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Archive for the ‘Best Picture’ Category

The 62nd Academy Awards: My Verdict (Now with mini reviews of Glory and Do the Right Thing)

62nd_Academy_AwardsOh, Academy members of 1989, what were you thinking? I shake my head at you. You got so much right, and yet you got the most basic thing – Best Picture nominees – wrong.

The 1989 Oscars are the first ones I remember, and until I started doing this project, I knew which five movies had been nominated for best picture: Born on the Fourth of July and My Left Foot I remembered for their enigmatic titles; I watched Driving Miss Daisy and Glory (with certain parts fast-forwarded) with my family all the time; and although I didn’t remember the title from my childhood, we had talked about how much better Do the Right Thing was than Driving Miss Daisy in a film class, so I assumed it was the fifth nominee. I was completely confident in this. If I had been on Jeopardy, I would have bet all my money; if I had been on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, I would have told the host that is was my final answer before he asked.

But the Academy was so off that year that two of the best movies of 1989 weren’t even nominated. Trying to remove two nominees from the actual list isn’t easy; Field of Dreams can definitely go; I think it’s the weakest of the true nominees. As for the other one? Personally, I would leave Dead Poets Society there and take out Born on the Fourth of July, but that’s just because I didn’t particularly enjoy the latter. Seeing as how Oliver Stone won the Best Director category for Born on the Fourth of July, people who are better at film than I am might disagree with me. Anyway, this is the list of nominees as I personally think it should have been:

Dead Poets Society
Do the Right Thing
Driving Miss Daisy
Glory
My Left Foot

“What are these movies?” you ask. Why did Glory and Do the Right Thing deserve to be nominees? I will give you quick rundowns of these excellent movies and urge you to watch them yourselves, and then tell me if you agree with me that they should have been at the very least on the Best Picture nominees list.

gloryGlory is a movie based on the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Regiment, an all-black regiment fighting for the Union during the American Civil War. So we’re starting off with an amazing historical story, but let’s look at the cast. In perhaps his only serious role ever (I exaggerate, but not much), Matthew Broderick plays Colonel Robert Shaw, the man chosen to train and lead this new regiment. Denzel Washington gives an Oscar-winning performance as Private Silas Trip, a former runaway slave who is choosing to risk everything to fight against slavery. Add Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, and Andre Braugher, and you’ve got some serious acting ability in this movie in addition to the great story. The production design and costuming is spot-on, the cinematography is beautiful, and James Horner’s score is so great that he plagiarized himself twenty years later when he “wrote” the “original score” of Avatar (2009). It’s even still watched in middle school American history classrooms across the country as a way to help students understand the Civil War and race relations. It’s so good that my mother, who literally only let me see one movie that was rated PG-13 before I was 13 (Jurassic Park, for those who are wondering), had no problem with my dad’s watching Glory over and over, as long as he fast-forwarded the Battle of Antietam and muted the racist’s sergeant’s serious profanities. I have been watching this movie since I was seven years old, and I find that I still see new things every time I watch it. To me, that is the definition of any great work of art: something that is meaningful on different levels as you age and view it through new eyes.

dj_simsa_do_right_thing_640Do the Right Thing is also about race relations in America, but of the three race relations movies on my list, Do the Right Thing is the only one written and directed by an African-American and told from the perspective of an African-American. The story that writer/director Spike Lee is telling is a contemporary one, not one from history. It’s a simple premise: on a hot day in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, underlying tensions between community members surface and then explode, causing a riot with tragic circumstances. But it’s a comedy. And it works. Everything about it is different. The movie is filmed from all different angles, giving an off-kilter feeling at times. Sometimes the characters directly address the camera as if it were a documentary. Think The Office, but in this case, it’s groundbreaking. There are conversations that are edited in a way that make you feel that you are both of the characters at once. There isn’t a beautiful, sweeping score; the soundtrack is the music around the characters. (And since it’s the late 1980s, yes, there is a boom box.) So many little scraps of characters’ stories are told that you are able to see how the neighborhood keeps its balance until it suddenly doesn’t. The clothes are, again, 80s clothes, so they are bright and colorful, belying the dark tensions running underneath. I know I’m not doing very well at describing what makes this movie so great, but please watch it anyway. It blew my mind; nobody talks about stories like these (definitely not in 1989, and not very much more now), and nobody tells a story this way.

