Saturday, November 27, 2010

Little Women (1933)

This was the second of ten collaborations between director George Cukor and Katharine Hepburn, the most notable of which is The Philadelphia Story. Here Hepburn plays tomboy and aspiring writer Jo March.

I haven't read the book but was already familiar with the story from the 1994 movie version with Winona Ryder in the role of Jo. Both seem similar enough that I presume they are faithful to the text.

It's an excellent portrait of 19th century life. The four sisters struggle to balance selfish desires with doing what's right and even if they bicker, they all truly care about each other when it matters.

95 to go...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

Charles Laughton won the best actor award for playing the oft-married king. He is almost a dead-ringer for the most famous portrait of the king and does an excellent job of capturing his legendary essence.

The film is only 97 minutes and definitely rushes along. Catherine of Arragon (wife #1) is skipped altogether. She is given only a sentence saying Henry divorced her for being noble (not mentioning the lack of a male heir). It then jumps all the way to preparation for Anne Boleyn's (wife #2) execution.

The middle is solid before they fly through at the end again not even following through to Henry's death while still married to wife #6. Not a bad movie, but there better versions of this story out there (A Man for All Seasons comes to mind - best picture winner 1966).

96 to go...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maurice Chevalier

By an odd coincidence, the last three best picture nominees I’ve watched have all starred Maurice Chevalier. Researching him on IMDb, I realized I have seen him in at least two other movies, but as an older man in Fanny (1961) and best picture winner Gigi (1958). I knew without looking what character he played in Gigi. Every time I see that title, I hear his almost comically think French accent singing “thank Heaven for little girls.”

These three earlier pictures were all directed by Ernst Lubitsch and definitely have a similar tone – light, fun, musical-esque, and surprisingly sexy. Chevalier is basically the exact same character in all three films. Think of him as a toned down version of Pepe Le Pew. Indeed, I was convinced the famous skunk must be modeled on Chevalier’s film persona and while wikipedia does mention that as a common theory, it has never been officially confirmed.

I don’t know if there exists research or opinions on this, but I have noticed that movies from the early 1930s were more risqué than were movies from the 40s and 50s. The innuendo seems a little less subtle and the women are shown in negligees that seem startling revealing for 80 years ago.

In The Love Parade (1929), Chevalier marries a queen only to be torn between wanting to be a commanding husband and a subservient subject at the same time. In One Hour With You (1932), he plays a happily married man whose wife’s best friend tries to coax him into an affair. The movie’s title refers slyly to what a man and woman might be able to do with an hour alone together. And in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Chevalier is the titular officer whose smile and wink across the street to his girlfriend (Claudette Colbert) are intercepted by a princess riding by in procession. Offended at first, the princess and her royal father assume the lieutenant wants to marry the princess and arrange the wedding at once.

This has been yet another example of the wonderful discoveries I’ve unearthed while eating my movie vegetables. After watching Love Parade, it didn’t occur to me that either Chevalier or Lubitsch were worth noting. Now, while I don’t consider these great movies necessarily, I am a fan of both men. Lubitsch won an honorary Oscar in 1947 “for his distinguished contributions to the art of the motion picture” and Chevalier won his own in 1958 “for his contributions to the world of entertainment for more than half a century.”

97 to go…

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Love Parade (1929)

This was an odd, but enjoyable little movie. Set in the fictitious country of Sylvania, it tells the love story between the Queen of Sylvania and the ladies-man, government official who wins her heart. It's primarily a comedy, sometimes a musical, with a little (if sexist) social commentary thrown in.

99 to go...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

IMDb Top 250

While I started this blog primarily to chronicle my quest to watch every Academy Award best picture nominee, the idea behind "movie vegetables" is much larger. It is the continual search for great, worthwhile, relevant, original, and classic movies. Everything you're supposed to watch because it's good for you.

No list of great movies is perfect. The idea of ranking and rating movies is flawed from the beginning. There will never be an accurate, objective way to rate movies on a scale as if they were earthquakes or something quantifiable. It's like at the beginning of Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams has them read from their text how determining the greatness of a poem can be calculated mathematically. "Excrement," is how Williams describes such a theory.

Here's the way I look at it: Any person or group compiling a list is going to overlook some great films. It's inevitable and even infuriating at times. But whether it's the Academy, AFI, or IMDb, they can at least give you guide that offers a better place to start than what made the most money at the box office last week (currently Saw 3D, by the way).

The IMDb Top 250 has long fascinated me. It wasn't decided upon by IMDb staff. It is simply a list of the highest rated movies by the site's users. IMDb has even taken the time to calculate a formula that gives each film a weighted rating to ensure each film has received a sufficient number of votes before breaching the Top 250. Voters who only give films "10" or "1" have their votes discarded. It's far from perfect, like any list. But, even though I tend to disagree with the general public on what's good, this list has always had a wonderful mix of old, new, foreign, and independent movies. It has lost some credibility lately. I believe The Dark Knight (which I love) brought thousands of new voters to the site as TDK climbed the charts vying for the #1 all-time spot. When the dust settled, The Godfather, that had been the site's #1 for years, surrendered the top spot to The Shawshank Redemption. TDK now sits at #10. The result seems to be that newer "cool" movies are way overrated. I like Inception, but it is NOT the 4th greatest movie of all-time. But, again, no list is perfect. Inception is worth seeing and the old, foreign, and indies are still represented. I don't regret seeing any movie on this list, which at the moment, I have seen all of.

I'm writing this post because last night I re-tackled the Top 250. As of about six months ago I had seen them all, but the list is constantly in flux and I had fallen behind by a few movies again. By recently watching How to Train Your Dragon, The Social Network, and Toy Story 3, I thought I had done it again. I pulled up the ol' list to confirm this. I found that it will now track for you what you've seen on the top 250 by showing you the ones you haven't rated yet. I don't tend to rate movies on IMDb for the reasons I stated above about it's futility (ironic, because if no one did, there'd be no top 250 for me to go by). So I had to go through and rate them all, some of which I hadn't seen in years and just gave it my best guess from what I remember. Then I unexpectedly hit one I had never heard of. Mary and Max, a 2009 Australian animated black comedy. Netflix had it available on live streaming, so I watched it immediately.

This highlights the entire reason I'm doing what I'm doing with the IMDb Top 250 and the best picture nominees, etc. There are just too many movies out there and most of them are crap. Mary and Max is a GREAT movie that 24 hours ago I hadn't even heard of. Maybe it will magically be eligible for the Oscars this year (stranger things have happened with foreign movies), but probably not. So to plug IMDb some more, I say, USE IT. Browse, sort, rank, search. Regardless of your tastes, it is an invaluable tool in looking for your own movie vegetables.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Alibi (1929)

This movie was actually pretty crummy. Bad acting. Low production values (even for 1929). Basically they're trying to track down a guy who shot a cop, blah, blah, blah. Don't waste your time (even though it's only 84 minutes).

100 to go...