A Proposal for Steven Mnuchin and a Festival Idea

President Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has been confirmed. Mnuchin as a former hedge fund manager with Goldman Sachs it instantly drew criticism in political circles. Don’t worry further political commentary will be saved for my new embedded page The Democ-Rat.

This post is to discuss Mnuchin’s recent rampant and highly inconsistent run as an executive producer of Hollywood films. He has 34 credits to his name from 2014 through the end of this year if his forthcoming productions come to fruition.

The kinds of these movies he’s helped financed vary as much as his box office performances, some of these titles include surprise hits (The Lego Movie, Edge of Tomorrow, Mad Max: Fury Road), funding auteurs (Midnight Special and Rules Don’t Apply), Reboots or Extensions of a Franchises (Annabelle, Entourage, Vacation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Pan, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Legend of Tarzan), and Clint Eastwood movies (American Sniper and Sully), to name a few.

The Lego Movie (2014, Warner Bros.)

Clearly, like many Executive Producers a lot of these decisions have been dictated by what movies need funds and what can get me a return. Hence the varied type of film and the hits and misses, most notably in the reboots no one especially seemed to be clamoring for.

With Mnuchin confirmed I suggest a magnanimous move on his part would be to have his (blind?) trust still fund films but be open to suggestions from the very public that would benefit from the enjoyment of these films. It could very well be a long, contentious four years why not have a pipe-dream to bide the time? If the swamp isn’t being drained, we may as well have the Treasury Secretary get some projects out of Development Hell if he can and distract us from the madness.

In the meantime, if you need to build a film festival check out his IMDb.

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Make Your Own Film Festival: Macaulay Culkin

Introduction

I’ve been planning this post for a while. It’s been put off a few times due to timing. I, unlike many, am not interested in poaching traffic when the tabloids create a story based on the latest candid shot of Culkin replete with speculation on his health, state-of-mind and the like. Therefore, the only logical date upon which to post such a festival/retrospective list would be on his birthday.

One reason Culkin’s birthday always stuck in my head is because he’s precisely 366 days older than I am. So aside from being the matinee idol of my generation, I always felt a certain kinship due in part to that fact.

In assembling this list, or a list of any actor’s work, there will be hits-and-misses, the order of this list is based on a combination of the the quality of the film and the quality of his performance.

Without further ado the list. Happy viewing, and happy birthday, Macaulay!

10. Saved! (2004)

Saved! (2004, United Artists)

I had no issue with the intent of the satire, but it just didn’t work for me; it’s been done so you better be damn good at it and it wasn’t . It wasn’t righteous indignation so much as self-righteous indignation. It was good to see Macaulay with a cast of his peers for a change, it just seemed like stretching for stretching’s sake. Ironically, it was his younger brother Rory who became better at post-adolescent snarkiness.

9. Party Monster (2003)

Party Monster (2003, Strand Releasing)

If this list was predicated solely on the quality of his performance this one lands much higher. It slips based on the film. I thought he really kicked ass and was on the comeback trail. Maybe others thought there wasn’t a lot of acting going on and that was the persona he’d grown into, I disagree.

8. Rocket Gibraltar (1988)

Rocket Gibraltar (1988, Columbia Pictures)

This one is not omitted and sneaks on to the list for two reasons: First, it’s a larger, in terms of screen time, and less well-known pre-Home Alone appearance than Jacob’s Ladder. Secondly, it’s a late-career appearance by Burt Lancaster. Those are both qualities that make it worthy of some note. And, frankly, if you haven’t seen Jacob’s Ladder get off the Internet and get to it already.

7. Getting Even with Dad (1994)

Getting Even with Dad (1994, MGM)

At least in this film Culkin seemed to draw on his personal experience to make the movie a modicum better than it would’ve been otherwise. There was a bit more press about behind-the-scenes aspects than onscreen about this one, such as Culkin’s salary. Kit’s dealings and negotiating tactics were beyond infamous at this point. One thing that made its presence felt in the film was this as reported by Lehigh Valley’s Morning Call:

Macaulay Culkin’s character was supposed to have a short haircut in this movie, but Culkin, who had let his hair grow at the time, liked his looks and did not
want to cut it. His father, Kit Culkin, demanded on behalf of his son that he be allowed to keep his hair the way it was, pointing out that his character was
more a rough around the edges, working class boy and not a clean-cut, prep school one. He got to keep his long hair.

Quite honestly, it was these few bits of truth that made and otherwise milquetoast film tolerable.

6. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992, 20th Century Fox)

This film is, as many have noted, a mirror image of the original. He’s not actually home, nor is he really alone. It’s a good imitation by him and the film. The wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing aspect made me backlash against it when I realized it. I almost tried to keep it off this list, but it was the first time I ever laughed so hard I cried so that’s why it’s here.

5. Richie Rich (1994)

Richie Rich (1994, Warner Bros.)

Rather than readdress reservations discussed in the aforementioned link, I think this could’ve been a more chameleon-like turn. Culkin by this point just seemed like he was going through the motions, so the character had to be more him than the other way around.

It is, however, a frightening simulacrum also when you extrapolate to his real life at the time “poor little rich boy.”

So there is some ambivalence but I still like it…though maybe not as much as I did then.

4. The Nutcracker (1993)

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (1993, Warner Bros.)

Again, in the above-linked post I discussed this film. This is his father/manager’s ultimate triumph. This film was his wish-fulfillment not Macaulay’s. He looked the part, and they didn’t ask him to dance it; so as a hybrid it’s a better film than a ballet. I’m surprised it maintained Balanchine’s name on it for that reason now that I think of it

3. The Good Son (1993)

The Good Son (1993, 20th Century Fox)

There are actually a lot of good talking points to this film I find. It seems like a film that was too easily dismissed at the time due to its cliffhanger. I think the scripting, credited to Ian McEwan (a writer not yet on my ‘Essentials’ list, but who I have read a bit of), is underrated; and the tension is quite palpable throughout. While it does take a Bad Seed-style approach things never get too outlandish.

Again, if you dig, there are behind-the-scenes dramas, namely Fox’s initial desire to cast an unknown and Kit’s power-playing for Macaulay’s inclusion. In the end, it created one of the best young tandems I’ve seen: Culkin and Elijah Wood.

2. Home Alone

Home Alone (1990, 20th Century Fox)

Perhaps what has not been said about the original Home Alone is that it is yet another example of John Hughes’ prophetic casting genius. I heard many such stories at a screening of The Breakfast Club, however, this was one too. Culkin’s character interrogates his uncle’s girlfriend through the mail slot in a door in Uncle Buck, (omitted from this list) and that was the spark for this film.

Aside from that, you probably have heard it all: it’s an actually-deserved Golden Globe nominated turn and a new-age Christmas staple, hilarious, rewatchable and memorable film.

1. My Girl (1991)

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

However, this was once upon a time my all-time favorite film and, of course, still holds a special place in my heart. Specifically to this list, My Girl was awesome for him because it really wasn’t his persona before or after. It’s probably his best performance to date because of that. In light of that fact and his clout it was also amazing he was attached to it considering the fate of his character.

Honorable Mentions

Wish Kid (1991, DiC Enterprises)

As noted in the body of this piece, a few titles were left out, and rare ones remain unseen. You can view his complete filmography here.

