Tuesday, July 16, 2024

1952: The Stars Are Out

You may notice that for most of today's films - all October releases, many of them B pictures - I've very little to say. Well, not every month is going to be full of shoulda-been classics. Still, it's a star-studded group: Susan Hayward in two flicks, Bela Lugosi in a film that bears his name, the Harlem Globetrotters playing themselves, etc.

Monday, July 15, 2024

1952: Quiet Man, September Cinema

September's here, bringing a bouquet of solid cinema - among them, the Best Picture nominee The Quiet Man

Long in development, The Quiet Man started life as a short story by Maurice Walsh, published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933. Director-producer John Ford originally envisioned it as a more dramatic story with the Troubles and the IRA firmly part of the story, as in The Informer. By 1952, we'd had a World War and were in the middle of a Red Scare; except for two joking references, the Troubles and the IRA were no longer part of the picture. Instead, what we get is the story of a man escaping his past by following an ideal of someone else's memory, the Ireland his mother told him about. Indeed, what we get is a love story between an American and an Irishwoman, each learning how to adjust to the other's culture.

The film was a hit with audiences and the Oscars, and was one of six or seven exceptional films released that September:

Sunday, July 14, 2024

1952: The Next Two Nominees Are...

Two Best Picture nominees in one month!

Yes, we must be getting close to The Season, because while The Greatest Show on Earth debuted in February, it took til midsummer to get two of our other Best Picture nominees on the board: High Noon and Ivanhoe.

High Noon is, famously, an allegory for the blacklist. Carl Foreman wrote the screenplay about a man looking for friends and fellow defenders, abandoned by the people he thought he could trust when he needed them most, his doom egged on by a town that can only think in terms of how his presence effects their profits. Ivanhoe is not, it's a historical drama based on a beloved work of literature, but it was #1 at the box office four weeks in a row and the second highest-grossing 1952 release.

Both films came at the end of July. Of the twelve films we cover today, they're right in the middle. As you can see:

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

1952: Before It Was a Classic

There's a movie here that you might expect to be our next Best Picture nominee. The movie is Singin' in the Rain. It was not nominated for Best Picture. It wasn't nominated for anything except Best Supporting Actress and Best Musical Score. Yet today, who doesn't know Singin' in the Rain? I've seen people reference it who didn't even know what they were referencing, it's so much a part of our culture. But in 1952, it was one of many films released in April. Here are eight of them:

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

1952: The Circus Comes To Town

It's February in 1952 and, although no one knows it yet, the Oscar race is over. The Greatest Show on Earth is out. 

It will spend six weeks in a row at the top spot of the box office and end the year as the #1 highest-grossing. It's a high point for producer-director Cecil B. DeMille, a Hollywood veteran since his 1914 film debut The Squaw Man. Since then, he's cemented himself as a master of the art and the business: indeed, the older he gets, the more successful and acclaimed his movies become. The Greatest Show on Earth, a Technicolor epic about life in the circus featuring actual acts and performers from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, is no exception. And it's the only time he will win Best Picture.

But the Academy Awards are in March 1953. Right now, it's February 1952. And it's not the only film in town:

Monday, July 8, 2024

1952: Murder and More

Now we've wrapped up some 1951 releases that were still considered 1952 films, 1952 can officially begin. With murder! Yes, although I did not realize it until I gathered them all together like this, five of the six films here involve murder in one way or another:

Sunday, July 7, 2024

1952: Before The Year Begins

Two months ago, I started a trilogy of retrospectives, looking at films nominated for Academy Awards - and not nominated but released - during the years for which John Ford was named Best Director. Ford won Best Director four times: for 1935's The Informer, for 1940's The Grapes of Wrath, for 1941's How Green Was My Valley (the only time his film also won Best Picture, interestingly enough), and, finally, for 1952's The Quiet Man. Having looked at the cinema of 1935 two years ago, I focused on the latter three, interesting because not only were two of them back-to-back wins, a rare feat, but because the swathe of time covers the lead-up to WWII and the beginning of a new decade.

1952 is a new world. While there were always international relations and, therefore, film releases, the 50s saw a growing importation of international cinema. Mind, "international" still mostly means "British", but one thing that grew out of WWII was better exportation of cinema from the former Axis countries now occupied by the Allies - Japan, Germany, Italy - as well as the growth of international co-productions (The Medium, for example, is an Italian production of an American work).

Today, the first in our month-long excursion into 1952, we look at six films that were not only all made overseas but were released in their countries and in some parts of the USA before 1952. They all still managed to qualify for this year's Oscars, and indeed, two of them were nominated. 

Friday, June 28, 2024

The Winners - 1941 Retro Hollmann Awards

As the title says. Check out the Top Ten for more on my favorites of the year; look at the nominees to see the full...nominees.