Now that I’ve made my case for which movies should have been nominated, which do I think should have actually won? This is where another question comes up: what makes a movie “the best” of any given year? If a historical movie gets everything right surrounding the event but has a shakier story, is that a good movie, or does it need a good story to hold up everything else? If you have a good story, good actors, good direction, can bad costuming or a horrid soundtrack keep that movie from being “the best”? Does something have to be inspiring to be the best? That’s a conversation that can go on forever. Like I said above, though, I think for something to be truly great, it has to give us something every time we experience it. It doesn’t have to be profound or life-changing; Muppet Christmas Carol, for example, can always make me laugh, so for me, that’s a great comedic movie, even though it has some issues (flying baby doll. Come on, Henson!). That’s where Field of Dreams fails, in my opinion; I have seen it many times, and it has good things about it, but it fails to register anymore. Does a great movie (or any work of art, for that matter) need to inspire? I would say yes, but what does that mean? Glory and Driving Miss Daisy, My Left Foot and Dead Poets Society and Field of Dreams are positive-inspirational movies. “Look at what we have done!” they say. “A black man and a white woman made friends in the South. We can, too! These young boys followed their dreams! We can, too!”  But Do the Right Thing and Born on the Fourth of July are a little bit more negatively inspirational. “Look at these horrible things in the world. Some of it may be in the past, but it’s still happening. We need to talk about this.” This negative, eye-opening approach can open conversations to lead to bettering the world we have instead of letting people believe that since something good has happened in the past, the negative thing is conquered. Because of this, I’m going to give my fake Oscar vote that has no weight behind it whatsoever to Do the Right Thing. It has a good story. It has excellent production values. If people watch it with an open mind, it can start a conversation that can lead to harder accomplished, but longer lasting, real changes for the better.

So how do I rank the nominees?

Real Oscar Nominees:
5. Field of Dreams
4. Born on the Fourth of July
3. Dead Poets Society
2. My Left Foot
1. Driving Miss Daisy

The Better List:
5. Dead Poets Society
4. My Left Foot
3. Driving Miss Daisy
2. Glory
1. Do the Right Thing

Driving Miss Daisy only barely edges out My Left Foot, but because I have never in my entire life been able to get over the detail put into the production design, I have to go with Driving Miss Daisy.

PS  The only other big beef I really had with the Academy decisions was that Glory wasn’t even nominated for best soundtrack.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Driving Miss DaisyDirected by Bruce Beresford

It has taken me forever to finally get my thoughts about Driving Miss Daisy written down. It’s partly because my feelings about it are complex, but it’s also because I have a new boyfriend, and while I like to write about movies, there are many things that are more enjoyable that I can do with my boyfriend, so this has been put on the back burner for a bit. Once I get in the rhythm of having a boyfriend again, posts should start appearing with more regularity. So without further ado, I present my thoughts on Driving Miss Daisy:

As is oddly common with so many of these movies from 1989, Driving Miss Daisy is a movie I grew up watching. Again and again and again and again. Yet somehow, I haven’t ever gotten tired of it. In fact, immediately after I finished watching Deliverance and was traumatized by it and wanted to get it out of my head, I turned on Driving Miss Daisy. It calmed me down and got the scary, icky feeling to go away. It reminded me that there is good in this world.

So what’s the story?  After 72-year-old Miss Daisy Worthen crashes yet another car, her son Boolie decides that she needs a chauffeur. Against her wishes, Boolie hires Hoke Colburn for the job. Although Miss Daisy refuses to even acknowledge that Hoke’s existence at first, their relationship slowly becomes one of mutual admiration and friendship, something amazingly unusual between and white woman and a black man in pre-Civil Rights era Georgia.

The Good: Because I have a hard time explaining everything else, I’m going to start with the screenplay. It’s easy. The screenplay is wonderful. The author, Alfred Uhry, adapted his own Pulitzer-prize winning play for the screen. In my opinion, the best way to get a good movie from another medium is to have the author of the original medium write the screenplay. They know why they wrote the play/book/short story and can put that motivation and intention into the screenplay. They are able to take out the less important things and expose the important core more easily than some random screenplay writer. Anyway, back to the screenplay – it’s delightful. The speech patterns and expressions of the American South are fun, and in this case, you get to hear ways of talking from the black people and the white as Hoke and Daisy become close and share so much of their lives.

