Movie Project #27: The Best Years of Our Lives [1946]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Best Years of Our Lives [1946]

The Best Years of Our Lives [1946]
Director: William Wyler
Writer: Robert E. Sherwood (screen play), MacKinlay Kantor (from a novel by)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Romance/War
Starring: Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O’Donnell, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Russell
Running Time: 172 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is on a whopping 24 lists at icheckmovies.com.

Accolades: Won 7 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Best Writing) + one more nomination (Best Sound), won BAFTA Film Award, Golden Globe Best Picture, National Film Registry, #179 on IMDB Top 250

At the time of its release, The Best Years of Our Lives was a monster hit. It won an impressive seven Oscars (plus an additional honorary award) and raked in the cash at the box office, second in revenue only to Gone With the Wind (which I will be reviewing later this year). The film was also released just one year after the conclusion of World War II, offering a fresh view of what life was like for returning veterans.

Perhaps most amazingly, it is still incredibly relevant over 60 years later.

The film focuses on three servicemen who form a friendship on their flight home to the fictional Midwestern town of Boone City. Each man is coming back to a completely different scenario, and all three struggle to come to terms with an America that is vastly different than they remembered.

The Best Years of Our Lives [1946]

Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) was a respected Army Air Forces captain in Europe, and he returns to a beautiful young wife, Marie (Virginia Mayo). He attempts to get his former job back as a drugstore soda jerk, but the pharmacy is now under new ownership, forcing Fred to earn his way to a better position. His wife, apparently now interested in the luxuries of life, is not thrilled with Fred’s low-paying job, causing significant problems for their marriage.

Homer Parrish (the real life veteran, Harold Russell) lost both hands in the war and now has metal hooks in place of them. He tries to make the best of his disability, but struggles when confronted with tasks that he can no longer perform. It doesn’t help that his parents are now treating him differently either. At least he still has his fiancee, Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell), who eagerly loves him even though Homer continually tries to distance himself in order to not be a “burden.”

Al Stephenson (Fredric March) might have it best out of the three veterans, though he still has his own issues. Al has a nice family, including wife Milly (Myrna Loy), older daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) and a college freshman son, and he even gets his old job back as a bank loan officer. Better yet, the bank is pleased with his military background and offers him a promotion. However, Al is a bit too lenient in granting loans for other veterans, at least in the eyes of his superiors, and this presents a moral dilemma for him.

The Best Years of Our Lives [1946]

All three men have to deal with people treating them differently, and it sometimes seems that their only real sanctuary is gathering together at the local watering hole, Butch’s saloon. There they get good and drunk in the company of each other, the only people who can truly understand what they went through.

Nowadays, it’s discouraging to hear of veterans treated poorly by those who don’t believe in the wars they are fighting in. Shockingly, there is even an example of this in The Best Years of Our Lives. I couldn’t believe it when I heard a customer at Fred’s pharmacy ranting about how Hitler and the communists were actually the ones doing good in the war. Apparently Fred couldn’t either — he beat the living tar out of the man!

The Best Years of Our Lives [1946]

Perhaps most impressive about the film is that it doesn’t really have an agenda. I was worried that it would be a bit too heavy-handed, but thankfully that’s not the case. These veterans and their stories feel exceptionally authentic, aside from a love story that perhaps wraps things up too nicely. The performances from the three men are terrific, including the non-actor Harold Russell. He was so good that the Academy felt it necessary to grant him *two* Oscars — one for Best Supporting Actor, and one honory award “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance.”

The Best Years of Our Lives runs a bit long, and the conclusion may be a little too optimistic, but it’s still a damn fine piece of cinema. Given the story behind it and its year of release, it’s easy to see why it was such a hit back then. It’s just a shame that so many of the difficulties it presents are still relevant today.

8/10

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Movie Project #23: Midnight Cowboy [1969]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Midnight Cowboy [1969]

Midnight Cowboy [1969]
Director: John Schlesinger
Writers: Waldo Salt (screenplay), James Leo Herlihy (novel)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles
Running Time: 113 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had heard so much about this film over the years, and it has a longstanding reputation as one of the finest American films of the 1960s.

