Top 5 Tuesday: Martin Scorsese

I thought it was high time that The Lantern finally give one of America’s greatest filmmakers his due. In all honesty, I am somewhat embarrassed that it has taken me this long to post a list honoring the legendary Martin Scorsese. But to make up for my negligence, I thought it would be a good idea to get two separate Top 5’s composed by two huge Marty fans…Phil Carbo (who writes the ‘Ludovico Files‘ page) was gracious enough to share his personal favorites…and I have my own 5 faves here as well. And we are both in agreement…with so many classic films to choose from (including his many documentaries & shorts) since the late 1960’s, this was one challenging task. Five slots go way too quickly, and many great films are unfortunately left off both lists. Not only is he a master director constantly pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, but he has done so much for the preservation of film – and that, my friends, is pretty awesome. I mean really, is there anyone you would rather learn about the history of film than this guy? The man is a walking encyclopedia of movie knowledge. I can hear him speak about movies for hours and still want more. And to think that before becoming one of our most cherished directors, he was seriously considering a life as a priest. Instead, he became one of the most influential directors of the modern era — and at age 68, is still hard at work and entertaining us all. Here are our lists…they are surprisingly similar (so much for diversity…sorry guys), which surprised me just a bit. ENJOY!

Phil Carbo’s Top 5:

5. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

I’m sure many will think this is an odd choice and question whether this is truly one of the top-5 films of Scorsese’s storied career but to me, while not bringing the best plot or pacing to the table, Bringing out the Dead is a film that is quintessential Scorsese.  First, it reunites him with screenwriter Paul Schrader and the two have an undeniable chemistry.  Schrader’s scripts typically reveal the darker side of New York and this film is, despite its slow pace, a perfect vehicle for Marty’s trademark, hyper kinetic style: close-ups, dolly shots, lightning edits, fast motion and all enhanced with a classic rock soundtrack that is prototypical Scorsese.  Sure Nicolas Cage is over the top — but when is he not?  Marty’s vision here actually lends itself to the hyped-up, manic performances.  Filmed almost entirely at the darkest hours of the night, it progressively exhibits a surrealness and frantic absurdity that feels born out of a nightmare.

4. After Hours (1985)

Speaking of nightmares, the kinetic pace and off-the-wall oddness of this black comedy plays out like a bad dream for both Griffin Dunne’s character and the viewer. Little known fact: Tim Burton was originally attached to the project, which would have been interesting because After Hours seems like more of a Burton film…but Scorsese, of course, makes the material his own.  One of his few comedies, he once again exposes the darker side of New York as the city becomes a central character.  As mentioned, the film taps into many of the motifs we all find in our dreams (the reoccurrence of locations, the feeling that one is running and running but can’t seem to get away, and a seeming randomness to everything going on).  The film ends strangely (apparently a point of contention during filming), seeming to imply that the “normalcy” of a 9-5 office existence is not necessarily a bad thing.  Whatever you take from it, one thing is certain – this is one of Scorsese’s more visually arresting films.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

This film and my next are pretty much no-brainers.  When one thinks of Scorsese, it’s impossible for Taxi Driver to NOT come to mind.  It is a dark and deliberately paced film and contains one of DeNiro’s top 5 best performances.  Story aside, it is impossible not to marvel at the craft of filmmaking Scorsese brings to this film.  From the opening shot of the taxi driving slowly through puffs of city steam to the shocking and graphic shootout (that ironically turns Travis from psychopath to hero – at least in the public eye) the entire film has an uneasy edge.  Marty developed his trademark themes of alienation and Christian guilt in early films such as Mean Streets, but with Taxi Driver he was at the top of his game, and in the process helped to define the gritty, maverick style that 70’s film is known for (and sadly missed).

2. Raging Bull (1980)

From opening frame to end, Raging Bull showcases the artistic genius of Scorsese like no other. Filmed in black and white (with one amazingly inventive color sequence), Raging Bull lays bare the tragic despair of Jake LaMotta, a man so full of self-loathing, that he abuses and alienates everyone around him, including his wife and brother with unspeakable brutality. Robert DeNiro once again proves his incredible ability to morph into character like no other actor of his time.  The violence both in and out of the ring is graphic, with close-ups of blood spurting from open wounds, and dialogue that makes some scenes downright uncomfortable to watch; all ultimately help us understand this unrepentant character.  This film was made during a difficult time in Scorsese’s life.  He was battling addiction and saw a bit of himself in LaMotta’s fall from grace. In this sense, it’s one of Scorsese’s most personal and autobiographic films (the theme of redemption comes up in many of his more accomplished works).  As a side note: It’s also the first time Joe Pesci would give an ass-kicking to Frank Vincent (a recurring cycle in several subsequent films until Vincent gets his ultimate revenge in Casino).

1. Goodfellas (1990)

I could easily write a Masters’ thesis on Goodfellas.  In my opinion, it’s not only Scorsese’s best, but it also happens to be my favorite film of all-time. It’s the first film that made me understand the medium as an art form. Goodfellas takes all the elements of great cinema to create the feeling that you are experiencing all of the joys, anger, paranoia, and desperation of each character.  And truth be told, I wasn’t even that interested in seeing it when released in 1990.  My friends had to convince me into going.  This probably had something to do with the fact that I had recently watched Sergio Leone’s ganster epic, Once Upon a Time in America, and while a good film, is just too slow for my taste.  At nearly 2 ½ hours, I suppose I expected the same from Goodfellas, but boy… was I wrong.  From the very moment the title zooms across the screen to a revving engine to Sid Vicious’ cover of “My Way” over the end credits, the movie never fails to electrify in its brilliance.  Scorsese has since made other phenomenal films in the genre (Casino, Gangs of New York and The Departed come to mind), but Goodfellas sets the gold standard for a plethora of the modern crime dramas that followed and remains the high-water mark of Marty’s career.

Peter’s Top 5:

5. Gangs of New York (2002)

I had about three different films in this slot before finally deciding on this ambitious work. More than any other Scorsese film in recent years, this one for me most resembles his stellar films of the 70’s & 80’s. I love the historical context of Lower New York’s “Five Points” district (1846 – 1862) and how Scorsese creates this past world. Daniel Day-Lewis gives another towering performance here as “Bill the Butcher,” the leader of the natives looking to oust all of the immigrants making their way to shore. John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, and Jim Broadbent give fine supporting performances. I’m not a Leo-hater by any means and his performance here is adequate, but his irregular Irish accent does bother me. The production design and period costumes are stunning – and the camerawork is gripping. A majestic American tale – and my favorite Scorsese movie of the past 10+ years.

