Trivial Matters #40 – Posthumous Awards

So today is Easter–Orthodox Easter, or, one might say, Correct Easter–and it inspired me to do an entry about posthumous Academy Award winners.

Full disclosure: I originally intended to post this last Sunday, on Western Easter. But, as the Academy might say, “Better late than never.”

The Academy began nominating the dead from the very first awards, and the first person to receive a posthumous nomination was writer Gerald Duffy for The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927), for Best Title Writing. Duffy was the only person in this swiftly-discontinued category to be nominated for one movie; the winner, Joseph W. Farnham…

220px-Joseph_Farnham_001.jpgYou all know who he is, don’t play that hipster game.

…won for “No specific film,” further proving that the early awards really had no idea what they were doing. The other nominee, George Marion, Jr., was similarly nominated simply due to having the job of title writing. So, one could say that ol’ Duffy’s loss was also the upset in Oscars history. He died as he lived: dictating a script over the phone.

secretary-5-850x619.gif“My darling, I love you, please don’t oh god, my heart. Got it. Anything else, sir? Sir?”

Jeanne Eagels became the first performer to score a nomination the following year, in the category of Best Actress for The Letter, only to lose to Mary Pickford. Incidentally, when The Letter was remade by William Wyler in 1940, Bette Davis received a Best Actress nomination for the same role as Eagels, Leslie Crosbie, making it the first time two performers received Oscar nominations for playing the same character.

The first person to win a posthumous Oscar would be Sidney Howard, for the screenplay of Gone with the Wind (1939). This, despite the fact that several other writers worked on the script and the writing process, based on the final result, seems like it was limited to holding the book open and copying literally everything within. Howard remains the only posthumous writing winner.

Sidney_Coe_Howard_1909.jpgDaffy Duck put it best when he said, “It’s getting so you have to kill yourself to sell a story around here.”

The “deadest” ceremony in Academy history so far has been the 32nd, which featured two posthumous winners: Sam Zimbalest, producer of Best Picture Ben-Hur, and William A. Horning, winner of Best Art Direction for the same. This was Horning’s second consecutive posthumous award, having won the same award the year before for Gigi, making him the only person to win two posthumous Oscars.

The longest time a posthumous nominee spent dead before winning is eighteen years, due to the strange saga of Charles Chaplin’s 1952 film Limelight. Upon its initial release, it was critically panned and even boycotted, until finally being screened in Los Angeles for the first time in 1972. Since this was, technically, its L.A. premiere, it was eligible for the 45th Academy Awards, where it won Best Original Score (Dramatic). This was Charlie Chaplin’s only competitive Oscar, easily the Academy’s most contrived “Sorry we screwed up” awards.

Charlie+Chaplin.jpg“Feels just like I always imagined it…”

Anyway, his two collaborators were also given the award, but both were long dead…Raymond Rasch, who died in 1964, and poor Larry Russell, dead since 1954. Due to the unusual circumstances, it is the only instance of two posthumous winners for the same film in the same category.

And who has received the most Academy attention while dead? That would be Howard Ashman, songwriter, who holds the record for most posthumous nominations with four (of seven total in his career), all for Best Original Song. Three of them were for Beauty and the Beast (1991)–“Belle”, “Be Our Guest”, and “Beauty and the Beast” (the winner). He then received another nomination the following year for Aladdin, for the song “A Friend Like Me”. Another song from the same film, “A Whole New World”, won the Oscar.

HowardAshman.jpgHe’d won an Oscar while alive for “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid, so don’t feel too bad for him. Or, do…I mean, he still died at 40.

Finally, some acting milestones:

  • Massimo Troisi is the only person to score posthumous nominations for acting and writing, for Il Postino (Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay) at the 68th Academy Awards. Alas, both were unsuccessful.
  • Only two performers have won posthumously: Peter Finch for Best Actor (Network [1976]) and Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor (The Dark Knight [2008]).
  • James Dean remains the only performer with two posthumous nominations, both for Best Actor, for East of Eden (1955) and Giant (1956).
  • Best Lead Actor is the acting category with the most posthumous nominees, with five. In addition to those above, Spencer Tracy was nominated for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).
    • Besides Heath Ledger, the only other posthumous Best Supporting Actor nominee was Ralph Richardson for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984).
    • The aforementioned Jeanne Eagels is the only posthumous Best Actress nominee, and there has never been a posthumous nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

I suppose I should close with honorable mentions for Dalton Trumbo, Carl Foreman, and Michael Wilson, all of whom won writing Oscars through fronts while blacklisted in the 1950s. Their proper credits, and places in Oscar history, were restored posthumously (and a little too late, if you ask me) by the Academy in the 80s and 90s. Meanwhile, Trumbo’s front for Roman Holiday (1953), Ian McLellan Hunter, may be the only person to lose an Oscar posthumously, since the Academy now, justifiably, gives Trumbo sole credit for its win for Best Story.

Pictured: the moment after Hunter said to Audrey Hepburn, “Look, I won an Oscar, too!”


