flail doyou ?

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Best Picture 1940: Rebecca
Rebecca is just fun. The characters remind me of Shrinky Dinks - they're so vibrant, and yet so constrained. Each character is thoroughly one-dimensional, but their one dimension is vividly realized and deeply explored. The one exception is Rebecca herself, who isn't actually portrayed on-screen, and takes on different aspects depending on the eyes we view her through. Even these aspects shift throughout the film. She is both character and plot, a delightful jigsaw puzzle that one suddenly discovers upon completion to have been assembled upside-down.

It's a Hitchcock film, so I don't think there's any reason for me to discuss the technical quality. The shot of Mrs. Danvers opening the curtains in the west wing is breathtaking.
Best Picture 1939: Gone with the Wind
I think Gone with the Wind was the reason there was a hyperbolic adjective constantly attaching itself to the word Technicolor for decades. The color in this film is really astounding, if sometimes over-the-top and garish. It's like the rich lushness of a wedding cake - Rococo for the sake of being Rococo. Clark Gable's charisma is once again transformative - I found myself hoping he had another scene coming up soon. Leigh is visually stunning, but presents an interesting character as well. It's an interesting contrast to It Happened One Night - here again, Gable pursues with seeming indifference a wealthy, willful society girl, but in this case the pursuit stretches out across an era, and follows through to examine the gory details of the product of such a rocky romance.

At the end, though, I felt a bit betrayed. You have to want to watch Scarlett to want to watch this movie, but at the same time you have to want to watch her fail, again and again. It's Scarlett's movie, and you don't even have the option of latching on to a foil and watching her through their eyes. Rhett gets what he wants, and has only himself to blame for wanting it in the first place. The South itself takes no more serious interest in Scarlett than many of the beaux at the barbecue. None of the other characters are persistent enough to take you through the whole movie. It's all about Scarlett, and you have to love her enough to want to watch her, and hate her enough to think she gets what's coming to her. For my part, I mostly wanted to not spend so much time around her.
Best Picture 1930: All Quiet on the Western Front
I like to go to the IMDb user comments section for movies after I watch them, because there are sometimes interesting tidbits I didn't pick up on. This is a bad idea for All Quiet on the Western Front - not to pick out any comments in particular, but geez. I'll see if I can make it through my own impressions of the film without sounding like a lunatic.

It's hard to know whether to consider All Quiet on the Western Front as a modern film, or an historic artifact. There's a tendency among people with a fondness for old films to describe them as "timeless," as if they somehow stand on their merits against modern cinema. This is one case where I suspect it really applies. It can't compare technically to the best and the brightest of modern works, but I'd put it up against some of the lower-budget hits. The acting is rock-solid as well. It's not that there's anything superior about modern films, but they're judged by a different standard - and I think All Quiet on the Western Front can live up to that standard. Enough movies have certainly taken cues from it. One thing that really stands out is Paul's address to a new class of "iron men": "I can't tell you anything you don't know. We live in the trenches out there. We fight. We try not to be killed. Sometimes we are. That's all." I couldn't help but think of Forrest Gump's speech on what it's like in Vietnam, stripped of its ironic savant insight.
Best Picture 1934: It Happened One Night
Watching It Happened One Night a month ago was actually my first exposure to Clark Gable. I was immediately taken by him. His charisma and Colbert's pouty visual appeal turn a clumsy screwball comedy into an endearing romance. There were some comedy moments that really worked, but the romance really hooked me. It's hard for me to believe that Colbert resented this film as much as she did.

Technically, of course, there doesn't seem to be so much there. It's a capable film for its time, but nothing stands out. I don't know how much blame to place on the DVD transfer, but I found the dialogue muddy and hard to hear at times - I had the subtitles turned on for the second half of the movie to make sure I didn't miss anything.

It Happened One Night is nothing but lighthearted fluff, but it's a great deal of very engaging lighthearted fluff, and possibly the best "down and out loser gets the rich girl" movie I've seen.
Not a Best Picture: Citizen Kane
I'll say up front that it's a bit hard for me, the uneducated viewer, to see what made Citizen Kane so great. One of the challenges of watching old movies for the first time without a guide is figuring out what things are being done for the first time, and only seem trite because they have been so successfully aped since. Fortunately, Roger Ebert is there to help me out. I don't have much to add to his comments about the technical mastery evidenced in Citizen Kane. It really is a visually impressive movie throughout, even without an awareness of its groundbreaking nature.

The acting, to me, seemed to be all over the place. Welles's portrayal of Kane was incredible, with very few disappointing scenes. Thompson and Bernstein were both stand-out performances, as well. Unfortunately, the part of Jed Leland was painful, especially the scene where he's struggling to appear aged. It's painful enough, in a high school drama kind of way, on its own, but when it has to stand against Welles's capable depiction of Kane throughout his life, it wilts. Cotten doesn't even seem to be portraying the same character.

Looking back now at the final moments of the film, I don't see why I disliked them so much at the time. I found myself very disappointed, as if the film had simply been shut off without an ending. Having had time to digest it, it seems more reasonable than it did in the moment, but as the credits began I found myself thinking, "How can this stand up against even the best movies of its time, let alone the entirety of cinema?" I imagine it will grow on me if I watch it again with an eye towards what makes it great.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Best Picture
This year, as every year, I watched the Academy Awards, and during each and every retrospective montage found myself thinking, "Have I seen any of these movies?" I decided to rectify the situation. Unfortunately, I didn't choose to rectify it by refusing to watch further Academy Awards presentations. Instead, I started up a new NetFlix account, and went down
this list clicking from 1931 to 2002. I figure I can stand to sit through the 12 I've already seen one more time - although The English Patient might just prove me wrong. For good measure, I tacked on Citizen Kane to the front of the list, to see exactly what these 75 (well, less the 13 not available on DVD) movies were better than.

So, as much for my own reference as anything else, I'm going to be recording my uneducated, ill-considered opinion of these 62 Best Pictures as I watch them. I'll go back and catch up on the 5 I've made it through so far presently.

It's a pleasant coincidence that linking to the IMDB page for the movies saves me the trouble of underlining titles. That works out nicely.
I went ahead and setup comments through Enetation, but since they use js to pull the number of comments, and their server is unacceptably slow, I'm not displaying the number of comments on the main page. Which makes the whole comments feature fairly useless, really. I'm trying to think if there's a way I can pull the number of comments after the page finishes loading, or maybe coerce blogger to generate an alternate page that shows them. I dunno.
Well, I finally gave up on manually managing this section of the webpage - it's now powered by Blogger. When I can afford it, I'll upgrade to Blogger Pro so I can port all the old entries over.

The Blogger version isn't totally live, yet - still need to finish the template.
copyright 2003

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