Oscar 2019 Recap : Who Needs a Host?

If in the future, the Oscars decide to go with no host, may I be the first to say I am fine with that. Coming in at an ultra-lean 3 hours and 10 minutes, the show was watchable and didn’t have a lot of the awkward clunky moments of Jimmy Kimmel trying to be funny without offending anyone. Gone are the days of Billy Crystal nailing literally everything he did. There are few people if any that could pull off Oscar hosting and most of them don’t want to do it any more.

Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee

I was really shocked how much I did not miss the host.

As suspected there were plenty of surprises, right down to Best Picture.

Bohemian Rhapsody took home the most awards with 4, Green Book, Roma and Black Panther each had three. Its not unprecedented to the film with the most awards not to win Best Picture. The two most notable examples : Stars (6 wins) losing to Annie Hall (4) and Cabaret (8 wins) losing to The Godfather (3). More recently Mad Max Fury Road (6) losing to Spotlight (2).

When Roma was announced as winning Best Foreign Language Film, I wanted to change my ballot. It seemed like it was getting that as a consolation prize. I predicted a shut out of The Favourite and was right about that until …

The biggest shock of the night, and you could tell by the look on her face, was Olivia Colman winning Best Actress for The Favourite. Glenn Close was the odds on favourite in pretty much every poll and pundit site and it appeared that Olivia did not even prepare a speech. It was a great moment.

I am happy that I was able to see Spike Lee with  a well deserved, very overdue Oscar for writing BlacKkKlansman. His speech did not disappoint and neither did his jump hug with Samuel L Jackson. The two collaborated on Lee’s first major film, Do The Right Thing. Lee’s speech was like his screenplays, relevant and unapologetic.

I will scratch my head over Rami Malek’s win for a long time. We have an Oscar winner for lip syncing. The overdone false teeth kind of ruined if for me. Overall, I was too distracted by the grave historical inaccuracies of that movie to enjoy it.

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Ruth Carter beat the odds to become the first African American woman to win for Best Costume design. Period piece The Favourite was believed to be the frontrunner

Green Book is an odd Best Picture. It has a great deal of controversy regarding its historical accuracy, it was not in the top 25 critically acclaimed movies of the year and grossed under $30 million. Its an audience pleaser but had a very small audience. However it is very much an actor’s film and the Academy is more than 2/3 actors.

That said, even though I predicted it to win, I am glad Roma did not take home top prize. It is a triumph of style over substance and for the majority of film watchers (including me) a difficult slog. Its a least an hour into the film before anything happens. “Hard to get through” should not be a way to describe a best picture. I think a lot of voters like to look at the mark they are leaving on movie history and Green Book is the kind of film they want to be remembered for honouring.

If you check the movie and critic websites, you willl see “worst best picture in a long time” mentioned often, probably since “The Artist”.

Another shocker for me was First Man winning Best Visual Effects. The movie was not good, over long and dull.I actually nodded off at one point.  I feel the Oscar should go to a pic where the effects serve the film to make it better and in this case it did not.

If you look at the 8 best pic nominees by critical acclaim (weight average of about 300 certified critics top 10 lists they went as follows

Roma (1)

The Favourite (3)

Black Panther (6)

BlacKkKlansman (7)

A Star is Born (9)

Green Book (32)

Vice (37)

Bohemian Rhapsody (Not in the Top 50).

My favourite moments

  • Spike Lee’s Speech
  • Olivia Colman’s wonderful speech
  • Cooper and Gaga singing apparently the theme from “We have Sexual Tension”
  • Wayne and Garth
  • The Samuel L Jackson / Spike Lee hug
  • The great John Williams music during the memorial
  • The fact that there was not a host.

 

As for my pics, bad year. 14 for 24. Missed picture, actor and actress.

yeesh.

 

 

 

Describe the 2018 Oscars in One Word: “Safe”

Its not a surprise at all to me that this years show was the lowest rated Oscar telecast since the Neilsen Ratings started in 1974. Jimmy Kimmel was at best average last year. The two front running movies did not make $100 million between them. And, like it or not, TV audiences are tiring of being lectured, which seems to be an awards show staple.

