Thursday, September 21, 2023

1963 Alternate Oscars

Tonight at 8 PM Eastern, Turner Classic Movies is showing Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece of ornithological horror, The Birds — an apocalyptic tale of mother nature's revenge on the human race. Or as we refer to it in the 21st century, "Thursday."

If you haven't seen it, well good God man, what are you waiting for?

Richard Brody, film critic for the New Yorker magazine, had this to say about the film's star, Tippi Hedren:

[The Birds and Marnie] feature the performances of Tippi Hedren, which are not only the ultimate Hitchcock performances but—and especially that of “Marnie”—among the very best in the history of cinema. Nobody would mistake Hedren for Bette Davis in theatrical craft, but, of course, the cinema isn’t theatre, and the measure of performance is, rather, an aura, an expressive radiance which is sometimes even more present in varieties of inexpressivity, repression, opacity, which is exactly what Hedren delivers.

I completely agree with the sentiment that "cinema isn't theatre" — it's why I prefer Bogart to Olivier, and just about anybody to Meryl Streep, even the much undervalued Tippi Hedren.

I rewatched The Birds (and Marnie) the other day and while I think the growing cult of Marnie has overrated that picture (too much pop psychology, not enough story), the assessment of Tippi Hedren as an actress, especially in The Birds (reversing Brody's verdict), is spot on. Instead of playful and flirty in the opening scenes of The Birds — which is apparently how some critics want her to have played it — Hedren comes across as self-involved and maybe just mean enough to make you think the birds are reacting to her. I mean what kind of jerk uses innocent birds as props in an adolescent prank? No wonder the birds are miffed — she's the straw that broke the proverbial camel bird's back.

It's as if Majorie Taylor Greene showed up in Bodega Bay full of performative tomfoolery and flocks of left-wing birds (flying in left-hand circles, no doubt) launched a counterattack on humanity in retaliation. They've stood all they can stand and, like Popeye the Sailor, they can't stands no more. I'm cheering for the birds!

Of course, the person the birds really should have been attacking was Alfred Hitchcock. I love me some Hitchcock as you well know, but what he subjected Tippi Hedren to should have ended his career (never mind the sexual assault allegation which should have landed him in jail.) I guess you can argue a good director does whatever is necessary to get the performance he wants but a better one wouldn't have to. I think actors succeeded in Hitchcock's films not because of his antics but in spite of them, and when the star of a great motion picture almost gets her eyes pecked out to satisfy the sadistic whims of a warped, frustrated old man (no matter how great a director), she deserves some sort of medal.

But that's neither here nor there. Ultimately, the only thing that counts is what ended up on the screen, and I think what ended up on the screen in the case of Tippi Hedren is great — or anyway, unforgettable which is pretty much the same thing. She earns my vote for best actress of the year.

My choices are noted with a ★. A tie is indicated 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 ✱.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

1962 Alternate Oscars

1962 ranks with 1939, 1946 and 1959 as one of the greatest years in movie history ...

My choices are noted with a ★. A tie is indicated 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 ✱.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

1961 Alternate Oscars

A bit of trivia: the origin of the term "paparazzi" — those annoying photographers who take pictures of celebrities — is from the name of a character, Paparazzo, in Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Played by Walter Santesso, Paparazzo (Italian slang for mosquito) was a freelance news photographer, a hyperactive, buzzing nuisance throughout the film.

Now you know.

By the way, if you've never seen a Fellini movie, start with La Dolce Vita — about seven wild nights in the seven hills of Rome — then follow it up with his next film, 1963's . Both star Marcello Mastroianni and seen back-to-back, the films are the story of a man's journey from ambition to decadence to disillusionment and finally to a sort of hard-won wisdom. Peak Fellini, great stuff.

My choices are noted with a ★. A tie is indicated 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 ✱.

Friday, September 15, 2023

1960 Alternate Oscars

My choices are noted with a ★. A tie is indicated 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 ✱.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

1959 Alternate Oscars

To be honest with you, Rio Bravo is my favorite movie of 1959. But I think Some Like It Hot (a movie I love, understand) has a bigger place in the history of movies. So I voted for the latter. If you care ...

My choices are noted with a ★. A tie is indicated 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 ✱.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule Revisited

One of my favorite bloggers, Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, has seemingly gone silent. It's been nearly two years since his last post which means no more of those semi-annual movie quizzes I always enjoyed. So in lieu of something new, I decided to revisit a few questions from old quizzes I'd answer differently this time around.

In the order I rediscovered the questions:

A Clockwork Orange — yes or no?
I avoided answering the question the first time around — too many fans of Kubrick read my blog. This time, I will unequivocally say No. I saw it back in the day, saw it again at a revival theater with Katie-Bar-The-Door, then watched it yet again for this blog, and found myself checking my watch every time, begging for it to end. I feel that way about every movie Stanley Kubrick directed after 2001: A Space Odyssey (conversely, I love his movies up through 2001. Did something happen? Did acclaim happen? Did he no longer feel in any way compelled to engage his audience?)

Favorite actress of the silent era
Mary Pickford, followed closely by Louise Brooks. Three to see starring Mary Pickford: The Poor Little Rich Girl, Stella Maris, My Best Girl.

Favorite first line from a movie
Is a guitar chord an opening line? Because the opening chord of A Hard Day's Night sucks me into the movie every time.

