Thursday, August 20, 2015

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The King's Speech" (2010)

If you're going to release a film about British royalty, you're probably best behooved to have this film be written by a British screenwriter, directed by a British director, star British actors and be distributed by British distributors.  Hey, novel concept, isn't it?  Lord knows Hollywood would turn it into special effects and love triangles.  2010's The King's Speech was written by David Siedler (British), directed by Tom Hooper (British), starred Colin Firth (British) and was distributed by...well, several companies, but most were British.  For the U.S. distribution, the Weinstein Company got on board.  Good call, as they netted their first Oscar since leaving Miramax and founding their own company in 2005.  What The King's Speech did was take a story that would perhaps on the surface seem stuffy and dull, then present it in an outstanding and interesting fashion, sprinkled with some humor and sentiment, just enough of each.  The story in question is that of King George VI, who had a horrible stutter, yet was expected to rule the empire and give speeches on this new technology called radio.  Siedler discovered how the King began to work with a speech therapist and began writing a screenplay for this in the 1980's, but at the request of the Queen Mother (King George VI's widow), postponed working on this until after her death.  When she passed in 2002, Siedler eventually went back to the project.  Eventually, through excellent casting and execution, this film was somewhat-quietly released in the autumn of 2010 and wound up riding a wave of popularity all the way to the Kodak Theater on Oscar night.  Let's dive in.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Yet another boxing movie to cover here in the Best Picture Showcase, and this one turns out to probably be the most famous boxing movie of them all.  In 1976, a little film written by and starring an up-and-coming virtual unknown named Sylvester Stallone was released to the public.  Entitled Rocky, it told the story of an up-and-coming virtual unknown named Rocky Balboa.  Stallone had no problem selling the script, but producers wanted an established star to play the title role.  Stallone eventually was able to convince the studio to let him give it a try, if for no other reason than it would be a much cheaper hiring for him to play the role than someone like Redford or whoever.  The resounding success of this film led to multiple sequels, and depending on who you ask, the sequels either held up well enough on their own or got progressively worse with each release.  It can be stated clearly though, only the first Rocky got such resounding love from the Academy.  Of the five sequels, only Rocky III got any Oscar nominations, one for the "Eye of the Tiger" theme song.  Personally, I only dislike Rocky IV.  And holy shit, do I dislike it.  The one most people hate seems to be Rocky V, and I gotta tell ya, I think that film is pretty damn good.  I won't delve into why I like this and don't like that...we can do that in a future blog.  Today, it's about the first one.  Maybe the best one.  1976 Best Picture winner Rocky.  Ring the bell.

Friday, July 17, 2015

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Schindler's List" (1993)

So yeah...why another 2-month hiatus in getting this series finished?  Who the hell knows.  June was busy, I guess.  But we're back now with entry #70 out of 87 in the Best Picture Showcase, and here we may have legitimately one of the most important movies ever put to film, Schindler's List.  Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Steven Zaillian, the film is an adaptation of Thomas Keneally's 1982 novel Schindler's Ark.  It is based on the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish refugees from Poland during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.  99% of the film is presented in black-and-white, a deliberate choice so this could be presented as a documentary as much as a motion picture.  Spielberg was amazed by the story when he was given a copy of Keneally's book, but he didn't feel he was "mature" enough to direct such a film, so he tried to hire many top directors such as Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski, but ultimately Spielberg wound up taking on the project himself, even though he fully expected the film to be a box-office flop.  He even forewent a salary, calling it "blood money".  There were too many Holocaust deniers making inroads into the mass media, so the project became very important to Spielberg.  The end result is truly amazing.  Let's take a look.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952)

I've seen a lot of lists and heard a lot of opinions over the years as to what people consider to be the Best and Worst of all time as far as movies that have won the Best Picture Academy Award.  The films that most often seem to get mentioned in the Worst argument are a couple that we've covered here in the blog series already, as well as today's featured film, 1952's The Greatest Show on Earth.  This isn't people necessarily saying it's a bad movie (although many do say that), but looking at other nominees for Best Picture, it's people wondering what the Academy was thinking giving this one the nod over those others.  The IMDB website has this with the fourth-lowest average user rating (6.7 out of 10.0).  It's a film I never had a yearning to see, so I hadn't done so until now.  I went in with an open mind and hoped for the best.  It certainly isn't lacking for star power, and this isn't even taking into account the many uncredited cameo appearances.  The question is, should it have won Best Picture?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1929-30)

We haven't done one of the very early Best Picture winners for awhile, so let's tackle one today.  All Quiet on the Western Front was the winner of the third top Oscar in its history, becoming in fact the second war-themed film to do so.  Whereas many of the earliest Best Picture winners don't necessarily still resonate in modern times, this film does.  There isn't a war film that's been made in the last 85 years that isn't influenced by this one.  Based on Erich Maria Remarque's 1929 novel of the same name, All Quiet was directed by Lewis Milestone and produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. for Universal Studios.  Part of what makes this movie so memorable is that it was released in the Pre-Code era, prior to the censorship guidelines often referred to as the Hays Production Code.  The characters are all German, and since this was set during World War I, we know from our history books that this was the losing side.  Milestone made the characters seem as American as possible so the audience can relate (for instance, they don't speak German, they speak English).  This worked, as you feel absolute sympathy and empathy for the characters.  The only people that didn't seem to enjoy the movie were...well, Germany's Nazi Party.  They would storm theaters and ultimately got the film banned in that country.

Monday, May 11, 2015

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "How Green Was My Valley" (1941)

1941 saw the release of a film considered today one of the greatest of all time.  It ranks at or near #1 of many lists by guilds, bloggers, name it, they love it.  Iconic images and lines from the movie are still today often influential, quoted, even lampooned.  Giant facial posters.  Evil media magnates.  Rosebud.  I speak, of course, about Citizen Kane, and if you were to ask most people today, from the everyday movie fan to some renowned national movie critics, that's the film I should be blogging about in regards to 1941 and the Best Picture Showcase.  Yet we aren't.  We're discussing How Green Was My Valley, which in besting Kane is looked back on as either the biggest Best Picture surprise in history or the most egregious Best Picture snubbing (to Kane) in history.  Probably both, actually.  Perhaps Hollywood voted with their hearts instead of their heads.  Perhaps Hollywood was tired of Kane director Orson Welles proverbially biting the hand that fed him.  Or, perhaps, just maybe How Green Was My Valley really is that good a film to deserve the Oscar after all.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Terms of Endearment" (1983)

Today, many of them are called "chick flicks", but the old term was "tearjerker", a sad movie meant to bring out the tissues.  The 1980's and early 1990's were full of them, and they all pretty much employed the same ingredients to create the tearjerker formula:

* family, usually mother-daughter, often tenuous or estranged
* tragic and/or forbidden romance
* divorce
* death of major character, almost always female
* bittersweet humor

Hey, whatever works, right?  In fairness, a lot of these films are actually still pretty good today, but one in particular reached the ultimate plateau in winning Best Picture.  That would be 1983's Terms of Endearment, adapted from Larry McMurtry's book of the same name.  The screen version was written, directed and produced by James L. Brooks, and was well-liked by just about everyone including Bette Davis, who was often critical of modern films in her later years.  Grab the tissues, here we go!