Catherine S.'s Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

Ordinary People
8 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Fractured families have always been a favorite subject of mine when it comes to literature and film and this is considered one of the best family dramas of the 1980s. The two other films that Robert Redford has directed that I've seen, Quiz Show (1994) and A River Runs Through It (1992), were both fantastic and managed to explore tenuous family dynamics in detail. The reputation of this film as a Best Picture winner seemed to be negative because Raging Bull (1980) was released in the same year and was also nominated for Best Picture. Personally, having seen both films, I preferred this one but I know that's just personal taste because I was more interested in the themes explored in this movie than I was in the brother relationship in Raging Bull.

Conrad Jarrett, Timothy Hutton, has survived a recent suicide attempt but struggles to adjust to everyday life as he is traumatized by memories of his brother Buck's death and comes into conflict with his mother Beth, Mary Tyler Moore. Beth is obsessed with keeping up appearances and refuses to discuss Buck's death even as Conrad begins attending therapy sessions with Berger, Judd Hirsch, that help him tackle some of his guilt about his brother's death. The relationship between Beth and Calvin Jarrett, Donald Sutherland, suffers under the weight of their differences in parenting Conrad and Beth's refusal to express her emotions.

The majority of the film is just tense conversations between family members, friends and patients and psychiatrists but it was so compelling and so well acted that it was more engaging than any thriller moving at a breakneck speed. Alvin Sargent adapts Judith Guest's novel of the same name judiciously as he cuts out unnecessary subplots and leaves enough unspoken between family members for the dialogue to seem lyrical but natural. Redford has the ability to draw the characters clearly and gives all of his actors opportunities to do some of their best work. Scenes like Conrad and Jeanine, Elizabeth McGovern, having their first date and engaging in an uncomfortable conversation about his suicide attempt feel true to life and like an honest depiction of the strange moments that would occur in the life of a teenager who had made a suicide attempt.

The performances stand out as each actor seems to have crafted a character full of life with a rich backstory that informs their treatment of those around them. Moore received an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for her shock performance as a cold, emotionally distant mother and wife who chooses to abandon her family instead of facing her pain. She is terrific as an icy woman whose put together appearance is clearly a fa├žade for the damaged woman lying underneath and her refusal to admit this is at once infuriating and sympathetic. Sutherland would have absolutely been deserving of a Best Actor nomination although nobody would have beaten Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta. In his final scenes Sutherland plays a man who is wistful for what he once had but has accepted the fact that he needs to move on and tries his hardest to support his son.

Hutton won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, although he is the lead actor in this film, and he does show inner torment with relatively little dialogue and subtle facial expressions. One performance that surprised me was that of McGovern as I didn't like her in Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and was confused by her Best Supporting Actress nomination for Ragtime (1981) but here she is very good as the girlfriend. The date scene allows her to play confident and charming but also uncomfortable and awkward as her reactions to Hutton's provocations seem like those of a regular teenager. Hirsch was decent as the intelligent, probing psychiatrist but he hardly warranted any awards attention.

This is a great film that takes a story that could easily be too dark or difficult for most directors to adapt but Redford's touch makes the film watchable even as it is depressing. The performances are stellar with Moore and Sutherland really shining and the themes of the film serve as a nice follow-up to the previous year's Best Picture winner Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).

The Sound of Music
8 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

This is why people love musicals! The songs are joyous, the performances are spirited and the adaptation of the musical from the stage to the screen is successful because the sets are fittingly lavish and the exteriors are used judiciously. It's overlong but I was hardly ever bored and all of it's faults are patched over by it's undeniable charm. Julie Andrews gives one of her greatest performances as she dances, sings and acts in a role that feels perfectly suited to her. This is the best musical to win Best Picture, I don't like My Fair Lady (1964) or West Side Story (1961), and one of the best films that I have watched so far as I attempt to see every Best Picture winner ever.

