Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A STAR IS BORN (1937), A STAR IS BORN (2018)

"My name is Mrs. Norman Maine!"-A Star is Born 1937

Frederic March and Janet Gaynor in
A Star is Born '37

The A Star is Born "franchise" began as a 1937 movie that I had heard a lot about but never got around to seeing until the newest version made a big splash over the last year. A Star is Born '37 is a movie about a small town girl named Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) who goes to Hollywood to seek her fame and fortune. She meets with initial rejection until she runs into Hollywood star Norman Maine (Frederich March) at a party and they strike up a romance. Esther had seen Maine earlier at the Hollywood Bowl causing a drunken nuisance of himself.  Despite Norman's alcohol issues, the two fall in love, get married and Norman puts Esther in his next picture. The movie is a success, but it is due to overnight sensation Esther (Now going by the name Vicki Lester) instead of Norman, whose star is on the wane as well as his being too much of a pain for the studio to put up with. Vicki becomes a star and Norman begins his downward spiral which eventually leads to him walking into the ocean for the last time and Vicki proclaiming her love for him over the airwaves.

It's an interesting and obviously influential story about Hollywood. It also boasts some fine supporting players (Edgar Kennedy, Andy Devine, Lionel Stander and Clara "Auntie Em" Bandick.) I liked it, though it does seem a little dated and  I do prefer the '54 version.

James Mason and Judy Garland in
A Star is Born '54

A Star is Born morphed over time from being a movie about an aspiring actress to being about an aspiring singer.With Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand in the next versions, that probably seemed like an obvious road to go to. The only 1001 entry for A Star is Born (so far) is the 1954 version with Judy Garland. The 1976 version is usually regarded as the weakest of the Star is Born movies, but also has its fans.

Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in
A Star is Born '76

Scenes that are in all A Star is Born movies include the scene where the drunken Norman/John/Jackson makes a fool of himself at the Oscars/Grammys while Vicki/Esther/Ally is accepting a big award, the scene where Norman/John/Jackson goes to dry himself out and seems to be getting himself together, the scene where the Norman/John/Jackson is told that the female lead would be better off without him, the scene where we see the male lead commit suicide and the final scene where Vicki/Esther/Ally expresses her undying love for her departed husband. 

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in
A Star is Born '18

Bradley Cooper's recent version of A Star is Born was a critical and commercial success. Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a famous singer who has a drinking problem as well as a hearing loss problem. He meets an unheralded singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) performing in a bar one night. He recognizes the talent she has, they fall in love and he brings her on the stage and (spoiler!) she becomes a star! The chemistry between the two stars is the driving force of this movie, as well as the vocal talent of Lady Gaga. I think I'm going to have to go with A Star is Born '18 as my new favorite of the bunch, not to mention the fact that I can't get that Shallow song out of my head.

I'm already planning to watch A Star is Born 2044 (We'll have to designate the movies by century as well as by year by then) from my retirement community.

Janet Gaynor winning a pretend Oscar in
A Star is Born '37

Academy Award pedigree:
A Star is Born '37 won an Oscar for William Wellman's screenplay. Other nominations included Best Actor (March), Best Actress (Gaynor) and Best Director (Wellman)

A Star is Born '54 had six Oscar nominations, including: Best Actor (James Mason), Best Actress (Judy Garland, many think she should have won) and Best Song ("The Man That Got Away")

A Star is Born '76 won an Academy Award for the song "Evergreen " (Streisand and Paul Williams)

A Star is Born '18 was the first version to get a Best Picture nomination, as well as acting nominations for Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and Sam Elliot. Shallow won the award for Best Song and is playing in my head as we speak.

Lady Gaga wins a real Oscar
for A Star is Born '18

Sunday, February 24, 2019


The trio embraces at the end of Y Tu Mama Tambien

Y Tu Mama Tambien is the story of two teenage boys who go on a cross country trip with an atrractive older (relatively speaking) woman named Luisa. This is the second time I've seen this and I can't say it's a particular favorite, partly because I don't find the boys particularly likable. However, the film does have plenty of good moments. The boys grow as people by the end of the movie and Luisa is largely the one responsible for this. She is only going on the trip because of problems in her marriage and health issues. Director Alfonso Cuaron is really adept at showing us what is going on on the periphery during their trip. We see soldiers marching, local conflicts and workers toiling. It does add quite a bit to the flavor to the movie. There's also a lot of sex. The movie starts with a sex scene and towards the end of the movie has a sex scene with an unexpected twist between the threesome.