I already mentioned Jacob’s Ladder above.

Macaulay Culkin also took over a part of my Saturday morning cartoon line-up in the twilight of my obsessively watching whatever cartoon offerings were available; so if you feel like looking out for his 13-episode series called Wish Kid it is out there.

Lastly, the Michael Jackson’s Black or White was a big deal at the time, both its premiere and its groundbreaking artistry and he kicks things off there too.

Funny Lady Blogathon: Louise Fazenda

Introduction

When I heard about Movies, Silently’s blogathon about funny women the first name that came to mind was Louise Fazenda’s, and that was almost instant. However, unlike in my recent Children in Film Blogathon post wherein I knew Jackie Searl’s works, but had just discovered a new side of his them; here I’d quite honestly never heard of Louise Fazenda until I read the wonderful book The Keystone Kid.

The Keystone Kid is part film history and part memoir. The recollections of Coy Watson, Jr. speak most fondly of Louise Fazenda, not only as she became a close family friend, but also of her talents as a comedienne.

My discovering Fazenda’s work, any of it really, is a testament to the importance of The Keystone Kid as a document of film history. As we move further and further in time from given eras in the artform, thumbnail sketches and one line synopses become what we take to be the truth about era, films and performers alike, while other instrumental figures can be forgotten entirely.

Coy Watson

Examples of this would be that through Watson’s book I learned that Bobs, whose talent and fame for crying I knew and have been witness to, was the youngest of a large family; that Coy, Sr. was a pioneer in wire effects in Hollywood and that there was an actress named Louise Fazenda who was highly regarded. However, even in wanting to give her what was her due, and he did so citing her notoriety; and two stories (one on set and one off), I still knew nothing of her really, and I was very intrigued. This was not just because she was an unknown silent actress to me, but also because even her name, which means farm in Portuguese, fascinated me. It was a decidedly “un-American” surname yet remained unchanged.

Method

Louise Fazenda

So this post has that element of excitement wherein I’m not coming of a position of having known a bit about, and having insights into, said performer, but instead was discovering her. And that’s great because part of why I don’t read books about film as voraciously as I could is that element of “I wanna see that, and that and that” for various reasons and being disappointed to find said titles are rare or hard-to-find.

My tactics in finding her, owing to the fact that I didn’t have too much time to get cracking, were to hit two internet resources one was YouTube, the other the Internet Archive. I didn’t scour compilations as it may have taken too long to uncover he appearances there.

The films I was able to see all or part of were as follows:

Your Show of Shows (1929)
Wilful Ambrose (1915)
Ambrose’s Fury (1915)
When Ambrose Dared Walrus (1915)
Ambrose’s Lofty Perch (1916)
Ambrose’s Nasty Temper (1917)
Once Over Lightly (1944)
The Bat (1926)
Her Fame and Shame (1917)
Her Torpedoed Love (1917)
A Versatile Villain (1915)

General Impressions

The Old Maid (1939, Warner Bros.)

If I had only seen Once Overly Lightly, a 1944 moviereel style compilation of many silent films with a voice-over track full of insincere wistfulness and backhanded apologies for silent tropes; I still would’ve known little. Again she’s cited as one of the best but all that’s cut into the film is one very apt pratfall. This release being just five years after her last credit mind you.

Yes, Louise Fazenda survived into the sound era. As the first clip I watched showed (Her segement in Your Show of Shows), though she was playing the straight man, she remained quite funny, versatile and had a pleasant speaking voice. She had a good run in the transition to sound, at least in terms of years, it seemed apparent even in 1929 that writers didn’t know what to do with her talking though – a harbinger of the influx of stage influence in the craft of writing and acting perhaps.

So those first two bits only gave me small glimpses. As I sat down to write this I wondered, maybe the internet has some insights. I found on Golden Silents her bio from Who’s Who on Screen 1920:

“Louise Fazenda, famous Mack Sennett comedienne, was born in Lafayette, Indiana and educated in Los Angeles. After a short season in stock she secured an emergency engagement with Universal, going from there to Keystone and Mack Sennett. Miss Fazenda scored notable success in “The Kentucky Lady,” “Her First Mistake,” “Her Screen Idol,” “The Village Chestnut,” “The Village Smithy,” “The Foolish Age,” “Hearts and Flowers,” “Treating ‘Em Rough,” “Back to the Kitchen,” and “Down on the Farm.” She is five feet, five inches tall, and weighs a hundred and thirty-eight pounds. Her hair is light and her eyes are blue. In spite of her remarkable characterizations of homely girls, Miss Fazenda is one of the screen’s most beautiful actresses.”

Louise Fazenda

At least, here you see some popular titles at the time. It can be worth looking into those down the line, but I’m fairly sure that time has been very unkind to many of her earlier works. Oddly enough through my viewing over this week, I didn’t see what was cited as her staple character:

Her best known character was her country bumpkin — complete with spit curls, multiple pigtails, and calico dresses, a look that went on to inspire such later comics as Judy Canova and Minnie Pearl.

However, I did see her range one of the amazing things I picked up by watching Fazenda, even in the fleeting glimpses I saw, was that there is an elasticity, a chameleon-like quality to her appearance. In the teens she played lovestruck young ladies and matronly housewives. When you compare that to her appearance in Your Show of Shows, she looked more refined, mature (as she could look) but hardly like 14 years had passed.

Louise Fazenda

Sure there was movie magic even back at the very beginning but ones facial structure and the quality of their features have to be perfectly conducive to such a seamless transformation. Fazenda did what needed doing to create her character and seemed to take it seriously even in entirely goofy films. That grounding in reality, even of just one element can be essential for comedic success. It’s not a wonder that legend has it that Mack Sennett would bring in Fazenda to try and quiet Mabel Normand’s comments on the caliber of films Keystone put out.

Fazenda seems to have a physicality that’s ahead of her time, possessing not only natural ability but the innate ability to seem natural on screen. Silents weren’t communicating with words so gestures, movements and looks had to be exaggerated such that those who could be big but also convey and get desired results with restraint are noteworthy. As cameras moved closer to actors broader was no longer better and those who could make subtle communicative gestures continued to work consistently. Fazenda proved early on she had that innate ability.

Her facial expression in Wilful Ambrose as she lines up a “bonk” in Wilful Ambrose is priceless. A husband being smashed on the head is a standard bit, but to make the anticipation funnier than the result is great and the mark of a good comedian. All of these traits, including a good singing voice, were on display in the sound era.

In The Bat you can see that she was the comic relief and brought that levity when needed but her fear always seemed very real. She instantly asserts her presence. Her character, for as superstitious as she is, is often correct to be fearful and it ends up being one of the charms of the film. While that film had its failings it is perhaps the best illustration of her persona that I was able to see: deft physical comedy and seriously grounded commitment.

Conclusion

The Bat (1926)

Going back around to the beginning, it really is a wonder what The Keystone Kid, or any written work about film can do. You open the book with a vague interest in the subject matter and learn of very specific avenues to explore. They are entryways to new constellations in the universe of film. Due to this book I now have definitive thoughts on why Louise Fazenda is great. I no longer take that statement and remember it like a cinematic platitude such as film X is great and film Y is such-and-such’s best. I’ve now seen some of her work for myself.

