Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Last Picture Show

I've slipped behind in the BPC due to a fierce affliction of the flu, but even this phlegm-rattling cough and these feverish aches cannot stop me from making at least a little bit of progress. Friday night I went out to the movies with one of my friends, and we saw not just one but two movies before going home. I felt so sick that I thought, by the time movie #2 came around, I was entering the last picture show I'd ever attend, and that death would soon be claiming me. Somehow, though, I made it through alive. The first film of Friday evening was The King's Speech, a nominee for 2010 that I had yet to see, and the second film was 127 Hours (it might have been my third time seeing it in theaters, but I still cried like a baby and left just as spell-bound as I did the first time). In an attempt to prevent myself from falling too behind, I managed to fit a viewing of Slumdog Millionaire(2008) in on Saturday afternoon.

The King's Speech consensus:
Somewhat overrated. Sure, it was good. Uplifting, funny, gripping at times. A charming movie, in itself, but comparatively speaking it isn't all that fantastic and shouldn't take the cake in February. Held next to jaw-droppers like Black Swan, Inception, and my very favorite, 127 Hours, this one pales considerably and fails to take hold in our heads and hearts. And while Collin Firth gives a commendable performance, he's no James Franco (I hope the Academy doesn't snub Franco like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did at the Globes).

Slumdog Millionaire consensus:
Incredible. A powerful, heart-wrenching, exhilarating celebration of the irrepressible human spirit. Such a tragic picture of his past is painted that we hope for Jamal Malik(Dev Patel)'s success so desperately that when his triumphant moment finally arrives, we're practically leaping out of our seats with him. Danny Boyle is rapidly becoming my favorite director (I can't stop talking about his latest uplifter), as this film instantly jumped up into the ranks of my most favorite movies.

I've noticed that I've practically been writing books for each post, so in an effort to be more concise, I'll end the rambling here tonight. I'm not sure which movie I'll watch before I go to bed tonight (I can't afford to skip another night!) but I'm sure I'll have a lot to say about it tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Long Voyage Home

Now I'm not usually one to brag, but I'm about to throw a little bit of unabashed boasting your way: I'm ten for ten. That's right, the predictions I made last week (see "Great Expectations" if you need a little refresher)for this year's Best Picture nominations were all correct...if anyone doubted my cinematic genius before this moment, they can now rest assured in knowing that, when it comes to motion pictures, I'm basically omniscient.

Things aren't so perfect in my actual life, though. After sleeping through my alarm this morning, scrambling to get to school, dashing straight to my one job, flying off to my other, hauling myself to the gym from there, and nearly nodding off on the long voyage home, I'm truly learning what it means to operate on nothing but caffeine and unshakeable will power (it means seeing spots and staring at inanimate objects for inordinate amounts of time, for those who wonder). With my homework spread out in front of me (which was a major joke...I never do homework!), I finally settled down tonight to watch All About Eve (1950) in another journey back to the classic winners from the 50's. Since last night's selection- the victor of 1957- is seven years this film's senior, this stepped in as one of the oldest films I've seen to date. It was a new experience for me because I'm a black-and-white movie virgin (if you don't count Casablanca (1943), which everyone has seen anyway), but I loved it more than I ever expected to. From the moment that first greyscaled shot illuminates the screen, we are immersed into the plush, smoke-laden world of the elite theater, centered around Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and her company of play-people. Baby-faced, doe-eyed Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) doesn't seem to wear the countenance of evil, but we eventually see that her innocent appearance is nothing but a mask to hide her true character. Never has a villain looked so sweet, nor worked so swiftly and quietly to feed her own ferocious ambitions...honestly, who could resist this tumultuous tale of tricks and treachery?

All About Eve is a justly deserving Best Picture if I ever saw one. It merits every bit of praise that has echoed from the critics, fans, and industry insiders throughout the decades, and it certainly earned every one of the 14 Oscar nominations bestowed upon it in 1950 (a lofty number unsurpassed until Titanic blew our minds in 1997).
Now, why not use this opportunity to increase your useless movie knowledge?

Eve is the first and only film to garner four actress nominations: Davis and Baxter for Best Actress, and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress.

Leading lady Bette Davis served as the first female president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (we plebeians know it simply as The Academy).

Some claim that Davis was actually the one who coined the affectionate nickname "Oscar" after receiving the award in 1936.

