We’re Gonna Stick Together

The Wild Bunch marked a significant change in Westerns at the time. It was director Sam Peckinpah’s goal to show the Wild West for what it truly was. The Wild Bunch was very controversial for its honest depiction of violence. Shootouts are realistically bloody, prostitutes are naked, and crude men use profanity. The Wild Bunch was crucial to the New Hollywood movement and arguably made the R rating what it is today. Though influential, the Western was only nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score. Editing should’ve been recognized for its innovative use of slow motion and chaotic rapid cuts.

The Wild Bunch is a fitting revision of old Westerns with a gang of aging outlaws dealing with the changing world around them. William Holden leads the posse as the haunted outlaw Pike Bishop. Ernest Borgnine is his no-nonsense friend Dutch and Robert Ryan is former partner Deke Thornton who tirelessly tracks them down. Other notable members include Warren Oates and Ben Johnson as the Gorch brothers and the Mexican Jaime Sánchez as Angel. There’s also Edmond O’Brien as the much older Sykes. Their intended last job is a bust that ends in an uncomfortable shootout with several civilian casualties.

Peckinpah meant for the violence to be disturbing, but the opening scene where kids gleefully torture scorpions with fire ants is an accurate metaphor. There are traditional Western motifs like a train robbery or bridge explosion, but the modern world slowly changes the men. Their true final job is bringing ammunition to a warring Mexican general. The conflict in Mexico leads to betrayal and eventual sacrifice when the Wild Bunch have one last stand. Since almost every New Hollywood movie ended in death, it wasn’t surprising to know they didn’t make it in the end. The Wild Bunch united the old with the new.

The Wild Bunch

The Wild Bunch stick together

You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog!

Elvis has re-entered the building. The undisputed King of Rock and Roll will forever be Elvis Presley. His impact on music and pop culture is so legendary that a proper big screen musical biopic was inevitable. Sure there were TV movies and shows, but never what you’d call an event movie. After The Great Gatsby in 2013, Elvis was immediately announced as director Baz Luhrmann’s next project. Though it was nearly a decade before he could fully realize it. I’m an Elvis fan like everybody else, so I was excited to see it on the big screen. Elvis is just as flashy and stylish like only Luhrmann can accomplish. Unlike most biopics, Elvis feels like a comic book movie that emphasises every important piece of Presley’s life.

Modeling himself after Captain Marvel Jr, inspiration from black Gospel artists on Memphis Beale Street, his controversial hip movements, liberating effect on girls, military service, meeting Priscilla Presley, his acting career, Vegas, love of guns, and eventual weight gain are all covered. Although most of the attention is given to Elvis Presley’s relationship with shifty manager Colonel Tom Parker. A lot of the movie is told from his perspective as an unreliable narrator. Casting Tom Hanks as the mysterious Dutch snowman was a perfect full circle moment since Forrest Gump is the one who inspired Elvis. You can tell Hanks was included for star power, but the movie truly belongs to Austin Butler. I’ve been familiar with Butler for years since I grew up seeing him in Nickelodeon shows like Ned’s Declassified, iCarly, and Zoey 101. I always love when an unsuspecting actor gives a career-making performance.

Along with a possible Best Picture nomination, I predict Butler gets nominated for Best Actor. Butler fully transforms into Elvis in a way that doesn’t feel like another impersonation. From his look to his voice and every energetic performance. Fellow musical artists like Hank Snow, B.B. King, and Little Richard are acknowledged, but more attention is still given to just about every hit Elvis song. My only real complaint would be the unneeded inclusion of modern remixes. Elvis is a fun show, but there is tragedy that needed to be acknowledged. Like Elvis’ relationship with his late mother and managing father. Olivia DeJonge is just as uncanny as Priscilla Presley who, along with their daughter Lisa Marie, gave the movie their seal of approval. Elvis is also affected by the Memphis assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Elvis ends up with other managers, but his continued affiliation with Parker led to his prescription drug abuse and inevitable heart attack. Elvis is an emotional tribute that took care of business.

Elvis

Elvis Presley performs for the crowd

P.S. I have officially finished my 96 day Oscar movie marathon from 1927 to 2022

The Way of the Future

The Aviator is the way of the future. Though it does harken back to classic Hollywood in a big way. The Aviator was deliberately shot with old fashioned two-color and three-strip technicolor. Though modern day CGI was unavoidable, scale model planes were used as well. The titular aviator is original genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Howard Hughes. Tony Stark was based on Hughes and it’s not hard to see the influence. A Howard Hughes biopic was in the works for decades until it finally landed in the hands of Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio as the star. This would be the second collaboration between the director and actor after Gangs of New York. Though it is a rare PG-13 Scorsese picture. DiCaprio emulates Howard Hughes and his love of filmmaking, passion for aviation, and way with women. Along with his more infamous traits like his severe OCD and intense germaphobia.

