Sunday, March 1, 2009

#7 through #11: Round-Up of 1934 through 1938

I'm so entirely behind on blogging the Best Picture films that I've watched that I think I'll just do a little omnibus entry for all of the ones I've watched so that I can catch up. I've stopped watching films, because I didn't want to get any further behind on the blogging, and it seems silly to let a thing like blogging interfere with what I want to do in my life. So here goes:

#7: It Happened One Night (1934):

It Happened One Night

Winner, Best Picture, 1934
Watched on: 11/7/2008

This was the first year that the Academy Awards switched to a calendar-year time period, and coincidentally, this was the first of the Academy Award winning Best Picture films that I'd actually seen before. It Happened One Night is simply put a delightful, lovely film -- I thought that the first time I saw it, and I think that still. And I'm not alone in that opinion -- as Filmsite points out, it was the first film to win all of the top five awards, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adaptation, a feat not repeated until 1975 with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and I think they also very rightly describe it as one of the best romantic comedies ever. Since I'm writing about a lot of films here, I'm going to keep it short and sweet and just give my general impressions. I love It Happened One Night. If you haven't seen it, you should. I could watch it over and over again. Because of its enduring popularity, it's really easy to catch it on TV as well -- I see from that last link that it's scheduled to play on TCM at least three times in the near future.

#8: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935):

Mutiny on the Bounty 2

Winner, Best Picture, 1935
Watched on: 11/7/2008

As much as I loved It Happened One Night and Clark Gable in it, he couldn't save Mutiny on the Bounty for me. My friend Erika and I did a little movie marathon back in November over the course of two days, in which we watched It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Great Ziegfeld, in that order. When Mutiny on the Bounty had ended, we both heaved a sigh of relief, and I turned to her and said, "Whew. We did it." Particularly on the heels of the light, screwball romantic comedy, MotB seemed particularly long, tedious, and painful. It may be, in the words of Filmsite, one of the best nautical adventure films of all time, but I guess I can just say then that nautical adventure films are just not my thing. Since I didn't much like it, I'm not going to spend a lot of time writing much more about it. But it is worth going to those links above to read some more about. It was an expensive film to make, and was interstingly shot on location in the South Seas for authenticity sake, which I thought was an unusual and nice choice for a film of its time.

#9: The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The Great Ziegfeld

Winner, Best Picture, 1936
Watched on: 11/8/2008

What a stunningly different film this was from Mutiny on the Bounty, and how odd to watch them one after another. The Great Ziegfeld can very rightly be described as lavish. It's one of the first words that springs to mind when watching the elaborate stage scenes, and it seems to be one of the most common words found anywhere when describing it. It was even lavish in length -- three hours. There is criticism to be found online about this film winning -- Filmsite indicates that there were at least three far superior films that should have beat out The Great Ziegfeld. But no matter to me, anyway -- it was a heckuva lot of fun checking out the crazy costumes and massive headdresses and the singing and performing, and watching the biopic of Ziegfeld's life along with it. It may not have been the best film, but it's pretty darn entertaining.

#10: The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola

Winner, Best Picture, 1937
Watched on: 1/10/2009

Well, now here's a film that I probably never would have watched had I not been watching all of these Best Picture films, but which I thoroughly enjoyed all the same. That really is one of the nice side-effects of this project. I end up watching things that I wouldn't choose for myself and thus broadening my horizons a little bit. The Life of Emile Zola is a film about justice, and one man's dedication to it. Yet another biopic (these were so popular in the 30s, who knew?), if follows the life and writing career of Emile Zola, and focuses on the historically important Dreyfus Affair, in which he fought to free the wrongfully imprisoned Captain Dreyfus, a victim of anti-Semitic framing within the French army in the 1800s. I think this film doesn't seem to be very popular any more -- it's not scheduled to be played on TCM anytime soon, for example -- but it was worth seeing. I found it very engaging, and I always do enjoy a film in which justice prevails. Who wouldn't, especially in a world where it doesn't always?

#11: You Can't Take It With You (1938)

You Can't Take It With You

Winner, Best Picture, 1938
Watched on: 1/18/2009

I was quite certain that I had seen You Can't Take it With You before -- and I was also quite wrong. Still, even though it wasn't the film that I thought it was (wonder what that was? who knows...) You Can't Take It With You was a relatively amusing film -- and of course, it's actually somewhat unusual for a comedy to have won Best Picture, as that remains the exception rather than the rule in Oscar history overall. It's the story of a prominent banker's son who falls for his spunky secretary, and the hilarity that ensues when he meets her highly eccentric family, and even worse, his snobbish parents meet her highly eccentric family. Jimmy Stewart gave a particularly enjoyable and rather signature performance as the banker's son. Even if the whole thing gets predictably wrapped up in a shiny bow at the end, I think we can all use a feel-good movie in which everyone learns the lessons they should in the end, and I especially enjoyed the fact that this movie really embraces people's wild diversity.

And with that -- I am caught up. Now I can move on to 1939 - Gone With the Wind -- which happens to be the second of the Best Picture films that I had seen previous to starting this Oscarfest.

Sundance, Best of Fest: Sin Nombre


To my extreme irritation, I had written a substantial portion of a blog entry on my cell phone, and it is now mysteriously missing. Nothing is left but the header. Ah well. Rest assured, I said any number of deep, profoud things. Okay, maybe not.

At any rate, it's about a month after the fact, so it's time I finish blogging about the last Sundance film that we saw this year, Sin Nombre, which translates roughly to something like Unnamed, or Without Name. This was such an incredible film, one whose images have really stuck with me, even a month later. If you go read the description, it's described as being "in the tradition of American film noir." I had thought that description inaccurate, but reading a little bit about Film Noir here and then here, I suppose that strictly speaking, the film does meet some of the definitions given on those sites of film noir -- the line between good and evil blurred, moral ambiguity, despair prevailing, not necessarily a congenial ending. Still this felt less like film noir to me and more like a tragedy along Shakespearean or even classical lines, though perhaps it also contains too much hope simultaneously to really fit that definition.

At any rate, whatever dramatic genre it falls into, Sin Nombre is a simultaneously dark but at times oddly beautiful film, one that definitely defied my expectations. I found it to be a fascinating look into the incredible dangers people are willing to face for a better life, and I had no idea that people actually rode on the tops of trains to try to get from Central America and Mexico to America. I also found it to be a simultaneously horrific and yet compelling look into gang life in Mexico. I loved that nothing was simple -- in a surreal world in which evil seems commonplace and accepted, little bits of humanity crept through all the same. I thought the gang leader was most brilliantly written and acted -- as you watch a 12-year-old boy who is trying to become an accepted member of the gang, you can envision his future and his likely ending if he continues along his current path as you also look at the leader, his face fully tattooed, barely recognizable as a normal human being, seemingly morally as far gone as a person can be, showing no mercy and no remorse. And yet they don't allow anything to be as simple as that -- the audience watches in horror as he orders a defenseless, begging man be killed, chopped up, and fed to his dogs, but the whole scene made brilliant by the fact that while he's carrying out these gang leader duties, he's also carrying around a tiny baby in a cute little suit of pajamas. Thus, the mundane, everyday things that everyone does are intermixed with horrific acts that hopefully not many can imagine. He had another similar moment, in which he brutally attacks and tries to rape a woman, and as she falls and is killed when her head hits some stones, the briefest moment of normal human fear and remorse flickers through his eyes, before they shut down again.

And so this is the atmosphere and setting in which the action unfolds, one in which nothing is simple, as a girl named Sayra rides on a train top with a father she barely knows because he's spent most of her life living in New Jersey. She encounters a gang member named Casper, who becomes her unlikely travel companion after he somewhat unintentionally (and yet perhaps entirely intentionally) severs his ties with his gang and as a result, must try to escape their very long reach, lest he too become dinner for the dogs. And so, again in a way that is not simple, a story of hope and a dangerous bid for freedom becomes intermixed with a literal attempt at escape -- a perilous chase superimposed upon an already difficult odyssey.

Though this blog is anything but spoiler-free, I'm not going to give away the ending. But I found this film very surprising - I went into it expecting it to be heavy and depressing. It was very heavy indeed, but in a way that was well worth watching and not at all what I expected. I would totally recommend it.

There are some trailers online as well:

One here and another one here. I don't know if it's going to get a wide release, but it looks like it was picked up by Focus Films, and you can check out their site here.