The Oscar Project
We made it to 2024! I hope you had a wonderful New Year and were able to catch some new films over the holidays. I took the family to see Migration last week and took in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes earlier this week. We only have one new wide release this weekend, but more coming in the weeks ahead. Let me know what you’re heading to the movies to see.
This title is banking on some name recognition by throwing out producers of The Nun and M3GAN, but the first week of the year is often a place to dump movies that don’t have high expectations.
Of course, that was what many people were saying about M3GAN last year at this time, so who knows what sort of legs this might have, especially being the first big movie released in almost two weeks.
The film stars Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) and Kerry Condon (The Banshees of Inisherin).
After Fast X delivered an ok outing at the box office last weekend, it's time to bring a whole new slate of wide releases to theaters this weekend. It looks like there will be something for everyone, whether you're bringing the family, looking for a date night, or want something a little more crazy.
About My Father
I feel like the last time Robert De Niro was in a fun comedy like this one was when he appeared in the Meet the Parents films with Ben Stiller. This time he's the father of the man in the relationship, played by Sebastian Maniscalco.
The film follows the father/son pair as they take a visit to the wealthy family of the son's girlfriend and find a variety of ways to cause mischief.
Maniscalco is perhaps best known for his stand up comedy routines which have been featured on Netflix and DVD, but he has been branching out into films a bit recently, including a role in the hit movie Super Mario Bros. from earlier this spring.
For some reason, when I was writing this up for my video below this week, I thought I had already written a script for it, but then remembered a similar story in Guy Ritchie's The Covenant earlier this year. This time around, the American character isn't returning to Afghanistan to save a translator, but stuck in enemy territory with his translator.
Gerard Butler stars in the lead role as the CIA operative who must get to a safe extraction point after his mission is compromised.
The Little Mermaid
It's been several years since the last major Disney live action remake (The Lion King) but this one looks to take on the mantle of those remakes with a splash, literally.
If you've seen the original 1989 animated classic, you already know the story of the mermaid princess Ariel and her quest to meet the human Prince Eric that she falls in love with after saving his life when his ship sinks. This version promises to deliver a new voice in lead Halle Bailey along with a new version of Ursula, portrayed here by Melissa McCarthy.
The release of this film also coincides nicely with the release of the book Part of My World, a memoir written by the original voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson.
Going from the very family friendly to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, The Machine is the brainchild of comedian Bert Kreischer, known for performing his act shirtless. The film is an adaptation of a story he told as part of his act and Kreischer plays a fictionalized version of himself.
In response to some actions he took while on a college trip to Russia, the adult Kreischer and his father, played by Mark Hamill, are kidnapped by Russian mobsters and they must
You Hurt My Feelings
Last up comedy drama starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a novelist who is dealing with her husband's frustration at something she wrote about him in one of her books. This looks like it could be very funny in parts, but also has potential to be quite thoughtful and introspective in parts.
Louis-Dreyfus is on a producer of the film which is directed by Nicole Holofcener.
There isn't a huge list of limited releases hitting theaters this weekend, but a few alternative options if the movies mentioned above aren't your cup of tea.
This week we are getting back to a bit more solid list of films to choose from in picking your film for the challenge. The category this week is a Best Cinematography Winner. In order to help you with your selection, Wikipedia has a list of all the Best Cinematography winners (and nominees).
I feel it’s important to talk a bit about what cinematography is here before going much further. Many folks often think that the director of the film is the one who makes most of the choices about what goes into a shot, but that actually falls to the cinematographer, usually called the Director of Photography (DP). This individual sets the general look and feel of each scene including lighting, shot composition, and any coloring. Their role is intricately aligned with the director and you often fine directors working with the same DP on multiple films.
For more information on what a cinematographer does, check out the article “Film 101: What Is Cinematography and What Does a Cinematographer Do?” from MasterClass.com.
I’ve been taking progressive steps back in film history over the last month or so of movies, but this is my last older movie I’m watching for the challenge for a while. Every movie I have planned through the middle of July is from 1997 or later.
Rebecca is one that I’ve never seen from Hitchcock’s catalogue, even with taking an amazing Hitchcock Film class in college. I’m excited to see this one, especially since it is in the middle part of his career, before films like Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds.
