Saturday, September 2, 2017

1948: Gentleman's Agreement

I needed to watch this. You need to watch this. We all need to watch this.

Gentleman's Agreement is about a journalist who goes undercover as a Jew to investigate anti-semitism in post World War II New York City. 

Let me quickly mention that it's a really good movie. Gregory Peck is great. Philip Schuyler Green is a different character than Atticus Finch, which is all I really knew about him before this movie. But the different characters have the same moral compass. I was expecting to write more about that and about director Elia Kazan and his role in the McCarthy hearings. But as good as the movie is (take a look at where I ranked it at the end), it's the overall theme that is so important.

I kept thinking about how watching Gentleman's Agreement so soon after Charlottesville and the national discussion involved serendipitous timing for me. It's so relevant. But then, and perhaps it was the history teacher in me, I realized that it didn't matter that I saw it now. It was timely when it came out, of course. It was timely in the 1960s. It will be timely today, was yesterday, and will be for far too long.

After watching the previous Oscar movies, I had expectations going into the movie (my prejudice?). I knew as much as my second paragraph above and nothing more. I had an image in my head of what this movie was going to be. They were going to call out the people who use anti-semitic words, don't hire Jews, and every other big stereotype. And they do. But they also call out those who sit back and allow it to happen.

One of the characters talks about sitting and listening to someone tell a joke filled with racist jokes. She describes how angry she was. She describes how hurt she felt. She states that she and several others felt uncomfortable. The response from the other character, who is Jewish, was simply "What did you DO?" That's all he keeps repeating. It works and gets the point across in the movie, but one that still hasn't spread.

Yes, you can absolutely watch this and replace "Jewish" with "Muslim," "immigrant," "black," "gay," or any other term that you are glad you aren't. Gentelman's Agreement discusses, though doesn't use the exact phrase, Christian Privilege. The same arguments work for White Privilege. If you are white, have heard the phrase white privilege, and still believe you don't have it, or just still don't understand it, this movie might be a good way for you to still figure it out and let it sink in.

If you're still supporting 45 even after his difficulty in condemning Nazis and those sheetheads, the KKK, and people are calling you racist even though you're only supporting him because of the economy, this movie might be too much for you. That's because you're wrong. You're on the wrong side of history. Your Facebook posts are Hazel Bryan's face.

But I did use the word "might." Hazel changed. Orange Julius Caesar still has plenty of time to do irreparable damage to the nation and to your place in history. you're wrong and you're running out of time.


NEXT WEEK: 1948 - Gentleman's Agreement

Oscar Project Rankings:

  1. Casablanca (1944)
  2. It Happened One Night (1935)
  3. Gentleman's Agreement (1948)
  4. The Best Years of Our Lives (1947)
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  6. Rebecca (1941)
  7. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  8. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  9. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  10. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  11. Grand Hotel (1933)
  12. Cimarron (1932)
  13. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  14. Broadway Melody (1930)
  15. The Lost Weekend (1946)
  16. Going My Way (1945)
  17. How Green Was My Valley (1942)
  18. Wings (1929)
  19. Mrs. Miniver (1943)
  20. Cavalcade (1934)


Saturday, July 1, 2017

1947: The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives was number 37 on the AFI 100 Years... 100 Movies list, so I first watched it while going through that list. Watching those movies was one of my inspirations for starting this Oscar Project. I was introduced to a lot of great movies that I hadn't seen before, such as The Best Years of Our Lives. I was hoping for the same with this project, though most of the movies I've enjoyed I had already seen.

The Best Years of Our Lives starts off with a literal emotional hook that maintains through the movie. To me, that's what makes this movie work. The emotions. It never goes over the top with them.

The events that happen affect the characters and their lives. They feel happy. They feel sad. They feel angry. Excited. Love. Hate. And the situations change their lives. But nothing is ever a tragic life or death situation. Nobody is going through an emotional breakdown because of what they experience. Instead of an emotional roller coaster, it feels... like real life. And that's so appropriate because these guys had been facing real life or death situations in World War II.

Of course, many great works of art are all about taking emotions to the extreme. That's what we often love about movies and books and TV shows.  We often see that in slice of life type films, and sometimes it works. The Best Years of Our Lives isn't a slice of life movie. It isn't extreme. But it works.

