Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: You Can't Take It With You (1938)

On this trip through the Best Picture winners, I have made a distinct effort to watch each film with a positive attitude. (It would be a long fucking trip if I didn't). In the past I would dismiss certain films not on whether they were actually good or not but on my own tragically 16-year-old opinion. Luckily my change of heart concerning All Quiet on the Western Front has helped immensely. At this point I may find Lawrence of Arabia to be my new favorite movie*. With other films like The Life of Emile Zola, I can find good points that make the film worth watching. Or sometimes I can get a cheap thrill from the novel badness of a film like with Cimarron and Cavalcade.

I pretty much hit the wall last night with Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You.


I'm sort of at a loss on how to discuss this one. When in doubt, trot out the plot summary: Tony Kirby (James Stewart) is the son of the wealthy banker and is in love with his stenographer Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). He wishes to marry her even though she's from a lower class eccentric family: "Grandpa" Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) was a businessman but decided he wasn't happy and became a stamp collector. Grandpa's daughter Penny Sycamore (Spring Byington) writes plays while her husband Paul (Samuel S. Hinds) makes fireworks and explosives in their cellar with live-in friend DePinna (Halliwell Hobbes). Alice's sister Essie (Ann Miller) makes candy and trains to be a ballerina under her Russian teacher Boris Kolenkhov (Mischa Auer) as her simple-minded husband Ed (Dub Taylor) sells the candy and plays the xylophone. Then there's the African-American help (Lillian Yarbo and Eddie Anderson).

Are you still with me? God, I'm so sorry.

ANYWAY, Tony and Alice want to get married but his stodgy bank president father Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold) and his snobbish wife (Mary Forbes) disapprove of such a match. So Alice invites the Kirbys over to her house to show she's just as good as anyone, but Tony purposefully brings them on the wrong night when everyone is at their peak weirdness. Meanwhile, Tony's papa is working some Big Business Deal (aren't those character always?) but it--naturally--hinges on Gramps Vanderhof selling his beloved house.

So tell me, dear readers, what do you think? Do you think Grandpa will sell his house? Do you think Alice and Tony will get to live happily ever after? Do you think the avaricious Mr. Kirby will learn a valuable lesson on the importance of family and friends over money?

Well, if you're looking for spoilers, you won't find them here.

I have several problems with You Can't Take It With You. First of all, it's so...simple. Simple like it's meant for children. Small children. I feel too smart for this movie. After all, this a message we've heard a million times before and P.S. it was far more compelling with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Seriously, the Moral of the Story is presented so unsubtly and so often that I feel like I'm watching a Sunday morning Bible cartoon. (Although, admittedly, the film is surprisingly sparse on religion so we can be thankful for that).

Second problem: the characters. If you hadn't noticed, the characters are quirky; QUIRKY WITH A CAPITOL ₪. (Yeah, I know what I said.) Mama Sycamore uses a kitten as a paperweight. HAHAHAHAHAHA! Papa Sycamore is going to blow up the house. HAHAHAHAHAHA! Grandpa refuses to pay his income taxes because the government won't know what to do with the money. HAHAHAHAHAHA! Wait, I'm pretty sure that last one is illegal. But it doesn't matter because Grandpa is a lovable old coot! HAHAHAHAHA! Fuck the characters in this movie. Seriously, fuck 'em. (Well, not Jimmy Stewart because Jimmy Stewart is just doing Jimmy Stewart and who doesn't like Jimmy Stewart?)

What a clean, sterile world Capra presents to us. What a sexless world. Ugh. I understand America was still in the midst of the Depression and a world war was just on the horizon so escapism was desired. The problem is you can't ever really escape in the present. That's what the whole fantasy genre is for. That's why The Wizard of Oz did so well the following year. This saccharine representation of America is just a little too unreal for my taste.

And really, that's what it comes down to; I just don't have a taste for Capracorn. (Or should I say Crapacorn? HAHAHAHAHA!) What irritates me is how damn good It Happened One Night was just four years ago. (Although how much of the "sexiness" was owed to Clark Gable's and Claudette Colbert's own fancy is unknown. I like to think all of it.) Capra was one who embraced the Hays Code, it seems. And movies like this one lead right to his, um, masterpiece It's a Wonderful Life. You have to cut your teeth somewhere, I guess.

P.S. You Can't Take It With You is based on a play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1937. Think about that. The Pulitzer Prize.

Impressions circa 2004
Negative. Pap! Sentimental pap!

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Frank Capra 
  • Best Supporting Actress - Spring Byington 
  • Best Adapted Screenplay 
  • Best Cinematography 
  • Best Sound Recording 

1938 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood 
  • Alexander's Ragtime Band 
  • Boys Town 
  • The Citadel 
  • Four Daughters 
  • Grand Illusion 
  • Jezebel 
  • Pygmalion 
  • Test Pilot 

What I Learned From...You Can't Take It With You
Friends and family are more important than money.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Both the title and poster of 1937's Best Picture winner is false. First, the poster makes Emile Zola look like some hard-boiled gangster or handsome private dick. That is not the case. Emile Zola is, in fact, a 19th century French author who looks like this:

Secondly, this film is not a straight up biography as the title suggests. It is, in fact, 35% biography and 65% courtroom drama. The first quarter of the film explores Emile Zola's (Paul Muni) early days as a starving writer and his friendship with Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne (Vladimir Sokoloff). Zola eventually publishes Nana, a novel about a Parisian prostitute, and becomes wealthy and respected.

Then the film shifts its focus to Alfred Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut), a Jewish captain in the French army. Dreyfus is accused of treason and sentenced to prison on Devil's Island in French Guiana. Despite new evidence surfacing which would clear Dreyfus of all charges, the commanding officers decide to keep it on the down low as to not embarrass themselves and rob the French people of their faith in the army. Dreyfus's wife (Gale Sondergaard) goes to Zola for help since he has spent his life writing of injustice. Zola agrees and writes letter accusing the army of the injustice and cover up. He is accused of libel and brought to court which inevitably opens up the Dreyfus case.

