1968-1972: An edgy era of winning films

(Editor’s note: This is the ninth part in a multi-part series on the winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture. They are being presented in chronological order with “Wings,” the first winner, included among the movies reviewed and/or described in the first part.)

The five Oscar winners for Best Picture winners between 1968 and 1972 all had a certain edgy quality to them, even the musical “Oliver,” based on a Charles Dickens book and the stage musical, fits that description.

Those films were certainly reflective of the times with social upheavals, the U.S. presidency of Richard M. Nixon, the ongoing Vietnam War and many other issues shaking the times.

Oliver!, 1968, directed by Carol Reed

Oliver-1968
Mark Lester as Oliver seeking more food.

“Oliver!,” the 1968 Academy Award Best Picture winner, not leaves one humming some of its tunes, but thinking about some of the issues the story raises.

Based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” the movie is story is about a young boy swept into a gang of youthful thieves. It’s a story about poverty, too, and what it forces some people to do. That is still a very relevant issue today at it was in 1968 and when Dickens novel was first published as a serial between 1837–39.

At a little more than 2-1/2 hours, Oliver! is plenty of entertainment per entertainment dollar in addition to being thought-provoking. The memorable songs include “Consider Yourself Part of the Family,” “I’ll Do Anything,” “Food Glorious Food,” and “As Long as He Needs Me.”

The cast includes Ron Moody, Shani Walls, Oliver Reed, Mark Lester, Jack Wild and Hugh Griffith.

Other contenders for Best Picture in 1968 included “Funny Girl,” “The Lion in Winter,” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Midnight Cowboy, 1969, directed by John Schlesinger

Although its original rating has been changed, “Midnight Cowboy” is the only Best Picture winner with the distinction of having a “X” rating when it was first released.

The film had been approved with an “R,” but after United Artist executives consulted a psychologist who said that the “homosexual frame of reference” and its “possible influence upon youngsters,” the studio agreed to accept the X rating. The Motion Picture Association of America ultimately changed its rating system and the movie got its R rating.

This is a gritty film about a naive, young Texas man, played by Jon Voight, who thinks he can make a great living as a gigolo in New York City. Once there, he meets the street-savvy, homeless, dying Ratso, played by Dustin Hoffman.

In “Midnight Cowboy,” Hoffman as Ratso yells one of the all-time classic movie lines as he walks across NYC street traffic: ” “I’m walkin’ here!” That line reached No. 27 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.” Additionally, the song “Everybody’s Talkin’,'” which is featured throughout the movie, won Harry Nilsson a Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance

In many ways, this is a very down movie, but sadly the story of beautiful dreams destroyed by harsh realities is still a true story for many people today.

The other contenders for the 1969 Best Picture Award included “Anne of the Thousand Days,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Hello Dolly,” and “Z.”

Patton, 1970, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

The Academy Award Best Picture winning “Patton” is described as a milestone in screen bio-pics by many critics.

Patton 1
George C.. Scott as Gen. Patton in “Patton”

George C. Scott extensively studied the brilliant, eccentric Gen. George S. Patton in preparing for the role. Scott displays the brilliance and the temper of the general, who was a major figure in World War II.

Scott, who won the Best Actor Award, had refused the Oscar nomination but won the award anyway. In a letter to the Academy, he stated that he did not feel himself to be in competition with other actors.

In addition to Scott, actors in the film included Karl Malden, Stephen Young and, if you dig further down in the credits, Tim Considine.

Other contenders for the 1970 Best Picture award included “Airport,” “Five Easy Pieces,” and “M*A*S*H.”

The French Connection, 1971, directed by William Friedkin

“The French Connection,” the 1971 Best Picture winner, is a high-energy, landmark film about international smuggling of heroin into New York City and a maverick detective’s efforts to try to stop it.

The great chase scenes through NYC streets are among the greatest in film history, which earned the film editors a well-deserved Oscar.. You will catch yourself moving back and forth in your seat (if you can manage to stay in it) trying to dodge the cars.

Gene Hackman is the star of this film, but the great cast also includes Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, and Tony LoBianco.

