Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

I've taken the last two months off the movie watching scene.  It's not that I've abandoned my project, I've just grown momentarily tired of great movies. 

This week I'm house sitting for a home that has a movie theater in the basement.  There are three framed movie posters in the theater.  The Sound of Music, Forrest Gump, and Rocky.  All Oscar winners, all movies I've yet to watch this year.  It's like the universe is sending hints my way.

So I'm back.  Watch out movie making world.  I'm back with my discriminating eye and biting tounge. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Movie Trailers

One of my favorite parts of this project is watching the movie trailers, especially for the older movies, before I watch the film.  I think it's interesting to see how the movie was marketed and the trailers usually get me excited to watch the film.

Thanks to the power of YouTube, I'm adding movie trailers to each post when possible.  I've gone back and added them for the movies I've already written about.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver (1942) is the first movie of the 1940s that I watched for the 365 Oscar Project and it definitely felt quintessentially 40s. The movie was made as a piece of World War II propaganda to entice the United States to join the war against Nazism and was advertised as the best movie ever made. Now, I wouldn’t go that far but it was a very good movie.

Mrs. Kay Miniver, the movie’s namesake, is the matriarch of a middle class British family. Well, they claim to be middle class at the beginning of the movie, but they do have a HUGE house and no less than three servants. Kay spends her days shopping and her husband Clem is a successful architect. They have three children Judy and Toby who are younger and Vin who is studying at Oxford. They live in a quiet village – the kind that has flower shows and glee clubs.

Mrs. Miniver is friendly with Mr. Ballard, a man who works at the train station in town. He grew a beautiful rose that he is going to enter into the annual Thames Valley Flower Show. He asks permission to name the rose after Mrs. Miniver, a sign that she is a beautiful and well-loved woman around town.

Vin returns from Oxford and is visiting at home with his parents when Carol Beldon, a young woman from the village, stops by to speak with Mrs. Miniver. She is the granddaughter of Lady Beldon, an older wealthy woman who has never lost the Themes Valley Flower Show. Carol’s hope is that Mrs. Miniver will ask Mr. Ballard to withdraw his rose. Mrs. Miniver won’t, but Carol’s trip isn’t in vein, as she and Vin hit it off.

Eight months pass and war begins in Britain. Vin joins the Royal Air Force, but has promised Carol his heart. The Miniver’s make a few minor adjustments for the war (dark curtains, building a bomb shelter) but they have yet to truly take the war seriously. Vin returns home one night and visits his family. He proposes marriage to Carol and only a few minutes after she accepts his proposal, he is called back to the Royal Air Force. Clem, who is a member of the Themes River Patrol, is called away in the middle of the night. Clem and the other men are annoyed at having to take to their boats, but they soon begin to take the war seriously when they learn they need to take their boats to France to rescue thousands of stranded British soldiers.

Kay wakes up the next morning and takes a walk around the house. She stumbles upon a wounded German soldier. He forces her into the house at gunpoint and demands food and milk. He eventually passes out from blood loss and Kay calls the police and takes his gun. The police come and take the man away. Much like her husband’s experience on the Themes River, Kay is now beginning to understand the seriousness of the war.

Shortly after, Vin returns home married to Carol. They move into the Miniver house, which has been badly damaged by German Air Raids. While they are home, the couple and Mrs. Miniver attend the Themes Valley Flower Show. Mr. Ballard is awarded the grand prize for his rose, the Mrs. Miniver. During the flower show the Air Raid siren goes off. Mrs. Miniver, Carol, and Vin ride to the Air Force base to drop Vin off for duty. Carol is wounded and dies shortly after. Vin returns home a few days later to attend Carol’s funeral.

The best part of the movie is the last few minutes. During Carol’s funeral the pastor gives a rousing speech about how this war is the people’s war and we all must fight. I’ve reprinted it below.

We, in this quiet corner of England, have suffered the loss of friends very dear to us - some close to this church: George West, choir boy; James Bellard, station master and bell ringer and a proud winner, only one hour before his death, of the Belding Cup for his beautiful Miniver rose; and our hearts go out in sympathy to the two families who share the cruel loss of a young girl who was married at this altar only two weeks ago. The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There is scarcely a household that hasn't been struck to the heart. And why? Surely you must have asked yourself this question. Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness. Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed? I shall tell you why. Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is a war of the people, of all the people, and it must be fought not only on the battlefield, but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home, and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom! Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves and those who come after us from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the people's war! It is our war! We are the fighters! Fight it then! Fight it with all that is in us, and may God defend the right.