4. After Hours (1985)

I know many would put his other black comedy King of Comedy (1982) on the list instead, and I would have no problem with that. But for me, this cult classic is one of my all-time favorite comedies. Joseph Minion’s script is an absolute trip, the camera never stops moving, and the all-star cast turn in some great performances. This is a wonderfully quirky and imaginative “New York movie” following the many misadventures and dangers that sheepish Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) encounters one evening as he simply tries to make his way home. As Phil cites above, Tim Burton was slated to direct this first – but seeing it now, I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. This is a genuine Scorsese flick and a must-see for any fan of his work.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

A classic, gritty New York motion picture. Seeing it years later gives you such an authentic sense of how Manhattan (especially the seedier parts of it) was in the 1970’s. This is early Robert DeNiro, which means he gave it his Method-best (wish he were still here with us, btw). As the lonely, dejected ex-Marine Travis Bickle, DeNiro gives us one of the silver screen’s most terrifying characters – a ticking time bomb that can go off at any time as he drives through the streets of New York late at night, disgusted at what he sees. Scorsese assembled a great supporting cast – led by a young Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, and Cybill Shepherd. Paul Schrader’s script is authentic and inspiring and Bernard Herrmann’s music captures Bickle’s state of mind perfectly. A graphically violent movie, it’s surely not for the faint-of-heart. But it remains a mesmerizing character picture with a fantastic denouement that resonates long after.

2. Goodfellas (1990)

A beautiful & explosive piece of filmmaking – and one of the very best mobster movies of all-time. I was always fascinated by how beautifully Scorsese and his creative team captured the many decades that this epic film spans…from the 1950’s through the 1980’s, Goodfellas encapsulates each period so well. The costumes, art direction, and music featured…all marvelously executed as we watch the rise and fall of the Lucchese crime family. Joe Pesci as the psychopathic Tommy DeVito is scary as hell, Lorraine Bracco was robbed of what should have been an Oscar-winning performance, DeNiro gives another well-crafted performance – and Ray Liotta does a terrific job of holding the entire film together. In fact, he has never been better. As impressive as the film is from a moviemaking standpoint, Scorsese managed to make this one hell of an entertaining flick – its 2 ½ hours breezing right by and you want another hour of it all. Love the “Layla” sequence and that impressive long tracking shot through the Copacabana is always a wonder to watch.

1. Raging Bull (1980)

In my opinion, this is Scorsese’s masterpiece. It is in no way one of those films I can turn on and watch at any time. I need to emotionally brace myself for this one because it is hard to stomach at times. Let’s face it…the guy is a fucking animal. Robert DeNiro is at the top of his game here as the brutish middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta,  giving arguably the best performance of his career and one of the greatest performances in film history. Joe Pesci is terrific as his brother. Calling Michael Chapman’s black-and-white photography breathtaking and stunning is still not doing justice to his work here. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is crisp and fierce. One of the greatest bio pictures ever made and an instant classic to be sure. This is a haunting, powerful film that is a mesmerizing piece of filmmaking. Marty’s best work to date.

Peter’s Honorable Mentions:

My Voyage to Italy (1999)
Casino (1995)

Gimme 5: Favorite DeNiro Flicks!

Today marks the release of the highly anticipated Machete (directed by Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquis). I’m not very excited about it at all, but since it co-stars Robert DeNiro, I thought it would make for an opportune time to get your feedback on the legendary, Oscar-winning actor. I figured there are plenty of movies to pick from, so this week I am asking you to Gimme Your 5 favorite Robert DeNiro Movies — they can be what you think his 5 best performances are or the 5 best movies he has been a part of…you decide!

Once upon a time, Mr. DeNiro put everything into his craft and gave us some of cinema’s most magnetic characters. That was a long while ago. Now, it seems he is more businessman than artist; cashing paychecks and busy making lousy Fockers sequels and other nonsense such as Hide and Seek, Godsend, Showtime and yes, sadly, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.  A far cry from The Mission, Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Regardless, he is a heavyweight talent and there is always hope that he will return to top form. Here is his extensive acting resume — now:

GIMME 5 FAVORITE DeNIRO MOVIES/ROLES!!!

I will start…(going strictly with his actual performances here)

#1. Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull 
(still, the performance of his life…)
#2. Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II
(brilliant in his subtlety and taking on the persona of a young Brando. Exquisitely crafted)
#3. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver
(cinema’s most notorious vigilante. Raw and uninhibited approach)
#4. Michael in The Deer Hunter
(the nucleus that holds this awe-inspiring film together. Absolutely captivating)
#5. Sam Rothstein in Casino
(I think a more multi-layered performance here than in Goodfellas & shows more range)

Hmmm….3 out of the 5 were directed by Martin Scorsese. I would think it’s high time to start collaborating with the master filmmaker again…Leo will be just fine for a while.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!!! 

The Top 15 Sports Movies of All-Time!

We are officially in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer, with Major League Baseball just finishing up their annual All-Star festivities and their season hitting its midpoint. Football mini-camps are right around the corner (Go Jets!) and the frenetic chaos that was the NBA period to sign free agents has come to and end. The World Cup is over and The U.S. Open hits Flushing, NY at the very end of August. So I thought that now would be a fitting time to come up with my personal Top 15 List of the Greatest Sports Films of All-Time. Two things I love in this world are sports and film — and I love when those two elements are put together to make an inspiring, stimulating and emotional sports flick. I brainstormed about 120 sports films and whittled it down to just ten movies – but much like my “Greatest Comedies of the Decade” list, I was upset that a few of my favorites were left off, so I branched out to 15 great movies. Then there was the question as to whether or not I considered certain films to be classified as “sports films” (the debate on this continues for films like Jerry Maguire, Field of Dreams, The Hurricane, and Raging Bull). There are also a number of very good films that did not make the list, so I included some honorable mentions as well. Hope you read and enjoy — and, as always, I look forward to your own thoughts and comments on this topic.

#15. Miracle (2004)

Before all of the fun and purity was sucked out of the Olympic Ice-Hockey games by letting professional players compete, the amateurs ruled the ice. And in 1980, one of the biggest upsets in sports history took place when the United States Hockey team defeated the seemingly unconquerable team from the Soviet Union in Lake Placid and then winning the Gold Medal by defeating Finland. Miracle focuses on the player-turned-coach Herb Brooks and how he led the underdog Team USA to their extraordinary run. Kurt Russell does an admirable job as the ever-demanding, workaholic coach and the film does a terrific job at staying true to actual events and capturing the moment that shocked the world and made America proud.  

