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.

Annie Hall (1977)

I’ve felt guilty about never watching Annie Hall (1977) my entire life. I feel like I’ve never lived a year without someone saying, “You’ve never seen Annie Hall? You’d love it, you’ve got to watch it.” It even arrived at my home via Netflix once, but my husband didn’t have any desire to watch it, so it was returned, unwatched. So when it arrived for a second time I opened it immediately, climbed into bed and hit play. And I will admit, it was pretty fabulous. Definitely a movie I should have seen years ago, or at least last October when Netflix sent it the first time.

Annie Hall also took my Woody Allen virginity, and I’ll say, I’m pretty excited to climb back in the sack with him again.

Annie Hall is the story of a neurotic Jewish comic, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), who lives in New York City. After two failed marriages, he falls in love with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). They meet through a mutual friend at a tennis match and Annie invites Alvy up to her apartment for a glass of wine. They couldn’t be more different, he sees a shrink three times a week, she smokes grass before every sexual encounter. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, she’s from rural Wisconsin. He’s obsessed with death and on one of their first dates he purchases her two books on death, she’s an untrained singer that likes to moonlight at Open Mic Nights. You can see where this is going, right? Alvy tells her that she’s not smart and pushes her into taking college classes. She does and begins a relationship with her professor. Alvy and Annie break up. He goes out with another girl (Shelley Duvall, who I recognized from The Shining). Annie calls Alvy one night and he comes to her apartment to kill a spider. Annie begins to cry and tells Alvy she misses him. The couple reunites.

Things are fine between the couple for awhile. But eventually old problems return. Annie begins seeing a therapist and confides in her that things between her and Alvy aren’t working. Alvy confides the same to his therapist. The couple flies to California (a state which Alvy despises) so Alvy can present an award on television. Annie likes L.A., and at a house party she meets up with Tony Lacey, a music producer (played by Paul Simon). Alvy and Annie split up and Annie moves to California. Alvy misses Annie terribly and flies to L.A. to see her. They meet at an organic food restaurant (which Alvy obviously loathes) and sees that Annie is happy in California. He returns to New York, writes a play about their relationship, but edits the ending so the pair end up together. Alvy tells us that he and Annie are now friends, and that even though the relationship was painful, it was worth it all in the end.

The movie is incredibly funny and by far one of the most entertaining Oscar winners I’ve seen. It’s full of great one liners (“My grammy never gave me gifts. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.”) and flashback scenes with young Alvy that will crack you up. Also, it’s chocked full of celebrity cameos including Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Walken (what movie isn’t that guy in?). Truman Capote even makes a cameo as a “Truman Capote look-a-like”.

Here's the trailer for Annie Hall.  Gotta love the line about "VPL".

Annie Hall was nominated for five Oscars and won four. Woody Allen was nominated for Best Leading Actor, but lost to Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss for those of you who haven’t seen that musical masterpiece) who starred in The Goodbye Girl.

AFI listed Annie Hall as the 31st Best Movie of All Time and the 4th Best Comedy of All Time.

As for me, I happily give this movie five out of five statuettes. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Last Emperor (1987)

Alright, so I’ll be honest. Before beginning this project I’d only viewed 24 Oscar winners, but I’d at least heard of the majority on the list. The Last Emperor (1987) is one of the few exceptions. I’d never heard of the film (granted I was two when the movie was released) nor had I heard of anyone in the movie, except for the wonderful Peter O’Toole (who I recently watched in his stint on Showtime’s The Tudors, he makes an excellent Pope). What I knew of the movie before I watched it was the two sentence synopsis on my Netflix On Demand screen. What I knew of Chinese history, the topic of this movie, was nil. So let’s just say that watching The Last Emperor was a learning experience on many fronts.