After the new releases last week not making a huge dent in the overall box office last weekend, I have a feeling that is about to change with the big film hitting theaters this weekend.
This is the only thing that most people will be talking about this weekend related to movies, unless you happen to be at Cannes, enjoying the premieres of films like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny or Martin Scorsese's newest film, Killers of the Flower Moon.
Now, if you check out the poster featured here, there are a LOT of good looking people on it. On top of that, many of them are true A-list talent that can drive box office results on their own. Put them all together and this film is a sure fire box office hit, regardless of the actual story on display.
The previous installment (F9: The Fast Saga) hit theaters in the dampened Covid-19 environment of June 2021 so I would expect to see a bigger box office haul from this outing, but it's tough to say how it will stack up against some of the biggest films in the franchise.
There were some issues with the video posted above, so some of the limited releases below are missing from the video.
I find it a little hard to believe that I’m sitting writing my 20th post for this series already. (Technically it’s my 18th since I think I missed two back last month.) When I tried to do this challenge a few years ago, I flamed out after only two weeks, and now I’ve gone ten times that duration.
As I mentioned in my post the other day, the category for this week was A Film From Your Favorite Time Period. This could obviously be any period in history, and you could pick as broad or narrow a time period as you want. My pick was Ancient Egypt for a few reasons. I’ve always been obsessed with that period in history as far back as I can remember. I’m not sure if it’s simply based on the amazing architecture they developed in the pyramids and enormous temples, but I know that had a lot to do with it. I also really like the visual art they created, and the entire idea of hieroglyphics as a form of writing. I even went as far as to try and learn some basic hieroglyphic symbols at one point when reading through everything my local library had on Ancient Egypt.
Now, there are plenty of movies I could have picked from. There are any number of adaptations of the story of Cleopatra, several versions of The Ten Commandments, The Prince of Egypt, and too many mummy related films to list. But I wanted to go in a direction I hadn’t explored before, and came across the 1954 CinemaScope epic The Egyptian. It looked interesting and I’d never really heard of it before, so I decided to give it a shot.
Sinuhe soon befriends a man named Horemheb (Victor Mature) and goes out lion hunting with him in the wilderness. While chasing a lion, they come across the newly crowned Pharaoh Akhnaton (Michael Wilding) and save him from being killed by a lion. As reward for this act, Sinuhe is made the court physician and Horemheb is given a post in the royal guard. Sinuhe enjoys the work in the court, but is pulled away from helping the poor, the real reason he became a physician. He also falls in love with a courtesan named Nefer (Bella Darvi) and squanders his family’s wealth on gifts for her. When he parents die, he is forced to bury them in unmarked graves, having sold off their tomb in the name of love.
At this time, Sinuhe also runs into a former love interest from the city named Merit (Jean Simmons) who warns him that Akhnaton has condemned him to death, blaming Sinuhe for the death of one of his daughters. Sinuhe is forced to flee with his servant Kaptah (Peter Ustinov). He spends years outside of Egypt before running into a group of Hittites that plan to attack Egypt using their superior iron weaponry. In exchange for treating one of their officers, he obtains an iron sword which he brings back to Egypt to show Horemheb, now captain of the royal guard.
Sinuhe also reunites with Merit and discovers that she has a son Thoth (Tommy Rettig). After treating the boy for some minor injuries, it is revealed that Sinuhe is the father and the boy dreams of one day becoming a physician as well.
It is soon revealed that Horemheb and several priests are attempting to remove Akhnaton from power and ask that Sinuhe “accidentally” kill the ruler while trying to treat him. Sinuhe initially refuses, but eventually acquiesces, agreeing to poison Akhnaton, but also planning to poison Horemheb and take his own place as pharaoh after finding out that he was secretly the son of the previous pharaoh. However, upon listening to Akhnaton speak as he dies, Sinuhe realizes that Horemheb should be the one to rule and reveals his plan before Horemheb can drink from the poisoned cup. Horemheb takes the throne and marries the princess. In the end, the story returns to where is started as Sinuhe finishes writing his story in exile on the shores of the Red Sea in hopes that Thoth or his descendants will someday find it.
