Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

I have to confess that this is the first Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movie I've seen. I never saw the appeal in movies where the focus was (or so I thought) on dancing. In actuality, this is a very clever and funny romantic comedy. The singing and dancing is used in light doses that add to the picture.

Astaire plays, not surprisingly, a dancer who meets a young divorcée (Rogers) while they are traveling in Europe. She wants nothing to do with him as he comes on a little too strong for her liking and she is still trying to get her husband to agree to a divorce.

And, since this is a romantic comedy, of course her lawyer is friends with Astaire and she ends up incorrectly thinking that Astaire is the man hired by the lawyer to make her husband jealous. Hilarity, and dancing, ensues. Good show! (And no need to mention that this title would work as a completely different type of comedy today).

103 to go...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In Old Arizona (1929)

IMDb credits In Old Arizona as being the first full talkie. The Jazz Singer came out a year earlier, but only has a few scenes of spoken dialogue and synchronized music numbers. We've definitely come a long way. The sound in In Old Arizona is almost laughably bad at parts. Dialogue is mumbled and faint. At one point a stagecoach goes speeding by on a rocky road without making a sound.

The plot is lifted from an O'Henry story and follows a bandit, the Cisco Kid, on the run from the soldier assigned to bring him in. Cisco's girl flirts with the soldier seemingly to distract him from his target. However, once the idea of a $5000 reward is flashed at her, she becomes uncertain about where her loyalty should lie.

The characterization is pretty good with the soldier torn between his girl back home and Cisco's girl coming on so strong. And the Cisco Kid is far from the cutthroat he seems as first. He's later seen as jolly and philosophical, like a homicidal Robin Hood, maybe. Most surprising were the movie's risqué moments with sexual innuendo and a man telling his to mule to "shut up, jackass."

Nothing special, but not a bad little film despite its technical flaws.

104 to go...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Early on watching Bing Crosby's priest Father O'Malley, I thought that it seemed a very similar choice for the actor who starred in Going My Way. I should have followed my own advice and done a little more research before viewing. The Bells of St. Mary's is a deliberate follow-up to 1944's best picture winning Going My Way with Crosby playing the same character.

Here Father O'Malley is the new headmaster at a Catholic school. He and Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) trade moral lessons with each other, using their students as evidence to support their points. One of the best moments is Sister Benedict teaching a young boy to box after feeling guilty that her advice to "turn the other cheek" got him pummeled. Father O'Malley coyly observes her behavior and playfully calls her on it.

I'm becoming more and more impressed with Ingrid Bergman after now seeing Casablanca, Gaslight, and Bells of St. Mary's. Three distinct characters and she disappears into each of them with only her beauty and subtle Swedish accent as the common thread between them.

This is a good film, but nothing that hasn't been seen before.

105 to go...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Twelve O'Clock High (1949)

"Where angels and generals fear to tread."

That's what is written on the side of a plane seen early on in Twelve O'Clock High. When General Savage (Gregory Peck) takes over a struggling air unit, he is far stricter than their previous commanding officer, but slowly earns the admiration of his men by joining them on several bombing raids over France and Germany.

Actual WWII combat footage was used for much of the air sequences, which definitely adds something when you see men ejecting or a plane explode to know that you're watching the real thing. The title refers to enemy planes approaching from above and straight ahead.

Overall, Twelve O'Clock High is a solid WWII movie, but far from spectacular. Peck is always good, but is hard to buy as a real hard ass. The movie was directed by Henry King, one of the founding members of the Motion Picture Academy who directed seven best picture nominees as well as dozens of films before that famous awards ceremony was initiated.

106 to go...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gaslight (1944)

Ingrid Bergman may be most famous as Ilsa in Casablanca, but her first of three lifetime Oscar wins came as Paula in George Cukor's Gaslight (she wasn't even nominated for Casablanca).

After fleeing London following the murder of her aunt, Paula returns ten years later with her new husband to the same house which she had inherited. Now back home, her husband is concerned her innocent forgetfulness is becoming a growing problem. As Paula begins more and more to doubt her own sanity, a young detective thinks it may be her husband who is up to something and attempts to reopen the investigation into the still unsolved murder of Paula's aunt.

Bergman is great as she portrays a woman driving herself insane with the possibility that she may already be insane. A teenage Angela Lansbury is fun to see as the cockney maid with loose morals and was herself Oscar nominated for her work here.

A solid mystery that despite casting suspicion early on the husband, does keep you guessing until the end.

107 to go...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Captain Blood (1935)

Captain Blood, directed by Casablanca helmsman Michael Curtiz, was the movie that made Errol Flynn a star. Peter Blood starts out as a doctor in 1685 England before lending medical aid to a member of the faction against the king lands him as a slave in Port Royal, Jamaica. He leads a group of fellow slaves to escape on the high seas. With no land to call home, the band turns to piracy to make a living with the charismatic Captain Blood at the helm. As they evade capture, Blood pines for the niece of the governor he left behind in Port Royal.