#14. Eight Men Out (1988)

A superb film, with a stellar cast and directed by one of our very best filmmakers in John Sayles. If you like sports movies and haven’t seen this one yet, put this one in your queue right away! Most recently, Major League Baseball’s black eye was the use of ballplayers taking performance enhancing drugs, but for decades it was the infamous “Black Sox” scandal – when the Chicago White Sox of 1919 deliberately lost the World Series. Sayles does a brilliant job of telling this unbelievable true story in which eight players (including Shoeless Joe Jackson) are suspended for life. A wonderful period piece, the film does a great job of putting you in a different time and place. The costume design and dialogue are completely authentic and the cast (including John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Michael Rooker, David Strathairn and D.B. Sweeney) does a marvelous job. You truly empathize with the characters and the dilemmas they are going through — and if you are an avid baseball fan like myself, you will really lose yourself in watching America’s greatest pastime during its real Golden Age.

#13. Caddyshack (1980)

This movie is the main reason I augmented this list from 10 to 15 films. I don’t know if it’s a “guy thing,” but there was no way I could create a “Best Sports Movies” list and not include this comedy classic from Harold Ramis. Rodney Dangerfield is at his crude and arrogant best, and every Bill Murray scene is hilarious, but it is Ted Knight who is my absolute favorite here as Judge Smails, the owner of the illustrious Bushwood Country Club. The funniest scene here (out of so very many) is when Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) has to play through Carl Spackler’s (Murray) hovel. I also love the ever-growing conflict between Judge Smails and Al Czervik (Dangerfield), the eccentric millionaire. This film always makes me laugh and for my money, is the better “golf film” than The Legend of Bagger Vance or Tin Cup. “In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, ‘Au revoir, gopher!'”

#12. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

This film won the “Best Picture” Oscar and deservedly so as it truly packs a devastating right hook. Warner Brothers did an incredible job of keeping the story under wraps when it was released so when I went in to see it, I just thought this was going to be a movie about a female boxer. Boy, was I wrong! Some people think this Clint Eastwood flick is overrated, but my guess is that they either heard about or were made aware of  the emotional roller coaster ride this movie takes you on beforehand. The father/daughter-like relationship between Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn and Hilary Swank’s Maggie Fitzgerald is a beautiful one to  behold and so elegantly crafted. Eastwood also does a very nice job of interspersing some well-needed humor at just the right moments. There are some great boxing sequences and Swank creates a character who comes from nowhere and has a dream; she is fiercely competitive, and has the heart of a lion. There are also some great, atmospheric scenes around Dunn’s gym where all the regulars go on a daily basis (including Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris played by Morgan Freeman). A magnificent piece of storytelling that breaks your heart every time. Mo Cuishle…

#11. Pride of the Yankees (1942)

The true story of the “Iron Man” himself, Lou Gehrig, one of the greatest baseball players ever to don the infamous Yankees pinstripes. Gary Cooper’s portrayal of Gehrig is a commendable one as the film follows him from his childhood in New York, through his years as a New York Yankee and ending, tragically, with his now famous “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech before succumbing to the fatal ALS disease at the very young age of 37. You learn a lot about the life of this talented ballplayer here, including the unhealthy relationship he had with his mother (Elsa Janssen does a terrific job in the complex role). Teresa Wright is very well cast as the woman who loves him and Babe Ruth is played by…well, the Babe himself! A classic sports film — and a must-see for any baseball fan…or any fan of inspirational and moving films.  

#10. Remember the Titans (2000)

I just love this film. It’s a great sports film, but so much more than that, covering the real life events of the early 1970’s when two high schools integrated and formed T.C. Williams High School. Racial tensions were at their peak and it doesn’t get any easier for this small town when the popular Caucasian coach is replaced by Herman Boone, an African-American coach from North Carolina. Denzel Washington is dynamic as Coach Boone — demanding nothing but 100% from his young players on and off the football field. Will Patton gives a moving performance as well, playing Boone’s assistant coach. The film does a great job of putting us in this place and time — and the great soundtrack only intensifies the atmosphere. Little by little we watch as the locker room grows from one of contempt and segregation to one unified alliance. A tear-jerker of a movie with some terrific moments throughout — and some great football too. This movie leaves a lasting impact and you can’t help but cheer at times and even shed a few tears. The true essence of competition, teamwork and what it means to be a true teammate is fully illustrated here. A great movie! 

#9. Seabiscuit (2003)

A story of second chances for each of our main characters here and another film based on a true story. Set in the Depression-era, Gary Ross’ film examines one of the most famous racehorses in history — and how he helped to lift the spirits of a nation that was in desperate need of it. A true underdog story, the movie actually tells the story of a few long shots — the owner, the trainer, the hot-tempered jockey and Seabiscuit, the undersized racehorse. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the movie features wonderful performances by Chris Cooper, Tobey Maguire, William H. Macy, and the mega-awesome Jeff Bridges. Real life jockey Gary Stevens is also excellent in a supporting role and the racing scenes are so skillfully shot — the costumes and sets capture the time period perfectly. On the surface, the movie appears to be about the inspiring story of this magnificent racehorse and those who loved him, but it tells us so much more about attaining the American Dream. You don’t have to be a fan of horseracing to truly appreciate this film — another work that is brimming with a blazing spirit and tugs at your  heart.

#8. The Hustler (1961)

Paul Newman shines as Fast Eddie Felson, an up-and-coming pool player with an ego as big as his game. He wants to be known as the best player in the world and to do it he seeks out the legendary champion Minnesota Fats so that he can take him on. You honestly couldn’t cast a more suitable actor to play Minnesota Fats than Jackie Gleason, and for his electrifying performance, he received a well-deserved Oscar nomination. The back-and-forth between the two is a treasure to watch, as is Eugen Schüfftan’s amazing cinematography. Piper Laurie gives a tender performance here and George C. Scott is captivating, as always…and a real shit to boot! The pool shots are real and exquisite, as Gleason was well-known as being a terrific pool player. The seediness of this culture and its inhabitants is shown quite well here. But the movie is all Eddie’s — as we watch him burn out, mature, and learn from his mistakes. An all-encompassing drama and though pool may not be on the tip of your tongue as being a riveting sport to watch, this film succeeds in doing just that. A film for the ages — far superior to the sequel that would be released 25 years later.