Entertainment Weekly named the film's famed quote, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night" as the #9 greatest movie line of all time.

Bette Davis filmed all her scenes for this film in just 16 days.

Honestly, I could go on for days with these things, but I'm practically entering REM while typing. I need to stop starting these useless tangents if I don't have the ability to finish them...but again, I digress.

Monday, January 24, 2011

All Quiet On The Western Front

It's been nearly a week since I began this endeavor, and I'm almost positive that not a single pair of eyes besides my own has seen what I've written. Where are the legions of readers I imagined? Where are my raving fans? There's not been one soul to laud my efforts. It's been all quiet on the western front.

But enough with my pity party. Tonight I indulged in The Bridge on the River Kwai and half a box of double-stuffed oreos (this challenge is going to do a real number on my figure...) and had myself a marvelous time.
There's something so honest, so real, about these older films made before the time of CGIs and fancy special effects. There's also this warm, triumphant feeling I get when I finally see an old movie that I've heard about my whole life, but have never gotten around to seeing. I fell in love with this one...not surprising, considering how highly it's still regarded despite the expansive slew of war movies made in the half-century since its production.

But anyway, on to my next subject. I like to move fast.
In my lit class, we discussed this theory that no book is original; that all works of literature borrow elements from other books. I think this same idea can be applied to movies. Watching this film, I recognized parts of it that have lent themselves to other films over the 54 years since its production. I wonder if filmmakers took some of these intentionally, or if some of the story elements are just so deeply woven into pop culture that their origin was long forgotten:

1.) At the opening of the film, Colonel Saito points out that the prison camp in which he traps the British soldiers has no fences or barbed wire because it is the only oasis in the forest for many miles.
In Holes (2003), the snarling Mr. Sir informs the juvenile delinquants under his authority that Camp Greenlake has no fences or winres and that running away is pointless because it is the only oasis for miles around in the hot desert.

2.) Colonel Saito lends his name to the antagonist in Inception... I couldn't help but notice an uncanny resemblance between Sessue Hayakawa and Ken Watanabe, who play Colonel Saito and Mr. Saito respectively. And not just because they're both irritable middle-aged Asian men.

3.) "The Oven" in the prison camp where Nicholson is placed feels an awful lot like "The Box" in Cool Hand Luke (1967)and the solitary punishment cell of the same name in The Shawshank Redemption(1994). Basically an exploitation of a primal human fear: dark, suffocating, endless confinement.

4.) The tense captive-captor meal between Saito and Nicholson seemed so familiar that I can hardly just choose one movie as my example. Remember Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)'s pirate-princess dinner? It went a little bit like that.

5.) "All you need is love." Nuff said.
And the couple running to dive into the shallow ocean brought up repressed memories of The Notebook and a sappy, romantic beach-frolicking scene.

You get the point...I had so many more clever ones but my eyes are hardly staying open...movies are stealing far too much sleep from me!! Perhaps we'll play this game another day.
I should have known better than to stay up so late just to watch a movie (it's half past midnight already!), but I thought watching The Bridge on the River Kwai would be the perfect way to ring in the arrival of ten more phenomenal films to be named tomorrow by the Academy (in just T minus five hours)...I'll barely be able to sleep!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

An Education

Give yourself an education and watch the trailer for 2010's greatest contribution to cinematic history.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Great Expectations

For any ignorant soul out there out who does not already know, the Academy will be releasing their nominations in just five days...that means ten more films will be added to the already astronomically long list I am attempting to conquer. My initial overview of the list tells me that 475 films (soon to be 485) have been nominated or have won in the Best Picture category since the 1927-28 season that saw the world's first Academy Awards ceremony...and out of all of these respected classics and cinematic masterpieces, I had only seen 44 (actually, it's 45 now that I've started, but more on that later). This leaves a lot of work ahead of me in the coming months!

I would be remiss if I did not  broadcast my personal prediction of which ten films this year will be nominated simply because I tend to lend my opinions on everything whether or not they are requested.
The lucky ten are:

1. Inception
2. Black Swan
3. The King's Speech
4. 127 Hours
5. The Social Network
6. True Grit
7. Toy Story 3
8. Winter's Bone
9. The Kids Are All Right
10. The Fighter

Note that these films are not arranged in any particular order. In fact, my personal favorite of 2010 is listed as number 4, and I'll get to my mouth-foaming rave about that one after just a few more rambling lines justifying my prediction. Inception, Black Swan, The Social Network, and The King's Speech are basically shoe-ins with the Academy, so I won't even touch on those. I think Winter's Bone could be this year's Precious if all goes well for the film; to that way of thinking, Toy Story 3 could be this year's Up, and The Kids Are All Right could slip in like Little Miss Sunshine did in 2006. My theories will be tested in five days...and if anyone else is reading this (though I suspect that no one is), I'd love to here your predictions as well.

