Tag Archives: oscars

The Best Years of our Lives

Award winning American epic drama film “The Best Years of our Lives” (1946) directed by William Wyler and starring Myrna Loy, Frederic March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O’Donnell, Howard Russell among others.

Al Stephenson (Frederic March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) and Homer (Harold Russell) are returning from action in the World War II. Incidentally all three are from the same county and get a transport plane to fly them back.

Upon coming back, all three of them face problems in integrating back to normal society. Al is married to Milly (Myrna Loy) and has teenaged daughter and son. He is having anxiety problems having to go back to his banking job. Homer lost both his hands at the war and is fitted with steel hooks so he is having issues with his family including his girlfriend Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell). She still loves him, but he feels a burden on everybody, becomes moody and depressed and angry.

Fred barely knew his wife Marie (Virginia Mayo) before he was shipped out to war. Upon coming back he realises he still knows her very little. She has taken a job in a night club. He is an expert and accomplished bombardier in the war for the air force but has very little skill for getting a normal job. He goes back to his drug store job which fetches him very little money. His wife is ambitious so she leaves him.

Fred falls in love with Peggy, (Teresa Wright), the daughter of Al, but Al sees nothing in the marriage and asks him to break it off. Feeling dispirited he tries to leave the county, when he lands up a job to dismantle old aircraft parts for use in the building business.

Though very lengthy at 2.50 hours the script is quite good and very subtly hints at the issues surrounding the war veterans, the problems they have in adjusting to normal lives. They are hampered by bureaucracy in day to day life, whereas in the war, they had to take decisions upon instinct and gut upon the theatre of war. Very nicely each men belongs to different branch of the services – army, air force & navy.

It fetched a clutch of awards including the Oscars and Golden Globes. I thought Dana Andrews has done a superb job and also Frederic March. Among the ladies, it was okay performance from them.

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The Red Balloon

Award winning French short film “The Red Balloon” (1956) directed by Albert Lamorisse and starring his son Pascal Lamorisse.

Its a very interesting them, a red balloon follows a little boy wherever he goes. Its like the balloon has a mind of its own. The little boy leaves the balloon after some time, but still it follows him everywhere including when he goes to school by bus, inside the school compound etc.

There are school kids who want to kill the balloon but it escapes them all the time and sort of plays a game with the pursuers. Pascal walks on the street with the balloon when he passes a girl who is carrying a blue balloon and it also seems to have a mind of its own.

The school kids finally manage to quash it, but immediately thereafter all the balloons city rise up as in a tribute to the fallen balloon. Nice neat production and direction by Albert Lamorisse, manages to convey his thoughts through this short film .

This film won a spate of awards at the Oscars, Cannes, Palme d’Or etc.

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Wuthering Heights

The 1939 version of the movie, directed by William Wyler and starring Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald among others.

Everybody knows the story, so not narrating it here, but i guess the same rich girl meets poor boy, falls in love, parents disapprove, poor boy goes away, becomes rich, comes back to haunt the rich girl who has already married of somewhere else and tragedy, must have appeared in countless movies including some Indian movies.

Its a timeless classic written by Emily Bronte and here in this movie, Laurence Olivier shines brightly as the poor kid adopted by a stranger, his becoming a stable boy and then falling in love with Cathy becoming rich and coming back. Troubled, tormented, anguished love between two individuals who love themselves so much. Merle Oberon is okay in parts, David Niven has done a good role as the rejected husband and Geraldine Fitzgerald as the unhappy wife. Got some awards at the Oscars. Worth watching cult classic.

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Black Orpheus

A Brazilian Portugese movie “Black Orpheus” (1959) based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, which won the 1959 Cannes, 1960 Oscars for best foreign language film and 1960 Golden Globe for best foreign film.

The movie is set in the context of the Brazilian carnival at Rio de Janeiro. Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) comes to Rio de Janeiro from somewhere and takes the tram driven by Orpheus (Breno Mello). Eurydice goes to her cousin Serafina’s house while preparations are on going for the carnival. Orpheus is already engaged to Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira) but he is not very happy with that engagement. Orpheus and Eurydice touch off great and slowly fall into love.

But Eurydice has a past, she is chased by a man dressed in skeleton and is fearing for her life. Things come to a climax at the festival which has thousands thronging the streets of Rio. Mira meanwhile has discovered that Orpheus is not loving her anymore. There are a couple of kids in the movie who are like lookouts for Orpheus and they have done a good role.

As a greek romantic tragedy, the movie has delved into the depths of human emotions of love, grief, longing, separation, despair and anguish.

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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1966) a disturbing black comedy based on Edward Albee’s play of the same name, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis.

The movie is breathtakingly intense and at the same time there is an underlying sadness to it, when you understand the context. George (Richard Burton) is a history professor and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) his wife. George teaches at the university at Martha’s father is the Dean. They are fiftyish and furiously quibbling with each other.

Martha has invited another young couple Nick (George Segal in a brilliant role) and Honey (Sandy Dennis in an award winning performance) to their house for drinks. Nick is also the biology professor in the same college.

What happens in the house after the guests come in is intense word play between Martha and George which surprises the guests. Both Martha and George quarrel openly in front of the guests, making them wonder if they have done the right thing to come there.

Most of the shooting is inside their cramped house so that makes it more suffocating. Then George and Nick go outside when Honey throws up and then they go for a drive with George driving in an inebriated state. All the while George and Martha continue their bickering.

Martha talks about their son which enrages George. That is a taboo for him which makes him angry like hell. Their sado-masochism is an escape for their deep failure which they know for a fact and can’t do anything about it. Beneath their bravado lies deep insecurity and sadness and anguish.

Elizabeth has done the role of her lifetime in this movie. She is simply breathtaking especially towards the end when she realises the secret about her son is going to be revealed, she is quite magnificient. She of course won the Best Actress award at the Oscars for this picture.

Richard Burton is of course brilliant as usual with his lines and his arrogance and his wit and ruthlessness. George Segal has acted superbly i thought but Sandy Dennis won the best supporting award at the Oscars. This is one movie which got nominated in every category of that year.

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Seventh Heaven

What a beautiful romantic movie, this one “Seventh Heaven” (1927) directed by Frank Borzage and starring Charles Farrell, Janet Gaynor among others.

Chico (Charles Farrell) is a sewer cleaner under the streets of Paris and yearns to be a street sweeper where he can be on the streets rather than under it. By pluck or say what, he gets a job as a street sweeper. Diana (Janet Gaynor) is a prostitute staying with her wicked sister. Both of them get the news that their long lost uncle and aunt are back in the city and ready to take them back. The aunt likes Diana but the uncle wants to know whether they are clean. When Diana says no, both uncle and aunt go back without their offer.

The sister becomes furious with Diana and starts whipping her in public. Upon which Chico seeing the commotion strong arms the sister and rescues Diana. When the police comes on a parade, Chico says that Diana is her wife in order to save her from detention. Diana then offers to stay in his house until the police comes and checks and goes away.

That happens but by then both Chico and Diana are in love with each other. War is called and Chico has to go away to fight in the war. The war lasts for four years during which time both Chico and Diana yearn for each other.

Judith Gaynor has performed her role as Diana magnificently for which she won the Oscars for Best Actress. Charles Farrell has also done a superb role. The direction is very good for a 1927 silent movie. The Director Frank Borzage also got the Best Direction award.

But the beauty of the movie is Judith Gaynor. She has put her whole heart and soul into the movie and despite being a silent movie one feel the power of her acting.

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Woman in the Dunes

Deadly Japanese movie “Woman in the Dunes” (1964) directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara and starring Kyoko Kishida and Eiji Okada among others. Niki Junpei (Eiji Okada) is an amateur entomologist and a school teacher on a three day trip to collect some beetle samples in the desert. He hopes to locate a tiger beetle in order to make his name known. It becomes late and he misses the last bus for the day. The villagers offer to take him to a house to provide for the night and he becomes elated at that. So they take him and drop him to the bottom of a sand pit, where a house is situated and the widow (Kyoko Kishida) who has no name in the movie offers to provide dinner for him. Junpei is happy with that arrangement and shows off his collection of insects and beetles. In the night he finds the lady shoveling the sand into buckets which are then hauled up by the villagers. When asked why she is doing it, she says otherwise the sand will swallow us. Apparently her husband and daughter were buried in a sandstorm. Next day comes and Junpei finds that the ladder is gone, it is a drop down ladder from above, and until the villagers come he will not be able to leave the place. Slowly one day becomes into three and desperation comes upon Junpei to find himself trapped down in the sand pit while he is a respected school teacher in his own right. He tries to escape a couple of times, but is unsuccessful due to the nature of the sand, he gets no grips anywhere. Slowly it becomes three months and then six months still he is unable to escape. Once he does get abroad through his ingenuity but gets lost in the desert and gets trapped in a quicksand from which he has to be rescued by the villagers. He then tries a crow trap, to trap the crow the then tie in a message to the crow’s legs, but to his bad luck, no crow gets trapped. In the meanwhile, life goes on drearily in the hut, with immense heat, sand all over the place, very little water and food, unbearable thirst and despondency for Junpei. The lady is taking it all in her stride, having resigned herself to the life in the sand pit. Deadly movie this one, breathtaking cinematography and photography with immensely close up shots of sand on the lady’s body. The music score is brilliant by Toru Takemitsu. How did they manage to shoot this movie is a mystery with the sand constantly threatening to rip everything apart and bury them under an avalanche. Both Okada and Kishida have done memorable roles for their part in the movie. Junpei accidently discovers clear water in a closed trapped tub, which reveals his scientific temper and makes notes for presentation to the world. He realises he is upon something great and thinks that the villagers will benefit from this. This despite the villagers having trapped him and ruined his life. Brilliant movie for the true movie connoisseur.

