Thursday, December 31, 2009

2000 - 2009 My Decade of Film

To celebrate the end of the decade I have listed here my 25 favorite films from the past 10 years. I had originally intended on coming up with 10 but I found it too difficult to eliminate films and to choose one great movie over another. So in the end I have settled on these 25 movies. You and the critics may not agree with all of them but they are the movies that I have loved and will love again.

Note that only 2 of my listed films are Oscar winners which makes me think that I need to re-watch all of the nominated movies from the past 80 years… but that will take the rest of my life so for now let’s be content with the winners.

Have a happy new year everyone and let’s raise a glass to another 10 years of film!

1. High Fidelity (2000)
Watching this film over and over again helped me become the man I am today, which is a combination of all four main characters -- Rob, Barry, Dick, and Laura! It also introduced me to the fine art of collecting records.

“I've been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I've come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains”

2. Gladiator (2000)
Rarely have I wanted a hero to kick the crap out of a villain as badly as in this film.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity”

3. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
If one of the goals of art is to elicit emotional responses then this film gets on my list simply because of the stunned emotional state it left me in. The last scenes represent the most visceral and intense movie experience of my life.

“Anybody wanna waste some time?”

4. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
A movie has to make my list once I have deliberately seen it over twenty times and I lost count with the number of Tenenbaum viewings a long time ago. This is my sick day, rainy day, bored day movie.

“I'm very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman.”

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001)
Of the trilogy this will always remain my favorite. The final film, The Return of the King, won the Oscar for Best Picture two years later but this is a far better movie and should have beaten A Beautiful Mind to the gold. Whether you are a Tolkienite or not you have to admire this epic experience!

“The ring must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came. One of you must do this.”

6. Minority Report (2002)
Spielberg and Cruise make a great action movie set against an impressive vision of a utopian society where murders are predicted and offenders punished before any act takes place. The concept works and this is one of Spielberg’s best science fiction films to date.

“Everybody Runs”

7. Spirited Away (2002)
I ended up seeing this movie alone as I could not convince any friends to come see a subtitled foreign animated film. Nowadays Disney may have made Mr. Miyazaki a household name but I will never forget seeing the beauty of this movie for the first time. It is a gorgeous experience.

“Once you do something, you never forget, even if you can't remember.”

8. Finding Nemo (2003)
Of all of the animated films released in the past decade Finding Nemo has to be the most accessible. It makes my list simply because I cannot find anyone who dislikes it, and for good reason too.

“I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine. If I am to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends, not food.”

9. Lost in Translation (2003)
This movie is about two people who are a little lost in life. It is simple and goes out of its way to not be dramatic about it because life is not always dramatic. And I loved it because I could relate to it. It also gets bonus points for starting a personal obsession with one Miss Scarlett Johansson.

“You're probably just having a mid-life crisis. Did you buy a Porsche yet?”

10. Mystic River (2003)
This is a little sucker punch of a film that has some of my favorite performances of the decade from Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. It is a heartbreaking story and I dare you to be unaffected at the end.

“We bury our sins here, Dave. We wash them clean”

11. The Machinist (2004)
I did not know whether to respect or fear Christian Bale after seeing him take method acting to the extreme for his role in this film. His physical appearance is harrowing as is the story he plays out. I was awestruck.

“If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist.”

12. Capote (2005)
This movie follows Truman Capote as he researches his second book, In Cold Blood. I had read the book which told the story of how two men broke into a Kansas family farm and murdered all four members and was aware of how brutal a story it was. I was not however prepared to see the impact the research had on Truman, to see his decline as a socialite and celebrity, and to watch his emotional struggle as he becomes attached to the killer.

“It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.”

13. The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Forest Whitakers deserves massive praise for his portrayal of the real life monster Idi Amin. The story is told through the eyes of a Scottish doctor who gains the trust of the ruthless dictator but it really is Forest who steals the show.

“I am the father of this nation, Nicholas. And you have most... grossly... offended your father.”

14. The Queen (2006)
Michael Sheen plays Tony Blair to a tee but is overshadowed by the amazing Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II. After the death of Princess Diana the royal family came under increasing public scrutiny for their apparent lack of any emotional responses. This is a great film that looks at what happens when the traditional clashes with the modern and the struggle that ensued as the Queen tries to come to terms with the tragedy.

“Elton John wishes to sing at the funeral. Should be a first for Westminster Abbey.”