#7. Bull Durham (1988)

The love triangle is an entertaining subplot here, but the true greatness of this terrific sports film is seeing how a minor league baseball team goes through a season — on buses instead of private planes, in cheesy little ballparks rather than the gorgeous monuments of MLB, in seedy rooms at the Motel 8 instead of the Four Seasons. Kevin Costner plays the cerebral, aging catcher Crash Davis, who is just trying to hold on to one more year to play the game he has loved his entire life. He watches with envy as the new phenom pitcher ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins)comes to the Durham Bulls to be groomed for the Big Show. The chemistry between the two actors is solid and Susan Sarandon was the ideal actress to play Annie Savoy — here she is the perfect mix of sexy, smart and tomboy. Writer/Director Ron Shelton has written a hilarious and moving script; one that accurately depicts the life of minor-leaguers. There are some classic lines scattered throughout, and the baseball scenes are done quite well. One can’t help but root for and feel sympathy for Costner’s Crash – he has played a baseball player a few times, but this was his first time doing so, and he brings a tremendous authenticity to the role. No sports film list would be complete without this one…  

#6. Hoosiers (1986)

Where in the world do people live and breathe high school and collegiate basketball? Hoosiertown, that’s where. Set in rural Indiana, David Anspaugh’s film is basketball through and through. Gene Hackman is astounding as the highly volatile Coach Norman Dale, a man with a checkered past who has just been hired to coach this small-town high school basketball team. His style and methods are immediately met with raised eyebrows, but this guy knows how to coach in a very Bob Knight kind of way. If you had a son, this is the guy you want coaching him. We watch as he prepares his underdog team throughout the season and on their way to becoming a shocking contender for the state championship in 1954, which is just about everything in Indiana. Dennis Hopper plays the father of one of the young players and he gives a heartfelt and moving performance as the town drunk who everyone seems to have given up on. Hopper earned an Oscar nomination for his work here. Hoosiers is a classic tale of redemption for many of its characters and it is another sports film that you cannot resist rooting for. Based on a true story, this movie has everything for the sports/film lover — heart, resilience, courage, teamwork, loyalty and attitude. This is a movie I can never turn away from if it’s on — and I get caught up in it each and every time.

#5. The Natural (1984)

Barry Levinson directs this fairy-tale baseball movie about Roy Hobbs, a middle-aged man who comes out of nowhere to become one of the greatest baseball players to ever live. Robert Redford is perfect as the midwestern Hobbs who is now enjoying the renowned career he should have had in younger days when he was a pitcher. However, that life was tragically sidetracked and is just now becoming a household name. Here is another period piece that does a marvelous job of taking us back to a time when every gentleman in the stands wore a fedora. We root for Hobbs throughout this film and though it may not be as authentic as some other sports films, that is not what this film is about. We go along for the ride and we enjoy every bit of it — right up to the point where Hobbs hits a ball that soars high in the sky, shattering the ballpark’s lights. Richard Farnsworth, Wilford Brimley, Robert Prosky, Glenn Close and Kim Basinger are all great in their supporting roles and all having a tremendous impact on the life of Hobbs in some way. With a rich and intricate screenplay, along with the great costumes, sets and period props, this is a baseball movie for the kid in all of us!

#4. Field of Dreams (1989)

This is very easily one of my all-time favorite movies and it makes me cry every time I see it. Yes, the background is the legendary baseball field built by Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), but the film is not really about baseball at all. At its heart, we have a family man who is destined to go on a journey for reasons he cannot fathom, while his farm hemorrhaging money and is about to be lost; a man who was never able to apologize to his father with whom he had a more than strained relationship. And that is the crux of this movie — a father, a son and the game of baseball. It all comes together so gorgeously in the end that it never ceases to move me in so many ways. Phil Alden Robinson does a wonderful job at adapting W.P. Kinsella’s book and directs the movie so skillfully, while getting the most out of his stellar cast. James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, and the legendary Burt Lancaster are a joy to watch. The banter between Ray and Jones’ Salinger-like author is great fun and Lancaster is nothing short of extraordinary as “Moonlight” Graham. The ballpark itself is its own character in the film and is ever-present throughout. A great, feel-good movie that has everything we look for in a great sports movie without much of the sport actually in it.

#3. Hoop Dreams (1994)

There are some wonderful documentary films that focus on athletics, but this, for me, is the quintessential achievement. Some of the films on this list are based on true stories, which adds a special element to the viewing experience. This does one better as director Steve James and his crew followed two Illinois high school students for over five years and collected over 250 hours of footage. William Gates and Arthur Agee want to be professional basketball players like their idol, Isiah Thomas. they are recruited by St. Joseph High School, which is renowned for its basketball program. The film does a phenomenal job of showing you what each of these boys is going through as they try to get recruited by the top-notch collegiate programs. In addition to seeing the highs and many devastating lows that the boys must face, Hoop Dreams raises a number of important societal issues such as race, education, economic status, and what our values in America are. You feel as if you are a fly on the wall throughout and you really get to know James’ subjects. It’s better than almost any sports movie because it isn’t just based on real life — this is real life.

#2. Raging Bull (1980)

This may be the greatest movie on this list for the sheer brilliance of its filmmaking, so if you have this as #1 on your own list, you will get no arguments from me. I wasn’t sure if this could be categorized as a “sports film,” but it does examine the real life of middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta — his bouts in the ring and his self-destructive nature outside the arena. Robert DeNiro gives perhaps his greatest performance as LaMotta — completely uninhibited, crude, raw, authentic. He’s like Stanley Kowalski, but on mega steroids. The way this man treats those he presumably loves is at times, so uncomfortable to watch. On top of this mesmerizing performance, we have perhaps Martin Scorsese’s greatest achievement as a filmmaker. I’m not sure there has ever been more realistic footage taken in the ring and Michael Chapman’s black-and-white cinematography is nothing short of resplendent.  Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is crisp and economical, as always. Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty are fantastic in their respective roles and play off DeNiro quite well. The film plays like a Greek tragedy as we watch this man slowly bring about his own tragic demise — and it makes for a riveting, masterpiece of a film.

#1. Rocky (1976)

The quintessential underdog film — and an American classic, winning the “Best Picture” Oscar in an ultra-competitive year. For those of you who think Sylvester Stallone isn’t all that talented, I would ask you to remind yourself that he is the man responsible for creating this truly inspiring film, writing its screenplay and playing the legendary Rocky Balboa character — on his way to receiving two Oscar nominations that year. Balboa is an uneducated, small-time boxer who works as a “collector” for a local mafia man. His time is up and he has nothing in his life but a tiny apartment and his dog, Butkus. When he is unexpectedly given the opportunity of a lifetime — to fight the heavyweight champion of the world (as kind of a publicity stunt) — he takes full advantage of it and shows how far a resilient heart (and solid jaw) can go. John G. Avildsen directed this inspiring and wholly entertaining work, featuring an iconic score by Bill Conti, precise editing, and some great boxing sequences. Talia Shire gives a subtle, lovely performance as Adrian and Carl Weathers does a great job as Apollo Creed, the champion who takes his opponent way too lightly. Of course, Burgess Meredith is the ideal choice to play Mickey, Balboa’s stubborn, feisty veteran trainer. The city of Philadelphia is prominently displayed here — its actually another character in the film and you can almost smell the cheesesteaks through the screen. The fight  keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout — and the ending is just perfect. This may not be the greatest film achievement on the list (or maybe so, I’m not sure), but I think it is the epitome of what a classic sports film should be – the benchmark that other sports films should strive to emulate. I can’t think of a sports film with more heart, one that shows the courage and will of the human spirit so effortlessly or one that can so easily bring me to my feet in applause. Rocky – you will always be the champ!

Some Honorable Mentions for Good Measure:

1. I do love Rocky II and Rocky III (could have easily been in the Top 15)
2. Everybody’s All-American (1988)
3. Blue Chips (1994)
4. Major League (1989)
5. Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008)

The Godfather vs. Goodfellas — Cast Your Vote!

No doubt there have been some brilliant gangster films made over the years. “Casino,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “White Heat,” “Scarface,” “Donnie Brasco“…and I could go on and on. For this week’s “Movie Poll” I could have easily come up with 10 truly awesome gangster flicks for you to pick from. But I’m not going to do that. What’s the point? I’m just going to get right down to the two films it always comes down to anyway, and if you think otherwise, well, then….maybe you better come take a ride…you know what I mean?!

This has always been a source of great debate with me and my film buddies. The question? Which is the better gangster movie: Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” (1972) or Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1990)? I have my own very strong opinions on the matter, but for now, I want to see what you think.

So this week is real easy — you get two choices and two choices only…if you’ve never seen them — shame on you. If you like another film better, simply pick which film you enjoy more. Fuhgeddaboudit…it’s that easy.

Which is the Better Gangster Flick?
The Godfather
Goodfellas

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Peter Eramo Ranks: The Top 10 Worst ‘Best Picture’ Oscar Winners Ever!

Let’s face it, the Oscar for “Best Picturerarely goes to the actual best picture of any given year. Since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1928, there have been a number of doozies that walked away with the industry’s most prestigious award – some sub-par films, some average, some just not very good at all. In light of this thinking, I have compiled my own list – “The Top 10 Worst Best Picture Winners of All-Time

Of course this is only my personal opinion, so I encourage you to comment and give me your own thoughts here. In looking over my Top 10, there aren’t many “bad” films listed (well, two or three of them, perhaps). But, by including these films, I am not saying they are “bad” per se, but rather, either (1) they are average, decent films that probably should not have even been nominated or (2) given the competition of that particular year, said film had no business winning at all.

Take a look at this past year, for instance. “The Hurt Locker” won the highest honor and I wouldn’t even put that in my Top 15 films of the year. However, it was sort of a weak year for great films and because of that, I excluded it from this list. I know everyone says “Ordinary People” (1980) and “Dances with Wolves” (1990) were undeserving of winning “Best Picture” – that “Raging Bull” (1980) and “Goodfellas” (two phenomenal films by Martin Scorsese) were the better films. This is probably true and I would agree with this sentiment. However, I could not include the films of Robert Redford and Kevin Costner on this particular Top 10 List because, quite frankly, I think they are both 4-star films in their own right. Is “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) a better film than Coppola’s masterpiece that is “Apocalypse Now”? I certainly don’t think so. However, “Kramer vs. Kramer” won and I love the movie, so this too is also omitted.

 I desperately wanted to include “Titanic” (1997) on this list. It’s not a very good film and has not aged well at all (even though it’s only been 13 years). I find the film manipulative on many levels and the script is downright hokey and poor. However, I understand why it won and it was, at the time, a great cinematic achievement on a technical level. On top of this, there were not many other films that stood out in 1997, so sadly, I could not include the over-hyped “Titanic” on this prestigious list. I don’t think “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) is a very good movie at all. The guy-with-a-disease does make for great Oscar bait, but there wasn’t much to admire in this histrionic film. And really – there wasn’t much to pick from during that anemic year for films, so I couldn’t even include this either!

A “Best Picture” Oscar winner should be an instant classic. It should stand the test of time. It should be a film that, years and decades from its release, will be remembered and looked at as a testament to its time. Some “Best Picture” winners that encapsulate this tenet are: “Gone with the Wind” (1939), “The Godfather” films (1972, 1974), “Schindler’s List” (1993), “Unforgiven” (1991), “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and “On the Waterfront” (1954). In any case, look it over, tell me what you think – and enjoy!

10. The English Patient (1996)

I actually like this film, but given the other notable films of that year, I had to put this on the list. I mean, come on…who actually fell in love with this movie and can watch it over and over? It certainly has the looks of a “Best Picture” winner. It’s grand and epic in scope – Oscar loves that, I know. But with films like “Fargo,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Breaking the Waves,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Sling Blade,” (my personal #1 film for 1996) and “Big Night,” I sadly had to include this. Elaine Benes from “Seinfeld” had this film pegged – she was at least honest enough to admit her displeasure of this film – and was alienated by everyone (including her current boyfriend) for her candor.

9. Gigi (1958)

There have been a number of musicals to win for “Best Picture” (“Oliver!,” “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady”), but this is an average-at-best MGM musical that no one really remembers today.  It’s overlong and there is hardly any dancing in the film, if at all. The passage of time also shows “Touch of Evil,” “Vertigo,” “Mon Oncle,” “The Defiant Ones” and “A Night to Remember” as being much stronger films. I mean, really…what film class is breaking down and analyzing “Gigi” over classics by Orson Welles and Jacques Tati from that same year?

8. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Another example of a good film that, for some reason, got away with the grand prize. I would think most people look at this movie and think how slow and boring this is. How engaging can a movie about running be to begin with? I know it’s considered by many to be a classic “sports” film, but, like golf and billiards, running is not a sport. I think Warren Beatty’sReds” was a masterpiece of a film. Also, released in 1981 and remembered with much greater fondness than the scintillating “Chariots of Fire” are “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “On Golden Pond,” and the extraordinary “Das Boot.”

7. Forrest Gump (1994)

Run, Forrest, run! For 15 minutes of film, just run! I know, I know, it’s a modern, American classic right? You laughed, you cried, it had great music and Tom Hanks was amazing. Whatever. I did like it though. It was hard not to like. The visual effects of putting Forrest next to a whole slew of notable 20th century figures was cool (but really, how many times could you do it?) and the love story at the core of the movie is sweet and touching. But 1994 was actually a great year for film. I couldn’t even put this movie in my Top 15 with other great achievements like: “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Quiz Show,” “Il Postino,” “Hoop Dreams,” the masterful “Natural Born Killers,” Krzysztof’sRed” and yes, even “Pulp Fiction” which is over-rated in its own right, but still, a better choice than this schmaltzy, calculating, and poorly edited film. For Academy voters, this was the easy, safe pick for that year. Yeah, Forrest…keep running!

