Epic Film Quest: ‘Gigi’ and (ugh) France

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on April 16th, 2014 by Nick

Poster - Gigi_01If a friend or reader was going to try to follow my footsteps in the trek to watch every single Best Picture winner in the history of forever, I would probably advise that they sell their TV, slap themselves in the face, and run away from home. Regardless, this blogger is trudging forward and probably isn’t any better for it.

The latest Best Picture winner I watched: Gigi, the winner from 1958. The film is set in turn-of-the-century Paris, France as a young girl, Gigi, is trying to find her bearings among high society. She’s sent to her Great Aunt’s swank pad to learn etiquette and charm, so that she can eventually marry a rich man and be his arm candy. Gigi starts keeping the company of a family friend (token rich guy) Gaston and YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, OMG!

Despite the life that Leslie Caron brought to the role of Gigi, I’m indifferent to the film. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. And these are the worst movies to write about! Because nothing is more fun than ripping apart a movie you loathe (Out of Africa) or raving about one you loved (All About Eve), but these middle-of-the-road-types? Meh.  I will say, though, that Gigi is a musical and every single song is entirely forgettable. So there’s that. What else? Oh, yeah. FRANCE, UGH.

There are two themes/settings I struggle with in film – one is period pieces, and the second, France. Which isn’t to say that I despise all period pieces – I don’t. But something about France rubs me the wrong way, even in film. Maybe this feeling stems from going there and it sucking. I fully intend on never visiting France ever again. Sure, I’m glad I’ve been to the Louvre and saw the Eiffel Tower and yada, yada, yada, tourism stuff, but there is absolutely no reason to return. Because Italy. If you love being treated like garbage because you don’t speak French and are in a strange city, you should totally check it out. It sucks when stereotypes become reality, and I won’t generalize here, but the French people that I personally encountered for that week of my life were less than friendly. (The few late night strolls and boat rides we did around the city were pretty amazing though.)

Sorry for that aside. It’s just that there is nothing even remotely interesting about Gigi to discuss except that the music sucked…and so does France.

Grade: C-

Almost every movie I have left on my quest is at least seven hours long. Things are about to get bumpy. If there’s a REALLY GOOD Best Pic winner that I haven’t covered yet, please send me your recommendations. I could really use an upper right about now, chased with a nice tall glass of motivation.

Next up: Gandhi and The Deer Hunter

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Kevin Costner Dances (Naked) with Wolves

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on March 12th, 2014 by Nick

dances-with-wolves1The latest stop on my quest to watch every single Best Picture winner involved some Kevin Costner butt. A LOT of Kevin Costner butt, actually.

In Dances with Wolves (directed by The Bodyguard, himself), Costner plays Union Army lieutenant John J. Dunbar who travels to the American frontier to find a military post after narrowly escaping a leg amputation and a suicide mission. He gets into it with some wolves and some Native Americans and later, befriends them both. Surface level: Wow, I can’t believe I watched that for three hours.

Digging deeper, Wolves was enjoyable, and I dug it for everything it did right and even for its sillier moments, i.e. Costner’s voiceovers. When you’re watching a film where one character is isolated in the middle of nowhere (here, the undeveloped western frontier), hearing a character provide a voiceover is like listening to someone narrate his or her entire day. It can get pretty tiresome, to say the least. He talks about the possibility of other military folk finding his post. He wonders if he’ll stay in the frontier forever. He questions whether he remembered to set the DVR to record The Amazing Race. If Dunbar existed today, he’d be that annoying, oversharing Facebook friend you have (Which one, amiright?).

But throughout the course of the film, we find out that Dunbar is a likable guy. He’s even a lover of animals. We castaway533watch Dunbar attempt to feed a wolf. Then he tries again. And again. And then they’re besties. On paper, it sounds horribly boring, but at least his new friend wasn’t a volleyball with a face painted on it, right?

It’s far easier to poke fun at this, so I guess that’s the direction this review is taking. Cue Costner’s ass. If I was alone in the frontier in 1863, you can almost guarantee that I’d be walking around in my birthday suit. Dunbar, I don’t blame ya, pal! I’m just thankful that Costner spared us on the full-frontal – because not everything has to be done “for the art.”

The relationship Dunbar ends up forming with the Sioux Indians is palpable and nice and makes you happy. He learns their language and they learn a little of his. Then he starts shacking up with Stands With A Fist, the white adopted daughter of the tribe who also turns out to be President Roslin from Battlestar Galactica. They’re both white, so they have RELATIONS, naturally.

