Saturday, December 30, 2017

That's All, Folks!

The final films I saw in 2017...

dir: David Ayer
scr: Max Landis

Straight-faced take on fantasy creatures in a modern setting is pretty neat, but the lack of coherent follow-through on characters and plotlines - you know, the story - feels like a bad call! Hardly the worst of the year, if only because, come on, how can you feel strongly one way or the other about this movie?

Nuns, assassins, and Golden Globe nominees after the jump...

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Merry Movie Christmas

Happy Christmas Eve! This is just what I've seen since Tuesday.

Youth (芳华)
dir: Feng Xiaogang
scr: Yan Geling, based on her novel

A sweeping yet personal portrait of a cultural arts troupe in late-70s China. Spellbinding recreations of red ballets and operas break up the intimate romances among youth and full-scale carnage of the battlefield. A dazzling tribute to the talents who make propaganda, fully aware of the injustices and new hierarchy kick-started by the Cultural Revolution while acknowledging how people found a purpose and a family within that milieu.

Docs, arthouse catch-ups, plus Molly's Game and The Post, after the jump.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Dream That Came Through a Million Years

The Greatest Showman
dir: Michael Gracey
scr: Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, story by Bicks

P.T. Barnum happily bore the title Prince of Humbugs, insisting there was nothing wrong with hyperbole to sell tickets, as long as you delivered on a satisfying show and brought joy to the people. The Greatest Showman is a valentine to that spirit, if not the actual facts (if we are to go by Barnum's ageless children, his entire showbiz career spanned about six to eight months): it razzles, it dazzles, it feels a lot about The Stage as a place where, to paraphrase one character, the full tapestry of humanity is on display. The choreography is executed by actual dancers, with a constantly roving camera capturing their every move from head to toe! Michelle Williams, allowed to smile on screen for the first time since Oz the Great and Powerful, impresses with a winsome singing voice and a warm openness - would that she could get more roles like this!

In truth, it reminded me a lot of my favorite movie, Xanadu: for every "Guys like me shouldn't dream, anyway" moment of on-the-nose clunkiness (and oh boy, there's a-plenty!), there are three musical appeals for beauty and spectacle that remind you just why we go to the movies in the first place. Also like Xanadu, it ends with all the money thrown up on the screen in a busy yet shockingly moving finale. It wears its heart on its sleeve and naively expects everyone else to, too. I loved loved loved it.

"Never Enough", my favorite song from the film

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Tales of the Weird and True

It's Awards Season and Star Wars weekend, which means a lot to talk about. Beginning with...

The Shape of Water
dir: Guillermo del Toro
scr: Del Toro & Vanessa Taylor

Del Toro's adult fairy tale is a dreamy ballet of misfits and monsters, a valentine to the bizarre that's directed right at my heart. Yes, they made that aquatic creature sexy - you could bounce a coin off it - but they also made every character, hero and villain alike, a fully-realized, complicated person that still exists within this fantasy world. Magical.

The Last Jedi , The Disaster Artist, I, Tonya, and more, after the jump....

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

SAG Award Nominations

The film nominees for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, as announced this morning by the very giddy duo of Olivia Munn and Niecy Nash.

Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

My predictions: 3/5 - Octavia Spencer missed out, which surprises me; so did Julia Roberts, but I knew that was a risky prediction. Four of these ladies also showed up on the Golden Globes' lineup; the real winner, in spirit, is Holly Hunter.

More surprises, after the jump.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Predictably SAGgy

The nominations for the Screen Actirs Guild Awards will be announced tomorrow. How about some predictions?
Best Ensemble
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Not having seen The Post, I can only say that it's a hell of a cast they've assembled. My other four picks are all films where you really feel the community of characters on-screen - not just the headliners who will get their names on the official nominee roster, but the bit characters, too. The brother's girlfriend in Lady Bird, the neighbor losing her mind in Mudbound, the meek security man in The Shape of Water, the black chief in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri: they are all indelible to their films and stories, all brought to vivid life by their actors. That's what makes for an Outstanding Cast.

The remainder, after the jump

Monday, December 11, 2017

Further Thoughts On The Golden Globes

Scattered, more detailed thoughts on those Golden Globe nominations, and what they mean for Awards Season overall...

1) A lot of people are stunned and angry about Jordan Peele's absence from the Best Director lineup at the Golden Globes. I will be shocked if he actually winds up nominated at the DGAs or the Oscars. That's nothing to do with the quality of his work; there's a reason why it's sustained its level of hype from February, and not just because it captures The Moment in terms of our current conversations regarding race and whiteness - it's because of the craftsmanship, the originality. Still, while Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay nominations are all but guaranteed, Peele's working in a genre seldom given due at the Oscars. Besides, it's a crowded field in general: Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg, Luca Guadagnino, Sean Baker, Martin McDonagh, Paul Thomas Anderson, Greta Gerwig, Ridley Scott, Dee Rees. Peele's a more likely nominee than a good chunk of this group, but with no consensus yet on even the top three frontrunners, he's got hurdles.

Talking 'bout Wonder Woman, Three Billboards, and more, after the jump....

Golden Globe Nominees

It doesn't really feel like Awards Season until the Golden Globes make their announcement, you know? Sure, sure: National Board of Review and critics' groups are important and great time capsules for the year, but they just have winners; the Globes have nominees, suspense, anticipation! And oh, always a surprise...

I concern myself only with the film categories, beginning after the jump....

