Today’s the day Academy Award nominations are released so I bet you all still have that at the top of your minds, but we’re going to avoid talking about who did (or didn’t) get nominated since there’s already a thread devoted to it. Instead, I want to talk a bit why this silly, masturbatory ceremony means so much. Not to denigrate it, but to hold it up as something of value even as it inevitably nominates and awards unworthy films (the PGA awards fill me with dread) and artists (not sure they can top giving an award to a rapist for his self-congratulatory garbage, but you know, positive thinking).
The Oscars, which were first presented in 1929 for films from 1927 and 1928, have long held the status as the most prestigious prize in film. That ninety-year history also serves as an important historical time capsule for judging just how we view films over time, or at least how we view the concept of a great film. We can watch it evolve from (perhaps All Quiet on the Western Front excepted) a more crowd pleasing, most impressive production sort of award into something more resembling the current award in the mid-1940s with films like The Lost Weekend, The Best Years of Our Lives, Gentleman’s Agreement, etc. that tackled serious social issues in a serious way. There’s been a push and pull between the two (appealing to the popular demand and critical community) ever since and while not all those films (nominated or winning) have held up in either category, the longevity and continuous prominence of the award will always make any film nominated an essential part of the film discussion.
I’ve mentioned quite a few times the Sight and Sound Top 250 List and last week why it was an important goal for myself to see them all. In short, it’s about as good a baseline into film knowledge for a serious film fan as there exists for any faults it has. The Academy Awards offer a similar, imperfect place in history, chronicling the American film experience. Sure, there’s a Foreign Language Film category and occasionally those films break out into other categories, but it still has a uniquely American perspective for better or worse. The Best Picture winners have plenty of failures in there (from Cimarron and Cavalcade to Out of Africa and Crash), but for those looking to get into film, it’s still a heck of a starting place and thanks to its position in the American culture, it will be for a lot of people.
With the film conversation moving faster than ever and small films missing many locals, the great films tend to get lost in the shuffle, quickly disappearing under a wave of other titles. There’s the deluge of end of year lists for film fans like myself to populate our watchlists with movies we missed, but none of them can quite capture the national attention like the Academy Awards.
The Academy Awards are the one time of year where the film industry can gather its notes together and put forth an annual review to millions of people. A chance to make millions care about small titles that they never would have looked at once (let alone twice) otherwise. To make them, if only for a second while they wait for the categories they care about, appreciate that there are a ton of things that go into making the movies they see. To make people talk about Film and bring these serious issues like representation and depictions of minorities and women to the fore. The event itself may be a tedious bore whose enjoyment is paradoxically decreased the more you know about the films, but I still argue that as both a historical document and cultural tool, it is essential.
That all brings me to this week’s topic, a positive one amidst all the surely inevitable talk about snubs and unworthy noms (talk which I will be struggling to hold back on), what’s a film that you discovered because of the Academy Awards?
For my answer, I’ll stick with a recent one in On Body and Soul. There are so many well received foreign movies every year that I just can’t hope to see all of them (especially considering how few make it to a theater near me), but since I have made it a habit again to see every film I can on the Oscar ballot in recent years, it was a film I made time for. I’m glad I did too because it managed to be one of my favorite films from 2017, telling a romantic drama about two lonely people that added enough oddness to appeal to me without going too far into the artiness with the exploration of its characters dream state for me to find it alienating. It’s compelling in concept, visuals, and acting and well worth a look for those interested in a non-traditional take on the genre (Netflix).
Doc Pick of the Week
There were actually two notable documentary releases this week (see below), but since I chose to watch neither, I can’t put them in this trial section. It’s been a very doc heavy week for me (in no small part because I’ve been going through my 30 for 30 DVDs) which makes picking just one difficult. Not because there were a lot of great candidates, there really weren’t, it’s because none of the four relative highlights stood out all that much.
The only memorable one was 1957’s A Dancer’s World (1957) (Watch TCM) though I’ll admit that there’s not much to this short doc that runs only a half hour. Aside from choreographer and teacher Martha Graham waxing poetically about dance and dancers occasionally, the film is merely dancers dancing to music in a studio and nothing more. That dancing is immaculately and starkly shot however, and I found myself transfixed by it. I guess if you are looking for something more substantive you can’t go wrong with Land of the Free (2017) (Starz) a doc about former convicts, but it just didn’t do much for me to differentiate itself from all the similar ones I’ve seen recently.
All Times EST
Another trial section, I’m going to highlight my favorite titles playing each week, the interesting showings, and maybe a title or two I don’t like but are notable anyway.
To Have and Have Not – 1/22 4:30 PM – One of the greatest films ever made, a better take on Casablanca.
The Ernie Kovacs Show – 1/23 3 episodes starting at 8:00 PM – I always find it interesting when TCM mixes in old TV episodes of various sorts.
The Breaking Point – 1/25 12:00 PM – Readaptation of To Have and Have Not that is still very good.
A Face in the Crowd – 1/25 1:45 PM – Fantastic, still relevant film with an against type performance from Andy Griffith.
White Heat – 1/26 12:30 PM – Great late period Cagney gangster film even before its famous close.
Holiday – 1/26 2:30 PM – Fun romantic-comedy remake starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant .
Wait Until Dark – 1/27 2:15 AM – A great horror-thriller starring another Hepburn (Audrey) and rightly remembered for its climax.
A Raisin in the Sun – 1/27 9:45 AM – Very good stage-y adaptation of the essential Black play.
The Americanization of Emily – 1/27 12:00 PM – A really underrated and funny anti-war film with James Garner’s best role.
Act of Violence – 1/27 8:00 PM – A great little noir title
In a Lonely Place – 1/27 9:45 PM – One of the bleakest American films of the era and one of Bogart’s best performances.
Forbidden Planet – 1/28 9:30 AM – The best of a day of sci-fi films has its hokey elements but it’s still a fun sci-fi version of The Tempest.
2001: A Space Odyssey – 1/28 11:15 AM – Its sequel plays right after, but the Kubrick original is the only one that is memorable even if I don’t love it as much as others.
Westworld – 1/28 6:15 PM – It might be the weakest film listed in this section (bar one), but it’s still very enjoyable and worth seeing. Nothing at all like the show.
Sounder – 1/28 8:00 PM – A really well made family drama
Bullitt – 1/28 10:00 PM – There’s also a movie surrounding the car chase, it’s fine.
Kramer vs. Kramer – 1/29 12:15 AM – It’s seen its reputation take a hit as a result of its (correct) status as an unworthy Best Picture winner, but it’s still a good film in spite of that.
Poltergeist – 1/29 – 2:15 AM – A supernatural horror classic
The Extraordinary Seaman – 1/29 4:30 AM – I think the title says it all
Where Eagles Dare – 1/29 6:00 AM – Not nearly as good as The Misfits song or even the Iron Maiden song but still a fun Eastwood actioner.
Silent Sunday Night
The Red Lily (1924) – 1/28 12:00 AM
Querelle (1982) – 1/28 2:00 AM
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) – 1/28 4:00 AM
A pair of Rainer Werner Fassbinder titles, I’ve only seen the latter but it’s his best known and a great one.
Sights and Sounds from the Critics Top 250
Last Year at Marienbad (1961) dir. Alain Resnais – (Critics Poll – 109, Directors Poll – 105): Remember when I alluded earlier to the faults of the list. Well, the list is filled to the brim with works that lean towards the experimental. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just really tries my patience, but most of the time I’m just left as I am here. I can appreciate what Resnais and writer Alain Robbe-Grillet were going for with their surrealism and ambiguity, and I can find plenty of the visuals absolutely gorgeous, all while remaining cold to the film as a whole. A film I’m happy I didn’t try to understand so much as just wash over me, but I just didn’t click. I’ll stick with Resnais’s previous title, Hiroshima Mon Amour.
The Week in Movie Reviews
– WTF ASIA 39: Pushpaka Vimanamu (1987)
– BnB Shame #8: DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
– Millennial Malaise 02: Sneakers
– Movie Review: The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (2018)
– IO (2019)
– Awash in the Stream: Fyre Festival Double Feature Special
– Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Pixar Edition. Incredibles 2
What have you been watching and what did you think of it?