The Oscar Project
The official nominations won't be announced for more than a month, but there are a few lists of eligible films that have been put out by the Academy recently. First up is the films eligible for Best International Film.
We officially have one wide release opening this weekend as Liam Neeson looks to dethrone Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman 1984 from the top spot at the box office with the western/drug cartel action thriller The Marksman.
There are so many definitions of classic film, but I decided to stay within the boundaries of what I think many people immediately imagine when they think of a classic film, but also moved enough to the edge of that definition to be a little different.
My selection for week two of the challenge is the 1954 film Seven Samurai, written and directed by the acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.
Now, I have a small confession to make. I have never seen a Kurosawa film. I'm a little ashamed of that fact, but it's a glaring hole in my film resume and one that I jumped at the chance to fill here. I considered holding this film a few weeks until we get to a film with subtitles, but I have at least one other film in mind for that category.
I also wanted to make a minor departure from the "classics" that many people think of when they hear that word. I often think of the films of the 1930s and 1940s like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, etc. It's a narrow definition of classics, and I discussed that at length in my previous post. It's honestly something I am eager to explore beyond this challenge and may even put together a new series based on some lesser known classics in the future.
I'm also taking this opportunity to learn a bit more about Kurosawa himself. A quick glance at his filmography shows that he really started working in film during the years directly before World War II, directing his first feature in 1943 during the throes of that conflict. I also discovered that he continued to direct films well into his 70s and 80s.
Beyond his directing, Kurosawa was also a prolific screenwriter with numerous credits to his name for other directors and also authored several books in his later years.
Check out the trailer for the film below.
I'm excited to add this film to my viewing history and see what all the fuss is about. Let me know what "classic" film you've chosen for your viewing this week in the comments below!
As we wrap up the first week of the 52 Week Film Challenge, I want to give a preview of what's coming up for this week. The category is a Film "Classic" and since there is no clear definition on what a classic truly is, I wanted to provide some food for thought to help you make your selection.
There will never be a definitive list of classic films, for a few reasons. If such a list did exist, it would be out of date once the next classic came along. There are plenty of films released in the last decade that already are considered classic by some people, while certain classics of 1900s may now seem old fashioned and quaint.
Then there is the question of culture. Like any artistic work, films are a product of the world in which they were created. A groundbreaking film like The Wizard of Oz has much more impact in 1939 than it does today. It's still fun, but the visual use of color had literally never been seen on film before. Similarly, you don't get a modern film like Avengers: Endgame without audiences that have an appetite for stories that are told over multiple films by many directors with a cast of hundreds. (I'm not claiming Endgame as a classic yet, but it may reach that status someday)
Another element to creating a classic is the feeling it gives you. Many people say they can't define a classic, but they know one when they see it. Films are works of art, special in the way they combine storytelling, visual images, and sound to create a world that most of us couldn't possibly image. They allow us to travel to other time periods and planets, to safely inhabit the lives of individuals completely different from ourselves, and experience events we could only visit in our dreams.
So what makes a film a classic?
I liked the way TCM host Ben Mankiewicz explained his definition of a classic film in a 2019 interview with CNN's Breeanna Hare for her article What makes a movie a classic? Mankiewicz lists two key attributes:
He goes on to give the example of Gone with the Wind. If you've seen the film, you know it is a grand story, told on some of the biggest stages of the time with some of the biggest stars of the day. Nothing about Gone with the Wind was done small. Connecting this back to my earlier call out of Endgame, I don't think you get a film like Avengers without first having Gone with the Wind. Film stories were generally not told on such a grand scale before 1939, but director Victor Fleming flung the doors wide open on the possibilities for larger on screen storytelling.
The two items leave plenty of room for interpretation, which is why I think they are a perfect definition for a classic film. This definition should be loose and flexible, allowing the concept of a classic to adjust with the times. Star Wars and Alien were groundbreaking in their own way in the late 1970s, but I could easily argue either one as a classic based on how they have shaped movie making over the last 40 years. Many of Hitchcock's films easily fall into the realm of classics and while some of less accessible today than they were at their release, one can look at them critically and understand their importance in the history of film.
How do YOU define a classic?