This was a very entertaining show complete with a climactic naval battle that is extremely impressive for 1935. Ultimately Captain Blood lost the Best Picture race to the even better sea adventure Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable. IMDb lists a 2011 Captain Blood as being in development so we may soon be seeing another rendition. It will have to be something special to match the spirit of the Errol Flynn version.

108 to go...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

What is a movie vegetable?

When discussing movies with friends, certain titles come up that I found very underwhelming but that I still feel obligated to recommend. Two examples that come immediately to mind are Gone with the Wind and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

To a modern viewer (well, at least to me), Gone with the Wind is downright melodramatic and cheesy. Of course Clark Gable is still the essence of cool with his lack of giving damns, but come on, "tomorrow is another day." That's Nicholas Sparks crap. Still, it's a movie that needs to be watched. When adjusting for inflation (which is only fair) it is still the top grossing movie of all time (sorry Avatar). It was an absolute phenomenon following the smash hit novel of the same name. It is an antebellum South classic strongly tied to American culture of the late 1930s when another great war was looming.

I feel is it vital to know when, where, and why movies were made before watching them. You need to have a basic understanding of the world the filmmakers were living in when they created it.

2001: A Space Odyssey is very slow paced with little plot and less dialogue. Many people today find it comically drawn out with mundane space operations set to dramatic classical music. I didn't dislike it, but I have a hard time supporting it. But, again, it needs to be watched. References to it still abound 40 years after its release (in Wall-E, for example). One has to also consider the state of sci-fi before this Kubrick-Clarke collaboration. It was mostly campy Flash Gordon action and alien invasion stuff. A Space Odyssey pushed the genre to existentialist extremes.

So there are certain movies that while you might not enjoy everything about them, they are still good for you and essential viewing for any self-proclaimed movie buff. Eat your vegetables.


Let me explain how this all started. Like countless people, I've long been an avid movie-watcher. Back in high school (early to mid-90s) I developed an interest in seeing those movies that one was "supposed" to see. I remember being enthralled (and confused) by Pulp Fiction at the theater. I caught The Shawshank Redemption on HBO and thought it was nearly perfect storytelling (an opinion I still hold).

In college I found some friends who introduced me to movies like Swingers and Beautiful Girls. I loved the idea of having favorite movies that the majority of your popcorn-munchers hadn't even heard of. I watched the final minutes of Chasing Amy with my mouth agape. I rose and staggered toward the TV drunk with awe when Keyser Soze's identity was revealed in The Usual Suspects. I drove my friends crazy poorly imitating Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys ("Get out of my chair!").

During this time, the Internet was becoming a rapidly improving resource to find movie titles that I needed to watch. Though online searching was still followed by a trip to the video store.

Interest in the Academy Awards soon followed. The first ceremony I took an active interest in and actually sat down to watch was in early 2000 when the 1999 crop, led by American Beauty, was on stage. The following year, I was passionately championing Almost Famous over Gladiator heading into the awards season. After they each won their respective best picture category at the Golden Globes I was indignant when Almost Famous failed to make the Oscar nominee cut (curse you, Chocolat).

So despite not always agreeing with the Academy's choices, my initial movie quest become to watch every winner for best picture. Through a combination of the fledgling Netflix and a local Hollywood Video that still had a healthy VHS selection, I completed this task in 2003 when I watched 1948's Hamlet with Laurence Olivier and I've stayed current since, trying to watch nominees and winners as soon as possible, preferably before they are even announced.

Trying to watch every nominee hadn't even been seriously considered at this time. It seemed overwhelming and, honestly, I knew from watching the winners that some of those old ones weren't that great by today's standards (though Casablanca and On the Waterfront are two very notable exceptions). So my next task was to tackle the IMDb top 250. This is a little trickier as it is a living list, always changing to some degree. Earlier this year, I had finally seen them all, but I'm a couple behind again waiting for new additions How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3 to come out on DVD.

So, this year, I officially declared my quixotic intent to track down and watch all 474 (and counting) best picture nominees.

Mission Statement

I'm the kind of guy who tends to agree with the critics when it comes to movies. If you just rolled your eyes, then this blog probably isn't for you. If, however, you also appreciate quality film making and realized long ago that the general population has horrible taste in movies, then I welcome you, friend.

The primary driving force behind starting this blog is to chronicle my quest see every movie ever nominated for a best picture Oscar. By my reckoning this is 474 films. The initial ceremony in 1929 is a little tricky as there were two best picture categories, one for "Best Picture, Production" and another for "Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production." Just to be safe, I'm counting all six nominees between these two categories.

As of today I have seen 365 of these 474 (including all 82 winners) so I'm already just over 3/4 of the way there. However, all but five of the 109 remaining were released before 1950 so finding titles will get harder and harder as I go back. The five nominees I've yet to see in the post-1950 group are not available on DVD.

So let games, or rather movies, begin.