Accolades: Won three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay), nominated for four other Oscars (Best Actor – Hoffman and Voight, Best Supporting Actress – Miles, Best Film Editing), six BAFTA awards, National Film Registry

Midnight Cowboy has the distinction of being the only X-rated movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Watching the film 40+ years later, it’s a bit surprising that it managed to snag such a controversial rating. Obviously, times have changed, but there is little in this film that seems shocking, even for its time period.

Jon Voight stars as Joe Buck, a naive young Texan who quits his job as a dishwasher, packs his bags and heads to New York City in hopes of being a male prostitute. Once there, his classic cowboy look draws more laughs than anything else, and he struggles to make ends meet. He does manage to make a new friend, however: Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a similarly down-on-his-luck grifter. Ratso has a bum leg and an undisclosed illness, and his current place of residence is a condemned building.

Midnight Cowboy [1969]

Joe and Ratso form an unlikely bond, perhaps driven by their loneliness and shared dreams of getting rich and moving to Florida. The two men become business partners of sorts, and they work together to hustle their way through the urban jungle that is 1969 New York.

What drew me into Midnight Cowboy were the fantastic lead performances from Voight and Hoffman. Both play incredibly complex characters. Joe’s naivete is heartbreaking, but it’s hard not to be charmed by his confidence and Southern drawl. I can’t think of another character like him, and Voight plays this masterfully. It is Hoffman, however, who truly impresses. Just two years removed from his Oscar-nominated performance as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, Hoffman puts together an even better performance here. Ratso is such a depressing character — a dirty, disgusting shell of a man that certainly lives up to his nickname. Yet Hoffman manages to make him *likable*, eliciting great sympathy as he aimlessly drifts through life.

Midnight Cowboy [1969]

In many ways, Midnight Cowboy feels like the perfect transition from the free-spirited 1960s into the dark, gritty 70s. Joe Buck seems like a relic of a different time, and the poor guy has no idea what he’s getting into with the seedy underbelly of New York City. The grimy city streets were used to perfection in many 70s films (i.e. The French Connection, Taxi Driver, etc.), but this serves as something of a precursor to this decade.

As such, John Schlesinger’s film is an interesting curiosity of its time. There are a few issues that plagued other post-Graduate films — Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” is played a few too many times, and the film could have done without one or two flashbacks — but this is 100% worth seeing because of its two lead performances.

8/10

Poll Results: Favorite Film From This Year’s Best Picture Nominees

Thanks to some last minute voting, we have another tie:

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THE RESULTS:
– Argo: 6 votes
– Django Unchained: 6 votes
– Beasts of the Southern Wild: 2 votes
– Lincoln: 2 votes
– Silver Linings Playbook: 2 votes
– Amour: 1 vote
– Les Misérables: 1 vote
– Life of Pi: 1 vote
– Zero Dark Thirty: 1 vote

No complaints here! Argo and Django Unchained both got a 9/10 from me, and both will surely be in my top ten list (posted tomorrow). It’s pretty cool to see every film get at least one vote, showing that this year’s group of nominees are stronger than last year. No Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close in the bunch!

This Week’s Poll: As expected with every year of Oscar nominations, there are plenty of snubs. What do you consider the biggest Oscar snub this year? I’m allowing for two votes this time since there are so many possible candidates.

Have a great week everyone!

Movie Project #18: Rocky [1976]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Rocky [1976]

Rocky [1976]
Director: John G. Avildsen
Genre: Action/Drama/Sports
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young and Burgess Meredith
Runtime: 119 minutes

I watched Rocky at the perfect time — I was very sick and needed to spend some time resting. What better way to get me through a nasty illness than by watching one of the most popular (and inspirational) sports films of all time?

