1. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927) (re-watch)
Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production; Best Actress; Best Cinematography; Best Art Direction
2. 1930s cartoons, all nominated for Best Short Subject, Cartoons with the first two being winners 9+9+7+7+7+8+8+9 = 64 minutes
a) Three Orphan Kittens (David Hand, 1935)
b) The Country Cousin (Wilfred Jackson, 1936)
c) Mickey's Orphans (Burt Gillett, 1931)
d) It's Got Me Again (Rudoph Ising, 1932)
e) Building a Building (David Hand, 1933)
f) The Merry Old Soul (Walter Lantz/William Nolan, 1933)
g) Holiday Land (uncredited, 1934)
h) Jolly Little Elves (Manuel Moreno, 1934)
3. Storm Over Bengal (Sidney Salkow, 1938)
Best Music, Scoring
4. Doctor Doolitte (Richard Fleischer, 1967)
Effects, Special Effects; Music, Original Song; Picture; Cinematography; Art Direction - Set Decoration; Sound; Film Editing; Music, Original Music Score; Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment
5. The Mission (Roland Joffe, 1986)
Cinematography; Picture; Director; Art Direction - Set Decoration; Costume Design; Film Editing; Music, Original Score
6. Viva Zapata!
(Elia Kazan, 1952)
Actor in a Supporting Role; Actor in a Leading Role; Writing, Story and Screenplay; Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black and White; Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
Kazan has increasingly struck me as something like a more political William Wyler, if that makes any sense - adept at various kinds of stories, always quite professional, never delivering an inferior product - but rarely rising to greatness either. Reliable in other words but not (yet) a favorite for me; and this bio-drama of Emiliano Zapata, the WWI-era Mexican revolutionary, is no exception. I'm not sure why Quinn won an Oscar here - he's good certainly but he's only got a couple of really impactful scenes, as brother Eufemio; Brando, in the lead, makes a stronger impression. This suffers from the major faults typical of these kinds of films - simplifying and sometimes eliding the real events and politics - we are told what the zapatistas are fighting for, but we don't really see it, nor do we really get much of a sense of what the dictator Diaz had done to the country. And few of the characters apart from the brothers register as particularly real or complex human beings. Still, dynamic and never boring, and worth seeing for sure
7. Bohemian Rhapsody
(Bryan Singer, 2018)
Picture; Actor in a Leading Role; Film Editing; Sound Editing; Sound Mixing
Cinema. I won't say I was every a *huge* Queen fan, but I did have several LPs back in the early 80s, before I went to college and started to get exposed to newer and different music, and I never really stopped liking them; and I certainly belong to that group that believes that Freddie Mercury was among the greatest of all rock and roll singers, and if I had to pick a favorite, he'd be it - nobody I know had a more powerful and versatile voice. But by the time he died in 1991 I had moved on to other things and I don't remember my friends or I making a big deal of it, or paying much attention to the music after that.
So I suppose I was a little surprised that this film has been such a big hit - I suppose it's just another example of me being out of touch with the mainstream culture today. And it looked dull and by-the-numbers, and I had no intention of bothering with it until the Oscar noms came out and, as in many years recently, I had seen every nominee but one. And it came back to a local theater, and I went, fully expecting a fairly dull but at least occasionally entertaining, simplistic, middlebrow biography that would tell me nothing but at least might be better than Vice
. Sadly, I was mistaken, for this is not just the worst of this year's crop of nominees, but conceivably the worst of all nominees, and unquestionably the worst film I've seen so far from 2018 by a good margin. Apart from a couple of specific scenes, nothing in this film worked for me and while I rarely use the word "torture" to describe sitting through a film, if the shoe fits... Let's start with the screenplay and dialogue - perhaps if I had bothered to look and found that Anthony McCarten had also been responsible for Darkest Hour
- up until now my least favorite Oscar nominee of this decade and similarly banal and turgid - I'd have told myself, "OK OldAle, it's ok to stop doing this yourself, you don't have to keep up with the Joneses and see every nominee anymore, you know a lot of them aren't worth it". Well, maybe next year. Virtually every line of dialogue here sounds like its some adolescent boy's fantasy notion of how people in rock and roll speak, of how songs get written, band names get picked, etc. If I didn't know that Queen were a real band and you'd told me this was a mockumentary, I might have believed you, and liked it more - though it's rarely funny.
