Archive | December, 2011

The National Film Registry Honors 25 American Classics

28 Dec

Today, the Library of Congress announced 25 new inductees into the National Film Registry. Each year since 1989, 25 films (all of them at least 10 years old) have been so honored for their cultural, historical or aesthetic impact. Generally, the honorees are not necessarily feature films that are much beloved by moviegoers though, of course, there are plenty of those: All About Eve (1950), Casablanca (1942), Chinatown (1974), Citizen Kane (1941), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Godfather (1972), Gone with the Wind (1939), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), The Sound of Music (1965), Star Wars (1977), The Wizard of Oz (1939) etc. On the other hand, the registry also includes such relatively obscure and/or infamous selections as Why We Fight (a Korean War era propaganda film), Gertie the Dinosaur (an animated short from 1914),  and even Dallas garment manufacturer Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of the Kennedy assassination.  The choices are always fascinating and can provide hours of reading pleasure on the National Film Registry’s official website.

Here are all 25 of this year’s picks with select passages quoted from Susan King writing  in  the Los Angeles Times‘s awards blog, “The Envelope,” no doubt lifted directly from the Library of Congress’s official press release:

  1. Allures (1961):  “Director Jordan Belson was dubbed the master of “cosmic cinema” who created abstract imagery with color, light and moving patterns and objects”.
  2. Bambi (1942)
  3. The Big Heat (1953)
  4. A Computer Animated Hand (1972):  “Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, created a program nearly 40 years ago to digitally animate a human hand. This one-minute film displays the animated hand.”
  5. Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963): “Filmmaker Robert Drew and several other documentary directors including D.A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock chronicled Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s attempts to stop two African American students from enrolling at the University of Alabama and President John F. Kennedy’s response.”
  6. The Cry of Children (1912): “This silent drama about child labor helped instigate labor reform.”
  7. A Cure for Pokeritis (1912): “Rotund comic John Bunny, who died in 1915, was one of the biggest comedy stars between 1910 and 1915. In this farce, he plays a henpecked husband.”
  8. El Mariachi (1992): “Robert Rodriguez’s first feature, which he made for $7,000 while a film student at the University of Texas.”
  9. Faces (1968): ” John Cassavetes’ masterwork offers a razor-sharp critique of middle-class America. Gena Rowlands, John Marley, Lynn Carlin and Seymour Cassel star.” [Note: Cassavetes earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay while Carlin was nominated as Best Supporting Actress and Cassel was up for Best Supporting Actor.]
  10. Fruit Cake Factory (1985): “Chick Strand’s documentary on young Mexican women who make ornamental papier-mache fruits and vegetables.”
  11. Forrest Gump (1994)
  12. Growing Up Female (1971):  “Ohio college students Julia Reichart and Jim Klein follow six girls and women from the ages of 4 to 34 at home, work and school.”
  13. Hester Street (1975):  “Director Joan Micklin Silver’s feature, which was financed by her husband, looks at Eastern European Jewish life in American in the early 1900s. Carol Kane earned an Oscar nomination as an immigrant who arrives in New York to marry.”
  14. I, an Actress (1977):  “The late underground filmmaker George Kuchar’s comedy about his directing techniques.”
  15. The Iron Horse (1924) John Ford’s seminal western focuses on how the country was united after the Civil War with the building of the transcontinental railroad.
  16. The Kid (1921)
  17. The Lost Weekend (1945)
  18. The Negro Soldier (1944):  “Frank Capra’s World War II U.S. Army filming unit produced this film that looked at the contributions of African Americans in society as well as their heroic contributions in the war. The film was produced as a response to discrimination against African Americans who were stationed in the South during the war.”
  19. Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-1940s): “Legendary tap dancing brothers Fayard and Harold Nicholas, who graced such films as 1948’s “The Pirate,” also shot home movies that feature one-of-a-kind footage of Broadway, Harlem and Hollywood.”
  20. Norma Rae (1979)
  21. Porgy and Bess (1959)
  22. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  23. Stand and Deliver (1988) “Edward James Olmos earned an Oscar nomination in the inspiring true story of an East Los Angeles high school teacher, Jaime Escalante.” [Note: Escalante passed away in March of 2010.]
  24. Twentieth Century (1934)
  25. War of the Worlds (1953)

Jodie Foster with her Best Actress Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs. Only three films have won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay: It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and The Silence of the Lambs. All three films are now also represented in the National Film Registry.

Of course, some of these films, including Bambi, Forrest Gump, The KidThe Lost Weekend, Norma Rae, The Silence of the Lambs, and War of the Worlds need no introduction. I’ve never been such a huge fan of Forrest Gump, the newest film to be inducted. [To clarify, I believe 1996’s Fargo, a 2006 inductee,  is the most recent film included in the registry.] My misigivings about Forrest Gump aside, I certainly have no problems with Tom Hanks’s Oscar winning performance because he is burdened with the nearly next to impossible feat of carrying the film and making something likeable out of something unlikeable. I’ve always given him props for that as I have given Gary Sinise his due in the tricky role of Lt. Dan.

On the other hand, I’ve always been a huge fan of The Silence of the Lambs. I can’t praise it enough. Not only is it a model book-to-film adaptation, it also presents one of the greatest movie heroes/heroines in Jodie Foster’s resourceful, determined Clarice Starling, offers commentary on the sexist nature of detective work (at least circa 1991) and spotlights not one but two villains: Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins as coldly calculating Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine as stark raving mad Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill.  The fact that Silence of the Lambs not only won 5 Academy Awards, including the rare Best Picture/Actress/Actor/Director (Jonathan Demme)/Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally) sweep (more than a year after it premiered, no less), but has also been enshrined by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 greatest features from the first century of moviemaking, in addition to being one of the scariest movies with one of the greatest heroes as well as one of the greatest villains,  shows that this is a popular film that not only hit a nerve with the moviegoing public but also made an impact on the people who work in the business. Would we have even had as many police procedural dramas on TV over the past two decades had it not been  for the success of The Silence of the Lambs?  Yep, twenty years after its release The Silence of the Lambs endures as an American classic, so kudos to the National Film Registry for making it official for future generations of film preservationists.

Carol Kane and I share a birthday though she is actually 8 years older than I am. She was a mere 23 years old when she earned a Best Actress nomination for playing a much put upon immigrant wife who takes control of her own life in 1975's Hester Street.

Of all these films, the one that I am happiest to see recognized is Hester Street directed by Joan Micklin Silver.  Well, what can I say? I’ve always been a Carol Kane fan. I remember when this movie came out back in 1975. I read just about every review of it that I could find. I’d been fascinated by Carol Kane ever since I’d first read about her in a Canadian movie entitled Wedding in White a few years earlier. I liked her quirky looks; she reminded me of a young Bette Davis. Plus, we have the same birthday. Also, back in 1975 there weren’t a whole lot of movies directed by women, let alone movies directed by women that were earning Oscar nods. Think about it: in 1972, Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid scored Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor nominations for Jeanne Berlin (Maye’s daughter it must be noted) and Eddie Albert, respectively. In 1973, Julia Phillips became the first woman to win an Oscar for co-producing a Best Picture winner (The Sting). Lina Wertmuller would not break the masculine stronghold on the Best Director race until 1976’s Seven Beauties, and Randa Haines has the distinction of being the first woman to direct a Best Picture nominee (Children of a Lesser God) though Haines was not so honored by her peers in the directors’ branch, and that wasn’t until 1986, so, yeah, Kane scoring a nod for Hester Street was a huge big deal–most likely the first time a nominated performer of either sex in a leading acting category was directed by a woman, and writer-director Joan Micklin Silver, though not recognized by the  Academy, did in fact earn a nomination for the Writers Guild Award. Not bad. By the way, I’ve only done some cursory research on this and while I’m sure my claim at least holds for movies released in the 60s and 70s, I welcome feedback from anyone who can prove that a leading actor or actress received an Oscar nomination for a film directed by a woman prior to 1975.

Truthfully, I don’t remember if Hester Street actually opened in Dallas in ’75, or if it didn’t open until closer to the Oscars in 1976. I can’t  remember which theater it played at exactly either, but I think it was probably the UA Cine, maybe the Park Forest. Definitely not General Cinema Northpark or ABC Interstate’s Medallion. What I do remember is that I wasn’t able to persuade my mother to take me. Oh sure, we talked about it, but like a lot of movies from that era, I missed it because such things were a luxury for us at that time though we were sometimes treated to a drive-in or a cheapie film series at Richland where my mother worked back in the day (which is how I first saw The Magic Christian, but I digress). At any rate, Hester Street was the movie I wanted to see, and I was probably the only teenager in suburban Garland who had a hankering to see a black and white film, in English and Yiddish, about Jewish immigrants living in New York City during the late 1800s, but it wasn’t for nothing during those days that I scoured the likes of The New Yorker, New York, the New York Times, and the Village Voice, among others, whenever I could in order to read about movies, movies, and movies. Eventually, I caught up with Hester Street on VHS, and I’m glad I did. Not only is Kane wonderful, in an authentic, non-actressy kind of way, the movie provides a fascinating look at another culture during a transitional period in American history. Also, guess what? It features a surprising supporting performance by none other than Emmy winner Doris Roberts, well before she became a household name with the likes of Remington Steele and Everybody Loves Raymond.

Do you want to know what else I remember about Hester Street? I remember watching Kane being interviewed by top Hollywood gossip maven Rona Barrett on a pre-Oscar special–I guess it aired the weekend before the Oscars, which were held on Mondays at the time–and hearing the actress say, “All I’ve got pulling for me are two Jews from Cleveland,” presumably her parents since she was born in Cleveland. For years, I thought I’d imagined Kane saying those words, but there they are on page 515 of Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona. I’m sure Kane had more support than she realized; after all, she got the nod, didn’t she? Still again, almost every film critic and devoted Oscar fan who is old enough to recall the 1975/76 race no doubt remembers that the lineup for Best Actress is widely considered one of the weakest in Academy history–not because the nominated performances themselves were weak but because the big Hollywood studios were not especially interested in making high quality (that’s the key term) movies with grown women as leading characters, and not just appendages of big name male actors, at that point. Much has been written about how winner Louise Fletcher (as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest adversarial Nurse Ratched) would have likely been nominated as Best Supporting Actress had the competition that year been stiffer; indeed, she was originally named the year’s best in the secondary category by the New York Film Critics Circle. Furthermore, legend has it that such top actresses as Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, and Jane Fonda actually turned down the role because they found it mean spirited and misogynistic. Elsewhere, the Academy rightfully nominated Ann-Margret for her flashy turn as the brazen mother of the title character in Ken Russell’s outrageous big screen treatment of The Who’s rock opera Tommy. I’ve always thought that Ann-Margret deserved any and all accolades for giving such a committed, impassioned performance in an extremely  colorful and unpredictable role so far removed from the mainstream, but it was no doubt much too weird to really go the distance with older, arguably more conservative, Academy voters even though the actress, unlike Fletcher, was very much an Hollywood insider [1]. Plus, while the sultry star damn near dominates ever frame of footage in which she appears, the movie is still entitled Tommy, not Mommy. At any rate, Fetcher and Ann-Margret were the only actresses nominated for films with any connections to the major outfits: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was released through United Artists while Tommy was produced by Columbia Pictures in conjunction with the Robert Stigwood Organization. Kane’s film, on the other hand, was an independent in an era in which such films received limited distribution at best. Beyond that, Isabelle Adjani (only 19 a the time) was up for Francois Truffuat’s French language The Story of Adele H., and Glenda Jackson, already a two-time champ [2], was in the running for a film adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabbler (retitled Hedda), courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Brut Productions; therefore, Kane’s comments have to be taken in context. Not only was her film not widely seen by audiences outside of New York and Los Angeles, it also did not have the advantage of a big corporation funding an elaborate Oscar campaign. Nonetheless, her nomination speaks volumes about a time when voters could have done the easy thing by nominating Barbra Streisand for reprising her Oscar winning role as Fanny Brice in Funny Lady, Diana Ross in the critically reviled if moderately successful Mahogany, or Candice Bergen for playing a kidnapping victim who falls for her captor (no less than Sean Connery) in the would-be epic The Wind and the Lion.  That aside, I’m still a little puzzled that either Karen Black as a starlet on the fringes of Hollywood in The Day of the Locust or Marilyn Hassett as injured Olympic aspirant in The Other Side of the Mountain did not score knee-jerk nominations. Both were nominated for the Golden Globe award, and both their films received Oscar nods in other categories [3].

At any rate, the fact that Kane was Oscar nominated, and that Joan Micklin Silver warranted a nod from the WGA, if not the Academy, is just more proof that Hester Street‘s inclusion in the National Film Registry is a good thing. Yes, the official notes make the case that the film is to be celebrated for depicting a certain way of life in America at a certain time, but it is also a statement about the state of motion pictures, and women’s roles both in front and behind the camera, at the time of its release.  Kane never became a major movie star; however, she’s rarely lacked for work, especially in TV. She won two Emmys for her work in the classic sitcom Taxi. I also loved her as a supporting player in the Bess Armstrong sitcom All is Forgiven, in which she portrayed a ditsy soap opera writer from the South.  Some of her more celebrated movies include Dog Day Afternoon (also 1975), Annie Hall (1977), When a Stranger Calls (1979), The Princess Bride (1987), Scrooged (1988), Addams Family Values (1993), and Four Christmases (2008). If you ever get the chance, check out The Lemon Sisters (1989) with Diane Keaton and Kathryn Grody. Kane’s rendition of the Rawhide theme song is a howl, a genuine delight. See it, and you’ll know why she’s always in demand. On the other hand, Joan Micklin Silver’s career has been much more lowkey. Her follow up to Hester Street, Between the Lines (1977), was famous for its then fresh faced cast that included Stephen Collins, Lindsay Crouse, Jill Eikenberry, Jeff Goldblum, John Heard, Marilu Henner, and Bruno Kirby. She pretty much disappeared after 1979’s Chilly Scenes of Winter, which was originally entitled Head Over Heels. She later rebounded with 1988’s Crossing Delancey starring Amy Irving, of which I am also a huge, huge, fan. This one is in many ways a perfect companion piece to Hester Street as it shows a modern young Jewish woman trying to navigate a career and romance on her own terms while her bubbe decides to jump-start a serious courtship the old fashioned way: through a marriage broker, a matchmaker if you will. This is Irving’s most appealing role–she earned a Globe nomination–and, of course, the soundtrack is  full of tunes by my favorite trio of musical sisters from New Jersey, The Roches, one of whom–Suzzy–also has a supporting role. Thanks, Joan!

Backing up just a bit: as problematic as the 1975/76 Best Actress Oscar race was made out to be, the Best Actor race was equally shaky considering that two of the nominees were in movies that were essentially filmed plays, including a one man show, produced outside the auspices of the studio system, but that’s the makings of another blog post I guess.

Thanks for your consideration…

[1] Ann-Margret’s first Oscar nomination was for 1971’s Carnal Knowledge, in which the frequent star of escapist musicals and light romantic comedies was cast against type in the supporting role of blowzy, neurotic Bobbie Templeton; the movie also featured Carol Kane in a smallish part; however, long before her first Oscar nod, Margret had already won a Photoplay award, a Golden Globe (and another nomination besides), and was a frequent finalist for the Motion Picture Exhibitor Laurel award.

[2] Jackson first won Best Actress for 1970’s Women in Love (directed by Ken Russell, who, again, directed Ann-Margret’s Tommy); she triumphed again for 1973’s A Touch of Class.

[3] Longtime Hollywood vet Burgess Meredith, best known to baby boomers for playing The Penguin on Batman, earned his first Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Day of the Locust; “Richard’s Window,” composed Charles Fox and Norman Gimble and performed by Olivia Newton John on The Other Side of the Mountain soundtrack, was  a 1975/76 Oscar nominee for Best Song.

Sources and stuff:

Wiley, Mason and Damien Bona. Inside Oscar. New York: Ballantine, 1996.

Link to Susan King’s article for “The Envelope: The Awards Insider” @ The Los Angeles Times:

http://tinyurl.com/6tuvd5m

Link to the National Film Registry @ the Library of Congress website:

http://www.loc.gov/film/filmnfr.html

Xmas Flix

24 Dec

Besides the likes of Oscar winners such as Olympia Dukakis, Sally Field, and Shirley MacLaine, as well as future Oscar winner Julia Roberts, Steel Magnolias also features a delightful performance by Daryl Hannah, gamely playing against type as Dolly Parton's initially timid assistant, Annelle.

Well, we just had our annual Xmas screening of Steel Magnolias (1989) down at the youth center where I volunteer every week. What’s that, you say? Steel Magnolias? Is that really a Xmas movie? Well, maybe not in the traditional sense although a key sequence takes place during the annual December festivities. Indeed, the play is structured so that every act coincides with a holiday of some kind, beginning with Easter, followed by Xmas, then Independence Day (more than a year later), and onto Halloween before coming back around to Easter.

I like Steel Magnolias, and it’s not the same old-same old Xmas feel good flick. The young people love the mix of campy humor and gut wrenching emotion, or to paraphrase one of the film’s most quotable lines, laughter through tears is one of the audience’s favorite emotions. That noted, I’ve always had a few problems with it–mainly the character Shelby, played by Julia Roberts, the tragic heart of the story that playwright Robert Harling based on his sister.  Sorry, Rob. I just don’t see her as the saint that you clearly intend for audiences. To me, the problem is that at best Shelby is stupid; at worst, she’s selfish and ungrateful. When she tells her mom (M’lynn played by Sally Field) that she “would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special,” I feel like I’ve been bitch-slapped. After all, haven’t we just seen this young woman have the wedding of her dreams? Isn’t it obvious that her parents absolutely adore her? Her husband doesn’t seem especially bright, maybe even a dolt, but he is clearly smitten with her (in his own way), and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s a rich good looking lawyer, yet for some reason, Shelby sees all of that as nothing special and is willing to jeopardize her health and bring emotional turmoil into the lives of her loved ones, so she can have her way–even if for only a half hour. What the bl*%p? Why should  I care about what happens to this uppity twit?

