Monday, December 8, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Life of Emile Zola" (1937)

One of the things I've enjoyed most in doing this blog series is learning about and watching the Best Picture winners in history that I know very little, if anything, about.  Today, we have one of those films.  1937's The Life of Emile Zola is a biographical motion picture, or biopic, about the French author and activist Zola, practitioner of the literary school of naturalism and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism.  He also did not shy away from controversial topics, calling out the government and society when he felt it was necessary.  He was usually right, because Zola was a major figure in the political liberalization of France from the Nazis.  His biggest success, if you will, probably was being greatly responsible for the exoneration of a falsely accused and convicted army officer named Alfred Dreyfus.  The film's title would seem to indicate it's about Zola's entire life, but that's not quite the case.  It does not cover any of Zola's childhood, but instead starts up in 1862 when Zola was in his early 20's.  Let's take a look at the first film to score 10 Oscar nominations.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Braveheart" (1995)

It's been said that history will teach us nothing, or that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  In the case of 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart, it can also be said that history doesn't have to get in the way of Hollywood storytelling.  There has perhaps never been a more historically-inaccurate Best Picture than this one, and I'm not saying that just to nitpick.  Randall Wallace wrote the screenplay with heavy influence from Blind Harry's 15th century epic poem The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie, which has long been considered in and of itself quite historically inaccurate.  However, in writing about William Wallace, Randall Wallace (no relation, by the way) based very little of the screenplay on either actual history or Blind Harry's poem.  Hell, even the title of Braveheart refers in the film to William Wallace when in reality, it was a nickname for Robert the Bruce.  The movie depicts an affair between Wallace and France's Princess Isabelle, which surely did not happen since in the depicted time period of actuality, Isabelle was about 3 years old.  Scotsmen also did not wear kilts, much less plaid with belts, in this era.  Historian Sharon Krossa pretty much summed it up in a 2001 essay by saying, "The events aren't accurate, the dates aren't accurate, the characters aren't accurate, the names aren't accurate, the clothes aren't accurate—in short, just about nothing is accurate."

Evidently, history isn't important here.  Just entertainment.  So in that regard, I suppose Braveheart is a success.  Let's take a look.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


General George S. Patton was a decorated war hero who came from a military family.  He was a major player in both World Wars I and II, helping especially in the latter lead the Allied Forces to victory with his strategies and brilliance.  He pulled very few punches and often spoke his mind without fear or saying the "right" thing.  He was also confrontational and controversial, getting into trouble with his superiors because of his actions, including statements to the media that would at times criticize U.S. war strategy.  It seems fitting that the 1970 film biography of the man was portrayed by a unique actor the likes of George C. Scott, who also had a reputation at times for being a bit against-the-grain, prone to moodiness on movie sets and having a complete disdain for the competitiveness of Hollywood when it came to such things as the Oscars.  A perfect storm of circumstances, no?  Patton winds up highly successful and racks up a slew of Oscar nominations, including for that of Scott's performance, which he requested to not be nominated for but was anyway.  Scott wins the Best Lead Actor award and doesn't attend the ceremony.  The award was never claimed by him either.  He requested that the Academy donate the award to the George Patton museum in Kentucky, but he only made the request verbally.  Since it was not in writing, it was never donated.  To the best of my knowledge the award is currently on display at the Virginia Military Institute Museum, a military school that the real Patton attended.  With all that said, Patton clocks in at nearly three hours but never drags.  The film and Scott's performance are engaging, and the battle scenes are incredibly well done.  I had planned on writing this blog during a recent trip to Seattle, as I had a laptop and my notes all ready.  Unfortunately, my notes wound up misplaced, so I'll do the best I can on a synopsis from memory.  Let's take a look at what was President Nixon's all-time favorite film, 1970 Best Picture Patton.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Gladiator" (2000)

"Swords and sandals" was a term that developed in the 1950's and 1960's in relation to Hollywood films that tackled Ancient Rome and Greece.  Those movies had common elements such as chariots and the feudal system and, of course, gladiators.  Those types of movies died out a long time ago, even becoming a punchline (a Leslie Neilsen quote in the movie Airplane actually makes you laugh about pedophilia and then subsequently hate yourself for it).  It seemed quite a ballsy task for director Ridley Scott to attempt to resurrect that style of movie, but he did so with Gladiator.  The film is loosely based on historical events, and Scott wanted to portray the Roman culture more accurately than past films had done.  For example, no one's eating grapes and drinking wine and having raucous orgies.  Maybe the porn parody of this movie went there, but Scott didn't.  Several historians were hired as advisors for the film, although obviously some dramatic license still took place, causing at least one of those historians to refuse an on-screen credit.  The actual Marcus Aurelius was not murdered, he died of the plague.  Commodus was not reviled from the start, he actually was a popular emperor at first.  Such details can always be nitpicked.  What ultimately matters here is that Gladiator tells a pliable story.  Let's take a look at the first Best Picture of the 21st century.

Friday, October 17, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Going My Way" (1944)

Bing Crosby is probably best remembered for his crooning musical style, but he was also a very accomplished actor.  Most of his early acting roles were for musical comedy or just comedy in general, such as the Road to... series with Bob Hope.  When producer/director Leo McCarey told Paramount that he wanted Crosby to play the lead role in his upcoming film, Paramount wasn't sold on the idea, as Crosby had never previously shown any dramatic acting chops.  However, McCarey got his wish, and Going My Way wound up the biggest box-office draw of the year, garnering much acclaim for its star as well, who wound up thriving for many years to follow in films of all genres.  Watching the film as I did for the first time recently, 70 years after its initial release, I found it a nice movie but rather slow at times, especially for a musical.  (For instance, it's much less grandiose in comparison to the MGM musicals of later years.)  Sizing this up with several other Best Picture nominees that year, I was actually quite flabbergasted as to how this one took home the top prize in addition to many other Oscars.  Maybe we'll learn how that happened in the synopsis.

Monday, October 13, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "West Side Story" (1961)

William Shakespeare lived from the years 1564 to 1616.  The Oscars have existed from 1929 to present day in 2014.  Four hundred years apart, yet they've intertwined on many occasions.  There have been plenty of nominations for films that were directly or indirectly adapted from The Bard's works.  One film, 1948's Hamlet, was a straightforward adaptation starring Laurence Olivier.  Both he and the film won top honors.  1998 saw Shakespeare in Love take home Best Picture.  This was a fictional story set in his era where the character of William Shakespeare fell in love with a beautiful woman, and this influenced him to write the story of Romeo & Juliet.  One other film exists on the list of Shakespeare stories resulting in Best Picture wins, and that is West Side Story.  Based off the stage play of the same name, West Side Story is a modern-day (at the time...1950's New York City) retelling of the Romeo & Juliet story, with the two feuding families replaced by two feuding street gangs of young men.  Our "Romeo" is Tony.  Our "Juliet" is Maria.  Thanks to the talents of co-directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, screenwriter Ernest Lehman, composer/songwriter Leonard Bernstein and a large acting ensemble, West Side Story remains today one of the most successful movie musicals of all-time.  This will wind up being a rather brief synopsis as the story within the 152-minute film pretty much tells itself alongside a great deal of singing and dancing, and I'll never be able to do it proper justice of just how good that story is, but here goes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I'm 41 years of age.  This means I've lived through what is unofficially one full generation (about 35 years) and am into my second one.  I've seen major movie events, I've seen smash successes, I've seen crazes and fads and the occasional billion-with-a-B-grossing blockbuster.  But I've only seen one true phenomenon the likes of Titanic.  The success this film enjoyed was incredible, but what was even more incredible was that for months, even over a year if you count when it was released on VHS, people went absolutely apeshit over this movie.  People were going to see it in theaters more than once, more than twice, more than four times...I remember one news report of a woman who would go to see it every Wednesday night for as long as it ran in her theater, and she'd always bring someone new each week (no, she wasn't playing the field, she was bringing her female friends.  Her husband went the first week and decided once was enough), and by the time it left her theater she had seen it 33 times.  THIRTY-THREE TIMES!  I even took an informal poll on Facebook a week or so ago and most of the answers I got were that people had seen it at least twice in the theater during its run.  And what a run it was!  It topped the box office for 15 straight weeks, a record that will probably never be broken.  It was making over a million dollars a week every single week, even months after it peaked.  It brought in over $13M on a Saturday over two months after it first was released, as that particular Saturday was Valentine's Day.  Oh, but it wasn't even just the movie.  The soundtrack is the biggest-selling primarily-orchestral (i.e., the score) soundtrack of all time, and by far.  That's not why most people bought it though.  They bought it for Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On", which itself won a zillion awards, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks (a short duration only because the cassette single was a limited release) and helped the soundtrack top the Billboard 200 Album Chart for four months.  How many soundtracks sell over 11 million copies?  Not many, but this one did.  Indeed, Titanic was a Happening, and I capitalized that word on purpose to stress the magnitude of it.  Most of you no doubt remember the mania.  I truly have never seen anything like it, and I doubt I ever will again.  Let us board...