We begin with an overture. Well, not really an overture, it's still an award, but we still begin with instrumentals to set the mood. Here is Best Score in order from #5 to the winner, setting the mood for the night ahead:

Best Score
5. That Night in Rio
Alfred Newman / David Buttolph / Harry Warren
4. Citizen Kane
Bernard Herrmann
3. Blood and Sand
Alfred Newman / David Buttolph / Vicente Gómez
2. All That Money Can Buy
Bernard Herrmann
1. The Wolf Man
Charles Previn / Hans J. Salter / Frank Skinner

And on with the show:

Monday, June 24, 2024

My Top Ten of 1941

I watched 82 movies for 1941:

All That Money Can Buy
All-American Co-Ed
Aloma of the South Seas
Appointment for Love
Back Street
Ball of Fire
The Big Store
Billy the Kid
Birth of the Blues
Blood and Sand
Blossoms in the Dust
Blues in the Night
Buck Privates
Cheers for Miss Bishop
The Chocolate Soldier
Citizen Kane
The Devil and Miss Jones
The Devil Pays Off
Dive Bomber
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Flame of New Orleans
Flight Command
The Great Lie
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
High Sierra
Hold Back the Dawn
Hold That Ghost
How Green Was My Valley
Hudson's Bay
I Wanted Wings
The Invisible Woman
King of the Zombies
Ladies in Retirement
Lady Be Good
The Lady Eve
Las Vegas Nights
The Little Foxes
Louisiana Purchase
Major Barbara
The Maltese Falcon
Man Hunt
Meet John Doe
The Men in Her Life
Mercy Island
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Moon Over Miami
Night Train to Munich
One Foot in Heaven
Penny Serenade
Pépé le Moko
The Reluctant Dragon
Ridin' on a Rainbow
The Sea Wolf
Sergeant York
Shadow of the Thin Man
Sis Hopkins
Smilin' Through
So Ends Our Night
The Son of Monte Cristo
The Strawberry Blonde
Sun Valley Serenade
Swamp Water
Tall, Dark and Handsome
Tanks a Million
That Hamilton Woman
That Night in Rio
That Uncertain Feeling
This Woman is Mine
Tobacco Road
Topper Returns
When Ladies Meet
The Wolf Man
A Yank in the R.A.F.
You'll Never Get Rich

And now I finally give you a Top Ten. A hat tip to the movies that almost made this list: Blues in the Night, Dumbo, FantasiaMajor Barbara, and my #11, That Hamilton Woman.

In alphabetical order:

Friday, June 21, 2024

Oscars 1941: Best Director

Today, we look at Best Director of 1941, which John Ford won, accomplishing two rare feats: the three-time Oscar winner and the back-to-back Oscar winner:

Ford was not the first to pull off three: Frank Capra was when he won in 1938 for You Can't Take It with You, following his triumphs for It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. He was, however, the first to get two of them back to back, a feat only accomplished by two other filmmakers: Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Ford of course deserved the Oscar for The Grapes of Wrath and The Informer - but what of How Green Was My Valley? My thoughts:

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Oscars 1941: Best Actress

Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were sisters. They were also rivals. Things didn't get as bad as Cain and Abel, but they were notoriously prickly about each other, and by the time De Havilland won her first Oscar for 1946's To Each His Own, they were barely on speaking terms. Fontaine frequently blamed jealousy, especially since the two were nominated against each other in 1941, each for their second nomination...and Joan won:

Apparently, Olivia was less offended by that and more offended by an insulting (but pretty funny) remark Fontaine made about her sister's new husband ("He's had four wives and written one book. Too bad it isn't the other way around."). And one doubts Olivia could have been too shocked by her sister winning: Joan had just starred in the previous year's Best Picture winner and she had won the New York Film Critics' Circle prize. 

But then, who knows? Maybe De Havilland was rooting for Bette Davis or even someone else. It is, after all, a lineup full of rich performances:

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Oscars 1941: Best Actor

Gary Cooper was the star of the biggest hit of the year, a heartthrob and a serious actor who had headlined the first Best Picture winner and many nominees in that category since. A previous nominee, is it any surprise that it was he who took home the prize?

Not really. But I do feel...well, let's talk.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Oscars 1941: Best Supporting Actor

The Supporting Acting categories began in 1936, making this the sixth ceremony to award them. This was also only the third time someone other than Walter Brennan won - in this case, Donald Crisp for How Green Was My Valley:

Two things you undoubtedly noticed. Both Crisp and presenter James Stewart are in their military uniforms - the War had finally come to the United States, and Hollywood stars were doing their part same as any American citizen (except John Wayne). The other thing: Crisp is holding a plaque with a miniature Oscar as part of it. Yes, though good enough for an award, the character actors nominated in Supporting did not initially receive Oscar statuettes, but rather this more cradleable honor. It wasn’t until two years later, at the ceremony honoring the films of 1943, that the Academy would put everyone on an equal winning field.

