“Best Pictures” 1970

Well I made it through the 1930’s! Now, on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I jump ahead to the decade of the 70’s. This entry covers the 5 nominees for the 43rd Annual Academy Awards ceremony which took place on April 15th 1971.

Airport

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Universal – 2hr 17min

DIRECTOR: George Seaton

GENRE: Drama/Ensemble/Disaster/Procedural

NOTES: Based on the novel by Arthur Hailey. • Three sequels were made: Airport 1975(1974), Airport ’77(1977), and The Concorde… Airport ’79(1979) • Helen Hayes won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. This was her second Oscar. She won Best Actress 38 years earlier for The Sin Of Madelon Claudet(1931) • This was the last filmed to be scored by Alfred Newman who died before the film’s release. • The film became Universal’s highest grossing film ever at the time. • Airplane!(1980) is a popular and fantastic spoof of the film.

PROS: I love the opening on black. You just hear the sounds of people milling about and the P.A. announcer. • The opening credits show off the beauty of both Technicolor and the Todd-AO 70mm format in various shots of the Airport exterior. • “We give thanks to thee, in the name of JESUS CHRIST!!”. • The split screen use feels fresh and creative for the time(it was popularized in the 60’s with such films as Grand Prix(1966), The Boston Strangler(1968), and The Thomas Crown Affair(1968)). • Dean Martin(Captain Demarest) is still as charming as ever even at this later-ish stage of his career. He plays a horn-dog without managing to be creepy. • The bit where our comic relief Miss Quonsett(Helen Hayes) explains to Mel(Burt Lancaster) the airport manager and Tanya the customer relations agent about how she’s fleecing the airline was amusing. • One of the best scenes is the conversation at the diner between D. O. Guerrero(Van Heflin) and his wife Inez(Maureen Stapleton). I found their performances to be the most realistic. I’d say Stapleton was more worthy of the Supporting Actress award. She does a lot with a very small part. • A pretty candid conversation about abortion between Demarest and Gwen(Jacqueline Bisset). • The moments leading up to Guerrero‘s fateful decision were done well I thought. The tension was high and the actual act felt sudden. • There is a level of authenticity in regards to the operations of the airport, especially at the end when the pilots are communicating with various air traffic control personnel. • The sub plot with Patroni(George Kennedy) trying to get the plane unstuck from a snow bank seems trivial at first but ends up playing an important part. I thought the filmmakers handled this well without being too obvious about it.

CONS: The music can be pretty corny at times. It can sound more like something out of a sitcom. • The whole film feels dated(except perhaps for the split screen effects). It feels and looks more like a film out of the 1950’s. And maybe that’s due to the résumés and average age of the cast. • The scenes of marital squabbles between Mel and Cindy(Dana Wynter) felt soap-opera-y. • Not sure Gwen would have really survived that situation. • Some of the gags border on slapstick(e.g. the priest slapping the worried passenger). They are meant to release the tension but tension is the about the best thing this film has going for it. The end was sort of anti-climactic. It would have been better if they landed just as Patroni was getting out of the way and not about ten minutes after the fact. But I guess credit is due for being more realistic.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Sherry Lipp over at blogcritics

Five Easy Pieces

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Columbia – 1hr 36min

DIRECTOR: Bob Rafelson

GENRE: Family Drama/Neo-Realism/Road Movie

NOTES: One of six collaborations between Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson: Head(1968), The King Of Marvin Gardens(1972), The Postman Always Rings Twice(1981), Man Trouble(1992), & Blood And Wine(1996). • The film You Can’t Take It With You(1938) is seen briefly on a T.V. I wouldn’t have spotted it if I hadn’t just gone through the Best Picture nominees from the 30’s! • There were two editors on the film; one for the first half, one for the 2nd. • Bob Rafelson makes a cameo in the elevator at the Hollywood recording studio.

PROS: A star making role for Jack Nicholson(who’s my favorite actor of all time btw and he’s great in this), but this is really Karen Black’s film. Her character, Rayette Dipesto gives the film it’s heart. And she’s really the only likable character and one of the few who transcends class by virtue of not having any… at least not the kind of class the Dupea family is used to. • The cinematography of the great László Kovács• Feels new and fresh & heavily inspired by European and Japanese films. This film along with Easy Rider(1969) represent to me the birth of American Neo-Realism in that it focuses on the mundane, has moments of improvisation, unexpected plot turns, handheld photography, the protagonist Bobby Dupea(Jack Nicholson) is not particularly likable and the editing and story structure are unconventional. It’s a total 180 from a film like AirportBilly “Green” Bush is hilarious as Elton. He’s got that great laugh and his retort of “shit-ass!” is an all-time favorite. • Sally Ann Struthers'(Shirley “Betty”) monologue about her dimpled chin is something to behold. • Bobby‘s freakout in the car!  The depressing lesbian hitch-hikers, Palm Apodaca(Helena Kallianiotes) and Terry Grouse(Toni Basil) are hilarious. “I don’t even want to talk about it”. Palm even breaks the 4th wall at one point. • “Well I don’t know where you were penis envy”. • The infamous diner scene. “I want you to hold it between your knees.” • Spicer(John Ryan) is one of the greatest inconsequential secondary characters of all time! That walk he does over to the ping-pong table! And his “fight” with Bobby is stellar. • Other really good performances by Ralph Waite(Carl), Lois Smith(Partita), and Susan Anspach(Catherine).

CONS: Not many. Maybe the characters are a little too distant. But Bobby Dupea is one of the most distant male characters in American cinema. • Some of the trappings of low budget filmmaking; reliance on handheld, booms in shot, camera crew in reflections, that kind of thing.

REWATCHABILITY: 4/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the late great Roger Ebert over at rogerebert

Love Story

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Paramount – 1hr 40min

DIRECTOR: Arthur Hiller

GENRE: Love Story(get it?)/Tragedy

NOTES:  Based on the novel by Erich Segal.  Oliver’s Story(1978) is the sequel to this film. •  Tommy Lee Jones makes his film debut in a minor role. • Remains in the Top 40 for highest grossing films of all time(adjusting for inflation). • Shares a similar plot with the 1848 novel Camille, by Alexandre Dumas. • Francis Lai won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Score.

PROS: The dialogue is well written, especially between Oliver(Ryan O’Neal) and Jenny(Ali MacGraw). Contains the immortal line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” • Some clever compositions; i.e. The espresso shot, and at the hockey game where the camera glides along at ice level. • Cool to see a young Tommy Lee Jones(Hank Simpson) albeit in a minuscule role. • “Holy shit!” Jenny exclaims as they pull up to the Barrett mansion. • Oliver‘s awkward introduction of Jenny to his parents. “We’ll have to be going soon.” • Both Ray Milland(Oliver Barrett III) and John Marley(Phil Cavalleri) lend some much needed gravitas to the film.

CONS: Some poor ADR. • Not sure giving away the ending at the beginning was such a good idea. It puts a lot of pressure on the viewer to like the characters. • Ryan O’Neil and Ali MacGraw are serviceable in their roles, but for the most part it sounds like they are just running through the script. I didn’t get much chemistry from them. And the characters of Oliver and Jenny the “foul-mouth angel face” to be very selfish. Contemporary audiences may have viewed it differently. Perhaps it was refreshing for younger people to see a couple like this portrayed on screen.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Ruth over at letterboxd

M*A*S*H*

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20th Century Fox – 1hr 56min

DIRECTOR: Robert Altman

GENRE: Comedy/Anti-war/Korean War/Medical Drama

NOTES: Based on the novel by Richard Hooker. • Developed into the highly popular television series of the same name which ran from 1972-1983. • Ring Lardner, Jr. won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. • The film won the Palme d’Or at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival. • This was the first major studio film to feature the word “fucking”.

PROS: Subversive as all get out. Really shatters the myth that all soldiers are heroes or people to look up to as role models. Anti-war, anti-religion, even anti-classic war films! • Hinges on the performances of Donald Sutherland(“Hawkeye” Pierce) and Elliott Gould(“Trapper” John). Again, this is the 70’s and are protagonists aren’t exactly the most likable people. But both of these actors bring the zaniness of the Marx brothers and still manage to show you that somewhere deep down, they still have souls despite the war  • The camerawork is fascinating to watch. It’s almost always moving. Starting zoomed in and pulling back and panning in long takes. There is lots of layering to the shots, mostly because you can see through the mesh lining of the tents. • There is a lot of overlapping dialogue and background noise woven into each scene. It’s an impressive feat considering the equipment available at the time. Dramatic helicopter footage for the opening credits. • Radar‘s(Gary Burghoff) entrance is funny. He would reprise his character for the TV show.  The first “sex” scene between Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan(Sally Kellerman) and Frank Burns(Robert Duvall) was hilarious. • The beer in the blood cooler! • “The Painless Pol” Waldowski‘s(John Schuck) suicide “last supper” and res-erection. Doesn’t get more subversive than that. The operation room scenes must have been shocking at the time. Very bloody and the dialogue is so non-chalant and realistic. No one is commenting on the surgery, they are cracking jokes and gossiping.  The self-aware closing credits announced over the P.A.

CONS: The last 30 minutes or so, with the focus on the football game, are pretty boring. • Apparently in the book Ho-Jon(Kim Atwood) returns to the M*A*S*H* unit injured and Hawkeye and Trapper John operate on him to no avail. Therefore, had they filmed it that way, the body that is seen on the jeep in the background when everyone is playing poker would have been Ho-Jon‘s. As it stands, it’s just an anonymous body. I think had they stuck with the book it would have lent some much needed pathos to the film and highlighted just how apathetic the characters had become. • I feel like Robert Duvall was miscast here as Frank Burns.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Aaron over at letterboxd

Patton

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20th Century Fox – 2hr 50min

DIRECTOR: Franklin J. Schaffner

GENRE: War/WW2/Biographical

NOTES: Based on the life of George S. Patton• The screenplay was co-written by a young Francis Ford Coppola• George C. Scott won the Oscar for Best Actor(although he declined it in protest of the Academy Awards). • The film also won the Oscar for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Art Direction.

PROS: Iconic opening shot and dialogue from George C. Scott as General George S. Patton.  Classic score from Jerry Goldsmith. • Striking imagery at the Kasserine Pass with Arab scavengers looting the bodies of dead U.S. soldiers. The 65mm Dimension 150 really shines in the location footage. Sometimes there is a documentary-esque look to it. • When Patton is “reminiscing” about the ancient battle between the Carthaginians and Romans. “I was there”. He recites his famous poem about reincarnation, “Through A Glass, Darkly”. • I appreciate that the German troops are actually speaking German! • Great shots on the sand dunes by the graveyard. “God how I hate the twentieth century.” • “Rommell, you magnificent bastard I READ YOUR BOOK!!” • Good scene where Maj. Gen. Omar Bradley(Karl Malden) scolds Patton for only thinking of personal glory. • The notorious slapping incident. I wonder what George would make of the PC/SJW culture of today.

CONS: The gag about German planes and then they instantly get strafed. It’s supposed to be funny but it comes off as silly. Same with Patton facing them down with this pistol. • The Nazi bunker looks like something out of James Bond. • The battle scenes are a little stale now. Lots of soldiers bloodlessly flailing their arms to signify that they’ve been shot. (the worst offense is when Captain Jenson(Morgan Paull) gets blown up in his foxhole and there is not a scratch on him.)But this is less of a realistic battle movie and almost all the focus is on the character of Patton• There has been a revolution in the production value of  war films such as Oliver Stone’s Platoon(1986) and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan(1998).

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the late great Roger Ebert over at rogerebert

 WHAT WON?

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Patton

Did the Oscars get it right?

NO!

1970 is like a mix of the old and the new. Airport feels old, like really old. Patton feels old too, but with a hint of a new voice(i.e. screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola would fully emerge soon after this). The other three films signal the voice of a new generation and they are all downers. Love Story suffers from lack of chemistry between the two lovers and M*A*S*H* suffers from a complete lack of likable characters and is too episodic in it’s composition to really stand as a solid statement. Five Easy Pieces is my favorite film of this group. It has similar qualities to M*A*S*H* but is better crafted and lacks it’s faults in my opinion.

SNUBS?

Here are some favorably reviewed films which were eligible that year but weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:


The Aristocats*
– dir. Wolfgang Reitherman

The Ballad of Cable Hogue – dir. Sam Peckinpah

Le Boucher – dir. Claude Chabrol

Catch-22 – dir. Mike Nichols

Le Cercle Rouge – dir. Jean-Pierre Melville

Claire’s Knee – dir. Eric Rohmer

Compañeros* – dir. Sergio Corbucci

Darling Lili – dir. Blake Edwards

Deep End – dir. Jerzy Skolimowski

Even Dwarves Started Small– dir. Werner Herzog

Gimme Shelter – dir. Albert & David Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin

Hi Mom! – dir. Brian DePalma

Little Big Man – dir. Arthur Penn

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever – dir. Vincente Minnelli

Performance – dir. Donald Cammel/Nicolas Roeg

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes  – dir. Billy Wilder

La Rupture – dir. Claude Chabrol

Ryan’s Daughter – dir. David Lean

Tora! Tora! Tora! – dir. Richard Fleischer/Kinji Fukasaku

Tristana – dir. Luis Buñeul

The Wild Child – dir. Francois Truffaut

Women In Love – dir. Ken Russell

Woodstock – dir. Michael Wadleigh

Zabriskie Point – dir. Michelangelo Antonioni

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30  1930/31  1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934  1935  1936 • 1937 • 1938 • 1939  2015

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“Best Pictures” 1939

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 10 films nominated for 1939. The 12th annual Academy Awards were held on February 29th, 1940.

Dark Victory

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Warner Bros. – 1hr 44min

DIRECTOR: Edmund Goulding

GENRE: Drama/Romance

NOTES: Based on the play by George Brewer and Bertram Bloch. • This was the 8th of 11 pairings for Bette Davis and George Brent. • The film was remade in 1963 as Stolen Hours with Susan Hayward and again for TV in 1976 with Elizabeth Montgomery and Anthony Hopkins. • Bette Davis would say in a 1983 interview that her performance in Dark Victory was “the nearest to being satisfied” she had ever been with any of her work.

PROS: The movie just starts mid scene with Michael(Humphrey Bogart) calling Judith(Bette Davis) on the phone. I don’t know if it was intended to be but it just felt like such a cold open that I’ll call it a pro. • Bette Davis is a force of nature! She is bristling with so much energy and bounds across the sets that everyone around her looks frozen in place. “Excuse me kids I won a prize.”It’s impossible not to fall under her spell. • Judith almost always has her defenses up, especially around Dr. Fred Steele(George Brent) and Davis is masterful at showing the desire and fear that lies behind those defenses. I can relate to her reluctance to admit to health problems. The scene where Judith reconciles with Steele is acting at it’s finest(from Davis) for this period. • Judith‘s confrontation scene at the restaurant: “I think I’ll have a large order of prognosis negative” and then her eyes go wide. That was flipping awesome! I could watch that scene over and over again.  Fun to see a young Ronald Reagan(Alec), even though all he really does is drunkenly plop into various chairs. • They foreshadow Judith‘s sickness but surprisingly bring it to light early with the fall down the stairs. • Gotta love all the smoking, even in the hospital room pre-surgery! • I really enjoyed Geraldine Fitzgerald in the roll of Ann. She does some very subtle acting that impressed me.

CONS: A little too contrived that Dr. Steele won’t reveal the results of Judith‘s brain surgery. “Main thing is for her to be happy.” Really Dr.? But what about the patient knowing the truth?? Anyway, this obviously sets up events and allows for everything Judith says and does to be heart-wrenching. The film is definitely manipulating the viewers emotions. • Generally boring blocking for most scenes. Not too much creativity in regards to the cinematography. • Some poor rear screen projection. Luckily it’s not a terribly important scene. • Hard to take so much George Brent knowing that Bogey is also in the movie. But alas, his time would come. Not to speak bad of Brent. He gives a perfectly fine performance. • Speaking of Bogey, I am pretty sure he’s trying to do an Irish brogue here. Oof. • Judith says “Here we have nothing.” “Here” being this awesome house in Vermont complete with separate medical laboratory building. Hardly “nothing”.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Kristen over at journeysinclassicfilm

Gone With The Wind

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Selznick Internation Pictures – 3hr 58min

DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming

GENRE: Romance/Drama/Civil War/Antebellum South

NOTES: Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell. • Victor Fleming won the Oscar for Best Director. • Vivien Leigh won the Oscar for Best Actress. • Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and became the first African-American to win an Academy Award. • Sidney Howard won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. • The film also won the Oscar for Best Cinematography(Color), Best Editing, & Best Art Direction.