6. The Departed (2006)

The year of the “Long Overdue” award masking as “Best Picture” and “Best Director” respectively. I love Martin Scorsese and am a huge fan of so many of his films, but this had no business winning the top two awards of the night, let alone have the honor of being nominated. If any film actually stood out that year, Scorsese would have gone home empty-handed once again. But alas, no such film existed. Here, the thinking was, “Well, he’s made some brilliant films in the past, but because there was stiff competition those years, he just never won the big one. Let’s give him his Oscar now.” Nicholson is over-the-top (shocker), Wahlberg (who I actually like) was a disaster and really, it doesn’t even measure up to the original 2002 film “Infernal Affairs.”

5. Cavalcade (1933)

The movie is downright dull and overlong. There’s no way around it. It made for a boring play and here, it is a boring and stilted British movie. The film follows a pair of British aristocrats over the span of three decades and the turbulent times in which they live (1899-1933). There have been some terrific British films over the years. This is not one of them. If I wanted to see how World War I, the death of Queen Victoria, & the sinking of the Titanic affected society, I could watch a special on the History channel and be more entertained. Some excellent films that were snubbed in lieu of this snoozefest were: “King Kong,” “I am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang,” “Little Women” and “She Done Him Wrong” (yes, even at 66 minutes…it leaves much more of an impact than the siesta that is “Cavalcade”).

4. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

I am not sure how this film beat out a film that changed the face of motion pictures as we know it (“Citizen Kane”), but it did. I’m not one of those people who think that “Citizen Kane” is the end-all-and-be-all, but come on…it changed the way we view and create cinema. John Ford was a terrific filmmaker, but this is another lackluster, tedious film whose only claim to fame is that it bested Orson Welles’ magnum opus. The movie centers on the sorrowful lives of coal miners and is better suited for viewing in a college class on sociology or labor relations than as a piece of entertainment. Other worthy films that were released this year besides “Citizen Kane”: “Suspicion,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “Little Foxes,” and yes, even Disney’s “Dumbo” is the greater work.

3. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

This is a sweet film with some very touching moments. Morgan Freeman is outstanding here as is Jessica Tandy (who won a “Best Actress” Oscar here). But “Best Picture”??? Do you really look back to 1989 and think back on this as being the year’s Best Picture?! If you are saying, “Yes” as you read this now, I’m calling you a liar. The film’s director wasn’t even recognized as a “Best Director” nominee. This was a year where voters wanted to feel good about themselves by selecting a movie that (haphazardly) shows the evils of racism. On that level, I felt the film to be a bit insulting, to be honest. It treats its viewers like idiots, thinking we had no idea how poorly blacks were treated in the South in 1948 and that yes, racism is bad. Thank you. It ranks so high on the list for these reasons and because it indefensibly beat out such grand triumphs of film such as: “Cinema Paradiso,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” “Born on the 4th of July,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”

2. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

On any list like this one, this film you will most surely find. For all of its impressive locations and cast of actors, this is another long (3+ hours), tedious, uninteresting film. It is outdated, to be sure, with no sense of adventure or wonder to it at all (unlike the Jules Verne story that it is based on). Watch it now – tell me it doesn’t feel like you’re watching some homemade travel videos – or even those archaic educational videos you used to watch in the 6th grade. How this won “Best Picture,” I have no idea – but with cameos by more than 40 of Hollywood’s stars at the time, my thinking is that there were so many people associated with this film in one way or another, that enough votes went its way. “The Searchers,” “The Ten Commandments, “Giant” and “Anastasia” would have been much more admirable picks – all films that when we watch them today, over 50 years later, still entertain and engage us.

1. Chicago (2002)

This one was a travesty. I’ll start by saying that I did see it on Broadway years ago and loved it. It was great, sexy entertainment filled with wonderful choreography. And unlike some Broadway musicals that made successful transitions to the world of film, this just plays as silly entertainment geared to the “Glee” demographic. It plays more like the failed musical adaptations such as “Rent” and “Phantom of the Opera” than it does the ones which actually encapsulate the essence of what made the musicals great in the first place (like “West Side Story” or “An American in Paris”). The songs are great, sure – it’s a great musical. But when you leave it to a Hollywood cast who are there for box-office power and not their singing chops (John C. Reilly, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere), the songs fall flat. It was a weak year for good movies, but no one is ever going to look back at 2002 and think, “Oh, ‘Chicago’ was the best movie that year!” “Chicago” isn’t a good movie that beat out the more deserving…it is a poor, glitz-over-substance film that beat out the more deserving. Those films would be: “Adaptation,” “Talk to Her,” “Gangs of New York,” “Frida” and “The Pianist.”


Digg!

Peter Eramo’s Postmortem on the Oscars – The Highs & Very Lows of the Ceremony

OK, so I went 14 out of 21 in my picks (I wasn’t even going to bother venturing a guess in the ‘Live Action Short,’ ‘Documentary Short,’ and ‘Animated Short’ categories). Not so very bad. I went out on a limb on a couple and was thinking that some of the awards would go to those who, you know, actually deserved it, rather than those who ran stellar Oscar media campaigns. In the end, if you bet on the chalk in most of the categories and just stuck with the favorites, you probably fared better than me. I am surprised because Oscar usually likes to distinguish itself from the other, “lesser” awards ceremonies.

In any case, it is a few days later and I thought that since I wrote two posts on this blog leading up to the Academy Awards ceremony, that I would tie a nice little bow on it and write a postmortem on the actual telecast: the highs, the lows, the funny, the embarrassing, the deserving, the unworthy, and the simply moronic. And I’m not getting into who wore what – whose dress was “to die for” and who picked a catastrophic ensemble….I don’t care about that. Not important. Unlike the previous few years though, I thought the ceremony for the 82 Annual Academy Awards was not nearly as boring. True, the list of winners was all pretty hum-drum and predictable, but the show itself…not half bad this time around. Here is a list of all the highlights and lowlights in no particular order:

OUR HOSTS

All things considered, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin played off each other quite nicely. Really, the host of the Oscars has only the first 10-15 minutes to worry about. It’s pretty much gravy from there, making a brief showing here, a quick cameo there. And they were relieved of most of their opening by Neil Patrick Harris’ song and dance number, “No One Wants to do it Alone.” Martin and Baldwin did have some very funny jokes written for them including one where Mr. Martin referred to his role in “The Jerk” when he said to Best Actress nominee “Gabourey Sidibe and I have something in common: In our first movies we were both born a poor black child.” Some good one-liners throughout and the two did an admirable job as hosts.