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mostly Moms and Families

Brief notes on new releases, old releases finally screened, and streaming titles.

dir: Lee Unkrich, co-directed by Adrian Molina
scr: Adrian Molina & Matthew Aldrich, story by Unkrich & Jason Katz & Molina & Aldrich

Exquisitely designed, emotionally resonant portrait of family and legacy. An enlightening experience, too: pardon my ignorance, but I never knew before the meaning of Day of the Dead, nor was I familiar with ofrendas or alebrijes. One especially dark narrative twist feels a little too much and left me with questions about the established rules of the universe, but if that's your takeaway and not the emotional ending or the music, that's on you, buddy.

Mudbound, Call Me By Your Name, and a lot of apes, after the jump....

Friday, December 1, 2017

The 1947 Retro Hollmann Awards, Part Two

We've shared the Top Ten. We've named the nominees. We've given out the first batch of prizes. Now, the final day of the 1947 Retro Hollmann Awards...which means the end of our look back at 1947. Each category is presented in the same order as at the 20th Academy Awards. Yup: we're closing out with Best Actress!

But first....

Best Actor

Nikolay Cherkasov as Tsar Ivan IV
Ivan the Terrible, Part One

2. Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street, 3. Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife, 3. Ronald Colman in A Double Life, 5. David Niven in The Bishop's Wife

Cherkasov is exhausting and all-in as the first Tsar of All Russia. He is sweating every single moment. The most surprising moments involve his scenes with wife Anastasia - that's real love, baby, real tenderness, real sorrow. His performance is a spectacle without equal. My understanding is that this definition of "terrible" isn't so much "Ivan the Bad" as it is "Ivan the Formidable" and, fuck me, Cherkasov is formidable.

Gwenn is Santa Claus. Grant exudes a gentle, holy warmth. Colman goes nuts, with subtlety. Niven does befuddled frustration without compromising the chemistry with Loretta Young.

Original Song, Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture and more, after the jump....

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The 1947 Retro Hollmann Awards, Part One

At last, the 1947 Retro Hollmann Awards are here! Part One consists of nine categories, including three that were not awarded at the 20th Academy Awards. For a full list of nominees, refer to yesterday's full list of nominees.

Best Ensemble 
Black Narcissus
Adele Raymond, casting

2. Green for Danger, 3. A Matter of Life and Death, 4. Brute Force, 5. Miracle on 34th Street

A sister superior who clings to that second word. A cloister of nuns - loyal, flighty, tempted. A beautiful native girl and the prince who is smitten with her. A capital-m Male advising a distracted royal. A holy man permanently perched. Each embodied vividly in Black Narcissus.

Green for Danger boasts an impressive who's who in British character acting. Everyone in A Matter of Life and Death is game for fantastic realism and impossible romance. Brute Force is full of brooding, guilt-ridden, desperate men. Miracle on 34th Street's cast just looks like they're having a blast.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Ivan the Terrible, Part One
Vasili Goryunov, makeup artist

2. A Matter of Life and Death, 3. Great Expectations, 4. Miracle on 34th Street, 5. Forever Amber

Ivan the Terrible has some of the most beautifully-applied lashes and liner in cinema. Big beards clutter the court, whether round and full, like the tsar's loyalists, or long, white, intricately carved, like the high priest. Ivan's own looks: the greasy beard, matted hair, the sunken-in eyes on his deathbed. And that one idiot boyar's lipsticked, femininely made-up face.

A Matter of Life and Death delivers impossibly rosy cheeks, French foppery, and very clean angels. Great Expectations makes a haggard prisoner, a wild-haired aging beauty, and the curls of Victorian male hair. Miracle on 34th Street delivers a real Santa Claus. Forever Amber is some good-ass 17th-century style.

Best Costume Design

Ivan the Terrible, Part One
Leonid Naumov

2. Black Narcissus, 3. A Matter of Life and Death, 4. Great Expectations, 5. Mother Wore Tights

Ivan the Terrible's costumes are incredibly detailed, as seen on Ivan himself - the ornate coronation robes, the intimidating simplicity of his court attire, his armor on the battlefield. Surrounded by men and women in big fur coats - so many heavy layers!

Black Narcissus' white habits, native garments, and royal finery. A Matter of Life and Death's looks across space and time. Great Expectations' styles spanning the class system. Mother Wore Tights' vaudeville glamor.

From here on, the categories continue in the same order as their counterparts at the 20th Academy Awards. But that's after the jump....

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The 1947 Retro Hollmann Awards Nominees

Can you believe this is the thirteenth iteration of the Retro Hollmanns? Probably you never thought about it!

Following are my picks for what should have been nominated in 1947...but with some not so small differences:

  • Best Costume Design - not an Oscar category until the following year; nevertheless, it is a Hollmann Awards category
  • Best Makeup & Hairstyling - not an Oscar category until 1981; nevertheless, it is a Hollmann Awards category
  • Best Ensemble - not an Oscar category; nevertheless, it is a Hollmann Awards category, awarded where possible to the casting director(s)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay - not an Oscar category until 1957; nevertheless, it a Hollmann Awards category
  • Best Original Screenplay - considered separate from Motion Picture Story until 1958; both are combined into this single designation for the Hollmann Awards

For a complete list of the 64 films considered, check out my Top Ten of 1947. Eighteen categories in all. And now, the nominees, in the order that I figured them out...except Best Picture, which comes at the end. I've linked to my review the first time each title appears.


John P. Fulton, special photographic effects
Harry Redmond, Jr., special effects

Ivor Beddoes, special photographic effects
W. Percy Day, process shots / matte painter
Arthur George Day / Thomas Sydney Day, matte painters
E. Hague / Jack Higgins / Sydney Pearson / James Snow, special effects

Fred Sersen, special photographic effects

Stanley Grant, special photographic effects
William C. Andrews / Henry Harris / Douglas Woolsey, special effects

Ub Iwerks, special processes
Brad Case / Blaine Gibson / Joshua Meador / George Rowley, effects animators

18 more films, 17 more categories, all after the jump....

