An Oscars and I New Year’s Eve

Hello, it’s the end of 2016, and the first thing I’m thinking right now is I am even more behind than usual when it comes to preparing for the Oscars. A quick glance at the Golden Globe nominees is usually a good way to gauge how the Academy will divvy up its picks, but as is my wont, I have not seen all that many films from the current year. In fact, I’ve seen just five. Here, then, is Oscars and I’s official ranking of 2016 films, with the almost certain knowledge that none of them will pick up a nomination for Best Picture:

  1. ‘Til Madness Do Us Part, dir. Wang Bing (shot in 2013)
  2. Zootopia, dir. Byron Howard & Rich Moore
  3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, dir. Gareth Edwards
  4. I.T., dir. John Moore
  5. Hail, Caesar!, dir. Coen Brothers

I should say: Rogue One was not a good film at all…not just because of the CGI desecration of Peter Cushing, but because it was lazily written, sloppily directed, poorly paced, and overall just felt like the filler that it is. It is only so highly ranked because a) I saw very few movies, and b) the two below it are just awful. I initially placed I.T. at the bottom, because it is almost unwatchably bad, but decided to put it ahead of Hail, Caesar!, which is bloody terrible, because it was made by the Coen Brothers, which makes it all the more disappointing.

maxresdefault.jpgThey got this shot by showing George Clooney the dailies.

So, of the five films I’ve seen from this year, three were bad-to-awful. It doesn’t bode well for this awards season, especially after the Academy awarded Spotlight the top prize last year, indicating they’ve lost their damn minds. Hell, maybe Rogue One will get a Best Picture nod…as usual, it’ll get all the technical nominations, and without a Mad Max to compete with, maybe it’ll take them (however undeservedly). And Zootopia will doubtless score Best Animated Feature.

But I wanted to dedicate this post to the New Year’s Eves of Oscars Past, and think about the Best Picture nominees down the years that have at least addressed this only-important-in-movies holiday. There have not been many.

image.aspx.gifSadly, ignored by the Academy. Really thought de Niro would pick up his third Oscar for this one.

As far as I can tell, two Best Picture winners have heavily involved New Year’s Eve in their narratives. The second, 1960’s The Apartment, is sadly one I have not yet seen…and if I continue Oscar and I’s slow pace, expect my review of it sometime in the year 2029. But I do know the basic plot, and I can say its treatment of New Year’s Eve as some magical night where all the people who forgot to obtain the Love of Their Life at Christmas are given another chance. In a way, it led us to 2011’s New Year’s Eve, which I also haven’t seen, and you can expect my review of that sometime next never.

The first, which I covered…damn, two years ago…is Cavalcade, the winner of the 6th Academy Awards for 1932/33. It opens on New Year’s Eve 1899, with a ridiculously prim and proper English couple such as only Noël Coward could imagine coming home at midnight and optimistically predicting a wondrous and peaceful 20th century. It’s supposed to be ironic, I guess, but the whole film is just so full of stiff-upper-lippedness–especially when it condenses the First World War into an almost jubilant montage that doesn’t scar its participants in any way whatsoever–that it just flops through its overlong runtime like a salmon trying to make it to a fishing hole across a frozen lake.

In my review, I mentioned I could only obtain a grainy copy of the film that looked like it had been re-recorded several times, with subtitles in Portuguese that not only could not be turned off, but oftentimes directly contradicted the dialogue in English. This is because Cavalcade is the only Best Picture winner never to be officially released on home video.

Unknown.jpegAnd if we’re accepting suggestions to add to that list…

I suppose my favorite New Year’s-themed film has to be The Poseidon Adventure, a raucous film from the early 1970s disaster boom that also gave us The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. In this one, an ocean liner gets hit by a rogue wave and flips over, and it’s up to Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine to save the day. It did win an Academy Award, for the almost impressively awful song “The Morning After”, and also received a nomination for its original score.

