Best Picture Flashback
Last week I crossed two films off my List of Films I Often Lie About Not Having Seen.
Now, I don’t think I have ever actually had to lie about this fact; rather, whenever someone mentioned The Godfather trilogy, I’d nod my head in agreement and venerate Francis Ford Coppola’s films as best as I could. I never acknowledged or corrected someone who wrongly assumed that I had seen them. In rare cases, I’d admit to the oversight, and then endure a 30-second lambasting…Never. Again.
Fair warning: If you, too, have never seen the Godfather trilogy (Well, Parts I and II. I have yet to see Part III, and that task is for a day when I feel I can stand Sofia Coppola’s acting, which may not come for years), I caution you in reading this post as there will be minor spoilers. And I mean it. I somehow managed to stay in the dark and experienced the film’s thrilling twists and turns with their intended impact. I’d hate to deny you that same experience.
As with all great narratives—and The Godfather‘s is one of the greatest—the story is layered and can be interpreted from many different angles. What I found most compelling in my first viewing was Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) trajectory. The Godfather is, from the beginning, a story of Michael Corleone’s demise—his loss of innocence and the erosion of his moral character.
Watching Part I and II side by side offers a striking comparison of both Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his son Michael (Pacino) in the family role of “Don Corleone,” the highest member of a powerful Italian mob enterprise. Part I shows us Vito in that role, and later in Part II, we see Michael pick up where his father left off. Both possess the cold, ruthless disposition that presumably any mob boss would need, but Michael is not his father, and his actions in the second film fray the tailored edges of the Godfather image Vito created.
Mario Puzo, the author, and Francis Ford Coppola (who wrote the screenplay together) carefully lay the groundwork for this transition long before it is executed on screen by Pacino. Perhaps Michael’s aggression comes from his military background, or because his outlook is narrowed by a privileged upbringing (unlike Vito’s gradual ascension to wealth and power after having immigrated to the United States an orphan from Italy). Though his impression at the beginning of the film is that of an attractive, angelic-like young man, Michael’s propensity for violence bubbles to the service when he volunteers to kill two enemies of the family involved in a heroin trafficking operation. He successfully carries out the operation, and at that moment, it really feels as though there was no turning back for him.
Many references are made to Vito’s wish that Michael would never travel down this path to become the Godfather. The eldest brother Sonny (James Caan) was the presumed heir, but his death in Part I changes everything, and Vito feels the loss of Michael’s innocence as he is called to the role (passing over his older brother Fredo, who is treated as simple-minded and incapable) as much as he feels the loss of his first born.
At times it is not clear if Michael truly loves his family, or if he loves them because the loyalty that ties them all together is all he has ever known. He is paranoid, and quick to act on a suspicion that someone might be against him, an affliction that ultimately leads him to order the death of his loving, yet dim, brother Fredo (John Cazale). Perhaps what is most chilling is that he brings his targets close, giving them the false hope that he has forgiven them, before he calls for their execution, as is the case for Fredo, and earlier in the film for his brother-in-law Carlo (Gianni Russo). Under Michael’s regime, the Corleone operation feels much more destructive and unstable.
I’m eager to watch these films (and perhaps Part III, too) a second time to take in this complicated narrative from another angle; but in the meantime, I’m taking in Al Pacino’s performance as Michael Corleone and filing it under one of the best on film. Michael’s transition to the role of the Godfather and the demise of his moral character transcends every expectation I had for the films.Continue Reading »
Four years after taking home Oscars for Best Picture and Director for It Happened One Night, Frank Capra took home two more for another screwball comedy classic, You Can’t Take it with You.
Tony Kirby (Jimmy Stewart) has fallen in love with his secretary, Alice (Jean Arthur), and the two become engaged. The only thing left to do is to introduce Tony’s conservative, corporate, money-loving family to Alice’s family of lovable lunatics. The two clans come together over dinner one evening; and like any good screwball comedy would have you anticipate, their discord is astoundingly hilarious, albeit unfortunate. It turns out that Tony’s father has his mind set on buying up all the property in Alice’s neighborhood for one of his investments.
Not unlike It Happened One Night, class and economics are fodder for You Can’t Take it with You. While the Kirby family appears to have it together, they fall apart at the seams with their greed and obsession with material things. The Sycamores, on the other hand, live their lives as simply as possible, feeding themselves with laughter and silliness. In a comedy that seems easy and breezy, Capra folds subtle detail and development into this picture. You Can’t Take it with You is not entirely unnoticed, as it won Best Picture in 1939, but it is certainly less mainstream than, say, It’s a Wonderful Life. And with that in mind, I consider You Can’t Take it with You to be under-acknowledged. More people should see this movie.Continue Reading »
Please excuse the interruption in regular posting. As birthdays are one of the few times that it’s acceptable to get hammered the night before you have to be at work early the next morning, I’m partaking in the festivities and am in no condition to post a review tonight.
Have a cold one for me. Cheers!Continue Reading »
In the eyes of many film buffs, A Man for all Seasons is a classic. I’ve seen it referenced many times, heard the name in relation to “great cinema,” but I’ve never felt compelled to rent this one. In fact, I doubt I would have ever sat down to watch it had I not begun the Best Picture Project. However, today was the day, and I have given it a sincere viewing.
Why was I hesitant? Honestly, it looks like a drag. Despite my background and love of history, I’ve always seen Sir Thomas More as a Catholic apologist who just didn’t know how to play the game with Henry VIII. Furthermore, my experience with The Tudors has satiated my interest in the Tudors Mania of the past decade.
All this is to say that I’ve heard the name, I’ve considered the reputation, but I’ve never given the film a chance. Now that I have, I recognize its remarkable achievements in writing and direction, with actors forced to rely on their characters instead of special effects or costumes (which might have been progressive for the time, but they’d look like drapes next to the work we see today from costume designers like Sandy Powell and Janet Patterson). The standout is, of course, Paul Scofield, who brings a certain caution to More that Jeremy Northam lacked in his rendition in The Tudors (although, I did enjoy the development of More’s relationships and family life in the latter).
The film won 6 Oscars in 1967 including Picture, Director, and Actor for Scofield. These are all appropriate recognitions, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a version of the play the film was based on, and not a feature film that brought a great story off the stage and into cinema.Continue Reading »
This afternoon I caught the 1990 winner, Driving Miss Daisy, starring Morgan Freeman and the late Jessica Tandy and directed by Bruce Beresford. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture (obviously), Best Actress for Tandy, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Makeup (really?).
Tandy plays an aging Jewish woman whose son (Dan Akroyd) hires an African American driver (Freeman) for her when she totals her car at the start of the film. It’s a character study of class relations fueled by an awkward first impression; but as the film progresses, a friendship thrives that counters any and all traditional images associated with each race.
The story is based on a play written by Alfred Uhry, and it’s easy to see that the direction reflects the source. It’s a simple setup, really—a study of a friendship that starts out shaky but then moves on to a poignant partnership. Tandy and Freeman are equally affecting in their respective roles.
With My Left Foot, Field of Dreams, and Dead Poets Society in the running for the top prize this year, it’s hard to submit to the idea that this was the film most award-worthy. In fact, a film not even nominated for Best Picture, Do the Right Thing, seems the better film to comment on race relations. But then again, it’s not surprising that the Academy would go for this one, the film with the most warmth and compassion for its characters. Driving Miss Daisy offers incredible depth and development in its main characters; and coupled with a pair of brilliant actors, the film provides a study of human weakness that’s unforgettable and touching.Continue Reading »
First of all, let me be honest about something—the blogging fatigue has set in. I’m certainly not going to whine about it, but it’s a reality. I know that dozens of you are reading this blog; so please, speak up! That’s what the comments section is for, and when a blogger doesn’t get comments, it makes her not want to write anymore. Please don’t make me shout into the void.
This afternoon I watched the 1953 classic From Here to Eternity, which won 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and supporting acting awards for Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed. Not to mention, it hosts one of the recognizable kissing scenes ever put on screen (Although, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a massive let-down. If you blinked, you’d miss it, as the two lovers break from their embrace and start fighting almost immediately).
More after the cut:Continue Reading »
This afternoon as I eyed the Best Picture section of my video store (shout out to Mikes Movies in Boston for having such a section), I kept coming back to The French Connection. I’ve heard of the film before, of course, but for whatever reason, tonight seemed the night to take the plunge. I didn’t even read the synopsis before handing over my 5 bucks. Gene Hackman’s stalwart gaze on the cover was enough to force me into submission.
Directed by William Friedkin (the guy who brought us all nightmares with The Exorcist), The French Connection is gritty realism at its finest. Gene Hackman and Roy Sheider star as two cops from the Narcotics Bureau in New York on the hunt for bad guys involved in a shipment of heroin on its way from France. There’s nothing complex about the story here—it’s a classic setup of good vs. bad, cops vs. drug dealers. Both of these guys, particularly Hackman’s character “Popeye,” charge onto the scene as if it were a battlefield. The screen is packed with twists and turns, including one of the most exhilarating, nail-biting car chase scenes I’ve ever seen.
The French Connection is exactly what you would expect from a stock crime genre film. However, I don’t know that the film has aged very well. While the two leads have a remarkable chemistry as a pair of NYC narcs, the film begins and ends with the same two characters, neither of which develop or change over the two hours. I couldn’t seem to get inside anyone’s head, to know why they do the things they do, say the things they say. Because it’s a crime thriller, I know that we don’t necessarily need to know this much, but I believe that the genre has evolved to where that kind of development is possible—and expected.
Nevertheless, I was on the edge of my seat throughout its two-hour run.Continue Reading »
Each year, Vanity Fair features nine actresses who represent the “New Hollywood” in their February issue. This year, they captured Abbie Cornish, Kristen Stewart, Carey Mulligan, Amanda Seyfried and a slew of other white, pretty novices. It represents one of the most offensive characteristics of Hollywood for me (leaving aside the blatant racial bias)—out with the old; in with the new. As new young actresses make their way into the spotlight, some of the older women who’ve just begun ripening in their craft fall to the wayside.Continue Reading »
*A quick note on the project: I’ve added a sidebar to track my progress. Of course, the list solely reflects my ignorance and not Jeremy’s, who probably wouldn’t need more than a few weeks to complete something like this.
The 1970s is widely recognized as an important decade for women and their liberation from the constraints of family life. And with that in mind, Meryl Streep’s Joanna in Kramer vs. Kramer becomes all the more complex, misread, and heartbreaking in the 1979 drama.
Unhappy and frustrated by the missed opportunities her role in her home has taken from her, Joanna packs her bags and heads for the front door of her NYC apartment, leaving behind her 5 year old son Billy and her husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman), a high-power ad executive who doesn’t even know what grade his son is in school. When he realizes that Joanna has not just gone for a short vacation, Ted must adapt to a new life as a full-time father.Continue Reading »
I’ve always been someone who navigates more towards dramas and action films as opposed to the lighter side of cinema. There’s no way to say this mildly, but there’s just a lot of brainless tripe out there in the comedy genre – so much that I’m not about to waste my time on something that has a 70% chance to disappoint me.Continue Reading »