Roberts’s Oscar nominated Shelby aside, there’s still much to recommend in Steel Magnolias, including some howlingly good one-liners delivered with deliciously delectable verve by such showbiz pros as Olympia Dukakis (as Clairee, the well-heeled gossipy widow), Shirley MacLaine (Ouiser, the eccentric rich curmudgeon), and Dolly Parton (Truvy, the glamorous, romance deprived beauty salon owner). Though these actresses are ostensibly playing women, their bitchy repartee renders them something akin to drag queens. To whit:

  • Truvy – There is no such thing as natural beauty…Well, just look at me Annelle. It takes some effort to look like this.
  • Annelle – Oh, I can see that.
  • Clairee – The older you get, the sillier you get.
  • Ouiser –  And the older you get, the uglier you get.
  • Clairee – I’ve just been to the dedication of the new children’s park.
  • Truvy – Yeah? How did that go?
  • Clairee – Beautifully, except Janice Van Meter got hit with a baseball. It was fabulous.
  • Truvy – Was she hurt?
  • Clairee – I doubt it. She got hit in the head.
  • Clairee – The only thing that separates us from the animals is the ability to accessorize.
  • Ouiser – You are too twisted for color TV.

Coming from the mouths of less skilled actresses, these lines would seem bewilderingly mean spirited, but somehow they manage to hit just the right notes to coax audiences into playing along. Of course, female characters that evoke the camp sensibility of drag queens rather than actual women might hold little appeal for a lot of viewers, especially actual women. On the other hand, there has to be a reason that the movie is so beloved more than 20 years after its release, and that Harling’s play is still popular with community theater companies all across the country.

What I like most about Steel Magnolias is Sally Field’s performance as Shelby’s loving, no-nonsense mother. I’ll be frank, I sometimes think that Field has been guilty of trying too hard to prove she’s capable of being a respected dramatic actress in order to break from the light comedies that propelled her to stardom as a teenager in the 1960’s.  Granted, she was brilliant as a woman suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder in the landmark TV adaptation of the fact-based Sybil back in the 1970s–but by the time she got around to winning Oscars for the likes of Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984), she had become insufferable. You like me, indeed. That’s why I was so surprised by how truly masterful her performance in Steel Magnolias is. There are two scenes that are particularly strong, The first occurs during the Xmas portion when Shelby breaks the news about her potentially problematic pregnancy to M’Lynn as the latter busies herself with some holiday baking. M’Lynn worries that Shelby is acting rashly, foolishly, and tries to talk some sense into the young woman while respecting a strained boundary. Every thing Field does in this scene–every inflection, gesture, hesitation, and reaction–reeks of truth, simple and unadorned. There’s absolutely nothing flashy or self-conscious to be found. It’s not that she’s underplaying the scene, exactly, but that she’s playing it exactly right so that it doesn’t look like acting, but look at her hands, her stance, and the sense of exasperation and resignation in her voice. She knows she’s fighting a losing battle from the beginning.  Field’s second great scene requires a bit of a spoiler alert though I think that no such alert should be necessary 22 years later. At any rate, Field is simply amazing as she delivers a graveside monologue late in the movie. In this one, M’Lynn zigzags through extreme emotional terrain: trembling restraint here; full throttle wailing there, and a heck of a lot of other stuff in between. On the DVD commentary, director Herbert Ross marvels at how even though the scene was shot multiple times (in order to capture the reactions of other cast members), Field rose to the performance challenge take after take. That’s pretty impressive.  Good for her. Field was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Steel Magnolias, well deserved, as was Roberts, but I guess the Academy thought that Field, who’d earlier won two Best Actress Oscars in the span of five years, had been honored enough.  Of course, it is indeed possible that members of the Academy simply preferred 5 other performances to Field’s, and that’s no doubt true on some level, but my point is that had she not already won two Oscars, her performance might have been given greater weight, greater consideration, when it came time for voters to mark their ballots. The 1989/90 race for the Best Actress Oscar was in itself too twisted for color TV, so I’ll let that go for now.

Snippets of Thomas Newman's Oscar nominated score have been heard in scads of movie trailers in the ensuing years. Robin Swicord, the film's screenwriter and co-producer, was snubbed by the Academy though she was nominated by her peers in the Writers Guild of America for their annual award.

One of my other favorite non-Xmas Xmas movies is Little Women, the 1994 version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel directed by Gillian Armstrong, featuring Oscar nominee Winona Ryder as aspiring writer Jo.  In this case, the opening scenes are set during the Xmas holiday,  but before the viewer ever sees a single shot of wintry picturesque Concord, Mass. (via Deerfield, Mass.), the filmmakers have already presented a Victorian influenced title sequence accompanied by Thomas Newman’s thrillingly majestic score with lots of trumpet flourishes. Right from the outset, the movie just feels like Xmas, but not today’s sick, commercialized variation with daily reminders about Black Friday sales and the ensuing violence, but the magical sort of Xmas born of childhood imagination. Yes, Virginia, it’s true: this was actually my pick for the best film of 1994, and Michael and I still watch it every year on Xmas morning.

The same year that Sturges made The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, he made Hail the Conquering Hero which also starred Eddie Bracken. Sturges earned Best Original Screenplay nominations for both films; The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was subsequently honored by the American Film Institute in its retrospective of the 100 funniest comedies. It is also included in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry.

Another seasonal favorite around our household in Preston Sturges’s comedy classic The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek starring the incomparable blonde dynamo Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken. I’d heard about this movie for years, decades, before I sat down and watched it. I knew very little of the particulars other than Hutton played, or plays, a woman who parties a little too hard and marries a young man on his way to fight in WWII; she has no memory of getting married though she conceives a child on her wedding night. Oh yeah. Can you imagine? I mean, this was Hollywood circa 1944, after all. To this day, I think the real miracle is that Sturges was ever able to get the movie made. I once saw Hutton in an interview with Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies, and the actress opined that Sturges was able to get away with as much as did in that era because he played everything for laughs. At any rate, I had no idea that this movie was in any way shape or form a Xmas flick when I first viewed it, but I suppose the title’s key work is “miracle.” Hmmm…a young woman has no almost recollection of how she got pregnant, and the story’s climax occurs at Xmas time. Go figure.  This is one hilarious tale, and Hutton, as always, is a marvel though she’s matched every bit of the way by Bracken as an unlikely suitor.

Of the holy trinity of old school Xmas flix, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and White Christmas (1954), I have to admit I’m predisposed to the latter, which I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing in a special big screen presentation at the Lakewood theatre a few years ago.  Of course, no one sings the title tune better than Der Bingle, but it’s not a one man show, not with the likes of Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen on board–and “White Christmas” isn’t the only worthwhile song in the movie. The tune originally appeared as part of the soundtrack to 1942’s Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Astaire, and it did indeed win that year’s Oscar for Best Song and eventually set all kinds of records for worldwide sales, per those folks at Guinness. For the lavish Technicolor remake, Berlin wrote a few new tunes, including the Oscar nominated “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and the camp classic, “Sisters.”  Also in the movie’s favor is splendiferous Technicolor and the wide screen VistaVision presentation, the first film shot in Paramount’s unique process. Backing up to Miracle on 34th Street, let me say that as a child I was thrilled to learn that Edmund Gwen won an Oscar for playing Kris Kringle. Good to know, and well deserved. His performance is the only one we ever really need at this time of year though I do get a bit of kick out of Tim Allen in 1994’s The Santa Clause.

Those are the biggies, but there are a few others: I was working at the movies back in 1990 when Home Alone premiered, and I liked the movie so much that I saw it about a billion times, eventually becoming sick at the very mention of it and avoiding it at all costs for years afterward; however, I recently watched it on TV one day, and I’m glad I was able to find it adorable all over again. Likewise, I manage to watch some or all of A Christmas Story (1983) at least once during the annual TBS marathon. We also make time every year to watch Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) in order to see and hear Judy Garland sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Garland owns this song in the same way that Bing Crosby owns his. I’m getting the shivers just thinking about it as I write this.