At first glance, some of the pieces of this film might seem intriguing. We have stories of lion hunts, a war between the Hittites and Egyptians, and political intrigue. Unfortunately, most of the focus of the film seems to have been on crating lavish sets to fill with hundreds of extras, all decked out in what were thought to be period accurate costumes. That left little time or money for portraying the battles described in conversations or the ability to create any substantial action in the film. Maybe I’m just biased by how I would imagine a film like this would be made today, but there was so much more potential here than what was realized.
That said, the sets and costumes are by far the best part about this film. Being made in the 1950s, they obviously didn’t have the ability to shoot on location in Egypt, and many of the scenes depicting the Egyptian city, you can usually tell where the physical set ends and the painted backdrop begins. But that doesn’t take away from the sheer scale of what is being shown on the screen. Top that off with the exquisite costumes, especially for characters like the pharaoh and other royalty and the film is truly a visual spectacle.
But visual sizzle doesn’t make a film. Part of what similar films of the era so popular (The Ten Commandments, The Robe, Ben-Hur) was the story. Yes, there were visual spectacles as well, but there was more substance to the stories to support that. This is something that holds true as much today as it did 70 years ago, perhaps even more so today when there are so many more visual flashes that can be added to films, and done so more and more cheaply with every passing day. The biggest offense of this in The Egyptian comes during the lion hunt early in the film. Sinuhe and Horemheb are driving a chariot while chasing the lion and the film uses the classic rear projection technique to get the moving. It may have looked amazing at the time, but to today’s audiences, it looks corny and old.
My other issue with this film’s story is that it was hard to follow. Part of that may be due to the missing audio on the version I watched. I wasn’t able to find a copy on physical media in any libraries near me, so I resorted to a YouTube copy. Unfortunately, this file was missing several minutes of audio in various places throughout the film, often in key moments of dialogue. This meant I had to go back and read plot summaries to fully understand what was going on in these moments. Even with that, there were elements of the plot that felt tacked on or unnecessary, almost like the filmmakers created the sets and costumes first, and then had to cobble together a story to fit all the impressive sets.
In the end, The Egyptian is a forgettable 1950s film. There are better options made during this period, and better options set during a similar period. My favorite film set in Egypt still remains The Prince of Egypt and I might just have to go back and watch that again as a palette cleanser after this film. If you’re a die hard fan of Egyptian history and haven’t seen this film, you might want to carve out two hours for it, but otherwise I would recommend avoiding it.
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone. To all the mothers out there, thank you for all that you do for your children. We might not always tell you, but we appreciate your love and support. If you’re not a mother yourself, reach out to your own mom or someone you know who is a mother and make their day a little brighter.
Now, on to our movie pick of the week.
This week, we are looking at movies that are Set During Your Favorite Time Period. Now, this is obviously going to be different for everyone since each person will have a different time period they like. Fortunately, the world of the Internet, specifically Wikipedia has put together a list of films set during various periods of history. This “List of historical films set in Near Eastern and Western civilization” is broken down by age (Stone, Bronze, Iron) and then by centuries for more recent time periods so you can easily find something that suits your fancy. And if you don’t know what your favorite time period is yet, just look through the list and see what catches your eye.
My Selection-The Egyptian
After spending some time in the distant future with Serenity a few weeks back, it’s time to jump way back to the time of Ancient Egypt. I have always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt, starting with my early obsession with the David Macaulay book Pyramid. I have spent many hours in the 932 section of the library and the fact that I know that number should tell you something of how much I love that period of history.
I’m also interested in going back to a period of movie history that had a much different kind of film. The trailer for this below promotes the fact that it is presented in Cinemascope, so watching it at home won’t have quite the effect, but the grandeur of the film will still be there.
I mentioned in my four-month summary post <post link> the other day, that I had something in the works focused on the diversity of movies I have been watching this year, and today I want to share that with you.
Now, let me start off by telling you what this post ISN’T about. This is not a post that is intended to say that I’m better than you because I watch a different kind of movie. I’m not trying to make anyone feel “less than” because of what I’m going to cover. It should not be taken as a grand manifesto on the status of diversity in the film industry at any time past, present, or future.
This post is mainly intended as a personal reflection on my own viewing habits and the new fertile ground I have unearthed through my movie viewing this year.
So where did this come from?