Shakespeare at the Oscars

On this, the Ides of March, it seems befitting to devote some time to the rich history of Shakespeare in cinema. The Bard has been a source of inspiration almost as long as there have been moving pictures–the earliest, barely-extant film of one of his plays is a very short advertisement for a stage production of King John from 1899, filmed on the banks of the Thames in London. The Guinness Book of Records claims that there have been 410 feature films adapted from his works, and he is listed as a credited writer on nearly 1,300 films, according

Just as with musicals, the Academy has a tumultuous history with Shakespeare, bouncing from googly-eyed admiration to pointed indifference and back again…though he seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years. Many adaptations have been nominated, but as of now, only two Shakespearean films have taken home Best Picture.

MV5BM2ZkNjM5MjEtNTBlMC00OTI5LTgyYmEtZDljMzNmNzhiNzY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDYyMDk5MTU@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_.jpgNot counting Shakespeare in Love, because why would I?

Shakespeare got his Oscar debut in 1935, with the ensemble comedy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Presumably inspired by Grand Hotel (the original Ocean’s 11), this production threw as many big names into the mix as possible hoping for chemistry. Maybe it was because the director didn’t actually speak English, or maybe it was because no one ever spoke up at a meeting to suggest that casting Dick Powell in a Shakespeare play probably wouldn’t work out, but the result was a decidedly sloppy affair. Here’s Olivia de Havilland, who made her screen debut as Hermia, desperately overselling it in a promo:

Still better than anything in the movie, and still better than most trailers today.

The film was rightfully vilified, though critics were kind to James Cagney’s surprisingly decent performance as Bottom, and it wasn’t quite the fatal blow to Shakespeare at the movies that it could have been. However, it definitely proved that twelve Best Picture nominees was too many, and the following year the slate was cut down to ten, where it remained for a further eight years.

The fatal blow would come the following year, with Romeo and Juliet, starring Leslie Howard, the only man I ever loved, and Norma Shearer. I was definitely overexcited for this one, as it starred two of my absolute favorite early Hollywood performers, and since they were trained in the Shakespearean arts it seemed a perfect match. Unfortunately, as the film progresses it becomes very clear why R&J is written about, and usually stars, teenagers: the plot and dialogue just look and sound ridiculous when the actors are older than, say, eighteen. Shearer and Howard were both in their late 30s or early 40s, and John Barrymore was cast as Mercutio despite being 54 goddamn years old, so even though their sonorous voices drip with emotion and gravitas, it cannot hide the fact that people their age should just…know better.

Jesus, grow up…

Critics and audiences were quick to realize that they were simply watching a story about immature assholes, and the film lost nearly a million dollars. Hollywood, and the Oscars, learned a valuable lesson about the importance of casting films properly…just kidding, they decided it was Shakespeare’s fault and a great Bard famine swept the land. Grahame Greene famously said that he was “less than ever convinced that there is an aesthetic justification for filming Shakespeare at all,” which is, ironically, a bit of shade that Shakespeare himself probably would have thrown if he’d been around.

As usual, it took Laurence Olivier to save the day. In 1944, with World War II grinding along, Winston Churchill asked him to make a movie that would restore morale in Britain after Noël Coward’s In Which We Serve almost caused the Allies to surrender from embarrassment. Olivier responded with Henry V, a sumptuously inventive and visually stunning film that restored Shakespeare to the attention of cinemagoers and showed that adaptations of his plays could be artistically and commercially successful.

Beginning in the Globe Theatre with a contemporary exhibition of Shakespeare’s latest play, showing all the background preparation and even the mental rituals of the actors playing the roles, the film transports the audience, dreamlike, first to stylized sets and matte backgrounds and then to the fields of Agincourt itself, where Olivier, in his element as a man surrounded by a sea of onlookers hanging on his every word, delivered the rousing Band of Brothers soliloquy that embiggens the hearts all who hear it:

No music, no close-ups…just pure Olivier, which is all Shakespeare ever needed.

From this climax, the film transitions back through the sets and finally to the Globe again, and finally the camera pans away across Elizabethan London, as the music swells with the certainty that the film’s work is done.

Just two years after Henry V scored a nomination for Best Picture at the 19th Academy Awards (losing–and, despite my admiration, justly–to The Best Years of Our Lives), Olivier topped himself with Hamlet (1948), itself the most filmed of all Shakespeare’s plays (over fifty versions, of extremely varying quality). Excising all the political mumbojumbo and focusing his attention, as was his wont, on the psychological struggle, he created a sombre, austere masterpiece of cinematography, acting, and directing…not to mention the inspired casting of Eileen Herlie, an actress twelve years his junior, to play Hamlet’s mother.

Hamlet was one of the first major upset wins at the Oscars, beating out the heavy favorite, John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, although the latter did scoop Olivier (again, I think justly) for Best Director. Olivier himself became the first–and, until 1998, only–person to direct himself to an acting Oscar.

After Hamlet, the Academy took a short break from Shakespeare before James Mason, John Gielgud, and Marlon Brando stood up and demanded their attention once again with Julius Caesar (1953). I’ve recently covered this film in my article about the 26th Academy Awards, so I’ll keep it short here…but just to reinforce how truly great Brando’s performance was, here, by comparison, is Charlton Heston’s smarmy take on Marc Antony in the genuinely horrible 1970 adaptation:

If you can make it through this, you’re braver than Marc Antony ever was.