If a piece of film writing leads you find one new artist of film it’s done a great service. If you find many it’s a debt that can never be repaid save to thanks again. I am now a fan Louise Fazenda’s thanks to Coy Watson, Jr.’s book, and I’m quite grateful I am.

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part Three

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts, this being the last. You can read part one here and part two here.


Table Tennis

If you like your sports inclusion to be tremendously silly there are a handful of recent comedies about table tennis, including Balls of Fury. If you’re OK with the sport taking a backseat but like your featured athlete to be prodigious, then Forrest Gump may be the way for you to go.

Tennis

I haven’t seen some of the more recent very head-on tennis-themed movies but it seems like overall the sport has been vastly overlooked. Clearly with this year’s games being in London and the the fact that tennis fans get an additional Wimbledon-based tournament, Wimbledon would be an obvious choice. Woody Allen’s recent Match Point would also be one to look into and one I’ve yet to see. Tennis has worked very well as a backdrop in many movies most notably Strangers on a Train, especially if you know a bit about the history of the game, it makes the tracking of Guy’s results a bit more creepy earlier.

Taekwondo

I can’t say I’ve seen many martial arts films. However, one interesting thing to consider is that with the martial arts disciplines is where you’re most likely to find the sport blending in to a story under a cloak. This Wikipedia page lists Taekwondo films based on the fact that it’s the fighting method used not necessarily because it’s a straight-up tournament-based story. However, there are a series of films that are a very direct treatment of the sport and that is Best of the Best. The original came out in 1989 and concerns a team from the US going to Korea for the world taekwondo championships. The film features Eric Robers, Philip Rhee, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland, Chris Penn and more. Based on some of the stills I found of this film it may be another I’ve seen but forgotten.

Trampoline

I found a movie called Trampoline but as for films about using the device in a gymnastic application they do not seem to exist yet. Rather than offer you nothing there was a documentary in 2008 called Slamball, which, of course, focuses not on the gymnastic discipline, but rather a form of basketball using trampolines for added elevation.

Triathlon

The triathlon doesn’t really have any movies dedicated to it. However, I did find a really good post about that with a very good inventory of synopses of cycling titles (one of the component sports) in it.

Volleyball

As mentioned earlier it was hard to ferret out traditional volleyball from the B-Movie friendly beach variety. However, there are a few indoor tales that have been told. One being a 2000 Thai comedy called Iron ladies, which is based on a true story of a men’s team made up of gays, transvestites and transsexuals who entered the national championship. For something a bit different you can substitute an Air Bud in more of these sports than you realize. Yes, that silly cinematic golden retriever has played many sports. He plays volleyball in 2003’s video release Air Bud: Spikes Back.

Water Polo

Out of all the sports in the summer games that you only really get to watch every four years, water polo may just be my favorite. Part of it could have to do with the underdog mentality that I have at times. Once I learned truly what it was and played impromptu pickup games with my dad, the horses-in-water jokes became tired and I like what it actually is. I also will invariably gravitate to sports wherein certain countries who scarcely win anything else are dominant. Hungary, historically speaking, are the titans of water polo. Whereas they had their one brilliant football team that came close but couldn’t win their consistency in the pool is staggering 15 medals (9 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze) in 20 Olympic tournaments played.

That’s all a massive pre-amble to say I knew there had to be a water polo movie out there, there had to be a Hungarian one if from nowhere else. Surely enough, I found a dramatization of the 1956 Gold Medal Game versus the USSR on YouTube, the infamous “Blood in the Water” incident, but it was uncredited. Yet, as I searched another title surfaced Freedom’s Fury, a 2006 doc can be viewed on SnagFilms.

Weightlifting

Weightlifting is usually an affectation of a character or featured as cross-training for other sports. However, there are a few instances of films about weightlifting, generally about body building rather than olympic style curls and jerks. The most notable being the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, which is about the Mr. Universe and Olympia competitions and features Arnold Schwarzenegger amongst others.

Wrestling

Legitimate forms of wrestling feature in movies far less than the entertainment brand but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some fanfare when they do. Win Win won virtually unanimous raves last year and was among my favorites of the year. Wrestling is only a piece of the puzzle but an important one and the fact that it cast Alex Shaffer, champion wrestler turned actor helps it greatly.

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part Two

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts. You can read part one here.


Football

Since the Olympics is global I will use the international name and translate for America, this is soccer. All kidding aside, as I looked through some lists of soccer movies I was struck by the realization that the disparity between the greatness of the game and the quality of films generated by it is greatest here. Most of the ones I saw listed were sad. There are some I heard good things about but have yet to see, like The Damned United, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, and Pelada. Many of them in the US are usually about a ragtag bunch of kids on a team the best probably being The Ladybugs. As for the adult version of the game the best most recent one I saw was Rudo y Cursi which gave us this song too:

However, world cinema does provide a few more options which are suitable for all ages. If you like your soccer with genre-bending weirdness, I’d suggest the Die Wilden Kerle series from Germany. However, I’d stress you not watch any of them dubbed. I saw one dubbed the first time and it was some of the poorest collective work I’ve seen, aside from the fact that in the US we for some reason altered the chronology.

Then O Menino Maluquinho (The Nutty Boy) has a climatic game which features brilliant, practically superhuman goaltending by the protagonist, which is one of many great aspects of the film.


Gymnastics (Artistic & Rhytmic)

Unless I’m missing something major, gymnastics hasn’t had a lot of great representation on the big screen. Christopher Campbell’s list definitely makes me want to see Gymkata and it’s certainly more compelling in concept than anything I thought of or found; a rash of biopics, lame parodies and anorexia-themed MOWs and, of course, the most unfortunately executed death in Final Destination 5.

Now, Rhythmic Gymnastics seems to be absent from any real representation. Like synchronized swimming it has its notable parodies like that on Lizzie Maguire and by Will Ferrell in Old School, but I can’t seem to find anything straight. It could be great fodder for a doc in the vein of what I perceive Pina to be, as I still need to see it. There is a niche waiting to be had.

Handball

Yup, this is what thew world thinks of when you handball, just another example of our at times jingoistic naming practices, though to be fair Wall Ball is used to describe the one we know better too. Handball is another sport I’m glad to see roll around every four years and I agree wholeheartedly with this Awful Announcing post that it should be a featured on ESPN more often.

With regards to movies there wasn’t much to find. There’s Szansa a Polish film which seems to pit a nurturing, caring, intellectual, literary teacher against a hard-nosed, disciplinarian, gym teacher who crosses the line to win and winning said handball games is good for the school. Then there’s Forever the Moment a fictionalized account of the South Korean women’s handball team that competed in the 2004 games.

Hockey

Only during my occasional watching in the last games did I finally come to appreciate the version of the game which is played on grass and not ice. The only movie that seemed to jump out was Chak De! India, which is a kind of underdog story about a former player turned coach who takes over the long languishing national women’s team. This title is available to stream on Netflix (US).

Judo

Judo is a martial arts discipline I enjoy watching and pretty much always have since I’ve known of the games. The issue, as with many of these sports, has been finding a filmic representation of it.

Some quick searches brought some docs partial and short, but then as it turns out Kurosawa’s debut is a judo film, Sanshiro Sugata, wherein a young man struggles to learn the nuances and meaning of judo and life. This film is available from Criterion in one of their excellent Eclipse collections. This film is accompanied by a sequel and is referred to collectively as the Judo Saga.