For a long time, I have considered myself a movie fan and if you look at the post history on this page, you can see I’ve been running this site for over five years. My original intent was to watch every Oscar nominee in history, and chronicle my journey along the way. Through the intervening years, I’ve gone on several tangents, from writing weekly “Nominee Watch” posts (which have morphed into the Weekly Previews of today), to starting a podcast, making YouTube videos, and most recently, taking on some great writers to help write reviews.
Around the same time that I started this site, I joined two movie tracking websites to help me remember the movies I watch. The first was Trakt and there are a few things I like about this site. Not only does it allow me to track the movies I watch, but I can also log individual episodes of most TV shows as well. I can use that to see if I’m focusing more on movies or TV at any given time. Trakt also allows me to rate films on a 1-10 scale like I do for reviews on the site.
The second site I joined in 2018 was Letterboxd. This site is much more focused on films (though it does include limited series) and allows more involved stats about my viewing. This is where the idea for this post came from.
Looking back, I doubt that I’ve marked every film I’ve ever seen as watched on Letterboxd, but I’ve gone back and flagged as many as possible that I know I’ve watched. When I bumped up to a Pro membership on Letterboxd in 2021, I got access to some incredible stats about the movies I’ve watched and that’s what I want to share here. Fair warning, there will be quite a bit of numbers and some basic percentage math through the rest of the post. You’ve been warned.
Letterboxd includes tons of statistics about the movies you’ve watched, and you can look at them for all time, or year by year. I’m going to focus in on two areas of the Letterboxd stats: Most Watched Directors and Most Watched Stars.
Most Watched Directors
Let’s start with Most Watched Directors. There have been plenty of words written about the lack of female directors and non-white directors in the nominations for things like the Academy Awards in recent years, and it’s true. According to Wikipedia, 467 nominations have been handed out to 74 directors (or directing teams) for the Academy Award for Best Director. That means that in 95 years there have been:
I wish I could say I was much better than this in my own viewing habits, but according to my Letterboxd data, I’m even worse. The top 20 directors I’ve watched the most all fall into the white men category. In fact, the majority are American (65%) with the rest coming from the UK (25%), Canada (5%), and New Zealand (5%).
Now, I don’t have an exact comparison for this year because only one director appears on my most watched list, but my highest rated directors of the year tell a somewhat different story so far. While I’m not to the point I’d like to be, I do have three female directors in my top 20 highest rated, along with six directors of color. I also have a wider range of voices from around the world including Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, India, Italy, and Japan. Granted, Americans still make up the majority of the list, but the overall range this year is much wider than my overall history.
Most Watched Stars
Moving on to the actors in movies, I decided to look at the top 20 most watched for my overall history and compare it to 2023. These aren’t prefect comparisons because there are 20 actors on my all-time list, and only 15 on my top most watched for this year so far, but the story is already telling.
Among my all-time most watched actors, the ones who appear at the top are there for a few reasons. Tom Hanks is at the top because, well, he’s Tom Hanks. I didn’t realize I’d watched so many of his films, but I guess I have. Names like Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Evans land on the list because they’ve been in so many Marvel films. Similarly, Anthony Daniels, James Earl Jones, and Warwick Davis show up for their many Star Wars roles and Harrison Ford gets a bonus for being in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Lastly, John Ratzenberger and Bonnie Hunt both land near the top of the list because they have cameos in so many Pixar movies. So given the fact that so many of these actors come from a few franchises, it’s actually interesting that 20% of the list is female and 25% actors of color. That said, it was still 80% American with the rest coming from Australia, Britain, and Nigeria (by way of Hugo Weaving who I found out was actually born in Nigeria, but to British parents).
Like the directors, my watching habits have gotten a bit more diverse in 2023, but not anywhere close to being an even spread. My female actors have increased to 33%, but that’s only one more (5) than overall (4). In terms of actors of color, the pendulum actually swung in favor of non-white actors. The fact that I struggled to categorize some of the actors this time around also speaks to the fact that it is more diverse. Finally, just like directors, the overall spread of nationalities has almost doubled to include India, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and Germany. However, just like with directors, American actors still hold the majority (53%).
What does all this mean?
I wrote at the end of my 4 month recap post that I’ve expanded my selection of films, not just because of the 52 week challenge I’m doing this year, but also because of two fantastic Discord groups I’m a part of. I actually credit those groups of the movie roulette challenges with most of the diversity in my viewing this year.
I know a lot of casual movie fans shy away from films from outside the US or UK, but there truly is an incredibly diverse world of cinema out there if you just give things a chance. My favorite movie of the year so far is Parasite, a foreign film which ended up winning Best Picture (among other awards) at the Oscars a few years ago. I’ve watched foreign films like 8 ½, and Nosferatu for my challenge, but from my roulette groups I’ve received recommendations for Harakiri from Japan, The Lunchbox and A Death in the Gunj from India, and Memoirs of a Sinner from Poland.
However, one thing seems to never change. Despite the fact that Irrfan Khan is one of my two most watched actors in 2023 (with three films so far), my other top actor is Tom Hanks (also with three films). Apparently, I just REALLY like Tom Hanks films and can’t get enough of him, no matter what year it is.
I’ve decided to do another two month recap of the year so far now that we’re about 1/3 of the way through the challenge. As a reminder, I have a full list of movies I plan on watching on Letterboxd. If you’re on Letterboxd, please give that list a like or comment to show your appreciation. If you’re not already on Letterboxd, what are you waiting for?
As I did with my two month post at the beginning of March, I’m going to review what I’ve thought of the movies I’ve watched so far this year. I already went into quite a bit of detail in the previous post for the first nine films, so my focus will be on the second batch of nine I’ve watched since then, but here is the full list so far:
My top film I’ve watched (Parasite) this year remains from my last post and I doubt very much it will be knocked off the top of the list this year. The next two films I watched after that in early March (Akeelah and the Bee and Network) were probably the closest I came to moving Parasite off the top of the list. They are great movies and while Network was appropriately lauded in its time, I feel like Akeelah and the Bee has been a bit overlooked and deserves a second shot at life. Keke Palmer’s role in that movie is near the top of the list of individual performances in the movies I’ve watched for the challenge.
On the other end of the spectrum were a few movies that I rated very poorly, for a variety of reasons. My post on The Birth of a Nation is probably the longest of the year so far, and rightly so because it’s the longest film and the one with the most baggage to discuss. I also gave poor ratings to the following week’s film The Avengers, and still want to go back and watch the television series. Unlike Firefly, The Avengers ran for several seasons, so I haven’t had time to check it out, but I continue to hear much better things about the show than the movie. The other flop on the list, and likely the lowest rated film of the year for me was Plan 9 From Outer Space. What can I say? I didn’t expect much from the movie once called “the worst movie ever made” and my expectations were correct.
One of the more recent films I watched was Nosferatu, from 1922, and despite its age, the film holds up over 100 years after its release. I was recently doing some cleanup of files on my computer and came across a list of Must See Movies that included both Nosferatu and The Birth of a Nation as must see films across the whole of film history. Ironically, the latest film on the list is Parasite, so I’ve got the bookends of that list done and would just need to fill in the rest in the middle. I am keeping this list handy as a potential option for a challenge to do next year. The full list goes well past a year so in order to get it into a year, I would have to do multiple movies a week, but we’ll see how that goes.
Continuing the generally high ratings I gave films in these two months, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom came in strong as I expected. The performances in this film are absolutely incredible, and after watching it, I got angry all over again that Chadwick Boseman didn’t win the Oscar for his performance (this was the 2021 Oscars ceremony where they left Best Actor to last, expecting him to receive the award and it went to Anthony Hopkins who was asleep at home in Scotland). I understand it’s based on a play and may not be ideal for a screen version, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would love to see a stage production as well.
In the last two weeks, I took in two science fiction films, one being a revisit of the animated surrealist fantasy by René Laloux called Fantastic Planet. I hadn’t fully appreciated the film when I first watched it earlier this year (check my post for the full explanation) but am starting to come around to the impact it had. Following that, I just watched Serenity this week after cramming the entire Firefly series over the last few weeks. I’m sure I would have enjoyed them more if I had seen them when they were originally released, but I enjoyed them even if I won’t be as fanatical about them as Sheldon Cooper was on The Big Bang Theory.
As I wrote two months ago, I continue to be happy with the choices I’ve made for my movies this year. I’ve seen a wide variety of films and when combined with the multiple movie roulette groups I’m participating in, I have seen more movies this year than ever before and from a much more diverse group of directors, actors, and other creators. I am currently working on a post separate from this challenge to discuss that exact idea, so look for that in the coming week.