Friday, September 12, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "All About Eve" (1950)

If you've been following this blog series throughout the year, you've probably deciphered by now that I'm a movie hound.  I'm sure my Oscars obsession on my Facebook page probably was another clue.  It is to me the ultimate form of entertainment, and I love seeing talent shine through on every level of the movies.  I love a good story.  I love great performances.  I even love beautiful visuals (i.e., cinematography).  I love it all.

But when one asks me what my favorite movie of all time is, I don't have an answer.  The reason is, I just can't pick ONE favorite.  I have favorites, plural.  I have 5-10 films that I would say are the greatest films I've ever seen for varying reasons.  However, only one of those films actually won Best Picture.  That would be All About Eve, written for the screen and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and based on a 1946 short story by Mary Orr called The Wisdom of Eve that was (for whatever reason) not given a title credit.  The movie set many Oscars records, some of which remain unmatched today.  It's one of the finest performance ensembles I've ever laid eyes on, the dialogue is whip-smart and the story is just brilliant.  I could gush about this film all day, but perhaps so I can get this done in less than 12 hours, we'd best start into the synopsis, so fasten your seat belts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Oliver Stone is considered one of the great writers/directors of this generation by many.  He's vilified by many others.  What makes him so polarizing isn't really something that can be explained in a few sentences, but he's always been quite politically-opinionated, and sometimes his opinions aren't what the majority agree with.  For instance, he was a friend and supporter of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.  He also supports Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and Wikileaks contributor Bradley/Chelsea Manning.  His films have pulled no punches in such settings and situations as Turkish prisons (Midnight Express), Presidential assassinations (JFK), musical icons (The Doors) and the war in Vietnam, which he personally knew about as Stone was a combat-experienced Vietnam vet himself.  Stone actually wrote and/or directed three films about Vietnam, and the first of those was today's blog subject, Platoon.  This would be the first time a film about Vietnam was written or directed by an actual veteran of that war, and Stone based several plot details on personal experience.  His initial screenplay was actually written way back in 1968 and sat on the proverbial back burner for many years, getting modified here and there along the way by Stone, but he pretty much gave up on this ever getting made when multiple 1970's films about Vietnam such as Apocalypse Now were huge critical and commercial successes.  Finally in the 1980's, a British producer fell in love with this and another Stone vehicle, Salvador, and offered for his production company to finance both.  The seeds were sown for what would wind up 1986's Best Picture.

Monday, September 8, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)

The Big Five.  That's an Oscar term that exists for what are considered the five most important and coveted Academy Awards: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay (Original or Adapted).  In the 86-year history of the Oscars, 42 films have been nominated in all of these categories, giving them a shot to win The Big Five.  Only 3 films have actually succeeded, however.  1934's It Happened One Night was the first.  1991's The Silence of the Lambs was the last.  In between, the Milos Forman-directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest achieved this feat as well.  Based on Ken Kesey's 1962 book of the same name, Nest remains today one of the, if not the, most revered films of Jack Nicholson's career.  It also wound up a great starting point for the careers of many others.  In preparing for their roles, the actors spent weeks in an actual institution to observe patients, and in fact, the Salem, Oregon state hospital is where the movie was filmed.  There's some comedy in this film, but there's no question the movie ultimately tries, and succeeds, to make a dramatic impact on the viewer.  Let's dive in.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Just about every year, there is an odds-on favorite to win Best Picture.  But you just never know.  This was never clearer than the night of the 78th Annual Academy Awards, when one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history occurred.  Brokeback Mountain, a love story involving two cowboys, was where the needle was pointing.  It had won many top prizes already, including at the Golden Globes, and its director Ang Lee had already picked up the Best Director Oscar earlier in the night.  So when Jack Nicholson opened the envelope and announced that top honors went to Crash, the audience collectively gasped.  Even Jack reacted with surprise.  There's been plenty of debate literally since that moment that continues to this day.  How could this happen?  How DID this happen?  Was the Academy scared off by a gay love story?  Was Crash the "safer" choice?  We'll discuss that more later.  First, let's dive into the synopsis of what did win Best Picture on the night of March 5, 2006.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957)

War films, from my completely unscientific experience and research, tend to run closer to 3 hours than 2 hours more than any other film genre.  This can be good as long as the story keeps moving and stays logical and interesting.  This can also be bad.  In 1957, it was very good indeed, as The Bridge on the River Kwai opened late in the year and had such a strong following that it wound up being the biggest box-office draw for 1958.  This was in no small part thanks to the fact that the AMPAS feted the film with 7 Oscars in March of 1958, including the one that made it eligible for discussion in the Best Picture Showcase.  The film is based on Pierre Boulle's 1952 novel of the same name, and while it certainly takes liberties with the history that inspired the story (the Burma Railway was indeed built in the early 1940's but very little of the presentation in the movie matches the actual chain of events as they occurred), it still remains a gripping movie and one that plays today just as well as it did 56 years ago.  The star power is also truly A-list, including one name that today very few have even heard of, but in the early days of Hollywood, that name was the biggest male sex symbol on the silver screen.  Let's take a look.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "My Fair Lady" (1964)

Musicals won a lot of Best Picture awards in the decade of the 1960's, and we're going to look at one of them here today.  Before Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe created Gigi (which won Best Picture in 1958) for theaters, they actually created My Fair Lady for the stage.  There were a few critics who found similarities in the two stories.  Ironically enough, they saw Gigi get released as a movie first and win Best Picture, then some years later saw My Fair Lady get released as a movie and do the same.  To confuse matters a bit more, while Gigi may have been inspired by Lady, the latter wasn't even an original idea in the first place.  Lady was based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, which first hit the stage in 1912.  None of this really matters but it's fun to follow the timeline, and today My Fair Lady is still very beloved by most.  I say "by most" because that means "not by everyone", and I'm specifically singling out yours truly.  Yes, I do not like this musical, and it's one of the few classic musicals that I dislike.  I'll explain why later.  Let's hit the synopsis!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Autism is very much in the public consciousness today.  This was not always the case.  I must admit to being one who knew nothing of it in 1988.  I was 15 years old and cannot recall having had any knowledge or concept of autism whatsoever.  This changed when the film Rain Man was released, and while I could probably plead to an extent having unintentional ignorance to autism back then due to the fact that I was still "just a kid", it wouldn't surprise me if many more people older than 15 really knew little, if any, about it either.  It was something back then that many families tried to keep as private as possible.  There certainly weren't nearly the level of diagnoses and treatments 26 years ago as there are today.  Rain Man opened our eyes to autism and helped many of us really see and understand it for the first time.  Unfortunately, it also has inadvertently turned some elements of autism into punchlines, as today many of the mannerisms and spoken dialogue from the film are used in jest.  Be that as it may, the comedy moments in this film were not and are not considered to be mean-spirited, and today the film still remains extremely popular.  Let's check out the Barry Levinson-directed Rain Man.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Cimarron" (1930-31)

