Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Eight Against Five: Best Picture, 1971

Was 1971 the greatest Best Picture lineup ever? The American Film Institute certainly must think so -- in its original presentation of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time, two of these films made it in: A Clockwork Orange and The French Connection; in the 10th Anniversary reassessment, The Last Picture Show joined them. At least one of these choices is wrong, in my opinion -- and you won't wait long to hear which of them it is!

And what of today's crop of Best Picture nominees? Will they one day be added to the list of Greatest Films of All Time? Certainly there are early arguments to be made in favor of Birdman and Boyhood, both uniquely consructed and executed. And I'm sure history will correct the perceived snub against Selma -- though, hey, being one of the eight movies named Best Picture of the Year is no slight, you know what I mean? 

Oh, Lord, eight pictures. How ever will I compare each of them to 1971's crop of five?

The American Tale 
I suppose Iraq could make a tale of a sniper, and I know there's that Seven Up series of films from Britain that document a group of people from childhood through...well, ongoing. And Lord knows every country has its take on small town living. But the slacker musing/iMac using/Obama loving of Boyhood; the blind patriotism unsettlingly ignoring the moments of doubt, along with the overseas vengeance, of American Sniper; and the village existence that is physically easy to leave but mentally and emotionally always there, trapping you, keeping you in a place where the cinema is the symbol of a dying town, as in The Last Picture Show. These concerns, and the execution thereof, are, I think, uniquely American.

The Jerk-As-Genius Appeal 
"He's unlikable but maybe he's right!" the film screams. And maybe it's true! Maybe the biggest assholes in the room...are the brightest assholes in the room! The guy who hates sandwiches and doesn't like jokes might be the one who brings down the Nazis (The Imitation Game). The teacher who physically and verbally abuses his students is the only one able to bring out the untapped potential in the truly talented (Whiplash). The cop shouting racist epithets, bedding barely legals, and randomly shaking down people he just doesn't like, is more dedicated to seeing justice done than anyone else working in the system (The French Connection). They're uncompromising, but dammit, they get results.

The Historical Romance  
Admittedly, The Theory of Everything is much more of a biopic, more micro, than Nicholas and Alexandra, which not only explores the devoted marriage of Russia's last royal family, but how that effected the rest of their Empire, until it finally crumbled. Theory of Everything is not about crumbling empires, but strengthened wills that fight back against the undefeatable...and defeat it. In one film, an entire world that has been granted to the central couple is taken away; in the other, the couple itself builds its own world. Really, what a fascinating double feature it would make -- even if it got a bit long.

The Auteurist Work 
The director's thumbprint is on every single aspect, and not just because they also contributed to the screenplay. For some, this gets in the way of the film, as the director's confident choices appear to mesh uncomfortably with their intent; for others, it all goes together beautifully, the Auteur Theory made perfect, and all the more beautiful because the director refused to compromise. For Birdman, it resulted in an Oscar; for A Clockwork Orange, it resulted in infamy and immortality; what, then, will it yield for Selma? Time will tell, but there is no doubt that each film is unflinching in its vision. Iñárritu, du Vernay, Kubrick -- no need to specify with first names, we know immediately who you're talking about.

The Non-Drama with Technical Prowess  
Not to say that it's all fun and games, necessarily, but it's certainly a respite from the often more dour work in the category -- and the craft elements are so specific, so impressive, that they alone make the case for its being here. This year, we were blessed with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I consider the best of Oscar's nominees -- movingly-written, superbly-designed, and with a soundtrack that is delectable to the ears. In 1971, audiences were blessed with Fiddler on the Roof, another movingly-written, superbly-designed, musically-orgasmic motion picture which I consider...ah! But you'll just have to wait and see, won't you? After the jump, please....

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's the Singer and the Song: Best Original Song, 1971

Time to make another mixtape, this time of Original Song nominees!

I have to confess, Glen Campbell...I'll Be Me sits with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as the only non-specialty nominees I have not seen. But I've listened to it! And I liked it!

Now: the music. After the jump.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar Predictions, 2015!

It's been a long and winding road that led to this door.

PICTURE: Birdman
DIRECTOR: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
ACTOR: Michael Keaton, Birdman
ACTRESS: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
SUPPORTING ACTOR: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Wes Anderson/Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
ORIGINAL SCORE: Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
ORIGINAL SONG: "Glory", Selma
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: The Grand Budapest Hotel
COSTUME DESIGN: Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
EDITING: Tom Cross, Whiplash
MAKEUP: Foxcatcher
VISUAL EFFECTS: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
SOUND EDITING: American Sniper
SOUND MIXING: American Sniper
ANIMATED FEATURE: How to Train Your Dragon 2
DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Your Winners for the 2014 Hollmann Awards!

