Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Aftermath and the Best of the Best Picture Winners

Well another year and a whole lot of arguing and bitching to be done. In fact I can't recall a year where I've been more disappointed with the final results than this in a long time. For those who read my last blog post, you'd know that I was not expecting King's Speech to rack up a best picture Oscar or for Tom Hooper to win best director, but well I guess there haven't been too many surprises in a long time.

We'll have to wait for the passing of time to judge how horribly wrong these choices were, but let's just say this film will join the ranks of such blah best picture winners as Shakespeare in Love, A Man For All Seasons, Cavalcade, The Life of Emile Zola, and plenty of others. In fact I was really hoping that the writer who decides what presenters are going to say had Spielberg say something better like "The winner will join such films as Out of Africa, Chariots of Fire, Oliver, and Around the World in 80 Days". There is indeed a dark side to every selection, but I'll hold off on condemning the film outright, that doesn't mean I have to be happy for it.

Yet again the majority of the foreign film nominees no one ever heard of, and I don't believe three of them even were released here. I was rooting for Dogtooth, but also wondering why the hell Carlos wasn't nominated, but well that's what's so wrong with the Academy bi-laws. I smiled so sweetly when Jean-Luc Godard decided not to show, guess he still hates Hollywood as much as ever gotta love it.

Kirk Douglas is at least a million, but he was somewhat amusing on stage. Could have done without Celine Dion ever appearing in public again, and nothing makes me dry heave more than inner city grade schoolers singing at an award show. So in case you were wondering, I had absolutely no say whatsoever in the production of the show. I had serious doubts about Franco and Hathaway's ability to host the show and well he seemed stoned, and she laughed about as much as Jimmy Fallon. There monologue was awkward and not even remotely funny, wonder if it would be too much to get Billy Crystal to host it again, clearly everyone preferred him.

Glad that Melissa Leo and Christian Bale got their Oscars, Leo had the best speech and seemed to be the only one who injected any life whatsoever into the show. Watching the "Closer" video in 1994 I don't think I would have ever guessed that man would one day win an Oscar, but Trent Reznor certainly deserved it, and well the Social Network could have won a few more awards as far as I was concerned. It was hard to gauge just what was going to win throughout the night because the wealth was pretty evenly distributed, with the exception of three of the major four. Natalie Portman and Collin Firth had their Oscars sewn up months ago, so no surprise there, although I did worry that Geoffrey Rush would take Christian Bale's Oscar from him, glad Bale is now the second Academy Award winning Batman.

Now for an added bonus I wasted far too much time ranking all 83 best picture winners in numbered order best to worst. Now this list is in terms of how the films compare to the other best picture winners, not how deserving they are of the award. You can judge for yourself where I think King's Speech ranks with it's predecessors, feel free to argue about my choices but it shouldn't be meant to be over analyzed. Perhaps a few of the ones at the bottom might benefit from another visit, but well that's another debate in itself.

The Top 83 Best Picture Winners

1. The Godfather
2. All Quiet on the Western Front
3. Lawrence of Arabia
4. Casablanca
5. Annie Hall
6. Ordinary People
7. Schindler’s List
8. Gone with the Wind
9. The Best Years of Our Lives
10. On the Waterfront
11. Ben-Hur
12. The Departed
13.No Country for Old Men
14. The Godfather Part 2
15. Platoon
16. It Happened One Night
17. The Deer Hunter
18. Rocky
19. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
20. Million Dollar Baby
21. Bridge on the River Kwai
22. Unforgiven
23. American Beauty
24. Rebecca
25. You Can Count on Me
26. From Here to Eternity
27. Titanic
28. The Midnight Cowboy
29. Dances With Wolves
30. An American in Paris
31. The Last Emperor
32. All About Eve
33. Crash
34. Amadeus
35. Silence of the Lambs
36. Forrest Gump
37. The Grand Hotel
38. Hamlet
39. The Apartment
40. Marty
41. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
42. Patton
43. Braveheart
44. Rain Man
45. The Gentleman’s Agreement
46. The Lost Weekend
47. Chicago
48. Mutiny on the Bounty
49. Gandhi
50. Tom Jones
51. The Hurt Locker
52. The Sting
53. How Green Was My Valley
54. Slumdog Millionaire
55. A Man for All Seasons
56. Terms of Endearment
57. Wings
58. A Beautiful Mind
59. In the Heat of the Night
60. Going My Way
61. Shakespeare in Love
62. Gladiator
63. The English Patient
64. The Greatest Show on Earth
65. The King’s Speech
66. All the King’s Men
67. Chariots of Fire
68. Kramer vs. Kramer
69. Gigi
70. The Great Zigfield
71. Mrs. Minniver
72. The Broadway Melody
73. West Side Story
74. The French Connection
75. Cavalcade
76. The Sound of Music
77. Around the World in 80 Days
78. The Life of Emile Zola
79. Driving Miss Daisy
80. Cimarron
81. My Fair Lady
82. Out of Africa
83. Oliver