Here is where I come to the tricky part that I’m not sure how to explain. To show the passage of time in a movie that spans 25 years, everything had to come together perfectly–and everything did. The film elements do double duty; they show things about the characters, like social class and funny characteristics, but they also have to show the passage of time. Instead of making one long paragraph explaining how all the film elements came together to really show that the relationship took time to grow from nothing to tolerance to true friendship, I’ll write about each one separately to highlight how exactly it did its job.  

Acting: Jessica Tandy as Daisy and Morgan Freeman as Hoke both give amazing performances. Daisy, who is described as “too much there,” is intelligence, fierce and iron-willed, unyielding in her ideas of standards. Tandy shows how Daisy softens as she ages, realizing in her old age that maybe some of her ideals weren’t so good after all.  Freeman plays Hoke as a man who is too proud to take money for nothing, a man who knows his own worth but isn’t pushy about it. I love the habit that Hoke has of working his mouth in a certain way; it’s something I’ve always respected about Freeman’s performance. As he ages, Hoke realizes that he and Daisy are on a much more equal footing, and he acts accordingly. Dan Akroyd is excellent as Daisy’s only child, the long-suffering Boolie. Although he respects his mother, he is often impatient with her stubborn ways. He mellows, though, especially toward the end when he realizes that he misses his mother’s funny ways. Boolie’s wife, Florine, is played by Patti LuPone. Florine tries hard to be kind to her impossible mother-in-law at the start of the movie, but eventually realizes that no matter what how hard she tries, Daisy is never going to accept her. Florine remains high-strung her entire life; some people just don’t change. LuPone shows this to perfection.

Set Decoration: As happens in life, the things surrounding the characters change. Since the movie is about driving, the cars are an obvious example of this. The car that Miss Daisy crashes, the catalyst for the events of the movie, is a brand-new 1948 Hudson. Her car is replaced by another exactly the same, but whenever Boolie decides it’s time for his mother to have a new car, every five years or so, the styles change. The car from the fifties is longer and sleeker than the 1948 Hudson, and the cars continue to get more aerodynamic as time goes on. The photography occasionally highlights the registration tag, which changes year to year as does the registration on cars in real life. Daisy often calls Boolie, and since Boolie’s wife, Florine, is fashion-forward, her telephones are, too. They have a standard black dial phone in the 1940s, but the phone Boolie uses in the 1970s is harvest gold. It’s a teeny detail, but it’s evidence of how hard the crew worked to make everything perfectly fit the time. Boolie’s factory is another place where we can see the passage of time. At the beginning, it’s full of factory workers manually running the machines. By the end, the factory has many more machines with fewer people; these people are keeping an eye on the machines rather than physically running them. Even the songs used keep the passage of time in mind. The songs are always accurate for the year. Daisy sings songs that were written before the turn of the century, ones that a woman of her age would have learned as a child. When Florine throws her <GASP> Christmas party, one of her records is “Santa Baby.” Boolie is looking skeptically at it, as it’s the first year it came out. I suppose the music isn’t usually set decoration, but in this case, where it’s used to set the year and not just the feeling of a scene, I think it fits.

Makeup/Hair: Every single makeup artist who needs to age people for a movie needs to take note of the artistry of Driving Miss Daisy. Growing up watching  this movie may be why I am so impatient of poorly-done aging. (I’m looking at you, Giant!). All of the actors get more wrinkly as the age, even Miss Daisy, who is so old to begin with. She becomes skinnier the way that some old people do as they age. Boolie gets chubbier and balder with the passage of time. Hoke looked like an old man to begin with, but the makeup (along with Freeman’s old man walk) manages to age him, too, with the wrinkles on his forehead becoming deeper and more pronounced. His hair  slowly goes from grey to white. Flourine gets some wrinkles, but she also looks incredibly preserved, leading the viewer to wonder if maybe Florine got some work done. Her hairstyles change with the times perfectly. (Also, her makeup is so well-done that I didn’t even recognize Patti LuPone, even after I realized that she was in the movie.)  Near the end of the movie, Hoke’s granddaughter drops him off at the Worthen home. She has an Afro. Again, a tiny little detail is snuck into the movie to show how much time has passed and how the world has changed.