No boring speeches... No big lead-ins... But still musical numbers! It's the Hollmann Awards!


Milena Canonero
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson films have always been the reliable source for Costumes with a capital "c" -- the old European hotel setting allows for some old school elegance, even while staying true to the auteur's specific look.

2. Mr. Turner, 3. G.B.F., 4. The Immigrant, 5. Pride


Fiona Weir
Everyone is given their moment to shine, and there's not a weak link in the bunch -- all 468 actors nail the balance of drama and comedy, and each is recognizably human.

2. Mr. Turner, 3. Gone Girl, 4. Selma, 5. We Are the Best!

One of these winning films won more than two! Which one? Find the answer, and more awards, after the jump!

Gold Rush 2015 (Part One)

I'm so glad -- one of my oldest and dearest friends, The March King, and I were able to talk Oscar agin this year, for our annual intake of the Gold Rush! These aren't predictions, nor are they reviews -- they're a perfect representation, though, of the conversation he and I have been having since we were adolescents.

Please enjoy this edition of the Gold Rush, after the jump.

Silver Screener: So our timing on this is excellent because I just finished watching THE JUDGE!

March King: And?

SS:  I liked it!

MK:  But was it Oscar worthy? 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Things Are Different: Best Supporting Actor, 1971

It's not easy to compare this year's slate of Supporting Actor nominees to that of 1971. Ben Johnson is somewhere between J.K. Simmons (the steamroller) and Robert Duvall (the veteran honored) -- except Duvall already has an Oscar and several nods, and Simmons' character is incomparable to Johnson's. Jeff Bridges certainly has the same cocky attitude as Edward Norton, but it's definitely more naive, boyish, open, and borne of insecurity. Mark Ruffalo is just as charming and good-natured and dependable as Richard Jaeckel ... actually, that's a perfect comparison. If this was Ethan Hawk'e first nomination, I could more easily make the Character Actor Made Good argument with Roy Scheider. But who the hell gets saddled with Leonard Frey? 

The Oscars are different, there's no doubt about it. We joke a lot about how Supporting Actor has become the go-to category for honoring veterans, or how they're for leads who aren't as famous/young/handsome as the other lead. And in comparing these two years ... that may be quite true. Simmons is the only 2014 member nominated for the first time, in a role that would be campaigned for lead if, say, Daniel Day-Lewis or Denzel Washington played the part. But when you look at 1971's lineup, everyone is here for the first time, all of them are legitimate supporting turns, and the ages range from 22 to 53 -- quite young!

That's what I learned. Now what I did I love? That's after the jump.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Fine Vintage: Best Actress, 1971

One of my favorite categories -- after Supporting Actress, of course, and right ahead of Adapted Screenplay. And I have to commend both 2014 and 1971 for the strength of their lineup. Even if not everybody made it to my personal ballot, I still find the overall list to be well above-average. Both years.

Here's to the ladies who...

...go back and forth between determination and humiliation. They're capable, haunted, and don't want to have to beg and plead to maintain their existence. 
(Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night / Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday)

...doggedly pursue a fresh start, as they sometimes face, sometimes escape their past. Too many strangers have seen them naked; they're getting their self-control, self-worth, and confidence back!
(Reese Witherspoon in Wild / Jane Fonda in Klute) every moment with the threat of disease destroying their family, their household, and their legacy -- and refuse to let it defeat them.
(Julianne Moore in Still Alice / Janet Suzman in Nicholas and Alexandra)

...stick to their guns, even as the world around them gives them every reason and opportunity to abandon their cause. It's not about stubbornness; it's about love.
(Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything / Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots)

...are in control of every situation, even if the man in their life thinks otherwise.
(Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl / Julie Christie in McCabe & Mrs. Miller)

More thoughts on the 70s gals, after the jump....

Monday, February 16, 2015

Crafty Bugger: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, 1971

In looking at this year's nominees for Best Production Design, one cannot help but be reminded of the nominees for its then-equivalent Best Art Direction-Set Decoration in 1971. Especially if, like me, you're devoting an entire month to forcing those kind of parallels. Hopefully, however, you'll see a pattern that makes the word "forcing" seem like a disservice.

Take Interstellar, which showcases the same grounded sci-fi steeliness as The Andromeda Strain.

Or  The Imitation Game, whose attention to period authenticity does for World War II Britain was Mary, Queen of Scots' similar approach does for Elizabethan England.

Take Into the Woods, with its rather ugly, straight-faced take on fantasy, much as Bedknobs and Broomsticks grounds itself in a reality unprepared for the witchcraft on display.