Other contenders: William Holden's opening monologue while floating face down in a swimming pool (Sunset Boulevard), Julie Andrews singing "The hills are alive ..." (The Sound of Music), George C. Scott's rousing speech in Patton, Jack Nicholson's cynical world-weary introduction in Chinatown ("All right, Curly, enough's enough. You can't eat the Venetian blinds. I just had 'em installed on Wednesday."), the clop-clopping of the coconuts in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the voice over in Apocalypse Now ("Saigon. Shit. I'm still only in Saigon."), the "Chapter One" business in Manhattan, Danny DeVito's voice over in L.A. Confidential, Sam Elliott's voice over in The Big Lebowski ...

Henry Cavill or Armie Hammer?
When I first answered this question, I'd seen Guy Ritchie's version of The Man From UNCLE once and it hadn't made much of an impression on me. Since then, I've seen it several times and it's on a short list of my favorite Guy Ritchie movies. And given that Guy Ritchie is on a short list of my favorite active film directors, that's saying something.

Of the two, I prefer Henry Cavill and, given the self-destruction of Armie Hammer's career, he's the only one I'm ever likely to see on the big screen again. But I liked them both in UNCLE. A good team, and Hammer had good chemistry with Alicia Vikander.

By the way, I have a feeling Ritchie's recent effort Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre was originally intended to be the sequel to The Man from UNCLE but after holding off for years, Ritchie finally rewrote it with a new cast of characters (Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza) because he knew he'd never be able to make an UNCLE sequel with Armie Hammer. Pity, but I get it. It's hard to sell a movie these days starring a guy with a cannibal fetish ...

Elizabeth Debicki or Alicia Vikander?
Again, a Man from UNCLE question. Alicia Vikander was the political football in the middle of the scrum between Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin; Elizabeth Debicki was the villain. Alicia Vikander has grown on me and I think she was great in UNCLE, so I'm going with her. But Debicki makes a good femme fatale.

Second favorite Wong Kar-wai movie
My favorite is In the Mood for Love so my second favorite would be Chungking Express. If you haven't seen In the Mood for Love, I highly recommend it.

Johnny Flynn or Timothée Chalamet?
When this question was first asked, I'd never heard of either of them but since then Timothée Chalamet has been in Dune, Little Women, A Rainy Day in New York and Lady Bird, an impressive body of work.

Name the last 10 movies you've seen, either theatrically or at home
I'll limit it to the last ten movies I saw for the first time (otherwise, you're going to get TCM's Alfred Hitchcock marathon).

In reverse order, Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (which I saw immediately after reading the source novel Down There by David Goodis) (thumbs up), Pineapple Express (thumbs up, after avoiding it for years), Guy Ritchie's The Covenant (thumbs up), A Star Is Born (2018) (thumbs up, especially Lady Gaga's singing), Enola Holmes 2 (thumbs up — a sequel to the pandemic era Enola Holmes, which was my favorite movie of a year with no movies), Barbie (very enthusiastic thumbs up), An American Dream (based on a mediocre Norman Mailer novel) (thumbs most decidedly down), Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One (thumbs up — love me some Mission Impossible), Oppenheimer (another very enthusiastic thumbs up), Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (thumbs up).

Favorite movie location you've visited in person
Most recently, the John Wick steps at the base of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre, Paris, France (if you've seen John Wick Chapter Four, you know what I mean.) Unlike John Wick, though, I had the good sense to go down them instead of trying to go up. They are seemingly endless.

I always get a kick out seeing a location in a movie that I recognize from real life ...

Emma Stone or Margot Robbie?
At the time, Emma Stone was a lock, but since then, Margot Robbie has made Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Barbie. She's now ahead in my book.

Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Howard Hawks?
High Road to China, starring Tom Selleck and Bess Armstrong. I've written about China before — pardon me if I quote myself:

A flapper-heiress (Armstrong as Eve Tozer) has to find her long-lost father or lose her fortune, so she hires a drunk flying ace (Selleck as Patrick O'Malley) to squire her hither and yon, from Egypt to Afghanistan to Nepal and finally to China, dodging bombs and bullets every step of the way.

As with all good romances, the ending is bittersweet — Evie gets the money but by then doesn't care. O'Malley gets the money, too, but probably never cared. In the meantime, they've each lost the only things they ever really loved — him, his airplane; her, the fantasy of a father who would give up his thrill-seeking wanderlust if only she could make him notice her.
They damn near miss out on each other, too — a few awkward words, a pat on the knee, and the promise of a long, uphill walk back to Nepal, before a deep breath, a steeled nerve and a long-overdue declaration of intent. To allow yourself to fall in love when everyone you've ever cared about has up and flown away or spiraled nose down into the sod requires an act of courage that by comparison makes fighting warlords and German flying aces a stroll in the park.

This sort of thing was Howard Hawks's meat — think Only Angels Have Wings, To Have and Have Not and even Man's Favorite Sport. His men are no nonsense professionals, facing death on a daily basis with grace and good humor. And his leading ladies — so uniquely tough and independent they were dubbed "Hawksian women" — time and time again prove to be equal partners in whatever task is at hand. I think he would have had a field day with this sort of thing, one last great movie to cap a career full of them.
Okay, that's it. Hopefully, there will be more Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule in the future, but if not, it was a helluva lot of fun while it lasted.