February 23, 2008

Academy Awards: The typical post

As most movie buffs already know, tomorrow is the day of the 80th Academy Awards ceremony, the famous day of the Oscars. Hated by many, but still widely seen across the globe, I think the Academy Awards are, while not a good indicator of good art, they are definitely a great indicator of the mainstream audiences' taste through the history of American cinema. Then again, what else could be expected of a prize created to celebrate the American Film Industry? However, and despite its clearly commercial origins, there have been truly outstanding movies that have won the little golden man, and that still can be considered a classics many years after their triumph (many however, are doomed to well deserved oblivion, and what better proof of that when the lists of "worst Oscar winners" contain only movies from the 80s to the present). In the end, the list of winners is only that, a list of the preferences of the American film industry when talking about, well, the American film industry (which is why, despite its bizarre rules for competition, the Foreign Language category seems to be the only one where art triumphs over popularity).

Anyways, since this was the Oscar's 80th anniversary, I decided to check its history and see how many winners I had seen. To my surprise, there are many winning films that for one reason or another, I haven't been able to check. Some with tremendous reputation (can't believe I haven't seen "All About Eve") others that, as I said above, seem to have been forgotten quickly after winning ("Out of Africa" anyone?). Well, of the brief list of Oscar winners I've seen, and in risk of losing whatever reputation this humble blog may still have, here are 10 among the very few I've seen that I consider my favorites (not necessarily the best):

10) Dances with Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner)
Forever remembered as "the film that stole Scorsese's Oscar", I think that Kevin Costner's epic Western is, despite what Marty's fans may say, a worthy choice for winning the prize. It's beautifully done, and I must say that Costner shows a good skill at directing the film (a skill I haven't seen in him after this). I know it can get tedious at times, but sometimes I think I prefer this one over "Goodfellas". Well, I told you this could be disappointing.

Buy "Dances with Wolves" (1990)

9) The Lost Weekend (1945, Billy Wilder)
Some say this is nothing more than a sleek and polished advertisement for Alcoholics Anonymous but hey, if all propaganda was as superbly done as this one, the world would certainly be a happier, if not better, place. Ray Milland's performance is definitely what makes this one a winner, he is so natural in his acting, so believable, so frighteningly human that it's hard not to feel identified with him. Pure class.

Buy "The Lost Weekend" (1945)

8) Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen)
Hey, I told you this was about favorites. Avildsen & Stallone's story of triumph is probably the most clichéd incarnation of the line "a story about the power of human will", but still it's so, I don't know, special that I find myself unable to not fall under its spell. For this movie alone I'm willing to forgive every turd that Sly has given us through his career. Sometimes we all want to be Rocky.

Buy "Rocky" (1976)

7) Amadeus (1984, Milos Forman)
Often attacked by Salieri fans who feel that the story is unfaithful to the historical facts regarding the relationship between composer Antonio Salieri and whom is probably the most brilliant composer of all time, Wolgang Amadeus Mozart, the truth is that (in my opinion), the movie is not about solving the mystery of Mozart's death, but to ponder about the nature of genius, and specially, of envy. I haven't seen the "Director's Cut" of the film, but the theatrical was in my opinion, almost perfect.

Buy "Amadeus" (1984)

6) Rebecca (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)
The only Hitchcock movie that won an Oscar, that would be reason enough to include it on a list of curiosities, but the movie is not only a Hitchcock movie, it is one of his best, and considering that he wasn't completely in charge of it, it's amazing that his style just shines through it, impossible to hide. This Gothic melodrama delightfully moves from sweet romance to psychological horror in a manner that would prove to be quite influential to Val Lewton's brand of horror at RKO. Judith Anderson is easily one of the most unforgettable characters in any movie. Period.

