Friday, April 30, 2010

Year in Review: 2004

2004 was an excellent year for movies. There were quite a few films that were deserving of high praise – in fact come back to me next week, and I may have a different film at number 10, as there were just too many to decide from.

10. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
I think Vera Drake might just be the best film of Mike Leigh’s career. It stars Imelda Staunton is an amazing performance as the title character who in 1950 London “helps girls in trouble” by performing abortions for them. This is done without fanfare or bombast by Leigh, who simply observes Vera as she goes about her life – performing abortions is just one of things she does. Leigh makes the point that the rich were able to get abortions done legally and cleanly – all they had to do is find a doctor who would say that it had to be done for the “woman’s safety”, and pay them enough to get it done. Meanwhile, the poor have no one but people like Vera to turn to. The film is an expertly crafted drama that looks at working class life in this neighborhood of England with open eyes – it doesn’t romanticize or demonize anyone involved, but simply sits back and observes. A wonderful little film.

9. Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar)
Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education is like a Hitchcock thriller with a gay twist. The film is about two boys who in the early 1960s discover cinema, and their own budding sexuality, and are molested by their teacher and Catholic priest. Now 20 years later, the two have lost touch, and one has become a famed director, when someone claiming to be the other (Gael Garcia Bernal in an amazing performance) shows up with a screenplay he wants his old friend to direct – but insists on playing the lead role himself. Thus begins a thriller of a movie, where long buried secrets come out, and sex and death is forever intertwined. Out of all of Almodovar’s films, I think Bad Education maybe my favorite – not the best, but the one I enjoy the most. Bernal is simply amazing in the lead role – requiring him to essentially play different characters who all inhabit the same body. The lush cinematography is an Almodovar trademark is very much on display here. A wonderful thriller, with sexual overtones.

8. Collateral (Michael Mann)
Michael Mann’s Collateral is another one of his relentless action films that starts out strong, and just keeps getting better. Tom Cruise delivers one of his best performances as a professional hit man who hires cab driver Jamie Foxx to drive him around for the night. Foxx doesn’t know what he is getting himself in for. The action takes place over the course of one night – where Cruise forces Foxx to drive him from one location to the next – he needs to kill five people in that time – so they have to keep moving. The movie is essentially about these two very different men – the violent, unremorseful Cruise, and the good guy Foxx just trying to survive. There are excellent cameos littered throughout the movie (the best undoubtedly by Javier Bardem, although Mark Ruffalo is excellent as well). The cinematography by Dion Bebee is excellent – pushing digital photography into new realms of excellence – and the movie doesn’t let up until the final moments. Had the movie had a little bit of a stronger ending, this easily would have placed much higher on this list.

7. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby seemingly came out of nowhere in 2004 to win the best picture Oscar. Much like the film’s release, the film itself sneaks up on you. At first it appears to be a well made film about a grizzled old boxing coach (Eastwood himself, in a great performance) who begrudgingly takes on his first female boxer (Hilary Swank) and helps turn her into a champion. Morgan Freeman offers support as the wild old man who hangs out in the gym. But the first two acts of Eastwood’s film simply serve to make us care about the characters – build up a love and respect for them, so Eastwood can hit us hard in the third act of the film, which makes the movie much more than another boxing movie. Eastwood is not a fancy director – he plays things close to the vest – but he handles the film amazingly well. Even in the final act, he isn’t milking tears from the audience. Any tears the film gets, it earns. One of the triumphs of Eastwood’s career – both in front of and behind the camera.

6. The Incredibles (Brad Bird)
Brad Bird moved to Pixar with this film after making The Iron Giant - one of the best of the traditional animated films in recent memory. The Incredibles is one of those films that are endlessly rewatchable. It is also one of Pixar’s more complex efforts – a fun superhero movie, a great action movie, a touching family drama, a hilarious comedy, and a commentary on our times when we try and make everyone feel special, rewarding people for the most mundane of tasks. The Incredibles is breathlessly exciting entertainment, brilliantly well animated and a great story told with wit and precision. This is the film when we really knew that Bird was a special filmmaker.

5. Dogville (Lars von Trier)
I know that Von Trier enrages as many people with his films as he engages. This decade, he took his films to another level. I could have just have easily included Dancer in the Dark or Antichrist on this list (shamefully, there wasn’t enough room), but I do think that Dogville is his best, most engaging film. Shot on a bare soundstage, the movie tells the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman in a fearless performance), who comes to the small mountain town of Dogville on the run from her past. At first, she finds the people helpful and kind, but soon they start to take advantage of her. Kidman’s performance is brilliant – perhaps the best of her career – but I think it is Paul Bettany who truly makes the film great. He holds himself above the rest of the people morally speaking, but at heart, he is really just another spineless coward. Dogville, at nearly three hours long, is engaging, fascinating and incendiary. Only Von Trier would even attempt to make this film.

4. The Aviator (Martin Scorsese)
Unlike most of his cohorts who came of filmmaking age in the 1970s, Martin Scorsese is still turning out great films. The Aviator is at first glance, just another splashy, big budgeted Hollywood biopic, concentrating on Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the years before he became the crazed, germaphobic recluse who locked himself in his Las Vegas hotel and never came out. DiCaprio perfectly captures Hughes – which is a challenge because physically, I don’t see much resemblance. The movie is essentially about how the same things that destroyed Hughes – his possessiveness – is also what made him great in the first place. Brilliantly filmed by Scorsese and Robert Richardson, the film is almost three hours long but moves at a restless pace throughout. DiCaprio is great, but he is supported by a wonderful cast – most notably Cate Blanchatt in her Oscar winning turn as Katherine Hepburn. The Aviator is one of the many triumph’s of Scorsese’s career.

3. Sideways (Alexander Payne)
Alexander Payne’s Sideways is a sly comedy for grown-ups. Two men go on a wine tasting tour on the weekend before one of them is to become married. Paul Giamatti is the wine connoisseur (which in his case is a fancy way of saying alcoholic) who is still reeling from the fact that his wife has left him, and he cannot get his latest book published. His best friend is Thomas Haden Church, who just wants to let loose and have fun before he gets married. They meet two women – Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh – and that’s where things get really interesting. Sideways is a movie about two middle aged men still stuck in adolescence, who with the help of the women in their lives, start to take real steps towards adulthood. All the critical bashers of the movie – who claimed that most movie critics who celebrated the film looked like Paul Giamatti and wanted to bone someone who looked like Virginia Madsen – were misguided. This is just a lovely, life affirming little gem of a comedy.