The Life of Emile Zola is enjoyable in a "I-have-to-watch-this-for-Ethics-class" sort of way...well, enjoyable for the weird cinema club kids. There is nothing in this film for Johnny High School. It's so dry. Dry like Bea Arthur's cunny. Don't misunderstand me, I liked it far better this time around, but I cannot imagine why this movie was well liked enough to win Best freakin' Picture.

Frankly the best part of the movie is Joseph Schildkraut as the victimized Alfred Dreyfus. He carried the film for me. I don't think this was the director's intention or else the movie would be called "The Dreyfus Affair" or something. That's unfortunate because I would have much preferred a whole film starring Schildkraut. Paul Muni is particularly hammy as Zola, especially in his later years which, remember, is 65% of the film. Gale Sondergaard was a bit too sensual in her role as weeping wife. (Besides she will always be Tylette from the Shirley Temple movie The Blue Bird for me.) Schildkraut on the other hand is dignified and understated. You feel his pain from his military insignia being stripped from his uniform to his endless, endless days on Devil's Island. Schildkraut definitely deserved his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, although his makeup did not.

The Life of Emile Zola is a "prestige picture". It is made with intent of making you think...but about what?, I ask. The film is not morally ambiguous. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. We know from the very beginning--or at least anyone who's not an idiot knows--that Dreyfus is innocent. He is a victim of anti-Semitism, pure and simple. The army guys barely resist the urge to twirl their waxy mustaches.

Earlier in the film, Zola's book The Downfall exposes the ineptitude of the army during the Franco-Prussian War. (GOD, THIS MOVE IS SO DRY!!!). Dreyfus's innocence is covered up so the army guys don't lose face in front of their already disillusioned public. Plus he's a Jew.

This is a movie about anti-Semitism that doesn't have the balls to be about anti-Semitism. It tap dances around the subject. I don't even think the word "anti-Semitism" is ever uttered. One of the jerkass army guys simply points the finger at Dreyfus because his file denotes him as Jewish. (In fact, "Jewish" is also never uttered). THE WHOLE REASON THIS GUY IS IMPRISONED IS NEVER ADDRESSED. WHAT THE FUCK, MOVIE?

Oh, but wait, this is about the Life of Emile Zola, not Alfred Dreyfus. Okay. That explains everything. But like I said in my review of The Great Ziegfeld, no one cares about the lives of boring people. Zola is boring, at least in the context of this film. The starving writer stuff was interesting but comes to a head pretty quickly. Then we head into Dreyfusland. A far more interesting movie would split the time between Zola and Dreyfus. Or maybe it would have explored the deeper causes of anti-Semitism in Third Republic France. Instead we get a movie where Bad Things Happen but for no discernible reason.

Impressions circa 2004

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - William Dieterle 
  • Best Assistant Director - Anton Grot 
  • Best Actor - Paul Muni 
  • Best Supporting Actor - Joseph Schildkraut 
  • Best Adapted Screenplay 
  • Best Writing, Story 
  • Best Art Direction 
  • Best Music, Score 
  • Best Sound, Recording 

1937 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)
  • The Awful Truth 
  • Captains Courageous 
  • Dead End 
  • The Good Earth 
  • In Old Chicago 
  • Lost Horizon -- Fanciful but needs to be in color. 
  • One Hundred Men and Girl 
  • Stage Door 
  • A Star is Born 

What I Learned From...The Life of Emile Zola
The truth is worth fighting for.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

Ugh. And here we encounter the first of the dreaded Best Picture winning biopic. And our second musical...sort of. In just over three hours (five minutes over to be exact) we are told the life story of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. a relative unknown to us in the 21st century, but a big banana circa 1936. Ziegfeld was a Broadway producer mostly known for his Ziegfeld Follies: extravaganzas of singing, dancing, and girls walking around in lavish, bizarre costumes found in Lady Gaga's wettest dreams.

We meet Ziegfeld aka "Flo" (William Powell) at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The eager young buck spends his days promoting Sandow, the World's Strongest Man, (Nat Pendleton) while competing with his rival and frenemy Jack Billings (Frank Morgan) for business and women. From Billings, Flo learns of a beautiful French singing sensation named Anna Held (Luise Rainer). He promptly charms Anna into signing with him and makes her a respectable star on Broadway and eventually marries her. Flo finds success with his signature Follies, rescues Fanny Brice (playing herself) from Vaudeville, gives Ray Bolger (i.e. the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, also playing himself) his big break, and attempts to make the fictitious and alcoholic Audrey Dane (Virginia Bruce) into a star. Anna becomes frustrated with Flo's "flirtations" and divorces him. He quickly remarries, this time to Billie Burke (Myrna Loy) and finds happiness and success until the stock market crash. He loses everything and dies three years later whilst remembering his greatest shows.

The Great Ziegfeld wears many hats: Biopic, Musical, Backstage Musical, Romance, Epic...but what it comes down to is a biography with some musical scenes in it. And unfortunately, the crux of it all rests on Ziegfeld and whether or not we care about him. Frankly, I don't. Not because he is a huckster and shyster, but because he is boring as a man in his private life. Supposedly, the real Ziegfeld was a notorious womanizer. The film portrays him as a flirt and flatterer, but in the face of temptation, he never falls. (That's the Hays Code shitting on history, by the way.)

The man had vision, that's for sure, and he had drive and ambition. But if we can't see the dirt, who the fuck cares? People want scandals, sex, booze, illegitimate children, drugs, mental illness, bulimia, heartbreak. No one wants see or read biographies on people who lead boring lives no matter what great art they put forth. So even if Taylor Swift is nice as pie and popular as hell, I would find a biopic about Britney Spears far more entertaining*.

The Great Ziegfeld is, really, just a chance for Louis B. Mayer to show poor, depression-era Americans how much money he can waste on sequins and feathers. It is a movie about spectacle which I guess is in tune with Ziegfeld himself; all style and no substance. The middle section of the film is very heavy on this. During the long, long, long tracking shot of "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" I had forgotten all about Ziegfeld and his personal life. We enter an entirely different movie for about 40 minutes...or at least it seems like 40 minutes.