Costumes: The costuming was so crucial for this movie. If the clothes hadn’t been right, no one would have believed that 25 years had passed throughout the movie. Daisy’s clothes don’t change much, of course, because she’s an older woman and is happy in the clothes she has. My great-grandmother was the same way; when I was in my 20s, she was wearing the same clothes I remembered from my  childhood. Hoke wears a uniform, so his clothes don’t really change. But Boolie’s clothes – oh, they change. The first time we see him, his suit pants are high-waisted and his tie is very wide. Throughout the movie, the pants’ waists get lower, the ties get skinnier, and the colors of the suits vary as the styles change. He wears a hat at the beginning, but has given up his hats by the end of the movie. He starts wearing glasses as he gets older. While Florine is always wearing year-appropriate fashions, she’s not in the movie nearly as much as Boolie is. I can imagine her picking his clothes for him so that he is always stylish, and I can see him wearing whatever she tells him to because it’s just not  worth the fight.

The Bad: The score itself  isn’t bad; I once had a film teacher say it was “nice,” and you “can tell it’s nice, because it has lots of clarinet in it. Clarinets are nice instruments.” The themes are fun and positive. The thing that bothers me is that it’s always there. It’s like the filmmakers just couldn’t stand the silence. I realize that was how film music worked at the time, but I’m glad that’s not the fashion anymore.

The Ugly: It’s too nice of a movie to have anything ugly in it per se, but there is ugly beneath the surface. I just accepted the story as it was presented in the movie when I was young, but now I feel kind of uncomfortable watching it. There’s almost an undertone of “Isn’t the white lady wonderful because she made friends with a black man?” The only thing that makes me okay with watching the movie is that Alfred Urhy based his play/screenplay on the relationship of his white southern grandmother and her black chauffeur. I guess I would like to see the story from both sides: how did Hoke feel about the relationship? How did the growth of this friendship change or not change his life? Part of me wants to say it was just the South in the 1940s-1970s and to accept what’s there, but the rest of me wants to point out that Hoke has a life outside of being Daisy’s driver, and we don’t get to see any of that. It’s a two-sided story that only gets told from one point of view.  

Oscars Won: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Jessica Tandy); best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium; best makeup.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best actor in a leading role (Morgan Freeman); best actor in a supporting role (Dan Aykroyd); best art direction-set direction; best costume design; best film editing.

The 10th Academy Awards: My Verdict

luise rainer

Luise Rainer with her statuette for Best Actress.

There are pluses and minuses to watching the all best picture nominees for a given year when there are ten nominees that year. It gives you a chance to see more of the Oscar-nominated elements, especially (usually) great performances. You get a better idea of what movies were like at the time, and you also get a bigger historical view of the year as a whole. But ten movies take a lot of time to watch, and sometimes you get tired of watching movies from that year, so that when you  are done watching all those movies, you are glad to be able to move away from that year. So yes, while I enjoyed most of the movies from 1937, I’m ready to move on, especially since, while there were one or two egregious wrongs in the awards presented that year, I agreed with most of them.

What were the worst wrongs? The very worst in my eyes was Spencer Tracy’s win for best actor. Even though I didn’t see all five of the nominated performances (which I can’t quite figure out, because again, ten movies), both Frederic March and Paul Muni gave better performances in their nominated roles (as Norman Maine and Emile Zola, respectively) that Tracy did. Even Muni’s un-nominated role in The Good Earth was better than Tracy’s in Captain Courageous. I don’t quite understand what happened there.

A smaller gripe is that Andrea Leeds’ performance in Stage Door deserved the supporting actress award much more than Alice Brady’s in In Old Chicago. It was a harder, more nuanced role, and her performance brought me to tears. While many actresses could have played Brady’s role well, I can’t think of another actress that could have taken Leeds’ place.

1937 was the year that Walt Disney’s groundbreaking first animated feature film was released: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It was nominated for one award (best original score), but it was otherwise not recognized in any way until the 11th Academy Awards. I can’t figure that one out. My best guess is that no one realized how much it would change film forever. It was given its due recognition eventually, but later than it should have.

I also don’t agree with the Academy’s decision for best picture of 1937. The Life of Emile Zola is a great movie; I’m not arguing with that. But both A Star is Born and The Good Earth are better than Emile Zola, even with The Good Earth’s not quite so ideal ending and uncomfortably racist casting. I will admit that I am not a movie professional, but Emile Zola had some minor flaws, and The Good Earth was just fantastic. So while most of the nominated movies were good, I don’t ultimately agree with the final choice.

So how do I rank the nominees?

10. In Old Chicago
9. Lost Horizon
8. One Hundred Men and a Girl
7. The Awful Truth
6. Captains Courageous
5. Stage Door
4. The Life of Emile Zola
3. Dead End
2. A Star is Born
1. The Good Earth

Join me next week for the most family-friendly Oscar nominees since the 1950s. Bonus: It’s also the first Academy Awards I remember watching!

