An Oscar Extra: SO THIS IS HARRIS (RKO 1933)

Tonight is Hollywood’s big night, the 90th annual Academy Awards presentation. In Oscar’s honor, I’d like to present the Best Short winner for the 1932-33 season, SO THIS IS HARRIS. Crooner/bandleader Phil Harris stars as himself in this Pre-Code classic, along with comic actor Walter Catlett as a homebrew making husband jealous of his wife’s infatuation with the singer. Mark Sandrich, later the director of four Fred Astaire /Ginger Rogers romps, uses some innovative techniques, including the kaleidoscopic opening and neat swipes, to create a fast-paced, fun little outing. And wait til you get a load of the “Singing in the Shower” number – now THAT’S Pre-Code! Also featuring perennial Laurel & Hardy nemesis James Finlayson (“D’oh!”), enjoy SO THIS IS HARRIS, and happy Oscar viewing!:

Random Musings on Last Night’s Oscars

Aoscar

Well, the 88th Academy Awards are over. It was a strange show, to be sure…not necessarily good, but strange. I’ve just got a few thoughts in my head I need to get out:

*THE RED CARPET: Overlong and vapid. Seriously, this was just ridiculous. I’m no fashionista, so I don’t care what Miss Anna Rexic is wearing this evening. I know many people do though, so we’ve gotta have the “Pre-Game” show to sell the sponsor’s products, right? Yeah. I just think the time would be better spent on showing something like Gena Rowlands, Debbie Reynolds, and Spike Lee receiving their honorary Oscars.

*CHRIS ROCK: Dude, I thought your opening monologue was hysterical! But there’s an old saying, “Quit beating a dead horse”. The race jokes kept getting lamer and lamer. And that interview with movie patrons on the street sure didn’t help your cause. Oh, and the Girl Scout cookie bit was a blatant rip-off of Ellen DeGeneres ordering pizza for the crowd. No wonder Kevin Hart’s getting all the good parts!!

*SYLVESTER STALLONE: I’m sure Mark Rylance gave a good performance, but…C’MON, IT’S ROCKY, MAN! Sly will probably never get another shot at Oscar. Unless he gets nominated for THE EXPENDABLES 17!

*BEST SONG: Really? Lady Gaga makes a bold statement with “Til It Happens to You”, and loses to that Sam Smith snoozer from SPECTRE (try saying that three times fast!) And what’s up with The Weeknd’s hair? Good lord!

*MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: When Max began to sweep all those technical categories, I knew it had no chance at Best Picture. Happens all the time.

*IN MEMORIAM: Colleen Grey. Geoffrey Lewis. Dickie Moore. Roddy Piper. Joan Leslie. Jean Darling. Gunnar Hanson. Angus Scrimm. Kevin Corcoran. Martin Milner. Yvonne Craig. Jayne Meadows. James Best. Ron Moody. Patrick Macnee. Abe Vigoda. #OscarsSoDisrespectful.

Other than that, it was a pretty good show, and I can’t wait for next year!!

hooray

My Personal Top Ten Oscar Winners for Best Picture

oscar1

Watching movies, like appreciating any art form, is a purely subjective experience. My idea of a great film could be your idea of a stinkeroo. After all, my two favorite directors are John Ford and Ed Wood! Keeping that in mind, I’ve decided to do something different here. Since I’ve viewed 61 of the 87 Best Picture winners, I’ve come up with a Top Ten list of the all-time best Best Pictures I’ve seen. And here it is:

oscar2

  • 10- *tie* REBECCA (1940) and ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). This may be cheating, but I really couldn’t pick between the two. Hitchcock’s American film debut is simply a masterpiece of suspense, while Marlon Brando leads a powerhouse cast in Elia Kazan’s powerhouse drama. Both deserve to make the list.
  • 9- RAIN MAN (1988). I could watch this movie over and over and never get tired of it. Dustin Hoffman has never been better. “Uh-oh, two minutes to Wapner!”
  • 8- WEST SIDE STORY (1961). The only musical on the list, only because SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN didn’t win the award. The Jets vs The Sharks in an American classic.
  • 7- UNFORGIVEN (1992). Clint Eastwood’s elegy to the Western genre is timeless. Gene Hackman is fantastic as Little Bill. No matter what you may think of Clint, he’s one of our greatest living  filmmakers.
  • 6- ALL ABOUT EVE (1950). Deliciously bitchy backstage drama, from the poison pen of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Fine performances all around, including a small role for young Marilyn Monroe.
  • oscar3
  • 5- GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). I was ambivalent about including GWTW at first, but finally decided it belongs here. One of the all-time great epics. Overlong, but it still delivers the entertainment goods.
  • 4- ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975). Another movie I could watch over and over. Jack Nicholson nails it as McMurphy, supported by a top-notch cast and Milos Foreman’s direction.
  • 3- THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI (1957). Probably the best anti-war film of all, and that’s saying a lot. When it comes to epics, nobody does them better than David Lean. Alec Guinness (pre-Obi Wan) is superb.
  • 2- THE GODFATHER (1972). Brando again, with a cast of young actors who all rose to stardom due to this Francis Ford Coppola film. THE movie of the 70’s!
  • oscar4
  • 1- CASABLANCA (1943). Was there ever any doubt? Still my all-time personal favorite. If I could only watch one movie for the rest of my life, this would be it! Here’s looking at you, kid!