Here's the trailer for Mrs. Miniver.

Mrs. Miniver’s director, William Wyler, joined the US Army after making this movie. After having been to war, he said that Mrs. Miniver was too soft a depiction of actual war.

This movie was the first to ever be nominated for five acting Academy Awards. Greer Garson, who played Mrs. Miniver, gave the longest acceptance speech in Oscar history, a whooping 5 and a half minutes. The last piece of trivia – Greer Garson (Mrs. Miniver) and Richard Ney (Vincent Miniver) got married after making this film. Kinda gross since she played his mom.

The Miniver Story (1950) was the sequel to this Oscar winner, but it bombed.

I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. Unfortunately, I found it more charming than anti-war. I think I’ve watched Saving Private Ryan too many times, which sort of tainted my ability to feel anything towards war that isn’t bloody.

Three out of five statuettes from me.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

An Open Letter to Oscar Winners, Part One

Dear Best Picture Oscar Winners,

Why must you all be so freaking long?  Of the twelve films I've watched to date, the average length is 132 minutes. 

What's worse is that most of you actually feel that long.  That's not a compliment.

You'd think Best Picture winners would have decent editors.

It takes a lot to prepare myself for these epic films, throw me a bone once in a while. 

A film under 100 minutes doesn't make it bad, I promise.

Annie Hall, please disregard this note.  You're off the hook since you only lasted 93 glorious minutes. 



Cimarron (1931)

Throughout my Oscar journey I’ve watched many movies I’d never seen, and a few I’d never heard of before. But Cimarron (1931) was the first Academy Award winner I’ve watched that I’d never seen, never heard of, and didn’t understand the meaning of the title. Come to find out, Cimarron is the name for an area of land in modern-day Oklahoma. Which makes complete sense, as the movie is set in Oklahoma. It’s also, coincidently, the name of the main character’s son.

I can’t say that I enjoyed Cimarron. In fact, I spent the entire movie trying to think of just one reason to give it one statuette.

The movie begins with the Oklahoma land rush of 1889. Yancey Cravat is a young lawyer and journalist who wears way too much makeup throughout the entire movie. It’s incredibly distracting. Anyway, he’s in Oklahoma at the beginning of the rush. He knows exactly what piece of land he wants, but is outsmarted by a prostitute looking for a new start. He returns to Kansas where his wife, Sabra, and his young son Cim. He decides to move his family to the booming town of Osage to start a newspaper. Their young African-American servant comes along for the ride as well. More on that later.

Yancey has quite the reputation (and not just for wearing makeup) so the good people of Osage ask him to run their church. During the service, he shoots a guy that he suspects killed the last news paper editor. No one seems particularly bothered about the killing.

The movie skips a year, and we see that the Cravat clan has grown to include a baby daughter, Donna. One day when Donna is an infant, a particularly nasty bank robber named ‘The Kid’ rides into town. After a gun fight Yancey kills him. He’s offered hundreds of dollars in reward, but refuses to take it.

In 1893 President Roosevelt opens up more Oklahoma land for the taking, and Yancey leaves his family in search of a new life. He promises to write, but he doesn’t. Sabra is left alone to run the newspaper and the family. Yancey returns five years later as if nothing had happened, essentially. The day he returns the prostitute from the beginning of the movie (her name is Dixie, I think) is going to trial with hopes that she’ll be run out of town. Yancey decides to defend her, despite the fact his wife Sabra was the one who brought up charges against Dixie. After some quick talking Yancey convinces the court to drop charges. Sabra is understandably upset. I mean, your husband disappears for five years, comes home, and defends a prostitute? I’d be mad too!

The movie moves to 1907 and Oklahoma is officially a state. Oil has been discovered and Yancey is running for Governor. Many in the town want him to devise a plan to trick the Native Americans out of their land, so the townsmen can have the oil profits. Yancey refuses and writes an editorial in the paper defending Native American rights. Sabra is appalled but Yancey prints the piece anyway. He says that one day she will be proud of what he has written.

