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...