January 30, 2014

Greta Garbo, Anna Karenina

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-26at14714AM.jpg
Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress
I have an issue with Greta Garbo, and I hope I'm not the only one who feels this way...But I don't get her. I want to like her, really I do, but after watching her in a handful of films, I've found myself consistently underwhelmed. It's gotten to a point where I sort of bemoan the thought of having to sit through another Garbo picture because they're all so homogenous and unexciting. Garbo won the very first Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle in 1935 for her work in Anna Karenina, and it is noted in Inside Oscar that her eventual Oscar snub proved to be a big surprise that year, with people jokingly surmising that she was ignored because AMPAs knew she wouldn't show up to the ceremony anyways. So I sat through Anna Karenina, hoping that maybe this would be the time Garbo would finally prove me wrong.

January 27, 2014

Katharine Hepburn, Alice Adams

 photo Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 3.19.19 PM.jpg
Whenever I think of "Katharine Hepburn", there are particular images of her that come to my mind. I don't know about you, but I think of the wealthy, hi-hat Kate that we see in The Philadelphia Story, playing golf on a large estate a la Cate Blanchett's depiction in The Aviator. I think of a tomboyish, feminist, pants-wearing Kate. I think of a senior Kate in the later stage of her career, she with the trembly voice and the I-don't-give-a-fuck spirit that we see in those interview clips of her on YouTube. So when I got around to watching Alice Adams, I was mystified; the Katharine Hepburn in this film isn't at all like the ones I envision in my head! Many of the Hepburn clich├ęs are gone (I say many because the infamous voice and the rea-lly's are still there, very unmistakably hers and no one else's) and Kate has more or less transformed into somebody else. And it's dazzling to see. 

January 25, 2014

Miriam Hopkins, Becky Sharp

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-24at12642AM.jpg
I first became acquainted with Miriam Hopkins while watching Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. I think I'll always remember the scene in which she lifts up her skirt and takes off her garters and stockings one-by-one, giggling playfully while doing so. With effortless ease, Hopkins makes her Ivy Pearson completely bawdy and repellent, yet calculatingly sexy at the same time. You're put off by her but you can't deny her sex appeal. On a tangent, Hopkins is also a rather hysterical actor, and she pierces your ears with shrieks so thunderous that you're pretty happy once Mr. Hyde strangles her to death. Four years later, Jekyll director Rouben Mamoulian would give Miriam Hopkins the title role in Becky Sharp, a woman who bears many similarities to Ivy. And Hopkins assuredly sinks her teeth into the iconic Thackeray heroine with the same deafening aplomb--she bites and chomps and chews and swallows for 82 consecutive minutes with tireless persistence. And good God is she persistent.

January 24, 2014

Claudette Colbert, Private Worlds

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-22at83530PM.jpg
The reigning Best Actress of Hollywood came back again in 1935, this time with a more serious and weighty picture. I had a raging suspicion prior to my viewing that I wouldn't like Private Worlds. I was right. Hollywood filmmaking was awfully cheesy during this time, and about to get cheesier now that the Production Code was now strictly in place. Thus, if a film of this era were to tackle a heavy social issue, you know that it'll end up a little ridiculous. And Private Worlds is just that--it's a sugar-coated and idealized treatment of mental illness which tries so hard to cram "the mentally ill--they're people too!" message down our throats early on, only to throw all of that out the window in the second half to instead focus on terribly written and forced melodramatic story lines. At the heart of this picture is Claudette Colbert, whom I can only assume managed to get this particular nomination because there was still residual heat left from her recent Oscar-win, and perhaps the industry was still overly besotted by her because of it (sound like anybody we know from this year?).

January 23, 2014

Elisabeth Bergner, Escape Me Never

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-17at91958PM.jpg
I find it very interesting that Elisabeth Bergner forever has a spot in Oscar history. From what I gathered through a handful of articles, she was a hugely popular star of the German theater in the 1920's, and must have spoken English for only a handful of years prior to the making of Escape Me Never. The film itself is a completely British production, and she also won a fan vote as the Best Performance of 1935 from a British newspaper that year, so one wonders how she managed to get an Oscar nomination, given that her picture had no Hollywood influence (a la Fox distributed pictures Berkeley Square and Cavalcade) and the fact that I've yet to come across any information of Escape Me Never making a huge splash stateside (a la Laughton in The Private Lives of Henry VIII). Try and look up the 1935 version of Escape Me Never on IMDB or Wikipedia right now and you'll find that there's just about zero information available regarding the film. It's a movie that has all but completely disappeared, kind of swept under a rug within the vast annals of film history. So surely its star must have been fantastic, no?

January 21, 2014

Merle Oberon, The Dark Angel

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-21at70026PM.jpg
The Production Code was instated to full effect on July 1, 1934--meaning that any film released after the date had to get its content approved by the PCA. It Happened One Night, The Thin Man, and Of Human Bondage, all films I enjoyed, each boasted its own tongue-in-cheek moments and were all released before the date. As it happens, The Barretts of Wimpole Street and One Night of Love, two morally stuffy films I didn't enjoy that much, were released after the date. The only anomaly I can't understand--The Affairs of Cellini, a film I quite enjoyed and which has some fun with polygamy--was released after the date, but the internet and I are equally stumped as to how it got approval (let's just settle with the "slipped past the censors" argument). I'm pointing this out because the Oscar-nominated films of 1935 are the first to all be influenced by the Production Code. With that, I've noticed that the female characters of 1936 are suddenly much less exciting then they used to be and the vehicles in which they're in are even worse, possibly the immediate result of filmmakers unsure of what to do with these new strict requirements. And perhaps no other character nominated in 1936 conveyed this newly ushered-in Production Code mentality more than The Dark Angel's Kitty Vane.

January 20, 2014

Bette Davis, Dangerous

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-20at30057AM.jpg
Won: Academy Award - Best Actress

After Bette Davis' controversial snub in 1934, after the Academy's conceding decision to allow write-in votes practically on her behalf, and after her subsequent loss to Claudette Colbert, it was only natural that Davis would land herself an Oscar when the next opportunity presented itself. Chances are that it didn't matter if she put out the best performance ever recorded on screen or if she put out a Coquette/Black Fury-caliber disaster; they had done her wrong and it was now time to make things right. Thus, with her victory, Davis became the very first example of an actor who was handed the prize to make up for a prior loss, and she was quite possibly the first actor to bear "overdue" voter mentality, that tiresome term that Oscar enthusiasts like you and myself are all too familiar with. And as we know, more often than not in these situations, make-up Oscars tend to be given to performances that leave a lot to be desired. This particular performance is just that.

January 16, 2014

A Post-Nominations Oscargasm

Oscar has spoken! There were quite a few surprises announced this morning, but I'm happy to say that I'm pretty pleased with the Academy's choices.


This was hands down the only nomination I cared about. Oscar has severely disappointed me three times in the last three years (in the form of Cotillard, Fassbender, and Gosling snubs) and I was worried that he'd do me wrong a fourth year in a row. If I didn't already mention it--my religion is Meryl Streep. And it has bothered me that there's been some backlash coming her way, from not only people on the internet but also top critics like A.O. Scott suggesting that her work as Violet Weston is too over-the top--as if her work in The Iron Lady and Julie & Julia was subtle. Over-the-top is what Violet Weston is. What other way does one play a drugged up matriarch with cancer of the mouth, a 15 year addiction to pills and years upon years of bitterness? I for one found her to be glorious in August: Osage County, and the thought of the Academy snubbing Streep for her strongest performance in years when they've blindly tossed nominations her way for less significant work was aggravating. That said, I must admit I was so nervous that I almost flatlined when they called out Amy Adams' name first, and when they miraculously called out Streep's name instead of Thompson's in that last spot I pretty much came back to life and flatlined again. Then they moved on to Best Actor and called out Christian Bale's name and I triple flatlined...but I digress. The takeaway: never underestimate the power of Mary Louise Streep. 18 nominations and counting! When will your fave?

January 15, 2014

Final Predictions: 2013

It's that time of year again! With a little over 24 hours left until the nominees for Oscar's 86th year is announced--it behooves me to throw out my final predictions. I haven't done this in two years but here goes! (Nominees are listed in the order in which I feel most confident will be nominated.)

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-14at115243PM.jpg

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street
Dallas Buyers Club
Blue Jasmine 
Saving Mr. Banks

January 14, 2014

Victor McLaglen, The Informer

 photo HALLOFFAME.jpg
Won: Academy Award - Best Actor

When Victor McLaglen makes facial expressions, all the lines and wrinkles on his mug are so vivid and harsh. There's a bit of wear and tear on that face of his, and it looks as if he's been through it all--and that may have just been true. Prior to his Hollywood career, he had worked in a circus, was a successful heavyweight boxer, and also fought for Britain in World War I. The latter two work experiences alone ensures that he's got just the right amount of machismo for the role of Gypo Nolan. But I couldn't help but wonder if McLaglen had to channel any wartime memories for his performance, as it's certainly one of the most distraught and vulnerable pieces of work from a male actor I've seen since I began plowing through the nominees of Oscar's earliest years.

