Let’s Movie

Turner Classic Movies’ latest (err…last-year-latest) branding campaign turns what perhaps we typically think of as a passive activity — watching a movie — into a verb. The campaign invites those who love the movies to tune in (but not turn on or drop out) and enjoy movies as they were meant to be — commercial-free, uncut, and presented in their original format — on TCM. TCM has furthermore invited movie fans to share their favorite things about the movies — not a list of your favorite movies or the best movies but instead a list of moments, lines, and visuals that have made a lasting impression on you and encapsulate what you love about the wonderful world of film.

I recently finished reading Furious Love, a book about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It tells of how Burton was initially unimpressed with Taylor as an actress. “She’s just not doing anything,” he complained to Joe Mankiewicz, Cleopatra‘s director. Then Mankiewicz showed him Taylor’s impact onscreen and from her, Burton learned how the visual element of film could often trump the spoken element of theater. Some of my very favorite moments are those subtle, visual moments that you have to watch for closely (sometimes these moments prompt explanation in the list that follows, sometimes they don’t), but still many of the items on this list are simply lines that have often crept into my everyday dialogue. It was surprisingly difficult for me to come up with 100 different items without resorting to citing multiple moments in the same films, so I didn’t. So, in no particular order with no rhyme or reason or much thought at all, here are some of my favorite things about the movies…

1. Brando’s Grief (On the Waterfront, 1954)

Terry Malloy (Brando) has testified against Johnny Friendly, and all of his friends are angry at him–even the young “Golden Warriors” Terry has befriended. Terry, who keeps pigeons, goes up on the roof to check on his pigeons. He finds that they are all dead, killed by the youth who once idolized him. “What did he have to do that for? Every one of them.” Edie (Eva Marie Saint) has again followed him and calls his name, attempting to comfort him. Brando does not face her but turns into the pigeon coop and waves her away meekly with his hand. He needs to grieve alone–just for a moment. And Brando communicates this with a single gesture — Best Actor, indeed.

2. “Hey, Boo.” (To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962)

3. Oscar’s Breakdown (The Odd Couple, 1968)

“I can tell you exactly what it is. It’s the cooking, the cleaning, the crying. It’s the talking in your sleep. It’s those moose calls that open your ears at 2:00 in the morning. I can’t take it anymore, Felix, I’m cracking up. Everything you do irritates me, and when you’re not here, the things I know you’re gonna do when you come in irritate me. You leave me little notes on my pillow. I’ve told you 158 times I cannot stand little notes on my pillow. ‘We are all out of corn flakes. F.U.’ Took me three hours to figure out that F.U. was Felix Ungar.”

One hundred and fifty-eight times. Not just one hundred, one hundred and fifty-eight. I love the precision and efficiency of the entire script of The Odd Couple: every line has a purpose and nearly every line brings a laugh.

4. The Nose Swipe (The Sting, 1973)

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5. “HOT DOG!” (It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946)

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6. “Ha, ha, ha, ha! My mouth’s bleeding, Bert! My mouth’s bleeding! Zuzu’s petals… Zuzu… There they are! Bert, what do you know about that! MERRY CHRISTMAS!” (It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946)

Alright, have to stop quoting that movie now. Basically everything about It’s A Wonderful Life should be on this list. Every. Single. Thing. Oh, why don’t you stop annoying people! Really, I’m stopping now. Say, brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? Oops. Sorry. It’s this old house. I don’t know why we don’t all have pneumonia. Drafty old barn of a place. It’s like growing up living in a refrigerator. I just can’t help it. This film is in my DNA. Why? Because it’s beautiful and perfect and lovely and Zuzu’s petals!

7. Montgomery Clift’s Feeble Goodbye (The Young Lions, 1958)

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Noah Ackerman (Clift) has been drafted, and he says goodbye to his wife, whom he’s just recently met and married. He kisses her and then begins to walk down the street. He turns around half-way, hoping to see her once more, but he can only bare to stare for a few seconds. He slowly turns and begins to walk again, and he lifts his right hand in an effort to wave, but he only manages to raise it to his waist and give a pathetic and heartbreaking wave.

8. “Hubbell, people ARE their principles!” (The Way We Were, 1973)

9. Robert Mitchum’s entire presence in Cape Fear (1962). 

In a word, creepy. It keeps me awake at night. Just plain old creepy.

10. “Po-tat-oes. Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick in a stew.” (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002)

11. “My, she was yar.” (The Philadelphia Story, 1940)

12. “Excuse me.” (The Philadelphia Story, 1940)

Stewart’s unscripted hiccup almost made Grant lose it. Classic. 

13. Maggio’s death in From Here to Eternity (1953)

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“But it was the death scene that got them, he knew it. He and Monty had talked about that scene a dozen times. The trick, according to Clift, was not overplaying it. Dying was like snow falling.” — James Kaplan, Frank: The Voice 

I love that quote from James Kaplan’s amazing biography about Sinatra. It sounds just like Clift, and it is so, so, so true. Clift was the master of not overplaying anything–ever–and his effect on Sinatra’s acting was palpable. Sinatra was never better (as an actor, anyway).

14. “Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?” (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969)

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15. What was that? (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951)

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Just thinking out loud here…should Brando’s body in Streetcar be a separate entry? Not trying to objectify him or anything, but really, it was a work of art, the peak of all male beauty evereverever, something to be treasured and admired for all time and eternity, an inducer of drool and convulsions…

16. Best Dressed – Romper Division, 1964

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Hey, here’s the King of objectifying: James Bond!

17. “Yeah ho, leetle fish…” (Captains Courageous, 1938)

Ah, Spencer Tracy’s fake Portuguese accent.

18. “Listen, I don’t mean to be a sore loser, but when it’s done, if I’m dead, kill him.” (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969)

Love to.

19. “We all go a little mad sometimes.” (Psycho, 1960) 

20. “God bless you, too.” (The Misfits, 1961)

This scene — Clift’s first appearance an hour into the film — is often cited as one of his best performances by fans and critics alike, its popularity attested by the fact that in Clift’s copy of the script at the New York Public Library’s Performing Arts archive, this one page has been stolen.

What I love most about this scene is how Clift seamlessly uses the phone booth as a prop. The door is casually left open when the conversation is light and non-invasive–Perce boasts of his recent accomplishments in the rodeo and sends his love and greetings to his family back home; the door is hastily closed to prevent his new and old acquaintances from hearing–or seeing, rather–his fractured state–the arguments with his mother about spending his rodeo money and his relationship with his stepfather.

And I think part of what makes this scene–and this character–so real, so very real, is that Clift embodies it almost perfectly. Perce, like Clift (especially at this time in his life), is self-destructive and lonely. He later tells Roslyn his friends and girlfriend abandoned him a year previously, and he has no one talk to. Many of Clift’s friends, too, severed him, particularly after his accident and further spiral into drug addiction, branding him a lost cause. Perce’s relationship with his mother is strained, as evidenced by the phone call; Clift’s suffocating and tumultuous relationship with his own mother arguably fueled many of his deep-rooted and life-long problems. And when Perce emphatically states, “Oh, no, no, no, my face is fine. It’s all healed up. Just as good as new.” Well, my heart just breaks.

The most devastating line of the phone call, however, is reserved for last. The operator has notified Perce his call is about to expire, and Perce hurriedly tells his mother to tell his relatives, whom he lists by name, hello for him. An argument about his stepfather–and his failure to specifically ask his mother to say hello to him–ensues. And subsides. The door is, of course, closed. Perce promises to call at Christmastime and anxiously asks, “Hello? Hello?”, wanting to tell his mother one more thing. The call has been disconnected. “God bless you, too,” he mutters–presumably to dead air.

