Establishing a Precedent: The Oscars in the ‘80s

By Juan Ramirez

A careful look at the Best Picture winners from the 1980s reveals that this was the decade that established what we now think of as Oscar movies: middle of the road, sentimental traps that carry their importance proudly above their heads. A sharp detour from the frenetic, vital works of the ‘70s American New Wave, these films seem to exist simply for their entertainment value, a vacuous virtue shared by many of the releases from the Reagan era.

The excesses of the more-is-more and neon-is-more era can be felt in the large production values of its films. Apart from the usual Oscar bait, the ‘80s saw the mega popular Star Wars, Star Trek and Indiana Jones series take off with astronomical budgets, appealing to the masses’ desire for spectacle. American audiences wanted more: more violence, laughs, explosions, tears, fears and motion – and nothing to do with subtlety or smallness.

Continue reading

Auteur Cinema and Male Bravado: The Oscars in the ‘70s

By Juan Ramirez

The question of where the momentous artistic energy generated by the late 1960s would lead must’ve loomed large in the minds of Hollywood executives as they witnessed the dismantling of the studio system and rise of the American auteur. What kind of institution would the Academy become after awarding the X-rated Midnight Cowboy Best Picture? Would grafting the European director/creator model across the pond be successful? Coppola, Friedkin and Stallone, among others, responded with a resounding affirmation, driving the Hollywood into the American New Wave, where freedom reigned and masculinity was on hyperdrive.

Continue reading

Is “The Philadelphia Story” Feminist?

By Christian Gay

George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story is a fascinating film, rewarding the viewer with each repeat viewing. The film is perhaps the quintessential remarriage comedy, the finest of a popular cycle of films produced in Hollywood during the 1930s and ‘40s that share certain formulaic narrative similarities. The Philadelphia Story contains some of the best acting performed by screen legends Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart (who won an Oscar for his performance). It reinvigorated Hepburn’s stalling career by turning a healthy profit and earning an Oscar nomination for the actress who had been recently labeled “box office poison” by the Independent Theatre Owners of America.

Continue reading

Nostalgic Detachment and Urgent Renewal: The Oscars in the ‘60s

By Juan Ramirez

Since the 1960s are ostensibly remembered as a nonstop parade of drug-fueled, artistic counterculture, it is easy to forget the mainstream world it set out to counter. As Hollywood and the American film industry retreated into a nostalgic coma devoid of social introspection or cultural nuance, the Academy settled into a facile routine of rewarding obvious entertainments. Massive roadshow releases emerged as easy favorites, with four mega-musicals (the most in one decade) taking home the grand prize. This move towards detached fantasy would ultimately mark the ‘60s as one of the most backwards-looking decade in Oscar history, giving seven top prizes to movies that dwell on times gone by despite that the social landscape was becoming an increasingly significant player in daily life with its visible strides towards equality. 

Continue reading

Roman Holiday

By Eric Shoag

One of the more enchanting and effervescent romantic comedies to come out of any era, Roman Holiday (1954) is certainly an anomaly among films from the frantic 1950s, a decade remembered for its deadly serious dramas, oppressive crime stories, ponderous literary adaptations, epics and musical productions. No, Roman Holiday is something completely different, unique unto itself; one of those magical motion pictures in which every element combines to form an exquisite, uplifting entertainment that transcends time and still feels as fresh, surprising and spontaneous today as on the day it was released.

Continue reading

Purple Rain

By Chelsea Spear

In the days following Prince’s death, a series of memes made the rounds comparing the songwriting and guest-appearance credits on the fallen icon’s albums to those of Beyonce’s recent release Lemonade. These charts reinforced the rockiest belief that artists who write their own songs and play all their instruments are true artists, where pop singers who collaborate with songwriters to achieve their vision are puppets in thrall to their record companies.

If Prince were alive to see these memes, he would probably respond with the same shady expression immortalized in so many reaction gifs. Though he wrote all his songs, played many of the instruments on his albums, and produced much of his recorded output, he had a strong interest in collaboration—particularly with accomplished female artists who had strong perspectives. Esperenza Spalding, Misty Copeland, Sheila E., and—yes—Beyonce worked side-by-side with Prince at different points in his career.

Continue reading

Cultivating Taste for Small Pleasures: Amélie

By Natalie Jones

As an introduction to the titular protagonist of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie (2001), the narrator declares in the opening scene that she “cultivates a particular taste for the small pleasures” such as sticking her hand into a sack of rice, satisfyingly cracking crème brûlée with a spoon, and skipping stones across a river. Through this scene, the audience becomes almost instantly familiar with Amélie (Audrey Tautou), a character whose personality is defined and shaped by the minutiae of daily life.

Continue reading

Carol

By Leo Racicot

Director Todd Haynes, so good at recreating the feel of certain eras in American culture, here in Carol, fully and beautifully realizes the 1950s, particularly the 1950s of the upper classes. The costumes, the nightclubs, the Manhattan house parties and restaurants, a fancy store’s toy department — all are stamped with Haynes’ magic eye for period flavor and detail. This becomes our setting for one of the most honest, deliberate love stories in recent memory. This is, in fact, the first movie I can recall that treats lesbians as flesh-and-blood human beings with human passions – absent from Carol are the shame and fear of the two schoolteachers in 1951’s The Children’s Hour, directed by William Wyler from the hit Lillian Hellman play, or the over-the-top histrionics (which, don’t get me wrong, I liked) of The Killing of Sister George (1968, directed by Robert Aldrich). Every character in Carol is an original, genuine, open. Everybody cares and cares deeply about the other, which makes the hurt, when hurt does come, all the more palpable, deep.

Continue reading

Glorified Cheer and Discarded Noir: Oscars in the ‘50s

By Juan Ramirez

Following the more economical wartime cinema of the ‘40s, the 1950s offered a chance for American filmmakers to revel in their newly self-proclaimed #1 status, ramping up production values and grandness to match their hubris and reach. The Academy followed suit, honoring films that celebrated human triumph, even if some of the best-remembered movies of the decade focused instead on the frailty of an increasingly connected world.

Though the decade’s first Best Picture statuette went to the low-key backstage drama All About Eve (1950), it was a period that rewarded large productions. Four of the decade’s winners were returns to the cinema-as-theatrical-spectacle mindset of the form’s earlier days, which would later morph into the action-thriller extravaganzas we roll our eyes at today. Of these, only two can be said to have held up over time, their monumental scope a necessity for themes of an epic nature rather than a plastic exploitation of the more-is-more mentality.

Continue reading

“Targets,” Monsters, and Filmmakers

By Brandon Irvine

You might have the feeling, watching Targets, that director Peter Bogdanovich has welded together two unconnected movies. I’m not talking about the intercutting of two plots – a ubiquitous storytelling technique – but the weaving together of two narratives that feel starkly dissimilar. We begin the movie following Byron Orlok, an aging actor who resembles, in almost all ways, Boris Karloff, the actor playing him. Orlok is sick of being an actor, tired of the same-y scripts and the inanities of being a thespian in slow decline. His back-and-forth with the various facets of the Hollywood machine trying to get him into another picture is a farce, setting the tone for half the movie.

Continue reading