As the name may suggest, The Last Emperor tells the story of the last emperor of China, Pu Yi. The movie takes place throughout his life from 1908 to 1967. It begins in 1950 at a Chinese train station. A prison train pulls into the station and prisoners of war empty out of the train. The prisoners wait in the train station and a few bow down before a fellow prisoner who is Pu Yi. They are led away by guards. Pu Yi walks to the bathroom, locks the door, and slits his wrists.

We’re then transported to 1908 when three year old Pu Yi is taken to the Forbidden City and crowned the Emperor of China. He is an absolutely adorable little boy and I wish scenes of young Pu Yi would have lasted longer. There are a few strange moments when we see the imperial physician check Pu Yi’s stool and the young emperor in bed with his wet nurse.

The film flips back to 1950 and Pu Yi’s suicide attempt has failed. He is then taken to prison.

We next see Pu Yi in 1914 when he is eight. His brother comes to visit. The two boys play together and things go well until his bother informs Pu Yi that he isn’t the real emperor of China. Pu Yi gets pretty pissed and, in order to prove that he is emperor, makes his servant drink ink. Nasty. The boys climb the walls of the Forbidden City and see a man in a car. Pu Yi’s brother informs him that the man in the car is president of China. His advisors tell him that China does in fact have a president and is a republic. Tough break for such a young dude.

The brothers meet again in 1950 at the prison. The prison governor begins to read a book about Pu Yi’s life written by his tutor.

The film flips to 1919 and we see Pu Yi meet his tutor, who is from Scotland. This is the beginning of Pu Yi’s fascination with the Western world. His tutor, Reginald, quickly becomes his best friend and confident. Pu Yi seeks his advice and Reginald often speaks to the emperor’s advisors on his behalf. The emperor marries two women in 1922, Wan Jung who is the empress and Wen Hsiu who is his secondary wife. They all have sex together. There do seem to be some perks to being a fake emperor of China.

Back in prison Pu Yi is brought to testify to his war crimes. We quickly learn that Pu Yi had a relationship with the Japanese and that is why he is now in prison.

In 1924 the Chinese government expels the emperor from the Forbidden City. They make arrangements to go to the British Embassy, but instead flee to the Japanese Embassy. The Japanese had offered to help Pu Yi and his family who were no longer considered Chinese citizens. Pu Yi sells many family possessions and lives a comfortable life with his two wives. He parties, drinks, and sleeps with many women. He still dreams of moving west. Pu Yi and Wan Jung have even taken western names ‘Henry and Elizabeth’. Wen Hsiu decides that she’s sick of playing second fiddle in this marriage and leaves.

Then trouble arrives. A Japanese spy named Eastern Jewel (I’m not making this up) arrives at the home of Pu Yi and Wan Jung. She gets wan Jung hooked on opium and also sways Pu Yi to the side of Japanese.

Back in prison we learn that Pu Yi claimed that he was kidnapped and taken to Japan against his will. In a flash to 1932 we see that Pu Yi went to Japan of his own free will. He convinces the Japanese to allow him to become the emperor of Manchuria, a portion of China that is no longer under Chinese rule. He becomes incredibly power hungry and his life begins to fall apart. His wife, who is so hooked on opium she sleeps with another man and is impregnated, is sent away. The Japanese surrender in 1945 and Pu Yi is forced to evacuate Manchuria. As he attempts to escape, he is captured by the Russians, who eventually turn him over to the Chinese. This is how he arrived in prison.

Pu Yi admits that he is responsible for his actions and serves nine years in prison before his release. The movie ends in 1967 with Pu Yi’s return to the Forbidden City.

Whoa. Trust me, that was the brief version. Watching the movie will definitely provide you with more detail, but you get the picture.

I’d also like to put a disclaimer on this film. If you’re thinking this would be a great way to teach your children about Chinese history, I suggest you find a G rated film. Unless you’re ready to explain why the emperor has a wet nurse until he’s nine, why he sleeps with two women at once, and why the empress is kissing women. And of course, this is a movie, and something were changed for time and plot continuity – it’s not exactly spot on historically.

The Last Emperor was nominated for and won nine Oscars including Best Musical Score which was A.MAZ.ING.

