Monday, September 10, 2012

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The 1975 Hollmann Awards: The First Half

Finally, the first part of my Hollmann Awards for 1975! Nine of the eighteen categories are represented here, along with five previous nominees and one previous winner! I tell you, though, I needed those extra days just to finally whittle everything down to these choices. 1975 may not have been the strongest year, but it still hurt to leave some things out (Sorry, ensemble of Switchblade Sisters! Better luck next time, screenplay for Teenage Hitchhikers!). Luckily, though, I managed to find a slate of nominees and winners I really like. Hopefully, you'll feel the same; hopefully, too, you'll disagree and we can have a heated discussion in the comments.


5. Dog Day Afternoon
Michael Chinich and Don Phillips

The bank manager, the tellers, the cops, the reporters, the pizza delivery guy, the family, the FBI, the security guard, Sal, Sonny...everyone is a completely realized, lived-in New York resident. You believe they grew up in that neighborhood, have the same daily routine, made plans for later that evening.
4. Amarcord
Much of the effect here is the same as above -- the ensemble is obviously made up of locals, right? But it's also Fellini, which means the characters are larger-than-life, almost cartoonish, while still possessing human qualities that we can relate to. No one misses a beat.

3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Celestia Fox
 Tuned to the highest levels of camp imaginable, the cast still manages to operate on a level that gains our sympathies. What begins as a keyed-up homage to the BIG ACTING of a bygone age becomes the fearless declaration of self-identification and appreciation. The actors sell this arc, and we too wish we could "rose tint our world".

2. Nashville
 One of the best ensembles gathered for a film. Everyone plays off of each other beautifully, even if some of the interactions are in passing only. So involved are the actors, that sudden changes of character genuinely enlighten instead of contradict -- take sweet Bud Hamilton, whose aw-shucks dimness is charming until he's cat-calling poor Sueleen Gay.

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
 It's true: Nashville won't be winning all the prizes. Naturally, the advantage here is that the ensemble is made up of the same six men who wrote the film, but it's to their credit that each manages to steal a scene without pulling focus. There's no Best in Show: it's a true ensemble, completely complementary.


5. Death Race 2000
Lee Alexander, sound mixer
Ben Burtt, sound designer
It's not just the sounds of those cars racing by and, often, crashing and burning. It's also the alternately horrifying/hilarious way in which the victims smash up against the hood of the car (or under the tire) that mark this film as a sound masterpiece.

4. The Hindenburg
Leonard Peterson/Don Sharpless, sound
Dennis C. Salcedo, optical sound recordist
The hum of the machine is constantly present, reminding you of the vulnerability of this explosive death-trap. And then of course there's the explosion itself, followed by the sequence of crashing furniture, screams, bodies falling...all very emotional.

3. Tommy
Iain Bruce, sound recordist
John Moseley, quintaphonic sound developer
This film depends on the mix between music, vocals, and sound effects. It all works perfectly as the new arrangement accommodates for new, funkier, louder instruments without losing the performances.

2. Jaws
John R. Carter/Robert Hoyt, sound
Surely just for that scene when the fishing line tips the hunters off to the shark's presence. But everything else is mixed perfectly; even the music sounds like you're hearing it underwater.

1. Nashville
Chris McLaughlin/Jim Webb, sound
Richard Portman, sound re-recording mixer
William A. Sawyer, sound editor
Randy Kelley, assistant sound editor
Perfectly mixed, perfectly edited, perfectly executed soundscape. Snatches of conversation overlap and interrupt, acoustics change up depending on the venue, the syncing is consistently in its proper place. Revolutionary.


3. The Hindenburg
John Borgese, special effects
Robert Beck/Frank Brendel/Andrew Evans/Glenn Robinson, special mechanical effects
Albert Whitlock, special visual effects
Mainly by using models and mattes, the film seamlessly incorporates its airship footage with its actors. I couldn't tell you where the effects end or begin, so they must be doing right.

2. The Land That Time Forgot
Derek Meddings, special effects supervisor
 Maybe I'm a sucker for puppet work, but in spite of the fact that those are clearly puppet dinosaurs, I'm impressed. Besides, the effects work is in the blending of the elements, the puppet footage and the actor footage, and for the most part it's seamless. The volcanic finale is appropriately explosive (HA!) and unforgiving in its devastation.