Now six films deep, the original Rocky is still regarded as the best of the series. Sylvester Stallone, a virtual unknown at the time, wrote the screenplay and starred as the eponymous Rocky Balboa, an underachieving Philadelphia boxer who works as a debt collector on the side. He is poorly educated and fights in dimly light venues, often bringing in just a small cut of the gate revenue. Little does he know it, but Balboa is about to get the biggest break of his life.

Undefeated world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a flamboyant and cocky star, is coming into town for a championship bout on New Year’s Day 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial. After his opponent becomes injured, Creed comes up with the idea of giving a local fighter a shot at his title. While scouring through names of those in the city, he stumbles upon the “Italian Stallion” — Rocky Balboa. It’s as if you can see the light bulb and/or dollar signs appear over Apollo’s head. This is his man.

Aided by his friend Paulie (Burt Young), his quiet-and-reserved girlfriend Adrien (Talia Shire) and his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky begins training for a fight he never expected to have. Hell, Rocky doesn’t even think he can beat Apollo — he just wants to go the distance (something never accomplished against the champion).

Rocky [1976]

At its core, Rocky (the film) is a terrific underdog story. This is the stuff small-time and aspiring boxers (and other athletes) dream of — to break through and get their big moment. In a way, it is a glimpse at the American Dream, working hard to catch that big break. Of course, in Rocky’s case it was dumb luck (or rather, a catchy nickname) that got him his title match, but the sentiment is the same.

While pop culture has somewhat diluted the story of Rocky over the years, the fact remains that this is still an uplifting film. It is presented in a way that is very easy to digest, and the movie is one that most will be able to relate to. The fact that this was selected as Best Picture winner over several other greats such as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Network, runs parallel to the film’s underdog story. With a classic rags-to-riches story, strong action scenes and an unforgettable soundtrack, Rocky is still enjoyable today.

8/10

Movie Project #17: Annie Hall [1977]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Annie Hall [1977]

Annie Hall [1977]
Directors: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Language: English
Country: USA

Why I Chose This:
Woody Allen has 40+ movies to his name, yet I have only seen a few of his most recent films. What better way to dig deeper into his filmography than to start with 1977’s Best Picture Oscar winner?

What It’s About:
Woody Allen stars as Alvy Singer, a neurotic comedian in New York City who struggles to maintain a relationship with his scatterbrained lover, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The movie follows the tumultuous relationship over the course of the 1970s.

What I Liked:
The New York setting. One thing I have noticed with Woody Allen movies is that the man knows how to make great use of cities. New York is the perfect backdrop for Alvy and Annie’s up-and-down relationship.

The breaking of the fourth wall. I loved how Alvy would randomly start talking to the camera to explain certain things happening on screen. I also enjoyed the random visual changes, such as the inexplicable transition to cartoon animation for a brief scene.

Annie Hall [1977]

Some truly classic lines.
“Hey, don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.”
“I don’t want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.”
“Honey, there’s a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick.”

Brief cameos from Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum. Both guys are in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles, but both are amusing.

What I Didn’t Like:
Some of the rapid fire dialogue felt forced. This is a film that focuses heavily on talking, and rarely slows down enough to catch its breath. While I found myself laughing at some of Alvy’s wisecracks, there were just as many that fell flat.

Alvy Singer. Allen’s character’s full-of-himself shtick became grating as the movie progressed. He found a way to complain about EVERYTHING, with these quips only sometimes being amusing. He wasn’t as enjoyable as neurotic characters like, say, George Costanza on Seinfeld or Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

My Verdict:
It’s a bit startling to think that this beat out Star Wars for Best Picture (though I am not a huge fan of that either). I like Annie Hall, but I feel like the film lacks the same punch it had upon its initial release. The movie has obviously been influential — I had no idea this is where the aforementioned masturbation line came from — and I enjoyed it more than the recent Allen films I have seen, but it didn’t resonate with me in the way it seemingly has for others. Woody Allen sure has a distinct style, though, doesn’t he?

7/10

* I would love to hear your thoughts on this new “review” format. I will only be using it for Movie Project posts, but I feel it works better for some of these older titles. What do you think?