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  • Ten Best of 1985

    Maybe it was me, maybe it was just the world, but I can't recall a movie year that felt as out-of-kilter as 1985. Before it had reached its midpoint, I was already in a position to put together a respectable Ten Best list. However, most of the titles on that list represented unfinished business from 1984. And as 1985 wore on, few among the brand-new films made credible bids to stand alongside them.
          Cool kids to the left are Richard Edson, Eszter Balint, and John Lurie in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise. That film had been named Best Picture of 1984 by the National Society of Film Critics.
  • Moments Out of Time 1987

    Accompanying that Ten Best of '87 article for Pacific Northwest magazine was the current installment of a year-end feature Kathleen Murphy and I—in this case, I solo—have done for nearly every year since 1971. "Moments Out of Time" started out in the Seattle Film Society journal Movietone News. Most years' worth can be found collected at Parallax View. Photo at left displays Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy.

  • The Ten Best Movies of 1987

    ...So I let my Framing Pictures colleagues Kathleen Murphy and Robert Horton sign me up for a Facebook account, in order to help administrate our new page there. And in selecting a jokey 1987 portrait to serve as my Profile Picture, I realized I ought to go ahead and scan the magazine article it accompanied. This was in the late, lamented Pacific Northwest (the glossy getaway mag, not the Seattle Times supplement). I must admit I got a kick out of reencountering film year 1987 as configured on that occasion. Twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years is a good pretext for announcing an anniversary. OK then, here's the Director's Cut Restoration. Oh, that photograph? I'm posing as a private eye with trenchcoat, snap-brim hat, and a very nice cigar.....

  • And the Oscar goes to ... who, us?!

    Yes, we're past the point when anything more needs to be said about the 84th Oscars, and yet I've seen no mention of the most wackily wonderful moment of the evening. It afforded a look inside Academy ritual, and an instance of late-blooming justice being done against considerable odds. So please indulge one last Oscar commentary.

  • Oscar upsets

    Set out to write about Academy Award upsets and right away the ground starts shifting under your feet. Oh, some neck-snappers we all remember—like Jack Nicholson coming out to present the award for best picture of 2005, opening the envelope, and saying, "Whoa." Moments when the title of the movie everybody figured to win suddenly wasn't the one being read aloud.
          But those are ya-hadda-be-there moments. Looking back over Oscar history, you encounter what we might call upsets-in-reverse—instances when a movie or a performance that has long since become part of the racial unconscious did not, in its day, win proper recognition. Then you find yourself in a sort of "What did they know and when did they know it?" situation. How could they have been so blind? We've collected some of that kind of upset as well.
          Upsets come in all valences, triumphant and appalling. Truly the ways of Oscar passeth understanding. But that needn't spoil the party.

    It was Hollywood's golden year. Stagecoach ... Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ... Ninotchka ... The Wizard of Oz ... Only Angels Have Wings ... Young Mr. Lincoln ... Wuthering Heights ... Of Mice and Men ... Gunga Din ... Midnight ... Drums Along the Mohawk ... Love Affair ... The Four Feathers (OK, made in England, but still). Yet it was the making of one movie that obsessed fans all year long, and when it ended up with a then-record 13 Oscar nominations, no one doubted that David O. Selznick's nearly-four-hour Technicolor megaproduction Gone With the Wind would take the brass ring. A lot of brass rings, including best director for Victor Fleming despite the fact that some half-dozen directors (preeminently George Cukor and Sam Wood) had worked on the film. Most of the major players were nominated (including Thomas Mitchell, albeit for Stagecoach, not GWTW); newcomer-to-Hollywood Vivien Leigh won best actress as Scarlett O'Hara, and Hattie McDaniel edged fellow cast member Olivia De Havilland for best supporting actress. Yet what was wrong with this picture? Although novelist Margaret Mitchell had written the book visualizing Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Gable had to settle for a nomination merely (best actor went to Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips; we'd have given it to Frank Capra's Mr. Smith, Jimmy Stewart). The King took it like a man, of course. But watch GWTW today and try telling us all that Selznickean flapdoodle would be tolerable without Gable's movie-star gravitas to center it.

    A dozen more years' worth at http://movies.msn.com/academy-awards/oscar-upsets/

  • Out of the past: the 2011 Oscar field

    And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started
    and know the place for the first time.
    —T.S. Eliot

