Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Apollo 13 (dir by Ron Howard)


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I just finished watching the TCM premiere of the 1995 Best Picture nominee, Apollo 13.  Of course, it wasn’t the first time I had seen it.  Apollo 13 is one of those films that always seems to be playing somewhere and why not?  It’s a good movie, telling a story that is all the more remarkable and inspiring for being true.  In 1970, the Apollo 13 flight to the moon was interrupted by a sudden explosion, stranding three astronauts in space.  Fighting a desperate battle against, NASA had to figure out how to bring them home.  Apollo 13 tells the story of that accident and that rescue.

There’s a scene that happens about halfway through Apollo 13.  The heavily damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft is orbiting the moon.  Originally the plan was for Apollo 13 to land on the moon but, following that explosion on the craft, those plans have been cancelled.  Inside the spacecraft, three astronauts can only stare down at the lunar surface below them.

As Commander Jim Lovell stares out the craft’s window, we suddenly see him fantasizing about what it would be like if the explosion hadn’t happened and if he actually could fulfill his dream of walking on the moon.  We watch as Lovell (and, while we know the character is Jim Lovell, we are also very much aware that he’s being played by beloved cinematic icon Tom Hanks) leaves his foot print on the lunar surface.  Lovell opens up his visor and, for a few seconds, stands there and takes in the with the vastness of space before him and making the scene all the more poignant is knowing that Tom Hanks, before he became an award-winning actor, wanted to be a astronaut just like Jim Lovell.  Then, suddenly, we snap back to the film’s reality.  Back inside the spacecraft, Lovell takes one final look at the moon and accepts that he will never get to walk upon its surface.  “I’d like to go home,” he announces.

It’s a totally earnest and unabashedly sentimental moment, one that epitomizes the film as a whole.  There is not a hint of cynicism to be found in Apollo 13.  Instead, it’s a big, old-fashioned epic, a story about a crisis and how a bunch of determined, no-nonsense professionals came together to save the day.  “Houston,” Lovell famously says at one point, “we have a problem.”  It’s a celebrated line but Apollo 13 is less about the problem and more about celebrating the men who, through their own ingenuity, solved that problem.

That Apollo 13 is a crowd-pleaser should come as no surprise.  It was directed by Ron Howard and I don’t know that Howard has ever directed a film that wasn’t designed to make audiences break into applause during the end credits.  When Howard fails, the results can be maudlin and heavy-handed.  But when he succeeds, as he does with Apollo 13, he proves that there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned, inspirational entertainment.

Of course, since Apollo 13 is a Ron Howard film, that means that Clint Howard gets a small role.  In Apollo 13, Clint shows up as a bespectacled flight engineer.  When astronaut Jack Swiggert (Kevin Bacon) mentions having forgotten to pay his taxes before going into space, Clint says, “He shouldn’t joke about that, they’ll get him.”  It’s a great line and Clint does a great job delivering it.

Apollo 13 is usually thought of as being a Tom Hanks film but actually, it’s an ensemble piece.  Every role, from the smallest to the biggest, is perfectly cast.  Not surprisingly, Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, and Ed Harris all turn in excellent performances.  But, even beyond the marquee names, Apollo 13 is full of memorable performances.  Watching it tonight, I especially noticed an actor named Loren Dean, who played a NASA engineer named John Aaron.  Dean didn’t get many lines but he was totally believable in his role.  You looked at him and you thought, “If I’m ever trapped in space, this is the guy who I want working to bring me home.”

Apollo 13 was nominated for best picture but it lost to Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart.  Personally, out of the nominees, I probably would have picked Sense and Sensibility but Apollo 13 more than deserved the nomination.

Rough Justice: THE FRENCH CONNECTION (20th Century Fox 1971)


cracked rear viewer

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First of all, I’d like to thank Kellee Pratt of Outspoken and Freckled for inviting me to participate in the 31Days of Oscar Blogathon. It’s cool to be part of the film blogging community, and even cooler because I get to write about THE FRENCH CONNECTION, a groundbreaking movie in many ways. It was the first R-Rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and scored four other golden statuettes as well. It also helped (along with the Clint Eastwood/Don Siegel DIRTY HARRY) usher in the 70’s “tough cop” genre, which in turn spawned the proliferation of all those 70’s cop shows that dominated (KOJAK, STARSKY & HUTCH, BARETTA, etc, etc).

The story follows New York City cops Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and his partner Sonny “Cloudy” Russo as they investigate a large shipment of heroin being brought in from France. The detectives focus on Sal Boca, a small time hood…

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Lisa’s Oscar Predictions


2013 oscars

Can you believe that the Oscars are just a few hours away!?  This is actually shaping up to be an exciting year.  Even though I’m fairly certain that I know who and what is going to win, there’s still a strong possibility that we could have a few upsets when the winners are announced on Sunday night!

Well, I guess I better hurry up and post my predictions.  Below, I will list both what I think should win and what actually will win.

(If you want to see which films I would have nominated if I had all the power, please check out my What If Lisa Determined The Oscar Nominations post!)

Okay, here we go!