Modern Pentathlon

Honestly, when I went to search out film ideas for each of these sports the one I pegged as being the hardest was the pentathlon. Truth be told, I only found one movie to pick from, but it’s called Pentathlon and Dolph Lundgren is in it. Essentially, Lundgren’s character and his sadistic trainer meet up eight years after their Olympic sojourn in an ever-escalating series of action nonsense, much of which you could have spoiled for you by the Wikipedia entry. It sounds like one of those movies that’s so brash it’s brilliant or painful – it does strike me as one of those movies I’ve seen on TV and all but forgotten.

Rowing

I mentioned in the canoe section that rowing could be found in The Social Network, however, there are a few more options to be had. You could pick either of two versions of the same tale, as comparing an original and a remake can be fun in A Yank at Oxford and Oxford Blues. For a more sports-oriented choice there’s True Blue (called Miracle at Oxford on US Home video) about a famous 1987 race. Lastly, if you want your sport as more of a setting for your drama than the premise, you have Summer Storm, which is about relationships and sexuality, and Queen of the Night, with a backdrop of politics, handicaps and romance.

Shooting

Now, I won’t be vague with shooting because the number of films that involve gunplay are countless. So I sought out films that at least feature competitive marksmen and there are two provided by Honk Kong cinema called Double Tap and Triple Tap, the former spins off from the first. Both involve rival shooters and getting involved inadvertently in crime and intrigue.

Swimming

Swimming is one of the most populated sports in terms of events, and one of the most popular at the games in general. Even on dedicated websites like Sports in Movies there isn’t a long list of swimming films. It’s hard to imagine that recreational swimming is something that needed to be created, much less that sport needed developing. However, there is a share of cinema in the pool.

Going back to 1931 you can watch Jean Vigo’s 2nd short film Taris, which is a rather artistic rendition and promotion of France’s swimming record-holder at the time. This film is available in the Complete Vigo through Criterion. If you prefer your star-power cinematic The Swimmer stars Burt Lancaster. If your inclinations are more stalker-crazy there’s the fairly recent Swimfan. In the more family-friendly realm there’s the fantastical DCOM The Thirteenth Year and swimming features somewhat in A Dolphin Tale.

Synchronized Swimming

With synchronized swimming there is actually rather a balanced choice. You can either enjoy it rendered comically in this classic bit:

On in a light, whimsical, biopic musical called Million Dollar Mermaid.

It is just by its very nature one of the easiest sports to poke fun at but it is really something when done well, and something else when it’s not which both those clips prove.

The list will conclude tomorrow!

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part One

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts.

Archery

The very first sport alphabetically is one that will illustrate to you rather quickly that there are two ways you can see a sport portrayed in a film: direct (e.g. sports movies) or indirect (wherein the sport is a component of the film but not the focus). Archery is an ancient practical discipline, which is rather visually appealing. Thus, it makes cameos in myriad ways: whether the super-human precision of Hawkeye in The Avengers or the cold brutality of Kevin, as in the one who needs talking about.

Films about the sport itself are harder to come by but with all the Robin Hoods there should be something that tickles your fancy.

My official pick will by Walt Disney’s Robin Hood, though of course Disney/Pixar’s Brave also features a prominent competition, and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is quite skilled too.

Athletics

Another permutation of the sports movie you get is that of the biopic. This seems to be a particular purview of Athletics, specifically track and field events. Clearly, Chariots of Fire is the first title that comes to mind. Then there are the lesser known but still worth looking out for like Prefontaine and Saint Ralph.

Badminton

Here is the first of the challenging sports on this list. In looking into it I was reminded that badminton, like so many other things, has been included on The Simpsons. In film terms, I learned of two features that involve it, one I’d be interested in seeing and one not so much. The first is National Lampoon’s Golddigger, a newer and prior to this unknown to me installment of the series, and then an Indonesian biopic about Liem Swei King simply called King, which is clearly more appealing for the purist.

Basketball

Basketball is one of the sports that has most frequently made for popular or entertaining films. Now, the two that jump immediately to mind are Hoosiers and Blue Chips. Having said that, since there are so many basketball titles, such that you can specifically cite the Olympics in some; I’d choose HBO’s documentary :03 from Gold about the ’72 Gold Medal Game between the US and USSR.

Beach Volleyball

It was incredibly difficult to parse beach volleyball films from traditional volleyball ones. Beach ones are clearly more popular, but rather than being crass and to respect the differences between the two disciplines, they will each get their own films. The beach volleyball choice is Side Out, which I do believe I’ve actually seen Side Out (so help me God).

Boxing

Boxing is the sport where I’m sure you’ll find the most movies to choose from. Of course, a movie about Olympic boxing is disqualified since the scoring system instantly introduces plot holes and confusion, but you can pick among the classics here Rocky, Raging Bull or whatever your preference may be you’re spoiled for choice with this sport.

Canoeing


Any of the paddle sports will be rarely found on screen and usually as a background element. In the Social Network the Winklevoss twins were part of a crew legacy, which could qualify that as a rowing movie.

With regards to the canoeing/kayaking end of the spectrum that’s where you get to fudging it a little. The first thing that came to mind was White Water Summer, that was immediately followed by more Kevin Bacon in The River Wild, which is a rafting film but less all around odd and not at all ’80s. You could also turn to A River Runs Through It.

With regards to paddle sports it all depends on how ensconced you want to be. If you want just a hint of it you can certainly fudge a movie in in easily.

Cycling

With many of these films I’m discovering them and wanting to find them at some point, with some they are oddities that I have seen and want to recommend. When it came to cycling I’ve seen two of the bigger cycling movies Breaking Away and American Flyers thanks to a family member who is obsessed with the sport.

They have their moments but have also bred some inside jokes based on the fact that it’s a “shown movie,” as in a “You should see this” kind of thing. However, in fairness, they seem to be the go to choices for enthusiasts.

One of those sports that pops up at the Olympics that grabs my interest are the track cycling events, which are more intriguing to me that the other disciplines. The Flying Scotsman seems to be a popular choice for that particular modality.

Diving

Diving, whether it be platform or springboard, is usually an affectation wherein we witness the externalization of a protagonist’s fear and his overcoming it, and rarely the focus of a film.

Perhaps the most notable examples are Greg Louganis: Breaking the Surface, and now with the games in London, Tom Daley four years on from a debut at the age of 14, wherein he finished 7th and 8th in his two events; has a BBC documentary about him to his credit along with being a serious medal threat.

Equestrian

I’m not going to say I’m a horse whisperer or even any kind of an expert, but what invariably ends up bugging me in some horse movies is the whole nature of them participating in a sport. A notable example being The Black Stallion. The beginning, say the first 40 minutes is a gem, a perfect replica of a silent film. Then the horse becomes a racehorse and it’s kind of trite from there. I think that’s one of the greatest things about the handling of Secretariat, it makes it seem like the horse is more willful than his jockey.

When it comes to equestrian disciplines that’s less of a concern because I believe that typically it’s the rider facing more danger and if the horse doesn’t want to jump, he won’t jump; or whatever maneuver is intended. That and watching these maneuvers is rather hypnotic at times.