Friday, February 25, 2011

History Repeating Itself and the Oscars

Well a ritual is upon the film going world and everyone within ear shot is hearing a load of Oscar predictions and speculations. People are arguing for what should win, what probably will win, and what should have been nominated, etc. I’m no stranger to this phenomenon as my long term readers will recall last years pre and post Oscar posts. A year later and I’m even more informed on this year’s crop, seeing every film nominated in the four major categories and with a few opinions on each of them.

However before we get cracking on yet another solitary man voicing his (occasionally) informed opinion on the upcoming fest, lets take a trip back, way back to a decade when the Oscars weren’t even called the Oscars yet. According to anecdotal film history Bette Davis claimed to name the Academy Awards by saying that the bald statuette looked like her husband whose name was Oscar. That’s the legend, and it makes for a good little anecdote to tell your family while watching the ceremony this Sunday. The year Bette Davis won her first Oscar was 1935 for Dangerous, which was given to her because she inexplicably wasn’t nominated for best actress in 1934 for Of Human Bondage, see even back then Oscars were handed out for previous mistakes.

Truth be told neither film has held up as well but despite it’s sometimes absurd melodrama, Dangerous might be the better performance, by a nose. I have no problem recommending it for people who are Davis fans or simply want to see one of the all time greats diva it up. Davis would go on to be nominated numerous other times winning again for Jezebel, and getting cries of outrage at her losses for better performances in The Letter, Little Foxes, Now Voyager, and All About Eve. However every year has it’s story, and that’s a whole other book.

Now there’s another reason why I mention 1934 and 1935 because they hold a unique mark in the history of the Academy. They were the only two years that 12 films were nominated for best picture. Looking at the films from each year they differ wildly in quality, 1934 doing a woefully bad job at justifying it’s gluttonous assortment of nominees. The 1935 nominees hold up surprisingly better, and well let’s get into them a bit.


The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Flirtation Walk
The Gay Divorcee
Here Comes the Navy
The House of Rothschild
Imitation of Life
One Night of Love
The Thin Man
Viva Villa!
The White Parade

In case you didn’t guess, It Happened One Night was the winner, hence why it was listed first and capitalized. I could also have capitalized it because it’s by far the best film nominated, and I mean by far. In fact It Happened One Night was the first film to win all the major awards, a feat repeated by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs. A feat that isn’t too easy considering there isn’t even a film nominated in all four categories this year. Any list of the best classic films would recognize this as one of the all time bests, Oscars notwithstanding. It set Frank Capra up as Hollywood’s best director for the remainder of the decade as he won the first of three Oscars in 5 years, a feat never repeated, and not likely to.

