Wrap Up: Best of the Best

The project is complete! (Aside from 1933’s Cavalcade which I promise we will get to very soon… if it replaces any of my current choices, I’ll come back and change the article accordingly.) I figured I’d hand out my Best of the Best Pictures Awards. Which Best Picture was the overall best? Which single acting performance from these movies stood out most? What about the worst?

Now we must remember that all of these movies won Best Picture and at some point in time were highly regarded. Yet looking back, some of the older movies really weren’t very entertaining. Heck, some of the recent movies weren’t very entertaining to me either (LOTR!!!)

Here are the best from each decade.

1920/1930: Grand Hotel (1932)
1940: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
1950: Marty (1955)
1960: The Sound of Music (1965)
1970: The Sting (1973)
1980: Rain Man (1988)
1990: Dances With Wolves (1990)
2000+: No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Sting 1973

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in "The Sting," 1973.

Best Best Picture: The Sting, 1973
I’m probably the only person in the world who thinks this, but I though the best was 1973’s The Sting. I called the great caper the “non-stop entertainment” and praised the acting of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. I love movies about elaborate hoaxes that end up shocking the audience. One of my ten favorite movies of all-time.
Honorable Mention: Dances With Wolves (1992), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), American Beauty (1999), The Godfather Part II (1974)

Best Actor: Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935
Clark Gable is my all-time favorite actor, and he managed to steal the show in all of his Best Picture roles. But my favorite of his performances was as Fletcher Christian in the highly entertaining Mutiny on the Bounty. His performance was so over-the-top; you’d never see anything like it in today’s movies.
Honorable Mention: Clark Gable, It Happened One Night (1934), Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves (1990), Ernest Borgnine, Marty (1955), Colin Firth, The King’s Speech (2010), Sidney Poitier, In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Best Actress: Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
The best edge-of-your-seat thriller of the Best Pictures was The Silence of the Lambs, and Jodie Foster was amazing as Clarice Sterling. She is given this insanely dangerous assignment and attacks it like none other, facing death on a number of occasions.
Honorable Mention: Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver (1942), Annette Bening, American Beauty (1999), Greta Garbo, Grand Hotel (1932)

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter, 1978
The Deer Hunter was such a confusing movie for me to judge; I thought it was extremely powerful and well done, yet extremely depressing. No one did a better job of depressing me than Walken as Nick, the Pennsylvania steel worker who loses his mind in the Vietnam War.
Honorable Mention: Robert DeNiro, The Godfather: Part II (1974), Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men (2007)

Teresa Wright

Teresa Wright, co-star of 1946 Best Picture "The Best Days of Our Lives"

Best Supporting Actress: Teresa Wright, The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946
If I was a young single man in the 1940s and posters of celebrities were readily available, then I’d have had my share of Teresa Wright posters hanging around my bedroom. She wowed me in 1942’s Mrs. Miniver, and again four years later. Even now that the project is all said and done, her performances in the 40s still stand out to me as best overall.
Honorable Mention: Diane Keaton, The Godfather: Part II (1974), Celeste Holm, All About Eve (1950), Mary McDonnell, Dances With Wolves (1990)

Best Director: William Wyler, Mrs. Miniver, 1942; The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946; Ben-Hur, 1959
I have no choice but to go with a “lifetime achievement” sort of award for William Wyler, who directed three classic Best Picture Winners. I imagine in the grand scheme of things, most movie buffs don’t consider either Miniver or Best Years to be among the best of the Best Picture winners, but I have them both extremely high on my list. And then everyone knows Ben-Hur is a classic, regardless of where it ranked on my list. I don’t know enough about movies to know what makes good directing, but I’m sticking with Wyler.
Honorable Mention: Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part I and II (1972, 1974), Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves (1990)