2. Kill Bill: Volume II (Quentin Tarantino)
When I first heard Quentin Tarantino was going to make his epic Kill Bill two movies instead of one I thought that it was just his massive ego, combined the Weinsteins greed that prompted the decision. However, although both films are very much a part of a whole, they are two distinct movies. This second chapter is less hyper active then the first film – more dialogue driven than the relentless action of the first installment. Uma Thurman once again anchors the film as the vengeful Bride who wants to get the last two of Bill’s henchmen (Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah) before moving onto Bill himself (David Carradine). All of these actors are brilliant, and I loved that Tarantino slowed the pace of this movie down a little bit to allow more time to explore his unique world and vision. Every time I think that Tarantino has been driven mad by his ego, he comes up with a masterful film like this one to win me back.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michael Gondry)
Life is about making mistakes and learning from them. It is our memories, of both the good and bad times in our lives that make up who we are as a person. And if you take away those memories, all that is left is hollow shell – a body without a soul. Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind understands this, and together they have made perhaps not the greatest love story of the decade, but the greatest film about love. Jim Carrey gives easily his best performance as a man who finds out that his ex-girlfriend, Kate Winslet, has undergone a procedure to erase all memory of him from her mind. For spite, he decides to go through the same process – only part way through the procedure, he realizes that he wants to hold onto those memories and starts fighting back, trying hide memories inside different parts of his brain. Like all of the films written by Charlie Kaufman, this one is about the mind, and how it works, and is endlessly imaginative film – visually inventive from start to finish by Gondry, brilliantly bringing to life Kaufman’s ideas. (The films Gondry has made since this one prove that while he remains an inventive filmmaker, he should get someone else to write his movies). Carrey and Winslet are a perfectly matched pair in this film – both diving headlong into their roles, and taking risk and risk, all of which pay off brilliantly. When at the end of the film, they decide to try again, even though they know that last time it didn’t work out (although they have no idea why), they are in a way reclaiming their humanity from technology. A brilliant movie for our times.

Just Missed The Top 10: Mean Creek, Undertow, Infernal Affairs, Infernal Affairs II, Fahrenheit 9/11, Assassination of Richard Nixon, The, Closer, Spiderman 2, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Terminal, The, Baadasssss!, Hero, Friday Night Lights, Dreamers, The, Brothers, Ladykillers, The, Kinsey, Birth, Time of the Wolf, Very Long Engagement, A, Red Lights, Zatoichi, Before Sunset, Spartan, Maria, Full of Grace, Dawn of the Dead, I ♥ Huckabees, The Woodsman.

Oscar Winner – Best Picture & Director: Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood)
Back in 2004 no matter how much I loved Eastwood’s film, I was cheering for Alexander Payne’s minimalist comedy Sideways, with the hopes that Scorsese would finally win Best Director for The Aviator. It didn’t work out that way, but I am okay with how things turned out. True, I still think those two films were better than this one – but this is better than most films that win the award, so I’m okay with this.

Oscar Winner – Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Jamie Foxx does a dynamite impression of Ray Charles Taylor Hackford’s biopic about the famed singer – and his struggles with drugs and fidelity. But to me, that’s what the performance remains – an impression. Hackford’s direction is a little too by the numbers for me, and although the film is entertaining in the extreme, it isn’t great. Very good, but not great. How the hell they didn’t nominate Paul Giamatti or Jim Carrey I’ll never understand.

Oscar Winner – Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Hilary Swank is very good in Million Dollar Baby, but the truth of the matter is that she has the least challenging role of the three leads. The film is really Eastwood’s – about his journey of self discover more than Swank’s who is really just there to support him. She is really good, don’t get me wrong, but did she really need a second Oscar so soon?

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Morgan Freeman finally won his Oscar for his excellent performance in this film. He plays the type of role that has become his speciality since The Shawshank Redemption in 1994 – that of the kind, old black man who helps out the white characters. I know that sounds like an insult, but Freeman brings untold levels of depth, nuance and emotion to those roles that help to transcend that. I still would have voted for Thomas Haden Church or Clive Owen in Closer, but Freeman certainly does deserve an Oscar.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchatt, The Aviator
Much like Jamie Foxx in Ray, Cate Blanchatt is called on to do an impersonation of a famous person in this movie – in this case Katherine Hepburn – and does so brilliantly. But Blanchatt goes a little deeper than Foxx does, getting under Hepburn’s skin a little bit, and making her into a more complete character. I have no idea if the tale told in the film is true - some have insisted that the relationship lasted longer in the movie than in real life - but it hardly matters. It is a dynamic performance by a great actress, so no complaints here, even if I would have given the award to Virginia Madsen's sentimental performance in Sideways.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Year in Review: 1990

1990 contains one of my all time favorite films by my favorite director – so obviously, you know what the number 1 film will be. Having said that, there are a wealth of good movies by great directors this year.

10. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton)
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a graphic and disturbing movie. Although the film was made in 1986, it was so violent and disturbing it took the film 4 years to get an actual release. Michael Rooker gives the best performance of his career as Henry – a life long criminal who kills without feeling and remorse. Because he varies how he kills his victims, no one even suspects that there is a serial killer at more. In Otis (Tom Towles) Henry finds a partner that is equally depraved as he is – someone to share his crime spree with. With Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold), Henry finds someone he is attracted to, and seems to like him too. But this doesn’t stop him and Otis – who kill anyone they feel like. The film is graphic in content, and disturbing to its core. As the dysfunctional family that the three of them have set up comes crashing down, the violence becomes even harder, more difficult to stomach. The final shot of the movie is haunting – as Henry simply leaves a bloodstained suitcase on the side of the road and we hear screaming on the soundtrack. Although it has since been proved that Henry Lee Lucas, the real life serial killer on which the movie is based, killed nowhere near the number of people he claimed – Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is still a brutal, unrelenting and powerful movie.

9. Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner)
Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves is the kind of epic Hollywood film that they pretty much forgot how to make by 1990. This long Western is about a Civil War solider (Costner himself) sent to a remote outpost, where it turns out he is the only one there. Gradually, he gets to know and bonds with the local native tribes. Costner’s film is expertly made by him as a director – which is impressive since it was his first film behind the camera – and acts as a necessarily corrective to all the classic Westerns which portrayed the Natives as little more than bloodthirsty savages. This isn’t exactly the most exciting or innovative movie ever made – Costner himself admits that his style is fairly conservative – but what it does, it does extremely well. It is grand, sweeping, old fashioned entertainment.

