December 15, 2014

1942 - 15th Academy Awards

 photo 1942.jpg

and the nominees were: 
James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy
Ronald Colman, Random Harvest
Gary Cooper, The Pride of the Yankees
Walter Pidgeon, Mrs. Miniver
Monty Woolley, The Pied Piper
Bette Davis, Now, Voyager
Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver
Katharine Hepburn, Woman of the Year
Rosalind Russell, My Sister Eileen
Teresa Wright, The Pride of the Yankees

Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons

My good fortune continues with two offerings this year that are explicitly patriotic (one of which I watched a few years ago and absolutely despised) as well as the usual token nominated film where you've got some adult watching after a crap load of kids (though this time with a WWII backdrop). ~Sigh~ Not looking forward to this year any more than I did 1941, though I'm really hoping I enjoy more of the films this time around. Side note: because I was so inspired early on in my blogging, I initially came up with my now defunct Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda series where I reviewed prominent also-rans. I eventually learned that I'd be too burnt out to continue that shit for every. single. year. so I stopped, but in having initially done so, I reviewed the New York Film Critics' Circle's 1935 Best Actress winner Greta Garbo in Anna Karenina, the only NYFCC winner thus far to not have been nominated for an Oscar. So I figured (for completist's sake) why not--might as well continue this reviewing of the occasional outlier NYFCC winner (plus I figure it'll give me a breath of fresh air amongst all the repetitive Davises, Garsons, Bergmans, de Havillands, Coopers, Stanwycks, etc. that AMPAs so knee-jerkingly nominated during this decade). Thus I will be having a date with The Magnificent Ambersons to take a looksie at Agnes Moorehead's NYFCC winning performance. And with that: please share with me any of your personal favorites from '42 and shoot me some predictions as to whom you think I will love and hate :)

December 10, 2014

Joan Fontaine, Suspicion

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress | New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress

Joan Fontaine was bestowed the eternal title of "Academy Award winner" only a year after having made a big splash with an acclaimed performance...and just like good 'ol Jimmy Stewart, she ultimately won for a performance that has been deemed by many as being lesser than its predecessor. Obviously her winning is not her fault, and the fact that Suspicion is a terribly messy and narratively confounding picture isn't her fault either. Her victory can be easily be written off as a "makeup" prize, but the fact that she was named Best Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle (Inside Oscar says that RKO hadn't even planned on giving Suspicion a qualifying run until Fontaine had unexpectedly nabbed up the prize) as well suggests to me that voters in 1941 must have seen something here that they liked. I'll admit, after having read many negative critiques on Suspicion and Fontaine's win, I came in with the worst expectations. But surprise, surprise--I didn't think Suspicion or Fontaine was that bad (big fat sloppy mess? Yeah. AWFUL? nah).

December 9, 2014

Olivia de Havilland, Hold Back the Dawn


It seems as though Olivia de Havilland's work in Hold Back the Dawn is primarily associated with being the nominated performance to which she was pitted against Joan Fontaine in an epic SISTER VS. SISTER showdown, and not as much is written about the actual performance itself. And perhaps rightfully so. After having recently rewatched Gone with the Wind, I found myself supremely impressed by the warm veritas of de Havilland's Melanie Hamilton, much more so than on my very first watch years ago. Her role as Emmy here in Hold Back the Dawn is pretty much in the same vein as that of Melanie, and I mean that as both a good and a bad thing.

December 8, 2014

Bette Davis, The Little Foxes


By now, after having seen her do cantankerous in Of Human Bondage, reckless in Dangerous, manipulative in Jezebel, and murderous in The Letter, watching Bette Davis play "bad" doesn't really phase me anymore. But here we are: another year, another Oscar nomination, and another fierce heroine who can work men with aplomb. I came into The Little Foxes rather fatigued by Davis, though knowing very well that her performance is highly regarded by the internet as well as other Oscar bloggers. So I watched the film, carefully absorbing what I was seeing, and then I had to watch it again, to make proper sense of how I felt about what I was seeing.

December 7, 2014

Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire


I can't help but chuckle at the fact that Barbara Stanwyck's character in Ball of Fire is called Sugarpuss. Sure, the film explains that the name is slang for one with a sweet face, but given that Stanwyck was such a prominent presence in Pre-Code films (I'm thinking about Baby Face most notably), I'd like to believe that Sugarpuss is a not-so-subtle double-entendre, a kind of acknowledgment of Stanwyck's ability to convey sensuality in her characters that's as alluring as it is perilous to the people around them.