Monday, November 27, 2017

Top Ten of 1947

Many Top Tens are difficult to draft up, but I must confess, this was one of the easiest I've ever made. In alphabetical order....

The Bishop's Wife
dir: Henry Koster
scr: Leonardo Bercovici and Robert E. Sherwood, based on the novel by Robert Nathan
cin: Gregg Toland

Like the angel Dudley, the film possesses a deceptively light touch whose gentle caresses bring forth great depths of feeling. It's funny but not silly, fanciful but not absurd, and it winks at extramarital flirtations without compromising anyone's integrity. Given the subject matter, it is only fitting that it be, from beginning to end, a pure joy.

Black Narcissus
dir/scr: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, based on the novel by Rumer Godden
cin: Jack Cardiff

A triumph of craftsmanship - the awe-inspiring effects and matte work, Jack Cardiff's photography capturing warmth and tempestuousness in eye-popping Technicolor, the detailed decay of a mountaintop convent. A triumph, too, of narrative - the unhappy woman who shuts herself up behind convent walls in the Himalayas, little realizing that only here, high enough to touch the heavens, is she truly exposed. Sexy and sad!

Tsars, circus folk, holy men and more, after the jump....

Saturday, November 25, 2017

For the Twentieth Time: Best Picture, 1947

I took a day to recover from making rather merry this Thanksgiving, but here, at last...the Best Picture nominees for the 20th Academy Awards...after the jump.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Shoo-In and the Shocker: Actress, 1947

Best Actress 1947 is one of the best Oscar stories to read about. It encompasses everything: campaigns creating narratives, one nominee steamrolling the circuit, a surprise twist, confidence becoming graciousness...jesus, no one could have guessed the outcome!

According to Mason Wiley and Damien Bona's essential Inside Oscar, the man we have to thank for this story is Henry Rogers, a publicist and Oscar strategist who was behind the campaigns for Olivia de Havilland in 1946 and Joan Crawford in 1945 - both resulting in wins. He offered his services to Rosalind Russell for Mourning Becomes Electra, a nearly three-hour drama based on the classic Eugene O'Neill play that Russell herself didn't enjoy. He orchestrated a campaign that led many to consider the other four also-rans - especially Susan Hayward, whose nomination was the most unexpected of the lineup, and Loretta Young, who even Variety mistakenly reported was up for The Bishop's Wife instead of The Farmer's Daughter. Russell received plaudits from USC, UCLA, even the PTA - and being named Best Actress at the Golden Globes didn't hurt, either.

This was the first year the Academy scrambled up the order of awards, instead of giving out "the technicals" first and "the majors" last. This meant changes like Best Actor coming in the middle of the show, and Best Film Editing being one of the final three awards. It also meant the last award of the night wasn't Best Picture, but Best Actress. And boy, did that decision pay off.

Legend has it Russell had already half-risen from her seat when Fredric March opened the envelope. Audience members were already quietly exiting. March even started to say, "Ros--" when he suddenly did a double-take. The award for Best Actress goes to....


Russell turned her anticipatory rise to leading the standing ovation that greeted the stunned Young, who was visibly shaking when she eventually left the stage...but not before planting a big kiss on Oscar. A shocking win closing out the Oscars - when was the last time that happened?

But was it deserved? My take on the nominees, after the jump...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Maybe It's Me, But....

Thor: Ragnarok's abrasively absurdist/jocular tone is annoying, condescending - we're the fun one, we can take the piss, check out this soft-spoken polite rock monster, Loki's such a twat, haw-haw-haw. Marvel films already feel like filler; this one's an aside within a footnote. Cate Blanchett's villain and her whole plot are approached with shrugging obligation. But boy oh boy, the score by Mark Mothersbaugh is one of the best of the year, the one element that truly grounds the fun in emotional resonance. (dir: Taika Waititi, scr:  Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost, based on the comics by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby)

The latest from Denzel and Julia Roberts after the jump....

Repeat Offenders: Musical Score, 1947

We're presenting two categories in a single post today, both very song-and-dance-oriented.

The first is a companion to Best Dramatic or Comedy Score called Best Musical Score, sometimes known as Best Adapted Score, also referred to as Best Adapted and/or Original Song Score. It's gone through a lot of name changes just to honor the work of orchestrators and arrangers. Currently, the category is known as Best Original Musical Score, and can be activated at any time should a studio and/or the music branch deem it necessary. I don't know why they don't: even if it were just a field of three, last year could have had a lineup of La La Land, Moana, and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

I digress, and I make the point a lot anyway. Toss this broken record aside and get to the nominees already...after the jump....

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Psycho Killer, Santa's Sleigh, Fa-fa-fa-fa...: Supporting Actor, 1947

What a lineup, this year's Best Supporting Actors, not a dud in the bunch! History is made! Movie debuts honored! And Santa Claus goes home a winner!

The skinny on the nominees and their performances, after the jump.

1947, Part Seven: Final Four

The final films screened for our look back at 1947....

Mother Wore Tights (#3 at the box office)
dir: Walter Lang
scr: Lamar Trotti, based on the memoir by Miriam Young
Oscar Winner: Best Musical Score (Alfred Newman)
Oscar Nominee: Best Original Song ("You Do"), Best Cinematography (Color)

A woman looks back at her vaudeville parents' lives and their sometimes strained relationship with her older sister. The musical numbers are wow, the kind that have you dancing in your seat and trying to sing along even though you've never heard them before. I loved Betty Grable and Dan Dailey! I was sobbing by the end, tears and awful noises and everything. And the costumes! It has it all!

The A-bomb and more, after the jump....

