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Entries in Oscars (14)

Wednesday
Aug272014

A Year with Kate: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967)

Episode 35 of 52In which Katharine Hepburn wins her second Oscar and loses Spencer Tracy.

Today is the first of many goodbyes we’ll have to say on this series. After the success of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, with critics declaring her one of the greatest screen actresses of her generation, Kate disappeared for five years to take care of her partner of three decades, Spencer Tracy. It was the longest break she’d taken since she started making movies in 1932, not even her infamous “Box Office Poison” drought had lasted longer than 3 years. But the news was bleak: Spencer Tracy was dying.

Spencer Tracy’s health started declining rapidly in 1961. By 1967, he was in such poor health that the studios considered him uninsurable. Everyone working on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner knew that this would be his last film. As a result, when Spencer Tracy died 17 days after shooting wrapped, Stanley Kramer’s sweet dinner comedy gained new gravitas as the summation of the two decade-long partnership between Tracy and Hepburn.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was supposed more about miscegenation and racism than it was about reuniting screen legends. Released between Loving v. Virginia and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner told the topical story of a liberal San Francisco couple (Kate and Spence) whose daughter (Katharine Houghton, Hepburn’s pretty but dull niece) announces that she’s going to marry an African American doctor (Sidney Poitier, underused). There are a host of issues--the lovebirds have only known each other two weeks and he’s over 10 years her senior--but because this is 1967, race is the main problem the Draytons are forced to chew on. Because of its topicality, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was a smash success, earning a spot in the Box Office Top 10 and two Oscar wins.

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Monday
Aug252014

The Best Film of 1989 That Wasn't

Glenn here to discuss a lil something from 1989, but first a divergence to the modern day.

Last night’s MTV Video Music Awards were like stepping into a pop culture gulag. It’s easy to get misty-eyed thinking about VMA ceremonies of years past, when the network actually showed music videos and the form felt truly like art. Despite being aware of last night’s winner, “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus the icky Terry Richardson, I don’t claim to have near enough knowledge of modern music videos to truly complain. It does seem harder to imagine Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, or Pearl Jam winning these days though, doesn’t it? Are there brilliant works that just aren’t being recognized?

It’s been some time since videos were genuine pop culture moments and the internet certainly doesn’t help. Beyoncé appears to be the only one who’s been able to recreate the buzz of sitting around to watch the premiere of a new Michael Jackson or Madonna video. Most importantly, however, formative years are no longer spent watching music videos hoping to find our new favorite song and reveling in visual genius, rather we leave that to YouTube, iTunes and Spotify while we binge-watch sitcoms on Netflix instead.

Which brings me to 1989. If it weren’t for 1989 we wouldn’t have David Fincher. The future Oscar-nominated director had successes before ’89, but his two collaborations with Madonna that year – “Oh Father” and “Express Yourself” – as well as “Vogue” a year later feel like true moments of breakthrough genius. Whenever I tell fans of David Fincher that they should thank Madonna they balk, but isn’t it kind of true?

“Express Yourself” lost the video of the year award to Neil Young’s “This Note’s For You”, but much like a lot of Madonna’s music career, time has proven that she wasn’t just a momentary flash in the pan spurred on by a public wanting what’s new and shiny. Fincher’s video took liberal inspiration from Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent sci-fi classic Metropolis and gave it a slick and sexualized make-over (before blue filters were over-used). For mine, it remains the best thing David Fincher has ever directed – although, ever the contrarian, I don’t quite know if his maturing directorial instincts are for the better. Rather I find myself getting less excited for each new Fincher film and the very insular heterosexual male worlds they appear to inhabit. Will Gone Girl will change that?

Madonna has always been obsessed with cinema, old and new. She and Fincher would prove that again most famously one year later with “Vogue” with its recreations of the Golden Age of Hollywood as well as Isaac Julien's Looking for Langston. Every cent of Express Yourself's then record-breaking $5mil budget is on screen and it’s heightened, boldly stylized aesthetic is the exact kind that Baz Luhrmann was recreating with Moulin Rouge! over a decade later. From the rain-soaked underclass below to the sensual art-deco with modern twist of Madge’s world up top, “Express Yourself” surpasses even some of the work nominated for art direction and cinematography Oscars that year. Who remembers the sets of Driving Miss Daisy, you know? In a neat twist, Tim Burton’s Batman won the former category, itself also inspired by Metropolis. And remember when they went via satellite to present awards in England? Yikes!

The overt homoeroticism. The power of the pussy. The rally cry of the woman. It’s certainly a video that informed my early years a lot, and would go on to inspire my predilection for excessively stylish cinema as well as bold interpretations of eras. The “Express Yourself” video holds up better than most films of 1989, but perhaps works best of all as a beacon not only for Fincher’s career, but as an encapsulation of where cinema could and eventually would go in the following decades from Quentin Tarantino to endless remakes and reboots. By repurposing Metropolis, everything old was new again. Something we still see the effects of today.

Wednesday
Aug202014

A Year with Kate: Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)

 Episode 34 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn enters the golden age of her career.

