Saturday, June 20, 2015

1939--The Year in Review

Famously, in 1939, the cinema floodgates opened wide, particularly in Hollywood. The quality is so high that the period would hence be known as an Everest for the movie industry. Indeed, when you look at the notable 1939 films from all over the world (even the ones I decline to mention), you are dumbfounded. How did all this happen in such confluence? Well, clearly by this time, the relatively new empire of motion pictures had gotten wholly into the swing of things from a production standpoint--the studio machines were finely run by savvy producers and execs willing to be both generous and strident with the wily talent they managed. Meanwhile, on the technical side, the visual and aural aspects of film had been sharpened to degrees both artists and audiences hadn't yet imagined possible, with new strides being made in editing, sound, special effects, makeup, and scoring. Colors and sounds were fully vibrant finally, and of course, it didn't hurt that the biggest, best-sellingest property to ever hit the movie business made its glorious screen debut in December '39, premiering in a big little city called Atlanta. Luckily, David O. Selznick's reluctant obsession ended up being as entertaining and popular as its many fussy, troubled makers wished it to be and it arguably still stands as the romantic historical epic against which all others should be measured (Titanic be damned). Some may balk and posit The Wizard of Oz as the more influential picture, and it's certainly referenced more often in culture than any other cinematic work (even including Star Wars). But I posit that its popular success lies more in the genius programming decision to give it yearly holiday airings on TV (beginning in 1956 on CBS) rather than what's intrinsically great in the film (of which there is much, ever if I personally can't take another viewing of it). For me, it's the wonderful Capra film, with its genuine patriotism and still resonant dark undercurrents, and its powerfully emotional lead performance (indeed, its superb cast all around) that gives Selznick a run for his considerable money. In fact, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has more to say about life today than any other movie from 1939; it's a heart-pounding drama with real guts and it seems perpetually watchable and relevant for Americans and for a world hungering for truth and justice. As for those who would hold out for Renoir's The Rules of the Game as 1939's crown jewel? I recognize its importance, but I'm ashamed to say I'm still slightly bored by the film (France's heyday in cinema would arrive much later). However, I would hear arguments for John Ford's driving, massively influential western Stagecoach as being the best of this mightily impressive year. BONUS: In the shorts categories, The Three Stooges finally stumble to the head of the line!  NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and they are in no way reflective of the choices made by the Oscars.

PICTURE: GONE WITH THE WIND (US, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, George Cukor)
(2nd: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (US, Frank Capra), followed by:
The Wizard of Oz (US, Victor Fleming, King Vidor)
Stagecoach (US, John Ford)
Wuthering Heights (US, William Wyler)
The Women (US, George Cukor)
Young Mr Lincoln (US, John Ford)
Gunga Din (US, George Stevens)
The Rules of the Game (France, Jean Renoir)
Ninotchka (US. Ernst Lubitsch)
Only Angels Have Wings (US, Howard Hawks)
Babes in Arms (US, Busby Berkeley)
Goodbye Mr. Chips (UK, Sam Wood)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (US, William Dieterle)
Dark Victory (US, Edmund Goulding);
The Roaring Twenties (US, Anatole Litvak and Raoul Walsh)
Beau Geste (US, William A. Wellman)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (US, Alfred Werker)
Drums Along the Mohawk (US, John Ford)
The Four Feathers (UK, Zoltan Korda)
Intermezzo (US, Gregory Ratoff)
Love Affair (US, Leo McCarey)
The Rains Came (US, Clarence Brown)
Destry Rides Again (US, George Marshall)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (US, Sidney Lanfield)
The Man in the Iron Mask (US, James Whale)
The Little Princess (US, Walter Lang))

ACTOR: James Stewart, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (2nd: Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind, followed by: Robert Donat, Goodbye Mr. Chips; Charles Laughton, The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Laurence Olivier, Wuthering Heights; Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms; Henry Fonda, Young Mr Lincoln; Basil Rathbone, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)

