Monday, May 7, 2018

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Reviews of '87: Everything But...

The following films were all nominated for Academy Awards - and won nothing. HOWEVER! They did win other awards, like a BAFTA or a critics' award, and I have noted those wins in each entry.

Empire of the Sun
dir: Steven Spielberg
scr: Tom Stoppard, based on the novel by J.G. Ballard
Oscar Nominee: Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound
Award Winner: BAFTA Award for Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Sound; National Board of Review for Best Film, Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Outstanding Juvenile Performance (Christian Bale)

Experiences of an English boy in China during Japanese occupation. Stands alongside the great epics. Large-scale evacuation of Shanghai, playful run through the POW camp, dreamlike tour of the abandoned stadium, wrenching "I can save everyone!" moment among Spielberg's greatest achievements.

Eleven more, after the jump...

Street Smart
dir: Jerry Schatzberg
scr: David Freeman
Oscar Nominee: Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman)
Award Winner: NYFCC/LAFCA/NSFC Award for Best Supporting Actor, Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male, NSFC Award for Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Baker) 

Journalist becomes entangled with murderous pimp after writing fake expose resembling the man. Freeman, more or less a co-lead, clearly steals the show with raw magnetism, viciousness, humor. But let's not give short shrift to either Baker or leading man Christopher Reeve. A nasty flick exposing the putrid underbelly of pop journalism; calls out faux liberal concern as racist exoticizing. No angels, no heroes, no winners.

My Life as a Dog
dir: Lasse Hallström
scr: Lasse Hallström / Reidar Jönsson / Brasse Brännström / Per Berglund, based on the novel by Reidar Jönsson
Oscar Nominee: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
Award Winner: BAFTA Award for Best Director, Golden Globe/NYFCC/Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film

Boy goes to live with uncle in countryside after mother falls ill. Pleasant for the most part, quickly repetitive. Slighter than you'd think. Tomboy subplot interesting.

dir: Yurek Bogayevicz
scr: Agnieszka Holland, story by Yurek Bogayevicz and Agnieszka Holland
Oscar Nominee: Best Actress (Sally Kirkland)
Award Winner: Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama; LAFCA Award for Best Actress, tied with Holly Hunter for Broadcast News; Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead 

Faded Polish actress living in New York looks after, then envies, much younger compatriot. Thrilling examination of show business hypocrisy: "old" foreign lady too studied, a drag, yesterday's news; young foreign lady sexy, exciting, what a story! Kirkland a marvel.

The Dead
dir: John Huston
scr: Tony Huston, based on the short story from The Dubliners by James Joyce
Oscar Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay
Award Winner: Independent Spirit Award for Best Director, Best Supporting Female (Anjelica Huston); NSFC Award for Best Film

Friends and family gather for a winter dinner party. Yes, that's the whole plot, but my God, what this movie does! The reservoirs of human experience and emotions, the memories stroked or unspoken, the significance of that title! An incredible and moving film, John Huston's last...possibly best?

The Witches of Eastwick
dir: George Miller
scr: Michael Cristofer, based on the novel by John Updike
Oscar Nominee: Best Score, Best Sound
Award Winner: BAFTA Award for Best Special Effects; NYFCC, cited alongside Ironweed and Broadcast News (Jack Nicholson); LAFCA Award for Best Actor, cited alongside Ironweed, tied with Steve Martin for Roxanne

Smalltown "witches" apparently summon a charming, potentially dangerous new resident. Nicholson overwhelms, by turns inspired and too much, endangering female leads: Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer wane, though Susan Sarandon shines. Best characters gone too soon. Feels like a lot is missing.

dir: Hector Babenco
scr: William Kennedy, based on his novel
Oscar Nominee: Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Meryl Streep)
Award Winner: NYFCC/LAFCA Award for Best Actor

A bitter winter in upstate New York for Depression-era drifter and his woman. Gloomy, depressing. Nicholson, Streep understated, despite character temptations. Plot turns heartbreaking in inevitability. Great detail in sets, costumes, performances.

Au Revoir les Enfants
dir/scr: Louis Malle
Oscar Nominee: Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film
Award Winner: BAFTA Award for Best Direction, LAFCA Award for Best Foreign Film

In Nazi-occupied France, a schoolboy becomes intrigued by a mysterious new student. Surprisingly funny, thrilling. Humane. Camaraderie, rivalry between young men well-documented, in all its shortsighted stupidity, hilarity, honesty.

Cry Freedom
dir: Richard Attenborough
scr: John Briley, based on the books Biko and Asking for Trouble by Donald Woods
Oscar Nominee: Best Supporting Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Score, Best Original Song ("Cry Freedom")
Award Winner: BAFTA Award for Best Sound

True story of the friendship between white Donald Woods and black activist Steve Biko in apartheid South Africa. Strong first half focusing on Washington on Biko and other members of his movement. Second half, more of a suspense-thriller with Kevin Kline as Woods, proves Attenborough's strengths in straight drama, loses most interesting aspects of first half.

Good Morning, Vietnam
dir: Barry Levinson
scr: Mitch Markowitz
Oscar Nominee: Best Actor (Robin Williams)
Award Winner: Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy

True-ish story of irreverent Armed Forces radio disc jockey Adrian Cronauer. Shallow script provides flimsy framework to hang Williams' unsustainable improv comedy on. Poor on every level.

dir/scr: John Sayles
Oscar Nominee: Best Cinematography
Award Winner: Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography

True story of unionizing miners and the company's violent tactics against them. Observes class exploitation, prejudice, non-violence directly, sadly, effectively. Large ensemble of strong, fully-realized characters/performances. Grey, chilly, lantern-lit cinematography a beaut.

The Whales of August
dir: Lindsay Anderson
scr: David Berry, based on his play
Oscar Nominee: Best Supporting Actress (Ann Sothern)
Award Winner: National Board of Review for Best Actress, tied with Holly Hunter for Broadcast News (Lillian Gish)

Elderly sisters return to their summer home and squabble. Pleasant stroll of a film anchored by performances from an ensemble of veterans. Ooh, that score!

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