Anyway, Julius Caesar did not win Best Picture, because Hollywood had gotten it out of their system with Hamlet and also because this was also the year of From Here to Eternity and nothing was going to beat that. However, the next time Shakespeare (kind of) found his way into the Best Picture list, he won big: this time with a snappy modern take on Romeo and Juliet, complete with musical numbers and Rita Moreno. I’m talking, of course, about West Side Story, already covered in my Musicals at the Oscars article from last year.

It pains me to say this, but this is so much better than Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer’s version…

Of all the attempts to “update” Shakespeare, this one works best, because it, like Shakespeare, takes advantage of the zeitgeist and gives the people what they want. The late 1950s and early 1960s were a brief and extravagant time for musicals, as the genre raked in Best Pictures the whole decade before fading into obscurity again (which you know from the other article, faithful reader!). So the time was just right for a musical version of Romeo and Juliet, starring actors who were a bit closer to the appropriate age–though still not getting it exactly right–and damn it, it works.

Unlike Hamlet, which was a clear upset, West Side Story was destined to clean up at the Oscars…and it did, sweeping up ten of its eleven nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and both Supporting Acting awards, plus, for good measure, an Honorary Award for co-director Jerome Robbins.

Jerome_Robbins.jpgThis is a picture of him from 20 years prior, but I could not, in good conscience, not use it.

After West Side Story, there was only one Shakespearean Best Picture nominee still to come…though in the intervening years, Olivier’s 1965 version of Othello managed to score four acting nominations without earning a nod for Picture (the third of four such films to date). Oliver’s Best Actor nomination was his fourth for a Shakespearean role.

But the last to vie for the top prize came in 1968, and it was yet another Romeo and Juliet adaptation, this one from Italian director Franco Zeffirelli and actually starring teenagers in the title roles. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t really comment on it…but for the purposes of this overview of Shakespeare at the Oscars, suffice it to say that it is, to date, the last of the Bard’s plays to see a Best Picture nomination. Unfortunately for it, the Academy was still in the grip of dance fever, and awarded Best Picture to Sir Carol Reed’s Oliver! instead of this.

maxresdefault.jpgOr, you know, this…but we’ll get to that in good time.

Shakespeare has not been totally absent from the Academy Awards in the intervening forty-nine Oscars…in 1989, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Henry V scored him nominations for Best Director and Best Actor, and his 1996 version of Hamlet managed to do what Olivier’s had not: receive an Oscar nomination for Writing. Aside from a few technical nominations for some lesser-known films, that has been about it.

So, it seems that Hollywood is over Shakespeare again, and obviously Shakespeare in Love had to be one of the strongest nails in that splintery coffin. Since it is extremely unlikely that we will ever have another Olivier come along to revitalize the genre (Branagh tried gamely but he never really did it), perhaps we have seen the last of Shakespeare as Best Picture fodder. As with musicals, though, I await the next great leap forward. In closing, I’ll leave you with my favorite filmic Shakespearean soliloquy, delivered courtesy of the amazing Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I (1987):

Trivial Matters #38 – Regarding the 90th Academy Awards nominees

It’s that time of year again, the time when the discerning members of the Academy announce their nominations for the Oscars. Haha, I’m just joking…it’s that time when members go on Wikipedia, copy-paste the nominees and winners from the Golden Globes and the SAG awards, and change them just enough so it looks like they made an effort. No big surprises this year amongst the nominees…and thus far, of the nine films up for the top award, I have seen only Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird.

I’m writing off four nominees immediately from the running: Darkest HourDunkirk, The Post, and Phantom Thread. Of those, only Phantom Thread has nominations for both acting and directing–The Post has only the obligatory Meryl Streep nomination, Darkest Hour may finally give Gary Oldman an Oscar but that’s about it, and Dunkirk received a nod for Christopher Nolan but nothing in acting. But what seals the deal–devotees of Oscars & I will know the reason before I say it–is that all four of these films lack a nomination for writing. No film since Titanic (1997) has been named Best Picture without one, and the last one before that was The Sound of Music (1965).

Based on Oscars history, we can also probably eliminate Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Call Me by Your Name for their lack of nominations for Best Director. Only four times has a film been named Best Picture without a nomination for its director, most recently in 2012 when Argo won. However, Billboards did win the Golden Globe (although director Martin McDonagh was nominated there).

So that leaves, effectively, three nominees: Get OutLady Bird, and The Shape of Water. If I had to choose a likely winner, it would be The Shape of Water, given that Guillermo del Toro won the Globe for Best Director, and it leads the field with 13 nominations.

It’s actually kind of astounding to me that The Post was nominated for Best Picture, considering Meryl Streep’s Best Actress nod is its only other nomination. If it does win, it will be the only Best Picture in history without nominations for directing, writing, or editing (except for Grand Hotel [1931/32], of course, which received no nominations outside Best Picture).