Other nominees for the 1971 Best Picture honor included “Clockwork Orange,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Last Picture Show,” and “Nicholas and Alexandra.”

The Godfather, 1974, Francis Ford Coppola

Hollywood has given us many notable gangster or mob films, but the two Oscar Best Picture winning “Godfather” movies gave us a greater sense of that world than ever before.

“The Godfather,” 1972, and “The Godfather Part 2, 1974, hold the distinction of being the only films that both the original and the sequel won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In the first movie, we see Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, the “godfather,” in a role that some critics view as his greatest film performance. The other members of this great cast include Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, singer Al Martino, and Alex Rocco.

This is a story about gangsters, but also one about families, not just crime families but in this case about Italian families seeking their version of the American dream and power.

It’s hard to imagine any other movie winning the 1972 Oscar for Best Picture than this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, but the other contenders included “Chinatown,” “The Conversation,” and “Lenny.”

EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image

 

Advertisements

1963-1967: Social issues, musicals, earthy comedy films win top honors

(Editor’s note: This is the eighth part in a multi-part series on the winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture. They are being presented in chronological order with “Wings,” the first winner, included among the movies reviewed and/or described in the first part.)

The five years from 1963-1967 were years of great diversity and competition for the Academy Award for Best Picture. They were in a variety of genres. The stories happened in the United States Deep South, England, and Austria.

 

EPSON MFP image

“Tom Jones,” 1963, directed by Tony Richardson.

The young, hilarious and clever Albert Finney as Tom Jones helps make the somewhat bawdy “Tom Jones” comedy a delight to watch. It’s based on the novel by Henry Fielding about the wild life of a playboy in 18th century rural England.

When the film premiered in October 1963, The New York Times critic wrote, “Prepare yourself for what is surely one of the wildest, bawdiest and funniest comedies that a refreshingly agile filmmaker has ever brought to the screen. …They have whipped up a roaring entertainment that develops its own energy (not just from the massive book) as much as from its cinematic gusto as from the racy material it presents.”

In addition to Finney, the cast includes Susannah York, Hugh Griffith,and Dame Edith Evans.

The others seeking the 1963 Best Picture award included “Cleopatra,” “How the West Was Won,” and “Lilies of the Field.”

“My Fair Lady,” 1964, directed by George Cukor

“My Fair Lady,” which won the 1964 Best Picture Award is one of this writer’s favorite musicals, but there may have been better films that were nominated for the 1964 honor.

In my childhood home, I grew up hearing my father play over and over the Original Broadway Cast soundtrack of “My Fair Lady,” which featured Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. Andrews was replaced in the movie by Audrey Hepburn. The songs are permanently ingrained in my head.

“My Fair Lady” is based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” The tale is about pompous phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) who is so sure of his abilities that he takes it upon himself to transform a Cockney working-class girl into someone who can pass for a cultured member of “high society.” His subject turns out to be the lovely Eliza Doolittle, who agrees to speech lessons to improve her job prospects. Higgins and Eliza clash, then form an unlikely bond — one that is threatened by an aristocratic suitor.

Even though this is a great musical that I love, my preference for the 1964 best picture might have been (if I wasn’t in my early teen years at the time) “Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Peter Sellers is magnificent playing three characters in this Stanley Kubrick classic satire.

Other contenders for best picture included “Becket,” “Mary Poppins.” and “Zorba the Greek.” By the way, Julie Andrews, although not cast in the Best Picture-winning “My Fair Lady,” was compensated with a Best Actress award for her dazzling performance in the title role of “Mary Poppins.”

“The Sound of Music,” 1965, directed by Robert Wise

The Academy Award Best Picture winning “The Sound of Music”was based on the true story of the von Trapp family. It was loved by many, but not all.

Star Christopher Plummer wasn’t a fan of the movie. He said in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview, “Because it was so awful and sentimental and gooey. You had to work terribly hard to try to infuse some miniscule bit of humor into it.”