Monday, November 20, 2017

Christmas Miracles, Anti-Semitic Crimes: Screenplay, 1947

Here we have the nominees for Best Screenplay, separate from Original Screenplay and Motion Picture Story for reasons we covered in our post on the latter.

Four of the five nominees for Best Picture are represented here: Crossfire, written by one-time nominee John Paxton, and covering similar thematic ground as Gentleman's Agreement, written by Tony-winner/Pulitzer Prize winner/two-time Oscar nominee Moss Hart. There's Great Expectations, adapted by director David Lean (his third of eleven nominations), former cinematographer Ronald Neame (his third of three nominations), and producer Anthony Havelock-Allan (his second of three nominations). The family-friendly comedy Miracle on 34th Street is here, the only original work, whose source material was a Motion Picture story; director George Seaton wrote the screenplay, received his second of five nominations....and won his first of two Oscars!

The outlier - and outlier it indeed is - is Boomerang!, adapted from a Reader's Digest article by Richard Murphy, who would later be nominated for Story and Screenplay for The Desert Rats. Unlike its competitors, it was not nominated anywhere else, and personally, I feel the only thing that keeps it relevant and available today isn't its nomination, but its status as an Elia Kazan picture. That's just me, though.

Let's talk turkey, shall we? After the jump, of course...

My Funny Valentine: Motion Picture Story, 1947

Ah, the writers! We're talking all writers, all the time today, beginning with Motion Picture Story. Story comes before the Screenplay - I believe it's a scenario or a treatment, something for the eventual screenwriter to work with. Although these are original stories, these are considered separate from Original Screenplay if they are the work of different writers. This also means that there is no Adapted category, but just Screenplay, denoting works based on either previously published material...or an original story not written by the credited screenplay author.

Following? Wonderful.

Many of these writers are here for the first and only time, but there are three with some Oscar history. Smash-Up's Frank Cavett already had an Oscar for the Screenplay to Going My Way, and won again for the Motion Picture Story of The Greatest Show on Earth; this is his second of three nominations. Dorothy Parker (yes, that Dorothy Parker) was previously nominated for co-writing the Screenplay to the original A Star is Born. And first-timer Valentine Davies would be back for the Motion Picture Story of It Happens Every Spring, the Story and Screenplay for The Glenn Miller Story, and the Documentary Short "The House Without a Name". Guess winning the Oscar this year really paid off!

So what do we have? A feel-good semi-musical Christmas tale; another feel-good Christmas tale; a vicious noir; an addiction drama; some French flick I didn't see. Let's talk, after the jump.

1947, Part Six: Sing for Me (and Miracle on 34th Street)

Starting with number one, every other film here is a musical....

Road to Rio (#6 at the box office)
dir: Norman Z. MacLeod
scr: Edmund Beloin & Jack Rose
Oscar Nominee: Best Musical Score

Bing and Bob are musicians who get mixed up with a hypnotized dame forced into -- oh, who cares? It's the fifth Road movie, the plot is secondary to the gags and songs, and brother, I was chuckling and toe-tapping the whole way. Great tunes, big laughs.

More songs, plus adultery, slavery, and Santa Clause, after the jump....

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Enter Kazan: Director, 1947

Today, we take a look at Best Director. By now, you should be somewhat familiar with the films involved: the actor-goes-nuts drama A Double Life, the anti-anti-Semitism polemic Gentleman's Agreement, its B-picture equivalent Crossfire. The only ones we have not gone into detail about so far are The Bishop's Wife, in which an angel comes to Earth to help a disillusioned bishop and his wife, and Great Expectations, which I assume most of us know from our Dickens. If you don't, it's about a poor boy who becomes a well-off young man thanks to a mysterious benefactor; the most famous element is a wealthy woman forever encased in the wedding dress she wore when she was jilted many many many years ago.

The nominees should be familiar to us all. George Cukor was a favorite of Katharine Hepburn's and was one of the initial directors of Gone with the WindA Double Life was his third of five nominations, and he eventually won for My Fair Lady. Edward Dmytryk helmed many a noir, but this would be his first and only nod; better known is his status as one of the original Hollywood Ten held in contempt of Congress during the red scare, who saved himself from the Blacklist by later naming names. Elia Kazan received his first nomination for his fourth film - and won!

He went on to four more Best Director nods, one of which resulted in a second win, but more importantly, he became known as one of the great directors of the 1950s - and, yes, all time. He was unapologetic about naming names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, something that caused a bit of a rift in the audience of the 71st Academy Awards, where he received an Honorary Oscar.

Henry Koster did great and acclaimed films like Harvey, My Cousin RachelThe Robe, Flower Drum Song...those all came after his nomination for The Bishop's Wife, his first and only. And David Lean would become known for his epics, winning Oscars for The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. In all, he received eleven Academy Award nominations.

But let's talk about their work in these movies. Let's do that after the jump.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Maestro, If You Please: Score, 1947

Today was going to be focused on Best Original Song and Best Musical Score, but I had some trouble with two of the nominated films in those categories. Thus, I will focus on those next week. But I still wanted a musical interlude, so, why not present the nominees for Best Dramatic or Comedy Score, a category won by Miklos Rozsa for A Double Life?

Rozsa previously won for Spellbound and would win again for Ben-Hur. He was nominated another 14 times between 1940 and 1961. Indeed, the whole crop of 1947 was made up of heavyweights. This was David Raskin's first nod, but he would be back for Separate Tables. Hugo Friedhofer had just won the year before for The Best Years of Our Lives, and would be nominated another six times after this. Max Steiner, also up in Best Musical Score for My Wild Irish Rose, won his third and final Oscar three years previously with Since You Went Away, though he would continue getting nominations until 1955. And Alfred Newman - deep breath - won a whopping nine times, including this year (just not this category), with nods stretching from 1937 through 1970.

