Monday, January 24, 2011

1930/31 - Cimarron

After almost a month away, I am finally back in New York City... but not for long. This week, I head back to the other side of the country to perform in an improv show in Las Vegas! Yep, I'll be a bona fide Vegas performer, right there on the Strip. A rotating cast of Australian improvisers will perform in Aussie Improv Comedy Explosion at the V Theater in the Planet Hollywood Resort beginning on January 31. So, if you're planning on being near Sin City during February, come check it out.

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, the Oscar nominations will be announced. As always, I have made my predictions as to which films will be recognised - and just in time, too. For anyone out there who might be interested in this sort of thing, here are my guesses.

While we wait for the Academy's picks for 2010, here's a look at their Best Picture winner of 1930/31...


Cimarron
Director:
Wesley Ruggles
Screenplay:
Howard Estabrook
Starring:
Richard Dix, Irene Dunne, Estelle Taylor, Nance O'Neil, William Collier, Jr., Roscoe Ates, George E. Stone, Edna May Oliver
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
3 wins, including Best Picture

It seems that, even way back then, the Academy's penchant for epics was strong. Cimarron is a big-budget extravaganza spanning over four decades in the lives of Yancey Cravat (Dix) and his wife Sabra (Dunne). Yancey's aversion to staying in one place for too long leads him to forsake Wichita, Kansas and stake his claim in the newly opened land in Oklahoma. The couple and their two young children settle in the town of Osage, where Yancey begins a newspaper called the Oklahoma Wigwam. But his nomadic and restless nature soon sees him gallivanting off someplace else every few years, leaving Sabra to take care of the business and the family.

As is the case with many films of this early sound era, Cimarron often feels melodramatic, a drawback that is probably only augmented by its epic quality. While the Oklahoma land rush scene is indeed spectacularly staged, it finds itself a little light on substance. (Gratuitous action scenes are not unique to modern blockbusters.) The overly theatrical deaths don't help the film's cause either. And perhaps its just a case of Hollywood still learning the ropes of how to make pictures with sound, but there are more than a few awkward silences in between lines that could have been avoided had the editor cut to the next shot a little sooner.

The narrative is solid, though, covering the Cravats' tale at various intervals in their lives. However, as we near the end of the picture, the length of time that has passed between sequences gets longer and longer and begins to feel a bit rushed. Whereas the first few jumps are only a few years, the final act takes place over two decades after the previous one. And since the characters age so much from start to finish, there is a great deal of make-up required to make the actors look forty years older. Fortunately, it is very convincing work, impressive for the time period.

Oscar-nominated Richard Dix does an admirable job playing one of the most heroic characters ever written. Lawyer, pastor, pioneer and newspaper editor, Yancey inspires the masses, stands up to bullies and saves lives, all the while maintaining his impossibly great hair. He is well-liked and morally upstanding ... despite a slight case of 19th century misogyny and his habit of abandoning his family for years on end. The usually subtle and intelligent Irene Dunne (pictured), also Oscar-nominated, is a little over-the-top in this early role, but then again, so is most of the cast.

1 comment:

  1. Your write-up of Cimarron covers its strengths and weaknesses perfectly. I must admit my expectations were low before watching it. I was aware that it has been called the worst Best Picture choice by some critics, but I found it surprisingly engaging and forward thinking in its themes.

    It will be hard to find performances from that era that aren't overly theatrical and melodramatic, and both leads serve up a nice slice of ham. It also manages to tell its epic story in just over two hours, so it doesn't seem to drag. I'm guessing that this one will contend for Best Picture in light of the other nominees.

    On another note, it looks like the Oscar race is not as cut and dry as expected. I feel there are only three possible contenders for Best Picture based on the key nominations (Director, Editing and Screenplay) and they are The Social Network, The King's Speech and The Fighter. True Grit's lack of an Editing nomination may not seem that important, but historically you have to go back to Ordinary People to find the last Best Picture winner not to have an editing nomination. While I have a hard time picturing a voter saying "Won't vote for True Grit - no Editing Nomination," it seems more than just happenstance. With DGA, SAG Ensemble and BAFTA still to come, we may be able to eliminate one of the three. My predictions are Fincher for DGA, The King's Speech for SAG and BAFTA, but The Fighter has a shot at SAG.

    Got to see your compatriot Jackie Weaver in Animal Kingdom. Her strongest scenes come in the second half and I agree with her nomination. In fact I liked the movie itself. Some have labeled it pretentious, but I found its pacing and shot selection refreshingly different.

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