A Few Final Thoughts On The 88th Academy Awards…


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Well, another Oscar season has come to an end.  I’m going to take one day off from thinking about the Oscars and then, once March begins, it’ll be time to start speculating about what will win next year.

Like the majority of our readers, I just finished watching the 88th Academy Awards.  It was an interesting ceremony.  It was strange.  It was full of moments that made me cringe.  And, at the same time, there were a few moments that left me feeling very inspired.  Clocking in at 3 hours and 30-something minutes, it was neither the worst nor the best Oscar telecast that I’ve ever watched.  (My favorite remains the ceremony that was hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway.  It was such a fun disaster.)  On twitter, people seem to think that it was either the greatest or the worst thing ever.  I am one of the few to think that it actually fell somewhere in the middle.

Let’s talk about the awards.  Going into this, I was hoping there would be a few upsets and there were.  Unfortunately, few of them were upsets that I was particularly looking forward to.  For instance, Mark Rylance won best supporting actor for Bridge of Spies and, no offense meant to Rylance, but it was hard not to wish that the award had instead gone to Creed‘s Sylvester Stallone.  Stallone, no matter what you may think of the majority of his films, is a cinematic icon and this was probably his last chance to win an Oscar.  Rylance, meanwhile, seems to be destined to being the actor you call when you can’t get Richard Jenkins.

And then there was Best Original Song.  I, for one, am still stunned that the song from SPECTRE was even nominated.  But then it actually won the Oscar!  And, in doing so, it defeated Lady Gaga’s anthem of survival and strength, Til It Happens To You.  Lady Gaga’s performance of Til It Happens To You was definitely one of the show’s highlights.  Not even the presence of our long-winded, gropey Vice President could diminish the strength and power of that performance.  Just imagine what a great moment it would have been if that performance had been followed by Til It Happens To You actually winning the Oscar.

I got really excited when, early on, Mad Max: Fury Road started to win all of the technical awards.  Oh my God, I thought, what if Mad Max actually wins Best Picture!?  That would be a game changer as far as the future of the Oscars is concerned…

But then Alejandro Inarritu won best director and gave his typical sermon.  And then Leonardo DiCaprio won best actor and used it as an excuse to lecture us all about global warming.  And I started to dread the idea of The Revenant winning best picture and having to sit through another speech from either of these two undeniably talented gentlemen.  But then, after being shut out for most of the night, Spotlight won best picture.  The producers ran up on stage and started to lecture the Vatican…

It’s a strange victory.  Spotlight won a total of two Oscars.  Mad Max won six Oscars.  The Revenant won three.  The Big Short and Room took one.  Though the vote totals are never released, I’m going to guess it was a very close race.

I have to admit that I always cringe a little whenever the Oscars get political because celebrities, on the whole, tend to be flaky.  And, often times, they lecture everyone else without bothering to look at or modify any of their own behavior.  Frequently, it leads to a hypocrisy on their part that, over the years, has tarnished some very worthy causes.  It’s not surprising that the 88th Academy Awards were extremely political.  A lot of people said a lot of things but did they actually understand what they were saying or were they just playing another role?  That’s the question I always ask whenever a celeb says to vote this way or that.

I have to admit that I got kind of bored with Chris Rock trying to get people to buy girl scout cookies.  But, let’s give credit where credit is due.  Chris Rock called the film industry out on its own bullshit as far as diversity is concerned.  He told the self-congratulatory Academy audience that they too were capable of being racists and, even watching on TV, you could feel the tension in the room.  This was the epitome of speaking truth to power and good for Chris Rock for going there and, hopefully, making everyone in that audience feel a little bit uncomfortable.

And yet, at the same time, it was hard not to feel that it won’t make much of a difference.  The assembled members of the Academy applauded whenever a presenter or a winner called for diversity but, in the end, are they going to do anything more than applaud?  Watching the show, I imagine that most of the rich white people in the theater were thinking to themselves, “Chris isn’t talking about us.  He’s talking about those other rich white people.”

What’s the solution to the industry’s diversity problem?  Well, the first thing that would have to happen would be for the industry to admit that it has a problem and that’s never going to happen.  The mainstream American film industry is too high on its own rhetoric to ever take an honest look at itself.  Instead, studio execs and producers are always going to put the blame on “those other white people.”

There are so many stories out there waiting to be told.   At some point, the industry is going to have to stop bragging about how they tolerant they are and instead help those unique and interesting stories to be told.  Out there right now, there are people of every race, gender, religion, and political ideology who have a story to tell.  At some point, if the film industry really wants to change, it’s going to have to start seeking out those stories and giving those storytellers a chance.   At some point, those in industry are going to have to stop bragging about how much they donated to which campaign and actually put their rhetoric into action.

Until then, it’s going to take a lot more than merely giving Chris Rock a standing ovation to truly bring diversity to the film industry.

Did anyone else find it weird that the show ended with “Fight the Power” being played over pictures of wealthy white people accepting awards?  I don’t think the show’s producers really considered what that would look like.

Anyway, that concludes this Oscar season!  It was an exciting one and I can hardly wait for a new one to begin!

Here’s A Complete List Of The Oscar Winners!!!!


 

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Best Picture: Spotlight

Best Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu for The Revenant

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCarpio in The Revenant

Best Actress: Brie Larson in Room

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. Spotlight

Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph.  The Big Short

Best Animated Film: Inside Out

Best Documentary Feature: Amy

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

Best Costume Design: Jenny Bevan, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Editing: Margaret Sixel, Mad Mad: Fury Road

Best Make-up and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song: “Writing’s On The Wall” from SPECTRE

Best Production Design: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Visual Effects: Ex Machina

Best Animated Short Film:Bear Story

Best Documentary Short Film: The Girl In The River: The Price of Forgiveness

Best Live Action Short: Stutterer

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Hallmark Review: Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From The Heart (2016, dir. Lynne Stopkewich)


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When I made that ordering of the best Valentine’s Day movies from Hallmark this year on my post for Appetite For Love, I was not aware the new Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie was also going to be part of their Valentine’s Day lineup. To put it bluntly, screw the other five, and watch this. I hope more Hallmark fans are tuning into their Movies & Mysteries Channel movies because the Signed, Sealed, Delivered films are the best ones Hallmark airs. Nothing else really compares. That said, this one needed some trimming. The main plot and a little furthering of the relationship between Norman (Geoff Gustafson) and Rita (Crystal Lowe) was all we really needed. The rest of the plots feel extraneous and just add more to follow without much payoff.

Interestingly, this is the first of the Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies to not be helmed by Kevin Fair. This time around they brought in October Kiss director Lynne Stopkewich. She has had an interesting career so far to say the least. She does a fine job here. I have no complaints about the directing.

Often we get the title card of a Hallmark movie almost immediately, but not this time. A fair amount of setup occurs before that happens.

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The movie begins back in 1835 with a woman making a Valentine for someone in America. We will eventually be told who the Valentine was meant for, which is kind of neat, but not really. It winds up in Norman’s hands, and it does serve a purpose for a scene with him near the end, but he didn’t need the letter for his lines to work just as well. This is a part that really could have been trimmed in my opinion. The movie already had enough plots going that it didn’t need this one thrown in as well.

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Then matching on the action of the 1835 handmade Valentine, we jump to present day and see Oliver (Eric Mabius) making his own Valentine for Shane (Kristin Booth). He then hands it off to be mailed to her instead of just giving it to her…for reasons? This is another part that could have been snipped. The letter will take the entire film to end up in Shane’s hands. It ends up in a box she doesn’t know has anything but Valentine decorations in it.

Now you’d think that title card might pop up now, but nope.

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The dead letter comes in, and Oliver instantly takes it to run off to a restaurant.

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We now go back 15 years to find a kid mailing that letter before asking a police officer where he needs to go to turn himself in.

Now we get the title card and title track of the series. It took awhile. I was wondering if it would ever show up. By the way, that 15 years earlier thing is the main plot of the film. Unlike previous Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies, this one does act more like a procedural rather than having the letter lead to a major revelation about the characters that moves them forward for the next film. I liked that. I’ve always wanted the tracking down the letter to truly be the center of attention instead of say Oliver discovering the truth about his father. There is a little bit of a blast from the past, literally, but it’s minor compared to previous installments.

Another plot is that Rita will get called in to be Miss Special Delivery because the people above her were disqualified in some manner. This goes nowhere really. It goes viral that Rita and Norman are an item and for no real reason she denies it during a press conference. Of course she ends up coming around in the end. I’m really not sure of any good reason for this plot to happen. Maybe a little reinforcement of their relationship since she certainly hurt Norman in the process. She must have been a little uncertain on her end. Otherwise, it just leads to some lines about how people share things today. Blah, blah, blah. People have been doing that sort of thing for a long time. Even as far back as the 1930’s, if not earlier. I’ve read stupid old newspaper stories telling us someone is leaving to go on vacation. I wouldn’t say this should have been snipped, but they could have found a better way to forward the Norman and Rita thing. Oh, and this happens to Norman at one point in the film.

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It’s the funniest part of the movie, and since I don’t intend to do this movie blow by blow, I had to stick it somewhere. After picking up two baby doll arms in a dumpster, Norman says, “You wake up in the morning, and you never really know how your day is going to end.”

