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Happy Birthday to Classic Movie Legend, Billy Wilder, born today, June 22 in 1906!

The dictionary describes a hero as follows: A person who is admired for courage or noble qualities. And of course, every child has a hero growing up. For some it was Superman, for others it was their parents and for me? Well, for me it was birthday boy, Billy Wilder.

Years ago, when I was a little lass in middle school, I decided I wanted to be in the movie industry. What exactly did I want to do, you ask? Well, I wanted to make movies by writing them. And as an aspiring young screenwriter, it should come as no surprise that my idol became Billy Wilder. It seemed to me, no matter what genre he took on, be it comedy or noir, drama or satire, Wilder knew how to hit every beat, progressing the story along at the perfect pace with the perfect actors to make the perfect movie. Surely the credit belonged to the craft of being a great writer, right? I mean, he writes what goes on the screen. Well, that’s what Wilder thought — that is until he sent his scripts to the directors. One by one, he saw his movies being altered sans his consent or his approval. So, what did he do? He did the most proactive thing he could; he became a director himself, taking complete control over his own ideas.

So, I followed in my idol’s footsteps and decided to become a director. As it turns out, that was the defining moment in my life, thus far. From there I studied film as much as I could, easily watching at least two movies a day. I eventually applied to multiple film schools on the east coast and chose to attend  the Purchase College Film Conservatory AKA the best decision I’ve ever made.  So please, indulge my fan-girl heart as we look at three films directed by my hero, the man who unknowingly impacted the course of my life, Billy Wilder.

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Billy Wilder directs Gloria Swanson in my favorite film Sunset Boulevard (1950)

…..Audrey Hepburn as sabrina in sabrina, classic movie actress, billy wilder

Billy Wilder directs Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden in my first Wilder film Sabrina (1954)

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shirley mclaine and jack lemmon. the apartment, classic movie actress, billy wilder

Billy Wilder directs my favorite romance, Jack Lemmon and Shirley McLaine in The Apartment (1960)

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Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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Actress. Singer. Dancer. Author. Activist. There seems to be nothing that Shirley MacLaine can’t do. Shirley MacLaine Beaty was born April 24, 1934 in Richmond Virginia to Ira Owens Beaty and Kathlyn Corinne. Shirley was performing in front of people at a young age, first beginning with ballet. Unfortunately, many of her roles were boys’ roles because there were no boys in her ballet class and she was the tallest girl available. While warming up backstage before a performance as Cinderella’s fairy godmother, she broke her ankle — but this didn’t stop her from going out there and performing the role anyway. Within time however, MacLaine realized that ballet wasn’t for her, and she instead pursued Broadway dancing — and then acting.

After high school graduation, MacLaine headed to Broadway, and a year later she was chosen to be Carol Haney’s understudy in The Pajama Game. In an ironic turn of events, Haney would end up breaking her ankle, and MacLaine would fill in for her. A few months later, MacLaine would again fill in for Haney — this time, the same night that well-known film producer Hal B. Wallis was in the audience. Impressed with MacLaine’s performance, he signed her to work for Paramount Pictures.

MacLaine’s feature film debut was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), which won her a Golden Globe for New Star Of The Year. I apologize for breaking the fourth wall here, but if Hitchcock sees enough talent in a person with no film experience to feature them in his film, then this person must be fantastic. A year later, MacLaine would star in Some Came Running, for which she received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Her second Best Actress nomination would come two years later with The Apartment, but she lost to Elizabeth Taylor. When speaking about her chances, she said, “I thought I would win for The Apartment, but then Elizabeth Taylor had a tracheotomy”.

Nomination three of five came in 1963 for the film Irma la Douce, which reunited her with Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon. Again, she would lose Best Actress, this time to Patricia Neal for her performance in Hud. In the 70’s, MacLaine would be nominated two more times, one for Best Documentary, The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir, and the other for Best Actress in The Turning Point. In The Turning Point, MacLaine portrays a retired ballerina, which was probably a role all too familiar to her.

In 1978, MacLaine won the Women in Film Crystal Award, which is awarded to outstanding women who helped expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. In 1983, MacLaine finally won her first Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Aurora Greenway in the James L. Brooks film Terms of Endearment. The film would also win Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson.

 

Josh Kaye for Classic Movie Hub

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Before I go on to talk about fantastic actress Shirley MacLaine, I wanted to let you know about a wonderful event happening on Wednesday, March 21st — Casablanca will be re-released in select theaters around the country. As you already know, Casablanca is, in my opinion, the best film to ever win Best Picture, which of course makes it one of the best films to ever be created. And now the chance to watch this film on the big screen is here! So if you’re available March 21st, make sure you don’t miss this fantastic event. Just go here for more details and to see which theaters are showing Casablanca.

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2011 Best Picture Winner – The Artist

