Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 2008-2012

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Director: Danny Boyle
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a poor young man from the slums of Mumbai. The story starts with him being a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and after getting almost every question right, the police yank him from the show and want to know how a boy from the slums can know all the answers. To convince the men that he wasn't cheating, he tells his life story and how it supplied him with the answers to each of the questions. There's a lost love story in there somewhere. All you need to know is that this was the feelgood movie of the year. It wasn't a light movie, however, as some feelgood movies are. It's directed by Danny Boyle, who directed Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, so you really shouldn't walk into this thinking it's going to be sunshine and roses. No, there's death, gangsters, mutilation, and kidnapping. The love story and unconventional plot make it rewarding, however. The film became a sleeper hit, and just like that- the front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar. The other nominees included: Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There was an uproar this year, as everyone was extremely curious as to why neither The Dark Knight, nor WALL-E was nominated for Best Picture. This outrage and low viewership in the last couple years led the Academy to change the number of nominees to ten the next year. I can see why people were a bit upset, The Dark Knight probably was the best film released that year, but I don't think the Academy could have given the Oscar to a "super-hero" movie. Case in point: They didn't even nominate The Dark Knight Rises with the extra nominee spaces. To be fair, though, it wasn't nearly as good. The Academy was clearly in the mood for something different, and for something inspired, as they decided on Slumdog Millionaire than the other nominees, which may have seemed a little too old hat. I did enjoy Benjamin Button, though. It's still an unusual choice, given the Academy's hesitation to reward foreign films. They usually just let the Best Foreign Film category give them an honor and call it a day. This, I'm afraid, is what is going to happen to Amour in this year's (2012) Oscars. It goes to show that if you have a great story, it doesn't matter where your movie was made. It also helps if you have a renowned, visionary British director. Slumdog Millionaire isn't without its controversies, however. There were rumblings about the movie's producers were allegedly exploiting the young child actors,  paying them under one thousand pounds. The actors playing young Salim and young Latika were plucked from illegal slums in Mumbai, and went right back to them after they were done. This was in comparison to the child actors for The Kite Runner, who were paid upwards of nine thousand pounds. It was reported later that Boyle himself provided homes for the actors after their slums were destroyed. The reports couldn't stop the film from winning, however. Along with Best Picture, the film won Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, Best Song, and Best Cinematography among others.

Winner: The Hurt Locker
Director: Katheryn Bigelow
Distributed by: Universal Studios

The Hurt Locker is about three soldiers (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty serving in the Iraq War, all working in Explosive Ordinance Disposal. There's not a real overarching plot to the movie, just glimpses into the three men's lives as they go through the war. I guess it's sort of like The Deer Hunter in the way that each man chooses different lives for himself-whether it be going home to start a family or staying in the service to do what they love. In the same vein, the movie also lacks a real antagonist. The tension revolves around the character's internal conflicts and brief battles against snipers. It's a fine war movie, though of course you always have to question whether what you are seeing is an accurate representation of war. The film drew ire from current and past service members who complained that there was just too many things wrong with the film-so many that it couldn't really be enjoyed by servicemen/women. The uniforms were wrong, the men lacked discipline. they lacked communication gear, and the whole "let's split up" scenario near the end was something nobody would do in a real-world war scenario. I understand their gripes with the movie, but the thing is: it's a movie. While it is trying to tell a story about real-life, the freeing thing about movies is that they aren't real life. Creative license has to be taken into consideration. Film-makers have to make a movie, and to do so, they have to inject the movie with a few falsehoods. There are tons of TV and movie cliches that are completely false, but are used to create drama or suspense. OK, I'll stop talking about creative licenses in movies. While some may not have appreciated the movie for it's inaccuracies  the movie still proved to be a critical darling. What it wasn't, was a hit. The film was actually released in 2008, though it was in Italy, so when it came out in 2009 in the U.S., it was eligible to be nominated. When it was finally released in the U.S., it only brought in a little over $17 million domestically. While it brought in an additional $32 million coming from overseas, that still makes it the lowest grossing Best Picture winner of all time. The funny thing is that it still did better than all the other movies about the Middle-East conflict. I just think it's hard for people to swallow war movies when said war is still going on. This didn't stop the Academy from awarding The Hurt Locker with the top prize. It won out over films like Avatar, Inglorious Basterds, Up, and Up in the Air. There's a few more, seeing as they changed it to ten films, but they don't matter in this race. The front runners were The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Inglorious Basterds, though I think the Academy was hesitant to let James Cameron become "King of the World" again. Also, a revisionist tale about a group of Jewish soldiers killing Hitler? Totally awesome, but not really a Oscar winner. What The Hurt Locker showed us, more than anything, is that a movie that does very modestly can overtake a box-office mega-hit. It's comforting, really. It's not always the popular kids that win,  but sometimes it's their ex-wives.

Winner: The King's Speech
Director: Tom Hooper
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

The King's Speech deals with Prince Albert (Colin Firth), Duke of York, the second son of King George V of England. You'd think that it would be fun to be Prince, but he's in a little bit of a pickle. In the mid-thirties, his father had died and his brother (Guy Pierce) has ascended to the throne. While his father was still alive, he told him that he must prepare himself to become the King instead, as the older brother will ruin them. Prince Albert has a stutter that keeps him from talking too much in public venues, but his father tells him he must get over this, as radio contact with the English subjects is absolutely necessary. Prince Albert's wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), convinces him to see an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The relationship between the Prince and Logue doesn't go so well at first, but they eventually become friends. It is when Prince Albert's brother abdicates the throne to marry a divorced woman, and the world teeters on the verge of another World War that Prince Albert needs Logue the most, as he will now be King George VI. It's a great film, and surprisingly funny. Rush and Firth are great together and it's great to see Helena Bonham Carter is something else than one of her husband's movies. The King's Speech main competition that year was True Grit, The Fighter, Inception, and probably the biggest of all: The Social Network. This was an interesting year because the two front-runners represented two sides of our culture. On one, you had the historical movie, the kind that usually win, and the safe bet, though a great film. On the other, you have an equally great film, but more relevant to the times, more edgy and less safe. Many blamed the old-fashioned Academy voters for letting another "Oscar-friendly" movie win. People lamented that a picture that was representative of our current lives didn't win; a film that spoke to current times, not the past. So, it's hard to say if this is truly an upset year or not. It's really hard for me personally to say which film is better, or more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar. Let's just say, that I was surprised when I heard it won, but not that surprised. The King's Speech is actually a movie we probably should have seen way earlier, but the writer, David Seidler, had to wait until Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother died, which happened in 2002. Critics praised the film, especially the acting, and the movie did well at the box office. Actually, now that I think of it, it was probably the superb acting in the film that gave it the edge over The Social Network. The Academy voters, being made up of actors, among other movie making jobs, tend to side with productions with big performances. Not that Jesse Eisenburg wasn't good in The Social Network, it's just he's not as good as Firth or Rush. The King's Speech also won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor (Firth).

Winner: The Artist
Director: Michel Hazanvicius
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

I feel it's more than fitting to end my coverage (for now) with a film that is like the first winner, Wings. The Artist was unusual because it was black and white and silent. This marks the first truly black and white film since The Apartment, the first silent film since Wings, and the first French movie to win Best Picture. Usually those three things wouldn't guarantee it an audience let alone an Oscar. I'm not making fun of France, I'm just saying that the Academy tends to be a little bit xenophobic when it comes to the top prize. While the premise may seem a little strange, or gimmicky, the film is anything but. The film stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a popular silent film star who can't seem to accept that "talkies" are the future. He falls in love with the new "it" girl, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a girl who goes from an extra in one of Valentin's silent films to a headliner in talkies a couple years later. Silence ensues. It's a great representation of the pains actors and actresses were going through during the transition from silent films to talkies. The film is so well made and charming, that you'll almost forget you're watching a contemporary film. The nominations changed yet again to having a limit of ten, but not necessarily getting to that number. Each film has to be nominated a certain amount of times to be considered for the list, thus why this year and the next have nine nominees. The Artist was up against the likes of: The Descendants, Moneyball, War Horse, Hugo, and The Help. I was honestly fine with either Hugo or The Artist winning. Both dealt with silent films and both were amazing. The biggest competition for The Artist, however, was probably The Descendants. Nothing could stop The Artist, though, not even George Clooney! The Artist was a gigantic hit with the critics and with audiences, raking in $133 million dollars. Not bad for a silent movie! If Hollywood loves anything, it's a homage. While it didn't win Best Director, it did win Best Actor for Dujardin, which was well deserved.

