Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why I'm Not Smart Enough to Work for NASA

The next film I got to see nominated for Best Picture for 2016 was Hidden Figures. A biopic based on the real life story of three NASA engineers who faced discrimination in the early 1960's for being women and black.  These women helped NASA in the early days of the space race and are part of the incredible intelligent and talented team of scientists and engineers who eventually put a man on the moon.

Now I know that I don't have what it takes to work for NASA or come close to the intelligence or skills of these three women, but I do have things in common with them.

First we must recognize Dorothy Vaughan, a brilliant mathematician and human computer, who taught herself and her coworkers, FORTRAN and headed the programming section of the Analysis and Computation Division at NASA.  It should be noted that FORTRAN is not an easy programming language to learn, according to me at least, and to do so in an era where there was no exposure to computers.  She was portrayed by Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spenser in the film and received another nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

On the right you can see me circa 1986 studying FORTRAN in high school.  Not to say that I didn't enjoy programming computers, but I didn't enjoy programming computers.  It was about this time I started to realize that being a computer programmer was not in my future.  I would get my projects done, but they were always at the last minute and consisted of days of aggravation of trying to get them to work.

Then there is Katherine Johnson who is the film's main character.  A woman so smart that she was called a human computer.   While at NASA she calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for many flights from Project Mercury, including the early NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, through the Space Shuttle program. Her calculations were critical to the success of these missions. Johnson also performed calculations for the plans for a mission to Mars.

Here is a picture of me circa early 1990's in my Calculus 2 class.  I was working about fifty hours a week and had a part time job as well and realized that besides having no time to sleep, I didn't have time to do homework.  I would go to class forgetting everything, spend two and a half hours relearning it again, and then not having time to study or do the homework and start the cycle all over again at the next class.

And then there is Mary Jackson.  She was a mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  As seen in the movie, she was one of the first black women to attend advanced engineering classes.

And you can see me here when I was a student in engineering school back in the early nineties. You may be asking why I'm laying in the middle of the road?  Why?  When you take mechanical physics and you spend countless hours studying the text book, doing the same problems over and over again, spend all of my free time trying to learn this and then you get a 56 on the first exam.  So you double down, study even more hours, do twice as many problems, push yourself harder than ever before and then take the second test and get a 55. This is why I am laying in the road, probably somewhere on the West Side Highway, hoping that I would be run over by a garbage truck.  No such luck and I am very thankful that I was reading a great deal of Ayn Rand back then to help me get through those tough times.

So as you can see, I do have something in common with the three main characters in the film, I attempted to learn what they all did for a living and realized I wasn't smart enough.  I'm guessing this is for the best.

As for the film, it is well acted and the story flows.  Granted it is Hollywood, so they do take some liberties like the bathroom sign scene with Kevin Costner never happened.  But it is inspiring to see that even with hardships, these three women kept fighting and working as hard as they could to help NASA get our astronauts into space and back to earth safely.  I found it inspiring to see Dorthy Vaughan take the time to learn how to program the new computer and become the specialist on it knowing that it would be taking away her job, instead of fighting progress and sitting back and becoming obsolete.  Her actions not only saved her job, but those of her co-workers since they became the first computer programmers.

Only one major gripe I have with the film, and that was with Kevin Costner's character on how he wore a tie clip.  You are right by agreeing that this is a major, major problem and needs to be pointed out and discussed in full length.  But I will only cover the basics.

Not sure if this was his character who would dress like this, or him simply not knowing how to wear a tie clip.  As you can see from this chart, this is how a tie clip should be worn.
Things like this need to be pointed out.  This annoyed me to no end during the film since it is so easy to wear a tie clip properly.  As a strong supporter of tie clips, you should be wearing them more often but when you do, wear them properly.

That just leaves where does this film rank for Best Pictures.  Compared to La La Land, it, um, excuse me but I need to laugh hysterically...


Okay, that felt better.  This is about as far above La La Land as the rockets they were firing into space.  Well, I found it funny.  Fine, it is the best of the two films I have seen so far.  Check out the trailer and see it yourself, you will enjoy the film.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Best Musical Based in Los Angeles Since Cop Rock

Now I know technically Cop Rock wasn't a movie and was just a television program.  But the style of the show is very similar to the film that is the subject of this blog post, La La Land.  Nominated for fourteen categories, tying Titanic and All About Eve, it won seven awards.  It won for Director, Actress, Cinematography, Original Score, Original Song and Production Design.  Oops, that's only six, it didn't win Best Picture.  Take that Faye Dunaway! 

Besides a very surreal Oscar ceremony, La La Land was expected to win Best Picture and was even considered possibly pulling off a sweep which has only happened three times.  And it was a musical too boot.  There is so much to point out about this film before reviewing it so I decided to hire a Quiz Master to challenge me and educate you about La La Land.  He should be arriving at any moment.  Oh, perfect timing, he's here.

Quiz Master
The first question is, how many films have won Best Picture that were musicals.  No peaking!

Wow, this will be tough, but I guess I can try and go off the top of my head.  There weren't that many had won, but if you count the 1960's and not The Great Ziegfeld which I'll consider as a bio pic and not a musical, so my guess is ten.

Quiz Master
WRONG!  The correct answer was Chicago.  Next question.  What as the last musical that won Best Picture?

Wait a moment, how can the answer be Chicago?  In fact that would be the answer for this question.  Fine, looks like you may have your answers mixed up, but I will say Chicago.

Quiz Master
WRONG!  The correct answer was Oliver.  Next question.  What was the previous Best Picture that was a musical that won before Chicago starting a thirty five year drought?

Time out.  It is clearly obvious that you are one off on each of your questions.  You are giving the answer of the next question you are asking.

Quiz Master
Is that your final answer?

I haven't answered anything.  You gave the answer, then asked the question!  This is turning to be out to be a bad idea.

Quiz Master
WRONG!  The correct answer was ten movies.  Let's total up your score, zero plus zero plus zero, hold on, carry the zero, and done.  Your final score is zero.  You're not very knowledgeable about movie musicals.

Actually, I got all of them right.  Doesn't matter, I'm not paying you for your services.  Hey, where are you going?  That doesn't belong to you.  Put it down.  I said put it down.  No, don't drop it!  I don't believe this, just leave.

Sorry about that readers, the Quiz Master was recommended to me by a reliable source so I though it would make the post more interesting.  I mean we're talking about La La Land so it needs all the help it can get.  Although it was a popular movie because Hollywood loves movies about themselves.

The film is a romantic comedy, but not that funny, but not that dramatic, and then doesn't seem to be a musical for awhile, and then someone starts singing.  Man meets woman, they don't get along, then they do, then their careers take off and they drift apart.  Add a few dance scenes and a super obnoxious musical opening that made me want to leave the theater.  And there you have La La Land.

But going into the Oscars, it was the front runner.  Why?  Three of the films from the decade, The Artist, Argo and Birdman, all about actors, had won Best Picture.  So going in it seemed obvious it would win and probably sweep.  Why it lost?  I think I'll cover that at a later time when I blog on the actual Best Picture winner.

Personally I am not a big fan of musicals and as such I wasn't too big of a fan of the movie.  But I will admit that it was done well.  Just as there are many classic musicals I wouldn't consider in my top films, but they are done perfectly and that makes it easier to watch.  La La Land is one of those films.  It's a musical but done in the style of the 1950's.

Being the first picture I am reviewing for 2016, obviously it is in first place. Ironically it's also in last place.  This will change as I review more of the films nominated.

And while you watch these clips of Cop Rock and the opening freeway dance scene from La La Land, I want to you take a moment and curb your initial thoughts of violence and any threats you may want to make towards me.  I want to encourage you to clear you mind and be at one with the stupid as these two over here have done.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Tree Grows in Kings County

Part of my new blog format has me meeting with The Academy Award Project board of directors on a regular basis.  Since they control the sponsorship and somehow have ownership of the blog, something I am still looking into, I have to go over all my proposed blog posts and get their approval.

