Film Thought: Showing Kids Jaws

As time moves on we must learn that things need to be contextualized. It takes no insight to show kids Jaws and sit there bemused as they’re unimpressed. The first thing that must be noted is that, in my case for example, Jaws wasn’t that old a movie when I saw it as a kid. Now things from five years ago may have the faint whiff of being dated already. I’ve caught myself thinking “Wow, that came out a while ago” about a fairly recent film.

The art, all arts, are evolving at ever-dizzying speeds because they have to to survive. That’s just the way things are. It’s not better, not worse, no judgment; just a fact. Therefore, Jaws is now an old film. Even I, who was a self-motivated film watcher needed, and relished hearing, the framework my favorite college professors  would create to establish what our mindset should optimally be going in. I was motivated to watch Citizen Kane on my own and Hitchcock and a few others and I got an innate sense for them. As I learned more film history and discovered more varieties and approaches. I benefitted from the brief intro.

Tendaciousness still will apply. You will like what you’ll like. I don’t care for The Social Network.  I am able to appreciate all the technical refinement and skill in the making of it. My background makes it such that I can ignore its departmental prowess. It cannot move me in any way as much as it tried, but I had the framework.

Jaws (1975, Universal)

Bringing it full circle to Jaws you can’t just put it on and say “watch this, it’s great.” You can’t really do that for any old movie, which it now is. Context before, and not during or after, is the only real way to ensure it may be appreciated. And, as is true with any kind of film, like what you like and let the kids respond to what they will.

One of the biggest fallacies around is the whole “you have to like this or you don’t like film” school of thought. Venture forth wisely, bringing some of your knowledge with you but your baggage with a film (good or bad) is yours, so don’t pass it on just try to help them see it the way you did once upon a time, even if it can no longer be looked at the same way.

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: The Snubs – Defunct Categories


Oscar Envelope

Film is an ever-changing artform, so it stands to reason that the awards that Hollywood created to help celebrate the industry should evolve. It’s more apparent when you realize that the Oscars began when the industry was in flux as sound was in its infancy.

Film has twice adapted itself in competition with other media arts. Synchronized sound came on the heels of the popularity of radio and a shift in aspect ratio, away from 1:33 to widescreen formats was introduced to distance itself from television. The same competition with television helped push films away from black and white film and towards color. With just these technical changes its natural that some award categories would fall in an out of favor over time, some aren’t so obvious. Some, surprisingly, should have never left. I will discuss the categories that are no longer around.

Best Picture, Production and Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production (1929)

Sunrise (1927, 20th Century Fox)

The Academy Awards began with two different iterations of Best Picture. In 1929 the winners of these two respective categories were Wings (Production) and Sunrise (Unique and Artistic). My interpretation of these trophies is that one is more akin to a PGA (Producers Guild of America) award. Whereas, the logistics, accomplishments and merits of the production are highly impressive and well-executed even if the picture mat not be the best overall. Unique and artistic would then be a more narrative-award with special emphasis on creativity. This is a distinction that could’ve proved highly useful in later years. Imagine if it had been around in 1998 (the first year that jumps to mind) give Production to Titanic and Unique and Artistic to As Good as It Gets or L.A. Confidential or Good Will Hunting. Or earlier maybe How Green Was My Valley could get Production and Citizen Kane can get Unique and Artistic and everyone can leave the former alone already, and stop hating it for something that’s no fault of its own.

Ultimately, I understand how the two awards would forever cause confusion and why they needed merging, but it is interesting to consider.

Best Director, Comedy Picture and Dramatic Picture (1929)

Frank Borzage

The Golden Globes still have Comedy/Musical and Dramatic categories for Films and Actors, but not directors. The directing job is highly different in both aspects. Are comedies far too overlooked when it comes to award shows? Yes. Does each year really merit having both categories? Probably not, and surely enough it was not a category the following year.

Best Title Writing (1929)

The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927, First National Pictures)

To be quite honest considering that the industry was already in flux awkwardly transitioning from silent to talkie I’m a little surprised this was a category at the first awards. Granted some were trying to dismiss synchronized sound as a fad, but it was clear it was coming. Some categories held on longer, but silent films in the end virtually vanished quite quicker than black-and-white fare or 4:3 aspect ratio films.

Yes, titles were crucial in the silent era, and silents did win Oscars, but it’s slightly unusual that this was actually a category for one year.

Best Cinematography, Color and Best Cinematography, Black and White 1936-1939 (Special Achievement) 1940-1966

Psycho (1960, Universal)

This split became a mainstay of the Academy for 27 editions of the Awards. This is quite a long time and indicates that despite the business-related impetus for color cinematography the necessity of occasionally going into more ethereal monochrome remained and undeniable siren’s call for filmmakers for many years to come.