In all seriousness though, there’s a beauty in Dunbar’s newfound relationships. Definitely with the Native Americans, and less-so with the wolf. But again, the wolf is NOT a volleyball, so I guess I can get down with it.

The lesson here: Be kind to people who are different from you. Get to know something or someone outside of your comfort zone. (But for realsies, I probably wouldn’t try to talk to the wolf that keeps chasing your dog or eating your sheep. It probably won’t go well.)

Let’s talk shop: Dances with Wolves was the first Western film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture since 1931′s Cimarron (still on my list). It was also nominated for a slew of other awards; notably, Costner won for Best Director.

Also, my countdown doesn’t decrease this time! We have crowned a new winner since I last wrote about The Quest. Sadly, I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet, so my number remains this time.

Sorry this was long.
Grade: B+

Signed,
Eats With Nutella

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‘On the Waterfront’: Brando at His Most Brando-iest

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on February 11th, 2014 by Nick

brando_waterfront_shop_dvdThe 1954 Best Picture winner was the crime drama On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb (12 Angry Men), and Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night). And damn did Brando bring out his major Brando-ness.

I mean, Holy Brando! The dude can just stand there being all Brando-y and it’s like 99.975 percent certain that he can kick my ass without even uttering a single word or raising one measly finger. And this is way before his turn as Vito Corleone.

In this movie, however, Brando plays Terry Malloy, an up-and-coming boxer who had it all until his brother Charley instructs him to deliberately lose a fight he could have won at the will of Johnny Friendly – a crimester, mob-boss baddie who has a lot of money on the fight and ends up controlling both of the brothers from there on out. Terry then unbeknowingly (not a word) coaxes a popular dockworker Joey Doyle out to an ambush and Friendly and his crew end up whacking the guy so he can’t testify against the boss who’s trying to control the waterfront and all of its dockworker peoples.

Doyle’s sister (Saint) comes out of the woodwork to try to find out who killed her brother and why, and then we have the makings of the best movie 1954 had to offer.

Did I mention it had Marlon Brando in it?

Cobb was great, too, and also nominated despite losing the honor of Best Supporting Actor to Edmond O’Brien for The Barefoot Contessa. I haven’t seen that movie, but Cobb losing is stupid. (I’m a super-serious film critic in the making, you guys!) Steiger was also nominated for Supporting and lost out. Bummer.

In full, Waterfront was nominated for 12 Oscars and it swept 8 of those categories, including trophies for Brando (OBVI) and Saint.

The 50’s was such a great era for film. Everything starts to come together in this decade – directing, acting, writing. Not to discredit anything before this, but this movie was in the zone. The perfect trifecta of classic cinema. With on point pacing and a nice twist before its climax (which wasn’t so surprising thanks to the stupid box art), On the Waterfront is worthy for any crime film fan or Brando aficionado.

Completely useless and irrelevant fun fact: Listening to Rage Against the Machine while trying to do anything productive is extremely distracting.

I mean, oh, the grade. This one’s an A-, kids.

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Film Quest: These ‘West Side Story’ Gangsters Aren’t Very Thuggy

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on January 14th, 2014 by Nick

west_side_story_xlgI feel it may be sacrilegious to admit that I didn’t care for West Side Story, but, uh, I didn’t. Like God might smite me or something. My mom loves the film though. Maybe I should’ve made her write this blog. (If only she knew what a blog was…)

The dancing and choreography were top notch, kiddos, OK? I won’t deny that these “thugs” can shake it. They frolic around as if they’re floating on air and held up by wires (which I bet if this movie was remade nowadays, it’d be supported by wire work. Or maybe the first-ever CGI Musical! I’ll take “Bad movie ideas” for $500, Alex.)

What was I saying? YEAH – dudes can PRANCE.

I didn’t connect with anything else. The music was entirely unappealing to me. The love story is completely ripped off from Romeo and Juliet (and many of the characters are even counterparts to specific R&J characters). I’m not a huge Natalie Wood fan (She didn’t even SING in the film! It’s a musical. Did. Not. Sing.) I’m not a huge Richard Beymer fan either.

Rita Moreno was a little firecracker though! Moreno played Maria’s closest gal-pal Anita (and also Bernado’s lady). Not only was this little sexpot super saucy, but she was a scene stealer, too! She added a lot of appeal to a 2.5 hour film that I was desperately struggling with.

Also, for being a bunch of gangsters, these guys were pretty sissy, man. I don’t know many gang members, but I can almost guarantee that they rarely break out in song. JUST SAYIN’.

