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!