1. Dark Star
Dan O'Bannon, visual effects supervisor
 Honestly great effects for such a low budget. Amid all this cheap work -- that beach ball alien is atrocious -- are some jaw-dropping effects that anticipate the game-changer of Star Wars.  The ship, the astronauts floating through space, the final descent...pretty cool stuff.


5. Coonskin
Ralph Bakshi
Clever take on Uncle Remus imagery has Brother Rabbit and his gang shooting down rivals and taking over for the mob, all as a story told by a convict to an escaping inmate awaiting the getaway car. This satire on race relations, systematic corruption, sexuality and American mythology is often uncomfortable -- and that's the point. Prepare to be offended and amused.

4. The Yakuza
Paul Schrader and Robert Towne, story by Leonard Schrader
Neo-noir finds "fixer" Harry Kilmer back in Japan after 30 years to help an old friend; and, of course, there are twists and double-crosses and shocking secrets. A somber, sad tale, dealing in past regrets and the debts that cannot be repaid. It's not just about how much Japan has changed since westernization set in; it's about men the world over losing their spiritual ethics and codes of honor.

3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin
Of course it would be a sometimes absurd comedy that perhaps best captures that time in British history when if you weren't a nobleman or royalty, your worth was nil. Naturally, this is most evident in the famous Dennis scene, when he bemoans the monarchical system as being decided by "some farcical aquatic ceremony". But there's also great insight into old customs of land development ("that sank into the swamp"), chivalry (Galahad's sojourn at Anthrax),  and shrubbery. And it's pretty damn funny.

2. Mahler
Ken Russell
Probably my favorite of the 1975 Ken Russell films, Mahler is one of his composer biopics that relies more on symbolism and spiritual truths rather than fact. Fortunately, this one is rather more sedate than Lisztomania, with the flights of fancy more contextual. We get a real sense of Mahler's childhood, marriage, wandering eye, conversion, and how they all influence, or are influenced by, his work as a conductor/composer. Genuinely moving.

1. Amarcord
Federico Fellini and Tonino Guerra
"With a colorful array of characters, Fellini's look at one year in a small town during Mussolini's reign is as uniquely Italian as it is universal. With the title translating to "I Remember", we are offered episodic glimpses into life at school (where the teachers are dull and pranks are pulled), home (quarreling yet well-meaning parents), and the neighborhood, along with those significant events that mark a lifetime. I'm talking holiday traditions, weddings, funerals, political rallies...and first brushes with sex. Warm, funny, with a teary-eyed mix of sadness and nostalgia, it's like hearing familiar and beloved stories from an old friend."


5. Mahogany
"Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To?)"
Michael Masser and Gerald Goffin 

"The song and its variants play throughout the film, as Mahogany pursues her dreams of being a lauded designer while also pushing away the man she loves. So of course the song is pertinent to the film overall: while Mahogany may have these dreams and fantasies, does she really know what she wants, or what she's willing to sacrifice? Does she know where she's going to?"

4. Nashville
"I'm Easy"
Keith Carradine 

One of the most beautiful songs ever written, in which Keith Carradine's caddish Tom shows some tenderness as he secretly sings to Lily Tomlin's married choir-leader Linnea. It's one of the most famous parts of the film, as each of Tom's other paramours think they are the target of his lyrics...until they follow his eyes. What woman could possibly resist hearing, "Take my hand and pull me down/I won't put up any fight/'Cuz I'm easy"? Bonus points for being the sole representative of Nashville's twelve original songs.

3. Nashville
"My Idaho Home"
Ronee Blakley

Barbara Jean's final song, one detailing a strong, happy childhood, is beautiful in its loyalty to mother and father. It's one of those wonderful songs that succeeds in romanticizing the strength of those who lived through "tougher times", especially poignant when you consider the source: a multi-platinum living legend who may the Queen of Country Music, but also a neurotic, nervous, mentally unstable woman who cannot handle her fame. No wonder she pines for the days when she could "bear floods and fires and bad weather."

