Thursday, August 31, 2023

The 1984 Retro Hollmann Awards: The Winners, Part Two

Part One yesterday. Today, we complete the 1984 Retro Hollmann Awards - the fiftieth Hollmann Awards overall! Keep reading to see my picks for the year's Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Score - and Best Picture of the Year:

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The 1984 Retro Hollmann Awards: The Winners, Part One

Here we are - and on time - the first half of the 1984 Retro Hollmann Awards!

These first nine winners are more than just my favorites from films made ~40 years ago. Combine the contemporary and retro editions, and this makes, overall, the Fiftieth Hollmann Awards! 

Here are the first nine 1984 Retro Hollmann Awards winners, starting with the fiftieth winner for Best Director:

Monday, August 28, 2023

The 1984 Retro Hollmann Awards - Nominees

Almost a week late, and for a few reasons, though the one important one is: this was hard! Even last night I was second-guessing my choices and changing lineups and just...nothing seemed 100% right. It's just such a good year.

Well, anyway, now I've managed it from 76 films to a Top Ten, and now I've narrowed all the elements into 18 categories with five nominees each - and 32 films honored.

The nominees are:

Monday, August 21, 2023

Top Ten Films of 1984

A reminder - these were the 76 films screened for this 1984 retrospective.

Against All Odds
All of Me
Beverly Hills Cop
Body Double
The Bostonians
Broadway Danny Rose
The Brother from Another Planet
Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo
The Company of Wolves
Conan the Destroyer
The Cotton Club
Crimes of Passion
Falling in Love
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
Harry & Son
The House by the Cemetery
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Karate Kid
The Killing Fields
The Lonely Guy
Mass Appeal
Mike's Murder
Mrs. Soffel
Moscow on the Hudson
The Muppets Take Manhattan
The Natural
The NeverEnding Story
Night of the Comet
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Nineteen Eighty-Four
El Norte
Once Upon a Time in America
Paris, Texas
A Passage to India
Places in the Heart
The Pope of Greenwich Village
Purple Rain
A Question of Silence
Repo Man
The River
Romancing the Stone
Secret Honor
Sixteen Candles
Sleepaway Camp
A Soldier's Story
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Stop Making Sense
Stranger Than Paradise
Streets of Fire
A Sunday in the Country
Swing Shift
The Terminator
This is Spinal Tap
The Times of Harvey Milk
Top Secret!
Under the Volcano
Unfaithfully Yours
The Woman in Red

Now - with apologies to Honorable Mentions The Cotton Club (my #13), Harry & Son (my #11), and Mass Appeal (my #12) - my personal Top Ten Films of 1984, in alphabetical order.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

1984: Best Picture

After winning seven of its other ten nominations, it was inevitable that Amadeus would end up the night's winner for Best Picture:

Do we feel the same way? Read on...

Thursday, August 17, 2023

1984: Best Actor

Perhaps no surprise in retrospect, the Academy named as its Best Actor F. Murray Abraham, one of the two lead actors of the film that eventually won Best Picture:

It is interesting how we got there. The leads of Amadeus, first of all, are the non-stars of this lineup - maybe you can argue Sam Waterston was always more of a character/TV/theatre actor, but at this point, he was already a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award, and Emmy nominee. And even then, of the two bigger stars, Albert Finney was representing Under the Volcano, a film that got little Oscar love elsewhere, while Jeff Bridges was his Starman's sole nominee in any category.

All five were nominated at the Golden Globes, and many had critics' prizes, but none of them had the honor of being named Best Actor by both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. That honor was claimed by none other than Steve Martin for All of Me: the physical comedy combined with his genuine tenderness and chemistry with Lily Tomlin all contributed, I'm sure.

The nominees:

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

1984: Best Actress

This was the year Sally Field won her second Academy Award and made her (in)famous "You like me" speech:

The film in question was Places in the Heart, a Best Picture nominee that we have discussed at least thrice before, and one of just three rural-based films nominated in the Best Actress category. The others were The River, where Sissy Spacek cedes most of the narrative to Mel Gibson, and Country, a Jessica Lange vehicle - both films openly critical of then-current policies that saw the small-time farmer being pushed out of home and work, eagerly bought up by corporations and the banks. President Reagan even wrote about Country being propaganda, though all three take a look at government opportunism and the impact on communities, disaster relief, even other communities and occupations outside. 