Winner: Argo
Director: Ben Affleck
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

No, you aren't reading this incorrectly, Ben Affleck did in fact get his second Oscar. Though I have not seen any of his three movies that he directed, I've heard they are actually really good. The proof appears here, as his latest outing, Argo, won Best Picture at this years Oscars. Argo tells the story of CIA operatives that attempt to rescue U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. How do they do this? Well, they pretend to be a Canadian film crew filming a terrible B-movie named Argo. What could go wrong!? Like I said, I haven't seen the movie yet, so I can't give you a real spot on analysis of the movie, plus I'm assuming that most of you haven't seen it either. Argo had a tumultuous road to the winner's circle, as it wasn't really until late in the game that it became the front-runner. What changed? Ben Affleck being snubbed, that's what. Yes, Affleck was not nominated for Best Director, though his film was nominated for Best Picture. This is something that has only happened three other times in history, the last being 1989's Driving Miss Daisy. I think it was a bit easier when there were only five slots for Best Picture, in this respect, because it was almost a given that the director of each Best Picture nominee was going to be present in the Best Director category. Now, with up to ten nominees, you have a lot of pissed off directors. Affleck was visibly upset during the ceremony, and it was made all better by the Best Picture win. He even had a great acceptance speech, though it was a little bit rushed at the beginning. So, if you think about it, Argo probably wouldn't have won had Affleck been nominated. The Academy works that way sometimes. A lot of people felt bad that he was left out, so they decided to give him a better prize (he received an Oscar because he was a producer for the film). Argo's chances were further helped by the fact that it won top honors at all the other award ceremonies. Argo beat out: Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Life of Pi. The other films that had their time as front-runners were: Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Les Miserables. I could have seen the first two winning, because the Academy loves a movie about history, or one about mental illness. Lincoln had it's win with Daniel Day Lewis getting Best Actor, Django Unchained got Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor with Christoph Waltz, Amour won Best Foreign Film, Life of Pi won Best Cinematography and Best Director, Les Miserables won Best Supporting Actress with Anne Hathaway, and Silver Linings Playbook had Jennifer Lawrence win Best Actress. So, I feel almost all the films got a big consolation prize, except maybe Zero Dark Thirty, which tied for Best Sound Editing and Beasts of the Southern Wild which was the only Best Picture nominee this year not to win any awards. Argo won it out though, not only because of the Affleck snub, but because people genuinely liked it. Critics loved the film and it's up to over $206 million in world wide box office receipts. The film also took home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 2003-2007

Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Director: Peter Jackson
Distributed by: New Line Cinema

This was an exciting year for Peter Jackson and everyone for LOTR, but not a lot of other people. In probably one of the most predictable Oscar years, LOTR took home just about everything it seems. It was nominated for eleven Oscars, and it took home eleven Oscars. Everybody knew it was going to happen. The Academy was just waiting till the last film to reward the series. Too bad it was for probably the weakest of the trilogy. I love the first film and the second one is my favorite, but the third is just...well...the end. I love this film too, but I mean, come on, you can't beat the second one with the ents and the Battle of Helms Deep. All three films probably represent the best trilogy of all time, save for Star Wars. This was an unfortunate year for all the other Best Picture nominees, as they had to try and overcome the clear favorite of the race. It was futile however, and some pretty decent films like Eastwood directed, Mystic River, and the indie surprise, Lost in Translation. Then there was Master and Commander and Seabiscuit. Meh. Any other year Mystic River probably could have taken home the prize, but noooo, it just had to come out in 2003! Luckily for other films, LOTR was not nominated for any acting awards, but they did win just about every technical award, along with the Oscars for Adapted Screenplay and Director! LOTR remains to be the only fantasy genre picture to win the Oscar, and third film to win eleven Oscars (the most ever) the others being Ben-Hur and Titanic. This was probably the most boring Oscars I've ever seen, though. They could have given it all the awards and called it a night, and it would have saved everyone there about four hours of bad jokes and dance numbers. Oh, and I didn't bother with a plot, because I know you've all seen this movie. Everyone has.

Winner: Million Dollar Baby
Director: Clint Eastwood
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Million Dollar Baby, if you take the title literally, is the story of a baby that wins a million dollars through a crazy turn of events. It's basically a combination of Blank Check and Baby's Day Out. Actually,  it's the story of a girl, Maggie (Hilary Swank), who longs to be a boxer. She coaxes a retired boxing coach, Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), into training her and he enlists his old boxer friend, "Scrap Iron" (Morgan Freeman), to help. They both train her into a decent fighter and she eventually accepts to compete in a championship match. Let's just say, it doesn't end like you think, and it involves a stool. I'm not going to go any further into the movie, since there may be some people who still would like to check the film out. A little over ten years later, we have a Clint Eastwood directed film, starring Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, except this time they aren't cowboys, they're old boxers. I guess the formula works! All Eastwood has to do is keep starring with Freeman in films and he's got Oscar gold! See, that was the problem with Mystic River, no Eastwood or Freeman. The film was a hit with audiences and critics, though some didn't like the controversial ending. It didn't stop it from knocking out other nominees like: The Aviator (another film that didn't deserve the Oscar that the Academy was waiting to give Scorsese), Ray, Sideways, and Finding Neverland. So, not a bad year at all. I'm telling you though, it's the whole Eastwood involvement. It helps that many of the Academy voters are from his era. Baby ended up winning Best Director, Best Actress (Swank), and Best Supporting Actor (Freeman).

Winner: Crash
Director: Paul Haggis
Distributed by: Lionsgate

I have to imagine that this film winning caught even Haggis by surprise. It wasn't the front-runner, and it wasn't released during the "Oscar season." Probably the most controversial win in recent Oscar history, the film had divided critics and audiences. It deals with eight different stories during an average day in L.A. In these stories that slowly intertwine, we see the effects of racism, fear, and prejudice. The movie takes an interesting take on racism though, as it shows those reacting to racism as being racist in some ways themselves. No one is perfect. But, Haggis makes it clear that many of the actions are done out of misconceptions or from ignorance  not outright malice. It has an ensemble cast, including: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, and Matt Dillon. Most criticism came to the movie after it won Best Picture. It went from being one of the best films of the year, to being preachy garbage. I couldn't believe the backlash this movie got. I personally like the movie, but I do admit that it should have never won. Its competition that year was: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Goodnight, and Good Luck, and Munich. That's one heavy year. All films were serious, and some were even pretty dark. The clear favorite was Brokeback Mountain. Then a funny thing happened: it didn't win. Why? Well, some think that there was a lingering fear of homosexuality in the Academy at the time. Others believe that Crash spoke to the Academy in a fundamental level. The movie was based in L.A. and that's exactly were the aged voters live. Whatever the reasons, it turned into a huge controversy that ruined Crash's reputation. It hadn't even been nominated for any of the top Golden Globe prizes, so how did it get anywhere in the Oscars? It only took home three Oscars in the end, the unexpected one, one for Best Original Screenplay, and one for Best Editing. Woohoo. See this movie if you haven't, if only to judge for yourself whether it deserves all the hate.