Other Nominated Films:
The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

When I first decided to do my Best Picture Countdown, my original plan was to take the Best Picture winner of 2011 and compare it to the #1 ranked film on my list. I didn’t expect to be handed a gift like this though, so I’m changing my original plan. Instead of doing a comparison to Casablanca, I’ve decided that it would only be fair to give The Artist its own personal moment like every other film on this list. I admit, this may not have been the case if the winning film was Hugo or The Descendants, but The Artist is different in so many ways. The Artist is the first silent film to win Best Picture since the very first winner of the award in 1929, Wings. The Artist is also the first completely black-and-white film to win Best Picture since 1960, when the award went to The Apartment. When watching some of the great silent films, I would always wonder what it would be like to see a silent film in theaters. The Artist has given us all that chance — a chance to experience the magic of cinema in the way it had begun. The story of The Artist takes place in Hollywood between the years 1927 and 1932, which, if you know your Classical Film history, is around the time that talkies started to rise and silent films began to fall. The Artist focuses on the career of fictional silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). The film opens as Valentin is backstage during the premiere of his latest film, A Russian Affair. The crowd loves the film, and he takes the stage to bow and happily accept their accolades. After the premiere, Valentin is outside the theater posing for the adoring press, when unexpectedly, a young woman (Bérénice Bejo) bumps into him as she attempts to pick up her bag that had accidentally fallen to the ground. The two stare at each other, unsure of what to do next, when George laughs it off and the two begin posing together for the press. At one point, she kisses George on the cheek — a photo of which ends up on the front cover of Variety the next day with the headline, “Who’s That Girl?” On a bus the next day, the girl is reading the paper, keeping the front page visible for all to see in the hopes of being recognized as “that girl.”  She arrives at Kinetograph Films, the studio that produces the films of George Valentin, where she is hoping to audition as an extra.  At the audition, she sits next to The Butler (Malcolm McDowell) and shows him the front page of the paper. The Butler opens the paper in its entirety focusing on the question in the headline, “Who’s That Girl?”, and reminds her that no one knows who she is. A man then comes out of a door looking for three females who can dance, and it’s here where she shows her skills and gets the part. As she’s walking away, she looks back at The Butler and says, “The names Miller. Peppy Miller!” I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story for you, so I’m just going to stop here. When creating a silent film, it’s important that you have the right actor for the right role, especially if you’re attempting to make a silent film in today’s era of blockbuster cinema. I can honestly say that Jean Dujardin is the perfect actor for this movie. Jean has one of the most expressive faces that I’ve ever seen in any movie in any era. I remember when he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Motion Picture Musical or Comedy) — he showed off his expressive face by moving his ‘independent’ eyebrows in all directions. I was in awe. And that was just his eyebrows!  That being said, Jean is able to show so much emotion with just the slightest movement, and it’s amazing. I also want to comment on the music of Ludovic Bource. A silent film is never, of course, completely silent, as there is always a musical score accompanying the film. Bource was able to create a score that was, at times, festive and fun while at other times, nostalgic and romantic — a score that any silent film composer would be proud of. I expect that there will be a resurgence of silent films over the next few years. I don’t expect them all to be amazing, but that’s okay. It’s okay since it’s about time people remember and pay homage to the roots of cinema…where it all came from and how it all began. With The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius shows us just how much of a romantic he is — by channeling his love and admiration for the Vintage Hollywood Classics by creating a Modern Day Classic.  Congratulations to the 2011 Best Picture Award Winner, The Artist.

 

Nominated for 10 Oscars, Winner of 5
Best Achievement in Costume Design – Mark Bridges (WON)
Best Achievement in Directing – Michel Hazanavicius (WON)
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score – Ludovic Bource (WON)
Best Motion Picture of the Year – Thomas Langmann (WON)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role – Jean Dujardin (WON)
Best Achievement in Art Direction – Laurence Bennett (production designer), Robert Gould (set decorator)
Best Achievement in Cinematography – Guillaume Schiffman
Best Achievement in Film Editing – Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role – Bérénice Bejo
Best Writing, Original Screenplay – Michel Hazanavicius

George Valentin: Look at what you’ve become. You’ve become proud! You’ve become stupid!


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9. The Apartment (1960)

Other Nominated Films:
The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Suns and Lovers, The Sundowners

Billy Wilder’s follow-up to Some Like It HotThe Apartment, is a witty, sardonic, and touching film about corporate politics, adultery, integrity and love. Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, a lowly office clerk who works for a New York City insurance company. When Baxter starts lending out his apartment to his philandering bosses for their romantic trysts, things start getting complicated — especially when Baxter’s big boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), takes notice and wants to start using the apartment himself.  Meanwhile Baxter finds himself climbing nicely up the corporate ladder, and also takes a liking to sweet elevator operator Miss Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). When Baxter finds out that Fran is Sheldrake’s girlfriend — it makes for sticky situations, romantic problems and more serious trouble (that shall remain nameless) — and ultimately Baxter must decide between his integrity and his career. The on-screen chemistry between Lemmon and MacLaine is great to watch as they’re both extremely quick with their deliveries and are just terrific when they’re together. MacMurray is pitch-perfect, playing against type, as the cheating, low-life Sheldrake. Jack Kruschen, who plays Dr. Dreyfuss, is the doctor-neighbor who mistakenly thinks Baxter is a ladies’ man and advises Baxter to “Be a mensch!” (human being). Ray Walston and David Lewis are amusing as slightly sordid office wolves. Kruschen was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, while Lemmon and MacLaine were nominated for Best Actor and Actress respectively. The Apartment would end up being a critical and a financial success, grossing $25 million at the box office. Wilder would go on to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (co-written with longtime collaborator I.A.L. Diamond), joining an elite ‘club’ that consists of only four others (Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather Part II, James L. Brooks for Terms of Endearment, Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men.)  The Apartment would also end up being the last completely black-and-white film to win Best Picture (which actually could change this year…wow.)  I would also like to say one more thing before I close: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was nominated for four Oscars this year, winning none. If Psycho would have won for Best Picture (which it was not nominated for), then Psycho would have been the #2 film on my countdown.

Nominated for 10 Oscars, Winner of 5
Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Black-and-White – Alexandre Trauner, Edward G. Boyle (WON)
Best Director – Billy Wilder (WON)
Best Film Editing – Daniel Mandell (WON)
Best Picture – Billy Wilder (WON)
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen – Billy Wilder, I.A.L Diamond (WON)
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Jack Lemmon
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Jack Kruschen
Best Actress in a Leading Role – Shirley MacLaine
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – Joseph LaShelle

C.C. Baxter: Ya know, I used to live like Robinson Crusoe; I mean, shipwrecked among 8 million people. And then one day I saw a footprint in the sand, and there you were.

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