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The Best Picture Project — Titanic (1997)

The film poster shows a man and a woman hugging over a picture of the Titanic's bow. In the background is a partly cloudy sky and at the top are the names of the two lead actors. The middle has the film's name and tagline, and the bottom contains a list of the director's previous works, as well as the film's credits, rating, and release date.Directed by James Cameron

Screenplay by James Cameron

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, David Warner, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton and Gloria Stuart

I saw Titanic in it’s first weekend in release, on Christmas Day 1997.  I distinctly remember this because I’d never seen a movie theater lobby so overrun with people before, nor had I ever been forced to sit in the third row from the front on the leftmost aisle before.  Spending three-plus hours leaning back and craning my neck to the right was hardly the ideal way to see the film and yet, it did not stop me from recognizing this was a seminal moment for me in film.[1]

And surely, given how it was such a cultural phenomenon, I’m not the only one who was captivated by Titanic[2].  In fact, it’s fair to say the whole world was captivated by it[3]  , given it was the first film to do more than $2 billion at the global box office[4]. Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project – The English Patient (1996)

The English Patient Poster.jpgDirected by Anthony Minghella

Screenplay by Anthony Minghella, Based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje

Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe.  Also featured were Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth and Jürgen Prochnow

To my mind it’s always been a hallmark of weak writing to reference the work of others, at least when it’s done for the explicit purpose of latching onto the credibility of the work of the other without actually having to create it organically yourself.  In other words, rather than actually create something on your own, you simply reach out, grab something by somebody else, shine it up a little bit and then say, “Ta da, look at what I did.” Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project – On The Waterfront (1954)

Directed by Elia Kazan

Screenplay by Budd Schulberg

Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger

Some movies can be taken on their own terms and are never more than what they are.  There is no subtext, there is no commentary, there is no hidden agenda and absolutely no meanings can be read into them from the context in which they appeared or from whom they were born.  On the whole, I’d say most movies are this way.

Some movies, though, can never be merely a movie because they are nothing but subtext, are rife with commentary, teem with hidden agendas and are overloaded with meaning. Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project – Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Directed by Bruce Beresford

Screenplay by Alfred Uhry, based upon his play

Starring Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, Esther Rolle and Dan Aykroyd

When The King’s Speech won Best Picture this past year at the Oscars, I was a bit beside myself over it, because I didn’t really fancy it as Best Picture.  An enjoyable film?  Sure.  Best Picture?  No.

In retrospect, though, it doesn’t make sense I would get upset about it, after all, the Academy has shown a history of honoring films just like The King’s Speech: solid, inoffensive films that are hardly loved, but more importantly, hardly hated.  In other words, unlike Black Swan or The Social Network, which had a tendency to be divisive, The King’s Speech is least likely to offend voters and therefore, most likely to rise to the top. Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project – An American in Paris (1951)

Directed by Vincente Minnelli

Story and Screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner

Starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron

Movies, by their very nature, are artificial and could not possibly capture real life.  The closet we come is documentaries, but with the constant excising of the boring bits from the filming, creative editing and the like, even the truth is manipulated and artificial. Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project – Amadeus (1984)

Directed by Milos Foreman

Written by Peter Schaffer, adapted from his play

Starring F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce

Amadeus is one of those films honored by the Academy that, because of the perfect storm of subject, lack of recognizable stars, and what-have-you, is for the most part, generally unknown by the modern public – at least that’s the way it seems to me. After all, whenever I discuss any movies, especially Best Picture winners, nobody mentions Amadeus. The action-nerds talk about Platoon, the sci-fi guys talk about 2001 and Star Wars getting shafted, the costume drama buffs talk about Gone With the Wind, and the musical buffs have a million to choose from. Even thriller guy gets to talk about Silence of the Lambs. Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project – Casablanca (1943)

casablanca movie posterDirected by Michael Curtiz

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains

Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch

In some ways, working on the Best Picture Project has been a curse.  Setting a goal to see each and every Best Picture winner has meant having to watch some truly awful movies, many of which were made all the more awful because I had to watch them – you cannot believe how many times I mentally found myself reliving the tenth grade experience of slogging through The Scarlet Letter.  Not the first example, but probably the worst, was The Broadway Melody.

 However, in other ways, this Project has been a revelation, forcing me to watch movies I’d not ordinarily watch, or films I’d tried to watch but gave up on too early, only to find out later that I’d been unjust in dismissing.  This weeks entry, Casablanca, is just such a film. Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project – Grand Hotel (1932)

Directed by Edmund Golding

Screenplay by William A. Drake and Bela Balazs, from the play of the same name by Drake, adapted from the Novel by Vicki Baum

Starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore

Before I started The Best Picture Project Grand Hotel was never a movie I would have bothered to see.  But it wouldn’t be because I was some kind of snob, because I’m not.  No, it’s because I’ve already tried to see it, three times, and failed every time.  I don’t remember when I first had a go at it, because who remembers those kinds of things.  But I do remember the exact copy of the DVD I made the attempt with because it was still there at the video store a couple years later when I tried again and is probably still there to this day.  The only reason I didn’t rent it again for this little project, and therefore finishing paying as much in rental fees as if I’d just bought the damn thing in the first place, is because Grand Hotel finally came around on TCM and DVR saved me the rental charge.  Thank you, Robert Osborne. Continue reading

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