Saturday, May 10, 2014

snubbed '93
     Well, here it is, 5 A.M. again, and I'm writing about yet another significant snub in Oscar history. This time it was the Best Supporting Actor category (my perennial favorite) in 1993. The competition was pretty fierce that year. The actual nominees were:

Tommy Lee Jones as U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive (won)
Leonardo DiCaprio as Arnie Grape in What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Ralph Fiennes as Amon Geoth in Schindler's List
John Malkovich as Mitch Leary in In the Line of Fire
Pete Postlethwaite as Giuseppe Conlon in In the Name of the Father

I can say without hesitation or a shadow of a doubt that Malkovich was the weakest entry here. While I don't dislike Wolfgang Petersen's film (it was pretty much a comic book handling of would-be Presidential assassins and Secret Service Agents) I still think Malkovich sleepwalked his way through the movie, especially compared to his esteemed competition.

That leads me to Robert De Niro as Dwight Hansen in This Boy's Life. Based on the acclaimed memoir of the same name by Tobias Wolff, Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy, 1995) crafted a film of blistering honesty. Essentially a film about abuse, De Niro gave a miraculous performance as a despicable man you almost love to hate; a man that the actor intentionally keeps at arm's length from fully deserving of our sympathy. DiCaprio was on fire in those days, totally earning his nomination that same year for Gilbert Grape and being truly Oscar-worthy (and snubbed) a few more times in the subsequent years to come; namely for Marvin's Room (1996). But it was his legendary costar with a flattop that deserved the nom in '93, not Malkovich.

In fact, '93 was a ripe year for supporting actors. Below is a short list of personal favorites:

Bill Murray in Mad Dog & Glory
Robert Patrick in Fire in the Sky
Robert Redford in Indecent Proposal
Frank Langella in Dave
Chaz Palminteri in A Bronx Tale
Alec Baldwin in Malice
Richard Jordan in Gettysburg

Sean Penn in Carlito's Way
Sam Neill in The Piano
Val Kilmer in Tombstone
Denzel Washington in Philadelphia
the entire cast of The Sandlot

Incidentally,  De Niro was originally offered the Malkovich role in In the Line of Fire, but was directing A Bronx Tale at the time. It makes me wonder if that's the reason De Niro chose the part of a similarly obsessed psycho in Tony Scott's forgettable The Fan (1996) a few years later?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

and the award for WORST movie sweater (all-time) goes to...

Toni Collette (in her "hairy jumper" or "yeti costume") and Nicholas Hoult (in his ???) in About a Boy (2002).

You may have happened upon my movie sweater posts recently, here and here. This one was the hardest to judge. I was a bit torn between this terrible twosome and the veritable "Cosby sweater" from another Nick Hornby adaptation, John Cusack's record store owner in High Fidelity (2000). Frankly, I like About a Boy a lot more, and the sweaters on parade in it are infinitely worse. Part of me genuinely appreciates both these miraculously bizarre creations, in a slightly hipster way I suppose. Of course there is nothing cool about those hats. The hats could anger people. Just the sight of them. But they are knitted, so I threw them in. C'est la vie.

The Godfather

Has anyone else ever noticed that the dent on Marlon Brando's forehead in The Godfather (1972) looks remarkably like The Great Red Spot on planet Jupiter?

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

cinematic grievances

      When it comes to pet peeves from movies, I really only have two major turn-offs. The first are boner gags. Pretty self-explanatory. Just a perfunctory sight-gag lacking in any modicum of wit or originality. I don't require all of my movie comedy to be refined or effervescent like Noël Coward (or relentlessly ingenious à la The Marx Brothers) but even Blazing Saddles (which managed to throw in everything but the kitchen sink) left out the boner gag. Nowadays, as we can get away with a lot more, it would seem the boner in the pants routine is a bit more in vogue. Just ask Robert De Niro who submitted to one in 2010's Little Fockers

Step Brothers (quite hilarious actually) opted for the use of a prosthetic ball-sack getting rubbed on a drum set (as a stand-in for Will Ferrell's actual testicles) in lieu of a hackneyed hard-on joke. A wise move, unlike the puerile erection antic in the first Anchorman. At least Walk Hard caught us off guard with real male genitalia. I'm not really sure what to call my other film-watching bugaboo as I've never been able to find a specific mention of it anywhere. But I despise it far more than the sight of Steve Carell sporting a fake boner in The 40-Year Old Virgin.  

For me, this is as clichéd as it gets, and a real deal-breaker. I hate it when a film presents us with a character who has written a book, manuscript or screenplay in the course of the film which is revealed in the end to be the name of the actual film we are watching. This somehow fits into the realm of metafilmic principles even though I can't think of an exact phrase for it. One of the first films I remember noticing it in was John Hughes' She's Having a Baby. The character played by Kevin Bacon is a young advertising exec who finally pens that great American novel he's always had welled up inside him.

Of course the final shot of the movie is the title page of his manuscript when it's revealed that he's called it (yep) "She's Having a Baby". How cute and totally unoriginal. The worst part is, the film really has nothing to do with Bacon's character being a writer. Hughes couldn't come up with something else to call his story-within-the-story? The same triviality was used recently in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. The book that starts the narrative ball rolling is revealed to be called (you guessed it) "The Grand Budapest Hotel". I know it might not sound like a major gripe, but man, this just drives me up the wall.

The same self-referential device is used in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby (2013). What is perhaps more stunning about this particular usage is no one is actually writing anything in Fitzgerald's source novel (or Luhrmann's film; until at the end it is revealed that the narrator has fashioned a book of the experiences we've just seen called "Gatsby" which he adjusts by hand adding "The Great"). The book that Billy Crystal's character writes in Throw Momma From the Train (one of my favorite comedies) also bears the film's title at the end, but at least that film had something to say about the craft (and business) of writing.

Incidentally, when the movie that's playing within Blazing Saddles is revealed to be called Blazing Saddles (or a similar meta-movie gag in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs) I don't have a problem with it. It's only when the device is applied to a fictional written work. I'd pause before even referring to this as an actual literary device (such as a nested story). It's more like an oft-repeated instance of lazy scriptwriting that's meant to be a clever wink and a nod to the film's audience. It mostly just makes me want to puke.
Doris & Cam

Doris Day (as singer/actress Ruth Etting) and Cameron Mitchell (as pianist Myrl Alderman) in MGM's Love Me or Leave Me (1955). A very lovely number from one of my favorite soundtracks. My original Columbia Records LP is well-worn.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

the great defender

     François Truffaut wrote often of his own desire to critique films and the need to make them. It's entirely possible that without his unique contributions to the field of both arts, it would have taken a lot longer for certain films (such as Hitchcock's Psycho) to be recognized universally as works of art. 

It's a fallacy to say that Truffaut loved all films (I've read many a scathing critique of his) but it is true that he lived and breathed entirely for them. I can think of scant "show people" who existed solely for the cause like Truffaut. Below is a clip of him accepting his Academy Award for Day for Night (1973) and an excerpt from his book The Films in My Life where he defends one of Hitchcock's true masterworks.

François Truffaut gives away his Oscar.

"I still find any hierarchy of kinds of movies both ridiculous and despicable. When Hitchcock made Psycho -- the story of a sometime thief stabbed to death in her shower by the owner of a motel who had stuffed his mother's corpse -- almost all the critics agreed that its subject was trivial. The same year, under Kurosawa's influence, Ingmar Bergman shot exactly the same theme (The Virgin Spring) but he set it in fourteenth-century Sweden. Everybody went into ecstasy and Bergman won an Oscar for best foreign film. Far be it from me to begrudge him his prize; I want only to emphasize that it was exactly the same subject (in fact, it was a more or less conscious transposition of Charles Perrault's famous story 'Little Red Riding Hood'). The truth is that in these two films, Bergman and Hitchcock each expressed part of his own violence with skill and freed himself of it."
~ François Truffaut (1975)

above: titles for Hitchcock's Psycho and Bergman's The Virgin Spring

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Audrey's Day

     It has often occurred to me that if I could only write about film the way Gabriel García Márquez wrote about injustice and oppression (with total truth and beauty), I'd be a better man. André Bazin was the only film critic who came close. I can still strive, although every man must know his limitations. As the saying goes: the enemy of art is the absence of limitations.

For instance, I generally only write about anything when I first wake up in the morning or I find myself extremely bored. That could explain the quality of many of these 5 A.M. posts. I doubt García Márquez and Bazin shared this problem. I picture them more as slaving away on their typewriters into the early hours of the dawn, following that indomitable muse of elucidation; rather than waking up in their Star Wars pajama bottoms with a need to blog about Lee Marvin.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with Audrey Hepburn? Well, if any singular film artist embodied the same values of truth and beauty that I admire in Gabo and Bazin's writing, it was her. Today would have been Audrey Hepburn's 85th birthday.

I needn't bore you with a rehash of her luminous screen work or humanitarianism (that's what Google is for). If I only had to mention two Hepburn performances that were exceedingly close to me, they would be Robin and Marian (1976) and Always (1989).

Any Hepburn film is worth the time, even a walk on. Whether she was playing opposite Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, Rex Harrison, Peter O'Toole, Sean Connery or Richard Dreyfuss, it didn't matter. She was class incarnate. With radiance to spare. Today, all day, I will be thinking of her.

My resplendent emissary of truth and beauty.