81 Days With Oscar And Me

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

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American Beauty

October 30th, 2009 · 1999, Allison Janney, American Beauty, Color, Drama, Dreamworks Pictures, Drug Use, Homosexuality, Kevin Spacey, Mid-Point, Original Screenplay, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Screenplay Structure, Sex, Swearing

American Beauty I love movies that start at the end.

Like Sunset Boulevard, and Memento (sort of – who can tell where that one starts?), and Gandhi, and The English Patient, and Citizen Kane, and, well, you get the idea.

When a movie starts at the end, the audience knows more than the characters in the movie do. So we watch to figure out how the ending comes about, feeling badly for the characters who are heading toward a fate they cannot escape.

Within the first minute, American Beauty reveals a critical piece of information:

Lester (voiceover): My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This…is my life. I’m forty-two years old. In less than a year, I’ll be dead.


Lester (voiceover): Of course. I don’t know that yet.

While that’s not literally starting at the end – as in showing the very last scene of a protagonist’s life the way Richard Attenborough did with his film Gandhi – it is revealing information that is like dramatic irony. The difference is [Read more →]

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Shakespeare in Love

October 29th, 2009 · 1998, Ben Affleck, Christopher Marlowe, Colin Firth, Comedy, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Mid-Point, Miramax, Nudity, Original Screenplay, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Romeo and Juliet, Screenplay Structure, Sex, Shakespeare in Love, Stuttering, Swearing, Tom Wilkinson

Shakespeare in Love“Can a play show us the very truth and nature of love?” is a question posed by Queen Elizabeth to Viola De Lesseps.

I have a question of my own to pose: “Can a movie show us what perfect screenwriting looks like?”

Yes, it can – if that movie is Shakespeare in Love.

Shakespeare in Love is brilliant.



Once in a while a screenplay comes along that makes me wonder if I am even qualified to string together a collection of letters roughly approximating a sentence. Shakespeare in Love is one of those screenplays.

It is the story of a struggling young playwright/poet named Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) who is in desperate need of a [Read more →]

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October 28th, 2009 · 1997, Bernard Hill, Celine Dion, Color, Composer: James Horner, Drama, James Cameron, James Horner, Kate Winslet, Nudity, Original Screenplay, Sex, Tearjerker, THX, Titanic, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation

Titanic Most of the movies in the 1990s have something in common: they’re tearjerkers.

Epic tearjerkers at that.

Dances With Wolves is emotional. Schindler’s List is emotional. Forrest Gump is emotional. Braveheart is emotional. The English Patient is boring, but emotional.

And then there’s Titanic

Ah, Titanic. It jerks enough tears to fill the Atlantic Ocean, where the real ship sank on its maiden voyage, 14 April 1912.

Confession time: I choke up just watching the opening credit scenes of Titanic. Seriously. The Celtic-tinged vocals and the slow-motion images of the people waving from the deck immediately put a lump in my throat. Celtic music does that to me, anyway. But combine such music with images of people you know are going to die and, well, fetch me the Kleenex. It’s cryin’ time.

While I’m on a roll with confessions, here’s another one: I love Celine Dion’s Titanic theme song, “My Heart Will Go On.” I used to stand and watch the music video whenever I’d go to Target to browse the CDs. The music swells, her voice soars, and my heart leaps. I can’t help it. I’m an old softy.

Come on. Take the Celine Dion challenge. Watch the video below and see if you don’t feel all squishy inside. Go on. I’ll wait.

See? You like it, don’t you? Yeah. I knew you would.

For some reason people are apologetic when they admit they like Titanic, often speaking in hushed tones and only after [Read more →]

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English Patient, The

October 27th, 2009 · 1996, Adaptation, Color, Drama, English Patient, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Ondaatje, Miramax, Naveen Andrews, Nudity, Ralph Fiennes, Sex, War, Willem Dafoe

The English Patient Once again, I must turn to Seinfeld to help set the tone for my blog entry. This time, it’s Season 8, Episode 17: “The English Patient.”

Mr. Peterman and Elaine are in a theater watching the movie The English Patient. Peterman stares, enraptured, at the screen. Elaine is totally frantic with boredom.