The other nominees were Judy Davis (the only first-time nominee and only non-winner) from A Passage to India, another Best Picture nominee we've discussed before, and Vanessa Redgrave from The Bostonians, a Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Henry James' novel about turn-of-the-century feminists and the young woman who comes between two cousins (of opposite genders!), slow even by their standards. 

The nominees:

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

1984: Best Adapted Screenplay

Even as a child, I fantasized about winning this category, so imagine getting to discuss a lineup like this, all killer, no filler, and the winner is none other than a man whose plays I inhaled throughout high school:

Find copies of these screenplays. They are great samples of setting, characterization, action, dialogue. They are all readily available, as they've all gone on to be held up and taught as how to write a screenplay. Gosh, I love them all.

The nominees:

Monday, August 14, 2023

1984: Best Original Song, Best Original Score

A week ago today, we discussed the three nominees for Best Song Score. Today, we look at two categories: Best Original Song and Best Original Score. That's nine movies nominated - and only one of them, A Passage to India, was up for Best Picture. The others?
  • Against All Odds, a remake of the 1947 noir classic Out of the Past, with Jeff Bridges as a football player on the way out who picks up an odd job finding the runaway daughter of a millionaire...and winds up in over his head (I liked it - more than I did the original, as a matter of fact, and you better believe Jeff Bridges' whole look in this movie is a big reason why...);
  • Footloose, the story of a city boy who moves to a small town where dancing is illegal; its "cheesy 80s dance-ical" reputation belies the fact that much of it is made up of intimate conversations about values, faith, and fear - miniature chamber pieces stitched together by a great soundtrack (and, full disclosure, as a teen I did the stage version twice - once as the reverend, once as Kevin Bacon);
  • Ghostbusters, the lightning-in-a-bottle filmmakers keep trying to recapture about professional ghost hunters - goofy, uneven, fun;
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark with game performers and incredible production values brought together in a surprisingly uninteresting package, just a deadweight, nonsense script;
  • The Natural, a fantasy sports drama about a natural ballplayer given a second chance at the big time - if he can resist the temptations put before him. Lightweight, interesting, serene;
  • The River, which is also up for Best Actress, about a farm family faced with economic crises;
  • Under the Volcano, a Best Actor nominee, about the last day in the life of an alcoholic diplomat in Mexico;
  • And The Woman in Red, a remake of a French film about a man tempted into adultery by a sexy model and the mishaps he encounters along the way - bad movie, great Gilda Radner.
These are the films hosting the best music in 1984 cinema - according to the Academy, at least. Let's listen to Song first:

Sunday, August 13, 2023

1984: Best Director

Miloš Forman's Oscar win for Best Director was inevitable. Before that ceremony, he had already been named Best Director by the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Directors Guild of America. The only competitive film award he lost was BAFTA, and that may be because Amadeus was a 1985 release - he had to wait a whole year, by which time new and shiny films had come along (oddly, too,, it's the only year where directors did not have their own category but shared the Best Film award and nomination with their producers). But for the 1984 film year, Forman's Oscar was a shoo-in:

A past winner himself, he was up against a first-timer and three other past winners. These folks, in fact:

Thursday, August 10, 2023

1984: Best Supporting Actor

History was made at the 57th Academy Awards when Dr. Haing S. Ngor won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor:

Not because Ngor was a non-actor: Harold Russell already accomplished that at the 19th Academy Awards. But here, Ngor became the first East Asian performer to win a Supporting Actor Oscar, in a lineup where, for the first time in any acting category, non-white performers made up the majority. In addition to Ngor, John Malkovich, and Sir Ralph Richardson (posthumously nominated for a Tarzan film), the Academy nominated Adolph Caesar, a  longtime theatre performer and the voice of a generation of Blaxploitation trailers, repeating a stage triumph in a Best Picture nominee, and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, nominated for his performance in the fifth-biggest money-maker of the year, The Karate Kid. The Karate Kid is the only film nominated nowhere else, not even Best Original Song, despite being both a hit and a genuine, honest-to-God, holy cow great movie! Everything about it crackles: the acting, the editing, the score, the cinematography, the finale! Gosh, what a film!

 OK, so Morita was in a great movie, and he and Caesar and Ngor were part of history. How are their performances? Let's see:

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

1984: Best Supporting Actress

What qualifies one as a lead? Peggy Ashcroft went back and forth the whole awards season for her performance in A Passage to India, winning three Best Actress awards and two Best Supporting Actress awards before finally getting the Oscar:

But was she lead or supporting? One can make the case that the leads are solely Judy Davis and Victor Banerjee, for reasons we shall get into when we cover A Passage to India in future posts. One can also make the case that Davis, Banerjee, Ashcroft, and James Fox all share lead status, or that Ashcroft and Davis are both leads, or that only Banerjee is the lead, or...well, as I said, we'll get into it. The only clear thing about Ashcroft is that she was going to win, period. There was not a single award that she was up for that she lost, and she was nominated for everything

As was Christine Lahti for Swing Shift, a dramedy about women who went to work in the steel factories while the men were overseas serving their country during World War Two. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell star, but Lahti steals the show, and received the film's only nomination (by the way, although it doesn't have the best reputation, I quite like Swing Shift - it's more complex than its critics give it credit for, and if Hawn's protagonist seems a bit muddled...well, yeah, she is, so what?). 

Another lone acting nominee here is the oft-nominated Geraldine Page for The Pope of Greenwich Village. The movie's about a pair of cousins, perpetual screw-ups who feel they can never catch a break, wind up causing a cop's death while trying to rip off mobsters. Page is the cop's momma, basically a cameo. I'm surprised hers is the only nod for her movie: while a little overlong and tonally all over the place, there are some solid performances throughout, the most notable being Eric Roberts as the most irritating piece-of-shit you've ever seen.

Also nominated were Lindsay Crouse, whose film Places in the Heart we've discussed before and will again, and Glenn Close for The Natural, where she plays the good girl hometown love of the titular character, a miraculously gifted ballplayer given a second chance. Interesting fantasy-sports drama, one we'll get into next week. Anyway, the nominees:

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

1984: Best Original Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay, 1984. What do we see in this lineup? A nomination for a writer-director that seemed to get invited any time he sneezed, even though he never showed up; a low budget "arthouse" non-English language film with sociological heft; a Best Picture nominee; and, bookending these, the #1 and #10 box office hits of the year. I'd make a comparison like, "That'd be like if last year's Original Screenplay nominees were..." except that the biggest film of last year that would have qualified here - i.e., wasn't a sequel or adapted from a comic book - was #12. 1984 was a different time in many ways.

The only nominee here that didn't show up at the WGA Awards was Beverly Hills Cop - the aforementioned #1 movie of the year - taking the slot held at the Guild's ceremony by Romancing the Stone. We'll see what I think of that. We'll also see what I think of the eventual winner which, unsurprisingly, was the aforementioned Best Picture nominee:

And we'll see those

Monday, August 7, 2023

1984: Best Original Song Score

The Academy has awarded Scores since the 7th Academy Awards, but they've always been futzing with what does and does not qualify as Original...or how such things should be categorized. The 11th Academy Awards introduced the idea of two categories, one for Original Scores, the other for Scoring - that is, orchestrations of either the said Originals or of previously existing music incorporated into the film. Longtime readers will have seen how, over the next four decades, the Academy kept adapting that second category to satisfy Original Musicals, then Adaptations (of Original and Pre-Existing Music), eventually ending with...Original Song Score. Yes, the Oscars honoring the films of 1984 finally put an end to the madness - for a little while, anyway - with one final award, impressive enough to have the Academy go, "You know what? Stick a fork in 'er, she's done, we'll never top that." And to be fair, how does one top giving an Oscar to Prince?

Well, let's see if we can...:

Sunday, August 6, 2023

1984: Also Nominated...

We can finally talk about Oscar's favorite films of 1984. That year was a perfect meeting of audience appeal, industry appeal, and genuine quality - three distinct things, strangely. Of the year's Top Ten box office hits, only three - Gremlins at #4, Police Academy at #6, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock at #9 - did not go on to nominations at the Academy Awards. 

Today's different: of the nominees we're discussing today, only two - Romancing the Stone at #8, 2010 at #17 - even hit the Top 20. We concern ourselves today not with performances, screenplays, directors or even music. These films saw their Academy accolades in craft, technical, and specialty categories: Art Direction, Costume Design, Documentary, Editing, Makeup, Sound, and Visual Effects.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

1984: Sex and Violence

Yesterday, I mentioned this lineup of films includes works from four of my favorite directors - all-timers, the best of the best. I'm sure many of you can guess, but let me know which films/directors you think I'm talking about. And please - join in the convo! What do you think of these flicks? Seen them? Love them?