A recent film I saw that dealt well with equestrian if nothing else was Harley’s Hill. In reading a similar list I was enlightened towards International Velvet. If you can’t drop your reservations about equine sports, and are a member of the Disney Movie Club, you can look up The Littlest Outlaw wherein a boy frees a showhorse.

Fencing

Fencing is another sport wherein you can shoehorn many a film into your viewing to suit your taste. Any Zorro, Three Musketeers, Peter Pan will feature fencing-like swashbuckling. You can take your pick from those oft told tales or you can be a little more literal with something like By the Sword, a 1991 film featuring Mia Sara, Eric Roberts and F. Murray Abraham. Or perhaps The Fencing Master, there was one in 1915 and 1992, I suspect the latter would be easier to find.

However, if you want to get creative I suggest Theatre of Blood. Not only does Vincent Price play a crazed, thought-to-be-dead Shakespearean actor seeking vengeance on a critics circle but he recites the Bard as he kills and once such scene is a fencing duel!

That’s all for now. Suggestions are more than welcome, and tomorrow’s films start with those about or involving football (aka soccer).

Make Your Own Film Festival: Bad Movies

Another way, perhaps the more interactive and most definitely the most enjoyable way, to have your own short film festival is to have a friend or two (or many) over to watch a series of movies all in a row, and all of which you know are likely to be bad – entertaining hopefully because of that, but all-in-all bad nonetheless. While there’s nothing quite like watching a great movie it is quite an individual, singular and spiritual event. A bad movie, or at least cheesy one, can bring you closer or at least allow you to commiserate in the universal sentiment of “What exactly is going on here?”

This system, of course, works best if you haven’t seen a film yet so you and your friends are all surprised by the cheese, production values (or lack thereof), acting and other elements. Anticipation and hype can ruin such a thing. Try and pick things you have heard of that may fall into this category. If you happen upon something that might fit into a night like this that you were completely unfamiliar with even better, in fact, that’s the best.

For better or worse, there’s nothing better than going into a film, good or bad, as a completely blank slate. I’ve seen many films on either side of the spectrum that way. And of course, you always try to give something a fair chance but the minute you learn about a project you start, at least subconsciously, to form an opinion of it. It’s just human nature. If you’re looking for bad, how do you find it? Everyone has their own tastes and knows their own inclinations. Genres likely to be low-budget are martial arts, other action permutations, sci-fi and of course horror. Aficionados of any genre can spot the straight-to-DVD and other hack-jobs, typically those genres attract the most sub-par products and even true fans will readily admit it.

So to create your own bad movie night you need at least three movies, patience and a lot of snacks. Four were brought to my last one and three were seen, one left un-screened.

Here’s a recap of what we saw. Your proclivities and results may vary. What you will find below is an example and my reactions to the films seen. There were three people in attendance, none of us felt that we had accidentally stumbled into a good movie. You may disagree, and that’s OK:



Shogun Assassin – A movie cited at the end of Kill Bill Vol. 2 where we heard the English-version opening voice-over monologue because Bibi is obsessed with the movie and watches it before bed. The voice over in Shogun Assassin does get to sound more and more like Barrett Oliver in The Neverending Story as it goes on which is odd, and while having a kid along with the assassin makes it somewhat different the story is just essentially a series of individual slow battles with the assassin on the run from the Shogun’s henchman. While it does have its moments; it is proof that the result of inspiration can be much better than the inspiration itself.



Master of the Flying Guillotine – The bottom line is that there is about a 40-minute fight tournament sequence which ends in the wrong man being killed by the enemy and you kind of see that coming, so it really wouldn’t even be a feature if only necessary scenes were included.





Cannibal Ferox
– Directed by famed Italian horror director Umberto Lenzi is another failed cannibal film, which follows a similar formula to others that didn’t work. An overly long set-up outside the jungle then a long time being stuck in the jungle to a very short amount of disturbing cannibalism for a film which promises gruesomeness. Now this kind of film is not for everyone, my problem is that I am typically bored out of my mind before the payoff.

The fourth film which was unwatched was also cannibal-themed was Cannibal Holocaust, which I do believe we saw later on. The genres or sub-genres can be more mixed or less mixed if you like more theme-based like these were. Pairings will be discussed more later with better films but bad movies can be just as much fun – if not more.

Make Your Own Film Festival: Pick an Actor

Much in the way computers, be them Apple or PC, can liberate you from zone restrictions for a country-specific film festival the same can be true if you’re building a festival around an actor and they happen to be a foreign performer.

The focus of this film festival, which will serve as an example, is Robinson Stévenin. Acting, it would seem, has always been in Robinson’s blood. He is the son of the well-known French actor Jean-François Stévenin, who is perhaps best known for playing the role of François Truffaut’s Assistant Director in the film about filmmaking Day for Night.

His breakout role was in the film Bad Company (Mauvaises frequentations) where he played a young man who so enraptured his girlfriend she agreed to start an ad hoc prostitution ring with him. It’s a truly effective and great film that a one-line synopsis does not do justice to. For this role Robinson was nominated for a César Award (France’s Equivalent to the Oscar) as Most Promising Actor. He would go on to capture that award two years later for his role in Transfixed (Mauvais genres), which featured in this festival.

The Children’s Revolt

His first recognition came for his role in The Children’s Revolt a film about a rebellion in a children’s penal colony in the 19th century. Although he is by no means the lead in this film his performance, as the so-called Lil’ Shaver (Rase-Motte), he is such a standout as a precocious, funny, eloquent kid that he not only receives a favorable quote on the DVD cover but also captured Best Actor at the Paris Film Festival in 1992. What’s more impressive is that he seems to be playing a lot younger than he is in this part, and his scene with the Countess is most definitely one of the highlights of the film.

La Petit Lili

This is quite an interesting film and a great role for him. The film co-stars Ludivine Sagnier, known from Swimming Pool and Peter Pan, as his girlfriend and muse who stars in a short film he makes. He screens it for friends and family and it does not go as swimmingly as he hoped and in essence it starts snowballing in a way that will affect everyone. The characters retire to their separate quarters and start re-examining their lives. In this part he manages to portray the dichotomy of sensitive, brooding artist and also the malcontent who flies off the handle when hearing something he does not like. Yet his anger is justified at times and he handles intellectual dialogue with tremendous effect. He manages to turn the bitter petulant teenager into a character who is not reviled but can be an identifiable protagonist.

Transfixed 


As mentioned above this is the role that won Robinson the César as Most Promising Actor. It is inordinately rare to see an actor completely and totally change his persona and not just his appearance. In this film Robinson plays a transsexual prostitute embroiled in the middle of a whodunit it in Brussels. He is completely and utterly transformed and plays the part to a tee. You are never truly left watching a performance but a character. For whatever is lacking in the plot the performance more than makes up for it.

Mon Colonel

Yet another face of Stévenin – here he plays a soldier serving under a totalitarian Colonel in Algeria. Through his diary he reveals the details of his tour of duty and these pages are slowly delivered to the military assisting the police in the investigation of the Colonel’s murder many years later. Here Stévenin can be seen as a duty-bound man with a conscience who is still a bit of an idealist, but slowly loses some faith but struggles to do what is right and not always just follow orders. It is a tremendous piece of work, and the fact that it is shot in black and white shows the timelessness of his star-quality.