All right, what else is there? Luise Rainer won Best Actress for her portrayal of Anna Held. She is an irritatingly, coquettish prima donna and I...for some her. No matter what the real Anna was like, this Anna is a precursor for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl if she liked orchids and diamonds instead of rainbows and unicorn stickers. Many will find this performance irritating, as I did at times, but at least I felt something during her scenes.

On the other side of the "love triangle" is Myrna Loy's portrayal of Billie Burke. Saint Billie is down to earth and just as worshipful of her husband, but without the expensive tastes. She offers a nice alternative to the floozies that surround Ziegfeld day in and day out. Granted, Billie Burke served as a consultant on the film so...

All right, I've seriously run out of things to say about The Great Ziegfeld. It is what it is and you like bombastic musical numbers than I suggest watching it. If you don't...stay away. I'm done. Insert quippy wrap-up here.

Impressions circa 2004
Negative. Over long and pointless.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Robert Z. Leonard 
  • Best Actress - Luise Rainer
  • Best Original Screenplay 
  • Best Art Direction 
  • Best Film Editing 
  • Best Dance Direction - Seymour Felix for "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody"

1936 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)
  • Anthony Adverse 
  • Dodsworth 
  • Libeled Lady 
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 
  • Romeo and Juliet 
  • San Francisco 
  • The Story of Louis Pasteur 
  • A Tale of Two Cities 
  • Three Smart Girls 

What I Learned From...The Great Ziegfeld
You gotta dream big to make it big.

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

In 1787, the HMS Bounty, a ship in the British Royal Navy, sets sail for Tahiti to gather breadfruit pods to be sent to West Indies as cheap food for slaves. The virile and handsome Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) serves as master's mate to Lieutenant William Bligh (Charles Laughton), the perpetually scowling captain. Also aboard is Midshipman Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) a friendly man with aspirations to make an English-Tahitian dictionary. En route to Tahiti, Captain Bligh proves to be cruel and abusive tyrant; he accuses his men of theft, works them past exhaustion, and punishes them severely, sometimes fatally, for insubordination. Eventually the Bounty lands in Tahiti where Christian falls in love with a young native woman (Mamo Clark). After five months of living on an island paradise, the Bounty heads back to England. One final act of tyranny by Bligh leads Christian and eighteen other men to the titular mutiny.

It's very likely that you have some notion of this epic true story because it has been adapted for the screen no less than five times. This particular version is based on the 1932 novel Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordoff and James Norman Hall. What you might not realize--as I didn't until there was ten minutes left in my most recent viewing--is that BP #8 is the first in a long line of winners "based on true events". It's amazing how far we got into this before it happened considering the stiffie Oscar gets for biopics these days. But there you go.

The trouble with a "true story" is the audience has a pretty good chance of knowing what happens and finds watching a cinematic version a waste of their time. I remember this being a common joke floating around on late 90's sitcoms. When faced with the prospect of seeing Titanic, some snarker would quip "But I already know how it ends!!" [canned laughter]. So yes, even if the film-goer knows nothing of history, he at least knows there will be mutiny aboard the Bounty because it's in the freakin' title.

A film like Mutiny on the Bounty is more about the how and why versus the what. Why was a 22-year-old man driven to commit mutiny against captain and crown? How in the hell did he succeed? The film presents a theory. What we must remember about this particular telling of The Legend of the Bounty is that it's based on a novel written some 150 years after the fact instead of being based the true events themselves. To make it work as a story one man must be made the shining hero and one the dastardly villain.

There aren't many more dastardly villains that Charles Laughton's Captain Bligh. The character even makes "AFI's 100 Years....100 Heroes and Villains" list as bad guy #19. I hate these lists, but that's beside the point. Here Bligh is represented as a Grade A sadistic, control freak asshole with not one sympathetic characteristic. He is greedy, under handed and, my apologies to Charles Laughton, completely unpleasant to look at. Those thick, frowning lips just give me the heebie-jeebies. Bligh is not a villain we are meant to sympathize with or even a villain are suppose to "love to hate"; we are just meant to HATE him. Bligh is a genius with navigation as we see when he and his loyal men are cast adrift. But there is more to being a good captain than knowing how to steer a boat.

On the other side we have Fletcher Christian whom Clark Gable makes dead sexy. Cocksure and headstrong, cockstrong and headsure, Fletcher Christian is a MAN. Fluttery pirate shirts and tri-corn hats...sigh. Okay. Let's get serious. In the context of this film, Christian is the hero, the one who declares independence on a despotic dickhead. But what makes the story/novel/film so interesting is not everyone aboard the Bounty agreed with the mutiny. In fact 22 men sided with Bligh while only 18 sided with Christian. 4 men loyal to Bligh were forced to stay aboard the Bounty and head back to Tahiti.

One of these men was Peter Heywood who, for some reason, is given the new name of Roger Byam in the novel and film. Franchot Tone's character represents the middle ground; a man who completely disagrees with Bligh's cruelty but cannot bring himself to betray his captain, his navy or his country. To make matters worse, Byam was friends with Christian which implicates him when he eventually returns to England as is court-martialed as a mutineer. Both Heywood and Byam were pardoned by King George III.

The more I research the real mutiny on the Bounty for this stupid little entry, the more disillusioned about this film I become. When it comes right down to it, it's just a story of he said-he said. Since the mutineers stayed in Tahiti, there wasn't any direct testimony from them. Bligh really could have been a miserable cur but it's also possible 18 men were simply tired rampant buggery and wanted to live on beautiful tropical island with girls who cover their ta-tas with floppy necklaces of flowers. So who the fuck knows.

So Mutiny on the Bounty is also the first in a long line of historically inaccurate Best Picture winners. I don't think it's as bad as Braveheart (can't wait!) but...if you want a more accurate/in color/modern/sympathetic-towards-Bligh version check out 1984's The Bounty starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. My mom likes it. Or if you want something faster and a little more low-brow, The Simpsons did a parody in the episode "The Wettest Stories Ever Told".

...and that's all I have to say about that.

Impressions circa 2004
Positive. Clark Gable in a pirate shirt...yes, please!