And there you have it. Honorable mentions would go to GRAND HOTEL, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, BEN-HUR, THE SOUND OF MUSIC (yeah, I’m a sentimentalist), THE GODFATHER PART II, ROCKY, ANNIE HALL, FORREST GUMP, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. So how about you, Dear Readers? Agree? Disagree? Would you add or subtract any from your own personal Top Ten lists? I’d love to hear your reactions, so feel free to comment away!

Rough Justice: THE FRENCH CONNECTION (20th Century Fox 1971)

french1

First of all, I’d like to thank Kellee Pratt of Outspoken and Freckled for inviting me to participate in the 31Days of Oscar Blogathon. It’s cool to be part of the film blogging community, and even cooler because I get to write about THE FRENCH CONNECTION, a groundbreaking movie in many ways. It was the first R-Rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and scored four other golden statuettes as well. It also helped (along with the Clint Eastwood/Don Siegel DIRTY HARRY) usher in the 70’s “tough cop” genre, which in turn spawned the proliferation of all those 70’s cop shows that dominated network TV back then (KOJAK, STARSKY & HUTCH, BARETTA, etc, etc).

The story follows New York City cops Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and his partner Sonny “Cloudy” Russo as they investigate a large shipment of heroin being brought in from France. The detectives focus on Sal Boca, a small time hood suddenly spreading big money around, and connected to mob lawyer Joe Weinstock. They get a tip the drugs are coming in, and follow Frenchman Alain Charnier. The cat-and-mouse game is on, and the film essentially becomes the race to find and stop the shipment from hitting the streets, including an iconic scene where Doyle commandeers a car to chase down an elevated train carrying Charnier’s murderous associate.

french2

Gene Hackman won the Oscar for his portrayal of Popeye Doyle. He’s Archie Bunker with a badge, spewing profanity-laced ethnic slurs at every perp he comes across, tossing in non-sequiturs like “You ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?” to keep them off-balance. Doyle breaks the rules with abandon, doing whatever it takes to clean up his city. Popeye Doyle may be a flawed human being, and you may not agree with his methods, but he’s an honest cop doing a tough job. He’s an anti-hero, and Hackman deserved his Oscar for his stark, realistic performance.

french3

The rest of the cast is outstanding as well. Co-star Roy Scheider (Russo) went on to lead roles in JAWS, ALL THAT JAZZ, BLUE THUNDER, and 2010. Spanish actor Fernando Rey (Charnier) worked in many of Luis Bunuel’s films. Tony LoBianco (Sal) is a dependable character actor who never quite made the leap to stardom. The real life Popeye and Cloudy, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, appear in the film, with Egan playing Doyle’s superior. R&B group The Three Degrees (“When Will I See You Again”) are featured in the nightclub scene.

William Friedkin’s career was stuck in neutral before THE FRENCH CONNECTION. He made his debut directing Sonny & Cher in GOOD TIMES, followed by a few artsy films that went nowhere at the box office. He took on THE FRENCH CONNECTION after getting some advice from his then-girlfriend’s father. You may have heard of him… Howard Hawks. Friedkin’s direction here is like Hawks-on-steroids, and nabbed him an Oscar as well. His next movie was an even bigger blockbuster, 1973’s THE EXORCIST. Friedkin’s other films have been uneven; some of his better ones are SORCERER, THE BRINK’S JOB, and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (a personal favorite of mine).

french4

Bill Hickman has a part as Mulderig, a Federal agent at odds with Doyle. Hickman was primarily a stunt driver, noted for the chase through San Francisco in Steve McQueen’s BULLITT. He staged the chase here as well, filmed on the streets of Brooklyn. It’s a crazy, tense thrill ride that ranks with the screen’s best chases, and part of the reason DP Owen Roisman and editor Gerald Greenburg took home Oscars, too. Let’s not forget the gritty screenplay by Ernest Tidyman, which gave THE FRENCH CONNECTION five Academy Awards all totaled.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION is a hard, in-your-face movie that helped Oscar grow up, with a remarkable performance by Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, a character who was a product of his time. It’s one of the best crime films of the 70’s, and still holds up well, unlike some other cop movies of the era. Just writing this review makes me want to watch it again!

31