Here's the trailer, which will give you a great snippet of the music.

I really liked this film and feel that I definitely need to view it again, because I’m sure I missed many things. This one is a four out of five statuettes.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1976)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1976) was the first, what I would deem, modern movies I’ve watched on my quest to view all 82 winners and the first one in color! Additionally, it was the first movie that I watched starring someone that I had grown up watching on the big screen. I’d heard of a lot of the other actors that starred in the films I’ve watched, but for the majority of them their Oscar winner was the first time I’d ever seen them on film. Not so with the great Jack Nicholson, who I’ve seen in just about a million movies. I’ve also heard from lots of people that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a great film. While I enjoyed this movie, I didn’t think it was spectacular. The message was great, the acting was amazing, but it lagged to the point where there were times I wished it was over. You could definitely tell this film was based off a book; at times I felt like I was watching a book on my screen.

Jack Nicholson plays Randle Patrick McMurphy criminal who is a repeat offender. He was sentenced to time in prison for statutory rape and has been transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. It seems like Randle has been faking mental illness to avoid the hard labor sentence of prison. At the mental institution Randle’s floor is run by a hard-ass nurse named Nurse Ratched. She’s pretty much a dictator, which is in direct contrast to Randle’s anti-authoritarian attitude. They are like oil and water from the beginning.

Ratched runs group therapy sessions with the patients on the floor that boarder on humiliating. It seems as if almost everyone on the floor is slightly brainwashed by her which is how she maintains order. Randle finds that the other patients, all male, are more focused on their fear of Ratched than they are on getting better and returning to the outside world.

One of the best parts of the movie is the cast of characters that live in the mental institution. There’s the stuttering Billy, the delusional Martini (played by Danny DeVito), Chief who is an enormously tall Native American, and a few others. Chief and Randle become the closest, as most people think Chief is mute, but Randle talks to him and treats him as an equal.

Randle becomes the de facto leader of the floor, causing as much trouble for Ratched as possible. Power begins to turn towards Ratched though when Randle learns that he cannot leave the mental institution but all of the others are their voluntarily. This news seems to knock him off his feet a bit.

One day Randle helps the other men on the floor escape for a day to go deep sea fishing. Ratched’s reaction is to double down her humiliating sessions and attempt to break Randle. The hospital attempts to give Randle electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which does not work in settling him down. After his ECT session Chief opens up to Randle and speaks to him, bringing the two of them even closer.

Randle sneaks girls into the hospital one night and throws a party on the floor. Billy (the stutterer) and one of the women spend the night together while the other patients drink themselves to sleep. Nurse Ratched walks into the hospital to see this scene and tries to embarrass Billy by telling him she’ll call his mother. Billy is so distraught that he kills himself. Randle is so upset by Billy’s death he tries to choke Ratched with his bare hands. Randle is taken off the floor.

He returns later that night and it is clear that something has happened to him. Chief sees that he is unresponsive and it becomes clear that the hospital has given him a lobotomy. Chief, who can’t stand to see his friend like this, smothers Randle to death with a pillow. He then breaks a window and escapes from the hospital.

The end is the movie is incredible touching and is truly a testament to the power of friendship. The movie really does make you think about what crazy actually means. My interest was also sparked enough to want to read the book. It’s deep and I wouldn’t watch it if you’ve had a rough day. 

Here's the trailer.  I don't think it does the movie justice.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won the top five prizes at the Oscars (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay). It was the second movie to ever do so, after It Happened One Night (1934). According to AFI it is the 20th Best Movie of All Time out of 100.

I’ll give this one four out of five statuettes. Definitely on the “Watch Again” list.