(Oscar fun fact: West Side Story has won more Academy Awards than any other musical film, unless you count the Honorary Award given to Maurice Chevalier for Gigi in 1959. Then, the two films would tie at 10 wins each.)

Oh, Oscar fans, Epic Film Quest followers, Musical geeks – this one let me down in a major way. Or maybe it was I that let it down. Either way, it just wasn’t my cup o’ Earl Grey.

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Epic Film Quest: ‘All the King’s Men’ (1949)

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on December 11th, 2013 by Nick

all_the_kings_men-5Previously on The Littlest Winslow…
I’m watching every single one of The Academy’s Best Picture winners.
It’s harder than you’d think.
Or maybe it’s exactly as hard as you’d think.

Dear Diary Blog. It’s been a long time since my last Epic Film Quest post. Almost two months to be exact. Here are the things I blame, (because really, it wasn’t my fault): Kerry Washington’s fine ass (Scandal!), Curtis for telling me to watch Scandal, a REALLY GOOD SEASON of Survivor, Jessica Lange, and Veronica Mars.

Now that I have more than proven that said procrastination was nowhere near my personal fault zone, I’d like to tell you about All the King’s Men – the 1949 Best Picture winner that I viewed recently. This story is about a politician named Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) who starts out as a man of the people, but later becomes a ruthless douche as corruption takes over his soulllllll.

Stark teaches himself law and becomes a lawyer. He corrals the locals as he rises in power. He conducts some pretty impressive business, until he conducts some pretty shady business. He becomes a philanderer, cheating on wife, and paying people off to hide the skeletons in his closet. But once his son becomes paralyzed following a drunk driving incident that kills a female passenger, Stark’s world starts to downward spiral as he learns that money can’t solve all of his problems.

One thing I’ve noticed with older movies, especially those from the 30’s and 40’s, is how black and white these old-school characters are. They’re either Dorothy Gale Good or Wicked Witch of the West Bad. Even in a case like Willie Stark…he wears a white hat until he wears the blackest of hats. There’s rarely any in-between. This is interesting today, living in a society that now celebrates the antihero – where the Don Drapers, Tony Sopranos, and Walter Whites run rampant across our screens. That’s not to say that older films are devoid of characterization – it’s just that it happens more abruptly than subtly (and maybe because writing these days is far superior? Perhaps this generalization isn’t fair, though.).

It also begs to be mentioned that this movie had the best Newspaper Headline Montage in the history of Newspaper Headline Montages! (Insert Team America: World Police song here) Perhaps while we were all staring at the headline montage, Stark changed into his black hat and we just didn’t see it happen off-screen. BUT WHO KNOWS? I didn’t write the thing.

Overall, All the King’s Men was a good movie with good performances, but it was no All About Eve (And in case you were wondering, I’m all caught up on Scandal now). Minus one distraction, 29 films to go.

Grade: B-

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Bingeing with the Epic Film Quest and ‘The Lost Weekend’

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on October 16th, 2013 by Nick

The_Lost_Weekend_posterI fully realize that my last post was a review of a mid-80’s Italian Horror flick about a demon epidemic that takes over a small movie theater and later THE WORLD, so perhaps it’s super strange that I jump back and forth between black-and-white Best Pictures from the 1940’s and…well, that. But I’m going to do it anyways because I am a lover of all moviefilms. Viva movies! Though I do wonder how many members of The Academy have seen Demons. I’m guessing slim-to-none.

This Best Picture from 1945 recounts the life of an alcoholic New York writer, Don Birnam, as he attempts to give up drinking…but instead rages on a weekend alcoholic binge despite the good intentions of his brother and girlfriend. The movie, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, was based on a book of the same name written by Charles R. Jackson.

The movie starts with Don pretending to pack for a weekend trip with his brother. Rather than making sure he has his cell phone charger and iPad (or whatever was the 40’s version of those were), his brain is completely focusing on the bottle he has tied to his window sill, hanging outside over the window’s edge. (OK, if I was going to hide a bottle, that’d probably be the last place I would put it. I would take an Iced Tea container, dump out the tea, and put Jack Daniels in it. Then just put it in the fridge. I probably wouldn’t tie the JD to a rope and hang it outside. Probably would not. Just don’t offer your guests “Iced Tea.”)

Don dodges his brother and gal pal by sending them off to a show, leaving him alone just long enough to start his weekend bender. We see how others react to him, specifically a bartender at a local watering hole. Basically everyone thinks he’s Andy Dick. But what’s amusing about this film, from a modern perspective, is how literal Don is with his words…and how introspective:

“It shrinks my liver, doesn’t it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent. I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not Third Avenue any longer, it’s the Nile. Nat, it’s the Nile and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.”

I can assure you that I don’t speak as…uhh…”competently” as Don does when I’m hammered.

Even Don’s “hallucinations” are literal and old school – they certainly don’t mirror anything we’ve seen in Requiem for a Dream, that’s for damn sure. Once again, this film quest is kind of like seeing the world through a 1940’s kaleidoscope, both in terms of viewing society and its characters, but also in terms of filmmaking and filmmakers of the time. Even though at times Don and his problem were somewhat humorous because of the unrealistic dialogue (again, by today’s standards) and techniques, The Lost Weekend still gave us a great character to sink our teeth into, and an even better performance by Milland.

Grade: A-

The film is a short 99 minutes, so if you’re looking for an easily digestible classic to peruse, The Lost Weekend is a great place to start.

I have 30 Best Pictures left! Baby-stepping it to the 20s…

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‘Tom Jones’: Banging Chicks and Being a Douchebag, 1700s Style

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on October 3rd, 2013 by Nick

51CEFQZVKZLThe Best Picture winner of 1963 was this British Adventure Comedy set in the 1700s called Tom Jones. It follows the life of the title character, a bastard in both the literal and slang sense. He’s a rambunctious little bugger who runs around getting laid, causing a raucous, and embarrassing his foster-father, Squire Allworthy.

Tom falls in love with Sophie and she’s a proper lady who has a dad who’s all stuffy and junk, so he tries his best to make sure a more suitable companion marries his daughter instead. That suitor is Squire Allworthy’s sister’s son, Blifil, who then tries (and succeeds) in getting his competition, Tom, expelled from their town or village or whatever. But there’s a secret to Tom’s heritage that only Blifil knows after intercepting a letter written by his dying mother to Allworthy, and this secret could change Tom’s life forever.

DUN DUN DUN!

This all sounds so dramatic in text, but Tom Jones was enjoyable, lighthearted and fun, especially for its time. Albert Finney rocked the lead role, coyly breaking the fourth wall to wink at the audience from time to time. I mean…who did that in 1963!? No one, my friends. Props.

The movie even started with a silent film sequence setting up Tom’s abandonment and adoption by Squire Allworthy in a classic British-silent-picture sort of way. A lot of the comedy and style of this Best Pic were totally ahead of its time and that’s something to appreciate as a modern-day viewer. (Shoutout to director Tony Richardson – well done, I say! I’m sure he really needs my validation. Oh bummer, he died in 1991. This shoutout just turned into an homage. This is a really long aside.)

In sum, man-whores existed even way back in the 1700s. And even though I claim ol’ Tommy was a douchebag, he was a loveable douchebag…kind of like a modern day Hank Moody from Californication. Is that show on yet? Doesn’t it start soon? Someone remind me.

Tom Jones brought my Epic Film Quest tally down to 31…but wait a sec…it’s actually 30! Because I watched another one before I even wrote this post! Almost under 30, kids.. I really liked this one and give it a solid B+…and there’s another great, great flick to follow!

I should write more and be more speedy.

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Epic Film Quest: ‘You Can’t Take It With You’

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on July 31st, 2013 by Nick

capThe 1930′s are slowly killing me inside.

This week’s undertaking brought me straight to 1938 – Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Larry Barrymore. Alice (Arthur), the only “normal” member of the eccentric Sycamore family, falls in love with Tony Kirby (Stewart). His wealthy banker father and his snobbish mother strongly disapprove of the match. When the Kirbys are invited to dinner to become better acquainted with their future in-laws, things do not turn out the way Alice had hoped.

I guess for 1938 it was “zany” and “eccentric”? This one didn’t hold my attention as much as I had hoped, but it did flow smoother than All Quiet on the Western Front did, and that’s all in thanks to Capra and his ace directing. I absolutely loved It Happened One Night – Capra has a unique way of capturing the charm of these Golden Age Hollywood greats. It’s just that in this particular film, I wasn’t so connected with Stewart, Arthur or their characters. The whole “stuffy in-laws” is also a belabored plot device that I’ve seen countless times, so there’s that too. It Happened One Night was just a stronger movie all around.

But hey – that’s not to say that the Sycamore family wasn’t entertaining – they were a gang of misfits who all accepted each other for who they were. They danced, they made things, they accepted others – even way back in 1938. They had a nice dynamic – I just wish there was a little more magic between Stewart and Arthur (there were way better leading ladies at the time).