MORON OF THE NIGHT

Easily Elinor Burkett. What a train wreck this one was. “Who is Elinor Burkett?” you ask. She is the producer of the Oscar-winning documentary short, “Music by Prudence.” When writer/director Roger Ross Williams came up to the podium to accept his award, he just started his speech when Barracuda Lady came up and pulled her best Kanye impersonation. Yes, the two have had tremendous artistic differences with the film and even had a lawsuit between the two (which was settled out of court). I have no idea who is right and who is wrong – but Ms. Burkett made herself look like a fool, ambushing Mr. Williams in such fashion. Look at the YouTube video – he just stands there dumbfounded, almost wanting to laugh, while she is ranting and raving in a semi-incoherent manner.

IT’S ABOUT TIME

No, not Meryl Streep winning (more on that in a bit) – but Oscar’s tribute to the horror genre in their well-edited Horror Montage. I’m no horror buff by any stretch, but horror films play an integral role in the motion picture industry and this brief mosaic was a nice reminder of that. Just because horror films are rarely recognized come Awards season, that doesn’t mean there is no merit to them. In fact, so many great horror films (domestic and international) have gone straight to DVD without much of a theatrical release at all. Here, we got to see a nice mixture of some of the most memorable horror films in cinematic history, from “The Blob” to “The Shining” – and did I see a quick glimpse of “Leprechaun” in there for good measure???

NOT VERY ‘PRECIOUS’ AT ALL

Boy, did Mo’Nique come across like Queen Diva or what??? They can spin this any way they want – as if she wasn’t backslapping her fellow nominees, but when she started off her pompous speech with, “I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics,” a backslap was exactly what she delivered. I’m not saying she deserved the award or didn’t deserve it – she just came across here as arrogant and bitter – no class or grace whatsoever. And to bring up Hattie McDaniel? Give me a break. I was shocked to read all of the kudos pointed at her in the blogs and articles after-the-fact. Were they watching what I was??? Show a little humility…Come on! Even Samuel L. Jackson was rolling his eyes after this disaster of a speech!

The second Oscar that the film took (in a bit of an upset) was the Adapted Screenplay award which went to Geoffrey Fletcher. In doing so, Mr. Fletcher became the first African-American to win the screenwriting Academy Award. A terrific honor. But was it me, or did it sound like this guy ran 26 miles before coming up to the podium? Have a clue as to what you wanna say, guy. His speech was so incoherent and so bad that Steve Martin had to immediately joke about it by saying, “I wrote his speech,” which was met with laughter throughout the theatre.

BLUE MAN BEN

Why is everyone all over Ben Stiller? I give this guy credit. He is absolutely willing to commit 100% to the joke and make an ass out of himself to get a few laughs. Good for him. Last year, if you recall, he came out looking like Joaquin Phoenix, mimicking his much publicized stupidity on David Letterman’s show. That was funny. This year, he came out in complete Na’vi make-up and wardrobe from James Cameron’s Avatar.” Mr. Stiller was there to present the award for Best Make-Up, which, ironically, “Avatar” wasn’t even nominated for (a glaring oversight to begin with). Stiller was absolutely committed to the role (especially when he spoke in the ancient tongue of the Na’vi) and had some outrageously funny lines. Great delivery – and whoever did the work on those piercing yellow eyes – great job! I thought this was a great, humorous highlight of the evening. I don’t think he disrespected “Avatar” in any way (though a few of Mr. Stiller’s peers did just this throughout the evening) – and I thank him for being such a willing sport.

INTERPRETIVE DANCE OVER SONG

Did we really need to see all of those dance numbers choreographed to all five nominees for Best Score? Was this necessary? How many people watching on their flatscreens at home used this allotted time as their bathroom break for the evening? Come on – you know you did! I have nothing against dance at all – in its time and place. What bothers me greatly about this was that the producers decided to go with this bit (which took a bit of time) over actually having us hearing the songs that were nominated in the Best Original Song category. I am still upset that I did not get to hear “Take it All” (from “Nine”) and of course, the beautifully written “The Weary Kind,” which rightfully took home the gold. I was thrilled to see that it won the Oscar and I would have loved to see Ryan Bingham perform it. That moment was taken from us – all in the name of interpretive dance – show me your Fosse hands, people!

A FITTING TRIBUTE

The “In Memoriam” tribute dedicated to those in the motion picture industry who died during the year is conducted without fail during each Oscar ceremony. I look forward to this part of the telecast as I find it to be a pleasant reminder of those who have passed on – those who we have admired from afar whether it be an iconic celebrity or a cinematographer who most don’t know, but we love their work.

This year was especially exciting for me because the legendary troubadour James Taylor sang live on stage while the video montage was being shown. I have loved J.T. for years and years and he is without a doubt my all-time favorite musical artist. His appearance was a total surprise to me and I instantly received a text message from my brother saying: “J.T. and the Oscars? Is your head about to explode?” True, I could barely contain myself as I watched the names and faces pass on screen and listened to the voice that, like a very fine bottle of wine, only gets better with age. He performed the classic Beatles song, “In My Life” and did a wonderful, stirring job with it. And dressed in his black tux and bowtie – he looked handsome, elegant and skilled. I equated the event to that of the delectable Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: two totally separate entities coming together to make a most delicious noise. A wonderful Oscar moment – and done with class, taste and heart.

While I am on the subject, those of you screaming about the omission of Farrah Fawcett –SHUT UP! All I’ve been hearing for the past few days was how “shameful” it was that she was left out of the tribute. Please! Yes, it is true that she did do some film (she was actually damn good in Robert Duvall’s powerful “The Apostle”), but (1) she is recognized mainly as a television star and (2) the tribute is never able to squeeze in every single person connected with the film industry. In fact, I give those who make these decisions some credit for keeping some in that most may have never heard of (composers, editors, et al) and not the iconic Charlie’s Angel. On top of this, I have to hear Ryan O’Neal vent about this like it’s a slap in the face?! Perhaps Mr. O’Neal should pay attention to more important matters like how to properly parent his son so he doesn’t wind up dead or in jail again.

THE DOLPHIN IS CENSORED

The Cove” took home the Oscar for Best Documentary. A truly remarkable, horrific, eye-opening film for sure. The award is well-deserved and I was elated to see it win. During his acceptance speech, producer Fisher Stevens referred to the main subject of the film, the courageous, dedicated and heroic Ric O’Barry. Mr. O’Barry then (remarkably in character) lifted a poster-board reading “Text Dolphin to 44144.” The orchestra immediately started to play (their cue to walk off the stage) and director Louie Psihoyos was never able to give his brief speech. I thought this was uncalled for. Let the man hold up his harmless sign – if you saw the film, you know how worthy this cause is! It makes me more upset because of all the previous political statements made by presenters and winners of past telecasts. Were they cut off as promptly as the artistic team of “The Cove” was? I don’t think so. I simply thought it was a poor decision.

