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The Best Picture Winners: Crash (2005)

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.
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For the rest of recorded cinematic history, it may be debated and questioned as to why Paul Haggis’ cartoonish and overblown diatribe on the current state racial hated in America might have been bestowed the Oscar for Best Picture.  There are a thousand theories, but many have pointed to a measure of discomfort among the Academy voters with the favored frontrunner, Brokeback Mountain.  Were voters much more comfortable with an overcooked melodrama about racism than with a love affair between two men?  That’s a question for history.

I’ve seen Crash twice in my life and I can say that I admire what it is trying to do.  It is trying to focus on the multi-faceted portrait of racial paranoia that is still persistent in our culture – much of which is certainly very valid.  But geez!  This movie mangles and mishandles the layers in a way that ends up being retroactive to its purpose.  It’s handling of the white characters is overblown; it’s handle of minorities is degrading (particularly African-Americans) and by the end you don’t feel enlightened, you feel unclean.  Again, while I greatly admire that film’s purpose, I question its execution.  There are better ways to handle this material, and ultimately, this just isn’t it.

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Posted by on 02/10/2018 in Uncategorized

 

The Best Picture Winners: Titanic (1997)


Oscar’s 90th birthday is just 36 days away and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.


Much like Forrest Gump, James Cameron’s Titanic was a movie that, upon release, was greeted by enthusiastic audiences and raving critical reviews, but over time has been chided for being overcooked, overly-melodramatic and even cornball.  To that I say . . . yes, it IS cornball, but is cornball always a negative?

Titanic is a big, old-fashioned epic love story set against one of the most infamous human tragedies of the 20th century.  It does what all epic historical dramas do; it creates a sense of time and place, of purpose and history in a way that no other medium is able to do.  Stories and songs can be written but the movies encompass the best parts of all artistic mediums and give us a front row seat.  Cameron takes an event that we’ve all heard about and puts his filmmaking craft to work, utilizing the latest in computer effects, editing, sound, music and sets, he puts his hands around the event and brings it close enough for us to understand with unblinking clarity. As a storyteller he is a master.  He understands that our minds are likely to get lost in the chaos of the sinking of the ship, so his remedy is to stage a computer simulation at the beginning of the film (in the present day) that explains exactly how the ship was damaged, how the bulkheads took on water, and how the ship broke apart.  By the time we get to the scenes of the actual sinking, our minds are already oriented to what is happening.  In that way, we can then focus on the human element.

This human element is the most surprising aspect of Titanic.  It would have been simple enough to manufacture the story on the technical level without a human connection, or simply to have a multi-character Grand Hotel with the various passengers and their problems, but Cameron is mindful that in order to grasp our emotional investment, there needs to be a central story that leads us through the disaster.  That’s vitally important.  The emotional toll of this event was, for people of the early 20th century, what September 11th is for us today.  Without remembering the human toll, it simply becomes a historical curiosity and the event loses its importance.

The forward story is an old-fashioned tale about the poor lower-class kid who falls for the bird in the gilded cage, an upper-class woman who is facing a vacuous life of marriage to a man who sees her as a possession.  I don’t care what the critics say, I believe that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet create one of the great movie love stories of modern times.  It’s garish, corny and over-the-top and I love them both.

The youth of these two actors marks the film as kind of a time capsule.  Here were DiCaprio and Winslet, both in their 20s, young and beautiful, both at the start of brilliant careers.  Titanic featured only a small sampling of what they could do as actors. Winslet’s list of credits since Titanic are impressive; never seated in the comfortable spot of playing victims, her list of credits includes a long roster of strong women – some good, some bad, culminating with an Oscar for playing (against type) a former Nazi in Stephen Daldry’s The Reader. DiCaprio would avoid the traps of using his good looks to cash an easy paycheck. By the time of Titanic, he was already known for his Oscar nominated work in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and now has a roster that includes playing everything from J. Edgar Hoover to Howard Hughes and working under the direction of great directors like Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, and would win an Oscar for The Revenant in 2016. He and Winslet would work again, playing husband and wife in Sam Medes brilliant 2009 marital melodrama Revolutionary Road.