Tuesday, August 1, 2023

1984: The Year Begins

Why 1984? I hadn't planned on it - actually, I had wanted to do 1998 after 1948, then move on to Hollywood's Golden Age. But sometimes The Universe takes you on another journey. In the past two years, thanks to appearances on the Screen Drafts podcast and recommendations by friends horrified at the "classics" I've missed, I have had the films of 1984 thrust upon me. It took one such recommendation to finally get me to go, "Oh, OK, I have to see this year in full." And while a slate of 76 films isn't necessarily full, it is a lot! I think!

This week, we focus on the releases not nominated at the Academy Awards. Today, it's the films released between January and April...and one before that...

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

And Next Week...

Taking a break from 1948 to talk about what's next. Starting August 1, we look back at the films of 1984! I screened 76 films for this project, including these 32 Academy Award nominees:

It all begins Tuesday, August 1st, right here at The Silver Screening Room.

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Monday, July 24, 2023

Top Ten of 1948

Yesterday, I stated that I found the Best Picture nominees of 1948 to be...lacking overall. On Friday, a friend of mine messaged to tell me he found my Best Actress rankings of 1948 to be lacking overall, so truly, there's no accounting for taste. As you're about to find out!

I started with 75 films:

It took a lot to narrow it all down to these. With apologies to the almost-made-its - Call Northside 777, FannyA Foreign Affair, Panic, Raw Deal, Red River, and The Red Shoes - I present my Top Ten of 1948, in alphabetical order:

Sunday, July 23, 2023

1948: Best Picture

Finally, Best Picture of 1948. Honestly, not one of the strongest lineups. There are two clear-cut masterpieces, alongside three films whose craftsmanship is undeniably good, but as movies...just overall not my thing, I guess. There are lots of films from this year I'd rank above...but we'll get there, never you mind about that now.

The nominees:

Thursday, July 20, 2023

1948: Best Score

The nominees for Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture consist of four Best Picture nominees and Joan of Arc. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre did not make it here, though its composer, Max Steiner, was nominated for Johnny Belinda. And only one composer was showing up for the first time - and wound up winning! The nominees:

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

1948: Best Supporting Actor

The moment The Treasure of the Sierra Madre opened back in January 1948, critics had been talking up Walter Huston's performance as a shoo-in for the Oscars. For the usual Awards Season reasons, of course: veteran actor, frequently nominated but never won, deglam...oh, and his acting's great, too! All true, but there's one more thing: who could resist the narrative of Legacy? Not only was Huston giving the performance of his life, he was doing so in a film written and directed by his own son, John. Upon winning the Oscar (oh, yes, you saw that coming if you didn't already know), Huston said, "I said to him, 'Son, if you ever become a writer, try to write a good part for your old man some time.' Well, by cracky, that's what he did!"

They were the first parent-child pair to win Academy Awards in the same ceremony, a feat later repeated by Francis Ford Coppola (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay) and his father Carmine Coppola (Original Score) for 1974's The Godfather: Part II.

But, while Huston's win may have been a cakewalk, he was up against what I consider one of this category's strongest lineups. If you please:

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

1948: Best Screenplay

The closest equivalent to Adapted Screenplay at the 1948 Academy Awards is just plain Screenplay, differentiating itself from Original Story by honoring the writers of the script itself - the dialogue, the stage directions, the INT./EXT., all that. For some reason (and we mentioned this before) the people who wrote both the story and the screenplay did not get their own category his year, so the writers of The Search found themselves winning one category and being nominated in the other. Here it is, alongside another original (albeit with three screenwriters working off a fourth person's story) and three direct adaptations. But you can see that for yourself:

Monday, July 17, 2023

1948: Original Song

In 1956, The Red Balloon made history as the first short film to win an Academy Award in a category other than the short film categories. A little less than a decade before that, however, "Wet Blanket Policy" became the first short to be nominated outside the shorts. 

The Woody Woodpecker cartoon runs a little over six minutes and was not even among the five up for Best Short Subject - Cartoon, a category won by MGM's "The Little Orphan," starring Tom and Jerry. Instead, it found itself up for Original Song, thanks to the new composition of a title tune, "The Woody Woodpecker Song." The song was a hit and is credited with really getting out the word on the bird, with fan clubs springing up and cinemas screening matinee blocks of Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

He still didn't win the Oscar, of course. Here's the competition:

Sunday, July 16, 2023

1948: Best Director

Got to this a couple days late, but here we go: Best Director, 1948.

