Archives for February 2010

Oscar Predicitions Fail

I usually do not like reviewing the Oscar nods and offer predictions for the following reasons:

  1. Over the years, the science of predicting a winner has become rather a “no-brainer” with a couple of surprises but due to the proliferation of awards shows, over time, you start to see a pattern.
  2. Odd as it sounds, while I consider myself a huge cinephile, the awards season (see above) leaves me a little jaded. It is (and basically has always been) about the politics and the “business” in show-business. There is little room for the true awarding of noteworthy pieces of work. I guess the counterargument to my position can be that because of all the ceremonies out there, there can be a more even spread and more can get recognized. In my observation especially of the major awards I have not found this to be the case.
  3. The “best” of anything is purely subjective. Maybe I should give a list of my favorites but sometimes I feel that empirically that is unfair since I have not seen everything that is out there, nor do I really have a desire to see every movie under the sun. There are just not enough hours in the day.
  4. Monday Night Quarterbacking is fun! After all the awards are over, I can look back and make decisions and develop opinion and analysis about what may make viewing a particular set of films fun for me in the future. Granted I miss the experience of catching films the way many are meant to be seen (at the cinema). But oh well, I was never going to see everything in that format anyway.

Thelma Ritter

Thelma Ritter in a still from "The Mating Season"

Maybe it is my naiveté which comes from my (relative) youth, but I think that the great character actress, Thelma Ritter, is often overlooked in discussions of great performers of mid-twentieth century cinema. Happily during her heyday her talent was not overlooked by her peers – she was nominated to an astounding 7 Academy Awards. While she did not have the fortune to take home good ol’ Oscar, this fact in of itself says all that needs to be said about the type of actress she was.

In her first screen role (uncredited) she played a frustrated mom on line at Macy’s in the holiday classic A Miracle on 34th Street. But for my money one of her most memorable roles was not in favorites such as Rear Window, Pillow Talk, etc. but in her role as the down and out “stoolie” from another NYC street, Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street. While on the surface she is a woman who seems to be willing to do anything for a buck, you cannot help but feel sympathy for her when tragedy strikes and her one wish in life is left unfulfilled.

Otherwise relegated to the role of a domestic she was equally funny, loyal and tough when she needed to be. She also had the ability to be the lens by which the audience sees the truth in a situation, even if the characters around her were for a time oblivious. (Note: Let us remember most of the time, chiefly in the films of the 20th century, that was the role of the “domestic character.”)

So my recommendation is for anyone who has not heard of her to do a Netflix, Youtube, whatever search of her. You will be happy you did.

Man Hunt (1941) directed by Fritz Lang

I had a pleasant surprise this past week when I was flipping away from Venus Williams’ quarterfinal loss in the Australian Open – Fritz Lang’s 1941 feature, Man Hunt was on!

For a synopsis of the plot, I will refer you to Turner Classic Movie’s encyclopedia of the film.  I will just explain why I like this film.

When I first saw this movie I really enjoyed the premise of the “hunt and the hunted” that kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration of the movie.

As for performance, George Sanders stands out in his “magnificent” portrayal as the Nazi antagonist. TANGENT ALERT Sanders in my opinion was a top-notch good character actor that I feel like too many people do not talk about nowadays. Films that immediately conjure up his memorable performances include Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, All About Eve, Picture of Dorian Gray, to name a few. When he was a “good guy” he was roguishly so and when he was “not-so-good,” he came off as sly an devlish. In this film that trait makes him so convincing as the Nazi villain to Walter Pidgeon’s noble protagonist.

As someone who was not alive during that time, I have easily fallen under the impression that most if not all WWII movies produced in America were made after our entry into the war (12/7/1941, nearly 6 months after this film’s initial cinematic release). So over the years it has been enlightening to discover that there were many Hollywood productions that dealt with the spectre of war that people must have been feeling if even separated by that war with an ocean.

Coming up at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music)

A Place In The Sun

Last month, I saw the film Fish Tank (which I have discussed already in a previous post) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It is a fantastic venue to catch films and I recommend it to anyone who is in the NYC area or plans to visit the area.

I checked their calendar of events for upcoming screenings and plucked a bit of repetory cinema I think many will enjoy, That’s Montgomery Clift, Honey! during the month of March. Montgomery Clift the actor and the man always fascinated me. Before I knew his films very well, I remember watching one of those “beyond belief”-type shows as a kid and hearing the ghost story of how the spirit of Clift haunts a landmark Hollywood hotel.

After watching many if not all of his films, I was “haunted” but in a totally different way. With an artist like Clift, it helps to watch his films sequentially. This is especially true when looking at his films in the context of what was happening in his life off-screen (notably his disfiguring car accident) and how it affected his on-screen. persona.