Unknown-1.jpegBecause Academy rules dictate that John Williams must receive at least one nomination per year.

And speaking of Best Original Score at the 45th Academy Awards, it was to be the only Oscar Charlie Chaplin ever received, for his film Limelight (which had actually been released 1952 but, due to a technicality, was not eligible for the Oscars until 1972). And even though it predated the Oscars, there’s also that almost unbearably touching New Year’s Eve scene in his 1925 classic The Gold Rush:

So unless ships are flipping upside down or there’s gold in them thar hills, it seems that New Year’s Eve is a pretty barren holiday when it comes to great films. That’s something someone can work to correct in 2017 and beyond…the Oscars deserve a win on this date. In any event, I’m off to see if I can eat 12 grapes in thirty seconds to portend prosperity in the coming year. And since I’m eager to go and start the obligatory drinking (since I rarely touch the stuff any other time of year…I may try this “beer” thing I keep hearing about), here’s another scene from The Gold Rush:

Happy 2017, everyone!

Trivial Matters #27 – Regarding the Nominees

The nominees for the 88th Academy Awards were announced yesterday, and as I was traveling to California all day I didn’t get a chance to post my usual trivia entry. So a bit late, here’s what I noticed:

  • Star Wars received five nominations but is not up for Best Picture…or anything else major. If it sweeps (which it stands a good chance of doing, what with four of the five being technical categories and Academy darling John Williams nominated for his score), it will tie The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) for most Oscars won by a film not nominated for Best Picture.
  • Kate Winslet, one of only five previous winners amongst the acting nominees (along with Eddie Redmayne, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, and Cate Blanchett), could become the thirteenth person to win Oscars in both lead and supporting categories.
  • It’s been 39 years since Sylvester Stallone was last nominated for an Oscar (he got two nominations for Rocky, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, losing both to Network). If he wins Best Supporting Actor for Creed, he will join Harold Russell and Haing S. Ngor as the only non-actors to win the award.
  • All kidding aside, Stallone is the sixth performer to be nominated twice for playing the same character in different films. The other five are (* = win):
    • Bing Crosby as Father Charles O’Malley
      • Going my Way (1944) – Best Actor*
      • The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) – Best Actor
    • Peter O’Toole as King Henry II of England
      • Becket (1964) – Best Actor
      • The Lion in Winter (1968) – Best Actor
    • Al Pacino as Michael Corleone
      • The Godfather (1972) – Best Supporting Actor
      • The Godfather Part II (1974) – Best Actor
    • Paul Newman as “Fast Eddie” Felson
      • The Hustler (1961) – Best Actor
      • The Color of Money (1986) – Best Actor*
    • Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I
      • Elizabeth (1998) – Best Actress
      • Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) – Best Actress
  • If Alejandro G. Iñárritu wins Best Director for The Revenant, which seems a distinct possibility, he will be the third director to win the award two years in a row.
    • John Ford won for The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and How Green was my Valley (1941)–and two other times besides.
    • Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).
    • It’s worth noting that in each case only the second film won Best Picture, so Iñárritu could also earn the distinction of being the first person to direct two consecutive Best Picture winners.
  • This is the first time since the 81st Academy Awards that every acting category’s field of nominees features at least one previous winner, and the first since the 79th that no film received more than two acting nominations.
  • The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road lead the nominations with 12 and 10, respectively, but neither scored a nomination for their screenplays, which as I’ve said before has historically been a bad sign for a Best Picture contender.
    • In addition, Mad Max did not receive any acting nominations, so if it wins, it will be just the twelfth such film to do so, and the third (after Wings [1st] and Grand Hotel [5th]) to win without nominations for acting or screenwriting.
  • Finally, Carol is the 47th film to receive nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress but not Best Picture. The last such film to win either award was Boys Don’t Cry (1999) (Best Actress, Hilary Swank), and the last to win both was The Miracle Worker (1962) (Best Actress, Anne Bancroft; Best Supporting Actress, Patty Duke). The last film to win two acting Oscars without a Best Picture nomination was Hud (1963) – Best Actress, Patricia Neal; Best Supporting Actor, Melvyn Douglas.
    • Carol received six nominations, the most for a non-Best Picture nominee since the expansion from five nominees in 2009. The record for most nominations without one for Best Picture is nine, set by They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969).