As wide as the gap between color productions and black-and-white ones have become they are not extinct as recent films like Ida, The Artist and The White Ribbon indicate. Yet, color cinematography in unquestionably ubiquitous enough such that the split no longer makes sense. It most definitely did at one time: color and black-and-white are two different ways of seeing the world. The reason for splitting the two was due to that and the fact that they were fairly equally split. With little equality superlative black-and-white films do have to compete against chromatic ones be it fair or unfair; it’s just a reality.

Best Effects, Engineering Effects (1929)

Wings (1927, Paramount)

The awards for Special Effects were ones that had many names an iterations before becoming a mainstay. A category for “Special Effects, Engineering Effects” existed at the first ceremonies. They returned in 1938 with and Honorary Award. From 1939 to 1962 Visual and Sound Effects shared an award titled Special Effects. In 1963 Special Visual Effects took over. From ’72-’77 it was awarded under Special Achievement Award. The current Special Visual Effects title debuted in 1995.

However, going back to the original trophy it puts me in a mind that perhaps the Academy does need to encourage and reward different kinds of effects work. Maybe split it between practical and computerized. It actually would encourage creativity and be fair. For example many of the most impressive feats in Inception (like the spinning hallway) were done practically. This could highlight those creative moments but still reward highly-creative, ever-evolving computerized effects work.

Best Writing, Achievement 1930

The Patriot (1928, Paramount)

This was the category introduced for the 2nd Annual ceremonies and for that year only. It was an attempt to transition away from three categories (Original, Adaptation and Title Writing) to just one. The only other award I ever saw merge all screenplays into one category was my own for a while. However, adaptation and original screenplays are games with similar rules but different approaches and need different skills. They should be separately awarded and this change is one that was needed.

The Juvenile Award (Awarded intermittently from 1935-1961)

The Window (1949, RKO)

This is an award I’ve already written about at length here. In that post I chronicled those young people who were honored by the Academy. I also followed-up on that by listing who since 1961 would have earned the honor, or could have, if it was still something awarded. Since my personal BAM Awards have started offering parity (meaning the same categories for mature and young performers) I have become convinced the Academy could fill a roster of five nominees a year for a category with this same concept. The term juvenile may be dated, and have poor connotations now, but the idea is one worth revisiting.

Best Short Subject, Cartoons (1932-1957) Short Subject, Comedy (1932-1937), Short Subject Novelty (1932-1937), Short Subject Color (1937-38) Short Subject One-Reel (1937-1957) and Short Subject Two-Reel (1937-1957)

The Dot and the Line (1965, MGM)

You can almost always look to the Academy for some kind of indication as to what the state of the art at least in terms of trends. One thing that would be apparent to someone looking solely at the Oscars with no other film knowledge would be that short films used to be a much more integral part of Hollywood films than they are now. For six years Live Action films were split into Comedies and Novelties, which featured, as the name implies varied subjects and approaches. Starting in 1937 animated films (then referred to as Cartoons by the Academy) were split off and Live Action films were bifurcated by length either one-reel (about 10 minutes or less) or two-reel (about 20 minutes or less). In 1958 Live Action was introduced as the only short subject category for live action, Cartoons still the term used, and the category changed to Best Short Subject, Animated Films in 1972. It is notable that serials never had a category somehow. Maybe because Poverty Row and “lesser” majors specialized in them.

Best Assistant Director (1933-1937)

Imitation of Life (1934, Universal)

Assistant Directors back at the beginning of the film industry had a far different role than they do as the industry and art evolved. There used to be far more directing for assistant directors. First ADs now are far more administrative and keep the production running, most of their direction geared at background performers. Therefore, its interesting that the Academy once underscored the greater level of responsibility this job had with an award.

Best Dance Direction (1936-1938)

Show Boat (1936, Universal)

There are a few instances of the Oscars highlighting the elevated place that the film musical once held. This category specifically aimed at choreography on film is one.

Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration Black-And-White and Color 1940-1966

Christmas in Connecticut (1945, Warner Bros.)

This is the second of three categories that for year offered two prizes owing to the unique challenges and distinct differences in working in black-and-white and color. In simplest terms in color there are temperature, palette and tone considerations but in monochrome there is a transliteration of actual colors to gray tones for desired effect that must be considered and calculated by all department heads.

Best Music, Scoring of a Drama or Comedy (1946-1957) Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (1942-1945) and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (1942-1957)



Here’s one more testament to the potency the musical once hand in the cinematic landscape of Hollywood’s output. In 1958 the distinction in scoring ended. For 16 ceremonies musicals were a category apart. They were so prevalent, significant, and thought to be so different that it had its own category for scoring.

The issue with genre-splitting is: where does it end? Comedy was excluded for three years, and then added. If musicals had stayed at their zenith would further scoring splits have occurred? Unlikely, but it may have been clamored for. Clearly, the loss of a category did not shut the door on the musical winning Best Score, The Sound of Music jumps immediately to mind, but it’s fascinating that it was a class apart for years.

Costume Design Black and White and Costume Design Color (1948-1966)

Jezebel (1938, Warner Bros.)