Anyway, after the jump, selections from the nominated films, in ascending order of my rankings (that means bottom's up).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Blonde with the Sympathetic Ear: Supporting Actress, 1947

We continue our trip through 1947 today with Best Supporting Actress!

This year, the category consists of two past winners and three first-time nominees, playing mothers, wives, and sympathetic listeners - literal "supporting" parts. Three are nominated for their work in Best Picture nominees (two in the same movie!). And of course, there is only one winner:

That's Celeste Holm, Broadway's original Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, and here's a fun fact: her next nomination would come two years later for Come to the Stable, a film starring 1947's Best Actress winner Loretta Young.

But did Holm deserve the win? Let's talk, after the jump...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bobby-Soxers and Bigamists: Original Screenplay, 1947

Goodness! I had quite the weekend, so apologies for the lateness of this getting written and posted - but hey! I promised it would start this week, and I darn well keep most of my promises!

And by it, I mean, of course, our look back at the Oscars of 1947!

In my first post about this cinematic year, I set the scene a little bit regarding post-war Hollywood, what movies were focused on, and how a newly-emerging Blacklist would affect the industry for the next decade and change. The class most impacted were the writers, who were seen by the government as the brains behind "subversive" messaging in films...despite long being considered by their peers the low rung on the ladder.

That said, the category of today's focus, Best Original Screenplay, does showcase works whose themes warn against the dangers of capitalism, greed, and institutional decay, two of which were penned by alleged Communists: Charlie Chaplin, a British citizen, had his passport revoked, while Abraham Polonsky was blacklisted. Their films, Monsieur Verdoux and Body and Soul respectively, didn't win; nor did the Italian juvenile prison drama Shoeshine. Instead, the Academy bestowed their prestigious Oscar upon...The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer:

I know usually, I include a clip of the actual ceremony, but in 1947 we were still five years away from the first Oscars broadcast on TV. Actually, a lot was still different in this era. For instance, there were three categories for writing: Original Screenplay, which honored original works conceived of and written by the same source; Motion Picture Story, which honored original concepts/treatments by someone who not credited as screenwriter; and Screenplay, which honored works based on original motion picture stories or pre-existing properties.

Today, we focus on Original Screenplay. After the jump...

Friday, November 10, 2017

It Came True: Murder on the Orient Express, 2017

The day has finally come! I have seen a brand new Agatha Christie movie in the theater! Did it do the Queen of Crime justice? How did it compare to the many other versions we've watched and discussed? Was it any good? My dears, it's the exciting conclusion of Murder on the Orient Express week!

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
dir: Kenneth Branagh

1947, Part Five: Directors Roundup (and A Double Life)

This next batch of ten were all helmed by Best Director nominees - I've helpfully identified the film they were up for beside each name. Fittingly, the final film was nominated for Best Director! It's like there's a theme...

Brute Force
dir: Jules Dassin (Never on Sunday)
scr: Robert Wise, story by Robert Patterson

Prisoners plan a breakout amid the tyranny of a sadistic captain. A bleak tale led by furious Burt Lancaster and brutal Hume Cronyn. Glimpses of life on the outside through flashback are ok, but interrupt the story's flow...and intrude on the claustrophobia. Great sound design.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tell Me More, Tell Me More: Murder on the Orient Express, 2015

With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters tomorrow, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. We've talked about the all-star cast of the original cinematic versionthe updated setting of the 2001 TV Movie, and the serious themes of the 2010 TV movie. Today, a Japanese miniseries gives us...a lot. More spoilers than usual, so if you don't know the material, proceed at your on peril...

オリエント急行殺人事件 (2015)
[Oriento kyuuko satsujin jiken]
dir: Keita Kono

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Law or Order: Murder on the Orient Express, 2010

With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters this Friday, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. We've talked about the all-star cast of the original cinematic version and the updated setting of the 2001 TV Movie. Today, the definitive Poirot takes it on, with a much more dour tone...

Agatha Christie's Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
dir: Philip Martin

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

1947, Part Four: Grab Bag (and Crossfire)

I didn't have a theme for this group of ten, I just watched a bunch of movies. Join us!

Captain from Castile
dir: Henry King
scr: Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by Samuel Shellabarger
Oscar Nominee: Best Dramatic Or Comedy Score

Spanish nobleman escapes the Inquisition and joins Cortez's Mexican expedition. Rousing music, beautiful costumes, and Jean Peters in her acting debut - my God but she's a presence! Flirts with complication by having our hero support Cortez, while not shying away from the conquistador's greed and megalomania, yet seems weirdly divided in its feelings re: Spanish colonization of Mexico.

Timeless?: Murder on the Orient Express, 2001

With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters this Friday, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. Yesterday, we talked about the old school homage approach Sidney Lumet took with the original cinematic version; today, Poirot gets a 21st-century update...with mixed results.

Murder on the Orient Express (2001)
dir: Carl Schenkel

Monday, November 6, 2017

1947, Part Three: Love! Romance! (and Gentleman's Agreement)

This group is all about love stories. There's a pair of married detectives, a woman in love with a ghost, a teenager obsessed with an adult, and multiple (multiple!) incest-y relationships! Wow! Even the socially-conscious Best Picture winner Gentleman's Agreement illustrates its war against anti-Semitism with an increasingly wary romance between two liberal Gentiles, one of whom is pretending to be Jewish.

So strap in, baby! There's some passion to be felt here.

Mourning Becomes Electra
dir/scr: Dudley Nichols, based on the play by Eugene O'Neill
Oscar Nominee: Best Actor (Michael Redgrave), Best Actress (Rosalind Russell)

An American riff on Greek Tragedy about a New England family at the end of the Civil War. You'd think incest and murder would be more interesting. That Russell was even nominated, much less the frontrunner for much of the season, says more about her campaign than her performance. A real bore.