Or Mr. Turner, with lived-in locations that echo the same intimate veracity as Fiddler on the Roof.

And then, of course, there's The Grand Budapest Hotel, grand and big and bold and colorful, as befits a fantastical Wes Anderson flick -- it's amusing, then, that its closest counterpart is the historically-based Nicholas and Alexandra, a film that went to great lengths/expense to capture the ostentatiousness of the Romanovs.

And we'll see just what I mean, after the jump....

Book Club Time: Best Adapted Screenplay, 1971

Finding the common thread between the nominees of 2014 and those of 1971 will be a challenge indeed. The landscape of cinema and Oscar has changed so completely in those 40-plus years. Back then, all five nominees were based on novels, and two of them were foreign. This year, one nominee is based on a novel, three on bios, and one on a short film -- the latter especially stands out, since in 1971, such things just did not happen. 

Still, there are some similarities, if you choose to look for them. So allow me to suggest, a la Amazon, some companion watches/reads ... after the jump

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Valentines: Best Supporting Actress, 1971

This is ladies night, and the feeling's right ... to look at the handful of performances that made the Academy's cut for Best Supporting Actress! Both 2014 and 1971 boast a strong lineup overall. Can you imagine if these gals paired up, commiserated, found common ground? Just imagine...

Joan Clarke (The Imitation Game) & Lois Farrow (The Last Picture Show)
For a moment, it looked like she would have to settle, something she wasn't too happy about. After all, she was as intelligent as she was beautiful, more aware of her surroundings than many of the men around her. A shrewd observer, she had to make some compromises -- that was just the reality of her situation -- but she was more in control than anyone knew. Well, almost anyone -- there was that one guy who appreciated her for who she was...

Olivia (Boyhood) & Alison Densmore (Who is Harry Kellerman...?)
Life hasn't dealt her an easy hand. She's struggling. But the fact that she is struggling means she's working, she hasn't given up. There's a goal in mind, though as time passes, she's starting to think that maybe it's unattainable -- maybe no one really reaches it at all. Through it all, she's more self-assured and in control than she thinks she is. She's a survivor, but she's not just surviving. And she's going to be just fine.

The Witch (Into the Woods) & Mrs. Maudsley (The Go-Between) 
Momma has plans for her daughter -- those plans do not involve the earthy mess outside the walls of the place they call home. She will do whatever it takes to make sure her plans come to fruition, even down to manipulating innocents. The main thorn in her side: That Man her daughter is completely besotted with, but who is clearly No Good For Her. But you know, no matter what you say, children won't listen. 

Bobbi (Wild) & Ruth Popper (The Last Picture Show)
A sweet woman, naturally open-hearted and warm, but one who's been ill-used by the men in her life. Continually sacrificing, trying to satisfy everyone but herself -- until, late in life, she finally gets the chance to pursue something that's challenging and freeing and personal. Though tears are shed in the kitchen, in the end, she rolls her shoulders back, reaching out to comfort those around her.

Sam (Birdman) & Bobbie (Carnal Knowledge) 
Girl is in a bad place, but she's looking to get out of it. A good start would be to stop pursuing the egomaniac.

The ladies of 1971, plus mine and Oscar's winner, after the jump.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tuning In: Best Original Dramatic Score, 1971

I can't help but think of Best Original Score as a category full of types -- indeed, most Oscar categories are full of types (doubters should look to StinkyLulu for clarity). Of course, what those categories are differ from person to person, but let's see how wildly I can draw parallels between the films of today and those of 1971!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Helmsmen: Director, 1971

We've landed on Best Director! Gave a lot of thought to this one in my 1971-2014 linking. I mean, who do I compare to whom? Of the five men nominated in 1971, two already had Oscars, one was on his third nomination, one was a first-time filmmaker, and one had finally found a film that suited both himself and audiences. Of the five men (always men!) nominated in 2014, two are previous nominees, two are beloved auteurs finally embraced by the Academy, and one is Morten Tyldum.

But dammit, I found a way! I found the common threads!

He's not just honing his voice via literary adaptation; he's also riffing off the tone and style of a respected director whose voice and interests neatly align with his own. This could be Wes Anderson adapting Stefan Zweig via Ernst Lubitsch for the invented Europe of The Grand Budapest Hotel, or Peter Bogdanovich adapting Larry McMurtry via John Ford to capture a Western community for The Last Picture Show.

Working in a genre that's catnip to Oscar voters and audiences only mission was not to fuck it up. Probably anybody could have done this. Yet he still manages to bring a personal touch, not getting in the way of the story, yet offering a strong piece of cinema with superb performances. Morten Tyldum offers us another World War II tale (with a gay twist!) in The Imitation Game; Norman Jewison offers us a musical epic in Fiddler on the Roof.

He's got a personal stake in the material, having shaped aspects of it from his own life, but he doesn't let that cloud his judgment. The performances he coaxes from his actors delve deep -- you know them all too well. Richard Linklater reportedly riffed off aspects of his childhood for Boyhood; John Schlesinger was more than willing to own up to the autobiographical elements of Sunday Bloody Sunday

Raised eyebrows when he took on the project, as it's not exactly his "box", so to speak; not so much his "thang". Yet this is the one that makes people look up, and even his former critics find themselves applauding. Alejandro G. Inarritu traded in his mopey human dramas for showbiz comedy in Birdman. William Friedkin, known for niche stage adaptations and zany comedies (weirdly), became a power player with his cop thriller The French Connection

Carefully-composed shots and a very deliberate tone, with observations and revelations tailor-made to make people think a little more deeply about things, man. Problem is: this emperor has no clothes. An empty, dull, unfocused horror. Yet it's fooled everyone. Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher is a worse offender than Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, though. Even more agonizing: these guys are usually great!

A further look at the filmmakers of 1971, after the jump.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Looks Like a Winner: Best Cinematography, 1971

I probably shouldn't point out that this is almost a full week late, but hey -- it's here, right?

Now we come to a difficult point of assessment: Cinematography. Many times, we grade it in terms of what looks prettiest, but this is not necessarily the best choice -- not all movies are made to be pretty. We also sometimes judge on technical wizardry or degree of difficulty -- better, perhaps, but I don't care how much of Gravity was a single take, it was a 3D film that looked flat. In the end, one must always consider what it does for the film.

And sometimes, I just go for the prettiest.

As with any category, there are certain looks, and certain genres, that tend to crop up come nomination time. If I may...

The film that people would describe as "painterly", yet not necessarily bold in color. It was meant quite literally for biopic Mr. Turner this year, a reflection of the titular painter's own very mustardy canvases, but also serves well for 1971's Fiddler on the Roof, which, despite its musical genre, has a quite natural, clay-like look to it. Both have phenomenal sunsets, too.

In the age of color film, going black-and-white seems to almost guarantee a nod (Nebraska, for God's sake). Artfully applied this year for Poland's Ida, a tale of identity, memory, morality, and the grey areas in all; also beautiful in 1971's The Last Picture Show.

Nothing impresses like a beautifully-lit film with at least one single-take scene, one that makes our jaws drop and exclaim, "HOW?!?" This year, Birdman is getting the praise, as the entire film is comprised of several long-take scenes; in 1971, Summer of '42 the climax is filmed uninterrupted within a single room.

There are masters of the craft who are respected and beloved by their peers. Today, we have Roger Deakins, once again nominated (and, once again, probably unsuccessfully) for his reliably great work on the war film Unbroken. In 1971, there was Freddie Young, celebrating the last of his five nominations (three of which he won) for the Romanov bio Nicholas and Alexandra.

There is, I think, a special talent to making a frosty frame, to capturing the genuine chill of a setting. Certainly The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like winter, even indoors; so, too, does The French Connection. Neither really looks similar, and they certainly cover action differently, but at least I'm not alone in admiring icy cinematography.

Less muddle after the jump

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Odd Pairings: Best Original Screenplay, 1971

Double feature time again -- only this time, instead of just throwing on a DVD or Blu-Ray or whatever the kids use (holograms? what were those little discs in Minority Report?), why not pick up a manuscript? Specifically, any published copies of the nominees for Best Original Screenplay, be they from 2014 or 1971. And allow me to suggest some travel companions to suit the mood...

You down for broad dramedy zeroing in on a male protagonist undergoing a personal crisis while performing his duties within a particular industry? Double the pleasure with 1971's medical satire The Hospital and 2014's showbiz satire Birdman! (Yes, I know I already made that comparison yesterday, but if the shoe fits...)

In the mood for a bizarre crime flick with a sick sense of humor and an unstoppable protagonist that you kind of wish would, just once, get punched in the face? Double-tap that sucker with 1971's cop-focused Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and 2014's late-night news-focused Nightcrawler.

Perhaps you like crime just fine, but would rather trade in the humor for something that takes a closer look at gender and America. Learn about the ladies from 1971's Klute, and learn about the lads from 2014's Foxcatcher.

Or maybe you're highly specific and could really go for a coming-of-age story focusing on the influence certain adults have over children's lives, and the melancholic nostalgia that comes from looking back? Get out the tissues, because I'm talking about 1971 drama Summer of '42 and 2014 comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Nah, you're the type of person that wants to see the reverse -- the effect a younger person has on the older people in his life -- and you want it spiced up with realizations of how everyone always hopes that they're almost on the brink of Getting It Right, but rarely do. They just thought there'd be more! Yes, yes -- double the fun with 1971's bisexual menage a trois at the center of Sunday Bloody Sunday and 2014's saga of parents and children Boyhood.

For a further look at the films of 1971, please do jump after the jump...

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The More Things Change...: Best Actor, 1971

It is interesting, I think, when one looks at this year's crop of Best Actor compared to 1971's, to notice the surprising similarities among the nominees. After more than 40 years, there will always be a certain type of role, or performance, or actor, that attracts Oscar's attention.

Birdman and The Hospital
Michael Keaton (also a Hollmann Award Nominee) brings terrific subtlety to the role of Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor literally staging his comeback, constantly questioning and doubting himself, surrounded by an ensemble of crazies with their own insecurities and hang-ups, in a beautifully-realized dark comedy about the theatre. George C. Scott is more bellowy and blowsy as Dr. Herbert Bock, a doctor at the end of his rope, constantly questioning and doubting himself, surrounded by an ensemble of crazies with their own insecurities and incompetencies, in a so-so dark comedy about the medical establishment. Oscar, it seems, loves sweaty, drunken monologuing.

The Imitation Game and The French Connection 
Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as the real-life mathematician Alan Turing, portrayed in this film as a super genius who must prove to an increasingly hostile Establishment that his ideas and instincts are not only correct, but the only thing standing in the way of a great evil -- Herr Hitler. Gene Hackman is superb as Popeye Doyle, based on real-life cop Eddie Egan, portrayed in this film as a cocky-but-honest cop who must prove to an increasingly hostile Establishment that his instincts are not only correct, but the only thing standing in the way of a great evil -- heroin trafficked in from France. Oscar, it seems, loves the smartest guy in the room, especially when he has to defy his superiors, man!

American Sniper and Fiddler on the Roof
Bradley Cooper bulked up to play Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, unwavering in his conviction that the Iraq War, and his part in it, are necessary to preserve the United States -- at times, he's absolutely frightening in his black-and-white certainty. Topol greyed up to play middle-aged milkman Tevye, but while Chris Kyle holds firm to what he believes to be true, Tevye is starting to look with curiosity, and maybe a little excitement, at the changing world around him -- he holds on to his traditions, yes, but he's beginning to adapt. Oscar, it seems, loves a man with strong beliefs.

The Theory of Everything and Sunday Bloody Sunday 
Eddie Redmayne is the great quantum physicist Stephen Hawking, conveying warmth, strained patience, uncertainty, and eventual acceptance in an unconventional love story -- forget the ALS, it's the odd triangle between Stephen, wife Jane, and friend/church choir leader Jonathan Hellyer Jones, that's the real draw. Peter Finch is Dr. Daniel Hirsh, conveying warmth, strained patience, insecurity, and willful self-delusion in an unconventional love story -- Daniel, his young lover Bob, and Bob's female lover Alex. Oscar, it seems, loves to check "It's Complicated."

Foxcatcher and Kotch 
What on earth could Steve Carell's performance as John du Pont possibly have in common with Walter Matthau's performance as Kotch? Honey, I don't even know why these people got nominated. Oscar, it seems, loves grey toupees.

For a further look at the performances of 1971, please continue after the jump.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Here We Go: Best Original Song Score and Adaptation, 1971

Over the next three weeks, we'll be taking a look at the films of 1971 -- as usual, seen through the prism of the Academy Award Nominees from that year. Not as usual, we will also take a look at the corresponding nominees of this year's Oscars. How does J.K. Simmons stack up alongside Ben Johnson? What is the parallel between Alexandre Desplat and Jerry Fielding? Can we trace an evolution, or possible plateau, in the 43 years that have passed between The French Connection and Selma? These are the types of questions we will try to ponder.

Later, though. For now, let us concentrate on one of my favorite categories to have gone the way of the dodo -- the Adapted Song Score (aka...well, see post title).

I'm still not entirely sure why they discontinued the category (is it because no one could top Prince?), especially since the minimum required was only three. Easy enough, I should think. This year alone could have seen nominations for Annie, Begin Again and Into the Woods, all of which use both songs and music derived from those songs to create a complete score. Previous years would have been able to honor FrozenTrue Grit, Black Swan, Ray, Walk the Line -- plenty of options!

In 1971, there were a full five to choose from: