The Oscar Project
A film with your favorite ending
We finally reached the end of the month. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and have been able to be safe and healthy through this trying time. I also hope these posts have brightened your days throughout the month.
Speaking of endings, today’s category is a film with your favorite ending, and I choose Hitch. Much like yesterday’s pick of Serendipity, it’s a great feel good movie and you can probably see the ending coming a mile away. However, Hitch throws just enough curveballs in the final act of the film to make you think that it might not end up all roses for the main characters.
Hitch is a 2005 romantic comedy featuring Will Smith at Alex Hitchens, also known as the “date doctor,” who helps men get hooked up with their dream girls. It sounds a bit sleazy on the surface, but he says multiple times throughout the film that he’s merely setting up opportunities for the two individuals to meet and make an initial connection, from that point, it’s up to them. His newest client Albert (Kevin James) has his eyes set on a beautiful celebrity Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta) who is a client of the investment firm where he works and despite the fact that this is a romantic comedy, some of the best comedic moments come from the interaction between Smith and James.
Throw in gossip reporter Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) into the mix as she investigates Hitch’s business while also starting to fall for him before realizing who he is, and you have a complex relationship tangle that only gets more complex as the film goes along. This is not to say that it’s a love triangle or anything like that, but the film does manage to show how complicated relationships can be, regardless of how easy they seem at the start. That’s part of what I love about it and Hitch even comes right out and says near the end of the film that when people are in love, “the leap, and hope to God they can fly.”
This is one other film, like many on this list, that I tend to watch on TV whenever I find it on. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, but I love how is ends and how the entire film is put together in general.
Day 29 – A film that makes you want to fall in love
A film that makes you want to fall in love
It has been a really fun month of putting together these posts for you and the last two categories are fun ones. There are plenty of good romantic movies out there, and lots of good romantic comedies, and it really came down to two films for me with this one. My other option was Fools Rush In with Matthew Perry and Selma Hayek, but in the end, I decided to go with Serendipity.
The film stars John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale as strangers Jonathan and Sara who have a chance encounter at Bloomingdale’s when buying a pair of gloves. They both sense a deeper connection and share dessert at a restaurant nearby called Serendipity before deciding to go their separate ways. The catch here is that both are currently in relationships and Jonathan is soon engaged to be married.
The film continues with winding stories of near run-ins between the two main characters as they navigate their feelings for the current partners and the thought that fate might have been trying to bring them together at the store. Now, if you’ve seen a movie like this before, you can probably guess how the whole thing ends, but if you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil it.
I think the reason I love this movie so much is because it’s a little like my own connection with my wife. After we started dating and got married, we found out that our own paths crossed or nearly crossed at least half a dozen times before we formally met one another. Many of these were when we were very young and wouldn’t have been in a position to start a relationship, but we’ve both taken it as a sign, real or not, that something in the universe was trying to push us together. I wish I could say that we went on a date to see this movie together, but it was released about a year before we ever officially met.
Some people don’t believe in true love, but with a film like this, it gives me hope that love can overcome just about anything, be it separation, time, or distance.
Day 28 – A film that made you feel uncomfortable | Day 30 – A film with your favorite ending
A film that made you feel uncomfortable
If a film about a man investigating the dark underworld of snuff porn and potential real murders captured on said films doesn’t make you a little uncomfortable, I’m not sure what will. I don’t honestly remember where I first heard about this film, and it was a while before I was able to sit down and watch it, but it did certainly make me a bit uneasy.
8mm is clearly designed to make the viewer feel this way and even within the world of the film, there are instances where Nicholas Cage is watching some of the films he is investigating and cringes as he watches. There isn’t much in the way of “real snuff footage” in the film, and what is shown is relatively tame, but the concept of the film and the underlying story are enough to make you question the true nature of our society. I don’t know if things like this actually take place in our world, but the fact that someone can think up a story about it indicates that it might, and that saddens me.