What about all those classic made for TV specials? Give me the original versions of A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)  over How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) and Frosty the Snowman (1969) almost any day. I don’t dislike either of the latter pair, per se, but I don’t love them either.  On the other hand, I thought Jim Carrey was genius in the 2000 live reworking of The Grinch directed by Ron Howard though I was not a huge fan of the production as a whole; it reeked too much of big studio madness. Also, am I the only one who still remembers the Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol (1962)? This was my first exposure to Dickens’s classic, and I’m good with that. Oh, and I have fond memories of watching, and rewatching,  the live-action, Emmy winning The House without a Christmas Tree starring Jason Robards and Lisa Lucas back in the 70s (beginning in 1972)–as well as The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971),  the rather bleak but compelling pilot for the popular The Waltons TV show.  The initial telefilm starred the late great Patricia Neal as Olivia Walton, replaced by Michael Learned in the series, and helped send Richard Thomas, who’d been acting almost his whole young life at that point, to the next level of his career in television.

Finally, my sister and I used to regularly watch a made for TV movie entitled Always Remember I Love You (1990) starring Patty Duke and Stephen Dorff that Lifetime used to run during the holiday season, but I haven’t seen it lately. The story involves a young man (Dorff) who finds out that besides being adopted by his wealthy parents, said adoption was not entirely above board, so he runs away to find his biological mom (Duke). This probably sounds just awful, and it’s not too hard to figure out how it will end, but Duke invests it with so much feeling that it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotion of its bittersweet ending. Kudos to Vivienne Radkoff for figuring out a way to end a story on just the right note. What a gift.

Thanks for your consideration…

Do the Golden Globes Even Matter Anymore?

19 Dec

For better or worse, the Golden Globes are an important pit stop in the race for Oscar gold. PS: Am I the only one who remembers actually seeing, on at least one occasion, the globe part fall off the trophy during a winner’s acceptance speech?

Once upon a time, no less than Warren Beatty famously opined something to the effect that the Golden Globes were just for fun while the Oscars were all business. How’s that? Well, for much of its existence, the Golden Globes, an annual affair put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, just weren’t taken as seriously by Hollywood insiders because the H.F.P.A. always had the reputation of being a little, well, sketchy.  Oh sure, the official H.F.P.A. boldly proclaims:

The HFPA is currently celebrating its 68th anniversary in Hollywood. Today the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association represent some 55 countries with a combined readership of more than 250 million. Their publications include leading newspapers and magazines in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Latin America, ranging from the Daily Telegraph in England to Le Figaro in France, L’Espresso in Italy and Vogue in Germany as well as the China Times and the pan-Arabic magazine Kul Al Osra.

Per Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona: Diane Keaton (l) skipped much of the publicity blitz for 1986’s Crimes of the Heart while Jessica Lange (center) balked at posing for individual photos with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at a soiree arranged by the film’s producer Dino de Laurentiis. In contrast, Sissy Spacek was at the organization’s complete disposal, resulting in the lone Globe nomination among the trio. Coincidence?

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The problem is that the organization has been plagued for decades about what it means to be a member of the foreign press, exactly. Reportedly, some of these so-called “publications” are not especially esteemed in their countries of origin: tabloids and newsletters, but now likely blogs as well. Be that as it may, the organization has always craved the culture of celebrity, that is, access to famous movie and TV stars boosts the reputations of foreign reporters and helps boost their outlets’ profiles, and each year the group shows its appreciation to Hollywood by throwing a great big party and handing out awards; likewise, Hollywood returns the favor by playing along and then enjoying themselves at said party. Indeed, studio publicists have long been known to try to score points with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press by granting all kinds of access to high profile clients. Of course, both camps argue that such moves are just good business and in no way part of any attempt at quid pro quo, results frequently to the contrary.

On the other hand, in spite of their second rate status, the Golden Globes have always had a place in the Oscar race. How so? Well, one of the genius things about the Globes is that three of the major movie categories are subdivided into “Drama” and “Musical or Comedy” contests, which means that there are 10 nominees for Best Picture, 10 nominees for Best Actress, and 10 nominees for Best Actor. Of course, some of Oscar’s biggest fans and foes alike have been begging the Academy to likewise split its major categories. Those proponents believe that the aging Academy’s stuffy voting body is predisposed to recognize the work in  more dramatic films while relegating comedies, as Woody Allen once observed, to the children’s table.

Nobody would ever deny that Al Pacino was a legitimate Oscar contender for 1992’s Scent of a Woman; however, when the film won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama, over the likes of eventual Oscar winner Unforgiven as well as The Crying Game, Howards End, and A Few Good Men, insiders were taken aback. Shortly afterward, reports began surfacing that members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had been treated to a trip to New York that included a screening and a meet and greet with Pacino (Wiley and Bona 865). Coincidence?

Personally, I think expanding the Oscars’ categories would only diminish the value of the Oscar (as the much sneered return toward a Best Picture field of 10 proved); moreover, I full well believe, in spite of what the H.F.P.A.’s official history suggests, that the main reason the categories have been split into two distinct fields is to simply attract more big name stars into attending the party in the first place. Furthermore, the way films are categorized as either comedy or drama is entirely suspect. For example, Jim Carrey’s darkly comic turn in 1998’s The Truman Show was named Best Actor in a Drama (a stretch, that one), but then the very next year, Carrey won Best Actor in a Comedy for playing Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, a movie which was comic only in that its protagonist was a comedian. Michelle Pfeiffer won Best Actress in a Drama for 1989’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, a quasi-musical in which its female star’s most famous bit was lolling kittenishly around a piano in a slinky red dress while singing that old chestnut “Makin’ Whoopee.” The same year, Jessica Tandy won Best Actress in a Comedy for Driving Miss Daisy, a decades long chronicle of the relationship between a wealthy Jewish Southern matron and her African-American chauffeur. Their story encompasses bigotry, the Civil Right movement, and even a synagogue bombing. Funny stuff, right? The hallmarks of comedy.  Furthermore, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon both won Golden Globes in the musical or comedy division for their roles in 2005’s Walk the Line, the true love story between Johnny Cash and June Carter. Oh sure, the movie had wonderful concert sequences with Phoenix and Witherspoon providing their own almost eerily true-to-life vocals, but theirs was a love story that played out against a backdrop of adultery and substance abuse. Four short years later, Jeff Bridges played a washed up, alcoholic country and western singer on the comeback trail in Crazy Heart, and Bridges likewise sang a handful of songs throughout the film; he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama. See what I mean? The criteria are arbitrary. Actually, agents and studio personnel make the decisions about how to position their films for the consideration of the H.F.P.A., and those determinations are usually made by surveying the competition and looking for the clearest route to success.

Even so, despite their sometimes dubious history, the Golden Globes have long played an important role in shaping the Oscar race, and there are at least three good reasons why.

  1. When Academy members are already pressed to attend screenings and/or view DVDs at home, the Golden Globes provide a sort of shorthand by narrowing a large playing field into a relative few high profile candidates. In other words, the nominees function as a sort of de facto short list for Academy consideration, which can very well have a nice pay-off for performers in comic films.
  2. The Golden Globes are a party with dinner and drinks, lots and lots of drinks. The telecasts have been full of wacky moments that were the result of stars being fairly well inebriated. This boozing it up factor certainly makes schmoozing (i.e., campaigning for Oscar votes, if not jobs) seem much more like fun, per Warren Beatty, and less like work.
  3. There was a time when the Golden Globes were awarded just prior to the days when the Academy’s first-round ballots were due. This was when Oscar nominations were announced in February, and the awards themselves were not handed out until March. As the Globes are almost always in January, a good showing there  could have residual effect, alerting voters to a work that might be worth a second look.  These days, the window between the Globes and the the first Academy deadline is practically non-existent, but it might shape what happens before the Academy’s final ballot, especially if a winner gives a memorable speech, that is, memorable in a good way: witty and erudite, humble and poignant, or rousing and profound.

On the other hand, the Globes, despite their well publicized telecast and influence on Academy voters, are not a reliable indicator of Oscar outcome. A recent high profile oversight was when 2005’s eventual Academy winner Crash was all but ignored by the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. With that in mind, what about this year’s slate of nominees?

