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.