Here is a transcript of my last meeting with them and trying to get authorization to blog about 2015 Best Picture nominee Brooklyn.

Me: Do you have to keep shining that light in my eyes.
Director 7: Fine.  Are you ready?
Me: I have been for the last twenty minutes.
Director 7: Then start.  What is the next movie?
Me: Thank you.  The next film I will be blogging about is Brooklyn.
Director 2: But weren't you born in Queens?
Me: Well, yes...
Director 1: That doesn't matter.
Director 2: Then how can he talk about a borough he didn't grow up in?
Director 4: It's about the movie Brooklyn.
Director 2: There was a movie about Brooklyn?
Director 3: There are many films about Brooklyn.
Me: Excuse me, the film is called Brooklyn.
Director 5: Is is about Brooklyn?
Me: Well, yes, most of it...
Director 2: Not many good films are made about Brooklyn.  Why would we want to hear about this one.
Director 1: It is his responsibility to blog on films nominated for Best Picture.
Director 2: I don't see him posting about Saturday Night Fever.
Me: That wasn't nominated for Best Picture.  You know The French Connection takes place in Brooklyn.
Director 2: So does Vampire in Brooklyn.
Me: Dog Day Afternoon.
Director 2: Kazaam.
Me: Ouch.  Well, okay this film is happy and cheerful.
Director 2: Like Requiem for a Dream.  Or Sophie's Choice?
Me: Wow, that's not what I was expecting to hear.  What about the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?
Director 5: Wasn't that filmed in Los Angeles?
Director 2: And shouldn't be A Tree Grows in Kings County?
Director 1: Fine, I think we've heard enough, let's take a vote.  All in favor.  All opposed.  The board has voted five to two to allow you to do your next post on the film Kings County.
Me: The title is Brooklyn.  Oh forget it.

As you can see, meeting with the board is a very frustrating process.  Anyway, Brooklyn was nominated for three Oscars, beside Best Picture, Best Actress for Saoirse Ronan and Best Adapted Screenplay.  It takes place in the early 1950's and starts in Ireland where a young woman, played by Ronan, decides to go to America to find work.  The film shows her trials and tribulations as she becomes adjusted to American culture and her new life in Brooklyn.  She has to travel back to Ireland (don't want to spoil too much) and then has to decide will she stay in Ireland or go back to America.

Personally I loved this movie.  It is so well done.  The acting is great all around, but Saoirse Ronan is a incredibility talented actress who I look forward to seeing her in many more movies.  Most of all, the screenplay is well written.  The film moves at a steady pace and keeps you in it from start to finish.  Usually movies like this fall flat by the second act, this is one that doesn't do that thankfully.

Being the fourth film that I have seen, or half of the Best Picture nominees of 2015, I would currently rank this as the second best film of the year.  The Revenant is still the top picture and The Martian gets pushed down to third.  Mad Max is now in fourth.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Don't Feed The Bears

Following in the order as I've seen them, the next movie up to review is the 2015 Best Picture nominee The Revenant.  It was the top nominee that year with twelve nominations and winner of three awards for cinematography, a second Oscar for Best Director for Alejandro Inarritu, two years in a row, that is an epic John Ford type of victory, and a long overdue Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.

Loosely based on the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass, which sounds like a Bart Simpson prank call, it tells the story of how Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is guiding fur trappers in 1823.  They are attacked by Indians and barely get away. At some point during their escape, Glass is attacked by a bear.  He barely survives and one of the trappers John Fitzgerald played by Tom Hardy who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, attempts to kill him.  He isn't successful but does kill Glass's son.  Of course he gets better, chases down Fitzgerald and ends with an epic fight.

The most exciting scene was when Leonardo DiCaprio was raped by the bear......excuse me, what, he wasn't raped?  Did you see the same film I did?  Hold on, hold on a second, thank you.  Sorry folks, but the blog's board of directors are interrupting my post.  They said that it was a fight between Leonardo DiCaprio and the bear.  There is one thing that we can agree upon, it was an epic fight. Check out this clip from the movie.

What do you mean that wasn't in the movie?  That looks a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio.  And I think I remember the bear wearing a hat.  Okay, fine, I'll look for the scene, but can I please get back to my post?  Thank you.

Anyway, this is a great movie.  The cinematography is amazing, which is why Emmanuel Lubezki won his third Oscar in a row.  The acting is fantastic, the clothing, everything.  It should have won Best Picture.  You really see how tough life was back in the early nineteenth century.  The battle scenes are so terrifying, you feel like you're in the middle of it.  And lets not forget the epic "fight" between the bear and Leonardo DiCaprio which I found and is right here for you to watch.

What, seriously?  I'm pretty sure I got the right clip.  Fine, I'll keep looking.  In the meantime I'll rank the films of 2015 that have seen.  And it is pretty obvious that this was the best of the films I've seen so far.  The Martian is second and Mad Max is now down to third.  And I think this is the right clip, if not, too bad and I'll correct it at some point.

Friday, May 19, 2017

What Happens When You Abandon the Buddy System

As Springfield Elementary third grade teacher Mrs. McConnel will tell you, the Buddy System is fullproof.

But when you abandon the buddy system, as we saw in The Martian, the film that is the subject of this post, we leave people behind.  In this case, on another planet.

Nominated for Best Picture, and a bunch of other Oscars, is based on the novel by Andy Weir.  Staring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and a number of other talented actors and actresses, this is one of the few Science Fiction movies to be nominated for best picture.  And it was good enough to be nominated.

Not based on a true story, some point in the future a team of astronauts are on Mars when a massive storm hits.  They decide to abort the mission and fly off the planet.  They leave behind one of their astronauts, played by Matt Damon of course, since they thought he was dead.  Proof that NASA should use the buddy system.  Turns out he didn't die and has to find a way to survive on Mars while they figure a way to get back to the planet and save him.  In the meantime, since it takes years to get back to Mars, Earth years not Mars years mind you, he has to find a way to survive.  Such as growing his own food.  And creating water.

Directed by Ridley Scott, who has done a few good sci-fi films here and there, this is more of a drama that is based in science fiction.  Which is why the film works and feels somewhat realistic.  Great special effects as well.  But how did it rank for the other nominated films of 2015?

Since this is the second film I am reviewing from that year, it is now in first place with Mad Max nipping on it's heels in second place.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Nice Drive in the Desert

As I had recently mentioned, and gentle reminders of bricks through my window from the blog's board of directors, I will do individual posts of the remaining movies I have seen.  And today is the first one I saw from 2015, Mad Max Fury Road.  There are a number of rumors floating around about the film which I can put an end to here and now.

Q: Is this a sequel to the third Mad Max movie?
A: There were only two real Mad Max movies, please don't tell me you actually saw the third one?

Q: I, um, no, what third movie?  I mean, is this film a sequel?
A: No, not really.  It is the fourth movie in the Mad Max franchise.

Q: Is it a sequel to Death of a Salesman?
A: No.

Q: Is it bigger than a bread box?
A: Were you dropped on your head as a baby?

Q: Hey, whose asking the questions here?
A: Okay, fine.

Q: Alright then, what about it being a sequel to The Grapes of Wraith?
A: Officially no, but technically, you could easily make that argument.

Q: Why are you answering questions instead of giving a review of the film?
A: Well, I actually have an answer for that question, but seeing your tone and attitude, I'm not going to answer you.

Q: Come on, please?  I'm sorry.  I want to hear your answer.
A: No.