It's Mother's Day weekend so I hope you have something special planned for your mom. If the movies are your thing with Mom, here are the films you can look for in theaters this weekend.
Book Club: The Next Chapter
It's Jane Fonda's second big movie of the year (after 80 for Brady back in February) and the sequel to the 2018 film Book Club. This time around the ladies are heading off to Italy where one of their foursome is getting married.
Fonda returns for this sequel along with Diane Lane, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen. On the gentlemen's side, look for Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, and Craig T. Nelson to star in this romantic comedy.
If you only know Charlie Day from his meme appearances, it may be time to give him a chance on the big screen. Not only does Day star in this film, but he is making his directorial debut.
This film is about a man who has recently been released from a mental health facility and bears a striking resemblance to a famous movie star. Unfortunately, the star refuses to leave his trailer to the mental health patient is hired to be his stand-in for public appearances.
The film co-star Ken Jeong, Kate Beckinsale, Adrien Brody, Jason Sudeikis, Edie Falco, Jason Bateman, Common, John Malkovich, and the late Ray Liotta. Hopefully this will get as good a reception as the previous Liotta film Cocaine Bear did a few months back.
With his previous film AIR hitting Amazon Prime today, you can get a double helping of Ben Affleck this weekend as his new thriller Hypnotic hits theaters today as well.
This film centers around Affleck's investigator who is trying to find his missing daughter. As he learns more it becomes clear that her disappearance is somehow connected with a string of high-profile bank robberies. The film co-stars Alice Braga and William Fichtner.
Knights of the Zodiac
This is likely the biggest action film of the weekend and while Mackenyu's name might not be familiar to you, there are some names you will recognize in this film.
Mackenyu stars as an orphan who discovers he is the only person alive who can protect a reincarnated goddess who was sent to watch over humanity. Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) co-stars with Famke Janssen (X-Men) and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones).
Rally Road Racers
Last up in wide release this weekend is the animated film Rally Road Racers. This film features a cast of animated animals racing across the silk road for glory.
The voice cast includes Chloe Bennet, J. K. Simmons, and John Cleese.
It's been a busy last two months and the theaters will remain full of new releases throughout the summer, but if you're looking for something a little different, check out these limited releases this weekend:
It’s already almost the middle of May and today I’m providing my thoughts on the film Trading Places to fulfill my pick for the Rich vs. Poor category. If you still need help picking a film for this week, please check out my post from earlier this week.
As I noted the other day, this is one of those films I’ve seen the back half of at least a dozen times on television. It’s the type that seems to be on TBS or TNT late at night every few months, obviously edited for TV given the amount of language and nudity in the film. That said, as many times as I’ve seen bits and pieces and as well as I know some of the famous scenes, I didn’t remember most of the first half of the film so I still consider it a new watch for me.
If you don’t know the story, Trading Places focuses on the billionaire Duke brothers Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) as they conduct a social experiment at the expense of their business manager Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and local vagabond Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy). After an incident where Winthorpe accuses Valentine of trying to steal the company payroll, the Randolph Duke bets Mortimer that they can turn Valentine straight and turn Winthorpe into a criminal by swapping their positions in life.
Winthorpe’s descent on the other hand is not so smooth. He is falsely accused of theft at his upscale club, just as he falsely accused Valentine just days prior. As a result, he is kicked out of the club and sent to jail, only to have the police find drugs on his person leading to additional charges. As a result, his fiancé breaks up with him and he ends up meeting Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), a kind-hearted prostitute getting out of jail at the same time as him. She takes pity on him and offers to let him stay at her apartment while he tries to get his life back on track.
The final act of the film kicks off when Valentine overhears the Dukes discussing their bet in the bathroom of the Christmas party. Mortimer pays of Randolph (with their standard bet of $1) and they discuss how to revert things back to their original state, with Winthorpe running the company and Valentine back in the ghetto. The pair agree they don’t want Winthorpe back because of just how far he has fallen, but also agree that they don’t want a black man like Valentine running their company. They show their racism here by using the n-word which comes as a bit of a shock to Valentine because of how jovial they had been with him throughout the rest of the film. Valentine then finds Winthorpe back at Opheila’s apartment and tells him about the Dukes’ bet. Together with Opheilia and Winthorpe/Valentine’s butler Coleman (Denholm Elliott), they hatch a plan to get back at the Duke brothers by feeding them fake information about the expectations for the commodities markets in the new year. They plan to let the Dukes drive up the price of frozen concentrated orange juice futures in early trading before jumping in themselves to drive the price back down through short sales, making a boat load of money for themselves, and leaving the Dukes in the lurch.
