Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: How The West Was Won (dir by Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, John Ford, and Richard Thorpe)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1963 best picture nominee, How The West Was Won!)

How was the west won?

According to this film, the west was won by the brave men and women who set out in search of a better life.  Some of them were mountain men.  Some of them worked for the railroads.  Some of them rode in wagons.  Some of them gambled.  Some of them sang songs.  Some shot guns.  Some died in the Civil War.  The thing they all had in common was that they won the west and everyone had a familiar face.  How The West Was Won is the history of the west, told through the eyes of a collection of character actors and aging stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

In many ways, How The West Was Won was the Avatar of the early 60s.  It was a big, long, epic film that was designed to make viewers feel as if they were in the middle of the action.  Avatar used 3D while How The West Was Won used Cinerama.  Each scene was shot with three synchronized cameras and, when the film was projected onto a curved Cinerama screen, it was meant to create a truly immersive experience.  The film is full of tracking shots and, while watching it on TCM last night, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to see it in 1963 and to feel as if I was plunging straight into the world of the old west.  The film’s visuals were undoubtedly diminished by being viewed on a flat screen and yet, there were still a few breath-taking shots of the western landscape.

The other thing that How The West Was Won had in common with Avatar was a predictable storyline and some truly unfortunate dialogue.  I can understand why How The West Was Won was awarded two technical Oscars (for editing and sound) but, somehow, it also picked up the award for Best Writing, Screenplay or Story.  How The West Was Won is made up of five different parts, each one of which feels like a condensed version of a typical western B-movie.  There’s the mountain man helping the settlers get down the river story.  There’s the Civil War story.  There’s the railroad story and the outlaw story and, of course, the gold rush story.  None of it’s particularly original and the film is so poorly paced that some sections of the film feel rushed while others seem to go on forever.

Some of the film’s uneven consistency was undoubtedly due to the fact that it was directed by four different directors.  Henry Hathaway handled three sections while John Ford took care of the Civil War, George Marshall deal with the coming of the railroad, and an uncredited Richard Thorpe apparently shot a bunch of minor connecting scenes.

And yet, it’s hard not to like How The West Was Won.  Like a lot of the epic Hollywood films of the late 50s and early 60s, it has its own goofy charm.  The film is just so eager to please and remind the audience that they’re watching a story that could only be told on the big screen.  Every minute of the film feels like a raised middle finger to the threat of television.  “You’re not going to see this on your little idiot box!” the film seems to shout at every moment.  “Think you’re going to get Cinerama on NBC!?  THINK AGAIN!”

Then there’s the huge cast.  As opposed to Avatar, the cast of How The West Was Won is actually fun to watch.   Admittedly, a lot of them are either miscast or appear to simply be taking advantage of a quick payday but still, it’s interesting to see just how many iconic actors wander through this film.

For instance, the film starts and, within minutes, you’re like, “Hey!  That’s Jimmy Stewart playing a mountain man who is only supposed to be in his 20s!”

There’s Debbie Reynolds as a showgirl who inherits a gold claim!

Is that Gregory Peck as a cynical gambler?  And there’s Henry Fonda as a world-weary buffalo hunter!  And Richard Widmark as a tyrannical railroad employee and Lee J. Cobb as a town marshal and Eli Wallach as an outlaw!

See that stern-faced settler over there?  It’s Karl Malden!

What’s that?  The Civil War’s broken out?  Don’t worry, General John Wayne is here to save the day.  And there’s George Peppard fighting for the Union and Russ Tamblyn fighting for the Confederacy!  And there’s Agnes Moorehead and Thelma Ritter and Robert Preston and … wait a minute?  Is that Spencer Tracy providing narration?

When Eli Wallach’s gang shows up, keep an eye out for a 36 year-old Harry Dean Stanton.  And, earlier, when Walter Brennan’s family of river pirates menaces Karl Malden, be sure to look for an evil-looking pirate who, for about twenty seconds, stares straight at the camera.  When you see him, be sure to say, “Hey, it’s Lee Van Cleef!”

How The West Was Won is a big, long, thoroughly silly movie but, if you’re a fan of classic film stars, it’s worth watching.  It was a huge box office success and picked up 8 Oscar nominations.  It lost best picture to Tom Jones.

(By the way, in my ideal fantasy world, From Russia With Love secured a 1963 U.S. release, as opposed to having to wait until 1964, and became the first spy thriller to win the Oscar for Best Picture.)

Sundance Film Review: Alpha Dog (dir by Nick Cassavetes)


The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 2006’s Alpha Dog, which premiered, out of competition, at Sundance.