Leslie Howard

This is a break from our (semi-)regularly scheduled blog. Rest assured, I am diligently watching the films for the 15th Academy Awards and preparing my commentary on each, but I just finished with the very fine British propaganda film 49th Parallel, starring, amongst others, my absolute favorite discovery of this Oscar journey, Leslie Howard.

MV5BMTM1NjM2MTE3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjY4NjQ2._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_Just take a moment. I’ll wait.

My review of that film was going to center on Laurence Olivier’s hilarious French-Canadian accent, and maybe when I post the regular entry it still will, but then I was Skyping with my sister tonight and found out that Leslie Howard died. I knew right away that I could not brush this aside–he has fast become one of my favorite actors, and the news was particularly devastating to me.

Granted, he died in 1943, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing.

The need to pay tribute to this great man was immediately apparent. Ashamed as I am to say it, I had not even heard of Leslie Howard before embarking on this blog, and if I forgot everything else I’ve seen and learned along the way except him, I’d come out far, far ahead.

It has been an unrivaled pleasure to watch him in…

Smilin’ Through (1932/33), my first Howard experience…I was so naive then that I initially mistook him for Fredric March. Was I ever so young? His character, as I mentioned way back when, is one of the most tragic I have ever seen. He carries it with such panache, such restrained tumult, that my heart breaks just remembering it.

Romeo and Juliet (1936). He brought a maturity and, damn it, a sensuality to the title role. Coming off the heels of the debacle that was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, seeing Howard and Norma Shearer do Shakespeare right was even more pleasurable than getting to watch two Powell-Loy vehicles in a single year.

Pygmalion (1938), which he also co-directed. It’s the role for which I will remember him always, because his Professor Henry Higgins embodies everything I love and believe about language and about the human experience. I liked him before but this film made me love him, and you can bet that when I get to My Fair Lady in 1964 his performance will be constantly set against everything that film can offer. It better be damned good.

And that pinnacle of Technicolor indulgence, Gone with the Wind (1939). His all-too-brief moments onscreen made an otherwise insufferable film something approaching tolerable.

And finally he lends his inimitable presence to the third act of 49th Parallel, bringing his unique class to the wilds of British Columbia, his austere dedication to art and culture a passionate and unassailable bulwark against the Nazis.

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How we won the war.

I’ve also recently seen him in Berkeley Square (1933), one of the first time-travel films and for which he received his first Oscar nomination, and Of Human Bondage (1934), in which he desperately tried to escape Bette Davis’ clutches for an hour and a half. I think that’s an experience to which we can all relate.

It would be difficult to overstate the regard I have for him, as an actor and as a human being. Leslie Howard would be the Hollywood star that I would most readily choose to share a martini or twenty with, whiling away the wee hours of the morning with our talk of everything and nothing. And although I would certainly like to, I don’t think we’d even have to discuss his films…all he’d have to do is quote Macbeth and I’d be happy.

I look forward to discovering and watching more of his extensive career–his 1937 film It’s Love I’m After, co-starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, looks particularly intriguing–but I know that it will be a sad day when I have seen them all, the day when there will be no new Leslie Howard films left. I therefore have made it a point to refuse to view a complete list of his films, so that I might never experience that assuredly empty feeling of knowing that I will never again see one of his performances for the first time.

And I have a feeling that, no matter what new and exciting surprises and cinematic adventures await me as I continue this project–and there will be more, of that I am sure–he will be the high watermark against which the rest will be measured. In conclusion, here he is smoking a cigarette and patting a dog:

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