This year’s Oscars had lower ratings than the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics. They were trying so hard to play it safe and not offend anyone and it showed in a rather dull telecast.

A few years ago, the Academy added more best pictures to the list of nominees to try and increase audience interest. If you look at the highest rated broadcasts of the last 30 years (1994 Forrest Gump, 1997 Titanic, 2003 Return of the King), they have well liked, financially successful movies at their forefront. This year, you have to go to 14th in the years box office to find a film with any Oscar possibilities (Dunkirk) and 47th for one with a real chance (Shape of Water). There were only about 7 nominations combined from the Top 10 films.

Gal Gadot and Luke Evans both gave performances worthy of Oscar consideration in blockbuster movies.

There was only one shock for me the whole night, that Kobe Bryant won an Oscar to a standing ovation in a MeToo world, which Hollywood wants to drive more than anything. Bryant was charged with rape and the charges dropped when his accuser, a 19 year old that Bryant admitted an extra-marital affair with, refused to testify in court. He later settled out of court in a civil suit. Casey Affleck’s accusations are very similar and was not allowed to even present.

There is an exceptional amount of hypocrisy in Hollywood that is emphasized by Bryant’s Oscar. MeToo voices like Meryl Streep and Oprah, some of the Hollywood’s most influential people, befriended and publicly praised Harvey Weinstein and cuddled up to him along with the Clintons and Obamas. They knew.

Ok, off my soap box.

All 8 major categories went exactly according to predictions. Maybe the only surprise of the night was Coco winning for best original song. (Same song writers that previously won for the ubiquitous ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen).

Their were two highlights for me. First was Roger Deakins. A brilliant, prolific cinematographer with 13 prior nominations, many for Best Pic nominees and a couple of winners, and no wins. Blade Runner 2049 was a superb film and he deserved this.

The second was Frances McDormand. She won her first Oscar in 1996 for Marge Gunderson, the plucky, pregnant policy chief in Fargo whose instincts both as a cop and a wife were uncanny. Also, that character has one of my favourite ever movie lines “I’m not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou”. She created one of the most memorable characters in all of film.

McDormand is akin (in my books) to Daniel Day Lewis. Lately she is picky about her projects, few and far between and when she takes one on, she engulfs it

I loved her speech. When she called on Meryl to stand up knowing that others would follow. And then when she said “Talk to us, we have projects we want financed”. A punch of honesty right between the eyes.

She finished her speech by saying “two words … inclusion rider”.  This is relatively new to Hollywood and is really only at the disposal of A-list stars. Its a rider on their contract that stipulates that 50% of the cast (as far as it can serve the script) and crew must be women and minorities. For a self congratulating industry that seems to still largely be in denial of its problems with abuse, racism and sexism, this may have been the most poignant and effective of any speech given yet.

McDormand used her platform not to lecture and not to give a speech full of empty slogans and platitudes but as a direct call to action for people that wield her level of influence and higher. Bravo.

For the record, I was 7 for 8 on the major categories and 17 for 24 overall. I missed both music categories and Best Picture of all things.

I love the Oscars, always have and always will. There is a growing gap between films that audiences like and those the Academy chose to honour. The more this gap grows the more less relevant that long, languid show will seem. I am not sure how, but it needs to reinvent itself.

 

Dan’s All-Time Top 100 – #1

#1 The Godfather Part II”

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo

Stars: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasburg, Robert DeNiro, Michael V. Gazzo, John Cazale, Talia Shire

Original Release Date: 20 Dec 1974

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Oscars: 6 (Picture, Director, Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro, Score, Screenplay, Art Direction), 6 other nominations

Critics and Users

Rotten Tomatoes: 99%                    Berardinelli: 4.0 , #47 All time Top 100

Metacritic: n/a                                   Ebert: 3.0 original, 4.0 re-review in 2008, Top 10 of the 70’s

IMDB Top 250: #3

 

The Godfather Part II is my single favourite film and has been for over 20 years. It’s a bit of a curious choice because it cannot stand on its own without the original film, whereas The Godfather is a complete film in and of itself. The first film makes the second one great and the second one adds immeasurable depth to the first. (Let’s not mention Part III).