Winner: The Departed
Director: Martin Scorsese
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

So it finally happened. The Academy could finally give Scorsese his long deserved Oscar that they had decided to withhold until now. Is The Departed the best of the Scorsese bunch? No, but it's up there, and its definitely better than his last couple outings. The Departed deals with an undercover cop (Leonardo Di Caprio) who is deeply ingrained in the Irish mafia in Boston, and an undercover mafia member (Matt Damon) who is deeply ingrained in the Boston P.D. They both realize there's a mole in each group and must race to expose the other. The supporting cast includes Jack Nicholson as the mafia boss, and Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin as men in the Boston P.D. Like I said, this was a long overdue Oscar win for Scorsese, but some feel it was a lifetime achievement award, and not a legitimate win. Scorsese himself said the reason he won this time was because, "this film actually had a plot." The Departed's competition that year consisted of: Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen. Not a bad year actually, but I really think that the Academy finally found a movie worthy of the Scorsese Oscar. The film was rated as many critic's number one movie of the year, and was at the forefront of the Oscar race. Probably the only gripe against the movie was that it wasn't as good as the Chinese original called Internal Affairs. The only thing that was a bit off this year was the snub of Guillermo del Toro's, Pan's Labyrinth, a film which was the highest rated for the 2000's on Metacritic. It probably couldn't have beat The Departed, but it could have at least went in instead of Babel. Pan's Labyrinth is a very good film, and it's too bad it didn't get recognized. The Departed also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It's a great mob movie, so if you're in the mood for something Scorsese, but something more recent, check it out.

Winner: No Country For Old Men
Director: The Coen Brothers
Distributed by: Miramax Films

I didn't really pay that much attention to the Oscars after LOTR won in 03'. If the films that were up for Best Picture interested me, than I'd make a conscious effort. I don't think I even watched 04's Oscars at all, and only peeked in on the next two. This year was different. I was very interested to see which film would win: No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood. I'd seen both films and loved them both. Who was I rooting for that year? Well, if you know me, than you know that I love the Coen Brothers. I own most of their movies and some (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and Barton Fink) are among my favorite films. Sure, they've had a few bumps like The Ladykillers, Burn After Reading, and The Hudsucker Proxy (which is still a good film) but their still better than a lot of the films out there. OK, maybe not The Ladykillers, that was pretty bad. That being said, I'm going to try and be unbiased. I wasn't unbiased the night of the Oscars, though. I really wanted the Coens to get their due. They did, of course, and also collected statues for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. They became the fifth directors to collect three Oscars for one film, giving that they wrote, directed, and produced the film. No Country For Old Men, adapted from the book by Cormac McCarthy, deals with an old sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) trying to track down two men. One of the men, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), had stumbled upon a drug deal gone wrong in the desert and took the $2 million dollars that he found in a duffle-bag. The other man, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), is the hit-man sent out to retrieve said money. The film is excellent, I'll just say that now. I'm not doing a great job in describing it, so please go see it. I'm not sure if it's better than Fargo, but it's pretty high up on my list. The best out of the bunch is Bardem, who plays the bowl cut-sporting assassin with scary resolve. He is basically unstoppable evil. The film is actually a lot like Fargo. Both movies deal with an old fashioned cop that it appears is powerless to stop the growing evil invading their town. That's what's so great about both these movies; they both have a collision of innocence and violence. The name of the movie comes from the lament of the elderly sheriff, who throughout the movie bemoans the changes that are happening. Juno, Michael Clayton, and Atonement were the other nominees, though they were never favorites to win. No, it all came down to Men and Blood. While Daniel Day-Lewis' performance may have been astounding, it couldn't take the momentum away from the twisted western the Coen brothers had made.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1998-2002

Winner: Shakespeare in Love
Director: John Madden
Distributed by: Miramax Films

This was the first film that won the Best Picture Oscar that I knew didn't deserve it. Or at least that's what I was led to believe. All I heard about was how much better Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan was, and how it was so much better than some "chick flick." If you mention Saving Private Ryan to anyone, what do they talk about? The opening scene of D-Day. That's it. Nobody really cares about the rest of the movie. Most people I talk to consider it to be pretty boring after the opening. But, since the opening is so spectacular, so epic, and so...well...bloody, people just kind of went along with the rest of the movie, even if it was a little sub-par from that point on. Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, another WWII movie, was also nominated, but I guess it was a bit too artsy. Apparently the Academy wasn't interested in depressing WWII movies that year, instead going for probably the most lighthearted and fun entries, Shakespeare in Love. Sure, there was also Life is Beautiful and Elizabeth, but they weren't as strong as this little love story. Joseph Fiennes (yes, Ralph is his brother) plays William Shakespeare, and looks much different from what I pictured. I don't know, I guess I'm too used to the picture of the balding bard. Anyway, Shakespeare is not yet the important playwright we know and love, and after a bad break, decides to pen Romeo and Juliet. While holding auditions for the play, he sees an amazing performance by someone named Thomas Kent for the part of Romeo. Unbeknownst to him, Kent is actually the heiress Viola de Lesseps (Gwenyth Paltrow). Lesseps had to cross dress to audition since women weren't allowed to act on stage at that time. Shakespeare finds out and they soon start a relationship, though he is married (though estranged) and she is engaged. The story is full of anachronisms, which don't really hurt the film since there is nothing known about Shakespeare's life for the most part. Even the mention of the colony of Virginia (which didn't exist in the 1590's) is OK because it seems like it's all part of the joke. The film isn't trying to be accurate, it's trying to tell an engaging love story. This must have appealed to Oscar voters who were tired of the conventional fact based history movies. Shakespeare in Love also nabbed the Oscar for Best Actress (Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), Best Original Screenplay, Best Costumes, Best Score for a Musical or Comedy, and Best Art Direction.

Winner: American Beauty
Director: Sam Mendes
Distributed by: Dreamworks Pictures

American Beauty is an enigma of a film. Mendes was strictly a theater director before he helmed this movie, and I guess he hit it out of the park on his first try. Alan Ball, the film's writer, had begun penning the story in the early 90's for stage, but realized it was impossible to adapt in that venue. It resurfaced in 1997 when Ball was tired of trying to write for sitcoms and adapted the story to fit that mindset: one of cynicism. Dreamworks picked up the script and went through over twenty directors before they decided on Mendes. They re-worked the story a little bit and lo and behold we had...something. American Beauty is a hard movie to pin down. Is it about the meaning of life, the empty existence of suburbia, a story about love, or one about imprisonment? The answer, depending who you ask, is all of them, and many more. I'm not going to try and peg down exactly what I think it's all about, mostly since I've only seen the movie once. All you need to know is that it was a hit. Though it started out slow in theaters, a win at the Golden Globes and word of mouth rocketed the movie to a gross of over $356 million worldwide. Critics praised the acting of Kevin Spacey, the sharp writing of Ball, and the cinematography of Mendes. The movie was pretty hyped up, which is partly why it stayed ahead in the Oscar race, over The Cider House Rules and The Insider, the other big contenders. The Green Mile may have seemed a little too much like The Shawshank Redemption and The Sixth Sense couldn't have won due to the Academy already handing out it's one allotted horror movie Best Picture Oscar to The Silence of the Lambs. Probably the most inventive films of the year, The Matrix and Fight Club, were left out, which is really too bad. The funny thing is, after American Beauty won for 1999, it's reputation basically went downhill. It's like people were all suffering from a mania and finally woke up, because nobody could understand why they liked that weird movie in the first place. I blame the fact that it was so hyped up. Everyone saw it and convinced themselves that they must also like it, so as not to seem out of the loop. Then, that one person stood up and said, "meh." This doesn't mean that it's not a fine film, I remember liking it when I watched it, it just suffered from overpraise. The film won Mendes a directing and cinematography Oscar, and Kevin Spacey the Oscar for Best Actor. I'm not huge on the Space-man, but he was pretty good in this. Sorry I was kind of vague on the story. I guess you'll just have to watch it for yourself.