This late in A Year With Kate, I really didn’t think I could be surprised anymore. After 8 months watching 34 movies spread over 3 decades of Katharine Hepburn’s life, I believed that I had a pretty firm grasp on who Kate the Great was and how she performed. I espoused the popular wisdom that Kate was best when she played women similar to herself: strong women, smart women; women rarely beaten and never broken. None of these could prepare me for Mary Tyrone, the morphine addict in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Katharine Hepburn, for the first and possibly last time in her career, played a completely crushed woman, and it’s unlike anything else she ever put to film.

Before you rush out to rent a copy, a warning: Long Day’s Journey Into Night isn’t fun. Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical play is equal parts art and exorcism. He changed names, but otherwise told the story of his family: his alcoholic brother “Jamie” (Jason Robards Jr.); his stingy father “James,” who’d once been a great actor (Ralph Richardson); his morphine-addicted mother “Mary” (Katharine Hepburn); and even “Edmund” (Dean Stockwell), his young, depressed doppelganger who is diagnosed with consumption. Director Sidney Lumet kept O’Neill’s posthumously-published Pulitzer Prize-winner mostly intact. Instead, Lumet focused on bringing it to the screen with visual sophistication through long takes and abrupt extreme closeups. Later adaptations of plays, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, would owe a lot to this film stylistically.

This is the kind of role I’d never expect Katharine Hepburn to be able to play. Mary Tyrone is childish before she succumbs to her addiction and downright infantile after. With no discernible thread of rationality holding Mary’s thoughts together in her haze, each emotion she shares is real but disconnected to the one before it, which requires Kate to switch from memory to accusation to denial to forgetfulness multiple times in a scene. True, the Kate-isms and the Bryn Mawr accent are there, but how to discuss the rest of this performance?

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Sunday
Feb162014

14 Days Til Oscar: "All About Titanic"

[Our countdown to Hollywood's High Holy Night continues. Here's abstew with a fun "battle"]

We've only 14 days to go. It seemed like the perfect time to take a look at the two films that jointly hold the record for most nominations (in case you hadn't guessed, that would be 14). One is a fabulous Actressexual's dream about back-stabbing in the theatre world and the other a small indie about a boy and girl in love. Oh, yeah and something about a ship. 

Technically, Titanic holds a higher place in Oscar history, having won 11 of its 14 nominations while All About Eve went home with only six statues (though 12 was the most it could have won with double-nods in Lead and Supporting Actress). But haven't you always wondered what film would come out victorious if they had gone head-to-head?  No? Well, let's find out anyway

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Tuesday
Jan212014

Tuesday Top Ten: Working Actors In Need of an Oscar Nomination

[Editor's note: The last time I published a list of this sort Christian Bale was way up top and then The Fighter happened. Time for a new look at the Oscar Nomination-less. While I'm in Sundance, abstew steps in with his list. My list (and I'm sure yours) might not be exactly the same but... discuss! - Nathaniel]

This past Thursday, when the Oscar nominations were announced, only eight actors were hearing their names called for the first time (the Best Actress category was all previous nominees and 80% winners). Some were for film debuts (Lupita Nyong'o and Barkhad Abdi), but for the other 6 names (Ejiofor, McConaughey, Fassbender, Leto, Hawkins, and Squibb) it was their first recognition from the Academy after years of hard work and dedication to their craft. But not every great actor ever gets to hear their name called Oscar nomination morning. Despite powerful performances and decades of service to the film industry, sometimes a nomination (let alone a win) evades the greats. For some, the oversite will never be remedied (Marilyn Monore, Edward G. Robinson, Myrna Loy, Peter Lorre, Jean Harlow, and John Barrymore are just some of Hollywood's finest that went without the prefix Academy Award Nominee), but for many great actors still working today there is still time. In honor of those overlooked artists, I present 10 actors that continue to give us astounding performances year after year that deserve to have their work recognized with an Oscar nomination. 

Honorable Mention:

Not Now, But Soon: Benedict Cumberbatch, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hardy, and Greta Gerwig We May Have Lost Them to Television: Steve Buscemi, Robin Wright, Kevin Bacon, Lili Taylor, and Kerry Washington Comedians That Get No Respect: Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Carol Burnett Still Great Despite Not Making the Top Ten: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugh Grant, Hope Davis, John Cusack, and, of course, Mia Farrow (who rarely works now)

10. Gong Li
Should've Been a ContenderJu Dou (1990), Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Farewell My Concubine (1993), To Live (1994), Breaking the Silence (2000), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

With a series of well-received films in the early 90s, Gong Li became the face of Chinese cinema. The actress and her frequent director Zhang Yimou are frequently credited for bringing Chinese cinema to the awareness of American and European audiences. Their collaboration, Ju Dou, was the first film from China to ever be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Despite groundbreaking work in such films as Raise the Red Lantern and Farewell My Concubine (which won her a New York Film Critics Circle award), the Academy has yet to nominate this influential actress. In 2005, she made her Hollywood film debut appearing in Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha (her first film in which she performed in English–she learned her lines phonetically) and winning a National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress. But a nomination still eluded her. After a few more turns in Hollywood (Miami Vice and Hannibal Rising), she seems to have slowed down and hasn't appeared on screen since 2011 (which is essentially why she's not higher on the list). She is currently filming the aptly named Return, which reunites her with Zhang Yimou. Hopefully the film is also a return to Oscar's attention or, at the very least, more work. The cinema needs Gong Li's face.

Nine more after the jump...

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