Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar Predictions!

Tomorrow is the big night. The 84th annual Academy Awards. And, as I have done in the past, I will offer my predictions for the show.

As most readers know, I haven't watched the show in a little more than a decade. I'm not a fan of award shows, particularily the Academy Awards. I feel the show has become too political and image conscience. Plus, there is the old argument most viewers have. The feeling the wrong person or movie always wins. But, this year I may actually watch.

Now then, my predictions.

BEST PICTURE: "The Artist", "The Descendants", "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close", "The Help", "Hugo", "Midnight in Paris", "Moneyball", "The Tree of Life" and "War Horse".

Of the nine nominees, I have seen seven of them. I have not seen "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" or "Moneyball". With the exception of "The Help" and "War Horse", I pretty much like all of the nominated films. Some more than others. "Midnight in Paris" was my choice for the best film of the year on my "top ten" list followed by "The Artist". Also "The Descendants" made my list and "Hugo" was on my runner's up list.

Still, all the momentum seems to be in favor of "The Artist". And I'm all for it! It will become only the second silent film to win the "Best Picture" Oscar since the first Academy Award winner "Wings" (1928) back in 1928.

My Prediction: The Artist

BEST DIRECTOR: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Terrence Malik (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and Martin Scorsese (Hugo).

Nothing would give me greater pleasure than seeing Woody Allen win the award. He is my favorite filmmaker working today. It would be nice if Scorsese were to win, but, the Academy already gave him an award for "The Departed" (2006), so, they are pretty much done with him. Same with Allen. Both are great filmmakers but, the Academy likes to honor new talent and give the masters a "lifetime achievement" award instead. So, both men are immediately out. Terrence Malik should consider his nomination and the "Best Picture" nomination a win in itself.

Now we are down to two; Hazanavicius and Payne. If "The Artist" wins "Best Picture" more times than not the director of the same film wins.

My Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius

BEST ACTOR: Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Right off the bat lets knock off two names; Bichir and Oldman. This is nothing against them or their performance, but, once again we have a case of the nomination being a win in itself. They were recognized by the academy for their work. Bravo gentlemen!

The race is really down to Clooney and Dujardin. The Artist has the second most nominations with 10. If The Artist sweeps the awards Dujardin will benefit. But Clooney is an active liberal. And Hollywood likes liberals. Plus he wrote, directed and acted in another film this year, "Ides of March", a political film with Clooney playing a Democrat running for president. Plus a lot of people liked "The Descendants". But Clooney has won an Oscar already for "Best Supporting Actor".

My Prediction: Jean Dujardin

BEST ACTRESS: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (Iron Lady) and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

This is a tough category for me because of haven't seen some of the nominated films. Many people are guessing Viola Davis will win the award. I surely hope not. As I said, I didn't like that movie and I sure don't want to see it win any awards. So, instead, I'm going to pick what I want to see win instead of what I think will win.

My Prediction: Meryl Streep

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (The Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

The favorite going into this is Plummer as a dying gay man. It is the kind of role the academy likes to nominate and let win. A person dying and a gay man. Think Greg Kinnear in "As Good As It Gets (1997). Plus Plummer has been around for a while.

But if the academy is in a nostaligic mood maybe the great Swedish actor Max von Sydow would benefit. But I doubt it, though I see a lifetime achievement award in Sydow's future.

My prediction: Christopher Plummer

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) and Octavia Spencer (The Help)

A lot of people think one of the actresses from "The Help" should win. I've already expressed my opinion of this. My hope is, the two nominees cancel each other out. The race is usually a wild card anyway. It never goes as the film critics predict.

Why Melissa McCarthy is nominated is beyond me. I didn't like "Bridesmaids" as much as the public did. I felt it was somewhat over-hyped.

My Prediction: Berenice Bejo

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) and Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids)

The "upset" in this category could be Asghar Farhadi. A lot of people liked "A Separation". I thought it was a good movie too. But, it is not often a foreign language film wins a "Best Screenplay" award.

My Prediction: Woody Allen

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Alexander Payne/ Nat Faxon/ Jim Rush (The Descendants), John Logan (Hugo), George Clooney/ Grant Heslov/ Beau Willimon (Ides of March), Steven Zaillian/ Aaron Sorkin/ Stan Chervin (Moneyball) and Bridget O' Connor/ Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy)

Because the academy likes Payne and his movie so much, this is the academy's only option to celebrate the film. I really don't think "The Descendants" will win "Best Picture" and the academy is going to want to award the movie in some way.

