Best Picture Winners. Movie #115: The Apartment (1960)

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

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee

Academy Awards (1961):

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White: Alexandre Trauner, Edward G. Boyle

Best Director: Billy Wilder

Best Film Editing: Daniel Mandell

Best Picture: Billy Wilder

Best Writing, Story or Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jack Lemmon

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Jack Kruschen

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Shirley MacLaine

Best Cinematography, Black-and-White: Joseph LaShelle

Best Sound: Gordon Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD)

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Manhattan insurance clerk C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) gains favor with some of his superiors at work by allowing them to use his apartment as a rendezvous for their extramarital affairs.  Things get complicated, though, when Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray), the company boss, brings Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), an elevator operator who Baxter has fallen in love with, to the apartment.

There are a lot of layers to this story, and they’re intricately woven together and flow smoothly to make for a charming film.  There is the right balance of humor and seriousness, light-heartedness with darker elements.

Jack Lemmon has a certain “it” factor and charm that I’ve always enjoyed.  Most of the films I’ve seen him in have been great showcases of his comedic acting.  However, there always seems to be just enough depth and seriousness with his performances that sets him apart from other exclusively comedic actors.  He’s adds enough serious, meaningful acting to not just be the funnyman.  His performance in The Apartment showcases this balance between funny and serious probably better than any of his other films, at least that I’ve seen.

Shirley MacLaine complements both Lemmon and Fred MacMurray in her given relationship with each man.  She performs her character’s inner conflict very well, and she holds her own with the comedic parts as well.

Jack Kruschen, who earned an Oscar nomination for his part as Baxter’s neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss, carries some of the comedic load of the film and complements the two leads quite well.  Though he plays the irritated neighbor, he also does a great job as a paternal voice of reason.  MacMurray also does a good job as the overbearing womanizer boss type.  It’s interesting to me that My Three Sons started its twelve-year run in 1960.  MacMurray has that 50s/60s “model dad” look to him.  It adds a different dynamic to his performance as Sheldrake.

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The Apartment has an alluring balance of comedy and drama.  Complementary and believable performances by all the major characters really bring this film together.  It’s lighthearted  at times, but serious when it needs to be.  Though the technology and outside cultural influences have become incredibly dated, the core story of the growing love between two people in spite of everything going on around them is still engaging and enjoyable to watch.  Jack Lemmon gives one of his best performances in this film.  I’d definitely recommend this one, and it’ll stay on my radar as one to revisit at some point.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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Best Picture Winners. Movie #113: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

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

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Dev Patel, Frieda Pinto, Rubina Ali, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor

Academy Awards (2009):

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Christian Colson

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle

Best Achievement in Directing: Danny Boyle

Best Achievement in Editing: Chris Dickens

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score: A.R. Rahman

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song: A.R. Rahman (music), Gulzar (lyrics) for the song ‘Jai Ho’

Best Achievement in Sound: Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke, Resul Pookutty

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Simon Beaufoy

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song: A.R. Rahman, Maya Arulpragasam for the song ‘O Saya’

Best Achievement in Sound Editing: Tom Sayers, Glenn Freemantle

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Jamal Malik (Patel), an 18-year-old orphan from the streets of Mumbai, finds himself competing on the TV game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  His unexpected success leads police to become suspicious and he is arrested for cheating.  During his police interview Malik recounts the story of his life, explaining how he came to know the answer to each question in the quiz. (from 501 Must-See Movies, Revised and Updated Edition)

Slumdog Millionaire has a lot that works.  For having virtual unknowns, at least to American audiences, the acting is decent.  The story, cliché at times, is complex enough and the Indian setting make it unique and enjoyable.

The visuals in this movie are great.  The integration of color throughout the film works well.  From what little knowledge I have of the Indian film industry, it seems like bright colors are intricately used.  The balance  of colors created a number of aesthetically pleasing sets.

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Even though it still grosses me out thinking about it, the toilet scene was well done.  Sometimes I feel like the dream-esque parts were a little drawn out, like how Jamal has the same flashback of Latika (Pinto) at the train station the first time they tried to be together.