21. CALVIN: Don’t admire people too much. They’ll disappoint you sometimes.
CONRAD: I’m not disappointed. I love you.
CALVIN: I love you, too.
— Ordinary People, 1980

22. “Shut up and deal.” (The Apartment, 1960)

23. “Lorraine, my density has popped me to you.” (Back to the Future, 1985)

24. “Fiddle-dee-dee!” (Gone with the Wind, 1939)

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25. “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.” (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969)

26. Sam Spade. That is all. (The Maltese Falcon, 1940)

The movie that made me realize how cool Humphrey Bogart is. Like, so cool. And the Maltese Falcon is my token of choice in TCM’s Scene It. I win every time. Just sayin’.

27.  “Buzzard’s guts, man! I am the President of the United States, clothed with immense power! You will procure me these votes.” (Lincoln, 2012)

Just…Buzzard’s guts, man. And, well, Daniel Day-Lewis is exceptional. When you think about it, he really is the most amazing actor. He is so different and distinct in each role; he immerses himself so fully in each of his roles that he becomes those characters.

28. “I’m obsessed, thank you very much.” (St. Elmo’s Fire, 1986)

Basically, the entire character of Kirby Keager should be on this list. “Quick, what’s the meaning of life?” “Dale Biberman.” Emilio Estevez is great — he plays this character, whose fascination and obsession with this girl is actually quite creepy when you think about it, so earnestly and with such innocence that you are kind of rooting for Kirby when he pulls up to that snow-covered cabin.

29.  “Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” “What d’ya got?” (The Wild One, 1953)

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So cool, yet so hot at the same time. Sigh.

Brando said he personally identified with Johnny’s response, that the line reflected his individual feelings and beliefs about life as a whole. Watching The Wild One now, it’s extremely dated, yet the film did represent a specific attitude of its time and spoke to young people of that generation–and perhaps still can speak. I love that a movie, so dated and seemingly obsolete, can encompass a time so completely yet still have the power to be relevant across time and shifting mores.

30. Mike Love elicits sympathy in Love and Mercy (2015). 

Weird, right? Mike Love, whose upcoming memoir Little Douche Coupe is set for release in September, is a total jerk — even in the movies. Watching Love and Mercy the oh, I don’t know seventeenth time, though, I found myself feeling sorry for his character and gaining a better understanding of what he might have been feeling.

In the movie, Mike visits Brian at his home. Brian is playing the beginnings of a song on his piano, which is placed in a large sandbox in the middle of his living room. Pet Sounds has been released, was a disappointing commercial failure (it didn’t even go gold, man), and The Beach Boys are at a crossroads. Brian is obviously hurt and perhaps a little lost, pounding out these chords, searching for something, anything. Mike approaches the piano, and Brian says, staring down at the piano keys as if he’s embarrassed to look Mike in the eye, “I have this song playing over and over in my head. I just don’t have the words or the melody. Do you have anything?” He finally looks up at Mike, and the camera turns to Mike, whose expression reveals how much he craves the companionship and approval of his cousin. Brian wrote Pet Sounds without any input from Love at all and even though I tend to believe that Love probably over-states his contribution to The Beach Boys’ golden formula, he was Brian’s most frequent collaborator. It must have been difficult for him to be cast aside for reasons he could never really understand, and in this moment, I can just see how much he wants to be a part of the songwriting process with his cousin again.

31. Diagnosing Bob (What About Bob?, 1991)

Bob Wiley: Well, I get dizzy spells, nausea, cold sweats, hot sweats, fever blisters, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, blurred vision, involuntary trembling, dead hands, numb lips, fingernail sensitivity, pelvic discomfort.
Dr. Leo Marvin: So the real question is, what is the crisis Bob? What is it you’re truly afraid of?
Bob Wiley: What if my heart stops beating? What if I’m looking for a bathroom, I can’t find it, and… my bladder explodes?

32. “I can eat fifty eggs.” (Cool Hand Luke, 1967)

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“Why you got to go and say fifty eggs for? Why not thirty-five or thirty-nine?” “I thought it was a nice round number.”

33. Denys: You’ve ruined it for me, you know.
Karen Blixen: Ruined what?
Denys: Being alone.
— Out of Africa (1985)

I don’t know that a better expression of love exists.

34. Ricky Nelson’s picture falling off the wall in The Parent Trap (1961). 

That is the only appropriate response when someone does not know who Ricky Nelson is, which is, unfortunately and tragically, becoming more and more common. Ya’ll have no sense of history.

35. The first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan (1998). 

I can’t believe those boys–yes, just boys–did that. For me, for you, for the world. Of course they would have rather been at home, going to college, working a job, playing  baseball, but they did it, and I can have never really know what that was like, but the first twenty or so minutes of this movie offers a glimpse.

36. Sonny Corleone beats up Carlo. (The Godfather, 1972)

What can I say? I rather crave violence. I love every minute of The Godfather. And The Godfather II. We don’t really talk about The Godfather III.

37. “Thank you, Mr. Willy. Thank you. You’ve made my day.” (The Goonies, 1985) 

38. “Attention campers. Lunch has been cancelled due to lack of hustle. Deal with it.” (Heavyweights, 1995) 

39. “I could never love anyone as I love my sisters.” (Little Women, 1994)

As much as I love books (considering seeking treatment for my addiction) I’m not a believer in the “book is always better than the movie.” I’m just not. Because the movie offers an interpretation, a vision, and sometimes — like the 1994 adaptation of my beloved Little Women — the actors are the perfect manifestations of the characters that previously only existed on the page and in my head. They are tangible.

40. James Dean in East of Eden (1955)

I never really ‘got’ James Dean until I saw East of Eden. I’d seen Rebel Without a Cause and was unimpressed. Years and years (or so it seemed) later, I finally watched East of Eden and was struck by his layered performance of vulnerability, innocence, romance, and defiance. It’s still my favorite performance of his and the one that made me re-examine him as an actor.

41. The Friendship of Elwood P. Dowd & Harvey (Harvey, 1950)

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“Well, thank you Harvey! I prefer you too.”

42. “This is The Voice of Doom calling.” (The Philadelphia Story, 1940)

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Your days are numbered to the day of the seventh sun of the seventh sun! Some people think Jimmy Stewart’s win for The Philadelphia Story was just a delayed Oscar for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Maybe. But he’s absolutely wonderful in this movie, delivering this line with the perfect balance of disgust, nonchalance, and humor.

43. “NO SALE” (BUtterfield 8, 1960)

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44. “Hey mister, can we have our ball back?” (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964)

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So apparently not everyone thinks this movie is a classic or even funny. My family recently revealed this to me, stating, “It’s funny if you like them [The Beatles].” Uh, what? And what kind of demented and unbalanced individuals don’t like The Beatles? I don’t even wanna know. I love The Beatles, and I love this movie. It is pure joy.

45. “Well, nobody’s perfect.” (Some Like It Hot, 1959)

 

I can’t make it to 100. I’m tired. And I don’t know, it’s a very specific-to-me list that perhaps does not make any sense or have any purpose to anyone else on the planet. But I love the movies. They offer these moments that can be shared, that can bring understanding, that can allow us to suspend disbelief and be delighted by the adventures of a mischievous cat who happens to be the FBI’s leading informant or be startled and frightened repeatedly by a shark that looks slightly fake (even in Jaws 19) or be utterly heartbroken when Barbra Streisand strokes Robert Redford’s hair (she was the only one who believed he could write that second novel, who could push him to write it, who really loved him, goshdarnit!). Watching a movie — really watching a movie — is anything but a passive activity. It’s a verb. Let’s movie.