Now then as now Davis supporters argued that her performance should have won, and at the very least been officially nominated. However Claudette Colbert may have just as easily been given an award for her body of work for the year. In the first show actors were selected for every film they did in a year, hence why Janet Gaynor won for Sunrise, Street Angel, and Seventh Heaven and Emil Jannings won for The Last Command and Way of All Flesh. Claudette Colbert was the first of eventually four people who would appear in 3 best picture nominees in the same year (also appearing in Imitation of Life and Cleopatra), I’ll fill you in on who another actor to earn that distinction is soon enough. Based on her competition of opera singer Grace Moore for One Night of Love and Norma Shearer for The Barretts of Wimpole Street I’d say Colbert certainly seemed worthy. Shearer was the original Peter O’Toole getting nominated several times without an Oscar to show for it, although history hasn’t been as kind to her extremely dated period films that were the epitome of MGM’s high gloss yet mediocre style at the time.

Like the actress race, there were only three best actor nominees, which you’re right if you think that’s really odd considering there were 12 best picture nominees. Gable’s competition was Frank Morgan in Affairs of Cellini and William Powell for The Thin Man, probably the second best film nominated for best picture that year. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who has seen Affairs of Cellini so I’d say forgettable is an apt description that year. Danny Peary offered John Barrymore as his Alternate Oscar choice for Twentieth Century, but warning you he goes WAY over the top there, but that’s kinda the point.

I can’t think of any other year that deserved fewer best picture nominees. In fact had It Happened One Night, Cleopatra, and The Thin Man gotten a nomination and nothing else it wouldn’t have mattered much. I’ve seen only 41 films from that year, and of those 41 I’d give a 5 star rating to only three (Man of Aran and King Vidor’s Our Daily Bread to go along with It Happened One Night). So keep in mind that if 10 nominees seem like too much, it could be much worse you could have 12.

Ignorance alert, although I just watched Here Comes the Navy today, I’m yet to find a copy of The White Parade. 1934 has been the hardest year to complete in my Oscar quest, considering those two films along with House of Rothschild were never even released on VHS let alone DVD. So if it’s a year you feel like exploring further good luck it won’t be too easy.


Alice Adams
The Broadway Melody of 1936
Captain Blood
David Copperfield
The Informer
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Les Miserables
Naughty Marietta
Ruggles of Red Gap
Top Hat

Well from a cursory glance at this years nominees you can see noticeable upturn in quality. Many people still regard Mutiny on the Bounty as one of the all time classics, and it’s certainly a step up from the big budget snore fest starring Marlon Brando that inexplicably got a best picture nomination in 1962. It also earned the unique distinction of being the first with three best actor nominees, and go figure the winner was the only nominee not from that film, Victor McLaglen for The Informer. The Informer has dated very badly and McLaglen’s performance is obnoxious at best, but fans of Ford will still appreciate his German Expressionism interpretation, a film which won him the first of a record 4 best director Oscars.

Contributing to the strange inconsistencies of the Academy at the time, they nominated 4 people for best actor, and 6 for best actress, and 4 for best director. As mentioned earlier Davis won her Oscar for Dangerous, beating out Katherine Hepburn for Alice Adams, Miriam Hopkins for Becky Sharp and a few others who I am not at liberty to compare.

Charles Laughton was this year’s beneficiary of the 12 nominee rule when he became the second actor to appear in three best picture nominees. Like Colbert, Thomas Mitchell (1939), and John C. Reilly (2002) he appeared in the best picture winner as well as two of his competitors. Laughton was also in Les Miserables and Ruggles of Red Cap which have held up well over the years. Ruggles of Red Cap is one of the year’s funniest performances and is a welcome change of pace after the two monstrous literary villains he played in the other films. You could do a lot worse than having a 1935 Charles Laughton night.

Fred and Ginger appeared in a best picture nominee for the second straight year with their best film Top Hat which helps add even more credibility to a vastly improved Oscar class. Perhaps the only two major snubs that year would be the Marx Brothers A Night at the Opera and James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, but then as now horror films seldom get any love. Although no year is perfect and just as today’s Oscar crop features several films that did absolutely nothing for me, there are still a few worthy candidates and a couple of favorites that were left off the ballot, history repeating itself for sure.


Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

So that brings us up to the present. Our crop of best picture nominees is decent here. Unlike The Blind Side last year there isn’t really a film that make me dry heave here. Truth be told if I were ruling the world, and god willing someday I will only two of these films would be on my list, see my previously posted top 10 to see which. That doesn’t mean I hate the other 8 nominees at all. Quite the contrary, I’m sure another viewing of The Social Network will probably have me drinking the same kool-aid as everyone else, and I really did love Toy Story 3.

I hate to say that The Black Swan is a tad bit overrated. Not a bad film, but perhaps the bar was set too high for me and Mr. Aronofsky with Requiem for a Dream and I’ve been waiting for him to reach that mark again. Natalie Portman practically already won her Oscar and I’m just happy Meryl Streep isn’t nominated, no offense to the Queen mother of all actresses but enough is enough, really Julie and Julia? Much needed break there. Michelle Williams would be a nice dark horse candidate but her co-star Ryan Gosling was unfairly left out of the best actor race considering I’d pick his performance over all five best actor nominees. Sorry that stuttering doesn’t impress nearly as much as everyone else, but I know my cries will fall on deaf ears considering how much buzz is going Collin Firth’s way for The King’s Speech.

My main complaint with this years nominees is a similar one to last year, where the fuck are all the foreign films? I mean based on bizarre and incomprehensible Academy bi-laws that make their foreign language Oscar completely worthless in terms of respectability, they can at least make up the difference by recognizing some of those subtitled features in the big race. After all you expect any well informed film goer to believe that the ten best films from the year were all American? Don’t bother to point out British co-productions, they’re as American as apple pie, I’m looking at you King’s Speech with your echo of old Miramax glory hounding. Now perhaps the Academy didn’t have to make half the nominees foreign as I would have, but at least one. Considering how few foreign language films have ever even been nominated, and none since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in 2000, expanding the nominees to ten seems like an even bigger slap in the face to films from other countries. Perhaps the tide will turn next year.

So here’s a quick list of what probably will win, and what I’d like to win:

Best Picture
Likely to win - The Social Network
My pick - Inception

Best Actor
Likely to win - Collin Firth (The King’s Speech)
My pick - Javier Bardem (Biutiful) - not that great of a film, but he’s the best of this bunch

Best Actress
Likely to win - Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
My pick - Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Best Director
Likely to win - David Fincher (The Social Network)
My pick - David O’Russell (The Fighter) - although I wouldn’t mind if Fincher or Aronofsky got their’s

So there you go, we’ll see whose right.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top 50 of the 90s

Well I wanted to post this a little sooner, but what are you going to do? I decided to expand upon my typical top 10 list for the 90s with a top 50 and well I’d like to take some time to explain my logic behind it. For starters ten films has always been a bummer for me. A top ten for a given year is a decent list but think about it in regards to a decade. Basically if you make a top ten list of ten years that’s as good as saying you can select one film per year. Now this makes the quality of the list great, but it leaves an incredible wealth of films on the cutting room floor. How often have we looked at a best picture race as one between two horses? Just because LA Confidential is a better film than Boogie Nights (in my opinion anyways), doesn’t mean that Boogie Nights isn’t a great film. Take that and multiply it by ten and you have an idea of how limited these lists have been.

Now that brings us to the next point, why 50? After all why not go for a top 100? If you stated that a top ten of a given year would be sufficient, then a top 100 for a decade would simply average your top ten of every year. Well I considered this and realized that the list would suffer from a bit of overkill. After all there are easily 100 really good if not great films from the 90s, but I think the human brain will shut off before too long, and would it really be a compliment for a film to be named the 93rd best film of the 90s? A top 100 for a decade is troublesome to research as well. If I make a top ten, there’s a good chance that most people reading it have seen several if not all of the films. Perhaps they find a couple to rent and therefore learn a little more about the decade. Its hard for anyone to have seen every film on a top 100 and the research to see those can wind up being overbearing. Therefore a top 50 is something of a middle ground. I’m sure most of the readers of this blog will find a few films that they haven’t seen, but not so many to discourage them from even trying to check some of them out.