I’m also waiting on tenterhooks to see if the Academy will again split the winners of Best Picture and Best Director. It has done so the previous two years (and four of the last five), and if it happens again, it will be the first time since 1935-1937 that the awards were split three years in a row. In case you want to know, the films were: :

  • 1935: Best Picture, Mutiny on the Bounty; Best Director, John Ford – The Informer
  • 1936: Best Picture, The Great Ziegfeld; Best Director, Frank Capra – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  • 1937: Best Picture, The Life of Emile Zola; Best Director, Leo McCarey, The Awful Truth

Some other things I noticed:

  • This is only the second year that there is both a woman (Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird) and an African-American (Jordan Peele for Get Out) amongst the Best Director nominees, both for their directorial debuts. This happened previously in 2009, when both Kathryn Bigelow and Lee Daniels were nominated.
    • Gerwig is the fifth woman to receive a Best Director nomination, following Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1976); Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003); and the aforementioned Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009), the only one to win (it also won Best Picture).
    • Peele is the fifth African-American nominated in the category, after John Singleton for Boyz N the Hood (1991); the aforementioned Daniels for Precious (2009); Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave (2013), and Barry Jenkins for Moonlight (2016). It’s worth noting that the latter two films won Best Picture.
  • Mary J. Blige is nominated for both Best Original Song and Best Supporting Actress for Mudbound, meaning she could conceivably join, in a single evening, the elite group of people who have won Oscars for acting and in a different category. There have been only five so far:
    • Laurence Olivier: Best Actor and Best Picture for Hamlet (1948); the first to accomplish this feat and the only one to do it in a single year
    • Barbra Streisand – Best Actress for Funny Girl (1968) and Best Original Song for A Star is Born (1976)
    • Michael Douglas: Best Picture for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Best Supporting Actor for Wall Street (1987)
    • Emma Thompson: Best Supporting Actress for Howards End (1992) and Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995)
    • George Clooney: Best Supporting Actor for Syriana (2005) and Best Picture for Argo (2012)
  • Three Billboards received two nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, who won the Golden Globe), the first film to do so since Bugsy (1991).
  • With its Best Picture nomination, The Post inches Steven Spielberg closer to William Wyler’s record of directing 13 Best Picture nominees (The Post is Spielberg’s eleventh). However, without a matching Best Director nomination, Spielberg remains well behind Wyler (12) (and Scorsese [8]) with only seven.
  • Both Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep could tie Katharine Hepburn’s record of four acting Oscars. However, only Day-Lewis could tie her record of four lead acting Oscars, if he wins an unprecedented fourth Best Actor award for Phantom Thread.
  • Christopher Plummer, already the oldest acting winner of all time at 82 for his Best Supporting Actor in 2010 for Beginners, became the oldest acting nominee at age 88, surpassing the previous record holder, Gloria Stuart (nominated for Best Supporting Actress at age 87 for Titanic).
    • If he wins, he’ll be the oldest winner in any category. Right now, the record is held by Ennio Morricone, who won Best Original Score two years ago at age 87 for The Hateful Eight (2015).

And there we have it! If I think of any more, I’ll update the post…but those are what leapt to mind first!

Trivial Matters #37 – William Wyler

It’s been a busy start to the year, and before I begin watching the nominees of 1952, I’d like to take a moment to talk about William Wyler, the most fêted director in the history of the Oscars. I’ve mentioned him before in a trivia entry about directors, but that was before I’d seen any of his movies and grown to appreciate what a genius he was.


Wyler cut his teeth on Westerns, and as the sound era dawned he began to branch out into all sorts of genres. Along the way, he gained a reputation as a perfectionist, taking his time to craft every detail of every scene, and as a director for whom actors loved to work. He had many early collaborations with Walter Huston, and went on to direct some of the finest performances of Laurence Olivier (who credited Wyler with teaching him how to act for film), Bette Davis (who won her second Oscar under his direction and, through their numerous films together, said he made her a much better actress), Olivia de Havilland, Fredric March, Kirk Douglas, and many others.

I admit it took me a while to pay attention and realize how many of Wyler’s movies I was seeing among the Best Picture nominees, but the first one that really made me step back and consider who was behind all these amazing films was The Little Foxes (1941), starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, and Teresa Wright. Davis is at her most cold and cruel as Regina Gibbons, and this scene, when she admits her deep contempt for her husband and then sits, scheming and unmoving, as he suffers a heart attack is one of the finest scenes of the decade:

Wyler’s decision to keep the camera on Davis while Marshall struggles, in the background and out-of-focus, was inspired. He could have gotten the whole thing in crisp focus (Gregg Toland was cinematographer, after all, the same Gregg Toland who brought the world Citizen Kane the same year), but instead he allows Marshall to fade away, keeping us riveted on Davis, and sparing us none of her cold, calculating stare. It’s probably one of the most terrifying death scenes I’ve ever seen in a non-Disney film.

He didn’t dabble in comedy much, but when he did, he went big. His third-to-last film, released in 1966, was How To Steal a Million, starring Audrey Hepburn, the always-hilarious Peter O’Toole, and Hugh Griffith. The whole movie is worth a good watch, but here’s a brief clip, with Audrey Hepburn being gracious as ever, and Peter O’Toole further honing the “devastatingly charming yet perpetually confused” look that he developed in What’s New Pussycatthe year before:

Also his trademark flit…seriously, do his feet even touch the floor in this scene?

Basically, there was nothing Wyler couldn’t do, and he had a creative streak of brilliance that lasted over 30 years and 20 films. Here are his Oscars records, most of which are nigh unbreakable:

  • Most films nominated for Best Picture (13), from Dodsworth (1936) to Funny Girl (1968).
    • Next on the list would be Steven Spielberg, who has directed 10 Best Picture nominees. He could conceivably tie or surpass Wyler, but I doubt it…it took him 40 years to get to that number (from Jaws [1975] to Bridge of Spies [2015]).
  • Most consecutive years with nominations for Best Picture (7) (* = also nominated for Best Director). This run was only interrupted by his enlistment in the Armed Forces.
    • Dodsworth (1936)*
    • Dead End (1937)
    • Jezebel (1938)
    • Wuthering Heights (1939)*
    • The Letter (1940)*
    • The Little Foxes (1941)*
    • Mrs. Miniver (1942)* – Won Best Picture and Best Director
      • Only Frank Capra ever had a run that came close, with four in a row  between 1936-1939, inclusive.
  • Most films to win Best Picture (3): Mrs. Miniver (1942); The Best Years of Our Lives (1946); Ben-Hur (1959).
    • The only active director with two Best Picture-winning films is Clint Eastwood–Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).
  • Most nominations for Best Director (12).
    • His nearest active rival is Martin Scorsese with eight nominations, and much as I love him I doubt he has five more in him.
  • Directed more Academy Award-nominated performances (36) and -winning performances (14) than anyone else.
    • For nominations, his only active rival is, again, Scorsese (22); Woody Allen has directed half as many Oscar-winning performances (7).
    • Here they are for your reference! Winners are in bold:
Actor/Actress Film Award
Walter Huston Dodsworth (1936) Best Actor
Maria Ouspenskaya Dodsworth (1936) Best Supporting Actress
Bonita Granville These Three (1936) Best Supporting Actress
Walter Brennan Come and Get It (1936) Best Supporting Actor
Claire Trevor Dead End (1937) Best Supporting Actress
Bette Davis Jezebel (1937) Best Actress
Fay Bainter Jezebel (1937) Best Supporting Actress
Laurence Olivier Wuthering Heights (1939) Best Actor
Geraldine Fitzgerald Wuthering Heights (1939) Best Supporting Actress
Bette Davis The Letter (1940) Best Actress
James Stephenson The Letter (1940) Best Supporting Actor
Walter Brennan The Westerner (1940) Best Supporting Actor
Bette Davis The Little Foxes (1941) Best Actress
Patricia Collinge The Little Foxes (1941) Best Supporting Actress
Teresa Wright The Little Foxes (1941) Best Supporting Actress
Walter Pidgeon Mrs. Miniver (1942) Best Actor
Greer Garson Mrs. Miniver (1942) Best Actress
Henry Travers Mrs. Miniver (1942) Best Supporting Actor
Teresa Wright Mrs. Miniver (1942) Best Supporting Actress
Dame May Whitty Mrs. Miniver (1942) Best Supporting Actress
Fredric March The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Best Actor
Harold Russell The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Best Supporting Actor
Olivia de Havilland The Heiress (1949) Best Actress
Ralph Richardson The Heiress (1949) Best Supporting Actor
Eleanor Parker Detective Story (1951) Best Actress
Lee Grant Detective Story (1951) Best Supporting Actress
Audrey Hepburn Roman Holiday (1953) Best Actress
Eddie Albert Roman Holiday (1953) Best Supporting Actor
Anthony Perkins Friendly Persuasion (1956) Best Supporting Actor
Burl Ives The Big Country (1958) Best Supporting Actor
Charlton Heston Ben-Hur (1959) Best Actor
Hugh Griffith Ben-Hur (1959) Best Supporting Actor
Fay Bainter The Children’s Hour (1961) Best Supporting Actress
Samantha Eggar The Collector (1965) Best Actress
Barbra Streisand Funny Girl (1968) Best Actress
Kay Medford Funny Girl (1968) Best Supporting Actress

One Wyler record (wylerd) that has been broken is most overall Oscar nominations for films he directed, in all categories. His films earned a total of 127 nominations at the Oscars, a record which stood until 2015 when Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies gave his filmography its 128th Oscar nomination. His latest film, The Post, a historical drama starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, is pure Oscar-bait and, when the nominees for the 90th Academy Awards are announced on Tuesday, will likely increase his total (and probably raise his Best Picture nominations to 11).

I have several more Wyler films yet to see for this project: Roman Holiday (1953), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Ben-Hur (1959; his third and final Best Picture winner), and Funny Girl (1968). He was also nominated for Best Director for Detective Story (1951) and The Collector (1965), which did not receive a Best Picture nomination. I never miss a chance to watch one of his films, so I did have a look at Detective Story, and I think he certainly deserved the Oscar that year more than George Stevens. Though maybe not over Elia Kazan and John Huston.

