Sunday, November 18, 2018

1959 Alternate Oscars

My choices are noted with a ★. Historical Oscar winners are noted with a ✔.

That's some competition for best director, huh. Five of the greatest directors of all time, each turning in what might be the best movie of his career.

At one time or another, I've had three different movies — Some Like It Hot, Rio Bravo and finally North By Northwest — in the top slot. The Academy's choice, Ben-Hur, was no slouch either. A terrific epic, Ben-Hur features what I think is the best action sequence ever, the chariot race.

Vote well and live.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

1958 Alternate Oscars

My choices are noted with a ★. Historical Oscar winners are noted with a ✔. Best foreign-language picture winners are noted with an ƒ. A historical winner who won in a different category is noted with a ✱.

Vertigo famously topped Sight & Sound magazine's 2012 list of the best movies of all-time, which is okay by me even if I don't think it's Alfred Hitchcock's best movie (Rear Window, North By Northwest) or the best movie of 1958 (Mon Oncle, Touch of Evil) or the best movie set in San Francisco (The Maltese Falcon, Bullitt) or ...

You get the picture.

And yet, Vertigo is the only serious contender from 1958 that I've ever felt the urge to watch twice. Several times, in fact.

As I've written before, Vertigo is ostensibly a murder mystery, but it's really a stalker movie with the viewer thrust into a queasy complicity with a control freak. You could legitimately complain that Hitchcock's normally-reliable suspense angle doesn't work, but that's beside the point. What you're really watching is an abusive relationship from the inside out with a sugar coating of murder on top.

Vertigo isn't North By Northwest; Vertigo is Sleeping With the Enemy. You can practically feel the crazy dripping from every scene.

Still, it's a bitter cup of tea. For a more upbeat — and offbeat — brew, perhaps you'd be willing to try another of my favorites, Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle.

Admittedly, Tati is himself an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring, I'd say. He made the gentlest of gentle comedies, with low-key pleasures akin to watching your dog warm her belly in the sun on a nice Spring day. And I like doggies and warm Spring days.

What's Mon Oncle about? It's about taking your own sweet time in a world that's increasingly obsessed with hurrying through one moment to get to the next moment that needs to be hurried through. In terms of philosophy and spirit, Mon Oncle would make a good double feature with Bruce Brown's surfing classic, The Endless Summer.

Roger Ebert took time to write this in his review of Mon Oncle for his Great Movies series and it captures why I am so enamored of Tati and his Zen-like approach to comedy:

There's also a supporting cast of dogs, who are seen in the first shot and the last, and hurry on their doggy business in between. They don't have an important role in the plot; they're just there, checking things out, marking their territory. I learn from the elegant Web site that Tati found the dogs in the pound, and didn't train them but simply observed and encouraged them. "At the end of the film, we had to get rid of them," Tati wrote. He refused to send them back to the pound, and had an inspiration: He took out an ad in the paper describing them as movie stars, and they all found good homes. There is a lot of Tati in that serendipitous story.

Yes, indeed.

Hey, and lastly, allow me to mention my personal favorite from 1958, the little-seen, under-appreciated Alec Guinness comedy The Horse's Mouth, the story of a crazy painter who wreaks havoc in the pursuit of his artistic vision. If you've ever wondered what the Monkey is like in real life, this is the movie to see. Why, I even look like Alec Guinness! if I must say so myself, which I must, being the only one here.

Note: David Niven (Separate Tables) won for best actor in what is very clearly a supporting performance — I have put him in the supporting actor category where he belongs.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

1957 Alternate Oscars

My choices are noted with a ★. Historical Oscar winners are noted with a ✔. Best foreign-language picture winners are noted with an ƒ.

Alternate Oscar guru Erik Beck of the Boston Becks (who somewhere along the line became Erik Beck of the San Diego Becks — that's some move!) considers 1957 rather than 1939 the best year for movies. He makes a good case.

I originally had eleven movies in my top ten which is a bit of problem if you're at all familiar with the concept of math. I suppose I could have made an exception and nominated all eleven this year, but that would have required me to noodle together a whole new template on Photoshop and who's got time for that?

Eight picks were carved in stone from the get-go: the Academy's choice for best picture, The Bridge on the River Kwai; and my own pick, of course, The Seventh Seal; along with Fellini's Nights of Cabiria; Kubrick's anti-war classic, Paths of Glory; Sweet Smell of Success, maybe the most cynical picture of the decade; 12 Angry Men, starring a dozen really pissed-off dudes; Bergman's second great movie of the year, Wild Strawberries; and Billy Wilder's courtroom classic, Witness for the Prosecution.