2. Nashville
Karen Black 
[song begins at 9:08]

Many will react to this as a great spoof of nonsensical, sincere country songs. But damn if it doesn't hit me every time Karen Black sings, "I'd like to go to Heaven but I've forgotten how to pray" and "I'd like to give you all I got, but I don't know what that is". Besides being a great song on its own, it also establishes the talent and magnetism of Barbara Jean's rival Connie White.

1. Nashville
Ronee Blakley

Simply put, it's the most beautiful song in the film. Is it, secretly, meant for Barbara Jean's manager hubby, proclaiming that she's tired of all the stress he puts her through? Is it an anthem for the exhausted wives played by Lily Tomlin and Cristina Raines, or perhaps that of Haven Hamilton's longtime mistress Lady Pearl (Barbara Baxley)? Could be. But it's also goddamn beautiful, and is a part of one of the greatest scenes offered by the cinema.


5. Barry Lyndon
Milena Canonero and Ulla-Britt Soderlund 

4. The Story of O.
Tan Giudicelli
 At Roissy, the men dress like the heroes on the covers of romantic novels set in the 17th-century, the better to serve their image of themselves as sexually potent beings. In the city, we know that, of course, only the rich can live like this -- look at their silk shirts, tailored blazers, fancy ascots. The women, meanwhile, must wear their degrading dresses to allow for easy access. And at he climactic masque, O reveals herself as the bird of prey she has become.

3. Amarcord
Danilo Donati

As befits a memory, many of the characters appear in the same outfits -- and what eye-catching outfits they are! Of course, the tobacconist's blue sweater is perfect for her ample bosom, and the stylish Gradisca looks regal in her red outfit with the black fur lining; but I also like the innocence of those short pants and caps on the students, or the almost-rags of that tall-tale peddler, or the hairnet of Titta's fey uncle.

2. Death Race 2000
Jane Rum
 Over the top and absolutely perfect, Rum gives each driver a costume to match his or her theme, from the sharp mafioso suits of Machine Gun Joe to the blending of uniforms of the Second and Third Reichs for Matilda the Hun. The fetish-y leather gear worn by protagonist Frankenstein is rightfully iconic -- and impressive when you learn it wasn't real leather at all! And how can you not love the gaudy flashiness of anchors Junior Bruce and Grace Pander?

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Hazel Pethig
 Personally, I've always loved the detail on Arthur's costume: a golden sun with a moustache. In second place comes Sir Bedevere's helmet, one that must always be propped up if he is to communicate with anyone. Ah, but of course I dare not forget the layered furs of the King of Swamp Castle, nor the terrifying horns worn by the Knights Who Say Ni, nor Tim the Enchanter's whole...thing.


5. Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
 "What, like I need to tell you what a great performance this is? I love how Nicholson never tries to make McMurphy smarter, kinder or more selfless than he really is; instead, the small ways in which he saves and inspires the people around him come almost by chance through his arrogance and self-aggrandizement. He's an uneducated, vulgar, manipulative man, but he believes in the patients' ability to help themselves and even delays his own escape to allow the happiness of one of them. From his narrating an imaginary World Series to wiping snot from his nose during a basketball game, Nicholson's deft handling of big moments and little details illustrate an uncomplicated yet somewhat complex human being."

4. Robert Mitchum as Harry Kilmer
The Yakuza
 Mitchum's performance is a heavy one to watch. As fixer Harry Kilmer, Mitchum's sad-sheepdog appearance and slow, thick voice certainly help to convey a life lived long and rough. But what he does with his eyes, what he conveys without speaking, tell us even more about an exhausted, haunted man who is getting too old for this shit. He kicks ass when he fights, but you can see that he feels every bruise, bump and nick.

3. Michael Caine as Peachy Carnahan
The Man Who Would Be King
 Peachy is a clever con flying by the seat of his pants, the flash of his smile, and his charming manner: obviously easy work for a showman like Caine. Peachy's main focus is to get rich quick, but as always, he gets more than he bargained for when Daniel gets delusions of grandeur. You see the jocularity as the fun begins slowly turn to envy, but he never turns on his friend. Instead, his envy turns more and more into guilt, for starting this journey, for pursuing it even through a blizzard and a hostile army. Caine's portrayal of this arc is heartbreaking.