From Here to Eternity (1953)

So many of the films on the Oscar winner list I’ve never heard of or seen, but there are a few that I’ve heard of before and never seen. From Here to Eternity (1953) was one of those movies. I knew I’d heard of From Here to Eternity before, but I could not for the life of me remember why or where. So when I sat down to watch it and discovered that it was another war movie (I had just finished All Quiet on the Western Front) I wasn’t thrilled. I know, I’d better get use to war movies, because a lot of them won Oscars. Anyway, about a half hour into the film I gasped the famous Garvey Gasp known to all in the John Moy family and choked on my Diet Coke. I suddenly realized why I’d heard of this film before. The famous love makin’ on the beach scene! I’ve always wanted to watch that! I’ve never made it on the beach, (the thing about where the sand could get bothers me a bit) but I’ve always wanted to see how it’s done.

Anywho, that’s enough about sex on the beach. To call From Here to Eternity a war movie would be a bit misleading. While it does take place on Pearl Harbor military base on the brink of World War II, it’s really about relationships.
From Here to Eternity focuses on Private Prewitt (played by the attractive Montgomery Cliff), a young man who has been transferred to base at Pearl Harbor. He is a great trumpet player and also a fabulous boxer. Captain Holmes has heard of Prewitt’s boxing ability and wants him to join his regiments boxing team. Holmes promises Prewitt that he could become a sergeant if he chooses to box. Prewitt refuses to join and we later learn that he accidently blinded a man with his golden fists during a boxing match.

Prewitt is treated cruelly by Holmes and the other soldiers on base. His only friend is Maggio (played expertly by Frank Sinatra). No matter what they do, Prewitt does not crack. One night things go too far. Prewitt and another soldier engage in a fight and the other soldier accuses Prewitt of beginning the fight. He is court-martialed by the commanding officer. Holmes, still holding on to hope that Prewitt will box begs for an alternative. The commanding officer demands that Holmes resign his position and leave the army. He does and Captain Ross (who has been boinking Holmes’ wife, including on the beach) is put in charge of the base.

Meanwhile Maggio gets into a nasty bar fight with Staff Sergeant Judson. One night Maggio blows off night duty to go to the bar and is court-martialed for going AWOL. He is placed in the stockade, under the watch of none other than Judson. He is abused in prison. Maggio escapes one night and finds Prewitt, telling him of the horrible torture at the hands of Judson. He dies in Prewitt’s arms. Since Maggio was Prewitt’s only friend he tracks down Judson and the two engage in a knife fight. Judson is killed and Prewitt was gravely injured.

He hides at the apartment of his girlfriend Lorene (played by the one and only Donna Reed) who he met while she worked at a gentlemen’s club. When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor Prewitt tries to return to his base to help his fellow soldiers but is shot.

It’s a really touching ending to a touching movie. There’s some kind of irony about Prewitt refusing to fight except when it comes to avenging his dead friend.

There were three main highlights of this movie : 1. Sex on the beach, 2. Frank Sinatra (rumored to have received the role through his mafia connections) who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, 3. Donna Reed who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I’d grown up hearing about the Donna Reed show, so I was excited to see this famous lady that puts all other housewives to shame. Little did I know she was playing an escort. Scandalous.

Here's the trailer.  Keep watching til 46 seconds to see some necking on the beach.

The movie was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won eight of them. It ranks 52nd on AFI’s Top 100 movies of all time.

I’ll give it three statuettes out of five. It wasn’t fabulous, but I feel like it’s a movie everyone should say they’ve seen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

All About Eve (1950)

All about Eve (1950) is one of those movies that I can’t believe I lived without watching for 24 years. It was so freaking fabulous that as soon as the movie was over I wanted to hit play and watch it all over again. It had every component a guilty pleasure should have – handsome men, beautiful women in amazing dresses, dramatic love stories, and awesome one liners. It was so good I almost couldn’t believe it won an Oscar (ah, take that diss Hollywood).

Made in 1950, it’s easy to see that All About Eve really set the tone for movies in the decade including one of the first appearances by Marilyn Monroe. And let me tell ya, I know totally understand what Kim Carnes was singing about in Betty Davis Eyes.