My Prediction: Alexander Payne/ Nat Faxon/ Jim Rush

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots and Rango

I have not seen "A Cat in Paris" or "Chico & Rita", though I have heard great things about "Chico" and I'm very much interested to see it, as I have developed an interest in Cuban culture and I'm a devoted jazz lover.

One of my favorite animated films of the year was "Rango", which made my "top ten" list (as well as Pixar's "Cars 2" which shamefully wasn't nominated). I wasn't much of a fan of either "Kung Fu Panda 2" (though I loved the first one) or "Puss in Boots". This, if this award is a popularity contest (and most usually award shows are) either one of these Dreamworks films could win.

My Prediction: Rango

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Bullhead (Belgium), Footnote (Israel), In Darkness (Poland), Monsieur Lazhar (Canada) and A Separation (Iran)

In the past voters were not required to see all of the nominated films, so, the most popular of the nominees would win. But, the rules have changed. Now voters must see all of the nominated films. These films aren't always distributed here.

As far as popularity goes "A Separation" is in the lead. And it has another Oscar nomination for its screenplay, so clearly the academy likes it. But there is also "In Darkness" a Polish film about WW2. The academy loves to nominate films about WW2 and give them awards. It could be the biggest challenge to "A Separation". But, who knows, these other nominated films could be powerful masterpieces.

My Prediction: In Darkness

Film Review: Down to Earth

"Down to Earth" *** (out of ****)

In 1933 Hollywood decided to make a musical out of "The Great Depression" in "The Gold Diggers of 1933" (1933). Remember the musical finale, "Remember My Forgotten Man"? Well, philosopher extraordinaire Will Rogers beat them by a year making a comedy about the stock market crash in Down to Earth (1932).

"Down to Earth" is a sequel of sorts to another Will Rogers comedy, "They Had to See Paris" (1929). Of the two of them, I actually prefer "Down to Earth". Rogers is a bit of an acquired taste in my opinion. He isn't as side-splittingly funny as the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy or that other comedy philosopher W.C. Fields. Rogers had a much more gentle, delicate sense of humor. A kind of mid-western, aw-shucks personality.

The humor in both films stems from a fish-out-of-water situation. In "They Had to See Paris" we follow the old cliche of the ignorant American clashing with the sophisticated European. There is an element of that in "Down to Earth" but the humor mostly comes from Rogers not being comfortable with his wealth. A man can have all the money in the world, but, if he can't be comfortable in his own home, what's the good of it (see, I told you Rogers was a philosopher). Rogers feels his butler looks down on him when he tries to dunk his toast in his coffee or put bread in his soup.

The story is told against the backdrop of the beginning of "The Great Depression". Direct reference to the crash is made. Rogers, who plays Pike Peters, keeps warning his family about the out-of-control spending and how society is burrowing too much money. People, especially the rich, need to relearn the value of work and having a real job, not playing the stock market, looking for "easy money".

I disagree with this theme. The film and Pike, make it seem all people have to do is go back to work and the depression will be over. The problem was, as I understand it, people couldn't find work during the depression. People weren't waiting in soup lines because it was a Sunday afternoon and the grocery stores were closed. They were doing it because they didn't have food and no job.

Of course, I don't know what society was like leading up to the depression. Perhaps there was too much burrowing and spending going on. Here in Illinois we know something about that (thanks Gov. Quinn!). But Pike's simple words aren't realistic in my view. The movie is simplifying the problem.

But, lets not watch movies like "Down to Earth" in the hopes that they will solve our economic and political problems. Their objective was to entertain a depression era audience. And the movie does something most movies from the period did. It brings the rich man down to the same level as the working man. Establishing the message, we are all in this together and together we will get out of it. I suppose that was something audiences wanted to hear.

The movie was directed by David Butler. Probably best known for directing Bob Hope and Doris Day vehicles such as "Caught in the Draft" (1941), "Road to Morocco" (1942), The Princess & the Pirate" (1944), "Tea for Two" (1950), "Lullaby of Broadway" (1951) and "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" (1953).

He may be a big reason why I prefer this movie over "Paris". Butler knew comedy. He worked with Will Rogers on another picture, perhaps one of Rogers best known comedies, "A Connecticut Yankee" (1931). So the two men string things along nicely together. This is a pretty fast moving picture.

Irene Rich returns playing the role of Idy Peters, Pike's wife. She loves high society, it was her idea they go to Paris. She wants to impress everyone with her cocktail parties and become the social belle of the town. Meanwhile, their son, Ross (Matty Kemp) is as oppose to work as before. He has taking up gambling. He is in love with Julia Pearson (Dorothy Jordan) a girl from a rich family who now faces bankruptcy. But another girl, Jackie Harper (Mary Carlisle) has her eye on Ross. And her money seems unlimited.