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Harlan County

Harlan County a 1976 documentary made about the actual miners strike in Harlan county Kentucky against Duke Power Company. The strike went on for 13 months and all the time Barbara Kopple, the documentary film maker and her team were with them, filming various events. She managed to get some real good shots, including a company man firing a gun, the pickets, and lot of stories. But there is no narrative like it happens in a documentary film. Barbara has managed to weave the story for viewers through the interviews itself. The strike was for better living conditions and 1970s were the time when there were strikes even in India because the workers were exploited those days by unscrupulous industrialists. 1982 was the famous Mumbai textile workers strike, after which one by one the entire textile sector closed down in Mumbai. Coal mining of course was a difficult job and the workers down there were bound to get lung disease or cancer of some kind. But ironically, everybody in the movie was smoking, probably oblivious that they were holding the cancer in their hands!! This movie won the Oscar for the best documentary film at the 49th Academy Awards.

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45 Years

Tormenting romantic drama movie 45 years starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in the main roles. Both of them are married for 45 years as Kate and Geoff Mercer and are planning to celebrate their 45th marriage anniversary, when Geoff gets a letter from somewhere that the girl with whom he had gone mountaineering 45 years ago, her body was found in the ice in the Alps. Suddenly, their marriage which was a bedrock of surety and love, comes under tremendous train. All kinds of doubts assays the mind of Kate as she discovers more and more details of that particular matter, including the fact that the girl was pregnant and Geoff would have probably married her, had she not fallen down in the crevice up the mountain. Brilliant performance by Charlotte Rampling as she melts down slowly and Tom Courtenay as he agonises over the sudden turn of events. Charlotte was nominated in the best actress category for the Oscars.

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The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai, an all time great colossal movie directed by David Lean (of the large scale epic movies fame) and starring Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, William Holden among others. Based in 1943 in Burma, when British prisoners of war arrive at a Japanese camp, where they are forced to do labour work for construction of a railway line across the river Kwai connecting Bangkok to Rangoon. The British commander Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) refuses to allow his officers to do manual labour under the Geneva convention, while the Japanese commandant of the POW camp, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) wants all men to work in order to meet his deadline. Both the colonels dig their heels refusing to see reason, until the Japanese caves in considering his deadline and the slow progress of work. Nicholson then speeds up the work in a professional manner befitting the British integrity while one American in the camp escapes and makes his way to Colombo where an elite commando unit has been established to blow up the very bridge that Nicholson is now making. Lot of stealth and dagger work follows the long treacherous walk upto the bridge by the American Major Shears (William Holden) alongwith Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) – who gets injured along the way and Lt. Joyce (Geoffrey Home). Spectacular cinematography work, with some breathtaking shots, fine direction by David Lean, nice neat story, and superb acting by Alec Guinness make this for an all time great movie to watch by cinema connoisseurs. The film won a clutch of awards at the Oscars.

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Pygmalion

 George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion being adapted into a film in 1938 directed by Anthony Asquith and starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller among others. The film stays true to the play, well almost. Professor Higgins (Leslie Howard) is a professor of phonetics & linguistics, and while wandering about in lowly Convent Garden, gets into a scrap with a flower girl Eliza Dolittle (Wendy Hiller). Just then Colonel Pickering comes by, he is an expert of linguistics and dialects himself and wants to meet Higgins, having returned from India. Pickering challenges Higgins to improve the flower girl in a few weeks. Eliza lands up on his doorstep the next morning to learn from him. Then follows the most exacting phase of her life while she tries to throw away her Welsh cockney accent and to adapt a proper British accent with pronunciation, grammar, manners, etiquette etc. Higgins accepts an invitation to an embassy reception with trepidation as to how Eliza would perform. It became his obsession and luckily Eliza goes through with flying colours. Higgins thinks he has won the battle but what has to become of Eliza, where will she go back now that she has become a proper lady, she won’t be able to go back to selling flowers. Higgins is unfortunately not able to make that connection.  Higgins comes across as a self centred egomaniac and for him every girl is like a subject to him, like his triumph. Wendy Hiller got nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. Superb acting by both Wendy Miller and Leslie Howard, both stayed true to script. 

