Tuesday, January 24, 2012

84th Academy Award Nominations Released

Today is the second biggest day of the year for the Every Oscar Ever Project, as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences released the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards. The nominations, which can be viewed here, consist of many of the expected films (Hugo with 11 nominations, The Artist with 10), and a few surprises (a Best Actor nomination for Demian Bichir for A Better Life, Margin Call scoring a Best Original Screenplay nom). Most significantly for Every Oscar Ever, the nominations offers a list of movies that I now must add to my list of movies to see. Here is a list of the movies that I have seen and that I have not yet seen, along with the number of nominations it received.

The Descendants (5)
The Artist (10)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (3)
Moneyball (6)
My Week With Marilyn (2)
Warrior (1)
The Help (4)
Bridesmaids (2)
Kung Fu Panda 2 (1)
Rango (1)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (3)
Hugo (11)
Midnight in Paris (4)
The Tree of Life (3)
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (1)
The Muppets (1)
Drive (1)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (1)
The Ides of March (1)

Not Yet Seen:
A Better Life (1)
Beginners (1)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2)
Albert Nobbs (3)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (5)
The Iron Lady (2)
A Cat in Paris (1)
Chico & Rita (1)
Puss in Boots (1)
War Horse (6)
Anonymous (1)
Jane Eyre (1)
W.E. (1)
Hell and Back Again (1)
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (1)
Pina (1)
Undefeated (1)
"The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement" (1)
"God is the Bigger Elvis" (1)
"Incident in New Baghdad" (1)
"Saving Face" (1)
"The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" (1)
Bullhead (1)
Footnote (1)
In Darkness (1)
Monsieur Lazhar (1)
A Separation (2)
The Adventures of Tintin (1)
Rio (1)
"Dimance/Sunday" (1)
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" (1)
"La Luna" (1)
"A Morning Stroll" (1)
"Wild Life" (1)
"Pentecost" (1)
"Raju" (1)
"The Shore" (1)
"Time Freak" (1)
"Tuba Atlantic" (1)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (3)
Real Steel (1)
Margin Call (1)

That's 42 films and 58 nominations to add to the Every Oscar Ever Project, putting me at 3183 films remaining, and 5462 nominations. This means I have 5 more films to watch than when I started, and 10 less nominations. It's a bit discouraging, and this means I am going to have to increase significantly the number of movies I watch next year in order to make forward progress.

Remaining: 3181 films, 869 Oscars, 5462 nominations

Monday, January 23, 2012

Carmen Jones (1954)

2 Nominations, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Actress in a Leading Role - Dorothy Dandridge
Nomination: Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture - Herschel Burke Gilbert

Just a year after Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge first appeared together in Bright Road, which was Belafonte's first film appearance and Dandridge's first leading role, the two reunited in a highly ambitious film, Carmen Jones. The film was an adaptation of the 1943 Broadway musical of the same name, itself an adaptation of the Georges Bizet opera Carmen. The 1954 film, directed by the great Otto Preminger, featured an all African-American cast, and in addition to Belafonte and Dandridge also featured an early performance from Pearl Bailey.

Carmen Jones is a frustrating movie to watch. For everything in the film that is unique and brave, there is something equally insipid or hackneyed. The music of Bizet instantly feels relevant and alive in the more modern setting of the film, yet all of the electricity of the music evaporates the moment that singing begins. Not only are the lyrics severely lacking, but the leads of the film are overdubbed by more classically trained singers, and its impossible to focus on anything but the poor overdubbing during these scenes. Additionally, Preminger, known for his strong visuals - his Anatomy of a Murder is one of the most visually creative films of its time - completely misses the mark here. The film ranges from poorly lit interiors to oversaturated exteriors. Carmen Jones would have likely benefited from the black-and-white treatment, which might have given the film a more timeless quality.

Though Harry Belafonte is a legend, and speaking of him negatively is practically heresy, he was completely miscast in this film. Though he had won a Tony Award, Belafonte was largely new to acting at the time of Carmen Jones, and he is out of his weight class on this film. He delivers his lines with little conviction, and his character degrades into little more than a mealy, unthreatening prop. A stronger actor in the role could have electrified the film, but Belafonte shrinks into the background. Belafonte is a dignified, graceful man, and he's unconvincing as a jealous, angry, and broken man.

The highlight of the film is Dorothy Dandridge, who unlike Belafonte, completely shines in one of her first starring roles. I have heard quite a bit of hype surrounding Ms. Dandridge since the mid-1990's, but before Carmen Jones had not seen any films starring Dandridge. After watching this film, I am beginning to understand the respect that many hold for Dandridge, and am anxious to see her other films. She is full of energy, and completely commands each scene she is in from the very start, despite working with several actors who had no business appearing on screen with her. Due to her untimely death and a lack of bravery on the part of the studios in finding her suitable roles, Dandridge was never able to capitalize off of the promise she demonstrated in Carmen Jones, and thus this film offers the best opportunity to understand why so many hold Dorothy Dandridge in such high regard.

