Sunday, March 13, 2011

INTERMISSION AWARDS!

Awards presented by myself, a humble cinephile, based on the first half of TIME magazine's 2007 list of “All TIME 100 Films”.

So here it is. I have now made it virtually halfway through the mildly monumental task of watching 100 “shows” (actually 105 since several of them are separate films that constitute a “whole” one). In honor of this middle point, I offer a little intermission in the form of my own awards. There is, of course, no Art Deco statuette, cash prize, or any other reward of any practical use. Merely my respect, admiration, and even derision in one case.

Several of these awards will seem very familiar, as they are right in line with any standard film award show. A few others are of my own design based on other criteria that I and many others often apply to movies. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all thoroughly subjective and completely open to debate.

Without further ado, let's have a look at the “winners” and runners-up, starting with a best of the worst:

“Insufferable” Award - given for excellence in the field of making me wish I could have gotten back the hours of life I lost in watching this film. And the winner is...



I would have to be paid some SERIOUS cash to watch this schlock again. The shallow characters, the threadbare plot, the excruciatingly cheesy pop songs. It all added up to two hours that were only made bearable by my girlfriend and I cracking wise through the whole thing. Musicals are my least favorite genre, and Meet Me In Saint Louis only further strengthened its position as such.

Runner-Up: The Awful Truth (1937) – A bunch of fast-talking, condescending aristocrats goofing off. It was about as funny as rickets.

“That Dog Don't Hunt No More” Award- Given to the film that has lost the most luster over the succeeding years. Even the classics sometimes die. And the winner is...

The Crowd (1928)


It seems like the down-to-earth dialogue and several very creative camera shots stamped this movie in the minds of audiences and film aficionados for decades. Eighty-plus years later, this film is about as bland as raw tofu, and nearly all of the humor is unintentional. It still has a smidgen of charm, but overall is tiresome by nearly every modern standard.

Runner-Up: King Kong (1933) – Some people still love this original version, and I have to give it props for originality, ingenuity, and a spirit of adventure. Alas, 78 years of special effects and action movie evolution have seriously dimmed the great ape's former brilliance. Even the Eighth Wonder of the World gradually wears down, I guess.

And now, on to the more positive side of things...

“Fine Wine” Award- Given to the film that I believe will, in the year 2101, still hold a place among great films and be watched and discussed by some schmo like myself. And the winner is...

Ugetsu (1953)


This movie, along with only a few others from the first half, transcends merely powerful cinematic storytelling and brings us into the realm of more universal myth. It taps into centuries-old folktales, and is so well-crafted and faithful to the spirit of such myths that I can't help but think that it will possibly outlast every other movie on this list. And that's saying something.

Runners-Up (tie): The Olympiad (1936) and Man With a Movie Camera (1929). The former will appeal to sports historians for many decades to come, and the latter is perhaps the purest film, in terms of art, on the entire list. Neither one will be disappearing from the cinematic landscape any time soon.

“'I'm Not Talkin' Here!'” Award - Given to my favorite silent film from the list. Those movies in the days of yore when it all relied on either pure visual film technique, great sight gags, or some of both. And the winner is...



This one packed a serious punch. An epic story that is told in a tight 90 minutes, the brightest among this film's many bright elements is a fantastic leading performance by Emil Jannings, the very first Academy Award “Best Actor” winner for his role as a traumatized Czarist Russian general.

Runner-Up: Metropolis (1927). The original science-fiction masterpiece is still just that – a massive film that was so far ahead of its time that modern viewers can still find things to appreciate. The acting is necessarily way over the top, but the visuals are still well worth taking in.

“Subtitle Me!” Award - Given to my favorite film made by one of those non-English-speaking types. And the winner is...



This early, lighthearted number by oft-depressing Swedish master, Ingmar Bergman, was really fun. If one has to do a 19th-century aristocratic period piece, this is how to do it: sharp visuals, plenty of witty and dry humor, and consistently strong acting. I'll go back to this one sooner rather than later.

Runner-Up: Les enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise) [1945]. Grand in scope and in production, this French mammoth is worth the full 3 hours. It may drag in just a few places, but overall was well worth the time invested.

“Hidden Gem Award” - Given to the film that I previously knew absolutely nothing about, yet enjoyed immensely. And the winner is...