Bonus trivia: With her win for best actress in The Good Earth, Luise Rainer became the first person to win both two acting Oscars and two back-to-back acting Oscars.

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The_Life_of_Emile_Zola_posterDirected by William Dieterle

Alfred Dreyfus=Dreyfus Affair=Emile Zola=J’acusse. Alfred Dreyfus was Jewish and this whole story has nothing to do with Richard Dreyfuss. This is what I remember from the European history class that I took in high school. I could not have told you what the Dreyfus Affair was about, just that it had happened. I knew Zola was an author who championed the lower and middle classes, but even though I’m a librarian and librarians are supposed to have read every book ever, I have never read anything by him. That is everything I knew about Emile Zola before I watched this movie. Yes, I realize it’s a biopic and therefore full of half-truths or stuff made up to make it more interesting, but I will never forget the intricacies of the Dreyfus Affair or the booming character of Emile Zola.

So what’s the story? The young writer Emile Zola has a penchant for getting into trouble.He writes about prostitutes, oppressed coal miners, and the ineptness of the French army. He loses jobs and gets called into the office of the Censor of Paris more than once on account of his controversial books, but he refuses to stop exposing the uncomfortable truths of French society. However, Zola eventually stops writing. His wealth insulates him from the poverty around him. The story stops following Zola at this point, and switches to the story of Alfred Dreyfus. The higher-ups of the French army discover that someone has been passing secret military information to the Germans. They decide to pin the blame on Alfred Dreyfus, mostly because he’s Jewish. Dreyfus proclaims his innocence, but he is convicted and exiled anyway. Evidence is later found that Dreyfus is not the traitor, but the army doesn’t want to admit their mistake and tries to cover up what they have found. At this point, Anatole French, one of Zola’s writer friends, urges Zola to remember his commitment to social justice and intercede on Dreyfus’s account. Zola is reluctant, but eventually writes what would become his most famous and influential piece: J’accuse.

The Good: Emile Zola was quite the character. It would have been easy to overplay him, to ham it up and turn him into a caricature of the man. Paul Muni, however, plays him with more subtlety. His optimism, his despair, his desire to stand up for the underdog, his self-satisfaction in later life, are all brought out brilliantly by Muni. Muni’s delivery of Zola’s last speech in court was so amazing that it brought me to tears. It’s a truly great example of acting.

Paul Muni is not the only great actor in this film. Joseph Schildkraut plays Alfred Dreyfus to perfection, bewildered as to why his beloved France would do this to him, despairing as he realizes that nothing he can do will convince the army that he’s innocent, joyful when he’s released and reinstated into the army. Gale Sondergaard is Dreyfus’s stalwart wife, determined to do everything in her power to reveal the truth and exonerate her husband. Zola’s defense attorney, played by Donald Crisp (not Claude Rains, even though he looks like Claude Rains here), doesn’t have a large role in the movie, but Crisp does such a good job expressing his exasperation with the court that blocks him at every turn. The brave Colonel Georges Piquart, the only officer to stand up for the truth, was very well portrayed by Henry O’Neill. I love a well-cast movie.

The screenplay was very good. The writers managed to be inspiring without crossing the line into cheesiness, there was enough humor to balance out the drama, and I loved the foreshadowing of the (paraphrased) line that if you get too fat, you can’t see past your own stomach. I assume some of Zola’s words were his own, especially his dramatic last speech, but it’s all woven seamlessly together.

The clothing and makeup were well done. The clothing styles changed as the years passed, giving a hint to how much time had gone by. The makeup captured the real-life people excellently. The movie Dreyfus matches photographs of the real Dreyfus so well it’s almost uncanny. The makeup done to age the actors was also good.  I don’t know what happened in the years between 1937 and 1956 when Giant was made, but makeup artists in the 1930s were wonderful at using makeup to make actors look decades older.

The Bad: The actual words that were spoken were good, but the screenplay was rather disjointed. The story started with Zola’s life, and then completely cut Zola out while it explored the Dreyfus affair. Zola came back eventually, but it just felt odd to change perspectives like that.

It was very hard to tell the many mustachioed army officers apart. I know the mustaches were the fashion of the time, and since they were officers, it makes sense that they were in uniform, but I was never exactly sure who was who. Dreyfus wore glasses and Colonel Piquart had a longer face, which helped, but other than that, I could not tell you which officer was which. It got very confusing.

