Thursday, June 13, 2013

Key Largo (1948)

1 Nomination, 1 Win

Win: Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Claire Trevor

Key Largo is, for lack of a better term, a chamber noir.  With a hurricane bearing down on the Largo Hotel in Key Largo, Florida, the film's characters are stuck together in the hotel, where the great majority of the film's action takes place.  This is a promising enough premise, but with a cast consisting of Humphrey Bogart, Edgard G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, Lauren Bacall, and Claire Trevor under the direction of John Huston, Key Largo is an engrossing, taut little drama.

One of the strengths of Key Largo is that it allows each performer to play completely to type: Bogart as the tough talking antihero whose self preservation instincts are challenged by the desire to do the right thing, Robinson as the fierce and menacing gangster, Barrymore as the cranky and obstreperous patriarch, Bacall as the mysterious ingenue, and Trevor as the bad girl.  Instead of leading to predictability, this casting is instead a sort of noir "dream team," and it is a pleasure to watch each of these performers in the roles they are well known for interact with one another.

The film's screenplay, adapted by Richard Brooks and John Huston from a play by Maxwell Anderson, doesn't tell a terribly compelling story, though the dialogue is crisp and perfectly suited for the film's stars.  But even without a great story, Key Largo is about watching these great performers interact with one another in a closed setting, and in this the film is an absolute joy to watch.

The film's sole nomination came for Claire Trevor's performance as the alcoholic companion of Edward G. Robinson's character, and Trevor's performance earned her the Academy Award (she was nominated twice more in her career for the films Dead End (1937) and The High and the Mighty (1954)).  Playing an alcoholic is a great way to win an Oscar, but Trevor avoids many of the standard tropes of the alcoholic performance.  The scene in which she sings a song in order to earn a drink is absolutely devastating, and her reaction when the drink is then denied to her is even more painful.  When Bogart's character defies Robinson's and gives her the drink anyway, the relief is palpable, a sign of the effectiveness of Trevor's performance.

The final of four films starring Bogart and Bacall, Key Largo is less about their relationship than their other films.  Though their chemistry is as obvious as always, it seems almost beside the point.  The film dips into sentimentality by the end, and a starker ending would have been a more natural conclusion.  Still, Key Largo is a fine chamber film that proves that a noir film need not be set on shadow-filled city streets.

Remaining: 3139 films, 868 Oscars, 5393 nominations

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Facing Your Danger (1946)

1 Nomination, 1 Win

Win: Best Short Subject, One Reel - Gordon Hollingshead

Produced as part of the Warner Bros. Sports Parade series, "Facing Your Danger" documents the attempt by Norman Nevills and his team to navigate the perilous Colorado River through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead via rowboats. On their voyage they stop to visit Native American sites and the wreckage of previous adventurers, though the majority of the film is spent chronicling in stunning color footage the smashing of the rowboats through vicious rapids.  What the filmmakers were able to capture with 1946 film technology is amazing, and this technical feat is clearly what caused the Academy to believe the film to be worthy of an Oscar.

"Facing Your Danger" is a very simple film with little in the way of narrative or character, but as a document of a stunning accomplishment, it is an overwhelming success.  If you ever see this film on the schedule of Turner Classic Movies, make sure to do what I did and set your DVR.  I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be impressed by the bravery of Nevills and his crew and the technological achievement of Gordon Hollingshead.

Remaining: 3140 films, 869 Oscars, 5394 nominations

Monday, June 10, 2013

Show Boat (1951)

2 Nominations, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Cinematography, Color - Charles Rosher
Nomination: Best Music, Scoring of Musical Picture - Adolph Deutsch and Conrad Salinger

The importance of the stage musical Show Boat cannot be overstated.  Before it premiered on Broadway in 1927, the theater world had never seen anything like Show Boat, a show in which the musical numbers advance a serious plot, rather than existing as a series of unrelated or only marginally related songs.  It is one of the most significant shows in the history of musical theater, and despite many of the themes no longer being relevant in society, the show has aged remarkably well in the 86 years since its debut.

