Wednesday, December 5, 2012

1942 - Yankee Doodle Dandy

As has become the norm lately, I've left the gap between posts grow so much that I now have too many things to talk about in my little preamble here. Especially considering that it's coming into awards season and there will be lots to talk about in the coming weeks. On that note, the first thing to mention is that Kat and I were lucky enough to be among the first audience to see the finished version of Les Miserables. Director Tom Hooper introduced the special screening, commenting (perhaps with hyperbole) that he had only completed the movie at 2 a.m. that morning. The film is quite simply amazing. With all the singing recorded live (rather than having actors pre-tape them, then lip-sync on set), the emotion of the incredibly dramatic songs is, at times, overpowering. This has Oscar written all over it. Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, particularly.

Two acting gigs to mention. First, I shot a guest role on an episode of Law & Order: SVU last week. I play Counselor Andy Guthrie, a court-appointed attorney who is up against the hard-as-nails DA for a suburban district, played by Jane Kaczmarek (of Malcolm in the Middle fame). So much fun. The episode is due to air on January 9th on NBC.

Second, Kat's and my theatre company's latest play, Speaking In Tongues, has just opened to rave reviews (from Backstage and Show Business Weekly, among others). If you're in the New York City area in the next two weeks, come and see us. We play until December 16th.

With a couple of days off from performances, I watched the next nominee from the Best Picture shortlist of 1942...


Yankee Doodle Dandy
Director:
Michael Curtiz
Screenplay:
Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph
Starring:
James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Richard Whorf, Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp, Jeanne Cagney
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
3 wins, including Best Actor (Cagney)

A traditional biopic of Broadway pioneer, George M. Cohan (James Cagney), Yankee Doodle Dandy literally tells the story of his life. From his birth on the fourth of July to his regional vaudeville act with his parents (Huston and DeCamp) and sister (Jeanne Cagney) to his professional partnership with Sam Harris (Whorf) and his romantic partnership with Mary (Leslie) to his conquering of Broadway, the story is book-ended by a trip to the White House to meet President Roosevelt, who presents Cohan with the Congressional Gold Medal.

As you would expect from a decades-spanning biopic, things move relatively fast. Add to that the numerous musical numbers (including recognizable hits "Give My Regards To Broadway" and "Over There") and there's not much time to spend on any one incident in Cohan's life. Consequently, his ascent to theatrical success seems to occur without much struggle. Most problems sort themselves out rather quickly, partly due to Cohan's easy-going spouse, who hardly bats an eyelid when Cohan allows another woman to sing "Mary Is a Grand Old Name", a song he wrote for her.

The biggest conflict that arises in the picture is Cohan's arrogance as a fledgling performer, demanding better deals and causing lost contracts for his family. If Cohan as an adult were depicted in this way, the film may have been edgier, but Cohan outgrows this behaviour early on and, despite holding on to his passionate drive to succeed, he remains rather pleasant. And "pleasant" is a good word to describe the picture as a whole. Since Cohan is mostly a nice guy, the drama never gets particularly heavy, so the result is a film that puts a smile on your face, which, considering it is a musical, is probably its intent.

James Cagney is infinitely appealing in this role and is an impressive song-and-dance man himself, a sentiment the Academy clearly agreed with since they presented him a Best Actor Oscar. And in a bout of nepotistic casting, Cagney's real-life sister, Jeanne, plays his on-screen sister, Josie. Yankee Doodle Dandy's witty script is also worthy of attention, represented by the following random example of its dialogue: while in Switzerland, Cohan tries yodelling, describing it as "Nothing but hog calling with frost on it."

Monday, November 5, 2012

1942 - The Talk of the Town

Another long delay between posts. Così has finished, and Australian Made Entertainment has already begun preparations for its next production, Speaking In Tongues. So busy have I been in the interim that it took a hurricane to shut down everything else I've been doing and free up enough time to watch another movie. Although, it's now taken another week to actually write about it.

Fortunately, Kat and I, and our houseguest Susie, who clearly chose a horrible time to visit New York, were all safe and sound in our apartment during the storm. Even more fortunately, we never lost power, unlike many others in neighbouring counties and states, who lost that and a whole lot more. We're feeling very lucky.

So, with the winds blowing and the DVD player still working, we watched the first of 1942's Best Picture nominees...


The Talk of the Town
Director:
George Stevens
Screenplay:
Irwin Shaw, Sidney Buchman, Dale Van Every, Sidney Harmon
Starring:
Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, Edgar Buchanan, Glenda Farrell, Charles Dingle, Emma Dunn, Rex Ingram
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
0 wins

Charged with arson and murder, innocent mill worker Leopold Dilg (Grant) escapes from police custody and convinces schoolteacher Nora Shelley (Arthur) to hide him out in her rental property. Inconveniently, Nora has rented the house to esteemed law professor and Supreme Court candidate Michael Lightcap (Colman) for the summer. Posing as the gardener, Dilg enjoys deep legal discussions with Lightcap and the two begin an unlikely friendship. With the help of Nora and his own lawyer, Dilg attempts to surreptitiously persuade Lightcap to get involved in the arson case, hoping his influence will help expose the truly guilty parties. Unsurprisingly, a love triangle develops, as both Dilg and Lightcap vie for Nora's affections.

The opening sequence of The Talk of the Town seems to set the film up as a noir thriller - a wrongly accused man escapes from police custody to clear his name and fight the oppressive corporate mastermind who tried to bring him down. The photography is dark and newspapers with big headlines twirl towards the camera every few seconds. Then almost immediately, farce and even some occasional slapstick well and truly take over, and the picture's screwball comedy nature reveals itself. However, the moral explorations still remain, particularly the question of whether it's ever morally right to disobey the law, and it is all mixed seamlessly together with the comedy to create a thoughtful and entertaining story.