Despite the somewhat cult status of this film, there are some pretty big names in the cast. The aforementioned Cage is the lead as investigator Tom Welles while Joaquin Phoenix plays the adult video store employee Max California that Welles enlists to help him in his investigation, this being one of the roles of his that led up to his appearance in Gladiator. The Sopranos’s James Gandolfini also appears in the film along with Catherine Keener.
The film was directed by the late Joel Schumacher who passed away earlier this year and I would argue serves to cleanse the failures of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin from his resume, both of which were released earlier in the 1990s. That’s not to say that this film received great reviews when it was released. It didn’t, but it was also quite a departure from the comic book world of the Dark Knight, perhaps representing some of the darkness he wanted to put in those films, but wasn’t allowed to by the studio.
If you’re OK with being uncomfortable, give this one a shot. If even reading this post made you a little uncomfortable, you’re probably better off skipping it and waiting for tomorrow’s film.
Day 27 – A film that is visually striking to you | Day 29 – A film that makes you want to fall in love
A film that is visually striking to you
I absolutely love this film and was happy to find a spot for it on my list. It’s probably my second favorite “real” space film behind Apollo 13. By real space, I mean set roughly in the current reality of our ability to travel in space, and not set in some far off future or distant far-flung past. It has a great pace to it and truly makes you feel like you are in the various space bound environments with Sandra Bullock.
With Bullock playing the majority of the film on her own in space, fighting for her own survival and trying desperately to figure out a way to get back to Earth safely, it truly give the feeling of a suspense thriller that just happens to be set in space. One of the main points of pride, but also pain points is the scientific accuracy of the film. While even director Alfonso Cuarón admits some liberties were taken in the interest of the film, it is incredible to me how well they depicted the movement in space and how things interact with one another in that environment. There are several moments where Bullock just barely manages to save herself from certain doom. Typically, in an Earthbound film, we would see this as falling over a cliff or off the side of a mountain, but in zero gravity, we get that in the form of potentially being flung off into the void of space. It’s a different look at something tried and true in survival films.
One of my absolute favorite pieces of trivia related to this film is its running time. The film runs at 91 minutes, which by no coincidence is almost exactly the amount of time that it takes for the ISS to complete an orbit around the Earth. In a similar way that Titanic runs for the same amount of time as it took for the boat to sink after it hit the iceberg, Gravity is as long as it would take for Bullock’s character to be forced to find a way home. In that way, we are on the journey with her and feel the tension in as close to real time as possible.
And finally, returning to the visuals which prompted the selection of this film for this category, the views in the film are truly stunning. You certainly get the feeling of being in the emptiness of space and far away from our home planet, but also get the feel of the scale of Earth when looking at it from low orbit on or near the ISS. As the action moves around the planet and away from sunlight that we get at the beginning of the film, the palette changes form very bright to very dark, and back again. We get interiors of various space vehicles along with the splendid exterior space shots. All in all, it’s a fantastic voyage and visually stimulating the entire time.
If you haven’t checked out Gravity, I urge you to go rent or download it today. You won’t be disappointed.
Day 26 – A film you like that is adapted front somewhere | Day 28 – A film that made you feel uncomfortable
A film you like that is adapted front somewhere
I waited almost the entire month to get to one of these films, and finally decided it was time to drop it here. It’s REALLY hard to adapt a book into a film, especially a book as deep and intricate as The Lord of the Rings. That’s what makes the accomplishment of Peter Jackson that much more impressive.
I will admit, I never read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit growing up. I think I first read The Hobbit around 1999 or 2000 when I first heard that they were making the longer book into a series of movies. I followed that up with a mad dash through The Lord of the Rings trilogy, finishing The Fellowship of the Ring before seeing the film in theaters and working my way through The Two Towers and Return of the King soon after. After seeing all the films, I am extremely glad I read the books first. Not only did I get some of the little tidbits that the films leave out, I had a better understanding of the action taking place. Since there is so much going on in these films, even with the things left out, it helps to have a little background going in.