Another reason that I slightly hinted at in at least my last two decade posts is the question of equality. Proportionately speaking, foreign language films constituted 1/10 of my top ten. So therefore 10% of the top ten, pretty poor number that doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the many great international films made in that decade. Thanks to an expanded list, they constitute 34% of my top 50. Now some people may say that’s still not that much, but if you’re a fan of fractions that just a hair more than 1/3 of the list, certainly a much more generous sampling proportionately. If this isn’t good enough, I apologize but if you are looking for some subtitled films to see from the 90s, I got 17 recommendations on this list.

There is another justification for this list. The majority of my readers, if not all of them grew up in the 90s, many lived through the entire decade. This makes the 90s a unique decade amongst my top tens. Since I was born in the 80s my cinematic memories are hazy, and largely shaped during the late 90s. For that reason many people lived through these films being released which means they are much more likely to recognize the titles and chances are they’ve seen the films already. Expanding the list expands the number of films mentioned. I wonder how many people reading this have seen all ten films of on my 50s list, and I know only about 2 people have seen my special jury prize for that decade, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if most people have seen 8-10 of my 90s list.

Looking ahead expect a similar top 50 to accompany my 2000s list. Since every one reading this blog that I can account for lived through all of this decade it only makes sense to expand the list. For this reason I’m approaching my research in a different way this time around, watching films to make a top 50 is far different than researching for a top 10. I’ve seen more films from the past decade than any other, but for that reason I have more films that I need to revisit and take a closer look at. At least with that list every film should be available on DVD and the majority available on Blu-Ray so happy hunting whenever I wrap up that list.

I’ve also now officially seen every film up for the major Oscars (picture, director, actor, actress) so expect a detailed list of bitching/predicting before the official award show.

50. The Pillow Book - Peter Greenaway
49. After Life - Hirokazu Kore-eda
48. JFK - Oliver Stone
47. Rebels of the Neon God - Tsai Ming-Liang
46. Deconstructing Harry - Woody Allen
45. Happy Together - Wong Kar-Wai
44. Quiz Show - Robert Redford
43. Flowers of Shanghai - Hou Hsiao-Hsien
42. Rushmore - Wes Anderson
41. Europa, Europa - Agnieszka Holland

40. Heavenly Creatures - Peter Jackson
39. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut - Trey Parker
38. Three Kings - David O’Russell
37. Dances With Wolves - Kevin Costner
36. Bad Lieutenant - Abel Ferrara
35. Underground - Emir Kustirica
34. Existenz - David Cronenberg
33. Ghost - David Zucker
32. American Beauty - Sam Mendes
31. Thin Red Line - Terence Malick

30. Fargo - Joel and Ethan Coen
29. Chungking Express - Wong Kar-Wai
28. Unforgiven - Clint Eastwood
27. To Live - Zhang Yimou
26. Hard Boiled - John Woo
25. Through the Olive Trees - Abbas Kiarostami
24. Saving Private Ryan - Steven Spielberg
23. Lost Highway - David Lynch
22. Boogie Nights - Paul Thomas Anderson
21. All About My Mother - Pedro Almodovar

20. A Brighter Summer Day - Edward Yang
19. Terminator 2: Judgment Day - James Cameron
18. Red -Krzysztof Kieslowski
17. Dazed and Confused - Richard Linklater
16. Reservoir Dogs - Quentin Tarantino
15. The Blue Kite - Tian Zhuangzhuang
14. Satan’s Tango - Bela Tarr
13. Toy Story/Toy Story 2 - John Lasseter
12. Magnolia - Paul Thomas Anderson
11. 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance - Michael Haneke

10. Malcolm X - Spike Lee
9. Natural Born Killers - Oliver Stone
8. Fight Club - David Fincher
7. LA Confidential - Curtis Hanson
6. Ulysses’ Gaze - Theo Angelopoulos
5. Schindler’s List - Steven Spielberg
4. The Big Lebowski - Joel and Ethan Coen
3. Before Sunrise - Richard Linklater
2. Goodfellas - Martin Scorsese
1. Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino