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Entries in Oscars (70s) (77)

Friday
Aug092013

RIP Karen Black (1939-2013)

I don't know where to begin with the death of Karen Black. That's not just because I am not as familiar with her career as I've wanted to be given its peculiar character. It's also because: where the hell do you start with Karen Black?

As Nick reminded on Twitter yesterday, I've long thought that 1970s Hollywood had the most expansive idea of what constituted sexy and Karen is a perfect example, with her cross eyes and giant cheek bones. I've sometimes thought of her very memorable face as what would happen if an American mold of Sophia Loren got all funky and squished in the kiln and didn't quite work out. But Karen made the most of it... [more]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jul042013

"American Graffiti" is a Wonderful Ride. Take It. 

I honestly can't tell you why I've avoided American Graffiti (1973) for as long as I have especially since my childhood was filled with Star Wars trilogy mania to the extent that I even devoured a George Lucas paperback biography in the early 80s. But as the only remaining unseen nominee from an unusually diverse and entertaining Best Picture Vintage (American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, The Exorcist, The Sting, and A Touch of Class) I thought it was time. My assumption that a leisurely drive back into American nostalgia would be just the ticket for the Fourth of July holiday was correct. What surprised me was the drive itself, which "leisurely" does not accurately describe though modern sensibilities might describe the unrushed pacing in just that way.

America Graffiti spends a single night cruising with a group of friends and new acquaintances (a couple of whom, at least, have just graduated high school though the film is less clear on where the other characters stand in the age and education continuum). It's just any night but it's also not. Best friends Curt (Richard Dreyfuss, Golden Globe nominated for this performance) and Steve (Ron Howard), are due aboard a plane headed for college the next morning. But the road they and their friends travel isn't a straight shot, despite the frequent threat of drag race challenges. It's filled with detours, cul de sacs, snack breaks, and confusing cross, tail and headwinds fighting their course.  

Dreyfuss is a dreamer in "American Graffiti"

There are no convertibles to speak of in American Graffiti but you dont even have to be exposed and in motion to feel like the past and future are whipping your hair about and fighting for control of your vehicle, your life, your now. The main characters from hotshot drag racer John (Paul LeMat who won the now defuct "Promising Newcomer" Golden Globe for this performance), to cheerleader Laurie (Cindy Williams, BAFTA nominated for this performance), to best friends Curt and Steve... are visibly confused about the future and even their feelings about the past though they're hanging on, sometimes consciously, to its familiarity. Graffiti's screenplay and ensemble work is strong enough to even let the secondary characters in on this past/future action a bit too, in more subtextual ways. 

The cinematography by Jan D'Alquen & Ron Eveslage (who according to IMDb never worked again after this???) with guidance from the legendary Haskell Wexler isn't particularly showy but it is complicated given the multiple light sources, reflections, moving vehicles, and dark of night. And it's sometimes beautiful, too. Since this series is about individual shots, we have to choose one. My runner up is this brief two-shot between Laurie and Bob Falfa played by Harrison Ford in a precise (and wonderfully telling) debut. I love the light of the passing cars, the reflections, and most of all the acting...

Laurie is angry with her boyfriend Steve and gets in Bob's car only to realize the vacuum of chemistry therein. She doesn't know why she's done this exactly. Bob is also less than smitten, and they're immediately rude to each other. To break the silence Bob comically croons "Some Enchanted Evening" in the way boys clown about to avoid discomfort. In a great comic beat Laurie scoots as far away from him as she can and it'd be even further if the car weren't in motion. Both actors absolutely nail the 'what am I doing here? will i always be doing this? what's next?' ambivalence in a comedic miniature way and what's beautiful about that is that it's the same effect, really, that the film and characters arcs are going for in a dramatic longform way. I even love the art director's touch of that hanging skull in Falfa's car. Maybe's it's a little on the nose for a film that trades so heavily on Fear of the Future and even (inelegantly) foretells death in its credit sequence but it's funny and character-specific.