Actually, before we get to the nominees - did you know this was also the first year that the Directors Guild of America gave out competitive awards? What was going on that everyone suddenly wanted their own trophies? 

There were only four nominees that first year, only half of whom were also nominated at the 21st Academy Awards: Anatole Litvak for The Snake Pit and Fred Zinnemann for The Search. The other two were Howard Hawks for Red River and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives...a 1949 film. Mankiewicz would repeat his win at the 22nd Academy Awards, while the winner of the 1948 Oscar wasn't even nominated at the DGA Awards. Go figure!

Here are Oscar's nominees:

Thursday, July 13, 2023

1948: Best Actor

The question that haunts this category for this particular year: where's Humphrey Bogart's nomination for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

From the Los Angeles Times: "There is nought but credit to give to the actor for his very fine performance. He has a terrific dramatic summit to reach in the later scenes, and does this with notable effectiveness." From the New York Times: "His performance in this film is perhaps the best and most substantial that he has done." From Variety: "Bogart...comes through with a performance as memorable as his first major film role in The Petrified Forest was in 1935. ...In a remarkably controlled portrait, he progresses to the edge of madness without losing sight of the subtle shadings needed to establish persuasiveness."

To many, this is the performance Bogart should have won for (possibly clearing the way for a Brando win in 1951). Perhaps the reason for Bogart's absence is the about-face. Every review notes that his fans may be disappointed to find that instead of another "indestructible private eye" or flawed good guy, he plays a real asshole. Allegedly, he himself told a critic weeks prior to the film's opening, "I play the worst shit you ever saw." It's a great performance but a challenging part, one that perhaps fans weren't ready to see and co-workers weren't ready to award.

Here's who got nominated instead:

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

1948: Best Musical Score

How does one rate a score? True, this entire exercise is one of subjectivity (I'm sure there are Agnes Moorehead fans tsk-tsking), but how does one sit down, watch any of the five films listed today, and argue, "Well, clearly what Victor Young does with The Emperor Waltz is of a far superior quality, due respect, to what Alfred Newman is tasked to accomplish with When My Baby Smiles at Me?"

It'd be one thing if we were ranking the songs (that, I suspect, is why this category eventually became Best Song Score and went to the songwriters rather than music adaptors, but we'll save that for next month); we could very easily discuss the merits or otherwise of these particular Irving Berlin or Cole Porter scores. But this is more...complicated. This isn't about the songs but about the underscoring between songs, the dance breaks within those songs, and the opening credits made from the songs. It's not just about whether or not you like Berlin, but about whether what Green & Edens do with Berlin is effective enough to keep you entertained when you aren't hearing the lyrics.

To that end, here we go - the nominees for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture...

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

1948: Supporting Actress

Look at this lineup of character actresses: Oscar nominees today, Emmy winners tomorrow. Oh yes, each one of these ladies went on to TV gold. Academy Award winner Claire Trevor won an Emmy for her performance on the anthology show Producers' Showcase; Jean Simmons, for the mini-series The Thorn Birds. Ellen Corby won three just for The Waltons, while her I Remember Mama co-star Barbara Bel Geddes won one for playing Miss Ellie on Dallas. And while Agnes Moorehead went 0-for-4 with Oscar, with Emmy, she went...1-for-7 - her one Emmy wasn't for her six-time nominated Endora on Bewitched, either, but for her guest appearance on The Wild Wild West. Oh, well.

Five actresses with Emmy Awards. But what about Oscar? Let's discuss...

Monday, July 10, 2023

1948: Motion Picture Story

Last week, we discussed the films of 1948 in general - well, 75 of them, at least. For the next two weeks, we look at what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deemed, specifically, the best of the best. Starting today with Best Original Motion Picture Story.

In 1948, there is no Best Original Screenplay category or even a Best Story & Screenplay category. There is merely Original Story - made up of, yes, original storylines - and Screenplay - made up of screenplays based either on pre-existing work or aforementioned Original Stories. This is slightly unusual because although this delineation between writing a story (or treatment, outlining the events and arc of the plot) and writing a screenplay (the script itself with dialogue and all that) existed for some time, a category for writers who wrote both Story and Screenplay existed both before and after 1948. I'd love to know why, this one year was the exception.

