Thursday Movie Picks #32: Oscar-Winning Movies

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I’ve been seeing posts on the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog, but I haven’t been able to participate. Well until now that is.

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. Today’s topic is…

OscarWinningMovies

The Oscar-winning movies can include winners of Best Picture, Best Animated Film and Best Foreign Film, but I ended up sticking with the main Best Picture winners. As I was thinking of doing a Top 10 list on this topic, you could say that these films would make my Top 5.

So, here are my picks of three films that deserve all the accolades they’ve received and I don’t hesitate calling each of them a masterpiece.

Casablanca (1942)

ThursdayPicks_Casablanca

Oscar Facts: Won 3 Oscars out of 6 nominations

I had the good fortune of finally seeing Casablanca for the first time two years ago (as I documented here), as part of TCM Theatrical re-release. Robert Osborne, the longtime TCM host, introduced the film and gave some background, which is cool. Unfortunately, he also spoiled the plot – I think he just assumed everyone had seen the film. But even with that snafu, I was so engrossed in the story right from the start. It’s got everything you could want in a movie – intrigue, romance, humor, great music, exotic setting, etc. But most importantly, at the heart of it is the engaging and unforgettable love story, beautifully-realized by Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman. There’s really so much to appreciate in this film that I can’t possibly write in a paragraph or two.

The world will always welcome lovers ♬ As time goes by ♪

 The world will always welcome beautiful stories, too and that’s why Casablanca will always stand the test of time.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959)

Oscar Facts: Won 11 Oscars out of 12 nominations

ThursdayPicks_BenHur

Here’s another Hollywood epic that shall stand the test of time. This is one of the first American films I saw as a young girl with my late mother and it made a huge impression to me then. I was in awe of the visual grandeur and all the epic action scenes, especially the chariot race. I have re-watched it countless times since and even with the technological advancement of movie-making, few scenes from today’s movies could match the intensity and the panoramic spectacle of the chariot scene, it’s 40-min of pure adrenaline rush that I wish I could witness on the big screen one day.

But visuals alone doesn’t make a movie and the personal redemptive story of Judah Ben-Hur is just as riveting. I love that it tells the story of Christ through the eyes of the protagonist and how an encounter with Him ultimately transforms his life in a profound way. It’s truly as epic as a film could get, a feast for the eyes as well as for the soul. Though it’s 3.5-hours long, it’s so well-worth your time and I know it’s one that I appreciate more and more every time I watch it. Both Charlton Heston in the title role and Stephen Boyd as friend-turned-foe Messala are superb, with a supporting cast

But this is truly William Wyler‘s towering achievement. He’s considered by his peers as a master craftsman of cinema, and rightly so. I just read on IMDb that Wyler was an assistant director on the 1925 version of Ben-Hur, who knew he’d go on to surpass that film in so many ways three decades later.

Gladiator (2000)

Oscar Facts: Won 5 Oscars out of 12 nominations

ThursdayPicks_Gladiator

I have dedicated a post for Ridley Scott’s magnum opus a few years ago and even today he still can’t reclaim the glory of this Roman epic. I’m going to self-plagiarize myself here as I still carry a torch for this film and each repeat viewing reminds me just spectacular it is. Gladiator is a visceral spectacle that offers a thrilling blend of intellect and physical strength.  Massively entertaining and memorable, it lived up to the promise of Maximus himself: “I will give them something they have never seen before.“ Oh yes, we’re definitely entertained.

I LOVE that both the hero and the villain are equally-matched in terms of how intensely they’re portrayed on screen. Both Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix gave tremendous performances, culminating to a thrilling and emotional finale worth cheering for. Like the two films I mentioned above, this film ticks all the right boxes to be considered a classic. Visually and emotionally satisfying, it also boasts one of the greatest soundtracks ever by Hans Zimmer. It’s the soundtrack that’s been copied many times over but never surpassed.

BONUS PICK:

Gone with the Wind (1939)

GWTW_OakTreeI just had to include this film as it’s also one of my earliest intro to Hollywood films and even eight decades later, this film is still being talked about. I’d call it a monumental classic, showing the best and absolute worst of American history during the civil war era. Some people didn’t care for the melodrama and it seems overindulgent at times thanks to producer David O. Selznick‘s constant meddling, but few films are as beautifully-shot and wonderfully-acted as this one. There are just too many iconic scenes and dialog from this film, some of them I have highlighted here on its 75th anniversary. Whether you’d end up liking it or not, this is one of those cinematic gems every film fan should be compelled to check out.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen these films?