The characterizations are perhaps even worse - apart from Freddie and to some extent his early girlfriend and lifelong friend Mary Austin, nobody comes off as anything more than cardboard, and perhaps it's appropriate that none of them apart from Freddie seems to age a day in the 15 year span that the film takes place in. IF the film had been more stylized in general, rather than just in a few specific scenes, IF the dialogue had been deliberately unrealistic or fanciful, IF the photography and design more overtly campy/retro/weird, then I might have bought it as - and some have seen it this way - a film meant to evoke Queen's style at it's most operatic and over the top. And perhaps that's my mistake, but I just didn't see it that way while watching it, it just felt fake, artificial, and - perhaps this is the worst element - negative, even damning in it's portrait of Freddie through the manipulation of events, particularly in the last act. We are to believe watching this that Freddie and Freddie alone is responsible for a breakup and for all the problems Queen had commercially and artistically in the 1980s (the problems the film asserts it had, that is), and that he bravely went to Live Aid knowing he was about to die - all of this, totally made up. Odd for a gay director to make a film that so exaggerates all of the worst stereotypes of bitchy "gay" behavior while giving a pass to just about every other character except for might-as-well-be-mustache-twirling villain Paul.
And the songs. You'd think in a 135-minute film they'd be able to at least play one song complete, you'd think they'd be able to show a recording session montage that would lead up to a full performance of one of their big hits, something to give us a sense of real musicians at work - and of the real genius at work in some of their songs as complete creations of several artists, rather than just as settings for great Mercury vocals. Nope. The closest we come is a concert performance of most of "We Will Rock You" that is probably the best scene in the film, and most of the Live Aid performance which to be fair didn't originally feature the songs in full.
Rami Malek is fine in the title role, I can't really call it a good let alone great performance because the dialogue he has to read, and the scenes he has to play, are so mediocre (at best) and sometimes awful. And Lucy Boynton as Mary is all right, though I kept being distracted by how much she looks like a young Nicole Kidman. But overall, FUCK THIS MOVIE.
8. The Longest Day
(Ken Annakin/Andrew Marton/Bernhard Wicki/Gerd Oswald/Darryl F. Zanuck, 1962)
Cinematography, Black-and-White; Effects, Special Effects; Picture; Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black and White; Film Editing
Not usually a big fan of this kind of war movie - the big all-star cast extravaganza focused on a particular battle that goes back and forth between the various antagonists, generals and enlisted men and civilians, with a clock counting down the hours occasionally. Other prime examples are The Battle of the Bulge, Midway, Tora! Tora! Tora!
, and I guess most of the ones I think of come after this, so perhaps this was the one that kickstarted this particular sub-type of war movie. As it turns out, it's one of the better ones, despite the multiplicity of directors and screenwriters and the shooting in several countries and languages. With so many things going on, it's rather a miracle that we end up with a fairly cohesive look at the events of D-Day, even over the film's expansive 3 hours of running time. If there's a standout performance - nobody has a massive amount of screentime here - it's probably Robert Mitchum as Brigadier General Norman Cota, one of the leaders of the landing at Normandy, and he gets the last line.
9. Animated Shorts, all winners for Short Subject - Cartoons
15+30+16 = 61 minutes
a) The Hole
(John Hubley, 1962) - two guys in a mine (Dizzy Gillespie and George Matthews) argue about the possibility of nuclear war, with Gillespie taking the more paranoid view and Matthews standing in for the Dumb American Patriot I guess. Primitive but effective animation and a strong ending, but it's the dialogue and two great voices that are memrable.
b) Great (Isambard Kingdom Brunel)
(Bob Godfrey, 1975) - I'd have guess this had been made a bit earlier if I didn't know - the mixture of pop art, Gilliam-esque cutout animation and music seems to belong more to the end of the 60s to me. But no matter, it's a very entertaining tribute to the title character, one of the great British engineers of the 19th century and a giant of the Industrial Revolution. I suspect were this made today, it would view Brunel a bit more critically/negatively.