The pacing is slow at times, however, I feel like the payoff in the end makes the build up worth it.  In the end, you kind of have to figure he’d get the girl.   However, there’s that underlying tension throughout as Jamal and Latika cross paths and could be together except for this or that circumstance.

There were quite a few times where I thought, “Hmm, that’s convenient” as far as Jamal knowing the answer to a question.  To have that random assortment of life experiences, apparently happening in the order the questions were given, just seems a little too far-fetched.  The cops were right to be suspicious, though some of the torture they put Jamal through was probably unnecessary.

The biggest issue I have with this film has to do with the hype.  Personally, I think it’s an interesting, drawn out love story set in the slums of Mumbai.  I don’t think it’s as great as people made it out to be when it was released.  The first time I watched this, I was just kind of like “eh” at the end.  At the risk of sounding insensitive, I feel like this film is one of those that gets a Best Picture Oscar because the Academy basically says, “Awww, let’s feel sorry for/about (fill in the blank).”  That year it won against The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonFrost/NixonThe Reader, and Milk, all films I think would be deserving of the Oscar, but that’s just my own opinion.

This is the only Danny Boyle film I’ve seen, so I can’t compare this to any of his other work.

Is the film good? Yes.

Is it amazing beyond your wildest dreams and there will never be another like it? No.

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Slumdog Millionaire came out of nowhere in 2008 to win 8 Oscars and gained almost instant international acclaim.  I think it’s a decent film, though personally I don’t understand the hype that came with it.  I think it should be seen once, though time will tell whether this film has long-lasting staying power.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars.

 

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.

The Artist (2011)

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller

Academy Awards (2012):

Best Picture: Thomas Langmann

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin

Best Achievement in Directing: Michel Hazanavicius

Best Achievement in Costume Design: Mark Bridges

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score: Ludovic Bource

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Berenice Bejo

Best Writing, Original Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman

Best Achievement in Film Editing: Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould

Best Achievement in Film Editing: Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius

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The Artist follows the careers of George Valentin (Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bejo) from 1927 through 1932.  Valentin, a champion of the silent film era, sees his star fall while Miller becomes the big star with the invention of the ‘talkie.’

Filmed as a black-and-white silent film, The Artist is both unoriginal and distinctly unique at the same time.  Michel Hazanavicius has made one of the only silent films since the silent film era.  I feel like this would be the result if Singin’ in the Rain and A Star is Born had a child.  It deals with the transition from silent to sound films, and also maps the rise of a young actress alongside the fall of a legendary actor of his time.  Though it very well could have come out of the silent film era, the fact that it was released in 2011 makes it unique as a significant contrast to virtually everything that’s made these days.

I’ve always been skeptical, and a bit puzzled as to why this film had such critical acclaim.

I get it now.

The story is a bit predictable and cliché, but Hazanavicius has created a story that’s engaging and entertaining.  Though it was frustrating at times when I couldn’t read the actors and actresses lips, Hazanavicius gives the audience enough to get the basic gist of the plot.  Two strong leading performances also help make this an entertaining film.

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Both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo turn in fantastic performances.  Though neither has had very much exposure to American audiences (Bejo was in A Knight’s Tale), they more than hold their own in a unique to 2011 type of film.  Without being able to be heard, the body language and facial expressions play a much more central role in showing how their characters are coping with the changes that go on throughout the film.  George is dismissive of the talkie, sure of himself that silent films would always be on top, and falls deeper into depression and despair as his fame fades.  Peppy embraces the new era of filmmaking, but still cares for George in a truly genuine way.  Each was rightfully nominated for an acting Oscar, Dujardin winning for Best Actor.

John Goodman works well as the blustering studio executive who is at the mercy of his stars at times, but still willing to assert his authority.  James Cromwell also does well as George and later Peppy’s chauffeur.  He brings that older wise person element to the film.  It’s also noteworthy that Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange and Sprint commercials with James Earl Jones, among others) had a small part as The Butler, a fellow actor/extra that Peppy meets on her first day.