The film centers on the famous stage actress Margo Channing who finds her life turned upside down by the young, manipulative Eve Harrington.

The film begins at an awards ceremony for Eve, and then turns back in time to show the viewers how Eve became so famous. Eve befriends Margo’s best friend Karen Richards and her husband, Lloyd who is a playwright. She tells Karen how much she admires Margo’s work and Karen introduces the two of them. Margo is taken with Eve and how much she admires her, so she takes Eve under her wing. Eve moves in with Margo and becomes a sort of personal assistant. The only person who seems to suspect something is strange about Eve is Addison DeWitt, a theatre critic. Eve schemes her way into becoming Margo’s understudy and performs Margo’s role one night. The theatre critics love her and Margo begins to become very upset with Eve.

Lloyd is working on a new play which is set to star Margo, but Eve blackmails Karen into convincing Lloyd to give her the role. Eve takes the role and begins her next plan, which is to drive a wedge into Karen and Lloyds marriage and one day marry Lloyd. Addison Dewitt discovers that Eve is not who she says she is, but is Gertrude Slojinski a woman from Wisconsin who was paid to leave town after an affair with her former boss. DeWitt blackmails Eve saying that she now belongs to him.

Eve becomes a famous Broadway actress and the film ends as it begins, at an award ceremony. Eve receives the top honor for a theatre actress. When she returns home she see that a young female fan, named Pheobe has slipped into her apartment. Pheobe begins to take care of Eve, and the movie ends with Pheobe wearing Eve’s clothes holding Eve’s award.

Ah, the circle of life.

This film has some serious staying power. It’d be a great one to remake. Maybe with Meryl Streep as Margo and Michelle Williams as Eve. Love it!

I couldn't find a decent trailer for this movie, which is unfortunate.  But I did find a clip of the famous "bumpy night" line.

All About Eve was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture and Best Director. Unfortunately neither Betty Davis (Margo) or Anne Baxter (Eve) won Oscars for their performances, even though they were AMAZING in this movie.

This movie is the origin of AFI's 9th Most Memorable Movie Quote - "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."  It's the 16th Best Movie of All Time according to AFI also. 

I’m going to give All About Eve five statuettes out of five, a perfect score for a perfect movie.

Friday, July 16, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) was the third film to win a Best Picture Oscar, but the first in a long line of war films that won Hollywood’s top prize. I wasn’t thrilled to watch this movie because, while I consider myself a bit of a history buff, I find World War I pretty boring. I mean, I know it was called the Great War, but let’s face it, trench warfare=boring on film. I was wrong. This movie really moved me, but I’ll be honest. If you voted for Sarah Palin in 2008, you may not like what you see.

Surprisingly, the movie grabbed me from the very beginning. Just like a great book (which All Quiet on the Western Front was before it was a film) this movie begins with a simple quote posted on the screen to set the tone for the rest of the film. It said,

This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war...

Whoa, heavy. I knew right then and there that this film would be a drastic departure from the peppy musical The Broadway Melody, which won the Best Picture Oscar the year prior.

All Quiet on the Western Front centers around a young German man named Paul who is convinced by a zealous teacher that fighting for ones country is the most honorable thing a young man can do. Paul and many of his classmates join the German army and begin fighting the French on the Germany/France border. The young men witness death and destruction and begin to see that there is very little glory in war. Many of Paul’s friends die or are injured during the war. After watching one friend die, Paul leaves the medical station and begins to run down the street. He recounts to his fellow soldier that it just felt so good to be alive and breathe in the air.

In another scene (perhaps the most memorable one of the entire film) Paul finds himself trapped in a hole during battle. A French soldier jumps into the hole with him and Paul stabs the Frenchman. He is mortally wounded and cries out repeatedly in pain. Paul is forced to spend the night trapped in a hole with this man he has almost killed. He tries to comfort the Frenchman, but by the morning Paul cannot stand the moaning anymore and he screams for the man to die. Realizing the cruelty in what he has said and tells the Frenchman that he will live and that he didn’t mean to kill him but that he stabbed him because he had to since the Frenchman was his enemy. Paul realizes that without this war, there would be no enemies and tells the Frenchman that he’d be his brother under any other circumstances. He begs for forgiveness and promising to write the man’s wife before the Frenchman dies.

