Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The 1956 Retro Hollmann Awards!

Here they are, the nominations for the 1956 Retro Hollmann Awards. The order of categories was determined by random draw, which means the five nominees for Best Picture are somewhere in the middle.

Best Sound

The Eddy Duchin Story
George Cooper, sound
John Livadary, sound recording

Forbidden Planet
Bebe Barron / Louis Barron, electronic tonalities
Wesley C. Miller, recording supervisor
James Brock, sound
Kurt Hernfeld / Kendrick Kinney / John Lipow, sound editors

Moby Dick
Jon W. Mitchell, sound recordist
Alex Pront / Len Shilton, sound

Seven Samurai
Masanao Uehara, sound recordist
Ichirô Minawa, sound effects editor

The Ten Commandments
Louis H. Mesenkop, sound recording supervisor
Howard Beals, sound editor / supervising sound editor
George Dutton, sound effects designer
Charles Grenzbach / Hugo Grenzbach / Don Johnson / Gene Merritt / Harry D. Mills / Loren L. Ryrder, re-recording mixers

Best Costume Design

Alexander the Great
David Ffolkes

Invitation to the Dance
Rolf Gerard / Elizabeth Haffenden

The King and I
Irene Sharaff

Seven Samurai
Kôhei Ezaki / Mieko Yamaguchi

The Ten Commandments
Arnold Friberg / Edith Head / Dorothy Jeakins / John Jensen / Ralph Jester

The remaining nominees after the jump....

Monday, April 27, 2020

Top Ten of 1956

Here we go! 65 films screened, whittled down to my Top Ten! Apologies to Bigger Than Life, CarouselThe Eddy Duchin Story, The Killing, The King and I, Nightfall, The Proud and the Beautiful and The Trouble with Harry, but there are only ten slots...

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Day Twelve: Best Picture, 1956

Every Oscar year begins the year before. Colin Firth's Oscar win for The King's Speech starts the minute Jeff Bridges' vehicle Crazy Heart gets a release date; the backlash over Green Book lays the groundwork for the outside-the-box Parasite; and the 1956 slate of nominees - epic in scope and length, big at the box office, based on great works from Jules Verne to Moses - was almost pre-ordained by the near-sweep of 1955's Marty, a humble dramedy based on a teleplay.

At 90 minutes, Marty still stands as the shortest film to win Best Picture. By contrast, the shortest Best Picture nominee for 1956 was Friendly Persuasion at 137 minutes; of the others, three of them - Around the World in Eighty DaysGiantThe Ten Commandments - run over three hours! Movies were an event again, something the industry needed to compete with the increasing threat of television. There is a noticeable deluge of films shot in Cinemascope, VistaVision, Cinemascope 55; bold proclamations of the brighter, more realistic color of Eastman and Deluxe: for the first time, all five Best Picture nominees were full-color productions.

And those nominees were:

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Day Ten: Original Song, 1956

Sometimes I think Best Original Song nominations (and wins) should also go to the performer. We can pretend that it's the song, not the singer, and certainly various versions of "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside" attest to the individual strength of those tunes. But Celine Dion is the secret sauce that makes "My Heart Will Go On" immortal. Irene Cara is key to both "Fame" and "Flashdance...What a Feeling." Without the combination of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, "Shallow" is, well....

Besides, the singer is part of the success of the song. I've heard many versions of "True Love," and I'm telling you, it doesn't hit the same without Bing Crosby. Pat Boone sells "Friendly Persuasion." And guys, Doris Day has two songs here - you think either of them gets in without her vocals? Well, one of them probably does, but fucking "Julie"??

Judge for yourselves. The songs:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Day Nine: Supporting Actress, 1956

In a move that's exactly opposite the Best Supporting Actor race of the same year, 1956's Supporting Actress lineup had already been predetermined by the Globes - with one exception...

That was Marjorie Main, Golden Globe nominee for her cameo as the widow Hudspeth in the Quaker drama Friendly Persuasion. Main's only flirtation with Oscar came in 1947, when she was nominated in this very category for her performance in The Egg and I. She didn't win (she should have!), but she did get the eight-film Ma and Pa Kettle franchise out of it - not bad for a then-57-year-old character actress! Indeed, following Friendly Persuasion, Main would only make one more film - The Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm.

So. Main in at the Globes, out at the Oscars. In her place: Mercedes McCambridge, in her only nomination following her win for All the King's Men. And besides Main, McCambridge, and the four actresses nominated here and at the Globes, only one other performer was in the conversation: Debbie Reynolds, National Board of Review nominee for The Catered Affair, a film in which she is, arguably, a co-lead with her screen parents Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine. Clearly, it was a year of terrific options. Still, with 1.5 exceptions, this is a marvelous lineup:

Monday, April 20, 2020

Day Seven: Adapted Screenplay, 1956

This is the first sign of the juggernaut to come: Around the World in Eighty Days. Here Was its first great triumph - and the separate acceptance speeches, a sign that the true author of the film Was one Mr. Michael Todd, producer.

I mean: three writers, one of whom accepts on behalf of two, the other represented by Hermione Gingold, both speeches making clear that these are separate authors/teams. It's as amusing as the Academy Award-winning writers of Pillow Talk having never met until Oscar night!

The competition:

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Day Six: Director, 1956

John Ford has an unbeaten record of four Oscars for Best Director. I note this because he was not nominated in 1956, despite this being the year he gave us The Searchers, largely regarded as perhaps the greatest western of all time! Could be that his record worked against him: after all, it was just four years earlier that he got the fourth for The Quiet Man, and he was never nominated again, despite all that came after: MogamboThe Searchers, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance...

Also absent: Cecil B. DeMille of The Ten Commandments, not just the helmer of the year's biggest moneymaker, but the only director of a Best Picture nominee left off the Best Director nominations. I guess he was seen more as a producer than a director: the one time he was nominated in the second category, was the year Ford won his fourth. Still, DeMille won Best Picture for The Greatest Show on Earth that same year, stunning many and subsequently going down in history as one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time. I've not seen it, I can't say, but I guess, like Ford going four-for-five, they figured he was honored enough. The Ten Commandments wound up being his final film.

In DeMille's stead was King Vidor, a fellow veteran of Early Hollywood, who received his first Oscar nomination at the first Academy Awards, for directing The Crowd. He had not been nominated since 1938's The Citadel, and wouldn't win until 1979 - an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.

Still, he did get to be part of this lineup:

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Day Five: Supporting Actor, 1956

Although the Academy had been honoring supporting actors and actresses since 1936, other awards bodies were slower on the uptake. The Golden Globes followed the Academy's example from its very first ceremony, launched in 1943, but it took the National Board of Review another 11 years to do the same. The BAFTA Awards had no such category until 1968, but they had divided their acting categories between "British" and "Foreign" anyway, with a mix of lead and supporting performances in both; the NYFCC Awards had no supporting awards until its 35th ceremony in 1969.

So I don't quite know how they charted buzz or "surprises" back in 1956. What I do know is, of the five eventual Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominees, only one had been cited by another major awards body. So it makes sense that he was the one who won the Oscar:

Friday, April 17, 2020

Day Four: Motion Picture Story, 1956

I went back and forth trying to decide what to do with High Society. Oh, not the 1956 Cole Porter musical remaking The Philadelphia Story, of course, but the 1955 Bowery Boys comedy about estate fraud and murder - the first and only film of the series to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Day Three: Actress, 1956

Sometimes, it really is a coronation with four also-rans. That certainly seems to be the case with Ingrid Bergman's second Oscar triumph for Best Actress, not insignificant considering seven years prior, she was denounced on the Senate floor for having an affair with director Roberto Rossellini, bearing his child, and leaving her own family to wed him in Italy. Hollywood turned its back on her; now, having seen her play a downtrodden woman who may be the Russian princess Anastasia, it welcomed her back with open arms. The premiere was the hottest ticket in town, says Inside Oscar, and she went on to win Best Actress honors from both the New York Film Critics' Circle Awards and the Golden Globes, two of the only three precursor awards of that era. (I would count the National Board of Review as the other; they awarded Dorothy McGuire in Friendly Persuasion). The Oscar? An inevitability.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Day Two: Musical Score, 1956

It's easy to underestimate just how prolific the musical genre was pre-1970s. Nowadays, we get a Disney movie, maybe a stage adaptation of a Broadway hit, every once in a blue moon an original like The Greatest Showman, and it's enough to make us go, "wow! The musical is back!"

But man, the way the studios just pumped these babies out in the '50s! The volume! The variety! Enough so that there sub-genres within sub-genres: jukebox musicals, bandleader bios, remakes of non-musical hits, ballets - all in addition to the standard Broadway adaptations, even re-workings of past stage hits (Anything Goes, for example, completely rewrites a book that had already been re-written). And how do I even categorize something like The Girl Can't Help It? Showcase musical?

Anyway, there are over a dozen musical or musical-adjacent films from 1956. These are the five that were nominated for their score:

Monday, April 13, 2020

Day One: Original Screenplay, 1956

Best Original Screenplay wasn't exactly a new category, but it had gone through enough iterations and name changes since its introduction in 1940 to feel like one. Basically, its intention was to honor a work where the story and screenplay were written by the same person or persons; a separate category was available for story writers who did not write the screenplay.

It's an eclectic mix, this class of '56. Consider what could have been, just from the films I saw: 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Movies and Memorial

This look back at 1956 is starting a week late because my father passed away. It is completely accurate to say that I would not be where I am today without him. He claimed that the first time I sat up was to get a better look at a movie on TV, and from that moment on he nurtured my passion for film. He had me watch Stripes and Young Frankenstein when I was way too young. He indulged my fascination with the Marx Brothers and Universal Monsters, often doing my makeup for my Halloween costumes referencing same. One Halloween in third grade, he took me to the local theatre to see the Lon Chaney version of The Phantom of the Opera, with live organist, instead of trick-or-treating. As I got older, he'd recommend The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (one of his favorite films of the 21st century) or Wendy & Lucy ("depressing, but real" was his review) or Wind Across the Everglades (as a Floridian, a blast for him and us to see the swamp in untouched color).

When I started this a month or so ago, I did not fully appreciate how much of my past would be part of it. Sure, The Ten Commandments, which my entire family watched annually on ABC, but I hadn't realized how many of these movies I had first seen with him: The Bad Seed, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Ladykillers, Moby Dick...and all before middle school! As a toddler, his mother had a blowup photo of The Creature Walks Among Us - large enough to scare the grandkids. He loved westerns like Stagecoach to Fury, noir like While the City Sleeps, and Bogart vehicles like The Harder They Fall. And I was excited as I watched The Searchers, knowing that once it was over, he'd be out of surgery and I could call him and tell him about how much I loved this classic of one of his favorites, John Wayne. Only 90 seconds were left in the movie when I got The Call.

I can't really dedicate The 1956 Retrospective to my dad - I was already 70% through my screenings when he died, and I know he'd rather talk b-flicks like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers than nominees like Around the World in Eighty Days or Anastasia. But in another sense, he's very much a part of my continuing affair with the movies, even in my laser-focus on the Academy Awards. He didn't like them after the one-two punch of The English Patient winning Best Picture ("boring!") and Kim Basinger winning Best Supporting Actress ("a nothing role!"), but we still watched them. He rooted for Toni Collette just based on her Oscar clip alone. He was with me when Crash won Best Picture ("is it over? can we go to bed?"). He recorded the 2010 ceremony for me when I was scheduled to work during it (I kid you not, it cut off during Best Picture, just as they said, "And the Oscar goes to..."). You could say this is all his fault.

So tomorrow, I'll carry on - watching movies, writing about movies, and telling the Academy where, in their long history, they've done wrong. Starting with Best Original Screenplay - The Bold and the Brave, JulieThe Ladykillers, The Red Balloon, and La Strada.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Year Ahead: 2020 Oscar Predictions

In this time of self-isolation, I find comfort in continuing my routine where I can. Work is suspended, the library is closed, and going to the movies is completely out of the question - so I blog. I watch oldies at home, I make sandwiches, and I blog. On Sunday, I'm beginning a series on the films of 1956, but today, I'm looking at 2020, and films that could be up for next year's Oscars. I know the state of cinema is up in the air right now, but there is an international crisis about us, so why not escape for a moment, play the role of pundit, look into the crystal ball and see if we can foresee what titles will tale the stage of the Dolby Theater next winter?

I did take current events into account on a practical level, and so, with one exception, everything here is already listed as being in post-production. Too, I considered general tone: considering how dour this year's events have already been, expect a lot of Triumph of the Human Spirit.