Three westerns have won Best Picture in the 86-year history of the Academy Awards.  We've covered two of them already: 1992's Unforgiven and 1990's Dances With Wolves.  They're relatively recent films.  For the only other western to win top honors, we need to go back.  Way back.  Almost ALL the way back.  To be exact, we have to travel back to November 10, 1931, to the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  That's when the 4th Annual Academy Awards ceremony took place, and Best Picture was awarded to a film called Cimarron, which was based on Edna Ferber's 1929 novel of the same name.  This was an interesting film to research outside of actually seeing the movie, because numerous websites contain some of the most basic synopses of any Best Picture I've ever seen.  Many people sum the film up in one paragraph, and in a few cases, barely even enough text to qualify as a paragraph.  This isn't because the story's simple, because it's not, but for whatever reason, no one has taken the time or the effort to write up a synopsis for the likes of Wikipedia and IMDB.  Fortunately, your faithful blogger here writes up his own notes when viewing each of the movies covered in this blog series, and I took more time than usually is needed to cross-reference my notes with all the information about the movie I could research online.  So I think we're set.  Saddle up!

Friday, July 25, 2014


Growing up in New Jersey, I would watch a show on the local public TV station starring Floyd Vivino, AKA Uncle Floyd. It was sketch comedy and pretty no-frills, but still great. He would have a segment each show that saw an audience member play a game where they had to say whether or not a strange piece of trivia was true or false. The game was called Ridiculous But Real. One day he may have asked a question something along the lines of this:

"True or False. Six Americans escaped the country of Iran during the hostage crisis of 1979-1980 by posing as a movie crew filming a science-fiction saga in Iran called Argo."

Sounds ridiculous. But it was very real. Truth be told though, Floyd would not have asked that question then because according to the U.S. government, that never happened. It was classified. The escape really did happen but all credit was given to the Canadian government. President Bill Clinton declassified the operation in 1997, and the world learned of what really happened. That story is told here in director Ben Affleck's tremendous work, which was adapted from several sources including Tony Mendez's book The Master of Disguise. Mendez was the CIA operative who Affleck plays in the film, and watching the story unfold one can only wonder how something so ludicrous could have been believed by just about everyone in Iran. Simply put, those executing the operation really did cover all their bases. In fact, Mendez claimed that after the phony studio was shut down upon completion of the rescue, the phony studio address still received about two dozen scripts, including one from Steven Spielberg.

Let us dive into Argo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Casablanca" (1943)

There was a time a decade or so ago when the American Film Institute was celebrating 100 years of movies with a series of "100 ____s" countdowns. They were a lot of fun and they sparked a lot of debate amongst movie fans. Today's blog subject, Casablanca, made a lot of appearances within those lists. The AFI said that the film itself was the #3 best movie of all time, "As Time Goes By" was the #2 movie song of all time, and "Here's looking at you, kid" was the #5 movie line of all time. Naturally, that's all subjective, but anyone who knows anything about movies at least knows that Casablanca is truly revered as one of the absolute all-time classics. Based on a then-unproduced stage play entitled Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, the film was produced and released during the height of World War II, including the attack on Pearl Harbor. This likely helped boost its popularity at the time since there is a definite anti-Reich theme to the movie. I'd seen this film probably 15 years ago or so for the first time, and I liked it but didn't love it. Does a second viewing in 2014 see my feelings change towards it? Let's find out...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "American Beauty" (1999)

Tastes change over time. Look at clothes, for instance. In the 1970's, everyone loved bellbottom pants and giant collars and elevator shoes. Now we look back and wonder what we were all thinking. This happens with movies too. If you do a little online searching you'll find plenty of lists from bloggers and magazines and whatnot of what are considered the most overrated Best Picture winners. Inevitably, you'll find 1999's winner, American Beauty, at or near the top of every list you see. Why is that? Truth be told, I'm not sure there's a clear answer as to why, but as the years have passed since this film won Best Picture, both critics and fans alike have softened on their gushing love for the movie. Even director Sam Mendes agrees somewhat, saying the film was "a little overpraised" during its theatrical run and the subsequent awards season. Personally, I liked the film from the first viewing, and I still do today, but it's far from what I would consider an all-time classic. It's just a well-developed, well-acted, nicely-layered film, and versus the other contenders for Best Picture that year, it probably deserved the win. The movie tagline is "Look Closer". OK, let's do that...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Hurt Locker" (2009)

Guess what blog it is??? It's HUMP BLOG!!!

Indeed, we've reached the midway point of this 2014 blog series. 86 Best Pictures to blog about, and here we are at blog #43. Today's subject is the 2009 winner The Hurt Locker, which is actually a film that was finished and initially released in 2008, but on a limited basis internationally, not in the U.S., which made it unavailable to qualify for Oscar classification that year. There have been countless films over the years set during war, whether it be a real war such as World War II or Vietnam, or just a fictional war somewhere. For whatever reason, the war in Iraq was always a hard sell at theaters. A number of films were made in the 2000's dealing with the subject, but none of them went anywhere commercially. Some believe it's due to the war being unpopular with the general public. There's probably some truth to that. Some believe it's because families didn't want reminders of their loved ones overseas in Iraq and elsewhere right now potentially battling as what would be on screen. There's probably some truth to that too. As far as box office goes, The Hurt Locker didn't break any new ground either. With a roughly then-$12M total gross, it's the lowest box office total for a Best Picture winner in history. It was out of theaters completely by the time awards season rolled around and didn't return for a second go-round despite all the nominations. An even bigger awards obstacle? Only the highest-grossing film of all time also being nominated for Best Picture. We'll talk more about that after the synopsis.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "In the Heat of the Night" (1967)

Sidney Poitier is a Hollywood icon. It's not just because he was an outstanding actor, but it just so happens that he was the first African-American to truly become a Hollywood A-lister. He dealt with prejudices and struggled just as anyone else did, but Sidney was the one who broke that glass ceiling and opened up the doors for countless others, and he did during the period of history where the Civil Rights Movement simultaneously took place. Right place, right time, but most importantly, right person. He was classy. He was talented. He didn't win his Oscar as part of today's blog subject, In the Heat of the Night, but he has stated on several occasions that his all-time favorite work of his is this film. Directed by Norman Jewison, In the Heat of the Night is based on John Ball's 1965 book of the same name. It is often called a film that deals with the subject of racism. I'm not sure I'd quite say that. It's a film set in the south during a time when racism was rampant, and Poitier's character deals with it, but I wouldn't say that the end result really was that the problem got solved. No matter, though. Times now have changed, fortunately, for the better. And at heart, this is a murder mystery, a whodunit. So let's take a look.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Dances With Wolves" (1990)

86 Best Picture Academy Awards have been given out over the years, and some genres have found better success in winning them than others. 1991's The Silence of the Lambs is the only "horror" movie to win, and you could argue that it's not even really a horror flick. Westerns have only won three times. 1931's Cimarron, 1992's Unforgiven and today's blog subject, 1990's Dances With Wolves. As you can see from the last sentence, this was the first western to win top honors in nearly 60 years although many westerns had been nominated over that period of time. It doesn't seem on the surface like the type of film that would be as successful as it was. First off, it's a western, which in 1990 was practically a genre on life support, with few good westerns being made at that point anymore. Secondly, much of the dialogue was subtitled, spoken in the Lakota Native American dialect. Finally, and sorry to say this, but this was what gets billed in Hollywood as a vanity project. Kevin Costner produced it, directed it and starred in it. Knowing Costner as we now do, this is nothing new. He's the man-of-many-hats on a lot of projects. This was his first one, and it worked. He's tried others since then, and they've crashed and burned. Waterworld. Open Range. The Postman. That last one was an especially titanic bust. The funny part is, I've seen those three films and they're really not that bad. He's given up on directing over the last decade, but at least he struck gold first. Let's dive in.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Godfather" (1972)