But that choice, finally, felt too much like a choice based solely on which paragraph I wanted to write (funny how that happens in this series!) rather than a sound decision. Best Shots don't always come from Best Scenes but this time I'm siding with synergy. The best scene in the film, the one where the omnipresent golden-oldies soundtrack, direction, performance, editing, themes and cinematography all coalesce perfectly is at the high school dance the characters reluctantly drop in on despite having just graduated. Steve and Laurie, who have been arguing for the whole first half hour of the movie, are revealed to us to be basically the King & Queen of their high school and they're called up for a spotlight dance right in the middle of a very heated break-up. The scene is two whole minutes in length and every second is beautiful. 

best shot

As they dance in circles under the blue spotlight we get, in brilliant miniature, the ebb and flow of their entire relationship from first date to first kiss to now, as their future looms -- they're not at all sure it's going to be a shared one.

The scene ends with a perfectly judged cut to a closeup as Laurie suddenly clings to Steve, tears in her eyes, wishing for her past to also be her future no matter how pissed she is at present. But since the ending to this absolute gem of a scene is more of a best cut, really, I'll select this image (above) from the middle of the sequence as its best shot. How perfect that the characters are looking in separate directions, that Laurie is driving the scene (as she does throughout despite Steve being the protagonist), that the "62" of their graduating class is lit up, and most of all that Laurie is shifting from angry historian to sentimental scrapbook artist of her own romance in the process of retelling it.


*sniffle*

NEXT WEDNESDAY': David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (1988) [Amazon | Netflix | iTunes]
Join us by watching it and sharing your choice of best shot. We'll link up.

MORE GRAFFITI ?!
These blogs are boss. Go visit them!
Antagony & Ecstasy thinks this is George Lucas's masterpiece
Coco Hits NYC is unfamiliar with car culture but loves the movie
The Entertainment Junkie on the volatile cocktail of adolescent emotion
Film Actually on the teenage iconography of "lover's lane"
The Film's The Thing "something great is out there waiting for you"
A Fistful of Films proves you don't have to have complex screen capture technology to deliver wonderful posts for this series (join us next week people!)
The Matinee alkdgs
Sorta That Guy visits the radio station with Curt. will he stay or will he go?
Stale Popcorn "they won't have moments like this much longer"
We Recycle Movies on quests and myths and aimless heroes

Wednesday
Jul032013

Visual Index ~ American Graffiti's Best Shot(s)

Where were you on 7/2? Hopefully watching American Graffiti (1973) to better appreciate today's edition of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", our collective series in which we invite anyone who loves movies  'round the web to select their favorite image from a pre-selected movie. [Next Wednesday we'll be discussing the brilliant and disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) so do not miss that.] This week we return to simpler times...

1962 by way of 1973, in point of fact, courtesy of George Lucas's first Best Picture nominee, the very fine nostalgia fest American Graffiti which we thought an appropriate choice for the 4th of July Holiday. more...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jun192013

'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' Returns on July 3rd

Our weekly group-look at essential visual moments in movies from all genres / decades resumes in two weeks so Queue these movies! Season Four has had wonderful turnout from great blogs so let's complete the season this summer with a robust party (bring all your friends!) every Wednesday evening through summer's end!

July 3rd American Graffitti (George Lucas, 1973)
 [Amazon | Netflix | iTunes]
"Where were you in 1962?" went the tagline for this hit which went a long way towards popularizing 'instant nostalgia' movies. I wanted something nostalgic for the holiday week but mostly I chose it because I've never seen it and its a gap in my Oscar knowledge (5 nominations including Best Picture). Legendary DP Haskell Wexler is credited as "visual consultant". If you know anyone who was a teenager in the 1960s, use them as "nostalgia consultant" ;) and if you're feeling really ambitious, I keep reading it makes a strong double feature with Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1993). 