Worst Best Picture: The Great Ziegfeld, 1936
Four agonizing hours of Ziegfeld showed off the lavish Broadway musicals produced by the title character in his lifetime. It was less a story and more attempts to “ooh” and “aah” a 1930s crowd. Aside from one scene involving a dog missing its spot on the Broadway stage, I was bored senseless.
Dishonorable Mention: The Broadway Melody (1929), Cimarron (1931), A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Bonus! Oscar Documentary Shorts Nominees 2011

With just three Oscar-winning films left to review for this blog, I will take a short break to review the five nominees for this year’s Documentary Shorts award. On Sunday, a couple friends and I took in the mini-marathon of movies at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis, sitting through about 3.5 hours of documentary footage. Historically, documentaries are not my idea of a fun time, but since these were literally shorter, I thought perhaps I’d be able to sit through them. And I was right—at no more than 40 minutes in length, these were just right for me!

As a side note, I really question where people would see shorts like this normally. I imagine there were hundreds of other documentary shorts produced that didn’t get nominated; where do people possibly see these? Some money had to go into their production; just sending them to the Academy seems like a waste. If anyone knows, I’d be curious to find out!

Four of the five nominees were very dark; actually all five centered largely around death. From terrorism to pollution to global warming to war, it wasn’t the most fun subject matter throughout.

Now, to rank the five nominees.

1. Sun Come Up
This was my favorite, but I put its chance of winning around 1%. The inhabitants of the Carteret Islands must leave after thousands of years of settlement; global warming is causing the ocean to engulf their tiny island, and they must travel to the mainland, pleading with the locals to donate some land for their families to live on. All the while I was really rooting for the poor Carteret people, who seemed like such a peaceful, likable bunch. In the end, they find villagers willing to donate land and the Carterets will eventually be saved. One line in the short really struck me as funny: “You, chew betelnut!”

2. The Warriors of Quigang
In a small village in China, a major chemical plant has moved into town and is polluting the air and water, which is causing poor villagers great illness and death. The villagers team up and one man named Zhang takes the lead and collects signatures to take to the higher government, fighting for the chemical plant to leave town. This short surprisingly got a few chuckles from the audience here and there, mostly from one of the Chinese townswomen gossipers. Again, it is great victory for the little guys. A feel-goodish sort of film despite a ton of unnecessary deaths.

3. Poster Girl
The only one of the shorts that was truly about an American, Poster Girl tells the story of Robynn Murray, a girl who without much consideration signed up for the army and was forced to become a lead machine-gunner. Now she’s home and her life is a living hell as she tries to get over what she did to innocent civilians. This one was very powerful with a lot of raw emotion from this young woman, but the short takes an unexpected twist when she manages to regain control of her life by participating in an art program where she uses her Army uniform in artwork. I was really liking this one until they started focusing on the art, which was much less interesting.

4. Killing in the Name
The first short was a devastating look at the aftermath of Ashraf Al-Khaled’s wedding day where a suicide bomber killed 27 people, including three of the four parents of the couple. Ashraf vows to speak the truth to the world about terrorism and sees if he can change the minds of the youth who are being trained to one day do the work of the jihad. Al-Khaled means very well, but I’m not so sure his message ever gets through to anyone. The school kids he spoke to basically laughed at him. That’s where this one falls a little short for me; unlike the first three, Ashref has yet to actually win his battle.

5. Strangers No More
The last of the five is surprisingly the only one with any lighthearted subject matter at all, as we are taken to a school in Tel Aviv where kids from 48 different countries come together to learn. The short follows the path of several kids who came to the school after overcoming hardships in their home lands, and how the amazing teachers help them to feel part of a family. It was impressive how quickly these kids were able to learn various languages and then become translators for other new students. The short got a few laughs from the crowd with some “kids say the darnedest things” type of lines, but wasn’t terribly memorable in my opinion. It also loses a point for overuse of the Papyrus font.

2008 • Slumdog Millionaire

We’re so close to the end of our Best Picture project! 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire is the second most recent winner (soon to be third), and it doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that Lauren and I, then just engaged, saw it in the Edina Landmark Theater. It was up against some stiff competition that year—Milk and Frost/Nixon were the two movies that I thought were just as good as Slumdog. I didn’t like Benjamin Button and I still haven’t seen The Reader.  My vote that year probably would have gone to Slumdog, however.