15. El Laberento del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) (2006)
I have always found that most traditional fairy tales have an underlying darkness to them, as if our more dangerous histories were escaped from into fanciful but still dangerous stories. And that thought is exactly what happens in Pan’s Labyrinth where a young girl runs from her dangerous life and escapes into a dangerous fairy tale. The end result is a beautiful and terrifying film.

“A long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamt of the human world…”

16. Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (2006)
This movie follows a secret police agent in the socialist East Berlin state circa 1984 as he is assigned to observe the lives of a prominent writer and his lover who are suspected of not being completely loyal. But as he listens and watches the agent begins to grow more and more attached to the individuals and begins to struggle with his assignment. Fascinating film!

“You don't know me, but I know you. Many people love you for who you are.”

17. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Typically the more a franchise continues the worse it gets but The Bourne series is the exception… a trilogy that gets better and better until it culminates in this explosive film, my favorite action movie of the decade.

“This is Jason Bourne, the toughest target that you have ever tracked. He is really good at staying alive, and trying to kill him and failing... just pisses him off.”

18. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
It may not be the fastest moving film ever made but there is no doubting that it is beautifully shot and excellently acted. I have been very impressed with the ability of Casey Afleck but he really shines here. By the end he even manages to outshine Brad Pitt!

“He suspected no one in history had ever so often or so publicly recapitulated an act of betrayal.”

19. No Country for Old Men (2007)
One of the Oscar winning movies of the decade that I am in complete agreement with. Most people walked away with the same reaction that I had… a complete fear towards one Anton Chigurgh who may well go one to become another celebrated film villain.

“Some of the old time sheriffs never even wore a gun. A lotta folks find that hard to believe.”

20. Juno (2007)
There is no doubt that this movie is funny but it is far from being just another comedy. There is real heart to be found here, real emotion, and the result is an endearing movie that sticks with you.


21. The Dark Knight (2008)
Batman Begins was a fantastic film and would have made my list if it was not for the over achieving sequel we see here. Unless you have been living under a rock these past few years you will know all about the breathtaking performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. The Joker was always Batmans greatest villain and it was fantastic to see the two duke it out for a few hours. Throw in a convincing Two Face and you have the best superhero movie in a decade that was overflowing with superhero movies.

“Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

22. Låt den rätte komma in (Let the right one in) (2008)
Let the Right One In is my favorite Swedish film of the decade bar none! No, all joking aside this is a great film that reinvents the vampire mythos. What I like so much about it is that in the end I am not sure how I feel. I cannot tell you if the ending is upbeat or not, whether it is good or bad! I am disappointed that there is a remake in the works as I feel that American audiences should just deal with the subtitles and watch this excellent movie.

“It's just I've been twelve for a very long time.”

23. Rachael Getting Married (2008)
Two reasons this gets on my list: The first is because it has the coolest wedding I have ever seen and I wanted the entire time to be a part of it. And the second is for the story that overshadows the exuberant wedding. This family was torn apart by a tragedy and Anne Hathaway plays the guilt racked sister responsible for it. She thoroughly deserved her Oscar nomination. I was into this film from scene one and it just never let go.

“And I struggle with God so much, because I can't forgive myself. And I don't really want to right now. I can live with it, but I can't forgive myself.”

24. The Wrestler (2008)
This is the second Darren Aronofsky film on my list but a much more accessible film than Requiem for a Dream. Mickey Rourke makes quite the comeback as a failed professional wrestler who must retire but finds it difficult to leave the ring. You cannot help but like him as you feel extremely sorry for him.

“The only ones gonna tell me when I'm through doing my thing, is you people here. You people here... you people here. You're my family.”

25. Avatar (2009)
I hesitated before adding Avatar to my list only because the film is still so fresh in my mind that I feel that it may have an unfair advantage over the others. But while I may be unsure about its lasting appeal as a story I can say that in IMAX 3D this film represents the future. And as such I feel it is the only choice to end my list with because based on the evidence presented here the future looks beautiful in all its high-def three dimensional glory!

“You are not in Kansas anymore. You are on Pandora, ladies and gentleman.”

