Oscar History

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Entries in sci-fi fantasy horror (139)


Oscar Horrors: "The Tell Tale Heart"

BOO! In this 17 episode miniseries, suggested by Robert Gannon, Team Film Experience will be exploring Oscar nominated or Oscar winning contributions from or related to the Horror Film genre. Happy Halloween Season! 

HERE LIES... The Tell Tale Heart. Its insistent beating was drowned to death by the cacophony of musical noise coming from the instruments of Walt Disney's Toot Whistle Plunk and Bloom which won the Best Animated Short Film Oscar for 1953.

What is more horrifying than a madman who thinks himself sane, like the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's legendary horror story The Tell Tale Heart? I can actually name four.

1. That an Oscar nomination by no means makes your film easy to find for future generations. This is especially true of any nominations outside of Picture, and Acting. Have you ever tried to find all the nominated short films to watch from any given calender year? SHUDDER. (YouTube has reanimated some of their corpses but otherwise, they're tough to dig up!)

2. That animation is still synonomous with children's entertainment despite all the disparate moods the medium is capable of. This short proves that animation is just as suitable for the macabre as it is the goofy slapstick. Note how the animator's makes creepy visual associations between a harmless old man's blind eye and mundane objects... and that director Ted Parmalee and his animators know as much about shadows as good noir filmmakers.

3. That the great James Mason never won an Oscar. CHILLING!, right? Not even for The Verdict or A Star is Born! He can do more with a few line readings than some actors can do in whole films. 

See how calmy and precisely I can tell this story to you? Listen.

The eye was always closed. For seven days I waited -- You think me mad? What madman could wait so patiently, so long -- in the old house, with the Old Man, and the eye that... 


4. That this short was rated X (X!) by the British censors in 1953... ...and now you can see things 100,000 times as grotesque and violent every night on television without parental guidance and with 100,000 times less humanizing guilt. 

Had you ever seen this short before?
What do you make of the new fictional Edgar Allen Poe themed thriller "The Raven" starring John Cusack?


London: "The Awakening", A Conversation

Editor's Note: As a special treat for our London Film Festival coverage, I asked our correspondents Craig and David to share conversations about the movies that they happen to see together. Today, The Awakening, a new British horror movie. One of them likes it a bit more than the other, but they agree that Imelda Staunton's delicious supporting turn keeps you fully awake...

I know this place and I don't hold with any ghostly nonsense."
-Imelda Staunton as "Maud Hill" in The Awakening.

Craig: A 1920s lady ghostbuster? Spooky mansions? Antique trip-wire traps and knitted-character dollhouse terror? And a twitchy Imelda Staunton as a housekeeper in period garb, topped with some fusty-dusty wig work?? I was fine and dandy with this one despite its flaws. It follows a somewhat shopworn, well-haunted pattern of housebound horrors quite fashionable in recent years (The Orphanage, The Others etc). Director Nick Murphy makes a few attempts at reminding us that The Haunting and The Innocents were key influences, too. It has one or two ripe, scoff-worthy moments but, on balance, it does contain some sneaky jumps and nocturnal bumps that – from the jittered reaction in the press screening – nobody could say they predicted. It has at its centre a solid enough feisty turn from a well-cast Rebecca Hall, too. This is scary movie territory that I’m gleefully at home with, so perhaps I can acknowledge its successes more readily than its few failings? It contains both, but I was never bored.

David: Aye, it's a fair enough yarn, but I can't really join you in the enthusiastic corner. There are a few jumps, but none of the sustained tension and ghostly atmospherics of a film like The Others. Bizarrely, the film charges up the haunted terror quickly, and it blows like a fuse halfway through, on a narrative passage that is effectively filmed but lacking in much power, since it's come around so soon. Afterwards, the characters are suddenly laying on wild emotional extremes, putting more weight on the relationships of the few lingering characters than seems comprehensible, as if we've been excluded from something. Naturally, we have; but pulling off a twist ending like these films usually do, requires a level of general believability beforehand, with just a sense of something being off.

The period details are exquisite - I have no idea how realistic - and all the equipment Hall's character carefully sets up is quite the kick. What I don't think it comes close to pulling off is the tortured soldier sideline, and not just because Dominic West continues being unfortunately stiff and awkward in every role on this side of the pond. And I have to cry wolf on Rebecca Hall, too, I'm afraid. For me, there was no steel there, no conviction, just a weak and crumbling voice and a pale figure. When her façade broke, I saw little difference. The major thing convincing me that this was a confident, modern woman was the fact that she wore trousers.

Sherlock Holmesian women and loopy hysteric performances after the jump...

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NYFF: "The Skin I Live In" It's Alive!