December 6, 2014

Greer Garson, Blossoms in the Dust


Let's just get this out of the way: I found Blossoms in the Dust to be a huge load of piping hot crap. It is a picture that seeks to tell a tale of human valiance and compassion (as clearly shown by the opening intertitle in which we're told we are about to watch "the story of a great woman, and of the great work she is doing for humanity") and yet behind the thick veil of self-importance you'll find a film that's just a hasty reimagining of a rather ordinary story. At the center is Greer Garson, who, in spite of her endless well of graceful charm, can only go so far against a sea of sentimental contrivances and a poorly written script.

December 1, 2014

Awards Season 2014 Starts Now!

the New York Film Critics Circle's new Best Actress!
If you follow awards at all you would know that today is the official kickstart of AWARDS SEASON 2014 (a.k.a. the true most wonderful time of the year), with the New York Film Critics Circle--the oldest and arguably the most prestigious critics awards bodies--announcing their bests of the year. The choice of theirs that got me most excited: the awarding of Best Actress unto one of my favorite actresses of today, the lady whose performance in La Vie en Rose stands as one of my most favorite wins ever in the history of the Best Actress French flower Marion Cotillard for her duel work in The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night! Admittedly I haven't seen either film--I started to watch The Immigrant a month or so ago and decided 15 minutes in that I was in the mood for something lighter--but the NYFCC's decision is a step in the right direction for Cotillard finally nabbing her first nomination since her glorious Oscar win. 7 years and two big fat snubs later (for Nine and Rust and Bone respectively), could this be the year Cotillard finally slides into the chosen field of 5 again? It is the first year since 2007 that the heavy favorite for the win plays an alzheimer's victim after all. Realistically I know this'll be no easy task...Weinstein has pretty much buried The Immigrant's campaign chances and thus it looks like Two Days, One Night will have to fight off perennial loser Amy Adams as well as upstarts Shailene Woodley and Hilary Swank for that last spot. But here's hoping!

Oh, and Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons began what will probably be their eventual awards sweeps today, Boyhood won the big prize and Timothy Spall won Best Actor which is cool I guess, but this was just an excuse for me to publicly freak out over Cotillard. Feel free to tell me which films and performances you're rooting for!

November 30, 2014

Robert Montgomery, Here Comes Mr. Jordan


Given the type of work that the Academy frequently nominates, you'd think that you'd need makeup, some sort of overwhelmingly dramatic arc, some sort of real life historical figure, immersive mimicry and tics, or some sort of combination of the aforementioned in order to make a "good" performance. There's almost always a gimmick involved that in turn signifies to us that what we're watching is outstanding. We've become conditioned to hold that big scene in high regard, that "Oscar-clip" of which fine acting is exemplified. After having trekked through Orson Welles aging an entire lifetime, Gary Cooper emulating a real life WWI sergeant, Cary Grant taking a stab at heartstring-tugging drama, and Walter Huston personifying diabolical wickedness, I can't tell you how refreshing it was to end with Robert Montgomery, who really hadn't anything to bring to the table outside of doing the very best he could with a wholly enjoyable picture.

November 29, 2014

Walter Huston, The Devil and Daniel Webster


The Devil and Daniel Webster is such a stimulatingly eccentric picture. This coupled with the fact that it managed to snag Walter Huston a Best Actor nomination surely has to speak to the industry's immense respect for him. I say this because while it's not a bad performance by any means, Huston's role is noticeably tinier than that of fellow co-stars Edward Arnold and James Craig. To say that his performance should fall into the lead category is a total joke, but at the same time I can't help but cheer on this nomination.

November 28, 2014

Cary Grant, Penny Serenade


Leave it to the Academy to flat out ignore Cary Grant's excellent comedic performances in some of the most acclaimed comedies of the time again and again, and then finally throwing him a bone for an utterly forgettable (and totally mediocre) melodrama. It often feels peculiar to be judging Grant for this particular performance, partly because he's a little bit out of his element and partly because he is stifled by a real clunker of a movie. As a result, it never feels like Grant is truly "on" in this movie like he is in his more iconic films, and the entire film and nomination feels so hasty, as if the Academy was saying, "look! we're acknowledging him! look at him here! he's so dramatic!"