Now, about the film itself, I was a bit surprised how well it holds up for the most part. Are there some problems with it? Of course. But the whole conceit of the movie is to show what absolutely garbage the Duke brothers are. The opening of the film is a fantastic look at the varying levels of prosperity in the city of Philadelphia where the film takes place. We see working class folks from butchers and fish sellers prepping their wares for the day to professionals commuting on the freeways and subways to office buildings. This eventually leads to a sequence of Coleman prepping Winthorpe’s breakfast on a silver platter intercut with images of homeless people, hammering home the disparity between the wealthy and the poor.
However, we soon learn that there is an entirely different level of wealth, and that comes in the form of the Dukes who exit their lavish country mansion, complete with multiple maids and servants (compared with Winthorpe’s single butler). The Dukes don’t even acknowledge their staff, a direct comparison to Winthorpe in the previous scene, who accepts the attention of Coleman and others employed by the Duke company, but also greets everyone in the office lobby who says “good morning” to him. Even in these first scenes, the film is establishing that Winthorpe might be pretentious and have an overly large opinion of himself, but at his core, he’s still a good person. On the flip side, The Duke brothers are clearly portrayed as the worst side of wealth who can’t even spare a kind word to anyone they deem below their own lofty status (which is pretty much everyone).
I lay this out to point out that just when we think the Dukes can’t get any lower, we see an even darker side of them near the end of the film. But let’s back up a bit. First, we see them ignore their staff in the opening. Then, they make their bet, ruining the life of their best employee (and his fiancé) over a dollar wager, and raising Valentine to prosperity. In the process, Valentine makes them more money than they would have alone in the famous pork belly scene. But the kicker comes when Valentine learns of their bet at the Christmas party. Mortimer Duke pays off his brother and they discuss swapping Valentine and Winthorpe back to their original positions. However, Winthorpe is now damaged goods. He’s become a criminal and can no longer be seen as the head of their prestigious company. Valentine on the other hand is also unworthy to lead the company in their eyes for the sole reason that he is Black. They are prepared to toss aside both men and move on to someone else with no thought given to how the entire experience will affect them long term.
Of course, this being the movies, the good guys do win in the end and the wealthy villains get their comeuppance. I mentioned some problems with the film and most of it stems from the racism inherent in the images. In the opening montage I mentioned above, the majority of the people in the scenes of wealth are white while many of those in the scenes depicting poverty are Black. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t a surprise given the film was made in the early 1980s. If it was remade today, I doubt we would see the same racial divides in the background shots establishing the mise-en-scene, or even in the primary roles. In fact, I would be interested to see a re-make of this film with all the roles tossed in a blender and rearranged. It would be a curious exercise in how far we have come since the original 40 years ago, but also how far we still have to go.
The last thing I have to mention because it made me laugh out loud is the famous fourth wall break from Eddie Murphy. It comes in the scene where the Dukes are explaining what commodities are to Valentine and after Randolph explains that pork bellies are “used to make bacon, which you might find in a bacon and lettuce and tomato sandwich” Valentine looks directly at the camera with a look that can only say “can you believe these guys?” It so quick that you might miss it, but sums up what both Valentine and the audience are feeling about the Dukes at that moment. It’s also a genius way to fully get the audience on Valentine’s side for the rest of the movie and almost feels like it’s Murphy’s way of saying to a knowing audience, “can you believe I even have to be in this movie?”
After watching this film from start to finish, I finally have a much better appreciation for it as a whole. The ability to understand the climactic scene with the help of the folks at NPR’s Planet Money makes the ending even more enjoyable. The film was perfectly cast from top to bottom and it feels a part of the city of Philadelphia in a similar way to Rocky several years before. (We even get an image of a Rocky statue in the opening montage) If you’ve never seen Trading Places, or if it’s been a while since you’ve seen the whole thing, I urge you to check it out and reconnect with this classic film.
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?