The 2012 Embarrassed To Say Festival

The 2012 Embarrassed to Say Festival

This is a project I likely should’ve undertaken sooner, but now more than ever it is easier to tackle a lot of the massive films I’ve yet to see. I can likely continue doing it every year and hopefully (eventually) the titles will become more and more arcane to the common filmgoer but no less bothersome for the film buff and/or filmmaker.

However, Edgar Wright the very talented director and great film enthusiast has said something quite true on his Twitter, in response to apologetic fans having seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, only on video, “It’s never too late to watch a movie.” That’s the spirit in which I’m undertaking this venture.

In spite of that sentiment there will be films on this list that I have to grin and bear admitting only now having seen so I offer you this explanation in preamble:

My conscious desire to be in film blossomed much later for me than with most, the pure love of it was always there. Therefore, what I want to see has always been a strong impulse as it is with many. However, once one becomes a student of film you quickly learn there are those titles you ought to see and if you haven’t already seen them watching them on your own, later on, can seem like homework. Whereas in school screenings were the best class assignments you were given, homework is a bothersome thing, no one liked homework, not entirely, and the assignation of necessity to something that ought to be a pleasurable and visceral experience alone can make one reticent to watch certain films. In fact, in the schools I attended I saw the disillusion many students felt as they could no longer enjoy films for they analyzed them to much.

I remained steadfast and can control hyper-analysis during viewing and do that legwork after the fact. This is an elongated and roundabout way of saying that some films I have avoided in part because of their stature, for fear that watching them would be more like work than pleasure or conversely for as important as they might be in a historical or technical context I’d not be moved by it in a narrative sense.

Well, the time has come and the access to some is so ready that I’ll bite the bullet on many titles this year (ideally at least 52) and I hope you the reader either get a chuckle of what I’ve deprived myself of thus far or find something new to look for, ideally both. And who knows maybe even undertake this challenge yourself.

Without further ado the films…

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (United Artists)

Reasons I Hadn’t Seen It:

War stories are tough to watch.
Running time.
Rather informed by a making of and needed to distance myself from that viewing.


Expectation Going In:

I had forgotten much I’d learned about the plot so all I really expected were a few scenes I knew of and brilliance.

Reactions:

At times mesmerized, others horrified and befuddled. A film that works brilliantly on an intellectual and visceral plane and as much as I wanted to see the theatrical and “Redux” cuts before they left Netflix I could not deal with seeing it twice in two days.

10/10

It’s been far too long since I updated this post but I figured when I do it had better be a doozie. So how does a Hitchcock film strike you. Now, I did add a new Hitchcock both during 31 Days of Oscar and since, but this one is a big one that is a worthy successor to the aforementioned film.

2. The Birds (1963)

Reason(s) I Hadn’t Seen It:

I have seen bits and pieces of The Birds, and like any Hitchcock film (any good film) it’s not an experience meant to be fragmentary. My avoidance of The Birds always came back to a philosophical quandary: How effective can it be when the film openly acknowledges there’s no real catalyst, at least not one blatantly indicated in the story, as to why the birds are attacking? In a B-Film (This is not one, I’m merely contrasting) that deals with animal attacks there will be the discussion as to why, perhaps too much and perhaps the explanation satisfies and perhaps it doesn’t, but it’s there. I was never sure how well it’d work for me, especially stacked up against other Hitchcock films.


Expectation(s) Going In:

Guarded, to say the least, yet hopeful that it’d be the best rendition of the story at hand, and potentially bulldoze my reservations.

Reactions:

The first thing that really struck me is the importance of the MacGuffin in this film especially. The MacGuffin is really just a device that is used as an excuse to tell the story, but in The Birds, without the flirtation and the new-found connection the two protagonists share, without her coming to Bodega Bay, meeting people; essentially introducing herself into a new family, it’s hardly different than many animals attack movies. However, you do spend that time building characters, relationships and attachments, the story is about them, and the attacks of the birds mount incrementally. They come intermittently and with growing intensity.

The lack of scoring was something I knew about going in but I must say that it really does contribute to making this film as good as it is. It’s not going to work for every film but a certain intimacy and terror are built in just by hearing the flapping of wings.

I am a bird-lover, member of Audubon and all that but I take no issue with this film in that regard particularly because of how Hitchcock executes it cinematically. Birds aren’t usually a feared animal, so to transform the sound of a flock of flapping wings into something fearful is quite a feat.

Hitchcock’s is a filmography with so many greats, and so many personal favorites that many overlook, that it’s hard to gauge this film, even in the context of his canon, but it is undeniably solid and effective.

8/10

31 Days of Oscar Log

As you are likely aware every year TCM does a month long festival of only Oscar-winning or -nominated films. Each year the slate is different and differently organized but it’s a great chance to see films you’ve never watched before. Below I will list films I’ve watched as part of the block this year (Goal: minimum 31).

As always refer to My Rating Scale for insight on the scores.

1. Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo (Warner Bros.)

I’ll admit I allowed myself to get too swept up in the MacGuffin but that didn’t hurt the film at all. The only things that really got in its way was that I ended up knowing what Bogart’s endgame would be and the occasional heavy-handed (read dated) attempt of inserting a message into the film about Native Americans while still reinforcing certain stereotypes. In the big picture it’s minor stuff. It’s a great situation that lends itself to tension-building and surprising reversals of fortune and plot.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/1

Score:
8/10

2. The Invisible Woman (1940)

The Invisible Woman (Universal)

If you think that dumb movies that are all about effects are a new thing you should check this out. While not even new I must say the effects work in this film are great, however, the film is comedic in tone and isn’t that funny and truly suffers from the cast trying a bit too hard to sell it. Virginia Bruce does fine when she’s visible but when she’s invisible she’s as obnoxious as her character’s antics. It’s premise is thin and it’s a lame effort, sadly.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 3/10

3. The Fallen Idol (1948)

The Fallen Idol (Selznick Releasing Organization)

This is the first film I’ve seen in this year’s run I’d truly call great. Carol Reed, a director with many great titles to his credit, does a wonderful job building the tension in this film and creating doubt there’s also some great writing of conversations overheard or purposely cryptic. The Kordas always had great sets and the design of the film factors into it as well. It’s no wonder that this film is in Criterion’s library.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 2/0
Score: 9/10

4. The Ladykillers (1955)

The Ladykillers (Ealing Studios)

To describe the humor of this film as dry would be an understatement. As a matter of fact most of its humor would be situational and not in the dialogue or actions, in fact, Katie Johnson as the old woman offers most of it in the film simply by being so kindly and oblivious. The film also serves to show a small glimpse of what Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers are capable of but is not among their peak performances.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 6/10

5. Lies My Father Told Me (1975)

Lies My Father Told Me (Columbia Pictures)

Sadly, I have to say that I chose the above image because of its orientation rather than because I agree wholeheartedly with all the sentiments conveyed therein. While the film does have its moments of charm and humor they aren’t consistent enough to sustain this film. The song is more grating than memorable, too many of the characters are tiresome, some scenes too repetitive and the edit is not tight enough. Had the film shifted focus some, tried to place David in the courtyard’s world more often it would have succeeded for me.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 5/10

6. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Judgment of Nuremberg (United Artists)