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Frank Lloyd 
  • Best Actor - Clark Gable 
  • Best Actor - Charles Laughton 
  • Best Actor - Franchot Tone 
  • Best Adapted Screenplay 
  • Best Score 
  • Best Film Editing 

1935 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)
  • Alice Adams 
  • Broadway Melody of 1936 
  • Captain Blood 
  • David Copperfield 
  • The Informer 
  • Les Miserables 
  • The Lives of a Bengal Lancer - It sure took place in India, didn't it?
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream 
  • Naughty Marietta 
  • Ruggles of Red Gap 
  • Top Hat 

What I Learned From...Mutiny on the Bounty
It never pays to be loyal to a tyrant.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: It Happened One Night (1934)

1934 was a year of change for film. After 30+ years of uncensored bliss, here comes the Hays Code to stifle swears, violence, sex and all the other things that make Life worth living. It Happened One Night would be the last Best Picture winner to not suffer this oppression until the MPAA ratings system came to be in 1968.

1934 was also the first year Oscar switched to a calendar year plan. Maybe you noticed all the previous BP's covered two years (i.e. 1930-31). Originally the eligibility window arbitrarily spanned from August to July. In 1933, the Academy changed the dates to January 1 to December 31. (By the way, this means there was 17 months to choose a BP for 1932-33 and Cavalcade won.)

All right, let's get to the movie at hand. It Happened One Night is based on the short story "Night Bus" by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Claudette Colbert plays Ellie Andrews, a spoilt socialite who elopes with probable gold-digger King Westley (Jameson Thomas). Ellie's father (Walter Connelly) disapproves on the marriages and insists on an annulment. Ellie runs away and boards a bus to New York City to be reunited with King. En route, she meets a chivalrous but snarky journalist named Peter Warne (Clark Gable). When Ellie runs out of money, Peter offers to pay her way to New York as long as he gets the scoop on her "runaway heiress" story. If she refuses, Peter will hand Ellie over to her father and collect the reward money. Ellie agrees to travel with Peter and along the way the pair falls in love.

It Happened One Night is often called the first "screwball comedy". I've always found that genre name a little off-putting. I always picture dames in floppy hats tripping in their high heels, bickering with our hero before justly falling into a punch bowl or fountain.

What's this? A clip from The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement!?

Ugh. Yeah, that's the stuff. Shame on you, Chris Pine.

Thankfully Gable and Colbert are far too sophisticated to fall in a fountain. While some "screwball comedies" contain elements of farce, It Happened One Night focuses more on the petty arguments and debates between the leads. This lays the groundwork for most future "road-to-romance" movies: Romancing the Stone, The Sure Thing, Anastasia, Shrek, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Rio*. Much of the couple's squabbling arises from their class differences. Peter finds Ellie's wastrel ways irritating and firmly teaches her humility.

Some of the best moments in the film are the "Seinfeldian" conversations about nothing; things like what makes a good piggy back ride, how to dunk a donut in coffee, and the multiple varieties of hitchhiking. The best is when Peter explains his routine of undressing and how every man does it differently. These discussions feel real and are comforting in their charming inconsequentiality. Later rom-coms would get caught up in the deception, overused pop music, chases to the airport and friggin' Matthew McConaughey.

Even if It Happened One Night beat the Hays Code by four months, Peter and Ellie still deny their carnal desires for one another. They sleep in separate beds with a blanket suspended on a rope between them, christened "the Walls of Jericho". And what's sexier than boning? Not boning. The film positively crackles with sexual tension. (In fact, I haven't seen this much sexual tension since Wings...tee-hee-hee). Peter and Ellie touch a lot...and sometimes no attention is brought to it, which completely shoves their unresolved tension in the audience's face. And God, it is so unsatisfying in a very, very good way.

However after Peter and Ellie finally get together--it's a rom-com! I've spoiled nothing!--there isn't really a pay off. The BIG MISUNDERSTANDING leads Ellie to consent to remarry King Westley with her father's "blessing" (he learned a lesson along the way, too). She learns the TRUTH and runs from the wedding. She does not sprint breathlessly into Peter's arms and kiss him in a heated frenzy. Instead we see we see the Walls of Jericho blanket falling to the floor on the honeymoon. That's right. No kiss and worse, no "I'm sorry"s. I don't really mind that we don't see Ellie and Peter get down tonight, but it feels like the original ending was replaced with another scene that Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert were unavailable to film.

A small quibble in the big picture. It Happened One Night is the first BP in this little retrospective that I genuinely like and one I have watched for fun. There aren't many rom-coms in our future, unsurprisingly, so cherish this one. In fact, can you imagine something like the similarly themed Leap Year winning the top prize? Good God! I don't want to live in a world like that...

Impressions circa 2004
Positive. Like I said in my BP intro, this is the one that started my interest in the Academy Awards!

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Frank Capra 
  • Best Actress - Claudette Colbert 
  • Best Actor - Clark Gable 
  • Best Adapted Screenplay 

1934 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)
  • The Barretts of Wimpole Street 
  • Cleopatra 
  • Flirtation Walk 
  • The Gay Divorcee 
  • Here Comes the Navy 
  • The House of Rothschild 
  • Imitation of Life 
  • One Night of Love 
  • The Thin Man - Enjoyable quippy married couple solves a mystery. Sure.
  • Viva Villa! 
  • The White Parade 

What I Learned From...It Happened One Night
Opposites attract when forced to travel together.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Cavalcade (1932-33)

And here we are at the nadir of Best Picture winners. Of course, just as everyone argues over which BP is the best (both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes say The Godfather...I disagree) everyone also has an opinion on which is the worst. Again, both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes pick the same film: Cimarron.

...I disagree.

One could waste her life on comparing and contrasting BP's so I'm not going to open up the file of Cimarron vs. Cavalcade. What it really boils down to for me is home video. It's quite notorious among us Oscar-philes how Cavalcade has never been given a proper Region 1 DVD release. (Until a mere 6 weeks ago, Wings suffered from the same fate.) A VHS version of Cavalcade was released, without fanfare, in 1993. Since then it has been featured in a massive DVD box set known as the Twentieth Century Fox 75th Anniversary Collection which includes 75 of Fox's "greatest hits" like The Seven Year Itch, Star Wars, The Devil Wears Prada, and their other Best Picture Winners.

