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.