The story takes place in India over the course of the life of Jamal Malik, who is stunning the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire TV audience and producers with his ability to correctly answer every question. Before he can answer the final question, the show ends for the day. Assuming he was somehow cheating, Jamal is interrogated and tortured until he can explain how he was able to answer all the questions. Jamal by coincidence has real life experience to back up his knowing every answer. Through his explanations, we learn about the hardships Jamal and his brash older brother Salim faced growing up after their mother was murdered, as well as Jamal’s longtime love of the beautiful Latika, who he is attempting to reunite with–the very reason he has gone on the show in the first place.

I thought it was a weird idea for the movie to center around the game show, considering the heyday of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was long over in 2001 and the show is now airing weekday afternoons in syndication. But the movie is based in India, where perhaps the show is still relevant.

The kid actors portraying youthful Jamal, Salim, and Latika were all excellent. I read how they were chosen out of tens of thousands of poor Indian kids trying to get the coveted roles, but in the end they ended up only getting several hundred dollars for their year of work on the film and some ended up living in even worse poverty than before. I also thought Anil Kapoor, the only well-known Indian actor in the movie, was very good in his role as the host of Millionaire.

Despite Slumdog winning big at the Oscars that year with eight awards, it was not nominated for a single acting award. Not surprising considering the three main characters were portrayed by three actors each. I know Dev Patel and Freida Pinto are the first-billed, but if anyone in this movie had received an acting nomination I bet it would have been in the Supporting categories.

In the end, I liked the movie a lot, and I really liked the idea of the questions from the show telling the story of the life of Jamal. However, I thought a lot of it was really predictable. That it ended up being a love story between Jamal and Latika was not a surprise to me, but that does not take away from the feel-good tear-jerk sensation. Just because I saw the ending coming doesn’t mean it ruins anything for me. I imagine I will rank this movie in the middle of the pack.

1980 • Ordinary People

We’re trying to get in the pattern of making Sunday nights our Best Picture project night so we don’t stray from the project for months at a time like last summer. After a nice Sunday evening of dinner, wine, and cribbage on the balcony, we moved inside for 1980’s Ordinary People. Movie buff friend Jason LaPlant told us we would be disappointed with the 80s decade in this project, especially coming off the great 70s decade. Well, we’ll find out for ourselves!

Ordinary People tells the story of an Illinois family coping with the death of the oldest brother, Buck, in a boating accident. The younger son, Conrad, has difficulty moving past his role in Buck’s death and tries to kill himself. The mom, Beth, seemed to strongly favor Buck to Conrad and has never been the same person. And the dad, Calvin, is the only one in the family who seems to have moved on. The movie centers around Conrad and his psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, as they works through Conrad’s problems.

The movie marked the directorial debut of Robert Redford. It also featured an all-star cast of Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch, and newcomer Elizabeth McGovern. Hutton received the Oscar for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his role as Conrad, and Hirsch received a nomination in the same category. Moore was also up for Best Actress. Lauren and I commented how we were probably in the extreme minority of people who have seen Mary Tyler Moore in her serious role in Ordinary People but not her much better known comedic side in her own TV series.

Although many, including Jason, believe Raging Bull was the far superior movie of 1980, Ordinary People seems to have been a solid movie too. It kinda seemed to pick up where Kramer vs. Kramer left off, dealing with a normal family that was suddenly torn apart. This was not in the least bit a fun, lighthearted movie. It was a very difficult emotional movie as we hoped the Jarrett family could recover from their loss.

I thought the acting of Timothy Hutton was very solid. Why he was up for a supporting actor award and not lead actor doesn’t make much sense to me. It was said that the omission of Donald Sutherland from any acting categories at the Oscars is one of the all-time greatest injustices in the awards’ history. Perhaps a bit of a strong remark, but why were the other co-stars nominated and not him?

Overall Lauren and I both thought this was a very good movie, but not great. It should crack the upper half of my rankings. I will have to watch Raging Bull someday and find out which movie should have won the Oscar.

Next up, 1981’s Chariots of Fire.

Project on Summer Break

As you have noticed, there haven’t been many recent posts here.  We didn’t forget about this project—we’re just holding off until the fall or winter to start it back up.  The summer months are difficult because we want to watch the Twins every night, leaving us no time for four-hour movies.  We’re finding it’s easier to get into new TV shows in the summer with their shorter run times.  We recently finished The Wire and now we’re getting into How I Met Your Mother. 

I’m sure this project will resume come October or November.  Check back, though, you never know!  We do have The Sound of Music from Netflix just sitting on the table, waiting to be watched.

1935 • Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny on the Bounty, a classic tale of the sea!

Mutiny on the Bounty, a classic tale of the sea!

12.7.08
Watched with Lauren and Roscoe

Sunday night, Lauren, Roscoe, and I sat down to continue our Best Picture reviews. The next movie chronologically was 1935’s critically-acclaimed Mutiny on the Bounty.

Mutiny is based on the true story of a 1776 two-year British voyage aboard the Bounty ship to Tahiti to find inexpensive food for slaves, breadfruit trees.

The captain of the ship, Bligh, was an angry man who was determined to break the spirits of his men. If someone disobeyed his orders, or did anything less than perfect, they’d be savagely beaten. Men starved and some even died. As you may expect, both the crew and officers of the ship weren’t pleased.

The Bounty landed in Tahiti, where the men were treated like kings on the island. An officer of the ship, Fletcher Christian, fell madly in love with a Tahitian woman despite their inability to communicate. The ship was loaded up with breadfruit trees, and after a few days of relaxation on the island, they set sail for home in Britain.

Not long after their departure, Christian decides he can no longer tolerate the captain, so he and the beleaguered crew declare a mutiny on the Bounty! The captain and many others are loaded onto a boat with minimal food, water, and a compass, and are left for dead at sea while Christian and his men head back to Tahiti to live the good life.

The men left for dead at sea miraculously survive after 45 days on the open waters, and a year later, they return to Tahiti to cast revenge on Christian and the others. Some escape and sail to a new island with their Tahitian wives and babies. Others are captured and are taken back to Britain and put on trial for the mutiny.

I was a pretty big fan of the movie, and would go so far as to put it at #2 of the Best Picture winners we’ve seen, behind only Grand Hotel. Unlike some of the winners before it, there were no children breaking into song, no random omissions of important scenes, very little confusion regarding the storyline, no dancing around the plot, and all-around superior acting.

Clark Gable was back in top form a year after his award-winning role in It Happened One Night, as were the legendary Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone. All three were nominated that year for Outstanding Lead Actor, which actually prompted the Academy to then create a new award for supporting roles so this would never happen again!

Charles Laughton

Charles Laughton

I did some light reading on the movie after watching it, and uncovered lots of crazy happenings during filming. Gable and Laughton were cast for their roles because the characters hated each other, and producers expected the actors would hate each other in real life because of Laughton’s flamboyant homosexuality and Gable’s homophobic ways. They were correct! While Laughton frolicked and pranced about Tahiti (where the movie was filmed on location) with his personal male masseur, Gable shouted obscenities and made no secret of his disapproval.

It was also reported that during filming, a boat of cameramen floated away and was lost at sea for days. One cameraman died in an unrelated 55-foot fall from the ship.

I can’t really think of any complaints about Mutiny on the Bounty! I really did enjoy it from beginning to end and would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic films.

So, to recap my ranking up to this point, I’d have to go something like this.

  1. Grand Hotel, 1932
  2. Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930
  4. It Happened One Night, 1934
  5. Cimarron, 1931
  6. Broadway Melody, 1929

And of course, 1928’s Wings and 1933’s Cavalcade were not available on DVD from Netflix. Next up on the list is 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld.