Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Emigrants (1971/72)

The story of a family in the middle of 19th century rural Sweden, as they decide to emigrate to the U.S.

Nominated for 5 Oscars:
As a 1971 film:
Best Foreign Language Film (Sweden)
As a 1972 film:
Best Picture
Best Director: Jan Troell
Best Actress: Liv Ullmann
Best Adapted Screenplay
This film contributes to one of those weird cases where the Academy acknowledged a Foreign Language film in two different years (first, as sent over by its country; secondly, by its American release date). This doesn't happen nowadays.
It's a damn good film, if you have the patience for it. It's well written, nicely put together, with a really strong ensemble performance. Liv got her first Oscar nomination for this - ironically, NOT for an Ingmar Bergman film. She's good, but just a part of the ensemble. It sure made me curious about its sequel, which I'll definitely see at some point.
My rating for the film: 8.5/10. Its Oscar nominations are both worthy and impressive, judging this is only a foreign language film. But voters really stood by quality back in the '70s, regardless where it came from.

Travels with My Aunt (1972) (2nd time)

At his mother's funeral, stuffy bank clerk Henry Pulling meets his Aunt Augusta, an elderly eccentric with more-than-shady dealings. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:
Best Actress: Maggie Smith
Best Cinematography
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design (WINNER)
People love hating this, and I kind of understand why, since it's not a deep, meaningful film. It's a silly "comedy" with a screenplay that fails oh-so-many times. But when it gets a bit screwball, it almost works and I just couldn't be upset with it. It's light, it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not.
Much has been said about Maggie not being right for the part. I have less of an issue with that, since the makeup is good, and there are reasons to cast someone that might cover different decades. 
My rating for the film: 5.5/10. Silly film, but I wasn't offended.

Sounder (1972)

The son of a family of black sharecroppers comes of age in the Depression-era South after his father is imprisoned for stealing food. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:
Best Picture

Best Actor: Paul Winfield
Best Actress: Cicely Tyson
Best Adapted Screenplay

I expected this film to be good. If not great, then to deliver a compelling story. I knew little about the subject. But it was surprisingly boring, uneventful, almost naive. The problem is in the screenplay, which doesn't offer a platform for its actors to shine, keeps a strange rhythm and never got me excited about anything.

Much praise has been given to Cicely Tyson for her performance, and I can't quite agree. I felt the maturity of the actress, it's all in the eyes, but then so little on screen (not just the screentime, but her presence inside a scene). Paul Winfield nomination itself is rather difficult to explain.

My rating for the film: 5/10. An unworthy Best Picture nominee in an otherwise landmark year.

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

The story of the troubled life and career of the legendaryJazz singer, Billie Holiday. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:
Best Actress: Diana Ross
Best Original Screenplay
Best Music, Original Song Score and/or Adaptation
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
The longest, dullest film you could imagine. The camera is always on Diana Ross (visibly lacking acting experience), but to what good? Her acting decisions are mostly poor, taken to extremes by the poor directing choices and a mess of a screenplay.
There are some songs that are ok, but they can't make up for the unfocused, uncharismatic biopic this is.

My rating for the film: 3.5/10. Whatever.