(François Alaux/Hervé de Crécy/Ludovic Houplain, 2009) - the best of the bunch, an amazing collection of thousands of logos and signs and characters, most from large American or multinational companies, serving as the characters, locations, vehicles, etc, in a story about cops (the Michelin men) going after a robber and murderer (Ronald McDonald) in L.A. as disasters start to happen. This is one of the best arguments for the value of CGI in film that I've ever seen and it's magnificent from start to finish; I would actually love to see this concept done at feature length though I'm not sure it could be sustained - and I wonder what the corporations whose identifier are not always being used in a "positive" way would think.
(Lansing C. Holden/Irving Pichel, 1935) (re-watch)
Third viewing I think. This comes 2 years after the original King Kong
and had the same producer, Merian C. Cooper, trying to duplicate that film's monstrous (ha) success. It didn't quite work, but others were trying the same thing, and the 30s as a whole are one of the Golden Ages for big-budget adventure featuring monsters, exotic locales, and lost worlds. This doesn't have the former but plenty of the latter two elements, as protagonists Randolph Scott and Nigel Bruce penetrate the Arctic in search of a forgotten land that may hold the secret of immortality. This is actually the 7th of 8 adaptations of the H. Rider Haggard novel - Haggard was as popular in the silent and early sound years as Stephen King is today - and the best of the three I've seen, with a commanding performance or maybe "presence" is more accurate by Helen Gahagan - later a U.S. Representative from California who ran against Richard Nixon for the Senate and coined the term "tricky Dick" - in her only film role. It's reasonably exciting and the sets and photography are top-notch for the period, but it does have one really big flaw, and sorry as a huge fan to have to say this, but its Randolph Scott, who is terribly dull and inappropriate for this role. Scott was OK in some of the cheaper b-films he did in this period, or in playing sidekick to Cary Grant or Fred Astaire, but he really didn't star to come into his own as an actor until Western Union
six years later. Ronald Colman, Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper would all have been better choices, and any of them might have made this a truly memorable piece of escapism.
11. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
(JoelEthan Coen, 2018)
Original Song; Costume Design; Adapted Screenplay
I'm not the biggest Coen brothers fan in the world, but I do at least like most of their films, and I certainly looked forward to what they could do with a western, and an anthology at that - though at the same time knowing that there are precious few great anthology films. I was bummed that this got a Netflix-only release and that the Coens seem to be going in the direction of not caring about the theatrical side anymore, but as the the film itself - well, maybe it was for the best. Westerns are hard enough to get out in the cinema, and I have the feeling this wouldn't have been a huge success. Maybe I'll expand a little on this later, but as it is only the first segment struck me as top-drawer, and that thanks more to the amazing performance of Tim Blake Nelson than anything else. I also liked Tom Waits in the prospector story a fair bit, and I was liking the wagon train segment until it ran on a bit too much. The others, meh. Worth it for me as a western fan but I suspect I'll only re-watch the first segment again, at least anytime soon.
12. The Killing Fields
(Roland Joffé, 1984)
Actor in a Supporting Role; Cinematography; Film Editing; Picture; Actor in a Leading Role; Director; Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
I liked this bio-pic/war drama about a NYT journalist and his Cambodian assistant/counterpart and friend, and the experiences they went through just before and during the bloody regime of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, in 1973-79, more than I expected to, thanks to a capable and committed cast, most notably Dr. Haing S. Ngor as Dith Pran, who really does give a remarkable performance in his first film role, even allowing for the fact that he had many experiences similar to Pran's to draw on. This is Joffé's first film, and I watched his second, The Mission
, last week, and there are notable similarities. Both films show heroes that are maybe a bit too pure for the real worlds they lived in (journalists here, Jesuits there), both are set in the jungles and photographed beautifully by Chris Menges who won Oscars for both, both have distinctive scores (Mike Oldfield here, Ennio Morricone for The Mission
), both focus almost entirely on men. But this feels a little more real to me and a little more focused, and gives a bit more of sense of reality to this particular world, which after all was quite a recent one at the time the film was made. And maybe a slight heavy-handedness and hero/villain shorthand was appropriate to this film, at a time when many in the audience really didn't know what the US had been doing in Cambodia - was still doing - and just how awful the Khmer Rouge were.