I know The Lord of the Rings is one of those groups of films that people either love or hate. I personally love them and think everyone should see them. I have the theatrical versions as well as the extended director’s cuts on DVD, buying all of those at a time when I didn’t have a ton of disposable income, but it was important for me to have them just the same. One of my favorite parts of the extended DVDs especially is all the behind the scenes features included across the three films. For anyone who loves films, I highly recommend those extended features, even if you’re not a big fan of the movies themselves. They cover the entire breadth of film making, from initial script writing and concept art, to costume design, sound and film editing, and up to the music that fully develops the world. One can get lost in those features and spend probably a solid week watching nothing else if you really wanted to.
Finally, I know that today is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. I want to just say how thankful I am for everyone who has been reading these posts this month. I appreciate the dedication to reading them and have thoroughly enjoyed writing each and every one of them for you.
Day 25 – A film you like that is not set in the current era | Day 27 – A film that is visually striking to you
A film you like that is not set in the current era
There was plenty to choose from when I picked this category, but I had to go with a film that I absolutely love, and I have seen probably two dozen times or more over the years. It’s one of those that I usually watch to the end whenever it comes on TV, which sometimes takes up several hours of my afternoon/evening/night.
I have to say, this film is one of the best I’ve seen when it comes to immersing the audience in the time period and the world it exists in. From the opening sequence in Germania, we are thrust into a gritty hellscape of how war was waged two thousand years ago, give or take a century or two. The opening battle is brutal, and they don’t get any tamer from there.
It’s easy to say that the battle and fight scenes are some of the best parts of Gladiator, yet I find many of the best parts are in the quiet intimate moments between the chaos. The personal interaction between Russell Crowe’s Maximus and his owner Proximo (Oliver Reed) about how he can win the crowd and potentially win his freedom is one of those moments. Another is Maximus’s interaction with the young prince Lucius before one of his fights. He speaks with the boy I think because he sees his own dead son in the boy and wants to connect with someone that age once again. And speaking of his son, one of the most incredible scenes is when Maximus returns to his farm to find his wife and son dead. The anguish that Crowe displays is part of the reason he was crowned Best Actor by the Academy for his work in the film.
The film also won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, and this goes back to my initial point about immersing you in the world. There are thousands of costumes in this film that make you feel like you are in ancient Rome. Everything is here from the obvious gladiator gear, to the soldiers in the army, the simple robes of the senators, and the elaborate robes of the royalty. The last time we were watching the film, my wife and I both remarked that Lucilla’s (Connie Nielsen) costumes are some of the most beautiful in the film and fit her character perfectly.
But the costumes alone don’t make this film feel like a part of history. There are plenty of scenes in the markets, the countryside, and of course, in the gladiatorial arenas themselves. The way the story progresses, Maximus fights his way through several lesser arenas throughout the Roman Empire, before venturing to Rome itself and competing in the Super Bowl of gladiatorial arenas, The Colosseum. It’s quite a scene when Maximus and his fellow slaves see the edifice for the first time and once they get inside, it’s hard to distinguish where the live replica of the building ends and the digital version begins.
All in all, Gladiator is a fantastic film. Yes, there are some historical inaccuracies, but you get that with any film based on historical events. That’s the beauty of film. It’s a chance to tell a story set in a real time and place, but with some elements of fiction woven in. It’s hard to say that there are no wasted shots in a film that stretches over two and a half hours, but I feel that this is about as close as one might come, with nearly every moment on screen contributing to and moving the story forward.
Take a moment this holiday weekend and visit ancient Rome in Gladiator. You won’t regret it.