ACTRESS: Vivien Leigh, GONE WITH THE WIND (2nd: Greta Garbo, Ninotchka, followed by: Jean Arthur, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Ingrid Bergman, Intermezzo; Bette Davis, Dark Victory; Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz; Merle Oberon, Wuthering Heights; Irene Dunne, Love Affair; Rosalind Russell, The Women; Marlene Dietrich, Destry Rides Again)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Thomas Mitchell, STAGECOACH (as well as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone With the Wind and Only Angels Have Wings--one of the most productive years any actor has ever enjoyed) (2nd: Harry Carey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, followed by: Burt Lahr, The Wizard of Oz; Claude Rains, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Sam Jaffe, Gunga Din; Ray Bolger, The Wizard of Oz; C. Aubrey Smith, The Four Feathers; Brian Donlevy, Beau Geste)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Hattie McDaniel, GONE WITH THE WIND (2nd: Margaret Hamilton, The Wizard of Oz, followed by: Olivia de Havilland, Gone With the Wind; Geraldine Fitzgerald, Wuthering Heights; Maria Ouspenskaya, Love Affair; Billie Burke, The Wizard of Oz; Gale Sondergaard, The Cat and the Canary; Edna May Oliver, Drums Along the Mohawk

DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming, GONE WITH THE WIND (2nd: Frank Capra, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, followed by: John Ford, Stagecoach; Jean Renoir, The Rules of the Game; Victor Fleming and King Vidor, The Wizard of Oz; William Wyler, Wuthering Heights; Ernst Lubitsch, Ninotchka; George Cukor, The Women; Busby Berkeley, Babes in Arms)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Sidney Buchman and Lewis R. Foster, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (2nd: Dudley Nichols and Ernest Haycox, Stagecoach, followed by: Jean Renoir and Carl Koch, The Rules of the Game; Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch and Melchior Lengyel, Ninochka; Marc Hellinger, Robert Rossen, Rixhard Macauley and Jerry Wald, The Roaring Twenties)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Sidney Howard, GONE WITH THE WIND (2nd: Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, The Women, followed by: Charles MacAuthur and Ben Hecht, Wuthering Heights; Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allen Woolf, The Wizard of Oz; Joel Sayre, Fred Guiol, Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur, Gunga Din)

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: OILY TO BED, OILY TO RISE (Jules White; The Three Stooges) (2nd: The City (Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke), followed by: We Want Our Mummy (Del Lord; The Three Stooges); Radio Hams (Felix. E. Feist and Pete Smith))

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: THE UGLY DUCKLING (Jack Cutting and Walt Disney) (2nd: Detouring America (Tex Avery), followed by: The Pointer (Clyde Geronimi and Walt Disney); Thugs with Dirty Mugs (Tex Avery); A Day at the Zoo (Tex Avery))

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Ernest Haller and Lee Garmes, GONE WITH THE WIND (2nd: Gregg Toland, Wuthering Heights, followed by: Bert Glennon, Stagecoach; Harold Rosson, The Wizard of Oz; Bert Glennon and Ray Rennahan, Drums Along the Mohawk) 

ART DIRECTION: THE WIZARD OF OZ, Gone With the Wind, Son of Frankenstein, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

COSTUME DESIGN: GONE WITH THE WIND, The Wizard of Oz, The Women, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Wuthering Heights

FILM EDITING: STAGECOACH, Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz, The Rains Came

SOUND: MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, Gone With The Wind, The Rains Came, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Mr. Chips

ORIGINAL SCORE: Max Steiner, GONE WITH THE WIND (2nd: Herbert Stothart, The Wizard of Oz, followed by: Dimitri Tiomkin, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Aaron Copland, Of Mice and Men; Erich Wolfgang Korngold, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; Alfred Newman, Wuthering Heights; Miklós Rózsa, The Four Feathers; Max Steiner, Dark Victory; Victor Young, Gulliver's Travels)

ORIGINAL SONG: "Over the Rainbow" from THE WIZARD OF OZ (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harberg) (2nd: "Lydia The Tattooed Lady" from At The Circus (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harberg), followed by: "Ding Dong The Witch is Dead" from The Wizard of Oz (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harberg); "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harberg); "The Boys in the Back Room" from Destry Rides Again (music by Frederick Hollender, lyrics by Frank Loesser); "Wishing" from Love Affair (music and lyrics by Buddy da Sylva))

MAKEUP: THE WIZARD OF OZ, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gone With the Wind

SPECIAL EFFECTS: THE RAINS CAME, The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

1938--The Year in Review

Hollywood, and the world of cinema, seemed to be taking a nap right before an impending influx of great movies during the coming war years. So, in a somewhat sleepy 1938, the race is mainly between the populist appeal of Errol Flynn versus the headier heroics of Sergei Eisenstein. The latter is the one with more intellectual cache and perhaps the more lasting influence, but Curtiz and Keighley's film is the one you're most likely to revisit, just for its buoyant spirit and dazzling color design. For sure, it's refreshing to have key entries from Hitchcock, Capra, Hawks, Riefenstahl and Gance. But, honestly, even after looking at all the feature presentations, Porky in Wackyland--Bob Clampett's insane immersion into surrealism--remains the most original piece from this rather lackluster year (though I also love the brilliantly filmed silent home movie Our Day, by Wallace Kelly--a well-directed home movie of sorts that is now in the National Film Registry). NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.

