Posts Tagged ‘ Oscar winners ’

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Nineteen

Is it completely unfair that I’d like to get some more comments?

I’m not begging. It’s just a thought that’s occurring to me. Part of me is deathly afraid of feedback. That’s natural. No one wants to work forever at something, and then find out everyone hates it. All the acting, writing, performing stuff I do firstly for myself, but I also like to know sometimes that other people are enjoying it.

That’s natural, too.

Has this been the theme of another blog opening already? I don’t remember. I write these in about ten minutes, because I guess I feel like some kind of introduction is always in order, and I’m usually at a loss for anything interesting to say.

I’m finally circling the wagons on some more variety for this thing, but I think it’s gonna wait, until this movie review series is finished. We’re getting there. Just eleven more to go.

What’s in a Friday night? I wish I had plans. I wish that “Tonight, I’m gonna burn this town down” as Springsteen puts it. That’s not in the cards. It’s going to be one of those many lonely nights I seem to be entertaining these days. I’m going to work for a while longer, eat dinner and run movies from now to three or four in the morning. Having no choice but to spin your wheels in the middle of nowhere doesn’t leave you with a lot of options sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done alright for misadventure over the years. The problem is that I’m selfish for that kind of thing. And a quiet Friday night in a quiet room is a quiet, miserable prospect every single time.

I’m not particularly depressed though. No more than usual. I’m just restless, and that continues to become a stronger and stronger feeling.

I’m ready to go, and I’d give anything to be out in the larger world right now. There’s all kinds of trouble I could be getting into.
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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Nineteen: Movie That Made You Cry The Hardest:

Rocky (1976)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers

I didn’t actually see the first Rocky until I was about fourteen. In my childhood I had managed to see II, III and IV, but for whatever reason I didn’t get around to seeing the first (and easily the best of them) until I was well into high school. Who knows why. I’m not going out of my way to be stubborn about seeing one movie or another. I’m sure I had plenty of opportunities to watch the first Rocky. I might have even caught it on TV as a little kid. I don’t remember actually watching it until I bought it at a yard sale. The sequels had things like giant, Russian steroid monsters, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. I guess those were just more memorable things to me.

I still dig the sequels, but I’m more apt to watch the first, if I’m in the mood for one of these movies .

I can’t say this movie has ever left me sobbing at the end, but I’ve gotten pretty close sometimes. Getting a strong emotional reaction from me isn’t impossible for a movie to do, but crying tends to be a different matter. I don’t think I’m above it. I just don’t express sadness with tears very often. The ones that do manage to draw that response from me are pretty strange when grouped together. I can’t say there’s a pattern. Sometimes a movie just has the power to kick me in the stomach (in a good way) over and over again. That kick can be pretty severe. So much that crying is just a matter of time. The reason for why a movie can accomplish this seems to vary wildly from film to film.

With Rocky I suppose my reasons for responding to it the way I do are the same as a lot of people’s. There’s a good love story (keeping in mind we’ve established the fact that my idea of love is hopelessly weird, and should not be held as a reasonable example for all humankind). You know it’s there from the moment Stallone meets Talia Shire’s mousy, painfully shy Adrian at the pet store we know he visits every day (under the guise of buying food for his turtles). The love story of Rocky is not some kind of wild ride. It’s not going to have a lot of surprises. Those are not requirements to be unforgettable though. Some of my favorite love stories succeed through simplicity in story and likable, memorable characters. Rocky gives me that story and those characters. Stallone is never going to be in my top-ten actors list (but I do think he’s a lot better than he gets credit for), but his chemistry with Shire is perfect. It sells the romance, and makes it absolutely impossible for me to think of its execution as anything less than perfect.

There are memorable, classic performances from everyone involved. I couldn’t pick a favorite secondary actor in a million years. Carl Weathers is obviously channeling some Ali here (and there was even a mock showdown between Stallone and Ali at the Oscars, when Rocky took home the Best Picture prize), and he’s fantastic at it. Rocky is largely about strong performances and chemistry, going back to the love story between Rocky and Adrian, and I’m glad Weathers was worked into most of the sequels. He plays off Stallone as a definitive rival and later friend. Burt Young and Burgess Meredith are two of my all-time favorite character actors. They played well off just about anyone (and Burt Young still does). In Rocky they’re as memorable to me as Rocky, Adrian or Apollo Creed. Meredith should have won something just for the sheer power of the scene, in which he all but begs Rocky to take him on as a manager.


I have to wonder how many people broke their hands trying this.