Spirits, farmers, murder, and more - after the jump!

There Is Murder In Your Eyes: Murder on the Orient Express, 1974

Murder on the Orient Express is in theaters this Friday, undoubtedly my most anticipated film event of the year. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie, the world-famous whodunnit has Hercule Poirot traveling on the Orient Express when the train becomes snowbound...and murder strikes. The solution is simultaneously shocking and one of the most famous in literature. The mystery is glamorous, with Poirot interviewing thirteen suspects from around the world, from butlers and car salesmen to diplomats and royalty. It's the quintessential Christery.

Small wonder, then, that it has inspired filmmakers time and again over the years. Including the new film, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh, there are five adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express. We're taking a look at each one every day this week, and what better place to start than at the beginning? Let's go back 43 years, so we can check out...

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
dir: Sidney Lumet

Friday, November 3, 2017

1947, Part Two: Among the Ranks (and Great Expectations)

Today, all ten movies are brought to us by the Rank Organisation, who classic film fans will know by their gong...

J. Arthur Rank was the son of Joseph Rank, founder of one of the largest flour milling and bakery companies in Britain, Joseph Rank Limited - he had money. Yet J. Arthur's start in films was not the result of financing from an industrialist with stars in his eyes (as happens), but of his Methodist faith. A devout Sunday school teacher, Rank often showed religious short films in his class, a practice which became so popular that he eventually started his own distribution company for the purpose, called Religious Film Society. When the Methodist Times complained of the moral quality of films in the mainstream, Rank co-founded the British National Films Company with John Corfield and Lady Yule. The trio bought the newly-formed Pinewood Studios in 1935, and issues with distribution and exhibition for their first film, Turn of the Tide, were solved when Rank bought up distributors and exhibitors.

By 1939, Lady Yule and Corfield were gone, and Rank consolidated his production, distribution, and exhibition shingles under one company: The Rank Organisation. Over the next decade, the Rank Organisation, and the studios within it, would make some of the finest films in British film history. While the initial intention to produce family-friendly flicks with good Christian values seems to be occasionally forgotten, Rank dedicated himself to an equally important task: production of quality cinema. And here are ten such examples, spanning four years in the UK, but all released in the United States in 1947.

Green for Danger
dir: Sidney Gilliat
scr: Sidney Gilliat and Claude Guerney, based on the novel by Christianna Brand

An inspector investigates double-murder at a hospital in wartime England. A thrilling mystery, a talented ensemble, chilling cinematography, witty dialogue, and fascinating observations about life during The War. Great character work, specific in speech, manner, and agenda.

The power of Powell and Pressburger.....after the jump.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

1947, Part One: The Beginning (and The Bishop's Wife)

Even though Agatha Christie Month is wrapped, we'll still be looking at Murder on the Orient Express in all its on-screen incarnations starting Monday. In the meantime, as stated before, this month is dedicated to the movies of 1947 and the 20th Academy Awards.

It's a historic year for Hollywood, but not because of the movies. This is the year that saw the beginning of the Hollywood Blacklist. Earlier efforts to rout out Communist filmmakers were unsuccessful and openly mocked. Hell, Russia was our ally during the War just two years earlier, with friendly relations and pro-Soviet feelings encouraged. But that was then, and as Best Picture nominee Crossfire put it, "We're too used to fighting, but we just don't know what to fight. ...A whole lot of hate and fight that doesn't know where to go." By October, the House Un-American Activities Committee was holding hearings; by November, the Hollywood Ten were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the line of questioning; the next day, 48 Hollywood executives released the Waldorf Statement, assuring the public that no Communist would find work within their hallowed gates. (You can get a fuller account of these events, as well as their effect on individuals, from the 2015 season of Karina Longworth's invaluable podcast, You Must Remember This.)

On this blog, we focus more on the individual films, though to pretend that events outside did not influence their reception is goofy. Pre-blacklist, we find a large output of socially-conscience films dealing with American society post-World War II. Some films are almost propagandistic in their praise of government bodies and officials, sure, but many deal with veteran malaise, housing shortages or prejudice. These themes enter films noir, dramas, comedies, even holiday treats. We'll be looking at these and more over the coming weeks.

Here are the first ten movies. My reactions are honest, and while I've tried to keep in mind the times, in the end, I like what I like.

dir: Anthony Mann
scr: John C. Higgins, suggested by a story by Virginia Kellogg
Oscar Nominee: Best Sound Recording

Patriotic noir trumpeting valiant efforts of treasury department's secret service. Semi-documentary approach breezes by minutiae via narrator, getting to the action. Fine performances, moody cinematography, gasp-worthy twists, surprisingly brutal.

Vincent Price, Uncle Remus, an angel, and so much more - after the jump!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesdays: The Mousetrap

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the work of Agatha Christie in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient ExpressWe've imagined adaptations of a Poirota Miss Marple, a Tommy and Tuppence, Witness for the Prosecution - and now, a real dream, that will probably never, ever happen....

Strangers find themselves snowbound with a murderer at a remote guesthouse run by inexperienced newlyweds. That's the gist of it, though of course, Christie employs a nursery rhyme motif, chilling on-stage kills, and enough twists to make another autobahn.

The Mousetrap is the longest continuously running play in the history of the theatre. Premiering in London's West End on November 25, 1952, its initial run is still going, and as of this year, has exceeded 26,000 performances. The cast changes annually, the set has had some alterations, they even moved venues, but the show goes on...and on...and on...