Michael C. (Serious Film) here with one of my most anticipated titles of 2011.

Dr. Banderas and his monster?

Dammit, Pedro. I just can't stay mad at you.

Even as he never reaches the emotional impact you expect from an Almodóvar production - as is the case with The Skin I Live In - his filmmaking is so alive in every moment one can't help forgiving him his flaws. Is this a top tier work from the man who made All About My Mother? No. Was I still glued to the screen in every moment as I am with few films? Hell, yes.

To call The Skin I Live In "Almodovar does Frankenstein" is both an accurate description and wildly reductive. Accurate in that, yes, Antonio Banderes plays a mad surgeon with a creation of his own held captive in his mansion. It is reductive because Pedro is not about to be satisfied simply delivering his take on lightning bolts and things jumping at you out of the darkness. The horror in Skin is of a far more unsettling variety involving attacks not just on one's safety but on one's sanity. It touches on Almodovar's familiar themes of sexuality, identity, and stopping everything dead so we can watch a beautiful woman sing a beautiful song.

more sans spoilers after the jump.

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Distant Relatives: Psycho and Contagion

Robert here with my series Distant Relatives, which explores the connections between one classic and one contemporary film. A brief warning this week. If you don't know the identity of the killer in the film Psycho, this week's entry includes SPOILERS for you.

 What is Horror?

When Steven Soderbergh described his movie Contagion as a "horror film" it seemed like one of those things that directors say to generate a good sound bite in the hope that writers will run with it, which they have. After all, the prospect of a major virus wiping out a good portion of the world's population is nothing if not horrifying. But how much does it really have in common with classics of that genre? The answer probably depends on how you define "horror film." For most people, a horror movie must have some element of either the supernatural or mentally deranged from which the danger eminates. If this is your definition, then Contagion doesn't qualify. But semantics aside, one can still find plentiful similarities between Soderbergh's film and a classic, defining film of the horror genre like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Psycho is about a killer and the people who come in contact with him. The film starts with a bit of misdirection as Janet Leigh runs off with an envelope full of cash. Soon she meets hotel proprietor Norman Bates, a soft spoken, well meaning, boy next door type, who turns out to be not so well meaning. Then, a surprise death sets the real plot into motion. Over the course of the film we'll spend time with the victim's relatives, investigators and experts. Contagion is about a killer and the peopel who come into contact with it. It too starts with a bit of misdirection involving suburban wife and mother Gwyneth Paltrow and a possible extramarital liason. But this is dispensed with soon, and a surprise death sets the real plot into motion. Over the course of the film we spend time with the victim's relatives, investigators and experts. Of course, in Contagion, the killer isn't a mad man, it's a virus.

...the harmless killer after the jump

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Oscar Submission Curio: "The Silent House"

Chalk this one up in the Most Curious Foreign Film Oscar Submission News column, should you have such a thing. Uruguay has submitted The Silent House for Oscar consideration. "Why that's just boring only regular news!" you say? Oh, but it's not skim-reader, it's not! 

The Silent House is a horror movie, based on a famous "true" story from Uruguay in the 40s. A father and daughter settle into a cottage for the night where horrible murders once took place and... well, you know how things go down in haunted houses. Here's the teaser.

I've followed this category closely for ten years (this was the first website to make it a total cause/habit... now everyone notes each submission) and horror films are a total rarity, not just in terms of nominations but in terms of the annual 60+ film list, too. But the "my how unusual" feeling doesn't end there. The movie is also filmed in one continuous shot (always good for novelty factor) and there's already an American remake! The American remake starring Elizabeth Olsen (currently Oscar buzzing for Martha Marcy May Marlene) debuted at Sundance. So between May 2010 (when the original debuted at Cannes) and January 2011 (Sundance) it was remade.

Elizabeth Olsen in Silent House (2011)

Is the rapidity of cultural appropriation the true horror tale here?




TIFF: "Himizu," "Lovely Molly," "...Nightmare" and "Union Square."

Paolo here, back with yet more TIFF films from the final weekend.

The first film today is Sion Sino's HIMIZU, using the backdrop of the March 11 earthquake to tell the story of fifteen year old Yuichi Sumida's (Shota Sometani) violent dreams and reality. One of his dreams puts him in the Fukushima rubble, where he finds a pistol inside a washing machine and when he wakes up, he checks his own washer to see if it's true. What ensues is school absenteeism, stalking from a lovesick and excitable girl, abuse from his father (who tells him he should drowned him in a river) and beatings from Yakuza loan sharks. 

At one point he has convulsions, a reaction to his unbelievably painful life. It's a raw and forceful performance from Sometani that might be ignored by larger audiences because of world cinema ghettoization. Sino's approach in telling Sumida's story meanders after the point when Sumida stands up to get revenge from these adults.