Wyler’s influence in the development of American cinema, and his indelible mark on Hollywood’s Golden Age, is hard to overstate. I’ll close with a quote from Laurence Olivier, which sums it up, predictably, better than I could:

If any film actor is having trouble with his career, can’t master the medium and, anyway, wonders whether it’s worth it, let him pray to meet a man like William Wyler.

–Laurence Olivier

CAUHLvYWAAAOx_u.jpgOr if you just need a steady hand for your mustache.

Another Oscars and I New Year’s Eve

Hello, it’s the end of 2017, and even more so than last year, I am woefully unprepared to comment intelligently about this year’s potential Oscars. Last New Year’s Eve, I had seen five films of the previous year…this time, I’ve seen just three, and none of them in the theatre. At least this year I can blame that on living in Spain, even though I think the list would be roughly the same in any case. Here, then, is Oscars and I’s official ranking of 2017 films, none of which will–or should–receive any serious attention by the Academy:

  1. Logan, James Mangold
  2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos
  3. Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh

Logan, which I saw on a plane in a trilogy with Deadpool and La La Land, takes the top spot because, though ostensibly an X-Men film, it was a surprisingly excellent, well-written road movie that rose above its material. It was understated, touched on some interesting motifs, and had some fun with the superhero genre along the way. Logan Lucky, by contrast, was Ocean’s Eleven for rednecks, and was ultimately unfulfilling, despite some enjoyable moments and the joy of seeing Daniel Craig stumble through a southern accent.

maxresdefault.jpgThis is a behind-the-scenes shot, as Steven Soderbergh assures him he’s nailing it.

I had intended on seeing John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky next, completing a nice Logan-Logan Lucky-Lucky trilogy and then never seeing another 2017 film again, but I forever ruined that once-in-a-lifetime chance by watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer. This turned out to be a disappointing experience, especially given how much I enjoyed Lanthimos’ last film, LobsterSacred Deer isn’t bad, but it’s a stagnant feature without much in the way of innovation or commentary, and I almost ranked it last on this extensive list because of that.

Anyway…last year, I wrote about New Year’s Eves of Oscars Past, and about the Best Picture nominees down the years that have at least addressed this only-important-in-movies holiday. There weren’t many last year, and this year there are no more to add, unless Moonlight was about New Year’s Eve…still haven’t seen it. So instead, I’ll use this short post to make a few Oscars & I resolutions for the coming year.

  1. Continue updating this blog at least once a week.

I was on a good roll going into December, and I’d like to keep it up. This resolution is for both of my loyal readers, who are right to expect more of me.

And if you’re sick of the “both my readers” joke, one of you could recommend this blog to a friend.

2. Watch more than three new theatrical movies in 2018

Now that the aforementioned Logan-Logan Lucky-Lucky ship has sailed, it wouldn’t be remiss for a blog based on films to watch more of them, so that maybe on 31 December 2018, I can actually reflect on the year in film instead of faffing around with a list of resolutions.

On the other hand, I missed seeing La La Land until after the Oscars were over, and I found it well worth missing, so maybe I’m doing the right thing by letting these films percolate in the collective unconscious a while.

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These are the only three films to ever score 14 Oscar nominations, which kind of makes me want to scream.

3. What other resolutions can I really make for a blog? Two is enough.

I suppose I could pledge to write better reviews, be more objective and less biased in my coverage of the nominees, and be more forgiving of the effects that the ravages of time have had on some of the nominees. Oh well…maybe next year.

And, of course, 2017 is the last year (presumably) that we will see a new film from Daniel Day-Lewis, which is obviously cause for grieving for the loss to film that his absence portends. Over the past forty years, from his first appearance playing a young hoodlum in John Schlesinger’s classic Sunday Bloody Sunday:

…to his unprecedented three Best Actor-awarded performances in My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012)…

Be honest, we all want to do this to Paul Dano.

…and everything in between, showing such a range, a talent, and a commitment to character that I’d be hard-pressed to name a single performer in cinema history as his equal. The only one to come close isn’t even real…I’m thinking of Anthony John, Ronald Colman’s character in 1947’s A Double Life, who drives himself to Lewisian immersive depths in search of the perfect performance.

I’m guessing this kind of thing happens to Daniel Day-Lewis roughly twice a day.

It does make me a little sad to know that there is a finite number of Daniel Day-Lewis films, and that one day, there will be no new ones to watch. And after a bit of a Day-Lewis binge this year, the number is already dwindling. It’s the same way I feel about Leslie Howard, Greer Garson, and a select few others…there are just some performers I never want to be finished with. Fortunately, even if there are no new films, one of the things I love so much about cinema is that there are some movies, some performances, that can be watched countless times and always offer something new, something previously unseen. That’s Daniel Day-Lewis to me. He may be off to a well-earned retirement, but what he’s given to the world through his work is forever.

And so, since Hollywood ignored my plea from last year to add more quality films to the genre of New Year’s Eve, I’ll close with the same two clips I did last year, from Charles Chaplin’s 1925 The Gold Rush:

Happy 2018, everyone!