When it comes right down to it, this question about classic films is really up to you. If you're participating in the challenge, I urge you to pick a classic film that you've never seen. Go check out Citizen Kane to see what all the fuss is about. See if your mind gets warped by 2001: A Space Odyssey or gripped with fear in The Birds. Stretch beyond your normal comfort zone of movie watching, and try to put yourself in the mind of an audience member on the night the film was released, whether that was 80 years ago, or just at the turn of this century for a more "modern classic."
I've included a few links to lists and articles discussing the concept of a classic film. If you haven't joined the challenge yet, what are you waiting for? Just click the link below and sing up to start getting the guide to this challenge week by week. And once you do, please be sure to leave a comment down below with your selection for week two, a film classic.
Rotten Tomatoes list of Top 100 Classic Movies
What makes a movie a "classic"? by Jim Emerson (RogerEbert.com)
What makes a movie a classic? by Breeanna Hare (CNN.com)
Filmsite.org's list of classic films
Part of what I want to do with this challenge this year is chronicle my experiences through watching the movies that I select for each of these categories. In certain circumstances, the timing of watching the films will play a part in my feelings on it. My choice to watch Platoon on the evening of January 6, 2021 certainly had an impact.
As I write this post, we are in the midst of a strange time in our nation's history. While there is still much to be figured out about the events of January 6, 2021, it is sure to be a date that finds a place in history books of the future, not unlike July 4th, 1776, December 7th, 1941, and September 11th, 2001. I bring up those dates not to compare the recent events to those famous events. The scale and ultimate loss of life that resulted from the events on those days goes far beyond what we saw this week. However, there was a sense of January 6th being a turning point in history, just as those dates were.
But what does this have to do with Platoon? Well, nothing really. The only connection is that I spent the afternoon watching continuous news coverage of the events then watched the film. Usually I would turn to a comedy to cleanse the palate. But I had committed to doing this challenge and needed to get my film in before the end of the week, planning to watch it on Wednesday evening, before all the chaos erupted. So I sat down and pulled it up on Netflix as planned and tried to focus my attention on the movie for a few hours.
This was easier said than done and I fear it may have detracted a bit from the viewing experience. That said, the violence and chaos I saw in the film were definitely more serious than what was on television news earlier that evening. But, it was a very interesting juxtaposition.
What about the film?
As someone who has loved films for a long time, I have read, seen, and heard many people's opinions on this film. It is often cited as one of the best films about war ever made and given the fact that Oliver Stone was himself a Vietnam veteran, the entire film feels extremely real and genuine. However, I have to admit to being a little less enthralled with this film than I was with Apocalypse Now (the Redux version). That is not to say that it's a bad film. It is fantastic and still worthy of all the praise it has received over the years. Perhaps the fact that I have heard continued hype about it over the years meant that whatever the film was would fail to live up to expectations. Perhaps if I'd seen this earlier in life, before I settled down and had a family, maybe then I would have been able to connect even more with the characters, all being young teenage and early 20s men.
One thing I will say as a huge positive about the film is that it didn't feel bloated the way war films often do. It was a tight two hours and didn't even feel that long because the pacing was great. There were times for quiet and introspection, punctuated by the fire fights and chaos of the guerrilla warfare faced in Vietnam. Continuing the comparison to Apocalypse Now, that film clocks in at just over two and a half hours in the director's cut, but often feels like three hours or more. That film tends to have more extended periods of introspection and rumination, and feels much more like a psychological study than a snapshot of a short period in history in a small part of the jungle like Platoon.
I can't let the comparisons end there with the obvious one left unstated. While Platoon was made nearly a decade later than Apocalypse Now, they feature father Martin (Apocalypse Now) and son Charlie (Platoon) Sheen in the leading roles. One could argue that Charlie's is less of a lead since Platoon's cast is much more of an ensemble, but both actors are the featured voice in the film and provide narration at different points.
Interestingly, both Martin's Captain Willard and Charlie's Chris Taylor undergo a transformation during the time that we are with them in Vietnam. Willard is already a seasoned veteran at the beginning of the film, but progress more and more towards going native as he progresses up river over the course of the film. Taylor on the other hand is a brand new soldier, fresh off the plane from the States. Initially he is a fish out of water, the only man who volunteered in a unit full of draftees. But when he is accepted by some of his peers, he begins to blossom and ultimately shows levels of courage and bravery, along with at least one bout of insanity along the way.
