The Also Rans — The Adventures of Robin Hood (Best Picture Nominee 1938)

Robin hood movieposter.jpgDirected by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley

Screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller and Rowland Leigh

Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale Sr., and Melville Cooper

Everybody knows the story of Robin Hood, or at least the one-sentence tag they think is the story of Robin Hood – steal from the rich and give to the poor.  Not surprising, that tag is overly-reductive, and grabs one line from the movie in an effort to summarize it, almost at random, ignoring that Robin Hood is complicated and less-interested in stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, than he is about protesting tax policy, and religious and ethnic persecution.

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The Also Rans – The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (Best Picture Nominee 1966)

Russians are coming.jpgDirected by Norman Jewison

Screenplay by William Rose, based upon the novel by Nathaniel Benchley

Starring Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters, Paul Ford and Theodore Bikel

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming might’ve been nominated for Best Picture – and Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, and a couple others – but it had zero chance of winning.  And by zero, I mean zero.  There’s always one or two of those kind of films in any Best Picture race and in 1966 The Russians are Coming was it.

One reason was history: Since the beginning, only six comedies have won the Oscar for Best Picture.  Ironically, at the time Russians came out, it would’ve had a better chance than it does today, because at that time five comedies had won Best Picture.  In the fifty years since, just one.  In a very real way its zero chance of winning in 1966 has steadily fallen below zero since. Continue reading

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The Also-Rans — Atonement (Best Picture Nominee 2007)

Atonement UK poster.jpgDirected by Joe Wright

Screenplay By Christopher Hampton, based upon the novel by Ian McEwan

Starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Benedict Cumberbatch and Juno Temple Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King.jpgDirected by Peter Jackson

Screenplay by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens, from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkein

Starring Viggo Mortenson, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Dominic Monahan, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Bernard Hill, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto and Andy Serkis

In the six years I’ve been running this Project, I’ve never began with any sort of disclaimer, mostly because I’ve had nothing to disclaim.  Today, that ends:

Given The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (TLOTR:TROTK) is the third in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it kind of makes sense that, rather than watching TLOTR:TROTK on its own, it should be seen only as part of the whole.  In other words, watching the final 1/3 of the trilogy, without taking on the first 2/3, renders any assessment of the film a bit suspect.  But, while that might make sense I have three points to make that also make perfect sense: Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project — Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's List movie.jpg

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Screenplan by Steve Zailian, based upon the novel by Thomas Kennealy

Starring Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes

I’ll say it: Schindler’s List might be the most important film ever to win Best Picture.  It represents a true cinematic achievement and, even if it was not revolutionary in the sense that Jaws was revolutionary, it full demonstrates how you can take a deadly subject matter and, by using all the tricks of the trade, can produce an important film about a tough subject without making it fee didactic.

That all being said – this is not a film you sit down to enjoy.  There truly is no enjoyment here.   It’s a tough film on a tough topic and there’s no enjoying that.  That being said, it’s not punishing either, nor is it a chore to watch.  Rather, it’s emotionally cathartic and the sort of thing you’ll put on only when you want to have your guts ripped open.

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The Best Picture Project — The Godfather Part II (1974)

Godfather part ii.jpgDirected by Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, based upon the novel by Mario Puzo

Starring Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, John Cazale, Bruno Kirby, Lee Strassburg, Robert Duval, G. D. Spradlin and Harry Dean Stanton

It strikes me now that as I’ve come to the homestretch on the Best Picture Project, and looking to start my final kick,[1] I’m facing down what might be the toughest stretch of movies, having inadvertently saved some of the longest, and some of those I’d been dreading most, for last.  The streak started a few movies back with Crash (dreading), continued to The Departed (long), then on to My Fair Lady (long), leading right up to this one (long).  To come, Schindler’s List (dreading for emotional reasons and my discomfort at feeling feelings), Return of the King (massive length), Cimarron (saved for basically being unavailable), and Million Dollar Baby (dread because when I saw it in the theater, the bait-and-switch made me downright hostile with it).  Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project — My Fair Lady — Dir. George Cukor (1964)

My fair lady poster.jpgDirected by George Cukor

Screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner, based upon “My Fair Lady” by Alan Jay Lerner, and “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw

Starring Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Stanley Holloway

Lessons – life is lessons.  As this project has been my life in so many ways for a good five years, it stands to reason this Project is lessons.  The primary?  Immediate plaudits – worldly rewards, you might say – do not last.  The Oscars themselves are proof of this.  Though you can win one and think you’ve really become something special, the reality is that all you’re left with is a hunk of gold-plated britannium.  And the gold?  It’s barely on there.

What does this mean? Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project — The Departed, dir. by Martin Scorsese (2006)

Departed234.jpgDirected by Martin Scorcese

Screenplay by William Monahan, based on the film Infernal Affairs

Starrring Leonardo Dicaprio, Matt Damno, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg

Martin Scorsese should have an Oscar – Martin Scorsese should have a fistful of Oscars.  A fistful in both hands.  He is a legend of cinema, with talent enough that he can hop genres and eras with relative ease, making his style fit them all, no matter how disparate then may be.  Better, he’s been consistently good for more than four decades, without the flameout in quality you get from many other so-called legends.[1]  Add to that he’s a student of film and treats it legitimately, and reverently, as art, and you can see why he should have more Oscars than he know what to do with.

But he doesn’t have more Oscars than he knows what to do with – he only has the one.  Not for directing Raging Bull or Goodfellas, but as director of The Departed.

Let me ask you a question – which is worse: Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project — Crash, dir. by Paul Haggis (2005)

Crash ver2.jpgDirected by Paul Haggis

Screenplay by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco

Starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Ludacris, Thandie Newton, Michael Pena, Ryan Phillipe, Larenz Tate, Shaun Toud and Bahar Soomekh

Did you ever feel like the whole world was against you and it was because you were black?  Or white?  Or Muslim?  Or Hispanic?  Or white?  Or whatever?  And more than anything, you wanted to see a movie that confirmed your suspicions, so that you knew you weren’t just imaging it?  Only to preach at you that your problem might be as much your own racism as it is the racism of others?

Well, if you did, Crash is the film for you.

Or, did you ever feel like people hurt each other, simply so they feel alive?

Well, if you did, Crash is also the film for you.

Or, did you ever wonder why it is that people crash into each other?

Thankfully, Crash has an explanation for that, too – “We crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

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The Also Ran’s — The Accidental Tourist (Best Picture Nominee 1988)

The accidental tourist.jpgDirected by Lawrence Kasdan

Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Frank Galati, Based upon the novel by Anne Tyler

Starring William Hurt, Geena Davis and Kathleen Turner

The Accidental Tourist is a quiet, earnest story, about a travel writer (William Hurt) who specializes in creating comfortable travel experiences – the key is control and predictability.  But, it’s not merely his writing which advocates predictability – rather, his whole worldview is based on sticking things in a rut and making sure they stay in them.  And honestly, it’s a viewpoint well-earned, as his entirely family (two brothers, one sister) also seem willfully stuck in their comfortable little ruts, with their comfortable little quirks.

However, after the senseless killing of their child, the writer’s wife (Kathleen Turner) leaves him.  Shortly thereafter, a free spirit (Geena Davis), comes into his life and shakes things up.  And therein lies the central tension of the film and that thing about which the plot revolves – will the writer choose to stay in his rut?  Or will he embrace the chaos of the world? Continue reading

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