Winner: Gladiator
Director: Ridley Scott
Distributed by: Dreamworks Pictures

The sword and sandles epics had been dead and buried for a very long time. Who knew it would be resurrected in the 2000's by Ridley Scott. Russel Crowe plays Maximus, a Roman general under Marcus Aurelias, who is reduced to slavery once Aurelias' son, Commodus, kills the emperor and takes his place. On top of this, Maximus' family was murdered. So, he did what anyone would do: become a gladiator and plan to overthrow the new, tyrannical emperor. Easy, right? Crowe was the standout in this movie, which relied more on his steely demeanor than on historical fact. Scott did try to make this film more true to fact than any other sword and sandal epic before it, but continuity and safety reasons made it impossible for him to make it completely true to life. He even hired historians to help him out, though one resigned after changes were made and another asked not to be named in the credits. Historian Allen Ward claimed that making the film true to life would have easily made it much less interesting. He found that "creative artists need to be granted some poetic license, but that should not be a permit for the wholesale disregard of facts...." The movie did really well in theaters, but was met with more tepid responses from critics, only garnering a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert called the film "muddy, fuzzy, and indistinct " while also stating that it "employs depression as a substitute for personality...." Other reviews weren't as scathing, with some even calling it their favorite movies of all time. I don't mind the movie myself, it's not bad or anything, I guess I just don't really care for sword and sandal movies. This is another one of those years where nothing was going to stop the front-runner. Erin Brockovich, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Traffic, and Chocolat didn't stand a chance. If you love movies like 300, King Arthur, Troy, and Kingdom of Heaven, then you have Ridley Scott to thank for bringing back a dead genre. Gladiator didn't give Scott an Oscar however, but it did give one to Crowe. I'm just warning you, this won't be the last time you'll see Crowe and Oscar in the same sentence.

Winner: A Beautiful Mind
Director: Ron Howard
Distributed by: Universal Pictures/Dreamworks Pictures

A Beautiful Mind is the near true story of John Nash (Russel Crowe), a brilliant mathematician and economist, who develops paranoid schizophrenia and suffers from delusions after taking a job helping the Department of Defense as a code-breaker. This takes place a little after the Second World War, so it's a Cold War movie in a sense. I say near true, because Howard and the writers took a few liberties with Nash's story. The film has been criticized for this, but the overall plot and accurate use of complex mathematics garnered praise from critics, mathematicians, and John Nash himself. The supporting cast includes Jennifer Connelly as his one-time student and the woman he eventually marries, and Ed Harris who plays the dedicated and forceful government agent who recruits Nash. The movie had a few things going for it: first, it had Russel Crowe in it, who had just won his first acting Oscar. Secondly, the film was helmed by Ron Howard, a well respected director who probably deserved to win for Apollo 13. The Academy may have felt the past injustice needed to be fixed somehow. And thirdly, the movie dealt with a disability, which always gives your movie a few extra points over other contenders. A Beautiful Mind's competition was all over the place; from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, to the Grand Hotel-like Gosford Park, to the musical Moulin Rouge!, to the crime drama In the Bedroom. The Academy, knowing that Peter Jackson had two more Lord of the Rings movies coming out, probably decided that they would wait until the end to give him the grand prize. Even I knew it wasn't going to happen at the time. I remember watching 2002's Oscars and noticing that almost nobody for Lord of the Rings bothered to show up. It was like a secret everyone knew. The Academy ultimately decided they were in love with the unusual biopic and garnered it with not only the Best Picture Oscar, but one for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (Connelly). This entry, like American Beauty, has lost it's luster through the years, with many considering this a weak winner.

Winner: Chicago
Director: Rob Marshall
Distributed by: Miramax Pictures

Chicago is a satirical musical based on the crazy times of the Jazz Age in Chicago. For you non-history oriented and non-F. Scott Fitzgerald readers, the Jazz Age was during the Roaring Twenties. The story follows Roxie Hart (Renee Zelwegger) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) two women who committed murder. After some manipulation in jail, they both seek to make it big in vaudeville, creating a rivalry between them. The supporting cast is full of stars, including Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, and Taye Diggs. The first true musical since Oliver! in the late sixties, the movie was a hit with audiences and critics, but it didn't pave the way for more musicals to win Best Picture, though Les Miserables is up for it this year (don't count on it). I think this was a case of the Academy finally seeing a decent musical after so many years, and they couldn't resist not giving it the top prize. It's an entertaining movie, with great songs, solid acting, and a good story all around. The competition: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Hours, Gangs of New York, and The Pianist couldn't really compare. This is not counting LOTR of course, but I already explained that their time would come. Gangs of New York wasn't Scorsese's best, so the Academy didn't feel right giving him his apology Oscar yet. As for The Hours and The Pianist, they were a bit low-key to top the musical extravaganza. It didn't exactly knock it out of the park with awards though, as the only big ones they won were for Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones. It is probably one of the best musicals in recent history, so if you're in the mood, you could do much worse.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1993-1997

Winner: Schindler's List
Director: Steven Spielberg
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

It took a long time to convince Spielberg to direct the story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi who rescued over one thousand Jews by having them work in his factory. Spielberg received the book, Schindler's Ark, from the president of the MCA, and Spielberg was instantly enthralled with the story of Oskar Schindler. This was in 1982. A year later, Spielberg finally met with the novel's author, Poldek Pfefferberg, who was one of the people saved by Schindler. Pfefferberg was anxious to get a movie about his savior made, but Spielberg told him it would be about ten years before it would happen. In that time, Spielberg shopped the directing duties to Sydney Pollock, Billy Wilder, Martin Scorsese, and Roman Polanski. Some didn't want the pressure, or Spielberg realized they weren't right for the movie. Spielberg wasn't convinced that he was mature enough as a director to tackle a film such as this. It was only after seeing the rise of neo-Nazi's after the Berlin Wall fell, and the abundance of Holocaust deniers, that Spielberg decided that he needed to make this movie. The movie is almost completely in black and white, save for a red coat worn by a little girl, which barely keeps it from being one of the only black and white films to win Best Picture since The Apartment. Liam Neeson plays Schindler, with Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goth, the SS officer whom befriends Schindler, but grows more and more suspicious of the man as the film goes on. Schindler's List was a big success both commercially and critically. The film is considered one of the best of all time, though it did have its detractors. Jean-Luc Godard accused Spielberg of making money off of a tragedy. Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, who directed a nine-hour documentary on the Holocaust, called it a "kitschy melodrama" and "deformation" of historical truth. Others claimed that the film didn't mean anything since Spielberg wasn't a part of the Holocaust. Apparently you can't please everyone. Schindler's List blew away the competition, namely The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father (who probably could have won in any other year), The Remains of the Day, and The Piano. The movie easily won Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, among other technical awards. I've heard it's an amazing, yet heavy movie, and one that I hope to watch in the near future.

Winner: Forrest Gump
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Forrest Gump is basically a movie about the Baby Boom era. Forrest is a part of major events, meets presidents and famous people, and even influences pop culture. It's completely assanine, but extremely entertaining at the same time. Forrest does all these things, but all he longs for is his childhood crush. OK, so this is one of those years that everyone gets up in arms about. Everybody can understand Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral losing to Forrest Gump, but The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction? This is a really hard one for me, too. I love all three films (but probably Pulp Fiction the least, sorry) and it's difficult for me to say which one I would say is the best. I can appreciate the historical context of Forrest Gump, being a history nerd, but there are parts of the movie that kind of annoy me (mostly ones involving Jenny...sorry...Jen-nay). Shawshank on the other hand is an incredible movie, and there is nothing I can find wrong with it. So I guess I'd have to say that it deserved to win and not Gump. Critics were equally divided on the movie, some thinking it extremely brilliant, others calling it a meaningless pop melodrama. Then there was film critic Pauline Kael, who said she hated it thoroughly. I think that's a bit harsh. I think the movie is absolutely wonderful, but I guess I could see why some may find it stupid. The film is still loved by many and has even created a seafood restaurant called Bubba Gump's. I've been to the one in New Orleans, and it's not bad! Forrest Gump also won Best Director, Best Actor (Tom Hanks, two years in a row!) Best Adapted Screenplay (yeah, it was a book), Best Editing, and Best Visual Effects (probably for the CGI work on Lieutenant Dan's legs).