My point? Nobody really cares about Cavalcade. Fox, who once upon made money off the thing, who won their first BP Oscar for it, doesn't even care. And as anyone in a failing relationship knows, indifference is far worse than bitter hatred. Unlike Disney's Song of the South, political correctness and fear isn't keeping Cavalcade in the vault, sheer badness is. I doubt anyone's writing letters to the CEO begging for this movie's liberation.

Enough prologue. Let's get to it.

Continuing our pattern of non-original screenplays, Cavalcade was adapted from the 1931 Noël Coward play of the same name. The Marryots are a prototypical wealthy British family consisting of matriarch Jane (Diana Wynyard), her husband Robert (Clive Brook), and their two sons Edward (John Warburton) and Joey (Frank Lawton). Beginning on New Year's Eve 1899, we experience the Second Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, and the roaring 20's with the Marryot family. We also get a window into the life of the Marryots' former maid Ellen Bridges (Una O'Connor) and her daughter Fanny's (Ursula Jeans) rise to fame as a singer in the 10's and 20's. yeah, it's kind of like Cimarron only now we're in Britain...which means it's kind of like Upstairs, Downstairs...and for those of you in the 21st century, Downton Abbey.

I think what makes this movie suck so much is the characters. And by characters I mean the people in the movie who have things happen to them. There are no "characters" here. I can think of no distinguishing traits of anyone in this fucker. Jane Marryot is a mother, she loves her husband, but nothing more. Robert Marryot is a father, he loves his wife, but nothing more. Their sons, Edward and Joey...well, one dies on the Titanic and the other dies in WWI...but nothing more.

I'm sorry but I'm going to have to compare Cavalcade to Cimarron here...At least Yancey Cravat had some spark! He was a dick and melodramatic but he was also a doer! He had personality! Even when he wasn't on screen, you were thinking about when he was going to show up again. There is none of that in Cavalcade-land.

Also the film presents the historical bits in a completely ham-fisted, in-yo-face way. It feels sort of like a clumsily written 6th grade play. And another thing, the Marryots and their friends are all clairvoyant. Something big is always about to happen for them. The worst scene takes place on the Titanic while Edward's new wife (Margaret Harrison) discusses how unhappy they'll be one day so wouldn't be perfect if they died on this night???

Stolen from Nick's Flick Picks.

Yuck. It's disappointing to me because it's such a great and simple concept! This movie could have been good! I blame it on the script entirely. The wooden, textbook dialogue robs the actors of any opportunity to do something interesting. Okay, it's not all Noel Coward's fault because there are some bad editing choices, especially when showing the passage of time. I'm thinking of a few montages of SOUND and SINGING and IMAGES ALL AT THE SAME TIME. DON'T YOU GET IT?? TIME IS PASSING!!! STUFF IS HAPPENING!!! SIMULTANEOUS!!! Still, I could forgive those scenes if everything else wasn't so tortuous.

So for right now, Cavalcade is my pick for worst Best Picture winner. That may change, of course. Part of this retrospective is to examine my changing tastes and ever-so-erudite cinematic intellect. Only time will tell...

Impressions circa 2004
Negative. For all the reasons above. And the hair is wrong! Nobody wore finger waves until the 1920's!!!

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)

  • Best Director - Frank Lloyd 
  • Best Actress - Diana Wynyard 
  • Best Art Direction 

1932-33 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)

  • A Farewell to Arms 
  • 42nd Street 
  • I Am a Fugitive From the Chain Gang 
  • Lady For a Day 
  • Little Women 
  • The Life of Henry VIII 
  • She Done Him Wrong - Mae West makes dirty jokes for 66 minutes. 
  • Smilin' Through 
  • State Fair 

What I Learned From...Cavalcade
Time passes. Things happen. You can't do nothing about it.

On a personal note, I was lucky to snag a library copy of Cavalcade from Amazon back in '06 for mere pennies plus shipping. The box is cut up and mangled, but I treasure it...for some reason.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Grand Hotel (1931-32)

Famously, Grand Hotel is the only Best Picture winner in the history of the Academy Awards to be nominated in just one category...Best Picture. Think about that for a minute. Nothing about this film, not the acting, directing, editing, art direction, cinematography, or even screenplay was good enough to be honored with a nomination. So I ask the obvious: how exactly can it be the best?

Easy answer: it's probably not. In 1932, the Academy beefed up its number of BP nominees from 5 to 8. I'm no mathematician but even I know increasing the nominees makes winning far more difficult. It's quite possible two better films split the votes betwixt them and Grand Hotel by chance was #3.

Or maybe the Academy decided to vote for the film they enjoyed the most, technical goodness aside. As we see time and time again, the highest grossing film of the year (i.e. the most popular with Joe Sixpack) is usually only nominated in categories like Visual Effects or Make-Up*.

...or maybe Louis B. Mayer bribed the Academy members.

...or maybe Grand Hotel really was the best movie that year. I haven't seen the other nominees and people seem to really like this one. I, myself, am a bit conflicted about it.

Grand Hotel is based on a play of the same name by William A. Drake which was adapted from the 1929 novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum. It tells the story of five guests at the grandiest of grand hotels, the Grand Hotel in Berlin. First there is Baron Felix von Geigern (John Barrymore) a self proclaimed "black sheep" who makes his living as a gambler and occasional petty thief. He befriends Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) who is dying of some unmentioned disease and decides to live it up in the lap of luxury until he bites it. Meanwhile, business "General Director" Presying (Wallace Beery) is working on a merger and hires a plucky but jaded stenographer named Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) to assist him. The Baron flirts with and makes a date with Flaemmchen but eventually falls in love with Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), a manic depressive Russian ballerina.

