Category Archives: Best Picture Oscar Winners

Oppenheimer-2023

Oppenheimer-2023

Director Christopher Nolan

Starring Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt

Scott’s Review #1,384

Reviewed August 1, 2023

Grade: A

Knowing the films of Christopher Nolan who directed works like The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012), Inception (2010), and Dunkirk (2017) I expected what I would be served with by his new film Oppenheimer (2023).

This would include a big booming soundtrack and an arguably more ‘guys’ genre film, but with intelligence, than other contemporary hits like Barbie (2023).

Dark and looming with complexities are usual for Nolan so I settled in for a three-hour epic journey centered on the atomic bomb and physics that has unexpectedly become a blockbuster.

Speaking of the pink phenomenon its simultaneous release with Oppenheimer led to the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon on social media, which encouraged audiences to see both films as a double feature.

This forever links the two vastly different films that were responsible for filling movie theaters once again.

I expected to enjoy Oppenheimer but was jarred (in a good way) by the sheer brilliance of its construction. Prepared for more mainstream fare that typically follows a biography or historical piece I was instead overly fascinated by the experimental elements enshrouding a more conventional film.

During World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Groves Jr. (Matt Damon) appoints physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project.

Oppenheimer and a team of scientists spend years developing and designing the atomic bomb. Their work came to fruition on July 16, 1945, as they witnessed the world’s first nuclear explosion, forever changing the course of history.

The film is constructed marvelously in every way and is authentic to the eye. The first notice is that it feels like it’s the 1940s 1920s or 1960s or anywhere in between depending on where the film goes.

The art design, costumes, and makeup feel natural rather than stagey which helps its audience escape into the scientific world.

Speaking of, Nolan constructs the film in a series of pockets and goes back and forth between periods. We see Oppenheimer many times as an aspiring upstart with visions, a confident, established physicist, and in 1963 when President Lyndon B. Johnson presented him with the Enrico Fermi Award as a gesture of political rehabilitation.

His personal life is also explored.

Many, many scenes shift back and forth involving different characters at different ages. Most of the scenes in the 1940s take place in the desert at Los Alamos, New Mexico while the later years are set in a stuffy conference room where Oppenheimer is grilled for his left-leaning and suspected Communist politics.

The cinematography led by Hoyte van Hoytema provides some edgy moments especially when Oppenheimer descends into frightening and psychedelic hallucinations of those suffering the aftereffects of the atomic bomb. Images of peeling and melting faces are terrifying.

Cillian Murphy successfully makes Oppenheimer sympathetic especially after he creates the bomb and is left forgotten by his government.

Various moments in the film showcase Murphy at his best. After relinquishing his deadly bomb after a test the government callously tells Oppenheimer that ‘they’ll take it from here’. The look of dread, regret, and sadness in Murphy’s crystal blue eyes speaks volumes.

Another great scene occurs when President Harry S. Truman (Gary Oldman) a left-leaning democrat calls Oppenheimer ‘a crybaby’ when he expresses interest in returning land to the American Indians.

The supporting cast is a bevy of riches with several top-caliber actors appearing in cameos. My standouts in larger roles are Robert Downey Jr. shredding his Iron Man superhero persona as a slighted and venomous Lewis Strauss, intent on revoking Oppenheimer’s security clearance, and Emily Blunt as the boozy biologist and former communist wife of Oppenheimer.

My biggest takeaway from Oppenheimer (2023) though is a powerful one. The difference between the United States of America during and post World War II and in present times, 2023.

Then, a patriotic infrequently questioned nation brimming with pride and glory, where nationalism was rampant and expected and those with foreign respect were cast aside as traitorous.

Now, a divided country half of whom support an ideology based on hate, racism, and cultlike dedication to a corrupt ex-president, and the other focused on diversity inclusion, and equality for all.

This film resonated so powerfully well and in so many different ways.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Christopher Nolan (won), Best Actor-Cillian Murphy (won), Best Supporting Actor-Robert Downey Jr. (won), Best Supporting Actress-Emily Blunt, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Score (won), Best Sound, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Director Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Kwan, Stephanie Hsu

Scott’s Review #1,337

Reviewed January 26, 2023

Grade: A

Released in March 2022, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film that built momentum throughout the year resulting in an astonishing eleven Academy Award nominations.

Traditionally, films scrambling for awards season notice and subsequent praise and honors are released in the fourth quarter and earlier releases are shuffled off to the discount racks.

But Everything Everywhere All at Once breaks the mold thanks to being a visionary, absurd comedy that demands the appreciation it has received.

As of this writing, it is the highest-grossing film released by A24, a champion of independent and quality cinema.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), plays a flustered and bedraggled immigrant mother who runs a laundromat along with her goofy husband Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan). They reside in the laundromat with Evelyn’s irritable father Gong Gong (James Hong) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) who is gay.

In trouble with an IRS inspector, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is contacted from a parallel universe and told that only she could save the world. She must quickly learn to channel her newfound powers and fight through the timelines of the multiverse to save her home, her family, and herself.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is not conventional and is admittedly a complete mess meant in the finest of ways. It takes the cinematic formula and tips it on its ass but intelligently incorporates heartfelt scenes and gripping performances so that the viewer falls in love with the characters before knowing what’s hit them.

I semi-cringed when I heard the film was action mixed with science-fiction and superhero multiverses, none of which are my genre of choice. The film goes beyond that with a sensory overload, a warped, onslaught of colorful wackiness that includes hot dog fingers, butt plugs, and a drag performance.

You can’t make this up kids.

Michelle Yeoh kicks ass (literally!) and gets the role of a lifetime. At sixty years old she has played a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and a rich bitch Mom in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), decent roles, but nothing like Evelyn.

Directors, the Daniels, show through Evelyn’s character, how her life has disappointed her. Never appreciated by her father and living in the doldrums, angry and frustrated, she develops into a woman who appreciates the small moments of human connection in her life.

We can all learn from Evelyn.

What a treat to see Jamie Lee Curtis chew up the scenery playing Deirdre. Displaying her gut, wearing a bizarre grey wig, she plays part IRS agent, part lesbian lover depending on what universe she is in, and is a hoot.

Ke Huy Kwan is famous as the child actor from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984 and not much since. He somersaults back into the acting spotlight in the role of Evelyn’s kind husband.

Finally, Stephanie Hsu is a gem as Stephanie who just wants to be loved by her mother. The actor has a bright future ahead of her.

These actors get to play four or five different characters and show their acting chops.

Stylistically, the film is off the wall. Dizzying special effects and absurd editing pummel the viewer with ‘stuff’ that can be talked about from a technical perspective for weeks.

But at the end of the film, you will shed a tear or two at the emotion that sneaks up from behind in the most wonderful way. Quiet scenes between the noisy ones show humanity and love for one another.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) has reaffirmed my appreciation of film and the creativity and beauty that can be mastered.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (won), Best Actress-Michelle Yeoh (won), Best Supporting Actor-Ke Huy Kwan (won), Best Supporting Actress-Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“This is a Life”, Best Costume Design, Best Editing (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 6 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (won), Best Lead Performance-Michelle Yeoh (won), Best Supporting Performance-Ke Huy Kwan (won), Jamie Lee Curtis, Best Breakthrough Performance-Stephanie Hsu (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Editing (won)

Dances with Wolves-1990

Dances with Wolves-1990

Director Kevin Costner

Starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell

Scott’s Review #1,091

Reviewed December 14, 2020

Grade: A

A western epic of grand proportions, Dances with Wolves (1990) is a quiet, yet bombastic story of one man’s yearning to understand and appreciate a different culture.

The liberal-leaning story is of dire importance in American history, which is my main love of it. This project matters and it has sincerity and truth. The content and the gorgeous, sweeping cinematography make this a must-see on the big screen for full appreciation.

Sort of like Lawrence of Arabia (1962), western style.

The lovely musical score is well-paced and simply gorgeous, only enhancing the experience and appreciation of the film.

The directorial debut of a then inexperienced and up-and-coming star, Kevin Costner, success catapulted him into the big leagues, garnering tremendous respect among the Hollywood community.

He also produced the film and used his own money when the budget ran over. The accolades were justified, leading him to become an A-list star.

He never achieved anything comparable to Dances with Wolves again.

The time is 1863 when the United States was embroiled in the Civil War. Union soldier John Dunbar (Kevin Costner), depressed and suicidal, is injured in battle and receives a hero’s praise. He requests to be transferred to the western frontier, where he lives in solitude.

He slowly befriends the local Sioux tribe and eventually becomes an honorary member, falling in love with a white woman, Stands with a Fist, (Mary McDonnell), who was raised by the tribe.

They name him Dances with Wolves. Chaos erupts when the Union Army arrives to snatch the land at any cost.

Never the greatest actor in the world, but certainly competent, this is the role of a lifetime for Costner. That Dances with Wolves is Costner’s project is crucial. He had a vision and saw that vision to fulfillment.

To my knowledge, the studio didn’t interfere and strive for control but gave Costner the freedom to do whatever he wanted. It shows in the final product.

The romance between Dances with Wolves and Stands with a Fist is tender, alive, and without standard obstacles. No silly misunderstandings or drama. Theirs doesn’t need any trimmings. The chemistry between Costner and McDonnell is strong.

At over three hours in length, the film has time to carefully pace these brilliant moments.

The film is a political vehicle to teach the audience the ravages and unfairness that Native Americans suffered at the hands of the White Man, and that is huge. Too often the issue is skimmed over or diminished in school textbooks so it’s nice to see the truth given its due.

Dances with Wolves serves as an educational tool and no happy ending is provided. How great would it be if the film were shown in high schools and colleges around the United States?

I love how the film, a western, avoids the stereotypes always included in that genre. No good guys are wearing white or bad guys wearing black, no shoot ’em ups at local saloons, and no cowboys to save the day.

Dances with Wolves provides a character study with pivotal thoughts and motivations from the three central characters.

Graham Greene must be mentioned as an integral part of the supporting cast. His authenticity is illuminating.

Over the years Dances with Wolves (1990) doesn’t hold up as well as other films- Silence of the Lambs (1990) and Goodfellas (1991) are legendary contemporaries that everyone remembers better.