It was bound to happen at some point: I saw this film but just didn’t vote for it at the IMDb and didn’t recall having done so. Part of the reason was because I viewed it in a social studies class in grade school (Junior High or High) I forget which. Regardless, I watched again it anyway because that is not way to have watched this film and it is great enough to revisit. In Night and Fog one of the narrator’s asides discusses responsibility and that’s the crux of this film how far up or down the line does responsibility for the holocaust lie and it’s examined brilliantly with superlative acting. Those interested in film or history should watch this film.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 11/2
Score: 10/10

7. Scrooge (1970)
Scrooge (MGM)

I, like many, have seen many a version of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol it’s one of the Great Stories that we all become accustomed to and can analyze individual adaptations based on interpretation and choices more so than for the narrative itself. This version is a musical that is penned by the renowned Leslie Bricusse and for as closely as it sticks to the structure of the story for the most part offers as change of pace with songs, many of which were new. The songs are well-spaced allowing the drama to unfold adequately between numbers and also many are half-sung which lessens the theatricality of it. When watching 31 Days of Oscar I like to try and guess the nominations, if I don’t know them already and I guessed right on Art Direction and Song and was not surprised by the costuming being included. This is a very enjoyable rendition of the tale that ought not be overlooked.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/0
Score: 8/10

8. The Search (1948)

The Search (MGM)

In mentioning my guessing game above I must say that upon checking the IMDb I was astonished by all the nominations this film got. I knew of this film because of the fact that it featured one of the rare Juvenile Award winners, a now defunct non-nominated category that was occasionally awarded to a deserving youth. However, Fred Zinneman, a talented director perhaps best known for High Noon the writing and Montgomery Clift were all also nominated. Now I do like the film but only by the skin of its teeth. I will grant that shooting in occupied Germany and dealing with displaced children so soon after the war is commendable and it does tell a good tale but not as tightly as it should and with truly intrusive narration. The flip-side of the equation (German children in post-war Germany is handled so much better in Germany Year Zero). The film means well and is enjoyable but some of its fumbling I can’t chalk up to merely being dated, there’s a fine line between simplistic storytelling and spoonfeeding information, between being direct and bad dialogue and this film crosses it on a few too many occasions.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/0 (1 Win in a special non-nominated category)
Score: 6/10

9. The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)

This is a film that suffers somewhat from its preachiness which can be overlooked for the most part when you consider its release date both in a historical context and a film history context. The start is also a little slow considering the fact that you know where the story is going in a lot of cases. One other quibble aside most of it works quite well and is entertaining. Irene Dunne does wonderfully as do Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor in fleeting parts. It’s lengthy but moving in spite of some of its faults.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 8/10

10. Indiscretion of an American Housewife (1953)

Motgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones in Indiscretion of an American Housewife (Coumbia)

This film illustrates some of the great things about this month of screenings. First, I’ve been able to discover more the marvelous work of Montgomery Clift. Second, aside from his early neorealist work I was none too familiar with De Sica and while this employs many of his production precepts it is a heightened and stylized forbidden romance. The tension and chemistry is absolutely electric and only suffers some pace issues somewhat towards the end. It’s a fascinating film that I may want to revisit on Criterion.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 9/10

11. Panic in the Streets (1950)

This is a very interesting film which can be categorized as Film Noir but also as an outbreak film. It’s that unusual combination which truly makes this film special and entertaining. Was it either but not both it likely isn’t that intriguing but the combination thereof makes it worthy.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/1
Score: 7/10

12. Wait Until Dark (1967)

This is a film that after having seen it I expected it to have more than one nomination. The films is very tense and the set-up is brilliant. I take some issue with the way it decides to quickly, practically brusquely, resolve itself but most of what happens leading up to that point is great. Of course, Audrey Hepburn is great in one of her more celebrated roles but Alan Arkin is also very noteworthy in this film. The climax of the film nearly makes up for the unfortunate and quick ending.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 9/10

13. The Green Years (1946)

Oh, boy. It’s not a wonder that this one slipped my mind and I had to backtrack through my twitter feed to see if I missed something else. I asked rhetorically if a film could polarize one individual when I finished watching this film because the aspects I disliked about it I truly loathed and the things I loved I adored. It made for a very frustrating and difficult viewing experience. The film does have balance in showing its protagonist as a child and a young adult, however, the beginning is a bit repetitive and almost masochistic in the amounts of gruffness, insensitivity and bullying he comes across. Thankfully, he manages to get through to a few people who warm to him otherwise it would’ve made Dickens at his most dire look like Disney at his sunniest. Yet, there’s a bit too much deus ex machina at play later on and an albeit moving but all to typical All-This-Horrible-Stuff-Happened-To-Me-But-I’m-Fine-Now ending. I wanted to like this one but in the end I just couldn’t.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 2/0
Score: 5/10

14. The V.I.P.s (1963)

This is a film that is pretty intriguing while its players are all fogbound in the airport and their disparate stories are interesting but when the story extends to a second day and incorporates another locale it loses steam and fast. I can’t say I guessed that this was a supporting actress win for Margaret Rutherford but it makes the most sense, however silly her character and plot-line were.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/1
Score: 5/10

15. The Window (1949)

This film was not on Turner’s line-up this year. Instead I acquired it form the Warner Archive Collection. This film was out of print for sometime despite its brilliance and it being one of the rare films to win a young actor the Juvenile Award. Not only is it likely to be my favorite film of this month but it’s also one of the best films I’ve seen in quite some time. The set-up is simple: a boy who cries “wolf” once too often is witness to a murder and doubted at every plea for help and in danger because of it. If you didn’t know that this was based on a story by Cornell Woolrich you’d guess, it plays like a kids’ introduction to Rear Window and that’s not a wonder as the one of Hitch’s DPs (Ted Tetzlaff Notorious) directs here. Combine Woolrich brilliant story with a man who worked with the Master and you get something very close and a film so suspenseful you hope it’ll last. I’m not embarrassed to admit this film actually had me talking to the TV and shouting interjections at times that’s how into it I got. Yet all this is accomplished in a little over 70 minutes. It’s not a wonder this film also earned an editing nomination. Not a shot, not even a moment is wasted in this film. I’ve talked about this film more than most in this rundown and and I think you can see on and clearly I could go on. One could call many Academy decisions into question but Bobby Driscoll’s Juvenile Award is not one of them, not in the least. He is absolutely pitch perfect in this performance. It embodies all his abilities as a young performer yet all things are in service to the story it’s not a star vehicle per se.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0* (One academy award win for Bobby Driscoll as this film is cited for his Juvenile Award win).
Score: 10/10

16. Breaking the Ice (1938)

Here’s another film where I went outside the TCM schedule to add a title. I wrote of Bobby Breen recently and this is one of his many films you can stream or save from The Internet Archive, all are in the public domain. I already knew that many of his films had an Oscar nominated song, so there was no guessing game and while the narrative of this one is better than most of his vehicles it is a little lacking in as much as there is some filler were we watch a lot of skating that really doesn’t impact the story in any great way. However, like all his films it ends well and enjoyable enough to watch and there is decent spacing and plenty of singing.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 7/10