Maria, Julie Andrews, is a postulant living in Salzburg, Austria who is sent to serve as governess for the von Trapp family led by widowed patriarch Captain von Trapp, Christopher Plummer. She endears herself to the children by teaching them to sing and dance and they are selected as Austria's entry to the Salzburg Festival. She and the Captain also fall in love but his longtime girlfriend, the scheming Baroness, Eleanor Parker, stands between them. The threat of a German takeover looms over them as tensions between the Allies and Anschluss heat up.

What makes the film work so well is the music as a musical rests upon the quality of the songs in most cases, with Gigi (1958) being the exception. The opening number "The Sound of Music" introduces us to Maria as a character and features the iconic sweeping shots of Maria spinning in the hills. "Sixteen Going on Seventeen", "My Favorite Things", "Do-Re-Mi" and "So Long, Farewell" are also fantastic and performed in beautiful locations to well choreographed dances. I felt really swept up in their passions even when the songs didn't really advance the plot and although I have no dancing or singing abilities whatsoever I still found myself humming along.

The central romance between Maria and Captain von Trapp also works as Andrews and Plummer have surprisingly great chemistry and work with sappy but wonderfully sentimental dialogue being delivered. Even in their first interaction there is an obvious heat between them and Plummer manages to be charming whilst also being stuffy and authoritative. When they finally do ´┐ 1/2~get together' you get the lovely romantic moment of Plummer saying "You can't marry somebody if you are in love with someone else" and then turning to kiss her. The romance didn't feel rushed and the two of them seem to complement each other well as she is perky and sweet while also being tough, the classic Andrews persona, and he presents an outwardly cold image but is really a big softie at heart.

The use of the scenery of the very beautiful city of Salzburg is excellent as the greens of the mountains and the sunny markets provide a nice accompaniment to the cheery tone of the story. The use of the exteriors is fabulous as we see the children riding bicycles through the countryside and frolicking around with Maria in the water. It was lovely to see a musical use a natural environment instead of appearing to be filled with hermetically sealed sets like West Side Story.

I haven't seen Darling (1965) yet but I understand that it's meant to be a great little independent drama featuring a great Julie Christie performance but quite frankly I think that Andrews deserved a second Best Actress Academy Award. She carries the film on her shoulder as her magical voice washes over us and her ever pleasant countenance charms us. She makes the smart decision to play the character in the opposite way physically than she played Mary Poppins and that was enough for me to consider this one of the best performances of 1965.

This was to me the deserving Best Picture winner of 1965 because it's a truly great film but also because I don't really like any of it's competition. Doctor Zhivago (1965) is an overly long epic that features poor acting and a romance that isn't compelling and Ship of Fools (1965) isn't the best of Vivien Leigh. This is one of the best winners of all time because it is high art hidden inside a populist film.

The Broadway Melody
8 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Having recently seen and reviewed An American in Paris (1951) I am beginning to realize that I have been far too harsh on more modern musicals but the early attempts at melding music and a minor plot are rough. Exhibit A is The Broadway Melody which somehow managed to win Best Picture in 1929 and although it's nice to have sound after Wings (1927) I would have to say that would be a more enjoyable spectacle. The many issues that the film has are compounded by the fact that it's leads are unable to sing and dance and the music is at best forgettable. This deserves to be considered one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time and the fact that it won is probably the only reason people have to go back and look at it.

Two sisters, Queenie, Anita Page, and Harriet, Bessie Love, with dreams of superstardom as part of a vaudeville act. Zanfield, Eddie Kane, definitely a play on Ziegfeld, is setting up a large Broadway Revue and the sisters think they have a shot at making it. Eddie, Charles King, is engaged to the talented and hardworking Harriet but is in love with Queenie almost purely based on her looks. The two sisters get cut from the show, then Queenie is brought back because she's "hot" and Harriet is rightly miffed. The wrong guy, Jock, Kenneth Thomson, pursues the shallow Queenie and she stays with him even though she doesn't really like him. We get pretty bad song and dance numbers throughout although they are refreshingly diegetic and it's strange to see a genre this early in it's development.