Though Carmen Jones is a severely flawed film, it is absolutely worth watching. Aside from the opportunity to watch Dorothy Dandridge at her finest hour, it is notable for its bravery during the final days of the Breen Code and its historical significance. The film could have been much, much more, but it is absolutely worth watching despite its flaws.

Remaining: 3141 films, 869 Oscars, 5404 nominations

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Een Griekse tragedie (1985)

1 Nomination, 1 Win

Win: Best Short Film, Animated - Linda Van Tulden and Willem Thijssen

In a year in which the breakthrough "Luxo Jr." and the wildly dark "The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil" were both nominated for Best Animated Short, it seems inconceivable that "Een Griekse tragedie" could win the Academy Award. This isn't to say there's anything wrong with the film; it's a cute little short about three Grecian statues holding up the ruins of an ancient building as it crumbles.

Yet despite a strong premise, the story doesn't go anywhere surprising. The best animated comedy shorts take a funny premise, and push the humor further and further in increasingly creative situations. "Een Griekse tragedie," however, is pretty much a one note joke.

On a purely visual level, "Een Griekse tragedie" features pleasant animation, but is nowhere near as exciting as the kinetic, energetic animation of "The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil" or the revolutionary computer animation of "Luxo Jr."

"Een Griekse tragedie" is an enjoyable little film, but it is hard to fathom how it won the Academy Award over two far superior shorts.

Remaining: 3142 films, 869 Oscars, 5406 nominations

The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil (1986)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Short Film, Animated - Hugh MacDonald and Martin Townsend

Typically, alcoholism is a subject dealt with more often in documentary shorts than animated shorts, but "The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil" is not a typical animated short. The short tells the story of a drunkard going through alcohol withdrawal, as personified by the Devil. Director Bob Stenhouse takes what could be a dark subject and makes it a funny madcap romp.

The short is full of imaginative animation that is used to advance the dark humor, and quickly dispels the notion that cartoons are meant for children. The website NZ On Screen points out that New Zealand is legendary for its alcoholism - John Flatt told a committee of the British House of Lords in 1838 that the country's natives referred to the Europeans living in the country as a "nation of drunkards - and Stenhouse's short plays with this stereotype.

"The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil" isn't my favorite of the nominees; though I haven't yet seen the winning "Een Griekse tragedie," Pixar's debut short "Luxo Jr." is one of the finest animated shorts ever made. Still, it's an excellent short film, and succeeds in turning a dark subject matter into a fun short.

The film can be viewed at: http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/the-frog-the-dog-and-the-devil-1986

Remaining: 3143 films, 870 Oscars, 5407 nominations

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Second Chorus (1940)

2 Nominations, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Music, Original Song - "Love of My Life" by Artie Shaw and Johnny Mercer
Nomination: Best Music, Score - Artie Shaw

Fred Astaire called Second Chorus the worst film he ever made, and though I haven't seen every film made by Mr. Astaire, I cannot disagree with his judgment.

The plot of the film is a classic Astaire setup: two young musicians (Astaire and Burgess Meredith) are in a college band made up of musicians who have intentionally failed to graduate year after year in order to stay in the band, and both young men fall for the same girl. It's a silly premise, made all the sillier by the fact that the men are supposed to have failed to graduate for seven years, yet Astaire was 41 years old at the time of the film's release. As the object of their affection - played by Paulette Goddard - leaves to work for Artie Shaw's band, the two men take turns sabotaging each other in pursuit of the girl and a spot in Shaw's band. Most of the film consists of scenes of the two attempting to outwit each other, and while the scenes are humorous, they don't add up to much.

The highlight of the movie, as the Academy recognized, was the film's wonderful music. Jazz great Artie Shaw provided a swinging jazz score, a perfect complement to Astaire's dancing. Unfortunately, Astaire hardly dances in the film, wasting a great opportunity for a marriage between two legends. Both of the film's Oscar nominations were for the film's music, for the score as well as for the song "Love of My Life" by Shaw and the equally legendary Johnny Mercer. While Shaw and Mercer would have had a good shot at winning Oscar gold in most other years, they were forced to go up against Tin Pan Alley for score and Pinocchio's "When You Wish Upon A Star" for song. Shaw and Mercer never had a shot.

Second Chorus is a silly little movie, and Artie Shaw's music is definitely the highlight of the film. While the movie is far from bad, its hollow script and lack of character and plot development make it completely forgettable.

Remaining: 3144 films, 870 Oscars, 5408 nominations

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snows of Aorangi (1958)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects

The 1950's saw a wave of interest in mountaineering. Mount Everest's summit was reached for the first time in 1953, and K2 was conquered just over a year later in 1954. Aorangi or Aoraki, the Maori name for the mountain better known as Mount Cook, had first been climbed in 1894, but this route was not repeated until 1955, seven years after Sir Edmund Hillary first climbed the mountain.