So we're halfway through 2014. I'm not quite halfway through my list of 86 movies to blog about though. Fell a bit behind in late May and June. Not to worry, I'll catch up. This is blog #40, and the movie this blog is about is in the eyes of some perhaps the best of the best: The Godfather. Based on Mario Puzo's 1969 book, this movie is, for what it's worth, #2 on IMDB's user ratings scale for all time. It spawned two sequels which also garnered Best Picture nominations (the only other films to achieve that were the Lord of the Rings trilogy a decade-plus ago). It made Al Pacino a star. It contains some of pop culture's favorite movie quotes. It remains the measuring stick today for all movies about the mob. It was 1972's biggest box office success, and for a time was the biggest box office draw ever. Yet at the 45th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, a sexually-charged musical set in a German nightclub nearly made this movie just another contender. We'll go more into that later. Right now, we've got a 3-hour film to turn into a synopsis of reasonable length, so let's get to it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Grand Hotel" (1931-32)

Time to cover one of those early Best Picture winners where the eligibility period wasn't as simple as today, where it runs from January 1 to December 31 of a given year. The eligibility periods varied for the first six ceremonies (this was the fifth), and this one had the range of August 1, 1931 to July 31, 1932. This film was released on April 12, 1932, and it was really the first to successfully use the formula of throwing a large number of major names into the film, giving them all storylines and having the stories all intertwine throughout the film. Some believed that the 2014 movie The Grand Budapest Hotel may have been a remake or re-imagining of this original film, Grand Hotel. That is not the case, but you can definitely find a few similarities although they're purely coincidental. Grand Hotel's screenplay was written by William A. Drake and Béla Balázs, and was based on Drake's 1930 play of the same title, which was in turn adapted from Vicki Baum's Austrian 1929 novel Menschen im Hotel. Drake and Balázs did not win an Oscar. The film was directed by Edmund Goulding. He didn't win either. I already mentioned this film had lots of star power, but none of the actors won Oscars. Nor did the cinematographer, art director or sound company. And you know what? Outside of Best Picture and short films, those were all the categories that existed at the 5th Annual Academy Awards. Yes, Grand Hotel is the record-holder, and probably forever will be, as being the Best Picture winner to win the least overall Oscars: One. This is more stunning when you discover that Grand Hotel DIDN'T EVEN HAVE ANY OTHER NOMINATIONS AT ALL. So how in the hell did this win the top prize? Maybe the synopsis will help us figure that out...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "12 Years a Slave" (2013)

When I started this blog series at the start of 2014, there were 85 Best Picture winners to blog. With the 2013 Oscars having come and gone a few months ago, that brings the count to 86. I wondered when I should cover the newest member of the Best Picture family. I didn't want to do it right after it won the Oscar, because within these blogs is a film synopsis that tells the story and gives away spoilers, so I wanted people to be able to see the film before I blabbed about it. I didn't want to do it as #86 because I've known since the beginning of this project what the final Best Picture Showcase blog was and is going to be. We're coming up on the halfway point, and it's been on DVD for a few months by now. So the time is right. The 2013 Best Picture was 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen and based on Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir of the same name, which was retraced and validated in 1968 as historically accurate. This isn't the most comfortable movie to watch, but that's kind of the point. The movie isn't out there to scold or shock, it's to teach a history lesson of a true figure from a shameful period of time in our nation's history, and to tone down the story would belittle the purpose. With that said, there will be some disturbing language in this blog, which will be present only for the purposes of quoting from and/or explaining the film. Buckle up.

Friday, June 13, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Forrest Gump" (1994)

About a week ago I learned, and posted on Facebook, that 1994's Best Picture winner Forrest Gump was going to be re-released into theaters for a short time to commemorate the film's 20th Anniversary. In doing so, I commented that I felt 1994 had the best crop of Best Picture nominees in history because I actually think this film is only the FOURTH best of the five, and that's saying something because this film is really good. As the years have passed I found myself calling this film "overrated". That's an unfair statement. It's not overrated. What happened is that over time the screenwriter's future works annoyed me so much that it caused me to retroactively discount this movie. Having just seen Gump again for the first time in many years, I actually had forgotten how good this one is. I still think it's fourth-best, but that's not at all a knock on this movie's quality. It's Eric Roth's fault.

Friday, June 6, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "On the Waterfront" (1954)

"I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody..."

It's probably one of the most quoted lines in movie history, thrown into casual conversations and even other television and movie productions. Where the line comes from is the 1954 film On the Waterfront, spoken by Marlon Brando as his character laments how his once-promising boxing career was derailed because he decided to take a shortcut. While it was ultimately his character's decision to take said shortcut, he didn't just come upon the decision on his own. There was coercion. Oh, but wait, I'm getting way ahead of myself here. On the Waterfront was based on a series of articles published in 1949 that detailed widespread corruption, extortion, and racketeering on the waterfronts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Those articles were adapted into a screenplay by Budd Schulberg, and the film was directed by Elia Kazan. The film is also famous--or infamous, as it were, although through no fault of its own--as being the answer that was ordered to be given by Herbert Stempel in place of the correct answer, Marty, in the quiz show scandal surrounding the program Twenty-One. Let's take a look at 1954's Best Picture.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Out of Africa" (1985)

Sydney Pollack tallied up a very impressive resumé in his career, mostly for directing films but also for producing, writing and even acting in them. He earned several Oscar nominations in his career but only brought home the gold for today's subject, 1985's Out of Africa. The film is based loosely on the 1937 autobiographical book of the same name written by Karen Blixen under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen with additional material from other books both from and not from Blixen. As a result, the story told in the movie takes lots of liberties versus the original source material, but like the book, the action moves along rather slowly. Knowing this going in, I had a feeling I'd be in for your classic 1980's period epic that the Academy voters loved back then. This also meant I was prepared for a long movie that might bore me. Was I right or was I surprised instead? Let's dive in.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Mrs. Miniver" (1942)

World War II rears its ugly head once again in today's blog subject, the Academy Award winning Best Picture of 1942 Mrs. Miniver. Based on the 1940 novel by Jan Struther, the film shows how the life of an innocent housewife in rural England is affected by the war. Filming actually begun before America entered the war, and as time went on, scenes were rewritten to lean more pro-British, anti-German and just overall of a war-and-troops-supporting mentality. It's one of the films going into this blog series that I knew virtually nothing about, save for the fact that it won Best Picture and that Greer Garson, after winning the Best Actress Oscar for this movie, gave what is the longest speech in Academy Awards history (nearly six minutes in length) when she got up on stage to accept the award. I wish YouTube had THAT one. Actually, they do, but only a clip. The Academy archives only have about 60-65% of the speech on video, and it's in pieces so outside of the start of her speech, even they don't know where the rest of the parts fit in chronologically. I doubt the full speech exists anymore in any form. Whatever the case, tangent over. Let's take a look at the William Wyler-directed Mrs. Miniver.