Dances may suffer from an “of its time” label, justifiably so, but the film is a masterpiece. Recommended is to dust this one off and give it a whirl, if even for old-time’s sake.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Kevin Costner (won), Best Actor-Kevin Costner, Best Supporting Actor-Graham Greene, Best Supporting Actress-Mary McDonnell, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing (won)

A Beautiful Mind-2001

A Beautiful Mind-2001

Director Ron Howard

Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly

Scott’s Review #1,003

Reviewed March 25, 2020

Grade: A-

A Beautiful Mind (2001) is a superior-made film based on the life and times of American mathematician John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and Abel Prize winner.

The biography explores Nash’s battles with schizophrenia and the delusions he suffered, causing tremendous stress on friends and family.

The film is well-written and brilliantly acted, but deserves a demerit for factual inaccuracies, especially related to Nash’s complex sexuality and family life.

This leaves a gnawing paint-by-the-numbers approach for mass appeal only.

The film was an enormous success, winning four Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress. It was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, and Best Original Score.

Arguably one of the best films of 2001, it cemented director Ron Howard’s reputation as a mainstream force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood world.

The project was inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book of the same name.

Starting in 1947, we meet Nash (Russell Crowe) as a virginal and socially awkward college scholar, studying at Princeton University. He is a whiz at science and mathematics, coming up with unique and dynamic ideas for problem-solving.

Rising the ranks in respectability, he is given an important job with the United States Department of Defense, tasked with thwarting Soviet plots. He becomes increasingly obsessive about searching for hidden patterns and believes he is being followed, sinking further into depression and secrecy.

A Beautiful Mind is an important film because it brings to light the overwhelming issue of mental health and the struggles one suffering from it is forced to endure. Nash largely lives in a fantasy world and has imaginary friends who have followed him for decades by the time the film ends.

Nash conquers his demons with little aid of medication causing a controversial viewpoint. Amazing that the man was able to rise above, but is this a realistic message for those suffering from hallucinations?

Russell Crowe carries the film, fresh off his Oscar win the year before for his stunning turn in Gladiator (2000). He would have won for portraying Nash had he not recently received the coveted prize.

Crowe, hunky at this point in his life, convincingly brings the brainy and nerdy character, rather than the stud, to life, adding layers of empathy and warmth to the role.

We root for the man because he is as much sensitive as he is a genius.

Jennifer Connelly, in what is disparagingly usually described as the wife or the girlfriend role, does her best with the material given. My hunch is her Oscar nomination and surprising win have more to do with piggybacking off the slew of other nominations the film received.

She is competent as the supportive yet strong Alicia, the wife of Nash. In her best scene, she flees the house after a confused Nash leaves their infant daughter near a full bathtub, putting her life in danger.

The most heartfelt scene occurs during the conclusion. After many years of struggle, Nash eventually triumphs over this tragedy, and finally, late in life, receives the Nobel Prize. This is a grand culmination of the man’s achievements and a sentimental send-off for the film.

The aging makeup of all principal characters, specifically Nash and Alicia is brilliantly done.

Despite the heaps of accolades reaped on A Beautiful Mind, several factual points are reduced to non-existence. Questionable is why Howard chose not to explore Nash’s rumored bisexuality, instead of passing him off as straight.

Admittedly, the film is not about sexuality, but isn’t this a misrepresentation of truth? Nash had a second family, which is also never mentioned.

These tidbits eliminated from the film leave a glossy feel like Howard picked and chose what to tell and not to tell for the sake of the mainstream audience.

Bringing needed attention to a problem of epic proportions, A Beautiful Mind (2001) recognizes the issue of mental health in the United States.

The methods may be questionable, and the film has an overall safe “Hollywood” vibe but must be credited for a job well done in a film that is not only important but displays a good biography for viewers eager to learn about a genius who faced unrelenting issues.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Ron Howard (won), Best Actor-Russell Crowe, Best Supporting Actress-Jennifer Connelly (won), Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published/Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Makeup, Best Film Editing

Parasite-2019

Parasite-2019

Director-Joon-ho Bong

Starring-Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin

Scott’s Review #963

Reviewed November 28, 2019

Grade: A

Parasite (2019) is a South Korean language film that has it all. The writing is powerful and thought-provoking, the direction is unique and intriguing, the acting stellar, and the story perfectly paced with dizzying twists and turns.

The film is uncomfortable and unsettling (in a good way), catapulting from dark humor to horror by the time the shocking finale plays. An experience to be dazzled by and ravaged at the emotions it will instill in the viewer.

The story centers on two families. The affluent Park live in the lap of luxury, enjoying the finer things in life like a lavish residence, a personal driver, and a live-in housekeeper.

Park Dong-ik is the CEO of an IT company, his beautiful wife, Park Yeong-gyo, stays at home with their two children, Park Da-hye and Park Da-Song. They are rich and, on the surface, rather spoiled and superficial.

The struggling Kims reside in a semi-basement that constantly floods, accept menial jobs to pay the bills, and are grifters.

Patriarch Kim Ki-taek and his wife Kim Chung-sook have two teenage children, Kim Ki-woo and Kim Ki-Jeong. They are cagey and resourceful and think up schemes to garner money. Each is good-looking but struggles to find much success in life.

Kim Ki-woo’s friend tutors for the Park daughter and will soon travel abroad for studies. He convinces Kim Ki-woo to interview for the position, who easily gets the job by charming the gullible Park Yeong-gyo.

He and the rest of the Kims create an elaborate ruse to insinuate themselves into the Park family by tricking Mr. and Mrs. Park into dismissing their driver and housekeeper. The Park’s are unaware that their new staff is related!

The underlying theme of Parasite is one of class distinction and social inequality. The tension builds more and more with each scene and the monetary differences between the haves and has not is always on the surface. Once the Kims get a taste of the good life they have no intention of being satisfied merely as hired help- they want it all for themselves.

The fact that the Kims are clever and manipulative is no accident on the part of the director, Joon-ho Bong.

Conversely, the Park’s are gullible and easily outsmarted by the Kims. Why are they rich and the Kims poor, the audience wonder? Are we to root for the Kim’s to overtake the Park’s? The Kims are no saints as they resort to the firings of other people to get what they want.

Allegiances to characters will shift along the way.

As the Kims get comfy one night in the Park house when the family goes on a weekend camping trip, the film takes off. Drunk and sparring with each other, the doorbell rings, and the haggard former housekeeper begs to be let in.

When she claims to have left something behind in the basement, this leads to a shocking secret and dramatic turn of events. I did not see the revelation coming and events only catapult the film into something else. The pacing and tension during this scene are outstanding.

Tough to rival this scene, the film does just that with the gruesome and bloody birthday party scene. The proverbial “sh## hits the fan” as the tensions among the characters come to life. The scene results in several deaths and the rage of a prominent character reach a crescendo.

The scene is set on a gorgeous sunny day, perfect for birthday cake, balloons, and shiny wrapped presents. After a lovely start, the party becomes laden with blood, screams, and intensity.

Bong writes the Kim patriarch as the most sympathetic character, and a montage at the end of the film makes this clear. The other characters are less benevolent and more complicated. When Mrs. Kim shoves the family dog she is unlikeable, but then she is kind to the former housekeeper.

Mrs. Park appears innocent at first but then is a shrew when she plans her son’s birthday party, expecting all to cater to her every whim. Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Park mock Mr. Kim behind his back and insinuate that poor people “smell funny”.

Do the Park’s deserve their fates?

Parasite (2019) is a dark film filled with clever writing, good character development, that takes audiences on a roller coaster ride.

The sub-titles do little to detract from the fantastic experience this film offers as Bong spins a spider web of deceit, desperation, and tragedy. Viewers will certainly be thinking and talking about this one for days.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Bong Joon-ho (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best International Feature Film (won), Best Production Design, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film (won)

My Fair Lady-1964

My Fair Lady-1964

Director George Cukor

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #938

Reviewed September 6, 2019

Grade: A-

Winner of the Best Picture Academy Award (it would not have been my personal choice), My Fair Lady (1964) is a very good product that is based on the stage version, in turn, based on the famous 1913 stage play, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

The main negative to the musical is the casting choices; Hepburn and Harrison have only mediocre chemistry, and Hepburn does not sing, but the film is nonetheless enchanting and filled with lavish sets, colorful costumes, and earnest songs, making it entertainment for the whole family.

The iconic Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) and Henry Higgins (Harrison) are household names to every fan of the musical genre.

Set in London, sophisticated and arrogant Professor Higgins, a scholar of phonetics, is intent on proving that the tone and accent of one’s voice determine one’s lot in society.

As an experiment, he chooses flower saleswoman Eliza, with her horrid Cockney accent, and is determined to crown her duchess of a ball.

Unaware of his scheme but soon to find out she has been had, romance eventually blooms as the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” becomes important.

My Fair Lady is quite the epic at a run-time of two hours and fifty- two minutes, lofty for a film.

The misty London setting adds layers of mystique and atmosphere and the cinematography drizzles with color and pizzazz, making the overall content look amazing.

Because of the length of the film and the magnificent trimmings, the production looks like a spectacle and of the elegant extravagance of the 1950s and 1960s when musicals made into films were grand and robust.

Little wonder is that this helped it win Best Picture, Best Director, and a smattering of other awards. It’s a film Hollywood loves.

When dissected and analyzed, social and class systems are a large part of the film, amid the cheery singing, dancing, and big-screen bombast. Social status and hints of socialism pepper the production rising way above the fluff that it could have been if just a “boy from the good side of the tracks meets girls from the wrong side of the tracks”.

Eliza’s father Alfred (Stanley Holloway), a waste collector, is also an opportunist, singing his story during “With a Little Bit of Luck”. The differences between the “haves” and the “have nots” are clear.

I never bought Harrison and Hepburn as a romantic duo and the chemistry between them is limited. The teacher/student angle somewhat works though always bothersome is Henry’s self-assured behavior and superior attitude making him tough to root for.

The controversy over the film includes the decision to dub nearly all of Hepburn’s singing with another singer’s voice, which devastated the actress and cost her an Academy Award nomination. Her snub is especially jarring given the dozen other nominations it received.

The story is heartwarming and in keeping with a like-minded theme of a hero rescuing the damsel in distress. Hints of Cinderella (1950) and even Pretty Woman (1990) glisten with only a mere hint of male chauvinism that does not ruin the experience or reduce the film to a dated guy film, certainly as is the case with Pretty Woman.

“I’m an Ordinary Man” describes how women ruin men’s lives and are not the most progressive or female-friendly of all the numbers.

My Fair Lady (1964) is a film of the past that begs to be viewed on the big screen so that all the qualities can be enjoyed. Like Lawrence of Arabia (1963), best viewed on a wide-angle enormous theater setting to ensure notice and enjoyment of all aspects of the scene is recommended.

It’s a Hollywood film done tremendously well. Young viewers would be wise to be exposed to this film to delight in the cinematic treats that await.

Oscar Nominations: 8 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-George Cukor (won), Best Actor-Rex Harrison (won), Best Supporting Actor-Stanley Holloway, Best Supporting Actress-Gladys Cooper, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Scoring of Music-Adaptation or Treatment (won), Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction, Color (won), Best Cinematography, Color (won), Best Costume Design, Color (won), Best Film Editing

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

Director David Lean

Starring William Holden, Alec Guinness 

Scott’s Review #908

Reviewed June 11, 2019

Grade: A

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is a war film that serves as an example of character-driven story-telling from the perspective of each person.

Films of this genre frequently do not steer too far from the straight and narrow showcasing the war event perspective so that this often becomes larger than the humanity piece. A key is the American, British, and Japanese points of view turning the grand epic experience into a more personal one.

The film was awarded numerous Oscar nominations culminating with the Best Picture of the Year victory.

The time is early 1943 amid the powerful and destructive World War II when a group of British prisoners of war (POW) arrives at a Japanese camp. Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) commands all prisoners regardless of rank to begin work on a railway bridge that will connect Bangkok with Rangoon.

The British commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) refuses manual labor and a battle of wills erupts between the two men. Meanwhile, an American, Commander Shears (William Holden), also being held at the same camp, vows to destroy the bridge to avoid a court-martial.

The complexities of the relationships between the men are the main draw of the film and an aspect that can be discussed at length. Each possesses a firm motivation, but the emotions teeter back and forth as they face various conflicts.

Each of the three principles is an analytical juggernaut in the human spirit, ranging from courageous, cowardly, and even evil. We are supposed to root for Shears and supposed to not root for Saito but why is that not so cut and dry?

Is Shears too revenge-minded? We cheer Nicholson’s resilience but is he too stubborn for his good?

The film’s whistling work theme nearly became famous when the film was originally released in 1957. Ominous and peppered with a macabre depression, the prisoners go about their work in a near ode to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ cheerier “Whistle While You Work” anthem.

As they dutifully continue to build the bridge the audience feels a sense of dread and a foreboding atmosphere. What will ultimately happen? When two prisoners are shot dead while attempting to escape the film takes a different turn.

Given that David Lean, responsible for such epic masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and A Passage to India (1984), directs The Bridge on the River Kwai, should be telling as far as the sweeping exterior landscape treats in store for the viewer.

The lavish Asian landscape, so picturesque and beautiful, is peaceful amid the chaos and vile way the prisoners are treated. This imbalance is wonderfully rich and poignant against the robust storytelling.

The climax of the film is bombastic (literally!) and a nail-biting experience resulting in a stabbing, an explosion, and a heap of tension. A train carrying important dignitaries and soldiers is racing towards the newly constructed bridge as one man is intent on detonating a bomb and destroying another race against time to prevent the bloodbath.

The suspense, action, and cinematic skill are placed front and center during the final act.

Deserving of each one of the accolades reaped on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the film is the thinking man’s war film.

Layered with an underlying humanistic approach and little violence given the subject matter at hand, one can sink into empathy for each point of view presented instead of being force-fed a one-dimensional message film.

Fine acting and gorgeous cinematography make this film one to be forever remembered.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-David Lean (won), Best Actor-Alec Guinness (won), Best Supporting Actor-Sessue Hayakawa, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Scoring (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing (won)

On the Waterfront-1954

On the Waterfront-1954

Director Elia Kazan

Starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #876

Reviewed March 9, 2019

Grade: A

Led by one of the best acting performances of all time, On the Waterfront (1954) was an important and relevant film when made and is still powerful in the modern era.

Director Elia Kazan and newly minted Hollywood star Marlon Brando join forces for a film spectacle that is as much a character study as a tale of morality and social injustice.

The musical soundtrack score composed by Leonard Bernstein only enhances an already astounding picture that is deservedly referenced as a masterpiece.

Terry Malloy (Brando) is a washed-up former local boxer who now spends his days slaving away as a dockworker on the dingy waterfronts of Hoboken, New Jersey. Terry’s brother Charley (Rod Steiger) works for a vicious mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) who has complete control over the area.

The police are aware of the ongoing corruption but are limited by the lack of evidence and witnesses to regular crimes. When a fellow dockworker is killed, Terry falls for the victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), leading him to rethink his priorities.

The positive aspects of On the Waterfront are enumerable. Enshrined in the rich story and flawless acting are marvelous cinematography and location sequences. The film was shot almost entirely on location in New York and New Jersey using real docks and outdoor sequences that give the film authenticity.

The dingy and water-soaked locales are riddled with secrets and dark violence that reach new levels using realism and grittiness.

Never looking more masculine or more handsome, though his portrayal of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is a close second, Marlon Brando achieves riches in the world of stellar acting.

He is rugged and compassionate, macho yet tender, and pours his heart into the role of Terry, and one cannot help wondering if the self-professed method actor became Terry during filming.

With both vulnerability and strength, Brando embodies the character so well that he has become my favorite of all the film roles he has undertaken.

The supporting players dutifully flesh out the resounding cast with gusto. Special mentions go to Karl Malden as Father Barry and Steiger as Charley. Like Barry, Malden brings warmth, patience, and benevolence in a world of crime and deceit. He attempts to console and mentor the folks in his world and is eventually beaten for his honesty and earnestness.

Charley is a different story, selling his soul to the devil and accepting the cards he has been handed, choosing to join with Friendly. At a crucial moment, he makes another devastating choice that changes his life forever.

Few films can proudly boast a scene or dialogue that remains timeless and imprinted on cinematic history, but On the Waterfront contains a scene of this caliber.

During a tremendously important moment in the film, Terry has a conversation with Charley and makes an impassioned statement-“I coulda’ been somebody. I coulda been a contender”, laments Terry to his brother, “Instead of a bum, which is what I am – let’s face it.”

This line is a historic piece of writing and is true to the character.

The film reaches further in its power and truth because it is representative of Elia Kazan’s real-life plight. During the early 1950’s the director famously informed on suspected Communists before a government committee while many of his colleagues chose to go to prison rather than name names.

Many Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters were blacklisted for decades to come. On the Waterfront is frequently deemed an allegory to the director’s plight and is a personal story.

On the Waterfront (1954) is sometimes violent and all-times realistic, painting a portrait of one man’s struggle to overcome the lousy life given to him to do the right thing.

Thanks to gorgeous direction, an explosive lead performance by Brando, and all the pieces fitting perfectly in unison, the film is one of the greats and will remain one that generations will discover.

Oscar Nominations: 8 wins-Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-Elia Kazan (won), Best Actor-Marlon Brando (won), Best Supporting Actor-Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Best Supporting Actress-Eva Marie Saint (won), Best Story and Screenplay (won), Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Film Editing (won)

From Here to Eternity-1953

From Here to Eternity-1953

Director Fred Zinnemann

Starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift

Scott’s Review #875

Reviewed March 7, 2019

Grade: A

Based on a popular novel of the same name, written by James Jones in 1952, From Here to Eternity (1953) tells a powerful story of romance and drama set against the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii.

The film is poignant and sentimental for its build-up to the World War II Pearl Harbor attacks, further enhancing the storytelling.

With great acting and a compelling story, the film is a bombastic Hollywood creation that conquers the test of time remaining timeless.

A trio of United States Army personnel is stationed on the sunny island of Oahu. First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), and Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) are the main principals, and their life in the Schofield Army Barrack is chronicled.

They are joined by respective love interests Alma Lorene (Donna Reed) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) and the triumphs and sorrows of each are explored dramatically before the devastating incident set to take place.

The film’s perspective is centered around the male characters which risks the film being classified as a “guy’s movie”. Enough melodrama and romance exist to offset the testosterone and masculinity, and as the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives, a broader canvas is painted.

This point is to the film’s credit as each character is rich with development, sympathy, or sometimes pure anger.

Many films have been told, and continue to be told throughout the decades, of the terrors and after-effects of World War II but From Here to Eternity remains towards the top of the heap. While not going full throttle with too much violence or grit, the film tells of the trials and tribulations of people affected and soon to be affected by the war.

The characters co-exist peacefully in their little slice of the world though there is the occasional bullying or insubordination among the ranks, the romance soon takes center stage followed by the dire attacks.

The smoldering beach scene featuring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the ravaging shores of Halona Cove is as iconic as a cinematic moment ever existed. Rumors of the star’s torrid love affair and the need to run off to make love after shooting the scene could be a myth but have never been disproven.

Reportedly the camera crew shot the scene quickly and left the duo to their desires. Regardless, the scene may cause the iciest of hearts to turn into a torrent of heart-pounding flutters.

The film suddenly takes a dark turn as if realizing that it is a film about a devastating war. A major character dies and another character goes on the hunt for revenge. Despite these deaths not being at the hands of an enemy or a battle they are powerful and dim.

Finally, the attack on Pearl Harbor is upon us just as the audience no doubt will sense is coming and ends sadly with simple dialogue between the two main female characters.

Thanks to fine direction by novice director Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity (1953) elicits a pure breadth of emotions and subject matters.

At its core a cynical film, the picture is also rich with courage, integrity, and love of one’s country without suffering from phony false patriotism.

With a dash of romance and sexuality, the film is utterly memorable and deserving of the hefty Academy Awards it achieved.

Oscar Nominations: 8 wins– Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-Fred Zinnemann (won), Best Actor-Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Best Actress-Deborah Kerr, Best Supporting Actor-Frank Sinatra (won), Best Supporting Actress-Donna Reed (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Musical Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Sound Recording (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing (won)

The Best Years of Our Lives-1946

The Best Years of Our Lives-1946

Director William Wyler

Starring Frederic March, Myrna Loy

Scott’s Review #858

Reviewed January 20, 2019

Grade: A

Many films emerged during the 1940s that depicted horrific events occurring during the violence of World War II. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is the first film to focus on the aftermath of the war and the lasting psychological effects placed upon soldiers and their loved ones.

The film may teeter toward the soap opera territory. Still, it is powerful, dramatic, tender, and heartfelt, allowing its audience to experience the challenges of those who serve their country following their service.

Director William Wyler, who also created the similarly themed Mrs. Miniver (1942) again treads into the family drama genre, but this time stages the drama in small-town America rather than outside London.

While Mrs. Miniver focuses on the ravages of the existing war, he chooses to delve into the after-effects that offer more range and complicated situations. The result is a heftier and more cerebral experience.

The story revolves around three United States servicemen attempting to readjust to civilian life upon their return home from the battlegrounds of World War II. Homer (Harrold Russell), Al (Frederic March), and Fred (Dana Andrews) all reside in the same small town of Boone City, USA.

The men were acquaintances but did not serve together in the war as each had a different rank and duties.

Al has the most going for him with a loving wife Milly (Myrna Loy) two children in tow and a stable household. He is promoted to Vice President of a local bank, but despite this achievement is a heavy drinker and prone to anger.

He is enraged at the poor treatment of veterans trying to obtain bank loans and in the United States for hindering veterans’ attempts at rebuilding their lives. His adult daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) is a prominent character as she begins a flirtation with Fred.

Fred is unskilled and must return to his menial job as a drugstore soda jerk much to his selfish wife Marie’s (Virginia Mayo) chagrin. Homer has lost both hands in the war and wears mechanical hooks for hands rendering him insecure and troubled.

His days as a respected high school football quarterback have sadly ended though he has unflinching support from his fiance, Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell).

The trials and tribulations of many of the characters begin to mount as one character fights with another over a dispute about the meaning of the war. Another character plots to ruin a marriage and embark on a plan to rescue a character from another.

The plots run the risk of being too daytime drama-like except that the underlying point of the troubled veterans is always at the forefront and their challenges to be taken seriously.

A poignant moment is a crucial scene when one character admits that they have “given up the best years of my life”, a frustrated testimonial and proof that war can ravage not only the lives of the veterans but of their loved ones.

Wyler pulls no punches in harboring a clear message to the film. The viewer will undoubtedly ponder the film’s title, “The Best Years of Our Lives” and realize that this is open to different interpretations and not only a positive connotation.

The most powerful aspect of The Best Years of Our Lives is that actor Harold Russell, playing a military veteran was a disabled military veteran. This realism of a man portraying himself and the terrible effects the war had on him makes his character my favorite and highly empathetic.

His Academy Award wins for Best Supporting Actor are emotional and deserving as a win for Best Picture and seven other wins.

Featuring a topic just beginning to gain awareness post World War II, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is a grand Hollywood film containing all the trimmings of good classic drama.

Under the surface, the film is dripping with relevance, social commentary, and the psychological trauma that veterans face upon returning home and how some are damaged beyond repair. The rich American-style film remains a worthy watch on the cusp of nearly a century since production wrapped.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Motion Picture (won), Best Director-William Wyler (won), Best Actor-Fredric March (won), Best Supporting Actor- Harold Russell (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing (won)

Mrs. Miniver-1942

Mrs. Miniver-1942

Director William Wyler

Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon

Scott’s Review #841

Reviewed December 13, 2018

Grade: A-

Released in 1942 amid the horrific World War II, Mrs. Miniver (1942) was a smash hit, winning over audiences concerned with the troubled and uncertain times.

Decades later the film does not age as well as other similarly themed films, but still entertains and tells a good story with an important theme.

The film is nestled in the war drama genre with romance. The film won numerous Oscars the year of its release including Best Picture and star Greer Garson winning for Best Actress.

The story is told from the perspective of an affluent British family and the struggles they face to keep things together during growing peril. The focus mostly remains on an unassuming housewife, Kay Miniver (Garson).

The supporting players do much to flesh out the film with wonderful performances by Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, and Henry Travers as Clem Miniver, Carol Beldon, and Mr. Ballard, respectively.

The direction by William Wyler is astounding and adds to the perfectly crafted ambiance and homey details.

The family lives a comfortable life in a whimsical village outside of London. Quite idealized, they own a large garden and a motorboat on the River Thames.

Along with Kay and Clem, their three children of varying ages and their housekeeper and cook reside with them. Besides the parents, the central couple is son Vin (Richard Ney) and the prominent Carol (Wright), the pair initially disagree on politics, but finally, fall madly in love.

As the soap-opera-style family situations continue the war grows closer and closer to their house.

As Mrs. Miniver progresses, Vin enlists in the army to assist with war efforts, a German Nazi breaks into the Miniver house, a central character dies, and bombs and planes crash.

Through it all, Kay remains stoic and takes the family through challenging situations adding much melodrama to the film. The woman’s journey and resolve to keep everything and everyone intact is at the core.

The film is mainly a family drama with the Minivers and the townspeople experiencing trials and tribulations. In this way, Mrs. Miniver risks being a one-trick pony, albeit an emotional and teary-eyed one.

The rich characteristics and the polished nature make the film more than it ought to be and the superlative cast and production values and the timeliness of the film’s release undoubtedly made it what it was in 1942.

In present times, however, Mrs. Miniver seems diminished in importance and relevance with a sappy and overly sentimental feel, World War II in the distant past, and several other wars come and gone.

Wyler carefully packaged the film to hit every emotion from the bombastic musical score to the proper English characters, to the comic relief housekeeper.

The film is a giant Hollywood production, but perhaps a bit too perfect to age with any zest or reason to watch more than once.

The film might be better remembered for its strong female lead. Told from Kay’s perspective, it was unusual in 1942 for a film (especially with a war theme) not to have the story from the male point of view. Still refreshing in 2018, this quality was downright groundbreaking at the time.

Kay stays strong and proud through the ravages of war that are closing in on her family with unbridled boldness and nary a simpering quality. An early champion for strong, female-driven characters and in a smaller way, Wright’s Carol is also a muscled female role model.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) is a well-crafted film of its time that displays lavish production values and strong characters worthy of admiration.

For a glimpse back into the 1940s capsule, especially for those fans of good, solid drama, the film is a major win. There are no major flaws to harp on, but the overall piece has not aged especially well and other similar films (Casablanca, 1942) are more memorable.

Oscar Nominations: 6 wins-Outstanding Motion Picture (won), Best Director-William Wyler (won), Best Actor-Walter Pidgeon, Best Actress-Greer Garson (won), Best Supporting Actor-Henry Travers, Best Supporting Actress-Teresa Wright (won), Dame May Whitty, Best Screenplay (won), Best Sound Recording, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Film Editing, Best Special Effects

Green Book-2018

Green Book-2018

Director-Peter Farrelly

Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali

Scott’s Review #839

Reviewed December 10, 2018

Grade: A

To be candid, it was not originally on my radar to see Green Book (2018) despite the high regard and the bevy of award nominations reaped upon the film.

From the trailers, and admittedly my assumptions, the production looked somewhat of a Driving Miss Daisy (1989) role reversal with the standard over-saturation and glossy view of racism.

I confess to being wrong in my initial assessment as Green Book is a wonderful film with a multitude of worthy efforts, successfully crossing the drama and comedy barriers delivering an astounding message of compassion and benevolence.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershali Ali show tremendous flair and exhibit fine chemistry as an Italian blue-collar driver and an astute African-American classical pianist, respectively.

The men travel together in the Deep South circa 1962 on a concert tour requested by the renowned musician despite the dangers of southern racism and prejudice.

Mortensen’s Tony Lip is a struggling New York City bouncer who needs any gig for two months while the club he works for is closed for renovations. Ali plays a sophisticated musician who needs a driver with a measure of toughness, and Tony comes highly recommended.

The two men initially are strangers but form a close-knit bond and a deep understanding of each other as they become better acquainted during their journey.

The first half of the film focuses on Tony.

As viewers, we experience his Italian lifestyle. He possesses a strong family unit, a dedicated wife, Dolores, (Linda Cardellini), and loves to eat, winning a hot dog eating contest for $50 to pay the rent. He thinks nothing of beating an unsavory character to a bloody pulp if they are out of line and has more than one link to the mafia.

Still, he is a decent man, with a salt-of-the-earth mentality, and loves his family.

“Doc” Don Shirley (Ali) is the opposite of Tony. Raised as a highly gifted musical prodigy, he surrounds himself with high culture, well-versed in many languages, and of affluent means. Nonetheless, he is a wounded soul and drinks himself into oblivion each night, frequently deep in thought pondering life and its problems.

Despite being black he knows nothing about black culture.

Don is highly uncomfortable in his skin while Tony is happy with who he is, a major point that the film hits home on as the men have conflict. Don feels Tony can do so much better to educate himself while Tony sees nothing wrong with being who he is. The men forge a middle ground as they come to respect each other.

Ferrelli does a wonderful job in showing Tony as Don’s protector as he is accosted by rednecks or is caught with another man at the YMCA.

In turn, Don helps Tony write warm love letters to Dolores.

Green Book is a film about friendship and how different backgrounds can result in closeness and respect.

The film is humanistic in its approach to an overall message and is the feel-good film of 2018 without the slightest thread of sappiness or any contrived situations. The film is best about two real-life men who remained friends until their deaths.

Director, Peter Farrelly, known mostly for silly films such as Dumb and Dumber (1994) finds breakthrough success with Green Book.

The film is mainstream material, but of a sort that can be appreciated for the good it exudes. Don exhibits racism on more than one occasion- Birmingham and Mississippi specifically- but also experiences kindness from other folks.

Worth noting is that Don experiences discrimination and abuse not only from whites but also from blacks. Farrelly avoids the usual stereotypes or elicits humor from them as in the scene where Tony teaches Don to enjoy fried chicken, a food theretofore foreign to Don.

A key point to the film occurs early on when Dolores graciously invites two black workers to repair thinking nothing of treating the men to a refreshing lemonade.

Tony, witnessing the empty glasses in the sink throws them in the trash not wanting to drink from the same glasses. Is Tony along with his family, racist or uncomfortable with blacks? Regardless of the answer, after the film, they think very differently which is monumental.

The final sequence of Green Book is teary, heartfelt, and provides a feeling of incredible warmth.

In the tumultuous times of current American history, Green Book (2018) is sentimental and inspirational in a day where racism has once again reared its ugly head thanks to the chaotic political environment.

The film is a lesson learned in how far we have come as a society, but also how things have not changed so much and how much further we need to go creating equality for all. Farrelly creates a timely and wonderful film that everyone can appreciate.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Actor-Viggo Mortensen, Best Supporting Actor-Mahershala Ali (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Film Editing

It Happened One Night-1934

It Happened One Night-1934

Director Frank Capra

Starring Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Scott’s Review #824

Reviewed October 25, 2018

Grade: A-

Perhaps the film that best defines the early cinematic romantic comedy and certainly the one most modern genre films can take a lesson from, It Happened One Night (1934) is a lively, fun romp.

The film carted away the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress Academy Awards, a rare feat, and defined what romantic tension and smart dialogue ought to be in a quality picture. All the elements sparkle into an excellent classic film watch.

Ellie Andrews (Colbert) is a pampered socialite who has recently disobeyed her overbearing and wealthy father, eloping with a blue-collar pilot who is feared to be after her money.

Determined, Ellie escapes her father’s clutches and hops on a Greyhound bus headed from Florida to New York, where her husband is. When she crosses paths with an out-of-work journalist, Peter Warne (Gable), they each find an opportunity to use the other to their advantage.

The pair’s adventures along the East Coast lead to antics and schemes as they fall madly in love with one another.

It Happened One Night successfully mixes a good romance with some screwball comedy without ever becoming silly or trite.

The film also serves as a good old-fashioned adventure story as Peter and Ellie face one hurdle after another on their trek north.

Pleasing is the way that the duo slowly finds romance but first begins as irritants towards each other. The chemistry between the actors is superb and never seems forced or contrived.

Frank Capra, a famous director with successes throughout the 1930s, culminating with the holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), had several Oscar-winning films during the decade.

It Happened One Night, though, seems to have inspired most of them all, and the acting, farcical situations, dialogue, and direction all successfully come together.

Shot in black and white and pre- Motion Picture Production Code, which heavily restricted details deemed too violent or sexual, It Happened One Night was able to push the envelope quite a bit.

This is to the film’s credit- who can forget the adorable yet provocative scene in which Ellie shows her shapely legs to enable the duo to catch a ride? The lovable scene, non-risque in today’s modern world, was anything but in 1934.

An interesting, and at that time unique, point, is that supporting characters are more layered than is typical in romantic comedies. Danker, whom Peter and Ellie hitch a ride with is seemingly a decent man but ultimately attempts to steal their luggage.

Later, Ellie’s preposterous father turns out to be somewhat of a decent man, so the film contains a few character surprises too.

While not quite a pure masterpiece, It Happened One Night (1934) is nonetheless an inspired legendary film that can be viewed and enjoyed for the period in which it was made.

The film is a standout among the similarly themed romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s and a teachable moment for all filmmakers delving into the same genre territory.

Oscar Nominations: 5 wins– Outstanding Production (won), Best Director (won), Best Actor-Clark Gable (won), Best Actress-Claudette Colbert (won), Best Adaptation (won)

All Quiet on the Western Front-1930

All Quiet on the Western Front-1930

Director Lewis Milestone

Starring Lew Ayres

Scott’s Review #820

Reviewed October 12, 2018

Grade: A

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is one of the oldest films I have ever seen, and a masterpiece that resonates in present times just as much as the film did nearly one hundred years ago.

The work of art presents an astounding Anti-war message that is a timeless lesson in humanity, idealism, and ultimately, despair.

Based on the banned novel by Erich Maria Remarque, much of the action takes place on the front lines during World War I.

The cameras follow an anxious group of spirited young men as they sit in a classroom and listen to a passionate speech given by their professor.

He is quite “pro-war”, filling the boys with patriotism and the importance of serving the Army and their country. At his urging the group, led by Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) join the Second Company. Once enlisted, the youths are enlightened to the fact that war is not fun, and their romantic delusions are smashed to pieces.

Paul is the hero of the film and events are told through his eyes, offering his perspective. Beginning as a young recruit, he ages quickly and sees friends and allies slaughtered senselessly.

One recruit, frightened to death, is blinded by shrapnel and hysterically runs into machine-gun fire resulting in his death. Other scenes involving the soldiers forced to go without food only to finally be offered more food simply because there are so many dead are heart-wrenching.

Paul is portrayed as a good man- conflicted by how he is supposed to feel towards the enemy and how he sees people as human beings. At the young age of nineteen, he possesses an innocence toward the world.

When he returns home on leave the townspeople do not incline the ravages of war. When Paul recounts the brutal situations on the front line, he is derided as a coward.

In an excruciating scene, Paul is trapped overnight in a foxhole with a dying French soldier, whom Paul has stabbed in a cemetery. He desperately tries to save the man’s life but to no avail.

In this important scene, Paul sees the enemy soldier as a human being rather than as someone to hate. He crumbles into tears for the dead soldier, begging him to speak. The scene is incredibly poignant and meaningful.

The final scene of All Quiet on the Western Front is lovely and memorable, too. The scene is the most remembered from the film and is firmly ensconced in cinematic history.

As a wounded Paul lies in hiding from German soldiers, he spots a beautiful butterfly peacefully circling. Paul smiles enamored with the pretty creature amid all the ugliness. He desperately tries to reach for the gorgeous insect.

What happens next is heartbreaking and fraught with the unfair ruining of life- the scene is of utmost importance.

The film is both sad and poignant as we are well into the twenty-first century while wars continue to wage on in the present day.

Have we learned nothing?

Director, Lewis Milestone brazenly, and tragically, paints a portrait of the foolishness of war and the senseless loss of life that war results in. It is tough to think of an equivalent film that depicts this message more clearly.

Many European leaders and countries, including Germany’s Adolf Hitler, included, banned All Quiet on the Western Front throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

The film has remained controversial in its blatant depiction of war since it was made.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is a groundbreaking film and should be viewed by everyone as a reminder of how precious life is.

The novel and film were both made as a result of World War I- how profound to think since this film was made wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, have occurred. Is war ever really the answer?

Anyone who watches this terrific film will find out.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director (won), Best Writing, Best Cinematography

Crash-2005

Crash-2005

Director Paul Haggis

Starring Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Don Cheadle

Scott’s Review #799

Reviewed August 3, 2018

Grade: A-

A superior film that has unfortunately suffered greatly after controversy, Crash (2005) is a story of intersecting vignettes all interrelated.

The controversy stems from the film’s very surprising Oscar win over the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain. Many thought the latter was a shoo-in, poised to set the LGBT genre ahead of the game.

Sadly, now when Crash is discussed by film lovers, it’s usually in tandem with Brokeback, and usually on the heels of its having stolen the Oscar crown.

On its own merits, the film excels as a social story exploring the many facets of race, racism, and bigotry.

The events in Crash take place within one thirty-six-hour day in metropolitan Los Angeles. Featuring a slew of characters that would even impress Robert Altman, the audience witnesses situations involving many races and backgrounds.

We meet Rick and Jean Cabot (Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock), a white affluent couple who are carjacked when driving home from dinner. The black men who carjack the couple then strike a Korean man and bring him to the hospital.

A racist police officer, John Ryan (Matt Dillon), cares for his troubled father who cannot afford insurance. A Persian father and daughter wish to buy a gun for protection, and a Hispanic father (Michael Pena) worries about a rash of drive-by shootings.

The stories go on and on as a myriad of the characters come into situations involving other characters.

The interconnecting stories all cascade into overlapping situations of interest. The point of Haggis’s film is racism but with a creative twist.

The director points out and shows that those who are racist have good qualities too and those who are discriminated against in turn discriminate against others themselves.

The most interesting character is Dillon’s, John Ryan. On the surface a racist, wise-ass, who in one scene embarrasses an affluent light-skinned black woman (Thandie Newton), simply because he carries a gun, then ends up saving her life in a horrific car accident.

But is he redeemed? Does he see the world as black people getting ahead and he is left behind? What about the Persian man, discriminated against, but then vowing revenge on a Hispanic man after a misunderstanding?

The black men who carjack the white couple then release a group of immigrants who will surely be sold, perhaps even for sex trafficking. Does this act make the men good?

The point that Haggis makes is that each character is neither all good nor all bad, but rather complicated and nuanced with emotions based on past experiences and discrimination themselves.

Crash is highly similar to Traffic (2000) and Babel (2006) in terms of pace, style, and the way the stories align. The film is different, however, in that the location is strictly confined to Los Angeles, making the setting of monumental importance.

How would events be different in a setting like Middle America? Or in a different country? These possibilities are worth contemplating based on the perception that Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. If racism occurs there it can occur anywhere.

Now more about that pesky Oscar controversy! In later years critics would largely agree that the inferior film had won that year and Brokeback Mountain lost due to a level of homophobia on the part of the voting academy.

Since the academy is filled with Hollywood liberals, albeit of an older generation, an alternative way of thinking is that perhaps Crash won because it was the “safer” film.

Everyone seems to have forgotten the other three nominated films that year. Alas, Crash is permanently marred for winning Best Picture. It would undoubtedly have more supporters had it lost.

Ranked as one of the lowest-scoring Best Picture winners, I still believe Crash has some worth- though I agree that it should not have won over Brokeback Mountain.

Taken on its own merits the film is quite good. A message film with great atmosphere, it succeeds in making the viewer think and ponder perhaps their discrimination, whether conscious or subconscious.

The ensemble acting and character representations are all very good and worthy of a second watch.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Paul Haggis, Best Supporting Actor-Matt Dillon, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Song-“In the Deep”, Best Film Editing (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 2 wins-Best Supporting Male-Matt Dillon (won), Best First Feature (won)

Million Dollar Baby-2004

Million Dollar Baby-2004

Director Clint Eastwood

Starring Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman

Scott’s Review #798

Reviewed August 2, 2018

Grade: A

Million Dollar Baby (2004) is arguably Clint Eastwood’s best-directed film of his career.

Rivaling Mystic River (2003) by a hair, the film has a raw emotional appeal, empathetic and richly carved characters and mainstream sensibility.

These combined elements resulted in huge box office success and Oscar wins for Picture, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor in the year of its release.

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a hardened boxing coach who owns a run-down Los Angeles gym. He works with his best friend and assistant, Eddie (Morgan Freeman). When an aspiring female boxer, Maggie (Hilary Swank), arrives and begs Frankie to train her, he initially declines, but at Eddie’s urging, eventually relents and leads her to great success as a top female boxer.

Frankie and Maggie forge a close-knit, father/daughter relationship, a substitute for the damaged one he has with his daughter.

The final portion of Million Dollar Baby takes a very dark turn, as Maggie is illegally punched during a fight by a fellow boxer, causing her to become a quadriplegic. These events are what change the tone of the film from a very good sports drama to a great tale of morality.

Many emotions and debates transpired after this film was released and the common question of, “What would you have done?” engulfed viewers for months, all through awards season.

The heartbreaking effects of the story events raise the film head and shoulders above most typical sports films.

Too often Eastwood creates films that are palpable, but in a way generic, and very Hollywood. Grand Torino (2008) and Invictus (2009) are good examples of this- especially Invictus given the sports drama element.

Some assumed that Million Dollar Baby was to be a female Rocky (1976) and the film was indeed marketed as such. For this reason, some felt robbed or duped, but I celebrate this film as leaning a firm left of center with a refreshing, progressive approach.

The performances are amazing all around, even by Eastwood- never known for his acting talent. The characters are written as character-driven, but not caricatures. Wounded, grizzled, and flawed, in his senior years, Frankie sees his life has passed him by, having achieved nothing.

Never has Eastwood portrayed a character as complex and reserved as Frankie.

Swank deserved her second Oscar (1999’s Boys Don’t Cry was her first) for simply becoming a boxer- her pre-filming prep schedule reportedly was insane. More than the muscle and toning she achieved, are the raw acting talent and wounded emotions she possesses.

The character is written as pained and vulnerable, but also very strong. She has achieved little in her life- working as a waitress in Missouri and stealing scraps of leftovers to survive. Her family is trash through and through, only wanting her eventual riches for themselves.

The character is inevitably championed as we empathize with her plight emotionally.

Finally, Freeman deserves recognition for being the ultimate supporting actor. Eddie Dupris, a former fighter blind in one eye, is the center point of the story and frequently narrates the actions of others, oftentimes offering a glimpse into the psyche of individuals.

The voice of reason, he is observant and analytical, almost knowing Freddie better than Freddie knows himself. They quarrel and disagree, but are forever friends and loyal to a fault. Freeman possesses quite a reserve as the audience becomes curious about his past life.

Million Dollar Baby (2004) is Eastwood’s best film- Mystic River comes a close second, however. A seemingly formulaic story and genre are weaved into a web of humanism, emotions, and power.

The film is about the characters, which makes it succeed.

Eastwood has not been able to quite surpass this beautiful story, but thankfully received dripping praise and accolades for a film not soon forgotten.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Clint Eastwood (won), Best Actor-Clint Eastwood, Best Actress-Hilary Swank (won), Best Supporting Actor-Morgan Freeman (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing

Slumdog Millionaire-2008

Slumdog Millionaire-2008

Director Danny Boyle

Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto

Scott’s Review #786

Reviewed July 11, 2018

Grade: A-

Winner of the 2008 Best Picture Oscar (as well as seven other Academy Awards), Slumdog Millionaire (2008) arguably was the “feel good” film of the year.

While I am not sure if all of those awards are ultimately deserved, the film is nonetheless very good, offering a mixture of good culture, a young man overcoming enormous odds, and a love story.

Fans of the universal game show hit, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, will be pleased.

Young Dev Patel (critically acclaimed for 2016’s Lion) stars as a poor young Indian man, Jamal Malik. He is detained after being a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire after he comes one question away from winning a million dollars.

The producers go on a commercial break and Jamal is whisked away to custody as suspicions are aroused and the young man is accused of cheating. Since he is a “slumdog” and poorly educated, it is assumed there is no way possible he could know all the answers.

Jamal recounts, via flashbacks, through experience, how he came to know all of the correct answers.

Director, Danny Boyle does a fantastic job directing the film. Slumdog Millionaire is edited in a fast-paced fashion and the camera angles are quick and stylized, making for an excellent flow.

The soundtrack to the film is very effective and enhances the plot. For example, the music is extremely diverse and features genres such as traditional Indian classical music, European house music, and American-style hip hop.

This is an ingenious way for Boyle to incorporate multiple cultures and he, therefore, creates a rousing crowd-pleasing experience.

Another successful aspect of the film is its use of knowledge and intelligence to tell a story. As we experience Jamal’s difficult life beginning as a five-year-old orphan, the unlikely success story and his adventures on the streets are engulfed in both life lessons and education.

The audience is learning important details about the world while Jamal simultaneously is.

The romantic, love-story featured in Slumdog Millionaire is also a highlight and extremely well-crafted. Heartbreakingly, Jamal, his older brother Salim, and the lovely Latika (later played by the gorgeous Freida Pinto) are on the run when Latika vanishes.

Her disappearance and later reappearance are vital aspects to the heart of the film and Patel and Pinto make a handsome and highly likable couple. Their reconciliation is heartfelt and beautiful and gives the film a nice emotional investment.

The incorporation of a relevant and acclaimed game show into the story is wonderful, though hopefully as the years go by, the film does not suffer from a dated feel if and when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is long forgotten, but alas this is a risk and only time will tell.

The glossy set and for American audiences, the Indian-style version of the game show is great fun as are the Indian locales, which visually dazzle.

A slight detraction of Slumdog Millionaire is the film is unquestionably uplifting and light feeling. Even though the characters face peril and dangerous experiences, the film just “feels” safe.

So much so that qualities such as slick and mainstream resound.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is genuine and has heart and soul, but just slightly too cheery. Of course, since the film is made well and the story and the acting great, this can easily be overlooked.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) is a wonderful piece of work and is quite simply a film that lots of people will champion.  All of the elements are perfectly in place, which is a main selling point and a prime reason for the film’s many accolades.

The romance and adventure pieces are the best parts- with a quick flow and lots of fun, educational tools utilized.

The film is a nice pleasure to experience.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Danny Boyle (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“Jai Ho”, “O Saya”, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing (won)

Schindler’s List-1993

Schindler’s List-1993

Director Steven Spielberg

Starring Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes

Scott’s Review #775

Reviewed June 19, 2018

Grade: A

Schindler’s List (1993) is a film that is arguably Steven Spielberg’s finest directorial work and Liam Neeson’s finest acting performance.

The film is as disturbing as it is awe-inspiring as many emotions will undoubtedly envelop any viewer- most of them dark and dire.

Spielberg’s most personal story centers on the devastating Holocaust of World War II that will grip and tear audiences to pieces.

The work deservedly secured the Oscar award for Best Picture and Best Director as well as numerous other accolades.

Oskar Schindler (Neeson) is a powerful German businessman who arrives in Krakow, Poland during the antics of World War II, presumably to make his fortune. Handsome and respected, he is charismatic and feared by the German army, who have forced most of the Polish Jews into the overcrowded ghettos where they await their fates.

Schindler himself is a Nazi, but becomes more humanistic than most and ultimately against the Holocaust killings. He establishes a factory and hires a Jewish accountant (Ben Kingsley) to assist.

As he is tremendously affected by the inhumanity he sees throughout the city, he makes arrangements to hire and thus save the lives of over a thousand Polish refugees.

He does so by allowing them to safely work and be productive in his factory. The story is reportedly true and was a rare instance of humanity in a cold and ugly chapter in world history.

To be clear, Schindler does not start as a hero and is admittedly rather an unlikely one. The man is a businessman, greedy, and undoubtedly flawed. He plans to use the Jews because they are cheap labor and can be used to his advantage.

Because of the very long running time of the film (over three hours), Spielberg slowly depicts Schindler’s complex character growth and eventual determination to save these poor people from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Spielberg shoots Schindler’s List entirely in black and white with tremendous results. The camera work adds such ambiance and style to the 1990s film- so much so that throughout the film I felt as if I were watching a documentary from the 1940s.

The film is epic and choreographed with precision and timeliness- some of the best camera work in cinema history as far as successfully creating the perfect solemn and dreary mood.

Supporting turns by Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes must be noted. In vastly different types of roles, both shine.

As the understandably nervous, Jewish accountant for Schindler’s factory, Itzhak Stern is most notable for creating the famous “list”. This contains the names of those who would be transferred to the factory and thus have their lives spared.

Kingsley, a brilliant actor, fills the character with empathy and heart.

Conversely, Fiennes plays a dastardly character in that of Amon Goth, a commander at the concentration camp. Evil and known for taking glee from killings, he is the man instrumental in deciding to exterminate all of the people in the ghetto.

A pivotal character, Goth is important because he is the man who makes Schindler realize how sickening and inhumane the treatment is.

Fiennes carves the character with so much hate that he is believable in the part.

One of the most beautiful scenes is aptly named “the girl in red” and is highly symbolic and worthy of analysis. Oskar watches as prisoners are escorted, presumably to their executions. He notices a three-year-old girl walking by herself- she is clad in a bright red coat.

The coat is Spielberg’s only use of color throughout the entire film.

The scene is incredibly important as the girl stands out, proving that all the Nazi commanders are accepting of her death. In tragic form, Oskar later sees her dead body draped in her red coat.

The scene is sad and powerfully distressing.

Schindler’s List (1993) is an outstanding film that elicits such raw emotion from anyone who views the masterpiece. By no means an easy watch and most assuredly “a heavy”, the film depicts the true struggles and catastrophic events occurring not all too long ago.

A film for the ages that simply must be seen by all to appreciate the terror and inhumanity that occurs throughout the world.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Steven Spielberg (won), Best Actor-Liam Neeson, Best Supporting Actor-Ralph Fiennes, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound, Best Art Direction (won), Best Makeup, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing (won)

No Country for Old Men-2007

No Country for Old Men-2007

Director Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #745

Reviewed April 19, 2018

Grade: A

No Country for Old Men, made in 2007,  is arguably Joel and Ethan Coen’s greatest work save for the amazing Fargo (1996).

Achieving the Best Picture Academy Award and appearing on numerous Top Ten lists for its year of release, the film is one of their most celebrated.

Containing dark humor, offbeat characters, and fantastic storytelling, adding in some of the most gorgeous cinematography in film history, No Country for Old Men is one of the decade’s great films.

The time is 1980 and set in western Texas as we follow dangerous hitman, Anton Chigurh, played wonderfully by Javier Bardem.

He escapes jail by strangling a deputy and is subsequently hired to find Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a hunter who has accidentally stumbled onto two million dollars in a suitcase that Mexican smugglers are desperate to find.

In the mix is Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who is pursuing both men. Moss’s wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) in turn becomes an important character as she is instrumental in the web of deceit the chain of events creates.

The film subsequently turns into an exciting cat-and-mouse chase with a dramatic climax.

The crux of the story and its plethora of possibilities is what makes the events so exciting to watch. As characters are in constant pursuit of each other the viewer wonders who will catch up to whom and when.

One quality that makes the film unique with an identity all its own is that the three principal characters (Moss, Bell, and Chigurh) seldom appear in the same scene adding a layer of mystery and intrigue.

The hero and most well-liked of all the characters is, of course, Sheriff Bell- a proponent of honesty and truth while the other two characters are less than savory types, especially the despicable Chigurh.

My favorite character in the story is Chigurh as he is the most interesting and Bardem plays him to the hilt with a calm malevolence- anger just bubbling under the surface.

One wonders when he will strike next or if he will spare a life- as he intimidates his prey by offering to play a game of chance- the toss of a coin to determine life or death- he is one of cinema’s most vicious villains. With his bob-cut hairstyle and his sunken brown eyes, he is a force to be reckoned with by looks alone.

True to many other Ethan and Joel Coen films the supporting or even the glorified extras are perfectly cast and filled with interesting quirkiness.

Examples of this are the kindly gas station owner who successfully guesses a coin toss correctly and is spared his life. My favorite is the matter-of-fact woman at the hotel front desk, with her permed hair, she gives as good as she gets, and her monotone voice is great.

It is these smaller intricacies that truly make No Country for Old Men shine and are a staple of Coen Brother films in general.

Many similarities abound between Fargo and No Country for Old Men, not the least of which is the main protagonist being an older and wiser police chief (Marge Gunderson and Tom Bell, respectively).

Add to this a series of brutal murders and the protagonist being from elsewhere and stumbling upon a small, bleak town. Of course, the extreme violence depicted in both must be mentioned as comparable.

Having shamefully only seen this epic thriller two times, No Country for Old Men (2007) is a dynamic film, reminiscent of the best of Sam Peckinpah classics such as The Getaway (1972) or The Wild Bunch (1967).

The Coen brothers cross film genres to include thriller, western, and suspense that would rival the greatest in Hitchcock films.

I cannot wait to see it again.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Joel and Ethan Coen (won), Best Supporting Actor-Javier Bardem (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

The Shape of Water-2017

The Shape of Water-2017

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon

Scott’s Review #705

Reviewed December 16, 2017

Grade: A

Director Guillermo del Toro creates a lovely Beauty and the Beast style film that is as gorgeous to look at as the story is intelligent and sweet to experience.

Thanks to a talented cast led by Sally Hawkins, the film is part drama, part science fiction, even part thriller, but touching to one’s heart and a lesson in true love regardless of outward appearances.

The story was co-written by Vanessa Taylor giving it a needed female perspective to perfectly balance the traditional male machinations.

The setting is Baltimore, Maryland during the early 1960s. Ongoing is the Cold War pitting the United States and the Soviet Union against each other- both mistrustful of the other side. Kindly and mute, Elisa Esposito (Hawkins) is a curious and whimsical young woman, who works as a cleaning lady at an Aerospace Research Center.

When she stumbles upon a mysterious “shape” being held prisoner for experimentation purposes, she slowly communicates with and befriends the creature, eventually falling madly in love with him.

The “asset” as the scientists like to call him is an amphibian/humanoid needing saltwater to survive. Elisa sees an opportunity to help her love escape captivity and off she goes.

Hawkins exudes warmth and fills Elisa with courage and a determination that is astounding. Not to utter a word is a tough feat for an actor to challenge, but instead of words, Hawkins successfully provides a vast array of emotions to reveal how Elisa feels.

Despite her “handicap” she is a strong woman and speaks her mind on more than one occasion using sign language to offer her frustration. Hawkins gives a fantastic and believable performance.

Cast in wonderful and important supporting roles are Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s friend and neighbor, Giles, a closeted gay man who works as a commercial artist. Jenkins fills this character with intelligence, heart, and empathy as he struggles with his issues of alcoholism and loneliness- unable to be accepted for who he is.

Octavia Spencer shines as witty and stubborn Zelda Fuller, Elisa’s best friend and co-worker. Zelda has her domestic problems but is forever there for her friend, and Spencer gives her character zest, humor, and energy.

Finally, Michael Shannon plays the dastardly and menacing Colonel Richard Strickland, the man who found the “asset” in the rivers of South America and has a nice family.

Each of these characters is written exceptionally well and each has its storyline rather than simply supporting Hawkins’s character.

The audience becomes involved in the private lives of Giles, Zelda, and Strickland and we get to know and care for them- or hate them as the case may be.

Giles, harboring a crush on a handsome pie-shop owner, is afraid to make his feelings known. Zelda, with a lazy husband, dutifully takes care of her man though she is as sassy as they come. And Strickland lives an all-American family life with a pretty wife and two kids, totally unaware of his shenanigans.

The film is a gorgeous and lovely experience and by this I mean the film has a magical element. The opening and closing sequences shot underwater, resound in beauty as objects float along in a dreamy way, the narrator (Jenkins) taking us on a journey to explain the events of the story.

At its core, The Shape of Water is a romantic love story, and my favorite scenes- those of Hawkins and the “asset” are to be treasured. Yes, the two do make love, which may be too much for some, but the scenes are tasteful and important to show the depth of the character’s love for one another.

Cherishing is the way that Elisa uses both music and hard-boiled eggs to communicate with the “asset”. When Elisa imagines the two characters dancing, the sequence is an enchanting experience reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast.

Other underwater scenes involving Elisa and the “asset” are tender, graceful, and filled with loveliness.

A key part of the film involves a story of intrigue between the Americans and the Soviets, and while both are portrayed negatively, the Americans are arguably written as more unsympathetic than the Soviets.

Thanks to Strickland- abusive and vicious, and his uncaring superior, General Holt, we do not root for the government officials at all, but rather, the ordinary folks like Elisa, Zelda, and Giles, who are outcasts.

Interestingly, Dmitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Soviet spy who is a scientist, is the only character working at the center who wants to keep the “asset” alive and is written sympathetically.

My overall assessment of The Shape of Water is that it is a film to be enjoyed on many levels and by particular varied tastes- the film will cater to those seeking an old-style romance, complete with some tasty French music.

Then again, the film can be lumped into a political espionage thriller, with a cat-and-mouse chase and other nail-biting efforts.

Overall, the film has heart and truth and will appeal to vast audiences seeking an excellent film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Guillermo del Toro (won), Best Actress-Sally Hawkins, Best Supporting Actor-Richard Jenkins, Best Supporting Actress-Octavia Spencer, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design (won), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing

Unforgiven-1992

Unforgiven-1992

Director Clint Eastwood

Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman

Scott’s Review #596

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: A-

Winning the 1992 Best Picture Academy Award, Unforgiven is a beautifully shot, well-crafted Western film, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

The film differs from that of classic Westerns in that it questions the meaning of violence and is of moral fiber. Director Sergio Leone influenced Eastwood.

Eastwood also stars in the film as William Munny, a former cold-blooded murderer, who is now retired and living as a farmer, a widower due to violence against his deceased wife.

He is talked out of retirement to help kill some shady cowboys.

Unforgiven is a dark film and definitely, character-driven- centering mostly on Eastwood’s character. Why does Munny come out of retirement? Is he lusting after blood or enjoying the satisfaction of revenge?

The cinematography is second to none with gorgeous western United States locales and beautiful landscapes.

The film admittedly drags a bit at times but is rich in character development and questions the motives of its central characters, which is much deeper than most Western, shooting them up the style of films.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Clint Eastwood (won), Best Actor-Clint Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor-Gene Hackman (won), Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won)

Moonlight-2016

Moonlight-2016

Director-Barry Jenkins

Starring-Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland

Scott’s Review #512

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Reviewed November 6, 2016

Grade: A

Moonlight is a wonderful film, rich with character and grit, that tells the story of one man’s life- from childhood to teenage years, to adulthood, sharing the bonds he forms, and the demons he wrestles.

The acting all around is fantastic and the story poignant and truthful.

The film is not preachy, but rather tells a story and leaves the audience to sit and observe- quietly formulating their own opinions. Moonlight is a mixture of beauty and heartbreak and is told very well.

The film is divided into three chapters- in chronological order of the central character’s life.

Chiron is a shy, docile, young boy of six or seven living in a drug-filled world of Miami, Florida in the 1980s. He is bullied for being “different” though he knows not why he is shunned. Chiron is introverted and distrusting.