Are they gone?  Good.  So while I have a few moments before the next question is asked I will give a review of Mad Max Fury Road.  It was nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.  It won six, mainly the technical categories including one for Best Editing.  It was a surprise by many to hear when the Best Pictures were announced that it was one of the films nominated.  Or at least I was.

Well, they were right.  This is one of the best action adventure films I have seen in a long time.  The story isn't very complex, a futuristic post apocalyptic world where our main character is captured in the beginning and taken in as a blood bag for an injured warrior.  He eventually ends up with Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, who is trying to escape from the great tyrant and takes his wives.  This leads to an all out crazy chase and fight in the desert.  Then they get to their destination and decide to turn back and deal with it all over again.  I know, not a very complex script.

But the special effects, the costumes, the makeup and the overall feel of the film is terrific.  A lot of work went into making these scenes and it shows.  Don't watch this to absorb a complex drama and contemplate the meaning of life.  Watch this to see some crazy car chases and super cool explosions.

Since this is the first of the nominated films of 2015 I have seen and posted about, it is the top film.  I have seen three others and will post on them next and don't be surprised, but Mad Max will fall down in the ranking.

Q: Wait, did I make it?  I made it, right?  There's the preview below, I must have made it in time.  You only put a preview at the end of your posts.
A: Okay, you made it.  What is your question?

Q: Um, great, I forgot.  I don't believe this, but I actually forgot.  Wait, I remember now!  Is there a way for people to sign up for your blog?
A: Thank you for reminding me.  That's right, I now have a gadget installed in the upper right hand corner.  Please enter your email address and you will get automatic updates of my next rant, or diatribe or harangue.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Audit Time

The Board of Directors of The Academy Award Project have demanded that I produce an audit of the Best Pictures I have seen and posted about.  They didn't state directly that they would cut off my funding, so it wasn't a threat.  But I'm sure if it wasn't tied to a brick and thrown through my living room window I might have viewed it differently.  Lucky for me that I don't get offended easily and know that the board members are honorable people who were no where near my house last Thursday at 8:50 pm.

Since I've started the blog I have written about 512 films.  I have seen 520 films nominated for Best Picture and 537 films overall have been nominated and won Best Picture.  Of the eight that haven't been posted, four are from 2015 and four are from 2016.  I also have one on the DVR from 2015 that I will try and watch soon.

So stay tuned in the next few days as I will start giving reviews on additional movies.  I plan on changing my style of posting five to eight films at once every two to three months and do one at a time every few days.  This will allow me more time to replace my living room window.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A to Z Challenge - Z is for Zilch

Can't believe I actually made it through the entire A to Z Challenge.  I want to thank everyone who has been reading this blog, thank you for the wonderful comments and I plan on keeping it more active.  I don't think every day is a reality right now with work being crazy, but I can see at least two or three posts a week.  I have films I've seen that I need to review so please keep an eye out for new posts.

As for today, I have a quandary.  I've been able to find a movie for each letter of the alphabet to write about, even letter X, although I was nearly shut down by the A to Z Advisory Council.  But I am not afraid of them anymore.  What can they do to me on the last day of the challenge?

There were three films that have been nominated with the letter Z, all three are not that great.  The least worst is Zorba the Greek.  Granted Anthony Quinn was nominated for Best Actor, the film is painful to watch.  Even at the end when everything is destroyed with the tree moving attempt down the mountain you think Basil would have the normal reaction of strangling Zorba.  No, he asks him to teach him how to dance.  Stupid ending, almost as bad as the American remake of The Vanishing.

The next worst film is Zero Dark Thirty which I am still trying to figure out what was this movie about?  I've narrowed it down to a vehicle to funnel laundered drug money or some propaganda piece from a hidden office in the White House basement.  And the worst is Z by the horrible director Costa Gavras, but I apologize for being redundant there.

So that leaves me no other option to find the next best film with letter Z in the title.  Or at least one that is much better than those three.  And I found it, the 1974 science fiction disaster Zardoz.  That's right with Sean Connery running around half naked as Zed the brutal exterminator who sneaks into the Vortex to teach the immortals about death.

Am I thumbing my nose at the A to Z Advisory Council?  You bet I am.  But I can type faster than they can shut me down.  I'm going off the rails on the last day and they can't stop me.  (If there was a way to symbolize a mic drop, it would be here)


This is the A to Z Advisory Council interrupting this blog since it is not following the guidelines and, hey wait where is everyone?  Did we miss the blog?  How is this my fault?  I'm the one who said we should get it to go.  Oh right, now that is just insulting.  What?  You actually like Zardoz?  Fine, we'll move on to the next blog.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A to Z Challenge - Y is for You Can't Argue with Three Oscars in Five Years

Today's film in the A to Z Challenge is the Best Picture from 1938, the Frank Capra classic You Can't Take It With You.  As you can tell from the title of the post, it was his third Best Director in five years.  It Happened One Night in 1934 and Mr. Deed Goes to Town in 1936.  He directed this classic from the popular play and it earned seven nominations, winning two for picture and director.

Staring the great Lionel Barrymore, my personal favorite actor, a young James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, and Spring Byington who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  It's a heartfelt comedy and as close as you can get to a perfect film.  The acting, the comedy, everything works so well.

The main story is Lionel Barrymore's character won't sell his house and as a result a factory can't be built.  The builder is Edward Arnold who doesn't realize that his son is love with a stenographer who happens to be Lionel Barrymore's granddaughter.  And his home is a kind of art and science community where everyone does what they like.  You can guess where this is heading where the family will be kicked out of their home, but don't forget this is a Capra movie so you know it's going to be a happy ending.

This is one of my favorite Lionel Barrymore films, he is so good as Grandpa Vanderhof, he really carries this movie.  But that can be said about him in practically every film he's in.  One of the siblings of the great Barrymore acting family, Older brother to the great John Barrymore and probably the greatest actress of the twentieth century, Ethel Barrymore.  His range is complete.  From his Oscar winning role as an alcoholic attorney in A Free Soul, to the meek office worker in Grand Hotel, all the Dr. Kildare movies, and of course Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life.  No matter what you see him in he always gives everything he's got into his role.

And don't forget that this was one year before the epic 1939 and as film critics have said that was pretty much the best year in Hollywood.  One year off is not going to be any less as good.  This is a classic you rarely see, so if you can catch it, watch and enjoy.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A to Z Challenge - X is for X Rated

Today is letter X in the A to Z Challenge.  And since there is no film that was nominated or won Best Picture with the letter X there is a film that can be used. Today's movie is the 1969 Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy.  Now you may be asking, why Midnight Cowboy?  Well, the answer is simple, it was--


This is the A to Z Advisory Council interrupting this blog since it is not following the guidelines and choosing a film without the letter X as the starting title which is a violation of Article XXIII Section 5 Subsection--

Me: Excuse me, but you are interrupting my blog!
A to Z: I think we made that clear in our announcement that we interrupting your blog.
Me: You have no right to do so.
A to Z: We can since you are claiming that Midnight Cowboy can be used to represent letter X.  Unless you are a bad speller.
Me: Yes, actually I am a really bad speller.
A to Z: Wow, wasn't expecting that.  Most writers don't admit to bad spelling.
Me: It's been that way my whole life.  In fact when I was in a spelling bee in the fifth grade--
A to Z: Save it for your therapist.  We are here to stop you since Midnight Cowboy is not spelled with a letter X.
Me: It can be if you put a silent one in front of it.
A to Z: If you spelled Midnight Cowboy as XMidnight Cowboy it would be pronounced as Shmidnight Cowboy.  That doesn't make any sense.
Me: Well no, but if it is a silent X you can.
A to Z: That's the dumbest thing we've ever heard of.  By that logic you could put every letter in front of a word and make then silent.  Not good enough.  The Council will now decide--
Me: You do realize that Midnight Cowboy was the first film rated X to win Best Picture.
A to Z: (mumbling in the background) Nice try, all of us here have seen the film and it wasn't a porno.
Me: You're using today's rating standards.  When the film was released in 1969 rated X meant that no one under the age of seventeen was allowed to see it. Unlike rated R where a minor could see the movie provided they were accompanied by an adult.
A to Z: Well,--
Me: In fact I have a copy of the movie poster I keep folded up in my wallet.  Let me show you.  It's here somewhere, no not there oh wait, maybe back here by my Social Security card.
A to Z: Is your Social Security card laminated?
Me: Yes it is.
A to Z: Why would you do that?
Me: Because it said Do Not Laminate on the card.  Aha, I found it!  Here it is, see for yourself.
A to Z: That's a drawing of a goat wearing roller skates.
Me: Look on the other side.
A to Z: Well, you might be right.  (Murmuring)  Fine, the A to Z Advisory Council has voted to allow you to do your blog post for today.  But no more shenanigans, we'll be watching you.

