Wednesday, August 31, 2011

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The 1964 Hollmann Awards: The Majors

Wow, what a long delay. I certainly hope that built the suspense some. The screenplays, the actors, song, director...and of course: BEST PICTURE. Let's delay this no longer:


5. The Pink Panther
"Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)"
Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer & Franco Migliacci

A seemingly random musical number, the lyrics, surprisingly enough, do apply to the action. As David Niven attempts to seduce Claudia Cardinale and Robert Wagner attempts same with Capucine, they all find themselves in the ski lounge where a singer performs this song -- and as you can see by the title, it couldn't be more appropriate. Sexy and oh so 60s.

4. Goldfinger
John Barry and Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley

Big, brassy and Bassey: that's what makes this most legendary of Bond songs work. While lyrically quite simple, it really does foreshadow the fate of Jill Masterson, with references to his "Midas touch" and "golden girls" receiving a "kiss of death". It's hard not to feel cool when listening to it, too. 

3. Mary Poppins
"Feed the Birds"
Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman

A beautiful, reverent song of selflessness and charity, of every little bit helping, of sparing a mere tuppence not just to feed the birds, but to provide for an old woman. One of the most effective pieces of music in the film, it's a number that Walt Disney himself liked to have played for him in private. I challenge anyone to listen to this with a dry eye.

2. Mary Poppins
"Let's Go Fly a Kite"
Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman 

The music soars as high as...well, as high as a kite! A wonderful tribute to the simple joys of a kite in the park on Sunday with the family. It packs an extra emotional punch with the main soloist being none other than stuffy, no-nonsense Mr. Banks! It's both fun and redemptive!

1. Dear Heart
"Dear Heart"
Henry Mancini and Jay Livingston & Ray Evans

A beautiful song of deep longing, one that perfectly captures the plight of lonely leads Evie and Harry. The sweeping strings are as stirring as the harmonica in "Moon River"; indeed, the two are equals in beauty and impact, with both similarly executed to pack a whallop in the finale. And what a whallop it is: I can't listen to "Dear Heart" without getting more than misty-eyed. (Now if only that scene were on YouTube!)


5. The Visit
Ben Barzman
from a translation of the play by Friedrich Durrenmatt
A chilling depiction of greed, justice, and the cruelty of man. To paraphrase another film, it is an ugly little film...but then, mirrors are often ugly.

4. Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick & Terry Southern and Peter George
from the novel Red Alert by George
Interesting that of the different takes on George's work, it's the comedy that has lasted...and become the most realistic. Scarily funny in its skewering of government, war, espionage, and paranoia, the laughs come often, exposing the absurdity of it all. Unfortunately, it's that same absurdity that makes it all so plausible.

3. Mary Poppins
Bill Walsh & Don DaGradi
from the books by P.L. Travers

DaGradi and Walsh make an episodic story into a cohesive narrative. Everyone is fairly portrayed with all-fun Jane and Michael just as much in the wrong as their no-fun father. Witty and warm, it's practically perfect in every way.

2. The Best Man
Gore Vidal
from his play
Vidal knows his turf well, offering us a juicy, funny, sordid look at the machinations behind the nomination process. It's a complex world where the most principled man shouldn't be president and the most diabolical has a better shot. It's a man's world, but let's not underestimate the power the women hold, from a forgiving wife to a lovely young one to a professional schmoozer who's seen it all. One of Vidal's most ingenious little tweaks in the transfer: making Cantwell's campaign manager his brother, a failed presidential hopeful, giving us wonderfully tense scenes between the two of them.

1. The World of Henry Orient
Nora & Nunnally Johnson
from the novel by Nora Johnson
A witty and honest look at adolescent girlhood that pulls no punches. We've got divorce, child psychiatry, adultery, negligence, abandonment, runaways, idolatry -- and all without getting bogged down in any trite messages or long-winded sermons. It's a breathless, fun, innocent affair, a real class act!


5. The Organizer
Age & Scarpelli and Mario Monicelli
A socially-conscious ensemble film that plays light but real. Instead of preaching to its audience, the film lets us know each of the strikers as flawed, humorous, hard-working, sometimes lustful people. They have their own jealousies, weaknesses and rivalries like anyone else, but they are the heart and soul of the factory, and they deserve better. A realistic tone is maintained without it becoming misery porn, and its amazing that the ending is both triumphant and tragic.

4. The Pink Panther
Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards
It's a funny movie, drawing its comedy from slapstick, wordplay and the standard bedroom farce. But it never gets enough credit for how well it develops its cast of characters. Clouseau is who we all remember, back when he was less a buffoon and more of a simpleton. But what about Sir Charles, the jewel thief falling in love with his next target, a romance that is quite credibly executed? Or the beautiful Mrs. Clouseau, a surprisingly likable femme fatale? You want everyone to win, but they can't -- and best of all, the script makes no compromise.

