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.