Monday, June 26, 2017

1980 Top Ten

After 65 films, 10 Oscar categories, and five re-castings, I am ready to divvy out the awards for due time. The nominees tomorrow, the awards later on in the week.

Until then, my personal top ten of the year. The complete list of films screened follows at the end. How many have you seen?

American Gigolo
Dir/Scr: Paul Schrader
Cin: John Bailey

Neon noir with a special hatred for Beverly Hills, a place where the wealthy surround themselves with beauty, until it becomes inconvenient. The clothes, the sets, the attitude, all influenced how we see this decade. Genuine suspense, and a strong and sexy performance from Richard Gere at its center.

The remaining nine, after the jump...

Friday, June 23, 2017

Casting Coup: Tess

Best Picture, Claude Berri/Timothy Burrill
Best Director, Roman Polanski
Best Music - Original Score, Philippe Sarde
Best Cinematography, Geoffrey Unsworth/Ghislain Cloquet - WON
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Pierre Guffroy/Jack Stephens - WON
Best Costume Design, Anthony Powell - WON

It's the last day of Casting Coup Week! Starting Monday, we start wrapping up 1980 with a Top Ten, Retro Hollmann Awards Nominations, then two days of the awards proper.

Before we get into all that, though, let's talk about Tess, baby. It's only the third cinematic adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel, the previous two going back to the silent era. Even TV versions are scarce - one in 1960 for ITV (with Geraldine McEwan!), one in 1998 for LWT (with Justine Waddell!), and one in 2008 for BBC (with Gemma Arterton!).

Perhaps it's the subject matter: Hardy's story takes to task the rich for exploiting the poor, religious institutions for their hypocrisy, patriarchal society for its subjugation of women, and the justice system for its treatment of domestic abuse and rape victims. Now that I've written it all out, I'm surprised there isn't a new version of Tess in the works right now - it is, unfortunately, timeless.

And if they were to make a new version right now - who might they hire to fill the many roles? I have a few suggestions....

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Casting Coup: Raging Bull

Best Picture, Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff
Best Director, Martin Scorsese
Best Actor, Robert De Niro - WON
Best Supporting Actor, Joe Pesci
Best Supporting Actress, Cathy Moriarty
Best Cinematography, Michael Chapman
Best Film Editing, Thelma Schoonmaker - WON
Best Sound, Donald O. Mitchell/Bill Nicholson/David J. Kimball/Les Lazarowitz

I trust I do not need to go into my love of Raging Bull again - after all, of the ten categories we covered for the 1980 Oscars flashback, I voted for it in all five categories it was up for. Scorsese has always been concerned with the practiced peacocking of American masculinity and virility; what could be better than a sports drama set in the world of boxing, where fighting prowess makes you a winner?

The cast assembled for Raging Bull was raw. Flawlessly so. No one is ever going to match that. So I'm not even gonna try - the best I can do is offer the best people for the job now. And here they are. I think.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Casting Coup: Ordinary People

Best Picture, Ronald L. Schwary - WON
Best Director, Robert Redford - WON
Best Actress, Mary Tyler Moore
Best Supporting Actor, Judd Hirsch
Best Supporting Actor, Timothy Hutton - WON
Best Adapted Screenplay, Alvin Sargent - WON

So, when I first started this project, I was still working, and when I announced I was going to watch Ordinary People one night, the reactions were decidedly split. My mentor and friend - let's call him Slim Daddy - was thoroughly in the pro camp, a man who believed every actor in the movie should have been nominated, and who was the right age for identifying with Conrad when it came out. He loved Mary Tyler Moore's performance.

Another camp was formed by the Kanye Fan - my generation, the one that grew up with the internet and could major in film studies. He didn't think Ordinary People was a bad movie, just not very cinematic, said if they made it today, it would be a Lifetime movie. It's fine. It doesn't go deep. It's melodrama.