Now for my thoughts on the film I mentioned above as my favorite, 127 Hours:
Best film of the year, hands down, if you ask me (no one did, but I’m informing you anyway).
A slip-up while traversing a ravine causes hard-headed outdoorsman Aron Ralston (James Franco, obviously) to become trapped miles away from any civilization when his arm is crushed and pinned beneath a large boulder- and so begins the harrowing personal and physical journey that captured the world's attention when it happened in real life and, here, spell-binds us in one of those rare cinematic masterpieces that restores our faith in Hollywood. During his five-day nightmare, Ralston constantly reflects on his most meaningful memories, the people he loves, and what it means to truly live, bringing us along for an existential journey more powerful than any we have traveled before.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is its stark lack of melodrama in depicting this most dramatic of events. Instead of dressing the story up in layers of fluff and sappy gimmicks, director Danny Boyle takes a frank and objective look at Ralston's ordeal, ultimately allowing the purest of triumphs to explode through what I consider to be one of the most profound performances of our time.
All that hype surrounding Franco's portrayal of Ralston is more than true- I could honestly tout his performance as some of the very best bit of acting I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. Franco doesn't just deserve an Oscar...he deserves three. Or maybe the Academy can create some kind of Super-Oscar to be given to actors like Franco who deserve to be elevated to the status of demi-gods.
127 Hours may just redefine the biopic as we know it. It's visceral, it's gripping, it's uplifting to behold- and it's most definitely worth that overpriced movie ticket (or even two).

 Finally, we arrive at my last topic: the Best Picture Challenge, heretofore called the BPC. I kicked off the BPC with 2004's The Aviator. 
My thoughts: pretty awesome movie. Being the ignorant teenager that I am, I was not even aware of the Howard Hughes story before I saw this movie, but I was fascinated by his character. Leonardo DiCaprio does a beautiful job of portraying Hughes, who is, in my opinion, the perfect contemporary tragic hero: a man of high status crippled by his hubris, ignorant to his faults, and ultimately suffering the fall that all tragic heroes must face. Despite the abrasive nature and borderline malicious behavior we see in Hughes' character, we can't stop ourselves from rooting for him when his luck turns south; DiCaprio's ability to create this paradox makes his performance so brilliant. The slow, progressive crumbling of Hughes' sanity played against his climbing success builds a sense of tension that I really got into so that, by the end, I could deeply feel the pity and fear that are dredged up by the catharsis that all great tragedies inevitably create.
Great movie...great way to start the BPC. I have great expectations for the hundreds of films that remain.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I suppose you could say I...inceived? incepted? (what is the verb form of this word inception??) this whole crazy idea in my childlike anticipation of the Academy Award nomination's release in seven days. I had promised myself that, this year, I would watch all ten of the films nominated for Best Picture, for no valid reason other than the fact that it will make Oscar night a little more meaningful having a connection with every movie that waits on its knees before the Academy to hear if it will go down into history with the other greats or fade away into some dusty DVD collection.

But then I started thinking that if I were going to watch all of this year's Best Picture nominations, I ought to go back and watch last year's as well, for posterity...and if I were venturing back into the great films of 2009, why not go as far back as 2008, or 2007, or get the picture. I've found a new project (you could even call it my New Year's Resolution):
I am going to watch every film ever nominated (and chosen, of course) by the Academy in the category of Best Picture by the end of 2011...and lend my ever-so-valuable two cents on each film to anyone who might be bored enough to stumble upon my writing.

As New Year's Resolutions go, mine is not taking me down that usual path of self-improvement or societal betterment (unless you count sharing my opinions on an inordinate amount of movies a contribution to humanity). In fact, it will quite possibly lead me in the other direction, as I will have to sacrifice a lot of my time at the gym, doing homework, and cleaning the house in order to make room in my schedule for the hundreds of movies I have just agreed to view. But in the name of art, these are sacrifices I am willing to make.