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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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24. West Side Story (1961)

Other Nominated Films:
Fanny, The Guns of Navarone, The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremberg

Please…no one hurt me for having West Side Story this far down on the list. I enjoyed the film, I won’t deny that at all. But compared to films 1 through 23, I had no choice. West Side Story is based on the William Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, which is actually my least favorite Shakespearian play…so maybe that played a role in my decision. I will say this about the movie: it’s got some pretty catchy songs (thanks to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim) and it’s not a bad romance. It’s definitely something I would recommend for a date night. I was perplexed when I saw the cast list and realized that the majority of the actors and actresses cast as Puerto Ricans in the film were, in fact, white. While their depiction of Puerto Ricans may have been…well…not that great, their acting in general was pretty solid. The basic plot of West Side Story focuses on two lovers who could never be together due to their race difference. Tony (Richard Beymer) is co-founder of the Jets, who are white Americans, and he begins to fall for Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris). Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks, a rival gang of Puerto Rican immigrants. The film begins with a free-for-all throughout the streets of Manhattan between the two rival gangs, and the violence only progresses as the film goes on towards its extremely thriller climax, which is one of the redeeming qualities of watching the film. West Side Story holds the distinction of being the musical film with the most Academy Award wins (10).

Nominated for 11 Oscars, Winner of 10
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – George Chakiris (WON)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Rita Moreno (WON)
Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Color – Boris Leven, Victor A. Gangelin (WON)
Best Cinematography, Color – Daniel L. Fapp (WON)
Best Costume Design, Color – Irene Sharaff (WON)
Best Director – Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins (WON)
Best Film Editing – Thomas Stanford (WON)
Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture – Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal (WON)
Best Picture – Robert Wise (WON)
Best Sound – Fred Hynes (Todd-AO SSD), Gordon Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD) (WON)
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium – Ernest Lehman

The Jets: [singing] Here come the Jets, like a bat out of hell – Someone gets in our way, someone don’t feel so well.

(more…)

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