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.