Honorable Mentions
Memento, Oceans 11, A Beautiful Mind, Pirates of the Caribbean, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Spiderman 2, Hitch, Der Untergang (Downfall), Kingdom of Heaven, Brokeback Mountain, Little Miss Sunshine, Batman Begins, Blood Diamond, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Good Shepherd, Transformers, Gone Baby Gone, Charlie Wilson’s War, El Orfanato (The Orphanage), In Bruges, Burn After Reading, Milk, Star Trek

And some of my worst of the decade
Mission to Mars, The Perfect Storm, Hollow Man, Bedazzled, Dude Where’s My Car, A.I., Dreamcatcher, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Paycheck, Alien vs. Predator, Blade: Trinity, The Brothers Grimm, The Constant Gardener, Doom, King Kong, Superman Returns, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest, Lady in the Water, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Ghost Rider, Shooter, Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer, I am Legend, Be Kind Rewind, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Max Payne, Synecdoche: New York, Watchmen, Knowing, X-men origins: Wolverine, Transformers II: The Revenge of the Fallen

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Director: Frank Lloyd
Cast: Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone
Genre: Drama
Other Nominees: Alice Adams, The Broadway Melody of 1936, Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Informer, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Les Miserables, Naughty Marietta, Ruggles of Red Gap, Top Hat

I have noted in various reviews of The Mutiny on the Bounty that people complain about the film’s historical inaccuracy. Apparently the events portrayed here do not match what really happened on board the ship. To be frank I do not really care if the movie is not based on reality because in the end I enjoyed this one too much to care! A more accurate version was made in 1984 starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins so if you want to see what really happened rent that one but be warned that it was poorly received with bad reviews. This 1936 version may not be true to life but it makes for a great film and, with respect to the movies left to see from the 1930’s, it might even go down as my choice for movie of the decade.

The movie tells the story of Fletcher Christian played by a moustache-less Clark Gable. It is the first time Gable ever appears on screen without his trademark moustache and apparently he was very reluctant to shave it off (Gable was the Hollywood superstar at this time. Consider that he was also a lead in the previous Best Picture winner, It Happened One Night. Apparently he was on quite the roll). Fletcher is the first mate aboard The Bounty serving the abominable Captain William Bligh, played by Charles Laughton. It is Fletcher who enacts the movies namesake and mutinies against his captain after he can no longer withstand seeing the cruelty inflicted on the sailors.

The success of this movie is in its ability to make the audience hate the captain as much as the men do. The first half of the film is example after example of the cruel punishments that the captain uses to rule his ship by fear. One minute he sends one of them to the top of the mast in a massive storm and the next he ties another upright in the baking sun. Beatings are common for even the slightest offence. He steals from the ships supplies and then forces his men to work on meager rations. Probably the most striking example is the very first one we see when he continues to have an already dead man whipped so that the punishment is completely carried out. By the time Fletcher mutinies the men on board the ship are not the only ones relieved. As a viewer you really do want to see Bligh get his comeuppance. As Fletcher puts it:

I've never known a better seaman, but as a man, he's a snake. He doesn't punish
for discipline. He likes to see men crawl. Sometimes, I'd like to push his
poison down his own throat.

The scrolling introduction makes the point that the treatment of sailors improved in the decades after this event and that the mutiny that took place on the Bounty had a direct impact on this. I do not know how true that is but the message that the movie makes is clear. There is a speech made towards the end of the film that talks about how great the Navy could be if the wickedness was stamped out and if the sailors were treated right. A part of it goes:

He could sweep the seas for England if he called his men to their duty, not by
flaying their backs, but by lifting their hearts

I was going to start talking about the inaccuracies of the film as they are well documented but I realized that I do not watch movies for accuracy. I watch movies to see a good story told and to be entertained. The reality is that there is a very good story to be told here and like all great stories it has a hero you can relate to and a villain you can despise.

Next Up: The Great Ziegfeld

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It Happened One Night (1934)

Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly
Genre: Comedy
Other Nominees: The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, The Gay Divorcee, Here Comes The Navy, The House of Rothschild, Imitation of Life, One Night of Love, The Thin Man, Viva Villa!, The White Parade

In researching this one I learned that It Happened One Night was one of Friz Freleng’s favorite films. Friz was a Warner Brothers animator who helped create Bugs Bunny and he noted in his memoirs that this movie helped inspire the carrot chewing, wise cracking rabbit. I loved this little nugget and could not help seeing aspects of Bugs as I watched the film. There is a surprising amount of carrot chewing going on!