Grand Hotel is a character study. There is no plot other than "five people interconnect over a period of two days at a hotel." For me, the likability of this film is directly proportional to the likability of its characters. As all good characters are, each one is flawed: The Baron is a thief. Grusinskaya you can't help but pity for her "fading star" predicament, but she is also MELODRAMATIC AS FUCK. Preysing just wants to do his job but finds himself in opportunity with Flaemmchen that he just can't resist. Flaemmchen is charming but a gold digger when it comes right down to it. And Kringelein, the most sympathetic character, gets pretty annoying with his "Do you really like me? Really? Oh, I'm so grateful!" thing.

The character that I most wanted to like in this thing was Flaemmchen. (I like to identify with the females, don't cha know.) She interested me far more than Grusinskaya. Flaemmchen also has aspirations to be a star but is too weak to throw herself into it all the way. In the end, SPOILERS! SPOILERS! she runs off with Kringelein because he has money to support her and she can't be with the one she really wants. He doesn't seem to mind because he's dying and hey, why not spend the time with some hot chick?

I was also drawn to Wallace Beery because I'm apparently attracted to big, sleazy German businessmen now.

What seems to be a classic Hollywood picture with Golden Age stars turns out to be surprisingly dark. Love doesn't conquer all. The almighty dollar does. The Baron tries through the whole movie to get enough money to survive and then to accompany his beloved ballerina to Vienna (By the way, after just one night he's in love? Puh-lease!). Preysing is completely focused on business, and then Flaemmchen's figure which he assumes he can buy. Kringelein needs money to die happily...You get it? So, if anything, Grand Hotel is a film about the necessity of money.

Still, it's sort of nice to see a film about people existing and interacting with one another without war, politics, disaster, or prejudice effecting them. We'll get a few of these in the future, but not many. The formatting is interesting and, I'm assuming, new for the time. I wasn't ever bored, also something I can't really say about some future winners. I'm looking at you, Around the World in 80 Days. But overall, Grand Hotel left a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted Morals and Goodness to triumph but Realism does.

Impressions circa 2004
Middling. I was underwhelmed as I recall.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)

1931-32 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen)
  • Arrowsmith 
  • Bad Girl 
  • The Champ 
  • Five Star Final 
  • One Hour With You 
  • Shanghai Express 
  • The Smiling Lieutenant 

What I Learned From...Grand Hotel
Money makes the world go 'round.

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Cimarron (1930-31)

Sure, it looks exciting but those expecting an "Indiana Jones Goes West" type picture--the way my hopeful little 16-year-old heart did--will be sorely disappointed. But let's just take a moment to imagine if something like that existed...sigh. Sorry, I just finished watching Cimarron for the third time in my life, which is twice more than anyone should have to watch Cimarron. I guess you can tell already that I don't think this film is TERRIFIC AS ALL CREATION as the poster idly boasts.

Adapted from Edna Ferber's 1929 novel of the same name, Cimarron is the tale of one family's experiences during forty years of Oklahoma history. After Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) loses a choice piece of land to a "woman in black tights" in the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, he returns to his wife, Sabra (Irene Dunne) and demands that they leave their comfortable Wichita home for a little house on the prairie.

In the fictional "boomer town" of Osage, Yancey starts a newspaper and protects his family and townspeople from vagrants and outlaws until his wanderlust gets the better of him. Yancey abandons his family for the 1893 Land Rush (remember, he's the hero of the film) leaving Sabra to run the paper and support her two young children on her own. Before you know it, it's 1930 (i.e. the present) and Sabra has been voted a congresswoman without the help of her husband whom she misses for some reason. But lucky her, Yancey shows up one last time to say goodbye and make a melodramatic exit.

Forgive me for the overlong summary. The movie has a lot of stuff happening and yet it drags so much! As you may have already heard, Cimarron is another one of those "bad" Best Picture winners and it most certainly deserves that distinction. I choose to blame it on the unlikable characters. Yancey is BIG! LOUD! DRAMATIC! Everything he says is IMPORTANT! To Richard Dix subtlety is as foreign a word as internet or microwave. And while he is sensitive to the plight of minorities (more on that in a bit) he's also an asshole who abandons his family. Twice. And Mrs. Yancey Cravat is not just a simpering, victim...she's a nitwit, prejudiced, and a little too concerned with appearances. She is not likable until the last ten minutes of the movie when she becomes some wise old sage...apparently.

Cimarron is the first of just three westerns to win Best Picture which seems utterly ridiculous considering how fucking huge westerns were for TV in the 50's and 60's. Alas Cimarron is not your typical western with a revenge mission or search for treasure; it is about the settling of a town and so the "westerness" ceases to be around the halfway mark...maybe sooner. Say goodbye to westerns, kids, we won't be seeing another until 1990.

Cimarron is also described as racist. You see, there is a black character named Isaiah (Eugene Jackson) who is, like most black characters in this era of cinema, slow-witted, likes watermelon and speaks without a clear intonation. The child was a former servant of Sabra's mother in Kansas and stows away in the Cravats' covered wagon and then acts a servant in Osage. Isaiah may be a stereotype in some ways but he acts valiantly to protect the Cravats' young son during a shoot-out. Yes, the scenes are like sandpaper on the ass for a modern audience but it can't be helped now...

Remember how I said Yancey was sympathetic to minorities? Well, he speaks several times in the defense of Indians and how Whitey took their land and how they should have the right to vote. Then he Rushes for their Land. Twice. A hypocrite with a social conscience. Sabra on the other hand dislikes Indians through most of the film until her son decides to marry one and hears that Yancey has no problem with it.

Yancey also befriends Solomon "Sol" Levy (George E. Stone), a sweet little Jewish salesman who is reminiscent of Piglet without the stuttering. And he comes to the defense of a prostitute--although the word prostitute nor any of its cognates is ever uttered--named Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor) when the ladies of Osage want the hussy out of town. This is also the "woman in the black tights" btw. Even though it pisses off Sabra to no end, Yancey sticks by his principles.

If there's one thing this movie does right it's showing how people are never all good or all bad. Yancey does several deplorable things but he has the right idea about treating all people equally. Sabra on the other hand, is a good mother to her children and makes social improvements in Osage but is prejudiced against Indians and hoes. Real life is full of this kind of thing; many presidents have made great political strides but have also cheated on their wives, for example.