2. Sean Connery as Daniel Dravot
The Man Who Would Be King
 Connery plays Dravot as being just a little slower than Carnahan, yet more given to an almost childish impetuousness. Mistaken for a God-king, Connery easily navigates that thin line between amused acquiescence and deluded acceptance. He explores Dravot's descent into megalomania without sacrificing anything we know about he character -- he's still fond of a joke, brash, a man's man, but now he thinks he's qualified to rule a kingdom while ignoring the customs of the native people. It's a tricky role, but Connery delivers one of the finest performances of his career.

1. Al Pacino as Sonny
Dog Day Afternoon
 ...just as Pacino delivers the finest one of his career."I love everything about this performance. Pacino gives Sonny a bizarre energy, like an easily-distracted child making his own rules to a game everyone else has played. His various forms of self-delusion and self-pity are fascinating to watch, particularly in his interactions with his "wife". The slow slide from energized media hero to exhausted Man is subtly charted, so that Pacino's eventual hopeless acceptance at the end is organic, disquieting, and inevitable."


5. Pick-Up
Bernard Hirschenson

4. Dog Day Afternoon
Victor J. Kremper

3. The Magic Flute
Sven Nykvist

2. Mahler
Dick Bush

1. Barry Lyndon
John Alcott


5. Gwenn Welles as Sueleen Gay
 Sueleen is perfect fodder for an internet meme: cute, confident, delusional and talentless. Welles plays her with such genuine naivete, you know she's still going to open mics and planning her big break thirty years later. Her hurt and confusion at the Elks' Club is humiliating, then infuriating as she buries all that doubt in pursuit of that dream. Welles' performance is so naturalistic, so subtly conveyed, that one must use a common line for bio performances: Gwenn Welles IS Sueleen Gay!

4. Goldie Hawn as Jill
 Hawn, of course, had that bubble-headed ditz schtick down pat from years on Laugh-In, but here she puts a twist on it, creating a sympathetic girlfriend who's not so much dumb as she is naive. We see her putting the puzzle of George together both in her lunch with Julie Christie's Jackie and at the later election night part, but Hawn also makes sure Jill denies what she sees -- until the poolhouse. Her last scene is a killer, saying much more with her blank-faced pity than any furrow-bowed anger could muster.

3. Lily Tomlin as Linnea Rees
 "She manages to maintain the life of a mother, choir leader, recording artist and housewife without ever coming loose. Of all the women, she's the only one who knows what Tom is all about, and so she can be affectionate without getting attached. Her sphinx-like face holds a multitude of secrets -- Lord knows her inattentive husband doesn't know half the things she does -- but rather than wearing her down, each new development is filed away. She's Southern housewifery at its best."

2. Barbara Baxley as Lady Pearl
 In another couple of years Baxley may overtake Blakley, but for now she's good where she is. As the brash, longtime mistress of country superstar (and therefore unofficial Mayor of Nashville) Haven Hamilton, Baxley gets a lot of laughs using that accent to either argue with her man or play mein host at her bar. There's a watchful brilliance to Lady Pearl, and in scenes where she politely disarms Michael Murphy's political or keeps Haven from committing a racist faux pas, Baxley lets the audience see why she's been the other Mrs. Hamilton all these years, and why she's never going to be replaced. She also hints at the toll playing this role takes on Pearl, as she finally opens up about her politics one drunken evening, and when she sits alone at a Catholic Mass on Sunday. Her role is so much smaller and so much more subtle than the rest of the ensemble, but every year she steals my heart a little more.

1. Ronee Blakley as Barbara Jean
 "With her fragile looks, gentle manner, and bright smile, it's not hard to see how this young woman became the Queen of Nashville -- and when she sings, you might as well be hearing the choir of Heaven. Blakley sells this personable creature, but also keeps us clued in on her instabilities -- the petty jealousy of a rival, the childlike dependency on everyone around her, the far-off look of a woman not totally there. It all culminates in one of the most grueling breakdown scenes in cinema, as the stage persona and sick woman come up against each other during a performance at Opryland. Devastating."

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