And doing most of the chewing is Clark Gable. This was my first Gable experience and I was surprised by his role. Without having seen him in action if you had asked me what I think of when I hear his name I would have told you Clark was sleek, sophisticated, suave, and all those other “James Bond” words beginning with “s”. Instead we see him as something of a lowlife here. When we first meet Peter Warne we see a drunk slurring into the telephone, surrounded by a slew of fellow drunks. An out of luck journalist, he is making a drunken call to his boss which is never a good career move. As he sobers his wise cracking nature comes to the surface. This is a romantic comedy but the romance does not come easily. In fact for most of the movie Peter grumbles to, complains about, and yells at his sweetheart. All in all he comes across as less of those "s" words and more of a jerk.

The lady in question, the 1930’s answer to Paris Hilton, is played by Claudette Colbert. Ellie Andrews is the daughter of a millionaire and a starlet in all the papers. Rebelling against her father she jumps ship (literally) and makes a break for freedom. Ellie is on the run from her father who has put a reward out for anyone who returns her to him when she meets Gable’s character, who sees in her an opportunity to get a great story. They both agree to dodge her father’s hounds and head for New York together.

There are some great scenes in this movie. There is the classic hitchhiking scene, probably the most recognizable one, where Ellie shows some leg to get cars to pull over. And there is the “Walls of Jericho” analogy as the sharing and division of various motel rooms is accomplished by the hanging a sheet -- a sheet which can only be brought down by “Joshua’s trumpet”.

Frank Capra directed and the only thing I know about Frank is that he also was responsible for one of my favorite films of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life. So it is no surprise to me that I enjoyed this one.

I will leave you with some Oscar trivia: Not only is It Happened One Night the first comedy to win an Oscar it is also the first Oscar winning film to win all five major Academy Awards -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. Only two other movies since then have matched that feat (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1974 and The Silence of The Lambs in 1990).

Next Up: the swashbuckling Mutiny on the Bounty

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cavalcade (1933)

This is the last time that this will happen I promise but Cavalcade is not currently available on DVD. has the following entry as a synopsis:
A cavalcade of English life from New Year's Eve 1899 until 1933 seen through the eyes of well-to-do Londoners Jane and Robert Marryot. Amongst events touching their family are the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and the Great War.

Sounds like an interesting film. Perhaps I will get to see it one day. Until then…

Next Up: It Happened One Night

Grand Hotel (1932)

Director: Edmund Goulding
Cast: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone
Genre: Drama
Other Nominees: Arrowsmith, Bad Girl, The Champ, Five Star Final, One Hour With You, Shanghai Express, The Smiling Lieutenant

I love to look through the American Film Institute’s top 100 movie quotes of all time. There are some great, great quotes found on that list and Grand Hotel makes an appearance at number 30. Greta Garbo stars as a depressed ballet star who despairs that she “wants to be left alone” and it is this anguished cry that makes the list.

But I thought there was an even better quote to be found in this film and it comes from a minor character, Dr. Otternschlag. The doctor may not have a lot of lines but when he did speak I found he had the more interesting things to say. The quote I am referring to appears at both the beginning and the end of the film when he observes “people coming, people going … nothing ever happens”.

The irony here is that while things appear non-eventful the truth is a lot happens behind the closed doors of the guest rooms. In fact the five guests who make up the ensemble cast experience a stay at the Grand Hotel that changes all of their lives.

The five characters in question include a wealthy baron with a secret, a depressed Russian ballerina struggling with suicidal tendencies, a hyper stressed businessman anxious to make a deal, a dying man living his last days on Earth in luxury, and a penniless stenographer desperate for money. With the star studded cast being spread across these roles this is the first movie to use the technique of telling separate stories that blend together to create a tapestry of a film. Think of Grand Hotel as the early days Crash (Oscar winner 2006). It is a story telling technique that is to be seen again and again throughout the Hollywood decades.

The doctor has another observation about half way through the film, this one on the nature of hotels in general. He comments that “no one knows anything about the person next to them. And when you leave, someone occupies your room, lies in your bed, and that's the end.”

As each character’s stay comes to and end and they check out we see exactly what the doctor was talking about. Someone else arrives and occupies the room, lie in the same bed, and life goes on. One of my favorite scenes in the film comes right at the end when new batches of guests arrive. A recently married couple can barely contain their excitement at having entered the Grand Hotel and as the camera begins to pan away from them I wondered what the events of their stay will end up being. What will their story be?