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Five Favorite Roald Dahl Stories

A bulk of my time the past few weeks has been spent delving into the life and work (as far as children’s literature) of Roald Dahl for a project. Reading his works as a child, they were quirky, humorous, and magical. Reading his works as an adult, then, they unsurprisingly held that same magic. Equally captivating and complex was his life, which would merit a biography even if he had not eventually created the multitude of scrumdiddlyumptious stories that he thankfully did. Now having read all of his children’s works (looking toward his adult fiction next), some for the first time, here are five — or maybe more — of my favorites…

1. Danny, the Champion of the World 
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“I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I’ve also learned that a real mouth smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you with his mouth but his eyes stay the same. It’s sure to be a phony.” 

This may be the most sentimental, most grounded in reality (no talking animals or magical powers here), most wonderful of all Dahl’s stories. It’s about a young boy, Danny, who lives with his marvelous father in a gypsy caravan. His father operates a filling station by day and engages in poaching pheasants by night. The pheasants inhabit the property of a cruel rich man, Victor Hazell, who sets a trap for poachers, namely Danny’s father. As opening day for pheasant season, on which Mr. Hazell hosts a extravagant party for stuffy rich people, nears, Danny devises a plan to poach ALL the pheasants before the big day — and if he succeeds, he will become the champion of the world!

The relationship between Danny and his father is so sweet — Danny thinks his father is the most wonderful person in the world, and he is! He teaches him, listens to him, walks him to school each day, and tells him bedtime stories, one of which features a character called The BFG…

2. The BFG

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“‘A whizzpopper!’ cried the BFG, beaming at her. ‘Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping is forbidden among human beans?'” 

Whizzpopping = farting. The BFG speaks his own language, and it is wonderful.

The Big Friendly Giant, aka The BFG, collects and delivers good dreams to children. He is not like the other giants who are cruel, stupid, and eat humans. He is kind, eats snozzcumbers, and teaches himself new words by reading books by Dahl’s Chickens. (Get it? Dahl’s Chickens = Charles Dickens.) One night he captures a little orphan girl, Sophie, and they become friends. Together, they set out to rid the human world of those nasty, human-eating giants.

The BFG, who made his first appearance in Danny, the Champion of the World, was also a bedtime story Dahl would tell his own children, once going so far as to even dress up and visit his daughters’ bedroom window, pretending to be the BFG.

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox

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“‘I should like you to know that if it wasn’t for your father we should all be dead by now. Your father is a fantastic fox.'” 

Mr. Fox is absolutely fantastic. He is so clever and outwits those three horrid farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. He does this because he is fantastic and clever and loves his family very much. Some have claimed this is the most autobiographical of all Dahl’s works, as he saw himself as a sort of Mr. Fox, a paterfamilias who held his young family together through crisis after tragedy after crisis — an accident that jeopardized the life of his young son Theo (resulting in Dahl eventually creating a new cerebral shunt to drain excess fluid from the brain), the death of his young daughter Olivia from measles encephalitis, and the stroke of his first wife, Patricia Neal. He even began to think that he was plagued with a neurological curse (he himself had suffered severe head injuries following a crash in his plane en route to his squadron in World War II). But he was resilient. And absolutely fantastic. Just like Mr. Fox.

And because this is relevant to my interests, here’s Damon Albarn reading an excerpt from Fantastic Mr. Fox:

Sigh. What a reading voice!

4. Matilda

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“‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked. ‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh.'” 

Matilda is a bright, humble, young girl whose abilities go unnoticed and unnourished by her uncaring and dishonest parents, and so she escapes into a world of books. Miss Honey is her kind teacher who recognizes how special she is. But Miss Honey has problems of her own — like her cruel aunt who robbed her of her inheritance, Miss Trunchbull, who also happens to be the principal of Matilda’s school. Miss Trunchbull is truly horrid, throwing “naughty” children into the “chokey” and making a young boy sick on chocolate cake. Dahl had similarly cruel headmasters, masters (teachers), and matrons at the English boarding schools he attended. Unlike Matilda, however, he did not have any special powers to exact revenge on them. Then again, creating books filled with horrible characters based on those old teachers just might be the best revenge and most special power of all.

5. The Witches

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“‘Tell me what else to look for in a witch,’ I said. ‘The eyes,’ my grandmother said. ‘Look carefully at the eyes because the eyes of a REAL WITCH are different from yours and mine. Look in the middle of each eye where there is normally a little black dot. If she is a witch, the black dot will keep changing color, and you will see fire and you will see ice dancing right in the very centre of the coloured dot. It will send shivers running all over your skin.'”

Dahl’s father died when he was 3, but his mother was a great influence on him, telling him great stories about Norwegian myths, legends, and mythical creatures that would influence him as a storyteller. The grandmother in The Witches is undoubtedly his literary tribute to her. She, like his own mother, tells the story’s protagonist, a young orphaned boy, great stories, including a handful about REAL witches. Yes, there are real witches, and oh, are they horrid. While staying in a hotel, the young boy discovers the Grand High Witch conducting the annual meeting of England’s witches. During the meeting, the Grand High Witch unveils an evil plan to turn ALL of England’s children into mice. The young boy and his grandmother then design a plan of their own to rid England of all its witches.

Although I kept waiting for the story to end differently, I am sort of glad it didn’t. Its ending celebrates a love based on the kind of person you are inside, not what you look like on the outside. And they said Roald Dahl was macabre…

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 

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“‘I don’t want a grown-up person at all. A grown-up won’t listen to me; he won’t learn. He will try to do this his own way and not mine. So I have to have a child. I want a good, sensible, loving child, one to whom I can tell all my most precious sweet-making secrets – while I am still alive.'”  

Of course I have to mention Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Nearly everyone knows the story of poor Charlie Bucket, who finds the final coveted golden ticket to enter Willy Wonka’s marvelous chocolate factory. I love the Oompa Loompas singing their songs to those naughty, naughty children. I love the idea of a chocolate river. I love the idea of winning a golden ticket, visiting this extraordinary chocolate factory, and eventually inheriting that factory.

One of Dahl’s happier experiences during his time at boarding school was that he was able taste-test chocolate bars for Cadbury, inspiring a lifelong love of chocolate. He was an expert on chocolate and its history. He ate a chocolate bar every day and instead of throwing the silver wrapper away, would roll it into a ball, which he kept in his writing hut. Love this guy.

7. Boy: Tales of Childhood  

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“One day, when we lifted it up, we found a dead mouse lying among our treasures. It was an exciting discovery. Thwaites took it out by its tail and waved it in front of our faces. ‘What shall we do with it?’ he cried.
‘It stinks!’ someone shouted. ‘Throw it out of the window quick!’
‘Hold on a tick,’ I said. ‘Don’t throw it away.’
Thwaites hesitated. They all looked at me.
When writing about oneself, one must strive to be truthful. Truth is more important than modesty. I must tell you, therefore, that it was I and I alone who had the idea for the great and daring Mouse Plot. We all have our moments of brilliance and glory, and this was mine.
‘Why don’t we’, I said, ‘slip it into one of Mrs. Pratchett’s jars of sweets? Then when she puts her dirty hand in to grab a handful, she’ll grab a stinky dead mouse instead.'”

Part of what made Dahl such an effective writer for children was that he was able to enter the mind of a child so easily, remembering how they see the world. That skill partly derived from his equally important skill of being able to vividly recall his own childhood, a skill he deftly demonstrates in Boy. Although Dahl occasionally sacrificed complete factual accuracy for the sake of an exciting and entertaining narrative, Boy is nonetheless rooted in reality and is as compelling as any fictional story he ever wrote. The Great Mouse Plot is incredible.