If there’s one thing that you can laud the Academy for it’s that there was uniformity in when categories stopped being subdivided by color and black-and-white. In all cases when there was such a division, either from the inception of a category like costume design, or later in the game like with cinematography, that split ceased after the 1966 Awards.

Similar to Cinematography and Art Direction costuming for both media is a different game. Black-and-white requires a more abstract understanding of colors and textures and how they’ll read when exposed. Thus, its a bit more intuitive, at times counterintuitive, and far less literal than working in color. Again the time had surely come for the category to merge due to ubiquity but the task is by no means an easy one in monochrome.



Oscars (AMPAS)

In most of the these cases it is just interesting and important to note how far the artform and industry have come. It’s important in aesthetic appreciation to note some things that used to be taken for granted and to acknowledge different trends and forms of the past. However, in some of these cases these categories could still be highly useful and be brought back today.

TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 1

This article is a partially fictitious account wherein I imagine myself in conversation with two of the greatest minds in cinema: Truffaut and Hitchcock. This work was inspired by the series of interviews the two conducted which was later turned into a book. The quotes from the two are real though the context isn’t always. If you are interested in the book it can be purchased here. If this alternate history premise insults your sensitivities please move on.

Film is: Eternal yet momentary, Enormous but has no space, Minuscule yet takes its place, Inflexible yet elastic, Sincere and sarcastic, Confined to a frame, which expands in your brain. When a showing ends, The Journey begins. You close your eyes and travel within. Never has it ever been so warm to be frozen in form.
-Bernardo Villela

Francois Truffaut on the set of Confidentially Yours (1983, Le Films du Carrosse)

I’m a lot older than I look. I was in Paris in 1968 trying to get Nino Rota to score my latest film and ultimately I failed and managed only to gain six pounds eating Crepes Suzette. While there, however, I did run into Francois Truffaut. After I asked him how L’enfant Sage was going he told me he was going to meet with Hitchcock and asked me if I’d like to come along. Of course, I agreed. On the way there I asked him:

Bernardo Villela.: What do you believe is the art of suspense?

Francois Truffaut: The art of creating suspense is [!] the art of involving the audience, so that the viewer is a participant in the film. (Truffaut, 16).

We arrived a few minutes later in a very plush room at the Georges V. Francois introduced me and afterward Hitchcock said he’d like my last film very much, to which I got very embarrassed as I felt I didn’t deserve such phrase. We sat down had some Sauternes as apparently Hitch had just finished a meal. It wasn’t the best lead in but I then asked.

B.V.: What did you think of The Wizard of Oz?

Alfred Hitchcock: It was a very bad movie (39)

I was reading a newspaper and saw that Julie Andrews had just signed to make Darling Lili and this prompted me to ask:

B.V.: Can you tell me what you thought of the Star System?

A.H.: These are the problems we face with the star system. Very often the storyline is jeopardized because a star cannot be a villain (43). Cary Grant could not be a murderer (44).

B.V.: Yet you always seemed inclined to work with stars, why?

A.H.: I’ve learned from experience that whenever the protagonist isn’t portrayed by a star, the whole picture suffers, you see, because the audience is a lot less concerned about the predicament of a character who’s played by someone they don’t know. (145)

B.V.: The comment you made about Cary Grant brings us to the trouble with Suspicion. The film is constructed and leading us to think Cary Grant is guilty and then in the last 5 minutes you jump the rails.

A.H. Well I’m not too pleased with the way Suspicion ends. I had something else in mind. The scene I wanted, but it was never shot was for Cary Grant to was to bring her a glass of milk that’s been poisoned and Joan Fontaine has just finished a letter to her mother – “Dear Mother, I’m desperately in love with him, but I don’t want to live because he’s a killer. Though I’d rather die, I think society should be protected from him.” Then, Cary Grant comes in with the fatal glass and she says Will you mail this letter to mother for me, dear?” She drinks the milk and dies. Fade out and fade in on one short shot: Cary Grant, whistling cheerfully, walks over to the mailbox and pops the letter in. (142)

I felt quite embarrassed by dominating the questioning but I think Francois gave me free reign owing to the fact that this was a unique experience for me.

B.V.: Many directors including Robert Altman make films only for themselves and don’t care what the people or the studios think of them, what is your reaction to this kind of thinking?

A.H.: I always take the audience into account. (48)

Citizen Kane (1941, RKO)

Our exhaustive discussion of Citizen Kane led me to ask:

B.V.: How do you define as a masterpiece?

A.H.: Theoretically, a masterpiece is something that has already found its perfection of form, its definitive form. (72)

B.V.: Many people find your films very implausible. I love The Lady Vanishes but even I find the third act a little hard to swallow, what’s your response to that?

A.H.: I’m not concerned with plausibility; that’s the easiest part, so why bother? (99) In a documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is god; he must create life. (102)

B.V.: Can you comment on why your films so often deal with the extraordinary?

