Category Archives: The Also Ran’s Project

The Also Rans – The Trip to Bountiful/Agnes of God (Best Actress Winner/Loser 1985)

Trip to bountiful.jpgA Trip to Bountiful

Directed by Peter Masterson

Screenplay by Horton Foote, based upon his play

Starring Geraldine Page, John Heard, Rebecca De Mornay, and Carlin Glynn

Agnes moviep.jpgAgnes of God

Directed by Norman Jewison

Screenplay by John Pielmeier, based upon his play

Starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly

Originally this was to be a piece about The Trip To Bountiful, based on it being a Best Adapted Screenplay lower.   At least, that would have been the ostensible angle into the film, which was just a proxy to assess the performance of Geraldine Page.  Why Geraldine Page?   Because despite being nominated for eight Oscars – four as a supporting actress, four as a lead – I had only ever seen a single one of her films.  This in spite of my own cinephile leanings, and her having worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood history – John Wayne, Paul Newman, Francis Coppola, Clint Eastwood, and Woody Allen.  What had I seen her in?  John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust.  And even then, I have zero memory of her in it.  So taking The Trip of Bountiful was meant to open my eyes to her a little bit. Continue reading


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The Also-Rans Project – Sayonara (Best Picture Also-Ran 1957)

Original movie poster for the film Sayonara.jpgDirected by Joshua Logan

Screenplay by Paul Osborn, from the novel by James Michener

Starring Marlon Brando, James Garner, Red Buttons, Miiko Taka, Patricia Owens, Ricardo Montalban, Miyoshi Umeki

In the early 1950s, two airmen (Brando and Buttons) are pulled out of Korea and reassigned to a base in Japan.  One (Brando) would rather not go, because reasons.  The other (Buttons) is happier for the change of locale, because he can finally marry his Japanese girlfriend (Umeki), even though this marriage will go against the wishes of the Air Force brass and racist US policies.  Unexpectedly, Brando falls in love with a Japanese woman as well (Miiko Taka) and decides to marry her.  Tragedy ensues as people stand up to, and buckle, under the racism invited by their decisions.  Oh, and they see a fair amount of Japanese theater along the way.

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The Also-Ran’s Project – Topsy-Turvy (Best Original Screenplay, et al, Also-Ran 1999)

Topsy Turvy.jpgDirected by Mike Leigh

Screenplay by Mike Leigh

Starring Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Lesley Manville, Timothy Spall, Kevin McKidd, Shirley Henderson, and others

There was no reason I had to reach down to a Best Original Screenplay loser to find a 199 entry for this series.  After all, while I’ve seen everything in the 1999 Best Picture and Best Director races, there were various lead acting losers who’s films I’d not seen: Sean Penn[1] in Sweet and Lowdown; Denzel Washington in The Hurricane; Janet McTeer in Tumbleweeds; Julianne Moore in The End of the Affair; and Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart[2].

So, if I had all those options from the acting categories alone, why did I reach so far down to find Topsy-Turvy?    The short answer is Mike Leigh. Continue reading

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The Also-Ran’s Project — The Front Page (Best Picture Also-Ran 1930/31)

The Front Page (1931 film) poster.jpgDirected by Lewis Milestone

Screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, adaptation by Bartlett Cormack, additional dialog by Charles Lederer

Starring Pat O’Brien, Adolph Menjou

At the first Academy Awards[1] Lewis Milestone won Best Director for Two Arabian Knights, while Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans won Best Picture.  Unfortunately, both accomplishments are rendered somewhat to the dustbin of history with the Academy retroactively deciding Wings was Best Picture of the first Oscars, while Frank Borzage was Best Director  for 7th Heaven.

How can that be? you ask.  Continue reading

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The Also-Rans Project – A Star is Born (Best Picture Also-Ran 1937)

A Star Is Born 1937 poster.jpgDirected by William Wellman

Written by William Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell

Starring Janet Gaynor, Frederic March, Adolph Menjou, Lionel Stander and Andy Devine

Esther (Janet Gaynor), dreams of making it in Hollywood, but when she arrives in California she finds success a little hard to come by.  Pluck and desire are not enough – you need luck and coincidence, too.  Fortunately, she meets movie star Norman Maine (Frederic March), who gives her career a massive assist.  In pretty short order she’s a star and married to Norman, who agrees to give up booze for her.  Things turn, though, when Esther’s fame – by now she’s renamed Vicki Lester – eclipses Norman, something his fragile ego cannot take.  He turns to booze again and quickly hits bottom.  When he realizes Vicki is willing to throw her entire career away just to do what it takes to sober him up, he swims out into the ocean and drowns.

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The Also-Ran’s Project – San Francisco (Best Picture Also-Ran 1936)

San Francisco (film) poster.jpgDirected by W.S. Van Dyke

Screenplay by Anita Loos, Story by Robert Hopkins

Starring Clark Gable, Jeannette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy

One of the beautiful things about his Project is getting to learn things about movies I never knew.  You know, like the trends and hidden meanings behind the Oscars themselves.  And honestly, looking at the losers has been far richer in discovery than looking at the winners.  After all, if we didn’t look at the losers we’d never know just what kind of a force William Holden was in the 1950s, what with having been in something like 5 or 6 Best Picture nominees.  Some actors will go their whole career without even being considered for a role in a Best Picture nominee, and here was William Holden scoring that many in one decade. Continue reading

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The Also-Ran’s Project – The Country Girl (Best Picture Also-Ran 1954)

The country girl.jpgDirected by Geoerge Seaton

Written by George Seaton, adapted from the play by Clifford Odets

Starring Bing Crosby, William Holden and Grace Kelly

Loyal readers will know I already have a 1954 Also-Ran in this series, Three Coins In The Fountain.  But unlike the usual instance where I doubled up in a given year by accident – The Love Parade and The Big House in 1931/32 is just one such year – this time I did it on purpose.  Why?  Because William Holden has been a pretty big part of this project,[1] having had his films Our Town, Born Yesterday, and Picnic already included.  Under those circumstances it seemed a shame to leave one out.  So, in a nod towards completeness we turn our attention to The Country Girl. Continue reading

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The Also-Rans Project – Antonia’s Line (Best Foreign Language Film 1995)

Antoniasline.jpgWritten and Directed by Marleen Gorris

Starring Willeke van Ammelrooy, Els Dottermans and Jan Decleir

The Netherlands, immediately post-WWII.  The widow Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) returns with her daughter, Danielle (Els Dottermans), to her hometown to see about her dying mother, who in fact dies within minutes of Antonia’s arrival.  Afterwards, with her mother’s house now empty, Antonia moves in, then never leaves.  Over the following years Antonia puts down roots in the town, collecting a variety of hard-luck-cases into her orbit, who she protects as if they were her children, and also catches the eye of a widower, Farmer Bas (Jan Decleir).  After some time, she and the Farmer Bas take up together.  Amidst this she helps Danielle in her quest to have her own child, then helps raise that child, and even helps to raise her great-granddaughter as well.  Along the way the extended family endures the various ups and downs of life in the mid-to-late 20th century and, in the end, Antonia dies happy, surrounded by family.

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The Also Ran’s Project – Billy Elliot (Best Director, Supporting Actress, and Screenplay Also-Ran 2000)

Billy Elliot movie.jpgDirected by Stephen Daldry

Written by Lee Hall

Starring Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Draven, Jean Heywood, and Stuart Wells

In 1984 a miner’s strike was mounted England in an order to shut down the British coal industry as a whole and prevent the closure of unprofitable mines.[1]  Against this backdrop Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell), the son and brother of striking coal miners, rejects the boxing his father (Gary Lewis) wants him to learn, and instead takes an interest in ballet.  Much to the family’s chagrin, Billy excels at it and eventually lands an audition at the Royal Ballet School in London.  No shock, but Billy’s father and brother come to rally around the boy’s ballet interest and, in the end, Billy is accepted into the school. Continue reading

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The Also-Rans Project – Face To Face (Best Director and Best Actress Also-Ran 1976)

Face to face movie poster.jpgDirected by Ingmar Bergman

Written by Ingmar Bergman

Starring Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson

While her husband is away on business, and her daughter is away at summer camp, a depressive psychiatrist (Liv Ullmann) takes a job as temporary director for psychiatry at some hospital.  Through her work there she another man (Erland Josephson) and while they don’t have a physical affair, they are emotionally intimate.  In the end, because of past trauma in her life, and her depression, she has a mental breakdown.

Is This For Me?

I’m not exactly ignorant of Ingmar Bergman’s work, but I’m no connoisseur either.  At best, I’ve had my moments and quite like several of his films: The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring and Wild Strawberries in particular.  I also have modest affection for The Magician, which is not transcendent, but was at least fine.  Visually striking, with Max Von Sydow giving an interesting performance.  But, on the whole the film was only fine.

That all said, taking his oeuvre as a collected thing, I don’t think I get Bergman, or his enduring appeal.  The problem, for me, is every time I’ve sampled his later films – those being the one’s in color – they’ve almost instantly turned me off.  They heighten emotions, yet suppress the visuals, making them jarring.  Some leave me cold, others leave me scolded.

Most leave me punished.[1]

The problem is many of Bergman’s later films do not seem the sort of movie to be enjoyed.  Appreciated on an intellectual level?  Yes.  Enjoyed?  No.

Face to Face is one of those punishing films. It’s visually uninteresting and overwrought.  Worse, it makes completely baffling choices with the main character that served no real purpose other than to try and drive me off.

Image result for liv ullmann face to face

Liv Ullmann

The most obvious place the movie goes wrong is the rape of the main character in the later half of the first hour.  First, the rape is out of nowhere, similar to Marian Crane’s early death in Psycho, which makes it shocking for being unexpected.[2]  Then, this rape, and the character’s response to it, is tossed off.  It’s not reported, it’s not really brooded over, it’s not really addressed.  And there’s no good reason for any of those.  Or, really, any reason.  The most we get out of it is an admission to her would-be-lover (Erland Josephson) that she was not all that unhappy being raped.  After all, she says, it’s been a while since she last had sex.