Day 24 – A film you wish you saw in theaters | Day 26 – A film you like that is adapted front somewhere
For movie lovers of a certain age, "Bruce the Shark" is the first horror movie icon that they remember seeing on the big screen. However, the titular character from Steven Spielberg's 1975 film Jaws that ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster has been missing for 40 years. Just like in the film, the monstrous creature has been hidden from public view, waiting to make his triumphant appearance and dazzle the public.
But soon, the wait will be over. Just last week, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures completed installation of one of the most iconic objects from its permanent collection, the only surviving full scale shark model from Jaws. This moment signals exciting momentum toward the Academy Museum’s much-anticipated opening on April 30,2021, where the 25-foot model will be on view, free to the public.
The monumental model is the fourth, final, and only surviving version of the shark model derived from the original Jaws mold. The creation of the infamous mechanical shark—which Spielberg is rumored to have named "Bruce" after his lawyer—was tasked to art director Joe Alves, whose original schematics depict the 25-foot long body, 400-pound head, and jaws nearly five feet wide. The three screen-used production molds cast in latex and rubber rotted and were destroyed. The Academy Museum’s version, cast in fiberglass for photo opportunities at Universal Studios Hollywood surrounding the film's 1975 release, survived at Universal until 1990 when it found its way to Nathan Adlen's family's junkyard business in Sun Valley, California. In 2010, it was authenticated by Roy Arbogast, a member of the original Jaws film's special effects crew, and in 2016, the Academy Museum acquired the shark model through a contribution by Nathan Adlen. The museum worked with special effects and make-up artist Greg Nicotero, co-founder of KNB EFX, to meticulously restore the fiberglass shark which had deteriorated from being outdoors for 25 years.
The conservation is now complete, and the Academy Museum has undertaken the complex task of moving the largest object from its collection on site. Since the shark is so large, it is unable to fit in the museum’s elevators. Instead, a team of art handlers, engineers, and construction workers removed two panels from the Saban Building’s curtain wall of glass and expertly craned Bruce into the building.
Bruce’s dramatic new home is suspended 30 feet above the third floor of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano-designed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, where the public can enjoy it once again. In its new location, Bruce will be visible from many vantage points within the museum and to passersby outside on Fairfax Avenue and 6th Street.
A film you wish you saw in theaters
Despite my desire to stray away from Star Wars films in this list, I didn’t have much of a choice when picking this category. It was a no-brainer for me to pick the original Star Wars. Not Star Wars: A New Hope, as it is now known, but just Star Wars. Unfortunately, the film was release in 1977, a few years before I was born, so I was never able to see the original version when it was in theaters. Even the version I had on VHS tape in the mid-90s was slightly different than the original 1977 version and there is plenty of changes that have been applied to the film since that time.
The first time I was able to see the film in the theater was in 1997 when Lucas released his Special Editions of the original trilogy, priming the pump with audiences for the 1999 release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. There have been entire libraries written, mainly on the internet, about the positives and (mostly) negatives of the Special Editions. Yes, they are different than what was originally shown in the late 70s and early 80s, but certain aspects I can understand updating, especially when it comes to visual effects shots that just weren’t possible until computer technology caught up with the vision.
But back to the original film. Star Wars is a classic hero’s journey story. You have a cast of characters that are immediately memorable. From the affable farm boy turned Jedi in training Luke Skywalker and his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the evil Darth Vader, the beautiful yet headstrong Princess Leia to the charismatic Han Solo and his alien co-pilot Chewbacca. And let’s not forget the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the story, R2-D2 and C-3PO, as well as a cast of hundreds of aliens populating bars, spaceports, scavenging vessels and warrior tribes.
And with all those characters, I haven’t even mentioned the spaceships. Between the Rebel X-Wing fighter and Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, you have two of the most iconic spaceships in movie history. Add to that the Empire’s TIE Fighters with their distinctive screeching sound and of course the Death Star itself, and you have the makings of an entire universe.
