81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Results, The

November 9th, 2009 · 30 Days With Aristotle And me, Poetics, Results

As promised, I compiled a list of statistics and personal observations and posted them on a page I created and somewhat unimaginatively titled The Results.

Here’s another stat. It won’t appear on The Results page. But I find it interesting nonetheless:

My web site was visited by 341 people from 26 countries. They spent an average of 11:59 (eleven minutes, 59 seconds) browsing an average of 15.91 pages.

That’s impressive.

So, to all of you, from all of those countries, I thank you for taking this journey with me.

The next leg of my year-long trek begins tomorrow: 30 Days With Aristotle And Me, in which I see if the famous philosopher – via his Poetics – can help me complete my screenplay within 30 days.

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Slumdog Millionaire

November 8th, 2009 · 2008, Adaptation, Color, Danny Boyle, Dev Patel, Drama, Freida Pinto, India, Pathe Pictures International, Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire, Widescreen

Slumdog Millionaire Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Perfectly constructed. Perfectly acted. Perfectly directed.

This is the kind of movie that inspires me to be a screenwriter.

It’s also the kind of movie that leads me to believe I never will be.

How could I write something this extraordinary?

Even the end credits – a dance number by the cast to the song “Jai Ho” by A. R. Rahman – are brilliant.

This is what an Oscar-winning move should look and sound like. I like movies that leave me amazed, uplifted, moved, and inspired. I want to see a movie that challenges me emotionally and astounds me creatively. I don’t want to see a movie that crushes my spirit, insults my intelligence, or leaves me sick to my stomach.

The Plot (from IMDB)
The story of Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the [Read more →]

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No Country For Old Men

November 7th, 2009 · 2007, Adaptation, Coen Brothers, Color, Drama, F-Word, Javier Bardem, Mid-Point, Miramax, No Country For Old Men, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Screenplay Structure

No Country For Old Men Another violent, dark movie.

The difference between No Country For Old Men and The Departed, the previous Best-Picture Oscar winner (which was also a violent, dark movie) is that this one is more like a scalpel than a bludgeon. No Country adds wit, humor, and a certain odd charm to the violence and darkness.

Most importantly, it adds a character – Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) – who’s a kind of hit man and salvage expert with an unnerving calmness, even when he’s committing truly despicable acts. In that way, he’s a bit like Hannibal Lecter, one of the greatest movie villains of all time. (Caution: Spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)

No Country is 122 minutes long. So it should be fairly easy to examine from a structural standpoint, which is what I’m fixin’ to do.

Screenplay Structure – No Country For Old Men

Act I
Inciting Incident: At 7:35 into the movie, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), as he’s tracking an animal he shot, looks through his binoculars to see five trucks and a bunch of bodies lying on the ground a few hundred yards ahead of him on the prairie. He cautiously approaches them, rifle at ready. He pokes around amidst the trucks, finds one loaded with drugs, talks to a severely wounded Mexican who [Read more →]

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Departed, The

November 6th, 2009 · 2006, Adaptation, C-Word, Color, Composer: Howard Shore, Departed, Drama, F-Word, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, N-Word, Nudity, Sex, Warner Bros. Pictures

The Departed Few movies are as violent, foul-mouthed, and bloody as The Departed.

I can’t help but wonder what audiences in, say, 1939 would have thought of The Departed had this film been inserted into the projector instead of Gone With the Wind. I dare say every last one of them would have run, screaming, out of the theater.

Times sure have changed. When every other word is an F or a C, and when cocaine, sex, and getting shot in the head become worthy of an Academy Award for Best Picture the world is in sad, sad shape.

I’m not saying this movie isn’t brilliant. It is. It’s exceptionally well written, and incredibly well acted. I’ve never seen Matt Damon, Leonardo diCaprio, or Jack Nicholson better (this is Jack’s third Best Picture-winning movie). And the soundtrack (which includes the song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” performed by the Celtic-Punk band Dropkick Murphys) is as lively as the movie itself.

But, holy Moses, man. What does this movie say about us as a society – and Hollywood as the creative think tank – when we laud such a raw, bleak, underbelly of a subject matter?

To put it another way, can you imagine Clark Gable [Read more →]

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November 5th, 2009 · 2005, Color, Crash, Drama, F-Word, Lions Gate Films, N-Word, Nudity, Original Screenplay, Paul Haggis, Racism, Sex

Crash I honestly thought Paul Haggis was a better writer than this. After all, it was his script – a first draft no less! – that became Million Dollar Baby, the Oscar-winner a year before the release of Crash.