8. The Godfather Part III (Francis Ford Coppola)
No, The Godfather Part III is nowhere near as good as the first two in the series – which are two of the very best films ever made. And no, I really do not think that the movie was in any way, shape or form necessary – the first top perfectly documented Michael Corleone’s rise and fall. However, once I got past that (not to mention the awful performance by Sophia Coppola), and take the movie on its own terms, I found that what I was left with was an expertly crafted gangster epic. Pacino is as good as always as Michael – now in way too deep to ever get out of the mob life, and alone since Diane Keaton’s Kay has long since left him. But he is still haunted by the sins of his past, and finds that he cannot escape them, no matter what he does. Coppola’s direction is excellent – the screenplay quite good, and the supporting cast wonderful. So no, the film is nowhere near as good as the first two in the series – but seriously, how could it be?

7. Reversal of Fortune (Barbet Schroeder)
The main attraction of Barbet Schroeder’s wonderful Reversal of Fortune has got to be the cold as ice performance by Jeremy Irons (who won an Oscar for the role) as Claus von Bulow. Claus was charged with attempted murder following his wife Sonny (Glenn Close) falling into a coma, apparently because she was given too much insulin. The movie is narrated by Sonny from her coma, and details what led to the apparent crime and the trial – which became a huge media event. Throughout the movie, Irons cold performance is a marvel to watch – no more so than in the final scene, where following his acquittal, he walks into a pharmacy and can tell that the pharmacist recognizes his picture from the front page of the paper and he asks for “a vial of insulin” to the shocked pharmacist, before winking and say “Just kidding”. A marvelous performance at the heart of a great movie.

6. Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty)
Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy is a comic book movie which literally looks like it was torn straight for the pages. Shot is basic, classic colors – bright yellows, deep crimsons, loud greens – like an old time comic strip, the film is a visual marvel from beginning to end, bringing to life a comic book like no other movie before it – or really since either. Beatty himself gives an excellent performance as the title character – a no nonsense cop torn between the good girl and the bad girl (Madonna, one of the films only weak spots) on the trail of Big Boy (Al Pacino is a deliciously over the top performance). This is a comic book movie with style to burn – but also tells a wonderful, old fashioned pulp story. Marvelous.

5. Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton)
Easily one of the best films Tim Burton has ever made, Edward Scissorhands also gives Burton’s favorite actor – Johnny Depp – one of the best roles of his career as the the title character – a sort of cobbled together Frankenstein, with hideously long, scary scissors for hands. Although he looks terrifying, Edward is really a lost, gentle soul who finds a place in the family who takes him in (including Winona Ryder, who is wonderful and Dianne Wiest who is even better). Like all of Burton’s films Edward Scissorhands is a visual marvel for beginning to end – a dark homage to the Universal horror films he loves so much. Unlike most of them though, this one has a story that connects to the audience and breaks your heart. A wonderous movie.

4. Wild at Heart (David Lynch)
David Lynch’s darkly comic Wild at Heart is like The Wizard of Oz on acid. In the film, Nicolas Cage gives an excellent performance as Sailor, who goes on the run with his young girlfriend Lulu – an equally great Laura Dern – to get away from her domineering mother – a wickedly warped Diane Ladd, who gets the mafia involved in tracking them down. The film is full of bizarre supporting characters – the vile Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) who tries to rape Lulu before laughing it all off, and eventually blowing his own head off by accident, Harry Dean Stanton as a PI who tries to track them down, JE Freeman (also wonderful in this year’s Miller’s Crossing) as a gangster also on their trail – and in one completely off the wall sequence Crispin Glover as Lulu’s mentally ill cousin screaming about cheese sandwiches. The film is gruesomely violent and wildly over the top – it will likely infuriate as many people as it gets to love it – but I definitely fall into the later category. Only from the mind of David Lynch could something this bizarre emerge – and work as wonderfully well as it does here.

3. The Grifters (Stephen Frears)
Stephen Frears’ The Grifters is one of the greatest con man movies ever made – and an excellent example of neo-noir. John Cusack is Roy, a small time grafter who gets caught in one of his scams and is beaten almost to death. His mother is Lily (Angelica Huston), a con artist of much more skill who tries to convince him to get out of the game when she sees him for the first time in years. Lily instantly distrusts Myra (Annette Bening) his son’s older girlfriend, who is also a con artist, who tries to get Roy to go in on a scheme with her. When he refuses, she is angry and blames Lily – and sets out to get her revenge. The movie then takes twist after twist, and we are never sure until the final scene who is really scamming who, and why. The film is expertly crafted by Frears, wonderfully written by Donald Westlake, based on a great Jim Thompson novel, and acted to perfection by the three leads. For those who think they don’t make movies like they did in the 1940s anymore – this one is for you.

2. Miller’s Crossing (Joel Coen)
The Coen brothers obviously love the American films of the 1940s, and with Miller’s Crossing they have made their version of the film noir – a dark gangster tale, with it own light Coen touches. Gabriel Byrne gives an excellent performance as a hitman for mob boss Albert Finney, who gets himself in trouble with his rival Jon Polito, by refusing to giving up John Turturro to be killed. Turturro is the brother of Marcia Gay Harden – a hardboiled gun moll who is Finney’s girlfriend, and has been having an affair with Bryne. A gang war breaks out between the two rivals, with only Tom being able to go back and forth. The film is expertly crafted – with marvelous cinematography, and great production design throughout. This is perhaps Bryne’s best performance as the hit man who at first looks into his heart to save Turturro – but later, cannot do the same thing again. A wonderful neo noir as only the Coen brothers can do it – Miller’s Crossing is great entertainment – perfectly acted, written and directed, and one of the triumphs of the Coen’s career.

1. GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas is the greatest mob movie ever made – greater than even the first two chapters in The Godfather saga. Unlike those films, which looked at the top of the Mafia foodchain, this one looks much further down – at the lives of the foot soliders. Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill narrates the story of how he got hooked on life in the mob as a teenager, and then spent his entire adult life with them – robbing, killing, partying and basically living the high life, until drugs among other things, makes it all come crashing down around him. Scorsese’s movie is restless and moves with supreme energy throughout – introducing us to dozens of characters over the span of 30 years. The other key roles belong to Robert DeNiro as Hill’s mentor, the cold blooded Jimmy “The Gent” Conway, Paul Sorvino as the mob boss Paulie who looks at Henry like his own son, and is devastated by what happens to him, Joe Pesci as his insane friend Nicky, who kills at the slightest provocation and Lorraine Bracco as his long suffering wife, who is both repulsed and turned on by the life. The film is masterfully directed by Scorsese – violent in the extreme, but also honest. This is one of the very best films of his career – and of all time.

Just Missed The Top 10: After Dark, My Sweet (James Foley), Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (Akira Kurosawa), Q&A (Sidney Lumet), The Hunt for Red October (Jon McTiernan), The Freshman (Andrew Bergman), Texasville (Peter Bogdanovich), Last Exit to Brooklyn (Uli Edel), Monsieur Hire (Patrice Leconte), Misery (Rob Reiner), Ju Dou (Zhang Yimou), White Hunter, Black Heart (Clint Eastwood).

Oscar Winner – Best Picture & Director: Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner)
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Academy went for the safer, more old fashioned choice for its best picture and director awards this year. You leave Dances with Wolves feeling good – which is not quite the case with its main competition – Scorsese’s GoodFellas. Costner’s film has had its reputation tarnished in recent years for two reasons – 1) It beat GoodFellas and 2) Costner’s subsequent career behind the camera hasn’t been stellar (although I maintain that Open Range is an excellent Western). Neither are the films fault and I think that if you watch it again, you would have to admit that it is a fine epic film – the kind that Hollywood has seemingly forgot how to make in the last few decades.

Oscar Winner – Best Actor: Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune
Jeremy Irons Oscar was richly deserved this year – especially considering his competition. I love Robert DeNiro more than any other actor in history, but his performance in Awakenings is nowhere near his best, and do not get me started on that turd of a film that is The Field that got Richard Harris a nomination. In his Oscar acceptance speech, Irons thanked David Cronenberg, perhaps a sign that he – like me – thinks his work in 1988’s Dead Ringers really deserved this award. But Irons deserved it here as well – he is absolutely chilling as Claus von Bulow. I am a little saddened that Ray Liotta didn’t get nominated for his great work in GoodFellas, or that Gabirel Bryne was overlooked for Miller’s Crossing, or hell, even Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III, but Irons was better than even them, so I’m happy here.

Oscar Winner – Best Actress: Kathy Bates, Misery
Horror movies are so rarely honored by the Academy that any time they are, it is a reason for fans of the genre to celebrate. I do not think that Rob Reiner’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel Misery is a great film – but it is a very good one, and Kathy Bates as the crazed fan of writer James Caan is simply brilliant in the lead role. She walks that fine line – that so few have before – that allows her crazy character to still seem completely believable from beginning to end. It also says something that this is essentially a two character piece, with little action and a lot of talk – and yet the film is still edge of your seat excitement. Yeah, I probably would have voted for Angelica Huston’s heartless mother in The Grifters, but I have no problem with this win.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actor: Joe Pesci, GoodFellas
Joe Pesci’s performance in GoodFellas is one of the great supporting performances of all time. As the crazed psychopathic gangster, Pesci turns on a dime from fun loving guy to cold blooded killer – you are never quite sure what he is going to do next. Like we have seen in recent years, the Academy loves giving bad guys this award – and in Pesci’s case it was richly deserved. Am I the only one who noticed that all three of the winners discussed so far are psychopaths? Strange. Pesci’s competition was average – Davison, Garcia and Greene are all fine, but not exceptional, and I do love Al Pacino’s cartoon performance in Dick Tracy – but there were a lot of great supporting performances that were overlooked – Turturro in Miller’s Crossing, DeNiro in GoodFellas and Brando in The Freshman to name but three that were better than most of the nominees.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actress: Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost
Perhaps it was the fact that the other three Oscar winners this year are all playing horrific individuals, perhaps it was just that the Academy loves Whoopi Goldberg, but whatever the reason, I cannot believe that they felt this was the best supporting actress performance of the year. True, Goldberg is the best thing about this incredibly cheesy, incredibly annoying “classic” romance – but that isn’t saying much – Ghost is still, in my mind, perhaps the worst film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in the 1990s. Given that they could have rewarded Lorraine Bracco’s amazing performance in GoodFellas, or even Annette Bening’s sexually fun performance in The Grifters or Diane Ladd's absolutely crazy work in Wild at Heart, this one stings a little.

NHL Playoffs: Round 2 Predictions

So in the first round I went4 for 8 in my predictions, not very good Rhe Vancouver LA series based partly on wishful thinking, and the rest because of a combination of one team either playing far better than I suspected (Philadelphia, Boston) or the other team playing far worse (New Jersey, Buffalo – why the hell couldn’t they score?). As for Montreal vs. Washington, I did say that Halak had to play with superhuman ability for Montreal to win – I just didn’t think he would. Just a weird note – did anyone else notice that all three Vezina trophy candidates – Miller, Brodeur and Bryzgalov – got eliminated in round 1? Not to say they were bad, but you expect the teams with the best goalies to win in the playoffs.

Western Conference
I honestly thought we would see at least one upset here in the Western conference in Round 1, but we didn’t really. I did pick LA to beat Vancouver, but I was predicting the upset there, so the result was probably to be expected. But just like last round – where all four series were wonderful – I think the two series this round will also be great

(1) San Jose vs. (5) Detroit
San Jose has got to be happy with the way their series against Colorado ended. After getting off to a rocky start, where they seemed unable to beat Craig Anderson, and then going down 2-1 after that horribly unlucky overtime goal that Dan Boyle scored on his own net, the Sharks buckled down and got the job done in three straight games. Boyle rebounded and became their best defensemen again, and although he struggled early in the series, Evengi Nabokov tightened up as the series went along. The line of Pavelski, Clowe and Setoguchi had a great Round 1 as well. What has to worry the Sharks a little is that their top line of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley never really got things going in Round 1. The Sharks are a deep enough offenseive team that against a weak opponent like Colorado, it didn’t matter. It will against Detroit. For their part, the Red Wings had a hard fought battle against the Coyotes, being the only series to go to seven games in the West. Their experience ended up being too much for the upstart Coyotes in Game 7 though where they turned up the heat, and even Bryzgalov couldn’t help them too much. Rookie Jimmy Howard did a good job in net, despite a few understandable shaky moments – but he will need to be better against the superior offense of San Jose. Detroit’s best players were their best when it mattered most, but I did notice that at times during the series, they started to show their age as they were slowing down a bit. The key for Detroit in winning this series against San Jose will be to do it quickly – another long series, and I think their veterans won’t be able to keep up. Because I do think that San Jose will make this a battle, I have to give the advantage to them. Prediction: San Jose in 7.