These were the performers competing for the plaque:

Monday, June 17, 2024

Oscars 1941: Best Supporting Actress

1941's Best Supporting Actress lineup has all the category's favorites. You have not just one devoted mother, but two; not just one tragically good conscience, but two; of those two, one is a beautiful ingenue making a strong debut; and then you have the scene-stealing diva, who walks away with the prize:

Can't blame them. It's a role and performance that's better than the film it's in. Besides, Astor was a genuine star, and she had her role in The Maltese Falcon for viewers to consider, too. But even if it's not surprising, was it deserving? Let's talk:

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Oscar 1941: Best Picture of the Year

It's taken me a long time to figure out how to write this one. Ranking the Best Picture nominees of 1941 is tough because, truthfully, I don't think any of these are bad. There's at least one movie I dislike but, even that one is well-mounted and, I think, well-meaning enough that one can't just dismiss it out of hand. Too, there are a few that I personally like but think a Best Picture nomination is a little much...even if I can't quite put a finger on why. My Top Three are no-brainers but, in what order? And, admittedly, there are some I know I admire but do not necessarily recall specifics as to why. How does one rank that?

I did my best. Here are the ten nominees for Best Picture, in ascending order of how I like them:

Thursday, June 13, 2024

1941: Men and Monsters

What was it about How Green Was My Valley that spoke to Oscar voters? The genuine quality of the film itself? Was it that it was the last of the Best Picture nominees to come out, recency bias doing its thing again? Maybe both - maybe, too, its story of a boy growing up in a close-knit family in a close-knit town learning that the world can be cruel and home was being wrecked in a way that wouldn't make it home ever again struck a chord with a country that just found itself thrust into the war they'd all been watching.

One watches all the movies from this year and last and figures America was gearing up anyway. All the films about our heroic Navy men, our pilots, the comedies about registering for the draft or being enlisted, the brave pseudo-comedies about rebels who went overseas, the imports about our British cousins fighting the good fight. But it is one thing to make movies about how we'll enter the War on our terms, to watch movies about other people's war; it is quite another thing altogether to wake up to an attack - one that, even at the time, people spoke of being preventable, had the government actually paid attention and acted on its suspicions and intelligence.

And so this December, the cinema is full of meditations on the end of innocence, alienation, government nincompoopery...there's even a ball of fire, though that one's a much more fun one to consider than the infernos that were to come:

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

1941: One is Enough

Will we ever again get a lone Best Picture nominee? In the first 16 years of the Academy Awards, it happened all the time, starting with the 1928 gangster pic The Racket at the very first ceremony, when there were only three official nominees in the category. Grand Hotel even won Best Picture without being nominated in any other category, one of four Best Picture nominees that year up for the big prize and nothing else.

And it happened in 1941, with One Foot in Heaven. Based on a memoir by journalist Hartzell Spence about his Methodist minister father, it follows a family from the parents' marriage through the arrival of children and the attempt to build a community in several places, what with ministers being bounced from place to place as needed by The Church. They deal with the changing world and their own struggle to navigate their own human frailties with the added pressure of elevated status in their community. Why this film for Best Picture, I do not know. I can't readily find information on its box office and the reviews appear to me to be positive but not overly enthusiastic. Of course, I've also seen the movie, did so before knowing it was a lone Best Picture nominee but - God as my witness, this is the truth - thought, "Well, this is the kind of movie I can see getting Best Picture and nothing else." An increasingly rare feat, even at the time: the previous two ceremonies' Best Picture nominees had other nods to boost their profiles; two years after this, The Ox-Bow Incident became the last lone Best Picture nominee.

More common, especially with a lineup of ten, is the film with one or two other nominations. That happens even today: Past Lives was only nominated for Picture and Original Screenplay, Women Talking for Picture and Adapted Screenplay (which it won!), Triangle of Sadness for Picture, Director and Original Screenplay...to name but a few. In 1941, this seemed to be the go-to for handling successful crime films, such as The Maltese Falcon or Suspicion. The latter was the follow-up to the previous year's Best Picture winner Rebecca, with the same director Alfred Hitchcock, the same star Joan Fontaine, even a similar plot with the spinster who falls for a man with secrets, though this time it's Cary Grant instead of Laurence Olivier. A commercial hit and winner of critics' prizes before the nominations, it's not entirely surprising that it found its way here, though it may be surprising that its only other nominations were for Best Actress (which it won!) and Best Score.