The film received an impressive seven Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nod, but was unable to convert any of them into a win. Somewhat surprisingly, with so many nominations, none were for the actors, despite appealing performances from the three leads. Cary Grant is affable (as usual), even with such a passionate cause. The delectable Jean Arthur is adorably goofy as the girl trying to hold it all together. But Ronald Colman's nonchalant delivery steals the show, a truly elegant gentleman. And look out for a very young Lloyd Bridges playing a pushy reporter.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Best Picture of 1971

My good intentions of wrapping up this year of review quickly have clearly failed. Who would have thought producing a play would be so all-encompassing? Così, the play in which Kat and I are acting in and producing is now in its final week and I'm finally beginning to come up for air. We've had some great reviews and wonderful audiences, so if you're in New York City, get your tickets to the madness. We play until Sunday.

Now, at long last, let's review the latest contenders...

The nominees for Best Picture of 1971 are:
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • The French Connection
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Nicholas and Alexandra
All five are extremely entertaining films, fine examples of their respective genres, and interestingly, all five essentially end on downers. Perhaps the Academy was feeling depressed in 1971. Between getting kicked out of their hometown, failing to catch the bad guy and being executed, the protagonists in these films don't experience your typical Hollywood endings.

In no particular order, I will remove from competition Nicholas and Alexandra, an exquisitely presented and sumptuously designed period epic and The Last Picture Show, an engrossing slice-of-life coming-of-age drama. A tougher choice is the decision to eliminate Stanley Kubrick's dystopian masterpiece A Clockwork Orange, whose heavily stylized tone, while fascinating, keeps the audience at a distance.

Perhaps it's a guilty pleasure, but Fiddler on the Roof remains a very comfortable film for me, warm and inviting. Yet it will give way to the utterly gripping The French Connection. Despite its intensely unsatisfying ending, this cop thriller is so edge-of-your-seat brilliant that it could have ended with aliens inexplicably landing on earth destroying the entire planet and I still would have picked it as my favourite Best Picture nominee of 1971.

Best Picture of 1971
Academy's choice:

The French Connection

Matt's choice:

The French Connection


Your choice:



What is your favourite among this fine bunch of nominees? Have your say in the poll above. Next up (and be patient, it might be a while before I get to it) we move back to a golden era of Hollywood for a selection of classics.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1942 are:
  • The Invaders
  • Kings Row
  • The Magnificent Ambersons
  • Mrs. Miniver
  • The Pied Piper
  • The Pride of the Yankees
  • Random Harvest
  • The Talk of the Town
  • Wake Island
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy
Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

1971 - The Last Picture Show

Rehearsals are well under way for Cosi, the first production of Australian Made Entertainment, the theatre (and eventually, film) company that Kat and I recently formed. We begin performances on September 7 in New York City, only three and a half weeks away, so if you're going to be in the area, get your tickets now.

We now turn our attention to the final nominee from the Best Picture race of 1971...


The Last Picture Show
Director:
Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay:
Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich
(based on the novel by Larry McMurtry)
Starring:
Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Clu Gulager, Sam Bottoms, Sharon Taggart, Randy Quaid, Joe Heathcock
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
2 wins, for Best Supporting Actor (Johnson) and Best Supporting Actress (Leachman)

Contrary to my usual rule, my viewing of The Last Picture Show was of the director's cut, not of the original version that played in cinemas in 1971, which appears to be difficult to find. Nonetheless, with only seven minutes of additional footage, I think we can let it slide.

It's 1951 in a small town in Texas. Sonny Crawford (Bottoms) is a senior in high school and doesn't really have any plans, either for tomorrow or for the rest of his life. His best friend Duane (Bridges) is dating the spoiled Jacy (Shepherd), a strained relationship if ever there was one. After Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend Charlene (Taggart), who he never really cared about anyway, he begins an affair with his football coach's middle-aged wife Ruth (Leachman). Stumbling from one day to the next, Sonny impulsively takes a trip to Mexico with Duane, takes over the town's pool hall, begins a flirtation with Jacy, and generally comes of age.

Being set in the early 1950s, director Peter Bogdanovich cleverly replicates the style of film-making during that era. The film is shot in black-and-white and, during some of the darker scenes, the lighting often employs that stark contrast effect in which an actor in close-up moves in and out of a small sliver of bright light. The performances, too, are sometimes filled with a 1950s bravado and enthusiasm, typical of the acting style back then.

However, the most fascinating element is the incongruity that results from the pairing of this nostalgic style with the solemn and crude subject matter. During the actual time period, it seems unimaginable that such sexuality and bad language would have appeared on film, but twenty years later, without the shackles of censorship, The Last Picture Show is free to create a sobering look at life in a small town. Stylistically, though, it remains in the 1950s, creating a slight feeling of unease.

The story certainly doesn't rush. With its slice-of-life approach, the characters plod along, experiencing things unfolding without any main driving goal at the forefront of the plot. Which is not to say that nothing happens. The film is full of major events, and considering the plight of the younger characters, could easily be described as a coming-of-age story - kind of a cruder small-town version of American Graffiti. Sex is clearly a focus, particularly the awkwardness of first encounters, but in no way could it be said that any of the sex scenes in this picture are actually sexy. In one scene, for instance, our attention is directed toward the awkward noises of the squeaking bed as one participant attempts to hold back tears.

Timothy Bottoms (pictured) carries the film well with a very understated performance as a young man trying to make sense of his world. He is joined by several young stars in the making. Cybill Shepherd, in her film debut, is extremely effective as the manipulative girl with powerful eyelid-batting skills. Also on debut, Randy Quaid is delightfully awkward as the patient rich kid. Jeff Bridges deservedly scored his first Oscar nomination for his breakout role, but was beaten to the Best Supporting Actor trophy by his co-star Ben Johnson, who delivers a moving performance as the surrogate patriarch. The film also received two Supporting Actress nominations, the first for Ellen Burstyn's fantastic portrayal of a woman attempting in vain to prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes she made. Cloris Leachman clinched the Oscar, though, with an incredibly touching performance, capped off by a memorable outburst near the end of the film. And yes, that's Magnum P.I.'s right-hand man, Higgins (a.k.a John Hillerman) as the school teacher at the beginning.