(2) Chicago vs. (3) Vancouver
Strangely, both of these teams had a very similar round 1, falling behind two games to one to teams everyone thought they would beat, and then having to fight back and win the series in six. For Chicago, they were ground down by the defense and goaltending of Nashville, but once they broke through – and their scorers Toews, Sharp, Kane and Hossa broke through, Nashville just didn’t have an answer for them. Their quick, puck moving defensemen – Keith, Seabrook, Sopel and Campbell – look to make things miserable on Vancouver this series, just like Doughty, Scuderi and Johnson did at times in the LA series. As well, I think Chicago has a slight advantage in their checking line being a little younger and faster than LA’s was. The big question for Chicago will be in net. Annti Niemi was fine against Nashville, but nothing more. His team outshot the Predators in every game, but the scores were tight – I don’t think the more offensively minded Canucks will allow that to happen this series, so he needs to step up his game. For Vancouver, they have to be happy with the ways things went in the final three games against LA. The Sedins, along with Samuelson, stepped up big offensively (although they have to work on playing an entire 60 minute game, and not continually hope they can come up big in the third period), and they got support from the likes of previous underachievers Demitra and Bernier. Their defense and penalty, which looked weak early on, got much better as they went along, as did their power play. The biggest factor though is Luongo, who in those first three games was outmatched by Quick, before he buckled down and came up HUGE in the last three games. Against the more offensive Blackhawks, he will have to step up even more in Round 2. This is going to be a great series – a rivalry has formed since the Blackhawks ousted the Canucks in Round 2 last year, and they look to repeat. I think though that Lunogo has found his comfort zone, and is determined. Prediction: Vancouver in 7.

Eastern Conference
The East had tons of upsets in round 1, so I'm interested to see what happens in round 2. Perhaps Montreal has another shocker in store for us.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (8) Montreal
Pittsburgh has got to feel pretty good coming into this series. Sidney Crosby seems more determined even than last year for the Pens to win the cup – he was easily the best non-goaltender in any first round series. Malkin has come along nicely as well after a disappointing season. Their defense is doing good, and Fleury looks confident in net. They are now the top ranked team left in the East, and also the most complete package. Montreal on the other hand is feeling fantastic after their historic first round win against Washington – especially since they went down 3-1, and then came back with three great games in a row, backstopped by Halak who was easily the best goaltender in Round 1. They got scoring at key times from key players and their defense looks strong – blocking all kinds of shots. However, I don’t think Montreal is going to be able to sustain their momentum against the Pens. The Pens are a much more complete team, with better goaltending and defense than the Caps had – so I doubt that Montreal will be able to continue to win if they get outshot 50-20 as they did even in their wins against Washington. As well, the Pens have a more varied offense – Washington never changed their game plan, they just kept rifling the puck at the net and hoped they’d score. Plus, the Pens know how to close out a series. The Pens won’t do that. Montreal is determined, but they are up against too formible of an opponent this time. Prediction: Pittsburgh in Six.

(6)Boston vs. (7) Philadelphia
Both of these teams have got to feel like they hit the jackpot with their round 2 matchup. Boston beat the third ranked Buffalo, and Philly beat the second ranked Devils, and normally when you pull off an upset like that in round 1, you have to face another high ranked team. But because of all the upsets in Round 1, that didn’t happen. Boston played well in the first round – getting their key players to score big goals, their defense to shut down Buffalo’s offense, and when all else failed, Tukka Rask backstopped them with a great performance in net. Getting Marc Savard back will help – not just because of his ability, but also as a morale booster. As for Philly, they were impressive in knocking off the Devils – the only series that went only 5 games. Their big forwards made it hard on the Devils defense, their defensemen moved the puck well, and Boucher came up big when he needed to. As for a head to head matchup, I’m giving the edge to Boston. With Carter and Gagne out for a least a few games for Philly, it gives Boston a little bit of an advatntage, and I still remain unconvinced that Boucher will be able to sustain his play. After all, if he was that great, Philly would not have spent the last decade looking for another goalie. Prediction: Boston in 7.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Year in Review: 1984

1984 was a good, but not a great, year in movies. It contained a lot of excellent films by great directors, and yet I’m not 100% sure any of them is the best film for any of them. That certainly does not mean however that the year doesn’t contain some great films, by some great filmmakers.

10. Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch)
Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise was his breakthrough film – and the one that established him as the heir apparent to John Cassavettes in the independent film movement. It is, of course, a strange movie that is largely plotless, and establishes Jarmusch’s style of long takes, with little camera movement that observes the its characters. The film is about three characters that will appear familiar to people who know Jarmusch – a hipster (John Lurie) and his friend (Richard Edson) living in New York when Lurie’s cousin for Hungary (Eszter Balint) shows up to stay with him for 10 days. They bond, but then she leaves for Cleveland, and after winning some money, they follow. They then decide to head to Florida, and things get confused for there. This movie probably sounds awful and pointless – but that’s because there really is no way to describe the film without making it sound painfully slow, or perhaps pretentious. The “joke” of the film, or perhaps the point, is that no matter where you go, everything is always the same, as long you don’t change. Stranger Than Paradise is one of the most influential films of the 1980s, and the key film in the career of one of independent cinema’s most idiosyncratic voices.

9. A Passage to India (David Lean)
An upper class woman (Judy Davis) and her mother in law (Peggy Ashcroft) go on a tour in India during the 1920s – as British rule is coming to an end. Their guide (Victor Banerjee) takes them all around, eventually winding up at some caves, which Davis eventually flees bloody and disshelved, resulting in Banerjee being arrested and charged with attempting to rape her. Director David Lean has made a powerful epic film – his speciality – full of gorgeous imagery, and a plot that draws the viewer in. The film is also hauntingly ambigious – we know Banerjee is innocent, but what propels Davis’ character to do what she does, and what makes her change her mind remains a mystery in the film. This was Lean’s final film as a director, and while it doesn’t quite rank with his best work, it was a fitting way to say goodbye to the film world.