A.H.: I don’t want to do a “slice of life film” because people can get that at home, in the street or even in front of the movie theatre [!] And I avoid out-and-out fantasy because people should be able to identify with the characters. [!] What is drama, after all, but life with the dull parts cut out.(103)

B.V.: My two favorite British Hitchcock films are The Lady Vanishes and Sabotage. While I feel the Lady Vanishes is more sophisticated in its structure , bravery is something I greatly admire in filmmaking and that’s part of why I like Sabotage so much.

A.H.: I made a serious mistake in having the little boy carry the bomb (109).

F.T.: Making a child die in a picture is a rather ticklish matter; it comes close to an abuse of cinematic power (109).

A.H.: I agree with that; it was a grave error on my part. (109)

B.V.: But I feel that’s part of what made it such a compelling film, the fact that a man has to pay for his sins through the loss of his son.

This is the first part of a series that will post on Thursdays. This is the first time this series has appeared on my new home.

Django Unchained: Apparent Defeat and Tarantino’s Cameo


The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the third of four posts. The first can be found here and the second part can be found here.

The Apparent Defeat and Tarantino’s Cameo

Two of the more aesthetically controversial decisions in Django Unchained, ones that were fairly roundly criticized, were in the latter section of the film and interrelated in the story’s chronology. They are Django’s being sold into slavery anew to a mining company and Quentin Tarantino’s cameo appearance. The main critique of the section is that it adds an unnecessary half-hour to an already bloated film. Now, clearly I’ve already stated that Django was my favorite film of last year, so I can’t debate and cajole one into liking it more than one does, or liking it period if one dislikes it.

However, I wonder if the people who claim that there’s an extraneous half-hour in Django have fully considered the ramifications of truncating the story by that much. If not giving those critiquing the benefit of the doubt, you end up with a fairly anti-climcatic tragedy, wherein there’s bloodshed but Django doesn’t win. Now, given the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume you’d have given Django some improbable escape from Stephen’s clutches and the final show down is bumped up, it’s still not as effective. The apparent defeat of Django is not strong enough. What this segment does is it puts Django back where he was when the film started. However, this time there is no King Schultz to get him out of it by “legitimate” means. This is where Django truly becomes the hero of the tale. He brilliantly, through his own intelligence, skill-set and quick reflexes gets himself away from his captors. Now he’s a hero. Now he stands on his own. Now he can truly ride off into the sunset after his triumph.

So the existence of this section of the film is not only fine by me, but essential in my estimation. Tarantino’s appearance, to the extent that it it’s there, isn’t so much. Now, I will state a few facts to clear this up just a bit. Firstly, I was not surprised that Tarantino appeared in the film, what was more surprising was where he appeared. His cameo may have been better served on a plantation or in the KKK scene, which was funny anyway. However, based on the chatter I did think it was more involved and longer than it was. Now, did it play into my decision-making during my personal awards with regards to Best Cast and Best Director nominations and winners? Yes. However, to be fair I think that auteur criticism, once feared to be an overly-cultist altar of worship has started to reverse itself a bit in the internet age to an overly-nitpicky bitch-fest.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

There’s no such thing as perfect film. Yes, there are little things, which are what nitpicks are, you can point out that are off, whether in fact or in your subjective opinion, about every single film. All of them. My favorite film professor relayed a story to us about his one conversation with Robert Wise. Wise being the acclaimed director, who previously edited Citizen Kane. My professor said to him he thought it perfect or nearly so. Wise immediately pointed out he wished he didn’t leave such a long beat coming out of one of Raymond’s flashbacks. And I had noticed that, and when he heard it mentioned my professor agreed. Regardless of what you think of Kane the moral of the tale is simple: no film is perfect. Though I see where and how Tarantino appears in this film as an actor as a misstep, it’s not a serious error that affects the whole of the film.

One thing you have to respect about Tarantino, even when it comes to bug you, is that he doesn’t care; that’s practically what auteurism is. He’s making the film his way and if you don’t like it, tough. The last filmmaker who seriously overstepped the cameo appearance into supporting character was M. Night Shyamalan in Signs. He’s since pulled that back to where it should be. Shyamalan is also a prime example of auteur theory gone awry. People came to expect the twist ending from him in everything such that when people either didn’t get one or didn’t like the twist it altered their feelings on the film. I’m quite certain his prior filmography is why he dropped out of Life of Pi ages ago, and I can almost guarantee that if was exactly the same film with his name on it the reception wouldn’t have been as positive.

This is where auteur theory needs some checks on it. It doesn’t mean filmmakers or films get a pass, but just a little more perspective is taken into account, like is it par for the course for the filmmaker for said element to be featured? If so, does it work? If not, how big a deal is it really? If it was an intended departure those expectations shouldn’t factor in and so on. So, yes, that bit of casting was off, however, I don’t think it colors the whole film. I think the double whammy for many is that they didn’t necessarily see the need for the section of the film he was in so his appearance is further jarring.