For a bit of extra trivia appropriate to this blog, some of the characters in the film attend a screening of Father of the Bride, which is itself a Best Picture nominee.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

1971 - The French Connection

It's not often the timing works out that one of the nominees from a year I'm currently reviewing happens to be scheduled for a retrospective screening in New York City during that time. Such was the case with the next subject of review, which had a one-day only engagement at BAM Rose Cinemas, which, if memory serves, is a Matt vs. the Academy first. Of course, had I been speedier with my look at the rest of the nominees, I would have been entirely finished with the current year of review and missed the opportunity all together. In any case, it certainly was a thrill to see this picture up on the big screen. In fact, I worry that it may give this film an unfair advantage in my final verdict, since the experience of watching a movie in a darkened cinema is far more all-engrossing than watching on a smaller screen at home, susceptible to all sorts of distractions.

Advantage or not, here are my musings on this nominee from the 1971 Best Picture race...


The French Connection
Director:
William Friedkin
Screenplay:
Ernest Tidyman
(based on the book by Robin Moore)
Starring:
Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Frédéric de Pasquale, Bill Hickman
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
5 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Hackman)

Narcotics cop "Popeye" Doyle (Hackman) and his partner Russo (Scheider) become suspicious of small business owner Sal Boca (Lo Bianco) after they witness him entertaining mob men known for drug trafficking. Acting on a hunch, they trail Boca, following lead after lead, eventually uncovering a drug smuggling ring, headed by French crime boss Alain Charnier (Rey). Committed and determined, Doyle leads the charge to bust Charnier and his henchmen, at often dangerously high risk.

Gritty and realistic, The French Connection delivers an almost documentary-style story, complete with shaky, hand-held camera work and voyeuristic, fly-on-the-wall long shots. Everything is raw and unpolished from the performances to the design. Even the film print I saw was dirty. I realise, of course, that the Blu-ray is probably crystal clear, but the graininess of the film print actually seemed strangely appropriate for this picture, possibly even enhancing the viewing experience.

The details of the drug ring central to the plot may be complex but, at its heart, The French Connection employs a solidly simple cops-and-robbers story, or more accurately, cops-and-drug-traffickers. Most of the scenes consist of some variation of a cop following a criminal, whether it's tailing an alleged conspirator or an out-and-out chase scene, and consequently, the tension is extremely high throughout. Of particular note is the suspensefully amusing on-the-train, off-the-train sequence when Doyle unsuccessfully follows Charnier into the subway. And, of course, later comes the legendary chase scene which begins with Doyle flagging down a passing motorist and hijacking his car, a Hollywood cliche that is thankfully forgotten quickly as the chase gets under way. Then comes some of the most exhilarating few minutes ever committed to celluloid as we follow along in the backseat of the car as it careens underneath an elevated track attempting to keep up with the speeding train above. Listening to director William Friedkin and others talk about the making of this sequence, it's easy to understand why it feels so spectacularly authentic.

If there's one gripe I have about The French Connection, it would have to be the conclusion. I have talked about unsatisfying endings a fair amount in the past, but this picture's ending really takes the cake. It could even be said that it doesn't really have an ending. We spend almost the entire film watching Doyle and his colleagues chase the bad guys only to have a caption inform us that the main antagonist escaped and was never found. Not only that but in the final nail-biting scene, Doyle accidentally fatally shoots one of his own team, and the closing credits begin less than a minute later with barely an acknowledgement of the severity of such a turn of events, let alone a resolution. Luckily, the rest of the film is so profoundly engrossing. Plus, there's the fact that the story is loosely based on real events, so I suppose I should be more lenient.

As I mentioned, the performances are emotionally pure and candid with a distinct improvisational feel, adding to the documentary style of the picture. It is Gene Hackman's (pictured) film, however, and he is nothing short of sublime, well deserving of his Best Actor Oscar for this role. For the trivia buffs, Eddie Egan, the real cop on whom the character of Doyle is based, appears as the detectives' supervisor, Walt Simonson. Egan's real-life partner, Sonny Grosso, himself the basis for the Russo character, also appears in a minor role.

Monday, July 30, 2012

1971 - A Clockwork Orange

It's been a busy few weeks as Kat and I have been getting all the pieces together for the inaugural production of our theatre company, Australian Made Entertainment. In September, we will be presenting Cosi, a classic Aussie comedy about a bunch of mental patients who cobble together a performance of Mozart's opera, Cosi fan tutte. If you can't make it to New York in September, you could always check out the film version, which I believe is also available on Netflix. In any case, be sure to 'like' us on Facebook to keep up to date with our progress.

After a hectic week, I managed to squeeze in a viewing of another Best Picture nominee from 1971's contest...


A Clockwork Orange
Director:
Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay:
Stanley Kubrick
(based on the novel by Anthony Burgess)
Starring:
Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin, Godfrey Quigley, Anthony Sharp, Warren Clarke, Aubrey Morris, Michael Bates
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
0 wins

In an indeterminate futuristic time period, London has a serious crime problem with gangs of young thugs terrorising innocent citizens on a regular basis. One such gang of "droogs", led by Alex (McDowell), enjoys a night of "ultra-violence", first beating up a homeless man and then assaulting writer Frank Alexander (Magee) and raping his wife (Corri) in a home invasion. The next night, after Alex brutally rapes another woman (Karlin), his "droogs" turn on him, leaving him to be caught by the police. When the woman later dies, Alex is sentenced to prison for murder.

A couple of years later, Alex becomes a test subject for a new aversion therapy, a rapid conditioning technique intended to cure violent tendencies in criminals. While agreeing to the treatment gives him a get-out-of-jail-free card, he soon struggles with its often disturbing and inhumane effects.

Stanley Kubrick certainly knows how to give a film a distinctive style. Each of his films is unique in its presentation and A Clockwork Orange is perhaps his most stylised, in large part due to Anthony Burgess' source novel, which supplies the film's dialogue with some peculiar new English words. Burgess essentially created a new dialect that is best described as a Russian-influenced English. While it certainly lends the story an air of originality, it sometimes comes across as rather childish, as in the case of "eggiwegs".

Another standard of a Kubrick film is its sumptuous design and again, A Clockwork Orange is no exception. The retro-futuristic sets are beautifully fascinating, as are the strange costumes, particularly Alex's mother's weirdly inappropriate outfits. We are also treated to some inventive make-up as each of the central droogs displays an individual, asymmetric style. Even the music is somewhat stylised. While most of the score consists of classical music, it is juxtaposed with occasional moments of electronica, just in case we forgot we were in the future.