PROS: Vivien Leigh(Scarlett O’Hara) performance is a tour-de-force. Her opening reveal is iconic. And from there she runs the gamut of emotions. She can be funny(e.g. sticking her tongue out at her sister), mean, sad, scared, greedy, and everything in between. Mostly though, she excels at pretending to care about other people’s feelings(until it’s too late of course). My favorite part of the film is the beginning of the second half when Scarlett is all badass and trying to bring Tara back to life. She’s gone through some hell at that point and you can see that it’s changed her a bit. Enough to where she can just shoot a Yankee in the face! “Well I guess I’ve done murder…” And then once Tara is up and running again she’s off to Atlanta and her old ways.  • The 3-color Technicolor process is on display right from the start. In fact everything about the opening credits screams “this is an epic film!”. Visually, everything about the film is stunning. That pull back shot to reveal Tara in all it’s glory. The ball in Atlanta, the burning of Atlanta, the birthing scene in silouhette,  . Almost every frame is a smorgasbord for the eyes. • Hattie McDaniel(Mammy) gives the most realistic performance of the film. She completely possesses the character. • Rhett‘s(Clark Gable) introduction is pretty slick. The guy is a movie star in the zoom in on him is case in point. It’s almost like Gable is playing the epitome of Gable. That scene where he pops up on the couch to reveal that he was listening in on Scarlett and Ashley‘s(Leslie Howard) fight the whole time is the perfect showcase for his charms. And of course he gets the best lines: “A minor point at such a moment”; “The cause of living in the past is dying right in front of us”; “A cat’s a better mother than you are”; and of course the mother of all final lines, “frankly my dear I don’t give a damn.” • Props to the majestic Olivia de Havilland(Melanie). To me, her role is almost more important than Scarlett because it’s Melanie who really holds the family together. At least from a moral standpoint. De Havilland also shines when teaming up with Gable to fool the Union Soldiers in order to protect Ashley• I love that Captain Hamilton(Rand Brooks) died of the measles and not in battle! haha!

CONS: It’s too long. I think that’s safe to say.  The second half really drags once it becomes all about Scarlett and Rhett‘s domestic squabbles. And then, when the tragedy starts showing up, the film is almost rushing through these moments to get to the end. • Scarlett O’Hara just isn’t a likable character. Which makes this film quite daring for the time, but I think the cost is too dear. It does however, make Gable’s famous last line cathartic for the viewer.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

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MGM – 1hr 54min

DIRECTOR: Sam Wood

GENRE: Literature-to-screen/Dramedy

NOTES: Based on the novel by James Hilton. • Robert Donat won the Academy Award for Best Actor. • The film was remade in 1969 as a musical starring Petula Clark  & Peter O’Toole. • The Repton School in Derbyshire, England was used for the exteriors.

PROS: This is all about Robert Donat’s performance as Mr. Chips. He really disappears into the role, especially in the later years. It’s a fun performance, slightly exaggerated but not over-acted. • The “old” make up is done quite well, although I don’t know if it passes for 83 years old. 63 maybe. • You don’t see too many movies in the 30’s operating on flashbacks. Greer Garson(Katherine) is gorgeous. You fall in love with her immediately. The tea party she gives for some of the boys just endears you to her even more. • The scene on the balconies where Mr. Chips is hiding from Katherine. I can relate to his shyness. • I like how the boys on the train assume Mr. Chips has slapped the young crying boy. • Lots of funny little moments: The boy’s sarcasm in class after Mr. Chips: “No more silence sir?”; When Mr. Chips and Staeffel(Paul Henreid) are expecting Katherine and her friend to emerge from the Vienna cafe and it ends up being two stuffy old ladies; When one of the fellow teachers says “Hello cake”; The throwaway line about “some archduke was assassinated some place”.

CONS: Not much in the way of conflict until the events of Katherine‘s pregnancy. But this passes by so fast that it doesn’t hold as much weight as it should. • A somewhat silly scene where Mr. Chips tries to conduct class during artillery fire. • Donat gives a great performance but it clearly changes once he dons the mustache.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

Love Affair

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RKO – 1hr 27min

DIRECTOR: Leo McCarey

GENRE: Romantic Comedy

NOTES: Based on a story by Leo McCarey and Mildred Cram. • Remade in 1957 by McCarey as An Affair To Remember with Cary Grant & Deborah Kerr. • Remade in 1994 with Warren Beatty & Annette Bening and featuring Katherine Hepburn in her final appearance.

PROS: Irene Dunne(Terry McKay) gives a solid and very realistic performance. It’s a style quite different from say Bette Davis in Dark Victory. The last scene is a great display of Dunne’s talents. She does so much with her subtle facial expressions. Another example is when she is talking about her father. She does a lot of little non-verbal reactions.  The movie opens with celebrity gossip being spread across the globe. Some things never change! • Gotta love the entrance of Michel Marnay(Charles Boyer). Pretty darn suave walking down the stairs and dealing with rabid fans. • I like the little boy who is sitting on the railing. “Then what are you crabbin’ about?”. • Some beautiful cinematography in a couple of scenes. The lighting in the church on Madeira when Michel and Terry pray at the altar is stunning. The shot where Terry walks onto her balcony and the glass door swings wide to reveal the Empire State Building perfectly framed in the door’s reflection. I think it’s one of the best shots of the decade. Maria Ouspenskaya as Grandmother Janou was a standout and a pleasant surprise. I had forgotten about her performance in Dodsworth(1936). The moment she breaks down while playing the piano felt so inspired. • “They call me pickle-puss!”. • “We’re heading into a rough sea.” Literally & figuratively! • There is an impressive use of matte paintings and rear-screen projection in this film. Sometimes the two are mixed together. Look for it especially in the Madeira scenes.

CONS: I found myself not particularly caring too much about Michel or Terry, and certainly wasn’t in any hurry to see them finally come together. • What the heck was going on with Terry’s Landlady(Ferike Boros). It was a strange scene to say the least. But somehow one of the most realistic moments in 1930’s cinema! • The songs didn’t really do much for me. • The car accident was surprising but ultimately felt contrived. • The adding of the children’s choir just hit a sour note for me. Just maybe a little to heavy on the schmaltz.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Casu over at irenedunneproject

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

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Columbia Pictures – 2hr 9min

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

GENRE: Political Drama/Comedy

NOTES: Based on a story by Lewis R. Foster. • The film was originally intended to be a sequel to Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes To Town(1936) and star Gary Cooper as well, however Cooper was unavailable. • Lewis R. Foster won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story. • One of three films to team Capra with Stewart and one of three films to team Capra with Arthur. • One of twenty Capra films to team him with cinematographer Joseph Walker.

PROS: James Stewart(Jefferson Smith) in a star-making role. The icon status would be cemented later with It’s A Wonderful Life(1946) but it’s here that the Jimmy Stewart we all know and love first fully emerges. His filibuster scene is the highlight here. • I’m always impressed with Capra’s framing and editing. The focusing on Mr. Smith‘s hat as he nervously talks to Ms. Paine(Astrid Allwyn) was startling. Very artistic for a film from the 30’s I thought. Also, the pacing of the film is excellent and that is true even considering some very lengthy scenes.  Another fine performance from Jean Arthur(Clarissa Saunders). It’s a similar role to the one she played in Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes To Town(1936). She is the cynical secretary (in Mr. Deeds she’s a cynical reporter) who can’t believe the sincerity of Mr. Smith at first(“is he animal, vegetable or mineral?”) but eventually does and in the end falls in love with him for it. “I guess I’ve always lived in a tunnel.” She has a lot of funny moments. “Susan Paine-in-the-neck.” Especially the “drunk” scene with Diz(Thomas Mitchell). She’s also really charming as she directs Mr. Smith‘s filibuster from the balcony. •  Jim Taylor(Edward Arnold) is the quintessential “shady big-wig”. Arnold is famous for playing these types of roles, including Capra’s 1938 Best Picture winning film, You Can’t Take It With You. “Turn the ballyhoo boys loose!”. •  Governor Hopper‘s(Guy Kibbee) kids crack me up. “We like Jeff Smith!”. I also like his coin toss that lands sideways. • Claude Rains is fantastic as Senator Joseph Paine. He starts out very restrained(for a Claude Rains performance anyway) and ends up being very bombastic. But only after he’s fully given into his betrayal. • The moment when McGann(Eugene Pallette) can’t get out of the phone booth! • I love the little talk about passing and creating bills between Smith and Saunders. Informative and funny!

CONS: There is not much wrong with this film. If anything it might be a touch too long. There is a lot of script here, but that only invites another viewing in my opinion.  The scene where Mr. Smith goes around Washington D.C. punching all the newspaper reporters. Cathartic yes, but overall pretty silly. • It’s all a bit exaggerated and over the top but that’s what makes it Capra-esque. It’s something that Steven Spielberg does to great effect today. The viewer can start to feel like their being manipulated. This isn’t necessarily a con, unless you are feeling extra cynical while watching.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Rida over at letterboxd

Ninotchka

Film_ninotchka.jpg ninotchka-garbo

MGM – 1hr 50min

DIRECTOR: Ernst Lubitsch

GENRE: Romantic-Comedy

NOTES: Based on an idea by Melchior Lengyel• Billy Wilder co-wrote the screenplay which was one of his first successes. • The slogan “Garbo Laughs” was put on the posters and is an homage to the slogan “Garbo talks!” which was used in the ad campaign for her first talkie Anna Christie(1930). • The film was banned(predictably) in the Soviet Union.

PROS: Some nice comic timing at the beginning as the three comrades Iranoff(Sig Ruman), Buljanoff(Felix Bressart), and Kopalski(Alexander Granach) enter the hotel. There is a Marx Bros. element to these guys(and no that is not a pun. “I always said it will be Siberia”) • This is a good role for Greta Garbo(Ninotchka). She gets to run the gamut here. From strict strait-laced bolshevik “Don’t make an issue of my womanhood.” to experiencing the free and easy lifestyle of American liberty. There is a great shot of her after her return to Russia where she is sitting alone at a table. • The heil Hitler joke. “That’s not him” • Plenty of the typical Lubitsch sexual innuendos such the scene where Ninotchka first meets Count d’Algout(Melvyn Douglas) and they read a map. • Smooth camera work. Some nice dolly shots and a great crane shot in the scene at the airfield. • When d’Algout commiserates with the working class fellows at the diner. • I love the bit where the butler Gaston(Richard Carle) pretty much shuts down Socialism. • Ina Claire was pretty great as the bitchy Grand Duchess Swana• A touching moment where Ninotchka, back in Russia, turns on the radio and can find “no music”; only propaganda. • I like the idea that once Ninotchka and d’Algout become infatuated with each other that their respective worldviews begin to influence the other.

CONS: Overall  a bit on the silly side. There are some interesting ideas here with the main characters representing two opposing economic systems and the possibility of showing a meeting of the minds… but character arcs develop much too fast and there isn’t much time to explore these concepts. • Most of the jokes were telegraphed. In fact the whole film pivots on a moment of physical comedy that you can see coming from a mile away.(Maybe it was less obvious to viewers in 1939.)

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Brian Eggert over at deepfocusreview

Of Mice And Men

41ddb54f3fe8802e751b31906a8b17fa Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939

United Artists – 1hr 47min

DIRECTOR: Lewis Milestone

GENRE: Drama/Book-to-Screen/Depression Era

NOTES: Based on the novel by John Steinbeck. Both Lon Chaney, Jr. and Leigh Whipper had appeared in the theatrical adaptation prior to the film. • The musical score was composed by the famous 20th century composer Aaron Copland• The film was remade in 1992 and starred Gary Sinise(who also directed) and John Malkovich.

PROS: And my award for the best opening credit sequence of the 1930’s goes to..! How the film begins and the way in which the title and credits are introduced is exciting, creative, and innovative. Loved it! • The lengthy first scene between George(Burgess Meredith) and Lennie(Lon Chaney, Jr.) is fantastic. It establishes the characters perfectly and sets up all that’s to come. The lighting is evocative. It truly feels like they are outside. • The music overall is quite good. Delicate at times. This is less surprising when you realize who composed it. • Oscar O’Shea gives a convincing performance as the ornery & skeptical ranch boss Jackson. “I’ve seen wise guys before.” • There’s an impressive tracking shot early on as Candy(Roman Bohnen) shows George and Lennie around the ranch. • Speaking of Candy, Roman Bohnen almost steals the movie with his performance. Especially when it comes to a scene involving his beloved dog and another ranch hand named Carlson(Granville Bates). And also when he starts to horn in on George and Lennie‘s plans. • There is an authenticity to the ranch. I assume it was filmed on location for the most part. There are many well framed shots especially inside the stables and the camera always seems to be spying on the actors. • There was a nice little fake out cut. The men are sitting down to dinner when we see a close up of a pie which we assume is on their table. But then the camera pulls back to reveal that the pie is on the table of the ranch boss. You don’t see this kind of thing too often in the 30’s. Also the scene that ensues is one of the best of the film as Mae(Betty Field) sits silently and listens to Curley(Bob Steele) and Jackson eat their food. • I got a kick out of the girls in the bar aping various movie stars. e.g. Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel(1932): “I vant to be alone.” • Lon Chaney, Jr. gives a very earnest performance. That way he sing-songs “hide in the brush by the river” is particularly heart-breaking. You believe the character 100%. It’s a performance that was already ingrained in my memory because of Looney Tunes. See here.

CONS: Mae and Curley feel like they are out of some gangster movie. When Curley says “No guy’s giving my wife presents.” you are waiting him to follow it with “see?!”. Or how about this line? “Wait’ll he tastes the old one-two.” Now I haven’t read the book. Maybe that’s a Steinbeck line, but I doubt it. Betty Field overdoes it for the most part, although her last scene with Lon Chaney, Jr. was very good. • The fight scene between Curley and Lennie was handled a little poorly. But hey it’s the 30’s. You do get a little precursor to Burgess Meredith’s role in Rocky(1976) when he eggs on Lennie to fight back.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from EvanstonDad over at letterboxd

Stagecoach

Stagecoach_movieposter.jpg 281_4orj8.gif

United Artists – 1hr 36min

DIRECTOR: John Ford

GENRE: Western/Ensemble

NOTES: Based on a short story by Earnest Haycox. • Director John Ford had made many Westerns in the silent era but this was his first with sound. • The film was remade in 1966 by Gordon Douglas. And again for television in 1986 and featured country musicians Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, & Waylon Jennings. • Much of the film was shot in Monument Valley where Ford would return for numerous films. • Thomas Mitchell won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

PROS: This is the quintessential Western. A bunch of different folks with different backgrounds all trying to make their way to a town without getting killed! There is something almost “classic” about this film even for 1939. It feels like it’s from a bygone era. (Probably because Westerns were already falling out of fashion by then.) • John Wayne(Ringo Kid) is a bona fide movie star. But the coolest part of this movie is that is truly an ensemble piece and everyone gets equal time. And really, if one were to pick a star of this film, it would probably be Thomas Mitchell as “Doc” Boone. I love his speech about social justice at the beginning. • The famous shot(as seen above). This shot is staggering. It defines “cinematic”. Having watched a lot of films from the 30’s, there is just nothing quite like this shot. I think the speed of it is what’s so jarring. It’s really pushing the boundaries of what the camera can do. Truly iconic. • John Carradine looks great as Hatfield the gunslinger. Has that whole Doc Holliday look to him. • Ringo‘s kindness to the prostitute, Dallas(Claire Trevor) is touching. And Trevor gives a standout performance. • There are some great angles during the chase scene. I also loved the shot from on top of the wagon as it fords the river. • I thought the banker Henry Gatewood(Berton Churchill)’s line “what this country needs is a businessman for President” was funny given our current situation in America. • Seemingly some real Mexican and Native American actors were used. • Some of the night shots were quite beautiful.

CONS: Andy Devine’s schtick as Buck can wear on ya. • The score can be overbearing at times. I would have preferred to just hear the sound of the wagon. • I didn’t realize that Lucy Mallory(Louise Platt) was pregnant until she had the baby! Probably not the fault of the screenwriter though. I probably just missed something.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Eric D. Snider over at seattlepi

The Wizard Of Oz

wizard_of_oz_original_poster_1939 oz

MGM – 1hr 41min

DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming

GENRE: Fantasy/Musical

NOTES: Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum. • Herbert Stothart won the Oscar for Best Original Score. • E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen won the Oscar for Best Song, “Over The Rainbow”. • A silent version had been made in 1925(and featured Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodman). • The film really came to fame only after it’s 1956 debut on Television. • Two other famous directors had a hand in this film; George Cukor & King Vidor.

