Best Picture Winners, Movie #116: Patton (1970)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young, Michael Strong, Morgan Paull, Michael Bates

Academy Awards (1971):

Best Picture: Frank McCarthy

Best Actor in a Leading Role: George C. Scott

Best Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Best Original Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North

Best Art Direction, Set Decoration: Urie McCleary, Fil Parrondo, Antonio Mateos, Pieere-Louis Thevenet

Best Sound: Douglas Williams, Don Bassman

Best Film Editing: Hugh S. Fowler

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Cinematography: Fred J. Koenekamp

Best Music, Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith

Best Effects, Special Visual Effects: Alex C. Weldon

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“The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

Patton tells the story of George S. Patton (Scott) throughout World War II from his campaigns in Northern Africa, the Invasion of Sicily, his reassignment and eventual involvement in the Battle of the Bulge.  Though a military genius, Patton finds himself at odds with his subordinate, and later superior, General Omar Bradley (Malden), and in competition with the British General/Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery (Bates).  His candid, tough-love and bruntly honest nature gets him in plenty of trouble, diminishing his role in the Allied upper command towards the end of the war.

George C. Scott’s performance as George S. Patton is truly one of the greatest in film history.  He had some distinct differences from the real Patton, but the harsh, blunt, candid nature comes across throughout the film.  Scott’s performance is engaging and he really portrays Patton as being stubborn to the fault.  He is firm, but also poetic.  He believes in reincarnation, and as they conquer, he visits ancient battlefields proclaiming, “I was there” with complete conviction and sincerity.

Though he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, Scott refused to attend and accept the award, saying the award ceremony itself was just a ‘meat market.’  Scott took the role because Patton was a professional, and Scott admired professionalism.  Aside from Dr. Strangelove, this is the only film I’ve seen Scott perform in.  It makes me hesitant to watch him in anything else because of the high standard this performance sets.

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Patton’s relationship with General Omar Bradley, whose memoir was one of the source materials that the script was based on, is an interesting contrast in two very different leadership styles.  Patton was strict, disciplined, and kept his distance and authority over his men.  He was also willing to take great, and sometimes unnecessary risks.  In contrast, Bradley was much more personable and practical.  His calmer more even tempered personality helped him advance to higher commands.  Though the two were very different, it was good to see the great amount of respect each person had for the other.

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Field Marshall Montgomery was also an interesting contrast with Patton.  Patton noted on more than one occasion that they were both prima donnas, though Montgomery wouldn’t ever admit it.  The scene in Messina was humorous.

Though this film is a war movie, there isn’t a whole lot of battle scenes.  Though the movie runs nearly three hours, there is enough drama outside of the actual battles that keep the film engaging and avoids monotony and boredom.  Patton engaging General Erwin Rommel’s forces in North Africa was very well done, and highlights Patton’s respect for Rommel as a General, while exploiting Rommel’s weaknesses.

This time around I watched it in two sittings, the first hour or so and then the rest.  Perhaps it didn’t seem as long and potentially tedious because I broke it down to two viewings.

It was interesting to note the German side of what was happening.  After Patton had been demoted, they were certain it was a trick, not understanding the consequences of Patton’s treatment of a shell shocked soldier that Patton slaps and calls a coward when visiting a field hospital.   They recognized his competence as a leader, and know there is probably no one better to lead the army in the field.

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Patton is one of the best war and biographical films out there.  Winning seven Oscars, this film tells the story of a brilliant but tragically flawed military genius.  I was a bit surprised, though, that it didn’t win for Best Music, Original Score.  Had anyone other than George C. Scott played Patton, it would have slipped into obscurity.  Scott’s professionalism as an actor is emulated in his portrayal as Patton the military professional.  I can definitely watch this one again.  It’s one anyone interested in military history should see.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

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Best Picture Winners. Movie #112: Annie Hall (1977)

From now until Oscar Sunday I will be reviewing Best Picture winners. Enjoy!

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Janet Margolin, Colleen Dewhurst, Christopher Walken

Academy Awards (1978):

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Diane Keaton

Best Director: Woody Allen

Best Picture: Charles H. Joffe

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Woody Allen

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Annie Hall is a comical look at the up and down relationship between a New York City TV writer and his aspiring actress/singer girlfriend who’s originally from the Midwest. (from RottenTomatoes.com)

Considered one of Woody Allen’s best movies, Annie Hall was an intriguing film that I went into without any expectations.  It is still the only Woody Allen movie I’ve watched, so I don’t have anything else to compare it to as far as his directing, writing, and producing style. It is a different kind of film, and after watching it a second time I understand its appeal.  Personally, I wasn’t all that crazy about it.

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The main issue I have with Annie Hall is that Allen’s character Alvy Singer is essentially a bantering narcissist who carries on for an hour and a half.  It was a tough film for me to watch because it just seemed to drag on and on.  Forty-five minutes felt like an hour and a half.  I enjoy movies that are primarily dialogue-driven, but when one person dominates the film the way Allen does, it’s just too much for me.