The one possible drawback of all this heavy style, however, is that it risks putting the audience at a bit of a distance. The very serious issues of the psychology of crime and the moral implications of brainwashing seem less accessible because of how abstractly they are presented. One such oddity is the "performance" to demonstrate Alex's reformation, as actors subject him to a sort of evil version of Punk'd. The artificiality also makes it easy to desensitise oneself to the violence in the film. I mean, how seriously can you take an assailant when he assaults his victims while dancing and crooning "Singin' in the Rain"? Or beats a lady with an oversized penis sculpture? Well, actually, those scenes are kind of creepy. In fact, despite the style, there are plenty of emotionally moving moments, so maybe the point is made.

While the character of Alex is unmistakably theatrical, Malcolm McDowell (pictured) at times shows clever restraint in his breakout role as the troubled youth. Other actors fail to avoid consistently theatrical performances, namely Patrick Magee, whose wild facial ticks are somewhat distracting. On the other hand, Michael Bates' pantomime portrayal of an enthusiastically gruff prison guard has its funny moments. Star Wars fans may appreciate seeing the man inside the Darth Vader suit, David Prowse, as Frank's placid attendant, Julian.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

1971 - Fiddler on the Roof

As New York suffers through its current heat wave, being inside a theatre is a pleasantly cool place to be. On July 4th, Kat and I, along with a few friends visiting from out of town, took in a show, and what better show for Independence Day than Gore Vidal's The Best Man. The play itself was a little long and static (they still found time for two intermissions) but the star-studded cast made it all worth it. At 81 and 86 respectively, James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury are as captivating as ever. And they share the stage with a veritable who's who of the sitcom universe - Will & Grace's Eric McCormack, Night Court's John Larroquette and Murphy Brown's Candice Bergen.

Meanwhile, in an air-conditioned apartment, I take a look at 1971's next contender for Best Picture...


Fiddler on the Roof
Director:
Norman Jewison
Screenplay:
Joseph Stein
(adapted from his book of the Broadway musical, which was based on stories by Sholem Aleichem)
Starring:
Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Paul Mann, Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, Neva Small, Paul Michael Glaser, Ray Lovelock
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
3 wins

In the small rural Russian town of Anatevka, a local Jewish milkman named Tevye (Topol) and his wife Golde (Crane) eke out a poor but relatively happy existence. One by one, their daughters begin to fall in love, causing Tevye not a small amount of angst, since his traditional views only allow for arranged marriages. His eldest daughter Tzeitel (Harris) wants to marry the poor tailor Motel (Frey) instead of the rich butcher Lazar Wolf (Mann) to whom Tevye has promised her. Tevye eventually relents, giving his permission, but when his second daughter Hodel (Marsh) doesn't even ask his permission to marry radical Perchik (Glaser), Tevye has more trouble accepting it. Finally, his third daughter Chava (Small) has chosen a non-Jewish man, Fyedka (Lovelock), for her partner and Tevye's limits are tested.

Watching Fiddler on the Roof immediately after fellow nominee Nicholas and Alexandra allowed for a fascinating comparison. While the two films are vastly different in genre and style, they both take place in early 20th century Russia during a revolution, albeit two separate revolutions. However, more fascinating is the fact that, despite their perspectives being on opposite sides - one from the Tsar's point of view, the other from a peasant's - the general theme of the story is strikingly similar. Both focus on a protagonist who struggles to hold on to tradition amid a changing world.

Regular readers may recognise my aversion to heavy religious content, yet I found Fiddler on the Roof pleasant and somehow comfortable, no doubt a result of my Jewish upbringing. Although, the affinity I have towards Jewish culture is definitely less to do with the religious elements and more so with the traditions, which, of course, this picture relishes. Plus, I have a strong familiarity with the soundtrack - probably more than any other musical - having grown up hearing those catchy tunes, so there is undoubtedly a nostalgic effect at work here, too. I don't mind admitting that I felt goose bumps as the music swelled for "Tradition".

Along with its outstanding music - which, incidentally, won prolific film composer John Williams his first Oscar, for Scoring Adaptation - the film also delivers some beautiful images, earning the Academy's Cinematography award as well. The sweeping Eastern European landscapes are featured heavily, but the campy dream sequence is particularly unique, looking like something from Rocky Horror.

For a stage musical, the song sequences are cleverly presented here on film, often making good use of the medium. Especially effective is Sunrise, Sunset, which is sung in voice over, the lyrics being treated as the inner thoughts of each of the characters. Similarly, Do You Love Me? proves the power of a well-written song coupled with clever direction. It is essentially a simple and genuine scene in which a man asks his wife if she loves him, only they both happen to be singing. Very touching.

Despite the many, many touching moments, including the penultimate scene, don't expect a traditional showstopping number to conclude this musical. The actual ending is a bit of a downer, truth be told, not just because of the plot, but because, after all the emotion and humour of the past three hours, it just sort of peters out.

It's hard to imagine anyone but Topol in this role. He is charming and passionate. I had the good fortune of seeing him on stage in this role in Sydney during his Australian tour a few years ago. His performance then was a little tired, which is perhaps forgivable since he had been playing the role for almost 40 years. However, in the film here, he is fresh and vibrant, garnering a Best Actor nomination from the Academy. Leonard Frey received the film's other acting nod for his effective portrayal of the timid tailor, Motel. And for the TV trivia buffs, yes, that's the original Starsky himself (Paul Michael Glaser) as the radical Perchik. Or if you're a Mad About You fan, you might recognise Burt Buchman (Louis Zorich) as the cowardly Constable.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

1971 - Nicholas and Alexandra

After several months of planning, my talented wife Kat and I have finally launched our theatre company. Australian Made Entertainment will concentrate on producing Australian plays in New York City (and, considering my love of film, we will inevitably branch into movie-making as well). We have a theatre booked for our first show later this year, so stay tuned for more details. This blog will undoubtedly feature more announcements on behalf of the company but, in the meantime, visit our website, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Kicking off our look at the Oscar nominees for the Best Picture of 1971 is...