This movie does not go out of its way to be creepy, it is not a horror film, but it certainly does make me think about the nature of hotels and about what it means to stay at one. After all, the doctor is right… In the time that we are guests we know nothing about your neighbors, about the people who have stayed there before us or about the people who will stay after us. And all around us stories could be unfolding that we are completely unaware of. Stories have happened in our very room that we are unaware of. I cannot help but be a little creeped out by that thought!

Next Up: Cavalcade

AFI Top 100 Movie Quotes:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cimarron (1931)

Director: Wesley Ruggles
Cast: Richard Dix, Irene Dunne, Estelle Taylor, William Collier Jr.
Genre: Western
Other Nominees: East Lynne, The Front Page, Skippy, Trader Horn

The western movie was wildly popular in the silent era of film (1920’s) but the market was oversaturated by the time sound was introduced in 1927/28 and the quality of the productions diminished to “pulp” status. Literally thousands upon thousands of western serials and films were made during the 1920’s which makes the lack of many westerns in the early years of audio in film is all the more noticeable. It is fair to say that even with this best picture win in 1931 the genre did not recover until the 1940’s when John Wayne sauntered onto the big screen.

With most major studios avoiding the genre at the time it is interesting that RKO studios attempted to revitalize the western with Cimarron. And it is outright amazing that in the height of the Great Depression RKO studios paid Edna Ferber $125,000 for the rights to her novel and would go on to invest 1.5 million dollars into the film. Even by modern standards that is an impressive amount of money being spent.

Within the first 10 minutes you can see where this money was spent as the film depicts the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 with some fantastic scenes. After the United States purchases Oklahoma land from the Indians, for a small percentage of its worth, thousands of people flock there to claim their stake and settle. The opening shots show these thousands of men on horseback, families in wagons, and desperate people on foot racing across the fields to their futures. What is amazing as a modern movie watcher is the lack of computer generated imagery. When a modern film maker needs to accomplish a scene like this they shoot a few hundred extras and use computers to fill in the rest. I was immediately impressed at the sheer numbers of extras (apparently in the thousands) used to create what you see on screen.

Equally as obvious to a modern movie watcher are the racist statements and scenarios that pepper this film. Anyone today will cringe at the statements made towards African Americans and Native Americans. The only prominent character representing the former peoples is a simple slave boy who embodies the fact that slavery was just a social norm in those days.

The Native American peoples are referenced constantly as “dirty and filthy” but at least they get some reprieve from our hero who appears to understand the Native American way of life. He fully comprehends that the Indians are being swindled by the American government in this land deal and comments on it a number of times. He even prints an article in his paper begging for equal rights for Native Americans. However, his awareness of the plight of Native Americans does not stop him partaking in the white man invasion on the Indians land.

This example is not the only contradiction that our hero possesses. Cimarron tells the story of Yancey Cravat and he is a convoluted hero to say the least. Much like Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven Yancey has a dark past and references to his gunslinger days are found throughout the story. In one scene the camera focuses on the notches etched into his gun with each one representing a man he has killed. And yet despite his vicious background he is revered by even the prestigious members of the community and is even asked to perform the duties of minister and preach to the townsfolk.

He is an educated man and defends a local harlot in trial because it is the right thing to do. Yet he also earns his respect by battling bandits and gangs from attacking the town. In these examples we see that he is both physically strong and intelligent and performs heroic deeds using both sides to his character.

But his heroic deeds and status are diminished when we see his failure as a family man. The title word of this movie translates into “wild and savage” and the fact is that Yancey is a man who cannot settle in one place and raise a family. He loves his wife and children but the longest he has ever been in once place for is 5 years and the call of the wild continuously lures him away to new adventures, whether it is to partake the second land rush or to fight in the American-Spanish war. Again we see his dual nature here as he is both a hero and a failure.

For me this is the most interesting aspect of this movie. Here is a man who achieves legendary status in his lifetime. He becomes the Oklahoma Pioneer that we see celebrated at the end of the film. And yet he hurts the ones he loves to get there. He abandons his family for this status. The ultimate question is who would you rather be, a legend to the community or a hero to just your family?

This film was made in 1930 and the last few scenes of the movie take place in 1929. So the subject matter that this movie deals with is actually very recent history. I will say that equally as impressive as the opening land rush scenes is the explosive expansion of the boom town of Osage. The story jumps through a span of 40 years from 1889 to 1929 and it is absolutely amazing to watch the aggressive growth of the city in those years. A repeated line from the movie states that all this came “up from raw prairie overnight” and as Yancey himself states this was a time for a new empire and for the building of a new country. How interesting must it have been to see this building of a new empire on screen less than 50 years later when the country, and the world, was in the midst of a Great Depression? I am not sure that I would have shared Yancey’s enthusiasm for adventure that is for sure.