17. The Seven Little Foys (1955)

This is a pretty enjoyable tale of the old vaudeville days. It takes some great classical elements and recombines them. It creates in the process an unusual family dynamic that you get accustomed to and you root for all the characters and in a sense understand all of them. Bob Hope is very good in the film and there is a showstopping dance routine where he is paired with James Cagney that is something to behold. Its writing nomination is well-earned.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 7/10

18. A Farewell to Arms (1932)

I will be espousing the importance of separating film from source material soon but my minor quibbles with this film are somewhat different than that. I never read the book. However, when you know something is an adaptation of Hemingway, a titan of literature whose reputation precedes him, you expect something a bit more in terms of story than what amounts to a fairly standard Hollywood tragic love story. The sound work for the era is superlative, the cinematography grand and there’s a brilliant albeit slightly lengthy montage but story-wise it lacks a little.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/2
Score: 7/10

19. Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 2/0
Score: 10/10

I think it was last year that TCM did a spotlight on Greer Garson and how I wish I’d seen the whole thing. They aired all 5 of her consecutive Best Actress nominations (an unparalleled achievement) back-to-back. After what I thought of Mrs. Miniver I really regretted not seeing all of them. I tried to rectify that as best I could this year. This film is also a “through the years” kind of tale but very interestingly told going from the story’s present to several other key junctures in the past. The conclusion comes swift and impactful and nobly triumphant. Another film I watched for Garson but loved entirely.

20. Bless the Beasts & Children (1971)

As soon as I saw the opening credits I knew this film had one nomination and likely didn’t win it. The title song to the film is a great one by The Carpenters and may be perceived as the kind of nomination that’s trying to get young viewers to watch the ceremony- I think it’s worthy. However, as the film progressed I really liked it. It’s the kind, in fact, that I may like more once I see it again. It’s about six misfits who become friends at a summer camp and decide to free buffaloes from a reserve. The film starts with the beginning of their mission but at key and appropriate points we backtrack so you get an introduction to a particular character then you see how they interact and understand them more. There are some quirky 70s transitions and an ending that leaves you wanting more both in a good way and a bad way but it really is timeless if you look past the details. In fact, with Goodenow’s plight of being bullied due to his perceived homosexuality (the movie brilliantly never confirms or denies it) and threatening suicide it becomes quite relevant today and other characters are as engaging in their struggle to fit in but it’s Daryl Glaser’s portrayal as the aforementioned character and Stanley Kramer’s direction that make the film succeed whatever its faults. I’m glad this is another title now available through the Warner Archive.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 7/10

21. Life with Father (1947)

This is a quirky and pleasant film though it does feature some odd logic and math for humor’s sake and does get a bit long in the tooth. The cinematography proves there’s nothing quite like three-strip technicolor and once again proves that there’s nothing that Michael Curtiz could not do he was just better at some genres than others but more than capable of doing anything. It really in an enjoyable and contained film that is a tribute to restorers as the film has only resurfaced in viewable condition in recent years.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/0
Score: 6/10

22. The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

This is one of the more surprising titles of this year’s festival. I knew some things about some of the talent involved but not the film itself. I was surprised on many occasions. I knew Vincent Korda was a great art director but these sets may be his best. I didn’t know the story was such an enjoyable fantasy. You typically pick up on common names in the fest other not as well-known artists make their presence felt, especially musicians. This year it was Alfred Newman and Miklos Rosza, nominated for this film. Sabu, recently given an Eclipse set by Criterion, stars in this film but there’s also Conrad Veit. It’s a very fun, enjoyable movie with great effects, amazing for the era.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/3
Score: 9/10

23. To Catch Thief (1955)

When I become familiar with a filmmaker part of my scoring indicates how the film fits on their scale. Hitchcock was the first director I started to watch religiously. I always avoided this film based on the description. It’s better than I thought it would be but still not what I’d recommend to anyone as where to start as a starting point. It is enjoyable though.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/1
Score: 8/10

24. A Man Called Peter (1955)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this film is the fact that it contains some really amazing sermons, which are even greater if cribbed from real life and more impressive. Now preaching is generally verboten in film, however, one exception is when your lead is a priest. Some of the thoughts conveyed are great and even applicable to current times, one reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s recent point about being a Christian country. It gets a little languid towards its inevitable conclusion but the cinematography is great as are some of the performances.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 6/10

25. Tristana (1970)

This is an interesting film by Buñuel which stars Catherine Deneuve. It’s not great but the plotline is simple and accessible and the protagonist’s situation is easy to identify with. There is a pretty impressive closing montage, not to say too much.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 6/10

26. Stella Dallas (1937)

Barbara Stanwyck is brilliant in this. Very deserving of her Best Actress nomination and frankly the only thing that truly makes the whole film worth watching. The film hits an unusual flatness as the romance fizzles and the marriage is in name only it all feels like a lot of window dressing to the next major conflict of the film. It’s about as enjoyable as it can be but not as good as it could be.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 2/0
Score: 5/10

27. Boomerang! (1947)

It’s funny how similar in conclusion and resolution this is to the other Kazan film I saw (Panic in the Streets above). Another thing that struck me is that it handles a lot of similar elements much better than the later The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 7/10

28. The Letter (1940)

Better Davis and William Wyler were a pretty dynamic duo when they joined forces, however, this is not the best that duo can do. The situation and complications the protagonist finds herself in are fascinating and he cast is brilliant but the resolution is slightly lacking and a bit anticlimactic, the twists make it work.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 7/0
Score: 7/10

29. Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

William Hurt and Raul Julia in Kiss of the Spider Woman (HB Filmes)

Despite the fact that it’s based on a novel I first became familiar with Kiss of the Spider Woman though a play version. I know that for the most part the narrative is one I enjoyed yet there were a few reasons I avoided the film version for some time.

Most of it has to do with the fact that the film in production terms and representational terms ends up in a very weird cultural limbo. Now in the interest of full disclosure: I am Brazilian so in many ways I disqualify myself but bear with me and try to understand my perspective.

The setting according to the text is always vaguely South American and surely for many reasons dictatorships were rampant on the continent for a time but the signage, location, supporting talent and director (via naturalization) are all Brazilian. It’s a muddled world wherein I see great Brazilian actors look less than stellar for the most part as they struggle with their broken English. You have late great Raul Julia doing a wonderful job but who generally gets overlooked in this film, except by the National Board of Review, and as brilliant as William Hurt is his name is Molina and he has no accent and isn’t designated as a gringo. So those factors along with Brazilians playing German in the film clips don’t ruin the film they just make suspension of disbelief a chore at times.

I’d absolutely love to see this (as I would most stories) in the languages intended whether Spanish or Portuguese and German and French.

Other than that the film is a great tale of unlikely friendship and loyalty, however, another bugaboo is there’s a line where Molina seems to indicate he’s more transgendered at heart than homosexual, so perhaps the description is not accurate. The only difference that really makes is in a public perception and social awareness. If this is looked at as William Hurt playing a transgendered man rather than crassly classifying “just another actor winning an award for playing gay” it would be better for the whole GLBT community so that people would know there are differences amongst the letters in that acronym. To continue to merely characterize the character as homosexual does a disservice to Hurt’s performance and in this day an age a community though I recognize that when the film was made there was a lack of differentiation.

But the only other issue I had was the prolonged and foreseeable ending. It truly is a good piece despite issues I had with it. That baggage was mostly my own and those things didn’t turn me off from the film.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/1
Score: 8/10