Does it still hold up today? Some of the acting still feels very old fashioned and it's a bit too long. I think these two things might stop a younger audience from trying to like it. I believe it holds up much better than most of the movies I've watched in this project.

When I first watched this back in 2001 for the AFI list, I wrote that I planned to watch this again soon. I'm sorry it has taken me almost sixteen years to get to it, and I hope it won't be another sixteen.

NEXT WEEK: 1948 - Gentleman's Agreement

Oscar Project Rankings:
  1. Casablanca (1944)
  2. It Happened One Night (1935)
  3. The Best Years of Our Lives (1947)
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  5. Rebecca (1941)
  6. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  7. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  8. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  9. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  10. Grand Hotel (1933)
  11. Cimarron (1932)
  12. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  13. Broadway Melody (1930)
  14. The Lost Weekend (1946)
  15. Going My Way (1945)
  16. How Green Was My Valley (1942)
  17. Wings (1929)
  18. Mrs. Miniver (1943)
  19. Cavalcade (1934)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

1946: The Lost Weekend

I'm starting to write this by looking at the list at the bottom. When this started, there were several movies that I had to sit through that drove me insane. I was really looking forward to watching Grand Hotel and Cimarron weigh down the bottom of the list. After eighteen movies, they really shouldn't remain in the top ten, and only a few places above Gone With the Wind. It looks like so many of the classic movies of the forties didn't win the Oscar.

So what was good about The Lost Weekend? It shows the dark side of alcohol (until the last two minutes, that is) and more of a reality of alcoholism. Perhaps it was one of the first to really do so.

A bartender has a pretty good line in speaking about a shot of whiskey. "One's too many and a hundred's not enough."

The best part is when the main character, Don, gets caught stealing a purse, he gets kicked out of the bar. The piano man at the bar starts to sing, "Somebody stole a purse... everybody!" and then the rest of the bar sings along as he gets kicked out. That was pretty good. I think we're probably getting pretty close to the having the technology to have similar scarlet songs follow around criminals

But I didn't care for Ray Milland. The Wikipedia article on The Lost Weekend states that "The film was intended to have no musical score, but preview audiences laughed at what they considered Milland's overwrought performance." As far as I'm concerned, the score didn't cover his Oscar winning performance enough.


NEXT WEEK: 1947 - The Best Years of Our Lives

Oscar Project Rankings:


  1. Casablanca (1944)
  2. It Happened One Night (1935)
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  4. Rebecca (1941)
  5. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  6. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  7. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  8. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  9. Grand Hotel (1933)
  10. Cimarron (1932)
  11. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  12. Broadway Melody (1930)
  13. The Lost Weekend (1946)
  14. Going My Way (1945)
  15. How Green Was My Valley (1942)
  16. Wings (1929)
  17. Mrs. Miniver (1943)
  18. Cavalcade (1934)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

1945: Going My Way


It's a... nice movie. But it's not particularly interesting.

The first thirty minutes were not great. I had to stop to take a nap so that my nap wouldn't be during the next thirty minutes. But it got a bit better from there.

This movie is about a Catholic priest. One of the subplots is about him working with a bunch of boys as he turns them into a choir. It was all innocent, and I'm sure that viewers in 1944 thought nothing of it. But watching it in 2017, especially after the Oscar winner from a few years ago, Spotlight, there were some bits that are a bit cringeworthy.

Another of the subplots, one that ties in with the boys later, involves Father O'Malley's music. O'Malley, played by Bing Crosby, is a song writer. Going My Way isn't just the name of the movie but it's the name of the song he wants to sell. The funny thing is that it isn't that great of a song. In fact, that's acknowledged in the movie with the music publishers not thinking much of it either. But it's featured twice and the movie is named after it.  But then he sings another of the songs O'Malley wrote, "Swinging on a Star." It's a much more fun song, and one that has survived. So since it's a better song, how about naming the movie after that one? And feature it twice instead of the other?



One good thing about Going My Way is that it wasn't predictable. All throughout the movie I though I knew what was going to happen next and which direction the various subplots were headed. I was just about always wrong. So it's got that going for it, which is nice. I would have rather watched Double Indemnity, which was nominated. It looks like I'll get a film noir fix with the next movie.