EPSON MFP image
Julie Andrews in “My Fair Lady.”

in the Hawkins family, my mother and sister went to see the movie in a downtown Louisville movie theater while my father and I headed to Crosley Field in Cincinnati to see the Reds play (it was a much better team then) that same day

It took me decades to get past this masculine bias against the movie, but when I finally viewed it I enjoyed it and realized that it wasn’t a threat to my masculinity.

The songs such as “Maria,” “My Favorite Things,””Climb Every Mountain” and “Do Re Mi” are memorable, if a bit saccharine for some tastes. The story of the family’s music and its escape from the threat of the Nazis is a worthy story for the Best Picture Oscar.

Other contenders for the 1965 Best Picture honor included “Doctor Zhivago.” Ship of Fools,” and “A Thousand Clowns.”

 

A Man for All Seasons, 1966, directed by Fred Zinnemann

“A Man for All Seasons, the 1966 Best Picture winner, was another winner based on a great Broadway play.

This winner is about ethics in addition to being an excellent historic drama. It is the story of the heroic Sir Thomas More resisting King Henry VIII’s demands that More give in and sanction his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

The New York Times reviewer stated, “‘A Man for All Seasons’ is a picture that inspires admiration, courage, and thought.”

The great cast includes Paul Scofield as More, Robert Shaw as the king, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Orson Welles, Susannah York, John Hurt, and Vanessa Redgrave.

Other nominees for the 1966 Best Picture honor included “Alfie,” “The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming,” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

In the Heat of the Night, 1967, directed by Norman Jewison

“In the Heat of the Night,” the 1967 Best Picture winner, was true to the dangerous times of the 1960s. It’s about a black detective from Philadelphia who is in the Deep South when a murder takes place and he is picked up as a suspect.

Sidney Poitier delivers a spot-on performance as Detective Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger delivers a stinging performance as Police Chief Bill Gillespie. Tibbs ultimately helps solve the murder. The confrontations between Tibbs and Gillespie during the course of events is fascinating.

When Tibbs is asked by the racist southerners what people call him back home, Poitier delivers masterfully the “They call me Mr. Tibbs” line, one of the great lines in movie history.

Others in the cast include Warren Oates and Lee Grant.

Other nominees for the 1967 honor included “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Graduate,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

 

In-the-Heat-of-the-Night-1967-01-15-52
From right, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) and Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) argue about a murder case in “In the Heat of the Night.”

 

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing wins top British Academy awards

BAFTA
LONDON — “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has won the top 2018  EE British Academy Film Awards honors. The awards were announced Sunday at a ceremony in Royal Albert Hall, London, on Sunday.
Three Billboards Outside Hibbing
Frances McDermond in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” the winner of the top British film award for 2018.

As announced by BAFTA in its press release here’s the rundown on the winners:

Five BAFTAs for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:” Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Leading Actress (Frances McDermond), Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay
Gary Oldman wins Leading Actor for “Darkest Hour.”
Guillermo del Toro wins Director for “The Shape of Water>”
Daniel Kaluuya wins the EE Rising Star Award.

Sam Rockwell for supporting actor for “Three Billboards. …”

Martin McDonagh for Original Screenplay,  for  “Three Billboards….”

Supporting Actress went to Allison Janney for her role as Tonya Harding’s mother in “I, Tonya.”

“The Shape of Water” won three awards. In addition to director, the Original Music Award went to composer Alexandre Desplat, and the film also won Production Design.

Roger Deakins won his fourth BAFTA for Cinematography for “Blade Runner 2049,”which also won for Special Visual Effects.

Raoul Peck won the Documentary award for “I Am Not Your Negro.” ”

Film Not in the English Language was won by South Korean drama “The Handmaiden.”

“Coco” took the BAFTA for Animated Film.

Writer/director Rungano Nyoni and producer Emily Morgan received the award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer for “I Am Not a Witch.”

“Baby Driver” received the BAFTA for Editing; “Phantom Thread” won for Costume Design;. James Ivory won for Adapted Screenplay for “Call Me by Your Name;” “Dunkirk”for Sound;. “Cowboy Dave” won the British Short Film award.

The Special Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema was presented to the National Film and Television School (NFTS). The school has trained generations of BAFTA-nominated film talent; this year’s British Short Animation award was won by Poles Apart, which is the 13th NFTS graduation film to win a BAFTA.