Five for the Fifth: August Edition

Hello folks, it’s time for the AUGUST 2012 edition of Five of the Fifth!

As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here. So let’s get started, shall we?
…..
1. Well, last Friday I saw Total Recall, which a lot of people say is totally unnecessary. Well, be that as it may, I didn’t think it was horrible, but it’s not all that memorable either. You’ll see a double review of it on Monday from Ted and I, since he loves the original and remember it fondly, whilst I can’t um, recall hardly anything from it.

Speaking of remakes, I happened to see the original Sabrina (1954) with Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden with my husband. Well, interestingly enough, both my hubby and I still like the 1995 remake better for many reasons. Somehow Julia Ormond just makes a more compelling character of Sabrina, and Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear are both perfectly cast as Linus and David Larabee. In fact, about half way through the film we both are bored by this one. I might blog more about that one later, but for now I’d have to say that I prefer the remake than the original, and so I’m glad we owned the dvd of the Sydney Pollack version as might watch that one again after this.

So my first question to you is: which remake you think is better or at least on par with the original?

…..


2. Woo hoo! Skyfall‘s full trailer is here! Most of you probably have seen it already but hey, why not watch it again…


Well, well, well, looks like there’s an interesting twist here about Bond pretending to be dead scenario. And for a Bond movie that was said to be more dramatic given Sam Mendes’ direction, there seems to be a good amount of exhilarating action in this trailer. I like this trailer and we finally get to see the Bond baddie Silva and the new, young & hip Q! But what is with that bleached blond look that Javier Bardem is sporting?? He looks like a Spanish Max Zorrin, I certainly hope Silva won’t end up in our future list of worst Bond villains!! Oh and Bond is tied up in a chair again, boy I hope there won’t be any ball-busting fiasco going on again, ahah.

So, what did you think of Javier Bardem as Silva and Ben Whishaw as Q?



3. I was just reading about Liam Neeson in a British film magazine (can’t remember which it is) on his evolution from dramatic actor to bad-ass action hero.

From films like Schindler’s List, Kinsey, Michael Collins, Chloe and a bunch of other lesser-known films, seems like after playing Ducard, a.ka. Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins, the tall Irish thespian um, embarks on a whole new career as the go-to action hero. I LOVE this tweet from last week:


Ahaha… soooo true!! I mean TAKEN’s Bryan Mills is even more bad ass than James Bond!! I do like Neeson though, and somehow, beneath all that bad-assery, there’s still a sensitive soul in there, that’s perhaps his appeal.

So, what’s your favorite Liam Neeson role and thoughts on his foray into action hero territory?

….


4. I’m really loving these video journals from Peter Jackson. I love that we get a glimpse into behind the scenes of filming this hugely-anticipated film without having to wait for the DVD/Blu-ray is out. Now The HOBBIT video journal #8 is up, I definitely LOVE seeing Lee Pace on there and training to for his role as Thranduil the Elven King.


Now, you probably have heard that The Hobbit will be made into a trilogy. Not surprisingly, it’s getting mixed reviews and I do think it’s perhaps a bit excessive. But then again, I have not read the books, so I’m not really sure how he could stretch the material, about 400 pages of them, into three films. This IGN article assess the pros and cons of doing The Hobbit as a trilogy. It seems that from Peter Jackson’s perspective, he seems to be motivated by his love for the subject matter, but the studio probably just wants to milk this lucrative franchise, just like what they did with Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.

So what are YOUR thoughts about this Hobbit trilogy debate??


5. Ok, for the last question, I’m going to open up the floor to you all… now that the Summer blockbuster months is over, there are still a lot of Fall movies we’re all hugely anticipating. Just in the next four months, here are four I might check out at the cinema in the next couple of months:

Now, there are others I’m interested in, but those might be more of a rental.

What about you? What are your top four movies you are most anticipating in the next couple of months?



Well, that’s it for the August edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀

Classic Flix List: Fred MacMurray – Superb Louse!

Greeting, all and sundry! After giving my cerebrum a well deserved respite which coincided with the release of The Avengers, I’ve decided to dive back in. Taking a hint from Ruth and applying it to the realm of lists while keeping within the arena of classic films and those involved.