NEXT WEEK: 1946 - The Lost Weekend

Oscar Project Rankings:



  1. Casablanca (1944)
  2. It Happened One Night (1935)
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  4. Rebecca (1941)
  5. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  6. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  7. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  8. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  9. Grand Hotel (1933)
  10. Cimarron (1932)
  11. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  12. Broadway Melody (1930)
  13. Going My Way (1945)
  14. How Green Was My Valley (1942)
  15. Wings (1929)
  16. Mrs. Miniver (1943)
  17. Cavalcade (1934)

Monday, May 29, 2017

1944: Casablanca


I've seen Casablanca several times. My favorite viewing was at the Paramount Theater in Oakland a few years back. Watching it with an audience made me realize what a funny movie it is. I think that every line by Claude Rains as Captain Renault is absolutely perfect in an economy of words and delivery.

Looking through the list of Oscar movies I still need to watch, there will be very few contenders for the top spot after Casablanca. Clearly, my delay in getting to this movie had nothing to do with dread in watching it. In fact, I just watched it and I could happily pop it in again right, perhaps with one of the commentaries (Ebert's is excellent). No, I just forgot about this project for awhile.


NEXT WEEK: 1945 - Going My Way

Oscar Project Rankings:


  1. Casablanca (1944)
  2. It Happened One Night (1935)
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  4. Rebecca (1941)
  5. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  6. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  7. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  8. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  9. Grand Hotel (1933)
  10. Cimarron (1932)
  11. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  12. Broadway Melody (1930)
  13. How Green Was My Valley (1942)
  14. Wings (1929)
  15. Mrs. Miniver (1943)
  16. Cavalcade (1934)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

1943: Mrs. Miniver

If you read my write up of Rebecca, you may recall that I was not looking forward to 1941-1943. Rebecca ended up being a pleasant surprise. How Green Was My Valley ended up being what I expected. So Mrs. Miniver was the tie-breaker.

I saw a brief summary stating that it was about the beginning of World War II in England. And for a movie to win the award well over a year before D-Day, perhaps it would give an interesting perspective on the war. Was there a chance that I could be wrong again? Is there a chance that Mrs. Miniver could win me over?

Nope. 

NEXT WEEK: 1944 - Casablanca

Oscar Project Rankings:

  1. It Happened One Night (1935)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  3. Rebecca (1941)
  4. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  5. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  6. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  7. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  8. Grand Hotel (1933)
  9. Cimarron (1932)
  10. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  11. Broadway Melody (1930)
  12. How Green Was My Valley (1942)
  13. Wings (1929)
  14. Mrs. Miniver (1943)
  15. Cavalcade (1934)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

1942: How Green Was My Valley

I'm not sure how much I have to say about How Green Was My Valley. It's the story of a family. The family has a few different stories. Any one of those stories could have been fleshed out into interesting stories. Instead, we smaller, less interesting stories that are all tied together.

In summary, it's not my kind of movie.

So this is one of those years in which you have to take a look at the competition. The 1942 awards are viewed much like the 1999 awards. The wrong movie won. Looking back, Saving Private Ryan absolutely should have won the award instead of Shakespeare in Love. Looking back, Citizen Kane absolutely should have won the award instead of How Green Was My Valley.

I guess I'll throw a quick shout out to my favorite part of the movie. When young Roddy McDowell goes to school, he needs a boxer to teach him to fight. They call on Dai Bando to teach him. It's probably just my favorite part because this week is leading up to The Force Awakens. Dai Bando sounds like an old Jedi Master name.

Unlike the pleasant surprise of Rebecca last week, I doubt I'll return to this valley.

NEXT WEEK: 1943 - Mrs. Miniver

Oscar Project Rankings:

  1. It Happened One Night (1935)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  3. Rebecca (1941)
  4. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  5. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  6. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  7. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  8. Grand Hotel (1933)
  9. Cimarron (1932)
  10. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  11. Broadway Melody (1930)
  12. How Green Was My Valley (1942)
  13. Wings (1929)
  14. Cavalcade (1934)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

1941: Rebecca

"Are you fond of dancing?"
"I love it, but I'm not very good at it."
"Do you Rhumba?"
"I've never tried."
"You must teach me."

That particular exchange is part of a very nicely written dinner conversation that I rather enjoyed in Rebecca. It was the first thing that I really liked about the movie. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen until almost 45 minutes into the movie. 

Rebecca is the first in a stretch of three movies that I really wasn't looking forward to when I started the project. I noticed that Gone With the Wind was right before them, and they looked like movies that would be in a similar to that. For me, at least GWTW has its history tie in. But all three felt very Wuthering Heights-like to me - classics, but definitely not meant for me.

I must admit that I knew very little other than the title. It's about a woman named Rebecca. OK.  I also had seen the poster, which is shown above. Apparently this Rebecca woman is in love with Sir Laurence Olivier. So... boring?

Speaking of Olivier, I also wasn't too familiar with him. I have certainly heard of him. If I met him, I would know to ask him about a camera. I also knew he was well known for his legendary Shakespearean acting. In fact, I'll see his Hamlet as it was the 1949 Oscar winner. The only think I had actually seen of him was his role as Zeus in Clash of the Titans. I learned from him to find and fulfill my destiny. But it's a relatively small role.

There was one thing, however, that stood out about Rebecca. With overwhelming evidence pointing me toward not enjoying the movie, there was one hint that I could be wrong. There is another name on that poster that I recognize. The director. Alfred Hitchcock. That has to be worth something, right?

Right at the beginning of the movie, we get a could hints of Hitchcock. We walk through a spooky gate toward a spooky, dilapidated mansion. And in the next scene, Olivier is looking down a cliff in a shot that has an immediate sense of suspense. The shot also visually foreshadows Vertigo.

But then the movie slowed down. It felt mostly as simple as a whirlwind romance in the French Riviera can. Great for those involved, but not so exciting to watch. Since Gone with the Wind, was the previous movie on the list, I had just skimmed my write up that. It was bringing up memories of that. I'm not sure if I made it clear or not in that writeup, , but GWTW is SO DAMNED LONG. I was worried that this was going to feel like a repeat.

I did get to learn early on that the woman in the poster isn't Rebecca. Rebecca is the dead wife of Olivier's Maxim de Winter. So I guess that's actually her in the lower left. The woman played by Joan Fontaine is the new Mrs. de Winter. And I call her that because that's the only name given to her in the movie. This decision is clearly to emphasize that the movie is about the new Mrs. de Winter trying to live up to former and deceased Mrs. de Winter. Other than the exchange that I started with, I didn't love too much about that particular idea. Luckily for me, that's only what the first half of the movie is about.

In my write up of Grand Hotel, I noted that I wanted to avoid spoilers. It seems silly that I needed to do so for a movie that is 83 years old. With Rebecca now 75 years old, I wonder if I need to do the same. If so, if you're planning to watch it yourself, you should probably skip the rest of it. Just note that I really, really liked the rest of the movie, and it made everything about the first half work. Even though I'm not going to spoil exactly what happens, just know the basic idea of the second half ahead of time could make it less interesting.

That was your warning. Rebecca is actually a thriller. What really happened to Rebecca? How did she really die? Who was responsible? Who knew? What did they know? What did they think they knew? The costume ball scene looks like it's going to take you even further in the direction you thought you were going in. It looks like the comparison and competition between the new and old Mrs. de Winter will come to a head. It instead leads us to the heart of the mystery. You discover that the suspense has been building the whole time, but not to what you thought it would. 

This is truly laying the foundation for later Hitchcock films. I already mentioned Vertigo, and you will also get a feel for Norman Bates in Psycho whenever the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is on the screen. And that goes double for her final scene. Watching Rebecca didn't just remind me to watch more Oscar winning movies. It reminded me to watch more Hitchcock.

If you want to appreciate the beauty of black and white movies, look at the interior scenes. The exterior scenes often look like bad green screen, as the backgrounds are not often lit as well as they could. But the interiors are great. I watched this in a rip from a DVD. I would like to watch the remastered Blu Ray version for my next viewing. I think more sharpness and clarity than what I already saw would be beautiful.

