The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.
The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Oscar Winners Edition – Best Director.
It’s another Oscars edition! This year’s ceremony is already in a distant memory now, though I’m happy to see Chloe Zhao making history as the first woman of color to win best director (for Nomadland) and only the second woman ever to win the award since Kathryn Bigelow did in 2009 for The Hurt Locker. So for this edition, I’m actually not going to pick this year’s winner, actually I’m walking down memory lane and only pick films released prior to 1980.
In any case, here are my four picks in order of film release:
Victor Flemming – Gone With The Wind (1939)
I realize that many people find this film problematic but certain art form is a product of its time and just because we appreciate this film doesn’t mean we have to condone its racial prejudices. Now, I was barely a teenager when my late mother brought the VHS and we watched it together, and to this day, every time I watched it, I’m still in awe of its sheer scale. I often wonder just how they did certain complex scenes, with SO many extras… and this was in 1939!
Whether people like the film or not, it’s hard to brush off the monumental artistic achievement in filmmaking in terms of production design, cinematography, sound, etc. and of course, the amazing ensemble cast. we like the film, or not, one has to recognize the greatest achievement, perhaps, of the creative talent of the people working in the movie industry. I’ve talked about this film in this tribute post, I dare say it’s a magnum opus for Victor Flemming and everyone involved. It’s a towering directorial achievement to be sure, I mean the fact that he survived working with powerful, boundary-pushing uber-producer David O. Selznick is quite a feat!
Interesting Trivia (courtesy of IMDb + Wikipedia):
Reportedly, one of the reasons stated by David O. Selznick as to why he fired George Cukor as director was that Cukor, who’s gay, would be unable to properly direct the love scenes between Rhett and Scarlett; hence he was replaced by macho director Victor Fleming. Although he was dismissed from the production, Cukor continued to privately coach both Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland at their request on weekends, unbeknownst to both Selznick and Fleming.
Michael Curtiz – Casablanca (1944)
I talked about seeing Casablanca for the first time in 2012 and was worried that given all the build-up, my expectation for it was so high that I was a bit worried I would be let down. Well, I’ve since seen this movie three times and it’s easily my favorite film about love during wartime. Even as time goes by, Casablanca remains an indelible masterwork. I’m glad I got to see this in the theater during the TCM re-release, it still looks phenomenal on the big screen!
Now, per Wiki, Curtiz was already a well-known director in Europe when Warner Bros. invited him to Hollywood when he was 39 years of age. He had already directed 64 films in Europe, and soon helped Warner Bros. become the fastest-growing movie studio. He directed 102 films during his Hollywood career, where he directed ten actors to Oscar nominations, including Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains.
Bogart and Ingrid Bergman with Curtiz
Director Michael Curtiz’s Hungarian accent often caused confusion on the set. He asked a prop man for a “poodle” to appear in one scene. The prop man searched high and low for a poodle while the entire crew waited. He found one and presented it to Curtiz, who screamed, “A poodle! A poodle of water!”
Apparently there is a biopic on him aptly titled Curtiz on Netflix, it’s description says ‘Driven and arrogant, film director Michael Curtiz deals with studio politics and family drama during the troubled production of “Casablanca” in 1942.’ Might be worth checking out for fans of this film!
William Wyler- Ben-Hur (1959)
I’ve often talked about this film on my blog over the years as this is one of the earlier Hollywood films my late mom introduced me to. I’ve seen it countless times and still bowled over by it every single time. Same with GWTW, the scale of it is simply astounding and this was the time long before CGI was possible. Specifically the chariot scene requiring 15,000 extras!! I had done extras casting for a short film with about 25 people, I can’t even fathom managing THAT many people in five whole weeks!!
It’s not just about the epic action sequences though, I LOVE the quieter scenes that pack an emotional punch, such as the Jesus-giving-Judah-water scene that I’ve talked about in this post. There are SO many indelible scenes I still remember vividly from this Biblical epic that I can’t imagine anyone else but William Wyler winning that year.
Charlton Heston + Stephen Boyd with Wyler on set
William Wyler was so impressed with David Lean‘s work on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) that he asked Lean to direct the famous chariot race sequence. Lean would have received full screen credit for the job–“Chariot Race directed by David Lean.” He declined the offer, knowing that Wyler was a truly talented director and could certainly pull it off himself.
The chariot race required 15,000 extras on a set constructed on 18 acres of backlot at Cinecitta Studios outside Rome. Tour buses visited the set every hour. Eighteen chariots were built, with half being used for practice. The race took five weeks to film
David Lean – Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
I guess I have a penchant for epic classic Hollywood movies! I wish I had seen this one (as well as GWTW and Ben-Hur) on the big screen. Sir David Lean is known for his legendary long shots, eps. the mesmerizing intro of Omar Sharif‘s character slowing emerging from the mirage. Naturally the film made a star out of Peter O’Toole who’d only been several tv series and smaller films.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to manage filming such a behemoth of a film on location with thousands of extras, the director also have to deal with demanding producers, esp. Sam Spiegel, a notorious perfectionist and micro manager who apparently often complain about Lean wasting money on the project. The two had worked on together on another Best Picture winner, The Bridge on the River Kwai.
To capture Jordan’s grandeur, Lean decided to shoot the movie in Super Panavision 70mm. He wanted the largest frame possible.
To film Omar Sharif’s entrance through a mirage, Freddie Young used a special 482mm lens from Panavision. Panavision still has this lens, and it is known among cinematographers as the “David Lean lens”. It was created specifically for this shot and has not been used since.
What do you think of my Best Director picks? Have you seen any of these films?