The Fellowship, the highest honor the Academy can bestow, was presented to director and producer Sir Ridley Scott by HRH The Duke of Cambridge, president of BAFTA, and Sir Kenneth Branagh.

The ceremony featured performances by Cirque du Soleil and the Kanneh-Mason family.

In addition, all of the nominated short films are now available online at  https://www.curzonhomecinema.com/.

About BAFTA
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) is a world-leading independent arts charity that brings the very best work in film, games and television to public attention and supports the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally. Through its Awards ceremonies and year-round programme of learning events and initiatives – which includes workshops, masterclasses, scholarships, lectures and mentoring schemes in the UK, USA and Asia – BAFTA identifies and celebrates excellence, discovers, inspires and nurtures new talent, and enables learning and creative collaboration.  For more, visit www.bafta.org.

1958-1962: Musicals, comedy, a religious drama plus a spectacular adventure win

Four of the five best picture Oscar winners between 1958-1962 were big picture productions, including two musicals. The fifth was a comedy.

Gigi, 1958, directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Thank heaven for musicals like “Gigi,” the 1958 winner of the Oscar for best  picture.

And for director Vincente Minnelli  it meant another Oscar for best picture.

The story surrounds young a Parisian girl being trained to be a “courtesan,” but finds herself drawn to a man known to be a womanizer.

The New York Times reviewer in 1958 wrote, “There won’t be much point in anybody trying to produce a film of ‘My Fair Lady’ for awhile because  (producer) Arthur Freed has virtually done it with ‘Gigi.'” Actually, “My Fa Lady” became a film and won an Oscar for best picture in 1964. More about that movie in a future post.

Aside from the similarity to “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi” was one of the first MGM films to be shot on location. The film is filled with tributes to the French lifestyle.

The memorable songs for this movie include “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” and “I Remember It Well.”

The cast includes Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold and Eva Gabor. The screenplay’s music by Frederick Loewe and lyrics and screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner.

Other competitors for the 1958 Oscar included “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and the Defiant Ones.”

EPSON MFP image
Charlton Heston in Ben Hur

Ben Hur, 1959, directed by William Wyler

Though many watch this just for the chariot race or watch it as their Easter weekend tradition, “Ben Hur” also is a powerful, deeply religious, nearly four-hour long movie that is rich enough in detail to merit several viewings.

Although this movie is largely a Christian movie, agnostics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and others can find meaning in this William Wyler-directed extravaganza. It’s about learning to forgive, being loyal to one’s family, the healing power of belief and, of course, about the story of Jesus Christ as viewed by the author, and about the clashes between the Jews and the occupying Romans.

Although based on Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace’s novel, the story had previously been produced on stage (no kidding) and in films. But this version was the most spectacular yet.

For this writer growing up in Louisville, Ky., this move was such a spectacular for our family that we had to see it in one of the fancy downtown movie theaters, not one of the usual drive-ins where we could bring our beverages and homemade popcorn.  If we wanted popcorn, we would have to buy it at the Brown Theater concession stand.

The outstanding cast for this movie included Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Sam Jaffee, Haya Harareet, and Hugh Griffith.

Other 1959 competitors for the honor included “Anatomy of a Murder,” “The Diary of  Anne Frank” and “Room at the Top.”

The Apartment, 1960, directed by Billy Wilder.

“The Apartment,” the 1960 Academy best picture is both a comedy and a morality tale about assisting others’ infidelity.

Under the direction of “all-star” director Billy Wilder, the film involves a bachelor (Jack Lemmon) who turns over the key to his apartment to the hierarchy of his employers,  a situation he doesn’t like. When gives the key to one boss (Fred MacMurray), he finds that the woman (Shirley MacLaine) he brings is someone Lemmon’s character knows and is attracted to.

Lemmon drew high praise for his performance in this part, following his starring role in “Some Like it Hot.” A New York Times critic wrote Lemmon “takes precedence as our top comedian by virtue of his work in this film.”

This was quite a different role for MacMurray, whom some of us were just getting to know as the dad in “My Three Sons.”

