Fixing Oscar For One Film: Championship Round!
The esteem of others doesn’t usually do much to blunt our own enthusiasm for out favorite movies, but hey, it doesn’t usually hurt either. If a film you love is nominated for Best Picture, it’s only natural to hope it wins and it’s only natural to feel a little aggrieved if it doesn’t. Well, for the last couple of weeks, we here at LeBlog have been giving you a chance to work with your fellow readers in selecting the best ever Oscar nominated films to not win Best Picture from sets of five from specific time periods. Now that we’ve voted on those groups, the winners from each will now face off and we’ll select a single “Best-Loved Loser” to hold up in the same breath as the actual winners.
Some of the groups were painful to choose from. I imagine today’s championship round may be equally tough. It may be notable that we have two pictures each from Billy Wilder and Martin Scorsese. Make of it what you will.
Oh, by the way, it might be worth remembering that scenes from Scorsese and Tarantino movies may or may not be NSFW.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture
Oscar Wins: Art Direction, Film Editing, Original Score
Go ahead and scoff at the sped up footage here…then go and try to pull off this fight even at half speed or stage one as expertly. You know, without any CGI or other technical wizardry whatsoever. Despite the one very embarrassing moment when the supposedly dangerous villain clumsily falls off of the staircase and loses his sword, this is a pretty top-notch bit of stage fighting, conceived with a number of interesting elements and moves. Most notable from a filmmaking standpoint is probably the moment when our combatants wander off screen and we get to watch part of their battle in silhouette on the castle wall, only to have them re-enter the shot still fighting. As I noted in my previous write-up, The Adventures of Robin Hood is undoubtedly heavy in Hollywood artifice, but what lovely and skillful artifice it is!
Double Indemnity (1944)
Oscar Nominations: Best picture, Director, Actress, Screenplay, Music Score, Sound Recording, Cinematography
Oscar Wins: None
Watch Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson flirt their way towards what turns out to be a plot for murder and insurance fraud. Billy Wilder is often touted as one of the very finest screenwriters the cinematic art form has ever seen, and his adherence to what he called ‘the Lubitsch Touch,’ after a fellow filmmaker whose ability to milk the most out of any dramatic situation he admired, is well on display here. Exactly how many ‘suppose’ lines can this pair actually pull off before one of them is forced to call the tennis match off? When watching this verbal tete a tete nowadays it’s mildly steamy, but consider how risqué Wilder was going in 1944 under the Hays Code? Most studios had given up on adapting the story to begin with, but leave it to Wilder to figure a way to turn up the sexual tension while staying just inside those restrictive parameters. Fred MacMurray telling a joke about insurance coverage not only gets a good laugh, but establishes the tone for the rest of the scene and sends the tumblers falling in place for the duplicitous couple.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Film Editing
Oscar Wins: Best Story and Screenplay, Music Score, Art Direction
Try to ignore the subtitles here and focus on the camerawork from the opening credits and first shots of Billy Wilder’s classic Sunset Boulevard. As Waxman’s energetic score puts us on edge, the camera pulls away from the curb with the title, and shoots down the street as the credits roll on its black surface. Once that’s over, it pans up and follows the passing police cars sharply as they pass, all of this in one take. It’s a dynamite beginning to a picture that is equal parts castor oil and creme, and the laconic wise guy who tells us the story immediately assures us both that everything is going to be okay and that there’s no way it possibly could be. This approach is a big part of what makes Sunset Boulevard so poisonously pleasant so many years later.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay
Oscar Wins: None
Here is one scene in particular in which director Stanley Kubrick’s mildly documentarian approach to some of his shooting on Dr. Strangelove pays off by helping to both communicate the gravity of the situation and milk some delicious humor out of it. This has admittedly been one of my very favorite films since my college years, and I was pleased to see that our readers had chosen to promote it into our championship round. If this series proves popular, maybe we can repeat the approach sometime in the future with actors, in which case we’ll definitely get another look at the great Peter Sellers’ performance. He plays three different characters in the film, including British air officer Lionel Mandrake, who is perhaps our primary audience proxy, the titular German scientist who is in conflict with one of his hands, and the very mousey and over-polite President Merkin Muffley, seen here in a struggle of his own, having to take the fall for a pretty large breach of etiquette.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Score
Oscar Wins: None
