Archive for February, 2013

2005’s ‘Crash’ may well be worst Oscar Best Picture winner ever

by Sam Juliano

One of the most popular ongoing Oscar games is to identify the absolute worst choices ever made for Best Picture over the 86 year history of the awards.  Some takers will always choose to name what they feel are the worst films to win, while others prefer to cite the films that won over far more deserving winners.  On the latter front a popular choice will always be 1941’s How Green Was My Valley, a John Ford masterwork that had the temerity to top the film that many consider the greatest of all-time: Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.  Yet, How Green Was My Valley would be a legitimate winner practically any other year, so the strong indignation for 1941 seems misguided.  It would be safe to contend that roughly half of the films named Best Picture over eight decades plus are unworthy of the ultimate designation for either of the two reasons, or a combination of both.  Of the remaining half we could discount another 50% or so that are acceptable, but uninspired.  That leaves us with maybe one-quarter of the actual selections that can be regarded as valid and worthy of the Oscar.  Needless to say, the Academy Awards, by their very make-up rarely show the proper attention for foreign-language cinema, so even in the minority instance where they did get it right there is a significant asterisk next to the choices.  Ironically enough the last time the Academy got it right was just a year ago, when the critically-venerated The Artist earned the top prize after nearly every critics’ organization worldwide made the same call.  There are a number of other instances over the years where movie lover are nearly unanimous in their belief that justice was served: Lawrence of Arabia, All Quiet on the Western Front, No Country For Old Men, The Return of the King, West Side Story, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather, The Godfather Part 2 among them. (more…)


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by Allan Fish

(UK 1969 90m) not on DVD

Love your enemies

p  Graeme MacDonald  d  Gareth Davies  w  Dennis Potter  ph  Robert Wright  art  Spencer Chapman  cos  Dinah Collin

Colin Blakely (Jesus), Brian Blessed (Peter), Robert Hardy (Pilate), Edward Hardwicke (Judas), Bernard Hepton (Caiaphas), Godfrey Quigley (Roman commander), Patricia Lawrence (Procia),

Between the years of 1965 and 1969, Dennis Potter penned eight plays for the Wednesday Play strain for the BBC.  There were the two Nigel Barton pieces which helped to make his name and the well-praised Alice, detailing part of the life and influences of Lewis Carroll.  The last of his octet was undoubtedly the best, as well as being the most powerful and easily the most controversial.

Son of Man was a hot potato from the moment it first broadcast on 16th April 1969.  Coming hard fast on the heels of Easter probably didn’t help, but it’s safe to say that, with the exception of Ken Russell’s Dance of the Seven Veils, no more incendiary play was ever made for the BBC.  Like Russell’s piece it now stands tall as a masterpiece of small screen drama and one of the most revolutionary TV plays ever written.  I don’t use the word lightly, for one must bear in mind the date; man’s first steps on the moon were imminent, the students riots in Paris were still fresh in the memory and the free love hippies so frowned on by Daily Mail readers were starting to proliferate society.  Into this boiling cauldron of public opinion – that old gorgon Mary Whitehouse was taking legal steps against the BBC for showing the play – Dennis Potter put the feline well and truly amongst the pigeons.  (more…)

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Chaplin’s ‘The Circus’ screened in front of sold our crowd on Sunday morning at Film Forum

by Sam Juliano

The Oscars aired on Sunday night, and Lucille and I hosted our annual awards party at a local firehouse that brought together many friends who are seen too few times these days.  As I am preparing this MMD well in advance of the show, I will expect the specifics to be discussed in some measure in the comment section of this post.  The Oscars are a contentious concern at this site, with some professing annual fun watching the oft-embarrassing show biz parade, while others are advocating capital punishment for anyone who tunes in.  At the end of the day, after we’ve broken bread and played catch up with all the events in our lives and tallied up the poll sheets, it’s goodbye until next year with at least some of the guests.  But weeks from now the actual results are really an afterthought and only convenient for statistical queries.  But this is part of the culture, and at least the Oscars don’t try to hide that they are a travesty.  As expected Argo took the top prize, though Ang Lee’s win as Best Director was not quite expected by some.  I am a huge fan of that film.  Once again Christophe Waltz wins a Best Supporting Actor prize, again for Quentin Tarantino. Day-Lewis, Lawrence and Hathaway was all figured to win, and all came away with Oscars.  The night’s biggest winner in total number of awards was The Life of Pi with 4.  Both Les Miserables and Argo ended up with three, while Django Unchained, Lincoln and Skyfall nabbed two each.  Tarantino’s two though were majors, for Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor.

