Ok, so here’s my 2 cents on this year’s Academy Awards. First off I’m thrilled that Marion Cotillard and Tilda Swinton won! I was really rooting for both of them, but I thought that Julie Christie and Cate Blanchett would win. I was thrilled with the way it turned out! While the Bardem and Day-Lewis wins were expected, I was still satisfied to see their excellent work rewarded. I was also happy for the Coen Brothers. I have always been a huge fan of theirs.
I notice that there seems to be a big backlash against JUNO writer Diablo Cody, but I’m glad she won. I think perhaps she has been overexposed in the press and maybe that’s why people are now having a negative reaction to her. There also may be many jealous people out there who resent her for having such quick success. Jealously is pretty rampant in Hollywood. I am not one of the haters though. I thought the screenplay was great and I loved JUNO. I’m glad she won. Nuff said. I’m also glad to see so many female screenwriters being nominated this year.
I literally cheered when TAXI TO THE DARK side won the Best Documentary award. I saw it opening night and I was so affected by it that I couldn’t sleep. The film really stayed with me and I’m hoping the award will help the film to get wider distribution. TAXI is a brutal and heartbreaking film, but really deserves to be seen.
I enjoyed the tribute to legendary production designer Robert Boyle. That man has lived an incredible life. I wish I could meet him and hear his stories. I bet he has a million amazing tales from his life and times here in Hollywood.
Here are also some interesting Oscar facts:
-All four acting winners were from overseas: Marion Cotillard (France), Daniel Day-Lewis (England), Tilda Swinton (England) and Javier Bardem (Spain.) This is apparently only the second foreign sweep in Oscar history. The first one was in 1964, when Brits Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Peter Ustinov and Russian Lila Kedrova swept the acting awards.
-Marion Cotillard is only the second actress to ever win an Academy Award for a foreign language performance. The first was Sophia Loren who took Best Actress in 1961 for TWO WOMEN.
-Marion Cotillard is only the third French woman to win an Academy Award. The other two are Juliette Binoche in THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996) and Simone Signoret in ROOM AT THE TOP (1959). Both Binoche and Signoret won for English speaking performances. Signoret was also nominated for SHIP OF FOOLS (1965). Other French actresses to receive nominations include Marie-Christine Barrault for COUSIN, COUSINE (1976), Anouk Aimee for A MAN AND A WOMAN (1966) and Isabelle Adjani for THE STORY OF ADELE H. (1975) and CAMILLE CLAUDEL (1989).
-Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for MY LEFT FOOT (1989).
Overall, I enjoyed the Academy Awards but I tend to agree with LA Times columnist Patrick Goldstein that the show is in serious need of re-invention. The problem is that almost every year the ratings come out and are usually very low. I think the only year in recent memory they were high was in 1997 when TITANIC won several awards. Typically the studios don’t make prestige or artistically challenging films that win awards. They make movies that generate millions of dollars and sell popcorn like TRANSFORMERS and NORBIT, etc. The more daring fare is usually from the mini-majors. Sometimes artistic excellence and huge box office go hand in hand…but often that is not the case. I also think that many people lose interest in the Oscar telecast simply because there are so many award shows all at the same time of year.
In 2006 the Academy had a Centennial celebration of Janet Gaynor, the very first Best Actress Academy Award winner. As part of the tribute, they showed a later in life interview with Gaynor. They asked her about her Best Actress win. She said that first year was a very simple and tame event. She said that the winners were informed well in advance and that the event was a very casual. There was no hype or hoopla. It was casual. I even found a photo to back this up. Douglas Fairbanks isn’t even wearing a tuxedo! Janet Gaynor is wearing very simple 1920s style day wear. Quite a far cry from the red carpet glamour we have today.
If you haven’t yet seen the “Reel Geezers” by all means check them out! I enjoy hearing what they have to say. Both of the “Geezers” worked in the film industry and have impressive credentials. Lorenzo Semple Jr. was a notable screenwriter whose credits include Three Days to the Condor, The Parallax View and Papillon. Marcia Nasatir was a film executive and agent long before the days when such a thing was as common as it is today. They are witty, acerbic and totally entertaining. According to a recent LA Times article, there are many others out there who agree! Take a look at their Oscar predictions:
MURDER BY THE CLOCK (1931)
This was a very very strange film unlike any pre-code I have seen before. It stars Lilyan Tashman (clad in skin tight satin gowns!) as the impatient niece of a wealthy matriarch. She is hungry to get her hands on the money and will stop at nothing. She orchestrates a string of murders, perfectly timed and well thought out down to the second in order to achieve her aim. The family house where the story takes place is right across the street from an old decrepit gothic cemetery. The matriarch of the family has a terrible fear of being buried alive so she installs a foghorn device on the crypt that she will sound if by some reason her fear really comes to pass. There is also another concrete casket in the cemetery that opens, allows people to climb in and has a secret underground passage back to the family house. A web of murder, intrigue and seduction ensues until the killer is finally brought to justice. The lighting has such a delightfully creepy and gothic look to it. The cinematography is by the great Karl Struss (Island of Lost Souls, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde), which explains why. This film has a very high camp factor and in spite of its creepy tone, also maintains a great comic balance. Even though it was directed by Edward Sloman, it felt very much like James Whale’s The Old Dark House in overall tone.
THE CHEAT (1931)
I was really looking forward to seeing this film, as I love Tallulah Bankhead. Sure her acting style is mannered, but she is such a wonderful grand dame and so much fun to watch. Here she plays a compulsive housewife who gambles away $10,000 (during the Great Depression no less) on a hunch. She uses money raised by a local charity and invests it in a shaky stock deal, which collapses and leaves her doubly in debt. In desperation, she seeks the money from a local Asian art collector who fully expects her sexual favors in return. This character is without question one of the most depraved and sick people ever encountered in pre-code cinema. He shows Bankhead a collection of dolls mounted on blocks of wood and explains that each doll represents a woman he has conquered and that he stamps the wooden base with a hot iron, establishing them as his “possession”. Bankhead borrows the money from him and then can’t go through with the return he obviously expects. She gets the necessary funds from her husband and informs him the deal is over. He gets angry and grabs her body, forcing her dress down on one side and brands her body with a hot iron. She shoots him in self-defense. Her husband, who is loyal and forgiving to a shocking degree, insists on taking the blame. An outrageously over the top dramatic courtroom scene breaks out with Bankhead ripping down her blouse, showing off the brand over her left breast and setting her husband free of blame. This is a really racy, kinky and wild movie for 1931! Tallulah Bankhead is careless and makes some terrible decisions but she still comes across as a likeable character. The big difference between her character and Claudette Colbert’s in MANSLAUGHTER is that Bankhead’s character KNOWS that what she is doing is wrong and actually has a conscience all along. She is fully aware of her flaws and failings. Colbert’s character has arrogance and no self-awareness whatsoever. She never gets a conscience about anything until the end of the film when presumably Fredric March has helped her to obtain it.
The appeal of Pre-Code film to me (and other film fans) is how complex and rich the characters and subject matter are. Film historian Mark Vieria stated that the worst part of the code was that it “took mature thought out of film.” Two books I highly recommend on Pre-Code cinema are Sin in Soft Focus by Mark Vieira and Complicated Women by Mick Lasalle.
CLOSE HARMONY (1929)
Yet another great night at the UCLA Pre-Code series kicked off with CLOSE HARMONY made in 1929 and starring Nancy Carroll and Charles “Buddy” Rogers. I’ve seen numerous photos of Nancy Carroll, but have never seen any of her films. She was a huge Broadway star in musicals who made the crossover to film in the early sound era, but her films are almost impossible to see. To my knowledge, none of them are on VHS or DVD and until this series I’ve never even seen them get screened on the repertory revival circuit. The story of the film concerns a big musical stage star (Nancy Carroll) who tries to help a struggling jazz band leader she falls in love with (“Buddy” Rogers) make it to the top. While her intentions are sincere, she tries to seduce and break up another vaudeville act in order to get the jazz band to the top. Naturally chaos, hurt feelings and misunderstandings ensue until they kiss and make up at the end. While the story is slight, the music, costumes and charm of the actors make this film a real treat! I love the 1920s and 30s so much and the film is filled with numerous vintage songs from that era. They even had a music historian introduce the film and talk about the importance of the music. Nancy Carroll is very charming and fun to watch. She makes a perfect romantic partner for “Buddy” Rogers. I must admit the soundtrack of the film was extremely crude, but this was apparently one of the very earliest talkies produced by Paramount, which would explain why. I’d really like to see more Nancy Carroll films someday if the opportunity ever presents itself. It is always interesting to me to see new stars that I haven’t really seen before. There are simply so many people who were HUGE in their day and then forgotten in subsequent years. I love discovering or in many cases re-discovering new actors to watch.
MANSLAUGHTER (1930) was another pre-code with a far more dramatic storyline that served as a nice contrast to the first film. Claudette Colbert plays a shallow, spoiled, carefree flapper who has a penchant for reckless driving. She often bribes police offers with diamond bracelets and gets away without consequence. One day, her actions catch up to her and she causes the death of a police officer. Making matters more complex is the fact that the prosecuting attorney (Fredric March) is secretly in love with her. In spite of his love, he realizes that she must go to jail and pay for her crimes. Both Colbert and March are excellent in this film. The only real problem is that one wonders what March’s character could possibly see in Colbert’s. Sure she is attractive, but she is so cruel, thoughtless, shallow and entitled that it is really difficult to find anything redeeming about her. In the end of course she has realized the error of her ways and they re-unite. One gets the impression that perhaps way deep down inside she had the potential to be good, she just needed Fredric March to help her. Either way, it was still an interesting film.
Watching this film though, I couldn’t help but think about how many wealthy people (past and present) do terrible things and largely go unpunished because they are wealthy, famous and think they are somehow above the law. Busby Berkeley killed two women in the 1930s while driving drunk. He was acquitted. John Huston killed a pregnant woman on Sunset Blvd, as he struck her with his car while driving drunk. He walked away a free man. The list goes on and on…but it never ceases to amaze me why these sorts of acts go unpunished.
Where did you get the idea or inspiration for the film’s story?
The script was sent to myself and to my director Guido Thys. The script writer Geert Verbanck, had an internet date and fell totally in love with her and are now married together.
So, that’s where he came up with the “internet” piece. The tango part came when he saw an advertisement for tango lessons and saw the Japanese film SHALL WE DANCE? He then sat down and put the story together based on these two inspirations and got it to me and to Guido.
Were any of the actors trained in the tango prior to making the film?
Once we had the actors lined up, we asked them to take tango lessons. We found them teachers from the El Rumbo dance school and they took lessons for 3 months.
What filmmakers inspire or influence you and your work?
It’s difficult. I love all the romantic movies ever made and I am a fan of Jacques Tati films and James Bond movies. I am fascinated by Hitchcock, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Alejandro Gonz?lez I??rritu.
What made you want to become a filmmaker?
I wanted to become a cook. But my parents would not allow me. They told me to find a real job - and they sent me to film school. How’s that for a real job?
What are your upcoming projects?
I am currently working on two short films, one feature film and have a couple of scripts in development. I am also prepping to shoot a documentary about painters who have yet to be discovered.
Make sure to catch all of the Academy Award nominated short films on the BIG screen, where they belong! They are now playing at the Landmark and Laemmle theatres. Stay tuned for a FilmRadar Field Trip announcement shortly!
Here are some excellent film stories in the news around the world that I highly suggest taking a look at:
A new golden age in cinema
A revolution in ambition and intelligence has brought us films to rival those of the 40s and 70s
Raiders of the lost archives
Never seen Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster? Thanks to a band of renegade movie fans, such ‘classics’ have been saved from obscurity. Gordon Coates on the weird world of film collectors.
Oscar boost for Kazakh filmmakers
An Oscar nomination for a film made in Kazakhstan is allowing filmmakers there to showcase their talents - and recover from the embarrassment of the comedy film Borat, writes the BBC’s Natalia Antelava.
The man who directed ‘Bonnie and Clyde’
Arthur Penn comes to the Harvard Film Archive for a retrospective
Why this is one of cinema’s all-time classics
Battleship Potemkin is nothing less than history - political and cinematic - in thrilling motion, says David Thomson
Don’t miss these great articles!
CITY STREETS (1931)
This film was directed by the great Rouben Mamoulian and based on a story by Dashiell Hammett, so it has very impressive credentials going for it even before the first scene. The film centers on Gary Cooper as “The Kid” a circus sharpshooter and his romance with “Nan” (Sylvia Sidney), the daughter of a mobster. When Nan goes “up the river” (prison in gangster terms), “The Kid” decides to give up the circus life and join the mob so he can make more money for their future. They eventually get embroiled in a web of murder, deceit, parties, booze and mayhem. After being burned by her dishonest mobster father, Nan begs “The Kid” to give up mob life. Eventually Nan is framed for a murder she did not commit and “The Kid” steps in to save her from a mob execution. They ride off into the hills, presumably to live happily ever after and to escape the violent underworld. Gary Cooper is very young and at the beginning of his sound career, but has an incredible air of confidence and assurance on film. There is a beautiful close up of him when he is first seen in the film that caused the audience to erupt into applause. They just don’t make star entrances like THAT anymore! Sylvia Sidney is also excellent in the film. She strikes a great balance between being vulnerable, tough and desperate all at the same time. She also wears some pretty low cut gowns that feature an ample view of cleavage, something you seldom see after the enforcement of the code. All in all, the film is a fast paced early gangland thrill ride that is a great crowd pleaser.
THE MIRACLE MAN (1932)
Sylvia Sidney stars again in this powerful melodramatic tell of a pair of crooks who go on the lam and run across an elderly faith healer who they plan to exploit. Chester Morris plays her conniving con artist boyfriend and they team up with a pickpocket and a contortionist to put their plan into action. When they stage a “fake” healing of the contortionist for the benefit of the town, much to their shock real healing miracles also take place. As the gang spends time in the quiet town, they slowly begin to change and have faith themselves. Hobart Bosworth is quite riveting as the faith healer who seems to use everything he has to perform the miracles. Sylvia Sidney makes a convincing transition in the film from tough shell con artist to sensitive, loving small town girl. Chester Morris also does solid work as her smug, ruthless boyfriend. This film is actually a remake of the Lon Chaney version of the film of the same title from 1919, which is sadly lost. This was the breakthrough role that brought Lon Chaney to major stardom and public recognition. It is easy to see why it would have been a perfect fit. The Miracle Man is a touching story with a sincere message about the power of miracles and faith.
I have to admit that I’m a bit fascinated by Sylvia Sidney. She isn’t conventionally beautiful, but there is something very stunning and even feline about her looks! She almost looks like a Siamese Cat. She also played the lead role in Madam Butterfly in the early 1930s and I really need to find a way to see that one.