I'd like to spank the Academy

Posts tagged ‘Opinions’

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.

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 51st Academy Awards: My Verdict

51st_academy_awardsThe nice thing about the 51st Academy Awards is that I didn’t have a dog in the fight before I started watching the movies. There was no beloved movie that I was rooting for to win everything because it was the greatest movie ever made. Yes, I had seen Heaven Can Wait often, but it’s not one of the movies from my childhood that makes me feel warm and cozy. I enjoy it, but I have no strong emotions about it. Because of this, it was much easier for me to evaluate the merits of each movie in its own right. Seeing something without knowing much about it prevents disappointment and allows me to catch the full impact of the movie.

What really surprised me about the offerings from 1978 was how good they all were. Like I’ve said before, I’ve seen lots of old movies (that sounds bad; we will say classic movies), but there is a huge gap in my knowledge when it comes to the 1970s and 1980s. With this particular set, the movies kept getting better and better. I watched An Unmarried Woman first, and couldn’t understand how any woman could have done a better acting job than Jill Clayburgh and couldn’t fathom a better screenplay. Then I saw Coming Home, and I understood why Jane Fonda won over Clayburgh. Clayburgh was indeed wonderful, but Fonda was simply better. Midnight Express was a bit of a letdown after seeing An Unmarried Woman, Coming Home, and Heaven Can Wait, but there still was a lot to admire in it, including John Hurt’s performance as Max. However, his acting, along with Jack Warden’s in Heaven Can Wait and Bruce Dern’s in Coming Home, was eclipsed by Christopher Walken’s performance in The Deer Hunter, which is phenomenal. (I have a really great story about how much his performance affected me, but since I’m trying to avoid spoilers, I won’t tell it here.) I thought Coming Home was a fabulous movie about how Vietnam affected people, and I didn’t think anyone could make a better one. Then I saw The Deer Hunter, and I knew that the Academy had made the right choice for Best Picture of 1978. I really don’t have any disagreements with any of the awards given in that year of excellence.

So how do I rank the nominees?

5.The Midnight Express
4.Heaven Can Wait
3.An Unmarried Woman
2.Coming Home
1.The Deer Hunter

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.

The 55th Academy Awards: My Verdict

220px-Oscar-1982I chose to review the movies of 1982 this month partly out of vanity. My birthday was this month, and I was born in 1982 (yep, I’m old). When I was young, I always thought of the movies nominated in this year as “my movies,” even though I hadn’t seen any of them except E.T., and hadn’t really heard of Missing or The Verdict. That didn’t matter. Everything that happened in 1982 still belonged to me in some vague way. Yes, I had some funny ideas as a kid, but some of that feeling still remains. I have some awesome movies to be proud of.

There were a couple of awards given that I don’t agree with, but I can understand (or perhaps conjecture would be a better word) why they were given. For example, Jessica Lange won the award for best supporting actress for Tootsie, even though her performance wasn’t particularly special. However, she was also nominated for best actress the same year for the movie Frances. But since she was up against Meryl Streep in her role as Sophie in Sophie’s Choice, there was no way Jessica Lange was going to win. I almost feel like the Academy was acknowledging her work in Frances more than in Tootsie. I could be wrong, which is why I’m going with “conjecture” and reminding everyone that I have no affiliation with the Academy at all.

drew barrymore

Look how cute Drew Barrymore was on the red carpet!

I would also have argued that best art direction-set decoration should have gone to Blade Runner. While recreating a historical time and place isn’t easy, creating an entire world is ever harder. My best guess for that award is that everyone was just blown away by Gandhi and wanted to give it everything they could. Again, “guess” is the operative word there.

One thing I do not understand is the failure to nominate Sophie’s Choice for best picture. It’s a fabulous movie. I accidentally watched the whole thing one day when I took it home from work check whether or not a patron’s complaint that the brand new disc didn’t work was legitimate or not. I was only going to watch twenty minutes or so, but I couldn’t stop. Holocaust movies are never fun, but they are often compelling. I would have put it on the nomination list over The Verdict, which is a fine movie, but not really extraordinary like Sophie’s Choice. I think some people may be surprised that An Officer and a Gentleman wasn’t nominated for best picture, but I have never seen it, so I have no opinion on that.

I will also admit that I have a secret wish that “Eye of the Tiger” had won for best song. It was nominated, so I can feel semi-classy when I listen to it during my morning run (“I’m listening to on Oscar-nominated song today!”), but it lost out to a cheesy 80s love song (“Up Where We Belong”) which, again, might not be so bad in a different arrangement that is lighter on the synthesizer and drums. It’s hard to tell. Maybe someday someone should un-cheesify all the classic love songs of the 80s and see if they actually are good songs.

When I was trying to decide how I would rank the movies, I realized something interesting: I liked Missing better than I liked Gandhi. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been feeling cynical about the state of the world lately or frustrated that people don’t seem to want to open their eyes and see what people in other places going through or if Missing just truly is the better movie. Because I am not a robot, it’s not always easy to put my feelings aside when I’m trying to judge how “good” a movie is. Whatever it is, I’m going to go with how I feel, because it’s my blog.