Though Annie Hall has it’s faults, Allen does a great job directing and pushing the directing envelope. I do like how Allen incorporates breaking the fourth wall throughout the film.  After Alvy and Annie break up, I like how he is both talking to the audience and engaging people who are walking down the street.  To his credit, Allen makes these transitions and fourth wall lines flow seamlessly within the film’s story.  The grade school classroom scene and dinner with Annie’s family were two scenes where this was best incorporated.

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Having not seen any other Woody Allen films, Allen’s pairing with Diane Keaton seems, well, odd to say the least.  Allen wrote Annie’s character with Keaton in mind.  It will be interesting to watch some of their other collaborations.

Annie Hall is a unique film that has received wide acclaim.  Though it wasn’t my favorite to watch, I can appreciate its unique feel and look.  I feel like I could watch this again after watching some of Allen’s other films and have a better understanding.  It’s certainly not a top priority, but it is something I’ll get to eventually.

Decent film, just not my type of film, for now.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars.

Movie #97: The Conversation (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford.

Academy Award Nominations (1975):

Best Picture: Francis Ford Coppola

Best Sound: Walter Murch, Art Rochester

Best Writing, Original Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola

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” We’ll be listening to you.”

Harry Caul (Hackman) is an electronic surveillance expert who owns a small surveillance company and is regarded by his peers as the best of the best.  On his current assignment Caul records Mark (Forrest) and Ann’s (Williams) conversation as they walk through Union Square in San Francisco.   As he deciphers and constructs the conversation, Caul realizes that the couple he’s surveilling may be in danger, and he becomes reluctant to hand over the tapes to The Director (Duvall) and his assistant Martin Stett (Ford).  Caul is an incredibly paranoid, reclusive loner, even to Stan (Cazale), his business partner.  His number is unlisted, he calls his clients from a pay phone, and seems to have very few connections outside of the surveillance industry.

It’s interesting to me how forty years after this film was released, it still seems relevant.  While the technology used in The Conversation has been outdated for quite some time, the thought that someone could be listening in on your conversation at any given time isn’t all that big of a stretch.  This film is a true gem for Francis Ford Coppola, though it is overlooked since it was released eight months before Coppola’s other hit film from 1974, The Godfather: Part II.

Gene Hackman was phenomenal as Harry Caul.  He portrays the technological knowledge needed for a guy in his field, battles with his own paranoid demons, and paces the film well as his crisis of conscience unfolds.  His interactions with Stand demonstrate paranoia and general mistrust of others.  This was the last of Cazale’s films for me to see, and though I don’t remember much of his performance in The Deer Hunter, it’s one I’m looking forward to revisiting at some point.  Hackman’s performance is balanced and complemented by Coppola’s script.  Additionally, the background sound used throughout kept my attention as I wondered at times what would happen next.

The sound quality of this film wasn’t the greatest, granted it’s from the 70s, but I found myself paying particular attention and my own heart rate speeding up as the various piano sequences played in the background.  Though I don’t really like sudden shocking moments in a film, here it worked for me.  The suspense throughout the film helped me enjoy the movie more.

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Harrison Ford’s performance was a bit of a surprise for me.  This was one of his first big roles, and I think he nailed it as the cold, intimidating at times, assistant.  He definitely made the most of his screen time, and the conversation he had with Harry at the end of the film was creepy, but at the same time demonstrating a central theme of the film in that someone is always listening.

theconversationlistening couple  Another thing that was interesting to me was the repetition of the original conversation throughout the film.  Though I thought it would get horribly repetitive and annoying, the way the conversation and overall story unfolded, it really didn’t bother me.

 

 

 

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Though the equipment and technology used in The Conversation has become incredibly outdated, the central themes of the film are still very relevant in today’s society.  Hackman delivers an incredible performance, one he essentially reprised in the 1998 film Enemy of the State, and does a great job of portraying a man who realizes his work has real, tangible consequences and copes with the crisis of conscience that follows.  It’s not one I’ll go out of my way to see again probably, but it’s one I would recommend seeing at least once.

My Recommendation: Rental/Netflix

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

Valentine’s 2014. Movie #86: Love Story (1970)

For the next two weeks I’ll be posting primarily about romance movies I’ve been reviewing the last few months.  I’ll mix in some Best Picture winners as well in preparation for the Academy Awards.