Okay, I think it's safe.  Boy, that was close.  I've heard stories of the A to Z Advisory Council but never thought that I'd have to deal with them personally. Anyway, yes Midnight Cowboy was the first rated X movie to win Best Picture so that is why I have it representing letter X today.

It was nominated for seven Oscars, winning three for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.  It stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, who were also both nominated for Best Actor but lost to John Wayne who was given a lifetime achievement Oscar for True Grit.

The film is not a porno since an X rating was given due to the adult themes within the film.  Today this would be considered a hard R or by today's standards not as shocking as it was in the late 60's.  Jon Voight comes to New York City to become a gigolo and quickly finds himself not being very successful.  He meets Dustin Hoffman who is basically a two bit con man and eventually bonds with him as he finds himself homeless and having to do work that he wasn't expecting a male prostitute has to do in New York City.  All the while Dustin Hoffman is getting sicker and they decide to go to Florida.

Besides being rather depressing and gritty, this is a very good drama.  But it symbolizes so much more.  In The Heat of the Night broke the door open from the years of musicals and epics winning Best Picture, this film slammed the door.  The year before Oliver won Best Picture, a musical.  The next musical to win was Chicago in 2002.  Midnight Cowboy is the changing point in Hollywood as well. Look at the movies made in the early 1970's, very much in the style of this film. Basically it was a game changer and it being rated X got everyone's attention that Hollywood is changing.

So, while the A to Z Advisory Council is still monitoring my post, the letter X is what people remember about Midnight Cowboy and that is why it is the movie for today.  Please watch the clip below to the end to see my favorite scene when Dustin Hoffman yells at the taxi in the road "I'm walkin' here, I'm walkin' here!"

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A to Z Challenge - W is for What Not to do When Guests Come Over

Getting to the end of the alphabet on the A to Z Challenge and today's post for letter W is the 1966 intense drama, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  It was an adaptation of the powerful Edward Albee play and was nominated for thirteen Oscars, basically in every category it was eligible and only the second film since Cimarron in 1931.

Major awards for Elizabeth Taylor for Best Actress, her second, and Sandy Dennis's only Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  Also staring Richard Burton and George Segal, this is one of the greatest dramas put on screen.  The film centers on the four characters over one evening with really no other actors.

Richard Burton is an associate professor at a small college and is marred to Elizabeth Taylor who is the College President's daughter.  Their relationship is far from healthy with them constantly throwing insulting barbs at one another.  They have over another young professor from the college with his wife to have drinks. The fighting and conflicts continue and escalate to an extreme point.  If you haven't seen it, be prepared to be uncomfortable with the tension and arguing but stick it through to the end, it is worth it.

While this could have easily won Best Picture, it did go up against probably the best film of the decade, A Man for All Seasons.  And this also hurt Richard Burton having to compete against Paul Scofield.  It was a well deserved Oscar for Elizabeth Taylor who had worked hard over the past fifteen years to become a good actress, and this film shows how good she became.

I've heard criticisms about her acting and I disagree.  While she wasn't a natural, she worked hard to perfect her craft.  Compare her in A Place in the Sun and in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and tell me she isn't a good actress.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A to Z Challenge - V is for Victory!

Letter V in the A to Z Challenge is the 1934 Best Picture nominee Viva Villa! staring Wallace Beery as Pancho Villa and also staring Fay Wray.  It is a fictionalized film about his life, but does have some good fighting scenes.

Most of the film takes place during the early twentieth century when Panco Villa was rising in power as a rebel leader in Mexico.  He is convinced to start fighting for liberty and joins up to fight against the government.  He also takes a liking to an American newspaper reporter Johnny Sykes who reports on Pancho's exploits. Eventually he is exported, comes back and is a horrible leader and steps down when he is assassinated in a revenge killing.

I'll be honest, there aren't many films that were nominated with the letter V, so I took the oldest one I could find.  And Wallace Beery was a great actor who does a good over the top version of Pancho Villa, so that alone is worth watching it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A to Z Challenge - U is for Upended by a Horse

A to Z Challenge for today and the letter U is dedicated to the last Western to win Best Picture, 1992's Unforgiven.  Nominated for nine Oscars and winner of four including Clint Eastwood's first Oscar for Best Director and a Supporting Oscar to Gene Hackman.  This was only the third Western to win Best Picture along with Cimerron back in 1931 and only two years after Dances With Wolves won. Westerns are not often recognized by the Academy when Oscar season rolls around.

This is not your typical Western.  Westerns in the 1930's were pretty much B movies.  In the 1940's you had John Ford style Westerns, I say that because everyone was trying to make another Stagecoach, which were dramas set in nineteenth century western America.  This changed to the more popular family style Westerns of the 1950's and early 60's.  Spaghetti Westerns, Italian Westerns that ironically were filmed in Spain, became the standard during the late 60's and into the 70's.  Hollywood Westerns were not as good by comparison, with maybe an exception of Sam Peckinpah.  By the late 1970's Westerns were almost all gone, except for Clint Eastwood.

Making his start in television Westerns, Clint Eastwood went to Italy and became a star in some of the most iconic Spaghetti Westerns.  He came back to Hollywood and continued to make some great movies all through the 1970's and 80's.  When the Western became popular again in the early 90's he made this movie.  Which is not like other Clint Eastwood Westerns, hence why I came up with today's title.  I'll explain after a summary of the movie and what that means and why I knew from one scene that this was the best film of the year.

The film has a collection of great actors, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and even an appearance by Richard Harris.  The story is after a prostitute has her face cut with a knife, the rest of the women in the brothel put a bounty on the heads of the men responsible.  A young gunslinger seeks out Will Munny, played by Clint Eastwood, since he was a fierce killer years ago.  When he finds him, he is a widower with two small children and a farm.  He is not interested in getting involved, but changes his mind in order to get the money. On the way he gets his old buddy Ned Logan, played by Morgan Freeman to come along.  They head to the town where the sheriff played by Gene Hackman is a sadistic violent man who doesn't want any killing in his town and bans any weapons.  The challenge is can they complete the assassinations without being caught.

That may sound like a standard Western movie, but this one was so different. Unlike the standard Western where the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black, there are no real heroes.  There are villains ranging from wanting to try and be a tough guy, to outright violent killers.  The film is dark, depressing and more than that, probably much closer to reality than most other Westerns.

But there was one scene in the early part of the film that made me realize that this was the Best Picture of the year and one of the best Westerns I've ever seen. It's the scene when Clint Eastwood attempts to get on his horse and is upended and thrown to the ground.  I saw the film in the theater with my wife, in fact we were still dating at the time.  The theater had about twelve to twenty people, many other couples like us.  When Clint Eastwood hit the ground every guy in the theater gasped.