Paul is wounded but survives and gets leave to go home and see his family. He is disheartened to see that all living in his village are so caught up in the war that no one seems to understand what the consequences of all the fighting will be. His father asks him to wear his uniform around and offers strategic military opinions. Paul goes back to the school and visits the teacher that convinced him to go to war. Paul is so upset that he tells all the young men in the classroom how terrible war is. Everyone is disgusted with him calling him a traitor and a wimp.

Paul returns to war to find that all but two of his original comrades are dead. He goes to visit Kat, one of his best friends who is searching for food. A bomb throws shrapnel into Kat’s leg and Paul begins to carry him to the Red Cross center. Another bomb hits and shrapnel hits Kat in the back of the head, killing him. Paul is unaware that Kat is dead and carries him to the medic.

The final scene is the most devastating. Paul is sitting in a trench when he sees a butterfly on the ground outside. Shocked to see such a beautiful reminder of life in the middle of such destruction and death Paul can’t resist reaching out to the butterfly. We see a Frenchman aim his gun. The final image is Paul’s hand, reaching for the butterfly and it suddenly stops. Paul has died. The music stops playing and all is truly quiet on the western front.

Here's the trailer.

According to AFI, this is the 54th Best Film of All Time out of 100.

It’s a heavy film, not for the light hearted and a definite reminder of what war can do to humans. When it was over I had to sit alone for a few minutes just to process what had happened.

If black and white isn’t your thing, never fear. All Quiet on the Western Front is going to be remade, and will star the one and only Harry Potter as Paul.

I’ll absolutely watch this film again. I think it’s an important reminder that there is a negative side to war.

I give it four statuettes out of five.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

I’ll admit it, it took me a few weeks to get through You Can’t Take It With You (1938). I began the movie when I lived in Lansing and finished it once we were settled into our new home in Grand Rapids. Now, it wasn’t just the move that delayed my finishing this Oscar winner, but the pace at which the first hour of this movie flows. Once the film hit its stride I was able to attach to the story and the strange characters that were living it, though I’m pretty sure the young Jimmy Stewart was what helped me stick this one out.

The tagline for this 1938 classic (“You’ll love them all for giving you the swellest time you’ve ever had!”) isn’t exactly what I found to be truth, though the word ‘swellest’ endears me to the picture.

So here’s the gist:

The entire film centers around one freaky family who all lives together in a large house. There’s Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (played by Lionel Barrymore, great uncle to E.T. great Drew Barrymore) who is the glue that holds the family and the neighborhood together. He doesn’t care much for money and hasn’t paid taxes in over a decade. His daughter writes plays because a typewriter was accidently delivered to the house, her husband who makes fireworks, a daughter who spastically dances around the house like a drunken Anna Pavlova, her son-in-law who is obsessed with the University of Alabama and plays the xylophone, another daughter who is a secretary (yes, after all this craziness all I have to say is she’s a “secretary”) and a few other people who live with them (I’m not sure of their names, relations, or what they do other than make weird things). Okay, so now that you have a clear mental picture of the insanity that this movie centers around, here’s the general plot.

