Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Who Should Have Won? (Part III)

Heading further into the 80s, there was an almost unbroken string of wrong choices. Some, certainly debatable. Others, unquestionable. But, on the other hand, there were one or two toss-up years, where any of the nominees were worthy.

Winner: Platoon
Deserver: Platoon

1986 was certainly a year for building up an Oscar race for the sake of making it interesting. Hannah and Her Sisters is one of Woody Allen's finest movies. But put any scene from that film against the march out of the arsoned village from Platoon. Yeah, I didn't think so. And who would've thought that out of that entire cast, Johnny Depp would be the "serious" actor 20 years later. Ah, hell. I still see him as that annoying 21 Jump Street guy and I didn't watch the show.

Winner: Out of Africa
Deserver: Toss Up

Frankly, there's not a really memorable film in the bunch. If I had to choose, I suppose I'd go with Witness or Prizzi's Honor. I thought Africa and the Color Purple were overrated and boring. I still haven't seen Kiss of the Spider Woman, so I can't comment there. 1985 was a year of ALMOST great films. Agnes of God, Silverado, White Nights, Ladyhawke, Mask. All at least watchable, but all somehow missed the mark. In fact, in retrospect, the only film receiving nods in 1985 that has had any staying power is Back to the Future. Can't see that winning in any year. Although, I always wondered, "What if Back to the Future was made in the 50s? Told from the perspective of the mother?" That would be interesting.

Winner: Amadeus
Deserver: Amadeus

Very similar to 1985 in the sense that there were no great films nominated. Except for Amadeus. This film could have been done so many ways. For one, they could've used accents. But didn't. And it doesn't matter. They could've used name stars, but didn't. Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh or Tim Curry, instead of Tom Hulce. But it still works. I don't know if it's Peter Schaeffer's script, Milos Forman's directing, or what. It just works. The other nominees that year, solid films that fall short of greatness.

Winner: Terms of Endearment
Deserver: The Right Stuff

You can say it. It's because I'm not a chick. I can take it. TofE doesn't do it for me. The Right Stuff is perfect for my Star Wars addled brain. Ok, there's not much in common with Star Wars, but anyone who bothered to read the book The Right Stuff will tell you that the film is a minor miracle. Philip Kaufman is a genius for pulling that adaptation off in the first place. Which makes the whole thing absolutely shocking that Kaufman was not nominated for director nor screenplay. Shocking, I tell you.

Winner: Gandhi
Deserver: Tootsie

Yeah, I know E.T. is a classic. But Tootsie is better. Tootsie should've been a one joke comedy. Lord knows we've seen enough of them to know how bad these films can go. But it's not. It's a damn serious film that has a lot of funny stuff happen. Gandhi just doesn't do it for me. How a film about a dude who did so many amazing things just drag on and on....So, why not E.T.? This may sound weird but E.T. was too easy. Tootsie could've fallen apart anywhere, but doesn't. For me, it's a greater acheivement.

Winner: Chariots of Fire
Deserver: Raiders of the Lost Ark

1981 is one of Hollywood's and the Academy's better years. So truly fine films made the cut. Reds, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, but the two that really stood out were Chariots and Raiders. Chariots is a great film, don't get me wrong. But Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those all-time great cinematic experiences. You are taken to a completely unique time and place. It's amazing how many people can remember the first time they saw it. I know I was completely blown away and I saw it in a drive-in. As good as Chariots is, there aren't that many films from any year that beat Raiders.

Winner: Ordinary People
Deserver: Raging Bull

But not by much. People want to write off Ordinary People for a ton of reasons. It's actually more of a testament to how good Raging Bull is because Ordinary People is just as violent of a film, just not physically. Mary Tyler Moore...I want to write that again...Mary Tyler FREAKIN' Moore turns in a classic performance and her emotional self-destruct is just painful. Why did it beat Raging Bull? Same reason Crash beat Brokeback Mountain. More of us can relate to it. So why do I say Raging Bull deserved it more if Ordinary People is so damn good? Have you seen Raging Bull?