Next Up: Grand Hotel

Sunday, October 4, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Director: Lewis Milestone
Cast: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Slim Summerville, William Bakewell
Genre: War
Other Nominees: The Big House, Disraeli, The Divorcee, The Love Parade

This film itself is shocking in many ways but for me what I find most shocking is the fact that within ten years of its release another great World War was underway. That fact leaves me asking whether as human beings we can ever learn from our past. All Quiet on the Western Front is a harrowing and brutal portrayal of life in the trenches of World War I. And when I say harrowing I mean it. Do not make the same mistake I made and think that movies from this time were not capable of being as gritty as movies today. It may lack the gore that is prevalent in today’s films but it is no less hard hitting.

I cannot put it better than a 1930 Variety magazine review put it:

The League of Nations could make no better investment than to buy up the
master-print, reproduce it in every language, to be shown in all the nations
until the word "war" is taken out of the dictionaries.
Clearly the League of Nations ignored this advice as despite being released eleven years after the end of World War I the stance taken in this film did not prevent the outbreak of another World War nine years later. Perhaps if the world had been forced to see this film things would have worked out differently.

The story follows a classroom of teenagers from a small German town. The first few minutes of the movie stay within this town where patriotism is running rampant. The people are in fervor as they send off the latest batch of troops to the front line, with parades and celebrations in full swing. Of course the young impressionable minds are swayed by this euphoria, and when coupled with the fact that their teacher is lecturing them about the heroism of war, the result is a mass enlisting in the army.

It is clear that this is the first ever anti-war movie. The message is loud and clear: whatever pride you imagine comes with being a soldier will be destroyed when you arrive at the front line and when you face the horrors of war. There is a clever daydreaming sequence in the beginning where we see all kinds of imagined pride that the boys can think of.

We spend the rest of the movie following this same classroom as their numbers dwindle. The sheer range of horrors touched upon is incredible and it is not long before the young soldiers are showing signs of great stress: nightmares, shaking uncontrollably, and screaming about the unrelenting bombs. There is no real score for this film, instead as viewers our ears are subjected to the screeching and impacts from those bombs. With the exception of a few scenes the sounds of bombing are ever present. And accompanying them is a continuous run of amputation, rat infestations, starvation, shrapnel wounds, bayoneting, and so on. It really does get brutal in parts. The chaos, confusion and fear can be felt as we watch these young men struggle.

It has to be said that the real focus of the film is on the impact that these events have on the minds of the soldiers. Most of them suffer from streaks of madness or hysterical reactions as the stress builds. After the credits roll the following words are displayed on screen:

This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an
adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with
it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may
have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war...

So again I come back to the fact that I cannot believe that less than two decades after the events from this movie the world was once again fighting another war! It is interesting that Universal re-released the film in 1939 at a time when this second war was raging. Apparently anti-Nazi announcements were read out throughout the film but the aim was to remind people of the horrors of wars in a time of international unrest. The Nazi party went on to ban the film in Germany.

I am somewhat in awe of this film and am not surprised at all at its best picture nomination. I have a feeling it would still win many awards if it was released as is today.

Next Up: A hopefully less intense Cimarron (the first western to win Best Picture)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Broadway Melody of 1929 (1929)

Director: Harry Beaumont
Cast: Anita Page, Bessie Love, J. Emmett Beck, Nacio Herb Brown, James Burrows, Ray Cooke, Drew Demorest, Charles King
Genre: Musical
Other Nominees: Alibi, Hollywood Revue, In Old Arizona, The Patriot

It was unfair for me to have my expectations so very low going into this movie. I guess I expected a low standard of movie making, maybe thinking that back then they did not take making films as seriously as they do today. But those thoughts evaporated after the credits as the opening shot of the film was a spectacular aerial view of New York City and of a bustling 1929 Broadway.

And Broadway is what this movie is all about. It is a place where, as he theme song sings, "a million lights they flicker there, and a million hearts they beat quicker there". After the horrors of World War I a decade before and with a Great Depression looming it appears that people needed an escape from reality. Broadway was an ultimate escape and was booming! Apparently in 1927 there were 268 different performances playing in New York City compared to 50 or so throughout the 1970's.