PROS: Extremely entertaining and truly timeless. It does have this magical charm about it that draws you into the world. A large part of that is due I think, to the wonderful world of Technicolor and also to the fact that it’s all filmed on indoor sets. So Oz feels like a brand new world to explore but it also feels closed in too. There is also a slight feeling of uneasiness resting underneath it all that’s hard to put your finger on. One gets the feeling that sticking around too long in Oz would not be a good thing necessarily. • Lots of foreshadowing in the opening scenes. • “Over The Rainbow” is a truly transcendent song. One of the great musical achievements in my opinion. In fact it’s hard to deny any of the music. “If I Only Had A Brain” contains a melody that won’t leave your head. Probably why they use it throughout the film! •  The entrance of Ms. Gulch(Margaret Hamilton) on her bike is probably my favorite moment of the film. Coupled with that amazing theme music… it’s just perfection. • The model shot of the farm and the twister approaching are terrifying to this day! • Bert Lahr almost steals the show for me as the Cowardly Lion. His entrance is incredible and the whole “If I Were King of the Forest” sequence is the height of performance. • I say almost steals the show because it’s Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West who brings the house down. This movie is not as famous without her in my opinion. The best compliment I can give her is that my mom still to this day(she’s in her late 60’s now) can not even watch 2 seconds of this movie because of Hamilton’s performance! Also the effect when she melts away is still impressive and disturbing.

CONS: When the twister picks up Dorothy‘s house it gets a little bit silly with showing who and what else got caught up with it. • I like Frank Morgan(The Wizard, Professor MarvelDoormanCabbieGuard) but I think they overused him. Why not use Charley Grapewin(Uncle Henry) for the role of The Wizard• God those Flying Monkeys are creepy!

REWATCHABILITY: 4/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the late great Roger Ebert over at rogerebert

Wuthering Heights

wutheringheights1939 daje

United Artists – 1hr 43min

DIRECTOR: William Wyler

GENRE: Drama/Classic Literature

NOTES: based on the novel by Emily Brontë. • Gregg Toland won the Oscar for Best Cinematography(somehow this was the only win for Toland in his great career). • A large portion of the novel was left out. • Apparently Vivien Leigh turned down the role to play Isabella and went on to take the role of Scarlett O’Hara instead. • There have been several more film and television adaptations of the novel.

PROS: Well the best part of this film is Gregg Toland’s photography. The lighting is evocative and at times innovative(Toland gives the effect of a room lit only by candle and goes darker than I think I’ve seen in any movie from the period.) The framing is always considered. The shot where Mr. Lockwood(Miles Mander) first enters is  perfect example. There is framing within framing in that shot. There are some early versions of Toland’s famous deep focus and low angle shots that he’d use to greater effect in Citizen Kane(1941). • I liked the scene between Young Heathcliff(Rex Downing) and Young Cathy(Sarita Wooton) where they pretend to be King & Queen of Peniston Crag• The outdoor scenes are shot on location which is a nice change from painted backgrounds. • I found Geraldine Fitzgerald(Isabella) to be much more intriguing than Merle Oberon(Cathy). I found the best scene to be when they squared off with each other over the love of Heathcliff• The storm was well done, especially the flashes of lightning.

CONS: There isn’t much chemistry between Laurence Olivier(Heathcliff) and Merle Oberon. Apparently the two actors didn’t get along very well and I think it shows. • The dialogue is really stuffy. There isn’t enough moments of levity.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Jason Fraley over at thefilmspectrum

WHAT WON?

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Gone With The Wind

Did the Oscars get it right?

(a reluctant)YES!

1939 is often considered the pinnacle of classic American cinema; and you could easily make the case that The Wizard of Oz(maybe the most timeless film of all time), or Mr. Smith Goes To Washington(maybe one of the most imitated films of all time), or Stagecoach(certainly the most influential Western of all time) are all better films; and for me personally, I’d choose Of Mice and Men as the best of this year’s nominees. All that said, Gone With The Wind is just an undeniable powerhouse. It’s the first true American epic in my opinion. Gorgeous to look at, and chock full of great performances which is enough to outweigh the occasional flowery dialogue and bloated running time.

SNUBS?

Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – dir. Richard Thorpe

Another Thin Man – dir. W.S. Van Dyke

Bachelor Mother – dir. Garson Kanin

Beau Geste – dir. William A. Wellman

Daybreak – dir. Marcel Carné

Destry Rides Again – dir. George Marshall

Dodge City – dir. Michael Curtiz

Drums Along The Mohawk – dir. John Ford

The Four Feathers – dir. Zoltan Korda

Intermezzo – dir. Gregory Ratoff

Gunga Din – dir. George Stevens

The Hound Of The Baskervilles – dir. Sidney Lanfield

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – dir. William Dieterle

Jesse James – dir. Henry King

Midnight – dir. Mitchell Leisen

Only Angels Have Wings – dir. Howard Hawks

The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex – dir. Michael Curtiz

The Roaring Twenties – dir. Raoul Walsh

The Rules Of The Game* – dir. Jean Renoir

Son Of Frankenstein – dir. Rowland V. Lee

The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemums – dir. Kenzi Mizoguchi

Union Pacific – dir. Cecil B. Demille

The Women – dir. George Cukor

You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man – dir. George Marshall

Young Mr. Lincoln* – dir. John Ford

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934 • 1935 • 1936 • 1937 • 1938  2015

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“Best Pictures” 1938

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 10 films nominated for 1938. The 11th annual Academy Awards were held on February 23rd, 1939.

The Adventures Of Robin Hood

adventures_of_robin_hood_1938-1xs the-adventures-of-robin-hood-flynn-8215_1

Warner Bros. – 1hr 42min

DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz

GENRE: Adventure

NOTES: Based on various stories of the English folklore hero Robin Hood. • Carl J. Weyl won the Oscar for Best Art Direction-Color. • Ralph Dawson won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. • Erich Wolfgang Korngold won the Oscar for Best Original Score. • The 3rd of 8 films to pair Errol Flynn with Olivia de Havilland. • There are many film and television versions of Robin Hood including the 1922 silent version starring Douglas Fairbanks and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves(1991) with Kevin Costner. “Golden Cloud”, the horse that Maid Marian(de Havilland) rides in the film, would eventually be purchased by Roy Rogers and renamed Trigger.

PROS: It’s just damn fun!! Pure unadulterated fun. • Errol Flynn as Robin of Locksley aka Robin Hood. He is now of course synonymous with Robin Hood(and adventure films in general) and for good reason. The guy is just ridiculously charming in this film. And he can somehow pull off tights and glitter and maintain his masculinity. And he gets to utter wonderful phrases such as “There goes a lusty infant!” • Technicolor at it’s finest. If you need an example of the wonders of technicolor(and you don’t have The Wizard of Oz(1939) handy), look no further than this. A standout use of Technicolor is the archery tournament scene with the flags and tents in myriad colors. • The supporting cast is delightful. Claude Rains at his prissy best portraying Prince John. Alan Hale, Sr.(Father to Alan Hale, Jr. better known as the “Skipper” on TV’s Gilligan’s Island) reprising his role from the silent version as Little John. Herbert Mundin(Munch) is a walking Disney cartoon character! He gets quite a bit of screen time too. Basil Rathbone(Sir Guy of Gisbourne) always makes for a great villain. He had already dueled with Flynn in Captain Blood(1935). And Eugene Pallette as the gravel-throated Friar Tuck fits in perfectly with the rest of the merry men. • Marion: “You speak treason!” Robin: “Fluently.”

CONS: The score, while for the most part fantastic, hardly ever lets up. There is only one scene I remember that didn’t have score(i.e. King Richard‘s clandestine visit to Kent’s Road Tavern). It’s just a lot… and it can get in the way of the dialogue at times. Though I shouldn’t whine too much about it seeing as how it was a huge influence on George Lucas who requested that composer John Williams fill Star Wars(1977) and it’s subsequent sequels to the brim with “Korngold score”. Something we are all grateful for. • Olivia de Havilland and Patric Knowles(Will Scarlett) aren’t given much to do with their respective roles. • Some poor day-for-night shots.

REWATCHABILITY: 4/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the late great Roger Ebert over at rogerebert

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

alexanders-ragtime-band-movie-poster-1938-1010496165 annex-power-jr-tyrone-alexanders-ragtime-band_02

20th Century Fox – 1hr 46min

DIRECTOR: Henry King

GENRE: Musical-Showcase/Comedy/Love Triangle

NOTES: Written by and featuring many songs of Irving Berlin Based loosely on actual events involving the evolution of Jazz music.  Alfred Newman won the Oscar for Best Music-Scoring. • The second film in as many years to feature the trio of Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche. The other being In Old Chicago(1937) • The 3rd of 11 team-ups between Power and Henry King.

PROS: The set design is well done. I particularly like the entrance to “Dirty Eddie’s” and the interior of the “Ship Cafe”. • There is some deft camera work. Rather than the same old static shots you’d expect for the interior scenes, the camera slides into multiple positions to cover the dialogue of various actors. • Alice Faye(Stella Kirby) is fantastic here. She really steals the spotlight from her two male co-stars. She’s also very funny: “Is that plain fancy pants?”. • I really sympathized with Charlie(Don Ameche). He’s just a very cool-headed, rational, all around nice dude! I thought the way he handled the divorce(probably the best scene in the film) was a beautiful thing. If only everyone could be so altruistic. • There is a great tracking shot of an army recruiting band playing on the back of a moving truck. It’s very short but I loved the angle of it. • The intro to “Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning” is very clever! I won’t ruin it. • “I like ragtime, I believe in it.” A good line at the right spot! • Ethel Merman(Jerry Allen) really shines in this film. She rocks all her numbers especially “Pack Up Your Sins, And Go To The Devil”.

CONS: Not much of a plot here. It really just exists to get from one song to the next. • I am not the biggest Tyrone Power(Alexander) fan. I get it. He’s handsome. But so far his acting abilities have not won me over. Also, this is the second film I’ve seen where he comes off as somewhat of a creep! (see: In Old Chicago(1937)) • The join-the-army sequence was a bit ridiculous. And of course it featured the ubiquitous quick-cut musical montage.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera

Boys Town

boys-town-poster-2 mickeyrooneyboystown

MGM – 1hr 36min

DIRECTOR: Norman Taurog

GENRE: Drama/Heartfelt/Morality Tale

NOTES: Based on the life of Edward J. Flanagan• Spencer Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor, his second in as many years. The other being for Captains Courageous(1937). • Eleanore Griffin and Dore Schary won the Oscar for Best Writing-Original Story.  A sequel was made in 1941 entitled Men Of Boys Town.

PROS: Probably the perfect introduction to Mickey Rooney(Whitey Marsh) that you can get if you ever needed to explain him to anyone. The film goes a little screwball comedy when Whitey first arrives at Boys Town and Mickey gets to show off his physical comedy skills.  • The incident with Pee-Wee(Bobs Watson) in the middle of the film is jarring. And you find yourself wondering just how far Taurog is going to take it. The subsequent shots of Tracy(Father Flanagan)and the procession that follows him are certainly powerful. • I enjoyed Henry Hull’s performance as Dave Morris, shop owner and Father Flanagan‘s first and most loyal benefactor. The scene where he’s bargaining with his own money is fun. “You mind if I throw you out now?”. • Surprised by how similar Whitey‘s campaign tactics are to President-elect Donald Trump’s. Basically “I’m the best, so vote for me!” • “I like the Yankees”… “You would!”.

CONS: You can smell the trouble with the movie from the start. The opening scene is way too melodramatic as Dan(Leslie Fenton) pleads with Father Flanagan. Even the music hits that sickly sweet level, telling you exactly how to feel. • The motivations and details of building the school are just completely glossed over. Flanagan has almost zero trouble in securing the funds he needs. Flanagan just ho-hums his way through his financial obligations and other than a minor argument with Mr. Hargraves(Jonathan Hale), there never seem to be any stumbling blocks in his way. • Even the gorgeous brick main building is seemingly built in a day by the hands of the boys themselves. It’s an eye-roll moment to be sure. • I like how Whitey‘s brother Joe(Edward Norris) tells him to walk back home. Walk back?! You just shot him in the leg for crying out loud! • That whole bank robbery scene feels too contrived.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Aubyn over at thegirlwiththewhiteparasol

The Citadel

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MGM/Denham Studious(UK) – 1hr 50min

DIRECTOR: King Vidor

GENRE: Dra-medy/Medical breakthrough

NOTES: Based on the novel by A.J. Cronin. • Apparently there was a bit of an uproar in Britain that Rosalind Russell, an American, was chosen to play the role of Christine Barlow• Rosalind Russell refers to a guinea pig as “Clara”. This is something Russell would do in many films as a tribute to her sister and mother who were both named Clara.

PROS: A very intense(and graphic for the time) birth scene. • Some nice transitions from sets to stock footage. • Lots of great frame composition. • Ralph Richardson(Dr. Philip Denny) gives a very loose and charming performance. I had only known Richardson from his role as the Supreme Being in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits(1981). • I love the whistling bike ride that Dr. Manson(Robert Donat) takes after blowing up the well. • There are some realistic moments of over-lapping dialogue which was probably a mistake but Vidor left them in. •  The skeptical District Nurse(Elliott Mason) “why don’t you feed him the glass slides!”. • Dilys Davies is delightfully evil as Mrs. Page. “Sacked!!” • I love Manson‘s terribly English marriage proposal to Christine from outside her bedroom window: “You wouldn’t marry me would you?” • I always enjoy the theme where the protagonist sells his ideals and it takes a tragedy to bring him back to his senses.

CONS: A bit confusing at the beginning as to the setting • Christine relates the story about the men destroying the slides. I thought it would have been much more dramatic to have shown that scene. • Yet another courtroom scene to end a film. I generally find these to be very dull. • The film loses some steam when they get to London.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

Four Daughters

p2918_p_v8_aa four-daughters-priscilla-lane-john-garfield-1938

First National/Warner Bros. – 1hr 30min

DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz

GENRE: Dramedy/Musical-Comedy

NOTES: Based on the hard-to-find novel Sister Act by Fannie Hurst• There were two sequels featuring the Lane SistersFour Wives(1939) which was also directed by Curtiz and Four Mothers(1941). • The Lane Sisters, Claude Rains and John Garfield also teamed up with Curtiz for Daughters Courageous(1939). Remade as Young At Heart(1954) with Frank Sinatra and Doris Day.

PROS: The opening camera move is impressive as it cranes from outside into the living room. • I didn’t recognize Claude Rains as the father Adam Lemp at first. He gives another good performance here and somewhat different from what I was use to seeing from him. “It’s my blood pressure.” • I like how each of the girls has a defined personality. For instance Thea(Lola Lane) is the spunky joker, whereas Kay(Rosemary Lane) is the lazy daydreamer. • The whole film feels progressive, more like a film out of the 40’s or 50’s. Even down to the music. It reminded me of a sitcom at times. • I like the awkward dinner scene with Mr. Crowley(Frank McHugh). He reminds me a bit of Jon Lovitz here. The interrupted prayer bit was funny. • Enter Mickey Bordan(John Garfield) to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings and almost expose a not-as-innocent-as-she-seems Ann(Priscilla Lane).

CONS: Too many moments where you are left wondering what the point is! Takes a while before it clearly becomes Ann‘s movie. • There is not really enough time to develop any believable relationships.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from David Fiore over at letterboxd

La Grande Illusion (1937)

GrandeIllusion.jpg grande-illusion-la-1937-004-00o-12h-fresnay-von-stroheim-parlay_590

World Pictures(France) – 1hr 54min

DIRECTOR: Jean Renoir

GENRE: WW1/Prison escape/Anti-war

NOTES: Co-written by Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak. • Renoir served as French aviator in the First World War. • This was the first foreign(not US or British that is) film to be nominated for Best Picture. • The film was banned by both Mussolini and Goebbels in Italy and Germany respectively. And the print was lost for nearly a decade.

PROS: The acting on all counts.  Lieutenant Maréchal‘s(Jean Gabin) blasé attitude to imprisonment. “Streng verboten.”  Captain Boeldieu(Pierre Fresnay) and Rittmeister von Rauffenstein‘s(Erich von Stroheim) professional courtesy towards each other. • Language and language barriers play a huge part in this film. I enjoyed the early scene where Rauffenstein hosts his prisoners. The way the language flows reminds me of scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds(2009). • The movie is quick and to the point. It doesn’t waste time with endless action scenes(or any action scenes really) that so many war movies feel the need to insert. • A great script for idle chatter as the POW’s have nothing but time. • I love the moment when the can lands on the pillow.

