Little Miss Sunshine

Alternate Title: The Family that Plays Together
2006 Nominee

Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) gets a chance to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California. Unfortunately for her, this means her entire family has to come along for the trek from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In tow is her dad, Richard (Greg Kinnear), a high-strung motivational speaker waiting to hear whether his book deal is going to go through; her mom, Sheryl (Toni Collette); Olive’s grandpa and coach (Alan Arkin), who snorts heroin and spouts diatribes to the family about how to live well; her selectively mute brother, Dwayne (Paul Dano), who wants to be a pilot in the Air Force and refuses to speak until he achieves this goal; and her Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell), who recently attempted suicide when his male grad student fell in love with someone else.
The family travels across the state in a funny yellow van that develops horn problems and clutch problems to mirror the smorgasbord of problems of the people it carries on the road.

While her dad emphasizes the importance of being a winner and not a loser, Olive and her family get plenty of more lessons in living well than just the ones they hear about from Grandpa.

One of the many things I enjoyed about this movie includes a small Breaking Bad foreshadow cast over the film. The Hoover family is from Albuquerque, just like Walter White and Stan Grossman – the man marketing Dad’s book idea –  is played by Bryan Cranston, Walter White himself. Plus, the family gets pulled over at one point and the officer doing the pulling is Dean Norris…AKA Officer Hank Schrader!

Without getting too preachy about the pitfalls of body comparison and pageantry, Little Miss Sunshine is warm and honest in every possible way.


Now it’s Your Turn…
Little Miss Sunshine was nominated for Best Picture in 2006, but did the Academy get it right?

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?

Milk

Alternate Title: Politics as Usual
2008 Nominee

Sean Penn plays gay activist Harvey Milk, a man whose voice spoke for countless others. After meeting Scott (James Franco, seen here as a non-douche and a non-stoner, so don’t let that deter you), Harvey and his new beau pick up and head to San Francisco.

San Francisco in the 70s was just getting its reputation for hosting proud members of the gay community. While it was their haven, it was certainly not safe. Legal and moral objections were raised against them at every turn and as a result, Harvey took to the political scene. He became the first openly gay man to hold political office in the country.

A workaholic with a message that affected many, Harvey was plagued by death threats and ghosts of lost lovers; in fact, several of his partners committed suicide – something Harvey believed was partially his fault, due to his fear of coming out of the closet.

While I agree with the message Harvey and his followers preached and believe that politicians out to destroy civil rights are really just demonizing democracy, I still don’t like politics. The outcome of Harvey Milk’s time as a supervisor was heartbreaking and ultimately, I don’t love stories that have unhappy endings.

However, he’s a person I didn’t know a thing about until I watched this film and that’s a genuine shame. Political activists – especially those fighting on behalf of human rights – really ought to be recognized more readily. With the fucking laugh-riot our country is slowly becoming, it’s easy to see why now, people like Harvey Milk deserve a megaphone and a place behind the podium.

It’s nice to say we’re born with unalienable rights, but we are not born with them.
We fight for them. And the fight is definitely not over yet.

Now it’s Your Turn…
Milk was nominated for Best Picture in 2008, 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?

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?