The Aviator explores the making of Hughes’ epic war picture Hell’s Angels, Hughes building planes for the war, the relationship he has with multiple famous celebrities, and any legal trouble that came with his decisions. Although Best Picture ended up going to Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator was another movie about the movies that won big at the Academy Awards. The movie was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound Mixing. It won all the technical awards for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Film Editing, but it’s Cate Blanchett who won Best Supporting Actress for playing Katherine Hepburn herself. The only time an actor won an Oscar for playing an Oscar winner. Blanchett looks and sounds so much like Hepburn without feeling like a caricature. Hughes’ most long-term relationship is with Hepburn, but he does move on to Ava Gardner played by a classy Kate Beckinsale.

The Aviator is filled with major Hollywood stars. John C. Reilly plays Hughes’ manager Noah Dietrich who tries to protect his image. Alec Baldwin plays Hughes’ aviation archenemy Juan Trippe who runs Pan Am airlines against his TWA airline. Alan Alda was also nominated for playing the senator who questions Hughes near the end. Ian Holm, Danny Huston, Willem Dafoe, and Adam Scott have memorable roles, but the most interesting appearances are Jude Law as swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn and singer Gwen Stefani as Hell’s Angels actress Jean Harlow. Hughes makes several reckless decisions like building faster planes that crash with him nearly dying. He fights the MPAA for the violence in Scarface and the boobs in The Outlaw. The enormous Spruce Goose airplane is his greatest accomplishment, but Hughes will forever be known for his reclusive actions. The Aviator shows the positive and negative effect of success on the psyche.

The Aviator

Howard Hughes takes flight

The Heart is an Organ of Fire

The English Patient is another standard Best Picture winner. It’s British, nearly 3 hours long, set during World War II, there’s romance, and a sweeping foreign location. I deliberately avoided The English Patient for years, because it was long and sounded boring. I don’t hate it like Elaine did on Seinfeld, but I do think Fargo was the more deserving Best Picture winner. The English Patient was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won 9 for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, and Sound. Director and writer Anthony Minghella had the difficult task of adapting Michael Ondaatje’s book of the same name.

The English Patient is told from multiple perspectives with real life Hungarian cartographer Count László Almásy at the center. Though the book and movie are highly fictionalized, Ralph Fiennes delivers a star-making Oscar nominated performance as the mostly unlikable map maker. Almásy spends a lot of time in the Egyptian desert with his friend Madox during WWII. He starts a passionate love affair with the married Katherine Clifton. Though she began her career with a Razzie nomination, Kristin Scott Thomas redeems herself in the Oscar nominated role. Fiennes and Scott Thomas have powerful chemistry, but it is still an affair. Colin Firth plays her husband who supplies an airplane that ends up having harsh consequences.

The only thing that makes The English Patient feel especially long is the fact that the mysterious amnesia stricken English patient is slowly dying from severe third-degree burns near the end of the war. French actress Juliette Binoche won Best Supporting Actress for playing the grief stricken nurse Hana who cares for Almásy. She has her own, much more innocent love affair with Sikh bomb defuser Kip played by the Indian Naveen Andrews. They’re also joined by Willem Dafoe as a Canadian spy seeking revenge from the Germans and possibly Almásy himself. The English Patient is an effective character study that could’ve been tightened up a bit.

The English Patient

Almásy dances with Katherine

The Life of Puyi

The Last Emperor is the first western film aloud entry into the Forbidden City. A fact the movie takes advantage of by showcasing the beauty and mystique of the golden palace. I was always curious to see The Last Emperor, but like the Forbidden City itself, I remained totally blind to it. Though directed by the Italian Bernardo Bertolucci and filmed in English, The Last Emperor is the first predominantly Asian movie to win Best Picture. Unlike Gandhi, screen legend Peter O’Toole is the only major western actor in the movie. Something about him in a foreign land seems to attract awards attention. Not since Gigi has a movie won all 9 of its Academy Awards. Including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, and Sound. Once again there were no acting nominations even though most of the Chinese cast deserved recognition.

John Lone plays Puyi, the titular last emperor of China who took the throne when he was just 2 years old. The film is framed with Puyi in prison, but nearly 3 hours are spent covering his entire life from emperor to citizen. As a toddler, Puyi is too childish to make his own decisions or appreciate the significance of his power. He wants to leave his sheltered life several times, but he does learn to accept his role later in life. As a child, Puyi tries to hold onto his youth, but it costs him his beloved wet nurse. The Last Emperor is actually the first PG-13 Best Picture winner. There’s one F bomb and some violence, but it’s mostly instances of brief nudity and sexual encounters. As a teenager, Puyi is given spectacles and his choice of an Empress.

Joan Chen plays his mostly content wife Wanrong who ultimately succumbs to opium addiction. Vivian Wu plays his unhappy secondary consort Wenxiu who ultimately leaves him. I know Puyi was probably harsher in real life, but the movie holds back a bit. Though he has many servants, Puyi’s most productive connection is with his English tutor Reginald Johnston played by O’Toole. Puyi learns a lot about western culture, but leaving the Forbidden City isn’t by choice. I don’t fully understand eastern politics, but I know Puyi ended up a puppet of the Japanese during the war when he reclaimed his title as Manchurian emperor. When the Red Army imprisons him, Ying Ruocheng plays the warden who reeducates him. When his sentence is up, the movie comes full circle when the elderly Puyi visits his former throne. The Last Emperor is a powerful story with humble beginnings.

The Last Emperor

Puyi sits on his throne

I Had a Farm in Africa…

Out of Africa is another nearly 3 hour epic romance with a beautiful backdrop. This time the focus is on Africa, but I don’t think it’s the African set female focused 1985 film that should’ve won Best Picture. That honor should’ve gone to The Color Purple, but the Academy made the safe choice. Both movies were nominated for 11 Oscars, but The Color Purple won nothing while Out of Africa won 7. Including Best Picture, Best Director Sydney Pollack, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Original Score, and Sound. Africa is truly breathtaking and the John Barry score helps to romanticize it. It’s just the story that feels like a minor step back. Out of Africa centers around English colonialism in Africa, but it’s not handled the same as Gandhi.

The original book is a memoir by the Danish aristocratic Karen Blixen who spent most of her time in British East Africa (or modern day Kenya). She marries Swedish nobleman Baron Bror Blixen who takes part in big-game hunts and buys them a coffee farm. Karen falls in love with Africa and its people while providing schools, medicine, and work for the local villagers. Though she does keep wealthy friends like Felicity and Berkeley. As I expected, the pace is incredibly slow and the movie didn’t really get interesting for me until the second half. Out of Africa is a little like Doctor Zhivago in how it slowly develops a romance over time. Since Bror is unfaithful, Karen starts to fall for fellow big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton.

He saves her from a lioness and they bond over their mutual love of stories. Though they’re separated by class and views of marriage, nothing can keep them apart. Not even the First World War led by colonist Lord Delamere. Their most romantic scenes are when Denys shampoos Karen’s hair and they ride over Africa in his biplane. Meryl Streep is unsurprisingly committed to her Danish accent and strong-willed Oscar nominated performance. Although English in real life, Robert Redford strangely remains American, but is equally committed to the rugged hunter. Though it was Klaus Maria Brandauer who was nominated as the husband in the middle of their love affair. Out of Africa isn’t exactly timeless, but it does make effective use of its setting.

Out of Africa

Denys teaches Karen to hunt

Nonviolent Resistance

Gandhi is the first British made Best Picture winner with a predominantly Indian cast. Mahatma Gandhi was the most influential practitioner of nonviolent resistance and passive protest. His methods would go on to inspire such civil rights activists as Martin Luther King. I’ve known about the Indian leader for years, but I only saw fragments of the movie when I was in school. Gandhi is of course another sprawling 3 hour epic with great production value. Gandhi won prestigious awards like Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay along with technical categories like Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Film Editing. I’m not surprised it won Best Picture, but everyone (even the director) agrees that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the more timeless film that should’ve won. Richard Attenborough would go on to star in Jurassic Park after developing a friendship with Steven Spielberg.

Even still, Gandhi was a dream project for Attenborough. Several decades went by with similar movies like Lawrence of Arabia being made in its place. Non-Indians like Alec Guinness were considered to play Gandhi, but thankfully they went with the relatively unknown half Indian, half British Ben Kingsley. With the help of Oscar nominated makeup, Kingsley goes through a startling transformation. Mohandas K. Gandhi was once a young lawyer with hair and more English attire before embracing his Indian heritage with the bald head, mustache, glasses, and loincloth he became known for. Gandhi explores major events throughout his life including being thrown from a South African train, inspiring nonviolent protests, witnessing the aftermath of a violent massacre, and fasting for peace in his country. The movie focuses on Gandhi’s just cause to make India independent from British rule. I do find it a little ironic that a movie about resisting the British would follow such a pro-British movie like Chariots of Fire.

Nevertheless, Gandhi has an all-star British cast that complements the mostly unknown Indian cast. It was a major career boost for actors like Bernard Hill and even Daniel Day-Lewis. Gandhi is supported by his Indian wife, children, and friends like Roshan Seth as the anti-colonial Jawaharlal Nehru. British leaders like Edward Fox as the ruthless General Dyer try to resist Gandhi with violence, but he has many non-Indian supporters. Martin Sheen and Candice Bergen play journalists who document his accomplishments. There’s also his English daughter Mirabehn and his Christian priest friend Charlie played by Ian Charleson in his second consecutive Best Picture winner. Gandhi’s complicated faith is explored with a mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian principles. His last big fast is in response to a civil war between Hindu and Muslim Indians. The movie begins with Gandhi’s assassination, but you can’t fully appreciate the impact until the end. Gandhi goes to show what one small Indian man in a loincloth is capable of.

Gandhi

Gandhi has help walking

Russian Roulette

The Deer Hunter is the first Best Picture winner about the Vietnam War. Made at a time when the war was still a controversial subject. Making The Deer Hunter the first major Hollywood movie to truly capture the harsh reality of the war. Predating Apocalypse Now by one year. The Deer Hunter has similarly been called one of the greatest movies of all time, but I knew I needed to work myself up to it. My only knowledge of the film was its use of the deadly game Russian Roulette. A game where a player puts a single bullet in a revolver, spins the barrel, and has 1 to 5 odds of dying. You can imagine the controversy when several impressionable youths decided to take part in the game.

The Deer Hunter was always meant to center around Russian Roulette, but the Vietnam part came later. It originally took place in Vegas with the title The Man Who Came to Play. Whether the game’s presence in Vietnam was factually accurate or not doesn’t stop it from being a powerful theme throughout the 3 hour movie. Lesser known director Michael Cimino was apparently very difficult to work with on set. Taking control of both the writing and editing process. The Deer Hunter is way longer than it needs to be, but events are split into a distinct three act structure…

The Deer Hunter

Mike and Nick play Russian Roulette

The Deer Hunter takes place before, during, and after Vietnam. The first act is dedicated to establishing the characters before they’re shipped off. Since Cimeno wasn’t a big name at the time, the movie needed an all-star cast to draw attention. The Deer Hunter managed to secure Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep, and John Cazale. They all play Slavic-American members of a tightnit steel worker community. This was sadly Cazale’s final film since he was dying of terminal cancer at the time. Cazale has the rare distinction of only acting in Best Picture nominated movies. Including The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Streep mostly took a role because she was with Cazale at the time. This was only Streep’s second movie, yet she managed to get nominated for her first of several Oscars.

The three primary servicemen are De Niro as Mike, Walken as Nick, and Savage as Steven. Mike and Nick are best friends, but they’re both in love with Streep’s emotionally damaged character Linda. Steven gets married to Angela before being sent to Vietnam. A lot of time is spent on every little detail of the wedding. Though it is important to see the characters in happier times. That includes everyone singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in a bar and going on the titular deer hunt. All three friends are joined by Cazale’s Stan, George Dzundza’s John, and real life foreman Chuck Aspegren’s Axel. The first deer hunt sees Mike kill a deer no problem. The second act abruptly shifts to Vietnam. Mike, Nick, and Steven think honor and glory is waiting for them, but they should’ve listened to the soldier they met earlier at the wedding.

Explosions and civilian casualties aren’t given nearly as much attention as the first game of Russian Roulette. Viet Cong are depicted with a ruthless fixation on the game of chance. Steven breaks down completely and Nick is forced to play against Mike. It’s incredibly tense, but Mike manages to get them out of the situation. Mike keeps a levelhead throughout the conflict, but Nick isn’t so lucky. Although De Niro was rightfully nominated for Best Actor, it’s Walken who deserved his Best Supporting Actor win. Nick’s PTSD gets to him and he goes AWOL in Saigon. The third act sees Mike return home a changed man. He can’t face his own welcome home party, he deliberately fails to kill a deer, and he makes a move on Linda.

Steven winds up alive, but he faces the all too common loss of his legs and confinement in a veteran hospital. When Mike searches for Nick in Saigon, he finds another changed man. Nick’s transformation into a despondent heroine addicted professional Russian Roulette player is haunting. The scene has just as much tension as the earlier scenes, but this time it doesn’t end so well for the fallen soldier. Though I’m sure ending with his friends gathered to sing “God Bless America” wasn’t trying to make a statement. The Deer Hunter was up against another Vietnam war movie called Coming Home, but the former had a greater impact that earned it Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound. The Deer Hunter leaves an impression.