Other contenders for best picture in 1960 included “The Alamo,” “Elmer Gantry” and “The Sundowners.”

West Side Story, 1961, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.

Academy Award winning best picture “West Side Story” is one of the best-loved musicals even by those shaking their heads at ballet-style dancing gang members.

EPSON MFP image

Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the story is about gang and ethnic conflicts on New York City’s West Side. A ground-breaking musical, the story follows the Jets and the Sharks as they fight for their turf while Maria and Tony fight for love.

The magnificent music is by Leonard Bernstein and  Stephen Sondheim. The cast includes Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn.

Other films nominated for the 1916 best picture Oscar were “Fanny,” “The Hustler,” and “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, David Lean

While based on a true story, David Lean’s Academy Award best-picture winning “Lawrence of Arabia” is about a descent into madness even though the basic story is a action-filled tale regarding how Brit T. E. Lawrence helped Bedouins in their battle  against the Turks during World. War I.

This spectacular movie needs to be seen on a big screen. The cinematography by David Lean’s crew is spectacular showing the beauty and terrors of the desert. It’s truly one of my favorite movies to watch, an intelligent and visual delight as nearly all of David Lean’s films were.

The descent into madness by Lawrence is exemplified by his increasingly dangerous tactics and even his seeming loss of identity. The movie is loosely based on T. E. Lawrence’s “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” Although Lawrence is very heroic, he eventually starts to lose his British identity, takes more and more chances, wears Arab garb and takes on action in the desert that few would chance.

Lawrence is played marvelously by Peter O’Toole in his first major film. Others in this great cast include Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Omar Shariff, Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains

Films competing with this Lean masterpiece for the 1962 best picture honor included “The Longest Day,” “The Music Man” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

EPSON MFP image

 

Coming soon: 1963-1967, the age of “They call me Mr. Tibbs,” “The Rain in Spain” and much more.

 

1953-1957: Big stories on bigger screens

By the early 1950s, movie studio executives realized that television was a real competitor and they needed to take action to bring audiences back into the movie theaters.

The Turner Classic Movies documentary series “Moguls and Movie Stars” includes an episode on the period from 1950 to 1960 titled, “The Attack of the Small Screens.” Cinerama, Cinemascope and 3D were among the innovations the studios tried, but the solution was big stories told on the big screen in powerful ways.

Several of those big stories hit the big screen between 1953 and 1957.

Best Picture winners

 

“From Here to Eternity,” 1953, directed by Fred Zinnemann.

“From Here to Eternity” is a prime example of powerful film-making in the mid-1950s.

From-Here-To-Eternity
The Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr kissing on the beach is one of the most famous kissing scenes in motion picture history and has been imitated and lampooned many times.

This Oscar Best Picture winner draws from the deep well of memories and emotions tied to the days before and day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as its immediate impact. It’s a story of romance, ill-fated affairs, ladies of the evening’s hopes for the future, the military life, the masculine lifestyle and occasional cruelty of the early 1940s, all drawn from the 850-page novel by James Jones.

And, of course, it leads to the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to as “a day that will live in infamy,” the day of the surprise attack (at least to most people) on Pearl Harbor.

This film includes one of Frank Sinatra’s finest performances and it’s a non-musical role for the legendary singer. Others in the outstanding cast include Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, a gorgeous Donna Reed and many others in relatively minor roles who would become much better known over the years.

The Oscar Best Picture honor was a great choice by the Academy. Other contenders included “Julius Caesar,” “The Robe” and “Shane.”

“On the Waterfront,” 1954, directed by Elia Kazan.

The strikingly powerful, Oscar-winning “On the Waterfront” featured Marlon Brando’s greatest performance in a career filled with outstanding acting.

This story is about a dock worker who believes he could have been a champion boxer, but now is subject to the whims of a mob-run union* with which his brother has strong ties. Now, he faces major moral decisions.

Brando’s character is pulled in different directions by people including union bosses (including his brother) who want him not to talk to Congressional investigators and by a Roman Catholic priest and a love interest who want him to testify at a hearing.

In addition to Brando, the great cast includes Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger.