January 13, 2014

Paul Muni, Black Fury

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-08at20540AM.jpg

Paul Muni ended up placing second in the Best Actor tallies in 1935, which was a surprise seeing as he, like Bette Davis the prior year, wasn't an official Oscar nominee. This naturally piqued my interest--surely this is notable work if, despite not being on the shortlist, the performance still managed to secure enough votes from the industry to upend the Mutiny boys and almost strike gold. As it turns out, Inside Oscar noted that because the Academy allowed write-in votes again that year, Warner Bros' head Jack Warner "sent out a memo to all the Academy members at his studio "suggesting" they write in votes for Warners' movies all the way down the ballot." This politicking ended up working quite well, as fellow non-nominee Hal Mohr ended up winning Best Cinematography for A Midsummer's Night Dream, Bette Davis ended up with the Best Actress statue for Dangerous, and snubbed director Michael Curtiz ended up placing third for Captain Blood. So was Muni's inclusion a result of these Academy members/Warner employees collectively selecting a performance because they were suggested to or was it justice for a truly deserving piece of work that had been wrongfully snubbed by AMPAS?

January 10, 2014

Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-02at14805AM.jpg
Take a look at all of Mutiny on the Bounty's posters and you will see Franchot Tone's name placed humbly below the large and vivid LAUGHTON and GABLE print. Take a look at the film's DVD and Blu-Ray covers, and even its old VHS tape covers, and Tone's face is never to be seen. It seems as though he has become the forgotten man out of the Oscar-nominated triumvirate, and if Mutiny on the Bounty were released today, Tone (and let's be honest...probably Charles Laughton as well) would almost certainly be campaigned for the Supporting Actor category. I've stumbled across a few sites that've mentioned that Tone's nomination is one of the reasons why AMPAs installed Supporting Actor and Actress categories the following year, and that couldn't be further from the truth--firstly because Inside Oscar cites that then-Academy president Frank Capra decided to install those supporting categories to nab interest from the many actors who had withdrawn from the Academy during that time due to guild disagreements, and secondly because Tone's role and performance is just as pivotal to the narrative than those of Laughton and Gable.

January 8, 2014

Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-01at111531PM.jpg
Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor
If there was anything I was looking forward to going into Mutiny on the Bounty, it was Charles Laughton. This is because I tend to thoroughly enjoy villainous characters--I just think that the depiction of evil is a complicated art and can be so fascinating on the screen when done right. Further, Laughton's performance as the vile Edward Barrett in The Barretts of Wimpole Street was, in my opinion, the best thing about that movie, so I was pretty curious to see what he would do with the real-life ship captain who was supposedly so terrible that he provoked his men to mutiny on more than one occasion. More fuel to the fire was the fact that Laughton was also the very first recipient of the Best Actor prize through the New York Film Critics Circle, which was just about the only precursor award to the Oscars in 1935 and would remain so until the Golden Globes came along nearly a decade later. I've mentioned in a prior post that there is a steady build-up leading to Bligh's onscreen reveal, and yet once we see him getting aboard the Bounty, director Frank Lloyd (annoyingly) films the entire sequence in long-shot--and just like that this allegedly larger-than-life, terrible man whom everyone is supposed to be so afraid of is cinematically framed to look like another tiny individual amongst a ship of many tiny individuals. A very anticlimactic entrance and very...unremarkable, if you will.

January 6, 2014

Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty

 photo ScreenShot2014-01-02at14839AM.jpg

The toughest thing about watching a film with multiple acting nominees is that I have terrible difficulty focusing wholly on one performance. I could be watching and absorbing in Actor 1, and once Actor 2 comes into the scene, my train of thought is totally derailed as I try to juggle my analysis of both actors simultaneously. So imagine my difficulty with Mutiny on the Bounty, the first and probably the last film ever to boast three lead actor nominees. Each man's character is different from the other, and each man tackles his role in a different manner to varying levels of success. The performance I had the most trouble in forming an opinion on was Clark Gable's, whom I really enjoyed when I first sat through Mutiny on the Bounty, but whom I also became really disenchanted with after the second run-through, and ever since I've been trying to figure out why.