The Ugly: Although there were some slight problems with The Life of Emile Zola, there was nothing so bad that it fell into the ugly category.

Oscars Won: Best picture; best actor in a supporting role (Joseph Schildkraut); best writing, screenplay.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best actor (Paul Muni); best director; best writing, original story; best art direction; best sound, recording; best assistant director; best music, score.

Mind-boggling Fact: The Dreyfus Affair wasn’t completely resolved until 1906, only 31 years before The Life of Emile Zola was made; Alfred Dreyfus himself died in 1935. That means that the Dreyfus Affair was as close in time to the filmmakers as 1986 is to us. 1986 is not that long ago. Crazy, right?

The Deer Hunter (1978)

the-deer-hunterThe Deer Hunter
Directed by Michael Cimino

I knew The Deer Hunter was about Vietnam; I didn’t know that it was going to hurt my heart so badly.

So what’s the story? Mike, Steve, Nick, John, Stan, and Axel are a group of regular guys. They celebrate together, drink together, hang out together, hunt together. But then Mike, Nick, and Steve sign up to go fight in Vietnam. Their decision will change everyone’s lives forever.

The Good: In order to hurt the audience so much, the screenplay and actors first had to make us care about this group of very normal friends from a small town in Pennsylvania. Steve’s wedding is the setting to showcase the personalities of this diverse group. Mike (Robert De Niro) is slightly more mature than his friends. He takes things that he cares about very seriously. Nick (Christopher Walken) cares deeply about his friends and his girlfriend, Linda (Meryl Streep). Steven (John Savage) is so in love and so excited to marry Angela (Rutanya Alda) that he is willing to ignore the opinions that his Russian mother has about his fiance. Stan (John Cazale) is a ladies man who can’t understand anyone else’s point of view. John (George Dzundza) sings in the church choir, runs his bar, and is generally content with his life. He takes it upon himself to be the general peacemaker in the group and feels bad that his bad knees prevent him from going to Vietnam with his friends. Axel (Chuck Aspegren) is a good-hearted goofball who only seems to know one phrase. This extended setup not only makes us care, but it makes it hurt so much more when Mike, Steve, and Nick change so much, which the actors portray so heart-breakingly well. There is more that I want to say about the acting and the screenplay, but I’m trying so hard not to spoil anything for anyone. I will say this: some of the changes that people go through are more subtle than others; Christopher Walken does a ridiculously incredible job as Nick; I was glad that The Deer Hunter only showed some of the Vietnam War, because then you were able to feel the atrocities of war without being overwhelmed by them; and if you watch closely, the story mirrors itself, allowing the viewers to see people’s different reactions to the same or similar events. (If you’ve seen it and want to discuss it with me in the comments, be sure to label it if you put in spoilers.)

The music is beautiful and unobtrusive. The soundtrack is more classical than other soundtracks from 1978; no wailing saxophones here. The use of classical and popular music is managed very well. The chosen songs fit the moment they are in exactly. Stanley Meyers’s original theme, “Cavatina (Theme from The Deer Hunter)”, is fabulous, played quietly by guitarist John Williams (no, not THAT John Williams). It is iconic, one of those pieces that will always be associated with this movie. When I write these reviews, I usually like to listen to the soundtrack of the film I’m reviewing, but listening to “Cavatina” breaks my heart all over again, so I had to listen to other instrumental music so that I wasn’t too sad to write.

The editing was brutally disorienting at times. One moment the gang is all happy at home, and the next, Mike is fighting for his life in Vietnam. These cuts happen throughout the movie, and they can be disconcerting because we have no idea how we got there or what happened between the scenes. But life feels that way sometimes when we suddenly look around and realize where we are in life and then wonder how we got there. It’s also how we tell stories to people. No one ever says, “The ground starting shaking, and so I got in my car and drove down Main and then I turned right onto Elm and left onto High Street, went straight for two miles, and then I saw a monster rising out of the ground!” We leave out things that are not pertinent to the story. That’s why this editing works for this movie; it’s a story about everyday people, and the editing reflects that.

The Bad: Mike was a little too mature and heroic to be believable as a person. He’s too close to perfection for my liking.

The Ugly: Scenes of war will always be ugly and brutal and sad, which is why I’m glad The Deer Hunter acknowledges that no one is unaffected by war, and why I am also glad that the filmmakers were somewhat restrained in how much actual brutality they put into this movie.

Oscars Won: Best picture; best actor in a supporting role (Christopher Walken); best director; best sound; best film editing.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best actor in a leading role (Robert De Niro); best actress in a supporting role (Meryl Streep); best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen; best cinematography.

The 85th Academy Awards: My Verdict

olly mossBefore I start in on my very decided opinions about the 85th Academy Awards, I would like to draw your attention to the poster for that year. Designed by artist Olly Moss, it shows 85 Oscar statuettes, each one made to represent a best picture winner. My personal favorite? 2001. An empty pedestal for A Beautiful Mind. I highly encourage you to Google “Olly Moss Oscar Poster” to find a version that is not too pixelated when you make it big enough to admire each individual statuette. See how many best picture winners you can name based simply on the statuette. It’s amazingly fun. I love this poster so much that I tracked one down, had it sent from England, and got it custom framed—and I have no regrets about any of that, even though it’s probably the most money I’ve ever spent on anything outside of my car.

Now on to the movies! When I chose to watch the movies of 2012, I was thinking mainly of two movies that I really wanted to watch: Zero Dark Thirty and Argo. I hadn’t thought about all the movies I had no desire to see, but I had to watch Life of Pi, Django Unchained, and Les Miserablès some time, and now I’ve gotten them over with. Also, I never have to watch them again if I don’t want to, and now I have solid reasons to not like them. In other words, I can legitimately make fun of Les Miserablès, because yes, I have seen it. And no, I didn’t like it. Having a third of the movies be movies I didn’t want to see didn’t make for the best viewing experience, but I also got to see some brilliant movies, so that makes me happy.

2012 was a tough year if you were an actor hoping to win an acting award. I might have given Bradley Cooper the Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook if he hadn’t been up against Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. That performance was so masterful that nobody else stood a chance. The same goes for Christoph Waltz’s performance in Django Unchained. Yes, I loved Alan Arkin in Argo, and Tommy Lee Jones was fabulous in Lincoln, but Christoph Waltz carried his movie. I don’t think he could have been replaced by anyone else. He made Django Unchained work.

The best actress field was similarly crowded. Every performance was Oscar-worthy. However, I think the award was wrongly given to Jennifer Lawrence. In fact, I would say her performance in Silver Linings Playbook was the weakest of the five nominations. Don’t get me wrong; I love Jennifer Lawrence, and she did a great job, but Emmanuelle Riva’s performance in Amour was the best of the year. I literally forgot that she wasn’t really a stroke victim. Riva was completely convincing; she definitely deserved the Oscar that year.

I don’t agree with the best supporting actress decision, either. Anne Hathaway did a fine job as Fantine in Les Miserablès, but Sally Field did a better job as Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln. I would even have been happier to see the award go to Samantha Barks, who wasn’t even nominated for her role as Èponine in Les Miserablès. Hers was the stronger performance in that movie. People may not agree with me on that, but that’s what comments are for.

There are a couple more issues I have with the Oscars this year. I would have liked to see Lincoln win a couple more awards. I think it deserved awards for its makeup and for its costume design. The famous actors were all practically unrecognizable. To me, that’s what great makeup is. Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin should have been nominated for their score for Beasts of the Southern Wild. The music was beautiful and haunting and fit the movie perfectly. And maybe it’s because I didn’t think much of the movie, but it kind of bothers me that Ang Lee was named best director. I would have been fine with any one of the other four nominees winning, but that one rankles.

I also don’t think the Academy gave the best picture award to the best movie of the year. I liked Argo immensely, but it didn’t hold up in repeat viewings like Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln did. I personally would have given Lincoln my vote, because I liked it just a little bit more than Zero Dark Thirty, but I would have been just as happy if Zero Dark Thirty had actually won. Again, I’m not a film critic, so maybe I can’t judge the “best” movie of 2012, but for me, Argo was not it.

So how do I rank the nominees?

9. Les Miserablès
8. Life of Pi
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
6. Silver Linings Playbook
5. Amour
4. Django Unchained
3. Argo
2. Zero Dark Thirty
1. Lincoln

Side note: Silver Linings Playbook probably would have been higher on my list if I hadn’t read the book after watching the movie, but before ranking them. The book was incredible, and I didn’t like some of the changes that David O. Russell made to the story. Beasts of the Southern Wild might have been higher if the ending hadn’t been so off kilter. And while I personally didn’t care much for Django Unchained, I can recognize it as a good movie. Ranking movies can be hard sometimes.

Argo (2012)

Directed by Ben Affleck

Okay, so argoit’s been awhile again. Apparently, because I wrote about my depression and how it was doing so much better in my Silver Linings Playbook post, my depression decided to remind me how powerful it actually can be. So yeah. Sorry if you’ve been waiting and hoping and wishing for my Argo review and my wrap-up of 2012; I’ve been trying not to slit my wrists. But at least I’ve been successful!

As I said in my Zero Dark Thirty review, I was excited for the 2012 movies because I got to watch two action movies that had been nominated for best picture. But just like Zero Dark Thirty, Argo is also not an action movie. It’s exciting, and it’s fun, and it has wonderfully tense moments, but it’s not an action movie. I think I might have watched the only action movie ever nominated when I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. Argo is a fantastic movie, and I truly enjoyed it, but it’s not an action movie. It was also weird watching it on the heels of Zero Dark Thirty because they are so similar. Both movies are more spy film than action flick, both are based on true stories, both take place in the Middle East, both even have Kyle Chandler. So while I recommend seeing both films, don’t watch them back to back.

So what’s the story? During the takeover of the American embassy in Iran in 1979, six Americans manage to escape to the home of the Canadian ambassador. As the occupation of the embassy drags on, the U.S. government tries frantically to come up with an idea to get the six out before the Iranians realize that they aren’t in the embassy with the other civil servants they have taken hostage. Tony Mendez, a CIA officer whose job is extracting people from bad situations, finally comes up with “the best bad idea”—produce a fake movie, complete with screenplay, casting, and movie posters. He will then fly to Iran to “scout locations” and fly back with the six Americans as members of the production company. It’s a risky plan; can they pull it off?

The Good: I don’t know the term for what I’m about to admire, but I love that Argo looks like a movie from the late seventies or early eighties. The film quality is grainier, less sharp than current movies. No high definition here! I liked that the old Warner Brothers logo was used at the beginning of the film, too. It was a small thing, but helped set the tone for the movie.

Argo was a well-cast film. Everyone from Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez to John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers to Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s boss, Jack O’Donnell was fantastic. I was especially glad to see Victor Garber playing a sympathetic character (the Canadian ambassador) for once. He seems like the nicest man, but in the movies I’ve seen him in, his characters are always jerks (Mayor Shinn in The Music Man, the lecherous professor in Legally Blond, the money-grubbing lawyer in Eli Stone). Alan Arkin is a delight as the “producer” of Mendez’s movie, and the people playing the six non-hostages were also good. I didn’t feel like there was a false note in the casting.

The pacing of the movie was great. The director managed to keep the feeling of a lot of time going by balanced with the tension of having to get the people out. It would have been very easy to err in either direction – either with the movie dragging as the hostages stayed inside for months, or with the action happening too quickly to be believable.

Even though I feel like I know more about history than the average American, I didn’t know much about the Iran Hostage Crisis. We didn’t tend to get to more recent things in any of my history classes just because there was so much to cover in a year, and I wasn’t alive when it actually happened, so I appreciated the overview of the modern history of Iran at the beginning. Some of the movie wouldn’t have made sense without that background.

Alexandre Desplat’s score was a haunting, beautiful mix of Middle Eastern and Western music. It was subtle enough to underscore the drama of the situation without being overwhelming.

The Bad: While the casting was all good, I had a hard time keeping the six escapees straight. They didn’t get enough screen time for the viewers to understand their characters, so they all kind of blended together. I would have liked to have seen more of John Goodman and Alan Arkin and the Hollywood end of things, also. I feel like a lot of that was glossed over to give Ben Affleck more screen time and make Mendez seem more heroic.

Because I put off writing this review, I had to watch Argo twice in order to feel like I could give it an honest, helpful review. The first time, I loved it. It was one of those moments when you want to tell everyone you know that they should see it. A few weeks later, when I saw it for the second time, I just couldn’t get into it. I already knew what was going to happen, so there was no tension for me. This seems to be a flaw in the movie, but I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t care so much the second time around. It might be because I felt no connection to the characters; I’m not sure. But I feel like a movie that is named the best picture of the year should be able to be enjoyed more than once.

The Ugly: I didn’t find anything bad enough about Argo to be in this category. It’s flaws were minor.

Oscars Won: Best motion picture of the year; best writing, adapted screenplay; best achievement in film editing.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best performance by an actor in a supporting role (Alan Arkin); best achievement in music written for motion pictures, original score; best achievement in sound mixing; best achievement in sound editing.