Winner: Braveheart
Director: Mel Gibson
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Remember when Mel Gibson wasn't crazy? I know, it seems like it's been awhile, but Gibson was the hot thing in the 90's.  After being in a bunch of successful movies, Gibson decided that he wanted to direct. Too bad his production company, Icon Productions, didn't even have enough money to have him headline a film. It was only after Warner Bros. made Gibson promise to make another Lethal Weapon that they financed the film. Braveheart is about William Wallace (Gibson) the Scottish warrior who led the Scots against King Edward I of England in the First War of Scottish Independence. The film was shot in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, with most of the extras being Irish. Gibson had to cut a few costs in his epic, so the extras were reused for each side. Yes, it's the same people charging towards each other. Gibson tried to make his Scottish epic in the same vein as Spartucus and The Big Country. The film is definitely epic, and also really violent. I just watched it with my wife a few days ago, and I liked it, but I don't think she appreciated all the goriness  The film was initially given a NC-17 rating for violence, causing Gibson to take it down a few notches. I can't imagine what it looked like before. This was a bit surprising for me, but there are a lot of people who hate this movie, and even more who don't think it should have won. In fact, it's constantly rated as one of the worst Best Picture winners. Actor Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints) called it "a piece of pure Australian s***t." Historians lambasted the film for its inaccuracies, though since not a whole lot is really known about Wallace, the filmmakers felt they could spin a tale. Gibson himself admits it in the "making of" feature. Other gripes were the harsh portrayal of King Edward I, whom was not as ruthless in real life as he was in the movie. Also, many criticized Gibson for the portrayal of the Prince, who in the movie was depicted as an "effeminate homosexual," according to critics. Gibson claimed that he had cut a scene that gave the Prince's story, but it took too much time from the main story line. So, it does appear that Gibson took a few liberties with the story, but I don't think it mars the whole thing. Braveheart won over Sense and Sensibilities, Apollo 13, Il Postino (The Postman, no not that one), and Babe. Yes, Babe was nominated for Best Picture. Seems a bit surprising but I guess I can see it happening, it being a great movie and all. I guess if any movie was going to beat the epic, it would have been Apollo 13, but perhaps the Academy was tired of giving Tom Hanks Oscars. Braveheart also won Best Director, Cinematography, Makeup, and Sound Editing. See it if you aren't afraid to see a little bit of blood.

Winner: The English Patient
Director: Anthony Minghella
Distributed by: Miramax Films

The story of a multi-burn patient(Ralph Fiennes) being nursed back to health by Hana (Juliette Binoche) in WWII Italy. Throughout the movie, we see through flashbacks of the story behind the "English patient" and the nurse caring for him. The movie was basically a lock from the get-go to get the Oscar. This is another movie that was basically very well made Oscar bait. I guess if your film has great direction, superb acting, and a sweeping narrative, you're just asking for people to hate your film out of jealousy. The film did well in theaters, but never cracked the weekend top five. In the end, it won nine out of the twelve Oscars they were nominated for, so it's an understatement to say that its presence was felt at the Oscar's that year. It beat out Jerry "Show me the Money" Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine, and Fargo. It hurts to say it, but I can understand why Fargo didn't win. It's an excellent movie, but I'm not quite sure it was a perfect Oscar movie. It's a little too goofy, like Jerry Maguire, if you know what I mean. The Coen brothers win in the next decade, so don't feel too bad for them. Also, Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her role in the movie, which is good enough for me.

Winner: Titanic
Director: James Cameron
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

The story about how a big ship takes a bunch of people from England and then safety lands in New York. The End. Oh wait, I mean the ship hits an iceberg and mostly everyone dies. Y'know, the Titanic. Instead of Cameron boring us with an accurate historical portrayal of the Titanic and real people aboard it, he peppered the movie with made-up characters and made real characters cowards or just plain different. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jack, a broke man that won a ticket onto the RMS Titanic in a poker game. He meets a high class girl named Rose (Kate Winslet) and they fall in love, though I believe that's only because she believed he was King of the World. That's a thing, right? Anyway, so unfortunately Rose is totally supposed to be with this jerk, Cal (Billy Zane), who she doesn't love. He finds out that Rose is sneaking off with Jack and plans on stopping the relationship in its tracks. While this is happening, the boat gets tired of the whole weird romance and decides to kiss an iceberg. Cal's ex-Pinkerton buddy, Master Lovejoy (David Warner), locks Jack in a room for "stealing." This wouldn't be that big of a problem if the whole ship wasn't sinking. Rose saves him and they live happily ever after. Don't you like my version better? No, when they are on the lifeboat, Jack decides that all he's ever wanted to do was meet some sea animals deep underwater. He must of really enjoyed being around them because he never came back. Rose ditches Cal after they get rescued and grows up to lead Bill Pullman Bill Paxton to some buried treasure(?) inside of Titanic. So this is where I admit that I've only seen the movie in bits and pieces.

As everybody knows, Titanic was a mega-hit, out-grossing every movie ever (when not adjusted for inflation), and making everyone sing Celine Dion. It is the first movie to make over $1 billion dollars, and currently the second highest grossing picture, after Cameron's Avatar. Geez, that guys sure knows how to make them. The film was basically lauded with critics too. Of course, when you make a historic movie, you're going to piss off historians. Cameron never said he was making a completely accurate movie, so most people were OK with everything, but some historians and critics felt that they needed to put their two cents in. The one controversy I hear about the most is the film's treatment of First Officer William Murdoch. In the film, he shoots someone in a panic while people are trying to get onto lifeboats. He then commits suicide out of guilt. Not exactly the most heroic portrayal. Turns out that this was a real person that Cameron was using for his film (there were a bunch of other real people that he used). Murdoch's nephew saw the film and was shocked that Cameron would dare sully his uncle's name and create a falsehood about him. 20th Century Fox's vice president went so far as to travel all the way to Scotland, where the nephew lived, and give him an apology in person. They also gave a bunch of money to the local school who had a memorial scholarship dedicated to Murdoch. Cameron even apologized on the DVD commentary, though he claimed that there were officers that had to shoot people in order to keep the "women and children rule" going. Titanic was up against the likes of As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, and L.A. Confidential. I feel that the Academy was dead-set on giving the prize to the ultra-successful Titanic, though some have argued that L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting are better films. Titanic took home eleven Oscars, tying with Ben-Hur and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for most Oscar wins. For all the doubters, James Cameron had only one thing to say after receiving his directing Oscar, "I'm King of the World!"

Friday, February 15, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1988-1992

Winner: Rain Man
Director: Barry Levinson
Distributed by: United Artists

Rain Man is definitely a good movie, definitely  definitely  I could go on and on with the Raymond quotes (I'm an excellent driver, I'm definitely not wearing my underwear). I honestly like this movie a lot. Sure it's sentimental, but it's good! Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, a narcissistic man who finds out that the inheritance money that he thought was coming to him after his father's death, is instead going to his older brother (Dustin Hoffman) whom he had no idea existed. Finding his brother at a mental hospital, he attempts to take his autistic brother back across the country so he can somehow get his inheritance. You're basically supposed to hate Cruise's character at the beginning of the film, and you will. Of course, by the end, his heart grows three sizes and learns to love his brother. Like I said, it's sentimental and kitschy, as most reviewers pointed out, but that didn't stop it from winning everyone over. It's also been labeled as Oscar bait, because it's almost literally impossible not to see this winning a ton of awards. Hoffman and Cruise's performances are spectacular, and the movie will probably make you feel again. The movie was a mega-hit, grossing over $354 million on a $25 million dollar budget. Not too shabby considering that's a lot for a movie these days. The film went on to win Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Hoffman) among others. Its effect on our culture is still around today. People still think counting cards is illegal because of this movie, but it also raised a lot of awareness about people with autism. It is still considered one of the best representations of autism in movies. The movie has also been spoofed many times, from Runt in Animaniacs to the casino scene in The Hangover.