8. The Killing Fields (Roland Joffe)
It saddens me when I think of the career of Roland Joffe. He made this wonderful film as his debut, along with the flawed but still interesting The Mission, and has spent the rest of his career making crap. What happened? I have no idea, but what I do know is that The Killing Fields remains a marvelous movie. Set during the Vietnam war, Sam Waterson (who will always be DA Jack McCoy to me), plays a New York Times reporter, who when he is ordered to evacuate tries in vein to get his interpretor – Oscar winner Haing S. Ngor – out of the country. What follows is Ngor’s desperate attempt to escape from the murderous Khmer Rouge. The film is brilliantly crafted by Joffe, and wonderfully acted by the cast – especially non-professional Ngor who is simply brilliant. It doesn’t often rank among the best films about the Vietnam war – but it should.

7. The Terminator (James Cameron)
James Cameron burst on the cinematic scene with this film – that remains one of the best films of his career. Not as polished as his future efforts would be, and I still say that Michael Biehn is merely adequate in the lead role, not great, but the film retains a raw energy that Cameron would never quite be able to match in his future efforts. Linda Hamilton is wonderful as Sarah Conner, the innocent young woman who is thrust into the middle of a future war she doesn’t understand. Arnold Schwartzenegger is a terrifying presence as the robot sent to kill her. The film has some wonderful action scenes – Schwartzenegger in the police station, the final fight where he just won’t die - but is also intelligent sci-fi as well. Yes, I will always prefer Terminator 2 to this film, but this one is masterful in its own right.

6. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman)
There are some movies that you love during your childhood and when you try to revisit them as an adult they seem hopelessly dated, cheesy and awful. Ghostbusters is NOT one of those movies. I loved the movie – not to mention the wonderful animated TV show – as a kid, and whenever I watch the movie as an adult, I love it all over again. The screenplay by Ivan Reitman is wonderful – full of great one liners deliver to perfection by Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and especially Bill Murray. The supporting cast – including Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis and Ernie Hudson – are perfect as well. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time, and remain effective today. Truly, there is nothing about this movie that I do not absolutely love.

5. This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner)
I am not a huge fan of director Rob Reiner, but even I have to admit that This is Spinal Tap is one of the great American comedies of all time. This mockumentary would set the bar high for all subsequent entries in the genre – a bar I believe has never been cleared since. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer are brilliant as clueless rock band Spinal Tap, who travel the country in their bus, completely unaware that they have become a joke to most people in the music industry, with their offensive heavy metal music. The film has many hilarious set pieces, like the replica Stone Henge that doesn’t work out the way it was planned, and of course the great sequence with the amplifiers (“Yeah, but this goes to 11. That’s one louder”). There are wonderful throwaway moments scattered throughout the film, and there is hardly a line that isn’t downright hilarious. A truly great comedy.

4. Secret Honor (Robert Altman)
Robert Altman fell out of favor in Hollywood in the 1980s, but never stopped making movies. This movie is the best film he made during this decade. Philip Baker Hall gives an astonishing performance in this one man movie, where he plays Richard Nixon rallying against his enemies, becoming increasingly drunk, belligerent and profane as the movie wears on. Set the night before Nixon resigns from office, and taking place in the Oval Office, the film is a masterwork, as Altman keeps the film visually interesting, and Baker Hall delivers his powerful monologue. Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella would go on to play Nixon in Oscar nominated performances, but Baker Hall is every bit their equal in this performance. A wonderful, one of a kind movie.

3. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders)
Paris, Texas is probably my favorite film of the great German director Wim Wenders. Unlike many directors when they come to the USA, Wenders does not either sell out, nor make a foreign film simply set in America, but rather he has made a powerful movie about the country – especially Texas, with his barren, sun burnt locations where it becomes impossible for the characters to build roots. Harry Dean Stanton gives the best performance of his career as Travis, a lonely man who disappeared four years ago, and has apparently been wandering around that whole time. When he comes back, he is taken in by his brother (Dean Stockwell) and tries to figure out what happened between him and his wife (Natasha Kinski) and their son. The cinematography by Robby Muller, combines with Ry Cooder’s interesting score give the entire movie a haunting look and feel. The scene where Stanton finally gets to talk to Kinski – through the glass at the peep show where she now works – is one of the best scenes in any movie I have ever seen.

2. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone)
Sergio Leone is justly remembered for his spaghetti westerns – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly being the most famous example, and one of the best Westerns of all time. However, his gangster epic, Once Upon a Time in America ranks right along side his best films, and is the crowning achievement of his career. Robert DeNiro and James Woods play two childhood friends who start off as petty crooks, and become big time gangsters in the prohibition era – but when something forces them apart, things get ugly, but the questions will not be answered for decades. The film is hugely long – nearly four hours – but it is never dull. The period detail is fantastic, as is the cinematography, score by Ennio Morricone and the performances. Leone may have made mainly Westerns, but this films proves he made more in him.

1. Amadeus (Milos Forman)
Milos Forman’s Amadeus is one of my favorite epic costumes dramas. Criticisms that the movie departs too far from reality don’t really matter to me – the film is absolute genius as drama. F. Murrary Abraham gives an astonishing performance as Saleri, a famed composer who has the ear of the king. But Mozart (Tom Hulce) is a true musical genius, and it frustrates Saleri to no end that no matter how hard he tries, he cannot compete with Mozart, who seems to be able to toss off masterpieces on a whim. Saleri is determined to get “even” with Mozart for that. The film is epic in scope, but intimate in its details – a sweeping biopic that is at once soaring and personal. There are only a few times in cinema history when someone pulled off a movie like this – and when they do, it is cause to celebrate.

Just Missed The Top 10: Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen), The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen), Beverley Hills Cop (Martin Brest), Gremlins (Joe Dante), Body Double (Brian DePalma), Nausicca (Hayao Miyazaki), 1984, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg), The Element of Crime (Lars von Trier), A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven) , The Cotton Club (Francis Ford Coppola).

Notable Films Missed: Love Streams (John Cassavettes), Heimat, Yellow Earth, The Times of Harvey Milk, And the Ship Sails On (Federico Fellini).

Oscar Winner – Best Picture & Director: Amadeus (Milos Forman)
Another one of those rare happy years when I agree completely with the Academy’s choice for the Best Picture. The line-up this year was fairly strong – The Killing Fields and A Passage to India were worthy, Places in the Heart and A Soldier’s Story less so, but still good – but they picked clearly the best film. Good job.