This movie won eight Oscars.

Other contenders for the Best Picture award included “The Caine Mutiny,” “Country Girl” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

On the Waterfront
Terry (Marlon Brando), right, tells his brother (played by Rod Steiger) that his life could have been better. “You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money. You don’t understand. I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.” 

 

“Marty,” 1955, directed by Delbert Mann.

The Oscar-winning picture “Marty” was a nice, relatively small movie compared to the other four films that won that award between 1953 and 1957. The competition for the award wasn’t as strong as in some previous years.

The story was adapted for the big screen from a television play written by Paddy Chayefsky. It is a story about a Bronx, N.Y., butcher played by Ernest Borgnine who unexpectedly finds love. He escapes family squabbles and finds the strength to escape from what he believes is a meaningless existence.

Borgnine won the best actor Oscar for his sensitive performance. Also in the cast were Betsy Blair, Joe Mantell and Esther Manciotti.

Other contenders for the 1955 best picture Oscar included “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” “Mr. Roberts,” and “Picnic.”

Around the World in 80 Days, 1956, directed by Michael Anderson.

aroundtheworld in 80 days
From left, Shirley MacLaine, David Niven and Cantinflas while trying to travel around the world in 80 days.

“Around the World in 80 days” is a rollicking, Oscar Best Picture winning adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. It’s a lot more fun than many Best Picture winners, even though some critics claim it has lost much of its charm over the years.

David Niven heads up the extraordinary cast that includes some new stars in major roles and several existing stars in cameo roles. The other stars in this film included Shirley MacLaine in another breakout role (after winning a Golden Globe award earlier for her part in The Trouble with Harry), the outstanding comic Cantinflas, and Robert Newton. The cameos included Buster Keaton, John Gielgud, Robert Morley, Marlene Dietrich and even Frank Sinatra.

Set in the 19th century, the story is about an Englishman’s bet that he could travel around the world in 80 days. The means of traveling around the world in this pre-airplane and pre-automobile era were by ships, trains, stage coaches, hot air balloon and even elephants.

If you get a chance to see this on the big screen or even a 4K Ultra HD or HD television, go for it..

Other contenders in 1956 included “Giant,” “The King and I” and “The Ten Commandments.”

“The Bridge on the River Kwai,” 1957, directed by David Lean.

I confess “The Bridge on the River Kwai” is one of my all-time favorite films, at least in my top 50. I like it so much that when I saw it was available on 4k Ultra HD, I ordered it.

It is a big screen extravaganza with big messages about the madness of war. Toward the end of the movie, a doctor calls what has happened “madness.” Directed by David Lean, one of the all-time great directors, his “Lawrence of Arabia,” which won another best picture Oscar in 1962, also showed a major character’s descent into madness. More about that in a future post.

The madness here is not just the Japanese forcing British prisoners of war to build a bridge, but a British colonel played by Alec Guinness who persuades the Japanese to let the British control the building of the bridge. The colonel believes that activity will keep up morale for his fellow British soldiers, whom had been ordered to surrender by the British hierarchy.

In the meantime, a former American prisoner of war (played powerfully by William Holden) who had escaped the inescapable island is recruited to join a British team that intends to blow up the bridge.

By the way, there is a great deal of similarity between the POW camp commanders’ warning/welcome to the new POWs in Bridge and the Klingon commander’s warning to Capt. James T. Kirk and Dr. Leonard McCoy in “The Undiscovered Country” when they arrive as prisoners on an icy planet that is known as being an alien graveyard. What the Japanese commander first warns and decades later the Klingon warns is that there are no guard towers because there is no need for them. If you check out the two scenes, you will be struck by the similarities.

In addition to Holden and Guinness, the outstanding cast included Jack Hawkins (no known relation), Sessue Hayakawa, James Donald and Geoffrey Home.

The other contenders included (who didn’t really have much of a chance against Bridge) Peyton Place, Sayonara, Twelve Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution.

 

EPSON MFP image



*A personal note: this writer believes unions have done much more good than harm, even though that doesn’t apply to all unions. The writer and his family members have benefited from what his father earned because of his union.

