February 27, 2014

Spencer Tracy, San Francisco

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Sometimes AMPAs makes baffling choices, and one can't help but sit and ponder about what exactly was going on in the collective minds of these damn voters. Supporting Actor awards were introduced for the first time in 1936, allowing new opportunities to recognize more performances in the vein of Frank Morgan in The Affairs of Cellini and (as some feel) Franchot Tone in Mutiny on the Bounty. Yet in spite of this, the AMPAs voters decided to give nominations that year to Basil Rathbone in Romeo & Juliet and Maria Ouspenskaya in Dodsworth instead, both of whom gave performances amounting to about 5 minutes of screen time. It's as if the voters were confused about the concept of "supporting", so much so that they all just jotted down some cameos instead. To top things off, the same voters awarded a Best Actress performance that was 30-ish minutes in a three hour film and gave Spencer Tracy his first Best Actor nomination for a 15-ish minute performance in San Francisco. Oscar works in twisted ways.

February 26, 2014

Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild

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I've had some strange reactions to the performances of 1936 thus far. First, I ended up liking Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld as well as Norma Shearer in Romeo and Juliet a lot more than I was initially expecting to. Then, contrary to much of the internet, I ended up not liking Walter Huston in Dodsworth all that much. And then came along Theodora Goes Wild, a film I expected to like instantly based off of the fact that it's about a lady who under a pseudonym publishes a naughty book which pisses off the conservative folks in her small town. On top of that, our heroine transforms from a proper girl to a scandalous woman with a bad reputation, and that really ought to have just sealed the deal with me. But for some reason, I had a hard time sitting through the film. It bored me. And much like with Walter Huston, I wasn't sure what to make of Irene Dunne.

February 25, 2014

Walter Huston, Dodsworth

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Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor

Dodsworth is an interesting film. With a screenplay originating from the 1934 Broadway play, which itself was adapted from the Sinclair Lewis novel, the feature as a whole always felt more like that of a filmed play rather than a purely cinematic story. I have conflicted feelings towards the film--while my interested was generally piqued while watching Dodsworth, I was never fully engaged or consumed. Some of these conflicted feelings go towards star Walter Huston as well, who had previously originated the role of Dodsworth on stage. There's no trace of that stagey acting in his film adaptation--and while I liked Huston's work in the film, there was still something left to be desired here for me.

February 21, 2014

Norma Shearer, Romeo and Juliet

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At the age of 34, Norma Shearer was about twenty years too old to be playing Juliet in Shakespeare's classic tragedy. I've seen this factoid brought up quite a bit in articles regarding the 1936 Romeo & Juliet...but at the end of the day, does it really matter? After all, the earliest actors who played Juliet were men. Plus, this is a story that has a boy and a girl meet one evening, fall in love right on the spot, decide later that night that they are to be married, get married less than 24 hours after having first laid eyes on each other, and then die for each other by the end of the week. Needless to say, Romeo & Juliet is a play that teeters a bit onto the unrealistic. I had my doubts, but all that really mattered to me was whether or not Shearer could bring anything interesting to such a world-renown character.

February 11, 2014

Paul Muni, The Story of Louis Pasteur

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Won: Academy Award - Best Actor | Venice Film Festival - Best Actor
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, I guess. Oscar has always been fascinated by "important" pictures, even more so if it feels important and is about a real person. No other studio made better films of this niche back in the 1930's than Warner Bros., and it seems no other actor was good enough for these vehicles than Paul Muni. After having tackled real-life stories about chain gang injustice and coal miner unions, in 1936 Warner Bros. and Muni set off into the annals of history to tackle...microbiology. The Story of Louis Pasteur is about the man who discovered the cures for anthrax and rabies, so if you're expecting intrigue and excitement, look elsewhere. And while Muni's performance here wasn't as bad as his horrid turn in Black Fury, it's also really nothing to write home about.

February 9, 2014

Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld

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

There's a quote from William Powell on Luise Rainer that I believe is very fitting in terms of what she contributes to The Great Ziegfeld: "she is one of the most natural persons I have ever known...She is an extremely sensitive organism and has a great comprehension of human nature...Everything she does has been subjected to painstaking analysis. She thinks over every shade of emotion to make it ring true." I thought that The Great Ziegfeld was terribly manufactured, stuffed with characters and subplots and musical numbers that lacked integrity. However, I did feel that Rainer was the most organic offering in a film that otherwise feels annoyingly faux and refined. She's definitely the lesser of all The Great Ziegfeld's evils, and whether you love or hate her performance, I am firmly of the belief that she is the only reason to watch the film.

February 7, 2014

The Great Ziegfeld

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Florenz Ziegfeld certainly deserved a biopic. He lived a fabulous enough life, filled with the glitz and lavishness and drama necessary for a interesting film. But watching The Great Ziegfeld, it's blatantly obvious that the producers had no idea what they were trying to achieve here. Did they really, truly want to bring the legendary showman's life to the screen? Or were they more interested in a chance to make an extravagant spectacle?

February 1, 2014

1936 - 9th Academy Awards

Thus begins the next year:

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and the nominees were: 
Gary Cooper, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Walter Huston, Dodsworth
Paul Muni, The Story of Louis Pasteur
William Powell, My Man Godfrey
Spencer Tracy, San Francisco
Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild
Gladys George, Valiant is the Word for Carrie
Carole Lombard, My Man Godfrey
Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld
Norma Shearer, Romeo and Juliet

I'm not looking forward to about four of these films. Feel free to share your thoughts on those you've seen out of this bunch and which/who you'll think I'll like or hate :)