The redeemable feature of this film were the costumes, that's all I could think of. The girls wore cute little sparkly rompers that get a chance to shine when they kick their legs up, which they do repeatedly, or large groups of girls swarm together to create what I suppose would have been an impressive visual at the time. Queenie slips into a beautiful white dress at one point that shows off the impressive figure of Page and would still be elegant and fashionable by today's standards. Much like The Great Ziegfeld (1936) the best parts of the film are those at which you sit back and admire the visual beauty of the women's outfits but if that's the best part of your film you have a long way to go.

The love triangle trope even when involving siblings can be employed effectively as seen in While You Were Sleeping (1995) and Brothers (2004) but here it all felt a bit too melodramatic. I wanted to empathize with Harriet or Hank as she is called in her struggle but none of the characters were grounded enough to feel human and they weren't dramatic or over the top enough to be campily enjoyable. Queenie didn't have any dimension added to her other than just being too ´┐ 1/2 1/2~beautiful' and I never felt any urgency to the love between her and Eddie as I was clearly meant to. Because none of these dramatic plotlines are interesting it makes it even more exasperating that the main plot about the two girls chasing their dreams is hard to root for because they aren't even good at their job. There is nobody to really root for in this film and that means it's hard to stay engaged between shots of their flashy costumes.

It's again hard to evaluate whether this was a deserving Best Picture winner because I am not particularly familiar with the films of 1929. Despite this The Broadway Melody might be the best of the lot because it has sound and a clear plot. No, it doesn't stack up to more modern films and it's still a bit of a slog but it's certainly better than this poor attempt at a musical. If you are going to watch this be aware that it's hard to track down, I found a copy through the public library system but even then I had to go on a waiting list and as this review proved I don't think it was worth it.

Gandhi (1982)
8 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

For the first ninety minutes I was watching this film I was surprised how engaged I was and it was so much less boring than everybody had told me. For the next two hours the film was unfocused and languished on areas of Gandhi's life that held absolutely no interest. This is a waste of your time as a production, there is absolutely no reason to watch Candice Bergen appear as Margaret Bourke-White for seemingly no reason, and the fact that Blade Runner (1982) was released in the same year shows what a joke the Best Picture category was in 1982. I really wanted to appreciate this film but I found myself hating it as much as ever regular movie-goer does.

Mohandas Gandhi, Ben Kingsley, is inspired to become a revolutionary after being kicked off a bus by racist passengers and operators in South Africa. He establishes a committee to fight for racial tolerance and equal treatment while advocating non-violent protest. After he convinces the South African government to adjust their laws to be more tolerant of Indians he returns to India and although initially resistant to the idea he decides to lead the fight for Indian independence from the British Empire. He manages to attract international press to cover his cause and is successfully able to pressure the British government into granting the nation freedom after the Second World War. Awkwardly placed in between major events are his conflicts with his wife Kasturba, Rohini Kattangadi, his adoption of a British girl Madeleine Slade, Geraldine James, and the appearance of famed photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, Candice Bergen.

What I appreciated about the film was the performance of Ben Kingsley, the production values and the cinematography. Kingsley manages to humanize Gandhi even while he works around a difficult screenplay. He injects some humor and empathy into his character instead of portraying him as the stoic, unfailingly noble figure that appears in pop culture. He was deserving of the Best Actor award and I only wish that he had a better film surrounding his great performance. The production values were not on the level of a Victor Fleming production but they were still impressive as an epic should be as we get sweeping shots of period accurate splendor and restaging of large historical gatherings. Finally, Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor are able to capture the beautiful parts of India, particularly during a sequence in which Gandhi witnesses workers in the field during his homecoming, which is a pleasant sight but they are not able to film much else.

Richard Attenborough seemed like a perfectly kind man and I believe that he had nothing but good intentions in making this film he is one of my least favorite directors. Much like Cry Freedom (1987) we see an important historical figure through a British man's eyes and although I understand that may be Attenborough's own perspective it is condescending to both Mohandas Gandhi and Steve Biko to have films made about them that portray them needing the help of white saviors. Although Cry Freedom was much worse in this film we still get multiple white saviors as for a majority of the time Gandhi appears on screen he is accompanied by a good white person who did more for the cause than the Indians themselves. The white savior trope is terrible and Attenborough is very fond of using it, just one of his many faults as a storyteller.