Moving on...Cuaron went on to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men and Gravity, for which he won an Academy Award in 2014.

The family embraces at the end of Roma

To say the tone of Cuaron's 2018 film Roma differs from Y Tu Mama Tambien is an understatement. Where Y Tu Mama Tambien begins with teenagers having sex, Roma begins with a several minute from the ground shot of mop water being spread along a dirty surface. The whole film is understated. It's in black and white and honestly, I understand if one would say this film can be a bit on the dull side at times. It's set in Mexico on the cusp of 1971. It has been stated by the director that it is Curaon's tribute to the women that raised him.

The mother (Sofia) to the four children is important, but she has to work hard in her white collar job to earn a living, so she's away a lot. Seemingly more important to the household is Cleo (played byYalitza Aparicio) a sweet, nurturing young housekeeper who dedicates herself fully to the children.

The two major male characters in this movie aren't exactly shown in a positive light. The father is rarely seen and is usually away on business. We find out at the end of the movie that he is leaving his family (presumably for another woman). He even comes by after the break-up while the family is away to move his things out and takes the book shelves-leaving the books on the floor. If this act isn't meant to symbolize his lack of substance, I'm interpreting it that way anyway! An even worse male role model is Fermin, the martial artist who impregnates Cleo, but doesn't accept that the baby is his and derisively refers to her as "servant."

As I stated, this is a movie you really have to be patient with. There is a lot of emotional moments to be had in the second part of the movie (Cleo's miscarriage, the final embrace on the beach). I just hope you stick around long enough to get there.

Roma won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography. 

Yalitza Aparicio in Roma

Saturday, February 23, 2019


Tracy Camilla Johns and Spike Lee
in She's Gotta Have It

She's Gotta Have It, the original Spike Lee joint (he calls his films joints, so I'll just go with that) first came out in 1986. It is the low-budget black and white (as in not in color) story about a young black lady living in Brooklyn sharing her affections with three suitors: an arrogant athlete, a regular guy and the loudmouth Mars Blackmon (played by Lee). It's funny and observant and it's interesting seeing this for the first time so many years after the original release. But everything old is new again as there is now a She's Gotta Have It Netfilx TV series as of 2017!

Of course, it led to Spike making many more movies, generally more serious in nature than She's Gotta Have It (Though even that one does touch on serious issues). I was surprised he had never been nominated for a Best Director Academy Award before this year (Not even for Malcolm X?), though his screenplay for Do the Right Thing was nominated in 1990.

Topher Grace as David Duke in Blackkklansman

America would never elect someone like David Duke president!-Blackkklansman

Spike finally got some Academy director love this year for Blackkklansman, the true story of a black undercover cop and a Jewish cop (Adam Driver and John David Washington) who combine forces to infiltrate a Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. It hits the right notes for 1973 (afros, Richard Nixon, Stokely Carmichael) but brings it back to the relevancy of racism in present times as shown by the cuts at the end of the movie to real life news footage from the last couple of years. There are definitely many touches of comedy here as well, but the overall stakes are deadly serious.

And who doesn't like to see David Duke made a fool of?

Blackkklansman was nominated for six Academy Awards, including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Adam Driver).

Adam Driver and John David Washington
check out their Klan membership 
card in Blackkklansman.

Friday, February 22, 2019


This is my choice (choices) for Best Picture for the year 1939.  My criteria is that I can only use films that are on the 1001 list. To make it a little easier on myself, I am using the rules of the first Academy Award and name a winner for Best Picture (won by Wings for 1927-1928) and Best and Unique and Artistic Picture (won by Sunrise from 1927-1928). 

This year is often noted as being the best year of the Classic Movie era. There are a lot of potential choices here, but my two winners seem pretty clear.

And the nominees on the entries from every edition of 1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die are...
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum
Babes in Arms
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Wizard of Oz
Destry Rides Again
Only Angels Have Wings
Gone with the Wind
Gunga Din
The Rules of the Game
Wuthering Heights

And the winner for the Best Picture of 1939 is…The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz

Gone With the Wind...Stagecoach...Mr. Smith...Ninotchka...
so many potential winners for this category this year, but I simply couldn't go against the beloved classic, The Wizard of Oz. I've seen this movie probably twenty times and Dorothy's adventures in the land of Oz never seems to get old. Wonderfully cast with that delightfully whimsical story that we all know by heart with special effects that still seem pretty fresh, I'm always going to vote for Dorothy...and Toto, too..