While there is a theme running through my top three films (gangster film, set within a certain era, long running time, sweeping story lines) there is a darkness and sadness to The Godfather Part II that gives it an timeless appeal.

You cannot discuss this film without reference to the first. At the end of Part I, we see Michael, now in iron fisted control on the Corleone Empire, his enemies vanquishes and his power absolute. We have watched him transform from disinterest outsider to a man who will do literally anything to maintain his power.

Robert DeNiro as young Vito Corleone. A brilliant performance, one where we can see the character transformations in his expressions.

Robert DeNiro as young Vito Corleone. A brilliant performance, one where we can see the character transformations in his expressions.

In Part II, we get two intertwined stories. Set in the current time of the late 1950s, we see Michael’s vast empire increase as he takes control of gambling in Vegas and sets in motion a plan to do the same in pre-Castro Cuba. This story is woven with flash backs to the rise of his father, Vito. It stretches a timeline from 1901 when Vito escapes from Sicily, to the final shot of Michael, isolated, in 1964.

 

Robert DeNiro plays Young Vito in an Oscar winning performance that I consider the greatest of all time. DeNiro lived in Sicily for four months to learn the dialect and brilliantly adopts the Bronx accent and penchant to pepper in a little English here and there as well. It’s a school in method acting, subtlety, gesture and character.

 

John Cazale as Fredo. Cazale only ever appears in 5 films,all were nominated for Best Picture and three won. He was engaged to Meryl Streep at the time of his death at age 42 from Leukaemia.

John Cazale as Fredo. Cazale only ever appears in 5 films,all were nominated for Best Picture and three won. He was engaged to Meryl Streep at the time of his death at age 42 from Leukaemia.

In the opening scene, it is the first communion of Michael’s son Anthony and Michael is seeing supplicants in the same way his father did in Part I at Connie’s wedding. Michael is growing paranoid and distrustful of everyone, including his long time consigliore Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). He embarks on a mission to find out who is loyal while expanding his empire. The screenplay gives us little information as we watch Michael joust with the various players in his life. He makes each move having to anticipate endless life or death outcomes.

The cast of this movie is flawless. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his 2008 essay, are there any other films in which you can name 6, 7 or 8 characters 40 years later? Michael V Gazzo as Frankie Penatangali is brilliant, tough, old school; easily confused but in his mind knows right from wrong. John Cazale reprises his role as Fredo, Michael’s witless brother. Pacino and Cazale were good friends and went on to make Dog Day Afternoon together.

"So, I want everyone to enjoy their cake. So, enjoy"

“So, I want everyone to enjoy their cake. So, enjoy”

Lee Strasburg, founder of The Actors Studio, comes out of retirement to play Hyman Roth,. On the outside, he is a soft-spoken even kindly aging Jewish man, but inside, a ruthless criminal with an empire to protect.

As we watch the flash back scenes, we see Don Vito rise from a street thug and killer to the man he became, still a criminal but a leader, a diplomat and a man loved by those around him. We watch Michael, unable to stay in his father’s footsteps, become a man who will do anything and lose everything he loves to maintain power. Vito Corleone’s empire was controlled by love and respect; Michael’s by fear.

What I love about this movie, what puts it atop my list and keeps it just a teeny bit ahead of Goodfellas is the vastness of the story arch and the depths of its themes. To dismiss this movie (and Part I) as glorification of the mafia is to miss the point entirely. This is a film about guilt, the secrets we carry in the deepest caverns of our souls, the transience of power and living in the shadows and expectations of our fathers.

"I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart."

“I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart.”

 

Best Quote:

Michael Corleone: There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

 

Trivia:

Francis Ford Coppola wanted to produce the movie and not direct. He chose Martin Scorsese to direct but was turned down by the studio and took on the project himself.