PICTURE: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (US, Michael Curtiz and William Keighley)
(2nd: Alexander Nevsky (USSR, Sergei Eisenstein), followed by:
Olympia (Germany, Leni Riefenstahl)
The Lady Vanishes (UK, Alfred Hitchcock)
Angels With Dirty Faces (US, Michael Curtiz)
Bringing Up Baby (US, Howard Hawks)
J’Accuse (France, Abel Gance)
They Drive by Night (UK, Arthur Woods)
Pygmalion (UK, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard)
You Can’t Take It With You (US, Frank Capra)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (US, Norman Taurog))

ACTOR: Errol Flynn, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (2nd: Nicolai Cherkassov, Alexander Nevsky, followed by: James Cagney, Angels with Dirty Faces; Charles Boyer, Algiers; Leslie Howard, Pygmalion)

ACTRESS: Wendy Hiller, PYGMALION (2nd: Katharine Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby, followed by: Jean Arthur, You Can’t Take it With You; Bette Davis, Jezebel; Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Basil Rathbone, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (2nd: Claude Rains, The Adventures of Robin Hood, followed by: Lionel Barrymore, You Can’t Take It With You; Robert Morely, Marie Antoinette; Charles Ruggles, Bringing Up Baby)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Spring Byington, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (2nd: May Whitty, The Lady Vanishes, followed by: Fay Bainter, Jezebel; Billie Burke, Merrily We Live; Ruth Donnelly, A Slight Case of Murder)

DIRECTOR: Sergei Eisenstein, ALEXANDER NEVSKY (2nd: Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia, followed by: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, The Adventures of Robin Hood; Alfred Hitchcock, The Lady Vanishes; Howard Hawks, Bringing Up Baby)

SCREENPLAY: Dudley Nichols and Hargar Wilde, BRINGING UP BABY (2nd: Sergei M. Eisenstein and Pyotr Pavlenko, Alexander Nevsky, folliowed by: Sidney Gilliatt and Frank Launder, The Lady Vanishes, James Curtis, Paul Gangelin, and Derek N. Twist, They Drive by Night; Norman Reilley Raine and Seaton I. Miller, The Adventures of Robin Hood)

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: OUR DAY (Wallace Kelly) (2nd: The River (Pare Lorentz), followed by:  Violent is the Word for Curly (Three Stooges; Charley Chase); Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb (Three Stooges; Del Lord)

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: PORKY IN WACKYLAND (Bob Clampett) (2nd: Ferdinand the Bull (Walt Disney and Dick Rickard), followed by: Brave Little Tailor (Mickey Mouse; Walt Disney and Bill Roberts))

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (2nd: Eduard Tisse, Alexander Nevsky, followed by: James Wong Howe, Algiers; Olympia; Joseph Walker, You Can't Take It With You 

ART DIRECTION: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, Alexander's Ragtime Band, Marie Antoinette, Alexander Nevsky, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

COSTUME DESIGN: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, Marie Antoinette, Algiers, Alexander Nevsky, Alexander's Ragtime Band

ORIGINAL SCORE: Sergei Prokofiev, ALEXANDER NEVSKY (2nd: Erich Wolfgang Korngold, The Adventures of Robin Hood, followed by: Max Steiner, Jezebel; Marvin Hatley, Block-Heads; Herbert Stothart, Marie Antoinette) 

ORIGINAL SONG: "Thanks for the Memory" from THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 (Music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin) (2nd: "Jeepers Creepers" from Going Places (Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Johnny Mercer), followed by: "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" from Hard To Get (Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Johnny Mercer); "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" from Leave It to Me (Music and lyrics by Cole Porter); "Now It Can Be Told" from Alexander's Ragtime Band (Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin))