Wednesday, January 27, 2010

1964 - Mary Poppins

Don't forget to vote for which year you would like Matt vs. the Academy to look at next. The poll is on the right.

Meanwhile, less than a week to go before the Oscar nominations are announced. Clearly, I'm not going to have a chance to discuss every category, so let me speed up the process by opining about a few categories today.

Firstly, the Supporting Actress award. Here's another category with a clear frontrunner, and that is Mo'Nique for her powerful portrayal of a very troubled mother in Precious. Also expect citations for two ladies from Up In The Air, namely Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. The final two spots are a little trickier, but I'm pegging Julianne Moore to be recognised for A Single Man and fresh from her win in this category last year, Penelope Cruz should get a nomination for her role in Nine. I have about four or five other names that could take the place of either Moore or Cruz, but I'll hold my tongue for the moment.

Now, for the men. The leading contender in the Best Supporting Actor race is Christoph Waltz for his fine performance in Inglourious Basterds. After that, it's all a bit murky. My best guesses are Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones, along with Alfred Molina for An Education and Matt Damon and his South African accent for Invictus. For the final spot, I'll predict Woody Harrelson for The Messenger, but again, there are a handful of actors waiting in the wings to take that spot.

To finish off today's fortune-telling endeavour, let's take a look at Best Director. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I would have said that Kathryn Bigelow would become the first woman to ever win the trophy for The Hurt Locker. Now, I'm not so sure. She will certainly get nominated, though, making her only the fourth woman to have that honour. Her biggest competition, however, seems to be her ex-husband, James Cameron, for a little film called Avatar. Also expecting nominations are Jason Reitman for Up In The Air and Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds. The fifth slot could go to any number of directors but I think it will most likely be either Lee Daniels for Precious or Clint Eastwood for Invictus. I'll put my money on Eastwood.

Phew! In the meantime, today I watched another classic from the Best Picture contest of 1964...

Mary Poppins
Robert Stevenson
Bill Walsh & Don DaGradi
(based on the books by P.L. Travers)
Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns
Academy Awards:
13 nominations
5 wins, including Best Actress (Andrews)

Considering its immense popularity, including a current Broadway musical incarnation, it seems almost redundant to offer a synopsis for Mary Poppins. Still, the story is exceedingly simple, so it won't take long anyway. Perennially naughty children Jane and Michael Banks have gone through nanny after nanny, seemingly to get the attention of their workaholic father (Tomlinson). When a mysterious woman named Mary Poppins (Andrews) literally blows in, she takes on the job of sorting the little tykes out. With the aid of jack-of-all-trades Bert (Van Dyke), they take the kids on some magical adventures, while attempting to get Mr. Banks to reconnect with his children.

This beloved family film is certainly magical, bringing out the kid in all of us. Sequence after sequence, we are treated to visual and musical delights. The songs and adventures may not move the story forward in any meaningful way, but the gratuitous entertainment is just downright fun, especially the cleverly choreographed chimney sweep dance routine. Although the story takes place in early 20th century London, it's a magical world with talking umbrellas, Tardis-like carpet bags and merry-go-round horses that can fly on their own. In fact, there's a whole lot of flying by everybody in this picture. Mary flies with an umbrella, the kids fly up the chimney and everybody flies when they have a good belly laugh.

The Oscar-winning special effects must have been rather awe-inspiring in pre-Avatar times, particularly all the interaction with animated characters. It is quite a novelty to see Bert dance with penguin waiters (pictured), all of whom are in perfect time with him. And considering all that flying, I didn't see the strings once.

Dick Van Dyke is charming as the lovable chimney sweep despite his atrocious attempt at a Cockney dialect. And Julie Andrews transferred her success as a Broadway star to make her film debut, winning a Best Actress trophy to boot. She infuses Mary with heart and determination while also retaining the character's mystery. And Mary Poppins is definitely a mysterious character. With all that telekinesis and levitation, it would be easy to imagine the children being totally terrified of her (as this spoof demonstrates).

Of course, being a pleasant family film makes it almost impossible to compare it to some of its fellow Best Picture nominees. It's less like comparing apples and oranges than it is like comparing apples and spaceships. How on earth do you sit Mary Poppins and Becket side by side?

1 comment:

  1. "How on earth do you sit Mary Poppins and Becket side by side?" Let's see: You think, you wink, you do a double blink...nah, that won't work. Somehow, I can't see Becket and King Henry wenching with Mary Poppins.

    When Mary Poppins came out, Sal and I went on a double date to see it. When it was over, I remember both of us thinking how good Dick Van Dyke was (I guess we put up with his cockeyed Cockney). At that time, The Dick Van Dyke Show was the best sitcom on TV (I still feel it was one of the best written comedy shows ever), and Van Dyke was very popular. Julie Andrews was little known to us, despite her Broadway credentials. She was just great as Mary Poppins and with The Sound of Music seemed to take over Doris Day's virginal mantle. It's too bad that her other 1964 film The Americanization of Emily was overshadowed. Today, some critics prefer that performance.

    Mary Poppins is great family entertainment. While there are some scenes firmly made for the youngsters, like today's Pixar stories, it won't bore the adults. David Tomlinson's talking/singing, while not Rex Harrison, is quite good. The entire song score is tuneful and hummable. A well-deserved nominee for 1964.

    Matt, your Academy Award nomination predictions are spot on. I would probably put Christopher Plummer (The Last Station) in as a Supporting Actor nominee, especially since he has never received a nomination in his long career.