Funny, to think that they're the only Best Picture nominees among the nine November releases below, yet they share the same number of nominations as five of them. Here they are:

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

1941: So Nice, They Told It Thrice

The other day - well, at least once a week - I heard someone complain, either on social media or actually in person, that Hollywood has no new ideas. This has always been an odd complaint to me since so many acknowledged classics are either biopics or adaptations of novels or plays - can't exactly call it a new idea when it's already been a New York Times bestseller or a Pulitzer Prize winner for drama - or, and I confess this is rarely the case, remakes. Among the Top Ten of the American Film Institute's all-time American films: Citizen Kane, a roman á clef of William Randolph Hearst; The Godfather, an adaptation of a lurid pulp novel; Casablanca, an adaptation of an unpublished play that also borrows a hint of setting from Algiers and Pépé le Moko; Raging Bull, a biopic based on a memoir; Singin' in the Rain, with a central plot point borrowed from Hit Parade of 1941; Gone with the Wind, adapted from a bestselling novel; Lawrence of Arabia, a biopic based on biographies; Schindler's List, based on a historical novel; and The Wizard of Oz, the fourth film to bear that title (or some variant thereof) adapted from a series of popular children's books and plays. I've still never seen Vertigo, so I can't speak to its origins.

And at #31 on the AFI Top 100 is The Maltese Falcon, nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture, which earned almost five times its budget and continues to make money. I've discussed this movie with teens and twenty-somethings, with elders and sixty-whatsits. This most legendary of film noirs, with its dynamic supporting cast and iconic Bogart performance, is not only adapted from a 1930 novel (eleven years previously!), it is the third film adaptation of the novel! The first appeared in 1930, but I haven't seen it; the second was a comic send-up of the premise, 1936's Satan Met a Lady, which I have seen, regrettably. Wasn't it Michael Caine who said we should stop remaking good movies and remake the bad ones with good premises? Guess he was right...though surely The Thing and The Fly can count as exceptions to the first?

This third Falcon came out on October 18th. In this grouping, it's squarely in the middle, surrounded on either side by figures perfect for the Halloween season: the ghost of Smilin' Through, the devil of All That Money Can Buy (directed by Satan Met a Lady's William Dieterle), and the costumed alter egos of All-American Co-Ed and Dumbo...

Monday, June 10, 2024

1941: I Think They Think We're Going To War

You know we're getting closer to "Oscar Season" because every single movie here - even the Hal Roach barracks comedy Tanks a Million, which runs a mere 50 minutes - got an Oscar nomination. Inevitable when most of the categories allow for ten nominees, at least...

Among the films this month: Hold Back the Dawn and Sergeant York. The former, nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, has Charles Boyer once again romancing someone he shouldn't and Olivia de Havilland making good on her Gone with the Wind breakthrough. Sergeant York was more of a phenomenon: the #1 film of 1941, making over $8.3 million on a $1.7 million budget; nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (even though the titular hero's source memoir is credited right there on screen); winner of two Academy Awards; and did more to encourage enlistment than any propaganda or attack on US soil could. Even if this was a year of only five nominees, Sergeant York would have had a spot here.

It's not the only war-themed movie here, either. At this point, America was just waiting for a reason to join the fight, and Hollywood was doing its part to get everyone ready. Besides Sergeant York, you have Tanks a Million, about draftees; You'll Never Get Rich, about voluntary enlistees; and A Yank in the R.A.F., about individual Americans going overseas to join in the fight against fascism. It's interesting that they're all comedies or "light" in tone: don't worry, boys, we're not at war yet, it's a bit of an adventure, a jape, come serve your country and have a ball while doing so. At this point, we are just three months away from reality hitting us in the face.

The films:

Sunday, June 9, 2024

1941: And Now The Season Starts

August is the last month of summer, and in 1941, it was the first major release month for Best Picture contenders. Sure, Citizen Kane came in Spring, but August gave us An Inspirational True Story, A Surprise Comedy Hit, and An Adaptation Of An Award-Winning Stage Production. Oscar-wise, hard to beat that combination.

The ITS is Blossoms in the Dust, a financial success that certified Greer Garson (we last saw her in Pride and Prejudice) as one of the biggest stars of the decade - as you'll see, she had two hits this one month. A bio of Texas philanthropist Edna Gladney, Garson herself would become a Texas philanthropist decades later, spending her retirement years in Dallas and helping to fund various universities' arts programs. Blossoms in the Dust was nominated for four Academy Awards and, I think, helped pave the way to her Oscar win for the next year's Mrs. Miniver.

The SCH is Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the movie with everything: sports, romance, angels, reincarnation, murder. The surprise is how well it did with audiences, critics, and the Oscars, but I suppose every year has at least one of those (Barbie, Juno, Working Girl, It Happened One Night). It's also one of those foolproof stories, a guaranteed success no matter when it comes out: it was later remade as Heaven Can Wait (#5 film of 1978, nine Academy Award nominations) and Down to Earth (didn't break the 2001 Top Ten nor earn any Oscar nods, but it made a profit!). Here Comes Mr. Jordan was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

The AOAAWSP is The Little Foxes. On Broadway, Tallulah Bankhead originated the role Bette Davis played in the film and there was bad blood between them ever since (well, bad on Bankhead's side; Davis was an admirer who wondered why Bankhead wasn't cast). A success on both stage and screen, both were followed by a prequel, Another Part of the Forest, one of my favorite movies of 1948. Strange to me that there's never even been a Great Performances remake; the only other adaptations of this work were all before 1970, the last American one in 1956 - starring, of all people, the aforementioned Greer Garson. The Little Foxes was nominated for nine Academy Awards.