Best Picture:

Should Win: Brooklyn

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Director:

Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Best Actor:

Should and Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Best Actress:

Should and Will Win: Brie Larson, Room

Best Supporting Actor:

Should and Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress:

Should Win: Rooney Mara, Carol

Will Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Best Original Screenplay:

Should Win: Inside Out

Will Win: Spotlight

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Big Short

Best Animated Feature:

Should and Will: Inside Out

Best Art Direction:

Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Cinematography:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Costume Design:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Danish Girl

Best Editing:

Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup:

Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Sound Mixing:

Should and Will Win: The Revenant

Best Sound Editing:

Should and Will Win: The Revenant

Best Visual Effects:

Should Win: Ex Machina

Will Win: The Martian

Best Original Score:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song:

Should Win: “Earned it” from Fifty Shades of Grey

Will Win: “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground

Best Documentary Feature:

Should and Will Win: Amy

Best Foreign Language Film:

Should Win: Can’t say because I haven’t see any of the nominated films

Will Win: Son of Saul

Documentary Short:

Should Win: ????

Will Win: The Girl In The River: The Price of Forgiveness

Animated Short:

Should Win: ?????

Will Win: We Can’t Live Without Cosmos

Live Action Short:

Should Win: ??????

Will Win: Stutterer

 

Here’s What Won At the 31st Independent Spirit Awards!


Spotlight

As always happens on the Saturday before the Oscars, the Independent Spirit Awards were handed out today.  Here’s what won!

Best Feature
Spotlight

Best Director
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Best Female Lead
Brie Larson, Room

Best Male Lead
Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation

Best Supporting Female
Mya Taylor, Tangerine

Best Supporting Male
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation

Best Cinematography
Ed Lachman, Carol

Best Screenplay
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight

Best Editing
Tom McArdle, Spotlight

Best International Film
Son of Saul

Best Documentary
The Look of Silence

Best First Screenplay
Emma Donoghue, Room

Best First Feature
The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Robert Altman Award
Spotlight

John Cassavettes Award
Krisha

I’m happy with these awards, largely because Sasha Stone of Awards Daily hates The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

The Oscars are tomorrow night!  And then, it’ll be time to start predicting what will be nominated next year!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Gandhi (dir by Richard Attenborough)


Gandhi-poster

I just finished watching the 1982 best picture winner Gandhi on TCM.  This is going to be a tough movie to review.

Why?

Well, first off, there’s the subject matter.  Gandhi is an epic biopic of Mohandas Gandhi (played, very well, by Ben Kingsley).  It starts with Gandhi as a 23 year-old attorney in South Africa who, after getting tossed out of a first class train compartment because of the color of his skin, leads a non-violent protest for the rights of all Indians in South Africa.  He gets arrested several times and, at one point, is threatened by Daniel Day-Lewis, making his screen debut as a young racist.  However, eventually, Gandhi’s protest draws international attention and pressure.  South Africa finally changes the law to give Indians a few rights.

Gandhi then returns to his native India, where he leads a similar campaign of non-violence in support of the fight for India’s independence from the British Empire.  For every violent act on the part of the British, Gandhi responds with humility and nonviolence.  After World War II, India gains its independence and Gandhi becomes the leader of the nation.  When India threatens to collapse as a result of violence between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi fasts and announces that he will allow himself to starve to death unless the violence ends.  Gandhi brings peace to his country and is admired the world over.  And then, like almost all great leaders, he’s assassinated.

Gandhi tells the story of a great leader but that doesn’t necessarily make it a great movie.  In order to really examine Gandhi as a film, you have to be willing to accept that criticizing the movie is not the same as criticizing what (or who) the movie is about.

As I watched Gandhi, my main impression was that it was an extremely long movie.  Reportedly, Gandhi was a passion project for director Richard Attenborough.  An admirer of Gandhi’s and a lifelong equality activist, Attenborough spent over 20 years trying to raise the money to bring Gandhi’s life to the big screen.  Once he finally did, it appears that Attenbrough didn’t want to leave out a single detail.  Gandhi runs three and a half hours and, because certain scenes drag, it feels ever longer.

My other thought, as I watched Gandhi, was that it had to be one of the least cinematic films that I’ve ever seen.  Bless Attenborough for the nobility of his intentions but there’s not a single interesting visual to be found in the entire film.  I imagine that, even in 1982, Gandhi felt like a very old-fashioned movie.  In the end, it feels more like something you would see on PBS than in a theater.

The film is full of familiar faces, which works in some cases and doesn’t in others.  For instance, Gandhi’s British opponents are played by a virtual army of familiar character actors.  Every few minutes, someone like John Gielgud, Edward Fox, Trevor Howard, John Mills, or Nigel Hawthorne will pop up and wonder why Gandhi always has to be so troublesome.  The British character actors all do a pretty good job and contribute to the film without allowing their familiar faces to become a distraction.

But then, a few American actors show up.  Martin Sheen plays a reporter who interview Gandhi.  Candice Bergen shows up as a famous photographer.  And, unlike their British equivalents, neither Sheen nor Bergen really seem to fit into the film.  Both of them end up overacting.  (Sheen, in particular, delivers every line as if he’s scared that we’re going to forget that we’re watching a movie about an important figure in history.)  They both become distractions.

I guess the best thing that you can say about Gandhi, as a film, is that it features Ben Kingsley in the leading role.  He gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Gandhi, making him human even when the film insists on portraying him as a saint.  He won an Oscar for his performance in Gandhi and he deserved one.

As for Gandhi‘s award for best picture … well, let’s consider the films that it beat: E.T., Tootsie, The Verdict, and Missing.  And then, consider some of the films from 1982 that weren’t even nominated: Blade Runner, Burden of Dreams, Class of 1984, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, My Favorite Year, Poltergeist, Tenebrae, Vice Squad, Fanny and Alexander…

When you look at the competition, it’s clear that the Academy’s main motive in honoring Gandhi the film was to honor Gandhi the man.  In the end, Gandhi is a good example of a film that, good intentions aside, did not deserve its Oscar.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: The Lost Weekend (dir by Billy Wilder)


The_Lost_Weekend_poster

I’m currently stuck at home on this beautiful day, dealing with a really bad cold.  (Even as I sit here typing this up, I am currently in a feverish haze.)  It’s frustrating but, fortunately, I’ve got a lot of movies to watch.  After all, TCM is wrapping up their 31 Days of Oscars and my DVR is currently full of nominated films waiting to be reviewed.

For instance, I just watched the 1945 best picture winner, The Lost Weekend.  The Lost Weekend was directed by Billy Wilder, a director who is most often associated with sad-eyed comedies like Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, and The Seven Year Itch.  However, The Lost Weekend is most definitely not a comedy.  Instead, it’s an incredibly harrowing and rather depressing portrait of addiction and lost promise.

Don Birnan (Ray Milland) is a struggling writer.  When we first meet him, he’s packing for a weekend trip with his brother, Wick (Philip Terry).  The conversation between Don and Wick at first sounds friendly but soon, we start to hear hints of suspicion in Wick’s voice.  Wick seems incredibly concerned about what exactly Don is packing and Don starts to get defensive.  Don says that it’s been ten days since he had a drink and that there is no more liquor in the apartment.  However, whenever Wick turns his back, Don starts to search for the bottles that he’s hidden around his bedroom.  (He’s even got a bottle of whiskey hanging on a rope outside the window.)  It gets to the point that, whenever Wick isn’t looking, Don is holding a bottle.

And while that may sound potentially humorous, there’s nothing funny about the scene.  Don’s desperation is too real.  As someone who grew up having to deal with an alcoholic father, I recognized Don and his addiction immediately.  Everything about him — from his fast smile to his continual assurances that he’s cleaned himself up — is a facade, designed to help him survive until he can get his next drink.

The main thing about alcoholics is that they’re extremely clever.  Don knows that Wick wants to get him away for the weekend so that he can’t drink.  When Don’s girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman), mentions that she has two tickets for a concert, Don convinces Wick to go to the show with her.  Once Wick is out of the apartment, Don can sneak down to the neighborhood bar.  When it comes time to leave for that dry weekend vacation, Don manages to accidentally on purpose miss the train.

Left alone for the weekend, Don can now do what he wants.  He tries to write about his life as an alcoholic but discovers that his brain is too muddled for him to think straight.  So, instead, he drinks.  Unfortunately, Wick hasn’t left him any money and has also ordered all the local bars and liquor stores to not allow his brother to run up a tab.  As a result, Don finds himself scrounging for money.

In perhaps the film’s most famous scene, Don carries his typewriter down to the local pawnshop so that he can get money to buy a drink.  However, the pawnshop is closed for Yom Kippur.  The camera follows Don as he staggers around New York City, looking for an open pawnshop.  Wilder shot this scene on the streets of New York City, using a hidden camera.  The people who we see reacting to Don are not Hollywood extras but instead are actual New Yorkers who had no idea that the pathetic drunk they were gawking at was actually film star Ray Milland.

As the weekend plays out, Don transforms.  He goes from being smooth and outwardly confident to being unshaven and desperate.  Eventually, Don ends up in a sanitarium, where he’s taunted by a sadistic nurse.  (The nurse is played by Frank Faylen, who played Ernie the cab driver in It’s A Wonderful Life.)  Even when Don manages to get back to his apartment, he finds himself screaming as he hallucinates a bat eating a mouse.  Blood runs down the walls.

Does the film, at least, have a happy ending?  It depends.  The local bartender, Nat (Howard Da Silva), returns Don’s typewriter to him.  Helen convinces Don to write about his lost weekend.  Don says that he’s never going to drink again but, at the same time, we can’t help but remember that the movie started with Don saying the same thing…

As directed by Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend plays out like a noir thriller, full of menacing shadows.  The score, composed by Miklos Rozsa, uses a theremin to let us hear the addiction-fueled chaos within Don’s head.  Best of all, Ray Milland totally loses himself in the role of Don Birnan, with the vanity of film stardom soon replaced with the pathos of addiction.  Even watching the film today, it’s easy to understand how The Lost Weekend won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1945.