Me: (In utter shock, and whispering) Clint Eastwood fell off the horse.
Wife: Yeah.
Me: No, you don't get it.  Clint Eastwood fell off the horse.
Wife: I saw that.
Me: (getting frantic)  No, you don't understand.  Clint Eastwood fell off the horse!
Wife: So?
Me: Clint Eastwood never falls off a horse!

I'm sure the same conversation was happening with every other guy and his wife, girlfriend or date as well in the theater.  Up to that point, every Clint Eastwood Western I'd ever seen, he was the man.  As the stranger with no name in the Spaghetti Westerns through High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Pale Rider, he was the tough, cool, collected, epitome of the tough fearless gunslinger.  For my generation, he replaced John Wayne as the Western hero.  To see him take on a role where he would expose himself and fall off a horse made me realize that this was not going to be like any other Western.  And it isn't, which is why it won Best Picture.

Please note that this is a scene from later in the film (spoiler alert) and is very violent.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A to Z Challenge - T is for Take the Time to Look Over Everything in a Murder Trial

The last week of the A to Z Challenge and feeling proud of myself for making it continuously this far.  Letter T is today and the film is the classic 1957 courtroom drama 12 Angry Men.  Nominated for three Oscars, Best Picture, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay, it lost out on all three to The Bridge on the River Kwai. This film is a rarity for the 1950's, not many gripping dramas were made during this decade or didn't get as much recognition as this film.

The movie has an all star cast including Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Ed Bagley and others who are twelve jurors who have to decide beyond a reasonable doubt if a young man is guilty of murder.  The film takes place inside the juror's room and the drama is between the characters as they review the information and decide on a decision.  Everyone is in a hurry and ready to pronounce the young man guilty except for one juror who wants to make sure that they aren't rushing to judgement.

The acting is superb and the tension builds as the film moves along.  This is one of those films that is enjoyable from start to finish and is an American classic.  It also reminds us that the responsibility of a jury is to review all evidence and information gathered in the trial to ensure that the convicted get a fair trial.  And most of all that we always remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. On a side note a very good Russian remake was made fifty years later and called 12. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and follows the original rather closely but it adapted to Russian culture and is a very good film to catch sometime after you've seen the original.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A to Z Challenge - S is for Saving the Lives of His Fellow Soldiers

Starting to get to the end of the A to Z Challenge and today's movie is the 1941 classic Sergeant York.  Based on the life of Alvin York who was one of the most decorated soldiers from WWI, this film was nominated for eleven Oscars and won two, the most notably was Gary Cooper for Best Actor.  There is actually very interesting trivia about Gary Cooper playing this role, more on that later.

The film starts with Alvin York as a young man in Tennessee and pretty much doesn't have much to be proud about except his exceptional marksmanship.  He has a life changing experience while he was going to get revenge on someone who reneged on a deal.  Basically he is struck by lightning and finds his way to a church, this changes his life.  When he is drafted for WWI he wants to become a conscientious objector but is allowed by his officers to take time to think it over. He changes his mind and ends up in Europe.

On October 8th, 1918 during the Muese-Argonne offensive, his unit is pinned down.  As the only uninjured non-commissioned officer he is sent to attack the machine gun nest from behind.  His marksmanship takes down the Germans and is able to capture an officer who he demands to surrender his men.  In total he individually captured 132 soldiers.  When asked why he risked his life, he said it was to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.  Sergeant York comes back to America as a war hero and goes back to Tennessee where he finds that land has been purchased for him to farm and a house built for him.

Before WWI Alvin York was a well known war hero but there was never a movie made about him.  He turned down many offers until in 1940 he needed money to build a bible school and finally agreed to allow his life be made into a movie under one condition.  That Gary Cooper play him in the movie.  Apparently Gary Cooper said no but Alvin York contacted him directly and made him change his mind.

When Gary Cooper won the Oscar he said it was Sergeant Alvin Cooper who won this award.  He has said it was his favorite film not because he won an Oscar but because of the background of the picture, and because he was portraying a good, sound American character.

This was a big movie seventy five years ago and should be rediscovered again.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A to Z Challenge - R is for Reciting The Gettysburg Address in a Saloon

Up to the letter R in the A to Z Challenge and I choose the classic comedy from 1935 Ruggles of Red Gap.  One of the twelve films nominated for Best Picture that year, which was the only the second year that was done and the last time ever. Staring the great actor Charles Laughton in a fish out of the water comedy that also has the classic silent screen star Zasu Pitts.

The film starts in Paris in 1908 where an American rancher who is newly self made millionaire wins the butler, played by Charles Laughton, of a Lord in a poker game.  His wife wants to bring Ruggles back with them to Washington State since it will give them an air of class.  But when they get back home and before it can be announced that Ruggles is their new manservant he is mistaken as an English Colonel.  This is only made worse by Ruggles being out of place as an English butler in a small western rural community.  He starts to get an appreciation of the American concept of freedom and decides to open his own restaurant.

The most memorial scene of the movie is where Charles Laughton recites the Gettysburg Address to a saloon of people.  In fact Charles Laughton has stated that his reading during the movie was one of the moving things to happen to him. Watch the clip below and you will understand, it is an incredible scene that you won't forget.

As well besides being a great comedy and directed by Leo McCarey who also directed Duck Soup, many films of the 1930's are not remembered for comedy. But movies are a reflection of their time and during the depression people wanted to enjoy themselves, to escape, to laugh.  That's why you would have Busby Berkeley musical numbers, or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance sequences, and some of the funniest comedies ever made.  During bad economic times many great comedies are produced.

And one last thought about Charles Laughton, who is so different in this film than other roles where he is most remembered.  His Oscar winning portrayal of  King Henry VIII is his most known.  Or Captain Bligh from Mutiny on the Bounty.  This one he is much different and shows his acting range.  It's one of my personal favorites and I hope you enjoy it too.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A to Z Challenge - Q is for Quite a Classic for John Ford

For the A to Z Challenge for Academy Award winners and nominees, there isn't much to choose from with the letter Q.  Only four movies started with the letter Q, but your choice becomes much easier when only one of them was directed by John Ford.  So today is dedicated to The Quiet Man the 1952 Best Picture nominee, as well as being nominated for seven in total and winning two, Best Cinematography, which is obvious if you've seen this film and of course Best Director, John Ford's fourth one.

Orson Welles was once asked which film directors he most admired, he responded with "I like the old Masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford".  And this is no different than any of his other masterpieces.  Staring John Wayne as a retired boxer who goes to Ireland and falls in love with Maureen O'Hara.  Conflict ensues with Irish customs and traditions that eventually leads to an epic fist fight and a happy ending.  I know I'm over simplifying the movie here, but the film is so beautifully shot and acted, that you will enjoy this classic no matter what.

And if you are a fan of John Wayne, like I am, you will enjoy him being John Wayne.  It's not a western, but still a great job by the Duke.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A to Z Challenge - P is for Pushing the Envelope of Independent Film

Today's post for the letter P in the A to Z Challenge is the 1994 groundbreaking film Pulp Fiction.  Revered by many, despised by few, this film helped change Hollywood and the movie industry.  Nominated for seven Academy Awards, winner of the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, it has become a modern day classic.

The film is disjointed and told out chronological order.  It involves gangsters and other characters who fall below respectability over the course of a few days in Los Angeles.  Great acting and a really good script make this film enjoyable.  It's not worth it to give a description of the stories, it's better to watch it and put the pieces together after it's over.

The significance of the film in the history of Hollywood is important because it opened the door for independent films.  Pulp Fiction was not picked up by a major studio, and those who have seen it can understand why.  But Miramax decided to distribute it and it became an instant hit.  In fact where there were very few independent or formally known as low budget movies, nominated for Best Picture, two years later four of the five films nominated were independent movies and The English Patient, an independent film, won Best Picture.