1948-1952: An era of giants

From 1948-1952, giants of the entertainment world — including the motion picture –industry played prominent parts in the movies that won the Academy Award for best picture.

Those names would include Laurence Olivier, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Cecile B. DeMille, Charlton Heston, Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, Leslie Caron, Anne Baxter, and in a relatively minor role Marilyn Monroe.

Even William Shakespeare got in on the action.

“Hamlet,” 1948, directed by Laurence Olivier.

hamlet-Sir-Laurence-Olivier
Laurence Olivier in Hamlet

This Oscar-winning version of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was the first time one of The Bard’s great plays received the Academy Award for best picture.

This production was a creation of Laurence Olivier who directed the movie and played Hamlet. The film version was shortened considerably from the four-hour play to 153 minutes. Shot in Denmark, it was lauded for its photography.

In case this is new to you,  the story is about the prince (Hamlet) “who just couldn’t decide” and was seeking revenge for the death of his father.

The great cast included Jean Simmons, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Stanley Holloway, Eileeen Herlie, Basil Sydney and Felix Aylmer.

Among other nominees for the top prize were”The Red Shoes” and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

“All the King’s Men,” 1949, directed by Julian Jarrold

Based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren, this incredible political drama is the fictional story of a politician who rises to the governorship fighting corruption but then falls to the same demons.

The movie and book are supposedly based on the life and death of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, who called himself “The KIngfish.” He served as the governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a member of the United State Senate from 1932 until his assassination in 1935. There’s also a bit of Major League Baseball Commissioner and former Kentucky Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler in the character, but Chandler wasn’t assassinated.

Set in the depression era, it starred Broderick Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, John Ireland, Joanne Dru and John Derek (future director/photographer and husband of Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, and Bo Derek). This was a big break for Crawford whom many of us boomers remember from the “Highway Patrol” TV series.

A remake in 2006 starring Sean Penn doesn’t have quite the same power as the original.

Other contenders for the 1949 top picture Oscar included “A Letter to Three Wives” and “Twelve O’Clock High.”

 

“All About Eve,” 1959, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewciz

all_about_eve
Anne Baxter, left, and Bette Davis talk in “All About Eve.” Also pictured, from left, are George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Marlowe.

“A’ll About Eve” is the ultimate backstage drama with Anne Baxter’s character taking over the Broadway role and life of aging star Bette Davis’ character .

In addition to Davis and Baxter, the great cast of this best picture winner includes  George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill and Thelma Ritter. Marilyn Monroe also appears in several scenes.

This movie deservedly won six Oscars. Among the other outstanding films competing for the best picture Oscar were “Born Yesterday,” “King Solomon’s Mine,” and “Sunset Boulevard.”

An American in Paris, 1951, directed by Vincente Minnelli

Best picture winner “An American in Paris” serves as a great showcase for the marvelous dancing skills of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in addition to the great music of Gershwin.

The plot involves Kelly, playing an artist in Paris, being torn between two women. The songs, choreography and production are what makes this a delight to watch, not the plot.

This is not this writer’s favorite Kelly musical. “On the Town” and “Singin’ in the Rain” rank higher on my list of favorite Kelly musical vehicles. Yet, it is an outstanding film, worth watching several times if you appreciate great productions.

Other nominees for the best picture Oscar included “A Street Named Desire” and “A Place in the Sun.”

an-american-in-paris-ss1
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron  in “An American in Paris.”

The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

This Oscar winner might have been about the greatest show on Earth, but it wasn’t the greatest movie of 1952.

“The Greatest Show on Earth” is a romance and fugitive story under a circus big top. This film lives up to Cecil B. DeMille’s reputation as a fabulous creator of big productions.

The outstanding cast includes Jimmy Stewart. Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston and Dorothy LaMour.

This writer’s problem isn’t that this is a bad film, but that there were better movies nominated for the 1952 Academy Award for best picture. Those included “High Noon,” “The Quiet Man,” and “Moulin Rouge.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1943-1947: Top films offer heroic tales, address social issues, entertain

Of the five Academy Award best picture winners between 1943 and 1947, three of them dealt with major social issues, one was set during World War II and the other was a rather light musical comedy.