A kind-hearted drug dealer named Juan (Mahersala Ali) takes a shine to Chiron, whose own mother becomes more and more absent and emotionally abusive to her son.

Naomie Harris plays Paula, mother to Chiron and herself a drug addict. Juan and his girlfriend Theresa (Janelle Monae) become surrogate parents to Chiron and share their home with him as needed.

Chapter two focuses on Chiron as a teenager- still bullied and coming to terms with his sexuality and feelings of insecurity. By this time his mother has spiraled out of control and his life is a sad one. He is filled with emotions such as rage, despair, and confusion. He has an experience with his best friend Kevin that changes the direction of his life. Kevin is his saving grace and a decent person amidst his troubled life.

In chapter three, we are re-introduced to Chiron as an adult- having completely reinvented himself and become a changed man, but is he changed for better or for worse? People from his past resurface at this time and Chiron must face various demons and emotions, and come to terms with himself and others surrounding him.

Does his story have a sad or a happy ending is the question we are left wondering.

The aspect that left me impressed the most is the storytelling and the ground that is broken with this film.

From an LGBT perspective, by this time (2016), we have experienced numerous offerings on the subject, but the fact that Moonlight is not only a character study, but a love story between two black men have not been done to this degree yet in cinema, or arguably at all, especially in mainstream fare.

Happily, Moonlight is receiving critical praise. The fact that Chiron lives in a macho, male-driven society, makes his self-acceptance all the more challenging for him.

The direction in Moonlight is impressive and director Barry Jenkins deserves much praise.

Quiet scenes of Chiron as a boy asking Juan and Theresa why the bullies call him a certain name are heartbreaking. Another scene, muted and in slow motion, reveals an abusive Paula calling Chiron a degrading name leaving him confused and hurt. Otherwise, tender scenes between Chiron and Kevin are sweet and passionate and told on such a humanistic level.

Moonlight delves into such territory as loneliness and self-identity and is an interesting film to view for anyone who has struggled with these issues or anyone who is empathetic to those who have.

Moonlight breaks stereotypes and molds a film that is subtle and low-key but speaks volumes.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Barry Jenkins, Best Supporting Actor-Mahershala Ali (won), Best Supporting Actress-Naomie Harris, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Barry Jenkins (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Editing (won), Robert Altman Award (won)

Terms of Endearment-1983

Terms of Endearment-1983

Director James L. Brooks

Starring Shirley MacLane, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson

Scott’s Review #368

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Terms of Endearment (1983) is a sentimental favorite of mine, and while I am slightly embarrassed to include this chick-flick to end all chick-flicks on my favorites list, it is also a damned good sentimental film and makes me a bit weepy each time I see it.

It is pure Hollywood mainstream formula, but somehow Terms of Endearment works (romantic films are not usually at the forefront) and even won the coveted Best Picture Oscar in 1983. That must say something.

So if it is so sappy what makes it so great? For starters, it has some exceptional acting all around, especially by leads Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Debra Winger.

How can you go wrong with a talent of that caliber?

MacLaine and Winger play Aurora and Emma Greenway, a mother and daughter, (the father is deceased) who share a lifelong love/hate relationship, living in the mid-west in present times.

Nicholson plays Garrett, a retired astronaut (and womanizer) and the object of Aurora’s affection.

The chemistry among all three is apparent- I sinfully find it delicious that Winger and MacLaine despised each other throughout filming, adding a layer of curiosity and intrigue to the film, and during their scenes.

Director James L. Brooks wisely balances the heavy drama with comedy so the film does not become too overwrought. For example, Garrett and Aurora have a humorous courtship, constantly bickering or misunderstanding each other- he is a womanizing playboy type and Aurora a domineering, insecure woman- they end up needing each other, nonetheless.

Unforgettable is the hilarious drive along with the beach scene that the two share.  Even though the duo is tenuous and difficult, I love them all the same.

The tear-jerker scenes are emotional, especially the deathbed scene at the end of the film. There is so much raw emotion going on at once and, a rarity in film, the child actors involved are real, believable, and flawless.

The film feels like watching a true, real-life, drama play out. The heartache feels real and the film as a whole feels very genuine.

Also interesting is Emma’s failing marriage to Flap (Jeff Daniels) and her subsequent affair with kind-hearted Sam (John Lithgow) as well as her departure from her mother’s hometown, the constant phone calls, and being in one another’s life, just like a real mother and daughter relationship is oftentimes like.

Terms of Endearment (1983) incorporates all of the elements that make a good, old-fashioned, dramatic tear-jerker, and I find myself a sucker for it each time that I watch it.

Oscar Nominations: 5 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-James L. Brooks (won), Best Actress-Shirley MacLaine (won), Debra Winger, Best Supporting Actor-Jack Nicholson (won), John Lithgow, Best Screenplay Based on Material Based on Another Medium (won), Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing

Forrest Gump-1994

Forrest Gump-1994

Director Robert Zemeckis

Starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise

Top 100 Films #94

Scott’s Review #362

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Awarded a bevy of Academy Awards in the year 1994, Forrest Gump is a film that is engrained in many people’s memories since the film was a monster hit in the mid-1990s.

Some complained that the unrealistic nature of the film was silly, and the story too saccharine, but the film is an innocent, sweet piece about a simple-minded man’s journey through life and the insurmountable success that he achieves.

I adore the film largely from a sentimental standpoint and the memories that watching the film years later conjures up.

I find the film to be a comfort.

Zemeckis, a feel-good film director (Back to the Future-1985, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? -1988), carves a whimsical tale of a fellow, Forrest Gump (played brilliantly by Tom Hanks), a slow-witted, but gentle soul, from Alabama, and his decades-long journey through life.

His lifelong love is Jenny (played by Robin Wright), who is a troubled girl and relies on Forrest over their friendship spanning decades.

Forrest is always in the right place at the right time and influences the events of history in his innocent way.

Forrest Gump is unique in its clever use of editing to incorporate Forrest into real-life historical events, which is a big part of the appeal of the film.

In one instance, Forrest meets with Richard Nixon and reveals the Watergate scandal. He also met President John F. Kennedy after winning a football scholarship.

And who can ever forget the numerous lines made famous from the film- “Stupid is as stupid does”, and “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”, to name just two.

What I love most about the film is that it has heart and the relationships that Forrest shares with the central characters in his life are rich. Forrest’s haggard, but kind mother (Sally Field) loves her son and they share a tender, emotional relationship.

When Forrest enlists in the Army during the Vietnam War, his grizzled commanding officer, Lt. Dan Taylor (an Oscar-nominated performance by Gary Sinise), surprisingly becomes one of Forrest’s closest friends.

The film takes a darker turn when we begin to see a more human side to Taylor after a horrible accident, which leaves him without legs. To counterbalance this tragedy, Forrest is comically wounded in the buttocks.

I am not sure if I love or loathe the character of Jenny. Wright is perfect at giving her some vulnerability and her terrible upbringing can excuse some of her actions and take advantage of Forrest for arguably her gain.

Still, she has Forrest’s heart so she cannot be all that bad.

A favorite scene occurs in Washington as Forrest speaks at an anti-war rally. Jenny, in the crowd, recognizes Forrest and their reunion is sweet. Jenny, now a hippie and expelled from school, returns to Forrest’s life.

The fate of both Jenny and Mrs. Gump are scenes that will undoubtedly require tissues to get through as they are tender and emotional as can be.

Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump (1994) has emotion, sweetness, and heart, and those are nice qualities for a film to have.

It is not too sappy overwrought or manipulative, instead provides an honest story.

Oscar Nominations: 6 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Robert Zemeckis (won), Best Actor-Tom Hanks (won), Best Supporting Actor-Gary Sinise, Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (won), Best Original Score, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Best Film Editing (won), Best Visual Effects (won)

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Director David Lean

Starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif 

Top 100 Films #82

Scott’s Review #355

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is quite a grand film and one that must be seen on the large screen to fully appreciate the enormous scale of the production.

Numerous shots of objects appearing in the distance are featured and the small screen dulls the experience.

A wonderful film from top to bottom and groundbreaking at the time by the scope and vast proportions of the production, Lawrence of Arabia achieves its place in the annals of cinema history and is a treat to revisit from time to time.

The film is divided into two parts divided by an intermission as was the case with epics nearly four hours in length.

Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a bored British Army Lieutenant, who talks his way into a transfer to the Arabian desert.

As the film opens, it is 1935, and Lawrence has just been killed in a motorcycle accident. This concept of revealing the ending of the story and working backward, common in current films, was a novel experience in 1962 when the film was made.

While in Arabia, Lawrence successfully bands together bitter rival tribes to work together to unite against Turkish oppression during World War I. While there he meets two young guides and other central characters such as Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif).

Much of the film features the many battles that occur between the rival tribes and the peace that Lawrence has to achieve.

Also, a multitude of location sequences of Lawrence and company traveling across miles and miles of hot desert is featured.

Some complain that Lawrence of Arabia is too slow-moving a film, but to me, that is its selling point. I find the scenes of the group languishing across the desert incredibly lush and rich in meaning.

The intense heat and the beating sun are fantastic in their cinematic grandeur. The film is meant to take its time- exactly how the experience in the Arabian desert would really be like and the mountainous dunes and swirling winds are brilliantly filmed.

David Lean is the king of the sprawling epic and Lawrence of Arabia is his crown achievement.

The character of Lawrence is written well and he is a layered and complex individual- he is not easy to describe or to understand and that is also to the film’s credit.

The sheer weight loss that O’Toole went through over the two years that it took to film Lawrence of Arabia is impressive enough, but he is also a tortured soul emotionally.

An epic film of the grandest proportions, Lawrence of Arabia requires a half-day of dedicated viewing but is worth every minute.

For a reminder of what a true, breathtaking film looks like sans the oversaturated CGI and quick edits, one should take a deep breath and appreciate this work of art for its majestic look.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-David Lean (won), Best Actor-Peter O’Toole, Best Supporting Actor-Omar Sharif, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Music Score-Substantially Original (won), Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction, Color (won), Best Cinematography, Color (won), Best Film Editing (won)