin Hoffman is a scene-stealer, in a small but very effective role. Rosamund has her good moments but nothing terrific, while Minnie brings the comedy to the film. There are some bad casting choices with the grown-up kids, the direction is shaky: never deciding if we're seeing a comedy, a drama, switching too suddenly from one register to another. But there are also a couple of key scenes that do feel powerful: if I'd mention them, I'd spoil the story...

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. It needed a better grip on the story, and I could never really call myself a Paul Giamatti fan, even when I admit his successes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Incendies (2010)

A mother's last wishes send twins Jeanne and Simon on a journey to Middle East in search of their tangled roots. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Foreign Language Film (Canada)

I've actually seen this film days ago, but because it's so difficult to rate and because I had little free time, I had to postpone writing about it. Incendies is quite an unusual film and it gives me stuff to think about: what the hell was going on with this year's Best Foreign Language Film category?! I didn't think I'd see something more outrageous than in Dogtooth... :)

The idea in Incendies is a great one, but the subject is poorly developed; even so, it would make for a good film, if it weren't for the biggest WHAT THE F*UCK moment of them all. Those who've seen it know I'm talking about "the twist" - I myself thought it would be too kinky to be used, but they went there. Even if we put that aside, it's something so hard to believe that it destoys any believability from there on. This is because the biggest problem with Incendies has to be the casting; it's the WORST casting I've seen in a while because it completely takes away from the believability of the story (those who've seen it know I'm taking about the age of some actors).

My rating for the film: 7/10. 7 was randomly chosen. The film has a couple of powerful scenes, the idea is great, but bad casting caused by bad directorial decisions make for a messy ending.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Street Angel (1928)

A woman on the run from the law finds her past catching up to her just as she is on the verge of true happiness. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 (1+2) Oscars:

Best Actress: Janet Gaynor (for 1928) (WINNER)
Best Cinematography (for 1929)
Best Art Direction (for 1929)

I'm looking at the official poster on the right: the girl there looks nothing like Janet Gaynor :)) oh, Hollywood, using "photoshop" even back then. :) Getting back to the film: this is of course one of the 3 films for which Janet collectively won Best Actress in Oscar's first edition. I have no idea why the film was also nominated for 2 categories in the following year, but those mentionings are worthy.

The cinematography and the art direction are both quite interesting, especially the set decoration which is efficiently used to tell the story. Frank Borzage also directed the big hit of 1928: 7th Heaven - also starring Janet, and I'm very anxious to see that one. Street Angel makes for no big breakthrough in silent films and it's mostly carried by Miss Gaynor lovely emotional performance and the incredible use of music, with a very distinctive main theme. The story could've been worse, but it's really her charm that makes the film a bit more believable and attractive to the audience.

My rating for the film: 6.5/10. Its biggest problem is the general misogynistic tone of the story.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Death on the Nile (1978)

A murder is committed on a Nile steamer, but Hercule Poirot is on board to discover who did it. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Costume Design (WINNER)

This was mostly campaigned as connected to Murder on the Orient Express (1974); even the poster wears a striking resemblance. Yet, while Murder itself is not considered a great success, this one is even less. What it does share with its Agatha Christie predecessor is a just-as-impressive allstar cast: Peter Ustinov, David Niven, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, George Kennedy and a couple more names.

As a murder mystery, it's a weak film. It's not that well directed, the screenplay is shaky and I guessed who the killer was as soon as the first murder happened. That's not because I'm a genius at such things, but because all the others were too less-striking to earn the title of the murderer. The performances are ok, none spectacular (Lansbury is the highlight) and the costume design win is pretty worthy. Bette Davis was fine, but she had already reached the age where she lost a bit of her acting hunger.

My rating for the film: 5/10. Nice to see the actors together, but not an interesting film.

A Ship Comes In (1928)

It tells the story of a family of immigrants coming to the United States. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar
Best Actress: Louise Dresser

Not much to say about this film, nominated in Oscar's first edition. It's a silent film with a lot of clichés, no character development, no interesting plot, just a series of actions and the way the characters are reacting.

Watching it nowadays, it's difficult to sit through, because, unlike Sunrise or Wings, it brings nothing interesting to the table. Louise Dresser gives a short, ok performance mostly based on the intelligence in her eyes and not on anything that the screenplay might offer her.

My rating for the film: 3/10. Recommended to Oscar fans only.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Way Back (2010)

During WWII, Siberian gulag escapees walk 4000 miles overland to freedom in India. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Makeup

In the summer of 2010 people were already talking about this film. I myself thought at that time that, based on what we knew about it, it was a serious contender for Best Picture and Best Director. I had it for months on my prediction chart, but as nobody was picking it up, embracing it, etc, it just faded away. In the end it scored a Makeup nomination, and might I say a worthy one.

But it wasn't just the poor film distribution/campaign stopping The Way Back from making it big at the Oscars. It was also its poor quality to blame for the lack of success. I didn't like it. I might've enjoyed short scenes and some beautiful landscape, but I thought overall it was messy. Peter Weir is a good director, sometimes an incredible director, but definitely not successful as a writer. The dialogue is plain stupid at times, there are some casting mistakes and simply put the film just goes nowhere.

I thought Jim Sturgess's performance was awful at times and one of the 2 Romanian actors didn't do great either. Harris is fine, Saoirse is ok, Colin is cool - but nobody is great. And also: this film would've been much better in Russian; it feels confused and undecided and it lacks believability everytime the actors open their mouths and throw in some silly accents.

My rating for the film: 4.5/10. Way too long.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dogtooth (2010)

A husband and wife keep their teenage children imprisoned on their property, creating an alternative, abusive reality for them. [wiki]

Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Foreign Language Film: Greece

As some of you might remember, I have a special relationship with Greece, as I had lived here for a while and I still come with work once every couple of months (actually, as I'm writing, I'm in Athens for 2 weeks). So I was hesitant to see Dogtooth, first because it's my first Greek film (and what a way to start) and mostly because I had heard of the controversy surrounding it and I didn't want to completely tear it apart, because of the respect I have for the people here - who were super excited it got nominated.

I was happy to discover it is not that bad. Dogtooth is a pretentious, arrogant, in many ways imature film, with a subject that will definitely not please everybody. On the bad side there's also the screenplay - taken too far and for no real reason, the ending which could've been much more powerful and, most of all, the unnecessary nudity. Keep in mind: it's not a film to watch with your parents: lots of vaginas, breasts, a penis in erection, and other forms of nudity. :) Also, an explicit sex scene which I suspect wasn't even simulated or acted. Why do I have a problem with this?! Because I don't think big-screen films should make you either horny or show excessive, unnecessary-for-the-story nudity just in an attempts to shock - for that we have porn. I don't want to be distracted while I'm focusing on a serious, cinema-related film.

On the good side: well, the direction. This guy is a much better director than a writer. Sure, he needs to tone it down a bit, stop showing off, but I swear: there's at least a scene I have no idea how he managed to film it!!! Either there was real torture involved, or he has a technique that is terribly surprising at times - those who've seen it probably know I'm referring to the dogtooth scene towards the end. How did he make it so real? Visual effects maybe? No idea.

My rating for the film: 7/10. Because it makes no sense at times, but it surprises in others. I will remember it more than I'll remember In a Better World, but I'm lowering the grade as I was annoyed by the nudity.