November 27, 2014

Gary Cooper, Sergeant York

Won: Academy Award - Best Actor | New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor

The internet tells me that Gary Cooper moved to Los Angeles from Montana on Thanksgiving day exactly 90 years ago, where he was influenced by a few friends to work as a film extra (what a perfect little coincidence!), and thus a movie star was born. I must admit that I don't "get" Cooper. By now I've seen a handful of his films and I've yet to have a lightbulb moment in which I am able to rationalize his appeal. In spite of my hatred of Spencer Tracy's triple nominations, I still liked him enough in Libeled Lady (and I hear he's great in Fury) to believe that beneath the crappy nominations and wins lies a true-to-heart actor. I may have been indifferent towards Paul Muni, but at least he had a chameleonic schtick he was working with. Clark Gable, probably the closest contemporary I can think of to Cooper in terms of their man! images, had a palpably engaging charm about him. But what of Cooper? What exactly does he bring to the table? I don't know if I can say that he was born to act, and it's not as though he has much versatility. And I don't find Cooper very compelling either...he's kind of just always there--this rather aloof presence, an embodiment of qualities that a 1940's public would embrace...handsome, tall, masculine, Republican, Caucasian. Read his profile on IMDB and he's summed up quite perfectly: "This tall, silent hero was the American ideal for many people of his generation" So it's no surprise that this living, breathing "American ideal" would win an Academy Award for playing a religious WWI war veteran in a time when WWII was unfolding.

November 26, 2014

Orson Welles, Citizen Kane


After having the life sucked out of me while watching How Green Was My Valley, I had an overwhelming urge to follow it up with Citizen Kane, if only so that I could rinse my moviegoing palate with some much-needed invigoration. I was happy to find that Citizen Kane held up just as amazingly as it did when I first watched it years ago. The film itself offers storytelling and execution that is so much more daring and imaginative than anything else I've seen from this time period. Today Citizen Kane still registers as rather quirky and a bit offbeat--it likely hadn't any realistic chance at winning Best Picture, even if you take away all the controversy and politics that shrouded the film upon release. Still, it goes without saying that wunderkind Orson Welles--having producer, director, co-writer, and acting responsibilities--achieves an extraordinary feat with his debut picture. But does Welles' starring turn as Charles Foster Kane match up with the overall greatness of the film?

November 15, 2014

1941 - 14th Academy Awards

 photo 1941.jpg

and the nominees were:
Gary Cooper, Sergeant York
Cary Grant, Penny Serenade
Walter Huston, The Devil and Daniel Webster
Robert Montgomery, Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
Bette Davis, The Little Foxes
Olivia de Havilland, Hold Back the Dawn
Joan Fontaine, Suspicion
Greer Garson, Blossoms in the Dust
Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire

And here we go!! 1940 was one of my most anticipated years, and 1941 is one of several "meh" years from this decade that I'm not particularly excited about. I've already watched Citizen Kane a long time ago, so there's not a whole lot from this year's slate to look forward to. Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm will mean that some films/performances will surprise me. Please share with me any of your favorites from '41, as well as who you think I'll like and dislike :)

November 14, 2014

Predictions: 87th Academy Awards

I can hardly believe that it's that time of year again...time flies by quick! There are officially 100 days left until the 87th Academy Awards, and once again I put it upon myself to throw out my yearly predictions. I used to do this a few years ago but stopped for some odd reason, so here goes!

October 31, 2014

Joan Fontaine, Rebecca


Inside Oscar points out that Joan Fontaine was selected for the plum role of the second Mrs. de Winter because of her "vulnerability", and quotes a columnist as saying that if Fontaine "did not have an inferiority complex she would not be starring in Rebecca". Look up Fontaine's name and you'll find a ton of hoopla over her legendary feud with sister Olivia de Havilland--you'll read about how de Havilland allegedly bullied Fontaine when they were little (example: throwing her down and fracturing her collarbone), how Joan got Olivia's hand-me-downs, how their mother favored Olivia, how Joan wasn't allowed to use the family name for her movie career because her sister had already claimed it--and it's one of those situations where it's vividly clear that an actor's prior real-life experiences had direct influence on their work. Never before have I seen an inferiority complex used as such an asset.

October 30, 2014

Laurence Olivier, Rebecca


For a second year in a row Laurence Olivier got a Best Actor nomination for playing a brooding crank. I had heard rumblings here and there on the internet about how he delivers an impressive performance, and so I was curious to see what he had to offer here outside of what I had already seen in Wuthering Heights, especially since Rebecca seemed like it'd be a picture that more favors its female characters.

October 25, 2014

Bette Davis, The Letter


Watching Bette Davis strut out onto her veranda, gun in hand, shooting viciously at a man who has scorned her love, her face stone-cold with loathing and eaten by the dark of the night...what more could a person who obsesses over actress possibly ask for? After having watched the 1929 version of The Letter, my anticipation was high for this one, because of all the major Hollywood stars at the time, Davis' brand of explosive treachery made the most sense for a character as dangerous and cunning as Leslie Crosbie, one of the most exciting female characters I've seen from the pre-code era. So I turned on the film and watched, and waited for Davis to allow the spirit of Jeanne Eagels to live on through her.