According his entry on Wiki, “Paul Haggis is the award-winning filmmaker who, in 2006, became the first screenwriter, since 1950, to write two Best Film Oscar winners back-to-back – Million Dollar Baby (2004) directed by Clint Eastwood, and Crash (2005) which he himself directed.”

That’s quite an accomplishment. A tremendous honor. My hat is off to Mr. Haggis.

However, Crash is a heavy-handed, blunt-instrument of a movie that’s supposedly a bold statement about racism. Or something like that. In using a hand-held camera for much (if not all) of the film, and by peppering the movie with as much anger and swearing as possible, I can only assume that Haggis was attempting to capture stark reality, a vivisection of life in L.A. that demonstrates to one and all that racism exists in everybody (mostly white people, though). Yet, at best, this film offers an uneven verisimilitude that never reaches whatever lofty ideal Haggis had in mind.

This is Hollywood’s view of racism…complete with foul-mouthed, N-word-spewing, car-jacking black guys, paranoid, uptight, upper-class white guys, racist cops, short-tempered, racist Middle-Eastern guys – you name it. Racism, racism, racism. From every pore of every human being in this movie. Blacks against whites. Whites against blacks. Blacks against Puerto Ricans. This is every stereotype ever uttered, every cliche ever read, seen, imagined, heard, watched, and dreamed of all rolled into one dark, dreary, depressing mess.

And then all wrapped up nice and neat, with more warm fuzzies than a box full of puppies.

This isn’t a movie. This is a [

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Million Dollar Baby

November 4th, 2009 · 2004, Adaptation, Clint Eastwood, Color, Drama, Mid-Point, Million Dollar Baby, Morgan Freeman, Paul Haggis, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Screenplay Structure, Warner Bros. Pictures

Million Dollar Baby I think I’ve seen this movie before – when it was called Gran Torino. Or was it Rocky? Or maybe it was The Wrestler. Or Who’s Life Is It Anyway? I don’t know. There’s a little of each of those movies in Million Dollar Baby.

There’s something very familiar about this movie. Maybe I think that because the characters are remarkably ordinary. Maybe it’s because Clint Eastwood, who also directed the movie, looks and sounds like he did in Gran Torino and Unforgiven. He has that crotchety-old-coot-with-a-heart-of-gold who-shakes-his-fist-at-God character down pat.

When I look at the other movies nominated this year (2004) I see why Million Dollar Baby won. It was up against The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, and Sideways. Looks like 2004 was the year of slim pickin’s, and I don’t mean the actor. Frankly, the mid to late 2000s boasted some pretty awful movies. They got so political and serious and just plain vulgar. How does one pick from five movies that seem so similar?

Million Dollar Baby clocks in at a little over two hours long. So it’s likely to have been written in three acts. I’m going to take a look to see if all the plot turns are in the typical places for a three-act movie. (NOTE: Major spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)

Screenplay Structure – Million Dollar Baby

Act I
Inciting Incident: Happens at the 11:05 mark when Scrap (Morgan Freeman) [Read more →]

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The Lord Of the Rings: The Return of the King

November 3rd, 2009 · 2003, Adaptation, Bernard Hill, Color, Composer: Howard Shore, Fantasy, JRR Tolkien, LOTR: The Return of the King, New Line Cinema, New Zealand, Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings, Viggo Mortensen

The Return of the King Where do I even begin to comment on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King?

I feel like falling to my knees and shrieking “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King surpasses even Gone With the Wind for sheer scope. Director Peter Jackon’s noggin must be the size of a Toyota to house the vision it must have taken to create this film, not to mention the two previous movies in the trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers). This is an adaption worthy of the original material, which says a lot considering the original material is J.R. R. Tolkien’s incomparable “Lord of the Rings” novels – books most consider the greatest works of fantasy ever written.

The magnitude of this movie is mind-numbing. My initial thoughts:

1. The extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Kings is 250 minutes long. Two hundred and fifty minutes!!?!!??! That’s four hours and 10 minutes, which makes it the longest Best-Picture Oscar winner — beating Gone With the Wind by 12 minutes. The rule of thumb is that one page of a screenplay equals a minute on screen. So the screenplay for The Return of the King topped 250 pages. That, in itself, is practically a novel. I don’t envy the screenwriters of this film – except for their Academy Award. That I wouldn’t mind.

2. I’ve always thought the real hero of The Lord of the Rings was Sam, not Frodo. Frodo is [Read more →]

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November 2nd, 2009 · 2002, Adaptation, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago, Color, Miramax, Musical, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere

Chicago Did I say that I hate musicals? Silly me. I meant to say I hate most musicals.