Three Years of Oscars and I – Another Clip Show


Today marks three years since my first post here at Oscars and I. It started on a wicked pace, and within one year I was already posting on the 17th Academy Awards (1944), dotted throughout with trivia. Unfortunately my updates have slowed down considerably since then, as I am now two years later working on the 24th Academy Awards for 1951, but I hope to maintain this momentum and continue with weekly updates until I finally finish! As of this moment, I have seen all 182 extant films nominated for Best Picture from 1927-1951 (if anyone finds a copy of 1928’s The Patriot kicking around, let me know).

I should probably start watching more films from this year, since I doubt that the one I have seen (Logan), good though it was, will receive much Oscar attention. I eagerly await Daniel Day-Lewis’ swan song, which I’m sure will be both interesting and well-represented in the 2017 nominees. Until then, and as I mull over the nominees for 1951 (I’m beginning to think that An American in Paris really was the right choice, after all!), here is a collection of some of my favorite moments from the Oscars between 1944 and 1951:

Oh, I know this clip of Gaslight isn’t from the 1944 Ingrid Bergman-Charles Boyer version which was nominated for Best Picture at the 17th Academy Awards…but this one, the original British production from 1940, is just better. Not only because it stars two of my favorite actors, Diana Wynyard and (*sigh*) Anton Walbrook, but it has a much creepier, noirish feel throughout, full of unsettling close-ups and odd camera angles, and the final confrontation between Bella and Paul is tense and unforgettable.

I also wanted to show it because when MGM acquired the rights to remake Gaslight, part of the deal was a demand, thankfully ignored by BNF, that all of the prints of the 1940 version be destroyed so their own film wouldn’t have competition…so naturally I have to disseminate the original.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) was one of the first films to actually represent mental illness as something that could be scientifically studied and treated. Yes, we had Gaslight the year before, but the moral of that one was more how one can use mental illness as a weapon against a conniving, thieving husband who is stealing from you and cheating on you with Angela Lansbury. Arguably, Spellbound has the more universal message.

Even if the ideas of Spellbound are outdated today, it is full of great moments and fine performances by Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. This sequence, designed by Salvador Dali, originally ran over 15 minutes but was cut down by studio execs. You can see its influence on future dream montages, particularly the one towards the end of Father of the Bride (1950)!

William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (Best Picture of 1946) remains powerful in my memory despite the fact that it’s been nearly two years since I watched it. This scene is one of many that stand out in an almost perfectly-made film, and its imagery–an air force veteran wandering aimlessly through the rusted, dusty remains of thousands of disused aircraft about to be melted down and turned into cheap, mass-produced housing–is one of the best cinematic representations of the problems of the postwar world I have seen.

Olivier’s Henry V brought Shakespeare back to prominence after A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) and the curiously adult-filled Romeo & Juliet (1936) ruined it. From this magnificent opening he transported us back further and further in time until we were on the very battlefield of Agincourt, then guided us. with just as much grace, back to the present. Four years later he topped himself with Hamlet, but he would never have had the chance to make that film if it hadn’t been for his inspired genius with this one.

Ah, The Bishop’s Wife, the result of a $50 wager that no director could possibly make an uncharismatic film starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. Well, Henry Koster proved them all wrong. The above clip is pretty representative of the movie’s schlocky and misguided “wisdom”…here, Grant waxes poetic that “not everybody [grows old]. The only people who grow old were born old to begin with.” Which is why all of our nursing homes are filled with old 6-year-olds and why you find so many Korean War veterans in primary school.

The demise of Fred C. Dobbs at the end of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre isn’t the best scene in the movie by any stretch, but I still wanted to post it as an example of the well-crafted piece of tension-building that Huston did so well. You can see the reuse of the machete attack shot, since Huston decided against using the image of Dobbs’ disembodied head rolling into the water…though if you look closely you will notice the ripples in the puddle that it made in the originally conceived sequence.

Anton Walbrook continues to smash it in every role I’ve ever seen him in, and he never looked more at home than as the arrogant, charming, and thoroughly brilliant Boris Lermontov in The Red Shoes. His exchange with Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) here, in particular her response to his question, is one of my favorite moments in all of cinema.

I posted this clip of Twelve O’Clock High in the main article about the 22nd Academy Awards, but I wanted to show it again because it is such a wonderfully self-contained piece of filmmaking at its finest. Even though Hugh Marlowe (as Ben Gately) barely moves or speaks, he goes through all the stages of grief as his career dies under the relentless and calculating verbal blows from Gregory Peck…as I believe we all would.

One of the few memorable and resonante scenes of King Solomon’s Mines, a rumination on life in the jungle and, by extension, life everywhere. This, combined with some beautiful shots of African fauna, make the movie worth a watch, but it’s nothing to do with the story or the acting, all of which was old-hat even in 1950.

Nothing to add here…just a little preview of the Best Picture of 1951, An American in Paris!

And now I’ll leave you with this before we move along to the 24th Academy Awards…Anton Karas performing (with some accompaniment) his brilliant theme for The Third Man.

See you next week!