CONS: The themes are subtly presented but almost too much so. I would have preferred a little more soliloquizing, although we do get a couple nice scenes between Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein• The fact that the prison guards are so nice to the prisoners is part of the point but it removes any sense of empathy for the prisoners. Only in the scene where Maréchal is put in solitary confinement can we truly feel bad for anyone’s treatment.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Peter Cowie over at criterion

Jezebel

jesebel_movieposter bette-davis-jezebel-1

Warner Bros. – 1hr 43min

DIRECTOR: William Wyler

GENRE: Period piece/Costume drama/Love triangle

NOTES: Based on the play by Owen Davis, Sr. • Tallulah Bankhead was originally going to play the role of Julie but fell ill during pre-production. • Bette Davis won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her success pegged her for the similar role of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With The Wind(1939) but producer David O. Selznick  did not consider her “suitable”• Fay Bainter won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. • Wyler and Davis allegedly fell in love during filming.

PROS: An impressively lengthy opening tracking shot. The camera tracks behind a row of vendor carts on a New Orleans street and the frame is always packed with all sorts of detail for the entire duration of it. • This film is all about Bette Davis'(Julie) performance. She’s an absolute powerhouse and bona fide movie star. From the moment she waltzes in dressed in her riding gear, much to the chagrin of her Aunt Belle(Fay Bainter), she completely takes control of the movie. Anytime we aren’t with Davis, the movie suffers. • That red dress. “Saucy isn’t it?” The movie spends a significant portion of the film on the dress and the stir it’s likely to cause. Reminded me of the the J-Lo dress incident which kicked off the 21st century. Some things never change.   Some nice cinematography during the dance sequence, after everyone leaves Julie and Pres alone on the dance floor. •  I was impressed by the use of regional accents. • I enjoyed Lew Payton as Uncle Cato. He shares a nice moment with Preston “Pres” Dillard(Henry Fonda) where they share some mint juleps. • Buck Cantrell(George Brent) drops the line “young jackass” in reference to Ted(Richard Cromwell). This a year before Clark Gable’s famous “I don’t give a damn” line in Gone With The Wind. I found that interesting considering the similarities between the two films. • The final images are pretty powerful with the wagon loads of dead bodies and our main characters on their way to certain doom. • “She’d think there’d be snakes.” That line sounded familiar to me and it took me too long to remember that Catherine O’Hara repeats it in For Your Consideration(2006).

CONS: Like so many movies of the time, the head strong female lead loses all her resolve when the threat of losing her man becomes too real. And of course once she finds out Preston has married to that “washed out little yankee”, she becomes not so much strong-willed as petty which of course leads to her downfall. • Maybe too much foreshadowing of the yellow jack fever. It becomes quite obvious early on that at least one of our main characters is going to contract it at some point.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Justine Smith over at nextprojection

Pygmalion

pygmalion_1938_poster 1938-pygmalion-04

General Film Distributors(UK) – 1hr 36min

DIRECTOR: Anthony Asquith/Leslie Howard

GENRE: Comedy/Farce/Love story

NOTES: Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw which in turn is based on the Pygmalion character of Greek mythology. 1956 the play was adapted into a musical entitled My Fair Lady which of course led to the famous 1964 film with Katherine Hepburn. • George Bernard Shaw, Cecil Lewis, and Ian Dalrymple won the Academy Award for Writing(Adapted Screenplay). • The film was edited by a young David Lean.

PROS: The language. And that includes the swearing! “damn, damn, damn!” “You ass!” “Not bloody likely”. But there are some great lines which mostly come from Professor Henry Higgins(Leslie Howard): “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.” Love it!  And another: “I find that the moment I let a woman make friends with me, she becomes jealous, exacting, and a confounding nuisance!” • Howard’s performance is something to behold. It is so exaggerated. It reminded me of a Jim Carrey performance.  Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle gives it 110%. She’s very funny. And real; that bathtub scene is hard to take even here in 2017. I can’t imagine what viewers thought of it back then. I love her scene where she’s attempting to fit in with the upper crust but her slang starts to creep out once she exhausts the ready made phrases she’s been taught by Higgins. “Somebody pinched it… so-they-say.” And she delivers the most heart-breaking line: “I sold flowers, I didn’t sell myself.” My favorite performance actually comes from Wilfrid Lawson as Alfred Doolittle. It’s brilliant. And that laugh he does is phenomenal  The musical score stood out quite a bit compared to other films of the 30’s. It’s quite comical at times, matching the action on screen. • The cinematography and editing feel very progressive and creative, most notably in the montage scenes where Eliza is receiving speech lessons. Complete with dutch angles, explosion wipes, and strange close ups(like that creepy bobble-head clown thing!). Really stands out amongst it’s peers. • I love the constables breaking up the kissing attempts of Eliza and the ridiculous Freddy(David Tree).

CONS: It’s no mistaking this as a play put on film. From some of the sets to the exaggerated performances of the actors. It’s all a bit too self-aware. • The ending, which is not the original ending in the play, does feel like a happy ending cop out. And doesn’t really make sense given the arc of Eliza‘s character.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Gary Morris over at brightlightsfilm

Test Pilot

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MGM – 1hr 58min

DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming

GENRE: Drama/Romantic Comedy

NOTES: Based on a story and co-written by formal naval aviator Frank Wead• Director Howard Hawks also has a writing credit. • The second of three pairings between Clark Gable & Spencer Tracy; San Francisco(1936) and Boom Town(1940) • This was the 8th film that Gable & Myrna Loy appeared in together. The first being the 1925 silent Ben-Hur where they appeared as extras along with other soon-to-be stars. • Marjorie Main has a minor role in the film. She would come to fame later for portraying “Ma Kettle in several films.

PROS: Myrna Loy(Anne Barton) being Myrna Loy. She really shines in this picture thanks in part to a really good script. She gets to run the gamut of emotions and not just play the wise-cracker like she does in the Thin Man series. Although she does do a lot of wise-cracking here. “Should I faint on that one?” She has a lot of what Gable(Jim Lane) would call “little flirt” moments. Like when she informs him “You turn your head like a big bear” and proceeds to demonstrate. • Seeing the old pro, Lionel Barrymore(Drake) in action. So glad his career continued on into the sound era because he’s not only a great actor, but he’s also got a great voice. • The beautiful authentic airplanes. Especially the “Drake Bullet” which is modified racing version of the US Army’s P-35  • The special effects are impressive, most notably during the stormy flight early on and the final crash scene. Even a decent amount of blood! The full scale set of the wreckage would fit nicely on a backlot tour today • I really relate to Spencer Tracy’s character Gunner Morris. “Gunner don’t ever fall in love.” • I love Lane‘s reaction to the fact that Anne has impulsively gotten engaged just to spite him. “Alright, alright.”

CONS: Another rapid-fire dialogue picture that can at times become a little annoying. This takes place mostly in the first 30 minutes of the film between Loy and Gable. • The movie slows down substantially in the second half where many scenes become drawn out. I think it would have benefited from some tighter editing. • That said, some of the editing choices seem very rushed. In one scene Gable kinda over does it on the drunk-acting.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Aubyn over at thegirlwiththewhiteparasol

You Can’t Take It With You

you_cant_take_it_with_you you-cant-take-it-with-you-lionel-barrymore-and-edward-arnold-speech

Columbia- 2hr 6min

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

GENRE: Comedy/Ensemble Farce/Class Warfare

NOTES: Based on the Pulitzer prize winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. • Frank Capra won the Academy Award for Best Director(for the 3rd time in 5 years). • One of three films that Capra made with Jimmy Stewart.

PROS: Capra’s framing is always good. He really cemented some film language that has lasted to this day especially in the works of SpielbergThe ensemble cast is used effectively. Everyone seems to get their due time. There is a bit of the Addam’s Family vibe here(which debuted in 1938 coincidentally). • Lionel Barrymore(Martin Vanderhof) is the old pro. He brings an authenticity to every performance and this is no different. He manages to recite the “preachy” bits without coming off as holier than thou and his monologue about his widow was very touching. He’s also very funny at times. “He didn’t touch second!” • Seemingly real interiors. That or very impressive sets.  I really enjoyed Jean Arthur’s carefree performance as Alice. “What do you think I am, a goop?” • Mr. Poppins‘ impulsive leap into a new life. “The die is cast. I’m a lily!”. • I liked Clarence Wilson’s performance as the twitchy-eyed Mr. Blakeley• The cat paperweight. • The little clocks in Paul‘s(Samuel S. Hinds) basement workshop singing “Whistle While You Work” and Tony(James Stewart) mentioning Walt Disney by name go to show the popularity of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs(1937). A lovely scene between Alice and Tony on a park bench. It’s very realistic and very classic movie at the same time. • Mischa Auer shines in another character role as the dance instructor Mr. Kolenkhov. “It stinks!” It’s definitely a highlight to see him body slam A.P. Kirby(Edward Arnold). • I loved Penny‘s(Spring Byington) excitement at the arrival of the “J-men” and her subsequent incarceration.

CONS: Takes a little too long to get to the point. It’s obvious that the two plot lines of the Kirby‘s and Vanderhof‘s will collide but it just takes too long to get there. • Notice how Rheba(Lillian Yarbo) and Donald(Eddie Anderson) don’t have a seat at the utopian table in the end. • There is a bit too much moralizing here(such as the poor can do no wrong myth). It’s not that the points being made are wrong necessarily. Just glossed over and over-simplified. • Could have used some tightening up from the editing department.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Robert Levin over at filmschoolrejects

WHAT WON?

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You Can’t Take It With You

 

Did the Oscars get it right?

NO!

This year is a little tough. You Can’t Take It With You suffers heavily in my opinion from pacing problems. It’s a fun light-hearted movie that doesn’t gag you with it’s message but it certainly could stand some trimming of the fat as it were. The Adventures of Robin Hood is pure entertainment and the film that I am sure I’ll revisit the most. It’s my favorite of the group but I can’t say it’s the best. Test PilotJezebel, and The Citadel are classic Oscar fodder and maybe would stand a chance in a weaker year. Alexander’s Ragtime Band and Boys Town are forgettable. Four Daughters feels a little bit ahead of it’s time in almost-exposing the underbelly of teenage sexuality but ultimately it’s a bit too formulaic. That leaves the two outsiders. I think La Grande Illusion comes in at a close second. It has the most to say and deserves the most attention especially given it’s historical context but Pygmalion feels like a breath of fresh air when it comes to pacing and editing and the lead performances. It also has the best screenplay by far(despite a change to the original ending).

SNUBS?

Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – dir. Norman Taurog

Alexander Nevsky – dir. Sergei Eisenstein

Algiers – dir. John Cromwell

Angels With Dirty Faces – dir. Michael Curtiz

The Baker’s Wife – dir. Marcel Pagnol

La Bête Humaine – dir. Jean Renoir

Block-Heads – dir. John G. Blystone

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife – dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Bringing Up Baby – dir. Howard Hawks

The Cowboy And The Lady – dir. H.C. Potter

Flowers Have Fallen – dir. Tamizo Ishida

Holiday – dir. George Cukor

The Lady Vanishes* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Marie Antoinette – dir. W.S. Van Dyke

The Masseurs And A Woman – dir. Hiroshi Shimizu

Olympia – dir. Leni Riefenstahl

Port Of Shadows – dir. Marcel Carné

Suez – dir. Allan Dwan

You And Me – dir. Fritz Lang

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934 • 1935 • 1936 1937  2015

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“Best Pictures” 1937

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 10 films nominated in 1937. The 10th annual Academy Awards were held on March 10th, 1938. 2 categories would be featured for the last time this year(Best Dance Direction & Best Assistant Director).

The Awful Truth

Theawfultruth1937.jpg cary-grant-irene-dunne-the-awful-truth

Columbia – 1hr 30min

DIRECTOR: Leo McCarey

GENRE: Comedy/Love Triangle/Screwball

NOTES: Based on the 1922 play by Arthur Richman. • Leo McCarey won the award for Best Director. McCarey felt that his work on Make Way For Tomorrow(also from 1937) was more deserving of the award. • Dunne and Grant would team up again for My Favorite Wife(1940, also directed by McCarey) & Penny Serenade(1941). • There are two previous film versions of the play(a 1925 silent and a 1929 early talkie) and also a musical version called Let’s Do It Again(1953).

PROS: Cary Grant as Jerry revels in his role, which consists mostly of torturing Lucy(Irene Dunne). • Alexander D’Arcy as Armand. I love his smirky entrance. • The running gags with the dog Mr. Smith(Asta) are the best part, as Jerry Lucy fight for it’s affection and try to ascertain just whom it loves the most. • Dunne is very expressive and fun to watch. • Mom talking about rebounds. “Old tennis ball”. That must have been very fresh for 1937. • A Marilyn Monroe precursor with the wind and the skirt? “I just met her.”  The wrong hat gag. “Did you have a  hair cut maybe?” •  Funny use of off-screen sound to announce to the viewer that a fight has ensued.

CONS: Gosh the ending drags on and on! • Fast talking “swell, gee, say look here” type dialogue that you need to be in the mood for. • Not much in the way of story or plot. Just a thin premise. Feels almost more like improv than anything else. • That creepy cuckoo clock!

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Michael J. Anderson over at senseofcinema

Captains Courageous

captains_courageous_poster screenshot2014-04-03at30904pm

MGM – 1hr 55min

DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming

GENRE: Coming-of-Age/Drama/Literature

NOTES: Based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling. • Spencer Tracy won the Award for Best Actor.

PROS: Freddie Bartholomew(Harvey aka “Little Fish“) is a great actor for his age. I had only seen him once before in David Copperfield(1935). The word that comes to mind for his performance is: assured. There is absolutely no sign that he is intimidated by his senior co-stars. • Spencer Tracy(Manuel) is such a natural actor. Like the Brando of his time. •  Lionel Barrymore(Captain Disko) nearly steals the movie away from Tracy & Bartholomew. A rare performance by Mickey Rooney(Dan) that doesn’t manage to annoy the heck out of me! • The scene of Harvey‘s accident was unexpected. And the angle of the shot was shocking. Also note the lack of any dramatic music for that moment.  Cool title sequence. Great rapport and realistic dialogue amongst the crew members • Slick camera moves right from the get go; i.e. push-ins, pull-backs, inserts, dolly shots. The camera also imitates the motion of the waves for the boat shots and seamlessly integrates stock footage of actual fisherman with rear screen projection enhancing the studio sets. • The overall lack of a villain. Really it’s Harvey‘s spoiled youth that is the antagonist here.

CONS: The ending drags a bit. • A side story involving Captain Disko‘s obsession with out-performing another fishing boat feels a bit undercooked. I am sure that this is much more fleshed out in Kipling’s book.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

Dead End

deadend deadendrev

United Artists – 1hr 33min

DIRECTOR: William Wyler

GENRE: Crime/Class Warfare/Gangster/Realism

NOTES: Based on the 1935 Broadway smash hit play by Sidney Kinglsey. • The first appearance of the Dead End Kids.  The original Dead End Kids would appear in six films for Warner Bros.(after being sold by UA). The most famous being Angels With Dirty Faces(1938)They would eventually morph into the more well known Bowery Boys• The location of the film is said to be 53rd Street behind the famous River House.

PROS: The cinematography of Gregg Toland. The lighting, framing and angles were signs of things to come in Toland’s landmark work on Citizen Kane(1941). One of my favorite shots is a slow pan on Humphrey Bogart(“Baby Face” Martin) in the diner when he decides to kidnap the Griswald Boy(Charles Peck) • The opening model shot is really cool! From the wide shot of the whole city seamlessly down into the depths of the dead end street live action set. • Most of the film takes place on the one street. Therefore the set had to be believable and are thanks to Art Director Richard Day. It is almost a character in and of itself. • The film eats through some significant run time without revealing much of a plot. Just shows various shenanigans of the Dead End Kids and points out the class distinctions between them and the high rise residents. • That dirty stairwell that Sylvia Sidney(Drina) walks through looking for Tommy(Billy Halop)! Babies crying off screen, grime everywhere! • The Dead End Kids are like a pack of Bugs Bunnies. “sssaaay!” “I got a hair!” “T.B.! I got T.B.!” • The way Martin looks on the boys’ antics with an air of pride. This is a great early role for Bogey! • The way the Doorman(Ward Bond) says “Whaaaaat?!”. Cracked me up. • The scene between “Baby Face” and his Mother(Marjorie Main) was pretty heart breaking thanks in part to a peculiar performance from Main. •  The gunfight comes earlier than expected and is quite exciting as Dave(Joel McCrea) chases Martin higher and higher up on the rooftops.

