You’ve watched the 84th Annual Academy Awards and are feeling in a film watching mood. You’ve seen who has won and are complaining on Twitter and Facebook (or your very own Tumblr page) and need to vent about who should have won or who should have been nominated in the first place. Trust me, I get it. We’re all going through that. I will still say I’m sad that Albert Brooks didn’t get nominated for his startling villainous turn in Drive, but I digress. That’s not what I want to talk to all of you about. Instead, I want to point you in the direction of some fantastic alternative films that Criterion has up on their Hulu Plus channel. Whatever has won this past Sunday night will be mentioned with a film to take its place that you can watch from the comfort of your own home or on the go via your iPhone, iPad or whatever other device you may have.
Best Picture Winner: The Artist
I’m just going right into the big categories. The favorite for awhile now was definitely this homage to the silent film era that is sadly getting tons of backlash. Not sure where that is stemming from, but this is neither the time or the place to discuss them. I will point you to a few films to check out that are classics of the silent era and should be getting the love they deserve. Hopefully with this win, silent films will be dug up by young and old alike and cherished for their greatness.
Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: The Passion of Joan of Arc
One of the greatest films of all time, be it silent or not, Carl Dreyer’s film was thought to be lost for decades from a fire and found in a janitor’s closet in an Oslo mental institution, the story is one for the legends. The path this film takes is simply breathtaking and the performance by Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc is pitch perfect. Her face is one to behold and if you haven’t yet seen this film, I think you need to stop reading this article, save it in your tabs and go watch The Passion of Joan of Arc now and let me know if your life has been changed for the better.
Best Actor In a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin in The Artist
The handsome Dujardin was a favorite of mine for a few years now from watching his double whammy of spy spoofs OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, where he played dashing super spy Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath. In The Artist, Dujardin plays George Valentin, an accomplished silent film star who is coming to grips with the impending doom of his profession due to sound coming to the industry. It’s a charming and touching performance, one that I hope some will grow to love in the years to come.
Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times
I could have easily gone with any of Chaplin’s iconic Tramp roles in his films, but when comparing to The Artist, the closest I can come to for an alternative would be his 1936 film Modern Times. The reason being? Chaplin himself was battling the idea of sound in pictures and throwing out his own silent film style still up to the last minute. With the success of The Jazz Singer lighting the sound fire throughout the world, Chaplin threw in a small amount of sound in this film as an olive branch and also a sign of defeat. Such a wonderful film as well. Buy the Blu-ray if you can from Criterion. If anything, you should check out The Kid, The Circus, The Gold Rush and City Lights as well while you’re at it. Especially since those haven’t been released by Criterion yet.
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
I love Meryl Streep. Also, it was her 17th time being nominated for an Academy Award, the most ever nominations. And it was her third win for a role that she played impeccably. The movie itself wasn’t too good, but that’s beside the point. Streep really delved into the role of Margaret Thatcher. Was it as true to the real life woman? That’s up for debate.
Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box
I could have easily went back to The Passion of Joan of Arc, but that would be cheating. Also, a lot of my favorite female performances within the collection are out of print now (such as the Hitchcock movies) or not up on the Hulu site (I adore Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey). I instead chose another silent film within the collection, this time the classic G.W. Pabst film Pandora’s Box. And this is primarily for the simple fact that you can’t help but keep your eyes on Louise Brooks the entire time. This film was way ahead of its time, with its sexuality oozing (wrong word?) off the screen. Brooks is a revelation here, and Pabst was known for discovering amazing women in film (Greta Garbo, anyone?). This is one film that I have a hard time finding anyone who is also a fan. But I think it’s rediscovery will be happening yet again very soon.
Best Actor In a Supporting Role: Christopher Plummer in Beginners
This one I was truly happy for, being a huge Christopher Plummer fan. Yes, a Klingon has won an Oscar. I know, I know, every nerd has already said that. But in this Mike Mills film, Plummer plays a dying father who comes out of the closet to his family. A double dose of intense news from someone’s father, and it was performed so well. Surprised Ewan McGregor didn’t get any recognition for his role as Plummer’s son. Well, Plummer gave him his very own nod of approval during his amazing acceptance speech.
Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Thomas Mitchell in Stagecoach
This is a film we covered on the podcast way back in episode 53! Thomas Mitchell won the Oscar back in 1939 for his role as the drunken Doc Boone but he does so much more than the usual drunken fool that was the norm at the time. Most remember it for the star making performance of John Wayne’s turn as the Ringo Kid, but I see an actor like Mitchell relishing in a meaty role that he did not take for granted. One of my favorite films of all time and a supporting role that makes the film that much better.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Octavia Spencer in The Help
Spencer had the best and most emotionally charged acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, and for good reason. Her role as Minny Jackson, a maid with a sharp tongue which gets her fired from multiple jobs, was a great performance. Not getting into the actual story behind The Help itself because there’s a lot of stuff coming out about that, instead I’m looking at the performances and Spencer did a hell of a job winning most other awards for her role.
Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Véra Clouzot in Diabolique
When thinking of a great secondary female performance in a film, it was quite difficult to narrow it down. But one film that instantly popped in my head that had two strong women playing different roles was Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique, a favorite mystery thriller that I show to people who want something along the lines of Hitchcock. And Clouzot as Christina Delassalle, best friend to Simone Signoret’s Nicole Horner is at first one type of performance, than something entirely different and ultimately changes even what we’ve seen for the first 100 or so minutes. A fantastic performance that gives the primary performer a run for their money.