I had never so much as heard of this film, and I feel ashamed for it. It was so damned funny that I'm itching to watch it again already. It was hands-down the darkest comedy from the list so far, and may very well retain that title by the end. The British mastery of finding humor in normally dreadful and morbid doings is on full display in this one, wonderfully accented through Alec Guinness and his eight separate and hilarious roles.

Runners-Up (tie): Dodsworth (1936) and In A Lonely Place (1950). The former was wonderfully-executed tale of the American dream personified in the title character, who then grapples with unexpected personal obstacles. The latter was an incredibly tense character study of a deeply disturbed genius, played by Humphrey Bogart.

“'Just Because You Are a Character, Doesn't Mean That You Have Character' Award” - Given to the individual character that I liked the most. And the winner is...

Rick Blaine, Casablanca (1942)


It may not be an original choice, but Rick is the friggin' man, man. He's tough, sensitive, witty, and above all, smooth. Anyone who watches Casablanca wishes Rick were real and, like all the other characters in the film, rightfully wants to be on Rick's good side. He'll buy you a stiff drink, give you a fair shake, and if he likes you, he'll absolutely go to the mat for you.

Runner-Up: Jeff Markham, Out of the Past (1947). I seem to have a type. Jeff Markham is the archetype noir protagonist: quietly tormented, capable of great nobility, though subject to a few serious demons. He out-thinks, out-smokes, and out-sarcasms every other dark soul in the picture. His Achilles heel, just as with all noir tough guys, is a pretty face masking an absolute Gorgon.

“'I'm A Movie Star, Not an Actor!!'” Award – Given to the man whose performance I dug the most. And the winner is...

James Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949)


The little New Yorker went all in when he played this violent, ruthless, fully psychotic criminal with major mommy issues. Cagney injects every scene he's in with energy that magnetized me to the point that I was watching his every gesture and facial expression. And that's not even getting into the great one-liners he delivers throughout.

Runner-Up: Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho (1960). In the most recent movie I watched, I saw a mesmerizing performance by Perkins. He was so naturalistic with all of the divergent facets of Norman Bates that it is still astounding. He alone makes it worth watching the movie.

“I'm Ready for My Close-Up!” Award – Given to the woman whose performance I dug the most. And the winner is...

Barbara Stanwyck as Lily Powers in Baby Face (1933)


In this tale of a downtrodden woman empowering herself by sleeping her way up the corporate ladder, Stanwyck showed herself so far ahead of her time that it's scary. When Hollywood films were still firmly entrenched in more theatrical and dramatic (i.e. “exaggerated”) styles of acting, Stanwyck was one of the few who could seem so relaxed that she made everyone else on the screen look like amateurs.

Runner-Up: Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman in Notorious (1946). I seem to have a type. My favorite female performances would appear to involve either sex or booze, or in Alicia Huberman's case, both. Not unlike Stanwyck's most memorable roles, the adorable Bergman shifted gears in Notorious and was surprisingly adept at playing a reluctant spy with very questionable habits in relation to alcohol and men. A brilliant showing by the classic Swedish beauty.

“Mmmm...This Is An Excellent Movie!” Award – Given to my absolute favorite film of the first half. And the winner is...

Casablanca (1942)


I sure won't get originality points for this, but I can't ignore how much I still enjoy this standard of American film. Casablanca may not be a life-changing film of immense learning or depth, but it contains all of the elements of the magic of movies. It created a fictional place that was equal parts alluring and frightening, characters who were intriguing, charming and strong in turns, and situated all of these elements within a compelling tale that, while very temporal and geographical, seems to transcend these clear boundaries. Add in one of the greatest scripts in film history, and this movie still has enough gas in the tank to be a standard for decades to come.

Other Nominees – These are the four other films that I had to seriously consider for this award, as they are ones that I will certainly return to and enjoy many more times in the future: Double Indemnity (1944), Out of the Past (1947), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and The Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

Imagine now the orchestra in a crescendo, not-so-gently telling you that the show is over.

That's a wrap. Still 52 shows down, still 53 to go.

Coming Soon: Yojimbo (1961)
Sword-swinging samurai action from perhaps the greatest samurai film director/actor duo in history: Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. This one should be fun!

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.