And yes, I'll watch it again. I would like to rewatch the first half with the second half in mind. I want to be able to pay more attention to the dialogue. I want to look more carefully at the early scenes to see what hints of the second half I can find. I have a feeling that many of them will be in the acting of Laurence Olivier. So if you kept reading this far and spoiled a bit of the movie for yourself, don't feel too bad.

NEXT WEEK: 1942 - How Green Was My Valley

Oscar Project Rankings:

  1. It Happened One Night (1935)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  3. Rebecca (1941)
  4. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  5. You Can't Take It With You (1939) 
  6. Gone With the Wind (1940)
  7. The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
  8. Grand Hotel (1933)
  9. Cimarron (1932)
  10. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  11. Broadway Melody (1930)
  12. Wings (1929)
  13. Cavalcade (1934)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

2015 Summer USA Road Trip Spectacular

The "rough" outline
Tomorrow morning, I'm on my way. The car is packed with everything I won't need tonight. It should take me about 15 minutes to get ready in the morning, then I'm out of here.

The main idea of the trip is to get as far east as I can as quickly as I can. I'm going to hit a couple places in Texas that I haven't been to before, enjoy New Orleans once again, then Universal in Orlando. Next I'll head down to Miami for the week long cruise, my vacation from the vacation.

After that, I'll make my way up the east coast, returning to Orlando for that other theme park. Continuing north, I'll hit a bunch of locations that would have been great to see while I was still teaching the eighth grade curriculum. I'll hit a few Civil War sites, some new and some repeat spots. 

I'll head back west in Pennsylvania, then take a detour up into Michigan to visit family and over Lake Michigan before starting the sprint back home on I-80. The whole thing is 41 or 42 days, depending on whether I stop the last night or barrel through. Streets and Trips has the mileage at just over 9,000 miles. I imagine that with detours and side trip that I'll go over 10,000, or at least get really close to it.I'll be in 23 states (though I probably won't actually step foot in neither Mississippi nor South Carolina), Washington, D.C., and four ports in the Caribbean. I'll get to four baseball parks, three new and one old favorite.

The biggest problem I'll face with the recent surgery is on the first day. I'm driving almost 850 miles in one shot. That was planned before my body tried to kill me. And really, it would be tough even if I were healthy. Sitting for long periods is still a test. And to put this as nicely as I can, my bladder requires more immediate attention than normal (though it's been much better the past week). I'm expecting to have to stop more than I normally would, and I'll certainly be ready to stop for the night.
A few days later, I'll test my walking. I'm probably walking at about 80 percent speed right now, but not for long distances. For me right now, a long distance is my car to the back of Safeway. New Orleans is a walking city, so I'm a bit worried about that. A few days later I'll be at Universal Studios in Orlando. That's going to be a lot of walking, and it will also be roller coasters and rides. I have no idea what that will be like.

But other than all that, I'm excited for the trip. I'm going to a lot of really cool places, some new, some old. I hope to post something on here every few days, but not a daily update. Most importantly, I won't have WiFi access everywhere I go. Motel 6 is great and cheap, but they still charge for WiFi. I might play with the blogger app and text-to-speech to post a few things while I drive.

So I'll get some pictures up here, some descriptions and maybe stories, and some dash-cam video from any places that look cool. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, June 8, 2015

2015 Summer Contest Spectacular

Way back in 2004, I took a road trip across the US of A and back again. I held a contest. People guessed a few different parts of the trip. So for my upcoming 2015 road trip, I will hold the simplified, updated version. Welcome to the 2015 Summer Contest Spectacular.

The rules are simple. Take a look at the map (click to embiggen). This is a basic, simplified version of the full plan. It does not include day trips. It does not include detours. It does not include going to dinner, to and from hotels, or any other driving.

So here's the question: What will the total mileage be on my car from driveway to driveway? Your guess should, then, include detours, day trips, and everything else. I will use click tare the mileage int the driveway and go from there.

Closest guess received a souvenir from my trip. All guesses must be in a comment on this blog (I'll post those I have received elsewhere on here before I depart. Deadline for entries - Friday, June 19, noon. I leave Sunday the 21st and return July 31ish. Good luck!