  1. The H.F.P.A. managed to nominate 6 films for Best Motion Picture Drama without including The Tree of Life–and without nominating Terrence Malick as Best Director. I’m not surprised because Malick’s film is almost singularly and even peculiarly American. At the very least, it’s not flashy enough for the H.F.P.A.’s star-studded tastes, even with the likes of Brad Pitt in a major role.
  2. Steven Spielberg’s War Horse snags a Best Picture nod though Spielberg himself is not in the running for Best Director. Reportedly, the critics have been less enthusiastic about the film than originally anticipated though those reviews are yet to be published. My feeling is that the movie is about to be a smashing success, and, fueled by strong public approval, it will find just enough favor with the Academy to be a real contender.
  3. Curiously absent among the Golden Globe nominees is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock; directed by Stephen Daldry. There’s been a lot of secrecy surrounding the drama that plays out in the aftermath of 9/11, but those who have seen it are reportedly raving. Of course, the combined star power of Bullock and Hanks aside, director Daldry is a formidable talent who has made exactly three feature films and has been Oscar nominated as Best Director every time: Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2002), and The Reader (2008); the last two were also nominated for Best Picture. I’ll be frank: I find the trailer insufferable, but I’m willing to at least watch the darned thing.
  4. That Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris scored 4 nominations, including Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Screenplay, is quite the good thing. On the other hand, the Academy snubbed Allen as both writer and director  of 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona though that film actually won the Globe in the same category as his newest film. That noted, Penelope Cruz did in fact win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in the film, so it was not completely overlooked.
  5. Speaking of Midnight in Paris, the fact that the highly touted Corey Stoll-as Ernest Hemingway–is not among the Best Supporting Actor nominees, on the heels of also being overlooked for a Screen Actors Guild nod, is not encouraging. Too bad.
  6. Likewise, in contrast to the Screen Actors Guild, Nick Nolte (Warrior) and Armie Hammer (J. Edgar) are both out, but Albert Brooks (Drive) is back in the game. This whole race could turn into a showdown between Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Brooks. If Nolte–twice a Best Actor also ran, already–scores an Oscar nod, the race will be even more exciting.
  7. Alas, poor Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids): no Golden Globe nod for her. Can she still find favor with the Academy? Possibly. After all, some of the same people who voted for her on the first round SAG ballot will be voting for the Oscars. On the other hand, the Academy voters are a more select group, and they don’t include as many TV actors, a likely form of support for sitcom star McCarthy. Stay tuned.

Oscar buzz has been building for Gary Oldman’s performance as legendary George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy since the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in early September; however, Oldman has missed out on most of the big year-end awards. He was recently named Best Actor by the San Francisco Film Critics Association and is a nominee for a Satellite, a Golden Globe knock-off awarded by the International Press Association, a group founded by former members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Academy.

8. The clock seems to be running out for Gary Oldman to gain some traction for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s possible that strong grosses once the film finally opens will prompt interest for his film among voters, but this is an example of a studio sitting on a movie way too long. The buzz has been building since it first screened at film festivals during late summer, so the studio should have capitalized on that moment rather than wait till the year end assault.

The original poster for Young Adult aped the covers of novels like those that Theron’s Mavis Gary writes.

9. A highlight for me is the inclusion of Charlize Theron (Young Adult) among the nominees for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. Theron’s movie is not necessarily laugh out-loud funny, and it will be a hard sell with the majority of the American moviegoing public, but I think it’s a special piece of work, a real treat for those inclined to receive it with an open mind. Simply: Theron plays a writer of young adult fiction: Waverly Prep, a series, not unlike Sweet Valley High, that’s run its course. With her marriage on the skids and few romantic or professional prospects, the woman once voted “Best Hair” among her classmates makes a beeline back from the big city (Minneapolis, not New York, Chicago, or LA) to make one last–desperate–attempt to reunite with her former high school sweetheart–the one that got away–roughly 20 years after the fact.  To say Theron’s Mavis Gary is not  a nice person is a bit of an understatement, but everything about the performance  is pitch perfect.  It’s interesting to me that Theron, who won oh so many awards, including an Oscar, for radically altering her appearance to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster back in 2003, has found an arguably less sympathetic albeit slightly more glamorous character.  Of course, Theron received a second Oscar nomination for 2005’s North Country, but that true life story of female miners, while well done, seemed almost too easily pitched to Academy members.  Theron is working much harder here, and the results are frequently astonishing. Kudos to screenwriter Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for 2007’s Juno, for writing an original screenplay that does, indeed, possess some originality.

10. Theron’s biggest competition for the Golden Globe is likely Michelle Williams in the overrated My Week with Marilyn. That either performer’s film qualifies as a comedy is a bit of a leap, but  I digress. As I’ve already written, I like Williams as an actress (especially in 2010’s Blue Valentine), but her work as Marilyn Monroe falls flat for this MM fan. It’s not so much that Williams’ performance comes across as an impersonation, but that she seems more like a little girl playing dress-up than anything else. Of course, some fans will likely argue that Marilyn herself was a girl who played dress-up, and while there might be some truth to that, Marilyn’s best screen work was a lot richer than the woman played by Williams seems to suggest.  Williams is lucky right now because her film has all the backing of the Weinstein company, the relatively new outfit formed by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Back when the pair ran Miramax, they took Oscar campaigning, which is hardly a new phenomenon, to ludicrous extremes. They’ve been relatively restrained since starting their new company; however, with the well-earned success of last year’s The King’s Speech, they seem to be just as eager as ever to hype their product for awards consideration, a notion that sits rather well with the likes of the Hollywood Foreign Press, especially if that means granting voting members access to the likes of Williams as in olden days, happy Golden Globe days of yore…

Thanks for your consideration…

The Golden Globes air Sunday, January 15th, 2012 on NBC.

Source:

Wiley, Mason and Damien Bona. Inside Oscar. New York: Ballantine, 1996.

The Race for Oscar Gold Goes Global with the Hollywood Foreign Press

15 Dec

Okay, here at the end of a rather stressful day pour moi, are the Golden Globe nominees for motion pictures in major categories. The commentary will have to follow at a later date. I’m pooped.

  • BEST MOTION PICTURE DRAMA
  1. The Descendants
  2. The Help
  3. Hugo
  4. The Ides of March
  5. Moneyball
  6. War Horse
  • BEST MOTION PICTURE MUSICAL OR COMEDY
  1. 50/50
  2. The Artist
  3. Bridesmaids
  4. Midnight in Paris
  5. My Week with Marilyn
  • BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
  1. Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
  2. Viola Davis (The Help)
  3. Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
  4. Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
  5. Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk about Kevin)
  • BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL OR COMEDY
  1. Jodie Foster (Carnage)
  2. Charlize Theron (Young Adult)
  3. Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)
  4. Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
  5. Kate Winslet (Carnage)
  • BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
  1. George Clooney (The Descendants)
  2. Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
  3. Michael Fassbender (Shame)
  4. Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March)
  5. Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
  • BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL OR COMEDY
  1. Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  2. Brendan Gleeson (The Guard)
  3. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50)
  4. Ryan Gosling (Crazy Stupid Love)
  5. Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris)
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
  1. Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)
  2. Jessica Chastain (The Help)
  3. Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
  4. Octavia Spencer (The Help)
  5. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
  1. Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
  2. Albert Brooks (Drive)
  3. Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
  4. Viggo Mortensen (A Dangerous Method)
  5. Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  • BEST DIRECTOR
  1. Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
  2. George Clooney (The Ides of March)
  3. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
  4. Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
  5. Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
  • BEST SCREENPLAY
  1. Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
  2. George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon (The Ides of March)
  3. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
  4. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxwon, and Jim Rash (The Descendants)
  5. Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball)

To find out all the other nominees in film and television, please visit the official website for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association:

http://www.goldenglobes.org/

The Screen Actors Guild Gets into the Game

15 Dec

Okay, well, it’s been a busy week. The Screen Actors Guild announced its nominees on Wednesday for the year’s best performances in film and television. The film nominees are as follows:

  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
  1. Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
  2. Viola Davis (The Help)
  3. Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
  4. Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk about Kevin)
  5. Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE  ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
  1. Demián Bichir (A Better Life)
  2. George Clooney (The Descendants)
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
  4. Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  5. Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
  1. Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
  2. Jessica Chastain (The Help)
  3. Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
  4. Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
  5. Octavia Spencer (The Help)
  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
  1. Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
  2. Armie Hammer (J. Edgar)
  3. Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
  4. Nick Nolte (Warrior)
  5. Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  • OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A CAST IN A MOTION PICTURE
  1. The Artist
  2. Bridesmaids
  3. The Descendants
  4. The Help
  5. Midnight in Paris

Demián Bichir (l) seen here with José Julián (r) in A Better Life, is also an Independent Spirit Award nominee. In 2008, he portrayed Fidel Castro opposite Benecio Del Toro in Steve Soderbergh's Che Guevara biopic.

Well, one of the biggest surprises, possibly the biggest surprise, is the nomination for A Better Life‘s Demián Bichir–and good for him! Michael and I saw this movie over the summer, and at the time there was a lot of Oscar talk for the actor, but all that seemed to have dissipated by the fall and the arrival of the likes of The Artist, The Descendants, J.Edgar, and Moneyball. I have to say that I am thrilled. The plot of A Better Life concerns a Mexican born gardener raising his teenage son in Los Angeles. The father’s fortune briefly takes a turn for the better only to spin back the other way–only worse. The movie in many ways reminded me of Vittorio Di Sica’s classic The Bicycle Thief  (1948) although the film’s credits indicate that it is based on a short story by Roger L. Simon. Whatever. Bichir is perhaps best known in this country for his role on Showtime’s Weeds, but in Mexico he is a six time nominee for the Ariel award, that country’s Oscar equivalent; he actually won for 1994’s ‘Til Death. I’d love to see him in the upcoming Oscar race. I actually applaud the Screen Actors’ Guild for nominating Leonardo DiCaprio for the J.Edgar Hoover biopic, a case of an exceptional performance being trapped in a silly movie. Is this the lineup we should expect come Oscar time?   Gary Oldman reportedly does sublime work in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but he hasn’t made much of a splash in the race just yet. We’ll know more after the movie opens wide, and it has time to generate more support. Also, Ryan Gosling still has two chances with the likes of Drive and The Ides of March. Plus, don’t forget about Shame‘s Michael Fassbender. On the other hand, since the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild draw from the same voting pool, the omissions of Oldman, Gosling, and Fassbender might be significant. I don’t like to call winners this early in the game, but I’m starting to see this as a race between Clooney and Pitt, and  right now, I think Pitt is winning thanks to the one-two punch of Moneyball and The Tree of Life. Stay tuned.