Chicago is a musical, sure. But it’s so damn fun that I forget that people are singing their way through the story.

Plus, it’s about hoofers, dancers, people who shake their booties and tap their toes. Chicago harkens back to the musicals that I do enjoy – the Gene Kelly extravaganzas. Musicals in which people belt it out, dance their asses off, and do it all with a broad smile, a sly wink, or so much energy that I feel like joining them. (And, trust me, you don’t want that. I can’t sing – or dance – even if doing so would keep my keister from the flames of hell.)

According to the making-of feature on the DVD, Chicago is “about murder and greed and debauchery and everything we hold near and dear to our hearts.”

Amen. Bring it on.

I remember seeing a local production of the musical Nine a few years ago that blew me away. It was incredibly sexy and catchy and can’t-take-my-eyes-off-it fascinating, what with all the beautiful women and all.

Chicago reminds me of Nine. Not in content. Nine was a musical production of [Read more →]

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A Beautiful Mind

November 1st, 2009 · 2001, A Beautiful Mind, Adaptation, Color, Composer: James Horner, Drama, Dreamworks Pictures, Ed Harris, James Horner, John Nash, Mid-Point, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Ron Howard, Russell Crowe, Screenplay Structure

A Beautiful Mind Now this is a movie that showcases both great acting and fantastic direction – and does so in such a way that neither calls attention to itself.

The end result is a movie that doesn’t look or feel like a movie. A Beautiful Mind is a an incredibly moving experience.

For me, a lot of that is due to Russell Crowe’s performance. Plus, a director (Ron Howard) allowing Russell to do what he does best – with a paucity of special effects that compete with his performance.

Director Ron Howard, in one of the making-of features on the two-disc edition of the DVD, says “Russell is a very charismatic guy. But a character actor at heart.”

I agree. Russell Crowe is a true actor in the grand Hollywood sense. He has the talent, charisma, and looks to be a leading man. (And he is.) But he takes on roles, and becomes the character in them, like a character actor. And I love character actors. Quite often, they are the characters I watch in a movie, or in a television show. The lead actors may carry the day. But it’s usually the character actors that give a production depth and re-watchability.

Russell Crowe’s vitae (from IMDB) contains an impressive list of films, covering a wide range of roles.

And speaking of impressive, I recommend that you [Read more →]

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October 31st, 2009 · 2000, CGI, Color, Composer: Hans Zimmer, Derek Jacobi, Drama, Dreamworks Pictures, Gladiator, Oliver Reed, Original Screenplay, Richard Harris, Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe

Gladiator Gladiator is over two and a half hours long. But I can sum up the moral of the story in 20 words: Next time an emperor tells you he wants you to be the ruler after he dies, get it in writing.

I don’t like how Gladiator was directed. The jerky, hand-held camera work during the opening battle scene gave me a headache. Whenever I see that kind of direction (which rendered the 2009 remake of The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3 unwatchable – well, that and really, really bad acting), I immediately think one thing: film-school student. Not graduate. Student.

Sadly, that same headache-inducing cinematography appears again during the hand-to-hand combat scene around the 55 minute mark. And in every subsequent fight scene throughout the movie. As I type this, the movie is at the 1:46:11 mark. Maximus is in the arena. Tigers have joined the fray. But the camera work makes their presence look cartoonish.

Such herky-jerky movements can work in small doses to give the feel of a documentary. Or to suggest reality. But Gladiator isn’t supposed to be Blair Witch Project. I want more than the gist of a fight scene! I want to actually see it. Actors train for weeks, perhaps months, to get in shape and develop the skills to fight hand to hand or with swords, spears, arrows, clubs. Whatever. Don’t reduce fight scenes to a blur of rapid motion! That seems amateurish. (And Ridley Scott is no amateur. He directed some of my favorite movies: Alien, Blade Runner, and even Thelma & Louise.)

Or, as some like to call it, “edgy.” Someone needs to tell directors trying to be edgy that audiences don’t want edgy. They don’t want to see a director directing any more than they want to see actors acting. They want movies directed well, acted well, and scored well. Movie they can lose themselves in, become part of. Not movies that cause apoplexy from quick cuts, close-ups of eyeballs, horse’s hooves, or teeth flying out of one’s head because said head was sliced in half by a sword.

I’d like to be able to say I like Gladiator. But I liked it better the first time I saw it – when it was called Ben-Hur.

There’s a lot in common between this film and the superior 1959 film starring [Read more →]

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