These films made a mark for themselves when they won the Oscar for best picture and several of them still are regarded in February 2017 as cinematic landmarks.

Casablanca, 1943, directed by Michael Curtiz

Casablanca

In 1996, an American Film Institute poll of a jury of film artists, critics and historians determined that “Casablanca” was the second greatest American film of all time (“Citizen Kane” first). Ten years later, Casablanca was voted the third greatest.

Why the acclaim for this 1943, Warner Brothers wartime film?

The now-late film critic Roger Ebert wrote that although Casablanca was going to be an “A-list” title for Warner Brothers, it wasn’t expected to be a great movie.

“If,” however, Ebert wrote, “we identify strongly with the characters in some movies, then it is no mystery that Casablanca is one of the most popular films ever made. It is about a man and woman who are in love and who sacrifice love for a higher purpose. This is immensely appealing; the viewer is able to imagine not only winning the love of Bogart or Ingrid Bergman but unselfishly renouncing it, as a contribution to the great cause of defeating the Nazis.”

The film is appealing on so many levels. It has a great dramatic story, humor, romance and is richly evocative of that time in World War II. The great cast of Bogart, Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains and Dooley Wilson doesn’t hurt either. And, all politics aside, I am so grateful that Bogie got the part of Rick rather than Ronald Reagan.

Going My Way, 1944, directed by Leo McCarey.

This musical comedy features singer/actor Bing Crosby at near the height of his popularity. It was the prequel to the better known today “Bells of St. Mary,” but “Going My Way” took the Oscar for best picture unlike “Bells.”

Of the five winners between 1943 and 1947, “Going My Way” is the most lightweight. In addition to the best picture honor, “Going My Way” star Bing Crosby won best actor, McCarey took the top director prize and the charming “Swinging on a Star” was selected as the best song.

The rather simple story involves a progressive priest assigned to a downtrodden parish who works to get the parish out of debt but clashes with an elderly curate.

Also competing for the 1944 top motion picture honor were “Double Indemnity,” “Gaslight” and “Wilson.”

“The Lost Weekend,” 1945, directed by Billy Wilder

Nearly 30 years before former Beatle John Lennon suffered his “lost weekend” in Los Angeles, the award-winning movie “The Lost Weekend” delivered a powerful tale of how alcoholism ruins lives.

Ray Milland and Howard da Silva in “The Lost Weekend.”

Ray Milland plays the alcoholic writer whose struggle we witness over five days. In 1945, a New York Times reviewer called the film a shatteringly realistic and morbidly fascinating film. …An illustration of a drunkard’s misery that ranks with the best and most disturbing character studies ever put on the screen. …We would not recommend this picture for an gay evening on the town. But it is certainly an overwhelming drama which every adult moviegoer should see.

The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946, directed by William Wyler

The winner of eight Academy Awards (including an honorary one), “The Best Years of Our Lives” is a film about three veterans returning to the same hometown from World War II. Even before the post traumatic stress syndrome term emerged during and after the Vietnam War, this movie illustrated the physical and psychological traumas facing a middle-aged lieutenant, an air officer and a sailor who has lost both of his hands.

Directed by Wyler and written by Robert E. Sherwood, the nearly three-hour long movie achieves “some of the most beautiful and inspiring demonstrations of human fortitude that we have had in films,” a Times critic wrote in 1946.

Stars in the film include Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews. Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo and Hoagy Carmichael. Among others competing for the top film honor that year were “Henry V” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947, directed by Elia Kazan

In “Gentleman’s Agreement,” a magazine writer, played by Gregory Peck, pretends he is Jewish and tells people he knows that he’s Jewish after he agrees to write a series of articles about anti-Semitism. His life changes in unexpected ways and almost destroys several relationships.

This was Hollywood’s first major attack on anti-Semitism and is a powerful indictment on that cancer. It was richly deserving of the top picture honor.

Also competing for the best picture honor in 1947 were “The Bishop”s Wife.” “Great Expectations” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

John Garfield and Gregory Peck in “A Gentleman’s Agreement.