Watch "Rebecca" (1940)

5) The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino)
I remember reading the novel and thinking "the movie can't be this powerful". And it was. The movie that took Michael Cimino to the stars is simply, one truly great movie. I know De Niro is the main character, but in my opinion, it is Walken who steals the film. I'm probably too biased in this one, cause I loved his character in the novel, but his scenes in Vietnam are heartbreaking. Cimino would never be able to make a movie like this (or some would say, the studios didn't let him), but this is enough to grant him a place in history. Damn.

Buy "The Deer Hunter" (1978)

4) Annie Hall (1977, Woody Allen)
Sometimes it's easy to think "how is it that a film as commercial and influential as 'Star Wars' never won an Oscar?", but then the memories of "Annie Hall" come to mind and the answer is "of course, it was impossible". I'm not as versed in Allen's work as I should be, but I can't deny that this is one genuine brilliant comedy. If only all the romantic comedies were like this.

Buy "Annie Hall" (1977)

3) Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
I just love this film. Despite being one of the most imitated, parodied and referenced (like "Psycho", it seems that everyone is born knowing the plot these days), "Casablanca" is still a film difficult to forget. What a collection of performances, Veidt, Rains, Lorre, Bogart and of course Bergman, unforgettable Bergman. "Here's looking at you, kid".

Buy "Casablanca" (1942)

2) The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
One of the most typical answers to the question of "what's your favorite Oscar winning film?". Of course, the other typical answer is "The Godfather", but hey, it's not surprising, both are wonderful movies that have hold up well through the years. "Part II" is a great sequel, and some (me included) consider it a greater achievement than the first one. Whatever Ford Coppola was eating, drinking or sniffing in the 70s, he needs more of that now.

Buy "The Godfather" Trilogy

1) Unforgiven (1992, Clint Eastwood)
Who would have thought that the newcomer in 1955's B-movie "Tarantula" would become one of the best directors of the last times. After becoming an icon in Sergio Leone's Westerns, Eastwood began what seems to be like a quest for finding the core of the genre, and he finally found it in "Unforgiven". This is the movie that, in my opinion, elevated him to the level of Ford, Leone, et al.

Buy "Unforgiven" (1992)


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Marin Mandir said...

"but sometimes I think I prefer this one over "Goodfellas". Well, I told you this could be disappointing."

No, not all! You speak from my soul when you praise "Dances with Wolves", man! I know "Goodfellas" is an excellent film, but "Dances" is so beautiful, so magical and so emotional that I simply can't help but to love it! The music there is a miracle. The three hour version is very good, but the 4 hour version is fantastic.

J Luis Rivera said...

Marin: Wow, it's great to find another "Dances with wolves" fan. I agree 100% with your comments about it. Can't wait to see the extended cut!

Peter Slattery said...

Excellent list. Nice to see some love for Dances With Wolves for once! For some reason a great many people don't like that moive. I love it. And Unforgiven... there's rarely been a better western (although The Assassination Of Jesse James comes dangerously close!)

dr.morbius said...

I don't care much for Dances With Wolves--I much prefer Costner's later Open Range--but there's no use dredging all that up.

A word or two about Rebecca: funny that you should mention Val Lewton, given that Lewton was a story editor for David O. Selznick at the time. Rebecca is more Selznick's film than Hitchcocks, and the difference is stark if you look at Foreign Correspondent, which Hitchcock made the same year (it, too, was an Oscar nominee). Are Lewton's fingerprints on Rebecca, by any chance? I think they might be.

J Luis Rivera said...

Peter: I guess "Goodfellas" shadow is just too big. And well, Costner's acting credentials aren't exactly the best, so probably most tend to dismiss it just by hearing his name.

Dr. Morbius: Hey mate, didn't know you had a blog. I haven't seen "Open Range", but I've heard many good things about it and your seal of approval just make me more itnerested now. I was aware that it was Selznik's film mainly, but I didn't knew that about Lewton, I just saw similitudes, but hearing that... mmmm, your theory may be correct ;) Cheers!

dr.morbius said...

Yeah. I have a blog. I mainly use it to archive my IMDB writings. Otherwise it would lemming off into the cybernetic aether.