Musicals at the Oscars (Part II)

During the first 24 years of the Academy Awards, four musicals won Best Picture (The Broadway MelodyThe Great ZiegfeldGoing my Way, and An American in Paris), and the nominees reflected the growth and development of the film musical. However, as with the musicals themselves, their performance at the Oscars peaked in the 1950s and the Academy has struggled with them ever since.

The main problem with the Oscars in general has always been that, since they only reward films of the preceding year, they often miss their chance to honor films that are, in retrospect, superior. Citizen Kane‘s loss to How Green was my Valley in 1941 is the classic example, as well as, say, High Noon losing to The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952, or Crash winning over any other film released in 2005. It seems that when they do get it right, it’s the exception rather than the rule, and even then they rarely know what they have until it’s too late.

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It’s worth pointing out that none of these films won more than three Oscars.

The musical is no exception, as we’ve seen. Two of the most important musicals ever made, The Love Parade and The Gay Divorcee, were nominated but failed to win (though, admittedly, they lost to great and timeless films), and 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain, Gene Kelly’s triumphant follow-up to An American in Paris, wasn’t even nominated. Musicals became less and less represented in the following years, with the exception of the nominations for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 1954 and The King and I in 1956.

But just after the Golden Age of musicals ended in the mid-50s–not coincidentally, around the time when the Hays Code finally faded into deserved irrelevance–the Academy suddenly caught the fever. For a brief but very weird time, between 1958 and 1968, musicals were the most potent Oscar bait on the market.

Unknown-2.jpegSimilar to the brief and weird time we’re in now, when it’s Michael Keaton.

It was a time when American movies, and society, were changing fast, and the Academy held off acknowledging it for as long as they possibly could. Gigi kicked off the Musical Decade with a win in 1958, followed by West Side Story in 1961, My Fair Lady in 1964 (with 12 nominations, while another musical, Mary Poppins, received 13), The Sound of Music in 1965, and Oliver! in 1968.

With My Fair Lady, I get where they were coming from. They denied Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller back in 1938 when the story was called Pygmalion and saw a chance to make things right. It all makes sense, and damn it, I commend them for thinking of it.

He could break into song, if he wanted. He chooses not to.

But as I have often said, the road to hell is paved by George Cukor, and this otherwise noble gesture meant that the Academy had to ignore the likes of A Hard Day’s Night (the third Great Leap Forward in movie musicals, although this one didn’t have the lasting impact of the previous two) and Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Even when they poked their heads out from under their comforters to look at the real world, it didn’t last long. Hell, 1967 scared them so bad–what with In the Heat of the NightThe GraduateBonnie and ClydeGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Cool Hand Luke, and many more iconoclastic films–that come 1968 they ignored 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Battle of Algiers in favor of lavishing 11 nominations and 5 Oscars on G-rated Oliver! 

To be fair, though, they did renew their hip cred in one regard, awarding Best Original Screenplay to a wonderful satirical film I’m going to go ahead and call a musical so I can show a clip of it:

A musical in the pre-Love Parade style, sure, but still…it’s got something.

But the tide turned the very next year. Instead of establishing a pattern of determining the winner by exclamation points and giving Best Picture to Gene Kelly’s feel-good Hello, Dolly!, 1969 saw the only X-rated winner, Midnight Cowboy (although it’s been downgraded to an R in the years since). This time, there was no rebound musical the following year…the New Hollywood had arrived, and the Oscars were finally onboard. And with that, the musical fell from grace with astonishing speed.

The last gasp of the genre came in 1972, when Bob Fosse’s masterful Cabaret swept up eight Oscars–including Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor–but was denied Best Picture by The Godfather. It’s one of my favorite films of all time, and it manages to emotionally depict the slow and inexorable rise of Nazism while still entertaining with its beautiful choreography and catchy songs. Its eight awards without winning the top prize remains a record.

No film featuring a man making love to a gorilla has ever won, not counting that one deleted scene from 
The King’s Speech.

After that, musical nominees became few and far between. There was All That Jazz in 1979 (should have won), then nothing until Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (pretty sure Silence of the Lambs was the right call here), and Moulin Rouge! in 2001, desperately trying to recapture the exclamatory magic of Oliver! And finally, in 2002, the tenth and, to date, final musical film won Best Picture: Chicago.

Again, musicals dropped off the radar, with the exception of Les Misérables in 2012, which brings us to the 89th Awards on Sunday, where La La Land looks ready to become the eleventh musical to win Best Picture. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t comment too much on it, but unless it features a scene as awesome as this…

…I can’t imagine I’ll think it’s as amazing as everyone who has never seen Gene or Fred thinks it is.

Musicals are, in their best form, magical dreamscapes of pure, distilled joy, as the clips I’ve shared in this survey attest. I can’t watch Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling or Gene Kelly dancing on roller skates or Maurice Chevalier literally charming the pants off everyone he meets and feel anything but optimism and happiness that we’re all alive and able to experience such wonder. I wish someone would come along and revitalize the genre the way it deserves to be, even if we’ll never see the likes of the Golden Age again.

And that’s the musical at the Academy Awards! We’ll see if La La Land joins the pantheon of Best Picture winners on Sunday, and possibly even sets a new record for wins. Time, as it often does, will tell! Stay tuned as always for trivia on the night itself!