But they were not the only films released in August, naturally. Here are the ten I saw:

Friday, June 7, 2024

1941: The Uninvited

This is the last bit of 1941 for this week, and we end it with Marx (Brothers, of course), Nazis, dragons, and Miami - you know, something for everyone. Or something for no one, for, believe it or not, this is our first entry with zero Academy Award-nominated films! Read on:

Thursday, June 6, 2024

1941: The Legend Arrives

Ah, now we come to it, the first of the year's Best Picture nominees. It also happens to be, quite possibly, the most famous Best Picture loser of all time: Citizen Kane.

Dubbed the greatest American film of all time by the American Film Institute, inspiration for two award-winning films (HBO's RKO 291 and Netflix's Mank), Citizen Kane was the film debut of theatre and radio wünderkind Orson Welles: at 20, he had directed the famous Voodoo Macbeth for the Federal Theatre Project; at 23, he rocketed to fame thanks to his infamous radio adaptation of War of the Worlds. He started Citizen Kane when he was 24, filmed at 25, and released the very week of his 26th birthday. Its depiction of a newspaper magnate with political ambitions who tosses his wife aside for a showbiz starlet and becomes increasingly tyrannical hit a nerve with William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate with political ambition who maintained a long affair with showbiz starlet Marion Davies, and he used his power to knock down the film's reputation and release before it was even finished. 

Still, it went on to be declared Best Film by that year's National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics' Circle and garnered nine Oscar nominations. And, of course, won out in the end, historically. But it did not just show up all by itself one May morning. Here's what surrounded it:

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

1941: Takesies Backsies

If yesterday was an embarrassment of riches, today is more standard fare: some good, some OK. We've got Oscar nominated films you don't remember, non-nominated films that went on to become classics, and one movie that had its nomination removed...

Sunday, June 2, 2024

1941: Remember 1940?

Well, when I said I had given my last word on 1940, I hadn't counted on the release strategies of 80+ years ago. There were no digital hard drives, no links to download, but physical reels of film that had to be transported place to place, sometimes held over at single-screen venues for a year or more, their general release separate from their "official" release date (for example, 1941 is the year Gone with the Wind finally entered general release after a year of being screened as a roadshow picture). And not every movie started with a Los Angeles release, either, even though you still needed to play there at least a week to qualify.

And so, the first three films of 1941 are from late 1940. I don't know when they finally got to LA, but  These three were:

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The 1940 Retro Hollmann Awards Nominees!

I watched 82 films. I gave you my Top Ten. Here are my personal nominees in 18 categories. There are 33 films represented. At least two individuals have three or more nominations. All four of this year's Oscar-winning actors are here, but not how you might think. 

(And if this is your first time: I do not separate the "craft" categories by black-and-white and color, I maintain only the Original and Adapted writing categories, and I include three categories that were not present at the 1940 Oscars: Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Ensemble.)

Read on for the 1940 Retro Hollmann Award Nominees...

Monday, May 27, 2024

My Top Ten of 1940

These were the 82 films screened:

Abe Lincoln in Illinois
All This, and Heaven Too
American Matchmaker
Angels Over Broadway
Arise, My Love
Behind the News
Bitter Sweet
Black Friday
The Blue Bird
Boom Town
The Boys from Syracuse
Brigham Young
Broadway Melody of 1940
Captain Caution
Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum
Charlie Chan in Panama
Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise
Christmas in July
Comrade X
The Dark Command
Destry Rides Again
Dr. Cyclops
Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet
Down Argentine Way
Edison, the Man
The Fight for Life
Foreign Correspondent
Go West
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Dictator
The Great McGinty
Green Hell
His Girl Friday
Hit Parade of 1941
The House of the Seven Gables
The Howards of Virginia
The Human Monster
The Invisible Man Returns
Johnny Apollo
Kitty Foyle
The Letter
Lillian Russell
The Long Voyage Home
The Mark of Zorro
The Mummy's Hand
Murder Over New York
Music in My Heart
My Favorite Wife
My Little Chickadee
My Son, My Son!
New Moon
North West Mounted Police
Northwest Passage
One Million B.C.
Our Town
The Philadelphia Story
Pride and Prejudice
Primrose Path
Remember the Night
Rhythm on the River
Road to Singapore
The Sea Hawk
Second Chorus
The Shop Around the Corner
Spring Parade
Strike Up the Band
Swiss Family Robinson
They Drive By Night
They Knew What They Wanted
The Thief of Bagdad
Tin Pan Alley
Too Many Husbands
Waterloo Bridge
The Westerner
Women in War
You'll Find Out

Of those 82 films, I whittled it down to 18, including Brigham Young, Christmas in July, Destry Rides AgainJohnny ApolloThe Long Voyage Home, The Mark of Zorro, The Shop Around the Corner. and, my #11 pick, The House of the Seven Gables.