31 Days of Oscar 2013

During TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar every year I like to keep a running log of what I see. It’s a great chance to check off a number of films I should’ve seen already. Aside from the selections on TCM, I will also get a handful of Oscar-Winners of my To be Watched pile. My goals this year based on my desires and TCMs structure in 2013 are: At least 31 films, 100 nominations accounted for by the films seen, at least one film represented by each studio featured in the line-up and also to keep up my guessing game tradition of not knowing what the nominations are and trying to figure them out as the film progresses.

For a guide to what my scores mean go here.

TCM Selections

1. 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

2. Jezebel (1938)

Jezebel (1938, Warner Bros.)

This is the first film of this year that landed with a resounding thud to me. To get too far into it would be too give to much away. Despite the fairly good narrative flow, likely the first great leading turn of Davis’ career and seeing a young Henry Fonda, anothr great Max Steiner score, I still didn’t like the movie much at all mostly due to the narrative and the handling thereof.

Score: 4/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 5/2

3. The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)

The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936, Warner Bros.)

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

4. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Warner Bros.)

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

5. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola (1937, Warner Bros.)

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

6. The Hanging Tree (1959)

The Hanging Tree (1959, Warner Bros.)

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

7. Imitation of Life (1934)

Imitation of Life (1934, Universal)

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

8. 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

9. The Narrow Margin (1952)

The Narrow Margin (1952, RKO Radio Picutres)

Here’s another film with a short running time but a hell of a lot of wallop. The setup is great: cops escorting a grand jury witness cross-country to testify against a mobster. When you throw in the fact that it’s a film noir tale, you know you’re gonna be thrown for a loop quite a few times and boy does it have some doozies up its sleeve. This movie’s the kind of good that had me absolutely buzzing after it was over. Amazing.

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

10. Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Friendly Persuasion (1956, Allied Artists)

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

11. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, MGM)

This film sets itself up so well and does things that work in its favor constantly. It deals with xenophobia, with regards to its ghost character; it deals with the stranger-in-a-strange-land trope brilliantly, with its protagonist; however, it also makes the paranoia felt in this town so palpable the lead is instantly on the defensive, such that you’re left unsure as to what his business in town is. It’s a cloistered and oddly claustrophobic tale, in what looks like an inhabited ghost town that’s well worth watching.

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

12. Father of the Bride (1950)

Father of the Bride (1950, MGM)

Having just seen Spencer Tracy I decided to make it a two-for. Now, this is a case where I saw the remake in theaters and still remember the experience. I expected this version to be different seeing as how they cast two very different leads, but I found this one so bogged down in the details and the humor usually was on the subtle side, save for the occasional loud, overlapping dialogue slapstick sequences with workers, that it just wasn’t very interesting at all. The table was set for this reaction right from the very awkward introduction of the topic of marriage. Were it not for the dream sequence, which is truly special and elevates the film, practically nothing about this film would’ve stood out at all.

Score: 5/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 3/0

13. The Racket (1928)

The Racket (1928, Paramount)

Here is one I was surprised to find was a silent. I didn’t pay attention to year on the TCM schedule and looked up the wrong information, rather I searched the remake’s synopsis. Regardless, it was a pleasant surprise that (seeing as how they were virtually identical) I chose by virtue of narrative a silent and took in stride. It was also reassuring to learn of the restoration efforts that had been made for this particular title. While it does play it coy with the nuances of the corruption at high levels of the police department and local government, this is a great treatment of a lone-cop-trying-to-take-down-a-kingpin story, which is very well done. Its also interesting to note this is one of the few films ever to be nominated for Best Picture (called “Most Outstanding” in 1928) alone.

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

14. The Lady Eve (1941)

The Lady Eve (1941, Paramount)

Maybe I just ran across this film at the wrong time, or maybe this particular story is just not for me. I’ve seen and appreciated other films that could be categorized as screwball comedies, however, even in that subgenre it is possible to get too ridiculous for its own good. The film was already dragging and losing me and then my ability to suspend disbelief was completely shot by a significant plot development. One so insane that it’d be hard to salvage, even if this film was very funny, which I really didn’t find it to be.

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

15. Way Down South (1939)

Way Down South (1939, Sol Lesser Productions)

This is a film that’s another re-screening. I first saw this film as a rental, quite a while ago from Movies Unlimited when they were still in the brick-and-mortar rental game. I also believe it was the first Bobby Breen film I saw, and one of his last at that. Breen was one of those musical stars that had films custom made for him. How good or bad the films he was in usually hinged on how naturally the opportunities for him to unleash his voice were folded into the plot. In thematic terms, it may be the most dated of his films dealing with a boy who loses his father, a “benevolent” plantation owner, the executor of his father’s will is now to sell off all the families assets, slaves included. In this context the lead acts heroically, trying to save the first whose threatened with being sold, when they’re all threatened, and families will be split up; other remedies must be found. Perhaps what’s most surprising in this viewing was I had forgotten how chillingly amazing Breen’s rendition of this spiritual is. It may not be the best film he was in, I’d argue the melodrama Make a Wish was, but it may be the best showcase of his singing talent.