October 24, 2014

Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story

Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress

I first watched The Philadelphia Story a few years ago for a college film course, and at the time I hadn’t seen many screwball comedies nor was I very familiar with Katharine Hepburn’s work. Once the film was over I had no idea what to make of her performance. It was so…Katharine Hepburn-like. It was such a marriage of the qualities we typically associate with Kate—sophistication, wealth, haughtiness…not to mention the heavy Mid-Atlantic accent that is so rigorously unique and hers, that which reverberates so vividly in this film. I thought her to be very unusual; compared to her contemporaries, it’s obvious that she’s a much more idiosyncratic presence onscreen, and it just felt to me as if I was watching her be herself for an hour-and-a-half. I liked it, but I was a little underwhelmed; I expected more from a performance that is so revered and so heavily considered as one of Kate's greatest. Flash-forward to present day; I am older and (as I'd like to think) a bit more refined in my taste, and this time around while watching Kate, I saw the performance in a much different light.

October 20, 2014

James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story

Won - Academy Award - Best Actor

Sometimes actors put out several top-notch, heavily acclaimed performances and will consistently lose the Oscar until finally, one year, everything falls into place and they achieve their moment of golden glory for a performance that doesn't hold up to the excellence of their prior work. Or sometimes actors get recognized for one amazing performance, lose the Oscar for that year, and are handed one the next year. The latter is the story of James Stewart, who, after earning much praise from critics and yours truly for his fine work in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and who would go on to have a storied career filled with many other iconic performances, somehow managed to nab his only Best Actor Oscar for...The Philadelphia Story, a film that doesn't revolve around his character, a film that's much more strongly associated with his female costar, and a film in which there's arguably no male lead. It's kind of screwy how our beloved Academy Awards go about their business.

October 19, 2014

Martha Scott, Our Town


If movies are influenced by the time in which they are made, then I'd say that Our Town is a perfect example of the Production Code era. Because in what other time period could a somewhat strange and somewhat drab stage play about the lives of citizens in a tiny New Hampshire town in 1901 possibly have been a success at the box office? If Inside Oscar is to be believed, the race for Best Picture that year was actually between Rebecca, The Grapes of Wrath, and Our Town...further reinforcing the notion that good-clean fun was especially valued during that time. I point this out because I feel that Martha Scott's bid for the Best Actress statue that year is one of those instances where an actress got the nomination not necessarily because she was excellent, but because the film had done well and was held to a high enough regard that her name was pushed into the race. Scott's is not the kind of performance that has enough weight to hold its own in sheer merit; in fact, it's very much the kind of performance that slips through the cracks.

October 18, 2014

Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress

Ginger Rogers' Academy Award winning performance is one of those wins that you don't hear a whole lot about nowadays, not necessarily because it's bad per se but because the work and films of three of her competitors have held up much better in the 70+ years that have passed. Yet it's easy to see why the folks of 1940 took to Rogers so strongly at the timefor starters, it's an old-fashioned little picture which features the everyday working woman faced with issues of class (how modern!), yet it's also a melodrama that thrusts its heroine through a slew of tearjerking situations (how gutwrenching!), and if there's anything Oscar likes about his ladies, it's a de-glammed long-sufferer. But in spite of the film's out-of-date and confused attempt at purveying feminist modernity, Kitty Foyle is actually quite a charming little flick, made all the more watchable by Rogers' lovely presence.

October 17, 2014

Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator

Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor

For some odd reason I've never really taken to Charlie Chaplin's films as enthusiastically as all other cinephiles. Trust me when I say that I've certainly wanted to love! his films, and if anything, I've always thought them to be perfectly fine works of comedy, but I've always only ever liked The Circus and City Lights and Modern Times. The same thing applies to Chaplin's performances in these filmsit's hard for me to be duly enthusiastic about them when you feel as though you've seen it all before, because there's only so many Tramp-in-wacky-uncompromising-physically-comedic-scenarios one can take before the novelty wears off and an otherwise great piece of work is just plain "good", or the "usual". And so with that I went into The Great Dictator, Chaplin's last (or technically first and only, believe what you want) nominated performance, knowing very well that I was going to leave being pleased at best.

October 16, 2014

Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath


It is said that James Stewart claimed to have voted for Henry Fonda for Best Actor in 1940, and there seems to be a general consensus that Fonda was robbed a victory that year for his work in The Grapes of Wrath. These allegations of an Oscar misfire intrigued me, considering the fact that I don't ever really recall being all that interested in the character of Tom Joad while struggling to get through the novel back in sophomore high school English. In truth, I wasn't really all that interested in The Grapes of Wrath period, so I was quite tickled to find that director John Ford had managed to take a drab chore of a novel and turn it into a compelling and poignant picture. Fonda, in all his brooding, stoic glory, does a good job, but I was left more taken by the film than by him.