On the chopping block? The Cranes Are Flying, the first great movie to come out of the Soviet Union since Stalin destroyed the Russian film industry; A Face in the Crowd, about a populist blowhard who rises to fame and fortune stoking the fears and prejudices of white, rural America; and Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa's samurai take on Shakespeare's Macbeth.

After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, Throne of Blood wound up the odd man out. It's the lowest rated of the bunch on the Internet Movie Database (8.1, mind you, which is terrific) and, well, we've already nominated a lot of Kurosawa movies with more to come. If you really, really wanted to vote for it, my apologies.

Speaking of math, there really should be ten nominees for best actor this year: Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Andy Griffith, Alec Guinness, William Holden, Charles Laughton, Robert Mitchum, Victor Sjöström and Max von Sydow. Eleven, if you consider Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success a lead.

It's a great year for actors. I went with the five who I thought gave the best performance of their careers in 1957.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

1956 Alternate Oscars

My choices are noted with a ★. Historical Oscar winners are noted with a ✔.

For best picture of 1956, the Academy chose Around the World in 80 Days, generally regarded as one of the worst picks for best picture ever. I saw it again yesterday for the first time since I was a kid and I can report that Around the World earned its reputation.

If you haven't seen it or read the book (by Jules Verne), Around the World is an adventure yarn about Phileas Fogg and his bet that he can circumnavigate the globe in, yes, eighty days — a rather rash bet in 1872. David Niven is typically pompous and peevish as Fogg, while Cantinflas, a superstar in his native Mexico, steals the show as Fogg's Chaplinesque man Friday.

Watching it again for the first time in more than forty years, I can see that the movie doesn't really work. For a story about a man racing around the globe, there's very little forward momentum, and the star cameos, for which the film is famous, are largely pointless and painfully unfunny. Whether you'll find the movie charming depends on your nostalgia for a time when the world was a big place and the only chance most people had to see any of it was in the travelogues that screened before the main attraction — sort of like seeing the world via Epcot in Walt Disney World.

Not terrible, just terribly dull. Certainly not the best picture of this or any other year.

On to other matters: I've finally given Douglas Sirk an overdue nomination for best direction. Sirk was a master of lurid, overripe melodrama that constantly called attention to its own phony artifice. Depending on how self-aware you think he was, Sirk was either a genius or one step removed from Ed Wood. I'm going with genius, but you decide.

Anthony Quinn won his second supporting Oscar for eight minutes worth of work in Lust for Life. I've bypassed him in favor of other veteran character actors who I think deserve some recognition for a lot more heavy lifting. My apologies to Anthony Quinn's friends and family.

Finally, there's no consensus at all as to who the year's best actress was — it was a pretty weak year — so I asked myself "Who gave the best performance of her career in 1956?" The answer was "Carroll Baker." Granted, that may be because it was the only good performance of her career (I haven't seen 1961's Something Wild). No matter. It was also the dirtiest, most perverse performance of the studio era, and that's good enough for me.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

1955 Alternate Oscars

My choices are noted with a ★. Historical Oscar winners are noted with a ✔.

The 1950s was a wonderful decade for movies — but a lousy decade for Oscars. I tried to hang with Marty as a top ten picture for longer than it deserved and then finally gave it up. Marty is a nice film but for the life of me, I can't figure out how it won best picture.

The Academy goes through stretches like this — the early 30s, the 1950s, the last ten years — when their Oscar choices are so disconnected from what their audience is actually watching, you wonder if they even know what movies they've made.

Other notes: The best performance of the year was by Hollywood's greatest singing-dancing amphibian, Michigan J. Frog (One Froggy Evening), but even I draw the line at nominating a cartoon toad for best actor.

On the other hand, nominating One Froggy Evening for best picture and Chuck Jones for best director? Not a problem. As somebody put it, "Chuck Jones did in seven minutes what Erich von Stroheim couldn't do in seven hours," i.e., show the devastating and corrosive effects of greed on the human spirit. I'd say maybe only The Treasure of the Sierra Madre did it better. Maybe.

In case you're wondering, a Los Angeles nightclub entertainer named William Roberts did the frog's singing. He also had some small parts in Lady in the Lake and The Yanks Are Coming, among other things. (William Roberts, that is, not the frog.)

October 17, 2018 — On a personal note, Katie-Bar-The-Door and I had to say goodbye to our beloved dog Angie today. I work from home so the dog and I spent 23 1/2 hours of every day together for eleven years. She was an old dog and a good dog and as we walked, she listened politely to drafts of nearly every word I've written in the last decade.

Dogs are funny creatures. They ask for nothing but to love us, and in the end we fall in love with them. She will be missed.