Director: Arthur Hiller 

Starring: Ali MacGraw, Ryan O’Neal, John Marley, Ray Milland, Russell Nype, Katherine Balfour, Sydney Walker, Robert Modica, Walker Daniels, and Tommy Lee Jones

Academy Awards (1971):

Best Music, Original Score: Francis Lai

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Ryan O’Neal

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: John Marley

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Ali MacGraw

Best Director: Arthur Hiller

Best Picture: Howard G. Minsky

Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced: Erich Segal

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Olver Barrett VI (O’Neal),  a Harvard law student, meets Radcliffe music major Jenny Cavalleri (MacGraw) at the Radcliffe library.  The two get to know each other, and through numerous verbal quarrels and eventually fall deeply in love.  Upon graduation, Jenny is set to move to Paris, but instead stays and marries Oliver.  Oliver Barret III (Milland) cuts the two off financially because Jenny comes from the working class.  Phil Cavalleri (Marley), however, supports and welcomes Oliver into the family, though he has reservations about the couple’s wedding ceremony.

This film does a good job at keeping the story simple, honest, and reflecting every day life.  Though now the story seems somewhat cliché in American cinema (rich guy falls for poor girl, etc.) Love Story does a nice job of bringing two balanced characters together who complement each other well.  Both Oliver and Jenny are intelligent characters, and their verbal barbs keep a nice fun element in the film.  The deeper, underlying struggles each deals with, though, is done so in a way that adds layers to the story.

They also address the joys and pitfalls of a young married couple.  Financially cut off by his father and still attending Harvard Law School, Oliver and Jenny struggle, but through those struggles come their greatest joys.  It was good how Jenny communicated that she didn’t regret giving up Paris for Oliver, and though it seems cliché it was still very touching for me to watch.

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Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal worked well together.  They both present characters with strong personalities, but the little details that show their passionate love for one another comes across very well.  They act in such a way that they don’t come across as a fantasy lovey-dovey type of romance story.  Oliver deals with the expectations thrust upon him by his father, and Jenny is supportive but also willing to put him in his place when needed.  Oliver also goes to whatever lengths necessary to help Jenny once she’s diagnosed with her illness, even to the point of asking his father who he swore he’d never speak to again for money.

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Each of the father-in-law’s does a great job in the film, but I felt John Marley did a better job and had stronger presence with his limited screen time.  He shows a nice range of emotions both as a welcoming father-in-law to Oliver and the grieving father following his daughter’s death.

I have to say I was disappointed with how the ending of this film turned out.  The scenes with Jenny in the hospital were without a doubt the most powerful of the film, but I feel they were rushed.  I wonder how different things would have been had the filmmakers spent a little more time at the hospital.  The ending and resolution to the story seemed off.  I did like how the film came full circle between the opening and closing shots of Oliver sitting in the stands at the ice skating rink.

Also, without a doubt the most memorable and powerful line of the film, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” was somewhat brushed over both times the line was spoken.  Perhaps my expectations of the line were too high, but I just felt like something was off with the delivery.

Love Story does a lot of things right, and it benefits from two strong lead characters, a balanced supporting cast, and a candid, blunt look at the early stages of love and marriage and in the end dealing with tragedy.  I could watch this movie a few more times probably, but I would have to be in the right mood.  I would recommend seeing this movie at least once.

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This was Tommy Lee Jones’ first film role, a small role in Love Story.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie #62: Rocky (1976)

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Director: John G. Avidsen

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, and Burgess Meredith

Rocky Balboa could have been a good fighter.  Instead, he became a leg breaker for some two-bit loan shark.

Rocky is the story of a good-hearted man who makes his living collecting money for a loan shark and boxing when he can get a fight. He’s interested in his friend Paulie’s (Young)  sister Adrian (Shire), and has very little direction in life.  He’s recently been lost his locker at a local boxing club because the owner, Mickey (Meredith), has found someone with a more promising fighting career.

He’s given the opportunity to fight Apollo Creed (Weathers), Heavyweight Champion of the World, on January 1, 1976, five weeks after when the film begins. From there he goes from no name nobody to Philadelphia’s favorite son to the man who went the distance with the World Champ.

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The primary story line for Rocky is based on  Chuck Wepner, who nearly went the distance with Muhammad Ali (the fighter Apollo Creed is largely based on) in 1975.  ESPN did a documentary on it called 30 for 30: The Real Rocky, which is available on Netflix. If you’re a fan of the film or series, I’d strongly recommend watching it.  Carl Weathers does a great job bringing that character to life.  A loud-mouthed man who knows he’s great and wants to build his own glory.  He is arrogant, probably one of the reasons Rocky is successful against him, but not just cocky but good at what he does.

While the primary story line of the boxing match with Apollo is for the most part predictable and cliché, there are plenty of other elements that help make this a well-rounded film.

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One of the things that stands out to me in these films is how much time is spent away from the boxing elements.  The evolution of his relationship and eventual marriage to Adrian really gets to the heart of the franchise.  The fighting is great, without question, but adding Rocky’s relationships with Adrian, Paulie, Mickey, and eventually Apollo gives the franchise far more depth and a lot more content to explore.

