Monday, August 31, 2009

1992 - Howards End

As I draw the second round of Matt vs. the Academy to a close, I have to admit that I'm truly enjoying this project. And as The Carpenters once said, we've only just begun. As expected, these are all terrific movies, and despite the daunting number of films yet to go, I'm honestly looking forward to the months ahead.

And so, the final Best Picture contender of 1992 was...

Howards End
James Ivory
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
(based on the novel by E.M. Forster)
Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West, James Wilby, Prunella Scales
Academy Awards:
9 nominations
3 wins, including Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay

From Merchant Ivory, the production team whose name has become synonymous with the period drama, comes Howards End, a tale that concerns itself with the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, and their relationships with two other families, the well-off Wilcoxes and the not-so-well-off Basts. Margaret befriends the Wilcox matriarch, who scribbles a last-minute will, bequeathing her family home, the Howards End of the title, to her new best friend. The Wilcox family dismiss this will as the ramblings of a dying woman and throw it on the fire, neglecting to mention it to Margaret. Perhaps as a response to his guilt, the widower Wilcox offers to help the Schlegels find new housing after their lease is up, and, lo and behold, he ends up proposing to Margaret, who graciously accepts.

Meanwhile, Helen befriends Leonard Bast, a struggling clerk of a lower class than she, and takes him on as a sort of project, attempting to better his lot in life. Of course, she ends up offering him more of herself than she first intended ... if you catch my drift.

It's that kind of unspoken innuendo that permeates any good British period film, and Howards End is certainly no exception. The subtext in each word of dialogue could fill volumes. Nobody seems to speak their mind until it's too late. It's all about keeping up appearances, you see. To wit, Henry Wilcox's proposal to Margaret is almost like a business transaction.

It's interesting that I viewed this film, a fine example of a uniquely British genre, immediately after Unforgiven, a fine example of a uniquely American genre. Both contain intense depth to their conflicted characters. Consequently, both are rather moderately paced. Of course, one doesn't expect car chases and exploding buildings in these films, but you do have to concentrate.

As you would expect, the design in Howards End is exquisite, winning an Oscar for its Art Direction, plus a nomination for the Costume Design. Gazing on the lush scenery and wardrobe does indeed assist your imagination in transporting you to another era. In fact, when the film began, I felt a relaxing and pleasant feeling of comfort as I settled in to the story. That may have been the glass of wine I was drinking, but either way, it felt nice.

Another brilliant cast, as well. Emma Thompson won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as the talkative Margaret. And maybe if Anthony Hopkins hadn't won the previous year for playing Hannibal Lecter, he may have had a shot as the obdurate Henry Wilcox. And I can't forget to add my sprinkling of pop culture - Mrs. Fawlty herself, Prunella Scales, plays the Schlegel sisters' prissy Aunt.

So, that was the fifth and final nominee for 1992. Tomorrow shall come the verdict and it's another tough one ... Will there be any other kind?

1 comment:

  1. Back in 1992, Howard's End was easily my pick for best film of the year. Since then, Unforgiven has risen in appreciation with each viewing. Eastwood is like fine wine, as he ages he gets better. The Crying Game was and still is the most original story of the bunch. Stephen Rae was perhaps the most interesting character in film that year. Both Scent of a Woman and A Few Good Men are fine entertainment, but not really in overall contention from me. I will wait until our esteemed blogster makes his choice before revealing mine.

    I did get to watch Howard's End just two nights ago - the first time in quite a few years. I think it's the pinnacle of the many fine Merchant/Ivory collaborations. I'll take a moment to comment on the Supporting Actress race for 1992.

    Marisa Tomei shocked the Oscarfiles with her win for My Cousin Vinny. Some people to this day still think presenter Jack Palance mistakenly read the last name of the nominees (Davis, Plowright, Redgrave, Richardson, Tomei) as the winner. Not possible, but no matter. I actually think Tomei's classic comic performance was so different from the strong work of the British and Australian women who competed with her for the award, that the others spread the vote equally, allowing her to sneak in.

    To bring it back to Howard's End, Vanessa Redgrave was one of those other nominees. Although she was only in the film for the first 30 minutes or so, she was radiant. Her oftentimes breathless delivery, due to her character's illness was exquisitely performed. She was and remains my personal choice for the Supporting Actress award.