The movie jumps to the 40th anniversary of the newspaper. Yancey has been gone for many years and Sabra is running the paper. For the anniversary she re-runs the editorial Yancey wrote on Native American rights. She’s just been elected to Congress and there is a lunch in her honor. Her grown children attend, but not Yancey. After lunch Sabra takes the visiting Congressmen from Washington D.C. to the oil fields. When they arrive there is a terrible accident and one of the oil workers is injured. Sabra learns that it is Yancey and runs to him. She holds him as he dies.

The movie ends with the unveiling of a statue in honor of the frontiersmen. The statue is of Yancey Cravat.


One cool piece of trivia is regarding the scene I've posted below.  It took one week, 5,000 extras, and 28 cameramen to film it. That's a big deal for back in the day.

Now some thoughts on the treatment of minorities in this film. The movie is blatantly racist against African Americans. It even goes as far as making a watermelon joke. Yeah, it’s bad. But Yancey’s defense of the Native Americans seems rather progressive. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, this movie is so old and dated it’s almost funny to watch at times. It did not age well.

It was the second film Irene Dunn was in, though she is virtually unrecognizable as Sabra. The movies was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three.

I seriously will never watch this movie again and I will probably forget it ever won an Oscar. No statuettes from me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

The first time I watched Million Dollar Baby (2004) and he’s got a serious problem with Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank (he thinks Clint is a terrible actor and Hillary looks like a man – which could be due to the fact we’ve seen Boys Don’t Cry at least five times), so needless to say, I was unable to truly enjoy this piece of film. But because he moaned and bitched through the entire movie, I was able to watch it for the 365 Oscar Project like I had never seen it before. I wasn’t too excited to watch a movie about boxing, but this movie really wasn’t about boxing at all. The story of the two main characters really helped me through the nearly two and a half hour epic. Plus, who wouldn’t want to watch a movie narrated by Morgan Freeman? He’s FABULOUS.

Okay, so the movie tells the story of Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) who is a semi-washed up boxing coach with one star pupil left. He runs a pretty crappy looking gym where Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), a former boxer, works as a janitor. Scrap-Iron was injured in his 109th fight, causing him to lose his eyesight in one eye. Frankie feels guilty that he didn’t stop Scrap-Iron from fighting, which is why he lets him work and live at the gym.

Those that practice at the gym are a pretty rag-tag group of young men and one woman, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank). Maggie is an incredibly poor waitress that comes from a very poor family. She’s just a girl with a dream. She’s 31, which Franking thinks is too old for a woman fighter. When Frankie loses his star fighter he decides to take Maggie on despite his reservations to train a woman. His insistence that women can’t fight is actually quite insulting now that I think about it.

Throughout the movie we learn that there’s something strange and sad about Frankie. We see multiple boxes in his closet full of ‘return to sender’ letters that he has written to his daughter Kate. He also goes to church every day and while the movie never straight out tells the view why he does this, it’s implied that he has some sort of guilt built up surrounding his daughter.

Maggie doesn’t have a dad. Can you see where this is going?

Maggie turns out to be a pretty darn good fighter with Frankie’s help and the two form a relationship that a blind man could have seen coming 100 miles away. They eat lemon meringue pie together and talk about life. Maggie tells a story about her father and how he put her childhood dog out of its misery after it got sick. It’s really touching.

Maggie begins begging Frankie to get her a title fight. He is resistant to the idea, but finally gives in. Maggie fights this really nasty, mean looking woman and takes a nasty blow to her neck. Her spine is permanently injured, leaving her paralyzed.

Frankie takes care of Maggie each and every day and tries to find a doctor that can heal her. Unfortunately, nothing can be done. Maggie is placed into a nursing home. Her deadbeat mother comes to see her once and attempts to get Maggie to sign a power of attorney, which would leave her money to her mother if she died. Maggie tells her to piss off and Frankie becomes the only family she has.

Maggie becomes incredibly depressed and bites her tongue, hoping she’ll bleed to death. (Can the tongue bleed that much? I’m skeptical.) She asks Frankie if he remembers the story she told him about her father putting her childhood dog down (and you can hear the audience gasp as they realize how this whole movie is going to end). Frankie ponders the idea of what truly living means, and in the end decides to help Maggie die. He calls her “my darling”, the Irish phrase he had written on the back of her boxing robe, and gives her a shot of adrenaline. She dies. Whoa, heavy.

