Green Book is an Oscar-winning film in the tradition of Wings, It Happened One Night, In the Heat of the Night, Midnight Cowboy, The Sting, Chariots of Fire, Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy, Chicago, and The King’s Speech in which two disparate characters bond over unusual circumstances. As was the case with It Happened One Night, Rain Man, and Driving Miss Daisy, those circumstances take place largely on the road. Peter Farrelly’s film is not, as its detractors claim, a “white savior movie.”
As in all ten of the previous films cited, the two characters help each other unlike in the so-called white savior films in which a white person, through whose sacrifices, a black person is saved. Examples of that type of film include Glory, Amistad, Finding Forrester, Half Nelson, Gran Torino, The Blind Side, and The Help.
The green book referenced in Green Book was officially called “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” an annual guidebook for African-American road-trippers during the Jim Crow era from 1936 through 1966. It was published by African-American New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green, whose life story might make an interesting film of its own. This is not that film, though. The book plays a very small part in this one about a road trip through the deep south in which a distinguished black musician hires a Copacabana Night Club bouncer on hiatus to drive him to a series of engagements. They use the green book to find a place to stay in just one scene in the film.
Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen is the Italian-American chauffer, Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip. Oscar winner Mahershala Ali is classical pianist Doctor Don Shirley who hires him. Although the film has comic overtones and was pretty much sold on those moments, its best scenes are those involving Dr. Shirley’s confrontation with bigotry and the gentlemanly way in which he deals with it from being told he can’t try on a suit in a men’s store but could have it altered if he buys it first to being told he can’t use the restroom in an establishment in which he is performing but must use the outhouse instead to not being able to be seated in the restaurant in another venue where he is the headliner.
The Favourite is quirky, charming, and hilarious. It is brilliantly acted, superbly directed and beautifully designed, costumed, and shot. Just how much of it is accurate, however, we may never know.
Queen Anne ruled England, Scotland, and Ireland for a little over seven years from 1707-1714 from the age of 42 to her death at 49. Prior to succeeding William and Mary (her sister) as ruler, she suffered through seventeen pregnancies, resulting in only five live births. Four of the five died before the age of two. The fifth died at the age of eleven. Her husband, Prince George of Denmark, died the year after her succession. With the support of her friend, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, she fought the War of the Spanish Succession aka the second French and Indian War in the thirteen colonies aka Queen Anne’s War. One of Lady Sarah’s descendants, Winston Churchill, later called it the First World War.
The film explores the tug of war between political parties, the Tories, which Anne favored, and the Whigs, of which Lady Sarah, whose descendants also include Princess Diana, was one. The film, however, mostly focuses on a lesbian triangle that is not in the history books. It revolves around a fight between Lady Sarah and her cousin, Abigail, a servant who gains favor with the queen during one of her fallouts with Lady Sarah. To say more might spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
Mary Queen of Scots was one of last year’s most anticipated films. Oscar prognosticators were beside themselves predicting back-to-back nominations for Lady Bird‘s Saoirse Ronan and I, Tonya‘s Margot Robbie. Then, as they say, the movie came out. Its only Oscar nominations were for Makeup and Hairstyling and Costume Design. Ronan received no awards recognition in the title role, but Robbie did receive Best Supporting Actress nods from both SAG and BAFTA.
Directed by Josie Rourke, the British stage director making her screen debut, this was the third major production about the 16th Century Scottish Catholic queen and her rivalry with her cousin, England’s Protestant Queen Elizabeth. The highlight of all three versions was the fictionalized meeting of the two queens who never met in real life.
The first major production was 1936’s Mary of Scotland, directed by John Ford, starring Katharine Hepburn as Mary and Fredric March as her protector, the Earl of Bothwell, with March’s wife, Florence Eldredge, in support as Elizabeth. Critics of the day thought Douglas Walton as Mary’s weakling husband, Henry, Lord Darnley, gave the film’s best performance although both Ford and the film itself received awards recognition at the Venice Film Festival. Hepburn received a single vote for Best Actress at that year’s New York Film Critics Awards, which went to Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld.
A Star Is Born is a tale as old as the movies, the talking ones anyway. It made its first appearance under the title of What Price Hollywood? (1932), directed by George Cukor, in which waitress Constance Bennett becomes a star under the tutelage of a washed-up alcoholic director, the real-life alcoholic director Lowell Sherman, while her stardom has a detrimental effect on her marriage to Neil Hamilton. Nominated for an Oscar for Original Story by Adela Rogers St. Johns and Jan Murfin, it’s worth a watch.