One of the year's most joyous pop culture moments was at the recent Emmy awards when Best Actress in a Comedy winner Melissa McCarthy (Mike and Molly) was joined onstage beauty pageant style by her fellow nominees, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and given a tiara and a bouquet of roses as well as a trophy.

The other big surprise is the inclusion of recent Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy in the Best Supporting Actress race (or whatever SAG calls it). For my money, McCarthy was easily the best thing about Bridesmaids, and I always hoped she would score a nod of some kind though I was reluctant to give it too much thought because I thought the movie might be wwwwaaaaayyyyyyyyy too broad to be appreciated during the traditional high-tone awards season. My guess is that McCarthy’s Emmy win for Mike and Molly helped pave the way for her mention here–though it is also likely that her work in Bridesmaids prompted Emmy voters to take a second look at her TV work. I expect to see her among this week’s Golden Globe nominees–and, yes, she was also nominated for one of the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s “Critics’ Choice” awards. An Oscar nomination should follow though the competition is tough, starting with Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer (The Help), but there’s someone else that should not be underestimated, and that is Janet McTeer, who’s actually earning stronger reviews than her Albert Nobbs co-star (and co-producer) Glenn Close.

Speaking of Close, her campaign now officially seems back on track after being overshadowed by the likes of Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton. Of course, most Dallasites have only had the chance to see the nominated performances of Viola Davis and Michelle Williams at this point. I’m crazy about Davis, but I was seriously underwhelmed by Williams. I generally like her as an actress, but her impersonation of screen legend Marilyn Monroe  falls flat. I didn’t buy her as Monroe for a second.  Maybe I’m in the minority–or maybe Williams is benefitting from a well-funded, non-stop campaign by the Brothers Weinstein. Well, I’ll let that go for now. I’m still hoping to be knocked out of my socks by Charlize Theron in Young Adult. At this point, there’s no reason to think Robin Wright will be remembered for her stunning work in The Conspirator.

The fanboys, the bloggers, and even Time magazine's Richard Corliss believe Andy Serkis has what it takes to earn an Oscar nod: "... a performance so nuanced and powerful, it may challenge the Academy to give an Oscar to an actor who is never seen in the film!"

The Best Supporting Actor race is still wide open. Yes, Christopher Plummer seems like a sure thing for an Oscar nod, but I still remember when he seemed like a sure thing for playing Mike Wallace in 1999’s The Insider–and that didn’t happen. I guess the truth, per one insider after another lo these many years that I have followed movie awards, is that there are always more eligible candidates for Best Supporting Actor than there are in any other acting category–and that should show you what drives this business–so it’s always a bit of a nail-biter, waiting to see who will score those coveted five slots on Oscar’s final ballot.  Midnight in Paris‘s Corey Stoll is looking more and more like a longshot, but I still think it’s too early to discount Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) or Albert Brooks (Drive). Last year’s “surprise” Best Supporting Actor nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) might be invited back for his turn as a charismatic, if clearly twisted/demented, cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Meanwhile, what about Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons for Margin Call? Or even Spacey for his triumphant return to sleazy form in Horrible Bosses? Also, there is a concerted effort afoot to rally an Oscar nomination for Andy Serkis, per  his motion-capture work as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Serkis is not new to the motion-capture biz as he performed similar roles in the Lord of the Rings series as well as the 2005 King Kong remake. Getting Academy voters to play along will be a stretch. That noted, I think Armie Hammer’s nomination in this category is a tad generous, but I’ll refrain from spilling too much at this point.

Okay, well, the popular line of thinking is that the SAG award for Best Ensemble is a significant precursor to the Oscar for Best Picture. That’s frequently true, but it’s not 100%. Right off the top of my head I can list Apollo 13 (1995), The Birdcage (1996), The Full Monty (1997), Traffic (2000), Gosford Park (2001), Sideways (2004), and Little Miss Sunshine (2006) as a handful of films that topped the SAGs but did not win the Academy’s highest honor.  The Birdcage was barely even nominated for any Oscars. That noted, I feel confident that The Descendants and The Help are well on their way to Best Picture nods, and the inclusion of Midnight in Paris is a nice touch. As noted, aside from MCarthy I wasn’t a huge fan of Bridesmaids, but I adore Kristen Wiig, as well a Maya Rudolph, so I’m glad for their success. Okay, take a deep breath because the Golden Globe nominations are next.

Thanks for your consideration…

To find out more about the TV nominees, check out the official website of the Screen Actors Guild Awards:

http://www.sagawards.org/

Please click here for a complete list of nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards:

http://www.spiritawards.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/SA_12_nomonesheet.pdf

Demián Bichir at the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0065007/

The Year End Movie Awards Continue with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association

13 Dec

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association met over the weekend to cast its collective vote for the year’s best films. Here is a recap:

  • Best Picture – The Descendants
  • Best Actress – Yun Jung-hee (Poetry)
  • Best Actor – Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, and X-Men: First Class)
  • Best Director – Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
  • Best Supporting Actress – Jessica Chastain (Coriolanus, The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields, and The Tree of Life)
  • Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  • Best Screenplay – Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)
  • Best Music Score – The Chemical Brothers (Hanna)
  • Best Production Design – Dante Ferretti (Hugo)
  • Best Cinematography – Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life)
  • Best Documentary – Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Best Animated Feature Film – Rango
  • Lifetime Achievement- Doris Day

According to the Internet Movie Database, Yun Jung-hee , also known as Jeong-hie Yung, has made 189 film and TV appearances since 1967. Her performance in Poetry has earned accolades at the Asian Pacific Screen Awards and at the Cinemanila International Film Festival.

Okay, it’s worth noting that the LAFCA often includes the names of the 1st runner up in each category, but we’ll get to that in a second.  Obviously, the big surprise here is the Best Actress win by Korean actress Yun Jung-hee for a movie that most of us have not seen–not that there’s anything wrong with that. The question is whether the endorsement of the LA bunch will help increase this actress’s profile enough to make her a viable candidate. On one hand, the race looks crowded already. After all, a few previous Oscar winners are back with all new projects: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk about Kevin), and Charlize Theron (Young Adult). Additionally, previous nominees without a win are looking to change all that. Chief among those would be Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), but don’t forget about Viola Davis (The Help) and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn). Finally, there are hot, hot, hot newcomers, such as Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Emma Stone (The Help), and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene); then, there’s Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia). The Cannes winner took first runner-up in the LA voting, so she’s still very much a contender. On the other hand, if Yun Jung-hee scores an Oscar nod, she’ll make an already competitive race even more exciting.

Jessica Chastain (l) with Octavia Spencer (r) in The Help. Chastian plays a big hearted country girl who just wants to be accepted by her husband's old-moneyed friends while Spencer plays a no-nonsense cook who makes a mean chocolate pie and forms a life-changing bond with her new employer.

There’s also concern that Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain might be too good for their own good this year because no one group can seem to get behind a single performance by either thesp, which means that without a definitive cue from the so-called precursor awards, Oscar voters might split votes, leaving Fassbender and Chastain with more goodwill than anything else. I still think Fassbender’s best shot is Shame, but I’m less certain about Chastain. Right now, her best chances rest with The Help and The Tree of Life.

I think that the choice of The Descendants as Best Picture with The Tree of Life as runner-up represents some sort of compromise as though the group was reluctant to bestow top honors on a film no longer in general release, thus The Descendants scores as a safe choice for Best Picture with the The Tree of  Life relegated to runner-up status while Malick claims a first place finish for  Best Director. That aside,  I’m just glad to see that at least one organization had the guts to look past all the heavily hyped year end releases and direct some attention to a movie from the first half of the year.  Once upon a time, movie studios released quality films throughout the whole year. Oh, of course, they still do, quality being a relative word, but the business has changed. These days, the likely Oscar contenders are saved for the last six weeks or so, which can be problematic. Of course, fall releases have often played better with Academy members than summer escapist fare, but, again, the tendency now is to push the prestige pics back even farther toward the holidays.  Studio heads will likely explain this phenomena as strategic, the thinking being that movies that come out at the end of the year are far more likely to be fresh in voters’ minds when they check their ballots. Well, that certainly sounds good, but studios often host screenings for awards’ consideration (not to mention the dreaded DVD screeners and/or online streaming). Also, please consider the release dates of some famous Oscar winners, per the Internet Movie Database: The Sound of Music (March 1965), The Godfather (March 1972), Annie Hall (April 1977), The Silence of the Lambs (February 1991), Unforgiven (August 1992), Forrest Gump (July 1994), Braveheart (May 1995), Gladiator (May 2000), Crash (May 2005), and The Hurt Locker (June 2009).