Scrap-Iron returns as the narrator and we learn that he has been writing a letter to Katie, Frankie’s daughter, telling her the story of Frankie and Maggie. He says that Frankie never returned to the gym and that he just wanted Katie to know what kind of guy her father was. The last shot of the movie is Frankie eating lemon meringue pie.

I watched this movie when Mother Nature had brought my monthly gift, and let me tell you, it DEVISTATED me. I cried for a week. Just a warning for all you sensitive ladies out there.

Here's the trailer for Million Dollar Baby.  Again, who wouldn't want to watch this movie after hearing Morgan Freeman's voice?

Million Dollar Baby was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture, Best Director (Clint Eastwood), Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman), and Best Actress (Hillary Swank).

If you’re looking for a well acted tear-jerker about loyalty, I highly recommend Million Dollar Baby. I give it four statuettes out of five. Well played, Clint, well played.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Titanic (1997)

I was 12 when Titanic (1997) premiered. I saw the movie four times in the theatre and multiple more times once it came out on video. But after I turned 14, I turned my back on Titanic and didn’t watch the movie again until I began this project. I was not excited to watch it again, but I was hooked as soon as I saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s eyes (incidentally, the same thing that caused me to drop $40 of hard earn allowance money on tickets the first time around).

We all know the story (unless you were under a rock throughout the late 1990’s and even if you were the only person never to have viewed the film, you should still know how it ends), so I’ll keep the recap brief.

Bill Paxton (pre-polygamy days) is a high-tech grave robber who is attempting to find a giant blue diamond necklace that is assumed to have gone down with the Titanic. Instead he finds a nudie drawing of a hot chick who is now 100 years old. She sees the drawing on the local news (who knew they could show drawn boobs?) and she calls up Bill Paxton. The next day she, her granddaughter (played by James Cameron’s wife) and her dog are aboard Bill’s boat. She begins telling the story of her trip in the Titanic, which throws us back in time to 1912.

Rose is a wealthy red head who is engaged to an asshole. They (along with Rose’s overbearing mother) are taking a trip back to the USA on the Titanic. Leonardo DiCaprio, or Jack, as he is known in this film, wins Titanic tickets in a poker game. They meet one night after Rose tries to jump overboard (she doesn’t like being rich or engaged to a rich guy or something). Jack stops Rose from committing suicide and the two become close. He shows her a good time boozing and dancing in steerage and her fiancée gets really upset. To win her love back he gives her a giant blue diamond necklace shaped like a heart. She doesn’t really like it, so she runs off with Jack (as much as one can “run off” on a ship). She asks Jack, who is an artist, to draw her naked wearing only her necklace. After that they do it in a car (I know you remember the steamed up windows with the hand print).

Their sex in a car causes the Titanic to hit an iceberg. The boat doesn’t have enough lifeboats, so only the wealthy women and children get off the sinking ship. Rose decides to stay with Jack and after about an hour of wondering when these people are going to drown, the boat goes down. Jack and Rose hold hands, vowing to ‘never let go’. Jack dies, Rose gets saved. On the rescue ship she almost runs into her old fiancée, but covers her face so he can’t see her. She changes her name to “Rose Dawson” taking Jack’s last name.

The movie ends with old lady Rose throwing the diamond necklace into the water. Oh yeah, then that Celine Dion song about her heart going on plays over the credits.

There we go. Four hours in three paragraphs.

In case you forgot why you were so excited to see this movie in 1997, here's the trailer.

Titanic was nominated for 14 Oscars and won 11 of them. According to AFI, Titanic is the 83rd Best Movie of All Time (2007 list), My Heart Will Go On is the 14th Best Song from a Movie, and Jack’s line “I’m the King of the World!” is the 100th Best Line of All Time.

Titanic will be re-released in 3D in 2011, so get excited.

While this movie took me back to my tween days, I’m not as much of a fan as I used to be. Titanic gets three statuettes out of five from me, and two of those belong to Leonardo DiCaprio’s eyes.