 Robert Deniro and Marlon Brando are the only two actors to receive Oscars for portraying the same character.

 The word mafia is never spoken in the first film. The Part II, it is spoken three times, each one at the Senate hearing.

 Legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman can be seen as one of the senators.

 Cinematographer Gordon Willis became known as the “Prince of Darkness” for his use of dimly lit scenes in these two movies.

 Nominated for 12 Oscars and winner of 6, including Director, Picture and Screenplay. The first movie sequel to ever win Best Picture. It was made for $13,000,000 and gross a very impressive $58,000,000. However, it never lived up to the expectations set by the original, which grossed $134,000,000 domestic and became the highest grossing movie of all time.

 Today, this movie routinely appears near the top of many “Best Of All Time Lists”. At the time of its release, it received tepid reviews and was considered too long and convoluted.

 

A beautiful shot of Michael, along and isolated. Note the lighting, the use of sepia tone, the point of view and framing. A perfect shot.

A beautiful shot of Michael, along and isolated. Note the lighting, the use of sepia tone, the point of view and framing. A perfect shot.

Dan’s All-Time Top 100 – #3

#3 The Godfather”

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo

Stars: Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Al Pacino

Original Release Date: 24 March 1972

Oscars: 3 (Picture, Actor – Marlon Brando, Adapted Screenplay), 8 other nominations

 Poster from the original release of the film in 1972

Poster from the original release of the film in 1972

Critics and Users

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%                                  Berardinelli: 4.0 , #6 on his top 100

Metacritic: n/a                                                    Ebert: 4.0, #1 movie of 1972, Top 10 of the 70s

IMDB Top 250: #2

(Amongst IMDB users, the #1 ranked film flips between this and Shawhank)

 

There are several strokes of genius in Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar Winning “The Godfather”. Note  how it creates a sympathetic character from the great Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). The Don is a career criminal who has built a vast empire by way or murder, extortion and racketeering, yet the film portrays him as a businessman. We never see the effects of crime on the streets or on ordinary lives. This movie is told from within a closed world.

In a sense, The Godfather is a voyeuristic delight, a film that takes you deep inside a world we don’t see and shows us to it on its own terms. Almost all the characters are criminals, the only main role from a cop is crooked and the wives have all learned to turn a blind eye and not question.

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Kay learning the truth about the Corleones. I love the attention to detail, particularly the jug of wine on the table. In the novel, Mama Corleone never liked her, the “washed-out rag of an American girl” that Michael brought home.

 

The Godfather took the time to be a period piece. Released in 1972, its takes place just after World War II, in a world of big black cars and wide brimmed hats. If you tried to remake this movie now into a world of text messages and modern technology, it simply would not work.

The story is simple and is almost a fable, like a story of a King and his three sons. While the movie moves from story to story, Hollywood, the drug trade, the attempted murder of Vito, Michael in Sicily, the larger story arch of the movie involves the transference of the sweeping criminal empire down a generation. Which son will it be? Santino, the violent, hot-headed capo regime who cannot keep his emotions in control. Fredo, the soft hearted, slightly dim witted middle son who loves his father but does not seem to have the stomach for the business? Or Michael, the cool, detached youngest son who in the beginning shows no interest in The Family Business.

A tour-de-force scene in the family garden, Vito talking about Michael and his life as the new Don.

A tour-de-force scene in the family garden, Vito talking about Michael and his life as the new Don.

Inside this world, there is only one rule; “Don’t ever takes sides against the family”. This is spoken with icy foreshadowing from Michael to his brother. The Corleone family will do whatever it takes to exert its will and loyalty is its most valued commodity. To be in the Don’s debt means you will be called upon, as the undertaker Amerigo Bonisera finds out after pleading for vengeance in the first scene.

The Corleone’s are at the heart of it a large, close-knit Sicilian family and as such, many of the scene of this movie take place with food. Chinese food boxes, large dinners, cooking pasta for a group of button men, the wedding feasts – all part of the large role that not just food, but the breaking of bread together plays in the Italian family. No matter what happens, you must eat. There are in fact over 60 scene involving food or drink. Even when Solozzo kidnaps Tom Hagen, he offers him a drink. It is after all, only polite.