Check out how Martin Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman use the camera as a voyeur in this scene in which Travis (Robert DeNiro) calls a woman on a public phone who he’d taken on a disastrous first date. If you don’t know why the date was a disaster then you should stop reading this article and go see Taxi Driver. For most of the scene we stare at Travis from behind. He’s framed off-center, which in itself tells the audience that something is wrong either with him or with the situation. He also has his back to us. We don’t need to see his face to understand the content of the conversation from the other side. The camera holds there until it just can’t stand to watch anymore and then turns and looks down the dingy hallway where he finally makes his retreat, still facing away from us. A connection that Travis might have made, that might have saved him for polite society has been severed and now he’s separated from other people. This is a breaking point, and the camera does a big part of letting us in on it.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing
Oscar Wins: Best Supporting Actor
Contrast the above scene from Taxi Driver which primarily shows us its main character from behind and walking away down a hallway with this famous steadicam single shot from Scorsese’s Goodfellas. While the earlier scene is about a character being cut off from humanity and walking away from those connections, in Goodfellas Henry and Karen are walking into the heart of activity alongside one another. Rather than being excluded through our positioning behind them as a voyeur to their shame, we are along for the ride and get to descend into the seductive and very social and exclusive world he inhabits. We are seduced along with Karen by the extraordinary scene and see how fully entrenched Henry really is in it.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Film Editing
Oscar Wins: Best Original Screenplay
Now you want to watch the whole bleeping movie, don’t you? Tarantino became well known for how he placed everyday dialogue in the mouths of characters preparing to participate in crime or violence. The opening of his Reservoir Dogs, after all, is simply a table full of criminals sitting around in a diner discussing pop music, former girlfriends, the tipping culture in the United States, and generally having a laugh while preparing to pull a diamond heist. As informal as the group is, they’re all decked out in black suits, ready to play the parts of gangsters. They’re on the job. In contrast, Ringo and Yolanda truly do appear to be just having a late breakfast when we pop in on them. Their relationship and the jokey way they speak with one another contributes to it taking a few moments for us to realize what they’re talking about. They’re a hold-up team, but they’re a little less organized in their crime. As the scene progresses, we break from the simple still shot of the couple, and once Ringo actually starts talking about robbing the diner they’re in, we get more pronounced camera movement. Then he pulls out his gun. Boom. Inset of the gun going on the table. The movie has now really begun and we are starting to get an idea of what we’re in for.
Lost In Translation (2003)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor
Oscar Wins: Best Original Screenplay
This is a long clip and it seems like it’s going nowhere, but somehow it manages to touch me deeply, just like the movie it’s from. If you’ve ever been cursed with bouts of even mild insomnia you know how lonely it can be, even creating a distance between yourself and the person who is sleeping right next to you. Perhaps equally lonely, at least for short periods of time, is wanting someone you can’t or shouldn’t have. When Bob and Charlotte run into one another while they’re both stranded on their own in a Japanese hotel, both of these experiences collide and just feed on one another. But this isn’t a story about careless married people having an affair. Instead, it’s a story about careful married people who manage to mean something to one another, to feel something akin to romantic love – maybe just a crush – without making the big mistake and truly crossing a line, even if they both kind of want to. Neither of their marriages is currently fulfilling emotionally and here they are in a strange foreign place with nothing but time on their hands and longing for…something. Sofia Coppola takes her time and lets Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray talk on a very surface level about very deep things. Just being able to talk is so important to both of them. Watch Murray in particular take her questions very much to heart. They’re alone together. And all he can manage, all he dare do, is to reach out and touch her foot tentatively. It’s heartbreaking.
So this is the championship round and instead of just five great movies to choose from we have eight. The Oscars are this weekend, but I’m almost as interested to know which of these films you guys chooses out Best Loved Loser. Vote here and hey, let’s talk about it in the comments section.
Posted on March 2, 2018, in Awards, Movies, Oscars, poll and tagged Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity, Dr. Strangelove, Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese, Pulp Fiction, Sunset Boulevard, Taxi Driver, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.