31 Days of Oscar: Tristana (1970)

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

31 Days of Oscar: The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)

 The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)

More often than not I’m leery of biopics. They tend to all fall into form in one way or another. This one, however, is an engaging tale of a scientific crusader. Perhaps what’s most intriguing is that it’s not a cradle-to-grave tale, or even all that personal; it begins in Pasteur’s career and concludes at its pinnacle. Yes, his character is shown, and some of those around him do arc, but it’s most concerned with his work, which makes it in a way far more engaging.

Score: 8/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/3

31 Days of Oscar: The Letter (1940)

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

31 Days of Oscar: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Gold DIggers of 1933 (1933, Warner Bros.)

I remember when I sent away for a headshot of Anna Chlumsky when I was young this was listed as being her favorite movie. Recently in reading about the Pre-Code era I was reminded of this title. The opening number “We’re in the Money” became a standard, but many forget that it was a very topical Depression Era song. The musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley are magical but by and large there is a disconnect between them, the occasional commentary and the light, escapist fare that is the thrust of the film.

I forget my guess regarding this film’s nominations, but its nod for Sound Recording is well earned as the audio is crystal clear – not always the case in this time period, as sound was still in its infancy.

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

31 Days of Oscar: The Lost Patrol (1934)

The Lost Patrol (1934)

The Lost Patrol (1934, RKO Radio Pictutres)

This film is proof positive that brevity can still cause impact and that an unseen enemy can be the most frightening. This is another John Ford film, but this one is so eerie, and builds its characters well such that the doomed nature of the mission has an even greater effect. Even Boris Karloff, in an early dramatic turn, as over-the-top as he is here, has an arc and shows the effects of the strain faced so well.

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

31 Days of Oscar: Imitation of Life (1934)

 Imitation of Life (1934)

Merely being ahead of one’s time is a great in and of itself, however, that alone doesn’t make for a great drama. What’s fortunate is that for this film it has both. Imitation of Life deals with race about as openly, maturely and progressively as any film of its era – if you can fault it for anything cinematically it’s being slightly repetitious (But it addresses that), in social terms it discusses and even challenges norms. This was considered a dangerous films and Universal was strongly urged not to make it. Not only does it deal with race relations but in having Delilah’s daughter be able to pass for white, it also implies miscegenation, which was at the time one of the biggest taboos there was.

However, as I said without a compelling narrative all of the above is just a footnote. Bea’s chance meeting with Delilah snowballs in a very compelling way into a most unlikely friendship and partnership. The trials as single mothers also form dueling subplots that at times are equally compelling. The only knock I thought I had against it was that I wanted more focus on the more unusual plot, but based on the way things play out it is handled properly.

If one is not very familiar with Claudette Colbert there are likely few roles that are better for you to get to know her in. Every year, it seems, I mention that I do love the selections that have intros by the hosts on TCM. This one was a gold mine. Not only for mentioning that Colbert appeared in three Best picture nominees in 1934 alone, but also for pointing out the fact that this film likely could’ve sported two best supporting actress nominees (Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington) but the category was two years from being created.

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

31 Days of Oscar: The Hanging Tree (1959)

The Hanging Tree (1959)

This is, as are many westerns, a gorgeously shot film. There is a culmination its ultimately building to, but there is a bit of meandering and seeming filler in the latter half of act two. Characterization for the supporting parts is fairly thin such that it seems to leave good actors like Karl Malden and George C. Scott trying a bit too hard to make sense of their living plot devices. This film has its admirers, and I get that. I think more focus on Frail (as we lose him) and a few minutes off the running time, which could easily be lost, may have had me among them. Needless to say this film’s Oscar nomination is almost instantly clinched as it’s a Best Original Song nod.

Score: 4/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0

31 Days of Oscar: The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

A Paul Muni biopic strikes again, and perhaps he takes an early lead in the Neutron Star Award race for this year. What’s fascinating is that it chronicles a writer’s rise in typical biopic fashion in act one, then a military frame-up at the head of act two and has them smash together and culminate in a riveting courtroom drama. It distills the essential and best elements of a few subgenres to make a riveting and engaging film that surpasses its formulaic and periodic tropes.

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

31 Days of Oscar: Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Friendly Persuasion (1956)

This is the kind of film where a tweet reaction might seem to slight it. The synopsis does divulge what the ultimate conflict is: Quakers must decide if the go against their stated pacifist principles to defend their homes in the civil war. From that you might expect a dour, maybe even cerebral drama. While the film does face that and the temptations that modern life does throw their way often, frequently it does so in a light, comedic tone; one that is successful I might add. It does shift gears well too and some of the more dramatic moments have the desired effect. Its the pacing and space between these tonal shifts, epitomized by the climax and denouement that keep this film from being better than it is, but it is very enjoyable.

Score: 7/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 6/0

31 Days of Oscar: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

This is an incredibly intricate and thankfully subtle-when-it-counts psychological drama. It also has an interesting approach of showing us what is seemingly your typical, bitter, drunken, couple of academia, then when their guests arrive we start to learn, slowly but surely who they really are, and the portrait painted is shocking, harrowing and really makes you think.

Score: 10/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 13/5