The build-up to that big championship fight between Creed and Rocky would never be done so well again. Is it ridiculously corny that Rocky knows his chances of winning are nil, and that all he wants to do is go against Creed from opening bell to last? Yeah, but I’ve never had a problem with it. Maybe, that’s because the fight is loosely based on a Chuck Wepner/Muhammad Ali bout, which saw an unknown Wepner survive an entire fight against Ali. That might be part of it. I also like how much of Rocky’s desire to succeed with such modest, almost pathetic dreams mirrored Stallone’s own life. He was a bit player before Rocky. Everything he hoped to accomplish in his career rode on his determination to play the character, and be an integral part of the movie’s creation (the studio that finally accepted the script, saw it as a possible vehicle for someone like James Caan or Robert Redford). It worked, but the success of Rocky remains one of the most unlikely success stories in film history.

I’m sure the guy who hands out those Golden Raspberry awards is still bemoaning that fact. I think this aspect adds a nice layer to the movie.

All of Rocky culminates in one of the most emotionally satisfying endings I can think of. It gets me every single time, and I love how that never gets old. Again, it’s a pretty simple story, but as Stallone would prove later on it wasn’t so simple that it could easily be duplicated. None of Rocky‘s many sequels would even come close to resonating with me as strongly as that first one did. The last one came close though.

It’s not just the movie itself. Too many scenes stand out, and kick around my head even when I haven’t seen it for ages. These scenes inevitably bring me into my own thoughts and memories, because the kind of movies that draw this kind of emotional response me usually do so by means beyond just the story and characters. All of that in Rocky can still work its charm on me, but it’s always more than just the specifics of the movie itself. There’s always some kind of memory to contend with, or some weird, seemingly random thought that occurs to me every time I watch that particular movie. I won’t go into the memories and thoughts unique to my viewings of Rocky, but I will say they’re potent. Enough that I can be drawn to the film by merits other than the fact that I think Rocky is beautifully done in every way.

What makes Rocky the clear-cut winner in this category? Other movies have that one scene that completely destroys me, breaks down any and defenses and gets those stupid eyes misting up. Some might even have two or three of those scenes. Rocky has several. I don’t want to be such a sucker for easy sentiment, because Rocky is not necessarily the absolute saddest film I’ve ever seen, but it’s pointless to pretend I’m invulnerable. Rocky is my emotional kryptonite, and I’m okay with that. I guess there are worse things to be than an easy target for a certain kind of movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twelve

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Twelve: Favorite Love Story

As Good as It Gets (1997)
Directed by: James L. Brooks
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear

No one ever believes me, but I happen to think I’m quite romantic. I think it’s likely that I just have a weird idea of the subject. That would certainly explain most of my relationships with women, the kind of women I tend to fall for and how my concepts of love and romance influence those things. It’s worth repeating, that I’m naturally cynical about a lot of things, but I always try to leave some room upstairs for what I think love is. It’s a perspective I’ve tried to understand in my own writing, in how I try to get around in the world and in the movies, books, music and more that speak to my perspective in some way.

It’s not a complicated perspective. Straightforward love stories usually don’t grab my interest. It could be that I’m difficult to please. With movies I think my favorite love stories, are the films that go about the whole love thing without being obvious. Strong performances and writing help considerably with that. It doesn’t have to be credible or even realistic. The best romantic films I’ve seen, are those that can yield a sincere reaction from me without some blatant attempt at manipulation. It’s also nice when a movie can bring up love, without smashing sentimentality over my head until one of my eyes is missing, and I have a concussion of some kind.

The best movies I’ve seen, usually wind up sending me into my own ridiculous past, while making me wish I was a little better at capturing love in my own stories. Love is not something I enjoy thinking about a lot. My favorite movies that feature it are able to change my mind if only for a little while.

People can do that, too, of course, but historically speaking I usually tend to wear out my welcome with most after a few hours or less. There’s typically not a lot of room in that space of time for things like love.

Favorite love story could probably be interpreted a number of ways. I’m choosing to go with the romantic one. Even though the movie I’m picking includes at least a couple different kinds of love.  As Good as It Gets made the cut over other titles (The Girl in the Cafe, Punch-Drunk Love to name a few) for that very reason. The movie is primarily about love, and the way it reveals its opinions about that (both in the writing and acting) has spoken nicely to my own feelings and ideas ever since I saw it by accident at some point in 1998. I think it’s an amiable, slightly pessimistic story that at no point makes me feel foolish for liking it so much. It’s simple but not simplistic.

It’s more than just really well-written dialogue, and it’s more than just a lot of great performances. I’m not sure anyone would agree with me, but this may well be my favorite Jack Nicholson performance (he won his third Oscar). The movie isn’t just some of the best work this cast has ever done (which is really the strongest driving point As Good as It Gets has—It’s character-driven in every sense of the word). As Good as It Gets is a love story that covers more than just the weird, constantly strained relationship between Melvin Udall (Nicholson) and Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt, who also won an Oscar). That’s the bulk of the movie, but James L. Brooks knows how to juggle more than one viewpoint, and more than one narrative. The script (co-written by Mark Andrus from his own story) gives Nicholson and Hunt the ability to create fully fleshed-out, believable characters in just a few early scenes. In the beginning their lives only intersect, when Nicholson shows up at the restaurant she works at, to order lavish breakfasts and abuse anyone who is forced to exist in the same universe as him. Circumstances force them to interact more often, and their relationship builds slowly, perfectly from there. It’s the main story arc, but there’s also just enough time and energy spent on developing their characters individually. They don’t simply exist within the confines of their relationship and nowhere else. They live and breathe in the scenes that reveal their personalities, outside of what they show each other and in their dealings with everyone else.

As Good as It Gets is not just their love story. The beginning, middle and end of their romance is not told in a straight line. It veers constantly into other directions and mediations on other kinds of love.  There’s also the beautifully-handled, beautifully-written friendship that grows between Melvin and Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), Melvin’s openly gay artist neighborhood who has recently fallen on hard times. It’s handled with sharp humor and fantastic performances from Nicholson and Kinnear. We don’t buy that Udall truly hates gays (or Jews, black people, cops, old people, children, women, bartenders or waitresses). He’s simply built up a good defense against ever having to deal with people, on any level that puts him at risk. (I can relate to wanting to do that). It’s obvious that he’s going to have to change in order to finally find chaotic happiness over lonely consistency. Falling in love helps him accomplish that, but it doesn’t end there. Melvin’s growth also comes about from reluctantly becoming a source of friendship and comfort for Simon, and from also taking care of Simon’s small, irritating (at least initially) dog. These are three different versions of love, and all of them succeed in telling the story and giving depth to their characters. This is done with Simon, and his friendships with those closest to him (Cuba Gooding Jr. in my favorite role of his and Yeardley Smith, with a small but memorable part). This is also done with Carol, and her family (Shirley Knight and Jesse James). The best stuff typically involves Melvin and everyone else.  It’s still impressive that so many different types of relationship are referenced and explored. All of them eventually bring us back to the main story between Melvin and Carol, and a conclusion that is constantly up in the air.

I think Nicholson is trying to decide if a weepy Helen Hunt turns him on or not. Probably did.

It’s the Melvin/Simon story that contains my favorite line in the movie, and the one I feel sums up the entire story. Simon tells Melvin that he loves him, to which Melvin wearily but touchingly replies “I’ll tell you, buddy, I’d be the luckiest man in the world if that did it for me.” There are a lot of great lines, but I think that one perfectly describes why this movie works so well. As Good as It Gets has a lot of sarcasm and bitterness going for it, but there are also moments of genuine warmth and affection. Brooks maintains a balance of these things. As you’ve probably figured out I’m drawn to things that are sweet, but manage to avoid making all my teeth disintegrate from the saccharine. This movie never even gets close to that. Brooks’ considerable career in TV and film is full of similar examples. I wouldn’t call As Good as It Gets realistic by any means, but its dysfunction underneath its varying stories, is closer to my own my idealized notion of love, than most stories that come to mind.

My other favorite exchange in the film?

Secretary: How do you write women so well?
Melvin: I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.

I don’t necessarily agree with that (Well, maybe sometimes), but it’s easily my favorite film insult of all time. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that this movie can have a vicious line like that, only to then turn on a dime, and give us a line or scene that is the polar opposite. Brooks has always been good with stories like those. Here he has a script and cast that allows him to realize this kind of story perfectly. As Good as It Gets isn’t his only triumph, but it’s nonetheless my favorite movie of his. It’s love expressed in terms I can actually understand. If I didn’t believe in that stuff I think I’d still rate this perfectly. I can watch and enjoy this even when I deeply suspect that love is a profoundly painful, annoying waste of time. It probably won’t change my mind, but that hardly matters with a movie this good. There are so many ways to enjoy As Good as It Gets. I can think of several pretty quickly.