Friday, May 23, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Apartment" (1960)

Jack Lemmon. Shirley MacLaine. Billy Wilder. Fred MacMurray. Adultery. LOTS of adultery. Seems an interesting mix, doesn't it? Especially for a film that came out in 1960. That's what we have in The Apartment, the film that was Wilder's producing/directing/writing follow-up to Some Like it Hot. Like its predecessor, it's at heart a romantic comedy, and also like its predecessor, it was a critical and commercial smash. The one thing this film did that the earlier didn't? The very reason it's part of this blog series. This one won Wilder a Best Picture Oscar. Let's visit The Apartment.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


So it's been nearly three weeks since I've written a blog for the Best Picture Showcase. The reason? My wife and I took a vacation to celebrate our anniversary. We traveled through Pennsylvania and Ohio, stopping here and there along the way before finally settling for 5 days in our ultimate planned destination of Chicago, Illinois. So I figured this was the best time there ever could be for us to tackle the 2002 Best Picture winner, the movie musical Chicago. Set in the 1920's, the film is based on the 1975 Broadway musical, which had a pretty long run but was not well-received by audiences, most likely due to the show's rather dark and cynical tone. The director and choreographer of the original stage musical was Bob Fosse, and he planned a film version but passed away in 1987 before he could bring that plan to fruition. A Broadway revival was initiated in 1996 and it is still running today, and the success of that revival renewed interest in the long-dormant plans for a film version. It was worth the wait.

Friday, May 2, 2014


"If Marty is an example of the type of material that can be gleaned, then studio story editors better spend more time at home looking at television."

That quote is from Ronald Holloway of Variety magazine in his review of Marty, the 1955 winner for Best Picture. This originally aired on television in 1953, with the teleplay written by Paddy Chayefsky. For the theatrical version, he adapted his own original source material, expanding on the characters to bring this to movie length. Several of the supporting characters who appeared in the original television version also appeared here, but the main pair of characters were played not by Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand as on TV. Instead, Ernest Borgnine was cast as Marty, with Betsy Blair portraying his love interest, Clara. Critics loved it, and audiences agreed. Let's take a look at an unlikely hero in an unlikely smash hit film, both named Marty.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979)

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. If a movie were made today with those two names, it would automatically be considered a probable box office bonanza. In 1979, Hoffman was just starting to reach his peak and Streep was still on the rise. I guess it should come as no surprise, being the acting legends they've become, that when they worked together 35 years ago, their film was not only a critical and commercial success, but it was that year's winner for Best Picture. I speak of Kramer vs. Kramer, the story of a divorcing couple battling for custody of their son, based on a novel by Avery Corman. The film approached the subject matter in a way that matched the changing of the times, as a social and cultural shift had begun at that point where single mothers and single fathers were both considered a possibility, as opposed to the old-school view that a child absolutely needed to be raised by his mother no matter what. The film takes a look at this from both sides, not preaching one way as better than the other, and showing both parents as having strengths and weaknesses. Let's check it out.

Monday, April 28, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Ordinary People" (1980)

Robert Redford is considered one of the great cinematic giants of all time, and with good reason. His resumé is amazing, and he's been a heartthrob since he first appeared on the scene, cutting his teeth in television guest starring roles on shows such as The Twilight Zone. By the end of the 1960's, he has held a constant place amongst the A-listers of Hollywood. Yet, amazing as it may seem, he's not only never won an acting Oscar, he's only been nominated ONCE in his entire career (The Sting, 1973). He does have two Oscars on his mantle, however. He was awarded an Honorary statuette in 2002, but his one competitive win was actually for directing, not for acting. He's gotten two directing nominations in his career. One was for 1994's Quiz Show (which also netted him a Best Picture nomination since he was a producer on that movie) and the other was for what was his directorial debut. It was the latter that won him an Oscar, and that's today's blog subject: Ordinary People, based on the novel of the same name by Judith Guest.

Friday, April 25, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)

Hollywood went Bollywood at the 81st Annual Academy Awards ceremony when the box office sleeper hit Slumdog Millionaire almost swept the event, winning all categories but one that it was nominated in. An unlikely success, the film--which was adapted from the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup--is set fully in India with an almost-entirely Indian cast of then-unknowns to U.S. audiences, and although it is an English-language film, there's a good amount of Indian dialogue with subtitles. This isn't exactly what the moviegoing public is used to. But that may be why it worked. It was different. After quietly debuting at film festivals throughout the fall of 2008, word of mouth brought the film into people's consciousness. In time, it was an unstoppable freight train when awards season rolled around. Let's check it out.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "All the King's Men" (1949)

This is blog #27 of the 86 I'm doing in 2014 looking at all the Best Picture Oscar winners. Going in, there are a handful of films that I've not only never seen, but really know little if any about. All the King's Men was one of those. I knew zippo of the plot, the performers...nothing. For all I knew this was a 2-hour story about Humpty Dumpty. Now I've seen the film. It had nothing to do with eggs. It's a film about dirty politics, based on the book by Robert Penn Warren that is a thinly-disguised dramatization of the rise and fall of real-life 1930's Louisiana Governor Huey Long. There's also a hint of "noir" throughout the film, and as a big fan of classic film noir, that certainly scored some points. In the end, how many points did it actually score on my card? Let's dive in...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Annie Hall" (1977)

Woody Allen is probably the most polarizing figure in motion picture history. I'm not referring to being polarizing within Hollywood either, because just about everyone seems to love him. But in the court of public opinion, the mere mention of Woody's name can often bring about quite a vivid argument. This has always been the case. His movies have been understood and/or loved by some, not understood and/or loved or even liked by others. Then that whole Soon-Yi thing happened. I certainly have my opinions about that, but this isn't the time or the place to go into that, or about his moral being in general. Today, we're here to discuss his most successful (Oscars-wise) movie, the 1977 Best Picture winner Annie Hall.

Directed and co-written by Woody, Annie Hall was shot in both New York City and Los Angeles, mostly the former. It's considered to be the favorite Woody Allen film of most people, and several elements of the film (such as the wardrobe worn by the titular character) wound up to be quite influential into late 1970's society. Allen considered the film a turning point in his career, as working with cinematographer Gordon Willis brought about a new "maturity" and dramatic feel to his films, unlike his prior work. I've seen quite a number of Woody Allen films over the years, and I certainly have them classified into two lists of the ones I liked and the ones I didn't. Where will this one fall? Let's find out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936)

One of the biggest movie successes in the 1930s was today's blog subject, 1936's Best Picture winner The Great Ziegfeld. The pride of MGM at the time, it was acclaimed as the greatest musical biography to be made in Hollywood and still remains a measuring stick in musical filmmaking. The film is a fictionalized tribute to the real-life Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. and his hugely successful Ziegfeld Follies, with highly elaborate costumes, dances and sets. Many of the performers of the theatrical Ziegfeld Follies were cast in the film as themselves, including Fanny Brice and Harriet Hoctor, and Ziegfeld's real-life widow Billie Burke (who is a character in the film as well but played by Myrna Loy) acted as a supervisor for the film. Having long been a fan of movie musicals myself, there was one musical sequence that may have topped every other musical sequence I've ever seen on the showmanship scale. We'll get to that in due time. Let's take a look at the movie and see how it plays today.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Artist" (2011)

