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Entries in Oscars (40s) (73)

Monday
Feb202017

The Furniture: A Canadian Air Show in Captains of the Clouds

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. Here's Daniel Walber...

The United States may have entered World War II late, but American studios didn’t wait nearly as long to start making propaganda. Hollywood produced a number of pro-Allied films before the American entry into the war, from A Yankee in the RAF to the comparatively subtle Sergeant York. Though this ruffled some feathers in Washington, the debate became moot in December of 1941.

Captains of the Clouds falls right on the cusp, shot before Pearl Harbor but released in February of 1942. The film, directed by Michael Curtiz, was intended to drum up support for the Canadian war effort. The first major Hollywood production to be shot north of the border, it’s a technicolor extravaganza starring James Cagney and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

It also received two Oscar nominations. Sol Polito was recognized in the Best Cinematography category for the film’s breathtaking aerial sequences, a no-brainer. 

The nominated work of art director Ted Smith and set decorator Casey Roberts, however, is less flashy...

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Monday
Jan162017

The Furniture: Appropriating Chinese Design in "The Shanghai Gesture"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. This week Daniel Walber looks back at one of the Art Direction Oscar nominees of 1942 for its 75th anniversary.

While Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture was still in production, the studio received a letter from T.K. Chang, the Chinese Consul to Los Angeles. Having read the script, he objected to its vicious and absurd portrayal of Shanghai’s underbelly and cautioned the producers to take “consideration of Chinese sentiment.”

Producer Arnold Pressburger defended the film as merely a fantasy. “This imaginary world has no connection with the realistic aspects of today,” he replied. This argument even wound up in the final cut, in the form of an opening title card: “Our story has nothing to do with the present.”


Chang saw right through Pressburger’s nonsense. “Such imaginations always prove to be constructed from the raw material of realities,” he wrote back. He was right. The Shanghai Gesture attempts a menacingly ahistorical flare by appropriating specifically Chinese decor. This is, of course, impossible. But the Oscar-nominated failure of art director Boris Leven (West Side Story) is fascinating...

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Thursday
Jan052017

What's your favorite Jane Wyman?

It's Jane Wyman's Centennial.  The actress was born on this day in Missouri in 1917 as Sara Jane Mayfield.

Like many major stars her legacy rests on a period that's only about a decade long -- in Wyman's case the mid 40s through the 50s, or more specifically the Best Picture winner The Lost Weekend (1945) through the Douglas Sirk classic All that Heaven Allows (1955) a period in which she specialized in childlike women and their inverse young widows-- but her career was long, stretching from bit parts in the early 30s through TV stardom in the 80s.

Her greatest hits and Oscar triumphs after the jump. Which is your favorite?

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Tuesday
Jan032017

Your First Film Screening of 2017? Mine was "Casablanca"

Happy 2017, everyone! Dancin' Dan here, to celebrate how I rang in the New Year in cinema.

I personally opted not to go with any of the new releases, instead choosing January 1st to see a 35mm print of one of my Top Three films of all time, Casablanca. Apparently the print is making the rounds in honor of the 1943 Best Picture winner's 75th Anniversary. The timing, as always with Casablanca, is confusing: Casablanca premiered in New York in November of 1942 but it didn't become Oscar eligible until the 1943 film year winning the Oscar in March 1944 sixteen whole months after its premiere. Technically it's not quite 75 yet.

But never mind that, because Casablanca is always worth celebrating. It's so easy to fall in love with the shared beauty and charisma of stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and to applaud the film's witty, instant-classic lines. This time around, though, I was particularly struck by two things...

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Friday
Oct282016

Oscar Horrors: The Uninvited

Boo! It's "Oscar Horrors". Each evening we look back on a horror-connected nomination until Halloween. Here's Tim Brayton on a '40s ghost story...

The Uninvited (1944)  is a rarity among 1940s horror films twice over. For one thing, it's one of the vanishingly tiny number of genre films from that decade to receive Oscar attention, nabbing a Best Cinematography nomination – which is why we're here now, of course. For the other, it's one of the almost-as-tiny number of American horror films of its generation that actually commits to the paranormal. For years, stretching back into the 1930s, almost any time you saw a Hollywood film set in a haunted house, it was an easy bet that by the end of the last reel, you'd find out it was just an elaborate ruse by jewel thieves or some other damn thing. Not so for The Uninvited! Its ghost is real, and presents a genuine danger.

The film's readiness to tell an old-fashioned ghost story without apology or restraint is undoubtedly connected to the recognition given to Charles Lang's deeply shadow-soaked cinematography. 

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Monday
Oct242016

Oscar Horrors: "Dr Jekyll and Mr Mouse"

Boo! It's time for "Oscar Horrors". Each night at 7 through Halloween we look back on a horror film or horror-adjacent film's Oscar nomination until Halloween. Here's Nathaniel R...

Here's an odd statistic to consider. Did you know that Tom & Jerry was Oscar's favorite character-based cartoon franchise? The MGM cat and mouse team won seven Oscars in the Best Animated Short category, more than any other series but for Disney's "Silly Symphonies" which also won seven times. Tom & Jerry's very first short was nominated and they won for four consecutive years from 1943-1946 at the peak of their fame.

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Monday
Oct242016

The Furniture: Designing Dignity in "How Green Was My Valley"

"The Furniture" our weekly series on Production Design. Here's Daniel Walber

Filmmaking is often an art borne of flexibility. Tim Burton built Sleepy Hollow from scratch when he couldn’t find just the right town in the real world. Vincente Minnelli was forced to make Brigadoon indoors in Hollywood, because the studio wouldn’t pay for an expensive production in Scotland. Both films are likely better for it, too.

The same is perhaps true for How Green Was My Valley, which premiered 75 years ago this week. John Ford wanted to make shoot it on location in Wales, but World War II intervened. Instead, the production team built an entire mining town in the Santa Monica Mountains. This condensed and idealized version of the setting of Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 novel is among the most emotionally resonant sets of its era.

The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Art Direction.

The design team consisted of Richard Day, Nathan H. Juran and Thomas Little, no stranger to Oscar success. They based their village on Gilfach Goch, a quintessential Welsh mining town, but they dramatically reduced the size and jammed the houses much closer to the colliery...

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