Roald Dahl was a spectacular storyteller. His stories are varied and timeless — and hopefully children (and adults, too!) will continue to read (…kids still read, right?) and enjoy them for years and years to come.

Best Actor: 1953

Just shy of a year later…The Oscars series returns, with another round of the Best Actor nominees — this time ’round featuring the nominees of 1953! The purpose of this series is to examine and rank past Oscar-nominated performances — who won and who should have won? And to refresh your memory (and mine!), here are the criteria I have established in reviewing and ranking performances:

  • Is this a believable performance? Or, rather, is the actor utterly captivating, pulling me into their performance for the entire duration of the film? Do I forget that this actor is…well, acting?
  • Does the actor and his performance make (…or break) the film?
  • Would I watch this film again? Would I recommend it to other people?
  • The complexity/depth of the performance.

The nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role of 1953 were as follows:

  • Marlon Brando, Julius Caesar 
  • Richard Burton, The Robe
  • Montgomery Clift, From Here to Eternity
  • William Holden, Stalag 17 
  • Burt Lancaster, From Here to Eternity 

Think you know who I’m going to give the Oscar to? Who do you think should have won the Oscar? Let’s see how our rankings compare! (I’m feeling a bit like Ellery Queen here, challenge to the reader and all.)

5. Richard Burton in The Robe **/*****

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That’s the exact expression I had while watching this movie. Flattering, huh?

This was Richard Burton’s second Oscar nomination (although his first for a Best Actor in a Leading Role). He did not win. He would be nominated a total of seven times and amazingly, he never won.

The premise of The Robe is that it answers the question: what happened to the Roman soldier who won Jesus’ robe in a dice game?

Richard Burton plays that Roman soldier, Marcellus Gallio, who is cruel, condescending, and a womanizer to boot. When he wins Christ’s robe in a dice game at the site of the crucifixion, he is cursed by his slave, Demetrius, and is furthermore plagued by guilt and nightmares, leading people to believe he is crazy (which he kind of is). In an effort to rid himself of this guilt, he searches for Demetrius, who now possesses the robe, with the plan to destroy the robe, which he believes in turn will cause the nightmares to cease. Instead, however, after a series of events and meetings, he becomes converted to Christianity.

You would expect such a dramatic transformation to be extraordinary and rich with palpable emotion. This performance, however, is rather dull and flat, with little depth. I kept waiting to feel something, to care about this character and what happened…but I never did. Caligula was more interesting to me because…well, it was Caligula, so of course it was entertaining.

I think Burton was a great actor (or at least I remember him as being so in what films my 9th grade World Geography teacher showed our class…don’t ask), but this was not a very good performance, and it did not deserve the Oscar. Maybe next time!

4. Marlon Brando, Julius Caesar ***/*****

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Yo, wassup, Brand-o?

This was Marlon Brando’s third (in a row!) Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He did not win. He would be nominated a total of eight times and win twice, in 1954 for On the Waterfront and in 1972 for The Godfather (an honor which he famously rejected).

Ouch. It hurts to see Brando ranked fourth out of five because it’s Brando and I love Brando. Frankly, however, when I was reviewing which films/performances I needed to watch/review for 1953, I completely forgot that he was even nominated, signaling that this was not a standout performance. Reviewing the film, however, it’s not so much that it’s not a standout performance (indeed, it’s a very, very good one) as that it’s more of a supporting performance. Perhaps a Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination would have been more suitable for James Mason as Brutus, while nominating Brando in the Best Supporting Actor category. At the same time, however, every time Brando enters a scene, he commands your attention. You can’t take your eyes off him!

Brando had been deemed “The Mumbler” and doing Shakespeare was seen as a chance to disprove that title. He does a fantastic job — the guy could do it all! — the famous speech of Mark Antony is especially impressive. Check it out:

Goosebumps!

In Brando’s autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, he wrote of his experience making Julius Caesar: “After being a Mexican revolutionary, I played Mark Antony in Julius Caesar. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the director, assembled a good cast, including Louis Calhern, James Mason, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr, Edmond O’Brien and John Gielgud, who played Cassius. Though English actors generally are far superior to American actors in their style, speech and familiarity with Shakespeare, many British actors, like Maurice Evans, are no better than we are in his plays. It takes someone of Gielgud’s stature to perform with authority because he has played most of the important Shakespeare roles. But for me to walk onto a movie set and play Mark Antony without more experiences was asinine.”

I think Brando was being a bit harsh — he did a great job. (And he looked pretty good in those skimpy Roman outfits, too.) There were, however, stronger and more captivating performances deserving of the Oscar that year.

3. William Holden, Stalag 17 ****/*****

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“I’m no escape artist…You can be the heroes, the guys with the fruit salad on your chest. Me, I’m staying put. And I’m gonna make myself as comfortable as I can. And if it takes a littler trading with the enemy to get me some food or a better mattress…that’s okay by Sefton.” 

This was William Holden’s second Oscar nomination. He won! He was nominated a total of three times, with this being his only win.

William Holden plays Sefton, an American airman in a German Prisoner of War camp. Sefton is cynical and practical. He derides the others’ attempts at escape. He has decided to make the best of his situation, trading cigarettes (which he mostly wins by betting with the other prisoners) with the Germans for food and favors. Because of this behavior and certain occurrences demonstrating that someone inside their camp is keeping the Germans informed of their plans and deviations, he is soon accused of  being a “stoolie.” After suffering physical abuse because of this accusation, he becomes determined to reveal the true rat.

Holden gives an excellent, gripping performance, pulling you into the story, gluing you to the screen as you become determined as him to uncover the truth. You grow to care about Sefton, cynical and unsympathetic as he is at times. Still, at the end of the film, you, like the others, wonder what made him do it. (What “it” is…you have to watch the film to see!) Holden’s performance earned the Oscar. I just happen to think two others may have earned it more — an opinion Holden himself held!

Good on Holden for giving the shortest Oscar acceptance speech on record: “Thank you.”

2. Burt Lancaster, From Here to Eternity ****/*****

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This was Burt Lancaster’s first Oscar nomination. He did not win. He would be nominated a total four times, winning once in 1960 for Elmer Gantry.

Aren’t you proud of me for resisting the temptation to use a screencap of a half-naked Lancaster on the beach? I am. Aren’t you disappointed in the Academy for resisting giving Lancaster the Oscar just for being half-naked on the beach? I am.

burt lancaster & deborah kerr - from here to eternity 1953

Oh, you didn’t really think I had that much willpower, did you?

Moving on from Burt Lancaster’s booty to his actual performance…Lancaster brings the perfect mixture of toughness and gentleness to the role of First Sergeant Milton Warden, a man who loves the Army more than anything, including the woman he loves, yet despises and undermines the corruption and cruelty of Captain Holmes. Even though he is no nonsense on the surface, there is a warmth and gentleness to Lancaster’s performance that lets you know Warden is a good, kind man underneath his tough exterior, which, I think, is slowly revealed through his relationship with Clift’s Private Prewitt, a man he at first believes to be stubbornly stupid but by the film’s end perhaps realizes he has more in common with him than he initially thought.

I was torn between Lancaster and Holden — I think their performances are equal in terms of quality and depth, and I can’t exactly pinpoint what made me pick Lancaster over Holden — perhaps a personal preference for Lancaster or a character with more depth or maybe an overall preference for From Here to Eternity

1. Montgomery Clift, From Here to Eternity *****/*****

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This was Montgomery Clift’s third Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He did not win (again). What the heck, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences? He would be nominated a total of four times, and he would sadly never win — unjustly so.

There was no question for me as to who should have won the Oscar this year. Montgomery Clift as Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is undoubtedly the heart of this film. Director Fred Zinneman noted: “Clift forced the other actors to be much better than they really were. That’s the only way I can put it. He got performances from the other actors, he got reactions from the other actors that were totally genuine.” Indeed, both Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed, who each won Supporting Actor and Actress Oscars for their performances in From Here to Eternity, would credit Clift with helping them craft and perfect their performances.

Prewitt is a loner, a principled man whose choices and actions do not make much sense to others but to him are simple — in a way, Prewitt is an embodiment of Clift himself. Prewitt switches companies after being relegated to second Bugler in his previous outfit not because of talent or skill but favoritism. When he arrives at his new company, he is immediately pressured by the crooked Captain Holmes to join the boxing team, which he refuses to do despite continuous pressure and cruelty. To Lancaster’s Warden, this is stupid, and he tells Prewitt so.

Warden: You know what you did just now when you turned down dynamite Holmes? You put your head in a noose. Things are soft for a boxer in this outfit. Otherwise, you’d better know how to soldier.
Prewitt: I can soldier with any man.
Warden: You’ll fight, Prewitt. You’ll fight because Captain Holmes wants to be Major Holmes. He’s got an idea he’ll make it if he gets a winning team. And if you don’t do it for him, you’ll do it for me, ’cause my job is to keep him happy, see? The more he’s happy, the less he bothers me and the better I run his company. So we know where we stand, don’t we, kid?
Prewitt: I know where I stand. A man don’t go his own way, he’s nothin’.

“I know where I stand. A man don’t go his own way, he’s nothin’.” These are probably my favorite lines in the entire film and lines that better than any other encapsulate the character of Prewitt.

Clift, as always, puts so much into his performance. From the moment the novel From Here to Eternity was published, he hoped to play Prewitt in a screen adaptation. He envisioned Prewitt as an inarticulate man and thus cut his dialogue as much as possible. Furthermore, he modeled his subtle accent on recordings of Kentucky speech he tracked down with director Fred Zinneman. He spent hours learning and practicing the bugle, even though he knew he would not actually be playing in the film. He complete engrosses himself in the character, and as a result, he pulls you in with him. His performance is, in a word…meticulous, fearless, emotional, breathtaking, flawless, unforgettable.

This performance matches every criteria I have set for reviewing performances. Yes, this performance is believable and makes the film. Yes, I forget Montgomery Clift is acting. Yes, I would watch this film again and recommend it to other people. Yes, there is a depth and feeling to this performance unmatched by any of the others. So why didn’t Clift win the Oscar? Karl Malden offered these thoughts: “Because he always became part of the warp and woof of a script. So much so that his artistry wasn’t always appreciated. If you watch him in From Here to Eternity, he completely immerses himself in the character and situation of Prewitt, so much so that he actually sinks into the flesh of the story.”

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What is your face? A work of art, that’s what. Your face was made to be seen in high definition, so let’s release as many of your films in Blu-Ray as soon as possible and there will finally be world peace. And your skill and talent as an actor — pure artistry. The best. My favorite. Always.

Previously: Best Actor 1951 

Up next (by Christmas, maybe): Perhaps a year where Montgomery Clift wasn’t nominated so I won’t be so doggone predictable.

Five Favorite Newly Discovered Rick Nelson Gems

After six months of listening to nothing but the Brothers Gibb, it regretfully reached a saturation point, and I forced myself to enter a new listening cycle. Chest hair, pearly white smiles, and tight white satin pants have been replaced by the laid-back, natural, gorgeous tones (and head and shoulders and knees and toes and eyes and ears and mouth and a nose – oh, a nose!) of Rick Nelson.

In case you’ve missed one of the recurring themes of this blog, I can’t just like something. I can’t just watch a movie. I can’t just read a book. I cannot — and I refuse to — just listen to a song or an album or an artist’s complete discography. I must completely immerse myself, devouring every last morsel of information and media available to me. I guess you could refer to it as an “obsession.” So right now, I’m obsessed with Rick Nelson…again. (I also tend to recycle my obsessions.) I’ve been tracking down episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet I haven’t seen (can’t wait for the ultimate box set to be released!), raiding the library of all their Rick Nelson materials (do you think they’ll notice if I don’t return them?), absent-mindedly drooling over my Rick Nelson records (I am going to have to start investing in those clear protective sleeves), and, of course, listening to all the Rick Nelson I can, all in my search for THE REAL RICK:

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(Yeah, I have totally been carrying this picture around with me and pulling it out, asking people if they know or have seen THE REAL RICK. No one’s signed me up for any medical attention…yet.)

And whatd’yaknow, the real Rick — I think — is not found in the wise cracks of an irrepressible kid or the idealistic portrayal of life found on his family’s television show (which I love dearly) or even his dreamy blue eyes and long, long, long — man, are they long! — eyelashes but in his music. And, thankfully, there is so much music. So much, in fact, that I am still wading through it, trying to find it all, digesting it and loving it.

While digging through all this music, I have enjoyed listening to old favorites and forgotten favorites, but I have most of all enjoyed discovering new songs I had never heard before — and here’s a list of a few, out of many, of my newly discovered favorites, most of which were never major hits (or minor hits or any kind of hit) and all, save one, were penned by Rick himself — yes, not only could this guy sing the phonebook, but he could write, too!

5. “Dream Lover”
Single, 1979

Rick’s cover of Bobby Darin’s 1959 hit is subtle, magical, and dreamier than the original (or any subsequent cover) ever even hinted was possible. His voice is older, maybe not quite as smooth as it once was, but still as beautiful and captivating as it ever was. I love that this song, which could have signaled yet another comeback for Rick, was released amidst the sea of Punk, New Wave, and Disco. Rick didn’t change his style to gel with current trends; he sang what he knew and loved.

4. “Gypsy Pilot”
Rudy the Fifth, 1971

As understated and gentle as “Dream Lover” is, “Gypsy Pilot” is as loud and guitar-fueled — maybe even the loudest and rockiest song of his career. The autobiographical lyrics also offer a fitting epitaph, particularly the last verse: “When they claim my body/They won’t have much to say/Except that he lived a good life/He lived every day/And I know he saw the sunshine/And I know he felt the rain/And he loved everybody/And he hopes you’ll do the same.”    

3. “Easy to Be Free”
Single, 1970

I love that in the clip posted above, Rick is peacefully standing amidst the open country. He is calm and steady and completely at ease; the music, like his surroundings in the clip, is breathtakingly beautiful and lulling, perfectly mirroring the lyrics expressing freedom and the peace it brings. The ease and naturalness with which he sings this song reflects, I think, how he lived his life and directed his career. At times in his career, the music he created didn’t necessarily follow what was popular in the charts or reflect what many people perceived his (or, rather, their) “image” to be, but he did what he loved and believed in. He was genuine and heartfelt and free. But I doubt it was truly easy — nothing really is.

2. “Are You Really Real?”
Garden Party, 1972

Oh, I love this song so much. Hidden on the Garden Party album, this has to be one of the most beautiful songs Rick ever wrote (seriously, this dude could write songs — who knew? Not enough people!) or recorded. With the yearning lyrics and his voice doubled for effect, it envelopes the listener into a kind of a trance — the kind of trance where once the song ends, you have to listen to it again. And again. And again. And again…

1. “Life”
Rudy the Fifth, 1971

The trance of listening to “Are You Really Real?” on repeat indefinitely can only be broken by listening to “Life” on repeat. Fact. This song is so simple, yet so poignant, and despite posing some of humanity’s common questions (“Tell me life, what are you here for?/Tell me life, I wanna know more/Tell me life, what are we here for?”), implying uncertainty and a desire to know more, the song exudes bliss. Still, when Rick asks, “Life, will you go on without me?”, in the song’s opening line, it’s sobering. Life has gone on without Rick, and it will go on one day without each of us. That last sentence looks so depressing in print, but I swear this song is not depressing. It’s beautiful, and I could listen to it all day. (Pssst, I already have.)