October 15, 2014

Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois


As with the third recipient of the Best Actor Academy Award, Raymond Massey too was an actor whose career-defining work came from playing a famed government leader. And in reference to Massey's performance as the legendary Abraham Lincoln, the New York Times exclaimed that "you will simply think of him as Lincoln, while you think of all the members of a notable troupe who have played their roles excellently." In my opinion, that's a rather futile proclamation, considering no onenot even New York Times reviewer Frank S. Nugentcould possibly know enough of what Lincoln was like to warrant the assertion of someone just being's not as if we have YouTube videos of Lincoln dating back to 1860. If anything, we can only make base judgments on all film Lincolns based on how closely the actors look like Abe, the rest being up in the air for our own imaginative figurings. But in any case, Massey certainly does look the part, and despite being in a stifling film he still turns in some solid work.

October 1, 2014

1940 - 13th Academy Awards

and the nominees were:
Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath
Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Laurence Olivier, Rebecca
James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story
Bette Davis, The Letter
Joan Fontaine, Rebecca
Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story
Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle
Martha Scott, Our Town

And here we are! Coming into this year I have only seen one of these films, which at the time I enjoyed quite a bit. As for my beloved Best Actress category, this is the first year so far where I am actively excited for all the ladies nominated. This also makes me sad at the same time knowing that I'll be kickstarting the 1940's with my most anticipated batch of ladies and then have no other year to look forward to for the rest of the decade. Overall it's a diverse bunch of films--we've got stage plays, comedies, a biopic, a drama based on a book I was forced to read in the 10th grade and hated with all my being, and two dark gothic/noir pics perfectly suited for the month of October. Feel free to share with me your favorites out of this group as well as some guesses as to whom I'll love and not love!

September 29, 2014

Now Entering: the Forties

Here we are: the 1940's! Admittedly this is not a decade that I'm excited about whatsoever. It'll probably be a bitter struggle for me to get through it all, and let me count the reasons why:

1. WORLD WAR II - the U.S. entering WWII in 1941 ensures us copious amounts of wartime films. Hell, WWII is a subject that still bleeds into the films of today pretty heartily and it's been some 70 years later, but what makes old Hollywood war films particularly annoying in my eyes is the unbridled patriotism that comes with them. These movies were made (often times with Government interest) with the intent to boost the country's morale, encourage war bond buying, and are pretty much propagandic in nature. I'm all for my country as much as the next person but the thought of sitting through hours and hours of land-of-the-free-proud-to-be-an-American fluff while a sappy score plays in the background makes me want to dry heave. (namely: Sergeant York, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Pride of the Yankees, Wilson, The Pied Piper, Since You Went Away, Sands of Iwo Jima, and The Hasty Heart, just to name a few)

2. RELIGION - with the Production Code being strictly enforced back in 1934, I consider the 1940's to be pretty much the prime time in which Hollywood happily adhered to the morals of the Code. The Hollywood studio system does start to crack by the end of the decade with the outcome of The United States vs. Paramount, but you don't really start to see people rebelling against the Production Code or testing the limits of the code with touchy material until the 1950's. It was wartime after all, so it's understandable if the movies of the forties would be all goody and clean and Godly...but I'm about as religious as Luise Rainer is Asian in real life, so I'm dreading all the God/Church/Father/Sister stuff that'll be thrown in my face throughout this decade. Looking through synopses of some of the films I find a singing priest taking over a parish from another priest, a priest and a nun trying to keep a school from being closed down, some chick claiming to see visions of the Virgin Mary, some chick fighting in a war claiming to hear voices from Heaven, two nuns trying to build a children's hospital, and a man's family trying to convince him to get baptized...all of this is indicative of how puritanical a time the forties were, and all of this makes me want to scream violently.

3. REPETITION - going through the shortlists of nominated actresses you can see that the forties were also the time in which the Academy nominated people in a robotically reflexive manner. I know it's customary for Oscar to play favorites regardless of the decade, but the 1940s was especially brutal in its favoritism...Leading the pack is Greer Garson with five consecutive Best Actress nominations (and a total of 6 in 7 years), with Bette Davis (3 consecutive nominations, 4 in 5 years in the 1940's, 6 in 7 years if you include her Jezebel and Dark Victory nods), Olivia de Havilland and Ingrid Bergman each picking up four nods and Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, and Jennifer Jones each picking up three...together that makes up almost 6 years worth of Best Actress slots. In fact, the decade as a whole only had 11 ladies total with single nominations--which is kind of ridiculous if you compare that to 2000-2009, where a total of 30 ladies got a single nomination. What's more, actors back then weren't known for their versatility, so it'll be frustrating to see the same faces and same types of acting over and over again. Don't be surprised if my tone is bitterly pointed by the time I get to Davis' Mr. Skeffington or Garson's The Valley of Decision.

4. SAFE AND BORING - What's even more frustrating is that many of the performances from the forties that we've come to associate with certain actors weren't even nominated by the Academy. Instead of Stanwyck's The Lady Eve, we get Ball of Fire. Instead of Bergman's Casablanca, Spellbound, or Notorious, we get For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Bells of St. Mary's, and Joan of Arc. Instead of Russell's His Girl Friday, we get Sister Kenny, My Sister Eileen, and Mourning Becomes Electra. Cary Grant, who by this point had been snubbed over and over again for his comedic work in The Awful Truth and Bringing Up Baby, gets his only two nominations for stiff dramas Penny Serenade and None But the Lonely Heart and not His Girl Friday or Arsenic and Old Lace. There's How Green is my damn Valley and Going My Way triumphing over Citizen Kane and Double Indemnity. There's Ida Lupino for The Hard Way, Tallulah Bankhead for Lifeboat, and Deborah Kerr for Black Narcissus, all winners of the Best Actress prize through the New York Film Critics Circle and all snubbed for the same old same old by the same folks. Practically no film noir pics are recognized whatsoever...where are all the great femme fatales?? It just seems to me as though the 1940's was the period in which the Academy hit a rut, opting for a bunch of uninspired junk over anything that might be viewed as daring or refreshing.

So I might have made it through the Dark Ages, but it looks like I've got 10 years of banality waiting for me up ahead. But there's still much to look forward toa number of great performances scattered through the decade that are worth the excitementRonald Colman in Random Harvest, Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter, John Garfield in Body and Soul, Montgomery Clift prefacing a new style of acting in The Search, Olivia de Havilland with The Heiress...just to name a few. So sit back, relax, and enjoy as I bitch and moan my way through this newalbeit frustratingdecade.

September 28, 2014

Oscargasm Honor/Dishonor Roll!

Before I bid adieu to the period in which I lovingly call Oscar's Dark Ages, I'd like to put out my first Oscargasm Honor/Dishonor Roll, in which I will be recognizing both good and bad highlights of 1927-1939. Performances I loved and hated, actors whom I loved and disliked, some math, and a slew of great performances that didn't get Oscar's attention (but still deserve a bit of recognition) lie ahead!

September 15, 2014

Cheers to 1927-1939!

Bette, Freddie, Lionel and Garbo drink in my honor!

I made my very first venture into the Oscar-blogging business in June of 2010, and I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I’d go from writing about Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt to Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca…in short: my blog was a mess, I was a mess, it was all just a big fat incoherent directionless mess. So one day I decided to get my shit together and figure things out once and for all.

I knew I didn’t want to choose certain years to cover because I’d likely pick the best ones first and then be stuck with a bunch of dud years after. I knew I didn’t want to leave it up to chance and draw years because I didn't like the thought of hoping for one year and drawing one I didn’t want. So I figured the best and fairest way would be to do it all chronologically. Further logic to support this idea was that a) I hated silent movies/early talkies and wanted to get them out of the way first and b) most of the 1930’s films at the time were super tough to find…so I concluded that if I could stick it out and make it through Oscar's first twelve years then I could make it through anything! </cheese>

So yeah, it initially sucked and I hated it. But somewhere along the way I actually grew to love reviewing these performances in the yearly order in which they were nominated. I liked being exposed to lesser-known supporting performers like Lewis Stone, Mischa Auer, Una Merkel, etc., who'd pop up frequently (twas the Studio System after all) and I found myself growing attached to all familiar faces in a way. You also get to see the gradual progress of actors as the years go watch them hone their craft and develop from picture to picture and year to year. It's sort of like you're experiencing the movies and the timelines of these artists in real time. I've grown quite fond of this period and it's a little bittersweet to say goodbye. 

But at the same time I’m so excited to be over and done with this era of Oscar history. And I'm still standing! All the struggling to secure films and all those hours of godawful early talkies are now just unfortunate memories. Four years, three blogs, and four blog titles later, I've finally made it through the dark ages (1927-1939)!