I'm honestly not sure how today's audience will react to Will Rogers' humor. It might be a little slow moving for them. Rogers was a wit, he didn't depend on physical humor. Also, his persona might bother some. Again it is very gentle and delicate. He is not as "loud" and dominate on-screen the way way Groucho Marx or Bob Hope would be. He's more subtle.

Still, if this sounds like your type of comedy, many of his comedies have been placed on DVD. At one time Will Rogers was considered a national treasure.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Film Reviews: Bluebeard's Eighth Wife & I Met Him In Paris

"Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" *** (out of ****)

Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper prove money can buy you love in "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (1938), a charming Ernst Lubitsch comedy.

Today we going to discuss two Claudette Colbert comedies from the late 1930s. In both movies Colbert plays a similar character; a good natured, down to earth, girl-next-door type. A kind of all-American girl with morals which reflect society's standards.

The earliest screen works of Colbert, which I have seen, are another Ernst Lubitsch comedy, "The Smiling Lieutenant" (1931) and the Cecil B. DeMille epic "The Sign of the Cross" (1932). I would suggest Colbert really gained "star" status after appearing in Frank Capra's Oscar winning romantic comedy, "It Happened One Night" (1934). After that film she began to appear in some of her best known films and a few lesser known, but, equally charming comedies such as "It's A Wonderful World" (1939) with Jimmy Stewart, a sort of knock-off version of "It Happened One Night". She was also in "Midnight" (1939) and the "I Met Him In Paris" (1937, more on this below). And she was in one of Preston Sturges' best comedies "The Palm Beach Story" (1942). Like "Bluebeard", that was also a comedy about marriage and love.

In "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" Gary Cooper plays Michael Brandon, a millionaire visiting the French Riviera on business. He walks into a department store looking to buy pajamas, but, he only wants the top. He doesn't wear the bottom and sees no reason why he should have to pay for it. The store simply will not allow this. Whether or not a customer wears the pajamas as whole is not important to the store. It is a set and must be bought as such. Enter Nicole De Loiselle (Colbert). It just so happens she is only interested in buying the bottom half of the pajamas. Problem solved. He'll pay for the top and she'll pay for the bottom.

The two instantly fall for each other at first sight. And I must admit it is a clever way for the future lovers to meet. I don't believe I've ever seen a set-up like this one before. She doesn't realize he is rich and he's not sure if she is married. Why would a woman need to buy men's pajamas in the first place?

It just so happens Nicole's father is Marquis De Loiselle (Edward Everett Horton) who is down on his luck, meaning he is broke and is simply living off his title. But even that is running out. It was for him Nicole bought the pajamas. The Marquis thinks of himself as a business man and has been trying to get into contact with Michael. When Michael finds out who he is, a business proposal is made. Michael wants to marry Nicole. The problem is Michael has been married seven times before (hence the film's title). This is a deal-breaker for Nicole. Michael doesn't seem to take marriage serious. He makes haste decisions, loses interest and thinks the problem can be solved with money. Nicole agrees to marry Michael but only if he will pay her $100,000 a year, for the rest of her life, if they divorce. Michael agrees and Nicole looks forward to the divorce.

A lot of viewers feel "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" is a lesser Lubitsch attempt. That it should be avoided. I wouldn't go that far. I don't think it ranks among Lubitsch's best films but I would never suggest someone should avoid watching an Ernst Lubitsch film, unless of course, watching good movies isn't your cup of tea.

I have to admit there were plenty of times I found myself laughing out loud. The script, which was written by the comedy team of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (which explains a lot) is peppered with some great zingers and one-liners. Wilder was a great admirer of Lubitsch and greatly looked forward to the day when he could write a script for Lubitsch.

But the movie lacks that famous "Lubitsch touch" as it came to be called. Lubitsch, early in his Hollywood career, was making sophisticated musical comedies. Movies which were playful about sex and marriage. They were pre-code films but weren't explicit. They danced around issues, never being direct, but, the implications were made clear. Some examples are "Monte Carlo" (1930), my personal favorite of his musicals, "The Smiling Lieutenant" and "One Hour With You" (1932). Next there was my all-time favorite Lubitsch film, "Trouble in Paradise" (1932) a non-musical, but a film which played with the same ideas as his musicals. It was playful and adult. "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" just doesn't seem to be on par with these titles. I'd put the film in the same class with other, later Lubitsch efforts like "That Lady in Ermine" (1948, which I have reviewed) and "Cluny Brown" (1946).