The way the film approaches the character of Gandhi himself is to show him as a saintly figure without giving him any real personality and complexity and cutting out all of the hard edges that made him interesting. John Briley's screenplay works to spell out everything for the audience, rush through 55 years of history and not focus on any one thing for long enough to make us care. The combination of the screenwriting and direction leaves us with a main character who we cannot identify with or even understand why he carries out his actions, that is the sign of a poorly executed biopic.

At three and a quarter hours and containing all of the awful elements I have listed this is an overly long mess that nobody should have to watch. I am sure there are great novels and documentaries out there that delve into the inner life of Gandhi and explain the motivations for his actions better than this film. Of the 1982 Best Picture nominees I believe The Verdict is the most deserving of winning the award.

Cimarron (1931)
8 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

It's very hard for me, a person born in the 21st century, to evaluate a film released in 1931 but because Cimarron won Best Picture in 1932 I am going to have to. This is a very, very strange film as it feels like a bad mash up of Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and yet it is completely lifeless. The lead performance of Richard Dix doesn't help as he overacts 100% of the time and the screenplay picks up and drops characters at a moment's notice without giving various subplots satisfying endings, if any are given at all. I was hoping to enjoy this film because most people I have met who have seen it have hated it but I found that there was so little to it and it was so poorly executed that it was hard to find any good in it.

The fancifully named Yancey Cravat, Richard Dix, must stake his claim on lands, as many Americans did, in Oklahoma after the land rush of 1889 that belongs to Native Americans. We see his life and that of his racist wife Sabra, Irene Dunne, and a crafty prostitute Dixie Lee, Estelle Taylor, develop and change over the next 40 years. The Cravats have two children, Donna, Judith Barrett, and Cim, one of whom marries a Native American. Cravat is always and I mean always right about the conflicts that are going to occur and he is able to defend racial minorities, Native Americans and Jewish people, against the attacks of his wife and local vagrants.

The only thing I was able to appreciate about the film was it's remarkably liberal and modern treatment of sex workers as Dixie Lee, the crafty prostitute, is seen as a woman with power and agency. Although his defense of her exists primarily to show what a great guy Yancey is we understand that Lee is worthy of respect. Taylor's performance has aged better than most in the film and she has a certain sexuality that is timeless. Comparing the treatment of her character to the strange writing of Sabra she has a far more consistent arc and doesn't appear to be explicitly racist at any point.

Beyond this the film is pretty awful on most other accounts. Dix and Dunne give performances that feel very of their time and although Dunne would evolve and give a very good performance in Love Affair (1939) she is screechy and lacking in charisma here. The makeup applied doesn't help as it is so thick that it is hard to buy into them as real people without considering how big the production is. If Clark Gable and Joan Crawford had been cast in the leading roles I think that they would have been far more exciting to watch and although they are not the best actors in the world they would still have charisma.

When comparing this epic film to other Best Picture winning epics, mostly Gone with the Wind it's weaknesses are fully revealed. Where Gone with the Wind is based on one of the greatest novels ever written and features compelling but flawed characters this film is based on a critically derided book that features thinly written characters. The production design was not on the level of Ben-Hur (1959) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and there was no tension built up unlike in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). The two epics that are as bad as this film are Dances with Wolves (1990) and Gandhi (1982) which are both overly long and squander interesting subject matter.

I think it's obvious that of the Best Picture nominees One Hour with You (1931) is the strongest. This is not a film that I recommend anyone watch because it contains bad performances, production design and has very little personality but if you want to see an early example of respect for women then I am sure you can find sections of the film on YouTube. I really hope that the Best Picture winners get better throughout the 1930s as so far only Gone with the Wind and It Happened One Night (1934) could be considered good films by today's standards.