Here are my alphabetized Top Ten films of 1940:

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Director

The thread through this month's retrospective, next month's, and July's is: The Winner Is John Ford. 

February 1st marked the 130th birthday of the director whose work inspired and influenced Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Satoshi Kon, and countless others. His body of work encompasses over 140 films across a span of about sixty years, comprised of documentaries, westerns, war films, romances, coming-of-age dramas, biopics, a disaster film, and even a Shirley Temple vehicle. He immortalized Arizona's Monument Valley. He has been, over the years, embraced and rejected by progressives and conservatives alike. 

And he won four Academy Awards for Best Director, the most by any filmmaker, ever. His first was for 1935's The Informer; the second came in 1940, for his adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Both novel and film courted controversy with their frank depictions of the effect the Great Depression had on the population, the callous repossession of long-held family farms by banks, the exploitation of desperate workers by greedy employers, and the need for the people to organize. Both novel and film were also huge successes. Contemporary, artful, and a moneymaker? You better believe they gave that man an Oscar.

I imagine his biggest competitors were the directors behind the three bigger moneymakers: Alfred Hitchcock, whose adaptation of Rebecca landed #3 at the box office and won Best Picture and Best Cinematography (Black-and-White); George Cukor, whose adaptation of The Philadelphia Story landed #4 at the box office and won Best Actor and Best Screenplay; and Sam Wood, whose adaptation of Kitty Foyle landed #10 at the box office and won Best Actress. William Wyler - historically, the most-nominated Best Director with twelve (and three wins, all for Best Picture winners!) - was also up, for his adaptation of The Letter.

The men:

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Actress

My goodness, back in 1940, Best Actress and Best Picture were really linked! This was and is a rarity - let's not forget, the Best Actress race for 2021 had zero women in Best Picture nominees, so 5/5 is insane. Unheard of. Even 1939 and 1941 were both just shy at 4/5, but for this one year, what made five of the Best Pictures of the Year work were the lead female performances at the center.

Those performances? Two veterans (Davis & Hepburn). Two reprising their Broadway hits (Hepburn & Scott). One getting the Selznick ingenue treatment (Fontaine). But only one winner. Yes, even though it wasn't for the movies that made her famous (and still remain her best-known), Ginger Rogers, star of Top Hat and Swing Time, would forever be an Oscar winner.

These were those performances:

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Supporting Actor

What makes a performance a supporting one? The answer may seem obvious - a supporting performer is not the lead - but as longtime Oscare observers know, such is not really the case. Back then the categories were specifically made to honor character actors, and while some could grow into stars, often a character actor was a character actor was a character actor. We've talked about it before with both of Edmund Gwenn's nominations and we'll talk about it again next month for 1941 for Charles Coburn in The Devil and Miss Jones. But here is a lineup where fully 3/5 could be argued as Leading Men. 

One of those was Walter Brennan, the only nominee here who'd been here before and the only one who would return. Brennan's two previous nominations resulted in wins. So did this, the first actor to win three.

It was figured this was due to the Extras Guild, who had voting power in the Academy at the time and who counted Brennan as one of their own, a man who went from extra to featured extra to bit player and on and on until...well, here he is! Anyway, they were stripped of voting privileges after this.

But Extras Guild or not, was that win deserved? Let's talk: 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Original Song

Nine nominees for Best Original Song? From 1940-1945, the idea of five nominees per category was anathema to the Academy. Best Picture sometimes had twelve contenders, Original Score had seventeen nominees in 1940 alone; only Directing, Acting, and Writing categories had no more than five consistently. Still, nine is a weird number, particularly when the lineup doesn't even include hits by Cole Porter and only one song from Pinocchio. Perhaps that was better for Disney's odds: "When You Wish Upon a Star" triumphed, becoming the first of eleven Disney films to win in this category. The other eight nominees represent a time when a musical was as common as an action blockbuster is today. The stars of the screen are the sa

Let's have a listening party, ranking the songs from my personal #9 to my personal #1:

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Actor

Continuing the journey through the 13th Academy Awards with the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. At the original ceremony, this was the final award of the night - indeed, the four acting awards capped the evening, after Best Picture (which we already covered). In that spirit, we're doing things completely out of order.