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

16. Seven Days in May (1965)

Seven Days in May (1964, Paramount)

The old expression is that “The world will end with a whimper rather than a bang,” and this film treats a coup d’etat in much the same way, which is really what makes it so effective. This is a film written by Rod Serling, and if I wasn’t informed beforehand, I may have guessed. It certainly bears his indelible mark of great dialogue, taut situations and Twilight Zone brand eerieness, made even more effective by how plausible it all seems, especially set against the backdrop of the upheaval in the 60s and the cold war panic that resurged in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s a highly effective tale of political intrigue that is engaging precisely due to its restraint.

Score: 8/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 2/0

17. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953, Columbia)

This is a film that contains no shortage of Easter Eggs, oddities and charm for me personally. The first, and most surprising thing for me, is not only is this an original screen idea by Dr. Seuss, but one I really connect with. Even as a kid I was never really into Dr. Seuss at all, quite the contrary, but on occasion I will find a tale that sneaks by and I enjoy and this is one. Next this film features Tommy Rettig pre-Lassie and he’s perfectly cast and has quite a bit to carry aside from singing he also breaks the fourth wall and narrates the tale. The villain, played by Hans Conried, struck me as familiar. As the film started, I knew I had heard that voice. Sure enough I was right, and guessed it. I heard that voice a lot as Disney’s Captain Hook. Almost immediately I pegged this film as a one nomination film and having fallen in love with the production design thought it’d be that, it was the score which is also good. It merited multiple honors in my estimation. Part of the point of doing and Older Films list is when you stumble on these oddities that you connect with unexpectedly. This is definitely a highlight.

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

18. From Here to Eternity (1953)

From Here to Eternity (1953, Columbia)

Much in keeping with a theme above, here you have a title that is typically classified, or at least described by some, as a war film. While it takes place on a military base, during the second World War, much of it takes place before the US enters the war and it’s not really about the war at all; it’s about its characters. It’s not only about them in a superficial sense either; it’s concerned with their love and loss, but it also, through showing how they react to diverse situations, provocations and set-backs espouses their philosophy without saying it outright. It’s the kind of film that’s easy to get preachy with and it avoids that temptation beautifully. It doesn’t ascend for me quite as much as it does with others, but it strikes me as one of those films that is unimpeachable. I can’t hold anything against it to downgrade it save that on a visceral level I didn’t connect with this film as strongly as I wanted to. It did highlight to me the shocking fact that somehow the Academy never saw fit to have Montgomery Clift win Best Actor.

Score: 8/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 13/8

19. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969, Columbia)

This is a film that strikes me as a great performance piece, but not the best possible execution of the idea. It has its comedic moments, its dramatic moments and all the acting is strong it just feels a bit sparse at times. The subtext is there and bubbles over, but the aftermath seems a bit unsatisfactory, and truth be told the path there isn’t that brilliant. The film may be a bit ahead of its time. Some of the paired scenes seemed precursors to Scenes from a Marriage, only trying more humor, not as tightly written and inferior.

Score: 5/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/0

20. All-American Co-Ed (1941)

All-American Co-Ed (1941, Hal Roach Studios)

What an impossibly silly film. I will readily admit that part of the intrigue in seeing this film is that it’s short. It actually clocks in at under 50 minutes as opposed to the 51 listed on the IMDb. Thus proving the 40 minute plus rule the Academy has for features does have a place. Its nominations are musical and that portion of the film is fine. The premise is admittedly silly, but for a story that’s not going anywhere too far away it takes its time getting there, and gets bogged down in silly bits, such that the climactic sequences are a cacophonous blur. A great footnote is that I missed the TCM airing but found the film on the great Internet Archive.

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

20. Way Out West (1937)

Way Out West (1937, Hal Roach Studios)

I love Laurel and Hardy. I’m not sure how many of their features I’ve seen. I do fondly recall watching their shorts on weekends growing up. Overall this movie is good. I haven’t the heart to dislike one, but this one does bug me in a serious way because the bamboozlers make one too many bad mistakes right at the beginning that should have been caught. Aside from that, the film is fine and has some hysterical sequences. The Oscar nomination is for scoring, which is truth be told, is pretty special. I do like that the Academy had a proclivity for recognizing comedic scoring earlier on. It’s definitely worth a watch for fans who haven’t seen it I would introduce them with it though.

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

21. Victor Victoria (1982)

Victor Victoria (1982, MGM)

There are givens in this film: Julie Andrews is great, the intelligence of the dialogue that ensues regarding gender and sexuality is sparkling, the music is toe-tapping. The film is highly entertaining. I’m not sure if its part of the slapstick that the illusion of Victoria being Victor isn’t sold more say with more fitted clothes, shooting in black & white or any number of methods, but that does allow for some distraction in frequent buffering of your suspension of disbelief, wherein you have to convince yourself that most of the unseen masses in this fictional land buy the illusion. It’s a small thing that snowballs into a bigger one, but it’s still a good film that should be seen and discussed more than it is.