CONS: The Dead End Kids schtick can get a little tiresome after a while but I think that’s sort of the point. These kids don’t even really like each other! • Not Joel McCrea’s best role. Dave is far less interesting than “Baby Face“. • The story really unfolds through various monologues. This is obviously a direct result of the translation from the stage but doesn’t necessarily work for a movie.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the caftanwoman

The Good Earth

good_earth_1937 screenshot2014-04-24at35933pm

MGM – 2hr 18min

DIRECTOR: Sidney Franklin

GENRE: Drama/Chinese History/Literature

NOTES: Adapted from the play by Owen & Donald Davis which was in turn based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Pearl S. Buck. • Luise Rainer won the Oscar for Best Actress making her the first actor in Academy Awards history to win two Oscars(in back to back years no less! Also a first.) • Karl Freund won the Oscar for Best Cinematography. • Filmed on location in Porter Ranch. • The film eventually cost an estimated 2.8 to 3 million dollars! • Anna May Wong was the obvious choice to portray O-Lan but was prevented by the Hays Code anti-miscengation rules. • One of two nominated films this year to feature Paul Muni in the leading role.

PROS: The set design and attention to historic detail is impressive. Not too often do you see films of the period filmed on location(in this case Porter Ranch, CA). • The real location leads to lovely shots of the outdoors. Highlighting the wheat fields in particular. Reminded me of Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven(1978). • The storming of the palace was very dramatic with all the extras. It felt legitimately dangerous. • There are some great shots in the film: from underwater; when the boys are fighting over the ox; from inside the wagon. • The locust scene was dramatic and the effects well done.

CONS: The acting is a bit too broad for my tastes. Too episodic. Not enough time to get to know the characters or care about them to any degree. It’s like everyone is acting for themselves. • It’s a little creepy seeing Paul Muni(Wang Lung) in yellow face. I don’t have a serious problem with the white-washing of foreign characters(in reverse, I wouldn’t care if George Washington was portrayed by an Asian actor in white-face) however the accents do make it difficult to fully engage with the characters. It’s a distraction if nothing else. • Crude attempt at a rainstorm. • Too much quick cutting at times in the transition scenes. • The locust scene while well done, just goes on and on and on!

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from EvanstonDad over at letterboxd

In Old Chicago (1938)

Inoldchicago.jpginoldchicagodisaster

20th Century Fox – 1hr 36min

DIRECTOR: Henry King

GENRE: Political Drama/Disaster/Romantic-Musical

NOTES: Based on the story “We The O’learys” by Niven Busch and true events which transpired in October 1871. • Alice Brady won the Oscar for Best Actress in a supporting role. • Robert D. Webb won the Oscar for Best Assistant Director. • Jean Harlow was set to star in the roll of Belle but died tragically of kidney failure before filming began.

PROS: An exciting opening stunt featuring Mr. O’Leary(J. Anthony Hughes). • The little crying boy! What did they do to that poor kid to get him to really cry? That’s what I wanna know. • Alice Brady as Mrs. O’Leary is fantastic. She has this steel resolve of a woman who has been through a lot. Brady carries none of the theatricality that many silent film stars found hard to shake in the sound era. •  The set design of Old Chicago is fantastic. The streets are muddy and rutted. Teeming with extras. Everything is dirty. • All the sets are impressive. Especially around the O’Leary’s house. Rather than static shots, the camera weaves in and out of the set. Especially when it follows the O’Leary’s Laundry Cart.  There are some ugly mugs in this movie. I think that’s what movies are for. To highlight the “ugly” faces rather than the “beautiful” ones. • $4 drunk pass out! • “In Old Chicago” is a decent tune. • That pull back shot at the election rally for Gil Warren(Brian Donlevy) with all the guys pouring beer from barrels. It just keeps going! • “You’re the mayor but I’m Chicago.” Great line! • The climax of the fire is quite a spectacle with flaming debris flying through the air. Many good examples of double exposure in this sequence. It’s not quite as impressive however as the earthquake scene in San Francisco(1936). • There are some truly harrowing shots at the end as the people begin to cross the river with the city in flames in the background.

CONS: The humor can be a bit broad at times. • The foreshadowing is on-the-nose to say the least. The ubiquitous references to fire just became eye-rolling • Dion O’Leary(Tyrone Power) is a total creep! He borderline rapes Belle(Alice Faye). And of course she eventually falls for him. But at least she pushed him into the water trough first. He deserved more than that! • Could have used a better script. The ending of the film basically has no correlation to the first 3/4. • The dance numbers aren’t much to write home about.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera

The Life Of Emile Zola

10%ed%9a%8c_1938%eb%85%84_%ec%97%90%eb%b0%80_%ec%a1%b8%eb%9d%bc%ec%9d%98_%ec%83%9d%ec%95%a0 emile

Warner Bros. – 1hr 56min

DIRECTOR: William Dieterle

GENRE: Biopic/Historical Courtroom Drama

NOTES: Based on the life of Émile Zola and true events which transpired from 1894 to 1906. • Joseph Schildkraut won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. • Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg, and Norman Reilly Raine won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. • One of two nominated films this year to feature Paul Muni in the leading role.

PROS: Paul Muni(Emile Zola) is a great character actor. He’s always taking on roles that require him to be in makeup and go gung-ho. This is no exception. The highlight of course is his speech in court. It’s somewhere near 6 uninterrupted minutes. • The historical attention to detail is evident. Especially in the dialogue. Things aren’t “dumbed down” for the sake of the audience. • Joseph Schildkraut as Captain Dreyfuss is also quite good. The scene where he finally leaves his cell is very moving. Is he happy to go or is he unsure to leave? Or both? • Court room dramas are not my cup of tea(to say the least) but this one does feature some tense moments. • “We have something in common… ‘nothing’!”

CONS: While Paul Muni is no doubt a great actor, he does have the tendency to over exaggerate and gesticulate. I love his passion for all his varied roles, but sometimes less is more. • This movie would definitely be helped if the viewer had a slight background knowledge of the events. • The beginning of the film is really unnecessary seeing as how it ends up focusing more on the Dreyfus Affair. They should have called the film: A Short Period in the Life of Emile Zola• There are far too many jumps in time at the beginning. The viewer can’t really settle into things and learn about the character if significant portions of their life go by in a blink! • A significant lack of French accents but that’s typical. • Gale Sondegaard was a bit melodramatic for my tastes in her portrayal of Lucie Dreyfuss. She’s much better in Anthony Adverse(1936).

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Witney Seibold over at thenerdist

Lost Horizon*

poster-lost-horizon-1937_01 shangri-la-4

Columbia – 2hr 12min

*The version I watched is missing 7 minutes of footage, but did feature the complete soundtrack. The missing footage has been replaced with production stills.

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

GENRE: Drama/Adventure/Utopian-Dystopian

NOTES: Based on the novel by James Hilton. • One of the many collaborations between Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin. • The film went significantly over-budget despite having the largest initial budget($1.25 million) in cinema history up to that point. • Capra originally wanted an older actor to play the part of High Lama but both the original actor(A.E. Hanson) and his replacement(Henry B. Walthall) died before shooting, forcing Capra to look for a younger actor(Sam Jaffe) and put him in makeup. Not happy with Jaffe’s “old” makeup, Capra re-shot those scenes with yet another actor(Walter Connolly) but ended up sticking with Jaffe in the end. • Stephen Goosson won the Oscar for Best Art Direction. • Gene Havlick and Gene Milford won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. • The film was remade in 1973 as a musical.

PROS: The opening scene of a crowded airfield was well done. I’ve noticed that Capra is good at shooting scenes with large groups of people.  The aerial footage was also nice to see and the shots of the snow covered mountains. That must be where all the money went!  There is a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe to that opening 30 minutes. Stephen Spielberg is arguably our modern day Frank Capra so it only makes sense. Would love to ask him if he’s a fan of this film. • Always impressed with Ronald Colman(Robert Conway). Especially when he plays drunk! Doesn’t over do it like so many actors. • That plane crash set is pretty great! And we can see the actors breath during many of the cold scenes. •  I am totally on the side of George(John Howard) in this film. He’s right, Shangri-La is a communist nightmare! Get me the hell outta here!

CONS: There is a lull after those opening 30 minutes. But that’s more a testament to the exciting nature of the opening than a knock on the following arrival Shangri-La scenes. It had to slow down at some point! • No one gets frost bite in this movie! Even before they benefit from the magical effects of Shangri-La.  The whole film seems to not really know what to do with itself once in Shangri-La… kind of wanders. However, maybe that’s the point! •  Speaking of Spielberg(well, George Lucas really), this movie has a very elongated “pointer scene” where Colman asks all the questions the audience is thinking at that moment. • The George and Maria(Margo) love story is half-baked. But it is necessary that at least one person in Shangri-La be discontented. But it would have been better to have seen Maria suffering rather than to have her just explain it in exposition. • I think Capra wants us to be won over, like Robert, by the words of the High Lama but the guy just comes off as creepy.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from neilgrahamuk over at letterboxd

One Hundred Men And A Girl

100abc10 one-hundred-men-and-a-girl-durbin

Universal – 1hr 25min

DIRECTOR: Henry Koster

GENRE: Comedy-Musical/Farce

NOTES: Based on a story by Hanns Kräly.  One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou. • The composer Leopold Stokowski, best known for conducting the music for Walt Disney’s Fantasia(1940), appears as himself. It was his second appearance on the big screen(the first coming earlier in the year in The Big Broadcast of 1937). • Charles Previn, head of Universal’s Music Department, won the Oscar for Best Original Score even though the majority of the music in the film is by classical artists and no composer is credited.

PROS: Impressive pull-back shot via crane to open the movie. In fact, some nice editing all around in this extended musical sequence. • The Doorman(J. Scott Smart) reminded me of William Hootkins(aka Porkins from Star Wars(1977) aka Lt. Eckhardt from Batman(1989)). Ok, not a pro necessarily, just an observation. • Mischa Auer(Michael) has great comic timing and some funny deliveries: “Huh??!”; “I’m out!”; “Patsy got a sucker.”; “Nice place Davis”. • Deanna Durbin(Patsy) is much more tolerable here than in her debut film, Three Smart Girls(1936). Her passion to help her father(Adolphe Menjou) can be annoying but eventually it grows on you. • The running gag of practical jokes between Mr. Frost(Eugene Pallette) and Tommy Bitters(Jed Prouty) is silly but it works given the overall tone of the film. I want some of those exploding cigarettes. • Eugene Pallette, who sounds like he swallowed two frogs and bag of gravel, saying “I wouldn’t stand a chinaman’s chance.” • I like that Patsy inadvertently achieves her goal(partly anyway) over a hasty phone conversation.

CONS: Not quite sure why viewers of the time found Durbin so appealing. She is so hyper that she can be borderline annoying. • Durbin’s soprano, while strong, is a little hard to listen to simply because of recording restraints of the time. • Plot hole? Why doesn’t Patsy just sing for everybody right away and save herself a lot of trouble? • The middle of the film drags as Patsy tries to make her way to Stokowski• I think time has taken the “rousing” nature out of the ending. I am sure in 1937 it had the same effect a underdog sports movie might have today.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

Stage Door

stage_door_1937 stagedoor8

RKO – 1hr 32min

DIRECTOR: Gregory La Cava

GENRE: Comedy/Show-biz life

NOTES: Based(very loosely) on the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. • One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou. • This film, along with Alice Adams(1935), was a bit of a career saver for Katherine Hepburn whose previous few films were flops.

PROS: Really fun to see a young(and brunette) Lucille Ball(Judy). She really stands out. She even sits differently than the other actresses. • I like how there isn’t really a stand out star. At first you think the film will be solely about Terry Randall(Katherine Hepburn) but then things shift to Jean(Ginger Rogers) and then back again! And Judy gets significant screen time. • Sarcastic remark after sarcastic remark. “I predict a hatchet murder before the night’s over.” “Have we met socially?”–“I hope not.”• Nobody talks like this in real life but that’s what the movies are for! Ginger Rogers always has the perfect comeback. “I bet you boil a terrific pot of water.” She also does a terrific job playing drunk. She runs the gamut of emotions after hearing the story of “Galatea” from Anthony Powell(Adolphe Menjou) • I enjoyed Constance Collier as the self-appointed expert on classical acting, Anne Luther.

CONS: The dialogue comes at a such a rapid pace and from so many different people that it can be hard to follow along at times. • The ending is a bit of a stretch. The idea that Terry could receive such bad news and instantly harness it into a great stage performance strains credulity even for 1930’s Hollywood.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Kristen over at journeysinclassicfilm

A Star Is Born

a_star_is_born_1937_poster star-is-born

United Artists- 1hr 51min

DIRECTOR: William A. Wellman

GENRE: Comedy/Fame/Alcoholism

NOTES: The film bears similarities to What Price Hollywood?(1932). So much so that RKO considered filing suit against Selznick International Pictures but nothing ever came of it William A. Wellman won the Oscar for Best Writing(Original Story).  Cinematographer W. Howard Greene received an honorary Oscar for the film’s use of Technicolor.  One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou.

PROS: Janet Gaynor(Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester) is really funny. When she tries to impress a party full of execs with her imitations of Garbo, Hepburn & Mae West, I was surprised by her versatility and expressiveness. Frederic March(Norman Maine) is one of the best actors of this time period and this role is one that he really sunk his teeth into. It has comedy(a lot of it) anger, depression, passion and March deftly maneuvers through all of them. Sometimes all in the same scene! And the funny stuff is really funny. Whistling after his phone book like it’s a dog. The whole drunken “worst performance” speech at the faux-Oscars.  • I love Technicolor. This is an early example of it and it’s neat to see all these actors I’ve been watching in black & white suddenly appear in color. It makes it feel like you’ve jumped ahead 20 years. Especially neat to see old Hollywood in color. • Wasn’t expecting the fate of Norman Maine. And Lionel Stander’s(Libby) cold blooded “First drink of water he’s had in 20 years!” • Paparazzi problems even back then! • “What is it cuddles? Speak out!” • Adolphe Menjou portrays a very realistic producer in Oliver Niles. Not the typical scumbag that we’re so use to seeing.

CONS: Despite loving Technicolor, the print I watched was very dark, especially during night time scenes. At some points the shadows literally block out Janet Gaynor. • The honeymoon scene has some funny bits but ultimately feels like it’s from a different movie. • The return of Grandmother Lettie(May Robson) towards the end was about as eye-rolling as it gets. Complete with Auld Lang Syne playing in the background!

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Judy over at movieclassics.wordpress

WHAT WON?

Feb_EmileZola.jpg

The Life Of Emile Zola

Did the Oscars get it right?

MAYBE!

This was a hard pick for me. Not any single film really screamed “Best”. The Life Of Emile Zola probably deserves a second viewing because I generally love the slow-burn historical dramas and I think some brushing up on the Dreyfus Affair would greatly help the viewing experience. I was thinking of going with Lost Horizon just because it’s so different from it’s fellow nominees but, gun to my head, I have to choose Dead End. The photography is gorgeous, Bogey’s character is surprisingly layered, the theme(of aimless children being shown all the different paths they may take in life), the set is amazing and the transposition from stage to screen is done with care.

 

SNUBS?

Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

Angel – dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Camille – dir. George Cukor

Easy Living – dir. Mitchell Leisen

The Edge Of The World – dir. Michael Powell

History Is Made At Night – dir. Frank Borzage

The Hurricane – dir. John Ford

Nothing Sacred – dir. William A. Wellman

Make Way For Tomorrow – dir. Leo McCarey

Pepe le Moko – dir. Julien Duvivier

The Prisoner Of Zenda – dir. John Cromwell

Shall We Dance – dir. Mark Sandrich

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs* – dir. David Hand

Stella Dallas – dir. King Vidor

They Won’t Forget – dir. Mervyn LeRoy

Way Out West – dir. James W. Horne

Wee Willie Winkie – dir. John Ford

Young And Innocent – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

You Only Live Once – dir. Fritz Lang

 

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934 • 1935 • 1936 • 1938  2015

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“Best Pictures” 1936

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 10 films nominated in 1936. The 9th annual Academy Awards were held on March 4th, 1937.

Anthony Adverse

00a tumblr_nium8ihaaq1rola9no1_500

Warner Bros. – 2hr 21min

DIRECTOR: Mervyn LeRoy

GENRE: Drama/Period Piece/Romantic Costume Epic

NOTES: Based on the novel by Hervey Allen. • Took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress(Gale Sondergaard), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Score. • I wonder if Monty Python’s Flying Circus had the same Denis Moore in mind when they did my favorite sketch.