I have much gratitude for those who've helped meeither intentionally or inadvertentlyalong the way: Alex of Alex in Movieland for White Banners, GM for The Patent Leather Kid and The Green Goddess, and Calum Reed for his YouTube channel which single-handedly helped me to get past the third (and damnedest) year of the Academy Awards, ...Thank you! And thank you to anyone who reads and contributes on this little blog of mine. It definitely eases the journey knowing there are others out there who will read your ramblings.

UP NEXT: Reflecting back on Oscar's dark age.

September 8, 2014

Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress | New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress

As the story goes, in 1939 a little known actress came along to the states from across the pond and surprised everyone when she snatched up what author Helen Taylor called "the longest, most prestigious female role in Hollywood's most ambitious, epic film." This during a studio era in which the "star system was most fully developed and films were financed, promoted, and celebrated on individual star names..." The rest is simply glorious cinematic history.

September 6, 2014

Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind


There's a moment in Babes in Arms where Mickey Rooney, trying to put on a show, attempts to coach a peer into playing "...a Clark Gable type, very modern and polished and full of suaveness," and when said peer doesn't do a very good job, Rooney instructs him to be more "virile". It's an on-point description. Gable is the type of star who effortlessly oozes a rugged yet clean and sexy suaveness. It's ironic then that Rooney would face Gable in 1939's Oscar race, with Gable personifying these adjectives to full effect in his legendary turn as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. There is a part of me that feels that this performance is more legendary not due to quality acting but due to the iconography associated with Rhett's image and Gone with the Wind as a whole. However, I can't deny that Gable owns the part and does the absolute best he possibly can with it.

August 28, 2014

Greta Garbo, Ninotchka


After years and years of suffering miserably yet fabulously in talkies, Greta Garbo decided to end the decade with a little bit of laughter. I’ve had an interesting viewing relationship with Garbo throughout the course of the 1930’s—more often than not I haven’t cared much for her performances, which I tend to find as being too distant and too focused on alluring our gaze through her beauty as opposed to her acting ability. And still, I’ve sat through her many performances regardless of my feelings about her, either because she was nominated (Anna Christie, Romance, Camille), because of a different category’s nomination (Conquest, Grand Hotel) or because of my personal inquiry (Queen Christina, Anna Karenina), each delivering the same model: “I am beautiful, I am also deeply in love with (insert name of actor here) but (insert circumstances here) is keeping us from being happy together. I am depressed because of said circumstances. Depending on the film, I may be depressed enough that I might just die.” So it’s rather interesting (and great) that she got her final nomination for a performance completely unlike any of her others. 

August 24, 2014

James Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor
Immersing myself in 1930’s films has led to my bitching quite a bit about pictures that are too cheesy, too hokey, and/or too sentimental. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one such film—and it’s really surprising that the same man who made a fan out of me with the effortlessly entertaining Lady for a Day and It Happened One Night would end the decade with a string of underwhelming flicks. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington tackles two subjects that I really don’t care for—the first being overwrought patriotism and the second being children (AGAIN with the little boys! Why were 1930s audiences so enamored with little boys?! When in God’s name will this madness end?!) Usually there’s no saving these pictures that feature such contrived circumstances as a handful of boys influencing who is elected to the senate or a group of men hitting a bunch of boys with their car to stop them from delivering their children-printed newspaper—I simply sigh, roll my eyes, drown in the ridiculousness of it all, and hate my life—but thank the heavens for James Stewart, who manages to keep this film from collapsing under the heavy weight of its own absurdity, who is the heart and soul of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and who, with his earnest and almost palpable charisma, singlehandedly makes this film worth the watch. 

August 23, 2014

Bette Davis, Dark Victory


Inside Oscar states that "when Dark Victory opened early in the year, most of Hollywood conceded that the Best Actress Oscar was now spoken for..." But Judith Traherne is a remarkably juicy role, the kind that could garner notices when played by much lesser actresses--the drama associated with finding out that you've got an incurable brain tumor pretty much ensures that. The New York Times in 1939 concurred, saying that "admittedly it is a great role--rangy, full-bodied, designed for a virtuosa, almost sure to invite the faint damning of "tour de force"..." before mentioning that "that must not detract from the eloquence, the tenderness, the heartbreaking sincerity with which [Bette Davis] has played it. We do not belittle an actress to remark upon her great opportunity; what matters is that she has made the utmost of it." I've read a lot of praise for Bette here, so much so that it made me feel very strange when I ended up not liking it as much as I felt I ought to have.

August 21, 2014

Laurence Olivier, Wuthering Heights


Naturally, I had to follow up my post on a soon-to-be Academy darling with an even bigger soon-to-be Academy darling. 1939 marked Laurence Olivier’s official star-is-born moment after having had two previously botched attempts at fame in Hollywood. With his (faux?) tan, chiseled jawline and a cleft that looks as though it could swallow you whole with the right camera angle, Olivier was first a heartthrob before becoming the respected thespian known the world over. It is said that Olivier wasn’t above being full of himself when it came to acting and comparing himself to his contemporaries, and he hadn’t much respect for fellow co-star Merle Oberon, whom he called a “silly little amateur”. Now with an ego like that and the fact that he is the Sir Laurence Olivier--the second most nominated male actor in Academy history and the man tied for the most Best Actor nominations--needless to say I came into Wuthering Heights expecting to be astonished by a display of top notch acting.

August 14, 2014

Greer Garson, Goodbye, Mr. Chips


Before Greer Garson went on to dominate much of the 1940’s with 5 consecutive Oscar nominations, she popped up on the shortlist for Best Actress in 1939. Perhaps she got the nomination because voters were blinded by their love for Goodbye, Mr. Chips and didn't know any better. Perhaps she got the nomination due to studio politics and MGM wanting to prep her for star status. Perhaps it was a combination of the two factors. But the fact of the matter is, to say that her role in the film is leading anything is a load of flaming hot rubbish with a sprinkling of lies and deception on top. Her nomination is definitely one of the most flagrant examples of category fraud I’ve seen from the 1930’s, and it’s essentially the female equivalent to Spencer Tracy’s San Francisco nomination. But unlike Tracy, Garson is better. And despite the size of her role, there’s much to like here. 

August 12, 2014

Robert Donat, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Won: Academy Award - Best Actor

Every few years or so a performance like that of Robert Donat's in Goodbye, Mr. Chips comes along and like clockwork, people can't help but pay attention. Nicole Kidman in The Hours, Charlize Theron in Monster, Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club are just a few recent-ish examples of acclaimed performances that nabbed Oscars and generated buzz in part because of the makeup and prosthetics. By 1939, a 12 year old Oscar had already shown signs of fascination with the transformation--and it's a word that you'd be hard pressed not to use when talking about performances where makeup plays a huge role in delivering a certain character. Say what you will about Warner Baxter's Portuguese bandit, Fredric March's monstrous brute, Helen Hayes' grandmafication and Luise Rainer's Chinese peasant, but it's hard to deny the impact of makeup in shaping our perceptions of an actor's work. But does a makeup-heavy performance really equate to a great one? Transformation talk aside, how much does visual stimulus really translate to quality?

August 11, 2014

Irene Dunne, Love Affair


Love Affair is said to be Irene Dunne's favorite film. I found out this factoid after having watched it, and I'm rather perplexed as to why she liked it so much. Perhaps it's because the movie itself is sweet like a Hershey's kiss, but I personally found it to be a very ordinary and often times boring romantic drama. Love Affair is not nearly as memorable as The Awful Truth or even Cimarron for that matter (though the latter is memorable for all the wrong reasons). Many consider that it's not even the most memorable adaptation of its own story (re: An Affair to Remember). Performance wise, while there were parts of Dunne's performance to appreciate, I can't say that I was enthralled by her.

August 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms


With his hog-like facial features, crooked teeth, and short stature, there's precious little about Mickey Rooney that bears semblance to your traditional male movie star. But much in the spirit of Marie Dressler, Rooney too was the number one box-office attraction of his time. So while his popularity with audiences likely played a role in him earning his first Oscar nomination, that's not to say Rooney isn't deserving of it. I came into Babes in Arms anticipating a contrived musical...and was pleasantly surprised to have ended up liking both picture and Rooney a lot more than I had expected to. 

August 1, 2014

1939 - 12th Academy Awards

and the nominees were: 
Robert Donat, Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind
Laurence Olivier, Wuthering Heights
Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms
James Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Bette Davis, Dark Victory
Irene Dunne, Love Affair
Greta Garbo, Ninotchka
Greer Garson, Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind

After what has felt like an eternity I've finally made it to the end of the 1930s, to the last year of what I like to call Oscar's "dark ages" (1927-1939). It's a great way to go out with a bang, and such a great year--considered by many as one of the finest in movie history. On the acting front, perennial Oscar favorites Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and Irene Dunne would essentially get no love from the Academy after this year (save for one more nomination for Dunne in 1948), whereas this is also the year Oscar found brand new infatuations in Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. Coincidentally enough, the wonderful Alex of Alex in Movieland will also be covering 1939's Best Actress slate the same time as myself. It's not often I cover the same year as another blogger at the same time so I for one am pretty thrilled and am pondering if I should do something special...But be sure to check out our simultaneous thoughts because this may just be a one time thing!

Feel free to let me know which nominees are your faves and who you think will be my faves :D