William Wellman’s beloved A Star Is Born (1937) was the first to use the title. Although it has plot similarities to What Price Hollywood?, it is considered an original story. In this version, the star being born is an aspiring actress played by Janet Gaynor who goes to Hollywood where she achieves her dreams of stardom with the help of an alcoholic has-been actor played by Fredric March, who becomes her husband. Nominated for seven Oscars, it won one for director-writer Wellman and co-writer Robert Carson for Original Story as well as an honorary award to W. Howard Greene for his color cinematography. It was the only Oscar legendary director Wellman (Wings, The Ox-Bow Incident), who was also nominated for Best Director, ever won. A Best Picture nominee, former winners Gaynor (7th Heaven, Sunrise, Street Angel) and March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) were also nominated.
Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t a terribly profound film, but it’s a highly enjoyable one for what it is – a typical Hollywood tribute to a great artist with an emphasis on the joy he or she brought to the world. As such, it works. It is, after all, already the highest grossing biographical musical of all time with an infectious star performance.
Rami Malek’s remarkable performance as Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, may well be the best of its kind since James Cagney inhabited master showman George M. Cohan’s totally different style of singing, dancing, and strutting in 1942’s Yankee Dandy Dandy. The best moments of that film, aside from its musical numbers, were the moments of family togetherness with Joan Leslie as his wife, Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp as his parents, and real-life sister Jeanne Cagney as his sister. The same is true of Bohemian Rhapsody, although the emphasis here is on Mercury’s professional family consisting of Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joe Mazzello as his bandmates, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, as well as his biological family and various lovers from Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin to Allen Leech as Paul Prenter to Aaron McCusker as Jim Hutton. The real-life bonding between the actors playing the members of the band is palpable. It’s no wonder the film was nominated for an ensemble award by the Screen Actors Guild, and certainly no wonder that Malek has been winning awards for best actor over more established competitors.
Widows was one of the most highly anticipated films of 2018, widely predicted to be a box-office smash and a major Oscar contender in numerous categories including Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, and more. It ended up being a box-office flop and getting no Oscar or Golden Globe nominations. It did manage to get a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress for Viola Davis, but that was it as far as major awards recognition was concerned. What happened?
The problem was that awards prognosticators based their predictions on the past performances of the film’s director and cast and the previous awards recognition given the 1983 British TV miniseries, which was accorded two BAFTA TV nominations, assuming what clicked before would click again.
Directed by Steve McQueen, this was his first film since winning the 2013 Oscar for Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave, for which he had also been nominated for Best Directing. It moved the action of the earlier miniseries from 1980s London to contemporary Chicago, which may have been a good idea in itself, giving the film a fresh location. The problem was that it packed too much into its two-hour-and-nine minutes running time to allow audiences time to get used to one situation before it moved onto another without fully understanding what they were seeing. Eventually, most of the confusion was sorted out in flashbacks, but it was all so cold and matter-of-fact that audiences simply didn’t care. Even the usually superb Viola Davis who led the cast, couldn’t hold it together. She plays a dour, always angry woman who doesn’t flash her million-kilowatt smile until the last scene. It was too little too late. The few audiences that did see it did not recommend it to their friends and it was quickly gone from theatres.
In the Heat of the Night has been given a beautiful 4K digital restoration for its Criterion Blu-ray release that finally gives this Oscar-winning masterpiece its due.
Although it was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won five, it has long been critically held in the shadow of two other iconic 1967 films, Bonnie and Clyde, which was nominated for ten Oscars and won two, and The Graduate, which was nominated for seven and won one. This pristine release should go a long way toward showing today’s audiences exactly what audiences of fifty-two years ago first encountered in movie theatres.
Norman Jewison’s film was based on John Ball’s Edgar Award-winning 1965 mystery novel of the same name with an Oscar-winning script by Stirling Silliphant, award-winning cinematography by Haskell Wexler, Oscar-winning editing by Hal Ashby, and an unforgettable jazz score by Quincy Jones. It featured a brilliant performance by Sidney Poitier, one of three he gave that year, which also included To Sir, With Love and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and an equally brilliant one by Rod Steiger who won the lion’s share of the year’s Best Actor awards including the Oscar.
Filmed primarily in Sparta, Illinois, the film takes place in Sparta, Mississippi where Poitier is between trains having visited his mother and is now on his way home. He is picked up by deputy sheriff Warren Oates as a suspect in a local murder, not knowing that Poitier is a homicide detective in Philadelphia, Penn. Steiger is the bigoted town sheriff who at first rejects Poitier’s chief’s offer of help, but is forced to take it when the murder victim’s widow, Lee Grant, insists that he do so.
First Man was one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2018, and by extension, one that was expected to do well with various year-end awards, yet by the time the Oscar nominations came out last week, it was only nominated for four minor awards, Best Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Production Design. It was not nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Cinematography, or Score, categories it was expected to compete in early on. What happened?
The film about Neil Armstrong, the U.S. astronaut who was the first man to walk on the moon, was first shown at the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals in late August, followed by an equally prestigious showing at the Toronto Film Festival in early September. Reception was extremely positive even though the film had already received widespread criticism in the U.S. that it was unpatriotic because the moon landing scene did not include a shot of Armstrong and his partner Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag, which was a huge part of the TV coverage in real time in July of 1969.