Winner: Kramer v. Kramer
Deserver: Kramer v. Kramer

I know what you're probably thinking. That Dustin Hoffman film over Apocalypse Now?! Yes, as a matter of fact, I am saying exactly that. It's much easier to say Apocalypse should've won now. But I think it's because of the legendary production problems and the miracle that it even got finished. Apocalypse is chock full of great scenes, but the overall story kind of left me blank. Kramer on the other hand has lost so many points over the years because of how much it's been copied, mainly by crappy made-for-TV movies. But I think a revisit to its brilliance is warranted. The performances alone make it worth watching. But the overall film itself is what puts it over the top. This could have easily fallen into the "message" picture bastion, but it dodges it beautifully and just tells a story that is at times both eloquent and simple.

Winner: The Deer Hunter
Deserver: The Deer Hunter

Michael Cimino's best film. Okay, that's saying nothing, but even today, it's a brilliant film. People tend to give it crap for the wedding scene and the events leading up to Vietnam, but the film doesn't work any other way. There were some other good nominees that year, namely Coming Home and Midnight Express. How Heaven Can Wait pulled a nod is lost on me. It looks like crap now, but I don't think it would've looked much better than. And it's one of the worst performances I've seen Warren Beatty give. No, The Deer Hunter was, by far, the most deserving film that year.

Winner: Annie Hall
Deserver: Star Wars

If those Academy Awards happened now, Star Wars would still win. Much like Raiders, it's a one-of-a-kind moviegoing experience. With the countless Special Editions, re-releases and the lousy prequel trilogy, it's easy to discount how good the original really was. It wasn't until this past weekend when I plopped down and watched the original theatrical release when I remembered what a great movie it is. Particularly when you are watching a version that hasn't been screwed with. Annie Hall is, in my opinion, Woody Allen's best film. But pit it against Star Wars and there's really no comparison.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Who Should Have Won? (Part II)

Winner: The English Patient
Deserver: Fargo

If only Fargo had come out in Oscar season instead of 8-9 months earlier. I have no doubt that the Coen brothers would have Oscars already. Oh...wait. They do. Well, for Best Picture then. I am a fan of The English Patient. Although I do agree to a point that the title can substitute as a description of a Brit who likes this film. But Fargo was such a unique experience. Funny and even chilling at times. It's not likely the Coens' will do any better than this.

Winner: Braveheart
Deserver: Babe

Oh, God, where do I start? Braveheart had no business winning ANY award, much less the top prizes. It's crap. It has one or two decent moments, but it's crap. And that was such a good year too. Dead Man Walking missed the cut. So did Leaving Las Vegas. And if you want to look at lasting impact, how about Toy Story and The Usual Suspects? Not to mention the other films that DID get nominated, Apollo 13, Sense and Sensibility and, of course, Babe. Unusual does not begin to describe it. But saying it's an ordinary film told in an extraordinary way does. Wonderous is the first word that comes to mind and if the Academy would have opened its eyes that a universal message picture about a talking pig shouldn't be written off as a kiddie movie, it could've won against films like Il Postino.

Winner: Forrest Gump
Deserver: Toss up

Who would have thunk it? A little more than ten years later and the most beloved film of the nominees from 1994 is....The Shawshank Redemption? I saw Shawshank opening day, first showing. I couldn't wait and I loved every moment of that film. And then sat in utter shock after seeing it open in TENTH place at the box office. Duds don't win Best Picture, usually. Which is why could've ruled out Quiz Show as well. A dynamite film, but just missed that extra added who-knows. Four Weddings? You can wipe my butt with that movie. Which leaves probably the most influential film since Star Wars. Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. So influential that it has lost a ton of its impact from being copied so often.

Winner: Schindler's List
Deserver: Schindler's List

It's odd to look back and think about what year that was for Spielberg. People tend not to remember where his career was at that point. He hadn't had a non-Indian Jones hit since E.T. And then came Jurassic Park. And Steven was back on top of the box office. Little did we know what would hit later that year. Certainly not something as gut-wrenching and powerful as Schindler.

Winner: Unforgiven
Deserver: The Crying Game

I will always argue, probably because I'm a writer, that the Best Picture is usually won in the Original Screenplay category. This year was a perfect example. Unforgiven is tremendous. My favorite Western of all-time. But The Crying Game was something special. On a personal note, it has the distinction of being the film I have seen the most times in the theater. Even knowing "the surprise", I just loved that film. So, rather than make the logical argument, let me just chalk this up as a personal preference rather than make the futile argument why I feel it's better. At least Scent of a Woman did not win, as it had at the Golden Globes.