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

22. Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948)

Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948, Ealing Studios)

I like to try an avoid cliches at all costs, however, when I watched this film what came to mind was the thought that if you looked up “stuffy costume drama” in the dictionary you’d find a photo of this film. Yet, there was still something about it that oddly kind of worked for me. What I think made it connect is that it was a British production with a more classical, yet more restrained acting style than I’m accustomed to for the time period. Take the same plot points and similar performances and place them in a Hollywood studio era production and it likely feels flatter than it is. Here, somehow, it retains some buoyancy. The restraint doesn’t feel forced and similarly pumping up the melodrama would seem unnatural and inappropriate.

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

23. The Circus (1928)

The Circus (1928, United Artists)

Unlike when I was watching Monsieur Verdoux, I received no confirmation that I had seen this film before. Some parts of it felt familiar, but I believe it was for the most part new. It’s a sweet, brisk, funny and refreshing tale that builds its characters as much as the comedic situations, which he can get into with ease. This film is silent, but is one that I consider to be during the beginning of Chaplin’s slow transition into the world of sound, which makes it standout as a silent film with a locked in score, which as you watch more of them you realize is very rare.

Score: 9/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 0/1 (Won Honorary Oscar “For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus. Though nominated for best actor, the academy decided to remove Chaplin’s name from the competitive classes and instead award him a Special Award” Kind of a back-handed complement, not sure why he needed his nomination removed when the honorary award decision was made.)

Films in My Personal Collection

1. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, Warner Bros.)

What’s best about this film is that it essentially tells you what’s going to happen to these characters early on, then you see it happen and it still manages to be very riveting because it becomes about the characters and stays that way. It’s a brilliantly rendered character study. I was not surprised in my guessing game that I was close to picking how many nominations this film was up for. What shocked me is that Humphrey Bogart wasn’t nominated, when he’s virtually unrecognizable by the end of the film in appearance and demeanor. I saw this on Blu-Ray and selected the Warner Night at the Movies presentation which plays a newsreel and two shorts before the film. I recommend that treatment for all film geeks so you get a taste of moviegoing in 1948.

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

2. Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas (1995, Disney)

When you watch films in runs and themes, you welcome any chance that will allow you to kill two birds with one stone. Considering that I plan to write about Disney films in March, screening some now will give me a jump on that and there are some titles I have been missing, as much as I like Disney. My complicated adolescent relationship with the company and more detailed thoughts on this film will follow, for now suffice it to say: Disney did some different things that worked here, it was treacherous ground they covered and for the most part it’s very well done.

Score: 8/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 2/2

3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996, Disney)

Due in part to the fact that I just didn’t know very much about this title, I expected less from this Disney selection than the above, but in the end I liked it a lot more. It does things a little differently in the end, and with regards to anthropomorphism, but it goes back to the theme of ostracism and has a solitary character effectively drawn, literally and figuratively, that really make this film work. It also by its nature takes on aspects of religion and racism with a lot more finesse than you’d ever expect out of a Disney film, which makes it highly underrated in my mind.

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

4. Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane (1941, RKO Radio Pictures)

Now before you go into a tizzy, yes, I have seen Citizen Kane. I have an old review of it I may post, but that’s not what I’m going to do here. Since I’ve seen it, and just saw it for the first time on Blu, I wanted to address some common talking points about the film.

1. I love Citizen Kane. It’s one of my favorite films. I viewed it on my own before I studied film formally and no one “made me like it.” I connect to it. I can distinguish between what I like and important and or well-crafted works and grudgingly acknowledge some films as important, or milestones, though I personally dislike them. That is not the case with me and this film.

2. It is not shocking to dislike this film, you won’t get a rise out of me if you say so. Aside from the fact that everyone’s taste is their own business, I can see how this one may not impress you, but save it.

3. Don’t hold Citizen Kane against How Green Was My Valley because it won Best Picture not Kane. How Green Was My Valley is a very good movie indeed. It is not Citizen Kane, because it has not desire to be so. Please try to gauge that film in a vacuum and don’t hold its Oscar win “against it.” The fact of the matter is Welles made a lot of enemies, which made the rest of his career a struggle and I’m sure there are myriad Oscar stats that will show you films that only won for Screenplay and who got a boatload of nominations and are virtually shutout. And in conspiratorial terms, Hollywood wasn’t about to crown Welles “king of the world.” In other words, something was gonna beat Kane that year, and in the estimation of many it was a loaded field.

Those are probably the three biggest ones. With regards to 31 Days, since I saw it before adding it to the total is kind of cheating but I’m on good pace and hope to be well clear of 31 films and 100 nominations, and I hadn’t see the blu-ray transfer yet. P.S. If you are a fan buy it, it’s a great box.