Glory be, I may be a Raging Bull voter, but Ordinary People has stood the test of time because it skirts melodrama, it goes deep, it's better than fine. It's a story of the privileged, yes, but that's only in social class - there's no privilege in the way these people process death and grief. These are characters any actor kill to play - the mother both monstrous and mourning, the father stepping on eggshells, the son racked with guilt over both his actions and inactions. And those are just the leads!

It's a wonderful film - but could the magic ever be recaptured? Maybe if they had the right cast...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Casting Coup: The Elephant Man

Best Picture, Jonathan Sanger
Best Director, David Lynch
Best Actor, John Hurt
Best Adapted Screenplay, Christopher De Vore/Eric Bergren/David Lynch
Best Music - Original Score, John Morris
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Stuart Craig/Robert Cartwright/Hugh Scaife
Best Film Editing, Anne V. Coates
Best Costume Design, Patricia Norris

The Elephant Man is inspired by the true story of Joseph Merrick (called John in Treves' memoir), a curiosity of Victorian London who went from the sideshow to stardom when eminent surgeon Frederick Treves took an interest in his unique case and moved him into London Hospital. It is a life that has inspired books, television specials, social studies (Ashley Montagu's, for example), even primetime animation.

And, of course, it has inspired dramatists. Bernard Pomerance's Broadway play debuted in 1979, won three Tony Awards including Best Play, was adapted for a 1982 ABC TV movie, and has been revived on the stage twice more. On stage, the role has been played by David Bowie, Bruce Davison, Mark Hamill, Billy Crudup, and Bradley Cooper, the latter two getting Tony nominations for their efforts. Pomerance was famously peeved about the film The Elephant Man, which had no relation at all to his play and probably hurt the film sales for it. And worse yet, if anyone were to finally adapt Pomerance's Elephant Man for cinemas, you know it would be reported as a remake of this version.

Of course, we today are not imagining a cinematic adaptation of Pomerance's work, but a remake of David Lynch's Oscar-nominated classic. Still. There's precedent for multiple versions of the story. Here's ours.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Casting Coup: Coal Miner's Daughter

Best Picture, Bernard Schwartz
Best Actress, Sissy Spacek - WON
Best Adapted Screenplay, Thomas Rickman
Best Cinematography, Ralf D. Bode
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, John W. Corso/John M. Dwyer
Best Film Editing, Arthur Schmidt
Best Sound, Richard Portman/Roger Heman Jr./James R. Alexander

At the heart of Coal Miner's Daughter is a love story. Loretta Webb was only 15 (she claimed even younger) when she married 21-year-old Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn - she was only 16 when he whisked her away from her family and hometown of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, to Custer, Washington, where they knew absolutely nobody. All throughout their marriage, which lasted until his death in 1996, Doo was an alcoholic, a womanizer, sometimes violent. But he also bought Loretta her first guitar, booked her first gigs, drove her all over the United States to get her music on the radio.

The marriage of Loretta and Doo is the main attraction of Coal Miner's Daughter, beautifully acted by native Texans Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones. It just doesn't work without that particular chemistry. The rest of the film is anchored in their alternating affection and tension - the friendship of Loretta and Patsy Cline isn't just of mutual respect between two artists, but two successful women who know from men problems (Patsy's ex-husband tried to quell her singing career). And of course, stepping out with an older man would certainly effect the relationship a 15-year-old has with her parents, to say nothing of actually moving clear across the country.

Casting director Michael Chinich (who also did The Blues Brothers and Melvin and Howard the same year), director Michael Apted, and Loretta Lynn herself assembled a fine ensemble to embody this unique conflict/blessing. But if they were to do this film today, what might that group look like? I know who I'd gather...

After the jump, of course.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Best Picture of the Year, 1980

The moment has come - I present to you, the Best Picture nominees of 1980:

Coal Miner's Daughter
A conventional biopic - rise, semi-fall, recovery, immortality - though well-written and -acted enough that we forgive the familiarities. Sissy Spacek deserved her Oscar, but most notable, to me: the design! I'm talking the sets, costumes, sound, the hair! Detailed and authentic. Entertaining overall.

The rest of the lineup after the jump....