    A number of 2011 films nominated for high-profile Oscars appear to have won acclaim for harking back to the past—most strikingly, the cinema's own past—either explicitly, in subject matter or by way of absorbing story and stylistic conventions from fondly remembered films of old. Some of them look back with passion and insight, charming and exciting us with artistry and inventiveness all their own. Some prove to be sounding brass: headlong charges into a distorting mirror. Collectively, they lend an odd cast to this Oscar season—and incidentally underscore how thoroughly the Academy has ignored, dismissed or just plain missed some of the year's most urgent, ultracontemporary films. But that, too, is an old story.
          Foremost among the backward-looking crop, and the consensus frontrunner for Best Picture of 2011, is The Artist. Not only is it a movie about Hollywood at the dawn of the talkies; it honors that historic late-'20s moment by opting to be a (mostly) silent picture in black and white, even hewing to the era's "square" screen format. By contrast, Martin Scorsese's gazillion-dollar, state-of-the-art 3-D Hugo is a history lesson disguised as fairy tale, reimagining a 1930s Paris where one of the fathers of cinema itself, Georges Méliès, is resurrected and his lost film legacy redeemed.
          Paris is reimagined another way in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, even as, unlike the studio-created world of Hugo, the real, present-day City of Light plays itself, albeit chromatically enhanced by the great cinematographer Darius Khondji (where's his nomination?). Departing from our movies-beget-movies theme, Allen sends his hero, an American tourist (Owen Wilson, delightful), on witching-hour taxi rides into the Lost Generation past and the stylish company of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, et al. Back in movieland, My Week With Marilyn recalls the late-'50s making of a minor comedy that happened to pair two major, markedly dissimilar screen luminaries, the eponymous Miss Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier. (To be cast as the actor-director whose career he's shadowed must be the fulfillment of a life's ambition for Kenneth Branagh. Not ready for Oscar prime time, however.)

    Continue traveling back in time at http://movies.msn.com/academy-awards/nostalgia-at-the-oscars/article/?icid=MOVIES2>1=MOVIES2

  • 2011 NSFC Awards: liner notes

    Two weeks ago I posted the results of the National Society of Film Critics' awards voting, and promised an update when I had more comprehensive information. Having recently pored over the tally sheets from the Jan. 7 voting, I can now make good on that promise.

  • 2011 National Society of Film Critics awards announced

    The National Society of Film Critics, among the last of the critics groups to chime in with annual awards, voted Saturday, Jan. 7, to determine honors for film year 2011. The winner for Best Picture here, as in many other year-end accountings, was Lars von Trier's haunting, maddening, transcendent Melancholia. The film just barely edged out its closest competition, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life....

  • RTJ ballot for 2011 NSFC awards

    Here's how Queen Anne & Magnolia News' representative in the National Society of Film Critics voted in the 2011 derby. And since I was voting long distance, my votes don't figure in the results of any category that went beyond a first ballot. Except morally and spiritually, of course.

  • Ten Best Films of 2011 ... according to MSN.com

    Kathleen Murphy and I have participated in the year-end observances at MSN.com's Movies department in recent years. The Ten Best part for 2011 just went up today, Dec. 15, featuring the lists by a dozen MSN.com contributors and brief writeups on the ten films that finished on top.

  • 2010 Academy Awards: finished business

    Last week I told a friend I wasn't anticipating Oscar night all that much this year. Then I immediately emended that: No, I was anticipating Oscar night all too well. There was little room for doubt who or what was going to win, and the outlook wasn't prepossessing.

  • Independent Spirit Awards for 2010
    Believe it or not, another set of awards is vying for our attention as prize season nears its at-long-last end.
  • 2010 Oscar nominations, a week in

    Nominations for the 83rd Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards were announced Jan. 25 ... but is the race already over?

  • Recent Oscar races: 2008

    2008 was a thrilling year for presidential election politics, but it’s occasioned the most dispiriting and beside-the-point Academy Awards race in decades. What a neck-snapping switch from 2007, when the nominees for best picture were an honor roll of envelope-pushing excellence......

  • Recent Oscar races: 2007
    To afford perspective on the 2010 Academy Awards contest, we flash back to anticipatory articles on other races the previous three years.
  • Recent Oscar races: 2009

    Oscar turned 10 at age 82. How The Hurt Locker and Avatar duked it out in an enlarged Best Picture race.

  • Ten Best of 2008, 2009

    Although I continued to write the occasional film piece for Queen Anne & Magnolia News after vacating the editor's chair at the end of 2007, I didn't propose doing Ten Best pieces for the next two years. So just to fill an apparent gap here......

  • Ten Best of 2007

    As we embarked on our annual November-December process of catching up with the myriad films missed in the course of the year and zeroing in on our notions of the best, Kathleen Murphy remarked that 2007 hadn't been a year for great films. No, I agreed, only one or two seemed worthy of deeming great (an adjective we take pretty seriously), but there had been a healthy crop of really good, smart, ambitious movies that lingered in the mind. And in its way, that was almost as gratifying, and maybe more reassuring, than half a dozen masterpieces.

  • Ten Best of 2006

    Time once again for saluting the year's Ten Best movies. Although 2006 brought a handful of terrific films, overall it seemed an off year for cinema: more movies than ever, but few that registered strongly. Those that did are remembered here.

  • Academy Award nominations, 2010

    Your webmaster didn't report for the 5:30 a.m. assembly to hear the top Oscar nominations, but he did get up an hour-or-so later to watch the recording. As the TV screen came to life, there was an Academy-news crawl in progress at the bottom, and the first name I saw was John Hawkes, Winter's Bone's brilliant Uncle Teardrop. Very cool.

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