In case you were interested, this is what Psihoyos emailed the media regarding what he would have said had he been allowed to: “We made this film to give the oceans a voice. We told the story of The Cove because we witnessed a crime. Not just a crime against nature, but a crime against humanity. We made this movie because through plundering, pollution and acidification from burning fossil fuels, ALL ocean life is in peril, from the great whales to plankton which, incidentally, is responsible for half the oxygen in this theater. Thank you, Black OPS Team for risking your lives in Japan — and thank
you Academy for shining the brightest lights in the world on THE COVE……Japan, please see this movie! Domo Aragato!” Wish I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth!

THE VICTORIOUS BAD BLAKE

At last, Jeff Bridges gets his Oscar. Great performance, great speech – long overdue. Though of no surprise to anyone, it was a pleasure to watch. I no longer get to call him our country’s most under-rated actor (as I have been for well over a decade), but it is absolutely worth it now. Great to see the Kodak Theatre stand for the Duderino. Touching to hear him speak of his parents. And Michelle Pfieffer’s introduction was poignant and sincere as well. Here’s to you Bad Blake!

BABS OVERDOES IT

When Martin Scorsese took home the Best Director award a few years ago for his much over-hyped, and somewhat over-rated “The Departed” we knew he was going to win before the winner was even announced. Why? Well, the choice of presenters for this category that year was clue enough – with Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas handing the statue to their longtime colleague. This year, when we saw Barbra Streisand make her way across the stage, the odds-on-favorite to win became a shoe-in. We knew right then and there that Kathryn Bigelow would make history by becoming the first woman to ever win the award. True, she was the favorite here; I picked her to win though I surely did not feel she was deserving – and still don’t. Plus, I also considered this to be an anti-Cameron vote as well, with James Cameron rustling many Hollywood feathers over the years.

So there was Babs. And she looked so giddy right off the bat with the prospect of a woman finally winning. I thought her commentary here was not necessary either. Upon opening the sealed envelope, she commented, “Well…the time has come.” A bit over-the-top, don’t you think? Perhaps I am just upset because I still don’t believe “The Hurt Locker” was all that it is cracked up to be and that the media helped enormously in its many wins on Oscar night. I will give it a second viewing and perhaps I will feel differently. Perhaps not.

STILL RECUPERATING

I am still trying to get over what I perceive to be those undeserving who actually went home with an Academy Award. I knew Sandra Bullock was the media darling and the favorite to win. I couldn’t pick her. I think Ms. Bullock said it best with the very first thing she said in her speech: “Did I really earn this or did I just wear y’all down?” She knows it herself and she’s saying so right there. Way to get out there and campaign, campaign, campaign! And see what ya get? A nice, shiny Oscar. Again, very weak category this year and very few great leading roles for women in 2009, but Carey Mulligan clearly gave the strongest, most multi-layered performance of the five. Ms. Bullock is fine and I hope she continues to choose better roles in better films, but I will say it again: This is not an Oscar-worthy performance by any stretch of the imagination. I am still having trouble saying it: “Sandra Bullock…[gulp]…Oscar-winner.”

And even though the Best Picture category seemed like it was down to two films (“Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker“) and there was no surprise to it, I am still trying to cope with the idea of Bigelow’s war film winning the evening’s most prestigious award. I feel very strongly that “Up in the Air,” “District 9” and “Inglourious Basterds” were all superior.

“VOICE OF THE 80’S” HONORED

Being in my late 30’s, I sadly had no choice but to grow up during the horrid decade that was the eighties. I graduated high school in 1989 and the films touched by John Hughes permeated the decade. “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” are pretty much a staple of 80’s films, right? It is safe to say that John Hughes was “the voice” of film in the eighties on a certain level. I see that, I understand that, I accept that.

Having said that, I had very mixed feelings about the tribute to Mr. Hughes on Oscar night, which was led by 80’s prom queen Molly Ringwald and the very talented (and still working) Matthew Broderick. On one hand, this was a very sweet, touching, tasteful homage to the late filmmaker who passed away much too soon in August 2009. The video medley of films that he worked on was edited quite nicely and when 80’s stars such as Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, & Ally Sheedy came out to speak about their mentor and friend, it was a nice touch. I get all of that.

But was this honorary tribute truly necessary? I mean, in all, John Hughes directed only eight films…eight. He mainly worked as a writer and a producer. Not a big deal at all, as he was still surely a very creative aspect to the films that he did not helm. What bothered me was I don’t remember any Oscar tribute resembling this one for much more accomplished directors who have died – I’m talking about the great Sidney Lumet, Alan J. Pakula, the exceptional Sydney Pollack, John Sturges, the ingenius Ingmar Bergman, the auteur that was Stanley Kubrick, Richard Attenborough, Akira Kurosawa, and the list goes on and on. Why does John Hughes merit this? Because his movies were more “popular”? He was never at all nominated for an Academy Award and his films were mainly targeted towards adolescents. We like them now in part because it is nostalgic – it brings us back to our own days of graduation. So though touching and well-done, I felt that this tribute to Mr. Hughes was gratuitous. Will Woody Allen get this sort of treatment when he passes? (And let us hope that is a far, far way off.) What about Mr. Coppola? Scorsese? David Lynch? After this, I sincerely hope so….but I’m not holding my breath.

MISCELLANEOUS TIDBITS

Cameron Diaz: Rehearsal would have been nice. Come prepared.

Sean Penn: I love ya! I really do. But I’m still trying to figure out what you were saying.

Tina Fey and Robert Downey, Jr.: Loved the writer vs. pampered actor schtick. Great stuff.

– Zac Efron, Tyler Perry, Taylor Lautner, Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart, Amanda Seyfried: WHY???!!!

Tom Hanks: Was he just running late for a dinner reservation or something? Never saw an envelope ripped open faster than that.

– What was with the bizarre Lamps-R-Us backdrop?

James Cameron knew that eyes were on him and played a good sport throughout the night, taking all the ribbing in stride. At least on the outside. And he stood and clapped for Ms. Bigelow before just about anybody. Well played, Mr. Cameron.

– I want to see more clips from the actual performances being nominated! Each year they never show enough. Showcase the films being honored so people at home will think, “Huh…that looks good. I gotta go out and see that.”

– “Up in the Air” goes home empty. Cold, man. I thought it was a dead-ringer for Best Adapted Screenplay. You could make the argument that the film deserved Best Picture honors – as it was a much stronger film than “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” in addition to be more topical and making a great, subtle statement on our country today. Years from now when we look back at the films of 2009, this is the one that leaves its mark.

So it’s now mid-March 2010…a new year of films to catch up on. I hope it is a stronger year than last. A lot of new blockbusters that will start to rear their heads in a month or so. I will keep posting on this blog with various “Best and Worst” lists as well as film reviews throughout the course of the year…until the Awards season is upon us once again in December 2010.

As always, I cannot wait.

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