Amazingly, The Broadway Melody of 1929 was the first academy award winner to have sound. Considering the popularity of Broadway at the time it makes sense that the first winner with sound is a musical that is set there. I cannot imagine how amazing it must have been to sit in a theatre and hear what you are seeing on screen for the first time. The tunes are snappy and tell us all about the grand ol' time that everyone has when working on Broadway. But the story is really about the darker side of the street.

It was a time when acts from all over the country arrived by bus and train loads to find fame and fortune in New York City. This was the story of the Mahoney sisters who arrived to get their names written in lights and "get a flash with Babe Ruth". What surprised me about this film was the air of desperation that permeated the storyline. At one point the sisters rely less on their talent and more on their looks, bemoaning that they "never had to get by on their legs before!"

Things go from bad to worse when the better looking of the sisters then falls in with a seedy millionaire who promises her an apartment on Park Avenue, a Rolls Royce, and diamonds galore in exchange for her sleeping with him. The film never gets too graphic about this but you can read between the lines.

Perhaps the 1920's was not a time for happy endings. The sisters both avoid the major pitfalls that the underworld of Broadway has to offer but the ending is far from happy as both struggle with their disillusionment. I imagine that the real Broadway offered just as much disappointment to thousands upon thousands to young people.

Next Up: All Quiet On The Western Front

Friday, September 4, 2009

Wings (1928)

We are off to a rocky start... and by that I do not mean that I have started with Rocky (1976).

I wanted to start from the first academy award winning movie in 1928 and work my way up through the years. I thought it would give me perspective on how far we have come in 80 years. But apparently we have not come far enough to have the first academy award winning film on DVD!

According to Wikipedia:
Along with Cavalcade, Wings is one of only two Best Picture winners that is not officially available on DVD in Region 1.

Darn it!

You can watch 3 minutes and 15 second of the silent film on youtube. Oh well.. we will just have to start with the 1929 winner (The Broadway Melody of 1929).

I'll be in touch...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Challenge...

My goal is to watch all 80 oscar winning movies from the first in 1929 to this years winner (Slumdog Millionaire) and post my thoughts as I go along. I plan on rewatching the ones I have already seen, a percentage that is shockingly low.

Here is the list of films:
2008 Slumdog Millionaire
2007 No Country for Old Men
2006 The Departed
2005 Crash
2004 Million Dollar Baby
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2002 Chicago
2001 A Beautiful Mind
2000 Gladiator
1999 American Beauty
1998 Shakespeare in Love
1997 Titanic
1996 The English Patient
1995 Braveheart
1994 Forrest Gump
1993 Schindler's List
1992 Unforgiven
1991 The Silence of the Lambs
1990 Dances With Wolves
1989 Driving Miss Daisy
1988 Rain Man
1987 The Last Emperor
1986 Platoon
1985 Out of Africa
1984 Amadeus
1983 Terms of Endearment
1982 Gandhi
1981 Chariots of Fire
1980 Ordinary People
1979 Kramer vs. Kramer
1978 The Deer Hunter
1977 Annie Hall
1976 Rocky
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
1974 The Godfather: Part II
1973 The Sting
1972 The Godfather
1971 The French Connection
1970 Patton
1969 Midnight Cowboy
1968 Oliver!
1967 In the Heat of the Night
1966 A Man for All Seasons
1965 The Sound of Music
1964 My Fair Lady
1963 Tom Jones
1962 Lawrence of Arabia
1961 West Side Story
1960 The Apartment
1959 Ben-Hur
1958 Gigi
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai
1956 Around the World in 80 Days
1955 Marty
1954 On the Waterfront
1953 From Here to Eternity
1952 The Greatest Show on Earth
1951 An American in Paris
1950 All About Eve
1949 All the King's Men
1948 Laurence Olivier's Hamlet
1947 Gentleman's Agreement
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives
1945 The Lost Weekend
1944 Going My Way
1943 Casablanca
1942 Mrs. Miniver
1941 How Green Was My Valley
1940 Rebecca
1939 Gone with the Wind
1938 You Can't Take It With You
1937 The Life of Emile Zola
1936 The Great Ziegfeld
1935 Mutiny on the Bounty
1934 It Happened One Night
1933 Cavalcade
1932 Grand Hotel
1931 Cimarron
1930 All Quiet on the Western Front
1929 The Broadway Melody of 1929
1928 Wings