Oscar Winner – Best Actor: F. Murrary Abraham, Amadeus
Again, they picked the best performance here by a mile. Abraham’s performance as Saleri is one of the all time great performances, and it makes me sad to think that he would never come close to this level in his career ever again. Oh well, sometimes actor are born to play one role – and that seems to be the case here.

Oscar Winner – Best Actress: Sally Field, Places in the Heart
Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart is a fine depression era film, and Sally Field’s lead performance is the best thing about it. Do I think that it deserved to win an Oscar? No, but it’s not that embarrassing either. Personally, I think Judy Davis’ mysterious performance in A Passage to India is much better.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actor: Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields
Really quite a weak year for this category, but there is no faulting the Academy in giving the Oscar to Ngor, making a powerful film debut. He wouldn’t make many other films before his tragic murder just over a decade later, but this performance will always be remembered.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft, A Passage to India
Ashcroft is wonderful in A Passage to India as the woman who insists that Banerjee is innocent, and sent away before she can do the case any harm. I have no problems with her winning. But the two best performances in this category – Natasha Kinski’s one scene wonder in Paris Texas and Melanie Griffth’s sexy performance as a porn star in Body Double were tragically overlooked by the Academy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Year in Review: 1956

1956 was a wonderful year for movies – so much so that I had trouble narrowing this list to just 10 finalists. It saw the true emergence of one of cinema’s greatest talents, and gave some veterans some of their best films. The number 1 film for me is one that was ignored at the time, went onto become one of the most acclaimed films of all time, and is no suffering a bit of a backlash (for reasons that remain unclear to me).

10. Baby Doll (Elia Kazan)
Elia Kazan reteamed with Tenesse Williams for this sexual melodrama which got them in a lot of hot water with the League of Catholic Bishops. The movie is about the child bride (Carroll Baker) of an older lout (Karl Malden), who still sleeps in a crib! Although they are married, Malden has to wait until she’s 18 before they can have sex. When he screws over a business rival (Eli Wallach), the rival decides to try and take what Malden values most – his wife’s virginity. The film was daringly sexual for its time, but looking back on it, it’s the drama that remains most powerful. The heart of the movie is the scenes between Baker and Wallach as he tries to seduce her, and they work marvelously well. Like many scandalous movies, the controversy has faded over time – but the film remains a wonderful little film, worthy of the collaboration by the team who made A Streetcar Named Desire.

9. Bob La Flambeur (Jean Pierre Melville)
Jean Pierre Melville is one of those directors who never really got the respect he deserved during his career. It has only been recently that people have embraced him for the master filmmaker that he was. Bob La Flambeur is an enjoyable caper film, centered on a wonderful performance by Roger Duchesne as the title character, a broken down gambler who decides that he’ll get a group of people together and rob a casino. The film obviously has a following – Neil Jordan remade it as The Good Thief with Nick Nolte, and I thought there was more of this film than the original in Steven Soderbergh’s version of Ocean’s 11. The filmmaking is masterful, weaving together subplots effortlessly, and gliding along to its unexpected, but wonderful, conclusion.

8. A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson)
Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped is a brilliantly crafted movie about a prison escape by a member of the French Resistance being held by the Nazis in the waning days of WWII. Like most of Bresson’s films, he used non-professional actors to portray the characters here – focusing in on their faces and their actions, more so than dialogue, which is barely existant in the film except in the form of voiceover. We see Fontaine (Francois Leterrier) planning and executing his brilliant escape with painstaking detail. The escape itself is wonderfully tense, but Bresson refuses to romanticize the escape, instead opting to film it just as it was, with no music to get in the way. While I do not think that this is as good as some of Bresson’s best films, it is an expertly crafted, tense movie.

7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegal)
Most of the B science fiction movies of the 1950s have long since been forgotten except by those rabid fans who love them so much. But Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains a powerful, creepy horror film, with political relevance more than 50 years later. Don Siegal’s direction of the movie is wonderful – building atmosphere and suspense, and Kevin McCarthy’s lead performance as the man who suspects his town is being taken over by pod people truly remains great. The film was a thinly veiled attack on McCarthyism – something you really could not get away with if you had come out and made a movie about it outright. Instead, the themes are buried, but clear for anyone to see. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a timeless story – one that filmmakers have been revisiting time and again to address whatever political problems the country is having at the time. Although the 1978 and 1994 versions of the movie are also wonderful, this one is the best.

6. The Killing (Stanley Kubrick)
In just his second real movie, Stanley Kubrick already established himself as a master filmmaker. This movie is a wonderfully tense, brilliantly structured crime movie. Sterling Hayden plays a veteran crook after just “one more heist” before he retires. The perfectly structured plan goes off just fine, but the aftermath is bloody and causes the whole thing to come crashing down. The performances in the movie are all excellent, but Kubrick is the real star of the show – expertly crafting the planning, the heist itself and its bloody aftermath. With this film, you truly knew that there was a special director working behind the camera.

5. Rififi (Jules Dassin)
After being banished by the blacklist in America, director Jules Dassin went to France where he made this masterful heist film, which is even better than Kubrick’s The Killing, which is really saying something. The centerpiece of the film is the nearly wordless 30 minute sequence of the heist itself – as the team drill their way in throught the ceiling, then expertly crack the safe – which is done even without the aid of music, and yet is brilliant nonetheless. The film does share certain things in common with The Killing as well – the plan is pulled off perfectly, but the aftermath becomes a bloody mess. In the lead role Jean Servais is wonderful – a tough as nails exterior, hiding a more sensitive person underneath. But the movie belongs to Dassin who expertly crafted this heist movie – one of the greatest the genre has ever seen.

4. Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)
Normally, I don’t particularly like the old school Hollywood melodramas - but when Douglas Sirk is directing, I cannot help myself. The film are so full of wonderful color, so dripping with sexual innuendo and over the top moments that his films really are masterful. Out of all of his films, Written on the Wind is perhaps my favorite. Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall are the top billed stars - and they are wonderful - but the movie really belongs to Robert Stack (yes, the Unsolved Mysteries guy) as a wealthy playboy and Dorothy Malone as his nymphomaniac sister who destroy themselves, and suck everyone around them into their sick little world. The film is brilliant, melodrama and sexual - Malone caressing that model oil derrick at the end is wonderful.