To this end, allow me to introduce one of the most talented, yet under rated actors of the past century. Whom many may recognize as a poster boy for Disney during the 1960s and later as television’s proverbial Perfect Dad in My Three Sons. A worthy topic for another time. Though now, I would like to plunge back to the earlier times and films which firmly planted the subject of this dissertation on the Hollywood map while specializing in a specific and memorable type of character.

Fred MacMurray: Superb Louse!

Louses come in all shapes and sizes in film. From Richard Widmark’s Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death or Skip McCoy in Pickup on South Street. Talented, yet invisible people who seem to suffer from a delusional ego. To Peter Lorre, who made a cottage industry out of portraying such countless films. Today, Steve Buscemi would fill that niche comfortably with room to spare!

What makes a ‘Superb Louse’ is the ability to portray someone of lesser or low moral character while also making the character likable and memorable. Within these strict confines, for a brief period in time, Mr. MacMurray ruled the roost. Beginning his sojourn in one of the great classic Film Noirs directed by Billy Wilder:

1. Double Indemnity (1944)

Playing workaday insurance salesman, Walter Neff. Who drops by the home of Phyllis Dietrichson. Silkily and alluringly played by Barbara Stanwyck, to get some final signatures on Mr. Dietrichson’s car policy. Sparks sizzle at first sight. Which evolves into flirtation while negotiating a life insurance policy and its much larger payout for accidental death.

The avalanche begins and it’s too late for the pebbles to vote as Phyllis starts upping the ante. While Walter begins to bend the truth to his partner, Barton Keyes. Brought to low keyed, underplayed life by Edward G. Robinson. Who knows when something just doesn’t look or feel right. MacMurray’s strength is brought to the fore in his straight faced ability to lie and keep two plausible sets of facts straight. While fully aware that he is sinking deeper in deep in Phyllis’s ensnaring web. In a shadowy B&W that begins at the tale’s end and is told in flash backs as a slowly bleeding out Walter tells all into a recording Dictaphone Machine.

2. The Caine Mutiny (1954)

A decade had passed and Mr. MacMurray had the opportunity to pick up those few shiny pebbles to a high gloss for a pivotal supporting role that everyone thinks is a Humphrey Bogart film, but really isn’t. Though he owns the ball bearing assisted plum scene during the Court Martial before the final reel. No, the magic of The Caine Mutiny is that the film is solid ensemble. While the mutineers’ defense council, Lt. Barney Greenwald, magnificently played by Jose Ferrer captures every scene he is in.

That capturing would never have taken place without the connivance of MacMurray’s Lt. Tom Keefer. College man, self proclaimed intellectual and failed playwright. With an over sized ego, subtle condescension to match. Who lazily tolerates the Captain of the Mine Sweeper, Caine while taking fresh faced, young, naive Ensign Willie Keith under his wing. Once the Captain is reassigned to another ship, Keefer’s tolerance melds with wary caution in regard to the ship’s new Captain, Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg. A WWI hold over and very Navy. Who moves at his own speed with his own rules. Unwittingly supplying Keefer with a shopping list of complaints as he draws Van Johnson’s career minded Lt. Steve Maryk into the cabal.

Creating a series of accidents and mishaps that culminate in perhaps, losing the Caine to a tropical Typhoon. Setting the stage for a Court Martial where Keefer’s ego writes checks that can’t be covered. Walking the tight rope of settling perceived scores while tossing Queeg to the wolves and saving his own skin. Queeg is quietly ushered out. The mutineers are acquitted. And later at a celebratory party, Mr. MacMurray’s Keefer is solidly deserving of Lt. Barney Greenwald’s scathing dressing down and challenge to a fight.

3. Pushover (1954)

Ramping it up the sleaze and slime factor about four fold as Robbery Detective Paul Sheridan. Who starts out as honest and straight laced. A bit of of ladies’ man. Tipped to an opening scene bank robbery where people are killed and the robber, Harry Wheeler, fleetingly played by Paul Richards, escapes. Sheridan deftly disables the possible getaway car owned by robber’s moll, Lona McLane; sultrily played by Kim Novak in her debut role. Smoothly picks up Lona. Invites her for a drink and soon finds himself getting in over his head as Lona just as smoothly seduces Sheridan and suggests an easy way out with her and the bank’s stolen $200,000.

The film’s back lot, claustrophobic, shadowy, rain slicked look and Noir feel fit Mr. MacMurray’s Sheridan like a glove as he stakes out Lona’s tiny apartment in its U-shaped complex. With a plethora of high dolly shots that make Sheridan’s trench coated shadows stretch even longer. Selling his soul to the devil as he lies to his partner, Rick McAllister, well played by Philip Carey and paternal overseer, Paddy Dolan. Fudges reports to his by the book boss, Lt. Eckstrom, a sturdy, aspiring E.G. Marshall. Then slither away to see Lona and their plans quickly head south. Culminating with a few unexpected, noisy, greed motivated murders that leave no one the better.

4. The Apartment (1960)

We now find Mr. MacMurray again under the deft hand of Billy Wilder. As a rather major cog in a flawless Magnum Opus to very early 1960s Corporate America. Its hive of worker drones. The key to success and all its bells, whistles, vices and secret that are part and parcel of innovation, imagination and climbing to the top. Here, MacMurray reigns supreme as he toys with and sometimes taunts a new and possibly unwelcome addition to his fiefdom. Jack Lemmon, deftly mixing comedy and drama as naive, sometimes nebbish-y, C.C. Baxter.

MacMurray’s personnel director, Jeff Sheldrake is at the pinnacle of his appointed ladder. Basically content and more than somewhat amoral. He quickly adds his own name to the list of executives young Baxter loans his close by apartment to for late night, off the books assignations. Sheldrake dangles shiny totems and talismans of advancement before Baxter eyes. Private office and perks. While carrying on an affair with elevator girl, Fran Kubelik. Realistically brought to life by Shirley MacLaine.

Troubles ensue when Miss Kubelik catches Baxter’s fancy. Keeping relatively low key until Christmas Eve Night. While Miss Kubelik waits for Shelldrake at the company party. Only to see him enter with an earlier secretary, Edie Adams. on his arm. Miss Kubelik panics and runs to Baxter’s empty apartment and attempts a suicide with sleeping pills. Sheldrake remains, perhaps gleefully and deliberately oblivious of it all. Juggling multiple mistresses with a knowing, winning smile until the final few minutes. When Baxter quits and gives Shelldrake his surprising and well earned comeuppance. With a verbal berating and the returned keys to the executive washroom.

Overall Consensus:

Billy Wilder directing Barbara Stanwyck & Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity

While being given many roles to play, I still believe that Mr. MacMurray was anxious to find a niche where he could stretch and flex his muscles and have some fum with particularly meaty roles under the guidance of tried and tested directors. More so with Billy Wilder, who gave the actor ample opportunities to deliver some of his best, most memorable work. Not as the hero, but the heel. Cunningly pulling strings in The Apartment and to a lesser extent in The Caine Mutiny. While also being able to flip the coin and portray an every man who takes a decision and winds up on an E Ticket to Hell in Double Indemnity and Pushover. Films revealing clever men you may not mind sharing a drink with. Though not much more.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


What do you think of Fred MacMurray? Do share your favorite role(s) of this classic actor.

Great Expectations. Seeing CASABLANCA for the first time

Tonight I have a date with Rick and Ilsa… the most famous movie couple from the classic of all classics, Casablanca. Turner Classic Movies is bringing the 1942 film to almost 500 movie theaters nationwide as part of a 70th Anniversary event, so a few of my blog friends will be seeing it too on the same time.

I knew about the movie Casablanca long before I knew it was the capital city of Morocco. I love the song ‘As Time Goes By’ (though I first heard it in Sleepless in Seattle), and I could even recite all the famous quotes:

“We’ll always have Paris.”

“Here’s to looking at you kid.”

“Play it again Sam.”
(though this line apparently was NOT uttered in the movie)

Recently I saw this one in Tumblr… “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine,”  which is perhaps my favorite as it’s packed with so much emotion even in that one single line.

Now, I don’t know how this film has eluded me for so long as I LOVE the story of unrequited love and the whole tortured soul hero wrestling between love and virtue. This will also mark the first time I’d ever seen Humphrey Bogart in anything. Yes I have never seen ANY of his films before, even though my mother has said a few times that Humphrey Bogart is my dad’s all time favorite actor. Some even called my dad ‘Bogey’ at times, perhaps when he was working in the film industry back in the 50s and 60s. I have only seen Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound so far and was really enthralled by her beauty and grace, so I’m looking forward to seeing her in something else.

So it seems that this film has everything going for it that I can’t possibly not fall head over heels in love with it the moment I walked out of the theater… I mean, it not only won Oscar’s Best Picture in 1943, but has been repeatedly voted as the most romantic American movie of all time. If people were asked to name one of the most famous movie from Hollywood Golden Age, no doubt most of them will say Casablanca. So you see, the thing is, my expectation for this movie is now so ginormous that I’m a bit worried the movie simply can’t meet it. What if I’m [gasp] disappointed … find it boring, or worse, pointless? [wince]

I know a lot of you who adore this movie are surely thinking, ‘Ruth, not even possible, there’s a reason this movie stands the test of time…”  Trust me, I really want to like, no love this movie and concur with its cemented iconic film status. Well, perhaps the best way is not to think too much about it and watch this tonight as if I had never heard about this film before… we’ll see how that goes 😀

I’ll just leave you with this absolutely gorgeous behind the scene photo of cinematographer Arthur Edeson filming the airport farewell scene with Bogart and Bergman…


… and also Max Steiner’s brilliant score from the film:


So who still hasn’t seen this film? I’m also curious if you’ve ever been in my shoes about another classic film.

Flix Character Spotlight: Peter Lorre

Peter Lorre was the epitome of the the Golden Era Hollywood character actor, providing solid support in a variety of movies and TV for more than 30 years. Born László Löwenstein in Austria-Hungary (now the Slovak Republic) in 1904, he ran away from home at age 17 and began to act in theatre. Changing his name in 1925, he worked in Germany, Austria and Switzerland before being cast as the psychopathic child-killer in Fritz Lang’s M (1931), the role that made him famous in Europe, and he worked steadily there.

Like many artists, Lorre fled Germany when the Nazis took over in 1933, eventually landing in London, where Alfred Hitchcock cast him as the villain in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). Lorre’s performance in that film brought him to the attention of Hollywood, where he mostly worked in crime and espionage movies, as well as films noir. (Lorre holds the distinction of being the first actor to portray a James Bond villain —Le Chiffre — in a TV version of Casino Royale.)

He frequently appeared with fellow character specialist Sydney Greenstreet; the pair co-starred in 9 films together, most famously The Maltese Falcon, in which their characters are both hunting “the black bird.” Lorre also often acted with Falcon lead Humphrey Bogart, and, while Lorre & Greenstreet didn’t socialize off-duty, Lorre and Bogart became close friends. Lorre reportedly encouraged Bogart to marry Lauren Bacall despite the couple’s 25-year age difference, saying, “Five good years are better than none!”

Lorre with Bogart and Bacall

Where he had been a lead in Europe, in Hollywood Lorre generally employed his distinctive looks and smooth voice in either secondary parts or maniac villain roles. In The Mask of Dimitrios, however, character actors, particularly Lorre and Greenstreet, play the leading parts and, along with suspenseful direction by Jean Negulesco and a subtle script by Frank Gruber, the result is a really great, if little-known, spy noir. Lorre plays Cornelius Leyden, a mystery writer who is intrigued by the tale of notorious spy/con artist/thief Dimitrios Makropolous, whose corpse has just washed ashore in Istanbul. Leyden thinks Dimitrios’ life would make a fascinating novel, so he begins to retrace the deceased man’s path through Europe.

Along the way, he meets the mysterious Mr. Peters (Greenstreet), who doesn’t believe that Dimitrios is dead, and the two strike up an alliance. Negulesco fought to cast Lorre, saying he believed the actor to be the best working in Hollywood at the time, and Lorre doesn’t disappoint. He convincingly portrays Leyden’s determination to get to the bottom of the story, his gradual realization of Dimitrios’ consuming amorality, and his eventual disillusionment. Lorre and Greenstreet play off each other well and the film’s only disappointment is that they are absent from the frequent flashbacks.

The film is not currently available on video but TCM screened it last month, which is sometimes done as a test for possible DVD releases, so I’m hopeful that will happen soon.

Check out The Mask of Dimitrios trailer below:



Thanks Paula for your contribution! Be sure to check out her fun James Bond-related interview with a fellow cinephile Julian Bond on Paula’s new blog Paula’s Cinema Club.



What are your thoughts of Peter Lorre? Any favorites from his work?