Alice, the secretary daughter works for the Tony Kirby (cutie Jimmy Stewart) and they’re in love. Mr. Kirby, Tony’s dad, is a billionaire who wants to buy Grandpa’s property (if they said why, I must have been deep into a Sudoku and missed it). Tony and Alice want to get married, but Mrs. Kirby isn’t thrilled with the idea. In fact, she’s a pretty cold lady and I’d be scared crapless to be her future daughter-in-law. Anyway, Alice invites the entire Kirby clan over to Grandpa’s house for dinner. The Kirbys accidently arrive on the wrong night, so instead of pretending to be normal the family is acting like their normal wacko selves. Just as the Kirbys are about to flee the insanity, the police bust in and arrest everyone for disturbing the peace and attempting to insight a revolution (I can’t really explain, something to do with the stockpile of fireworks in the basement). While in a holding cell Grandpa realizes that Mr. Kirby is the banker trying to purchase his house. After a bunch of family drama, Alice and Tony break up. Alice flees town and Grandpa resigns to sell his house and follow her. When Alice gets news of this she comes home. She reconciles with Tony, Mr. Kirby has a change of heart and sell the house back to the family, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Love conquered all in 1938, even real estate and cold mother-in-laws.

Head spinning a bit? Yeah, imagine watching 126 minutes of this craziness.

Capra- Stewart had many successful collaborations over the years (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) that had much more staying power. This just doesn’t really compare to their other films.

I’ll give it three statuettes out of five. I’d probably have to have a box of wine to sit through this again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night (1934) is one of the best Oscar winners I’ve watched so far. The film had one key ingredient that modern day Academy Award winners don’t – comedy. This movie had me laughing, smiling, and humming along to some silly songs throughout the entire 105 minutes. I actually had fun watching it. If all the Oscar winners were this good, I wouldn’t be dreading having to watch a quarter of the list.

So here’s the gist of it:

Ellie Andrews is a spoiled heiress who is being held against her will on her father’s yacht. He’s ticked because she went behind his back and married an aviator with the name of King Westley (again another old film with strange names…makes me wonder what viewers will think of names like Aiden and Brittany). Anyway, Ellie’s father has had the marriage annulled and this pisses Ellie off to the point of throwing herself overboard. She swims ashore and begins her trek from Miami to New York City. Her father hires a detective agency and offers $10,000 for Ellie’s return to him. She pawns her watch and purchases a bus ticket where she meets Peter Warne, one of my most favorite male characters of all time. He’s a newspaper writer who is down on his luck. Ellie’s purse is stolen, so she becomes dependent on Warne, who is planning to use her for the $10,000 reward. After a few hilarious nights together (including a lesson on how to properly dunk a doughnut that is so charming you won’t forget it) Ellie falls in love with Warne. It takes awhile for him to come around, but the two end up together with the blessing of Ellie’s father. King ends up with nothing, which is fine by me because King is a stupid name.

The most memorable portion of the movie involves the Wall of Jericho. When Warne and Ellie are forced to spend the night together in the same motel room Warne hangs a blanket between their two beds calling it the “Wall of Jericho”. When the two are married they return to a motel and blow a toy trumpet, tearing down the Wall of Jericho. It may sound cheesy, but I LOVED it! They just don’t make movies with this kind of charm anymore.

Here's the trailer.  It really gives you a glimpse into the charm of this film.

This is AFI's 35th Best Film of All Time, out of 100.

Peter Warne is played expertly by Clark Gable, who I’ve never seen in anything except Gone With The Wind, but I will definitely seek out more of his films. He won the Best Actor Oscar for this role and it was well deserved. Claudette Colbert won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Ellie, but didn’t expect to win. When she found out that she did win, she was at a train station and went to the ceremony in a traveling pant suit (I have no idea what a traveling pant suit is). Anyway, both awards were well deserved.

Watch this on a down day and I promise it will pick you up like a dose of Xanex.

I’ll give it five statuettes, my first perfect score!  I’ll definitely be watching this one again.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Broadway Melody (1929)

The Broadway Melody (1929) is the second Best Picture winner in Academy Award history and may be the oldest film I’m able to watch as tracking down Wings (1928) is proving to be a pretty serious problem. Anyway, I knew I was in for a really old film (as if the year 1929 wasn’t hint enough) when the black screen with the white text explaining where we were came onto the screen. I could have moved past the general oldness of the movie if it wasn’t boring as all get out but I fell asleep about half way through the film and it took me a few days to get the nerve back up to finish it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not an old movie hater (my favorite actress Audrey Hepburn) but something about The Broadway Melody just did not stand the test of time.

Let me rehash the general plot. Harriet and Queenie are sisters who have a vaudeville act that they decide to move to Broadway. An important note: Harriet is known as Hank. So if you try to watch this film on your own don’t get confused. Apparently Hank was an acceptable girls name in 1929. Hank is also the control freak of the family, as any good oldest child should be. So Hank is in love with Eddie who works on Broadway for Zanfield (who I’m guessing is a fictional Zigfield). Eddie puts the girls in his new number for Zanfield’s show. Throughout the movie Eddie falls in love with Queenie who is the break out star of Zanfield’s Broadway show, leaving Hank in the dust both personally and professionally. Queenie’s new found fame brings her attention from lots of men including high roller Jock Warriner (seriously, what’s with these names?). She eventually sees that Jock doesn’t love her and Eddie does. Hank catches on and surprisingly doesn’t seem very distressed that her younger, cuter sister has a great career and stole her boyfriend. Everything ends just like a 1990’s sitcom, all tied up with a nice bow. Oh yeah, there’s singing and dancing too but it all kind of stinks.

As much as I disliked this film, I can’t deny that it must have set the tone for a few decades of filmmaking. The Broadway Melody is widely considered the first complete America musical. Musicals dominated the silver screen and the many musicals that will win the Best Picture in the years to come. The Broadway Melody is also the first “talkie” to win Best Picture.

A bit of trivia about the movie: Parts of it were filmed in Technicolor, but those parts were lost and only the black and white version is available today. Because there were many movie theatres without the ability to play sound, the movie was also released as a silent film.

Again, not my favorite movie of all time, but out of five Oscar statuettes I’d give The Broadway Melody two statuettes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

365 Day Oscar Challenge

As I’ve spent my entire 24 years living in a highly litigious country, I guess I should begin this blog with a disclaimer. I am in no way, nor do I claim to be, an expert in the area of film making or movie critiquing. Sure I’ve always been a fan of movies and I took a film course in college, but claiming to be an expert based on these two things would be like claiming to be a doctor because I have a body and I took (and barely scrapped by) a biology course. Additionally, I’m not a connoisseur of the Academy Awards and their 80+ year history. I’ve watched the Oscars for as long as I can remember, in fact, it was always the highlight of my college spring breaks. While my peers were off in Florida falling out of windows I was at home with a bowl of popcorn and Joan Rivers (or in later years, unfortunately, Ryan Seacrest). But again, my loyal viewership every 365 days doesn’t make me in anyway an expert.

With the legalities out of the way, let me introduce you to the idea behind this project. Like I said above, I’ve always been interested in movies. Growing up in the middle of Michigan a typical Saturday night was spent at the movie theater with a jumbo bucket of popcorn. A few months ago during the 2010 Oscars, it dawned on me that despite my membership to Netflix and my loyal viewer card at the local movie theatre, I’ve seen few of the movies that have been given Hollywood’s highest honor. Mix my curiosity with my love of blogging and the 365 Oscar Project was born.

My goal is simple, between May 3rd 2010 and May 3rd 2011 I will watch every film that has ever won a Best Picture Academy Award. (I’m getting a bit of a late start thanks to graduate school.) If I’ve seen a movie before, and I have viewed a measly 24 winners, I will watch them again within the 365 day period. I won’t be watching them in any sort of order; I’ll view them when I can get my hands on them. I’ll blog about each film, and as a complete novice, I will give the common lady’s modern day opinion on each movie. I’ll also make note of Oscar trends. Which genera tends to be most successful at the Oscars and has that changed over time? How have movies evolved to fit modern day tastes? What do the winners have in common? Which films seem to be a surprise win? And perhaps most importantly, as a collective group, are these movies really even that good?

I hope you’ll join me down my path of Academy Award discovery and maybe we can both learn a little something about the coveted man named Oscar.