PROS: Great sets and great costumes. This is just the kind of thing the Academy came to love in it’s nominees. • I am a big Claude Rains fan. He’s always reliable for a solid performance and doesn’t disappoint here as Marquis Don Luis. I love when he recovers his health at the beginning of the film and is prancing around to show his wife Maria(Anita Louise). “Rejoice my dear!” He also has a great laughing scene. • Gale Sondergaard(as Faith Paleologus) is also a highlight. Her Oscar was well deserved. She totally revels in being a jealous conniving gold digger. • The always lovely Olivia de Havilland(as Angela) but her best roles were still to come.  Opens with a wagon careening down the road. Mostly shot on location. Usually these scenes were shot on sets, at least in the films I’ve seen from the period. • The cinematography has it’s moments. Claude Rains reflection in the wine glass just before he duels with Denis Moore(Louis Hayward) for example. Also some neat transitions to signal the passage of time. Although that was mostly done with boring title cards.

CONS: Very melodramatic. To a fault. Especially the early scenes with Denis and Maria. “Oh my dearest darling I must never be without blah blah blah.” • Large chunks of the novel are cut out and this makes trouble for the character arcs. In one scene Anthony(Fredric March) is visibly disturbed by the prospect of slavery, and in the next he’s been trading slaves for a year or more. • Speaking of March, I think he is one of the best actors of his day, however this role is a bit beneath him especially in the dialogue department. • There isn’t much to like about Anthony Adverse at all. • Virtually no attempt by anyone to capture the regional accents. The actor portraying Napoleon(Rollo Lloyd) might make the least amount of effort to sound French in movie history.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

Dodsworth

dodsworth2 dodsworth_1.jpg

United Artists – 1hr 41min

DIRECTOR: William Wyler

GENRE: Drama/Love triangle

NOTES: Adapted by Sydney Howard from his stage play based on the book by Sinclair Lewis. • Richard Day won the Oscar for Best Art Direction. • Walter Huston had portrayed Dodsworth in the 1934 stage play. He would also reprise the role again for radio in 1937.

PROS: Fantastic opening shot. One of my favorites from the 30’s so far. • A nice melancholy version of “Auld Lang Syne” to kick things off. • Nice center-framed deep focus shots. Usually with Sam Dodsworth(Huston) in the center. • Huston turns in a great performance. Fun to see him so young. I’d only really seen him in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948). He has that same fast delivery in this one too. Really loved his fight scene with Ruth Chatterton(Fran) as they are preparing to go to bed. I mean he really yells at her! • Speaking of Ruth, she can really pull off an evening gown. She’s showing a lot of skin for a film smack dab in the middle of the Hays Code Era. She does a great job at playing a man-eater. Madeline Kahn kinda had a Ruth Chatterton thing going on now that I think of it. Both of those ladies would be pretty hard for me to resist. • The script is quite good and portrays the valleys of marriage without love realistically. Lots of good lines. “Love has got to stop someplace short of suicide.” The long takes really allow the actors to show off their chops. • Beautiful shot of a burning letter. • I really enjoyed the Chicago fire tangent. Arguing about who started it. Such a diversion from the point of the movie! • Baroness Von Obersdorf(Maria Ouspenskaya) was a bit of a surprise. She kinda came out of left field. I loved it when she totally burns Fran with the “old wife of a young husband” line.

CONS: Takes a good while to really get to the point. • Man oh man what terrible way to the end the movie. How do you not show the embrace?!

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from The Siren over at selfstyledsiren

The Great Ziegfeld

the-great-ziegfeld-movie-poster-1936-1020197053 006-the-great-ziegfeld-theredlist

MGM – 2hr 57min

DIRECTOR: Robert Z. Leonard

GENRE: Musical-Romance/Biopic

NOTES: Based on the real life Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. and his many famous “Ziegfeld Follies” theatrical revues. • MGM would make two more “Ziegfeld” pictures; Ziegfeld Girl(1941) & Ziegfeld Follies(1946) • Luise Rainer(Anna Held) won Best Actress. • Seymour Felix won Best Dance Direction. • One of 14 on-screen pairings of William Powell & Myrna Loy. • Costumes were created by the famous Adrian.  MGM spent an exorbitant amount of money. Some estimates put it over $2 million!

PROS: The peak of Hollywood excess! Right off the bat. The opening credits are grand in scope. The establishing shots of the World’s Fair are teeming with extras, elephants, and set details. The highlight is the “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” set piece. Amazing! A 70ft 100 ton revolving cake like set with spiral staircase filled to the brim with all different types of performers. All filmed in only two takes I believe. Total spectacle. They should have saved it for the end! • William Powell(Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr.) is great as always. The epitome of a cool guy. Debonair, witty(“I wonder her total weight is.”), good natured, but also shrewd. • Frank Morgan as Billings is good as Ziegfeld’s foil(almost a pun there). I loved his enthusiasm over Ziegfeld’s looming eviction from the fair. • A very natural performance from Joseph Cawthorne(Dr. Ziegfeld, Sr.). It’s a shame he only appears in one scene. Luise Rainer’s award-winning performance as Anna. Particularly her meltdown scene. It goes on way to long but she sustains it, mostly in one take. Very impressive. And she really runs the gamut of emotions in this.

CONS: It’s really too long. An hour could be cut out of this. Scenes just keep going and going long after their energy runs out. Very chatty. • A bit disjointed. One second a character appears in Ziegfeld’s life, the next they are gone without much explanation if any. • Despite the 3 hour runtime, the aging of Ziegfeld feels unnatural and rushed. • Never really get into the motivations of Ziegfeld.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Ruth over at letterboxd

Libeled Lady

libeled-lady-poster libeled-lady-william-powell-jean-harlow-spencer-tracy-1936

MGM – 1hr 38min

DIRECTOR: Jack Conway

GENRE: Comedy/Screwball/Love Triangle

NOTES: Remade in 1946 as Easy To Wed• William Powell and Jean Harlow were a real-life couple at this point. • Harlow would only make 2 more films before dying from kidney failure in 1937. • One of 14 films to pair Powell and Myrna Loy.

PROS: Powell(Bill Chandler) and Loy(Connie Allenbury) and their great chemistry and banter. It had been displayed before and would be again in other films, and it’s on full display in this one too. “Beautiful now?” “No, just clean.” • Funny zingers but not nearly as funny as something like The Thin Man(1934). • A pretty crazy plot, albeit convoluted. But I like the plot twists of certain characters falling in and out of love with each other and the consequences of that. • Some nice tracking shots where the characters are walking and talking. • Superimposed credits? Not sure if that’s one of the first occurrences. •  Thought it was funny that the “Bridal March” played every time Gladys(Harlow) showed up on screen. • Myrna Loy’s eyes. “Beautiful aren’t they?” she says. Yes Myrna, yes they are.  • I love the gag where Warren(Spencer Tracy) high-tails it out of the Allenbury mansion, and Powell does the same thing a few minutes later. • Walter Connolly(Mr. Allenbury) is 3 for 3 with me. I also enjoyed him in The Bitter Tea of General Yen(1932) and It Happened One Night(1934).

CONS: The rapid-fire dialogue is more annoying than clever. It works much better in other films like The Thin Man(1934), and The Front Page(1931). • That terrible fishing scene. It plays like a bad Three Stooges film.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Jeremiah over at slantmagazine

Mr. Deeds Goes To Town

220px-Mdgtt1936.jpg mr-deeds-goes-to-town-1936-001-gary-cooper-welcome-scene-00n-ero

Columbia – 1hr 55min

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

GENRE: Romantic Comedy/Fish-Out-Of-Water/Morality tale

NOTES: Based on the short story “Opera Hat” by Clarence Budington Kielland. • This is the 5th team up of screenwriter Robert Riskin and director Frank Capra; Platinum Blonde(1931), American Madness(1933), Lady For A Day(1933), It Happened One Night(1934). • May be responsible for introducing the word “doodle”(as in quick sketch) into the nomenclature. Also the word “pixilated” became en vogue that year thanks to this film • The song “Cinderella Man” by my favorite band RUSH is based on this film. • Remade with Adam Sandler as Mr. Deeds(2002). • Served as an influence for one of my favorite films The Hudsucker Proxy(1994).

PROS: Exciting opening shot(although it features the dreaded “sped-up” film technique. • Gary Cooper is perfectly cast as Mr. Deeds. Simple but not a dolt. Not spineless either. He stands for what he believes in. At this point in Cooper’s career though, this was casting against type. • I loved Cobb(Lionel Stander). He gets most of the best lines. “It’ll do in a pinch”. He also has a pretty great spit-take at one point. • In fact, all the side characters are pretty great. This is one of Capra’s strengths I think. • I love Deeds non-reaction to receiving $20 million. • A great tracking shot moving though the newspaper office. Also, some great layered shots in the Tullio’s restaurant scene.  Great telephone conversation scene. Just look how Capra shoots Cooper. Fantastic! • A great drunken monologue from Morrow the poet(Walter Catlett).  Preaching without being preachy. As Louise(Jean Arthur) says:

“We’re too busy being smart alecks. Too busy in a crazy competition for nothing.”

CONS: Some very muddled sound, especially on the dialogue. • Some pretty terrible rear projection shots. • Considering that I always find court room scenes to be terribly dull, and that the whole last reel of this film takes place in a courtroom, I guess you could call it a pro that I sat patiently through the whole thing. But yeah, I’ll leave it in the cons. I hate courtroom scenes! • Jean Arthur(Louise “Babe” Bennett/Mary Dawson) was ok in this but sometimes she went for the “shaky voice” acting that grates on me.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Dan Schneider over at altfg

Romeo And Juliet

03a 012-romeo-and-juliet-theredlist

MGM – 2hr 5min

DIRECTOR: George Cukor

GENRE: Shakespeare/Drama/Romance

NOTES: Adapted by Talbot Jennings from the play by William Shakespeare. • The play has been adapted many times but most famously on film by Franco Zeffirelli in 1968, and Baz Luhrmann in 1996• This was MGM’s most expensive production to date.

PROS: Very faithful to the time period. Apparently great care was taken to accurately portray costumes and design elements of 16th century Verona. And it shows. Gorgeous sets especially at the end in the catacombs • I liked the intro with the “living painting” so to speak. • The opening fight between the Montagues and Capulets was very well edited. • Nice framing throughout. Every shot is teeming with extras and every quadrant is filled foreground mid and back. Gives the frame a sort of 3-D effect at times. • Some reviewers thought John Barrymore was overdoing it with his Mercutio but I found it to be a very fun, loose performance. • Same can be said about Edna May Oliver as the Nurse. She is really going for it 100%. • The acting on the whole is great(with some minor annoyances from Norma Shearer(Juliet) that I can never seem to look past. • That great long hallway shot with the man putting out the torches for the night.

CONS: Well it’s Shakespeare. It can get a touch tedious at times, especially since we all know the plot of the story at this point in history. • Norma, Norma, Norma. She’s always hit or miss with me. Sometimes even in the same scene. As I’ve said before and others have pointed out she seems to have come from a bygone era(even in 1936). Her gesticulations are certainly remnants of her silent screen days and they always stand out. Also there is something about her voice that annoys me. She also eats up quite a lot of screen time in the second half. All that being said, I actually liked her here better than I did in The Barrets Of Wimple Street(1934). • Andy Devine as Peter is pretty terrible here, although he is playing a simpleton so I guess I should cut him some slack.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Rick Burin over at letterboxd

San Francisco

San_Francisco_(film)_poster vlcsnap-2011-07-31-08h58m02s48

MGM – 1hr 55min

DIRECTOR: W.S. Van Dyke

GENRE: Romance/Musical-Drama/Disaster

NOTES: Based on actual events that transpired in San Francisco on April 18th, 1906. • D.W. Griffith was hired on to shoot the earthquake scenes. • Clark Gable played a very similar character(also named Blackie) in Manhattan Melodrama(1934). • The title song is still sung to this day in San Francisco’s annual earthquake commemoration.

PROS: It’s got a great script. There are lots of moments of realism. Although these could be ad-libs from the actors I suppose. Like when Father Mullin(Spencer Tracy) is speaking to Mary(Jeanette MacDonald) and suddenly yells out “Holy smoke the coffee!”.  Gable plays a great scumbag in Blackie. But at the same time, he’s got a code of ethics. And he doesn’t drink. • A grittiness that is lacking in other Hayes Code era films. Blood, destruction, sexual innuendo and the like.  The decadence of the New Year’s party. The blasé view of marriage and fidelity.  The famous earthquake scene. Still impressive to this day. Lots of convincing model shots, hydraulic sets, rear projection, fire.

CONS: A little too much singing for my taste. And Jeanette MacDonald’s soprano voice is a little shrill due to the recording limitations of that time. • A pretty cheesy, albeit effective ending. • Very similar to Titanic(1997) in that the first 2/3 of the film center around a love triangle and the last 3rd portrays a disaster that makes it all irrelevant. • As others have pointed out, the characters should have all been portrayed as low-lifes or sinners in order to make the ending more poignant.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

The Story Of Louis Pasteur

The_Story_of_Louis_Pasteur_poster x950

Warner Bros. – 1hr 27min

DIRECTOR: William Dieterle

GENRE: Historical Drama/Slice-of-Life/Biopic

NOTES: Paul Muni won his one and only Oscar portraying Louis Pasteur • There are many historical inaccuracies in this picture as well as a great deal of telescoping the historical timeline. • The film also took home the Oscars for Best Story and Best Adapted Screenplay.

PROS: Paul Muni turns a strong performance although I found it to be a little bit one-note. But at least it was a good note! • Takes a significant amount of time(for a film of the era anyway) to explain germ theory, even going so far as to show microscopic slides of various blood cells and germ types. • I like how the story was not about the famous Pasteurization process. That’s the topic that everyone expects it’s going to be on. • Louis is introduced with a pretty slick edit.

CONS: Episodic to a fault. Moves very quickly from one plot point to the next leaving hardly any room for character development or small talk or even dramatic pauses. • The skeptics are portrayed as the villains as is typical of “man-stands-alone” type films. • Mostly boring shot compositions. • The character of Charbonnet(Fritz Leiber) is fictional as far as I know, which significantly reduces the drama of his self-injection for me.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: over at andyoucallyourselfascientist

A Tale Of Two Cities (1935)

MPW-60052 tale-of-two-cities-conway

MGM – 2hr 3min

DIRECTOR: Jack Conway

GENRE: Historical Drama/Lit-To-Screen

NOTES: Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. • The novel has been adapted many times on film, radio, and television. • Also won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. • The “Storming of the Bastille” action scene was directed by Val Lewton and Jaques Turner. • Lucille La Verne who portrays The Vengeance, would put her cackling laugh to iconic use the following year as the Evil Queen/Old Hag in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.

PROS: A fantastic, progressive performance from Ronald Colman(Sydney Carton). He is just so relaxed and conveys a deep sadness with his eyes. This is acting that is far ahead of it’s time. His self-interrogation in the mirror is a standout scene. • Lots of “ugly mugs” in this film. I love it. Just plain old ordinary looking people. • Orchestrated camera moves. Very smooth. The layering of the shots with extras in every plain give many shots a 3-D effect. Sometimes the camera starts outside and moves back into an interior, as if the camera went through the window. The slow push in on Carton in the snow, as the carolers go by is just beautiful. • Evocative sets right off the bat. The Dover Road sequence is dark and foggy with muddy roads.  Basil Rathbone camps it up to eleven in his portrayal of the cold hearted, self-obsessed Marquis de St. Evremonde. “Irritating episode.”  • Blanche Yurka as Madame Defarge is fantastic! Very cold.  Jerry Cruncher(Billy Bevans) is funny. “I’m a resurrectionist, that’s what I am!” “Co-In-Side-Ents!”. • Edna May Oliver(as Miss Pross) doing what she always does. Some consider Oliver a one note actress and that may be, but it’s a great note! “All bankers are atheists!” I loved her cat fight with Defarge• Surprising use of the word “Why?” written across the screen during the epic “Storming of the Bastille” sequence. • Isabel Jewell nearly steals the movie in limited screen time as the doomed Seamstress.

CONS: The plot is a tad hard to follow. There are so many characters. Hard to say if this is the fault of the screenplay or of Dickens. • Elizabeth Allen(as Lucie Manette) is over-doing it I found. • Virtually no attempt to capture the French accent. And Jerry, Jr.(Donald Haines) has the absolute worst cockney accent ever put to screen. • A very crude attempt at a quick zoom on Defarge‘s rose. But an early attempt at experimentation should be considered a pro really. • The second half is not quite as engaging as the first.

REWATCHABILITY: 4/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera

Three Smart Girls

297131__03858.1413294453.380.500 vlcsnap-2011-12-11-17h46m37s161

Universal – 1hr 24min

DIRECTOR: Henry Koster

GENRE: Comedy/Musical

NOTES: Serves as a precursor to the 1961 Walt Disney Co. film, The Parent Trap• Two sequels would follow: Three Smart Girls Grow Up(1939) & Hers To Hold(1943). • This is Deanna Durbin’s screen debut. She would go on to make many successful musicals.