I feel snobby when I miss films from TIFF's Midnight Madness programme but fortunately, they play them again days after their premieres. Yesterday brought us LOVELY MOLLY from BLAIR WITCH director Eduardo Sanchez. It starts with the young titular character (Gretchen Lodge) explaning, teary eyed, that the actions that her body is committing is not really her. Her seemingly perfect marriage and childhood home disintegrate because of an incubus that haunts her. It is a competent horror film with the occassional excellent moment, especially those in which Lodge confronts her inner monster or becomes one. Lodge, in a debut performance, commits to the role with both eloquence and ferocity.

The transitions between regular film and video cam equipment are smooth.The scares aren't cheap but the intervals between them are far too long. While we're waiting for either the invisible ghost or Molly to attack, we're left with watching close-ups of furniture while eerie music plays on the background. The film can't rely only on great sound design to make its house look creepy. And why does the house have a security system but not proper lighting?

New Isabelle Huppert and Mira Sorvino movies after the jump.

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TIFF: "Rampart" Redux, "Intruders" and "Pariah."

Paolo here. Allow me to present a TIFF movie I really love with a misleading and inaccurate synopsis. "Rampart: it's Greenberg but like a paranoid neo-noir with police brutality." Amir has already eloquently written his reservations on Oren Moverman's sophomore work. Yes, I admit that the camera movements were at times self-indulgent and reactions towards the film at our screening were divisive. All of this just makes me more militantly "Pro" on this movie and I've also been tweeting about it. And besides, Woody has a better chance of winning Oscar gold than Fassy.

Robin Wright and Woody Harrelson in Oren Moverman's "Rampart"

After watching Rampart, the funniest police brutality movie ever, Toronto's international cinema transported me to two unknown European cities.

Joan Carlos Fresnadillo's Intruders intertwines two story lines between a Spanish family and an English one, both haunted by the same ghosts. Given that the movie that strictly follows the horror archetypes set by Guillermo del Toro, the monster has a tentacle-y jacket, leather gloved arms. Trees in this movie are equally anthropomorphic. The movie takes place at an English country house where 'Mia Farrow,' a twelve-year-old girl (another del Toro influence) discovers a strange boxed piece of paper containing a story about the monster with the juvenile name of 'Hollowface.'

Fresnadillo has an interesting filmmaking voice, filling his movie with more dated scares than cheap ones; he's probably the only horror director left in the world who still think that cats are scary! True to del Toro's brave heroine form, Mia climbs a tree - allowing her to discover the written story - and walks along town by herself. Her Spanish counterpart, Juan, climbs in and out of his window and walks through scaffolding to escape the monster.

More on INTRUDERS and the lesbian drama PARIAH after the jump.

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My Missing Whedon: "Angel"

This morning I read all 3,040 words of "Angel by the Numbers" an essay by Dan Kerns, who started on Joss Whedon's vampire series Angel as Best Boy and worked his way up to Gaffer. I discovered the article through Whedonesque and I heartily recommend it. During the reading I consumed ½ a cup of coffee (I've successfully narrowed down my daily consumption to 2 cups!), ignored the urge to pee twice, and thought of 4 other television shows: my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which sits comfortable at #1 of my all time favorite tv shows), one-of-a-kind Firefly, fascinating but uneven Dollhouse, and the non-Whedon series Dexter because "Darla" (Julie Benz) was mentioned and I just watched the first three episodes of Season 5 and it's just not the same without her... (and maybe it's the kind of repetitive series that should've wrapped with Season 4?)

Buffy, Angel and Faith.

Before I move on to work on 4 pending articles, I feel the need to admit that I've only seen 19 episodes of Angel, despite seeing literally every other episode -- even the unaired ones including the aborted Buffy pilot where Willow was not Alyson Hannigan (!) -- of every other Joss Whedon series and all of his movie work, too! Hell, I've even seen that animated sci-fi bomb Titan A.E. (2000). I've never understood why I couldn't work up much interest in Angel as a series but perhaps it was the procedural stand-alone nature of the early episodes which are the bulk of what I saw. Maybe I was just angry that Buffy received only 1 spinoff and not 2 (At least twice a year I impatiently dream of a 4 season run of "Faith the F*cked Up Vampire Slayer"). Of the 19 episodes I remember only about 6: the one where Oz visits to give him the Ring of Amara, the one where Willow drops in to restore Angelus soul, and any of the times that Eliza Dushku stopped in for a little big city ass-kicking. You get the picture: Crossovers! I tried again 2 times in later seasons and could not understand what the hell was going on.