Thursday Movie Picks 2021: Oscar Winners Edition – Best Director

ThursdayMoviePicksThe 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)

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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)

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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.

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Bogart and Ingrid Bergman with Curtiz

Fun Trivia:
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)

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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.

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Charlton Heston + Stephen Boyd with Wyler on set

Fun Trivia:
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)

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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.

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Fun Trivia:
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?

Thursday Movie Picks 2021: Oscar Winners Edition – Best Supporting Actor + Best Supporting Actress

ThursdayMoviePicksThe 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 Supporting Actor + Best Supporting Actress.

It’s another Oscars edition! Well, prior to this year where the Academy got confused as to who’s actually the lead of the film (*cough* Judah and The Black Messiah *cough*) and nominated the leading man in the supporting category, for the most part it’s pretty clear which actor belongs in the supporting roles. Since I haven’t seen a bunch of classic films in which the actors won in the supporting category, I’m going to pick winners from movies released in 1980s – today.

In any case, here are my four picks:

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)- post-humous

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It’s rare that an actor’s performance in superhero movie would get the attention of the Academy, but Ledger’s Joker is simply iconic. He deservedly won a total of 32 Best Actor in a Supporting Role awards for his work on this movie, including the “quintuple”: Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and Critics’ Choice award (per IMDb). I really think he surpasses Jack Nicholson’s wicked-clown persona in the role, but created a psychopathic persona so scary yet mesmerizing.

As I said in this scene-spotlight post of the interrogation scene, the Joker had such power to get into anyone’s skin and he really pushed Batman to the point where he almost lost it. I’ve rewatched this movie a bunch of times and I’m always in awe of Ledger’s acting where the actor became the character… thanks to the extended research he did for the role, including secluding himself in a motel for six weeks, etc. It’s hard to watch that film and not think about how that role might’ve cost Ledger his own life. There were reports that the role took a toll on him mentally and physically, which might have contributed to his accidental drug overdose.


Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds (2009)

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I didn’t plan on including another villain who won Best Supporting Actor, but hey, bad guy roles are often juicier than the heroes, and good actors can elevate good roles and make them great. That’s certainly the case with Waltz’s performance which is indelible right from its intense opening sequence. He easily stole every scene he’s in, a perfect combination of being hilarious and terrifying. In less capable hands, Landa could’ve easily just be a sadistic caricature but Waltz made him so indelible. The Austrian actor also used his knack for languages to good use, speaking English, French, German, and Italian in the movie.

I remember reading IMDb trivia that Quentin Tarantino was considering abandoning the film during the casting period when they were searching for someone to play Colonel Hans Landa. He apparently thought he’d written a role that was unplayable, that is until they saw Waltz audition for the role. I think it’s safe to say this is my favorite QT’s film.


Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton (2007)

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This is a legal drama where George Clooney‘s played a ‘fixer’ to remedy the situation after a lawyer has a breakdown while representing a chemical company (U-North) that he knows is guilty in a multibillion-dollar class action suit. It’s been ages since I saw this, but I remember it being quite gripping and that Tilda Swinton was amazing as Karen Crowder, U-North’s general counsel. Her intense performance stood out even in a star-studded ensemble that include Sydney Pollack and Tom Wilkinson. The Scottish actress is so versatile that she not only able to play virtually any role, but she can also disappear in them as well. I think her nervous breakdown performance in the bathroom alone deserves all the kudos. Karen is obviously an ambitious, ruthless character, but Swinton gave her depth and vulnerability that’s captivating to watch.

The film was screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut (known for The Devil’s Advocate and the Bourne trilogy). I just rewatched the trailer again, I should rewatch this one soon!

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave (2013)

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This is such a tremendous film with excellent performances all around, but it’s a film I could watch only once as it’s so harrowing.. At the center of the film is Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery, performed beautifully by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film is filled with big name actors, including Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, etc. but amongst the supporting cast, Lupita Nyong’o definitely stood out as  the brutally abused plantation worker. Clearly it was a physically and emotionally demanding role for any actor, let alone for a newcomer in her film debut!

I’ve always wondered how tough it must’ve been for her as well as her co-star Fassbender in filming those vicious scenes. Well, I read on IMDb that before filming their more brutal scenes together, Nyong’o and Fassbender performed a ritual of “making nice.” According to Nyong’o, “We wouldn’t say anything to each other, just a look in the eye and a grasping of hands. Our characters are in such opposition, but we as actors needed each other in order to be able to go the distance.” 

Nyong’o is no one-hit-wonder though, she’s continued to impress me in subsequent roles and proven her versatility as an actress.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?

Thursday Movie Picks 2021: Oscar Winners Edition – Best Picture

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy first full week of 2021! It’s also the first TMP of the week. 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 Picture.

Well, Oscar nominations isn’t coming out until March 15 this year, but naturally Oscar talks have already begun and film fans are likely making their predictions already. For this Best Picture edition however, I thought I’d take a walk down memory lane and pick from three different genres released in three different decades. I’m also picking those that I actually enjoy watching more than once.

In any case, here are my three picks:

The Sound of Music – 1965

Directed by Robert Wise

I’ve mentioned this a few times on this blog that this is one of the three VHS my late mother brought home from a European trip when I was in my early teens, which also marks my introduction to big Hollywood movies. The other two are also Oscar Best Picture winners: Gone with the Wind and My Fair Lady. 

I’ve since watched The Sound of Music at least a dozen times. I know a few of the songs by heart to this day, and there’s such a timeless quality to the story and obviously the music. Irwin Kostal also won an Oscar for Best Music in this movie, his second one after scoring West Side Story a few years prior. Well, both of the lead actors are still working today. In fact, it’s quite amusing to hear Dame Julie Andrews’ voice in Bridgerton series as Lady Whistledown.

Fun Trivia:

Christopher Plummer accidentally said the word “Captain” to Julie Andrews during the argument scene. Despite the error, producer and director Robert Wise thought it was that amusing, and liked it so much, he kept it in the movie.


Forrest Gump (1994)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

I actually haven’t seen this one in a while but I’ve definitely seen it at least 2-3 times. It’s crazy that this movie is 26 years old already and Tom Hanks is still one of the best and most prolific actors working today. This is easily one of Hanks’ most memorable performance even in his illustrious career filled with indelible characters. It’s also one of the most quotable movies, some hilarious and some profound. It’s nice to see a character like Forrest Gump being such a popular icon… an earnest, good-to-the-bone human being that’s lacking any kind of malice, you could say he’s the modern day George Bailey.

Fun Trivia:
Tom Hanks signed onto this film after an hour and a half of reading the script, but agreed to take the role only on the condition that the film was historically accurate. He initially wanted to ease Forrest’s pronounced Southern accent, but was eventually persuaded by Robert Zemeckis to portray the heavy accent stressed in the novel, and he patterned his accent after Michael Conner Humphreys (young Forrest), who actually spoke that way.


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Directed by Peter Jackson

It’s quite rare for a big franchise film to get an Oscar nomination and this one won 11 Oscars, rivaling Titanic and Ben-Hur, the latter is one of my all time favorites. I actually think The Two Towers is as good if not better, which was also nominated for Oscar’s Best Picture. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is perhaps one of the most amazing battle scenes ever filmed. But of course, The Return of the King is a spectacular end to the trilogy, with Aragorn leading the forces of good against Sauron’s evil army. This was the first fantasy film to ever win Best Picture. It’s still a rarity for fantasy films to nab the award, though The Shape of Water did win Best Picture in 2017.

Fun Trivia:

The last shot of principal photography was when the newly-crowned Aragorn bows to the four Hobbits. Although Viggo Mortensen did not need to be on-set for that day, he nevertheless insisted on attending. He didn’t have a crown (it wasn’t necessary, he wasn’t being filmed), so he fashioned one out of paper. With each successive take, the crown was becoming more ornate and sillier as crew members kept decorating it, so the four actors playing the Hobbits often had difficulty suppressing their giggles.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?