The only thing that really bothered me about The Artist was that it seemed to drag at times.  The first 45 minutes or so seemed like 2 hours.  Sometimes there are movies that I have to watch in phases, but usually that’s only if it’s 3 and a half hours long or longer.  Though I didn’t take any breaks with this one, it sure felt like I would need it.  Maybe it’s because the only sound for most of the film came from background music.

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The Artist is a film I’ve always had my doubts about.  A silent, black and white film in 2011 with as much critical acclaim and commercial success as this one had just didn’t make sense.  Michel Hazanavicius pays wonderful tribute to the silent film era with a true gem that could have easily come straight out of the time period.  Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo work well together on screen and bring this film to life.  While it’s not one I’m going to go out and buy tomorrow, it’s one I would definitely recommend watching at least once.  I may even watch it again in the near future.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie #93: The Last Emperor (1987)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, and Tao Wu

Academy Awards (1988):

Best Picture: Jeremy Thomas

Best Art Direction: Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Bruno Cesari, Osvaldo Desideri

Best Cinematography: Vittorio Stararo

Best Costume Design: James Acheson

Best Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Best Film Editing: Gabriella Cristiani

Best Music, Original Score: Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, Cong Su

Best Sound: Bill Rowe, Ivan Sharrock

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Mark Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci

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Plot Summary: The story of the final Emperor of China. (IMDB.com)

Puyi (Wu/Lone) became the Emperor of China at age 3.  The Last Emperor begins in 1950 with Puyi’s transfer to a Chinese prison as a political prison and war criminal.  Exploring his life through a series of flashbacks, Puyi’s story unfolds through his ascension and abdication of the throne, his education with Reginald Johnston (O’Toole), his marriage to Wanrung (Chen), installation as Emperor of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo, and capture by the Soviet Union.  Following his re-education, Puyi becomes a peasant gardener in Peking, and visiting the Forbidden City late in life.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching this film the two times I’ve now seen it.  Though it runs nearly three hours, the story engages me throughout and Bernardo Bertolucci uses the life of Puyi as the “prism through which to address a national’s history.”

The various actors who portray the Emperor do a great job of conveying each stage of life.  At age 3, Puyi continually asks when he can go home.  At age 8, his wet-nurse, and only real friend, is taken from him, and Tsou Tijger portrays the broken heart the young Emperor has over this loss.  Tijger also does well with the antics of an 8-year-old child who is denied nothing.  Tao Wu does great in expressing the conflicts and awkwardness of adolescence as Puyi gets married to an old girl who is 17.  All of these actors possess both the character traits of that particular age, but also the inner turmoil that exists with feeling like a prisoner in the Forbidden City.

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John Lone continues elements of the man who was Emperor, became a commoner, but keeps the desire to be ruler again.  It’s interesting to see how blinded by power he is to assume the role of puppet leader, despite the objections from virtually everyone in his inner circle.  Lone’s portrayal of Puyi from early adulthood to his final years is also commendable.  The progression through his re-education and eventual contentment as a gardener in Peking is interesting in contrast to the bratty spoil child his character started as.

The Last Emperor was filmed entirely in the People’s Republic of China.  It was also the first film that the Chinese government gave permission to film in the Forbidden City.  Though the city is composed of over 250 acres and 9,999 rooms, there is a balance of being both grand in scale and intimate in content by focusing on the life of Puyi.

the-last-emperorotoolePeter O’Toole does a great job in this film.  His character is both personable to Puyi while also being a realist and stern with the young Emperor.  As with many of his other characters, O’Toole’s demeanor and film presence gives a sense of professionalism and proper-ness.

The Last Emperor tells China’s history through the eyes of the final Emperor, Puyi, from the early to mid 20th century.  The grand scale of the film is made personable by looking at this history through Puyi’s perspective.  Though it’s not one I’ll probably go out of the way to see again, the historical content and engaging portrayal have made it enjoyable to me, and of course I’d recommend it.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.