The Wizard of Oz

And the Award for Unique and Artistic Picture of 1939 is...The Rules of the Game

The Rules of the Game

I first saw The Rules of the Game during a summer film comedy class at university during the 80’s. It wasn’t the typical comedy I was used to in this class, but I did like this French comedy of manners and social class from director Jean Renoir. I took a History of Film class (So I like classes where you get to watch movies!) the next year and saw this film again and really began to appreciate it so much more. It’s so smooth and so perfectly done it strikes me as a rare combination of slapstick silliness, ballet, operatic drama all spread over the canvas of the director which is certainly on a par with anything that his father Auguste painted. I have seen The Rules of the Game about five times over the years and it is definitely a movie to be watched and appreciated over several viewings over any cinephile's lifetime. Despite heavy competition from this year, I've got to go with Rules of the Game for the win.

The Rules of the Game

Thursday, February 21, 2019


I have decided to name my choice for Best Picture for the year 1959.  My criteria is that I can only use films that are on the 1001 list. To make it a little easier on myself, I am using the rules of the first Academy Award and name a winner for Best Picture (won by Wings for 1927-1928) and Best and Unique and Artistic Picture (won by Sunrise from 1927-1928). 

Some years are more difficult than others. Few years have as many good choices as 1959. I'm glad I designed this to have two winners. 

And the nominees on the entries from every edition of 1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die are...
The 400 Blows
North by Northwest 
Some Like It Hot 
Anatomy of a Murder
Ride Lonesome 
Black Orpheus
The World of Apu 
 Hiroshima Mon Amour
Rio Bravo

And the winner for the Best Picture of 1959 is…North by Northwest
North by Northwest

I’m giving this to what I think is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most entertaining films. It’s still one that works over repeated viewings, even if you know where the twists and turns of the plot are going ahead of time. Some Like It Hot (If you prefer classic comedies) or Ben-Hur (the actual Academy Award winner) could have been good choices, but I really couldn’t go against North by Northwest.
North by Northwest

And the Award for Unique and Artistic Picture of 1959 is...The World of Apu
The World of Apu

Like the Academy did for Lord of the Rings, I'm giving this to Apu more for the whole trilogy than just the final film. Few films have ever seemed more real than Ray's depiction of a Bengali village and it really puts you right there in the life of this family. Despite the tragedies that unfold in Apu's life, I'm glad I was there to vicariously experience them with him. What a tough choice for this category! The 400 Blows, Shadows, Breathless and even Hiroshima, Mon Amour could have fit into this category as well, but also like the Academy, there is a tendency to gravitate towards the picture freshest in your mind. But I stand by choice.
The World of Apu

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


I have decided to name my choice for Best Picture for the year of the first Academy Award (1927)  My criteria is that I can only use films that are on the 1001 list. To make it a little easier on myself, I am using the rules of the first Academy Award and name a winner for Best Picture (won by Wings for 1927-1928) and Best and Unique and Artistic Picture (won by Sunrise from 1927-1928). I'll see if I want to continue doing it for other years.  

And the nominees from all the entries from every edition of 1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die released in 1927 are...
The General
The Unknown
The Jazz Singer
The Kid Brother

And the winner for the Best Picture of 1927 is…The General
 The General

I'm a big Buster Keaton fan so I'd feel a little bad not going with The General for this one. It may be the best comedy feature film of silent cinema. Funny, poignant, exciting and crafted by a genius at the top of his game, I'd be hard pressed not to go with this film despite some other great films from this year. 
 The General

And the Award for Unique and Artistic Picture of 1927 is...Napoleon
This was a difficult choice. I'm still not sure I'm doing the right thing in taking the more consistent film Sunrise out of the slot it won in the first place! Fritz Lang's Metropolis might have snagged this award for me if the field had been weaker. No...no...I'm sticking with Napoleon. There is so much greatness in this film with it's epic storytelling, editing and the way Gance used a cast of thousands so effectively...maybe even more so than D. W. Griffith before him. The way the story is presented could only have been done as a silent. The film would have had to have been too slowed down to accommodate dialogue. I guess this was one less hurrah for silent epic cinema. The version I saw was enhanced greatly by the score from Carmine Coppola.

There are frustrations in that there are certain parts that could have been edited in the middle...Napoleon appears too noble and Godlike throughout and we see the rise of Napoleon...but wouldn't it have been nice to see the fall? I know Gance had planned to make subsequent Napoleon movies that never came to be...but it's still frustrating. Napoleon gets my award anyway.

Saturday, February 16, 2019


Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper in The American Friend

It's nice to have friends...

The American Friend is Wim Wenders' adaptation of Patrica Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game. Ripley (Dennis Hopper) is a forger who is hired by a mob boss to kill a rival gangster. Ripley dupes a picture framer named Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz) who is dying of Leukemia to carry out the crime for him. One of the main points of the film is that Ripley begins to actually like Zimmerman and tries to help him out all he can once he gets him involved in the messy situation.

This film is an interesting 70's version of a noir movie. I like the European setting in that many of the characters have to deal with the fact some of them only speak French, English or German and have to modify what they say accordingly. Zimmerman's dealing with lying to his family and his up and down helath reports provide additional drama. Bruno Ganz is very good and it's really Zimmerman's story more than Ripley's.

The Ripley character was earlier used in Purple Noon (with Alain Delon as Ripley), which was based on Highsmith's book, The Talented Mr. Ripley. That book was also adopted into a 1999 film with Matt Damon as Ripley.

Bruno Ganz in Wings of Desire

It's nice to have someone watching over you...

Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire is pretty far away from The American Friend as far a literary source material goes. The whole point of this film according to Wenders was to show the beauty of modern day Berlin. The way he did this was to create characters and dialogue through screenwriter Peter Handke that depicted angels that could travel throughout Berlin unnoticed. We do get some wonderful shots of the city as well as tender moments from the angels that can feel the anguish of those they encounter.

The main plot involves one of the angels (Bruno Ganz again) who falls in love and wishes to become human. He gets his wish and must deal with the pluses and minuses of his new situation. The angel also bonds with Peter Falk (playing himself!) as a fellow ex-angel. The movie is moving and at times quite poetic. Wings of Desire has many devotees and was remade in 1998 as City of Angels.
Wings of Desire

As I was writing this, I saw the sad news that Bruno Ganz passed away on February 16th at the age of 77.
A great actor in these films and in others, including Downfall, where he played Hitler during the last days of World War II.
Image result for downfall hitler bruno ganz 
Bruno Ganz as Hitler in Downfall 

Friday, February 15, 2019



When I first looked at the 1001 list there were a lot of films I noticed that I wasn't familiar with.  There seemed to be several sound-alike movies with names of women: Lola, Lou Lou, Run Lola Run, Lola Montes, Lucia, Laura, and Lolita. I was at least familiar with the last two.

Anyway, I'm about finished with all these films now, but I do have two more.
First up is Lola. Lola is directed by Jacques Demy and stars Anouk Aimee as Lola, a French exotic dancer who everyone seems to fall in love with. Among those smitten are an old friend, a sailor and Lola's long lost love that she has been pining away for for years and actually does come back to her (and her daughter) at the end of the film! Lola is elegantly shot with wonderful black and white cinematography. I like the 60's Paris setting as well...I can't say it really blew me away, but my tendency toward many of the French films of this era is that I like them...I just don't love them. Maybe through repeated viewings I can convert to the La Nouvelle Vague club someday.

Next we have Loulou from 1980. Isabelle Huppert plays Loulou in this...Wait, this just in...Huppert does not play Loulou. Loulou is played by...Gerard Depardieu? Well, that blows my whole names of women in the title theme! As if isn't bad enough that the young, angelic Huppert (her character is called Nelly) is involved in scenes in the bedroom with the big, oafish Depardieu in the first place! There is some good drama here with Nelly's attraction to the clearly below her class and intellect Loulou serving as a catalyst for much conflict. Nelly doesn't want to stay with her husband (who isn't Loulou), but she learns she's pregnant with Loulou's child and then she meets his shotgun loving French hillbilly "family" and we know this whole situation isn't going to end happily ever after for the two of them.. So it goes.

Lou Lou

Sunday, February 10, 2019



Ah, the last year of the twentieth century...*

The Wind Will Carry Us

Abbas Kiarostami certainly put out some memorable films during the 90's, including Close-Up and A Taste of Cherry. The Wind Will Carry Us is an intriguing addition to this list. What is it about exactly? I can't say I'm a hundred percent sure, but I know it is sort of about a journalist posing as an engineer wanting to film the death of an old woman who won't die and villagers who never seem to do the things our journalist wants them to do. We also have important characters we never see in the film at all! I also love the scenes (don't ask me why) when our hero gets a call in the village and has to get into his car and drive to higher ground only to generally to find it's just a wrong number.

Scott Foundas of Variety noted the filmmaker's "mission to capture something of real life without violating its essence." The struggle is real and Kiarostami was one of the best at capturing it.


When looking to find another 1999 film to watch that I had never seen before I picked Alexander Payne's Election, because I had heard good things about it and I generally like Payne's films. It is also based on a story by Tom Perrota (The Abstinence Teacher), who I also like.

The film is a about a teacher named Jim McCallister (Mathew Broderick) whose star student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) proves to be a big thorn in his side when she runs for student council president. The movie is most amusing and the plot hops around several interesting characters (including a fellow teacher who gets fired for having an affair with Tracy and his wife who later has an affair with McCallister.) A smart film and the multi-layered storyline kept me interested throughout. Reese Witherspoon is charismatic as the brilliant and over zealous Tracy and I like Broderick very much in the role of the teacher (Much better than his other 1999 film a few listings down.)

Here are some other films released in 1999 that I have seen at some point-

After Life
This is a Japanese film that I saw years ago based on a recommendation from a library patron. It is a deep film centering around a metaphysical weigh station between heaven and hell. It does try to explore some of the why questions of life. 

In fact, I'm sure why questions can be applied to other films I've seen from this year. I'll give it a shot!

After Life
Analyze This
Why is the effectiveness of psychoanalysis such a polarizing issue in the health field?
Analyze This
Any Given Sunday
Why is professional football treated with such reverence in our society despite all the problems inherit within it?
Any Given Sunday

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Why do I still feel the need to periodically do impressions of Dr. Evil and Austin Powers all these years later?
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Big Daddy
Why are Adam Sandler movies so popular?
Big Daddy

Why can't the Catholic Church take a joke?

Galaxy Quest
Why do we form cults around our favorite TV show?
Galaxy Quest

Girl, Interrupted
Why doesn't society take better care of the mentally ill?
Girl, Interrupted

The Green Mile
Why can't all Stephen King adaptations be as good as The Green Mile?
The Green Mile

Inspector Gadget
Why did casting Matthew Broderick as Inspector Gadget ever seem like a good idea?
Inspector Gadget

Man on the Moon
Why did people get so mad at Andy Kaufmann when he was obviously just putting them on?
Man on the Moon

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Why rebuke you him that loves you so?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Mummy
Why can't all librarians depicted in movies be as appealing as Rachel Weisz in this one?
The Mummy

Muppets from Space
Why did my son have to watch this movie every night before he went to bed one summer?
Muppets from Space

Never Been Kissed
Why hasn't anyone kissed Drew Barrymore yet?
Never Been Kissed

Office Space
Why is this considered by some the greatest cult movie of all-time?
Office Space

Why did someone recommend we read Eugene Onegin for my book group?

Why did they remake the film Point Blank and take out the parts that made it special?

Runaway Bride
Why were there so many Julia Roberts romcoms during the 90's?
Runaway Bride

South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut
Why did the censors not seem to be on the job during the Saddam/Satan sex scenes?
South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut

Star Wars: Episode I
Why did anyone ever think Jar Jar Binks was a good idea?
Star Wars: Episode I

Why does the Phil Collins song theme song always go running through my head if I ever think about this movie?

The Thomas Crown Affair
Why are we so intrigued by bored rich guys?
The Thomas Crown Affair

True Crime
Why is the efficacy of the death penalty still in question?
True Crime

The World is Not Enough
Why does James Bond endure?
The World is Not Enough

*You may or may not consider 1999 the last year of the twentieth century. Either way, I do recommend reading Questioning the Millennium by Stephen J. Gould

**For more whys, I highly recommend reading Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener by Martin Gardner