PETERMAN: Elaine, I hope you’re watching the clothes, because I can’t take my eyes off the passion.
ELAINE: (quiet vehemence) Oh. No. I can’t do this any more. I can’t. It’s too
long. (to the screen) Quit telling your stupid story, about the stupid
desert, and just die already! (louder) Die!!
The other movie patrons turn and shush Elaine, who sits back in her seat.
PETERMAN: (surprised) Elaine. You don’t like the movie?
ELAINE: (shouts) I hate it!!
ELAINE: (shouts) Oh, go to hell!!
PETERMAN: (quietly) Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place? You’re
ELAINE: (grabbing her bag and coat) Great. I’ll wait for you outside.
Elaine hurriedly gets out of her seat and leaves.

Elaine had the right idea. The English Patient is [Read more →]

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October 26th, 2009 · 1995, Braveheart, Color, Composer: James Horner, Drama, F-Word, Freedom, James Horner, Mel Gibson, Original Screenplay, Paramount Pictures, Scotland, William Wallace

Braveheart “The problem with Scotland is that it is full of Scots,” says Longshanks, King Edward I at the start of Braveheart.

And so the king sets out to break the spirit of the savages in Scotland by taxing them, beating them, and raping their women.

At first William Wallace (Mel Gibson) wants no part of standing up to the Brits.

But when British soldiers attempt to rape Wallace’s new bride, Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack), he fights off the soldiers and tells Murron to flee to meet up with him later. But they capture her before she can get away, and kill her to make her an example. Wallace returns to the village and, with the help of the other villagers, kills all the soldiers. Then they kill the soldiers at the nearby garrisons, telling those he spares that Scotland’s young men and women are no longer theirs for the taking and that Scotland is free.

Wallace is now in the game. And he sits a mean horse, let me tell you.

“Sons of Scotland! I am William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny…

“Fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live. At least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives. But they’ll never take our freedom!”

Hell, even I’m ready to take up a sword and fight for Wallace.

The battle begins. And, as the archer’s arrows [Read more →]

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Forrest Gump

October 25th, 2009 · 1994, Adaptation, Color, Drama, F-Word, Forrest Gump, Paramount Pictures, Robert Zemeckis, Robin Wright, Saddest Movie Of All Time, Tom Hanks

Forrest GumpAfter Schindler’s List ended a minute or two before midnight last night, I waited until the new day official began and then popped Forrest Gump into the DVD player.

I didn’t want to attempt sleep with visions of Schindler’s List jack-booting through my dreams.

Not that Forrest Gump is all sweetness and light. There is a sadness, a melancholy that permeates this movie – but wrapped in comedy, which makes the sadness stand out even more prominently. A movie like Ordinary People is sad throughout. So it’s merely depressing, and the message of such a movie can be lost as people reel under the emotional strain of watching it. But wrap sadness in comedy and you have what Mary Poppins calls a spoonful of sugar. The medicine goes down, the message is received, and people walk out of the theater profoundly changed.

I know my Top Five list is getting crowded. But Forrest Gump is another movie that belongs in that rarified group.

It’s also another movie that I consider perfect. In every way. Right down to its score, which chokes me up. And the soundtrack, which I own and play often. The songs represented on the soundtrack are the best ever recorded from 1950s through the 1990s. It must have cost the studio a fortune to license all these tunes. (NOTE: Spoilers throughout my blog. If you don’t want to know what happens in the movie, don’t read this. I mean it. I warned you.)

The narration is hilarious. And heart-wrenching. And absolutely mesmerizing. At times it precedes by a few seconds a line spoken by a character in the film. At other times, it offers an ironic counterpoint to the image on the screen.

Like Casablanca, another perfect movie, Forrest Gump is many films in one. It is one of the most gentle and bittersweet love stories ever made. It is also a history lesson, showing the life of [Read more →]

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Schindler’s List

October 24th, 2009 · 1993, Adaptation, Black and White, Drama, F-Word, Nationalization, Nazi Socialist Germany, Oskar Schindler, Schindler's List, Seinfeld, Sex, Smoking, Steven Spielberg, Universal Pictures

Schindler's List In my mind, Schindler’s List will forever be associated with the two-part episode of Seinfeld (Season 5, episodes 18 and 19: “The Raincoats 1 and 2”) that aired in 1994.

Jerry’s parents are staying with him while they’re visiting from Florida. Consequently, he hasn’t any privacy. And he wants time alone with his girlfriend, Rachel. So Jerry and Rachel go to the theater to see Schindler’s List, the movie Jerry’s parents strongly urged him to see. But instead of watching the movie, they make out during the movie. Seated a few rows behind them is Newman, Jerry’s arch-enemy, who can’t wait to tell Jerry’s parents what he saw them doing.