The Deer Hunter

Mike goes deer hunting

If I Were a Rich Man

Fiddler on the Roof gave the long-running Broadway musical new life on the big screen. I’ve known about the 1964 stage production for years, but I never really knew the story. Fiddler on the Roof is extremely faithful to its source material. Speaking of faith, Fiddler on the Roof is also very Jewish. Although the writers are both Jewish, the aptly named director Norman Jewison is not. Which didn’t stop him from being nominated for Best Director a second time after In the Heat of the Night. The French Connection ended up winning Best Picture since grittier movies were starting to take over, but there’s still plenty of room for the old fashioned G rated musical. Fiddler on the Roof is all about an old fashioned fiercely devoted Jewish milkman who sticks to tradition. Israeli actor Topol replaces Zero Mostel, but delivers an Oscar nominated performance.

Tevye lives a poor man’s life with his family in the village Anatevka. His dreams of becoming rich are heard in the most iconic song “If I Were a Rich Man.” Tevye may obtain his wish by marrying his five daughters off to wealthy suitors. Their village has the titular fiddler on the roof, the local beggar, wise rabbi, and the matchmaker. Molly Picon doesn’t have a large role, but she does have her own song when the girls sing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” Tevye’s views are tested when his three older daughters choose their own husbands. He first promises his oldest daughter Tzeitel to the much older butcher Lazar Wolf. This was actually Paul Mann and Norma Crane who plays Tevye’s wife Golde’s final film performance before their deaths.

Tzeitel instead chooses her childhood friend Motel. Leonard Frey was also nominated for playing the timid Jewish tailor. Motel tests Tevye for not being wealthy. When he does approve, they get married in a beautiful ceremony accompanied by the song “Sunrise, Sunset.” His second daughter Hodel falls for aspiring Russian revolutionary Perchik. Their village is turned upside down by the conflict, but it’s not as intense as Doctor Zhivago. Perchik tests Tevye for having several radical viewpoints. His third daughter Chava is the only one disowned by her father for marrying the Christian Fyedka. Tevye comes around in a subtle way as they’re forced to leave their home. Fiddler on the Roof is beautifully shot with Oscar winning Best Cinematography. It also won Best Sound and John Williams won his first Academy Award for Best Original Score. Fiddler on the Roof is rich with music and deep themes.

Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the roof

Ordeal and Triumph

Patton started the 70’s with a bang. A film based on the life of World War II Army General George S. Patton had been in the works since his death in 1945. Despite resistance from his widow, descendants, and even the Pentagon, a movie was finally made 2 decades later. Patton turned out to be a great war film with one of the best biographical performances of all time. With a nearly 3 hour runtime, it’s no surprise Patton won Best Picture. After something as different as Planet of the Apes, Franklin J. Schaffner ended up winning Best Director for Patton. The screenwriting team was especially good with Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North winning Best Original Screenplay. Though he didn’t win Best Original Score, Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is an all-American classic. Patton also won Best Art Direction, Film Editing, and Sound.

Of course the movie would be nothing without a career best performance by George C. Scott who won Best Actor. Although he declined the award, it doesn’t change how well deserved it was. Scott was practically born to play the general. Right down to having a similar name. General George S. Patton is a truly complex character. He’s a tough bastard who earned the nickname “Old Blood and Guts.” One second he’s honoring his injured troops, next second he’s slapping a soldier for losing his nerve. He’s a praying man who swears like a sailor. Though not too much since they wanted to maintain a PG rating. Patton’s methods may be harsh, but he’s also a poet who loves his job and fondly remembers the glory days. All of that is captured in the iconic opening scene where Patton addresses his troops in front of a giant American flag. Giving one of the most famous speeches of all time. The scene has been imitated and/or parodied a countless number of times.

It’s a tough act to follow, but the rest of the movie is just as good. Patton follows most of the general’s career through the entirety of WWII. I don’t fully understand war strategy, but most of the action is spent on the battlefield with Patton leading the Seventh and Third United States Armies. Meanwhile, the Nazis make plans to take out the general. Patton’s most outspoken critic is his fellow U.S. General Omar Bradley played by Karl Malden. Even the British don’t always support him, but he still has their respect. Most of his respect is lost after the “slapping incident” and after denouncing the Russians. Neither of which ruins his reputation enough to keep him from finishing what he started. Ending with another impactful speech that sums up the movie’s theme that all glory is fleeting. Patton has winner written all over it.

Patton

General George S. Patton addresses his troops