3. What a Way to Go!
Betty Comden & Adolph Green, story by Gwen Davis
A deliriously fun comedy. Artists, Hollywood, big business, head-shrinking, the American Dream, the rich, they all take hits in a script that manages to poke fun while letting its target in on the joke. Masterful in its execution of one-liners, puns and subtlety ("Melrose! I'm so sorry!").

2. Zulu
John Prebble and Cy Endfield
To my eyes, a fair-minded telling that acknowledges whole Zulu situation while still getting us to root for those colonial soldiers. Everybody is given their due, from the doctor to the missionary to the Zulu chief. It wisely begins with the Zulu people, even depicting their customs not as strange or savage, but just not the way we do things. Missionaries are both peacemakers and pills, soldiers are courageous and frightened. Even the unlikable folks get to be right!

1. Dear Heart
Tad Mosel
A sweet, sometimes sad, very modest little comedy about lonely people and late-blooming maturity. Harry's getting married to prove how mature he is -- but first he's going to full around with a hotel clerk. His fiancee wants to get married so that she no longer has to take responsibility for anything. Her son wants her to acknowledge his manhood, but Harry to treat him like a boy. And then there's Evie, whose bright smile and sweet disposition hide a deep loneliness. A lot of emotion on a small scale.


5. Sterling Hayden as General Jack T. Ripper
Dr. Strangelove
Hayden delivers each line with clenched-jawed, no-nonsense sincerity that is nothing short of intimidating. No one would dare question a man of such ferocious single-mindedness, even though it is he that will doom the planet. Crazy conclusions are delivered matter-of-factly, and we see the true madness is in his calm. As the straightest-faced performer, he gets the most (uncomfortable) laughs.

4. Michael Caine as Lt. Gonville Bromhead
Caine's working-class accent is as much a part of him as Kennedy's Boston drawl; how funny, then, that he should make his film debut as an upper-class infantry officer, forced to cede leadership to engineer Lt. Chard. Hot-tempered, ignorant and a snob, Caine also remembers to portray Bromhead as courageous, loyal and surprisingly humble. I love his reaction when he learns exactly how much battle Chard has seen before. A strong start to a great career.

3. James Mason as Bob Conway
The Pumpkin Eater
Mason seems to be having a ball as the greasy, angry cuckold who bores at parties and badgers at tea time. Enraged at his wife's infidelity with the husband of our protagonist, he brings the troubled woman into it, and his brief performance is a memorable one. Spitting and hissing when he's not making dry, embittered comments, Conway may have been wronged, but he comes off as a lout either way. Mason walks away with the show.

2. Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering
My Fair Lady
Hyde-White matches Harrison and Hepburn in wit and presence, getting some of the best laughs with his line-readings and reactions. It's not a complicated performance, but it's an engaging and endearing one, part of what keeps me coming back to My Fair Lady again and again. One can never oversell his "pline cike" moment; priceless!

1. David Tomlinson as George Banks
Mary Poppins
Even while playing it broadly, Tomlinson manages to keep the no-nonsense, humorless Mr. Banks grounded in some sort of reality that allows us to become frustrated with him whilst hoping he comes around. Too, Tomlinson does not make Mr. Banks so strict and serious that he is beyond redemption, and when he realizes just what it is that his children need from him, it's a believable epiphany and transformation. It's moving, too, and his scene with his children before leaving to meet the wrath of the Bank is a heartbreaker. Tomlinson's is a quietly beautiful performance that earns him an extra medal: it's my favorite of this year.


5. Cliff Robertson as Senator Joe Cantwell
The Best Man
Robertson seems possessed as the cruel, underhanded Cantwell, a self-made man who wants to be President so badly he'll kick any ass and stab any back he comes across. Robertson's eyes flash fire when Cantwell is up against a dissenter, and his physicality in the role emphasizes the non-stop, charge-ahead attitude the senator carries. Cantwell knows he is the best man, and Robertson seems to know it, too.

4. Richard Attenborough as Billy Savage
Seance on a Wet Afternoon
His wife Myra insists throughout that Billy is a weak man. Attenborough, very slowly and subtly, reveals a man who may not be very bright, but he's much stronger than she thinks. His acquiescence to a bizarre kidnapping scheme is not the move of a spineless coward, but of a man so devoted to the wife he knew that he's willing to do and say anything to keep her happy. It's what makes his eventual confrontation so jarring -- and cathartic.

3. Dick Van Dyke as Bert and Mr. Dawes, Sr.
Mary Poppins
Dodgy accent be damned, the man is great! Van Dyke's everyman relatability, natural charm and lean looks are put to great use as the jack-of-all-trades. His flare for the physical is put to great use, whether as a one-man band, dancing with penguins, or steppin' in time. Bonus points, as well, for his secondary role as the elderly Mr. Dawes, Sr., Chairman of the Bank.

2. Peter Sellers as Lt. Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and Dr. Srangelove
Dr. Strangelove
Sellers wisely approaches each role differently, tipping each characterization further into insanity as the plot spirals out of control. From the flabbergasted British officer to the frazzled Commander-in-Chief to the demented Nazi scientist, they're all fully realized and specific, even if they're not quite human. Only Sellers could deliver his most sympathetic and most over-the-top creations in one film.

1. Rex Harrison as Prof. Henry Higgins
My Fair Lady
I don't know if anyone will ever play this role as perfectly as Harrison. He's thoughtless of others, unbelievably self-centered, and an overall asshole. Yet he's witty, chummy, honest, and surprisingly warm. To see him being gradually won over by Eliza without losing his prickliness is joyous -- we know it, she knows it, but it takes him until the end to get it himself. I know it's an opinion that's growing ever more unpopular, but Harrison's is one of the best leading performances ever. You can take that to the bank.


5. Diane Baker as Carol Harbin
She spends much of the film as a perfectly-mannered, naively hopeful girl who tries her best to bring her just-out-of-the-aslyum mother into the real world. She means well, but she is clearly in over her head. When the axe murders start, though, Baker gives us a girl realizing just what kind of madness she's allowed into the house, the roles reversing as she takes the necessary steps to cover her mother's tracks. But there's more afoot, and her reaction at the end to the unraveled mystery is the stuff of legend.

4. Agnes Moorehead as Velma Carruthers
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Moorehead's broadly textured white trash housekeeper fits in well with the demented Gothic Guignol crazy-fest. It's a fun performance, with Moorehead scratching and muttering to herself, hair akimbo, big ass sticking out as she shuffles along. But we never question the honest affection Velma has for Charlotte: even her voice changes into a more soothing (well, relatively) tone for bugged-out belle. A surprising and wonderful performance.

3. Ann Sothern as Sue Ellen Gamadge
The Best Man
Sothern walks in and takes over from the moment she appears on screen. The female Vice Chair of the party, Sue Ellen doesn't talk, but give orders; she smiles, but she's always watching. She's clearly someone who's fought her way to the top, and even though nobody seems to like her, nobody dares mess with her. Sothern gives her a sweet, maternal tone that makes her blunt pronouncements all the more effective -- it's like she's scolding you for not meeting her expectations. I love the look on her face when Mrs. Cantwell starts openly bashing the Russells: a red flag has been raised, and whether or not Sue Ellen agrees, that's not the way the game is played. She's the savviest of them all.

2. Ava Gardner as Maxine
The Night of the Iguana
Borderline lead, true, but superb no matter where you put her. Gardner's Maxine is a sensual, earthy, straight-talking woman with a one-liner for everything. She talks like a sailor and dilly-dallies with the cabana boys, but Gardner -- a much better actress than she gave herself credit for -- paints her with a surprising sensitivity. She's not fragile, but she's not completely secure, either. Her reaction to Nonno's poem at the end is a great bit of acting, too, as the barriers break down and the floodgates open.

1. Grayson Hall as Judith Fellowes
The Night of the Iguana
Let's did I put it? I know I mentioned the layers she finds in this bitter spinster. Let me again mention: "Her tears at the beach as she begs the beautiful nymphet to get away from Shannon. Her maternal cooing as she tries to win the girl back to her side. Her fear and confusion when Ava Gardner's Maxine calls her out on being a lonely butch. Her ever-watchful eyes as they follow Shannon and Charlotte simultaneously, even if they're on opposite sides of the room." Hands down, the best performance in the film.


5. Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle
My Fair Lady
Hepburn could never look anything less than beautiful, but her caterwauling certainly gets the job done in the first half of the film. It's a big performance, but not annoyingly so, and does more for Hepburn the comedienne than Hepburn the beauty. Oh, sure, the film makes sure you bask in her physical perfection, but for the most part she gets away from her usual pixie self and gives us a loud, faithless creature who becomes a confident woman. Was she ever as funny as in the Ascot scene? And she sells the love story: watch her during the "Rain in Spain" number whenever she looks at Higgins.

4. Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins
Lord,  but she is practically perfect in every way! She's stern, she's sweet, she's responsible, she's mischievous -- and she does not believe in references. Andrews works her own kind of magic to Mary Poppins real, never making a big deal of the flying, the bottomless bag, the jumping into chalk drawings, etc. Her brisk handling of Mr. Banks' objections is a comic high-point, her look at the end a dramatic one. And this goes without saying, but: that voice!

3. Tippy Walker as Val Boyd
The World of Henry Orient
Some might not think it too much of a stretch for a 16-year-old newcomer to so effortlessly and unselfconsciously portray 14-year-old mischief-maker Val Boyd -- and it's probably not, but that doesn't take away from the strength of the performance. Walker's a bright and energetic actress, one whose spirit and joie de vivre is just contagious! The way she throws herself completely into whatever she does, be it play-acting or stalking Henry Orient, is fun to watch. Her timing is impeccable, her face a wondrous canvas for all emotions: the looks given to her ice-cold mother are as telling as the goggle-eyed worship of Henry. Great fun.

2. Kim Stanley as Myra Savage
Seance on a Wet Afternoon
Kooky and spooky. From her soft, childlike voice to her strong, commanding eyes, Stanley creates one of the most intriguing madwomen ever put to film. She goes about everything so logically, without any concern; it's unnerving. I've discussed her at length before, so let me just remind you: the final scene, the final scene, the final scene. Wow.

1. Geraldine Page as Evie Jackson
Dear Heart
At first, I found Evie a chore to be with, with her insufferably optimistic attitude, paying bellhops to page her like she's needed, inviting herself to lunch with Glenn Ford's Harry. She began to grow on me, though, so much so that whenever she was away I missed her. Yes, Mosel's screenplay helps, but Page's performance is the selling-point here. With that oddly-pitched voice and genuine smile, Page plays the happy-go-lucky Evie easily. It's the eyes that fill in the rest of Evie, though, full of hope, secrets and loneliness. Her refusal of a married colleague's advances look difficult, but you have to admire a woman who sticks to her guns even when she clearly wants some sort of connection. Page's Evie is frustrating yet winning, the kind of performance that can make you laugh and cry simultaneously.


5. Franklin J. Schaffner
The Best Man
Revelatory without being scandalous, armed with a purpose but not with a sermon, Schaffner gives his actors room to work their craft while keeping them from going over the top (Lord knows it's tempting). Schaffner keeps everything grounded for the most part, making his loose, documentary approach to the convention hall all the more effective -- and exciting!

4. Samuel Fuller
The Naked Kiss
Fuller puts the limits of his B-grade picture to great use, presenting an ugly, seedy side of American life that still has the power to shock. With a delicious sense of camp and pulp, Fuller transcends schlock to make a work of art, one that is simultaneously creepy and beautiful.

3. Robert Stevenson
Mary Poppins
Look, Uncle Walt made a bunch of films, but there's only one Mary Poppins. I'm gonna say it's equal parts Disney magic and Robert Stephenson, who got it like no one else. He's the one who deftly navigates the film from two hours' distraction for kids to a beautiful, joyous masterpiece of cinema. He gets fine performances from the children, finds the heart in the parents, and keeps it all moving at the perfect pace. Even the scenes without Mary maintain the vital spark necessary to keep us engaged. Here's a man who takes his fun seriously.

2. George Roy Hill
The World of Henry Orient
The reason is simple enough: it all works. Magnificently. Hill gets great performances from his ensemble, beautiful shots with his cinematographer, an engaging pace from his editor; Hill's making it work! The execution is fun and sincere, never getting cynical (and it could have) or cloying (Lord, could it have ever!). It's subtly and magnificently done.

1. Stanley Kubrick
Dr. Strangelove
As I said before: "Sellers' improv, George's story, the realism, the absurdity, the comedy -- all come together beautifully under the exacting hand of Stanley Kubrick. There's a unique tone that is at once hilarious and horrifying. The screenplay, as ever with Kubrick, is the blueprint, but the real magic happens when he's behind the camera and running the show."


5. The Best Man
Stuart Millar/Lawrence Turman
It's not just juicy, intelligent and witty -- it's also never lost its relevance. Political drama done right!

4. Dear Heart
Martin Manulis
A wonderful central performance, a modest yet effective screenplay, a beautiful ending. And the song!

3. Mary Poppins
Walt Disney
Pure magic.

2. My Fair Lady
Jack L. Warner
I will always love you, My Fair Lady. I will always love the costumes, the songs, the performances, the dialogue. I will always dream of Eliza, act like Higgins and try to sing like Freddy.

1. The World of Henry Orient
Jerome Hellman
How many times must I tell you how I adore this film, how fun it is, how smart, how incredible? Of all the films I saw, this was the most impressive, surprising and beautiful. I love it!

[UPDATED: Producers nominated for Best Picture, as of 1/13/2017]

1 comment:

TomS said...

Wild applause for Kubrick! Polite silence for Harrison... (I'll put my money on Sellers...)

"Dear Heart" is a beautiful song!! But for sheer embarrassing sobs, "Feed the Birds" gets me to the core.

I was also pleased with your mentions of Tomlinson and Van Dyke.

Very interesting, and fun, assessment of Movie Year 1964!

What year will we re-visit next?