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Here is the literal blast from the past. Back when Oliver was Cliff Clavin, he was going to pick up the mail from the mailbox where the kid dropped off the now dead letter. He decided to wait a little bit before he was supposed to pick up the letters because of a police officer who would be in the area that he liked. Since he waited a little bit, an actual clown showed up, and after a little accident with helium…KABOOM! Since Oliver really does take things seriously USPS wise, he never really forgave himself. As a result, he really wants to get this letter that was involved in the accident to its intended recipient.

You got all that? We have an 1835 Valentine that winds up in Norman’s hands that we don’t know who it’s for at first. We have Oliver’s Valentine for Shane going everywhere but her hands. We have the policewoman that Oliver likes. Oh yeah, that actually is a really tiny little plot in this too. We also have Rita and Norman needed to mend fences after she denies publicly that she is seeing him. Then finally, we have the main plot of the movie. All of these plots are affairs of the heart, which ties into the title, and the main plot, but it was a bit much.

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These two are the main plot. That’s Ryan (Nick Purcha) and Maddie (Mackenzie Cardwell) 15 years earlier. They meet because they are both on the debate team. She isn’t very charismatic, but is good with research. He is the opposite. He’s charismatic, but usually doesn’t have that much substance to back what he is saying. Their plot is the best part of the movie. It leads to tragedy, which is why he turned himself into the police at the beginning of the film. A little spoiler: he killed somebody. It will also jump the 15 year gap when the letter finds it’s way to the two of them when they are adults.

I know I normally take you through the whole film, but not this time. I haven’t felt well lately. Also, that would have me trying to juggle all these plot lines or try to tell each one separately. This isn’t a Godfrey Ho movie where telling the plot lines separate makes the film more coherent. This is like the first two Godfather films where you lose something by rearranging events into chronological order. There is a reason these plots are woven together the way they are.

Like I said at the start, forget the other Hallmark Valentine’s Day movies this year, and watch this one instead.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: Father of the Bride (dir by Vincente Minnelli)


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After I watched King Solomon’s Mines, I watched yet another 1950 best picture nominee, Father of the Bride.

In Father of the Bride, Spencer Tracy plays a lawyer named Stanley Banks.  As you might expect of any character played by Spencer Tracy, Stanley Banks is a no-nonsense type of guy.  He’s set in his ways and not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of change.  Stanley has worked hard to get a good job and a nice house in the suburbs.  He loves his wife, Ellie (Joan Bennett) and is a firm but good father to his two boys, Tommy (Russ Tamblyn) and Ben (Tom Irish).  If Stanley does have a soft spot, it’s for his daughter, Kay (17 year-old Elizabeth Taylor).  Stanley admits that he’s always given Kay everything that she’s ever wanted and that she is his favorite of all his children.

However, Kay has been acting strangely as of late.  She just seems to be so happy!  Stanley can tell that she’s in love, though he has no idea with whom.  (He is, however, happy that it’s probably not the bespectacled political radical who Kay apparently dated at some point in the past.)  Finally, during an otherwise typical family dinner, Kay announces that not only is she in love but she’s also engaged to be married!

His name is Buckley (Don Taylor, who would later direct Escape From The Planet of the Apes and Damien: Omen II) and, at first, Kay refuses to even introduce him to her parents.  Eventually, however, Stanley does meet Buckley and he’s happy to discover that not only does Buckley come from a wealthy family but he also owns a small business of his own.

However, just because Buckley is the perfect 1950 man, that doesn’t mean that the wedding is going to be easy.  As a befuddled Stanley watches, the wedding grows more and more elaborate (not to mention, expensive!).  All of the expected complications ensue: Buckley and Kay have a fight, a wedding planner makes things difficult, and Stanley does not immediately get along with Buckley’s parents.  But, for the most part, Father of the Bride is about Stanley struggling to accept that his daughter has grown up and is ready to start a life of her own.

Father of the Bride is a sweet little comedy, though it seems a bit out-of-place as a best picture nominee.  It’s definitely a film of its time.  For all of the scenes of Stanley worrying about the extravagance of modern weddings, there’s not a subversive moment to be found in Father of the Bride.  (One can only imagine what Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk would have done with the material.)

Fortunately, this is also a Spencer Tracy film and whatever gravitas that the film may have comes from Tracy’s honest and straight forward performance.  Tracy never begs for laughs but he gets them anyway, because of the honesty that he brings to the character.  Perhaps his best moment comes after Buckley and Kay have had a fight.  After comforting his daughter, Stanley discovers that Buckley is at the front door.  At first, the protective Stanley tells Buckley that Kay doesn’t want to see him.  Suddenly, Kay comes running down stairs and embraces Buckley.  Between sobs and kisses, Buckley and Kay dramatically swear to each other that they will never fight again.  The camera pans over to Stanley, standing a little to the side and listening.  At first, Stanley seems befuddled by how overdramatic the two of them are acting over a relatively minor fight but there’s also just a hint of sadness in Stanley’s eyes as he realizes that his daughter truly has moved on.

Father of the Bride was nominated for best picture but it lost to the far more subversive All About Eve.

My Favorite Oscar Picture (Starring Audrey Hepburn)


Since it’s Oscar Sunday, I figured that I would go ahead and share something with you.  Below is my favorite Oscar picture of all time.  It’s from 1954 and it features Audrey Hepburn, surrounded by telegrams congratulating her for winning Best Actress for her performance in Roman Holiday.  Also appearing in the picture is Oscar himself.

Audrey certainly does look happy!

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(In this picture, Audrey is in wardrobe for Billy Wilder’s Sabrina.)

Happy Oscar Sunday everyone!  Enjoy the show!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: King Solomon’s Mines (dir by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton)


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So, this is a weird one.

As we all know, today is Oscar Sunday!  As I wait for the big show to begin, I’ve been watching some of the Oscar-nominated films that I have collected on the DVR over the past month.  For instance, this morning, I watched 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines.

King Solomon’s Mines was nominated for best picture of the year and watching it … well, you really have to wonder why.  It’s an adventure film, one that was shot on location in Africa and it features a lot of footage of wild animals.  It also features several scenes that were shot in actual African villages and a good deal of time is devoted to documenting tribal rituals.  It’s true that the film has a plot but, for the most part, it’s a travelogue.  One gets the feeling that it was mostly sold as a chance for American and European audiences to see a part of the world that, up until that point, they had only read about.  Not only would they get to experience Africa from the safety of the neighborhood movie theater but they’d get to see it in a color as well!

(Seriously, it’s difficult to watch the nature footage in King Solomon’s Mines without imagining a serious voiced narrator saying, “However, one gazelle has strayed too far from its mother.  The lion cubs will eat tonight…”)

As for the plot, King Solomon’s Mines is based on a novel by British adventure enthusiast H. Rider Haggard.  Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is an experienced guide and hunter.  When we first meet him, he’s helping two rich Englishmen hunt an elephant.  It’s a disturbing scene, largely because it’s obvious the footage of the elephant dying is real.  Allan prevents his clients from killing more than one elephant and later talks about how much he hates his job but still, it’s pretty much to impossible to really like him after watching that elephant die.

Anyway, Allan gets hired by Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John (Richard Carlson).  It seems that Elizabeth’s husband disappeared in Africa while searching for a legendary treasure.  Allan tells Elizabeth that her husband is probably dead.  Elizabeth still insists on searching for him…

…and, from that point on, you can pretty much predict everything that is going to happen.  Though the footage of Africa looks great, it’s just not a very interesting film.  Playing the type of role that would probably be played by Gerard Butler if the movie was made today, Stewart Granger comes across as being bored with it all.  For that matter, even the great Deborah Kerr seems as if she’d rather be hanging out with Robert Mitchum.

Still, it is interesting to note that Hugo Haas shows up as a villain.  Who is Hugo Haas?  He was a Hungarian actor who, after playing a bad guy here, went on to direct several idiosyncratic B-movies, like Hold Back Tomorrow, The Girl On The Bridge, Bait, and One Girl’s Confession.  If nothing else, watching King Solomon’s Mines has inspired me to, someday, do a little Hugo Haas film festival here on the Lens.

King Solomon’s Mines seems like an odd best picture nominee.  Its triumphs are largely technical and even those successes no longer seem that special.  It was, however, a big hit at the box office and I imagine that probably has something to do with its nomination.  However, when the Oscars were awarded, best picture went to All About Eve.

Stewart Granger was no match for Bette Davis.

My Personal Top Ten Oscar Winners for Best Picture


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Watching movies, like appreciating any art form, is a purely subjective experience. My idea of a great film could be your idea of a stinkeroo. After all, my two favorite directors are John Ford and Ed Wood! Keeping that in mind, I’ve decided to do something different here. Since I’ve viewed 61 of the 87 Best Picture winners, I’ve come up with a Top Ten list of the all-time best Best Pictures I’ve seen. And here it is:

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  • 10- *tie* REBECCA (1940) and ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). This may be cheating, but I really couldn’t pick between the two. Hitchcock’s American film debut is simply a masterpiece of suspense, while Marlon Brando leads a powerhouse cast in Elia Kazan’s powerhouse drama. Both deserve to make the list.
  • 9- RAIN MAN (1988). I could watch this movie over and over and never get tired of it. Dustin Hoffman has never been better. “Uh-oh, two minutes…

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