It was against this backdrop that New Zealand's National Film Unit commissioned photographer Brian Brake to create a tourism promotional film, featuring the beauty of Aorangi. The film, just under twenty minutes long, is a very straightforward look at the mountain, and is made up of gorgeous landscape shots of the mountain. The narration is nothing special, but it was easy to ignore as I focused on the beauty of the images. The short is perhaps best remembered for its long shots of skiers descending down the mountain, and this rhythmic sequence made me run to Expedia to look up July in New Zealand.

It is easy to write off "Snows of Aorangi" as a dated travelogue, and the film is undoubtedly more of a historical artifact than a vibrant piece of filmmaking. Yet films like this were the predecessor to the IMAX films of today that explore worlds such as the depths of the ocean and outer space. For a film like "Snows of Aorangi" to have been filmed in 1958 is just as impressive as these modern films. What could have been a simple promotional film is instead a visually captivating historical record of a mountain at a time when it represented one of the most exciting places on the planet.

Thanks to the great website NZ On Screen, "Snows of Aorangi" can be viewed online at http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/snows-of-aorangi-1950

Remaining: 3145 films, 870 Oscars, 5410 nominations

The Defiant Ones (1958)

9 Nominations, 2 Wins

Win: Best Cinematography, Black-and-White - Sam Leavitt

Win: Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, Written Directly for the Screen - Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith

Nomination: Best Picture - Stanley Kramer

Nomination: Best Actor in a Leading Role - Tony Curtis

Nomination: Best Actor in a Leading Role - Sidney Poitier

Nomination: Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Theodore Bikel

Nomination: Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Cara Williams

Nomination: Best Director - Stanley Kramer

Nomination: Best Film Editing - Frederic Knudtson
Despite loving classic films, my knowledge of both Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier's work is sadly lacking, having only seen one film starring each man (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Some Like It Hot). After watching Poitier present Morgan Freeman with the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, I decided I was due for an education in Poitier, and Turner Classic Movies obliged by showing The Defiant Ones as part of its Martin Luther King Jr. Day lineup of films.

The Defiant Ones has a simple premise, with an opening similar to The Fugitive. A prisoner transport bus crashes, allowing the prisoners to run free. What makes it special is that two prisoners, played by Poitier and Curtis, are handcuffed together, and the two men, each uncomfortable with the other's race, must work together in order to have a chance at escape. Set in the south in the 1950's, the premise offers the opportunity to examine a host of issues related to racial-based prejudice.

Instead of a melodramatic series of dialogues showing the characters' attitudes toward race, the device most often used in films such as this, the filmmakers instead show the character's developments through expertly crafted scenes. Particularly impressive is the sequence in which, shortly after they escape, the two men must wordlessly work together to cross a rushing river. Of course, scenes such as this would not be interesting to watch if performed by actors who were not compelling. Poitier and Curtis are both outstanding, and well deserving of their acting nominations. They play off each other expertly, and it is difficult to imagine better casting, even considering that Marlon Brando was originally slated to play Curtis's part. The two could have been quite a successful ongoing screen duo, and it is a shame they did not work together more.

The film features strong supporting performances from nominees Theodore Bikel and Cara Williams, as well as a nice featured role for Lon Chaney, Jr. I am a bit surprised Bikel was able to score a nomination, based on his limited screen time, and think Chaney was a more logical choice for the nomination. Cara Williams also had limited screen time, but she steals the few scenes that she appears in.

Despite being a film that is very much of its time, The Defiant Ones has hardly aged in the 50 plus years since its release and still feels vital. Though the film obviously carries a message of racial acceptance, it does not rely solely on its message, and Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob's Smith fine script is full of excellent character development. The Defiant Ones would have likely been a good film even without two outstanding lead performances, but with Poitier and Curtis, it is obvious why this film has stood the test of time.

Remaining: 3146 films, 870 Oscars, 5411 nominations

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More Posts on the Way

After a stretch in which I was watching and writing about Oscar nominated and winning movies ever week, I took a break to help plan a wedding, get married, honeymoon, and settle into married life with my amazing wife. Then the holidays came around, and the Every Oscar Ever project took a backseat. I managed to see a few Oscar movies during that stretch, but the project went largely ignored for a few months.

As Oscar season gears up and Turner Classic Movies's "31 Days of Oscar" approaches, I've found myself missing the Every Oscar Ever project, and I'm ready to dive back in. Tonight I'll be firing up The Defiant Ones, and Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt is working its way toward the top of my Netflix queue, so there will be plenty to write about in the near future.

While I haven't seen many Oscar movies over the past six months or so, I will update my numbers as a result of watching Total Recall, Harry and the Hendersons, True Grit (John Wayne, not Jeff Bridges), Poster Girl, and Alice in Wonderland. With the exception of Alice in Wonderland, which I was largely unimpressed by, I enjoyed each of these films, and strongly recommend the documentary short Poster Girl.

Remaining: 3147 films, 872 Oscars, 5420 nominations