Winner: The Silence of the Lambs
Deserver: The Silence of the Lambs

No twist endings. Nothing really that exceptional, from a story standpoint, about the film. And yet, there is something really remarkable about it. Everything is so matter-of-fact. It lays it out there and we just suck it right in. Deserving of every Oscar it won, although Anthony Hopkins had no business being in the lead category. But if he had been, Nick Nolte might have an Oscar and we never would've seen Jack Palance and the one arm pushups.

Winner: Dances with Wolves
Deserver: Goodfellas

Yeah. I was kidding in the previous blog. But only only the merits of the release versions. Both films run too long. Goodfellas is more painful because of how strong it is earlier in the film. Where as, Dances with Wolves works better when it's longer. The four-hour extended edition is even better than the original. So many of the side stories are fleshed out, whereas in the origunal version, they just felt like little asides. Goodfellas on the other had, it brilliant right up until they kill off Joe Pesci.

Winner: Driving Miss Daisy
Deserver: Driving Miss Daisy

I'm really not sure what the beef exactly is with Daisy's win over Born on the Fourth of July. Is it the lack of a directing nomination for Bruce Beresford? The lack of "epic" quality? The fact that it's a comedy? I don't know. But if seriousness is an issues, how about Daisy's Pulitzer Prize win? How about the fact that the film greatly expands on a 3-person play? Or how about the fact that it is just one terrific character study? Driving Miss Daisy is about good as it gets and totally deserved its win.

Winner: Rain Man
Deserver: Rain Man

I'll tell you right up front my own personal bias towards this film. Two children with autism. Before then, I didn't care much for the film. I just didn't buy it. But seeing what a autistic person is like on a daily basis, it became shocking to me the attention to detail in it. And then I started to believe it. Whereas before, I didn't quite believe Hoffman's performance, now I see him completely disappear. The other films nominated that year were okay. Working Girl is fluff. Mississippi Burning should work, but doesn't. If it did, it would've won over Rain Man. The Accidental Tourist didn't belong in this group. A Fish Called Wanda was more deserving. I'll admit, I've never seen the film Dangerous Liaisons, mainly because I didn't like the play. Although seeing Donna Mills in the Glenn Close role might've had something to do with it.

Winner: The Last Emperor
Deserver: The Last Emperor

I didn't see Bertolucci's masterpiece until about 5 years ago. It just didn't seem like the kind of film I just had to see. So I plopped down on the couch one afternoon and watched it. Completely blown away. The very critic-like phrase of "masterful epic" comes immediately to mind. I sat there transfixed for 3 hours, losing all my bitterness and certainty that Broadcast News was the real Best Picture of that year. Just a superb film.

Up next: 1977-1986

Why couldn't the Academy get ANYTHING right for most of the 80s? Woody Allen or Oliver Stone? Was 1985 the single worst year for Best Picture nominees? Amadeus vs. 4 Salieris. Man in diaper or cuddly alien? How about neither? Man running for his country or man running from 2 ton boulder? Raging Bull or raging menopausal mother? How on earth do you choose from the 1979 slate? Soldiers in Vietnam or out of Vietnam and why the hell is Beatty nominated? Woody Allen or George Lucas?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Who Should Have Won? (Part I)

The Academy Awards are a beautiful thing in the sense that it tends to bring up the kind of fire, passion and devotion usually reserved for the Super Bowl or the World Series. People have their favorites and watch the show to root for them. Which is why the years films like Return of the King and Titanic do so well in the ratings and why the years when films like Chicago and The Hours are the front-runners, no one watches. And most every year, a debate begins over who deserves it more. Not since Schindler's List won in 1993, has there been a year where there was an overwhelming preference to one particular film to go home with the statue. And hence this list:


Winner: The Departed
Deserver: The Queen

There was no question that Martin Scorsese was going to win Best Director. It was so long over due, it was disgusting. But, for me, The Departed did not even belong in the Best Picture category. For one, it's a remake of a very good film. Secondly, if it doesn't have the name Scorsese attached to it, it doesn't even get considered. Thirdly, just by looking at its other nominations, it's obvious the Academy wasn't thinking that highly of it either. A film with DiCaprio, Damon and Nicholson and the only acting nod is for Dirk Digler? No nod for Cinematography or most any other technical award except Editing (which it most certainly did not deserve.) No, the Best Picture of 2006 was a much smaller, more personal film. Stephen Frears' The Queen told a story that most nobody knew, yet it was about a situation that touched most of our lives. The film's most amazing ability is to take extremely well-known figures in our time and make us feel like we really don't know them at all. Plus, a mind-smashingly, epic performance from winner Helen Mirren. If the weakest turn in a film is James Cromwell, you know something is going right. Of the five films chosen, The Queen was the true standout film.