The film adaptation of Show Boat is a dramatic departure from the musical, both due to the evolution of musical theater between 1927 and 1951 and because of racial themes.  The film tones down many of these issues, though a surprising amount is maintained.  Without these themes, there's not much substance left to the story beyond the tale of a gambler who abandons his family.  There are some great songs along the way, but with the exception of the breathtaking rendition of "Ol' Man River" by William Warfield, there are no indelible moments.  The story limps along slowly to its snooze of an ending, leaving little memorable in its wake.

Howard Keel is his usual charming self, stealing scenes with his booming baritone and not a hint of subtlety.  Kathryn Grayson is fine but unspectacular, Ava Gardner gives one of her better performances, and Joe E. Brown and Agnes Moorehead are their usual wonderful selves.

The film's two nominations came for its cinematography and its score, both highlights of the film.  The film's cinematography is pleasant if unambitious, but the "Ol' Man River" scene with its haunting fog and dim lighting deserved the nomination by itself (it lost the award to An American in Paris, clearly the superior effort).  The score is also top notch, and likely would have won the Oscar if not for, once again, An American in Paris and its superb score.  In most other years, Show Boat would have won one and possibly two Academy Awards.

Remaining: 3141 films, 870 Oscars, 5395 nominations

Sunday, June 9, 2013


While going through my Every Oscar Ever spreadsheet, I noticed that I had two separate entries for Les dimanches de Ville d'Avray (Sundays and Cybele), which was nominated for Academy Awards in two different years.  The film was nominated and won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1963, and received two nominations the following year for its score and screenplay.  I had counted the film twice, and thus should be 3,142 films remaining, not 3,143.  I still have 5,397 nominations remaining.  I also noticed that somewhere along the way, I incorrectly got off on my Oscar count, and now only have 870 Oscars left, not 871.  Thus, my current updated numbers are...

Remaining: 3142 films, 870 Oscars, 5397 nominations

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chasing Ice (2012)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song - J. Ralph for the song "Before My Time"

Though it missed out on a nomination in the Best Documentary Feature category after being named to the short list with 14 other documentaries, Chasing Ice received a nomination in the Best Original Song category for the song "Before My Time."  The song, performed by Scarlett Johansson on vocals and Joshua Bell on violin, was nominated over efforts performed by such well known names as Katy Perry, Rick Ross, Fiona Apple, and, of course, Matthew McConaughey.

Chasing Ice is the story of Extreme Ice Survey, an organization led by photographer James Balog that uses photography to document the melting of glaciers due to global climate change.  The team has over come some remarkable challenges to install time lapse cameras that provide an alarming visual record of the shrinking glaciers that helps take the problem out of the realm of charts and graphs and into truly terrifying photographs.

Chasing Ice largely focuses on Balog and his colleagues, but occasionally tries to zoom out a bit and take a bigger scope by looking at the larger problem of global warming, briefly looking at the so-called "scientific debate" about climate change.  These moments are done well, but the film is at its best when showing the efforts of EIS and the resulting photographs and footage they recorded.  The unforgettable highlight of the film is the sequence that shows the glacier calving at the Jakobshavn Glacier in western Greenland.  The original footage is 75 minutes in length, the longest glacier calving ever capture on film, and though Chasing Ice is only able to show a few minutes of this event, it's a brutally powerful sequence that will likely affect people's concerns about climate change more than most scientific data.

The song "Before My Time" comes at the end of the film, and it's a moody and haunting song that fits the tone of the film well.  I've listened to the song on its own, and though it doesn't work as well outside of the context of the film, Oscar nominated songs are considered based on how they work in the film, and "Before My Time" is a nice fit.  Scarlett Johansson's voice has a rough smokiness to it that adds to the song's haunting tone, and Bell's violion is unsurprisingly lovely.

I wasn't terribly impressed by the filmmaking in Chasing Ice, and I can see why the film was not ultimately nominated for Best Documentary, but the subject is perhaps the most important subject we face as a species, and the footage made by Balog and his team is essential viewing.

Remaining: 3143 films, 871 Oscars, 5397 nominations