Oh Cimarron. Look how much I've written about you! Far more than I ever intended. Well, it's always easier to write about the crap films. The film is melodramatic and I doubt it has anything good to offer anyone these days. Oh yeah, the Land Rush scene is lauded by many. Sure, It's okay. It offers a few humorous moments but it's over in, like, five minutes. A good movie cannot rest on five minutes alone. It looks like it was bitch to film though.

Impressions circa 2004
Negative. Dragged on. Oh, western prostitution! That's interesting...Oh, it's dragging again. Yancey's a dick.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Wesley Ruggles 
  • Best Actor - Richard Dix 
  • Best Actress - Irene Dunne 
  • Best Writing, Adaptation 
  • Best Cinematography 
  • Best Art Direction 

1930-31 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen)
  • East Lynne 
  • The Front Page 
  • Skippy 
  • Trade Horn 

What I Learned From...Cimarron
Abandoning your family is okay if you fight for the rights of minorities.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30)

All Quiet on the Western Front is often cited as the first "good" Best Picture winner. This isn't a unrealistic claim; Wings has moments of technical flair but it doesn't shake one's core and The Broadway Melody is...The Broadway Melody. Where its predecessors are "romantic" and "fun", All Quiet... takes a turn for the serious and important and grim. It is also the first of our BP's based on a novel: WWI veteran Erich Maria Remarque's Im Westen nichts Neues published in 1928.

The film begins in a German schoolhouse where Professor Kantorek (Arnold Lucy) preaches to his students on the Glory of War and how they need to go die for their country, yadda, yadda, yadda. The students are whipped into such a patriotic fervor, they quit school and immediately join the war effort. We follow our protagonist Paul Bäumer (Lewis Ayres) and his schoolmates from basic training to violent battlefields, rat infested trenches, endless marching, starvation, amputation, insanity, and crippling loneliness. As Paul's friends get picked off one by one, he grows closer to the older Stanislaus "Kat" Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim) but he can't fight the disillusionment off for long.

The anti-war film is no stranger to Best Picture. The Deer Hunter (1978), Platoon (1986), and The Hurt Locker (2009) would go on to win the top prize in their respective years with the same themes. But we must remember that this was the first of the sound era. It blows my mind that a mere two years ago Wings, sentimental, romantic little Wings, won Best Picture. Where that film is enjoyable, All Quiet... is pretty much joyless. It's uncomfortable most of the time and downright horrifying at some peak moments: Paul spending the night in a shell crater with a Frenchman he killed. A tracking shot of a row of infantrymen being mowed down by a machine gun. A pair of hands left hanging on a barb wire fence after an explosion.

There. Now that image can be stuck in your head too.

As far as sex and romance go--because I wouldn't be me if I didn't discuss it--there isn't much. None of the boys have "girls worth fighting for" back home. There is, however, a very touching scene where Paul and a friend admire a poster of girl in a tavern and imagine what they would say to her. Later that day, Paul and his friends encounter three French girls and essentially trade bread and sausage for their, ahem, company. Maybe it is meant to be seen as "prostitution", that the French girls would only sleep with them because they need food, but I don't think this is director Lewis Milestone's intention. Paul & co. need relief and comfort and to be reminded there is something worth living for. And the audience needs a break from the relentless horror.

The few "happy" moments aside, All Quiet..., as a story, as a novel, as a film, has one purpose and one purpose alone and that is to expose the true horrors of war and piss all over the myths of Heroism and Glory that a film like Wings so eagerly tries to present. And piss it does.

Surprise! Surprise! I didn't really like All Quiet... back in '04. If for nothing else but making the 2 hours and 12 minutes pass smoothly, I hoped to like it this time around. Good news, everyone! I did. But I don't think I'll be watching it again any time soon. I thought I'd have more to say on this film, but really, I can't say anything about it that hasn't been said before by someone far more eloquent than I. If nothing else comes out of me watching all the BP's again, at least I have finally found respect for this film.

Impressions circa 2004
Negative. I WAS SOOOOOOOO BOOOOOORRRRRRREEEEEEEEDDDDDDDD!!!!! I liked the stuff with French girls though. P.S. This was another one of my Christmas presents in '04. :-(

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Lewis Milestone 
  • Best Writing 
  • Best Cinematography 

1929-30 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen)
  • The Big House 
  • Disraeli 
  • The Divorcee 
  • The Love Parade 
What I Learned From...All Quiet on the Western Front
War is HELL. Just say no.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: The Broadway Melody (1928-29)

Even before the first--and, ahem, only*--silent film won Best Picture, Hollywood was making the transition to talkies. If you've seen Sunset Boulevard (1950), Singing in the Rain (1952), or, heh heh heh, The Artist (2011) then you know what a BFD this was not only for the sheer technical advancement, but also for the actors of the silent era. I won't retread familiar ground. I bring this up only because it's important to realize how The Broadway Melody, BP #2, represents a film from this shaky-as-fuck transitional period.

As far as story is concerned, "the first MGM musical" is pretty weak sauce. The Mahoney Sisters--wiry and business savvy big sis Hank (Bessie Love) and ditzy and beautiful lil' sis Queenie (Anita Page)--move to New York City in search of fame on the Great White Way. Hank's songwriter boyfriend Eddie Kearns (Charles King) personally works for Francis Zanfield (a cheaply veiled representation of famed Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld...ugh, more about him later) and gets the girls an audition. But because Queenie is far more beautiful, she becomes something of an It Girl, attracting the attention of not only smarmy playboy Jock Warriner (Kenneth Thomson) but also that of Hank's beau, Eddie.

And that's pretty much it. How did they manage to fit all that into 1 hour and 51 minutes? Why, by padding it with crappy musical numbers that do nothing to advance the plot in any way, shape or form, of course; something every musical ever is guilty of. It doesn't help matters that the protagonists are pretty much talentless, intentionally or not. The Mahoneys' particular brand of singing & dancing can only be compared to watching the "okay singers" early in an American Idol season; they're not William Hung bad, but they are so tragically mediocre that nothing can really happen for them.

