Sunday, October 14, 2018

1954 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.

Rumor has it that Edmond O'Brien won best supporting actor because a trio of On the Waterfront actors, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger, split the vote. Given that O'Brien didn't do anything in The Barefoot Contessa but sweat, all I can say is, "Maybe."

I thought about combining the three of them into a single nomination, ala the Marx Brothers or Laurel & Hardy, but ah to hell with it, as far as I'm concerned, history can repeat itself. You do what you want — me, I'm voting for Toshiro Mifune.

By the way, that Godzilla up there in the middle of the best picture nominees is the original Japanese-language version, Gojira, not the Raymond Burr English-language edit. The former is a somber parable about Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Japan's defeat in World War II; the latter, stripped of its subtext, is a hokey Saturday morning B-picture about a monster that stomps Tokyo flat. It wasn't the best picture of the year and it spawned thirty-two (no exaggeration) vastly-inferior sequels, but it's well-worth tracking down.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

1953 Alternate Oscars

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

The tenth spot on the best picture list was a real logjam — Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The War of the Worlds, Anthony Mann's Western classic The Naked Spur, Hondo, Pickup on South Street, Luis Buñuel's El, the sublime British comedy Genevieve, and a couple of movies I don't much like, The Band Wagon and The Big Heat. Of those, The Big Heat consistently ranks highest on everybody else's list, so I reluctantly went with that.

Don't say I never did anything for you.

My pick for best picture is Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story. If you have or have had or will have aging parents or, for that matter, if you plan on being an aging parent at some point, I highly recommend you see this one. It's Ozu's best, in my opinion, and he's Japan's most highly-regarded director, even more so than Akira Kurosawa if you can believe that.

"Sooner or later," the late great Roger Ebert once wrote, "everyone who loves movies comes to Ozu. He is the quietest and gentlest of directors, the most humanistic, the most serene. But the emotions that flow through his films are strong and deep, because they reflect the things we care about the most: Parents and children, marriage or a life lived alone, illness and death, and taking care of one another."

Of the Hollywood movies, I'd probably go with From Here To Eternity. Yeah, sure, it's a thoroughly bowdlerized adaptation of the novel — what do you expect of a studio movie made under the strictures of the Production Code — but it still packs quite a punch and the scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling around in the surf is one of the most iconic in movie history. Considering all the way it could have gone wrong, From Here To Eternity is something of a modern miracle.

The final choice is yours.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

1952 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.

Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show On Earth is the first best picture winner not to make my top ten since 1936's The Great Ziegfeld (although I was rather generous with a couple of winners in between).

As a semi-documentary of what kids might have once felt about the circus, The Greatest Show on Earth is actually pretty good. I know I myself really enjoyed the circus when I was ten. But I'm not ten anymore. (Neither, apparently, are most ten year olds these days, judging by the demise of Barnum & Bailey. But that's a subject for another time.)

If you're wondering, the other best picture winners so far that failed to crack my top ten are The Broadway Melody (1928-29), Cimarron (1930-31) and Cavalcade (1932-33). There will no doubt be others in the future. We'll see.

My pick for best picture, Singin' In The Rain, is a serious contender for the best musical of all time. It's also a great comedy and a great romance. That it's also a nifty history of Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies is a bonus.

Certainly it's the best movie Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen ever made.

I almost gave my best actor award to John Wayne for The Quiet Man but Takashi Shimura's poignant portrayal of a dying bureaucrat determined to give his wasted life meaning is one of the most moving performances in the history of cinema. He's a worthy winner — Takashi Shimura was Akira Kurosawa's go-to guy, appearing in 21 of the director's thirty films, more than any other actor. In 1954, he starred in the action masterpiece, Seven Samurai, playing the role Yul Brenner would tackle in the English-language remake, The Magnificent Seven. Versatile actor.

John Wayne fans need not despair, however — the Duke will hoist the trophy a little later in the decade, guaranteed.

On the other hand, if you think Gary Cooper deserves an alternate Oscar, I'm pretty sure this is your last chance to vote for him ...

Sunday, September 23, 2018

1951 Alternate Oscars

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

My favorite movie of 1951 is actually The Thing From Another World — Katie-Bar-The-Door and I have seen it a hundred times — closely followed by The African Queen. But apparently neither of those movies connects with modern audiences the way they used to. Pity.

So I went with the equally excellent Strangers on a Train, the first time I've recognized Alfred Hitchcock with top honors despite five previous nominations. He's overdue.

I'm sure most of you will go with Vivien Leigh for best actress, as did the Academy, but I prefer Katharine Hepburn here. The African Queen was the beginning of Hepburn's third act and one of the greatest performances of her extraordinary career. Plus she wrote a beloved behind-the-scenes memoir about the experience.

But that's just my take on it. You must do what you must do.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

1950 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.

Anne Baxter was nominated as a lead actress but it's really a supporting performance. Having already won a supporting actress Oscar for The Razor's Edge, she figured being nominated as a lead actress, even in a losing effort, would be a bigger boost to her career than a second supporting win. But we here at the Monkey don't care about that sort of thing. I've nominated her as a supporting actress.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

1949 Alternate Oscars

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

Of 1949's Oscar-eligible movies, I would have gone with The Heiress but I prefer a couple of British movies which I have placed here — The Third Man and the hilariously droll Kind Hearts and Coronets.

If you haven't seen Kind Hearts and Coronets — a comedy about a man (Dennis Price) who can't climb the family tree so he chops it down — you really should look for it. Alec Guinness plays eight parts in that one, including Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne.

In the category of best actor, Broderick Crawford represents a philosophical conundrum for me. On the one hand, he is, as alternate Oscar guru Danny Peary put it, "arguably the worst actor ever to win a Best Actor Academy Award." On the other hand, his (extremely) limited range perfectly fit the part, he was ferocious in it and the movie wouldn't have worked without him. Is that worthy of a nomination? I've gone back and forth. Yesterday he was in, today he's out.

On the other hand, Dean Jagger was a pretty good actor and I didn't nominate him either. To me, he isn't even the best supporting actor in Twelve O'Clock High, much less of the entire year. But maybe his performance as a World War II veteran feeling nostalgic about the best years of his life struck a chord with audiences who were beginning to realize that peace and prosperity, for all their charms, could be pretty damn dull.

I didn't nominate the best director winner, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, either. I like Mankiewicz, especially for his work on All About Eve in 1950, but while I think A Letter to Three Wives is a nice picture, well worth seeing, ten or fifteen other movies squeeze it out of my annual list.

But I could be wrong.

Well, that's the way it goes with alternate Oscars — they're often just as screwed up as the Oscars themselves. But the exercise helps me focus on what I truly value and why, and after all, this all about me, right?