Nicholas and Alexandra
Director:
Franklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay:
James Goldman
(based on the book by Robert K. Massie)
Starring:
Michael Jayston, Janet Suzman, Harry Andrews, Tom Baker, Michael Bryant, Maurice Denham, Jack Hawkins, Ian Holm, Curd Jürgens, John McEnery, Roderic Noble, Eric Porter, Michael Redgrave, Alan Webb, Irene Worth, Laurence Olivier
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
2 wins, for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design

Presenting the final years of the Russian monarchy, the story of Nicholas (Jayston), the Tsar of Russia, and his wife Alexandra (Suzman) begins with the birth of their only son, Alexei (played as an older child by Noble), who is quickly diagnosed with haemophilia. Nicholas is eager for his son to take the reins of the monarchy upon his death, but two main issues stand in his way. First, Alexei's condition will probably see him die before his father, a possibility made more likely as Alexei's daredevil behaviour turns somewhat suicidal. Second, Russia's volatile political situation means there may not be a monarchy for Alexei to take over anyway. Nicholas' stubbornness leads him to ignore his advisors' consistent warnings of an uprising, and he chooses instead to believe that his subjects want and need a traditional monarch to keep them satisfied.

As its two design Oscars attest, Nicholas and Alexandra is visually splendid, following in the footsteps of the many sweeping epics of the 1960s. And as with all good epics, its extravagance is carefully balanced with introspection. In fact, at its heart, this is a personal portrayal of a family man struggling to hold on to his dying dynasty.

The picture's tone is unmistakably British. Everything is presented with such weight and sombre importance, leading to a highly effective final scene that pushes the boundary of how many times you can cut between people's faces and still call it suspense. It turns out the answer is quite a few. And it's those stoic British faces that make the film so compelling. Almost everyone's performance, even down to the young Roderic Noble, contains heavy emotion, but it's all behind steely eyes. It's as if they were specifically directed to keep any movement of facial muscles to a bare minimum.

Not to mention the power of the British accent. Instead of the expected Russian accent, all of the Russian characters speak with a perfect British cadence. And, to be honest, if you accept that they're speaking English, it's not such a big leap to accept their accent. In any case, the suspension of disbelief required is well worth the effect.

As mentioned, the cast consists of a great number of actors who perform their roles with piercing gravity. Indeed, there is a veritable cornucopia of well-known British thespians appearing in smaller roles, including Michael Redgrave, Irene Worth, Jack Hawkins, Eric Porter and the great Laurence Olivier. Classic Doctor Who fans will get a kick out of seeing Tom Baker (pictured) in his film debut as Rasputin. You may not recognise his face behind that fluffy beard, but his commanding voice is a giveaway. A young Brian Cox also makes his film debut as Leon Trotsky. Ian Holm, in an early screen role, competes for the most stoic performance of the film. He is trumped, however, by the film's lead, Michael Jayston, who remains the king of stoicism. Jayston carries the film brilliantly, delivering an incredibly moving outburst of shame in one pivotal scene. At his side for most of the story is Janet Suzman as Alexandra, who likewise offers an outstanding performance, achieving the film's only acting nomination.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Best Picture of 1959

The last year of review took me about three and a half months. I've knocked off about a month this time around, so hopefully that's a sign that things will move at a swifter pace from here on in... But don't quote me on that.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1959 are:
  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • Ben-Hur
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • The Nun's Story
  • Room at the Top
Five nominees with vastly disparate subject matters, united by their intensity and thought-provoking themes. Despite this excess of gripping drama, it was the epic that presented itself as the clear front-runner, no doubt due to its legacy.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the other four films all offer conclusions that could in some sense be described as unsatisfying - not because of any error in the filmmaking, but rather that they're simply just downers of varying degrees. Each of the lead characters essentially fails to achieve what they really want, or if they do, they then realise it wasn't actually what they wanted. Don't get me wrong, though. The climaxes are inevitable given the stories. These four films needed to end the way they did, a large part as to why they are each so provocatively compelling.

It is ironic, then, that Ben-Hur's unsatisfying ending is indeed a story problem - a deus ex machina, to be precise. Nonetheless, the picture's epic nature somehow outweighs such flaws. While its intensity may not quite match the thoughtfulness of its fellow nominees, Ben-Hur is such a cinematic achievement in so many other ways that it's difficult not to call it my favourite Best Picture nominee of 1959.

Best Picture of 1959
Academy's choice:

Ben-Hur

Matt's choice:

Ben-Hur


Your choice:



Were you likewise swept away by Ben-Hur's glory, or did you find one of the other four nominees more worthy? Vote for your favourite in the poll above. It is time now to move forward a few years to the early 1970s to review yet another collection of modern classics.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1971 are:
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • The French Connection
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Nicholas and Alexandra
If you'd like to follow along with me, check out these titles at Amazon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

1959 - Anatomy of a Murder

On Sunday night, my short film, Clicked, had its screening in competition at the Hoboken International Film Festival, although technically, the cinema at which it screened was actually located in Hoboken-adjacent Jersey City. As could be expected late on a Sunday evening in Jersey City, the turnout was not spectacular, a circumstance accentuated by the large auditorium. Nevertheless, the few movie-goers in attendance seemed to enjoy themselves and, post screening, I was even able to speak to one such attendee, who was modestly complimentary of the film, so I'll take it.

A light rail and four trains later, Kat and I made it back to Astoria, stopping in for an early breakfast at our favorite local haunt, Sanford's. Nothing quite like an egg, bacon and cheese sandwich at two in the morning.

Now we turn to the final nominee from the race to the 1959 Best Picture Oscar...


Anatomy of a Murder
Director:
Otto Preminger
Screenplay:
Wendell Mayes
(based on the play by John D. Voelker)
Starring:
James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Orson Bean, Russ Brown, Murray Hamilton, Brooks West, Joseph N. Welch
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
0 wins

In a small town in Michigan, ex-district attorney Paul Biegler (Stewart) has been laying low for a while when Army wife Laura (Remick) requests his services as a defense lawyer for her husband Frederick Manion (Gazzara), who has been charged with the murder of local barkeeper Barney Quill. Manion admits the killing, thinking it might be able to be justified by the fact that Quill raped his wife, but after subtle direction from Biegler, the two settle on an insanity plea. In the courtroom, Biegler contends with the local D.A. (West) who has brought in the big guns in the form of respected prosecutor Claude Dancer (Scott).