Winner: Crash
Deserver: Capote

Screw Brokeback Mountain. Time will more than likely bring a much truer to life love story between two men. Hell, I have a script about two gay NFL players that has more impact than this one did. And Crash? It's a watered down Do the Right Thing. It is a good film. But there were much better choices that year. Capote was nothing short of brilliant. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers one hell of a performance and rightfully walked away with the Oscar. But the whole movie is full of terrific performances. And just plain heart-stopping from start to finish. Definitely a case when the "message" films should've taken a backseat to the better story.

Winner: Million Dollar Baby
Deserver: Sideways

2004 will probably go down as one of the Academy's finer years for their choices in the Best Picture category. It was painful to watch Martin Scorsese lose to an actor turned director for a third time. But at least Clint Eastwood has been directing for a while. The Aviator is good, but bloated and not one of Scorsese's finer moments. Baby is a great film, but will not have the lasting effect of Sideways. Notice that 3 years later, the wine section in your supermarket is still much bigger than it was before Sideways came out. It's both funny and heart-breaking. It uses it's gimmick merely as a stepping stone to a larger commentary on love and the choices we make.

Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Deserver: See above

There was no question who would win this year, although many were rooting for a Lost in Translation or Mystic River upset. But it wasn't meant to be. Nor should it have been. There's no question that the Rings series will go down as a monumental achievement in filmmaking. Is the final chapter the best one? It's debatable. The multiple endings does get a little wearing. But the sheer spectacle of the whole business along with some classic storytelling and there was just no reason to hand out the grand prize any other way.

Winner: Chicago
Deserver: The Pianist

Where Schindler's List told its tale on a much grander scale, The Pianist drove the added nail home. The holocaust from the perspective of one person. The argument could be made that Polanski's long overdue directing win was about the career more than the film itself. But Adrien Brody's win sort of nullifies that argument. Unlike most people, I still think Chicago is an amazing film. But it's flash over substance leaves it off the list of movies you just had to give it to. Likely, it was more of an award to finally getting it made versus actually being the best picture of the year.

Winner: A Beautiful Mind
Deserver: Moulin Rouge

Much like 2006's Pan's Labyrinth, the film Moulin Rouge was unique in its ability to take a relatively ordinary story and tell it in an extraordinary way. Some people were turned off by the use of modern tunes in turn of the century Paris. But they are just not looking past the fact that they weren't just picking the well-known songs, they were picking the lyrically correct songs for the scene. For me, the scene where we are shown the Moulin Rouge for the first time and the can-can dance that follows it, it is, very simply put, why I go to movies in the first place. It's been just over 5 years since A Beautiful Mind took home the gold and it's already considered an unwise choice.

Winner: Gladiator
Deserver: Traffic

The other time this decade where the better film won Best Director, but the showier film won Best Picture. I'll be honest. I didn't particularly like Gladiator. Outside of Chocolat, I thought it was the weakest of the nominees. And considering this was also the year it went up against Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Erin Brockovich, not to mention Almost Famous, Billy Elliott, Wonder Boys and Requiem for a Dream, films that weren't even nominated, it's kind of amazing that Gladiator was even a contender at all given it's rather cliched subject matter. Traffic, on the other hand, manages to be both entertaining and enlightening. A handful of outstanding performances and carries the kind of multi-layered story the Academy prefers of late. (Crash, Babel)

Winner: American Beauty
Deserver: The Insider

1999 truly left me scratching my head. True, The Insider did not stand a chance, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why. It's a Hollywood insider story. That should've appealed to a lot of people. Pacino and Crowe, there's two more great reasons. True stories tend to win this category. So why not give it to The Insider? It's quite simple. Disney has no idea how to market a serious film for the Oscars. And it was right in the FYC ad wars of Miramax vs. Dreamworks. As a result, a brilliant film like Insider fell by the wayside and an exercise in nihilism takes the prize.