Silence is golden. At least it was at the 84th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, because for only the second time in history (the first being the very first ceremony when Wings won top honors) a silent film won Best Picture. How could a silent film actually do this in the 21st century? We'll find out as we check out The Artist, written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, who is a lover of classic cinema. He wished to make this film and studied extensively to be able to present such a movie without needing to have too many of those cards coming up on the screen giving us the dialogue actually being spoken (those are called "intertitles", by the way). Hazanavicius went so far as to present the film in the format it would have been presented back in this time period: a 1.33:1 screen ratio, music being the exclusive soundtrack (at least 99% of the'll see), even the camera techniques. For instance, there was no zoom lens technology back in the silent movie era, so this movie has not a single zoom. Movies are also normally filmed at 24 frames per second, but this film utilized 22 frames per second to give a slightly sped-up movie resembling those of yesteryear. To have sat in the theater watching "The Artist", you truly felt like you'd traveled back in time. Well, outside of the $10+ you dropped for popcorn and soda, anyway.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Oliver! It's a title AND its very own sentence! It's specifically the 1968 movie musical that took home Best Picture at the 41st Annual Academy Awards. Based on the Broadway play of the same name, it's an adaptation of the original Charles Dickens story Oliver Twist. Most of us have probably read the book at some point in our lives, but until watching the movie for this blog, I'd surprisingly never seen this film, and I had some reservations going in. Would the songs trivialize the original story? At a running time of 153 minutes, would it seem too long? Most importantly, would it stand the test of time today? Until 2002's Chicago, this was the last musical to win Best Picture, which made me wonder if perhaps this one seemed antiquated even then. For what it's worth, since the MPAA introduced the modern-day ratings system for movies in 1968 (the same year this movie was released, coincidentally), this remains to this day the only G-rated movie to win the top prize. Will my reservations be proven or disproven? Only one way to find out. Hit the music!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Unforgiven" (1992)

In the early days of Hollywood, two genres stood out as the most popular for studios to make, and for people to see: Musicals and westerns. Both genres went through a quiet period over the last several decades, with musicals finding a new popularity today. That hasn't really happened with westerns. It's not necessarily because studios haven't tried, it's more because the efforts in recent years just haven't been very good. There's definitely still an audience for westerns, and if something great were to come along I'm sure it would do massive business. However, when the best we're given is the likes of Cowboys vs. Aliens...well, thank goodness for the Encore Westerns channel on cable. Of all the channels in the Encore family of channels, the westerns channel frequently garners the highest ratings outside of the flagship Encore network itself.

What seems strange is that until 1990's Dances With Wolves, only one western in history had won Best Picture, and here in 2014, we've had a total of just three. The first was Cimarron way back from 1931, Dances... was second. We're going to focus today on the third one, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, which turned out to be Clint Eastwood's final western film by choice, for fear of repeating himself and/or turning the genre into caricature.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956)

Mike Todd believed in all things grandiose. He himself had a very grandiose personality. Bigger, better, faster, more. Nothing was out of his reach. He was abrasive, yes. He could be a blowhard, yes. He made many enemies, yes. But Mike had visions and he did everything possible to bring those visions into fruition. In his early life, he made a fortune in the construction industry with his brother. The Great Depression killed that. Undeterred, Mike started on Broadway, and he wasn't afraid to push the envelope with tricks such as jet engine props burning off dancers' dresses. That led Mike to Hollywood, where he enjoyed success creating innovative widescreen methods Cinerama and Todd-AO, with the latter garnering raves. Oh, let's not forget, he married Elizabeth Taylor by this point too. There was one more mountain Mike wanted to conquer, and that was becoming a modern-day movie mogul. His first production was Around the World in 80 Days, based on the 19th century novel by Jules Verne. Mike, in true Mike fashion, wanted this to be the biggest, grandest motion picture of all time, so it ran 3 hours long. Many extravagant sets were constructed in many countries. Dozens of guest appearances were made by celebrities, many past their prime but still able to pop the audience when they'd show up for a quick minute. According to a Time magazine review of the film, the cast (including uncredited extras) totaled over 68,000 people and nearly 8,000 animals, "...including 4 ostriches, 6 skunks, 15 elephants, 17 fighting bulls, 512 rhesus monkeys, 800 horses, 950 burros, 2,448 American buffalo, 3,800 Rocky Mountain sheep and a sacred cow that eats flowers on cue." How about wardrobe? How about 74,000+ costumes and 36,000+ wardrobe props?

As I said, Mike Todd believed in all things grandiose. However, Around the World in 80 Days was a success, and Mike gained the respect of Hollywood by delivering on his promises regarding the film. Pack a bag, because we're about to take a journey...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946)

War. What is it good for? In the song, absolutely nothing, but in Hollywood, it's always been good for movie scripts, because there have been movies written about war, or at least having some sort of a connection to war, since the first celluloid prints rolled. In 1946, the great William Wyler directed The Best Years of Our Lives, based on a novella written by journalist MacKinlay Kantor, and adapted into screenplay form by Robert Sherwood. Mogul Samuel Goldwyn was inspired to produce a film about veterans after reading a 1944 article in Time magazine about the difficulties experienced by men returning to civilian life. This was something never before brought to the public's attention in a film, and frankly back then it was probably something most people didn't even realize was an issue. World War II ended about a year before this film's release, but there wound up no "war fatigue" as the movie connected with critics and the public in a big way, not to mention the Academy, which made this the first film relating to World War II to win Best Picture. Running nearly three hours, there's a lot of film to cover here, so let's get to it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Chariots of Fire" (1981)

1981 yielded another sports-themed movie to win Best Picture, and this time around the sport turned out to be something a little seemingly-unusual for such accolades: Running. Based on actual people and events, the film tells the story of two athletes who competed in the 1924 Olympics held in Paris. One of them is Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God. The second is Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. The two become rivals throughout the course of time, and we see the story unfold from when they first enter adulthood. What is perhaps most memorable from this film is its theme song by Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, who professionally (and thankfully) goes by the name of Vangelis. Let's all stretch our legs and tie our sneakers tight to sprint into Chariots of Fire.

Monday, March 24, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Cavalcade" (1932-33)

Epics can be tricky to pull off in movies. A story that is intended to be told over a long period of time needs to be condensed into a short enough time for the story to be followable, but a long enough time for the story not to make everyone fall asleep of boredom. Some films succeed, others fail. Here's one that, in the view of the AMPAS, succeeded. Cavalcade, based on Noel Coward's play, covers a 34-year period of time in the space of a 110-minute film, from New Year's Eve of 1899 to the same date in 1933. The question is, does it still work today in 2014? Let's find out...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


1973 was a great year in my humble opinion, even though I remember absolutely none of it. You see, it was my birth year, so naturally I should be fond of it! Fortunately, it was also the year of a film that is still popular today, The Sting. Thanks to a fun screenplay by David Ward, great direction by George Roy Hill and the already-proven on-screen combination of Robert Redford and Paul Newman, it's easy to see how this film was so successful. Oh, and let's not forget about Marvin Hamlisch's catchy score, part of which takes Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" and adapts it into a song we've all whistled out loud at least once in our lifetimes (and wound up bringing Joplin more success 60 years after his death than he ever enjoyed while amongst the living). The story was inspired by real-life cons perpetrated by brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff, which were documented by David Maurer in his book The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man..

Thursday, March 13, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The English Patient" (1996)

Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat: I hated The English Patient.

When I saw the film in 1997 via a rental, I sat through its 162 minutes asking myself the same two questions for pretty much the last 102 minutes of it. One was how much longer the film would run, and the other was how this won all the Academy Awards that it did when I felt at least one other film was FAR superior. By the time the film finally did finish, I was in tears. Not because the movie was a tearjerker. I was just so goddamn happy I could finally "Be Kind, Rewind" and return that videotape to Blockbuster.

Now, in fairness, this is 17 years later, so I really wanted to be objective going in and seeing this film again for the purposes of the blog here. I was ready, willing and able. Refreshments at the ready and a comfy seat on the couch. I'm happy to say this time I was not wishing for the film to just end already after the first 60 minutes.

This time it was 30 minutes.

Let's get this over with...