Anyway, here's who they nominated:

Friday, July 7, 2023

1948: The Season

Today marks the last day of the mini-reactions (I don't know if they're in-depth enough to count as reviews or critiques). This bunch takes us from October 1st straight through Christmas Day, what today would pass as Awards Season. Not so different then, frankly: of the 16 titles we bring up today, nine would go on to Oscar nominations with six winning at least one, accounting for 50% of the night's overall winners! It's true, for everything there is a season...

Thursday, July 6, 2023

1948: Between Summer and Fall...

We now go into the end of Summer and beginning of Autumn - a lineup that includes a Best Picture nominee! Actually, there are a lot of nominees here: of these 13 films, only three of them weren't recognized by either the Academy or the WGA. One is a Poverty Row Charlie Chan film, one os a documentary, and the other is...Rope! Read on...

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

1948: Summer Songs

Summer is upon us, and what do you suppose the folks in 1948 were watching? By the looks of this lineup: musicals. Not just because four of the films below are musicals, but because two of them ended up among the highest-grossing films of the year - though, naturally, the two I prefer are neither of them.  Sprinkled among those songs of the summer: Charlie Chan (not a season goes by without him!), a lot of noirs, and the greatest crossover any Cinematic Universe ever thought to put out...

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

1948: Spring

Happy Fourth! I cannot promise any fireworks with the following set of films, but I do guarantee entertainment...well, from most of them, anyway. 

Monday, July 3, 2023

1948: An Auspicious Start

Of the hundreds of films that qualified for the 21st Academy Awards, I watched 75. Over the next few days - indeed, starting yesterday - I'm going to talk about those films and my reactions to them, thirteen a day, in order of release - excepting, of course, the five nominees for Best Picture, which I'll get into when I discuss that category on July 20th.

I will mention, though, an interesting fact. Much has been made of Everything Everywhere All At Once sustaining its buzz from its debut at South By Southwest on March 11, 2022, through its theatrical release 14 days later, all the way to being named Best Picture on March 12, 2023, a year and a day later. It is impressive, if only because the Academy tends to be biased in favor of later releases. The year 1948 was no exception - three of the five Best Picture nominees, including the winner, came out in the last quarter. Still, it's impressive that one of those other two nominees came out right at the beginning of the year.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre had its Los Angeles premiere January 14th, 1948, before receiving general release ten days later. In the Los Angeles Times review dated January 15th, Edwin Schallert called it "curiously powerful" and predicted that Walter Huston's performance as an old prospector "would be on the next nominations list, were it not for the fact that [the film] belongs to 1948 rather than 1947." Schallert was right, though: not only did Huston père receive one of the film's four Oscar nominations, he also accounts for one of its three wins. And this was a year when the Awards were held in late March (in fact, a year and two months to the day following its general release)! Director-screenwriter John Huston also found himself up for two WGA Awards: Best Western (a win!) and Best Drama (a loss, to The Snake Pit).

That's how the film year of 1948 started. Here's what came after:

Sunday, July 2, 2023

1948: Shakespeare, Writers, and the Year Before

This month we focus on the films of 1948. 

Why the films of 1948? If you've been reading for a while, you may recall that last year, I wanted to watch all the Best Picture nominees adapted from William Shakespeare. 1948 is an exceptional year in that regard - not only was a Shakespeare film nominated, but it was also the winner.

Further research and current events convinced me this was a good time to bring back 1948: this was the inaugural year of the Writers Guild Awards. Nowadays, it's a fairly standard Oscar precursor, awarding Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Documentary Screenplay. In its first year, however, the WGA Awards sought to honor every major genre and its unique position as an American Union with five categories: Drama, Comedy, Western, Musical, and the Robert Meltzer Award for Screenplay Dealing Most Ably With Problems of the American Scene. Television honors would be added later.

The Meltzer Award, by the way, is named for a screenwriter who died fighting the Nazis in 1944 only to be posthumously censured by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951. In between, the WGA established an award in his honor, as a hat-tip to those writers whose work addresses what's happening in America now. When he was named by HUAC, the award was suspended.

So, there we are: Shakespeare and Writers Guild Awards. Let's hop right to it, shall we?