So here we are, with five leading men. Charles Chaplin makes his return to the screen after a four-year absence. Henry Fonda, unnominated the previous year for Young Mr. Lincoln, reunites with that film's director John Ford and gets his first nomination. Raymond Massey recreates his Broadway hit. And Laurence Olivier and James Stewart return for the second year in a row, having both lost the previous year to Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (they would face each other again in 1946, losing to Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives).

The nominees:

Friday, May 17, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Picture of the Year

1940 begins with the biggest film of 1939, Gone with the Wind. The Civil War epic was already much-hyped and written about during its year-long production (pre- to post-). When it finally premiered in December, it did not disappoint: lauded by critics, a massive box-office success (for 25 years after its release, the highest-grossing film of all time), and a neat clean-up at the Oscars in February 1940 - 13 nominations, eight wins, plus two Special/Honorary/Technical Awards, non-competitive. It is only natural that the lesson learned from studios would be: WE NEED OUR GONE WITH THE WIND! Thus films like Brigham Young (historical epic!) or Pride and Prejudice (literature! period piece!) or the nominated All This, and Heaven Too (historical romance! lavish sets and costumes!) were whipped into production, damn the expense.

Meanwhile, just two months after picking up the Best Picture trophy, producer David O. Selznick had another literary adaptation in cinemas - and, like before, he ensured plenty of press beforehand with his Big Search for the female protagonist: Rebecca, the thriller from Daphne du Maurier. Director Alfred Hitchcock arrived in Hollywood to work for Selznick in April 1939, just five months before his native England declared war on Germany. 

Rebecca did very well indeed - like Gone with the Wind, it led in nominations (11!) and won Best Picture (as well as Best Cinematography - Black-and-White). 

But Hitchcock felt uneasy about living the Hollywood life while friends and family back home went to War. As the year progressed, the growing unease and feeling of inevitability for the US became more prominent in the movies. For Hitchcock, it was the vague international intrigue of Foreign Correspondent; for Charles Chaplin, it was a direct attack via parody of Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator; and for John Ford, it was looking at the civilian sailors caught up in it all in The Long Voyage Home.

Ford also focused on the struggle at home, with his own big controversial literary adaptation, The Grapes of Wrath. The Depression was still on, you know, and the source novel caused plenty of ire from the bankers, farm owners, and other capitalists taken to task for their deliberate impoverishing and exploitation of the agricultural class. The film was a success, no doubt due to its ability to speak to its audience about the bullshit of the times. Not that audiences were turning away from society broads: Kitty Foyle offered a kind of wish fulfillment as a doctor and an heir both wooed a woman who worked her way up from blue-collar living to Big City floorwalking. And the upper crust and their shortcomings were endearingly satirized in The Philadelphia Story, based on the Broadway hit - and starring the stage originator, Katharine Hepburn.

As you can see, the play is usually the thing, especially in this era. In addition to The Long Voyage Home and The Philadelphia Story, Hollywood offered adaptations of the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner Our Town, which sought to appeal to all Americans with its all-American-ness, and a remake of a 1929 hit, The Letter.

Well, that's where we were in 1940. And those were your Best Picture nominees. Now, here's what I think of all of them, in ascending order, culminating in my #1 pick of the lineup and beginning with:

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

1940: Mummies and Mormons

Below, I go extra-long on a movie that...well, I don't know if it's in my Top Ten of this year, but it is the movie I've thought about the most. That and eight other films, as we continue through the cinema of 1940...

Monday, May 13, 2024

1940: The #1 Film of the Year (and others)

OK, a day late, so we're gonna make up for it by having ten capsules today. Today's offerings include yet another Charlie Chan picture, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare, and the #1 moneymaker of 1940...

Thursday, May 9, 2024

1940: Some Gems and a Dreg

It took five days but, we have finally arrived at a critical juncture: my least favorite movie of 1940. I don't say "worst" because I understand there are people out there who like it; I don't understand that all. Read on:

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

1940: One Winner Was...

It is Day Four of our journey through the cinema of 1940. Today, many a thrill with fantasy, sci-fi, and noir all represented, and that's not even talking the romantic thriller that wound up winning Best Picture! Here:

Monday, May 6, 2024

1940: The Rest of Winter

Yesterday, we began our look into the cinema of 1940 with nine films released at the end of 1939 and January of 1940. Today we have six films, four of which came out in February. Here you will see, among others: one of the best musicals of the year (but with no Oscar nominations), a mystery, a couple histories, and the earliest release to end up an Oscar winner. Shall we?:

Sunday, May 5, 2024

1940: One Year Ends, Another Begins

The Academy Awards of 1940 are...dense. I'm talking seventeen nominees in a single category dense. So, apologies to those who have been following for a while (I've been around since 2008, doing retrospectives since 2011), but I'm changing things up, narrowing the focus a bit.

Today through the 16th, I review all the 1940 films I saw in the order of their release. On Friday the 17th, I look at Oscar's ten nominees for Best Picture of the Year. The 19th-24th will be focused on only six more categories: Best Original Song, the Acting Prizes, and culminating in Best Director - this is, after all, a series inspired by John Ford's directing wins, so it is only right that we end the Oscars on that note (it also gives me more time to read Searching for John Ford).

Naturally, that's not the final word on the matter, as I'll be going on and on about my picks for the best of the year the 26th-31st, culminating in my pick for Best Director of 1940. This is how we shall proceed throughout the next three months.

And so we begin our journey through 1940...in 1939. December 1939, to be specific, though the Academy considered at least two of those releases aspart of the 1940 film year...

Monday, April 29, 2024

Coming Attractions, 2024 Edition

Beginning May 5th, we begin a three-month marathon of retrospectives, all built around one theme: The Winner is John Ford.

John Ford holds the record for the most Academy Award wins for Best Director. We discussed his first win for 1935's The Informer, but that was just one of four for the legendary filmmaker. We're finishing the set:

Starting May 5th
1940 (Ford wins for The Grapes of Wrath)
Starting June 2nd
1941 (Ford wins for How Green Was My Valley; also Best Picture)
Starting July 1st
1952 (Ford wins for The Quiet Man)

But of course, we're not just looking at Ford and his winning films. We're looking at all the nominees of the year, as well as a good number of non-nominated ones. And these are years when the Academy was still taking shape: not just new categories coming and going, but a change in the number of nominees per category, as well as a gradual warming towards international cinema.

Again, it begins May 5th.

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Sunday, April 28, 2024

Year-ish Ahead: The 97th Academy Awards

Usually like to do these earlier in the month, but that's not what happened.

Last year, my April predictions for the 96th Academy Awards were my best ever, I'm pretty sure. I mean, golly, not only did I correctly predict many of the nominees, I correctly foresaw Oppenheimer's wins in Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor! I also knew The Holdovers was gonna do well, but - even to the end - I was too optimistic about Paul Giamatti's triumph. But gosh, 4/5 of the Best Actor nominees!

I don't expect to do that well again. But why not try?

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Your Winners! For the 2023 Hollmann Awards!

Here we are. You've seen my Top Ten (and if you haven't, why not?) and you've looked at all the nominees (because I won't repeat all of them here!). Now, the final word on 2023 - my winners for the best in last year's cinema. The 2023 Hollmann Awards. Beginning with music:

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Top Ten of 2023

With apologies to the almost-made-its - 12.12: The DayBottoms, Freud's Last SessionGodzilla Minus One, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, May DecemberNapoleon, RustinThanksgiving, and The Zone of Interest - I present, in alphabetical order, my Top Ten Films of 2023:

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Year That Was: 2023

It's time to close the books on the film year of 2023.

I watched 115 films that saw some sort of US theatrical release in 2023, whether they played a week a Boston or two months at a single theater in LA catering to Korean cinema. Many of them are either available to stream or currently in cinemas. These are those films:

12.12: The Day
80 for Brady
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt 
All of Us Strangers
American Fiction
American Symphony
Anatomy of a Fall
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.
Asteroid City
Beau is Afraid
Big George Foreman
Blue Beetle
The Boogeyman
Book Club: The Next Chapter
The Boy and the Heron
The Burial
Cocaine Bear
The Color Purple
Concrete Utopia
El Conde
The Creator
Dicks: The Musical
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Evil Dead Rise
Fast X
Flamin' Hot
Flora and Son
Freud's Last Session
Frybread Face and Me
Full River Red
Give Me Pity!
Godzilla Minus One
Gran Turismo
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Guy Ritchie's The Covenant
Haunted Mansion
A Haunting in Venice
Heart of Stone
Hidden Blade
His Only Son
The Holdovers
How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Infinity Pool
Insidious: The Red Door
The Iron Claw
It's a Wonderful Knife
Jesus Revolution
Joe Haladin: The Case of the Missing Sister
Joy Ride
The Killer
Killers of the Flower Moon
Knights of the Zodiac
Knock at the Cabin
The Last Voyage of the Demeter
The Little Mermaid
Little Richard: I Am Everything
Lord of Misrule
Love Again
Magic Mike's Last Dance
Master Gardener
May December
Maybe I Do
The Miracle Club
Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part One
The Mother
Moving On
No Hard Feelings
Noryang: Deadly Sea
Pain Hustlers
Past Lives
The Persian Version
The Pigeon Tunnel
Polite Society
Poor Things
The Pope's Exorcist
Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire
Saw X
Scream VI
Showing Up
Silver Dollar Road
Society of the Snow
Somewhere in Queens
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Theater Camp
A Thousand and One
Where the Devil Roams
You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah
The Zone of Interest

A week from today, I will present my Top Ten of the Year; the next day, my nominees for the 2023 Hollmann Awards. And if you follow my Twitter, throughout the week, I'm posting the shortlists for each category, a trickle at a time.

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