With smart dialogue and an even smarter story, Anatomy of a Murder falls cleanly into the gripping legal drama category. Its central case is intriguingly complicated with many ups and downs, full of those clever and manipulative cross examinations that swing the pendulum back and forth between the defense and the prosecution. As one would expect, there's a lot of talking and very little action in the courtroom, yet the mood is never far from sultry thanks to Duke Ellington's inspired jazz score.

Despite the film's captivating charms, there is one relatively large sticking point that leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth. While it's easy to get behind the affable defense attorney (and, as played by James Stewart, could he be anything but affable?), the same does not apply to the defendant himself. Ben Gazzara's Manion is a little creepy, but the performance is not the problem. The main issue is that it's clear from the outset that Manion is guilty and that he's essentially inventing the insanity plea just to get off. It's never particularly convincing and, even with all the potent emotion surrounding his motive, the vengeful murder of his wife's rapist remains immoral.

Ultimately, the ending (yes, spoilers are imminent, so if you haven't yet seen the movie, skip this paragraph) confirms our initial suspicions. The jury finds in favour of the defendant, who doesn't even bother to pay his legal fees, leaving Biegler a sarcastic note instead. The implication, of course, is that Manion literally got away with murder. What makes it worse, however, is that Biegler's reaction is somehow inappropriately flippant. He just achieved an acquittal for a guilty man and merely shrugs it off. All that said, I suppose it's a testament to Preminger that the film remains so gripping despite such an unsatisfying conclusion.

Complementing Gazzara's effective portrayal of the devious Manion is Lee Remick as his alluring and enigmatic wife. Her sultry confidence in such unsettling circumstances is fascinating, making it consistently difficult to figure out how she's really feeling. George C. Scott shows his effortless power once again as the lawyer from the big city, earning his first Oscar nomination. Joining him as a Supporting Actor nominee is Arthur O'Connell, natural and amiable as the drunken comic relief. And then there's James Stewart (pictured), with his aforementioned affability, playing the determined and respectable lead, earning himself a Best Actor nod to boot.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

1959 - The Nun's Story

It's hard to believe that it's already tech week for The Taming of the Shrew and that we open in three days. If you're in the New York area in the next three weeks, be sure to pop along and say hi.

We now take a look at another Best Picture contender from 1959...


The Nun's Story
Director:
Fred Zinneman
Screenplay:
Robert Anderson
(based on the novel by Kathryn Hulme)
Starring:
Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Dean Jagger, Mildred Dunnock, Beatrice Straight
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
0 wins

The Nun's Story, as its title suggests, is the story of a nun. Gabrielle (Hepburn) is a stubborn young woman who, for some reason, chooses to enter a Belgian convent with hopes of serving as a nurse in the Congo. She endures the brutal identity-stripping training, struggling to keep up with what is expected of her, but thrives during science class as she learns all about tropical diseases. Despite topping the class, Sister Luke, as she is now known, fails to truly embrace a test of humility and is therefore deprived of her desire to be sent to the Congo. Instead, she is sent to assist at a mental hospital. Eventually, however, after proving herself, she is finally sent to the Congo where she is assigned to work alongside Dr. Fortunati (Finch). Her doubts continue to haunt her, though, especially as non-believer Fortunati challenges almost everything she has been taught.

It is perhaps unintentional, but there is a somewhat ominous feeling that pervades the first act of The Nun's Story. One by one, the rules of the convent are laid out and each one seems more cult-like than the last - give up all your possessions that elicit memories of your past, don't talk to the other nuns about anything but official business, make daily confessions about your unworthiness, rat out your fellow nuns when they commit even minor offences. It's like a sorority hazing. The most unsettling part is that it is considered strength to be able to obey all these rules.

The pace is relatively swift as Gabrielle makes her way through the various stages of becoming a nun, and moves from assignment to assignment. Then about halfway into the film, it settles down a little, made all the more watchable due to an affable performance by Peter Finch (pictured) who injects some life into an otherwise sombre picture. In fact, it all gets rather more fascinating at this point as Fortunati's presence affects Sister Luke in challenging and confusing ways.

If you're unfamiliar with this story, I recommend not watching the original trailer (or reading the following paragraph, for that matter). Assuming the viewer's familiarity with the source material, the trailer begins with the final scene from the movie, that of Gabrielle giving up her habit. After struggling for so long with the faith, the final straw seems to be the convent's order to remain neutral as World War II begins, something that Gabrielle finds excruciatingly difficult given her father was just killed by Nazis occupying Belgium. She admits that she's simply not cut out for the life of a nun, which seems to reaffirm that unsettling idea that one needs to be strong to give up one's past life and become a nun. However, as she literally hangs up her habit and walks out the door, there is a clear sense of Gabrielle achieving some semblance of freedom. To me, she proves her strength here by maintaining her identity and thinking for herself. It is a powerful and effective final moment.

The cast of The Nun's Story contains no less than five Oscar winners - Audrey Hepburn, of course, who won a few years earlier for Roman Holiday and was nominated again here; the excellent and natural Peter Finch, along with Beatrice Straight, who both won for Network; Peggy Ashcroft, a Supporting Actress winner for A Passage to India; and Dean Jagger, who had already won for Twelve O'Clock High. Also featured is perhaps the cutest blue-faced monkey I've ever seen.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

1959 - The Diary of Anne Frank

Last week, I began rehearsals for Titan Theatre Company's production of The Taming of the Shrew, opening at the end of this month. In an unexpectedly exciting twist, the first read through was held at the historic club known as The Players. Over 120 years old, the club was the brainchild of famed 19th century American actor Edwin Booth, whose bedroom still exists on the upper floors of the club, reportedly untouched since his death in 1893. Quite a step back in time, let me tell you. Along with its incredible roster of famous past members, The Players is also noted for being the location at which Actor's Equity was covertly formed.

We turn now to another of the Academy's picks from 1959 for Best Picture...