One issue may have been because Wilder and Lubitsch have a different type of humor. Wilder's humor isn't, normally, as playful as Lubitsch. It can sometimes be in a similar vein, "The Major & The Minor" (1942) or "Some Like It Hot" (1952) but more often than not Wilder can be a bit more direct and at times vulgar. Wilder and Lubitsch would have much greater success on their next effort, "Ninotchka" (1939), often regarded as one of Lubitsch's best comedies. That one, without question, has that famous "Lubitsch touch".

By the time this film was made Gary Cooper had already proven himself as an accomplish actor. One of his best early roles is in the film "Morocco" (1930) a suggestive, powerful pre-code gem. There was also "A Farewell to Arms" (1932) and the Capra comedy "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" (1936). Though it was probably after this film Cooper appeared in some of his best known films; "Sergeant York" (1941), "The Pride of the Yankees" (1942), "Ball Of Fire" (1941, also written by Wilder), "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and the great western "High Noon" (1952).

In this film Cooper isn't a great lover type, a role Wilder would give him on a later collaboration, "Love in the Afternoon" (1957), but I don't really think he plays the same kind of character he plays in "Mr. Deeds" or "Ball of Fire", the sort of good-natured, Earnest young man.

The film has a good supporting cast besides Edward Everett Horton there is David Niven, as a close friend of Colbert, Frank Pangborn, as a hotel manager, and Warren Hymer as a boxer. The name may not mean anything to you, but, trust me, you've seen his face before.

Overall, while not a great comedy "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" is enjoyable. It is the kind of good, old-fashion comedy I grew up watching. While I greatly admire the work of Ingmar Bergman or Luchino Visconti, this is really more my style.

"I Met Him In Paris" *** (out of ****)

Can a man and woman really be friends without romance getting in the way? It's the age old question that is asked in the goofy comedy "I Met Him In Paris" starring Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young.

As I said about "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife", these type of comedies are more my style. I grew up watching classic Hollywood movies and comedies from these era. I get the humor and relate to the moral code presented in these movies. They reflect my own moral code. I understand them better then today's movies. Most of us old-timers are the same way.

Claudette Colbert plays Kay Deham, a woman who is loved by a man (Lee Bowman) whom she finds boring. They live in New York and Kay decides she wants to travel to Paris before making any decision about marrying.

While in Paris, Kay meets two Americans; George Potter (Douglas) and Gene Anders (Young). Both seem to take an immediate liking to Kay but Gene makes the greater effort and Kay responds more to him. But Gene can't ultimately commit himself. Not because he's a man and all men are afraid of commitment ladies. He has a secret that only George knows.

In an attempt to romance Kay, Gene suggest they leave Paris and head to Switzerland. Where they can have some good, clean fun. And in order to make sure they do exactly that George follows them and assumes the role of chaperon. But can a man and woman bet together without feeling an attraction? And who are Kay and Gene fooling? We can tell they like each other.

I don't think it is a spoiler but Gene is married. George cannot allow Gene to compromise himself and get involved with another woman. Most of today's viewers may not believe this, but, at one time such things were frowned upon.

So most of the comedy comes from George preventing Gene and Kay from spending time together. And we can tell George has fallen for Kay. So, each man tries to spend as much time alone with her as possible. It is an old story of two male friends fighting over the same girl. Example of this set-up can even be found today, look at the new movie "This Means War" (2012). But "I Met Him In Paris" isn't vulgar. It is actually a smarter film.

A lot of scenes involve skiing and snow time sport activities. Which made me think Sonja Henie should have been casted in this movie instead of Colbert. Henie was a famous skater who appeared in a few movies over at Fox.

The movie was directed by Wesley Ruggles who directed another movie where two men fight over the same woman, "Too Many Husbands" (1940) which was a remake of "My Favorite Wife" (1940). Ruggles also directed "True Confession" (1937, which I have reviewed), "I'm No Angel" (1932), my favorite Mae West comedy and "No Man of Her Own" (1932).

"I Met Him In Paris" is funny, though I think I laughed more at "Bluebeard". Still, the film is playful and has some good acting by Douglas and Colbert. I've never been a huge fan of Robert Young, best known for his role in the TV show "Father Knows Best". He was in some good movies like "Sitting Pretty" (1948, which is the first film to feature the character Mr. Belvedere), "Crossfire" (1947) and the Alfred Hitchcock film "Secret Agent" (1936). But I think another Robert would have been better in "I Met Him In Paris", Robert Montgomery.