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.