But it's more than that.  The Independent Film Channel (IFC) has claimed that Pulp Fiction was one of the most influential movies of the 1990's and most definitely benefited from the popularity.  Another item about this movie was making villains to be a full character and not flat.  Many films don't focus on the villain but the hero or protagonist.  The villain is someone who is unemotional, has no personality and usually has a bad accent.  The difference with Pulp Fiction is first you find out about the characters, their opinions, their values, get to know them and then find out that they are the villains.

Another thing I admire about Quentin Tarantino, and there are not many things I do, but is his use of music in his films.  This one is no exception.  A mix of surfer music, funk, soul, classic rock and country are so well dispersed throughout the film that they work with the scenes they are in.  The awkwardness of John Travolta and Uma Thurman at dinner is made perfect with Link Wray's Rumble being played in the background.  Or the opening with Dick Dale & His Del-Tones playing Misirlou is so powerful.  And there is no way anyone who has seen the film can ever listen to The Revels Comanche and not think of the scene in the basement of the pawnshop.

There are so many good scenes from this film, but I had to choose my favorite of Samuel Jackson doing Ezekiel 25:17.  Please note that there is a good deal of foul language and it is a violent scene if you have not seen it before or just a warning if you are offended.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A to Z Challenge - O is for One of the Last Great Movies Before The Heaven's Gate Incident

Continuing the A to Z Challenge with letter O for the Best Picture winner of 1980, Ordinary People.  Nominated for six Academy Awards and winner of four including Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor, is one of the best films ever made.  As it compares to Raging Bull, I will comment further down in the blog about that.  And also will explain today's title.

The film is a very sad one dealing with parents losing a child, the other sibling attempting suicide for survivor's guilt, and how the family has to deal with all of this.  Staring Mary Tyler Moore in a strong dramatic role that was a far leap from her bubbly television characters from the 60's and 70's which earned her only Oscar nomination.  Also staring Donald Sutherland, Timothy Hutton, who won Best Supporting Actor and beat out fellow cast member Judd Hirsch.

The movie is about trying to come to terms with tragedy and how it can break up family and relationships with each person dealing with grief in their own ways. Timothy Hutton plays a young man who survives a boating accident where his older brother doesn't.  Struck by grief of survivors guilt and from coldness from his mother who seems to love the older child more, he attempts suicide.  The film starts with him going back to school and seeing a psychiatrist played by Judd Hirsch.  Donald Sutherland is trying to keep the family together and is sympathetic to his son's grief, eventually loses patience with Mary Tyler Moore who is trying to get things back to normal.

Very well acted and a strong and powerful film that is done perfectly.  Not that I don't respect and realize how great of a movie this is, I am aggravated that it had to come out the same year as Raging Bull!  Raging Bull is one of the greatest movies ever made, a classic, the most amazing fight scenes, great acting, directing, another perfect movie.  If it came out a year later or a year earlier it would have won Best Picture.  I aggravate over things like this, and consequently I don't sleep well at night either, because it figures that two of the best films at the end of this era had to come out at the same time.

Anyway, this is a great film and even though it was the Best Picture of 1980, it is a 1970's style of drama and should not be confused with a lot of the junk that came out later in the decade.

The reason why I call it the end of an era is that Heaven's Gate is considered the end of the time where the director could do whatever they want and the studio let it happen.  Eventually you will get a film that runs over budget with elaborate sets, overruns, endless retakes and the studio heads put a stop to it.  They had also begun to get a taste of the blockbuster and cross promotion and realized that this is better than making an epic western about cattle barons going to war with cattle thieves in 1890's Wyoming.  As a result you started to see less movies like Ordinary People or Raging Bull being made and more movies like Ghostbusters, E.T., and Back to the Future.  This is why the 1980's was a dark time for Hollywood and there are very few good movies from that decade.

By the way, Heaven's Gate is a great movie and you should watch the uncut three and a half hour version.  And don't forget Ordinary People, see that too.  And add Raging Bull if you haven't already, another classic.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A to Z Challenge - N is for News is Just Not The Way it Used to Be

For the A to Z Challenge today, letter N is the great movie Network.  Made in 1976, this film predicted the future unfortunately, and is relevant over forty years later.  Nominated for eleven Academy Awards and winner of four including Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress and Best Actor awarded posthumously to Peter Finch in a well deserved role as Howard Beale. There have been criticisms that Peter Finch won the award out of sympathy.   Nothing could be further than the truth.  Peter Finch was a respected actor but this was the performance of a lifetime.

The film has an all star cast of great actors and actresses including William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty in one of his finest acting roles.  Surprising to many, this movie is not based on real life events, although watching it now you are surprised on how well Paddy Chayefsky predicted the future.  Howard Beale upon finding out that he will be fired as a newscaster announces on the air that he will commit suicide on live television.  He is fired but is allowed to come back to apologize, but goes off on a mad rant about how bad society is.  The network management decides to leave Howard on the air due to his increased ratings and allows him to slip further into madness.  They also invent shows that at the time seemed crazy, but now might even be considered prime time television.  All in the name of ratings, anything goes.

This movie did not win Best Picture and it was robbed.  This isn't an opinion, it is a fact.  No way you can say Rocky was a better picture than Network.  Yes, Rocky was a feel good movie and the country embraced the underdog and felt good about him.  America was finishing up with the Nixon resignation, the end of the Vietnam War and the country's bicentennial, so I can understand why they choose Rocky for Best Picture, but they were wrong.  This was the best film of the year.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A to Z Challenge - M is for Maybe the Senate is Corrupt?

A to Z Challenge of Academy Award Best Picture nominees and winners at the half-way point with letter M and the quintessential Frank Capra classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Staring James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains, you can't get more American than this film.  Besides being considered one of the best films ever made, it was part of the epic 1939 ten, but more on that later.

The film starts with the need to replace a US Senator in a western state.  After a fight between those who want the corrupt candidate and those who want the muckraker, Jefferson Smith played by James Stewart, is chosen who is a boy scout type leader.  And as you can guess he is out of his element in Washington DC and is considered a bumpkin.  The senior senator played by Claude Rains is corrupt and starts to manipulate Jefferson Smith and tries to have him thrown out of the senate.  This leads up to an epic filibuster with James Stewart going on for twenty four hours and collapsing in the end.  It's one of those well known scenes in Hollywood history.

Then again, maybe I'm too much of a movie buff.  A few months back I was talking with a few project managers.  A meeting was coming up where we had to make a decision on purchasing new equipment for an upgrade.  Many of the people on the committee were not "tech savvy" to be polite about it.  There was a risk of a certain brand of equipment that could be chosen that would be too small for our organization and would end up being a waste of money.  But there were people who would be making the decision based on that they thought the equipment was cute.

I told the main project manager and another one sitting near by that I will go into the meeting like Jimmy Stewart with telegraphs in my hands and filibuster like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  I got back blank looks.  I repeated with you know, the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?  Both had never seen it, one at least admitted that they had heard of it, the other person had no idea.  I didn't get too frantic.  No, wait, I did.

I explained that this is one of the most iconic movies ever made, an American classic and it was one of the ten nominated in 1939.  The greatest year in Academy Award history.  Again blank stares.  I gave up at this point.  On a side note, I didn't have to talk until I collapsed and the right equipment was chosen upon.

Getting back to 1939, film historians have mentioned that this was a year where the ten films nominated for Best Picture were all worthy of winning the Oscar. Think about that.  There are years where none of the films are worthy, or a few of them could have won.  Besides Mr. Smith Goes To Washington was Gone with the Wind, which won, Dark Victory, Goodby, Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, and Wuthering Heights.  All of them are incredible films.