Chastain as the world's most beautiful, most graceful, mother in The Tree of Life.

Even with ample evidence to counter the studios’ concerns about the potential for early releases to be overlooked at Oscar time, there are still some foolish business decisions that also fuel the crush of year-end award worthy fare.  Here’s how it works. Studio heads simply believe, with few exceptions,  that literary/downbeat/complex movies aimed at the 30 and over crowd represent problematic marketing challenges, that is, such films are difficult to sell without the cachet of awards hoopla. There are two problems with this line of thinking. 1. Moviegoers only have so much time and/or money at years’ end (or after the holiday rush) to see all these pics while they are playing in theatres. When the movies fail to find their audiences, studio personnel feel their jaded cynical attitude is justified, not realizing that a given “problem film” (a frequent industry term) might have benefited from an earlier release date. 2. Likewise, when some of these films fail to find favor with the Academy and/or various societies, as quite a few titles inevitably do,  they often receive only limited national releases or simply disappear altogether. The studios give up on them–and once again, the suits feel justified in their approach. Additionally, please consider that even with the plethora of year-end screenings, Academy members only have so many hours in a day like the rest of us, so seeing all the last minute releases is just as problematic for them as it for the rest of us. Spacing out the films’ release dates could alleviate some of that. Also, being named one of the “year’s best” would have more meaning if the films were really released throughout the entirety of the year rather than the last six weeks, right?

With that in mind, there’s one rather high profile year-end release that I think might not do as well as initial reviews suggest because it could prove to be a hard sell, and other flicks are benefiting from flashier campaigns, but I’ll hold off on naming names just yet so as not to jinx anything.

At any rate, I’m thrilled that Terrence Malick’s latest did well enough with the LA group to bolster its chances of earning a place in the Oscar race. That the movie so polarized critics earlier in the year was bad enough, though it still captured top honors at Cannes, but the fact that it struggled to find an audience seemed to doom its potential with Oscar voters. Though I am still open to the possibility that other films not yet open in Dallas will dazzle me the way The King’s Speech did last year, The Tree of  Life still has my vote: it’s audacious, gorgeous, heartfelt, and clearly the work of a gifted visionary as it attempts two unlikely scenarios, one of which concerns the origin of good ole planet Earth, and the other which purports to tell a man’s entire life story with little or no dialogue. Well, what can I say? I’ve had a soft spot for  Malick ever since Days of Heaven back in 1978.

^ The dialogue, what little there was of it in the first place, appears to have been stripped from this clip. Although shot largely in and around Austin (Malick’s home base), it does feature one famous Dallas landmark. Can you spot it?

This week will also see the announcement of nominees for both the Screen Actors Guild Awards as well as the Golden Globes. I’ll hold off on reporting the Broadcast Critics Choice nominees for the moment. In the meantime, I’ll share the names of movies that I am most looking forward to this season: Young Adult, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Artist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (though the reported violence in it scares me), and War Horse. I’m sure I’ll see The Iron Lady and Albert Nobbs though it is my understanding that the national release of the former is not scheduled until January, which give me plenty of time to see everything else first.

Thanks for your consideration…

Upper East Side Story

6 Dec

Woody Allen has always been an acquired taste. If you do not like him, do not read this post; however, be warned that this is not the last time I will be writing about one of his films. On the other hand, if you’re a fan, or even if you’re  “Allen-curious,” then stick around because I’m going to write about one of Allen’s least known but most entertaining movies.

That’s the real Hemingway on the right, and Cory Stoll on the left as Hemingway in Midnight in Paris. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Stoll snags an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He’s already snagged an Independent Spirit nomination. Furthermore, he has reportedly been tapped to read Hemingway’s letters later this month at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Allen lately mainly because of his magical Midnight in Paris, the best reviewed Allen movie in quite a few years–since 2005’s Match Point–okay, or maybe 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  Allen’s latest is also a solid hit that’s been playing in theaters since early June.  Say what?  I feel confident that Allen will earn yet another Best Original Screenplay nomination to add to his impressive Oscar track record. He is, in fact, the Academy’s most nominated screenwriter with a total of two wins (Annie Hall, 1977; Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986) out of 14 nominations (see below). He was last nominated for the aforementioned Match Point. Of course, Allen has never coveted Academy approval. He’s certainly never refused a nomination or an award, but he’s never actively campaigned either.

His Midnight in Paris is all about an American screenwriter (Owen Wilson) on vacation in France who catches a phantom taxi cab at night that transports him back to Paris in the 1920’s. Once there, the writer deals with his existential crisis by consorting with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali, among others. For this viewer, the standouts in the large cast are Corey Stoll and Marion Cotillard. The former plays Hemingway as robustly as his legend demands; the latter, already an Oscar winner for her rich performance as Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose, is a stunner as a woman who beautifully personifies the whole spirit of the so-called “Lost Generation.”

Midnight in Paris isn’t due out on DVD/Blu-Ray for a few more weeks–December 20th. Can you believe that? Almost too late to be purchased as a Xmas gift. In the meantime, why not visit, or revisit, Allen’s 1996 offering, Everyone Says I Love You, which does offer one nighttime scene set in Paris. When I started writing this blog over the summer, one of the first movies I wrote about was 1971’s The Boyfriend, Ken Russell’s deconstructionist parody of old-time movie musicals. In that same article, I referred to subsequent films, such as Cabaret (1972), Pennies from Heaven (1981) and Chicago (2002), that played with the conventions of musical comedies by largely confining the singing and dancing routines to the realms of nightclub stages and the imagination rather than ask modern audiences to accept characters who break-out into song in a way that is antithetical to real-life.  To illustrate: I happen to love West Side Story, and I accept its depiction of balletic New York City gang members as a stylized approach to storytelling while cynics take the movie way too seriously and bemoan its lack of realism: real gang members would never be caught performing ballet on the streets of NYC.   The approach of The Boyfriend and the others is a way to bridge the gap between musical enthusiasts and the skeptics. Similarly, Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You  both subverts and affirms old and new assumptions regarding musicals.

Right to left: Woody Allen directs Drew Barrymore and Edward Norton in Everyone Says I Love You.

Allen doesn’t create a fanciful dream world for his characters to escape to when they want to sing and dance. No, their production numbers take place all over New York City, mostly the Upper East Side, as well as Venice and Paris, yet Allen doesn’t settle for the conventional postcard backdrops. Instead, he finds some unlikely settings. Okay, there’s the luxe Harry Winston jewelry store, but there’s also a hospital emergency ward, a taxicab, and even a funeral home. Then, in an extraordinary twist, Allen casts actors, including himself, who are not known for their singing abilities. The idea is that when people are in love, they feel like singing and when they sing, they feel beautiful–like people in glamorous old movies–they just don’t necessarily sound as beautiful as they feel. Most of the songs are standards, such as “Just You, Just Me” and “Makin’ Whoopee”; likewise, when the characters hurt, they also want to express their anguish in old-fashioned torch songs, mostly “I’m Through with Love.” Allen’s approach differs from that of, say, Chicago, in which the audience sees and hears the characters as they imagine themselves when they break into song.  Watching Allen’s dedicated bunch put on their game faces and use their tentative, unadorned voices to warble their way through one song after another is alternately touching and a little jarring, but the damn thing works as well as it does for two reasons, the first of which is that while much of the singing is definitely amateurish, there ‘s only one truly dreadful vocal performance, and that distinction belongs to Julia Roberts. She plays Allen’s would-be love interest, and it’s already a negligible, badly conceived role. Her singing only makes it worse. Be warned: her version of  “All My Life” is only one cringe away from being declared cruel and inhumane. Apparently, Drew Barrymore–who’s lovely in a debutante way–was so mortified by the thought of singing that she agreed to do the movie only on the condition that she be dubbed. Even so, the voice that comes out of her–credited to Olivia Hayman–is believable, and her solo, as she prepares for a big date with her future fiancee, is a charming interlude. On the other hand, some of the performers acquit themselves quite admirably, especially Goldie Hawn (who has a background in musical comedy), Alan Alda, and even Tim Roth–as a deranged career criminal, no less.