The cinematography by Gordon Willis is brilliant. In the early shots, he uses a great deal of darkness and  wash to give the movie its old feel. There is very little of the movie that takes place in daylight. Most of the shots are point of view, with very little showing aerial.

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Tessio’s fate. Note the point of view. Gordon Willis show this film as if you are on the ground, as an observer. This increases the impression that you are viewing the mob from the inside.

But what makes the movie legendary is the unlikely cast. Brando’s role is arguable the most imitated and quoted character in movie history. The supporting cast of Caan, Duvall and Pacino represent an A-list at the time that proved perfect. And the lesser roles, like Fredo, Tessio, fearsome hit man Luca Brasi – all perfect.

From its opening scene at Connie’s wedding to the gripping, blood curdling climax where Michael becomes The Godfather in the literal and figurative sense, there is not a dull frame or a flat scene in this 172 minute masterpiece. If you have not seen it, I envy the experience you are about to have.

 

 

Favourite line:

Clemenza: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”

 This is my single favourite line of any film. Like many of the great pieces of movie dialogue, “take the cannoli” was improvised.

 A fearsome Sicilian hitman not worried about the dead body he leaves behind. But Gold help him is he comes home without the cannoli.

And like many great pieces if dialogue its the subtext that makes it great. A fearsome Sicilian hit man is not worried about the dead body he leaves behind. But God help him if he comes home without the cannoli.

 

Trivia:

Al Pacino boycotted the Oscars because he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, despite having more screen time than Brando who was nominated, won and refused the award for Best Actor.

 The cat in the opening scene was a stray found by Marlon Brando.

 George Lucas assembled the “Mattress Sequence” of spinning headlines and scenes of the gang war.

 One of the earliest used of the phrase “bada-bing” by Sonny. James Caan had earlier heard the term used by real life gangster Carmine Persico, with whom Caan was acquainted. Persico is now serving a life sentence for racketeering.

 Director Francis Ford Coppola did his own screen tests at his home in Northern California with Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton. The studio insisted however on full screen tests. Coppola later said that for $400,000 the studio got the cast that he had for four sandwiches and some wine.

Dan’s All Time Top 100 Films – Introduction

In 1996, I spent a year off work with a back injury. Eleven months to be exact. During that time, to help maintain my sanity between surgery, physio and painkillers, I discovered imdb.com and a web based critic named James Berardinelli (www.reelviews.net) . James and Roger Ebert stood for a long time as my favourite two critics.

James published an all time Top 100 films which inspired me to do two things…

1 – Create the same Top 100 list

2 – Make a list of every film I have ever seen. I figured I would need to do this to create the top 10

I have been picking away at this for years. There are now over 1600 movies on my list and though I know its not complete, its complete enough for me to make the Top 100.

The top 10 was easy. Number 1 was a no-brainer. What was hard was pairing down and eliminating movies that I love from the list. Wrath of Khan & THe Conversation were the last moviesI left out. But there was nothing on the list I was willing to part with to get them on the list.

As time passes, as I watch more, this list will change. Gravity entered this list this year. Also, older films that I discover or rediscover will get added as well.

I love film, love discussing, debating, re-casting, wondering what if – no medium can act on you quite the way film does. Even if you look at this past year, the worlds we escaped to in Gravity and Her or the people we met in Blue Jasmine and Wolf of Wall Street.

There are certain themes in my Top 100 – I love gut wrenching bio pics, war films, offensive comedy, crime movies and movies with a darker side. I love sci fi and fantasy. There are even three bona fide chick flicks.

So, now I turn to WordPress (thanks James Howe to introducing me to this over Facebook) and over the next coming weeks, I will reveal and talk about my all time Top 100 ten or so films at a time.

Nothing would make me happier than to have you ring in, opine, tell me where I am wrong, what you love, why you love or hate a film and when all is said and done, the movies I left out!