Monday, March 10, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "From Here to Eternity" (1953)

Remember how we covered boxing movies in the last blog? This is not one of those films actually about boxing that has won Best Picture, but there is a subplot that involves boxing, so I suppose if you wanted to get technical, you could say this one belongs on the list too. Ultimately, From Here to Eternity is about the army and relationships involving those within it, set against the backdrop of World War II, and war is another topic that has always been a favorite setting of the Academy voters. This movie is based on the 1951 James Jones novel of the same name, with quite a number of changes made in the screenplay from the original source material. We'll talk more about that later. Let's go to war...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Million Dollar Baby" (2004)

Sports movies have always been popular, but in the history of the Academy Awards, the sport that has gotten the most love might surprise you: It's boxing. If you were to research how many movies about any particular sport have either won or been nominated for Oscars, boxing leads the pack by a wide margin. There have been a total of 26 Oscar wins, including 8 of them in technical categories (Best Film Editing has 4, which is the most of any category), and 3 movies themselves even have won Best Picture: 1954's On the Waterfront, 1976's Rocky and the film we're going to talk about today, which is the most recent boxing movie to win the top prize. This one is unusual, however, for several reasons, the biggest being that the boxer profiled is female. Let's delve into Million Dollar Baby.

Friday, February 28, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "You Can't Take It With You" (1938)

There used to be certain things you could be guaranteed of in Hollywood. You've heard the term "Hollywood Ending", right? That means everything, no matter how rough things seem, always turn out the best in the end. When it comes to Old Hollywood, probably no director personified that more than Frank Capra. Capra's films were brilliant in two regards: comedy, and the Hollywood Ending. No one did it better, and it could be argued no one ever will. Granted, the Oscars were certainly voted upon differently in the 1930's, but the fact remains Frank Capra won three Best Director awards in that decade, including for the film we're looking at today, You Can't Take It With You, because of his excellence is presenting feel-good comedy films. He scored six career nominations for Best Director, and this is the work he directed to his third and final Oscar win, a movie adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Let's check it out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dallas Bloggers Club -- 86th Annual Academy Awards predictions (March 2, 2014)

Well, we have arrived. It has been one of the more unpredictable Awards seasons we've ever seen, with several categories having no clear front-runner, and the awards leading up to now being spread around to several films and several names. This is probably the only time where with less than a week before the Oscars, I still am not 100% sure on what I think will win the top prize. THIS is the excitement the Oscars needs every year!

I'll list with each category the nominees and who or what I think will win the award, but I will also then give you my own personal vote. Meaning, if I was an Academy member, who or what I would check off on my ballot, and why. If you're partaking in an Oscar pool, maybe some of these picks will put you into the winner's circle! (Disclaimer: Author is not responsible for disastrous Oscar pools resulting from predictions made within this blog.)

Let's roll!

Monday, February 24, 2014


William Shakespeare is considered one of the great playwrights of all time, and rightfully so. Some may be intimidated by the language used in the plays, not because it's profane (it isn't) but because it's just performed in Olde English and can be hard to understand sometimes. Nonetheless, everyone knows MacBeth. Romeo and Juliet. Othello. Hamlet. King Lear. These are the names of plays, but also characters, and there are far more plays and characters than I could possibly list here. In the early days of cinema, many of Shakespeare's plays were adapted for the silver screen, so it should come as no surprise to see that at least one of them wound up crowned Best Picture by the Academy. It may come as a small surprise, though, to learn that the number of films based on Shakespeare plays that won Best Picture is just that number, one. This film was 1948's Hamlet, written, directed and produced by Sir Laurence Olivier, one of the greatest British thespians of all time. Olivier also tackled the title role himself and made Hollywood history in the process, even though some in Hollywood were a little concerned when he did. Let's check it out.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)

"Hello, Clarice."

"I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner."

"It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again."

"I ate his liver with some fava beans and nice chianti."

Many quotes became favorites within the pop culture lexicon in the early 1990's thankx to a most unlikely Best Picture Oscar winner called The Silence of the Lambs, based on the 1988 Thomas Harris novel of the same name. That last quote in particular is still thrown out there at times, especially with the noise Anthony Hopkins, as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, makes afterwards. The first psychological thriller (and some would even categorize this, I think somewhat incorrectly, as a horror film as well) to win the top Oscar prize, this film bucked the trend of Best Picture winners coming out towards the end of a calendar year. It was released into theaters rather quietly in February of 1991, and was in fact available for rental and for sale on home video by the time the Oscars took place in 1992, which made this also the first Best Picture winner to be available for public ownership at the time it won. The film made history in one more way as well upon winning as it took home the "Big Five", becoming only the third film in history (and the last one to date) to win Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay. Let's take a look at The Silence of the Lambs. Oh, but since I haven't said this in awhile, let me warn you in advance that these blogs include a full movie synopsis, so there are spoilers ahead.

Friday, February 21, 2014


As of this writing, we're just 8 days away from the 86th Annual Academy Awards, honoring the best in film from 2013. This seemed like a great time to cover our next film for the Best Picture Showcase, that which was honored as the top movie of 1963 at the 36th Annual event. So ladies and gentlemen, let's give it up for Tom Jones!, that's Tom Jones. I said Tom Jones. See? It's italicized. That means we're not talking about a person, we're referring to a title. Specifically, the title of a British film based on Henry Fielding's novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, written way back in the 18th century. Tom Jones, the singer, may have sung "It's Not Unusual", but this film certainly IS unusual for several reasons which we'll get to later. First, though, we should give you the synopsis.

Oh, and for the record, Tom Jones the singer DID actually get his stage name from this very film, so there you go.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Gandhi. I admit it. I was dreading this one.

I tried to watch this back in the late 1980's, but my teenage self just couldn't get into it. It bored me.

Now, I'm older, wiser (supposedly) and a genuine lover of film. Plus, let's face it, Gandhi won Best Picture! So in all likelihood, it's really good, right? I already know that Ben Kingsley's portrayal of the man is still revered to this day, so there's that too!

Perhaps. All I knew going in was, it was over 3 hours long. There are very few films I've ever seen that reach the 150-minute mark before I start fidgeting in my seat. 180 minutes? By then I'm practically whimpering.

I planned on doing this one last week but what was about our 37th snow event this winter killed that plan. Today, I was determined to finally get this done. I have a blog to execute, dammit, and execute it I shall!

So without further adieu...1982's Best Picture winner, Gandhi.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The French Connection" (1971)

Part of the reason I decided to do this Best Picture Showcase series of blogs was to finally do something I've been wanting to do for many years. I wanted to see all the films that won the top Oscar. For a while, I even considered owning them all, but I decided against that because there are some I just don't, or probably won't, like. Ultimately when my wife threw this blogging series idea at me late last year, the time seemed right. I estimated there were about half of the films that have won Best Picture that I've seen, and the other half I either saw only in part, or not at all, or perhaps saw some or all of but just can't remember. This film falls into that last category. I know I watched this on TV with my parents when I was young (and I'm sure it was edited because I remember there were commercials interrupting the film), but I was too young to either recall it well today, or moreso, too young to fully understand and appreciate it. All I knew then was that we had good guys chasing bad guys for 2 hours. To be honest, that pretty much is the best summation of the plot one could give for this movie. Good guys versus bad guys. Cops and robbers. Trust me though, it's anything but dull.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


There was a time when movie musicals were arguably the most popular genre amongst the filmgoing audience. For us Generation X-ers, this was "before our time". For the most part, the decades of the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's saw musicals as nothing more than outdated dinosaurs. Sure, there would be one that would pop up on the silver screen now and then, such as Grease in 1978 or Fame in 1980 or Newsies in 1992, plus the Disney films of the 1990's if you want to count those, but overall the genre didn't produce a lot of memorable films. Frankly, most of them were awful. Then you had the films that weren't musicals per se, they just happened to have a lot of music in them, such as Footloose in 1984. Here in the 21st century, the genre has made a successful comeback. As someone who has always loved classic films, musicals absolutely included, this makes me happy. Back in the Golden Age of Cinema, no studio had greater success with musicals than Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, MGM. They were the level that all other studios tried to measure up to. Greatly considered the last of those great MGM musicals was 1958's Gigi, which was based on the 1944 French novella by Colette. Let's travel back to Paris, circa 1900...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989)

