Saturday, January 30, 2010

1964 - My Fair Lady

Okay, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. My predictions for the Best Actor and Best Actress categories, followed by the big one, Best Picture.

Up In The Air's George Clooney had the edge up until recently, but now it seems that the Best Actor Oscar will probably end up in the hands of Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart. I expect Colin Firth to also receive a nomination for his role in A Single Man, and Morgan Freeman should pick up a nod for portraying Nelson Mandela in Invictus. Barring any upsets, the fifth spot will most likely go to The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner.

Best Actress was almost wide open until a couple of weeks ago when Sandra Bullock seemed to take the edge for The Blind Side. The woman with the most acting nominations of all time, Meryl Streep, is looking fairly certain to add to her collection for Julie & Julia. Two newcomers should also pick up nominations, Gabourey Sidibe for Precious and Carey Mulligan for An Education, leaving one oldcomer to take the final slot, Helen Mirren for The Last Station.

Despite a fair amount of discontent with the Academy's decision to raise the number of Best Picture nominees to ten, I actually like the idea. For one thing, it certainly makes this predicting game a lot more interesting. If there were only five nominees, this year would be quite simple. Avatar, The Hurt Locker and Up In The Air (one of which will win), joined by Precious and Inglourious Basterds. Up will now have the chance to become the second animated film to be nominated for the top prize. The last four positions are a little vague, but let's go with Invictus, An Education, A Serious Man and District 9. As with most of the other categories, I have several alternatives, but I'll stand by these predictions for now.

In a rather exciting coincidence, I was notified this week of my success at being cast as Col. Pickering in My Fair Lady, one of two productions in which I will be performing at the Allenberry Playhouse for their summer season. How I'm going to keep up this project while I'm in Pennsylvania for two and a half months, I'm not sure. But that's another story. Last night, I completed the list of Best Picture nominees from 1964 by watching My Fair Lady with a slightly different perspective...

My Fair Lady
George Cukor
Alan Jay Lerner
(based on the stage musical by Lerner & Loewe, and the play "Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw)
Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Academy Awards:
12 nominations
8 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Harrison)

A classic film adapted from a classic stage musical adapted from a classic play, My Fair Lady is indeed a classic tale. Professor Henry Higgins (Harrison) is a pompous and elitist phonetics expert, able to pinpoint a speaker's geographical background based on their dialect. Disgusted by the way in which Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), a Cockney flower girl, butchers the English language, Higgins makes a bet with fellow linguist Colonel Pickering (Hyde-White) that he can transform her into a refined lady with an eloquent upper-class accent within six months.

My Fair Lady is jam packed with oodles of familiar songs to get your toes tapping - Wouldn't It Be Loverly?, The Rain in Spain, Get Me To The Church on Time - to name a few. And although these numbers are a lot less gratuitous than those from Mary Poppins, the story is still a little slow to progress, the whole film coming in at a tad under three hours. Most of the drag is near the beginning, giving way to a more entertaining latter half.

As with any musical, the contrived convention of characters bursting into song for no apparent reason is taken for granted, but there a few instances in My Fair Lady that seem to take that practice one step further. The opening of the Ascot scene is particularly surreal. And in more than one scene, the extras freeze mid-motion in unison, a pretension that probably looks fabulous on stage, but seemed somehow odd here.

Nonetheless, both cast and script combine to create some wonderfully witty moments. Rex Harrison, despite his renowned speaking style of singing, is charmingly cheeky as Higgins. Such a perfectly dry sense of comic timing. And the lyrics he gets to deliver are sublimely clever. Who thinks to rhyme 'Budapest' with 'ruder pest'? The exquisite Audrey Hepburn is quite simply a delight as Eliza, even if her singing voice is dubbed. She's so magnificently annoying before her transformation, eliciting from me an involuntary cringe each time she screeched, "I'm a good girl, I am!" And even though I know less than nothing about fashion, her gown at the Ascot (pictured) is absolutely stunning. And that hat! Later, in the ball scene, her hair seems to defy gravity. The hair and make-up and costume departments really went to town on Ms. Hepburn.


  1. To comment first on you Nominations predictions - all 20 exactly match mine. I'd say amazing, but there appear to be many other Oscar geeks that match us as well. The lead acting choices are particularly set this year. The only other name that crops up fairly regularly is Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria) in place of Helen Mirren. Last night I watched Bright Star, and must say Abbie Cornish was very good and quite deserving herself.

    As for the pictures, I guess there are three or four others that may creep into the 6 to ten slots. Sometimes, big performances carry over to picture nominations, so Crazy Heart and/or The Blind side could sneak in. Personally, I was hoping that expanding to ten titles would open the door to films that were often marginally excluded before. The animated UP is the most probable this year, but wouldn't it be interesting if a foreign film like The White Ribbon or Summer Hours, or perhaps a documentary such as Anvil gets in. I think last year's Man on Wire would have been a strong contender if released this year.

    I'll comment on My Fair Lady in another post.

  2. My Fair Lady was the only nominated film I did not see in 1964. In fact, I don't believe I ever watched it all in one sitting. So, I can thank Matt vs. The Academy for getting me to watch it on DVD. I have seen Pygmalion a number of times over the years.

    Just about everything in it can be considered classic, from the sets, costumes, score to the acting and direction. I'm sure Julie Andrews would have shined in the role, but Audrey Hepburn was stunning. She may have been a little old for the part, but you'd never tell it watching her youthful beauty on screen. I also could have done with a few less "Ow! I'm a good girl, I ams." As for the dubbing of Marnie Nixon, it was very well done. Certainly the looping was seamless - much better than Stanley Holloway's job he did on his own voice for "Get Me to the Church on Time." Cukor should have reminded him that he needed to mouth the words all the way through while dancing.

    I don't usually think of Rex Harrison when considering the great British thespians, but he was perfect for the part. I kept picturing the other's that were considered (Grant, O'Toole) and even thought about Olivier, Niven and Burton, but I don't think they would have topped Harrison.

    I'd have to say that with all the famous songs, it isn't anywhere near my favorite musical score. Nice as they are, I prefer the melodies of Richard Rodgers to Frederick Loewe. I wonder what Rodgers and Hammerstein would have turned out (they were offered the job first).

    So, now I can check off one of the few remaining Best Picture Winners I had never seen in its entirety.

    Have fun with Colonel Pickering, Matt. I understand there's a possibility of a film remake with Kiera Knightly. The IMDB boards are pushing for Michael Caine or Hugh Laurie for Higgins, but I think another Hugh - Hugh Jackman would be a good choice. So, knock 'em dead and maybe we'll see you up on the big screen, singing "Why Can't the English?" with one of the Hughs.