Despite the controversy, the film was a finalist for the Best Film award at Venice and director Damien Chazelle won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto. It then played a few more film festivals around the world in late September and early October before having its U.S. theatrical release on October 12th. Although it opened to mostly positive reviews, it was an unexpected flop. Why?
Notorious, newly released by Criterion in a 4K restoration with all the bells and whistles you might expect, is proof positive that Alfred Hitchcock was not the cold technician his detractors claimed. The 1946 film is both a first-rate nail-biter and a deeply moving love story, the two threads coming to conclusion in one of the most suspense-filled endings in the history of film.
Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant both play against their legendary screen personas. She is not the saintly heroine of Casablanca, Gaslight, and The Bells of St. Mary’s. He is not the easy-going light leading man of The Awful Truth, Holiday, and The Philadelphia Story. She is the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy. He is her government handler, the man who puts her in a hornet’s nest of Nazis hiding in plain sight in Brazil. Their love affair begins early, hits a major bump when he doesn’t try to talk her out of marrying the head spy (Claude Rains), resumes tentatively while she is in danger and reaches its full bloom when he comes to rescue her in the nick of time.
The film features four great performances by Bergman, Grant, Rains and Leopoldine Konstantin in her only film as Rains’ suspicious, controlling mother, yet only Rains was nominated for an Oscar. In fact, the film’s only other nomination was for Ben Hecht’s meticulous screenplay. The film was overlooked for Ted Tetzlaff’s cinematography, Theran Warf’s editing, Roy Webb’s score, and most astonishingly, Best Picture and Direction.
What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, newly available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, came late in the cycle of horror films in which actresses of a certain age attempted to revive fading film careers by playing leads in horror movies, often as grotesque characters. The cycle began with 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, who produced, but did not direct Aunt Alice, the only one of numerous films he produced that he did not also direct.
Aldrich was primarily known for such testosterone driven macho films as Kiss Me Deadly, The Flight of the Phoenix, and The Dirty Dozen with the grand guignol Baby Jane and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte lucrative outliers.
Geraldine Page, 44 during filming, and Ruth Gordon, 72 during filming, form an unusual pairing playing characters from the novel The Forbidden Garden in which Page’s character was older than Gordon’s. To make them appear closer in age, Gordon wears a red wig.
Page, who began the decade with high profile starring roles in Summer and Smoke, Sweet Bird of Youth, Toys in the Attic, and Dear Heart while continuing in high profiles roles on stage and TV, had by the middle of decade retreated to supporting roles in such films as You’re a Big Boy Now and The Happiest Millionaire. What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? was her first starring role on screen in five years. Gordon, on the other hand, was enjoying a career resurgence.
Bad Times at the El Royale is not a horror movie per se but horrific things happen in it which I got more goosebumps from than most of the scares in last year’s two more highly praised horror films, A Quiet Place and Hereditary.
Drew Goddard, who previously directed the well-regarded 2011 horror film The Cabin the Woods, directs this leisurely paced neo noir in the style of a Quentin Tarantino film in which people come to the fictional motel/hotel in Lake Tahoe which is literally half in California and half in Nevada.
Set circa 1959, the guests include Jeff Bridges as an elderly priest suffering from memory loss, Cynthia Erivo as a struggling singer, Dakota Johnson as a mysterious young woman, and Jon Hamm as a vacuum cleaner salesman. Lewis Pullman is the hotel’s nervous manager. Chris Hemsworth shows up later as an enigmatic cult leader.
Bridges, Pullman, and Hemsworth all turn in noteworthy performances, but the standout is Erivo in her film debut. A Tony winner for the recent Broadway revival of The Color Purple, Erivo more than holds her own in dramatic scenes with the film’s more experienced film actors and has the added responsibility of singing several songs a cappella which she does brilliantly. It comes as no surprise that she is the sole cast member singled out by the various awards-granting bodies who have included the film in their year-end recognition.
Black Panther, BlackKklansman, First Reformed, Isle of Dogs, Three Identical Strangers, You Were Never Really Here, Leave No Trace, and Support the Girls are among the films garnering year-end awards recognition that have already been released on home video, but what of the other major awards contenders released theatrically in 2018? Which other acclaimed films from the year just passed will we see released on home video in the new year, and when?
Don’t expect to see Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma any time soon, if at all. Cuaron’s film, which could conceivably be nominated for and win Oscars for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture, is controlled by Netflix. Netflix only grudgingly opens their prestige films in select markets for awards consideration. Once they have completed their Oscar qualification runs in the Los Angeles area, they are available only on Netflix streaming services. Although Netflix has released select TV series on Blu-ray and standard DVD, they have yet to release any of their films on the home video market.