And I still haven’t gotten to the lightsabers! This film is one that just keeps on giving. Just when you think there isn’t any more cool stuff to cram into a movie, it surprises you yet again. If not for Star Wars, empty paper towel tubes would be just that. But thanks to Star Wars, they become laser swords in the imagination of just about every adolescent boy in the last 40 years.
I know there is a section of the population that doesn’t care for Star Wars, and they are allowed to be wrong. I kid, sort of. No matter what your feelings on the films that came after Star Wars, there is no denying that the original film redefined the genre, bringing it solidly into the mainstream and in the process, cementing the concept of the summer blockbuster, pioneered a few years before with Jaws. If you’ve never seen any Star Wars film, I urge you to try and find an old copy of the original film and watch it as it was originally intended to be seen. If you’re a huge Star Wars fan, use this as your excuse to go watch the original again. Even as many times as I’ve seen it in my life, I always try and find something new when I watch it.
Here’s hoping I’ll be able to catch the next groundbreaking film in the theater and as always, may the Force be with you.
Day 23 – A film made by a director that is dead | Day 25 – A film you like that is not set in the current era
We are coming to the end of November and my 30-Day Film Challenge is almost over. Do not despair though, I have a fresh concept for the month of December that will keep these posts going through the Christmas holiday (and maybe beyond).
I would like to introduce the 2020 Oscar Project Advent Calendar. This might not have any chocolates in it, but I assure you it will have some prizes in the form of films you might have overlooked in the past. Don’t be misled, this is not a list of Christmas movies. Plenty of websites are happy to give you a list of their “best Christmas movies” around this time of year. I’m focusing on movies that have numbers in the titles, going in order from 1-25.
I’ve had to cheat a little on a few numbers, but many of these numbers had so many options, it was hard to choose. In those cases, I plan on including a list of films for that number that I feel are worthy of representation.
I hope everyone has a wonderful and SAFE Thanksgiving this week and that you join me next week for the beginning of the 2020 Oscar Project Advent Calendar.
A film made by a director that is dead
After yesterday’s downer pick, you’ll be happy to know that all but one of the remaining films this month are on the happier side.
Today we need to pick a movie that is made by a director who has passed away. Given the 100+ year history of films, there are plenty to pick from, but there was really only one option for me since I hadn’t used any of his films for other categories on this list, Hitchcock.
Now, a little background here before I go on. When I was in college, I completed a minor in Film Studies. One of the courses I took to complete this was an entire class about Hitchcock films. We learned a great deal about the films themselves, along with the techniques that Hitchcock used throughout his career. Over the course of the semester, we watched some of his most famous films, along with some lesser known gems. I remember watching The 39 Steps, Dial M for Murder, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and The Birds. Vertigo stood out to me at the time and I have returned to that film several times, but the one that really stuck with me was Rear Window.
The film stars Jimmy Stewart as L. B. Jefferies, or Jeff, who is stuck in a wheelchair in his apartment as he recovers from a broken leg. He spends his time watching out the back window of his apartment which opens onto a courtyard, providing him plenty of people to observe throughout his days. As he continues to observe the goings on, he thinks that he witnesses a murder in one of the apartments and calls a friend at the police station to investigate. When the investigation turns up nothing, Jeff enlists his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) to help figure out the murder.
I don’t want to give away too much more, but suffice to say this is a fantastic film that will have you on the edge of your seat. Even though it was made nearly 70 years ago, it holds up rather well. Yes, some of the props and settings may be a bit dated, but the concept would work just as well for a thriller today as it did in the 1950s. In fact, the film has been remade at least twice, first in 1998 as a TV movie starring Christopher Reeve, who himself was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1995. The 2007 film Disturbia is also a modern retelling of the story starring Shia LaBeouf as the man under house arrest this time.
This was another film I had intended to re-watch prior to this month’s challenge, but just ran out of time. I have it on my short list for future watching and will likely post a full review when that happens.
Day 22 – A film that made you angry | Day 24 – A film you wish you saw in theaters
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?