Atonement

Alternate Title: The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story
2007 Nominee

This little girl named Briony (Saoirse Ronan) writes stories. She sees her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the gardener Robbie (James McAvoy) hooking up against a bookshelf in the library. She also finds a note using the word cunt and that freaks her out. Some of you probably flipped out just reading it here…

Then there’s this guy, Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch) staying at the house and flirting with Briony’s cousin. One of the best parts of the first half of the movie is The Benedict Cumberbatch Easter Egg Hunt. Not only does he also star with Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, which will make it to this blog once a streaming service lets me have access to it, but there’s also a brief conversation between him and Briony’s cousin about Hamlet, a play in which he starred (and that I am truly sorry I missed.)

After Briony reads THE C-WORD and sees Robbie and Cecilia doing it in the library (with the lead pipe), Briony and the rest of the family have to go and search for her cousin, Lola (Juno Temple). Briony finds Lola getting sexually assaulted by someone that Briony says is Robbie. The police give Robbie a choice, to either join the army in the height of World War II or go to jail. Robbie picks the army.

Fast-forward. Briony is five years older and a nurse in training. Cecilia is a nurse. Robbie is in France fighting a war. And Lola marries Paul Marshall, the guy who actually accosted her. It’s the least likeable Benedict Cumberbatch has ever been (and ever will be, probably).

Fast-forward again to an elderly Briony with the same severe haircut as her 12 year-old self. Now she’s confessing on TV that her latest novel, Atonement, is a true story. While the entire film appears to show a woman haunted, what it could in fact be showing is a little girl who never quite grew up and has been making up stories all this time – perhaps even the story we just watched.

From the beginning of the film to the end, clicks like a typewriter can be heard with Briony’s movements. A lot of the movie feels like a play, something Briony has written when the movie starts. Some of the dialogue even feels rehearsed, not like way people actually talk to each other. How much of what we’re watching is real, and how much is just the imagination of a woman who’s lived in her brain all this time and whose brain has now betrayed her?

I would like to note that the alternate title is borrowed from one of Jan Harold Brunvand’s collections of urban legends – other stories that could be true, but might really not be at the same time.
At the end of it all, who is left to be trusted to tell us what’s true?

Now it’s Your Turn…
Atonement was nominated for Best Picture in 2007, but did the Academy get it right?

Wings

Alternate Title: All’s Fair in Love and War
1927 Winner

Wings marks the very first winner of the Oscar for Best Picture.

Just to clear the air, yes, this movie is quite old. In fact, it’s nearly 100 years old. It’s also a bit on the long side at a run time of close to two and a half hours.

Jack Powell (Charles Rogers) has a neighbor named Mary (Clara Bow) and she is totally smitten with him. Unfortunately, Jack is too focused on sprucing up his new car called The Shooting Star to give her much thought. Meanwhile, he daydreams about being a fighter pilot in the army at the height of World War I. It also turns out that Jack is sweet on another local girl, Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Like all great love stories though, almost none of the love here is reciprocated. Sylvia’s affection is for David (Richard Arlen), the wealthiest guy in the town. David also ends up joining the army a fighter pilot.

Before leaving for the front lines, both Mary and Sylvia give pictures of themselves (fully clothed) to Jack. Mary’s intentions are clear, but Sylvia only gives a locket with her photo in it to Jack when he mistakes it as a gift for him – but it was actually meant for David all along.

During training, Jack and David become unlikely friends. Mary decides to join the war effort as a driver and eventually, the three reconnect under some bubbly circumstances.

The movie is entirely silent – restored with a music score. Title cards give the impression that the movie is both a school play and a storybook, which is surreal and refreshing since no movies out now are like this one and some of them feature way too much jibber-jabber. Clara Bow plays the lead female, but her career was short-lived because the advent of sound in film exposed her heavy New York accent. Actresses back then had to even fucking sound pretty to keep their jobs.

History class aside, this movie is pretty good. There’s vaudeville-style theater acting, which is delightfully over-the-top. There’s a love story wrapped up in a war film; and there’s exciting air battles. There’s even a lingering shot of a Hershey bar, which could constitute one of the earliest examples of product placement in a movie. Plus, for other film buffs, Gary Cooper makes a brief appearance.

Given the special effects in the 20’s were giant steps behind their capabilities today, the sky fighting still manages to be exciting. Although, I personally have a hard time watching a movie about fighter pilots without listening to “Danger Zone.” I’m not sure audiences in the 20’s would agree with me on that one…

Now it’s Your Turn…
Wings won Best Picture in 1927, but did the Academy get it right?