Winner: Shakespeare in Love
Deserver: Toss-up

To this day, I still have no beef with Shakespeare beating Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg's WWII epic is only brilliant in the first 20 minutes. It's just good after Normandy. The story has some major holes and that's what kept it out of the winners' circle. If more people had seen it, The Thin Red Line might have had a shot. Elizabeth felt a little too much like a recycled Godfather. And Life Is Beautiful, that just wasn't going to happen. At the time, and even now, Shakespeare was not a bad choice.

Winner: Titanic
Deserver: L.A. Confidential

It's funny that one of the gripes about Brokeback losing to Crash was based on the former's dominance of the awards leading up to Oscar night. But few remember how badly Confidential obliterated the competition in those same pre-awards in 1997. It swept. But Titanic was the overwhelming crowd favorite. And walked away with the trophy.

Next up in Part II:
Who should've beat The English Patient, Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Unforgiven and Schindler's List (?!). Why Dances with Wolves, Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Man and The Last Emperor really did deserve it. Until then, see ya next week....

Thursday, March 8, 2007

2007 Oscar Recap

Another Oscar year has passed us by and for an unprecedented two years in a row, I picked the wrong damn Best Picture. Well, the Academy did anyway. How they managed to screw it up in each of the feature categories is beyond me?

The only Best Picture nominee NOT better than "The Departed" was "Little Miss Sunshine." But after blowing several opportunities to reward the right Scorsese film, they give it to the wrong one. "The Departed" wasn't even the best version of the film.

"Happy Feet" was definitely not the Best Animated Feature and I thought the timely release of "Cars" on DVD would've given the Academy a second chance to see why.

To be fair, I haven't seen the film that won Foriegn Language film yet, but I can't even imagine it is half the that "Pan's Labyrinth" is, since there are only a handful films that can even compare.

And don't get me started on Documentary. Okay, "An Inconvenient Truth" is an important film. It should be shown in classrooms everywhere. But that's not really how you're supposed to judge these films are you? "Fahrenheit 9/11" would've won for the same reason, but I'll be damned if it was half as compelling as "Super Size Me", which didn't win either, but hey. "Truth", as important and informative as it is, is not nearly as fascinating as "Jesus Camp."

The awards for Director, Actor, Actress and Supporting Actress were gimmes, as well as Original Screenplay. Supporting Actor was a mild surprise, but very mild. Adapted Screenplay was a little more surprising. I was sure this was where Hollywood was going to thumb its collective nose at the right wing and award "Borat." But on repeat viewing of "Infernal Affairs", I think giving it to "The Departed" is a good call.

Among the "lesser" awards, you know, the awards most people don't care about but are the people who make good movies great, "Pan's Labyrinth" got what it deserved in Art Direction, Cinematography and Makeup. I thought "Pirates of the Caribbean" would've snagged Sound Effects with its Visual Effects win, but "Letters from Iwo Jima" was a good choice, if for no other reason than to put this year in Oscar trivia history as one of the few years where all Best Picture nominees won at least one award. Sound for "Dreamgirls" and Score for "Babel" were deserving. I thought the costumes for "Prada" were more impressive, but Costume Design is one of the Academy's most subjective categories.

The only category I vehemently argue is Film Editing. As good as it was in "The Departed", it did not hold a candle to the work in "United 93." Watch the film again some time. It's subtle, but pay attention to how much faster the edits come as the tension grows. It's what made it a brilliant film. The whole film falls apart without it, much like "Black Hawk Down" a few years ago. Why the Academy got it right then, but not now, who's to say?

To sum up, respectable picks this year and everyone can FINALLY shut up about Scorsese never winning. Now, maybe people can start paying attention to the fact that Spielberg has won 2 directing awards without ever having directed an actor to an Oscar. Hell, he's been nominated for 6 times for director, almost as many as the 8 times an actor has even been nominated from one of his films. And 3 of those were for "Color Purple". 2 were for "Schindler's List." In other words, 6 Directing nods, 5 films with any acting nominations. That either makes him even more brilliant or totally overrated as far as spectacle over substance. Let's go there.