Keith David (King) has enjoyed a prolific career since the 1980s with appearances in blockbusters like Pitch Black, There's Something About Mary, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith while also providing voice work for a number of films. Forest Whitaker (Big Harold) appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High a few years prior to Platoon, and returned to the subject of Vietnam with Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam before winning an Oscar for his role in The Last King of Scotland in 2006.
Two more cast members to note are John C. McGinley (Sgt. O'Neill) who would go on to land a role as Dr. Perry Cox on the comedy series Scrubs and Johnny Depp (Lerner) who you may know best as Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Depp's role in Platoon was minimal, but McGinley figured prominently as Sgt. Barnes's right hand man.
The final word
I plan to post an official review of this film under the Reviews section, but to summarize my feelings on the film, it nearly met my expectations. I was looking for a story about a group of soldiers in Vietnam and that's what I got. There were relationships built and strained, as I'm sure really happened on the ground there. There was plenty of chaos, a sprinkle of weed and alcohol, lots of f-bombs, and what felt to me like genuine military jargon (I'll leave the actual veterans to fully judge that point).
In the end, Platoon lives up to the tag line from the trailer and posters: "The first casualty of war is innocence."
Be sure to come back next week for the next film in the challenge. Week to is all about "classic" films.
Welcome to the first Nominee Watch of 2021. If you're a regular to this site, you know I used to do these (just about) every Thursday with a rundown of the films releasing to theaters that weekend in the U.S. With everything that happened in 2020, there weren't a lot of films releasing to theaters so I've taken this opportunity to reset and start fresh.
I actually went about selecting the first film for my 52 Week Film Challenge somewhat systematically. The first category is "A film that won Best Picture" and you can find the full list of Best Picture winners in my previous post.
So how did I pick my film? I reviewed the list of films and in the interest of time, looked for films I hadn't already seen that are currently available through a streaming service I already pay for (Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime in this case). Sure, I could pay a few bucks to rent something else, but if I don't have to shell out the cash, why would I?
After going through most of the list (I've only seen about 25% of the winners) I had a list of about 15 films that I hadn't seen and that were also available to stream right away. Most of them come from the 2000s as the recent films are in higher demand. I considered filling in the most recent gaps in my Best Picture viewing resume and finally checking out Parasite, Spotlight, or 12 Years a Slave. Any one of those would have gotten me close to completing all the winners from the 2010s.
In the end, I decided to fill in an older gap in my resume with Oliver Stone's 1986 film Platoon. I have been interested in stories about the war in Vietnam for some time, ever since reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien in high school. Add to this my extreme interest in Coppola's Apocalypse Now when I got to college (thank you file sharing sites) which only grew when I took a course all about Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, upon which Apocalypse Now is based.
Now I am happy to add Platoon to my film resume and will relish watching young up and coming actors of the time like Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Keith David, and Johnny Depp. The fact that so many of these actors have become household names is incredible, and even more so that all those listed above are still working, with recent credits in the last year or two.
If you have already joined the challenge for this year, I would love for you to leave a comment down below with the film you've chosen for this challenge. Remember, if you need a refresher, the films are in my previous post and if you haven't joined the challenge yet, just click the button below and jump on the train. It's going to be a fun ride!
We're starting off with some of the best of the best for the 52 Week Film Challenge. Your first task is to select a film that has won the Oscar for Best Picture. I have a list below. Try to select one you haven't seen before. If you haven't signed up for the challenge yet, what are you waiting for?!
If you would like to go on this journey with me, please fill out the brief form below and I will add you to the weekly newsletter with information about the coming week's film category and some questions that you can use for prompts related to the category for the week. The goal is to foster some good discussion about these films and perhaps find some hidden gems you might not have otherwise considered. You can purchase a copy of the book here. I will be providing some of the question prompts from the book through the weekly emails, but urge you to purchase the book so you can write your answers in there and follow along with all the prompts.
Ready to start watching films? Join the challenge now!
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?