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

5. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, RKO)

Now, since I included Kane, which I’ve seen, I’ll include this too, since it’s a cheat and I barely consider this a re-screen as I napped, thus preserving myself for the new film screened. I include it, again, to provide a few more thoughts on Welles’s work here:

1. It’s sad that you can almost see the scarring on the film from RKO’s over-zealous and over-involved cutting of this film. My score below is the one I originally logged on the IMDb upon originally seeing it, and that may be a bit too harsh but it does reflect the fact that we’ve been robbed of a truly masterful work over the years.

2. In a sort of wish fulfillment, I hope that by saying this often enough it one day comes true: May Welles’ cut of this film, the now holy grail of lost versions, surface one day.

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

6. Blossoms in the Dust (1942)

Blossoms in the Dust (1941,

This was actually I found in a drug story on Oscar Day in 2012, this was after my having missed this on a TCM broadcast. This film is part of Greer Garson’s legendary run of five consecutive Oscar Nominations for Best Actress and six in seven years. Yes, this film doesn’t get away with not having its stump-speeches and it does give a classical Hollywood whirlwind treatment to and elongated tale, but it is so tremendously moving and gorgeous to look at. Watch it for the the acting, watch for Karl Freund working in color and stay for the tale, which when it really has to, when it wants to hit home, holds up just enough. It took me a while to get this one off my to watch pile, but it certainly was a memorable viewing. There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments in the film. I also learned a few things so it has the righteous indignation angle working for it too.

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

7. Anna Karenina (2012)

Anna Karenina (2012, Focus Features)

Yes, this is a very new selection, but I just got it on Blu-ray and I had to see it during 31 Days because not only was it an Oscar winner, but one of my favorite films of 2012 and cleaned up quite a few BAM Awards. The only new item of note is that this does strike me as a film that is far more impressive and imposing on a big screen. I wish more had seen it as such.

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


Total Films: 30
New Films: 26
Total Oscar Nominations/Wins: 109/31
New Nominations/New Wins: 90/30


Oscars (AMPAS)

The film per studio goal was the first that fell by the wayside. I am forever in search of a theme that is the ultimate. I think one year was categories, which was quite good.

I came my closest to a 31 Film total ever. The ideal is to have them all be debuts, 26 were. So depending on how you slice it I either exceeded the nomination goal or fell just short. However, I found some very strong previously unseen films this year, which should make scheduling next year more challenging/fun to schedule.

Lastly, I will spare my DVR some room, but I will salvage a few films I missed to see at a later date.

Film Thought: What’s Your Favorite Film?

After having updated this year’s 31 Days of Oscar, someone commented, after seeing my reaction to Imitation of Life “That’s my all time favorite movie.” The conversation that ensued essentially came to this conclusion: “What are the odds?”

The conclusion I drew separately was “Hmm. Well, what if I hadn’t said anything, and I never knew?” Even film buffs who watch bajillions of things have one favorite that they can point to. The difficulty usually becomes trying to pick a top 5 or 10 say – definitely in going beyond that.

Even I, who am usually extraordinarily reticent to proclaim the best film ever made, have my answer: which would be A.I., however, every time I see Citizen Kane I think it kind of sits above being ranked. In doing my recent Spielberg list I was reminded that he supplanted himself as having made my favorite film of all-time when he made A.I. The film I’d last thought that of was Jurassic Park, and before that My Girl for very personal, and probably not so cinematic reasons. My point is a favorite film is a part of you for a number or reasons, it marks you and you it, whether for all time or at the very least in a time and place in your life.

What I came away from that conversation most curious about was “What’s your favorite film?” The general your, meaning almost anyone I talk to. I want to hear them, and see them if I haven’t. And a friendly note: if you ask someone their favorite film, and you set out to see it, do not expect it to be yours too, please just take it for what it is.

So there’s the question, I’m curious to know, if you can name just one favorite what would it be?

So You Wanna Win Best Picture?

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Amblin)

To be clear this article is not meant in any way, shape or form to disparage the Academy. This list is aimed at the film enthusiast who may, as I used to, get a bit too worked up about who won or lost. Granted you will link your opinion to a sense of justice, however, it bears keeping in mind that below are 25 films all were nominated for Best Picture, did not win but all have a legacy stronger than most winners of the award. Ultimately, time, the public and critical re-appraisal are what determine the films that last, awards, while nice, are in the moment comparatively speaking. The Oscars are a great show and if something or someone you like wins it’s even better but if not it’s not the end of the world. The list below is evidence of that.

Films That Didn’t Win Best Picture

1. Citizen Kane
2. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
3. King Kong
4. The Wizard of Oz
5. The Color Purple
6. The Sixth Sense
7. The Maltese Falcon
8. Apocalypse Now
9. Raging Bull
10. Star Wars
11. JFK
12. A Few Good Men
13. Pulp Fiction
14. As Good As It Gets
15. Double Indemnity
16. It’s a Wonderful Life
17. High Noon
18. Miracle on 34th Street
19. The Ten Commandments
20. Dr. Strangelove
21. The Graduate
22. The Exorcist
23. Chinatown
24. Jaws
25. Taxi Driver