Christie herself thought the play wouldn't last a year, and gave all royalties to her grandson Mathew Prichard as a birthday present when he was nine years old (in regards to that arrangement, Christie later quipped that Mathew was "always lucky that way"). That longevity has led to some fascinating arrangements. For instance, while the play began first as a radio drama for Queen Mary's 80th birthday, then later adapted into a short story called "Three Blind Mice", neither of these incarnations have seen the light of day since the stage version's premiere. Indeed, Christie even asked that "Three Blind Mice" not be published in the United Kingdom during The Mousetrap's first run; luckily, the United States has no such condition. To maintain its West End production's profitability, only one other production a year may run in the United Kingdom. It's never played on Broadway.

And as for film? Don't hold your breath, honey. John Woolf - who would later win the Best Picture Oscar for Oliver! and brought classics like The Day of the Jackal and Room at the Top to the screen - bought the film rights back in 1956, under the condition that production would not begin until six months after the final performance. You don't need me to tell you the rest...


If the play did close, and they were to make a film within the next six months, who would be best to play a part in the ensemble? I'm glad you asked - or rather, I'm glad I asked myself. Do feel free to comment with your own picks...after the jump.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Agatha Christie Month presents: The Uninvited

All month long, we've been celebrating the work of Agatha Christie, as interpreted on screens both big and small. As the world's best-selling fiction author, she has a built-in audience in every part of the globe - thus adaptations of her work are frequent not just in the UK, but Japan, Russia, and India. With 72 novels, 16 plays, and 14 short story collections, there's never a shortage of material, yet a handful of Christie works remain unadapted for any medium.

In Christie fandom circles, the most famous of these was Crooked House, one of her more haunting works, and a favorite of the author's. Oh, the excitement when a cinematic adaptation was announced for 2012, with Neil LaBute directing, Julian Fellowes scripting, and Julie Andrews, Gabriel Byrne, Matthew Goode, and Gemma Arterton starring! Then...crickets. Five years later, there were whispers that production had geared up again with a different, still all-star cast. And last month, we finally got a trailer:

So! One down, a few more to go! As we close out Agatha Christie month, let's take a look at the work that's still up for grabs....

Friday, October 27, 2017

Zero Hour: Innocent Lies, 1995

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. All this week, we've focused on her standalone works, and today is no exception....

Over the course of this series, we've talked about Agatha Christie's reaction to adaptations of her work - mostly negative, sometimes mixed, and even rarely pleased. We've also talked about how Rosalind Hicks managed her mother's legacy after she passed away - open to wide-ranging television projects, but still vocally disapproving when necessary. But no matter what happened, whether Miss Marple got a little groovy, Hercule Poirot did slapstick, or (heaven forbid!) breasts flashed on-screen, there was never any doubt about where it all started: it would always be Agatha Christie's Murder She Said, Agatha Christie's The Alphabet Murders, Agatha Christie's Endless Night.

Except for one adaptation, that so horrified Hicks that she not only demanded her mother's name be removed from the project, she banned any reference to the original work or its characters, period. But the connection between the film and the source has been an open secret for years, and is even acknowledged on the official Agatha Christie website. Of course, I'm talking about....

Innocent Lies (1995)
dir: Patrick Dewolf

Thursday, October 26, 2017

You're Doomed: Desyat Negrityat, 1987

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're focusing on her standalone works.

My favorite Agatha Christie is And Then There Were None, and I am not alone. The best-selling novel she ever wrote, it's inspired countless spoofs (Family Guy did one), two stage plays (including one written by Christie herself), and a number of film adaptations. The plot concerns ten complete strangers summoned to a remote location, where a recording accuses each of them of having committed and gotten away with murder. One by one they start to die, and each death mirrors a verse in a poem tacked up in each of their rooms - "Ten little soldier boys went down to dine, one choked himself and then there were nine," etc. Not only that, with each death, a figurine from a set of ten is either broken or spirited away.

Yes, it's the classic slasher film premise, and it was Christie who started it all. Boy, did I have my pick of which one to do for this entry! Do I go with the classic black-and-white 1945 version directed by René Clair - not only did it use the "happy ending" Christie wrote in for the stage version, it also changed character names, crimes, identities, and levels of guilt? Maybe the groovy 1965 version with Bond Girl Shirley Eaton running about in a towel in a Swiss castle? The 1974 one with Charles Aznavour performing his real-life hit "The Old-Fashioned Way" in a hotel in Iraq? Bollywood's Gumnaam?

In the end, I went with the only film to preserve Christie's text word for word. Yes, this almost meant And Then There Were None, but that version included a lot of coke and alcohol and people being haunted by the Great War and secret lesbianism and whatnot. I'm talking about the only movie to film Agatha Christie as though they had no screenplay, just the book in everyone's hands. I'm talking about...

Desyat Negrityat (1987)
dir: Stanislav Govorukhin

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Love and Death: Endless Night, 1972

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're focusing on her standalone works.
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
So go some lines from Dylan Blake's "Auguries of Innocence", from which Agatha Christie drew the title for Endless Night. The narrator/protagonist knows misery well - he's currently a chauffeur, but bounces around from job to job, dreaming of something more - dreaming of owning a house on a large plot of land in the countryside called Gipsy's Acre. Then he meets Ellie, and after a whirlwind romance they marry - she happens to be the sixth richest woman in the world, and she buys Gipsy's Acre. All seems right with the world...except for the rumors that the property is cursed. And the threats they receive from a local gypsy...

Published in 1967, Endless Night is one of a slew of Christie novels that sees the author depicting the liberal youth and changing mores of the era - Miss Marple dealt with it in At Bertram's Hotel, as did Poirot in Third Girl. The difference here is Christie focuses more on the characters than in trying to wrap a whodunnit around them. While death eventually occurs, the book plays more like a modern take on the gothic romance novel. It's an atmospheric novel, with a sense of melancholy and doom throughout, and a surprise ending that feels pretty devastating if you're not expecting it.