What could have easily become a film about two sisters cat fighting for the limelight and love, putters into a story of two sisters and one big asshole. After the Mahoneys arrive in NYC, Eddie is immediately drawn to Queenie, who is Helen of Troy and Venus wrapped into one as we are told time and time again. He spends the rest of the movie pursuing her behind Hank's back. As all women do at one point or another, Queenie falls for the prick. But her loyalty to her sister keeps her from acting on her desires.

I think I'm making it sound more interesting than it is. Don't believe it. While a story like this could be compelling if done right, it ain't done right here. The Broadway Melody is movie full of unlikable characters. Hank garners some sympathy because she is constantly maligned for her little sister and always has her best interest at heart. Bessie Love over-acts throughout most of the film, but there are brief, brief moments where she walks the fine line between playing a plucky career woman and a vulnerable girl. If someone had to get an Oscar nomination out of this, it's her.

Technically speaking, The Broadway Melody looks and sounds like shit. I'll forgive the sound stuff but the visuals are just awful! There are long takes almost as if the actors couldn't find anyone to run the camera so they just set it on a dresser and let it record. Things go in and out of focus, people are half in frame...Jesus, you know it's bad when I take the time to mention the cinematography.

The Broadway Melody is sure to go down in history as one of the worst Best Picture winners. I can't really argue because it's a sloppy film with lame musical numbers, shit cinematography and editing, and poor acting. However, it's not like there's some "Citizen Kane" that didn't win because of The Broadway Melody's success.

Impressions circa 2004
Mostly positive. I remember it as a cheap, stupid musical but enjoying it because I had been steeped MAN MOVIE Best Pictures for a while. I needed something mindless. This is about as mindless as it gets when it comes to BP's.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Harry Beaumont
  • Best Actress - Bessie Love

1928-29 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen)
  • Alibi
  • Hollywood Revue
  • In Old Arizona
  • The Patriot
What I Learned From...The Broadway Melody
When your boyfriend tries to score with your sister, let her have him.

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Wings (1927-28)

We begin this epic--yes indeed, epic--Best Picture journey with Wings, a silent era epic--yes indeed, EPIC--set during The Great War or, as we yutzes in the 21st century know it, World War I. The film starts out much like an Archie comic mixed with A Midsummer Night's Dream: Both eager nice guy Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and richie rich gentleman David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) are in love with the sophisticated out-of-towner Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston). Sylvia only has eyes for David, but Jack is too blind to realize anything of the sort. Jack is also blind to the ass over head hopeless devotion of his gal pal Mary Preston (Clara Bow).

But it's 1917 and America is needed Over There. Before both men enlist in the Air Service, Jack mistakenly assumes Sylvia returns his feelings which causes a rift between him and David. But long story short, they get over it BECAUSE THERE'S A FUCKING WAR GOING ON. Jack and David become friends, train, fly planes (hence Wings), meet Gary Cooper in a far too brief cameo, battle the Germans, fly more planes, battle some more Germans and so on and so forth...

I am not a fan of war movies. A fair fucking few have won Best Picture so I figure it best to get this out now, right from the commencement. I don't hate the genre by any means but as someone who has never been or will never go to war, I just can't relate. I like to find a character I can empathize with in some capacity and, as a woman, that is quite difficult to find in a war movie.

Now, that being said, Mary Preston doesn't sit at home pining for her darling Jack. She joins the Women's Motor Corp and drives around France delivering supplies, messages, etc. This leads to an interesting segue where Mary meets a celebrating Jack on leave in Paris and attempts to inform him that his furlough is over. He is frunk as druck and in the arms of some French floozy so Mary dresses up in a sequined dress to lure him away. He is more interested in the animated bubbles coming from her dress and eyes and passes out before anything can happen between him and the "mystery girl".

Is it important? Hell no. Did I enjoy the shit out of it? Hell yes.

If there are two things people know about Wings it's the film's first Best Picture winner status and that it boasts the first male-on-male kiss in cinema history. The aforementioned kiss is not romantic, of course, and takes place during a deathbed scene. Think Aragorn kissing Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring. Only now pretend they kiss on the lips instead of just the forehead. (I feel like I'm writing fan-fic here.) A man kissing a man goodbye is not a big deal but when it moves to the lips it sort of jars the modern sensibility.

Wings is sometimes noted for having a rife sexual tension between its male leads. At least in the eyes of a modern audience "sexual tension" is the easiest, most readily available label for Jack and David's closeness. Our heroes' mutual disdain, born from their rivalry over Sylvia, eventually turns into a deep friendship. They become inseparable, affectionate, and devoted to one another. But to call it "sexual" is unfair. By 1920's standards, this was simply acceptable male behavior, or else there is no way in hell Wings would have won Best Picture or have been as financially successful.

All Friend Zoney hijinks and bromo-eroticism aside, Wings is a war movie. Lots o' guns. Lots o' people dying. Lots o' aerial battles. From what the internet tells me, the flying scenes are super good. So there you go. It's a little "sloppy" compared to the pristine CGI polish of today, but it looks real. And hey, what do you know? THEY'RE REAL FUCKING PLANES. For all I know, someone was filming actual aerial battled in WWI and donated the footage to Paramount. God, I miss real effects and real crowd scenes.

Wings is a schizophrenic film. Half is heavy drama, seeped in the seriousness and significance of war. The other half treads into screwball comedy territory. First time viewers beware of tonal whiplash. Also, some parts drag a bit like the whole bubbles sequence. But is it likable? Sure. I definitely like it more than most future winners. Off the top of my head I can safely say it's my favorite war themed BP.

Impressions circa 2004
Positive. Wings was one of the very last BP's I saw. After months of patiently waiting for it to be shown on TCM (For Christsakes, it was the first Best Picture winner! I was not reaching for the stars here!!!) I became certain that my only chance of seeing it would be to just buy the damn thing. Not having much cash, I asked for Wings for Christmas instead of something I actually wanted. (Yes, I sacrificed one of my gifts to my BP cause.) This is the copy I own to this day although apparently Wings has finally been released on DVD...and Blu-ray.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Engineering Effects

1927-28 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen)
  • The Racket
  • Seventh Heaven

What I Learned From...Wings
War is bad, but having a friend there will help you through.