PROS: All the actors do a fair job here. Deanna Durbin(as Penny) is clearly the star. She’s got a lot of spunk. “Muffins and milk?! That’s no food for fighters!” • I thought Nella Walker(as the mother, Dorothy Craig) stood out in her performance. Unfortunately she only bookends the film. • Mischa Auer(Count Arisztid) has a funny scene involving a magazine. “I have work to do!”.

CONS: “Switzerland” looks more like Big Bear Lake, CA• I couldn’t understand the lyrics to the opening song that Penny sings. Possibly due to the recording quality of the day, but mostly due to Durbin’s soprano. • If they made a robot of a 1930’s quintessential guy, it would look and talk just like Bill Evans(John King). • The plot is pretty trivial and silly. Hard to believe this was considered Best Picture material.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Caroline over at garbolaughs

 

WHAT WON?

65829286.jpg

The Great Ziegfeld

Did the Oscars get it right?

NO!

The Great Ziegfeld gets a lot of flack as being one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time. I think that’s unfair. Yes it’s over-long and disjointed but it’s nowhere near “the worst” on any list. That said, it certainly wasn’t my favorite nominee from this year. That distinction goes to A Tale of Two Cities which featured beautiful cinematography and a truly great performance from Ronald Colman.

SNUBS?

Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

After The Thin Man* – dir. W.S. Van Dyke

As You Like It – dir. Paul Czinner

The Charge Of The Light Brigade – dir. Michael Curtiz

Come And Get It – dir. Howard Hawks/William Wyler

The Crime Of Monsieur Lange – dir. Jean Renoir

Fury – dir. Fritz Lang

Modern Times* – dir. Charlie Chaplin

My Man Godfrey – dir. Gregory LaCava

The Only Son – dir. Yasujiro Ozu

Partie de Campagne – dir. Jean Renoir

The Petrified Forest – dir. Archie Mayo

The Plainsman – dir. Cecil B. DeMille

The Prisoner Of Shark Island – dir. John Ford

Rembrandt – dir. Alexander Korda

Sabatoge* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Showboat – dir. James Whale

The Story Of A Cheat – dir. Sacha Guitry

Swing Time – dir. George Stevens

Theodora Goes Wild – dir. Richard Boleslawski

These Three – dir. William Wyler

Things To Come – dir. William Cameron Menzies

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934 • 1935 • 1937 • 1938  2015

Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | Leave a comment

“Best Pictures” 1935

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 12 films nominated in 1935. The 8th annual Academy Awards were held on March 5th, 1936.

Alice Adams

Alice-Adams-Poster-1935 alice_adams_4_hepburn

RKO – 1hr 39min

DIRECTOR: George Stevens

GENRE: Romantic-Comedy

NOTES: Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington. • Katharine Hepburn had made a string of flops after her 1933 Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory, but this film would return her to the limelight. • Hepburn wanted George Cukor to direct but he was already filming David Copperfield(1935). Apparently she eventually settled on Stevens via coin toss!

PROS: Katharine Hepburn is a strange bird(especially here) but boy is she watchable! You really can’t take your eyes off of her. • Feels like a film from the 40’s. A little ahead of it’s time maybe? I thought for a second that the boy got away in the end, which is apparently what happens in the novel, but alas the movie ends on the all too familiar happy note. • Fred Stone as Mr. Adams steals the movie. He’s hilarious. Case in point: When he eats some escargot. • The dinner scene towards the end has to go down as one of the most awkward in film history. • There are some nice moments of insight into Alice’s character. “I’m just me” she says. Arthur Russell(MacMurray) presses her with “But who is that?” “I’ve often wondered” she replies. She wants to be a part of Arthur’s upper class so badly, yet she doesn’t even know who she really is yet.

CONS: Honestly, Alice(Hepburn) is so self-absorbed and borderline crazy that I felt she deserves losing out on Arthur • Fred MacMurry is not given much to do. A fault that lies squarely on the screenwriters. For most of the film he’s resigned to sitting politely in silence while Alice prattles on and on. • Seriously the “glue factory” subplot has to be one of the most laughable ever.(I secretly love it) • The portrayal of Melina(an early role for Hattie McDaniel) as the lazy black worker is heavy on the stereotypical side. She makes the most of it though and pulls some great faces. Especially when her ruffled headband begins to droop in the heat. • Whenever the focus is taken off of Alice, the film suffers.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from C.K. over at hollywooddreamland

Broadway Melody Of 1936

p2777_p_v8_aa broadway-melody-of-1936-1936-2

MGM – 1hr 41min

DIRECTOR: Roy Del Ruth

GENRE: Musical-Comedy

NOTES: MGM released 3 other similar films(although narratively unrelated); The Broadway Melody(1929), Broadway Melody Of 1938(1937), & Broadway Melody Of 1940(1940).  

PROS: Eleanor Powell is a great tap dancer. She has a few fun, sexy numbers to show it off too. • Fun to watch a young Jack Benny here. He’s already exhibiting the trademarks that would make him famous on television. Including the hand placed lightly on the side of the face. • There a lot of nice tracking shots. And not just during the song & dance numbers. The “I’ve Got A Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” routine has a neat section where various items(e.g. a piano, a dinner table complete with dinner) emerge from the dance floor. It also employs some special effects like split screen and double exposure. • Ms. Corbett(Una Merkel) is a total scene stealer. She is so spunky, I think I have a new crush. Move over Jeanette MacDonald! • I was totally surprised to see Buddy Ebsen(most famous of course for his role of Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) It took me a minute or two to even recognize him. And who knew he was such a good tap dancer?! He’s also wearing a rad Mickey Mouse sweater. • I loved Irene’s(Powell) impersonation of Katharine Hepburn. Already, Kate was fair game. • A funny running gag of Gordon(Robert Taylor) storming the newspaper office and belting Jack Benny. “Put that in your column!”. • Benny comparing Snoop(Sid Silvers) in drag to Wallace Beery!

CONS: Lots of clichés but it’s not like the movie is trying to hide that fact. • Plot is pretty convoluted but really just serves to get to the next musical segment. • A strange bit with  Robert John Wildhack where he analyzes different types of snores. This was kinda funny the first time, but not so much the 3rd!

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes

Captain Blood

Captain_Blood captBlood_beachDuel1_close_ws-1024x898

Warner Bros. – 1hr 59min

DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz

GENRE: Adventure/Pirates

NOTES: Based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini.  Errol Flynn’s first starring role. He appeared as a corpse(!) earlier that year in Michael Curtiz’ The Case Of The Curious Bride This is a remake of the 1924 silent version• First of 8 films in which Flynn and Olivia de Havilland would be paired. • 2nd of 12 collaborations between Flynn and Curtiz.

PROS: Exciting intro!(albeit in front of a less than convincing rear projection shot.) Curtiz moves the camera a lot. Whenever a scene takes place on the ocean, the camera is slowly zooming in and then out to simulate the motion of the boat. It’s very subtle. There is more attention to shot composition than many of the films of this era. • The sets are expressionist-like and have a Disneyland ride feel to them. We are definitely in a genre-defining movie here.  The sets were actually the big highlight for me. That slave-driven waterwheel set being one of the more impressive. • Speaking of Disney, the characters in Captain Blood all have that exaggerated nature that would become indicative of their animated films.  The score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold is brash and dramatic and great.(Korngold would most famously score another Curtiz/Flynn picture, The Adventures Of Robin Hood(1938), and his work was an inspiration for John Williams’ Star Wars(1977) score) • Olivia de Havilland is gorgeous. Just putting that out there. She’s good here, but here more substantial roles would come later.

CONS: Can be a little too exposition heavy at times. • A little stale but only because we’ve seen this film a thousand times since. You really have to take off your 21st century lenses to appreciate the fact that this is truly the first real Pirate film.  Some of the model shots leave a little to be desired(even for the time). • Yet another montage to show the passage of time. Every movie from the 30’s seems to have these. Quick cuts, multiple exposure, the whole spiel.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Brian over at deepfocusreview

David Copperfield

davidcopperfield11 david-copperfield-fields

MGM – 2hr 13min

DIRECTOR: George Cukor

GENRE: Drama/Coming Of Age

NOTES: Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. • Freddie Bartholomew(young David Copperfield) emigrated from the UK just to make this film. • Charles Laughton was cast to play Mr. Micawber but was unhappy with his performance after viewing the dailies. It was Laughton who suggested that W.C. Fields should fill the role.

PROS: The beginning plays a bit like a silent film which I enjoyed. •  Bartholomew is right up there with Jackie Cooper for child actors who can emote. It is truly an impressive performance. “Something’s wrong Peggotty!” • Basil Rathbone playing yet another baddy. • W.C. Fields seems like a ridiculous choice, but as soon as he shows up he injects the film with some badly needed energy(despite his questionable acting at times). • You do feel for David as everyone always tends to leave him behind. • The “walk to Dover” sequence was done well. Movies of this period tend to have a montage scene. This was one of the more fun to watch. • Lennox Pawle as Mr. Dick is fantastic and has one of the great entrances of cinema history! The guy is just plain nuts and Pawle relishes the opportunity to show it. • There is a nice moment where Aunt Betsey(Edna May Oliver) hesitates to hug young David but gives in out of sheer love for the boy. It was very moving. • Detailed set design. • Impressive and convincing use of background matte paintings.

CONS: The acting is very exaggerated. This is most evident in Clara‘s(Elizabeth Allen) gesticulations. The only actors to bring realism are Bartholomew and Frank Lawton who portray David as a young boy and young adult respectively. • The music was a bit too bombastic for my taste. At times it reminded me of Danny Elfman’s work in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure(1985). • The recording quality was also poor. The music drowns out the dialogue at times • Dora(Maureen O’Sullivan) is annoying beyond belief. So it was hard for me to feel any sympathy with her and to understand David‘s infatuation with her • The second half of the film is not nearly as engaging to the first. This is no fault of Lawton who turns in quite a good performance actually. It’s just that the actions of people in their 20’s don’t hold the same depth of meaning as those of children.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera

The Informer

p4833_p_v8_aa informergypo

RKO – 1hr 31min

DIRECTOR: John Ford

GENRE: Crime/Drama

NOTES: Based on the novel by Liam O’Flaherty. • Despite winning the Academy Award for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, & Best Score, it did not win Best Picture. • A silent version was made in the UK in 1929.

PROS: Victor McLaglen as Gypo. A truly threatening performance here. Whenever he yells out “GYPO!!” as a self-referential battle cry of some sort, you wonder if McLaglen isn’t actually drunk. McLaglen definitely earns his Best Actor award. • Minimalist sets. Reminded me of Fritz Lang’s M(1931). • Evocative lighting and the use of smoke. • The first half of the movie plays like a silent film. There is very limited dialogue. • A pretty realistic shootout(except maybe for the reckless actions of the Black & Tans). Una O’Connor(as Mrs. McPhillip) gets really hysterical in that scene, which I found quite moving. • There are a lot of techniques and story elements that are frequently used today.

CONS: They try to squeeze in a love story between Mary(Heather Angel) and Dan(Preston Foster). Why? Because it’s the 30’s and you have to. • I have never been a huge fan of court scenes in film and television. It just always feels like a cop out to get all the characters together in a room and tie up all the loose ends. I find them to dreadfully dull for the most part.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes

The Lives Of A Bengal Lancer

bengal bengal lancer 4

Paramount – 1hr 49min

DIRECTOR: Henry Hathaway

GENRE: Adventure/War/Buddy movie.

NOTES: Loosely based on the book by Francis Yeats-Brown. • Paramount sent cinematographers to India as early as 1931 but the film deteriorated and the film was delayed for 4 years. Various locations in Southern California were used to mimic Northwest India. • Contains the line “we have ways of making men talk”. Probably the origin of that often-bastardized phrase that most people I think associate with James Bond villains.

PROS: An under-appreciated script. A lot of reviewers find this film to be “boring” but I found there to be a level of authenticity and a realistic rapport between the three leads.(Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell) • Forsythe(Tone) is a cocky bastard and appears to love every minute of it. “There’s been a great deal of speaking of minds.” • I found Cromwell’s performance as Stone to be very natural and understated. This is something you don’t find very often in the 30’s. • A pretty exciting action finale complete with demolition of models.

CONS: The tone shifts at times. Especially when we get to Khan‘s palace. But this is also where the Indiana Jones elements are most prominent so it’s not necessarily the worst part. • It does drag in parts but I’d argue that it allows the picture to breathe and helps to grow the relationships between the 3 leads.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Jeff over at thestalkingmoon

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Nmidnight_1935 James-Cagney-and-Anita-Louise-in-A-Midsummer-Nights-Dream-1935

Warner Bros. – 2hr 13min

DIRECTOR: Max Reinhardt

GENRE: Comedy/Shakespeare/Musical

NOTES: Based on the play by William Shakespeare. • Only Olivia de Havilland and Mickey Rooney had ever performed Shakespeare before. • The music for the film was composed by Felix Mendelssohn originally for a German production of the play in 1842.(This includes the famous Wedding March which is used in ceremonies to this day) Erich Wolfgang Korngold adapted Mendelssohn’s music for the 1935 film. • This is technically Olivia de Havilland’s film debut, although audiences would see her in two films which were released earlier that year: Alibi Ike and The Irish In Us.

PROS: Very impressive sets. The majority of the movie takes place in a forest and the level of detail(for 1935) is extraordinary. You feel like you are in an actual wood. • The special effects are no less impressive. The scene where the fairies awaken and climb up the spiral cloud is captivating and eerie. • James Cagney(Bottom the Weaver) turns in a balls to the wall, 110% performance. It’s nothing like your typical Shakespeare performance, but it’s all the better for it. • As has been noted by many critics, and also by the actor himself, Dick Powell is completely miscast here. • Some very impressive wire work.

CONS: Mickey Rooney’s Puck goes down in my mind as the single most annoying character in cinema history! I can’t get that laugh out of my head. • My overall dislike for this film really comes down to the sound quality. Everyone seems to have shrieking voices and annoying laughs and there are many occasions where there is a cacophony of music and multiple actors speaking(shrieking). It actually made me feel very irritable and on edge. • Overlong. Just watch Oberon‘s(Victor Jory) approach to the sleeping lovers. Why does it have to take so long?! By the time we get to the end of the film with what should be the funniest scene(the player’s amateur performance), you just want it to be over. • Oh yeah, and those god-awful gnome masks!

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Scott over at filmschoolrejects

Les Misérables

Les_Misérables_(1935_film)_poster tumblr_m1gfv7inY41qdx4k4o1_500

Twentieth Century – 1hr 48min

DIRECTOR: Richard Boleslawski

GENRE: Drama/Crime

NOTES: Based upon the classic novel by Victor Hugo. • There are drastic changes from the novel making this one of the least faithful screen adaptations. • Frederic March’s wife, Florence Eldridge, plays Fantine. They would appear together in several films. • There are numerous film, radio, television, and stage adaptations of Les Miserables in multiple languages. The most famous arguably being the 1985 musical.

PROS: Frederic March and Charles Laughton(as Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert respectively). These are the two great actors of the 1930’s in my humble opinion. They are both undeniable presences every time they are on screen(and not just in this movie). • Effective camera work, artistic framing and lighting from cinematographer Gregg Toland(most famous for his work on Citizen Kane(1941)). • Cedric Hardwicke gives a dignified performance as Bishop Myriel.

CONS: Due to the cutting out of large portions of the novel, the movie tends to jump ahead in plot quite rapidly. There are not enough scenes that linger(although the ones that do are excellent).

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Java over at javabeanrush

Mutiny On The Bounty

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MGM – 2hr 12min

DIRECTOR: Frank Lloyd

GENRE: Drama/Adventure/Sea Epic

NOTES: Based on The Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall which in turn is based on true events• Clark Gable was initially opposed to playing the role of Fletcher Christian because he felt it would tarnish his masculine on-screen persona. • Other film versions include the silent film The Mutiny On The Bounty(1916), In The Wake Of The Bounty(1933) with Errol Flynn, Mutiny On The Bounty(1962) with Marlon Brando, and The Bounty(1984) with Mel Gibson & Anthony Hopkins. • This was the highest grossing film of the year.