Roma‘s chief competition for Best Foreign Language Film, Cold War, has just been released in the U.S. and will not be available on home video for a while, but will be available in the U.K., where it opened last August, on January 7th.
The first major awards contender to be released on home video in the U.S. in 2019 will be The Old Man & the Gun on January 15th. By then we will know if Robert Redford has won or lost his 7th Golden Globe on his 11th nomination. His first four wins were for Most Promising Newcomer for 1965’s Inside Daisy Clover and as World Film Favorite of 1974, 1976, and 1977, awards that no longer exist. His fifth was for Best Director for 1980’s Ordinary People, for which he also won an Oscar. His sixth was for the honorary Cecil B. DeMille award at the 1993 Globes. The 82-year-old screen legend says his portrayal of the elderly bank robber will be his last acting role.
Murder by Death, newly released on Blu-ray by Shout Select, was a major box-office hit in 1976. Starring three Oscar winners, Alec Guinness, David Niven, and Maggie Smith; and six other nominees, Peter Sellers, Eileen Brennan, Peter Falk, Elsa Lanchester, James Cromwell, and James Coco, Neil Simon’s script was a spoof of 1932’s The Old Dark House with nods to 1945’s And Then There Were None.
Directed by Robert Moore, the film begins with host Truman Capote inviting five famous detectives to his decrepit mansion to solve a murder yet to be committed. The detectives and their guests include thinly disguised versions of Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man (Niven, Smith), Sam Spade and his Girl Friday from The Maltese Falcon (Falk, Brennan), Charlie Chan and his adopted No. 3 son (Sellers, Richard Narita), Hercule Poirot and his chauffeur (Coco, Cromwell), and Miss Marple and her nurse (Lanchester, Estelle Winwood). Capote’s household includes a blind butler (Guinness) and a deaf and dumb temporary cook (Nancy Walker). The screaming doorbell is comprised of Fay Wray’s screams from King Kong.
Both Myrna Loy and Katharine Hepburn were originally attached to the film, but Loy (who would be replaced by Maggie Smith) had second thoughts about playing a spoof of her beloved Nora Charles. Hepburn, who was to have played Agatha Christie, decided she didn’t want to do the film if Loy wasn’t in it. She was replaced by Estelle Winwood whose character was then changed to that of Miss Marple’s nurse.
It was the week before Christmas and all through the large manor house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The thirteen guests were all snug in their nightclothes in their separate bedrooms watching their favorite old Christmas movie.
In two of the rooms, Ebenezer Scrooge was being shown the errors of his ways by the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and to come in A Christmas Carol. In one room he was played by Reginald Owen substituting for Lionel Barrymore in the 1938 Hollywood version. In the other he was played by Alastair Sim in the acclaimed 1951 British version known by the original release title of Scrooge in the U.K.
James Stewart took center stage in two other rooms. He was the senior sales clerk in Frank Morgan’s gift shop falling in love with his secret pen pal not knowing by day she was the new junior clerk who annoyed him in the person of Margaret Sullavan in 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner. In the other room he was a reluctant banker about to give it all up when Henry Travers in the form of his guardian angel showed him what life would have been like had he not been born in 1946’s ever popular It’s a Wonderful Life.
Not to be outdone, Barbara Stanwyck was holding court in two rooms as well. In one she was a petty thief in the custody of her NYC prosecutor (Fred MacMurray) who takes her with him when he goes home to Pennsylvania to spend the holidays with his mother (Beulah Bondi) and aunt (Elizabeth Patterson) in 1940’s Remember the Night. In the other, she was a magazine food writer who wrote mouthwatering recipes provided by restaurant chef S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall who accompanies her on a holiday retreat to entertain her unsuspecting publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) and his naval war hero guest (Dennis Morgan) in 1945’s Christmas in Connecticut.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the sixth film in the now 23-year-old franchise that was based on the highly successful 1960s TV series that ran from 1966-1969.
Not a remake of the TV series, Tom Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt is an agent in the same elite covert operations team that was led by Peter Graves’ Jim Phelps character, played in the 1996 film by Jon Voight, a character long gone from the film series.
The latest film is the first actual sequel, all the others were stand-alone stories. Following events set in motion by 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the film brings back Michelle Monaghan as Cruise’s ex-wife Julia, featured in 2006’s Mission Impossible: III.
Julia is now remarried to a doctor without borders played by Wes Bentley. They feature in the film’s climax but are not prominent in the earlier portions of the film which focus on Cruise, new partner Henry Cavill, old partners Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, and MI-6’s Rebecca Ferguson from 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Alec Baldwin from that film is also on board, as is Angela Bassett who, along with Baldwin, represents Cruise’s controllers.
The new film, which clocks in at 2 hours and 27 minutes, was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) who previously did the same for Rogue Nation.