But even with all that, what of the backlash?  Why has Titanic earned detractors?  What element is pushing some critics and moviegoers away?  I really don’t know.  I can suppose that the movie isn’t hip or cool enough.  Maybe the overplay of the melodrama is too outsized.  I don’t really know what has pushed people away, all I know is that it hasn’t pushed this critic away.  It’s big, it’s overcooked, it’s hokey and I love every minute of it.  It has great drama, a great love story.  Is it faulty, sure, but what would the ship of dreams be without a leak or two?

 
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Posted by on 01/25/2018 in Uncategorized

 

The Best Picture Winners: Rain Man (1988)

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.
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Posted by on 01/07/2018 in Uncategorized

 

The Best Picture Winners: A Man for All Seasons (1966)



Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.


The two major contenders for the 39th Best Picture prize were a pair of widely acclaimed play adaptations that are no doubt brilliant but were both so super serious that watching them feels like a plate of broccoli.  Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Fred Zinneman’s adaptation of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons were both about bitter personal feuds and neither is what you’d call fun.

In Nichols’ case, the story of a well-off married couple (Richard Burton and Best Actress winner Elizabeth Taylor) whose 20 year marriage has withered down to hateful spite games soaked through bitterness and alcohol.  Bolt’s adaptation of his own play, meanwhile, retells the story of British statesman Sir Thomas More (Best Actor winner Paul Scofield) and his refusal to go along with King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) who wishes to defy the Roman Catholic Church in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon so he can marry Anne Boleyn.  Fun! Fun! Fun!

Given a choice, I wouldn’t sit through either film again on a given evening.  Given a mandate, I’d have to think it over.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has the better performances but a story that is a bitter pill to take.  The Academy’s choice was A Man for All Seasons which is easier to sit through but always feels like a homework assignment, although there is a lot to admire.  I admire it greatly for being more about principles and ideals than about getting the historical bric-a-brac in the right order.  Who couldn’t feel something for More who is asked to set aside his deeply felt religious convictions in order to satisfy his king, and by extension sparing his own life (he was beheaded for this in 1535).  Given that, A Man for All Seasons is apt for a lot of discussion afterwards, and given the current social climate, it asks a lot of questions that are relevant to our society today.  That’s the key, you’re thinking about it when its over.  How many movies do that?

So where are my negatives?  Well, for one, the movie is based on a play and it feels like a play.  While the technical work here is adequate, there isn’t much in the way of transitioning it to a full-blooded film.  It feels stagey as long passages are given over to dialogue in period dress.  Also, while I got caught up in the issues at hand, I always find the movie a little dispassionate.  Thomas More knows the consequences of his refusal, but seems oddly unfazed.  He’s faced with death, but you always sense that he’s given to his fate even as he approaches the chopping block.

A Man for All Seasons is a movie that I admire without much enthusiasm (which should be abundantly clear by now).  I don’t I revisit all that often.  Of the ten Best Picture winners of this decade, it is the one that I’ve seen the least, not because I dislike it but because there are better films from this particular year.  This was the year of Blow Up, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, Fantastic Voyage, Persona, Georgy Girl, and Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain.  Given those choices, I’m happy to leave A Man for All Seasons on the stage.

 
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Posted by on 11/24/2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Best Picture Winners: Tom Jones (1963)

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.
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Posted by on 11/18/2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Pod Bay Doors Podcast, Episode #17: Dreamcatcher (2004)


Week #2 of Turkey Month takes our dynamic duo to the mountains where they experience a psychically linked group of friends, shit weasels, and Morgan Freeman’s eyebrows. Lawrence Kasdan’s cinematic atrocity Dreamcatcher is this week’s turkey. Doug hates this movie with the intensity of 1,000 suns and Jerry isn’t far behind him.

 
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Posted by on 11/13/2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Pod Bay Doors Podcast, Episode #13: It Follows (2015)


In week three of Shock-tober Jerry and Doug take a look at It Follows, going along slowly but never stopping…until the end of the episode.

 
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Posted by on 10/15/2017 in Uncategorized