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.