July 10th Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988)
 [Amazon | Netflix | iTunes]
David Cronenberg's artful chiller about twin brother gynecologists (Jeremy Irons at his career best) and the vaginally, uh, complicated woman they both love. This week's choice is in honor of Nick Davis of Nicks Flick Picks. This film plays a key role in his first book The Desiring-Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema 

July 17th Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964)
[Amazon | Netflix | iTunes]
This year's December release Saving Mr Banks concerns the making of this movie. It's garnering much pre-release curiousity so let's revisit this supercalifragilistic musical fantasy starring the practically perfect in every way Julie Andrews. Trivia Note: July 17th is also the 58th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland! 

more titles tba... the season ends in late August

Tuesday
Apr092013

Curio: Mitch Frey's Film Typologies

Alexa here. The German photographers Bernard and Hilla Becher pioneered the art of the typology: grids of images of various examples of a single type of object. The technique was to photograph a series of similar objects, usually industrial structures, from similar vantage points to highlight what their differences were. Illustrator Mitch Frey has used this technique to create grids of types from the world of film, including these 70s movie men. He's turned the typology into a fun guessing game of "Name That Movie!"

We'll continue the guessing games after the jump, with 70s ladies, and typologies of Clint Eastwood through the years...

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jan042013

Podcast: A Look Back... and Forward. (What Movies Should Inspire Future Films?)

new podcast!
In part two of the conversation which began with Django Unchained and random final Oscar hunches, we hear about four actors that Joe Reid plans to snub, revisit looooooong Best Pictures that Katey Rich hasn't seen (The Last Emperor anyone?), listen to Nick detailing Viola Davis' future, and learn why Nathaniel hopes Hitchcock will inspire more films like it... even though most people thought it was terrible. [44 Minutes. With Nathaniel, Nick, Katey, and Joe.]

Topics include:

  • Sixth spot snubs: Jennifer Ehle?
  • Most recent Best Pics that we've each missed from The Green Mile to The English Patient 
  • Susan Sarandon circa 1975
  • Second-Guessing: Anna Karenina, Take This Waltz, Moonrise Kingdom
  • 2012 Movies We Hope Inspire Future Movies from Magic Mike to... 21 Jump Street. (Hey, it was Channing Tatum's Year)
  • Queen of Versailles repurposed. Make your own movie! 
  • The Fog & Fatigue of Awards

You can download the podcast on iTunes or listen right here at the bottom of the post. Join in the conversation by commenting! 

 

2012 Inspirations. Future Movies and Retro Glories

Thursday
Dec202012

Premature Jessica Chastain Nostalgia. Is She Streep 2.0 ???

Remember when Jessica Chastain brought her grandma Marilyn to the Oscars in February?

What a sweet moment that was. Do you think she'll take her again this year?

What a difference a year makes, huh? Just last year we were wondering who she was and how she'd arrived to us so fully formed as an actress, and I had the pleasure of asking her just that shortly before she won her first nomination (Best Supporting Actress, The Help). This year she'll be fighting it out for the actual Best Actress trophy for Zero Dark Thirty.

Should Jessica be nominated in January (very very likely), one might even be tempted to think of her as Streep: The Next Generation. Meryl Streep is a tough act to be compared to but consider the similarities. Meryl Streep was a late arrival to the cinema (as actresses go) making her first motion picture in 1977 (Julia) in her late 20s after stage triumphs and degrees from Vassar and Yale. Jessica didn't arrive on movie screens until her early 30s last year though she had been filming movies since her late 20s (some of them were significantly delayed before release) after stage triumphs and an acting degree from Juilliard. By Streep's third year in the public eye she had co-starred in three Best Picture Nominees (Julia ,The Deer Hunter, and Kramer vs. Kramer -- the latter two won) and was a two-time Oscar nominee and winner and a full-fledged movie star. By Jessica Chastain's second year in the public eye she will have presumably co-starred in three Best Picture nominees (The Help, The Tree of Life, and Zero Dark Thirty) and become a two-time nominee.

The only thing missing in the comparison is a) the Oscar win for her second nomination which is a maybe at this point and b) the full fledged stardom. Chastain is definitely a known quantity now but not exactly a household name. Her films haven't had the seismic impact of Streep's breakthrough pictures -- The Deer Hunter and Kramer vs. Kramer were colossal hits of their day though The Help's box office reign last year was not unimpressive.

Jessica Chastain and her Take Shelter co-star Michael Shannon at a party for Zero Dark Thirty this week.

If Chastain wins this year, do you think she's got a triple the caliber of French Lieutant's WomanSophie's Choice and Silkwood, in her immediate future? Or is this way way way too much to ask? 

 

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