Best Directing: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
It was a no brainer, considering the film had won so many other awards and was sweeping critics off their feet. Hazanavicius had made the two OSS films with Dujardin, which shows his comedic timing and finally with The Artist, he showed his writing and directing were both being looked at and being respected. With the backlash that is occurring now for his film, I just hope it still acts as a gateway for younger fans to check out silent films in general.
Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: John Cassavetes for A Woman Under the Influence
Of course sadly I could not put up Carol Reed’s The Third Man because it isn’t a part of the current collection. Look at Studio Canal for that anger inducing truth. I could have easily put up Lumet’s 12 Angry Men as well, but it’s not up on Criterion’s Hulu page either. Not yet, at least. I instead went for indie filmmaker John Cassavetes and his seminal 1974 masterpiece A Woman Under the Influence. Written and directed by Cassavetes, this film took me by surprise when I was lucky enough to check out a dirty beat up print back in college. Gena Rowlands (who I almost picked earlier) and Peter Falk (who sadly lost his life this past year) are a married couple, with Rowlands’ Mabel trying to please Falk’s Nick, which worries him with the way she’s been acting. Powerhouse performances by the both of them, this film sadly did not win the Academy Award that year, being beat out by a small director by the name of Francis Ford Coppola for a silly sequel of a gangster film. I kid, I kid. Love both of those films, but something about Cassavetes’ film sticks with me in ways I never thought possible. While you’re at it, go check out one of my other favorite films of his The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, starring another actor who recently lost his life and the other actor that frequented his films, Ben Gazzara.
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Descendants by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
An actor from Community has an Oscar now. Come on, NBC, let’s get this show back and on for another year at least. Okay, sorry, had to plug that for a second. This film was one that surprised me, not because I expected something bad from a George Clooney film, but because it was not a typical Clooney film I have come to view. It was a hurt, weak and perhaps one of the most normal roles he’s ever taken, which I’m grateful for because I like it when a great actor can stretch themselves out a bit and showcase their talents. A great screenplay like this will always make me want to go to the original source material, in this case based on the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings.
Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Z by Jorge SemprÃºn and Costa-Gavras
Adapted from the novel of the same name written by Vassilis Vassilikos, this political thriller was one film that Criterion truly introduced to me. I had never heard of it (shame on me), even though it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1969, losing out to Midnight Cowboy but won many other Oscars that year. When the DVD came out, I jumped at the film because I had been reading up on it prior to its release and I was not disappointed in any way. Actually I was blown away by this film, co-written and directed by Costa-Gavras, depicting a thinly fictional plot revolved around the assassination of a Greek politician and the cover up done by military and government officials. Echoing the 1963 assassination of Greek left wing activist Gregoris Lambrakis, it is frightening to see the truth of such a horrible matter put up on the big screen. But it is also eye opening, which is what any fantastic film based around politics will do. While you’re at it, go check out The Battle of Algiers. Just because I said so.
Best Writing (Original Screenplay): Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen
Woody Allen of course was not at the Academy Awards to pick up his trophy and I kind of always dug the fact that he just doesn’t care about those sort of things. But it makes me happy that he was awarded again for his best script in years (I will say Match Point is a hell of a screenplay as well) and also showed that Owen Wilson is still talented in the acting department. And that it was loved by audiences all around the country too makes it even sweeter, this timeless tale of love and perhaps losing that love by one’s own journey into the heart of a city and themselves is one film I wish I had watched much sooner. Another Allen classic, even at the age of 76.
Criterion’s Oscar Alternative: Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman
Again, these categories are so tough because there are tons of films to choose from when it comes to fantastic original screenplays. I picked one of my favorite films, one that we keep wishing for a Blu-grade, and one of my favorite episodes of the podcast, Wild Strawberries, which we covered back in Episode 59. Starring his mentor and favorite filmmaker Victor SjÃ¶strÃ¶m (which you can view his seminal silent film and one of my favorite discoveries in 2011, The Phantom Carriage), it weaves a story of a man going to receive an honorary award but while on his journey, he’s facing his past and his impending death. Beautifully shot, acted and written, Bergman’s film is a wonder to behold and a film I hold in high regard as changing the way I look at film. It’s hard to explain how something could do that, but this film did it. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I implore all of you to do so as soon as you can and fall in love as well.
Two honorary mentions because I feel like it and if you’re still reading this, thank you so much. With all the craziness surrounding Sacha Baron Cohen’s banning, unbanning and in between for his possible portrayal of his character from his upcoming film The Dictator, I of course think of a film that I hold in my upper echelon of greatest films of all time. Another Chaplin film and one that I think everyone could guess from a mile away is his first full talkie, The Great Dictator. A wonderful film, full of wit, charm and emotion. The other film that I was very surprised got no nominations whatsoever was Steve McQueen’s film Shame, especially with Michael Fassbender and his private member wooing audiences everywhere. Of course my mind goes in dark and dirty places, so the films I would suggest to watch and are not yet on a physical disc yet are the Hanzo the Razor films. You don’t know about the Hanzo films? Oh boy, you’re in for a demented treat. With Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice, Hanzo the Razor: The Snare and Hanzo the Razor: Who’s Got the Gold?, we see our titular ‘hero’ battle wits with evil doers and use his huge private part to make women talk. That’s all I’m going to say and I might have said too much already.
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