Sometimes, I suspect that I may be the only person who actually likes this movie.

Alpha Dog is a film about a group of stupid people who end up doing a terrible thing.  Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a 20 year-old living in Los Angeles.  His father, Sonny (Bruce Willis) and his godfather, Cosmo (Harry Dean Stanton), are both mob-connected and keep Johnny supplied with the drugs that Johnny then sells to his friends.  It’s a pretty good deal for Johnny.  He’s got a nice house and a group of friends who are willing to literally do anything for him.  Johnny, after all, is the one who has the money.

When Johnny’s former best friend, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), fails to pay a drug debt, things quickly escalate.  When Johnny refuses to accept even a partial payment, Jake responds by breaking into Johnny’s house and vandalizing the place.  (Just what exactly Jake does, I’m not going to go into because it’s nasty.  Seriously, burn that house down…)  Johnny decides that the best way to force Jake to pay up is to kidnap Jake’s younger brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin, who is heartbreakingly good in this film).

It quickly turns out that Zack doesn’t mind being kidnapped.  Everyone tells Zack not to worry about anything and that he’ll be set free as soon as Jake pays his debt.  Zack decides to just enjoy his weekend.  Since Johnny is better at ordering people to commit crimes than committing them himself, he tells his friend, Frankie (Justin Timberlake), to keep an eye on Zack.

And so it goes from there.  While Johnny leaves town, Frankie introduces Zack to all of his friends.  Everyone laughs about how Zack is “stolen boy.”  Zack’s going to parties and having a good time.  However, Johnny returns and reveals that he’s been doing some thinking, as well as talking to his lawyer.  Regardless of whether Zack’s enjoying himself, both Johnny and Frankie could go to prison for kidnapping him.  Frankie argues that Zack won’t tell anyone about what happened.  Maybe they could just pay him off.  Johnny thinks it might be easier to just have him killed.  Frankie’s not a murderer but what about Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy)?  Elvis is a loser who desperately wants to be a part of Johnny’s crew and he owes Johnny almost as much money as Jake does.  How far would Elvis be willing to go?

(While this plays out, the film keeps a running tally of everyone who witnesses Zack not only being kidnapped but also held hostage.  In the end, there were at least 32 witnesses but none of them said a word.)

Alpha Dog is based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood and the murder of 15 year-old Nicholas Markowitz.  Hollywood spent five years as a fugitive from justice, hiding out in Brazil and reportedly being protected by his wealthy family.  He was arrested shortly before the Sundance premiere of Alpha Dog.  Since it was filmed before Hollywood’s arrest and subsequent conviction, Alpha Dog changed his name to Johnny Truelove.  Johnny Truelove is a good name but it’s nowhere near as memorable as Jesse James Hollywood.

Alpha Dog sticks close to the facts of the case, providing a disturbing portrait of a group of aimless wannabe gangsters who, insulated by money and privilege, ended up getting in over their heads and committing a terrible crime.  Emile Hirsch gives one of his best performances as the sociopathic Johnny Truelove while Ben Foster is both frightening and, at times, sympathetic as Jake.  Justin Timberlake is compelling as he wrestles with his conscience while Shawn Hatosy is properly loathsome as the type of idiot that everyone knows but wish they didn’t.  The dearly missed Anton Yelchin is heartbreaking and poignant as Zack.  And finally, there’s Harry Dean Stanton.  Stanton doesn’t say a lot in this movie.  Often times, he’s just hovering in the background.  The moment when he reveals his true self is one of the best in the movie.

As I said, I sometimes feel as if I’m the only person who likes this movie.  It got mixed reviews when it was released and, in the years since, it rarely seems to ever get mentioned in a positive context.  Personally, I think it’s a well-done portrait of privilege, stupidity, and the lengths to which people will go to avoid taking a stand.  In the end, no one escapes punishment but it’s the rich guy who, at the very least, gets to spend at least a few years enjoying his freedom in Brazil.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice
  6. The Big Sick

A Movie A Day #348: Ride In The Whirlwind (1966, directed by Monte Hellman)


Three cowboys — Vern (Cameron Mitchell), Wes (Jack Nicholson), and Otis (Tom Filer) — are riding their horses across the old west when they come upon a cabin that is inhabited by one-eyed Blind Dick (Harry Dean Stanton) and his friends.  Though they suspect that Dick may be an outlaw, the cowboys accept his offer to stay the night.  The next morning, they wake up to discover that they are surrounded by a posse.  Mistaken for members of Dick’s gang, Vern and Wes go on the run.  Eventually, they find themselves hiding out at the home of Evan (George Mitchell), Catherine (Katherine Squire), and their daughter, Abigail (Millie Perkins).  While Wes and Vern wait for their chance to escape, the posse grows closer and closer.

A minimalistic western with a fatalistic outlook, Ride In The Whirlwind is today best known for being a pre-Easy Rider credit for Jack Nicholson.  Nicholson not only co-produced the film but he also wrote the script.  With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Nicholson not only gets the best lines but that he also comes close to getting the girl.  Of all the roles that Nicholson played before his star-making turn in Easy Rider, Wes probably comes the closest to being what would be considered to be a typical Jack Nicholson role.  Wes is sarcastic, quick with a quip, and alienated by mainstream society (represented here by the relentless posse).  Nicholson gives a confident performance and it is interesting to see him co-starring with some of the same actors, like Harry Dean Stanton, who would continue to be associated with him once he became a star.  Though the film may be dominated by Nicholson, Stanton also makes a strong impression and comes close to stealing the whole movie.

(Also of note is an early appearance by Rupert Crosse.  Years later, Crosse was set to co-star with Nicholson in The Last Detail but his early death led to Otis Young being cast in the role.)

With its dark outlook and anti-establishment theme, Ride In The Whirlwind was before its time and it struggled at the American box office.  (According to Monte Hellman, it was very popular in France.)  It would be another three years before American culture would catch up with Nicholson’s anti-establishment persona and Easy Rider would make him a star.

Finally, Here Are The Winners From The Indiana Film Journalists Association!


Okay, one final precursor to share with everyone today.  The Indiana Film Journalists Association announced their picks for the best of 2017 on Monday.  They really liked Lady Bird and The Shape of Water.  They also liked Harry Dean Stanton for his final film role.

Best Film

Winner: “Lady Bird”
Runner-up: “The Shape of Water”

Other Finalists (listed alphabetically):

“Blade Runner 2049”
“Brigsby Bear”
“Dunkirk”
“The Florida Project”
“Get Out”
“The Post”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Animated Feature

Winner: “Coco”
Runner-Up: “Loving Vincent”

Best Foreign Language Film

Winner: “Faces Places”
Runner-Up: “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”

Best Documentary

Winner: “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992”
Runner-Up: “Liyana”

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Runner-up: Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green, “Logan”
Runner-up: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, “Blade Runner 2049”

Best Director

Winner: Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Runner-up: Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”

Best Actress

Winner: Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Runner-up: Sally Hawkins, “Maudie”

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Runner-up: Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

Best Actor

Winner: Harry Dean Stanton, “Lucky”
Runner-up: Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Runner-up: Doug Jones, “The Shape of Water”

Best Vocal/Motion Capture Performance

Runner-up: Sean Gunn & Bradley Cooper, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”

Best Ensemble Acting

Winner: “The Florida Project”
Runner-up: “The Post”

Best Musical Score

Winner: Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”
Runner-up: Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, “Blade Runner 2049”

Breakout of the Year

Winner: Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name” and “Lady Bird”
Runner-up: Kogonada, “Columbus”

Original Vision Award

Winner: “Loving Vincent”
Runner-up: “Brigsby Bear

The Hoosier Award

Winner: “Columbus”
(As a special award, no runner-up is declared in this category.)

Here Are The Online Film Critics Society Nominations!


The winners will be announced on December 28th.

It’s interesting to note that The Post is almost totally shut out here.  One thing I’ve noticed that critics who work for newspapers love The Post.  They see it as proof of their importance.  Online critics are far less impressed with The Post.  They tend to view it as a lament for a dead medium, a somewhat stodgy celebration of the past.  Whenever I finally get a chance to see The Post, I’ll let you know who’s right.

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
The Florida Project
Get Out
A Ghost Story
Lady Bird
mother!
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

Best Actor
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Robert Pattinson – Good Time

Best Actress
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Cynthia Nixon – A Quiet Passion
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor
Armie Hammer – Call Me By Your Name
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Patrick Stewart – Logan
Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip
Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

Best Ensemble
Get Out
Mudbound
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Breakout Star
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Dafne Keen – Logan
Brooklynn Prince – The Florida Project

Best Original Screenplay
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards

Best Adapted Screenplay
Sofia Coppola – The Beguiled
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name
Scott Nestadter and Micheal Weber – The Disaster Artist
James Gray – Lost City of Z
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game

Best Editing
Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos – Baby Driver
Lee Smith – Dunkirk
Ben Safdie and Ronald Bronstein – Good Time
Tatiana S Riegel – I, Tonya
Sidney Wolinsky – The Shape of Water

Best Cinematography
Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Darius Khondji – Lost City of Z
Rachel Morrison – Mudbound
Dan Laustsen – The Shape of Water

Best Animated Feature
Coco
The Breadwinner
In This Corner Of The World
The LEGO Batman Movie
Loving Vincent

Best Foreign Film
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
First They Killed My Father
Nocturama
Raw
The Square
Thelma

Best Documentary
Dawson City: Frozen Time
Ex Libris: The New York Public Library
Faces Places
Jane
The Work

Memorial Award
Jonathan Demme
John Hurt
Bill Paxton
George A. Romero
Harry Dean Stanton

Lifetime Achievement Award
Willem Dafoe
Daniel Day-Lewis
Roger Deakins
Christopher Plummer
Agnes Varda

Rising From the Flame, The Phoenix Critics Circle Reveals Their Nominations For The Best of 2017!


 

Yesterday, the Phoenix Critics Circle revealed their nominations for the best films and performances of 2017!

Best Picture

  • “Dunkirk”
  • “The Florida Project”
  • “Lady Bird”
  • “The Shape of Water”
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Comedy Film

  • “The Big Sick”
  • “The Disaster Artist”
  • “I, Tonya”
  • “Lady Bird”
  • “Logan Lucky”

Best Science Fiction Film

Best Horror Film

Best Mystery or Thriller Film

  • “The Beguiled”
  • “Get Out”
  • “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
  • “mother!”
  • “Murder on the Orient Express”
  • “The Post”
  • “Split”
  • “Wind River”

Best Animated Film

Best Foreign Language Film

  • “BPM (Beats per Minute)”
  • “In the Fade”
  • Raw”
  • “The Square”
  • “Thelma”

Best Documentary

  • “City of Ghosts”
  • “Jane”
  • “Step”
  • “Whose Streets”

Best Actor

  • Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
  • James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
  • Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
  • Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
  • Harry Dean Stanton, “Lucky”

Best Actress

  • Jessica Chastain, “Molly’s Game”
  • Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
  • Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
  • Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Best Supporting Actor

  • Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
  • Armie Hammer, “Call Me By Your Name”
  • Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
  • Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me by Your Name”

Best Supporting Actress

  • Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
  • Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
  • Allison Janney, “I Tonya”
  • Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
  • Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Best Director

Best Screenplay

  • Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
  • Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, “The Post”
  • Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
  • Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game”

Best Score

  • Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”
  • Jonny Greenwood, “Phantom Thread”
  • Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, “Blade Runner 2049”
  • Hans Zimmer, “Dunkirk”

 

Here Are The Chicago Film Critics Association Nominations!


Okay, only a few more precursors to go and we’ll be caught up.

Yesterday, The Chicago Film Critics Association announced their nominees for the best of 2017!  I’m happy that they did so because it gives me an excuse to use that picture of Al Capone that I use whenever I post anything about the Chicago Film Critics.

Here are their nominees!

Best Picture
“Call Me By Your Name”
“Dunkirk”
“Lady Bird”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Director
Guillermo Del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me By Your Name”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

Best Actress
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Vicky Krieps, “Phantom Thread”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Best Actor
Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Harry Dean Stanton, “Lucky”

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Armie Hammer, “Call Me By Your Name”
Jason Mitchell, “Mudbound”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me By Your Name”

Best Adapted Screenplay
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Call My By Your Name”
“The Disaster Artist”
“Logan”
“Mudbound”

Best Original Screenplay
“The Big Sick”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Animated Film
“The Breadwinner”
“Coco”
“The LEGO Batman Movie”
“Loving Vincent”
“Your Name”

Best Documentary
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
“City of Ghosts”
“Ex Libris: New York Public Library”
“Faces Places”
“Jane”
“Kedi”

“BPM (Beats Per Minute)”
“A Fantastic Woman”
“Loveless”
“Raw”
“The Square”

Best Art Direction
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Dunkirk”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Shape of Water”

Best Editing
“Baby Driver”
“Call Me By Your Name”
“Dunkirk”
“The Florida Project”
“Get Out”

Best Original Score
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Dunkirk”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Shape of Water”
“War For the Planet of the Apes”

Best Cinematography
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Dunkirk”
“The Florida Project”
“Mudbound”
“The Shape of Water”

Breakthrough Performer
Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
Dafne Keen, “Logan”
Jessie Pinnick, “Princess Cyd”
Brooklynn Prince, “The Florida Project”
Florence Pugh, “Lady Macbeth”
Bria Vinaite, “The Florida Project”

Breakthrough Filmmaker
Kogonada, “Columbus”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
John Carroll Lynch, “Lucky”
Julia Ducournau, “Raw”