3. The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock)
For some reason The Wrong Man is not often listed among Hitchcock’s masterpieces, but I think the film is utterly masterful. It is a variation on Hitchcock’s favorite story - the innocent man accused of a crime he didn’t commit. This time, it’s Henry Fonda as a musician accused of a robbery he didn’t commit. Fonda is wonderful, but Vera Miles is truly exceptional as his wife, who slowly goes crazy because of the strain of the accusations on his family. Hitchcock made this one in semi-documentary style on the streets of New York, and pulls it off brilliantly. He was always experimenting with different styles - with varying success - but this is one he pulled off brilliantly. Yes, it deserves to be mentioned among the best films Hitchcock ever made.

2. Bigger Than Life (Nicolas Ray)
Nicolas Ray’s Bigger Than Life is a very strange film. It is a melodrama about the destruction of the nuclear family, when the father (James Mason) becomes addicted to cortisone and completely changes from a loving man into a would-be murderer. But Ray doesn’t play the film as a melodrama – despite its dazzling use of Technicolor. The film almost plays like a horror movie. The lightness and joy in the opening scenes, gives way to a much darker visual look in the films closing scenes – shadows dominate every time Mason is on screen. The house is segmented into different areas that mean different things. Even the end of the film, which is outwardly happy, seems dark and ominous – the horror not over, just on hold. In many ways a companion piece to Ray’s film of the previous year – Rebel Without a Cause (the son here wears the same red jacket James Dean made so famous – this one is even better. In fact, it could be Ray’s best film.

1. The Searchers (John Ford)
Dismissed by critics when it was first released, John Ford’s The Searchers has gone onto become one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the cinema – an inspiration for films as wide ranging as Taxi Driver, Hardcore and The Emerald Forest to name but three. John Wayne gives far and away the best performance of his career as a drifter who returns to the only family he has left – to discover that his two nieces have been kidnapped by Indians. He sets out on their trial, discovering the body of one of nieces, but nothing of the other one. Slowly, his mission turns from being one of rescue, to one of execution – it is better than his niece is dead than one of them. The film’s wonderful climax is perfectly realized, and makes us question what the right thing to do is. Does Wayne’s niece really want to be rescued? The final shot of Wayne standing in the doorway, before heading out on his own again is one of the most iconic in cinema history – and the single best image that Ford ever produced in his life. This is a masterpiece.

Just Missed The Top 10: Moby Dick (John Huston), The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock), Giant (George Stevens).

Notable Films Missed: French Cancan (Jean Renoir), Apparajito (Satyajit Ray), The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse), There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk), Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Fritz Lang), While the City Sleeps (Fritz Lang), Kanal (Andrej Wajda), Friendly Persusasion (William Wyler), The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille), Lust for Life (Vincente Minelli).

Oscar Winner – Picture: Around the World in 80 Days
There are some years where I cannot believe what the Academy rewarded with Oscars. This is certainly one of them. Director Michael Anderson’s huge, slumberous, boring as hell adaptation of the Jules Verne novel is not only perhaps the worst Best Picture Winner of all time – it is a downright awful film from beginning to end. There is literally nothing worthwhile about this “adventure” movie. For a while you can amuse yourself by spotting all the celebrity cameos, but after about an hour even that gets boring – and you still have two hours to go! I don’t think the Academy nominated the best of the year this time around, but both Giant (which I like quite a lot, but is flawed) and The King and I (which I barely tolerated) where infinitely better than this – and I assume the same for the unseen by me The Ten Commandments and Friendly Persuasion. Simply a godawful choice.

Oscar Winner – Director: George Stevens, Giant.
The best thing you can say about this win is that at least they didn’t give it to Anderson for Around the World in 80 Days. That is a little unfair, because Stevens does do a wonderful job of bringing Edna Farber’s epic novel to the big screen, even if I find the film a little uneven (and think that Hudson is a bore in the lead role). Stevens job is very good as is the film. I do kind of wish that out of the nominees King Vidor had won – even though I have yet to see War and Peace – because he was a master filmmaker who never won this award despite multiple nominations, but out of the nominees, I guess this was a fine choice.

Oscar Winner – Actor: Yul Brynner, The King and I
I have never been much of a fan of Yul Brynner, and musicals like The King and I never cease to annoy the crap out of me. Yes, Brynner is amusing in his over the top performance of the egotistical King who hires an foreigner to teach his children, but after the 1,000th time he says etc, etc, etc I wanted to punch him, so no, I don’t think he should have won this award. The Academy missed the opportunity to reward a true legend in James Dean (for Giant, which in my mind should have won an Oscar – for supporting actor), and they overlooked such great work by John Wayne and James Mason that it is shameful. Oh well, I know a lot of people (including my mother) absolutely love this movie and Brynner’s performance, so perhaps I’m wrong.

Oscar Winner – Actress: Ingrid Bergman, Anatasia
I love Ingrid Bergman as much as any actress in history, but all three of her Oscar winning performances were nowhere near her best. As the title character in Anatasia, she is fine, and the film is as well, but neither are all that memorable. I think this was an apology from Hollywood for that whole blacklisting thing because she slept with a married man (shock of all shocks). I really don’t understand why they nominate and give her wins for movies like this, when they overlooked her performances in movies like Notorious, Casablanca and Spellbound to name but three. I would have voted for Carroll Baker for Baby Doll, whose twisted, yet innocent sexuality made that film work – but perhaps I’m a pervert.(By the way, is that supposed to be Ingrid Bergman in that poster I have for Anatasia, because it looks nothing like her in the least – perhaps the artist was too busy trying to get the shine of Brynner’s skull correct to notice).

Oscar Winner – Supporting Actor: Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life
I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t seen this film, as I do love Vincente Minelli, Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn - but it only recently came out on DVD, so I didn’t catch it yet. Quinn is great in almost everything he’s in, so I’ll trust he earned his second Oscar. I do love fellow nominee Robert Stack in Written on the Wind though, and think that had James Dean been in this category for Giant (where he should have – there are times in the epic Giant where he doesn’t show up for an hour) that he should have won but all of that is based on not having seen this one – something I intend to correct at some point in the future.

Oscar Winner – Supporting Actress: Dorothy Malone, Written on the Wind
I love the fact that the Academy gave an Oscar to someone playing a nympho in 1956. And Malone is absolutely wonderful in the role, and she deserved to win the award. It always makes me smile when I think about it.