And then, just like that, she lets it go.

What this means to us is the rape only existed for making the main character disappointed by it, and nothing else.  It did not catalyze her in any way, or spur her into some agency towards mental health.[3]  Rather, it happens and that’s it.  Which means it was a rape for the sake of having a rape.  Which is frankly offensive.

That all said, while the rape is offensive, Bergman is provocative with the way he addresses the “Do as I say, not as I do” mindset of many people, and the sort of toxicity of that way of thinking.  See, in this movie the main character is a psychiatrist who also suffers her own depression and psychosis.  But despite believing in the value of psychiatric treatment for others, she refuses to get it for herself.  Rather, she lives in denial of her own mental health and deludes herself into thinking she can ‘cure’ herself simply by willing her issues away.  As if denial and willpower are ever enough to overcome psychosis.  Of course, if she got treatment in the usual way then there would probably not be the massive breakdown that splits this movie neatly in half, and therefore, this would be a completely different film altogether.  So…there is that.

All That Jazz.jpgTwo Halves of One Whole

Face to Face can be divided fairly neatly between the pre- and post-breakdown sections, with the film being completely different sorts of animals on either side of the break.  Pre-breakdown the film is about a clearly depressed woman trying to get through her day and outrun her psychosis, and basically failing it.

Post-breakdown the movie turns into a proto-All That Jazz,[4] complete with a lengthy series of fantasy sequences focused on the possibility of the main character’s death, much as All That Jazz would later do.  Here are some parallels between the movies:

  • The neat bifurcation of the film between pre- and post-breakdown.
  • Ignorance of health/denial of health to the detriment of the denier. In All That Jazz the denial was of the main character’s physical health, whereas in Face to Face it is the main character’s mental health.
  • Both confront the character’s mortality with a surreal fantasy sequence. In All That Jazz, the main character confronts his death in some sort of musical/variety show setting, then dies.  Here?  She is tormented by strange visions of death, but ultimately lives. The main difference between the two films?  While All that Jazz dresses its sequence up in showbiz glamour and style, Face to Face cranks up the emotions and the dramatics from Ullmann, to the point of being unbearable.  If the film was attempting to make me uncomfortable, it worked.

And therein is where Face to Face squanders itself.  While Face to Face and All That Jazz feel incredibly similar, All That Jazz has style and drive, compared to Face to Face being flat and tepid, visually uninteresting, and squanders a good performance by Ullmann.[5]

In the end, where Bob Fosse directs the hell out of All That Jazz and gets the most out of it, Bergman stands in the way of his film’s success and it’s the worse for it.

Image result for dina de laurentiis thalberg

Dino De Laurentiif with his Thalberg Award

Fun Fact

Dino De Laurentiis produced Face to Face.  If you came up age in the 1980’s you probably associate him with having produced a ton of schlocky movies like Death Wish, Mandingo, Amityville II and 3-D.  In a way, he was the proto-Cannon Films.

But little do most 1980s kids know that De Laurentiis actually had a long history of producing solid, arthouse films.  Amongst the directors he produced films for were Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, De Sica, Martin Ritt, John Huston, Visconti, Sidney Lumet, Milos Foreman, David Cronenberg, and David Lynch.  In fact, De Laurentiis won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1958 with La Strada, and was given the Irving Thalberg Award – the lifetime achievement award for producers – by the Academy in 2001.

So, he had an arthouse vibe.  But he also produced crap.  I suppose that’s what happens when you wind up with producing credits on 175 films.  Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, and you won’t know which until you actually make the film.

A Note on Versions

Though there are a couple different versions of this film floating around, from as short as 114 minutes, to the original Swedish TV broadcast at 177 minutes, I reviewed the 135 minute release from Olive Films.


Please Read/Buy…

See the rest of the Also Rans Project here.

Also, don’t be afraid to have a look at the thing that inspired this, The Best Picture Project.  Or, you could buy the revised, updated version of that project in book form:  E-Book or Paperback.

To be a pal and buy my books, jum.p over here and here and have a look.  I promise, buying always makes you feel good.



[1] To be fair, punishment is relative.  After all, he never made Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible.

[2] Although, rape doesn’t have to be sudden and unexpected to be shocking.  It’s shocking enough on it’s own terms.  Being sudden only increases the shock.

[3] Aside from all this, it’s deeply troubling as an audience member to view a rape as something that needs to inspire a person to revenge, or some other action.  Why does a woman have to be violated in order to take ownership of herself?  Why is there an expectation that rape in a movie has to be a plot device?

[4] All That Jazz, directed by Bob Fosse (1979)

[5] To be fair, while I intellectually see Ullmann’s performance as good, it’s also so off-the-rails at times you can’t not be mesmerized by it.  But in terms of this movie, which feels tepid, Ullmann’s unhinged performance seems like it’s coming in a from a distant land.

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