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.

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.