The journey begins before 1948. Back then, as now, a film qualified for the Oscars when it played Los Angeles for a week. I've tried to go by LA release dates where available, but sometimes all I can find is a general US release date. The following five films had their releases before 1948, but did not play Los Angeles until the next year (or, in one case, two years later). Still, they qualify for our purposes, and so here they are.

Girl of the Canal (aka Painted Boats)
release date: January 12, 1946
(recommended by Juan Carlos Ojano)

See, here's a perfect example: Released in the UK in 1945, it received its "general" release in the United States on October 6, 1947; more than a year previously, however, it made its debut Stateside in January 1946...on New York television. TV was still new-ish, so there weren't yet rules in place regarding a strictly theatrical exhibition in order to qualify for the Academy Awards. 

At just 48 minutes, it is a coming-of-age romance; a family drama; a documentary about a disappearing way of life. We've two families of canal workers - one with a motor, one being pulled by a horse on the shore - I question the efficiency of the latter but, then, so much of this film is about chipping away at the old ways of doing things in favor of modernity...and literacy. There's an intelligent son in the former, an intelligent daughter in the latter, they're attracted to each other, they've hopes and dreams, one kind of hankers for a life beyond, the other can't imagine a better way of life. It's just an interesting flick to watch unfold, especially since one gets to learn so much about a bygone way of life. Why canals? How did this become a way of life? Watch the film and find out for yourself!

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome
release date: September 26, 1947

The final of four Dick Tracy films first hit US cinemas in 1947. I love this series of films: while they don't consistently maintain the wink at German Expressionism in their sets and costumes, they sustain a straight-faced camp in their dialogue and storylines. Dick's almost a non-entity, but they know that. The draw is Boris Karloff as a villain using special nerve gas to rob banks, a villain so terrifying, even the cops are comparing him to...Boris Karloff. The man never phoned a performance in, and here he demonstrates a gift for deadpan comedy that makes one wonder what he could have done with the Abrahams/Zucker/Zucker contingent. A good time.

release date: November 26, 1947
(recommended by Juan Carlos Ojano)

Adapted from a story by Georges Simenon, the creator of Inspector Maigret. In the aftermath of a woman's murder, suspicion falls on a loner who is largely disliked socially but, otherwise, has nothing against him. No matter, the fact that people don't like him is enough to hang him in the court of public opinion. The film follows that tightening noose, even as the doomed man himself discovers the identity of the true killer, which he hides for the sake of the woman he loves. An allegory for the collaboration of French citizens during the Vichy period, it's a damning portrayal of mob mentality. Brilliant flick.

The Chinese Ring
release date: December 6, 1947

Our first Charlie Chan of the year! At this point, the barely-passable Sidney Toler had died, the reigns going to the not-even-trying Roland Winters, in his first of six appearances as the great detective. Here, a beautiful Chinese princess comes to Chan for help but, before he can even meet her, she is assassinated while waiting for him in his own study. The titular ring refers to the one she wears on her hand, announcing her status. The solution seems divined out of thin air. Ends with a horrifying misogynist joke that feels very out of character for Charlie Chan. Apparently a word-for-word remake of the Boris Karloff flick Mr. Wong in Chinatown. DIRE.

Beauty and the Beast
release date: December 23, 1947
(recommended by Juan Carlos Ojano and Joe Leydon)

You know the old story of the beauty who frees her father from an enchanted palace by taking his place; this version includes Belle's jealous siblings. Clever production design, jaw-dropping makeup effects, ingenious casting/role-doubling, sparkling cinematography: this is a masterpiece, magic to behold.

Tomorrow, the first 13 films released in 1948 - plus a look at the first Best Picture nominee of the year.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2023

July Coming Attractions: 1948

It's been a while since my last retrospective (the films of 1946). Let's get back into it!

Starting July 2nd, I'll dive into the Academy Award-nominated films of 1948. This is the year of Hamlet, the only Shakespeare adaptation to win Best Picture. It's also the year of The Snake Pit, a film whose popularity helped bring about reforms in mental health care; Johnny Belinda, featuring the first (and only?) film of the sound era whose Best Actress Oscar winner uttered not a word; Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with its iconic lines ("We don't need no badges") and iconic characters; and The Red Shoes, whose breakdown-via-ballet narrative influenced many a film thereafter.

But, of course, there were several other films besides the Best Picture nominees. Here's what we'll be looking at:

These 32 films, plus a handful of other films released in the US in 1948, will all be discussed. It all starts July 2nd!

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