Another reason why the musical numbers work as well as they do is that Allen pretty much films them the old fashioned way, that is, proscenium style as though on a Broadway stage with very little editing. What’s so big about that? Well, thanks mainly to the popularity of music videos back in the 1980s (when the “M” in MTV still stood for something–and that something, to clarify, was music), movie audiences have become accustomed to seeing production numbers that are more or less pieced together to the rhythms of a given music track, to the degree that regardless of how good the singing and dancing is, the scenes are amped to maximum levels of excitement in the editing room. Generally speaking this is the model that’s been in place ever since the likes of Flashdance (1983) and Footloose (1984), which were musicals of a sort, all the way up through Chicago. Even Evita, which came out at the same time as Everyone Says I Love You, and which I also loved and saw in theatres 3-4 times, features a lot of great songs wonderfully rendered, but many of the numbers are more like montages–music videos–than the kinds of intricate routines that made musicals so charming in the first place.  Please, don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the combination of fancy footwork and flashy editing in these movies and more, but there’s also something exhilarating about seeing hoofers strut their stuff more or less in real time: teams of dancers’ whole bodies entirely visible as they perform complicated choreography perfectly in sync, thereby freeing–inviting–viewers’ eyes to look where they want and taking in as much of the whole thrilling sensation as possible, as opposed to camera and editing tricks that force the eye to look where/when the director thinks is important–oh, and none of that infuriatingly coy crap that marred Richard Gere’s Chicago tapdance, shot mostly in silhouette.

That’s Edward Norton on the far left, trying to keep up with the rest of the guys in the “My Baby Just Cares for Me” number. Norton appeared in two other films in 1996, his first year as a professional screen actor. His trio of acclaimed performances resulted in a number of awards at the end of the year, including Best Supporting Actor from the National Board of Review,  and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.  He also won Most Promising Actor from the Chicago Film Critics. He officially netted a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination that year for his well modulated turn in the dark, if gimmicky, courtroom thriller Primal Fear. 

Of course, Woody Allen is nothing if not a comedian at heart, so he adds a dash or two of unexpected humor in almost every number. One such bit that best exemplifies Allen’s approach is “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” in which Ed Norton’s preppie klutz tries to keep up with a team of business suited dancers right smack dab in the middle of the  fabled Harry Winston jewelry store (or a reasonable facsimile of Winston’s).  Norton’s clueless goofiness is oddly endearing, but those dancers are the real stars. Their routine is no mere soft shoe exercise but a full scale athletic tap dance complete  with jeweled jump-roping, if you can believe that. Not only that, the whole lot of them are wearing business suits and ties. Imagine the skill involved to make it look as effortlessly swinging as it does. Another extended gag occurs during the “Making Whoopee” number which, as previously noted, takes place in a hospital emergency ward. In this case, there are multiple levels of humor at work, including the reason for the trip to the ER in the first place (no spoilers!), and the interplay between the doctors, nurses, and patients, including expectant mothers, one heavily bandaged individual, a man in a straightjacket, and another fellow on crutches. In this instance,  Allen opts for a roving camera rather than a proscenium approach though the whole vignette is presented with few, if  any, edits.  Furthermore, even with a roving camera, Allen’s dancers are navigating a rather tight space, which makes the overall effect even  more remarkable.

A few other bits are worth noting because Allen provides a touch of whimsy–not to mention a few special effects for the kiddies. In the “Enjoy Yourself” number, Allen utilizes a little optical wizardry to make merry during a funeral service. The result  is so odd, so seemingly inappropriate yet precisely on target, that it’s hard not to chuckle. In perhaps the movie’s most beautiful turn, Goldie Hawn takes to the evening sky as she sings the aforementioned classic “I’m Through with Love.” Of course, Hawn is not the first person in a movie to be suspended in air by wires and a harness, but she’s likely the first to do it right there on the banks of the Seine–and a full four years before director Ang Lee won world-wide acclaim for shooting action sequences high among the treetops in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This one is truly magical. By the way, “I’m Through with Love” gets quite a workout as Allen uses it throughout the film and scores a good laugh or two in the process. Finally, Allen pays effective tribute to the Marx Brothers not once but twice, which only makes sense because two of the songs, including the title track, originally appeared in Marx Brothers’ comedies.

Everyone Says I Love You is consistently entertaining, mostly because of its nifty musical numbers and a few ripe performances. Also, it clocks in at a judicious one hour and forty-one minutes. At the same time, it suffers from a jumble of a script. There’s almost nothing at stake. Instead, there are the various romantic ups and downs experienced by members of  a large wealthy “blended” Manhattan family. As usual, Allen’s take on women can be mystifying. Again, the subplot which contrives to match Woody Allen with Julia Roberts is no fun though Roberts does walk away with the last laugh. On the other hand, even though none of the threads are fully developed, Allen at least tries to make sure that each character’s dilemma features a comic payoff.

Alan Alda (l) dips Goldie Hawn (r) in Woody Allen’s 1996 film, Everyone Says I Love You. That same year, Hawn co-starred with Allen’s most beloved leading lady Diane Keaton in The First Wives Club.

Among the large ensemble, three performers standout among the rest. First, there’s Ed Norton. Everyone Says I Love You is one of three 1996 in which he appeared. To clarify, it was also his first year as a professional screen actor; the other two were The People Vs. Larry Flynt and Primal Fear. Though his performances in all three films generated multiple awards consideration at the end of 1996, his Oscar nomination was for a striking turn as a murder defendant in the latter. In Everyone Says I Love You, Norton scores as a young WASPish lawyer who wears his heart of his sleeve though he performs a nifty trick in one scene in which he channels the nervous jitters of Allen’s frequent onscreen persona.  Next on the list has to be Goldie Hawn, as a “guilty liberal democrat,” who peppers a few tart one-liners throughout most of the film, and then, as already noted, taps into her sheer star power during the climactic “I’m Through with Love” number and seizes the screen. Like Norton, Hawn was a strong presence in 1996, earning a Satellite nod for the Allen film and sharing a Screen Actors Guild nomination with the cast of the blockbuster comedy The First Wives Club. The third most important cast member is Natasha Lyonne, who plays Allen’s daughter and serves as the film’s narrator. Lyonne had already amassed a few credits when Allen cast her as D.J.  but most of her work existed under the radar. Here, she gets a chance to shine, keeping up with Allen in scene after scene–the red hair helps make them a believable father-daughter team–and exuding sheer elation when being serenaded in a taxi cab by then newcomer Billy Crudup. Lyonne has fallen off the radar these past few years–noticeably, if not completely–but she went on to a host of attention getting roles in rapid succession, including the likes of American Pie, The Slums of Beverly Hills, and But I’m a Cheerleader. The rest of the sizable cast includes, in alphabetical order:  Lukas Haas (whose character is the butt of a priceless twist), Edward Hibbert, Gaby Hoffman, Itzhak Perlman (as himself), Natalie Portman, and David Ogden Stiers (his fourth of five appearances in Allen’s films). Also deserving of special shout-outs are veteran character actor (since deceased) Patrick Cranshaw as the spirited grandpa of the clan, Trude Klein as the no-nonsense housekeeper (listen to the way she barks out the words, “Bavarian pasta”), and Robert Khakh as a particularly enthusiastic cabdriver. By the way: besides the performance nods that Norton and Hawn snared, the movie bagged a nomination from the Casting Society of America.

Even though Everyone Says I Love You  is unmistakably Allen, credit for this splendid production must be shared with a sterling crew starting with choreographer Graciela Daniele, music director Dick Hyman, and legendary cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, whose filmography includes a whopping dozen movies for Allen (beginning with Hannah and Her Sisters) as well as Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966’s landmark Blow-Up.  Even though the Academy looked elsewhere during the 1996/97 awards season, thereby depriving Allen of yet another Oscar nomination, Everyone… earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, losing that race to the equally deserving–and possibly better promoted–Evita (and against the likes of Jerry Maguire and Fargo, both of which went on to figure heavily at the Oscars). Additionally, Allen’s film impressed the voting bodies of both the French César and European Film awards, securing slots in the equivalent foreign film categories.

Believe it or not, Everyone Says I Love You is a great holiday flick. The movie begins with springtime in New York–seldom more breathtaking–and ends in Paris on the following Christmas Eve when everything and everyone are at their most giddy and festive. It’s almost like being in love.

Thanks for your consideration…

Woody Allen’s Oscar Nominations (w= winner):

  • Best Original Screenplay
  1. Annie Hall (1977) w
  2. Interiors (1978)
  3. Manhattan (1979)
  4. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
  5. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
  6. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) w
  7. Radio Days (1987)
  8. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
  9. Alice (1990)
  10. Husbands and Wives (1992)
  11. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
  12. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
  13. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
  14. Match Point (2005)
  • Best Director
  1. Annie Hall (1977) w
  2. Interiors (1978)
  3. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
  4. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
  5. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
  6. Bullets over Broadway (1994)
  • Additionally, Allen claims one Best Actor nomination–for Annie Hall. Also, the only Allen films to compete for Best Picture are Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. Annie Hall won, natch, but since Allen does not receive a producer’s credit on his own films, he did not take home the trophy–not that he ever seemed to care about the Oscars in the first place.