So a movie that almost eighty years later still rings true, that is a classic and a movie worth seeing.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A to Z Challenge - L is for Long Way Home Film Adaption

Today's post for the A to Z challenge was one that I changed my mind on.  At first I was going to write about Lost Horizon, the classic Frank Capra film.  But at the last second I decided to change my post on L to Lion, most recently nominated for Best Picture in the 2016 Oscars.  My main goal for the A to Z Challenge is to talk about movies that haven't been watched in a long time, or may not be watched enough.  This is why I choose Lion.

When I went to see it a few months ago I will admit that I had no idea what it was about.  Sometimes that works better with a film, you have no expectations and can be watched with an open mind.  All I knew was that it was nominated for Best Picture which meant I had to see it.  This turned out to be a great decision on my part.

The movie is based on a true story about a young boy living in Western India in the 1980's who falls asleep on an empty train one night.  When he wakes up the train is traveling and he can't get off.  A few days later he is in Eastern India lost, confused and speaking a different language.  Eventually he ends up in an orphanage and is adopted by an Australian couple who raise him in Tasmania.

Twenty years later his memory is triggered and realizes that he doesn't know where he is from and what has happened to his family.  Since this was the time when Google Earth came online, he attempts to trace back the train ride to find his hometown.  He has a memory of a water tower at the train station, but not much more than that.

This movie is so well acted by Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar who plays Saroo as a child in his first movie debut is amazing.  This kid is so talented and carries the first half of the movie, which to let you know that is it in subtitles since people are speaking Hindi or Bengali.  Don't make me pull back out my subtitles rant from a few days ago, get over it.

This film did move me, partially because it does have adoption as a story line, but because it is such a well done movie.  Really good.  In fact I've seen four of the nine films nominated, including the Best Picture winner, and this is the best of all of them.  If life was fair this would have won Best Picture, but it doesn't always work out that way, sometimes people overlook quality.

Please see this movie.  It is such a heartwarming film, like a Frank Capra classic, but this is real life and that sometimes is more interesting that fiction.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A to Z Challenge - K is for Kids Would Always Go With the Mother in a Divorce........

Continuing to letter K of the A to Z Challenge and the movie for today is the 1979 Best Picture Kramer vs. Kramer.  Nominated for nine Oscars and winner of five including Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress with Meryl Streep competing with Jane Alexander.  Staring Dustin Hoffman who won his first Best Actor Oscar.

The film is about divorce.  Dustin Hoffman is married to Meryl Streep who walks out on him and their son.  The rest of the film is him learning to be a single parent and the ups and downs that happens.  Eventually Meryl Streep comes back after a year and wants custody of their son.  This ensues into a nasty battle with lawyers and as expected, they award custody to the mother since it was assumed that a child is best raised by the mother.

Well acted and filmed, it comes at the end of the great decade of the 1970's that produced some of the finest films ever made.  There are arguments that this may have not been the best picture, personally I felt that Apocalypse Now was much better and was ignored since The Deer Hunter won the year before.  Still a good movie and the reason for blogging about it is the change it helped make in society.

Thankfully my parents never got divorced and I have never been through one either, so I have no personal reference.  But I do remember when I was a kid that if there was a divorce, the mother would take custody of the children.  Even though this was the norm, there were many times where the children would be better off with the father.  But since it was always assumed that the child is best raised by the mother, the courts would rule this way.

This movie helped change people's minds.  Granted they do make the situation rather black and white and not gray as it probably is in circumstances like this. But the old belief that only the mother would get custody changed and more and more fathers took custody of children after divorce.  Like Gentleman's Agreement, this is a film that made a change to society and how we view it.  For that it is an important movie to remember and watch.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A to Z Challenge - J is for Jason Robards 2nd in a row Supporting Actor Oscar

Yep, one of only a few people to win the same Oscar back to back.  Fresh off his Best Supporting Actor award for All The President's Men, Jason Robards wins for playing Dashiell Hammett in Julia, which is the A to Z Challenge for letter J.  The film was nominated for eleven Oscars, winning two others for Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay.

The story is about Lillian Hellman and her lifelong friendship with Julia.  Most of the film centers around Julia working to fight the Nazi regime in Germany and Lillian attempting to help smuggle money into Germany to help Julia and the freedom fighters.  It includes an all star cast of great actors and actresses, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Maximilian Schell, Hal Holbrook, and Meryl Streep.

While there has been controversy about how much truth was in this story by Lillian Hellman, the film is very well acted and incredibly stylish.  This movie comes at the tail end of a great run of Hollywood changing with the times and producing some really good dramas.  But the era of the blockbuster was now officially upon Hollywood with Star Wars also receiving a Best Picture nomination, movies like this pretty much started to disappear over the next three to four years.

One other thing I want to comment on.  I'm as political as the next person, well probably more, and every now and then I throw politically commentary in my blogs.  And yes, I most likely disagree politically with probably the entire cast of this movie.  But at some point you need to separate art from politics and realize that you may disagree with an opinion an actor or actress has and recognize that they are talented.  This is a great movie, watch it sometime.  You will enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A to Z Challenge - I is for In the Deep South in the 1960's

Today's installment for the A to Z challenge is the Academy Award wining best picture of 1967 In The Heat of the Night.  Nominated for seven awards and winning five including Rod Steiger for Best Actor, this is one of the best movies of the decade and it winning Best Picture changed the film industry, more on that later.

The film stars a great cast along with Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier, Lee Grant, and the very underrated but so talented Warren Oates.  It is a simple murder investigation with a twist, it's in a small southern town in the 1960's that is heavily segregated and the main investigator a black police officer from Philadelphia.  The acting is magnificent and is full of suspenseful drama.

But it is the social overtones that define this movie.  Rod Steiger is a police chief who is caught between doing things the old way and pleasing the establishment and having to accept that Sidney Poitier's character knows more than him and is the only way for him to solve this case.  This delicate balance he attempts is why he won Best Actor.  And Sidney Poitier is great as usual.

The other significant reason why I choose this film to comment on is the doorway it opened to future Best Picture winners of the next decade.  This ended the era of musicals and epics winning Best Picture and started the era of the gritty drama or movies that didn't always have a happy ended.  In essence, the Hayes code was over.  From this point on, with rare exception, this was the type of film to be nominated and win Best Picture.

Personally I think it was the best thing to happen.  The quality of movies from this era of the late 1960's and early 1970's are some of the finest to be made.  The only other era that could compare and you could claim was better would be the mid to late 1930's and early 1940's.  And of course the clip for today has to be the great "They call me Mr. Tibbs" scene.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A to Z Challenge - H is for Hadleyville

Continuing the A to Z challenge for letter H is the classic western High Noon. Nominated for seven Oscars, winner of four including Best Actor for Gary Cooper. It is one of the greatest westerns of all time, as well as one of the best movies made.

Gary Cooper plays Marshall Will Kane who has just married and planning on retiring.  On the day he is leaving Hadleyville is the same day that a former criminal he put away, Frank Miller, is arriving with his gang to get revenge. Marshall Kane has to decide does he leave town before they arrive or stay and fight them.  Unable to get anyone in town to support him, his decision becomes more difficult.

Beside using the classic western style of clothing, cinematography, and the old showndown of gun fighters, this film is so much more.  It is a story of right and wrong and making the decision that based on principle.  That the individual is more important that the collective.  And that you have to be willing to stand up and be brave when you are terrified and want to quit.

This is a great American movie that is enjoyable to watch over and over again.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A to Z Challenge - G is for Greatest Film Ever Made (according to Orson Welles)

When I decided on my theme, before I came up with any other film, the first one I knew that I would do would be Grand Illusion for the letter G.  It is one of the greatest films ever made, more on that later. This is even one of the films I made my wife watch with me.  That's how good it is.  My wife is not a movie fan and doesn't have patience to sit through an entire movie if she doesn't enjoy it.  I will trudge through to the end of a movie, but not the wife.

In order to explain on how I got her to watch this classic I need to step back in time a number of years earlier when we discussing The Bicycle Thieves.  She had been in a Facebook group where people were talking about classic films and most likely foreign classic films.

Wife: Have you ever heard of a movie called The Bicycle Thieves?
Me: Yes, it is a classic by De Sica
Wife: What's it about?
Me: It takes place in post war Italy about a man gets his bicycle stolen.
Wife: And that's the movie?
Me: Well that and him looking for the bicycle.
Wife: And that's the film?
Me: Yes.
Wife: And it's one of the best films ever made?
Me: Yes.
Wife: About a man looking for a stolen bicycle.
Me: Yes.
Wife: Does he find the bicycle?
Me: I can't ruin the ending for you.  Why don't we rent it.

After she watched it with me she turned to me and said that it was one of the best movies she's ever seen.  A few years ago on the 75th anniversary of Grand Illusion it was being re-released with a restored print.  I found out when it was going to be in town and told her that we have to go see this movie.

Me: Grand Illusion is coming back to the theater, we have to go see it.  It is one of the greatest movies ever made.
Wife: What is it about?
Me: French soldiers trying to escape from a WWI German prison camp.
Wife: And that's the entire movie?
Me: Pretty much?
Wife: Just a movie about soldiers trying to escape from prison?
Me: Yes.
Wife: And it's one of the greatest movies ever made?
Me: Yes.  You remember our discussion about The Bicycle Thieves?
Wife: Fine, when it playing.

We met up with some friends of ours who also appreciate classic movies and watched it in the theater. By the end of the film, and those of you who are familiar with the last scene will know the tension. she grabbed my arm and was so caught up in the film when she saw the German patrol in the forest and was scared that they were going to get caught.

Now my wife is a believer like me and will tell people that Grand Illusion is one of the best films ever made, along with The Bicycle Thieves, and goes through the standard Abbott and Costello routine of trying to explain these movies to people.

How good is this movie?  Orson Welles once said on the Dick Cavett Show, "If I had to save only one film in the world it would be Grand Illusion."  Considering he made probably the best film ever made, this carries a lot of weight (no pun intended).  And it was the first foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture.

Now that may not seem like a big deal if you look at it from the modern film era.  You have to realize that back then foreign language films did not get recognition, and most of the time for good reason. They were not good movies.  There were a few good films, but they weren't considered as good as American films.  There was no award for foreign language films.  Ten years later the academy started to acknowledge foreign films and almost twenty years after this film was made did a competitive category get created for foreign language movies.  For a foreign language film in 1938 to be recognized for Best Picture was an incredible honor. And this movie is worth that honor.

Staring the great French actor Jean Gabin and other well know foreign actors including Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Julien Carette, and the great Erich von Stroheim.  The film centers around a group of French POW's and other foreign soldiers in a German WWI prison camp.  Besides their attempts to escape and deal with everyday life, there is the drama of the characters interacting with one another, the change in social classes as the world is changing, and the fact that even though you are at war with another nation, we are all human beings with feelings and emotions.

Directed by Jean Renoir, this movie is a classic, although that can be said about almost all of the films he directed.  In fact it was so controversial that the Nazi's attempted to destroy all available prints. The film was considered lost until the late 1950's when copies were found and restored.  We are all lucky to be able to have such a great film survive.

One last note that will be a bit of a rant towards people who don't watch films that have subtitles.  Get over it!  It won't kill you to read while watching a movie.  You will have enough time to read the subtitles and after a few minutes you won't notice it.  And when you think back about a scene later on, you won't remember the subtitles, your brain will remember the actor speaking in English.

Please see this movie.  Or watch it again when you can.  It is really that good.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A to Z Challenge - F is for Follow That Train

Continuing the A to Z challenge of Academy Awarding winning and nominated films for day six is The French Connection.  An amazing cops and robbers film that won Best Picture and a bunch of others including Actor, Director, Editing and Adapted Screenplay.  And it was the first rated R film to win Best Picture seeing how they had just created the rating system a few years earlier.

This film is a typical classic great drama of the 1970's.  A gritty film with violence and police officers who will do whatever it takes even if they are wrong and don't always succeed.  Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider are two NYPD detectives who find out about a major heroin shipment coming to the US. They end up having to deal with Fernando Rey the smuggler who is always a step ahead of them.

Beside this being one of the greatest action/adventure films made, this movie is representative of the time and the style of movie making that was becoming the norm in Hollywood.  In fact 1971 was an interesting year for the Best Picture category.  It had movies that represented the past, the present and the future.

Fiddler on the Roof was a throwback to all the great musicals that were nominated and won during the 1950's and 1960's.  Nicholas and Alexandra was a throwback to the great epics from the 1950's and 1960's.  A Clockwork Orange and The French Connection were early 1970 style movies.  And The Last Picture Show was years ahead of its time, it is what we now consider an independent film.

That is why this year was a major focal point for Hollywood.  Years earlier the code was abandoned. Films started to go to extremes with language, sex and violence because they could.  But things settled and really good movies started to show up.  This is the point where you can start to see that.  It's a great movie to watch to see the character development, the great acting and the crazy action.  Or just watch the clip below and see the car chase which is the scene everyone always talks about.

The first time I made my wife watch this scene I told her this is how I drive to work in the morning before she had seen it.  Well, I still find it funny.  Interesting trivia, the car crash at about 2:41 in the clip was a real car accident.  Someone in the neighborhood didn't get the notice or ignored it and crashed into the car.  It looked great and since the car could still drive, they kept it in the movie.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A to Z Challenge - E is for Even Horror Movies Can Get Nominated for Best Picture

Day 5 of the A to Z challenge and the film for letter E is The Exorcist.  Considered one of the scariest movies of all time, it was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture.  There are some genres that don't get recognition by the Academy, and for most of the time they are right to ignore them.  But this was one that couldn't be ignored.

Based on the terrifying novel by William Peter Blatty, this film won two Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay.  From my own personal experience of reading the book and seeing the film, I can tell you that both are frighting.  Please note that if you are offended by profanity, violence and attacks against religion, you might have a hard time watching this film.  I still recommend that you should watch this movie at least once.

Horror is one of those subjects that is very subjective, it really depends on the individual and what are their fears.  What can be terrifying to one person, another may laugh at.  Add to that most horror films were made as B films, meaning they didn't have good stories or acting, the studios would make them mainly to financially break even or give someone starting in the industry a place to cut their teeth.

This changed at the end of the code with Night of the Living Dead.  Back in the 1920's there were a number of very good horror films, many from foreign nations which were not known for making good movies back then.  By the mid 1930's horror was changed to monster movies or evil scientists as the villains, and would have a happy ending.  By the 1960's, most horror films were just suspense movies that were not very good.  There is the exception of Hammer movies from England, but those didn't get good until the late 1960's.

The reason why I bring up Night of the Living Dead is because it revolutionized the horror genre.  If it wasn't for that movie, you would never get The Exorcist, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or countless other horror films.  Night of the Living Dead made horror films scary again.  And it didn't have to have the happy ending.

This film is visually scary and psychologically frightening as well.  Instead of jumping right in with the horror, it builds slowly.  It progresses and gets worse and worse until finally it is terrifying.  Great acting with Ellen Burstyn and Max Von Sydow and even Lee J. Cobb who I always forget that he's in this movie. Every time I watch it and see him I'm surprised and then remember that this was one of his last movies.

So while it may not necessarily end up on lists as one of the greatest movies ever made, it is one of the best horror films and getting nominated for Best Picture is an achievement in itself.