It’s interesting to see how different Adrian is from the beginning to the end of Rocky.  She’s incredibly shy, mostly just keeping to herself.  She loves her brother, and ends up taking the brunt of his aggression, but it’s good to see her stand up for herself towards the end of the film.  One of my favorite scenes in the entire series is in Rocky III when she confronts Rocky on the beach.  Rocky asks how she got so tough, to which she simply replied, “I married a fighter.”

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I hadn’t realized how little Burgess Meredith was in the original Rocky film.  Yes, he plays a big part, and has phenomenal stage presence.  However, since he is primarily in the fighting story line, he doesn’t have as many scenes as the other minor characters.  He is more central in Rocky II and the first part of Rocky III.

Stallone, Shire, Meredith, and Young were all nominated for acting Oscars, though none of them won.  The film did win Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Editing.  It made the American Film Institutes Top 100 films of all time in both lists, landing in the mid-70s both times.

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Rocky is a nice feel-good film where it’s hard not to root for the little man.  At the same time though, you get the sense that everything will turn out okay.  The additional love story and social status (Rocky has to deal with being a bum by societal standards, especially given his untapped potential) make this a well-rounded story that can appeal to more than just the sports-film fan.  I enjoy watching this movie, and will probably continue to enjoy it for many years to come.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie #61: Bad Company (1972)

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Director: Robert Benton

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown, Jim, Davis, David Huddleston, Jerry Houser, and John Savage.

Drew Dixon (Brown) is a young man from Ohio avoiding enlistment in the Union Army in the American Civil War.  He decides to head west and become an outlaw, at his parent’s blessing, and ends up joining Jake Rumsey’s (Bridges) gang.  His group consists of other draft-dodgers, and they head out west to make a new life as outlaws.

The harsh realities of their new life, though, quickly destroy their hopes and dreams of fortune.  They have to deal with unforgiving competition and a lot of the work that goes into making their new living.  They’re robbed at gunpoint by Big Joe (Huddleston) and his men.  Eventually, three of the five gang members are killed: ten-year old Boog Bookin is shot while stealing a pie from a windowsill and brothers Jim Bob and Loney Logan are both hung by Big Joe’s men.

The film itself is fairly underwhelming.  Aside from solid performances from both Bridges and Brown, not a whole  lot stood out in my mind.  However, that’s one of the main drives of the film.  It breaks down the romanticized Hollywood version of being an outlaw in the Old West.

Drew Dixon deals with the moral implications of what he’s doing.  While he maintains throughout the film that he’ll do things the fair and right way, he deceives the rest of the gang.  His parents sent him out with a sizable amount of money he’s got stashed in the sole of his boot.  His exchange when Jake calls him on this was entertaining, and Drew realizes his deceptive nature and I think becomes more open to the outlaw lifestyle.

Story-wise it seems like this film is a series of shorter films mashed together.  Each encounter: Drew meeting Jake, their first encounter with Big Joe’s gang, the aftermath of each gang members deaths, and ultimately reconciliation between Drew and Jake, could be a short film in and of itself.

Though Bad Company does a good job of breaking down the stereotypical Western film, I was overall unimpressed by it.  At times it was good, but on the whole I was glad it wasn’t any longer than it was.  I won’t see this one again, plain and simple.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Chinatown (1974)

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I watched Chinatown about a year ago and to be honest, I didn’t like it.  It was probably in large part because I wasn’t able to pay attention to the film.  While I dozed at times this time around, I was able to follow the story line a lot better, which made for a more enjoyable experience.

J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired bu Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to investigate and confirm her husband’s extra-marital affair.  In the process he is murdered and reveals a bigger problem with water availability, land values, and whatnot in L.A.

The number of layers to this story probably contributed to my disinterest in trying to watch this the first time.  Having an idea of what was going on to start with definitely made a difference in understanding and following the many layers to this story.

The two lead performances in this film carry the story.  While Jack Nicholson had a few memorable performances before Chinatown (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail), here you have his quick wit and brilliant stage presence.  He would do 4 films the following year, including his first of 3 Oscars in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  His charm and brunt nature as Gittes helps to cut though surface-level pleasantries and really get down to the meat of things.  Faye Dunaway is charming as always.  She handles both the light-hearted parts and the heavy heart she has in dealing with her past and how that shapes who she is very well.

Burt Young was memorable, even if he wasn’t in the film very long.

While I was initially frustrated and disappointed with how the film ended, I came to appreciate and accept that sometimes the happy ending just doesn’t happen.  People aren’t brought to justice.  The innocent suffer.  As one of Gittes former colleagues say, “Hey, that’s Chinatown.”

I originally would have given this film 2 out of 5 stars, but a second watching definitely helped change that.  It’s an enjoyable film that keeps you guessing and served as a place to showcase Jack Nicholson’s leading character strengths.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.