Monday, September 18, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1960

The Contenders:

The Alamo
The Apartment (winner)
Elmer Gantry
Sons and Lovers
The Sundowners

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Little, Chiron, Black

Film: Moonlight
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Every year in January, the Oscar nominations are announced, and that means I need to get to work on knocking out the films that have been nominated on the blog here. I typically put some stress on Best Picture nominations because there are more of them than there are for the other categories, and because knocking out Best Picture nominees means that I’m usually reducing the numbers in other categories as well. I often watch the Best Picture winner soon after the awards, because there’s generally that brief span of time where I’m missing having viewed a single Best Picture winner. This year, I did the opposite, waiting to watch Moonlight last of the nominees.

I knew very little going in other than that it won. I knew it was the first LGBTQ-themed film to win Best Picture, or at least the first that had overt homosexual themes (you could argue, for instance, Midnight Cowboy had some leanings in that direction). I knew it was based on an unproduced play called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” And I’d heard that Mahershala Ali was great, something kind of unsurprising given that he’s good in Hidden Figures and one of the two best things in the second season of Daredevil on NetFlix.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Homeward Bound?

Film: Ironweed
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’d love to tell you that Ironweed is a fun-filled romp of joy and happiness, but it is completely the opposite. This is one of those movies I have dubbed a “misery parfait” in the past, a film in which nothing good happens to anyone, and there is little but layers of sadness and misery piled one atop the other. That it stars both Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep only means that the misery we witness is going to be acted about as well as it can be. It’s not going to make it any easier to experience, but it is at least going to be done well.

It’s evident right from the start that we are in for this sort of experience. Francis Phelan (Nicholson) is a bum who has wandered around the country for a few decades. Now, in 1938 around Halloween, he has returned to Albany, NY, his old home town. Over the course of the first act, we learn a few things about Francis. We learn that he was married and had children, but abandoned his family because he dropped his infant son, killing him.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Free at Last

Film: Selma
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I tend to save my Oscar rants for Mondays and Fridays, but in the case of Selma, it’s hard not to start off there. Selma, perhaps the most ambitious movie about the Civil Rights movement since Malcolm X, was nominated for exactly two Oscars: Best Picture and Best Original Song (which it won). For all of its efforts to be visibly color blind and progressive in many things, the Academy is still very traditional at heart in many ways. Ava DuVernay, a black woman director, was overlooked, as was the powerhouse of a performance by David Oyelowo. There’s still a long way to go, evidently.

Selma is not the biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (Oyelowo), nor is it the story of the Civil Rights movement as a whole. It is instead the story of the march in Selma, in many ways the spiritual beginning of the movement. The film attempts to take a comprehensive look at everything that happened immediately before and during those days in Selma, both in Selma itself and in the rest of the country, particularly in Lyndon Johnson’s (Tom Wilkinson) White House.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Stepfather

Film: The Stepfather (1987)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

An inventive screenwriter can find horror anywhere. Some of the most interesting horror movies around started with odd little premises or simple “what-ifs.” In the case of The Stepfather from 1987, that what-if question concerns just how far someone might go to try to create the perfect family. It’s an incredibly simple idea, and The Stepfather takes that question in a particularly disturbing direction.

The film opens with an unnamed man (Terry O’Quinn) washing blood off his hands. He then cuts his hair and shaves off his beard, altering his appearance dramatically. When he is done transforming, he goes downstairs and we see that he has evidently brutally murdered his entire family. He walks out of the house with a suitcase, gets on a boat, and when the boat is in the middle of the water, he drops the suitcase over the side.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It's in the Way that You Use It

Film: The Color of Money
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

When you discuss Oscars, eventually the conversation will get around to people who won a career Oscar in the guise of a competitive one. None may be more clearly a case of this than Paul Newman’s win for The Color of Money. Newman had so definitively deserved an Oscar before 1986, but lost for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice and The Verdict and wasn’t nominated for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or The Sting, and so, finally, the Academy gave him one for a 25-years-after-the-fact sequel to The Hustler. Don’t get me wrong; Newman deserved an Oscar in his career, and while The Color of Money is a lesser film in many respects, he’s still worth watching in it. It just seems a shame that he won for something that pales in comparison to so much of his other work. Sad, but true.

Anyway, The Color of Money is a sequel to The Hustler 25 years later. Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has given up the pool hustling game and now works as a whiskey salesman, something for which he is well suited. He also functions as a stakehorse for Julian (John Turturro), covering his bets and taking the lion’s share of the winnings. One day at one of his stops while flirting with his girlfriend bartender Janelle (Helen Shaver), he watches Julian lose over and over to a new player named Vincent (Tom Cruise). After spending a little time observing both Vincent and his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), he offers them a proposition. Go out on the road with him for a few weeks, learn how to really hustle pool, and then show up in Atlantic City for a 9-ball tournament and clean up both in terms of winning and in betting.