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Ad Astra

Ad Astra, a 2019 science fiction drama movie directed by James Grey and starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Tylor, Donald Sutherland among others. It is more of a psychological drama movie rather than pure technology although there is a lot of science frontiers being broken down as shown in the movie, for eg. colonies in moon, Mars and space travel to Saturn, Jupiter & Neptune. Brad Pitt (Roy McBride) is the son of Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) who has gone away to space for 30 years in search of intelligent life on the universe, in the process he has travelled to Saturn, Jupiter and now stationed near Neptune. His space station has created some cosmic ray disturbances which has affected Earth also, so the son sets out to locate his dad in the vast universe, which takes 79 days from Mars itself. Lot of emotional tug of war between father and the son later, earth is safe from the cosmic disturbances and the power surges. The movie drags a bit in the middle especially when Brad is about to reach Neptune to find his dad after 3 decades. There is no emotional re-union sort of, the Dad has more or less lost his contact and interest in Earth. The movie was nominated to the Oscars in the sound mixing category. The special effects in the movie is quite extraordinary, it is in the human connect that the movie finds its weak spot. 

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Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter, a 1946 film starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard and directed by David Lean. It got Celia Johnson her nomination for the Oscars. An interesting story of two middle aged, married individuals falling in love unexpectedly and not able to do anything about it. It just happened just like that. Laura (Celia Johnson) is a happily married woman with two kids and a doting husband, and she always goes every Thursday to the townside by train and then she shops, changes her books in the library and goes to watch a movie, almost solo, and almost ritual like. She unexpectedly runs into Dr. Alec (Trevor Howard) who is a general practitioner and who also comes into town every Thursday to visit the hospital and relieve his friend of his duties. When Laura is standing too close to the tracks and one train passes by, some girt goes into her eyes, and Dr. comes to the rescue. One thing leads to another and in no time, their Thursday ritual gets more deeper and meaningful and they both realise that are in love with each other. Both also suffer from guilt because both have families to look forward to. Its a nice soft movie, not much of preaching going on, something that happened to two individuals without any hidden motive or malice behind it. Production values were quite good for that era. The background music by Sergei Rachmaninoff was quite exceptional.  

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The Song of Bernadette

Brilliantly made film on the life of Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) a girl who sees a vision in a grotto in Lourdes in France. Bernadette played by Jennifer Jones in an absolutely magnificent role befitting the Oscars for Best Actress given to her as well as the Golden Globe awards for that year. The Song of Bernadette (1943) directed by Henry King remains true to the story of Bernadette Soubirous. The film is beautifully made with superb camera work and cinematography, outstanding for that era. Bernadette sees a vision of a lady in white, while going to fetch wood for her family. Only she can see the apparition, nobody else and she communicates with the lady. Initially even her family doubts her story and so do the other villagers of Lourdes, but eventually one miracle occurs when a spring appears where there were only rock and stones and shrub, and the waters from that spring starts curing people of their illnesses. The church was initially against her, but the Dean of Lourdes starts believing her even as the higher authorities in Rome impose one commission after another to ferret out the real truth. The bureaucrats of Lourdes are totally against her and even want to arrest her on some old 1789 law. Jennifer Jones has done a splendid role, doing full justice to the character.  Eventually Bernadette is sent to become a sister. The climax of the movie is quite beautiful and sad and poignant. Worth watching for the acting of Jennifer Jones, the beautiful cinematography and camera work.   

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Coco

Wonderful animation movie Coco (2017) from the Pixar Disney combination, produced by Pixar and released by Walt Disney studios. Its a story of a young kid and his love for music but his family forbids from playing any music or even going near a musical instrument, because his great great grand father was a musician and left his family to pursue his musical career and the family to fend for themselves. From then on the family has no music in its household despite having passed through so many generations and having a successful business to boot. Then there is a Mexican festival the Day of the Dead, in which apparently the dead members of the family are remembered by keeping the food that they loved and celebrating with them. The story has beautifully taken off from there into the Land of the Dead where young Miguel goes on to find his great great grand father and seek his blessings to play music. The interplay between the living and the dead has been wonderfully made during this phase with lot of adventure, daring, innovativeness, creativity with a murder plot, a suspense and a reunion thrown in, all around a deep rooted culture and a family life. Pixar’s animation has been absolutely magnificent to say the least. Awesome movie to watch for all generations. 

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