Steve Carlson and Paul Clarke again did a fabulous job running the Muriel Awards, and the impressive results show again they have a bright and tasteful clientele.  The tabulation appears in the post below.

Theological historians are gearing up for the week-end media rush after the former Joseph Ratzinger of Benedict XIV fame leaves the papacy on Thursday, and the political jockeying begins in advance of the coming papal conclave to choose his replacement.  I say this knowing full well how many devout Catholics visit WitD.  Ha! (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

This was the first year I participated in the esteemed ‘Muriel Awards’ voting.  Jaimie Grijalba also cast his maiden ballot in the venture run by Paul Clark and Steve Carlson and encompassing some distinguished cineastes who take their movies seriously.  I was personally thrilled that my own #1 film The Turin Horse finished in the Top 5, and that The Deep Blue Sea’s Rachel Weisz was voted Best Actress.  Here are the Top Ten and individual winners:

The Muriels Best Picture (Top 10):

  1. Holy Motors [322 points / 28 votes]
  2. Moonrise Kingdom [295.5 points / 27 votes]
  3. The Master [272 points / 26 votes]
  4. Zero Dark Thirty [174.5 points / 17 votes]
  5. The Turin Horse [163 points / 15 votes]
  6. The Deep Blue Sea [156/16]
  7. Django Unchained [151/16]
  8. Lincoln [150/15]
  9. Looper [139/16]
  10. Amour [118/10] (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

By refusing to broadcast the Honorary Awards for the fourth year running, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has given the cold shoulder to luminaries of film history. Perhaps we should return the favor.

This is not a clever list of “Top 10” reasons to ignore, criticize, or make fun of the Academy Awards. Right now I’m only interested in one deeply unfair and indicative reason. That said, a brief bit of background may be in order…


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by Allan Fish

Best Picture Apocalypse Now US (7 votes)

Best Director Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now (10 votes)

Best Actor Peter Sellers, Being There (9 votes)

Best Actress Hanna Schygulla, The Marriage of Maria Braun (9 votes)

Best Supp Actor Melvyn Douglas, Being There (8 votes)

Best Supp Actress Mariel Hemingway, Manhattan (7 votes)

Best Cinematography Gordon Willis, Manhattan (11 votes)

Best Score Jerry Goldsmith, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (7 votes)

Best Short The Plank, UK Eric Sykes (2 votes)

Can I just say The Plank, while valid as a nomination, was a remake of Sykes’ earlier 1967 mini feature The Plank, with Tommy Cooper, which was FAR better. Feels a bit naff the poor imitation winning…



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By Bob Clark

One of the issues facing anyone who wants to experience classic films in their best condition is the matter of availability. Usually this revolves around the question of what is or isn’t playing on a big screen at any given time, if you live in an area that has enough theaters devoted to repertoire screenings of old films. But availability also cuts into the arena of home viewing, and in the case of classic films it can be very easy to simply take any given movie’s ubiquitous presence in video, DVD and TV broadcasts for granted and miss the chance to experience them in a theatrical venue, even when it becomes an option. John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon is probably one of the best examples of this syndrome, a movie that’s no less respected and cherished after the decades of play it’s received on television long after it originally bowed from cinemas. In that time it’s accrued almost as much of a legend for itself as it details for “the black bird” throughout its running time– as the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammet’s book, and the only one that matters; as one of the touchstone examples of the film noir movement as recognized in post-war French criticism; as a cult object so feverishly defended that its fans fought off Ted Turner’s colorization efforts and keep it for time immemorial in glorious monochrome.


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claudius 2

by Allan Fish

(UK 1976 652m) DVD1/2

Old King Log

p  Martin Lisemore  d  Herbert Wise  w  Jack Pulman  novels  “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God” by Robert Graves  m  Wilfrid Josephs  art  Tim Harvey

Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Siân Phillips (Livia), Brian Blessed (Augustus), George Baker (Tiberius), John Hurt (Caligula), Margaret Tyzack (Antonia), Patrick Stewart (Sejanus), Patricia Quinn (Livilla), David Robb (Germanicus), Fiona Walker (Agrippina), Beth Morris (Drusilla), Sheila White (Messalina), James Faulkner (Herod Agrippa), Kevin McNally (Castor), John Castle (Postumus), Frances White (Julia), Ian Ogilvy (Drusus), John Paul (Agrippa), Barbara Young (Agrippinilla), Christopher Biggins (Nero), Bernard Hepton (Pallas), John Cater (Narcissus), John Rhys Davies (Macro), Stratford Johns (Piso), Charles Kay (Gallus), Freda Dowie (The Sibyl/Caesonia), Ashley Knight (Young Claudius), Kevin Stoney (Thrasyllus), Donald Eccles (Pollio), Bernard Hill (Gratus), Charlotte Howard (Scylla), Esmond Knight (Domitius), Moira Redmond (Domitia),

There are few more beloved BBC serials in history than this immensely detailed adaptation of the two Claudian novels of Robert Graves.  In truth, the second novel is rather sparsely translated, forming barely 20% of the series at its finale, entirely missing out the massive section on the conquest of Britain and the subduing of Caractacus.  But no matter, for as an adaptation of the first book, one could hardly have done a better job than Jack Pulman.  For a long time it seemed as if Claudius would have the last laugh, for everyone recalled the disastrous aborted film of 1937, with Charles Laughton, Alexander Korda and Josef Von Sternberg going together like oil, water and cement.  One mourns its never being completed, if only because of the décor and the promise of the performances of Laughton and Emlyn Williams from the surviving footage, but it was left to the Beeb to finally complete the job nearly forty years later. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

This year the Oscar race has had many turns and twists, as the video protagonized by Sam Juliano, Dennis Polifroni and (the not so) little Sammy repeated in its glorious 40 minutes of insight talk on upsets and predictions, I think it’s time as always to have our own chance to publicly put our own predictions, upsets or whatever bile we have to spew regarding the Oscars of this year. As in every year that I’ve had the idea to do this, I shall be putting the film that Will Win (my prediction) followed with my pick of who should win the prize, sometimes it will match… most of the time they won’t, but the reason here is to be opiniated and to appraise at the same time the other nominees in the categories. This year it’s also the first one where I’ve done my 10 Days of Oscar in english, a usual thing I do in the 10 days upcoming to the Oscar ceremony where I review every movie nominated for best picture. You can go to my site right now, there are a few movies left and a bunch of movies already reviewed that you can comment upon, two of the usual writers of Wonders in the Dark have guest posts there: Bob Clark and Sam Juliano. Anyway, without any further ado, here are the Oscar predictions and wants: (more…)

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© 2013 by James Clark

Sitting in a young man’s car, parked at the Florida prison where the man she wants to marry but has not as yet met resides on Death Row, Charlotte Bless (her last name perhaps a drawled distortion of Bliss) asks him, “Why aren’t you in college?” He informs her, “I was… I was a swimmer…” She’s delighted with this, and exclaims, “I’s a swimmer! Swim like a mermaid!” This, what some might call, lack of due perspective upon rational training, seems all of a piece with her having told the boy, Jack, earlier in the little vigil, “Everyone who comes into the area beyond normal relationships has these powers… telepathic powers… Hillary and I have that kind of connection.” (Earlier that day he had told her, “I do write…” [she looking for his Pulitzer Prize winning older brother, Ward, who had agreed to do some muck raking on behalf of having the conviction overturned], and she had, as she did later, piped up, “So do I…I write letters [petitioning on behalf of Hillary]… I’m pretty good…” [But not as good with rational folks [and their “normal relationships”] as with the likes of pen-pal and alligator hunter, Hillary; on the other hand, she could ring bells with a fellow-showboat like Ward].) A bit later, shooed away by a prison guard, she puts out the story, “This boy’s daddy’s in there, and we want to send him good vibrations…” (It’s 1963, and canny Ward has already made a killing doing Civil Rights promotions in a Miami newspaper, far from the uncanny alligator swamps that lubricate Moat County—that term evoking a palace where, for an array of beauties and beasts, it’s always Showtime.) (more…)

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