I have 32 movies left. That seems like a lot. Send help.

 

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Gettin’ My Quest On: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on July 19th, 2013 by Nick

movieposterTruth: The last post about my watch-every-Best-Picture-winner-before-I-die film quest was in April, when I watched Clint Eastwood be a snarky rascal in Unforgiven. Shame, shame on me. The blog here was alive and active, but my Best Picture watching skillz had taken a serious backseat. That’s an understatement even.

It’s just that sometimes, it’s super hard to remain motivated and take this Quest seriously. I mean, I made a Casablanca rap, for Skeletor’s sake! It’s hard to convince others to watch with me (“But you’ll loooove this black and white film from 1932, I promise! And it’s only 3-and-a-half hours long!”) and it’s also a trying task to choose movies like All Quiet on the Western Front over the new season of Big Brother (so scandalous!). Somewhere, a Hollywood Great is rolling in his/her grave.

I’m jumping back on the wagon. Or back off the wagon? I never really understood that wagon thing. What I mean to say is that HERE I AM – watching Best Pictures and rambling about them publicly. Last night, I bit into All Quiet and now I’m gonna chew on it and spit it at you. Or something like that.

Pros: The movie tells the story of a group of German boys who join the army during World War I after one of their instructors glamorizes what fighting for one’s country really means. They fall in love with these notions and are pretty much manipulated by teach’. Then [spoiler alert] they all die. Stuff happens in the middle – there are breakdowns, fistfights for food, rat infestations – these soldiers are just kids and they’re scared. Really scared. The film does a great job at portraying war and how it affects everyone involved.

Cons: This movie is soooo oooold. I love classic films (or I wouldn’t be doing this), but the audio was super rough and the quick jump-cuts and lack of character focus at times made it tough to follow.

Look, this movie is 83 years old, so I ain’t hatin’! It’s just a challenging movie to stay tuned in to if you’re under the age of…well, if you’re alive.

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Clint Eastwood is One Snarky Rascal: ‘Unforgiven’

Posted in Epic Film Quest! on April 3rd, 2013 by Nick

unforgivenBefore Chuck Norris, there was Eastwood. And I can’t deny: I’m highly tempted to give up the Epic Film Quest all together. Cold turkey.

After watching the 1992 Best Picture winner, Unforgiven, I only want to watch movies that star Clint Eastwood wielding a gun in each hand, chasing down felons or participating in your standard, everyday Western shootout. I want my life to be inundated with witty one-liners chock-full of curmudgeonly attitude, as Eastwood guns mofos down and sprays the town with their blood. That totally happens in, like, Ghandi…right!?

Regrettably, Eastwood was kind of before my time. I’ve seen modern day Eastwood films like every other asshole alive (Gran Torino, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, etc.), but never really got to appreciate his older work. Unforgiven is one of those movies that makes me want to quit my job and become an uber Eastwood-phile. I want to sit on my couch surrounded by tubs of ice cream (yes, plural tubs) and repeating every beloved line to myself and to the Internet. I want to channel my inner Eastwood so I can quote him thoroughly, completely, and in context should I ever find myself riding a horse in the desert, participating in a gunfight, exchanging wits with a nemesis, or battling a gang of thugs in a scary LA suburb. (Actually, scratch that last one. Eek.)

To celebrate Unforgiven and this stop on my quest to watch all of The Academy’s Best Pics, I binged on this YouTube clip of some of the best Clint Eastwood quotes known to the Milky Way galaxy. You should watch it and pretend that you’re as cool as Clint Eastwood. Because that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 45 minutes of life.

Some real winners here:

“You did two things wrong. One is you asked a question, and two is you asked another question.”

“Nobody….I mean nobody…puts ketchup on a hotdog.”

“I have dined with some of the ugliest goddamn bitches in my time. And I have dined with some of the goddamndest ugly bitches in this world. But you, my dear, are the ugliest bitch of them all.”

“You couldn’t take care of a wet dream.”

“Your lucky numbers are 84, 23, 11, 78, and 99. What a load of shit.”

“And I’ve drunk more beer, pissed more blood, and banged more quiff, busted more balls then all you numbnuts put together.”

And that’s only a small sample of the 10 minute-long clip, and an even smaller sample of the legend’s six-ish decades of acting excellence. Need. More. Clint.

Suffice to say, Unforgiven is a resounding Grade: A movie.

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