The Diary of Anne Frank
Director:
George Stevens
Screenplay:
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
(based on their play, which was based on "The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank)
Starring:
Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut, Shelley Winters, Richard Beymer, Gusti Huber, Lou Jacobi, Diane Baker, Douglas Spencer, Dodie Heath, Ed Wynn
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
3 wins, including Best Supporting Actress (Winters)

Based on the famous diary itself, The Diary of Anne Frank recounts the story of a young Jewish girl (Perkins) in Amsterdam who spends two years hiding from the Nazis in a small attic above a spice factory. Sharing the cramped quarters with her are her parents, Otto (Schildkraut) and Edith (Huber), and her sister Margot (Baker), along with Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Jacobi & Winters) and their teenage son Peter (Beymer). The claustrophobic living space causes many a strained relationship, compounded even further when they also take in Mr. Dussell (Wynn), a sullen old man who seems to get on everyone's nerves. Anne finds solace in her diary, reporting on the disagreements among her cohabitants, the near misses when Nazi officers search the building, and her budding relationship with Peter.

The Diary of Anne Frank is that rare example of a seemingly incompatible genre mash-up, the coming-of-age Holocaust movie. Interestingly, the focus on Anne's adolescent journey makes the story feel somehow less tragic than most films that tackle this subject matter. Not because it's not tragic, because it is, and I'll get to that later, but because there are several moments of sweetness and charm as Anne deals with her burgeoning romantic feelings, as well as the usual teenage angst and confusion.

In fact, the love story subplot is a clever misdirection, aiding in distracting us from the tragedy at hand, as it does for the parties involved. Mind you, it is a little disconcerting how maturely this romance is presented, complete with orchestral themes that seem more appropriate for a sweeping epic love story, full of passion and lust, rather than a teenage flirtation.

Adding to the misdirection is the story's unflinching use of humour, at times approaching downright silliness, provided mostly by Shelley Winters and Lou Jacobi. Not until Life Is Beautiful has humour been used to more effect in a Holocaust picture.

On the whole, however, The Diary of Anne Frank is undoubtedly tragic, despite its periodic moments of light-heartedness. The stakes are constantly as high as they could possibly be, several sequences piling on the tension. The scenes in which the hidden families remain utterly silent as an intruder pokes about downstairs are breath-holding indeed.

Millie Perkins (pictured) as the titular diarist is adorable, which assists in making the story more charming while simultaneously making it all the more tragic. Joseph Schildkraut (a previous Oscar winner for The Life of Emile Zola) brings the perfect blend of authority and compassion as the Frank patriarch. Serving as the comic relief for the majority of the picture are Shelley Winters, earning her first Oscar here for Best Supporting Actress, and Lou Jacobi, both very effective once you get past the oddity of a Dutch couple with New York accents. Ed Wynn was also nominated by the Academy for his curmudgeonly performance of Mr. Dussell.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

1959 - Room at the Top

There is one major pitfall of the infrequency with which I've been updating this blog as of late. Too many newsworthy events occur in between posts for me to devote the appropriate amount of space to informing you about each of them. So, here's a brief summary of my news for the past couple of weeks:

Fresh off the New York City premiere of my short film Clicked, of which I wrote about last time, the film has now been selected for the Hoboken International Film Festival, screening in the first week of June. On top of that, I'll be beginning rehearsals later this week for a local production of The Taming of the Shrew, in which I will play Grumio.

If I manage to decrease the delay between each post in the coming weeks, I'll give more details for those events, but in the meantime, the next Best Picture nominee from the 1959 Oscars is...


Room at the Top
Director:
Jack Clayton
Screenplay:
Neil Paterson
(based on the novel by John Braine)
Starring:
Simone Signoret, Laurence Harvey, Heather Sears, Donald Wolfit, Donald Houston, Hermione Baddeley
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
2 wins, for Best Actress (Signoret) & Best Adapted Screenplay

Post World War II, Joe Lampton (Harvey) leaves his small war-torn Yorkshire town for a slightly less small town and the security of a job with the local government. There, he quickly falls for Susan (Sears), the daughter of high-powered executive Mr. Brown (Wolfit), who is consequently far out of Joe's reach. That doesn't stop Joe, of course, who shamelessly pursues both Susan and the upper class life. When Brown thwarts Joe's attempts at courting his daughter by sending her away, Joe instead begins an affair with Alice (Signoret), a French amateur actress who is herself unhappy with her lot in life, particularly her husband.

Assuredly, Room at the Top was considered racy at the time of its release, particularly in comparison with American fare of the late 1950s. Yet, to the modern viewer, there is a strange paradox that occurs while watching it. By today's standards, the film is only mildly risque, so it's amusing to think of the fuss that was probably made over its British sauciness. However, knowing that it was released in 1959, it is slightly jarring to hear the word 'bitch' bandied about so nonchalantly, alongside some rather suggestive dialogue. Perhaps this is only a phenomenon felt by those, like me, who weren't yet alive in the 1950s, and have based their erroneously wholesome image of that era on the mostly profanity-free American pictures of the time.

In any case, the film is a thoughtful exploration of class issues, possessing an interesting grittiness while retaining enough humility to allow for clever conversations in which the characters hint at naughty things without being explicit. Metaphor goes a long way. My favourite line in the movie must, without a doubt, be when Susan asks if Joe likes the way she makes love. Feeling in an unkind mood, Joe replies, "It reminds me of a good set of mixed tennis."

Without spoiling too much of the film's conclusion (although the poster does a pretty good job of that on its own), I will compliment the effectiveness with which the story's message is conveyed. Essentially, it's the ultimate case of being careful what you wish for. Joe's ambition is intense but when he finally achieves his stated goal, there is great dissatisfaction - for him and for the audience. The final moments are awkward, driving home the point, unsatisfying yet inevitable.

Laurence Harvey's (pictured) is not a particularly likable performance, albeit mostly due to his character. Joe initially presents as creepy and somewhat sleazy. His immediate fascination for Susan, expressed with stony glares, appears borderline obsessive and, even though this disturbing aura soon gives way to vulnerability, he never really shakes off that awkwardness. The Academy saw fit to nominate Harvey for Best Actor, however, so what do I know?

Simone Signoret, on the other hand, is positively engaging. Her complex portrayal of the complex Alice is natural and nuanced, earning her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar. In a tiny but effective role, Hermione Baddeley delivers a memorably eccentric performance as Alice's protective friend, receiving the film's third acting nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Friday, April 13, 2012

1959 - Ben-Hur

On Monday night, my short film Clicked, which I wrote, directed and starred in, had its New York City premiere as part of the NewFilmmakers Spring Festival Series. A proud moment, indeed. It was quite a thrill to see it up there on the big screen along with a real audience that wasn't just the cast and crew. And there is nothing quite so satisfying to hear a room full of people laugh at something I wrote on a page four years ago. Yes, it took that long to finish the damn thing.

Somehow, it took longer to complete my short film than it did to complete what is perhaps the most well-known epic film of all time, the film to which all other epic films are compared and the first 1959 Best Picture Oscar nominee for us to discuss...


Ben-Hur
Director:
William Wyler
Screenplay:
Karl Tunberg
(based on the novel "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" by Lew Wallace)
Starring:
Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O'Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie, Frank Thring
Academy Awards:
12 nominations
11 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Heston)

Setting the standard for the historical epic, Ben-Hur centres on a wealthy Jew named Judah (Heston), living in first century Jerusalem. When his childhood pal Messala (Boyd) becomes a Roman tribune, their mutual love and respect quickly degrades due to their political disagreement. After an incident in which a tile on Judah's house breaks loose and injures the Governor during a parade, Messala wreaks his vengeance by sentencing Judah to be a galley slave and his mother and sister (Scott & O'Donnell) to what appears to be the dirtiest, dankest prison in all of the Roman Empire.

The rest of the story follows Judah's ups and downs as he survives his years in the galleys, including a deadly battle with pirates, gets adopted by a Roman Consul, becomes a champion chariot racer and ultimately searches for his family, all the while unaware that he is living in the midst of the messiah.

The phrase that springs to mind as being the most appropriate to describe this film is amusingly paradoxical if taken literally. But metaphorically at least, Ben-Hur is indeed "bigger than Ben-Hur". In fact, it's a testament to the picture's magnificence that it gave rise to that phrase, one that is no longer exclusively used in reference to big-budget movie-making, but is now simply attached to any phenomenon of great extravagance.

And Ben-Hur is certainly extravagant. Impressively colossal sets filled with a massive number of extras, it's hard to view the film without recognising it as spectacular. The special effects, though, are occasionally less than remarkable, but only judged by today's standards. The epic sea battle, for instance, is presented using obvious model boats, such was the norm before the age of CGI.

The now legendary chariot race sequence suffers no such fate, however, using real horses and real chariots in a purpose-built arena, creating an exciting realism. Reading of the enormous time and effort that went in to preparing and shooting this scene (almost a year of work by a thousand crew members, and several thousand more extras), it's no wonder this is considered one of cinema's greatest achievements.

But enough about the spectacle. What about the story? The most compelling element of the picture (perhaps even above all the bells and whistles) is the fascinating personal relationship between Judah and Messala. It's such a clear and concise narrative, both touching and powerful. In fact, this relationship is what keeps the viewer's interest throughout the incredibly long movie. (Even excluding the overture and intermission music, which are included on the DVD I viewed, the running time is still around three and a half hours.)

Unfortunately, once the Judah/Messala story is resolved, there is still about an hour left of the movie. Perhaps it's merely because I didn't identify with the religious elements of the plot (which are by no means minor) that I wished, to some extent, the film had finished earlier. I understand, of course, that, for Christian viewers, the final act is the most important part, but despite the coincidental timing of my viewing (Easter Sunday), I found the miraculous nature of the ending to be a little unsatisfying, irrespective of my belief about miracles. It's always far more satisfying when characters affect their own change, rather than passively receiving redemption.

Charlton Heston (pictured, with Stephen Boyd) conveys the perfect mix of authority and vulnerability as the title character, earning himself the Best Actor Oscar. Alongside him, Hugh Griffith is affable as a sheik with a gambling problem, winning the Best Supporting Actor award for himself. Not nominated but delivering worthy performances are Stephen Boyd as Judah's frenemy, Jack Hawkins as his adoptive father and the delightful Frank Thring as Pontius Pilate.

Out of 12 nominations, Ben-Hur picked up 11 awards on Oscar night, a record that has stood for over 50 years, albeit equaled twice. The only nomination it failed to convert to a win was for its screenplay, a possible result of a screen credit controversy. It also has the ominous distinction of having two posthumous Oscar winners, Sam Zimbalist for producing the Best Picture, and William A. Horning, one of the Best Art Direction recipients.

P.S. It seems somehow fitting that one of my longest reviews ever (if not, the longest) is for this film...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Best Picture of 2006

Here we are again, only a mere three and a half months since the last verdict... Sarcasm aside, I will obviously need to pick up the pace a bit. At this rate, it will take another 20 years to finish this project. Not ideal. Nonetheless, we're all having fun, right?

The nominees for Best Picture of 2006 are:
  • Babel
  • The Departed
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen
The five contenders for 2006 are quite an impressive bunch. All five are engaging and thought-provoking, and any of them could appropriately be named my favourite. But a five-way tie is not what this verdict is about, so...

Little Miss Sunshine is quirky and lovable, and while its climax is deeply moving, it doesn't quite match the consistent intensity of the other films. Call it the comedy curse, but such is the tendency of those who give out accolades, even insignificant ones like mine. I will remove The Queen from the running also, for similar reasons. It's not a comedy, obviously, but its simplicity, while enhancing the film's enjoyment, is overshadowed by more complex stories from the other nominees.

Babel, The Departed and Letters from Iwo Jima are all deeply absorbing and include many heart-stopping moments. Choosing a favourite from this trio is no easy task. So, through no failing of the other two, I will declare The Departed as my pick of the 2006 Best Picture competition, another match the Academy's decision.

Best Picture of 2006
Academy's choice:

The Departed

Matt's choice:

The Departed


Your choice:



Make your own selection by voting in the poll above. Next up, we move to the 1950s for yet another diverse selection of cinematic classics.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1959 are:
  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • Ben-Hur
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • The Nun's Story
  • Room at the Top
If you'd like to follow along with me, check out these titles at Amazon.