After the movie, Jerry enters his apartment. His parents, Morty and Helen, are sitting at a table with a map out.

MORTY: Hey, Jerry.
HELEN: So how was the movie?
JERRY: Oh, really good, really good.
HELEN: And didn’t the three hours go by just like that (snaps her fingers)
JERRY: Like that (snaps his fingers).
MORTY: What about the end, with the list?
JERRY: Yeah, that was some list.
HELEN: What did you think about the black and white?
JERRY: (confused) The black and white.
MORTY: The whole movie was in black and white.
JERRY: Oh yeah, I didn’t even realize.
MORTY: You don’t even think about it, there’s so much going on.
JERRY: Yeah, yeah. I tell ya I could see it again.

All comedy aside, I know Schindler’s List is going to turn very sad and very intense, very soon. How can it not? It’s about [Read more →]

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October 23rd, 2009 · 1992, C-Word, Clint Eastwood, Color, F-Word, Gene Hackman, Mid-Point, Morgan Freeman, Original Screenplay, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Screenplay Structure, Sex, Unforgiven, Warner Bros. Pictures, Western

Unforgiven With a cast that includes three of my favorite actors (Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Gene Hackman), there’s no way this movie could fail.

And it doesn’t. (WARNING: Spoilers ahead. Don’t read on unless you want to know how the movie ends.)

But how could it? All those actors, direction by Clint Eastwood, and it’s a Western! A Western! We haven’t seen one of those in a long, long time.

The movie opens with a nice widescreen shot of a man beside a tree in the distant background. Scrolling upwards on the screen are these words:

She was a comely young woman
and not without prospects.
Therefore it was heartbreaking
to her mother that she would
enter into marriage with
William Munny, a known thief
and murderer, a man of
notoriously vicious and
intemperate disposition.

When she died, it was not at
his hands as her mother might
have expected, but of smallpox.
That was 1878.

Just for the heck of it, I’m going to [Read more →]

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Silence Of the Lambs, The

October 22nd, 2009 · 1991, Adaptation, Anthony Hopkins, C-Word, Color, Composer: Howard Shore, F-Word, Hannibal Lecter, Jodie Foster, Mid-Point, Orion Pictures Corporation, Plot Point I, Plot Point II, Screenplay Structure, Silence of the Lambs, Thriller

Silence Of the Lambs“Good evening, Clarice.”

The Silence Of the Lambs creeps me out. It did when I first saw it nearly 20 years ago.

And it still does.

There’s a grotesqueness to this movie that emits a kind of psychic stench that clings to me, like the cloying smell of maple-flavored bacon that lingers in the kitchen many hours after breakfast is over. I almost feel like I need to take a very hot shower after watching this film. And even then I can’t rid myself of the grime.

The main reason for that – aside from serial killer Jame Gumb (Ted Levine), another truly frightening character – is Anthony Hopkins.

Anthony HopkinsThere is no character in the history of cinema more intense than Hannibal Lecter. Anthony Hopkins’ performance is like a fatal car crash from which one cannot turn away. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s as if he [Read more →]

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Dances With Wolves

October 21st, 2009 · 1990, Adaptation, Color, Composer: John Barry, Dances With Wolves, Drama, John Barry, Kevin Costner, Orion Pictures Corporation, Panavision (Widescreen), THX

Dances With Wolves Whatever happened to THX?

This DVD starts with that enormous, room-filling THX sound and the rectangular “The Audience Is Listening” box on the screen. I used to love going to the theater just to see/hear/experience that. Sometimes, the THX intro was so awesome that the audience would gasp, then chuckle. And, believe it or not, there were times when the THX brand was more entertaining than the movie that followed it.

I don’t know if that’ll be true tonight or not. But I’ll soon find out.

Confession time again: I like Kevin Costner.

His 1989 movie Field of Dreams remains one of my all-time favorites. Very little is as powerful as the ending of Field.

I don’t think Costner is one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. But he has charm and can play a cute aw-shucks character like nobody else. Most of all, though, I think the man has cojones of brass. Over the years he’s made some of Hollywood’s best – and worst – movies. You have to give the man credit for trying. Especially since [Read more →]

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