Winner: Driving Miss Daisy
Director: Bruce Beresford
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Jessica Tandy stars as Miss Daisy, an elderly Jewish woman living in 1940's Georgia who is forced by her son (Dan Akroyd) to get a chauffeur after she has an auto accident. Who they find is Hoke (Morgan Freeman), a uneducated black man who used to drive for a judge. At first Miss Daisy does not like being driven around because she's afraid it makes her seem to old or stuck up. But, as she gets to know Hoke and sees life through his eyes, she starts to first respect Hoke, then become good friends with him. What helps is the discrimination that they both feel from others, one for being Jewish, the other for being black. It takes you from the late 40's to the 70's when they are both nearing the end of their journey. Daisy was unique in a lot of ways, including the fact that it is the only off-Broadway play to be made into a Best Picture winning movie. It is also the last PG rated Best Picture to date. Jessica Tandy won Best Actress for her role as Miss Daisy, thus becoming the oldest Best Actress winner. It is also the last film to win Best Picture and not have its director even nominated. Poor Bruce Beresford. I always figured that a Best Picture would have the Best Director, but I guess the Academy just wasn't impressed with the directing of Beresford, but liked the story. Daisy had some really stiff competition, including: Field of Dreams, My Left Foot, Dead Poets Society, and Born on the Fourth of July. Yikes. I guess the Academy was in the right mood for a movie about enduring discrimination. Not even nominated were Glory (a personal favorite) and Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, a movie that Roger Ebert claimed would take the top prize. Instead, it was snubbed, perhaps being a little too progressive for the Academy at that time.

Winner: Dances with Wolves
Director: Kevin Costner
Distributed by: Orion Pictures

Defying all odds, Dances with Wolves defeated Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas for Best Picture, though Goodfellas was the projected winner for the whole race. Blame it on the Scorsese Curse which didn't end until The Departed won. What made Dances with Wolves a better film in the Academy's eyes? Well, it was a Western epic. It had a really long running time. And it made white people feel bad. Good job, Costner! This was Costner's first attempt at directing and he decided to break all three of the cardinal first timer rules: If possible, do not work outside, with children, or with animals. Oops. The unpredictable weather of South Dakota, mixed with trying to deal with barely tameable wolves and herds of buffalo (CGI was still in its infancy at this time) led to major delays in the production and causing critics to label it "Kevin's Gate" after Micheal Cimino's train wreck of a western, Heaven's Gate. But, everything came together and the movie became a smash hit, making over $400 million worldwide. The surprise is probably what propelled it to the win. Oh yeah, the plot. So a former Civil War soldier is posted at a remote station and starts to become buddy-buddy with the neighboring Sioux Indians. I've seen the movie a very long time ago, but I do remember something about him running around with wolves and that's how he got his name. The movie is not without its detractors. Of course, everyone who was a big fan of Goodfellas hated the movie, but it was probably historians that hated it more. The movie has been labeled revisionist history by many and not an accurate picture of the times. Political activist and actor, Russell Means, was critical of the film, pointing out that the cast was taught Lakota by a woman, and that the cast was speaking in the feminine version the whole time. Wolves became the first Western to win Best Pictures since Cimarron, but wouldn't be the last. The film also nabbed Costner a Best Director statue. Not bad for a first try!

Winner: The Silence of the Lambs
Director: Jonathan Demme
Distributed by: Orion Pictures

The only horror/thriller win for Best Picture deals with rookie FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) trying to track down the female-skinning serial killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), with the help of incarcerated former psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins). What could go wrong! As you can already tell, it's a pretty intense movie. The ending is also scary as hell. The film became the third ever to achieve the "High Five," again being where a movie wins Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress. People went wild for Hopkin's performance as Lector, though he was only onscreen for a total of sixteen minutes. Honestly, none of the other nominees had that much of a chance. The other nominees included: Bugsy, Prince of Tides, JFK, and Beauty and the Beast. The last entry there is the first animated movie to be nominated and the only traditionally animated one ever nominated. The other two animated nominees are Up and Toy Story 3. It would have been fun to see Beauty and the Beast beat out The Silence of the Lambs, but I don't think the Academy could let it happen. Remember, this is before there was a category for Best Animated Films. Lambs is still well ingrained into our consciousness  and not only because its probably one of the best thriller/suspense movies of all time; it's also because they keep making movies about Hannibal Lector! Bad ones, too!

Winner: Unforgiven
Director: Clint Eastwood
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Now, here is the last Western to win Best Picture. It was a short love affair between Westerns and the Academy, and it hasn't blossomed again since. Unforgiven is the swan song of the classic Western genre. Eastwood sat on this movie until he was old enough to play William Munny, a retired gunfighter who gave up drinking so he could take care of his two kids after his wife died. He is lured out of retirement after there is a bounty put on a man who cut up a prostitute in a nearby town. He is joined by the young Schofield Kid and his old friend, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). In their way is a corrupt law-man named Little Bill Dagget. The movie serves as a deconstruction of the genre and also kind of acts as a message that violence begets violence. The movie doesn't show violence in the glamorous light that we usually see in Westerns. It's even considered an anti-violence movie, showing that all violence has a price, though it may be effective. I don't know if this is my favorite Western of all time, as I kind of prefer The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This film was a big success considering that Westerns went out of style in the 70's. Most critics loved it too, though the infamous exception is Gene Siskel, who called the film too long and criticized it for having too many superfluous characters like English Bob, whom never meets the main character at all. Unforgiven won over The Crying Game (the one with the surprise!), A Few Good Men ("You can't handle the truth!"), Scent of a Woman, and Howards End. The only one I'm a little surprised about is A Few Good Men, which is a pretty good movie, but I guess the Academy was in love with Eastwood's Western.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1983-1986

Winner: Terms of Endearment
Director: James L. Brooks
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

I was a little shocked when I saw Brooks' name as the director. Brooks has been the creative force behind such television shows as Taxi, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Simpsons. Terms of Endearment is a star-studded weepy drama about the relationship between a mother (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter (Debra Winger), mostly dealing with the daughters choice for a husband. Other big names in the cast include Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow, and the voice of Albert Brooks. This movie falls in line with the current fad that the Academy was stuck in: emotional family dramas. I'm looking at you Kramer vs. Kramer and Ordinary People. The film was popular, though, and was critically lauded, along with being toted as the obvious winner of the Oscar that year. The other nominees included: The Big Chill, The Right Stuff, The Dresser, and Tender Mercies. Do you recognize any of those? Maybe just The Right Stuff? I know that's the only one I knew. So, not exactly a banner year in movies. Endearment also won an Oscar for Best Director, Best Actress (MacLaine), Supporting Actor (Nicholson), and Adapted Screenplay.

Winner: Amadeus
Director: Milos Foreman
Distributed by: Orion Pictures/ Warner Bros.

AMADEUS! AMADEUS! Sorry, I have Falco stuck in my head. Amadeus is not only about the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) , but also Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), the composer who probably hated Mozart more than anyone. The whole movie is told from Salieri's point of view, as he is confessing to a priest how he "killed" Mozart. Oh, and Salieri's in an insane asylum. Fun, right? As I've mentioned before, I've seen this movie, but it's been over twelve years so all the finer points are a bit fuzzy. I do remember liking it, though! That, and I remember that Mozart had a really annoying laugh. This was another weak year with a bunch of movies that nobody remembers. Not even Laurence Olivier remembered the other nominees. He walked up to announce the winner for Best Picture and did just that. He just opened the envelope and said, "and the winner of this thing is Amadeus." The Academy had to go up and make sure everything was legit, but the other nominees were mentioned by Amadeus' producer, Saul Zaentz, who thanked Olivier for the honor. Olivier was 78 years old at the time and had been ill for a while. I'm sure it was sort of like Kirk Douglas' awkward presentation a few years back. Amadeus is one of the few films not to crack the weekend top five since it started being recorded in 1982, the others being The English Patient and The Hurt Locker. Amadeus took home the prize for Director, Actor (Abraham), and Adapted Screenplay, among others.

Winner: Out of Africa
Director: Sydney Pollack
Distributed by: Universal Studios

Out of Africa is the story of a Danish noblewoman, Karen Blixen, (Meryl Streep) who moves to Kenya. There, she meets a local big game hunter named Dynes Hatton (Robert Redford), whom she starts to have feelings for. Too bad she's already married to a baron, though it's a marriage of convenience  The movie is based off the book, which is based off of real life events. Blixen lived on a coffee plantation in what was then British East Africa. Taking place near the end of the first World War, it gave a unique glimpse into British colonialism near the end of its life. The movie had all the right elements to win it the Oscar; a sweeping epic, great performances by Redford and Streep, and some pretty good cinematography. It beat out the movie within a movie aspect of Kiss of the Spider Woman, the mob movie, Prizzi's Honor, Spielberg's The Color Purple, and Harrison Ford's Amish movie extravaganza, Witness. I can only see Witness and The Color Purple as good competition, but I guess they couldn't compete with the Redford and Streep duo.

Winner: Platoon
Director: Oliver Stone
Distributed by: Orion Pictures

Stone based the movie off his own experiences in Vietnam and wanted it to be a counter to John Wayne's The Green Berets, which Stone felt glorified the Vietnam War. Charlie Sheen (Yes, you're reading that correctly) plays Chris Taylor, a young volunteer in the Vietnam War, he struggles to deal with the horrors of war. To make matters worse, he finds himself torn in loyalty between his two commanding officers, the level-headed Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), and the ruthless Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger). Other noticeable stars include Forrest Whittaker (Last King of Scotland), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) , and John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox in Scrubs). Though the movie was a hard one to make, it paid off for Stone, who saw it become a success at the box office and loved by most critics. This was another year where everyone had a pretty good idea who was going to win. It wasn't The Mission, or Children of a Lesser God, or Hannah and her Sisters, or Room with a View. Platoon was more than deserving, and any other winner would have been a major upset.

Winner: The Last Emperor
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

The Last Emperor is the biopic of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. Why the last? Yi ascended to the throne when he was only three, leads for a little bit, but is thrown out after the Communist revolution. The rest of the movie detail his life outside of China and his eventual re-entry as a political prisoner. Tough break, buddy. The movie is unique, not only for the epic story, amazing visuals, and historical quality, but also for it's filming destination: The Forbidden City. The Forbidden City acted as the imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty, to the end of the Qing. It had never been opened up for a Western film, so this was a special event. So, all the footage you're seeing is actually there, not in a recreation. Pretty neat, right? The movie even took precedents over Queen Elizabeth II's visit, which meant she wasn't able to visit the famous palace. She's probably gotten over it by now, right? It was a modest hit and was well loved at the time, though it has faded out of public knowledge for the most part. The sweeping epic overtook Cher's Moonstruck, WWII film Hope and Glory, the bunny boiling goodness of Fatal Attraction, and the romantic comedy Broadcast News. If you've learned anything from these posts, it's that the Academy loves epic historical films. That won't change for a very long time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1978-1982

Winner: The Deer Hunter
Director: Michael Cimino
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

You know the game Russian Roulette? Well you can thank this film for that, because it's basically the reason everybody knows about it, even if they don't know where it came from. Though it was first talked about in the late 30's, the game became infamous when it was seen onscreen being played by Robert De Niro and his fellow steelworker friends after being captured by the Vietcong (the scenes have thus caused controversy over their accuracy, in that historians don't believe the Vietcong ever made anyone play the deadly game). The film follows the lives of the three men, played by De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage. Meryl Streep plays the love interest of both De Niro and Walken's character. This was both Savage's and Streep's first major film role. The three men enlist to be sent to Vietnam, are captured, then after their escape the three go in very different directions. I'll say this now: this is a very long and heavy movie. This is probably the first major movie about Vietnam, which set about a new trend in war movies. The movie serves as a Vietnam counterpart to WWII's The Best Years of Our Lives. Both deal with people readjusting to the world around them after war time, but The Deer Hunter just feels much more real than Lives. De Niro and Walken both have powerful performances, not that I didn't expect that from De Niro, but Walken is sort of the side character guy that steals the show in most things, not the main actor. Of course, this is when Walken was strictly a dramatic actor, so don't expect the same Christopher Walken if you decide to give this movie a go. The Deer Hunter was met with almost universal praise, with critics calling it the best epic since The Godfather. Cimino's next film, Heaven's Gate, was such a flop that critics came back and basically decided that The Deer Hunter must be a bad film. The film has lost a bit of its luster, but is still a powerful movie about the effects of war on three men.

Winner: Kramer vs. Kramer
Director: Robert Benton
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Kramer vs. Kramer is a divorce drama headlined by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. After Mrs. Kramer walks out on Mr. Kramer and their son, Billy, Mr. Kramer is forced to become a better father. Of course, once he finally bonds with his son, Mrs. Kramer comes back into their lives and wants custody. An ugly custody battle ensues. This sort of movie shouldn't be all that surprising to my generation, as we were raised on movies with complicated family lives. Either the dad was a deadbeat and gone, or one was dead, or they were going through a divorce, or they already did and had split custody. Nothing new. Of course, this is over thirty years ago, when that sort of movie wasn't as prevalent, and the thought of everyone getting divorced wasn't quite the norm yet. What the movie did was give a voice to the changing roles of parents at the time. Hoffman's workaholic Mr. Kramer was forced to downsize his job so he could spend more time with his son. Though the court sides with Mrs. Kramer because of the traditional view that children need their mothers, it is Mr. Kramer who keeps Billy in the end. If it seems like Hoffman is doing to good of a job acting frustrated and down during the movie, it's not just your imagination. Hoffman was himself going through a messy divorce, so most of that emotion you see on screen is real. The question is, though, is this the best movie of the year and did it deserve the Oscar? Well if you consider that it was going up against Breaking Away and Apocalypse Now, than maybe not. Keep in mind that probably the best movie of the year, Alien, wasn't even nominated, namely because sci-fi isn't exactly considered Best Picture worthy material. I guess the Academy wanted to watch a divorce drama more than movies about aliens, bicycles, and Vietnam. Hmmm...what would a movie with all those things in it look like?

Winner: Ordinary People
Director: Robert Redford
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Ordinary People deals with a family teetering on the edge after the oldest son dies in a boating accident. The younger son, who was also on the boat, feels survivors guilt and attempts suicide. After he fails he is sent to a mental hospital, but eventually returns back home to find that his mother (Mary Tyler Moore) is unable to accept him anymore. The only thing keeping them all together is the father (Donald Sutherland). If you want nothing but straight up family drama, then look no further than this movie. In fact, if you want to be sad, track this down, because this will somber you right up. I've always kind of wondered why this film won, but then I saw who directed it. Redford, being one of the biggest stars of the 70's, probably could have directed a film about rollerskating cowboys (oh wait, Cimino did that) and people still would have loved it. Of course, the movie isn't bad or anything, but better than its competition? We're talking about Coal Miner's Daughter, The Elephant Man, Tess, and Raging Bull. Yes, it's one of those years. Ordinary People's win in 1980 is considered to be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. How this beat Raging Bull, I'll never know. Funny story: De Niro, who won Best Actor for his role in Raging Bull had FBI bodygaurds  protect him at the award ceremony and escort him out before Best Picture was announced. Why? Ronald Reagan had been shot the day before by John Hinckley Jr. who had shot the president to impress Jodie Foster, who had played the role of a prostitute in Taxi Driver, a movie De Niro headlined. At least he missed the disappointment the rest of Raging Bull's cast and crew felt.

Winner: Chariots of Fire
Director: Hugh Hudson
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

All my childhood I figured this movie had something to do with chariots. But alas, I was deceived by my juvenile mind. No, it is instead a movie about British men running in the Olympics in 1924. Cue slow motion running music. The movie follows two men who take part in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, one a devout Scottish Christian, and the other a Cambridge-educated Jewish man. I won't bother putting any of the actor's names because you won't recognize them, except maybe Ian Holm, who plays Bilbo Baggins in this's greatest running coach, Sam. So anyway, Sam coaches the two men so they can win the race and finally throw the ring into Mount Mordor....dang it! Stop trying to make this movie more interesting! The movie proves to be from the Oscar winning mold, as it won over communist era movie Reds (the last film to be nominated for all four acting prizes until Silver Linings Playbook), crime drama Atlantic City, the one where Henry Fonda get's his due AKA On Golden Pond, and action movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. As you can see, the Academy is allergic to action movies, so it's not a huge surprise that Raiders lost out. It's still disappointing though. Still, if I had the choice between a bunch of British men running around and one bad-ass archaeologist running from a boulder, I'm choosing the latter.

Winner: Gandhi
Director: Richard Attenborough
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

If Richard Attenborough's name sounds a little bit familiar, it's because he was Dr. John Hammond in Jurassic Park. Yes, he was also a director. A Best Director winning director to be exact. And it's all because of this little film. Did I say little? I meant huge and epic and full of 300,000 extras. The film still holds the record for amount of extras in one scene. Many attempted to make a film about the life of the peace-loving Gandhi  but it's not as easy as you think it would be. David Lean attempted to make a movie about Gandhi after Bridge on the River Kwai, but instead did Lawrence of Arabia. Lean was later enticed to try again in the late 60's with Attenborough as Gandhi, but yet again more roadblocks prevented this from happening. It wasn't until there was peace in India and support from the Indian Prime Minister that the project was finally able to start. By this time it was 1980. Now Attenborough was directing and he chose Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Yes, before Kingsley was in Sexy Beast, House of Sand and Fog, and Hugo, he was Gandhi  This is another long film, so strap yourself in if you plan on tackling this one. The film, while maybe not as popular as other Best Picture winners, is still considered the best choice for this year. I'm saying that even though both Tootsie and E.T. were nominees this year. Popularity doesn't always guarantee you a win in this race.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1973-1977

Winner: The Sting
Director: George Roy Hill
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

The story of two con men (Robert Redford and Paul Newman) who team up to take down a criminal banker that murdered Redford's partner. This is another movie that is viewed as more of an apology award than an actual earned one. Many view American Graffiti or Cries and Whispers as better fits for the grand prize, with movies like Serpico, Last Tango in Paris, and The Wicker Man not even nominated. This isn't saying that The Sting isn't a good movie, it's just a little too convenient that a Newman-Redford movie directed by George Roy Hill would win after their last film, Butch Cassidy, would be the favorite, but ultimately lose. I like the movie a lot actually, but maybe that's because I like the song, "The Entertainer." But seriously, it is worth a look, especially if you like Redford and Newman. The Sting won for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Music, among others.This year's Oscar ceremony is best known as the one with the streaker. Robert Opel ran out onto the stage while David Niven was presenting, which led Niven to make a quip about the man's "shortcomings." There is wide speculation that the show's producers set the whole thing up as a publicity stunt.

Winner: The Godfather: Part II
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Otherwise known as the greatest sequel of all time, the movie splits its time giving a background of Vito Corleone's (Young Vito played by Robert De Niro) life, and Michael's new life as the Don of the Corleone family. Part II's competition consisted of Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, and The Towering Inferno. Again, though the movies may have won in other years, they couldn't win against a powerhouse like Part II. Coppola was given full control over the film, unlike with The Godfather, which made production much smoother. The movie did run into a few bumps though. First off, Pacino hated the script at the beginning and refused to show up. Only after Coppola spent all night rewriting did Pacino agree to do the movie. Early screenings of the movie weren't promising, as critics felt the switches between Michael's and Vito's stories happened too often, thus not letting the audience connect with either. Coppola again changed the movie to make the switches less frequent, but didn't have enough time to finish. Thus, the beginning scenes are a bit poorly timed. It didn't matter, because in the end everyone loved this movie. Too bad it cost twice as much to make and only made a third of what The Godfather did. Besides winning Best Picture, the movie won Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (De Niro), Best Art Direction, and Best Music.

Winner: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Director: Milos Foreman
Distributed by: United Artists

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is the first film since It Happened One Night to win the "High Five." That's Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay for all my newer readers. It deserved it too, as both Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher put on an amazing show. The movie details Randall P. McMurphy's stay in an insane asylum. Instead of being sent to jail for statutory rape, he is instead sent to a mental institution where he can have an easier time of it, instead of doing hard labor. He immediately comes into conflict with Nurse Ratched (Fletcher) the sociopathic nurse in charge of their ward. The film also stars later big names like Christopher Lloyd (his first film) and Danny DeVito. Nest had some pretty stiff competition, but it won over the Academy with its big themes, black comedy, and stellar performance from Nicholson. The other nominees were Jaws, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, and Nashville. This would be a tough choice for me between Jaws and Nest, but I do think Nest is a better movie.

Winner: Rocky
Director: John G. Avildsen
Distributed by: United Artists

Rocky is seemingly one of those Best Picture winners that kind of throws you off. I mean, I was when I saw the Oscar icon on the DVD version at Farmer Jack ten years ago. It's new actor Sylvester Stallone mumbling and boxing. It can't be that great! It's pretty good actually. It's a nice underdog story, which is basically what Stallone was going through getting the picture made. The film was shot in 28 days and only had a budget of $1.1 million. Not exactly Oscar bait, but it went ahead and became a sleeper hit; the academy probably loving the gritty story mixed with sentimentality. I honestly still don't get Rocky and Adrian's relationship. Oh well, all I know is that whenever that name is uttered, I've got to recreate the ending to the movie. Rocky won over All the President's Men, Bound for Glory, Network, and Taxi Driver. That isn't including non-nominated films like Carrie, Marathon Man, or my personal favorite, The Outlaw Josey Wales. That would've been awesome! But no, we have Stallone getting punched repeatedly by Carl Weathers. Oh, I never explained what the movie is about! Rocky is an OK boxer who gets the chance to fight the champion. Then he eats lightning and craps thunder. Somehow this doesn't land him in a hospital.

Winner: Annie Hall
Director: Woody Allen
Distributed by: United Artists

Otherwise known as Woody Allen's masterpiece, people still go crazy for this late 70's staple. Allen plays a neurotic (surprise!) comedian in an up and down relationship with singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The story is told in flashbacks by Allen's character with asides and direct-to-camera conversations. This is another rare win for a comedy, the first since Tom Jones. Annie Hall beat out The Turning Point, Julia, and Goodbye Girl. So it's easy to see why it won....wait....I'm missing one. Oh yeah...a little film called Star Wars. Yes, Annie Hall beat out arguably one of the most epic movies of all time, one that people all over the world still talk about. So, the fan boy in me wants to call shenanigans on Star Wars being snubbed, but the film buff realizes that Annie Hall was just as deserving, and it was a film that appealed to the Academy more than Star Wars. Still, it would've been pretty cool to see Star Wars on the list of Best Pictures. But, really, when do you really see big blockbuster films winning the grand prize anymore? I honestly consider movies like Lord of the Rings to be an exception to the rule and not the rule. More often we see the low grossing movies like Crash and The Hurt Locker winning the grand prize. It's the same reason The Dark Knight was snubbed in 2008. The academy simply has an aversion to popcorn flicks. Anyway, Annie Hall is still listed in a bunch of critics top 50 comedy movies, so you can't say that it's been forgotten.