It was not only a reliable best-seller but well-received by critics, who were surprised both by Christie's pulling off a new style, as well as her focus on a young man of the working-class. Christie herself was quite pleased with the results: in a 1972 letter to a Japanese translator, she included it in a Top Ten ranking of her works. Between its success as a novel and its moody tone being in vogue at the time, it seems a natural fit for a film adaptation. And so....

Endless Night (1972)
dir: Sidney Gilliat

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: Witness for the Prosecution

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the work of Agatha Christie in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. We've imagined adaptations of a Poirot, of a Miss Marple, even of Tommy and Tuppence - and now, for your approval...

We've discussed at length the history of Witness for the Prosecution, from its beginnings as a short story to its Tony-winning stage production to the Oscar-nominated film of 1957. It is one of the great courtroom dramas of stage and screen, centering on a charming young man accused of murder, his determined defense attorney, and his older wife who seems equally get him convicted. A remake is currently in the works with Ben Affleck attached, but I'm not 100 percent on board with that. And so I have a cast of my own in mind...

Note that I'm taking my cues from the original stage play, not the film - you'll find no Nurse Plimsoll here. Italicized descriptions are taken directly from Christie's stage directions, as published in the 1954 Samuel French, Inc., edition.

My Witness, after the jump.

Trial and Terror: Witness for the Prosecution, 1957

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're focusing on her standalone works. Yesterday, we talked the page to stage to screen transfer that made "Philomel Cottage" into Love from a Stranger; today, a similar trick is performed..

Witness for the Prosecution began as "The Witness for the Prosecution", a short story published in 1928 in . The story is familiar: Leonard Vole is accused of murdering an older woman, and the star witness for the his own wife! There's a twist, then a turn, then it closes with a shocker of a final line.

The story was popular enough to inspire adaptations on its own, including an episode of Lux Video Theater with Edward G. Robinson. But Christie herself wasn't satisfied with the story as is. A slight spoiler here, but part of the shock in the story involves, of course, the revelation of the true murderer, who gets away with the crime; Christie felt the culprit should not go completely unpunished. She also thought it was quite a good plot (if she do say so herself), and didn't want it completely confined to short fiction. So she set about expanding it, for a medium she had gotten quite good at...

The end result was the stage play, which Christie would later name her personal favorite of her 19 theatre works, and which became a smash hit on the West End and Broadway. Oh, yes, I know I said that about Love from a Stranger, but that show's comparatively limited runs cannot rival Witness for the Prosecution. In the West End, it ran concurrently with Christie's The Mousetrap and Spider's web, making her the only female dramatist to have three shows running simultaneously. The New York production alone ran 645 performances, winning Tony Awards for its leading players, Francis L. Sullivan (a friend of Christie's) and Patricia Jessel.

When you're a hit on the page and a smash on the stage, the next step is obvious: HOLLYWOOD! And boy howdy, did Hollywood deliver....

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
dir: Billy Wilder

Monday, October 23, 2017

Couple's Therapy: Love from a Stranger, 1937

It's Agatha Christie Month! All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. So far, we've focused on her series characters: we covered the cases of Hercule Poirot, explored small-town murder with Miss Jane Marple, and experienced international intrigue with Tommy & Tuppence. 

But man cannot live on bread alone, and Christie admitted that writing for the same detectives over and over could get boring. Luckily, Christie was prolific as hell, so besides the fifty novels featuring the previous characters mentioned, there are another seventeen that do not mention them at all....though some do feature supporting characters from their adventures. That's under her own name; under the name Mary Westmacott, she published six novels deemed "romantic", though this was a catch-all for "women's lit", books about non-murderous women and their relationships. She wrote a great many plays, too, even adapting her own novels for the stage - and when she did, she did not include her famous detectives. 

And then there are the short stories. A great many mysteries, yes, but it was in this medium that she really experimented with genres: ghost stories, adventure yarns, investigations into psychic phenomena. What stands out most, though, is not just the variety, but the bleakness of these stories: suicides, dead children, petty revenge.

Not that she completely abandoned her thrillers, but here she made them more, well, thrilling - less detective stories with clues than regular people confronting murder and madness around them. And for some reason, the most popular among these - for a while, at least -  was the short story "Philomel Cottage." It's of that oft-familiar Is My Husband Trying To Kill Me subgenre of thrillers. Here, a woman inherits a butt-load of money, has a whirlwind romance and marriage to a charming man she meets at a party, and only when she is whisked off to a secluded cottage does she begin to realize he may be a Black Widower.

First published in The Grand Magazine in 1924, it was later collected in The Listerdale Mystery (1934, UK only) and The Witness for the Prosecution (1948, US only). But it's real claim to immortality is in a popular stage production, written by and starring Frank Vosper. Popular and well-reviewed on both the West End and Broadway in 1936, the independent Trafalgar Films in turn adapted the production for the screen. In doing so, the filmmakers included some elements of Christie's source material - names, for example - and so were able to credit both the play and short story separately. The title, however, was all Vosper's:

Love from a Stranger
dir: Rowland V. Lee

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sweet Streams Are Made Of These

The following titles are available right now on Netflix.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
dir/scr: Noah Baumbach

Three siblings (but mostly the brothers) and their prickly relationship with their self-centered artist father. Baumbach's perfected familial patois - the repetitive conversations, the interruptions, the assumptions. Great performances all around, but especially from affable asshole Dustin Hoffman and Elizabeth Marvel, who's a...well, the oft-overlooked sister. Two wonderful ditties, too! Two!

Cannibal horror, Redford-Fonda romance...and some non-streaming titles like Only the Brave after the jump....