All Quiet on the Western Front

Alternate Title: The Ants Go Marching
1929 Winner

This is not a pretty sight. All Quiet on the Western Front opens with a group of school boys being told by their teacher how the fatherland needs them to fight in the war (World War I, in this case). Most of the boys, with one exception, are excited at the prospect of becoming soldiers and eagerly enlist.

Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) is the leader of the pack. He and his friends manage to make it to the front together, where they soon discover that war means living in cramped trenches, underfed, and with the sound of bombs going off as the only music in their ears. There is no glory; there is no victory; there are no girls; and there isn’t a lot of explanation as to what any of them are doing there. Though Paul is a self-starter, his attitude darkens as he watches the war change all of his friends around him from young boys into dead men.

https://youtu.be/_SQr8I3lcW8

The movie is old, but marks an early example of an anti-war film from a German’s perspective – a perspective that doesn’t get a lot of air time after that second World War. The story describes how war eats away at humanity and begs the question asked by every anti-war film since this one: What is this for, and is it all really worth it? Furthermore, why are the people who aren’t doing the fighting always the ones with the loudest voices?

Now it’s Your Turn…
All Quiet on the Western Front won Best Picture in 1929, but did the Academy get it right?

Black Swan

Alternate Title: Sexual Abuse in Three Acts
2010 Nominee

This is a movie where at the end, you turn to the person next to you and demand, “What the fuck did I just see?” Spoiler Alert: They won’t have any idea either. If you watch it alone, you’re going to call three of your friends and coerce them to watch it so that someone can maybe explain to you what was happening.

Black Swan starts with a ballerina who’s already screwed because she’s a ballerina. They operate in a culture of starvation and competition until they inevitably retire early and don’t know what else to do. It’s not really living, but constant work, the way a lot of high caliber artists function. It’s stressful and has dire consequences for Nina Sayers (Portman).

Nina’s mother (Barbara Hershey, playing a total creep) is a former ballerina who is suspiciously close with her grown daughter. By that I mean she sexually abused her and if you don’t believe me, Google search it and you’ll realize that’s part of what’s going on in this total acid trip of a motion picture.

Anyway, Nina gets the lead in Swan Lake, a story about a white swan who falls in love with a prince, but then this evil swan (the black one) tricks the prince and the white swan is grief-stricken and commits suicide. Forgive me if I have the details wrong, but the only description I’ve gotten of Swan Lake is from this movie and after what I discovered about Nina’s mom, I’m terrified to Google anything else related to it.

Nina’s director (Vincent Cassel) tries to extract her “black swan” by basically molesting her during rehearsal and giving her masturbatory “homework assignments.” His justification is that he only sees the docile white swan when he watches her dance and none of the seductress of the black swan.
As if this whole thing wasn’t creepy enough.

Meanwhile, Nina is freaking out because a fellow dancer, Lily (Kunis) appears to have the sexual prowess of the black swan down pact. She worries that Lily is trying to steal her place in the performance, especially after Lily drugs Nina’s drink in an effort to get her to relax. The drug of choice? Ecstasy.

As everyone and her mom tries to fuck her (literally), Nina slowly loses her grip on reality. This coalesces with Nina believing that she’s turning into a swan. The film is twisted in its storytelling, with you as the viewer wondering – just like Nina – whether the events are real or just an extremely vivid waking nightmare.

Black Swan is an foreboding look at the world of dancing and the trauma that comes from abusive relationships. It’s a great conversation piece for anyone who’s confused about this absolutely confusing movie.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Black Swan was nominated for Best Picture in 2010, but did the Academy get it right?

The Broadway Melody

Alternate Title: Bittersweet Symphony
1928 Winner

One of the first musicals to hit the screen, this movie encapsulates the spirit of modern musicals as well.

Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page) are the Mahoney sisters trying to make it big on Broadway. They move to New York to get their break. Hank is dating Eddie (Charles King), who falls in love with Queenie just as soon as he puts his eyes on her.
This is when things get 1920s-level creepy. Some of the compliments Eddie pays Queenie include calling her a “cute kid,” and saying she’s a “sweet, little girl.” Not to mention, the guy is going out with her sister. It’s totally pathetic.

Once they audition, the Mahoney sisters as a unit are paid no mind, but everyone is taken with Queenie’s natural good looks. This irks Hank since she’s obviously the more ambitious – and the more business savvy – of the two. Hank is a spitfire, making sure that there’s room for her on the stage with her sister, but Queenie soon gets swept up by a man named Jacques Warriner (Kenneth Thomson). He seems more interested in purchasing Queenie’s affection than considering whether she actually fucking likes him at all. That’s maybe one thing about show business that hasn’t changed a whole lot in nearly 100 years…

Queenie is smitten with all the attention she’s probably never had, but faces a crisis of character when she discovers that she might care about Eddie as much as he does about her.

Though the movie is old and thus plagued with shrill acoustics and blurry images at times, it’s easy to see where almost every musical since has borrowed a few ideas. It’s character-driven, but interspersed with some catchy songs. Hank Mahoney is an especially dynamic character because although she’s fierce, she is a purely unselfish individual. She’s a rare commodity on screen and just as rare in real life.
The Broadway Melody is still pitch perfect today.

Now it’s Your Turn…
The Broadway Melody won Best Picture in 1928, but did the Academy get it right?