Everyone probably has a favorite year in their childhood, for one reason or another. Mine was 1989. It was the year where I truly began to "find myself", if you will. I was a sophomore and then a junior in high school. I understood life, how it worked, what it meant, the people within it, family and friends and beyond. Everything made sense. Music meant more to me. In fact, 1989 was my favorite year of music. A Philadelphia radio station, WIOQ (Q102-FM), played nothing but the music that I really discovered was the genre I liked the most, the overall dance genre and all of its subgenres. I listened to it for hours and hours a day. I found and still have my very select circle of friends from high school that I keep in contact with, plus one additional friend I met through, of all things, a pen-pal service in 1989. Zoë Rusga (née Collins), a gal from England who shared a lot of the interests I did, and to this day is one of the most treasured friends of my lifetime, despite the fact that we've only actually met in person once up to now. I officially found my favorite sports teams, the Chicago Cubs for baseball and the Philadelphia Eagles for football. Even pro wrestling was best in 1989. Flair versus Steamboat. Enough said. As far as movies, and more specifically the Oscars, it was the first year where I really got into the whole ordeal. I knew what the Oscars were, and I already had discovered that I loved movies, but by the time the 1990 Oscars rolled around to honor film's best from 1989, this was where for the first time I found myself not just interested in the whole process, but downright NEEDING to know everything about it. Now, of course, I was still just 16 so I wasn't driving yet, and there wasn't Netflix and instant streaming, and I couldn't get into R-rated movies yet, so for all these reasons I wouldn't be able to see a lot of these films until after the Oscars were to already have happened anyway. That didn't diminish my excitement, however, for the 62nd Annual Academy Awards, which was the first Oscars broadcast I watched from start to finish, rooting for my choice movies and actors. The Best Picture that year? Driving Miss Daisy, a film based on Alfred Uhry's off-Broadway play set in the 1950's-1970's.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Wings" (1927-28)

Well, in blogging what will be a total of 86 Best Picture Oscar winners, we were eventually going to include the very first of those films to win. My wife and I had this one sitting in the TiVO for awhile, and we finally decided to watch it this past weekend. Unbeknownst to each other, we both had some reservations going into it. We didn't care that it's a silent film, but because it IS a silent film, we were concerned it would contain some of the elements of what many silent films contain. Exaggerated comedy. Melodrama. Questionable acting. Even more questionable dialogue. Another concern was the fact that the film runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes, which is pretty long even by today's standards. How did we feel after the film finished? Well, I'll save that for after the synopsis.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "It Happened One Night" (1934)

Sometimes history gets made at the Oscars in rare ways. Such history was made twofold at the 7th Annual Academy Awards when It Happened One Night achieved two feats that to this day have only happened a handful of times each in the 85 years of Oscars being handed out. The film completed the "Oscar grand slam" by winning in all five major categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay), a feat that was also achieved by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The second history-making occurrence was completing the "Oscar sweep" of winning in every category (5 in total) it was nominated in, a feat also since achieved by the likes of The Last Emperor (1987, 9-for-9) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003, 11-for-11). [For the purposes of keeping things reasonable, I'm considering a film to need at least 5 total nominations for classification of completing an Oscar sweep.] With that kind of success in relation to the Oscars, one would think this would be considered one of the greatest films of all time. Then again, this was a 1934 film and neither of those achievements happened again for decades, so it's possibly safe to say that the tastes of Hollywood and the Academy may have been different back then. Let's find out.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947)

Hollywood sometimes gives us movies that tackle uncomfortable subjects. Nowadays, this is done with a lot less trepidation (and some would say, a lot less class), but when it occurred in 1947, there was PLENTY of trepidation. The subject? Anti-Semitism. This was something that ran rampant in society back then. Laura Z. Hobson knew this, and wanted to do something about it. She wrote a story that was serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine back in 1946 called "Gentleman's Agreement". It earned rave reviews. The next year, Hobson released the full story in book form, and it was a runaway hit that did indeed open the eyes of many people who practiced anti-Semitism, whether or not they realized it and/or liked it. So why would there still be such trepidation in Hollywood from a film based on the book? Producer Darryl F. Zanuck experienced anti-Semitism on a firsthand basis when he was refused a country club membership because the club thought (incorrectly) that he was Jewish. From that experience, and having just read Hobson's book, he wanted this film to be made immediately. However, there were many other studio moguls hoping he would change his mind on this because they found the subject uncomfortable or even taboo. This is especially shocking because most of those other moguls were...yep, you guessed it...Jewish!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar nominations: What we learned

The nominations for the 86th Annual Academy Awards were announced this morning, and it was the usual mix of surprises, snubs and things expected. Several categories had an overabundance of potential nominees, so there were bound to be a few films shut out despite recent momentum for some of those films. The category that actually wound up surprising us the most was one that left out two seemingly-surefire titles. While nothing this year seems to have created the firestorm that erupted upon Ben Affleck's not being nominated for Best Director last year, that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot we learned about the Academy's thinking when it comes to the films, performances and overall work of 2013. Let's take a closer look.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "No Country For Old Men" (2007)

Joel & Ethan Coen are considered genius writers and directors. They should be. They have given us some classic films over time, many of which have been award-winning. However, for the most part, Oscars eluded them. Sure, they would get nominations, but until the 2008 ceremony they didn't find themselves accepting the awards. That changed with No Country For Old Men, a combination crime drama/western set in 1980 throughout the state of Texas. It is based on Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel. Many critics hailed this as the best film of their careers, and the Coen mantles wound up quite heavy with prizes as a result of it. I personally was not all that thrilled with the movie when I first saw it. I found it lacking in some character development, and moreso I found it lacking in closure. I was obviously in the minority, however.

Monday, January 13, 2014

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "Midnight Cowboy" (1969)

When I decided to start this project of blogging all the Oscar winners for Best Picture, I knew there would be a few films that I'd seen some or all of but couldn't remember well, and I knew there would be a few films that were individually unique. The first film I drew at random was one that filled both of those qualifications, 1969's Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy. I know somewhere in my late teens I watched at least some of this movie, and I know the exact reason why I did. It was rated X! Wow! An X-rated film won the top prize! Naturally, to my blooming post-pubescent mind, this meant the film was going to be a sex-filled romp with enough F-bombs flying around to make Martin Scorsese wave the white flag. As it turns out, this is not the case. However, the film does have a pretty sizable amount of nudity for its time. Nothing full-frontal, but plenty of bare ass, both male and female. Also, several scenes of implied homosexuality exist. So yes, I can see why this film was given an X-rating back in the day. At the time, however, "X" just meant that no one under 18 was admitted under any circumstances, and there were many movies that were given that rating. For instance, A Clockwork Orange was initially released with an X-rating. Years later, when the porn industry exploded (no jokes, please), "X" pretty much wound up going just onto those films. Even Midnight Cowboy itself is tame by today's standards, and in fact was reclassified in 1971 as an R-rated film with no edits made.

The 2014 Blog Project of Hollywood Coyote

Good Lord, what is he doing now? I'll tell ya what. I'm blogging. Regularly, even! My wife, who is fantastic beyond words, pitched an idea to me that I thought was great. Blog about all the Best Picture Oscar winners during this year. This way, I'll be blogging more often, and I'll finally get to achieve my goal of seeing all of the films that won the top Academy Award. Hey, why not? So last week, I decided it was time to start. All the films were written onto pieces of paper, the papers were all folded up, and all of them went into a bowl. I'm going to draw them out at random, watch the film and then discuss it. Hopefully you'll have fun taking the ride with me. Hey, you might discover a great new/old film you didn't know about. Hell, so could I! The first film drawn out was 1969's "Midnight Cowboy". That blog will be coming shortly. Oh, and for the record, these blogs will include a film synopsis, so prepare for spoilers!