So how do I rank the nominees?

5. The Verdict
4. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
3. Gandhi
2. Tootsie
1. Missing

With the exception of The Verdict, these movies were very hard to put in order. 1982 was a good year for movies. I will be forever proud to have these movies as “mine.”

The 25th Academy Awards: My Verdict

The 25th Academy Awards were delightfully controversial. I like it when the Academy gets things wrong, because it gives me more to write about. And who doesn’t like a good gripe session? That’s one of the best things about award season: complaining that the judges got it wrong.

So what went wrong this time? Well, the movie from 1952 that has emerged (or perhaps endured) as a classic of American filmmaking wasn’t even nominated for best picture. It was only nominated for two Oscars at all: best supporting actress and best musical scoring. What is this icon that the Academy almost completely overlooked? Singin’ in the Rain. Yep, Gene Kelly’s classic musical about Hollywood got no recognition in its time. And yet Ivanhoe was nominated for best picture. I will never understand how the Academy works.

The winner for best picture is equally puzzling. The Greatest Show on Earth isn’t a bad movie, but it’s definitely not best picture-worthy. Every other nominee that from that year (with the exception of Ivanhoe) is a better movie than The Greatest Show on Earth. I would have voted for High Noon myself. Even if Singin’ in the Rain had been nominated, I still would have voted for High Noon. Why? Because it’s got so much depth to it. It’s about standing up for what’s right, even if you have to stand alone. Apparently, this was not a message that went over well in Hollywood during the McCarthy hearings, and the writer of the film was blacklisted (and eventually moved to England). That explains why it didn’t win best picture, but it’s doesn’t excuse the Academy for being so very, very wrong.

A third odd thing about these awards is that the movie that won the most Academy Awards wasn’t even nominated for best picture. The Bad and the Beautiful won awards for best supporting actress (Gloria Grahame, who was also in The Greatest Show on Earth that year), screenplay, costumes, and cinematography, and Kirk Douglas, the star, was nominated for best actor. It’s another movie about Hollywood. The Academy currently loves movies about Hollywood. (Birdman and The Artist are two recent films about show business that won best picture.) They must not have been as interested in movies about themselves as they are now, but it really surprises me.

Some awards make complete sense to me. Gary Cooper completely deserved his Oscar for his work in High Noon, and the editing of High Noon was excellent, also. The Quiet Man had beautiful cinematography, and the costumes and art direction of Moulin Rouge bring Paris to life. John Ford did some good directing in The Quiet Man.  On the other hand, I cannot for the life of me understand how The Greatest Show on Earth won for best screen story; it’s a very typical story, and kind of blah. But I haven’t seen any of the other movies that were nominated for that particular award, so it may actually have been the best that year. I also am strongly against the song “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)”. There are parts that are not horrible, but rhyming “his’n” and “prison” should automatically disqualify you from receiving an Oscar.

I’ve always felt that the Academy Awards should be free from politics. Even if the Academy doesn’t like the message of the movie, greatness should be recognized. The Academy failed in 1952 for the worst of reasons. I hope they have learned from that and voters in the future will refuse to be swayed from voting for the best because of how they think they “should” vote.

So how do I rank the nominees?

5. Ivanhoe
4. The Greatest Show on Earth
3. Moulin Rouge
2. The Quiet Man
1. High Noon

Join me next week for Paul Newman, politics, crossdressers, and aliens!

74th Academy Awards: My Verdict

74_academy_awards_posterI don’t have much to say about the 74th Academy Awards. The Oscars were quite spread out that year. No movie won more than four awards, and based solely on what I’ve seen, I feel like the awards went to people who deserved them. I would have picked Helen Mirren in Gosford Park over Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind for best supporting actress, but that’s just my preference. Jennifer Connelly didn’t do a bad job, and I’m not upset that she won. I just would have voted for Helen Mirren. I feel the same way about the award for best makeup. While A Beautiful Mind had fabulous aging makeup and the makeup in Moulin Rogue! was so good I didn’t even recognize Jim Broadbrent, The Fellowship of the Ring would have deserved best makeup just for the Hobbit feet.  I guess there were a lot of technically proficient movies made in 2001. The biggest thing I learned from this year is that I need to watch more movies, because apparently five a week isn’t enough. After watching Russell Crowe’s fabulous performance in A Beautiful Mind, I don’t understand how anyone else could have won best actor. On the other hand, I haven’t seen Training Day; maybe Denzel Washington’s performance is just as amazing. Not having seen all the movies makes it really hard to judge whether or not the Academy got it right. I guess I will just have to content myself with saying that Russell Crowe gave the best performance that I saw from the movies that year.

Man, it is really hard to write my opinions when I feel like the Oscars went to the right people. Controversy makes for much better blogging.

So how do I rank the nominees?

5. Moulin Rogue!
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
3. In the Bedroom
2. Gosford Park
1. A Beautiful Mind

Look, they’re in alphabetical order! That pleases my librarian mind to no end.

Join me next week for gunfights, boxing matches, nightclubs, jousting tournaments, circus performances, and actual controversy in the awards!