Oh, and check out this performance from 1972. I have no idea what the premise of this special (“Fol-de-Rol”, according to the description) was, but it features Rick as a kind of minstrel, replete with tights, so you know it’s totally worth your time.

Rick Nelson was a great artist, understated and under-appreciated. Miss him! Can’t wait to discover even more gems buried in his discography…

A Post About Nothing In Particular

Howdy. Long time, no post! So instead of writing a well-developed post about a film or an album or the answers to life’s questions, here’s a post about some important developments in my life. Make that some REALLY important developments in my life.

1. This is my new desktop:

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Why did I need a new desktop? Because I had received complaints about my Paul Weller desktop. Complaints like, “That desktop will blind you. Paul Weller’s beauty and perfection will blind you.” And so I changed it to this darling image of Liam Gallagher. And then I received more complaints. Complaints like, “How do you get any work done with that desktop background? How do you resist staring at it for hours? How do you resist stroking it and whispering, ‘My preciousssssssssssss!’?” (Psst, I didn’t.) So Ellery Queen it is. This is all very important information for you to have.

2. While searching for a high-quality image of Ellery Queen for my desktop background on Google, I came across many images used on my own blog, including ones of my cat. Really, Google? Is this how people stumble across this blog using keywords like “Peter Tork butt”? Allow me to clarify for all you Peter Tork butt searchers out there (no need to be ashamed — we all do it): There are no pictures of Peter Tork’s butt on this blog. Sorry. So, so, so, so sorry.

Anyway. I ended up relying on my own personal screencap collection of Ellery Queen. I had a hard time deciding on one. Here’s just a few of the many that were also in the running:

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Oh, Ellery, you’re rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock — and those other sleuths are just post-mix lemonade.

3. I’m officially in love with Sam Seaborn, Rob Lowe’s character on The West Wing. I’m a little sad because I only have two more seasons of Sam Seaborn, and then I have to make the decision whether I want to continue living, which, roughly translated, actually means I have to decide whether to continue watching the remaining seasons.

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YooOoouuuuu have got that face that just says, “Baby, I was made to break your heart.” 

I think this is the perfect opportunity to talk about my “teenage” (more like, lifelong) obsession with Rob Lowe, born out of reading The Outsiders. Rob Lowe as “handsomer than anyone I know” Sodapop Curtis? That is what we call letter-perfect casting, world. Anyway, I watched so many of his movies. So many of his movies were dumb. I had a homemade book. It was called “Britt’s Book of Hunks”, and it featured one hunk: Rob Lowe. I wasted all the printer’s ink on pictures of Rob Lowe, so it’s a limited edition–very rare and very valuable and I’m not selling it. I even bought a book about The West Wing not because I watched the show but because I knew it starred Rob Lowe. But I never read it, only looked at the pictures. But I’m watching The West Wing now and boy, am I obsessed. Rob Lowe is so amazing as idealistic, witty, freakishly talented Sam Seaborn. I feel like my obsession with Rob Lowe is FINALLY validated because Youngblood really was a dumb movie.

4. There are certain movies you must have seen in order to maintain friendly relations with me and my family. Heavyweights is one of them. And it has the best DVD Menu. Ever.

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Need I say more?

Pat Finley, please report to the men’s toilet immediately. Bring a mop and a plunger. Now. 

5. Arctic Monkeys released a new song last week, with their typical lack of fanfare. I just woke up one morning, and there it was. I thought I could just listen to it once and go about my day.

Wrong-o.

Yes, I listened to it once. And then I went about my day. But the song was in my head all day, and I was cranky and flippant and disinterested in everything until I listened to it again. And again. And again. And again.

How many secrets can you keep?
‘Cause there’s this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow and I play it on repeat
Until I fall asleep
Spilling drinks on my settee

Do I wanna know how many times I’ve listened to this song? No.

Oh, Arctic Monkeys, you’re rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock — and those other bands are just post-mix lemonade. Come on, September 9 & Album No. 5!

6. My sister begged me to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit yesterday. I did. And I won. It only took what felt like twelve hours, but I finally won. The winning question? “How many members are on the Jedi Council?” I guessed — Twelve. (My thought process: Jesus had twelve apostles. Should be good enough for George Freakin’ Lucas and the Jedi Council.) Correct! “This party’s over,” Mace Windu declared. Yessir.

I can’t wait to see what Episode VII is about. I mean, I’m not really sure I understand what the first six were about, but I can’t wait to see what Episode VII is about.

7. Speaking of my sister, she has now decided that A-ha’s “Take On Me” is not annoying and she actually likes it. This is a sad day because this means I can no longer torment her with my incessant rendition of it: I’ll be gone in a day or twoooooooooooooooo!

8. I finally saw Monsters University today and loved it. That’s right. I saw a movie made this century. [THE CROWD ROARS.] Anyway. It was so, so, so, so cute.

9. Not speaking of movies made in this century, I woke up a day last week or the week before last week or I can’t remember when because I actually am very old, remembering a dream I had had. In this dream, Marlon Brando was pouring me coffee in what I can only assume was our kitchen. I don’t drink coffee, but it’s Marlon Brando, so fill me up, buttercup. And Humphrey Bogart knocked on the door. Good ol’ Humph. He came by just to say hi and drink a cup of coffee with me and Marlon. You know–the usual. I don’t know what else happened–they probably laughed about how Marlon deserved the Oscar in ’51 more than Humphrey (and how Monty actually deserved it most of all), and I was probably too busy to engage in any conversation because I was trying to conceal the drool that was not-so-conspicuously flowing out of my mouth and flooding the kitchen.

And when I woke up, I realized that I was the only living person in my dream. Totally normal.

10. Finally watched the pilot of Person of Interest, starring Jim Ca-sizzle. (For some strange reasons, the credits list him as Jim Caviezel?)

casizzle

[“RUN TO ME” by The Bee Gees plays.]

When I say Ca, you say sizzle.

Ca! (Sizzle!) 

Ca! (Sizzle!) 

I haven’t tried this chant in public yet. Let me know what you think.

Anyway. The show is kind of awesome, and I’ll probably watch more of it once I get over Sam Seaborn.

11. Unofficially launching a visual companion to this blog via Pinterest. Give me six months to figure out how to use it, by which time it probably won’t be fashionable or useful to know how to use it.

12. I am now going to try to think of something worthwhile to write about. Or maybe I’ll just watch another episode of The West Wing because in case you missed it — ROB LOWE IS AWESOME.

Until next time.

Best Actor: 1951

A few weeks ago, Daniel Day-Lewis made Oscar history when he became the first male actor to earn three Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role. (Katharine Hepburn still holds the record for any performer–four Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role. That be my girl.) We all woo-hoo’d and hallejuah’d ’round here–not only because every superlative in existence could be applied to his performance as President Abraham Lincoln (or just one superlative: P-E-R-F-E-C-T) but also because no other actor in recent memory could be deemed more deserving of such an honor than Daniel Day-Lewis. This is, after all, the man who played Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, the movie I watched countless times and the character I proudly told anybody I had the courage to speak to as a four-year-old I would someday marry. Yes, I had a normal childhood.