PROS: The use of real ships on real water. This greatly lends to the air of authenticity that the filmmakers seem to be trying to convey. • Well… Charles Laughton yet again. In my mind, he is the best actor of the period. He has the ability to completely transform into another person. Laughton’s Captain Bligh is an exaggerated version to be sure, but it’s a fully realized exaggeration that bears little resemblance to Laughton’s Javert in Les Miserables and Marmaduke Ruggles in Ruggles Of Red Gap.  I liked the juxtaposition at the beginning of the tavern patrons being terrified by the prospect of serving under Bligh, and the underestimation of Bligh by the upper class. • Mr. Bacchus(Dudley Digges) has a fantastic entrance! • The first storm is very impressive especially in the sound design. I am willing to bet that this scene floored audiences. • Franchot Tone(Byam) does a solid job. His storyline is the cord that runs through the whole film. • Some surprising gruesome imagery. Flog him anyway if ya know what I mean.

CONS: The delivery of the dialogue is much to rapid at times, especially from Gable. This is the fault of the director in my opinion. • Sometimes the humor doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the film. • There are far too many times when a character conveniently enters the scene and it draws your attention to the fact that they had just been waiting to enter from off camera. • Gable and Tone wear significantly less clothes than Tehani(Movita Castaneda) and Maimiti(Mamo Clark) to the beach. • The fully clothed “sex” scene between Christian and Maimiti made me laugh.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from David at bluray.hidefdigest

Naughty Marietta

naughty-marietta-movie-poster-1935 naughtymarietta2

MGM – 1hr 45min

DIRECTOR: W.S. Van Dyke

GENRE: Romantic-Comedy/Operetta

NOTES: Based on the operetta by Victor Herbert.  The first of eight pairings of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. • Some of the songs like “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” were quite popular and would become more so due to the success of the film.

PROS: Detailed costume work. • Jeanette MacDonald(Princess Marie/Marietta) is lovely. She has many funny moments like sneaking aboard a ship while stuffing her face with bread. She just has a very playful personality that I am attracted to. • Cool scene where Princess Marie ascends different floors of a hotel(?) and engages in a different song with the residents of that floor. • The frame is often teeming with extras. • Pretty awesome looking Pirates. Surprisingly violent. “Kind of hard to hide on a boat my ladies”. • Nelson Eddy(as Cpt. Richard Warrington) turns a funny, cocky performance. Reminded me a bit of Han Solo. I enjoyed it when he holds the note a little extra too long. “Sorry girls but it breaks out once in a while”. • Does this film contain the origin of speed dating? • A charming scene with the actors posing as marionettes.

CONS: Boy you better like soprano! • Governor d’Annard(Frank Morgan) nervous talk gets a bit irritating after a while. • Kind of a boring final song. • There is not much in the way of conflict here(other than the aforementioned pirates).

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes

Ruggles Of Red Gap

Ruggles_of_red_gap Charles Laughton in Leo McCarey's RUGGLES OF RED GAP (1935). Cou

Paramount – 1hr 30min

DIRECTOR: Leo McCarey

GENRE: Comedy/Fish-Out-Of-Water

NOTES: Based on the novel by Harry Leon Wilson. • The film Fancy Pants(1950) is a musical adaptation of the story starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. • It’s merely a coincidence that Charlie Ruggles(as Egbert) appears in this film. • One of 14 films to feature both Ruggles and Mary Boland(Effie).

PROS: There is a diverse cast of characters here. Standouts are EgbertMa Pettingill(Maude Eburne) with the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, and Roland Young(as the Earl of Burnstead• Charles Laughton(Ruggles) shows comic range here as opposed to the dramas he’d been doing. He is truly one of the great actors of the time period. • Some of the funniest moments are between Laughton and Young . Especially at the beginning where Burnstead attempts to explain America to Ruggles. “slavery was ended by Pocahontas or something” he mumbles. Also, the awkward goodbye between the two. • The highlight of the movie is the Gettysburg Address scene. It’s funny and moving if not a bit preachy. • I liked the message of the film that comes to light in the 2nd half.

CONS: The humor is a bit too broad for me. A little too mad cap and exaggerated. • Loses track of Ruggles towards the end. • The movie tends to drag which is not a good sign considering it is only 90 minutes long.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Scott over at criterioncast

Top Hat

TopHatORGI luxfon-com_22784

RKO – 1hr 41min

DIRECTOR: Mark Sandrich

GENRE: Dance-Musical/Comedy

NOTES: Based on the plays Scandal In Budapest by Sándor Faragó and A Girl Who Dares by Aladar Laszlo. • Irving Berlin wrote the songs, two of which(“Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” & “Cheek To Cheek”) have become timeless classics. • Lucille Ball makes a minor appearance as Flower Clerk• This was the most financially successful of the Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire pictures.

PROS: Clever opening shot. • The dance routines are legendary of course. Especially for “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails”. Very clever choreography where Jerry(Astaire) starts picking off the various other dancers mimicking a shooting gallery. Allegedly one of the people he “shoots” is a teenage Bob Hope• The song “Cheek to Cheek” is just a great song. I don’t know much about dancing, but I did notice the uninterrupted, single takes. Apparently this was demanded by Astaire. Makes his(and Rogers’) performance that much more impressive. • Some funny lines about “horsepower” and “walking from a boat ride”. I won’t spoil them for ya. • Helen Broderick(as Madge Hardwick) almost steals the movie.

CONS: Pretty much the same plot as The Gay Divorcee(1934) with all the same actors in very similar roles. This was actually a complaint made by Astaire too. So there ya go. In fact even the sets look the same! • There are times where the background music just doesn’t shut up. • Edward Everett Horton(as Horace Hardwick) is not nearly as funny here as he is in The Gay Divorcee. Same goes for Eric Blore(as Bates• The humor is pretty eye-rolling, minus the good lines mentioned above. • Astaire’s English accent(even though he’s faking it) leaves a little to be desired… to put it kindly.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the late great Roger Ebert over at rogerebert

WHAT WON?

Mutiny on the bounty

Mutiny On The Bounty

Did the Oscars get it right?

YES!

But… it was close for me. The Informer won 4 of the big Oscar awards this year but not the big one. The thing that puts Mutiny On The Bounty  ahead for me is that it is good all the way through. The Informer loses it’s steam in the final act. Les Miserables was great too but needed fleshing out. Mutiny On The Bounty has a little bit of everything, and it’s complex characters(especially Laughton and Gable), it’s devotion to realism, and it’s epic nature make it the best of the 12 nominated films.

 

SNUBS?

Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

The 39 Steps* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Becky Sharp  – dir. Rouben Mamoulian

Bonne Chance! – dir. Sacha Guitry

Bride Of Frankenstein – dir. James Whale

The Crusades – dir. Cecil B. DeMille

The Devil Is A Woman – dir. Josef von Sternberg

Mad Love – dir. Karl Freund

Man On The Flying Trapeze – dir. Clyde Bruckman

A Night At The Opera* – dir. Sam Wood

Sylvia Scarlett – dir. George Cukor

Tit For Tat – dir. Charles Rogers

Toni – dir. Jean Renoir

Triumph Of The Will – dir. Leni Riefenstahl

Werewolf Of London – dir. Henry Hull

Wife! Be Like A Rose! – dir. Mikio Naruse

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 1934 • 1936 • 1937 • 1938  2015

Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | 3 Comments

“Best Pictures” 2015

On my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ve decided to go ahead and get this year’s Oscars out of the way. Just consider it an aside from my main goal of going decade by decade(currently I’m tackling the 1930’s). The 88th Academy Awards were held on February 28th, 2016 and featured these 8 films from 2015:

The Big Short

The_Big_Short_teaser_poster 920x920

Paramount – 2hr 10min

DIRECTOR: Adam McKay

GENRE: Comedy/Procedural/Social Commentary

NOTES: Based on the book by Michael Lewis.

PROS: Makes a very complex subject approachable, mostly through the use of comical asides(although probably condescending if you are versed on the subject… which I’m not).  The final decisions of our main characters despite any moral scruples they may have has a sobering effect.  The acting is mostly strong, if not a bit cliched. • Led Zeppelin for the credits!

CONS: The ever roving docu-drama-esque camera work. • Interjections of pop culture(although I think the point was, “Hey people, look at all the stupid stuff you were preoccupied with while Wall Street was busy screwing you.”)  Some manic editing(a single frame of Steve Carrell’s face? Why?)  The attempt to shoe horn in Baum‘s(Carrell) emotional past.  Oversimplifying Wall Street bankers by making them the ONE & ONLY reason for the collapse & seemingly all the world’s problems(smash cut from bankers in their nice cars to bums under a bridge).

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Tony over at tonymacklin.net

Bridge Of Spies

Bridge_of_Spies_poster.jpg bridge-of-spies-back-300x200.jpg

Walt Disney Studios – 2hr 21min

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

GENRE: Spy Thriller/Cold War

NOTES: Based on true events which took place between 1957 – 1962.

PROS: Perfectly executed. Spielberg takes what is essentially a series of conversations around desks and makes it feel swift, entertaining and poignant   The Coen brothers flair for the ironic shows itself in the screenplay(which they were hired to touch up).  All the secondary foreign actors are very strong.  Mark Rylance puts on a master display of restraint and won Best Supporting Actor for his performance.  A perfect role for Hanks. Our modern day Jimmy Stewart.

CONS: This is old fashioned Capra-esque filmmaking at it’s finest and so there is a tendency for moments to play a bit exaggerated. • Some of the music doesn’t quite gel.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Brain Tallerico over at rogerebert

Brooklyn

brooklyn still-of-saoirse-ronan-and-emory-cohen-in-brooklyn-2015

Fox Searchlight – 1hr 52min 

DIRECTOR: John Crowley

GENRE: Romance/Period Piece

NOTES: Based on the novel by Colm Tóibín. • Much of the filming took place in Montreal because New York did not have enough buildings remaining from the 1950’s.

 PROS: Saorisie Ronan is stunning. A true movie star and a great actress. She does a lot with a limited script. • It’s a simple story but it pulls on the old heartstrings. Mainly because Ronan(as Eilis, pronounced ay-lish) is so magnetic. Who wouldn’t want to fall in love with her? • Some funny moments at the boarding house dinner table, especially with the two “giddy” girls played by Emily Bett Rickards(Patty) and Eve Macklin(Diana). • I like that Eilis ends up where she started, only now with some life experiences to pass on. A classic film trope but it always works.

CONS: All the conflicts in this movie feel a little too convenient.  Eilis falling for Tony(Emory Cohen) feels very rushed.  The color palette is a little silly. They are trying to evoke a nostalgic image of the 1950’s but the colors are so pronounced it starts to almost feel like a cartoon. • I really can’t stand pointless(underline pointless) hand held camera work. Why in the world we need a handheld style to portray mundane moments(like sitting around a dinner table) is beyond me. This is an tv/movie epidemic right now in my opinion.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Richard Brody over at newyorker

Mad Max: Fury Road

Max_Mad_Fury_Road_Newest_Poster.jpg maxresdefault

Warner Bros. 2hr

DIRECTOR: George Miller

GENRE: Action/Car Chase

NOTES: The 4th installment in the Mad Max franchise following Mad Max(1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior(1981) & Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome(1985). • Pre-production began as early as 1997. • Won the Academy awards for Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Film Editing, and Best Production Design.

PROS: Bonkers. Absolutely bonkers.

CONS: None really. I could see how this might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for the type of film it is, it hits zero sour notes.

REWATCHABILITY: 4/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Anthony Lane over at The New Yorker

The Martian

The_Martian_film_poster.jpg ng8zspcv4wubkb28zeyy

20th Century Fox – 2hr 21min

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

GENRE: Survival/Sci-Fi

NOTES: Based on the book by Andy Weir.

PROS: Matt Damon fits quite well in this role of the imperturbable botanist-astronaut.  Visually immersive(which is Ridley Scott’s biggest strength in my opinion.)

CONS: A touch predictable.  Clichés run rampant.  Watney(Matt Damon) always has the right answer the first time. He hardly ever struggles.  There’s a damn musical montage!  Lazy script writing with one note characters.  Scientists who suddenly need the details of their field explained to them.  One too many internet meme-esque dialogue moments, e.g., “I’m gonna have to science the shit outta this”.  Kristen Wiig’s character exists to merely ask questions which the writers are afraid the audience might not be able to ask & answer on their own.  Jeff Daniels is miscast here.  Overlong. It could have used some tighter editing, especially once Watney leaves Mars.  The ubiquitous self-surgery scene.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cole Smithey over at colesmithey

The Revenant

12022348_721537477980154_1854067653327057613_web leonardo-dicaprio-the-revenant

20th Century Fox – 2hr 36min

DIRECTOR: Alejandro Iñárritu

GENRE: Revenge/Survival/Western

NOTES: Based on the book by Michael Punke and the true account of 19th century trapper Hugh Glass.

PROS: More amazing cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki. The use of natural lighting makes you feel the cold and smell the dirt.  The Bear attack on Glass(DiCaprio) is frightening and hyper-realistic. It really sells the whole movie from that point.  Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald is phenomenal.

CONS: The tone of the film fluctuates.  The doses of magical realism in the dream sequences feel a bit dated.  The addition of Glass‘ half-Pawnee son Hawk(Forrest Goodluck) feels tacked on. None of the emotion there feels earned. In real life, Glass sought revenge for simply being left for dead by Bridger & Fitzgerald and not for anything to do with a son(There is no historical record that Glass even had a son or an Indian wife for that matter).  As much as I enjoy the look of the film and how it takes it’s time to dwell on the scenery, it could have used some tighter editing.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Justin Chang over at Variety

Room

Room_Poster Room-e1450534504366-620x352

A24 – 1hr 58min

DIRECTOR: Lenny Abrahamson

GENRE: Drama/Traumatic experience/PTSD

NOTES: based on the novel by Emma Donaghue.

PROS: Incredible performances by both Larson & Tremblay.  Intense scene right smack dab in the middle of the film. It includes an incredible zoom shot coupled with powerful music that makes me cry just thinking about it.

CONS: The second half tries to cram way too much into it’s time. There are many issues touched on that could easily have their own movie devoted them.  The camera work(apart from the aforementioned zoom) doesn’t really do anything interesting. Just more of the same boring handheld work that’s so popular these days.  Jack‘s(Tremblay) narration feels tacked on but I’ve never been a fan of voiceover(even in Kubrick’s work).

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Tim Robey over at thetelegraph

Spotlight

Spotlight_(film)_poster maxresdefault

Open Road – 2hr 9min

DIRECTOR: Tom McCarthy

GENRE: Drama/Procedural

NOTES: Based on true events.

PROS: Great acting from both the stars and the supporting players(especially Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci). Mark Ruffalo turns in yet another great performance. He was made for these procedurals.(see also: Zodiac(2007)) • The fast talking newspaper movie. Reminiscent of classic newspaper movies like The Front Page(1931). • The dialogue is fantastic. And the actors make it feel very natural. Even when they are clearly moving the plot along.

CONS: Some cliche music from Howard Shore. • I felt they needed to highlight the victims sooner in the film in order for the audience to connect to the crimes and feel the importance of the Spotlight team’s project. • The victim interviews tended to play like a TV show. • The scene where Sacha(Rachel McAdams) confronts Father Paquin(Richard O’Rourke) felt very forced and unrealistic. That he would just open the door and immediately admit to molesting young boys is hard to believe.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Sheila over at rogerebert

 

WHAT WON?

screen_shot_2015-11-03_at_5.10.59_pm.png

Spotlight

 

Did the Oscars get it right?

NO!

Spotlight is a great movie but there are better procedural-type films(like Zodiac(2007), All The President’s Men(1976), High And Low(1963), and Apollo 13(1995) to name a few). It was certainly deserving of the nomination this year but Mad Max: Fury Road is perfection. If any “Action” movie(a genre which the Academy has almost always ignored) deserved Best Picture it was Mad Max: Fury Road. Incredibly exciting and confident in it’s theme and overall purpose.

 

SNUBS?

Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

45 Years – dir. Andrew Haigh

Anomalisa – dir. Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson

The Assassin – dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsie

Carol – dir. Todd Haynes

Creed– dir. Ryan Coogler

The Diary Of A Teenage Girl – dir. Marielle Heller

The Duke Of Burgundy – dir. Peter Strickland

The End Of The Tour – dir. James Ponsoldt

Ex Machina – dir. Alex Garland

Experimenter – dir. Michael Almereyda

The Hateful Eight– dir. Quentin Tarantino

Inside Out – dir. Pete Docter

Mustang – dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven

The Look Of Silence – dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

Sicario – dir. Denis Villeneuve

Steve Jobs – dir. Danny Boyle

Son of Saul – dir. László Nemes

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens* – dir. J. J. Abrams

Straight Outta Compton – dir. F. Gary Gray

Tangerine – dir. Sean Baker

Victoria – dir. Sebastian Schipper

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934 • 1935 • 1936 • 1937 • 1938

 

 

 

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