Inspired by Day-Lewis’ historic win and a few other things (but mostly Daniel Day-Lewis), I decided to examine and rank previous Best Actor Oscar winners and nominations. Who won? Who should have won? I decided to first take a look at 1951, mainly because I was very familiar with three of the five nominated performances but also because it was an interesting year for acting with the arrival of Method Acting, perfectly executed by two its nominees. But before I delve into those actors and their performances, let’s establish some criteria that will direct my evaluations and rankings:

  • Is this a believable performance? Or, rather, is the actor utterly captivating, pulling me into their performance for the entire duration of the film? Do I forget that this actor is…well, acting
  • Does the actor and his performance make (…or break) the film?
  • Would I watch this film again? Would I recommend it to other people? 
  • The complexity/depth of the performance. Let me clarify this through an example: In 1973, Robert Redford was given his only (!!) Oscar nomination for acting for his performance in The Sting. Now, ya’ll know how I feel about Robert Redford. And if you don’t, I will tell you right now: I love Robert Redford. A lot. And The Sting is one of my favorite movies. And he is great in it. But I’m not sure that he really deserved the nomination for this role. More deserving that year was his performance as Hubbell Gardner in The Way We Were. But let’s not talk about The Way We Were because I’m starting to dissolve into a puddle of tears just thinking about it. Your girl is lovely, Hubbell! Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just rocking back and forth in my desk chair here, quietly sobbing. And not just because Hubbell belonged with Katie but because I’m thinking of Barbra Streisand brushing Robert Redford’s hair across his forehead…and I’m just really envious. I’m continuing that whole “normal childhood” thing into my adulthood.

Without further ado (or gushing about Robert Redford and his immaculate hair), here are my rankings of the Best Actor in a Leading Role nominees of 1951:

5. Fredric March in Death of a Salesman **/*****

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This was Fredric March’s fifth and final Oscar nomination. He did not win. He previously won in 1931 for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (tied with Wallace Beery for The Champ) and in 1946 for The Best Years of Our Lives.

In this production of Arthur Miller’s play, Willy Loman (Fredric March) is portrayed as a complete lunatic, something which disgusted the playwright. I spent much of the film wondering if I was supposed to feel something for this character or see some depth in him beyond the fact that he is insane? Because I didn’t feel it, and I didn’t see it. The film also inserts the flashbacks sloppily. I suppose that these flashbacks were supposed to demonstrate Willy’s descent into insanity, but they were integrated (or, rather, not integrated) into the story in such a way that they were frustrating. Regardless, this performance is lifeless and, quite frankly, boring.

Ultimately, I felt nothing watching this film, save boredom, and I would not watch it again. If I were in a high school English class reading Death of a Salesman and the teacher showed us this film, I would probably throw darts at a picture of that English teacher.

Just for fun, of course.

4. Arthur Kennedy in Bright Victory ***/*****

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This was Arthur Kennedy’s first and only Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He did not win. He received four Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role throughout his career but never won.

I had never heard of Bright Victory, which tells the story of Sergeant Larry Nevens, who is blinded by a German Sniper during World War II. Kennedy gives a fine performance as Nevens, who, when we first meet him, is cocky and unlikable. As Nevens comes to grips with his injury, however, Kennedy creates a character whom you feel sympathetic toward and whose fate you care about. Kennedy is especially effective in the first half of the film, before Nevens becomes too comfortable with himself as a blind man, particularly in the scene in which he tries to commit suicide after first learning of his permanent blindness and a later scene when he calls his parents and finally tells them the seriousness of his injury. Less effective, however, is the film’s subplot dealing with racism. While traveling to Valley Forge Hospital with other wounded soldiers, Nevens converses with another black soldier. When he realizes the soldier is black, he asks the nurse to sit by him instead. Nevens’ racism arises again when he befriends another blind soldier (who happens to be black) in the hospital and uses a racial slur casually one day, not knowing the race of his friend. There is silence, and instead of further conversation or exploration of his offense, the scene ends with the two parting ways. While this is later resolved, the entire subplot seems half-formed and leaves you wanting a more meaningful exploration of the issue.

Overall, however, this was a good performance in a good film. Good–not great, but by no means poor.

3. Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen ****/*****

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Humphrey Bogart received his second Oscar nomination for The African Queen. This was his only Oscar win. He was nominated two additional times, previously in 1943 for Casablanca and again in 1954 for The Caine Mutiny.

Some detractors may claim that Bogart’s win for The African Queen was the Academy’s attempt to mask a “Best Actor” award as a “Lifetime Achievement” award, thereby remedying its mistake of not awarding him the award for Casablanca. And while I obviously think there were at least two actors more deserving of this award in 1951, I do not think that by any means was this award undeserved. Bogart is very, very endearing and effective in this film. I mean, look at him up there imitating the hippos and monkeys.

Now, let’s get one thing straight here: I initially watched The African Queen for Katharine Hepburn. I was never drawn to Bogart and thus never felt compelled to watch any of his films (although I had watched Sabrina). He was just kind of this old, gruff actor to me. So The African Queen was a pleasant surprise.

Of course, a major draw of this film and Bogart’s performance (for me, at least) is his chemistry with Katharine Hepburn. I love how at the start of the film the two characters have absolutely nothing in common but slowly build a relationship as the film progresses. Amidst World War I, Charlie Allnut (Bogart) and Rose Sayer (Hepburn) are aboard The African Queen, a boat which they plan to convert into a torpedo boat and sink the enemy’s boat downstream–a plan suggested by Rose. Charlie, however, hoped that Rose would soon become discouraged and abandon the plan, but after they survive the first set of rapids, Rose becomes even more dedicated to their cause. She tells him, glossy-eyed, when he asks how she liked the rapids, “I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating! I’ve only known such excitement a few times before, a few times in my dear brother’s sermons when the spirit was really upon him!” Later, Charlie half-drunkenly reveals he never intended to complete their plan and insults Rose, who retaliates by branding him a liar and a coward–and promptly disposes of all the alcohol on board.

Then comes my favorite scene (outside of Bogart mimicking the hippos and monkeys, which is just fun) and one of Bogart’s best in the film.

Charlie attempts to apologize to Rose, by cleaning up his appearance (via shaving) and complimenting her. Rose completely ignores him, silently reading a book. Charlie grows frustrated, apologizes, and explains his actions, saying, “What ya bein’ so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in awhile–it’s only human nature.”

“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above,” replies Rose.

Touché!

In this scene, Bogart is adroitly conciliatory, frustrated, angry, pleading, and begrudgingly submissive in the space of just a few minutes. Even though (in my opinion) there were more deserving performances in 1951, Bogart earned this Oscar for a very good performance.

2. Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire *****/*****

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Brando received his first Oscar nomination for A Streetcar Named Desire. He did not win. He would be nominated an additional seven times (six Lead Actor nominations, one Actor in a Supporting Role) and won twice, in 1954 for On the Waterfront and in 1972 for The Godfather, an honor (some might call it an offer) he refused.

Update: I am now writing this blog toothless and hairless because I pulled out all my teeth and all my hair trying to rank these last two performances. Now that you have that lovely image in your head, let’s talk about something slightly more pleasant and pretty.

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“What’s that?”

“Oh, those cats. ME-OW!”

(That’s what I say when I see your face.)

So.

Brando.

Marlon Brando.

What do you say about one of the greatest screen performances of all-time? What do you say about an actor who took a flat, detestable character and made him explosive, sensuous, and vulnerable? And what do you say when you learn that this actor was robbed of the Oscar (co-stars Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden were all nominees and winners in their respective acting categories)?

You don’t “say” anything, per se, you just sort of do this:

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It’s really not fair. He should have won.

Still, there’s one more performance that I think was maybe–just maybe–even better.

1. Montgomery Clift, A Place in the Sun *****/*****

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This was Montgomery Clift’s second Oscar nomination. He did not win. He had been nominated in 1948 for The Search, would be nominated in 1953 for From Here to Eternity, and in 1961 for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Judgement at Nuremberg. He never won, and that is an absolute travesty.

According to Patricia Bosworth’s biography of the actor, Clift sometimes imitated Charlie Chaplin’s “goofy, expectant smile” in the last frames of City Lights, which a spectator described: “It was fascinating to watch him become a different person without uttering a sound. He could capture the essence of a personality, a character, instantly and not only that, make you experience a rush of emotion–and you had no idea how he did it.” Bosworth quotes a film director later observing this same technique, stating, “Montgomery Clift knows how to use silence and fill it up.”

And this is exactly what he does in A Place in the Sun. 

Clift portrays George Eastman, an ambitious young man who attempts to earn his own “place in the sun” by working his way up through his wealthy uncle’s prestigious company. Along the way, though, he falls in love with two women: Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), a fellow factory worker in the company and Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), a wealthy socialite. George and Alice’s romance must remain a secret, as it is against company policy, but it quickly moves further into the shadows as George becomes acquainted with Angela. It becomes even more complicated, however, when Alice reveals to George that she is pregnant.

Stop reading if you’ve never seen this film (watch it) and don’t want to be spoiled.

The only solution Alice and George are able to find is to marry and leave town and start a new life somewhere else, where nobody knows them. This plan, however, would thwart George’s designs for his “place in the sun.” He is also unwilling to give up Angela.

And so George plans (or does he?) to take Alice out in a boat on the lake and, knowing she cannot swim, drown her. As the two are in the boat, however, George begins to have second (and third…and fourth…) thoughts. In just a scene lasting just a few minutes, Clift expresses George’s contempt for Alice as she talks about what their married life would be like, then you see his face soften, feeling almost sorry for her, then you see him imagining drowning her, malice shining in his eyes, and he then again crumbles, unable to fathom going through with the murder. Clift faultlessly conveys this wrestling of emotions George has with himself–and he does it without uttering a single word. 

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It gives me goosebumps. It just might be Clift’s finest piece of acting–and that’s saying quite a lot.

But what follows is perhaps even more compelling and impressive acting by Clift. George is eventually arrested and put on trial for the murder of Alice. The film leaves it unclear whether George truly and maliciously murdered Alice Tripp. During the trial, George testifies that he could not go through with the murder and that he was thinking of someone else (Angela) while he and Alice were on that boat, not of murdering Alice, and that her death was an accident. You believe him. Clift makes you believe him. You believe him so much that when George is grilled by the prosecuting attorney, who declares, “You pushed that poor girl into the lake and watched her drown. Isn’t that the truth?” You sit there, shouting at the screen, “No! No, it isn’t! That isn’t the truth! He isn’t a murderer!” And you get so mad at that stinking lawyer, you just want to stick your tongue out at him. Or something slightly more menacing.

And then you remember…George Eastman is just a character. Montgomery Clift is an actor. This is just a movie.

But that is a testament to the power of Clift’s acting and skill. And that is what ultimately compels me to rank his performance at the top of this list.

But then I have a soft spot for Montgomery Clift.

I can’t believe he never won an Oscar.

I mean, shouldn’t he have at least got a special Oscar for that face?

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Lord have mercy.

Well, there you have it. In 1951, the Academy awarded Humphrey Bogart the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. But I would have given it to Montgomery Clift. Or Marlon Brando. Or Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando. Oh, think of all the beautiful photos of those two holding their awards together that could have been!

Now do I not only have no teeth, no hair, but I am officially just a puddle of nothing. Melted by visions of Brando and Clift. I must say, writing this blog post has done wonders for my complexion.

Okay. See ya next time.

(Note: This is a topic I may revisit occasionally–examining and ranking a given year’s nominees in Best Actor/Supporting Actor, Best Actress/Supporting Actress, Best Picture, although I doubt I will ever watch every Oscar-nominated film/performance ever because there are some films I have no desire to ever, ever watch, and I hope to someday have a life. I wouldn’t count on the latter ever happening, though.)

Noel Gallagher’s Cat Is More Rock ‘n’ Roll Than Justin Bieber…And So Is My Cat!

Earlier this past week, Justin Bieber was two hours late to one of his concerts in London. I don’t know if anybody really knows why or actually cares, but it was apparently a major news story.

Enter Noel Gallagher, purveyor of wisdom and insults. Pretty much every time he opens his mouth it greatly offends someone, somewhere. (Love him.) People think he does this on purpose. Most of the time, though, it results from a journalist asking him a direct, often insignificant and irrelevant, question. Journalists do this because: a) they are actually not all that intelligent and incapable of formulating strong, relevant questions to ask and b) they do have some brains, however, and know that Noel Gallagher has an opinion on just about everything–and his opinions make good copy, drawing more people to their publications/websites.

Anyway.

For some reason, Justin Bieber being late to his concert was a topic of conversation in an interview with Noel Gallagher, and when Gallagher asked why Bieber was late and was told it was reportedly due to Bieber playing video games, Gallagher responded, “That’s not very rock’n’roll, is it? My cat sounds more rock ’n’ roll that that.”

That makes a very good headline, doesn’t it?

And it’s probably 100% true. If there is any cat who is going to be “rock ‘n’ roll”, then it’s probably going to be Noel Gallagher’s. But I’d like to devote this post to my cat and how “rock ‘n’ roll” she is. Because I can.

Meet Ani!

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This is when she was just a little bitty baby. She was very, very cute. She still is very, very cute, but she is much bigger now. But this post is about how rock ‘n’ roll she is.

1. She poops in a litter box 97% of the time. The other 3% of the time she drops little turds wherever she wants. I don’t know how or why this happens. She gets excited and leaves the box before she finishes? Maybe. Whatever the reason, pooping wherever you want 3% of the time is pretty rock ‘n’ roll.

2. Sleeps all day. Parties all night. And by “all night”, I mean she decides to wake up and become active when I’m about ready to go to bed and then again very early in the morning when I do not even want to know that I exist. And once I am wide awake and unable to go back to sleep, she is…sleeeeeeeeepy.

3. She just hangs out in my sock drawer, if I leave it open and unattended for approximately three seconds. This is so very rock ‘n’ roll. IMG_0239

And yes, I consider a VHS copy of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to be a decoration. Robert Redford and Paul Newman are natural beautifiers.

4. I think Noel Gallagher once said that it was a rule for a rock star to wear sunglasses at all times, especially indoors.

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She doesn’t own a pair of sunglasses, but she would totally wear them all day if she could. Because the sun is…just…so…IRRITATING!!…when she’s trying to sleep. Which is pretty much all day.

5. She has a personal groomer, chef, and trainer. (Me, me, and me.) Maybe she’s not so much a rock star as she is a PRINCESS!!

6. She likes to travel the world. IMG_0144

Okay, so maybe not. Maybe she’s cried the entire time every time (a grand total of TWO times) she’s had to ride (short distances) in the car. Maybe the ONE TIME I left her for about four days, she plopped down on my carry-on bag as soon as I came home, clearly stating that I was NOT ALLOWED to take that bag anywhere, ever, unless she was in it, too.

7. This just screams ROCK ‘N’ ROLL to me: IMG_0244

8. As does this: IMG_0245

This cat does whatever she wants. Whenever she wants. Rock ‘n’ roll, man. Rock. ‘N’. Roll.

9. She is so so so SO cute. And she knows this. I know she knows this because: a) she acts like she is the queen of the universe 1000% of the time and b) I tell her she is the cutest thing in the world at least six times a day.

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Because she is. Obviously. And that’s so rock ‘n’ roll.

In summary, Noel Gallagher’s cat is more than likely more rock ‘n’ roll than Justin Bieber. And my Ani is definitely more rock ‘n’ roll than Justin Bieber.

P.S.

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This is my favorite soap opera.