Best Actor – 1971

Official Nominations: Gene Hackman. Peter Finch. Walter Matthau. George C Scott. Chaim Topol.

There were two clear front-runners this year, with Gene Hackman picking up the win for his (arguably) career best performance in The French Connection. Missing out was Topol in Fiddler In The Roof – a full-blooded performance but one I’m never going to pick over Hackman. Peter Finch plays one third of a sexual triangle in Sunday Bloody Sunday, a million miles away from camp, while Walter Matthau is not grumpy in the forgotten, curious, and light Kotch. Finally, George C Scott is grumpy and stressed and more besides in The Hospital. As mentioned – only one winner.

My Winner: Gene Hackman

tumblr_m9vmeiIdh11r4keewo1_1280.png

My Nominations: Gene Hackman. Gene Wilder. Dustin Hoffman. Al Pacino. Sean Connery. Malcolm McDowell. Oliver Reed. Michael Caine. Warren Beatty. Richard Roundtree. Robert Duvall.

Only Hackman transcends reality to make it onto my list, joining a list of snubs and others. Gene Wilder seems like a major snub here, at least with hindsight – his portrayal of Willy Wonka one of the most beloved ever, commanding every scene he is in and providing many memorable moments. Similarly, Dustin Hoffman may feel aggrieved that he didn’t get a nomination for Straw Dogs – Hoffman slowly cracking then shattering. Al Pacino got off to his first major lead role in Panic In Needle Park, an interesting film raised by his performance while Sean Connery plays a more dastardly version of Bond in The Anderson Tapes. Malcolm McDowell gives a tour de force performance as Alex in A Clockwork Orange, ensuring he would have a career playing madcap characters while Oliver Reed furthered his legend with The Devils. Staying in England, Michael Caine earns another nomination from me thanks to his meanest performance in Get Carter while back in the US, Warren Beatty should feel aggrieved by not getting a nomination for Mccabe & Mrs Miller. Finally, two performances which never would have got a nomination – Robert Duvall in a rare lead role for THX 1138 and Richard Roundtree for the ground-breaking Shaft. 

This is a tough one, but I think it’s between Wilder and McDowell for me.

My Winner: Gene Wilder

Willy-Wonka-Gene-Wilder-1971

Who do you pick as the Best Actor of 1971? Let us know in the comments!

El Mariachi

*Originally written in 2003

el

The Nineties gave us a surge of impressive, stylish, innovative young film-makers from all around the globe, with Robert Rodriguez leading the way in his ability to make a low-budget film look like a Blockbuster. El Mariachi was filmed in a short time with a minuscule budget, but put him on the map. A solid story, good acting, great music and cinematography, confident and effective editing, and explosive action that many directors fail to achieve with a much larger budget – El Mariachi delivers thrills, laughs, good dialogue, and one of the coolest characters of the decade.

Carlos Gallardo stars as El Mariachi, a travelling musician who simply wants to carry on his family tradition. The next town he wanders into is run by crime-lord Moco. One of Moco’s former employees Azul has become a hit-man and is wiping out Moco’s men as Moco had turned against him. His trademark is his guitar case filled with weapons. When El Mariachi wanders into the town he is mistaken by Moco’s men and he finds himself in constant danger. He tries to find a way to prove his innocence, but when local woman Domino becomes involved the stakes grow. Soon a war erupts in the town.

This is constantly impressive when considering the $7000 budget. Rodriguez ensures that every scene seems like it drips with gold and style. The action is swift and exciting, the performances (mainly by total amateurs), particularly from Gallardo, Consuelo Gomez, and Peter Marquardt are very strong with each portrayal making sure each character sticks in the head. El Mariachi is an innocent forced into a deadly game which will transform his life and haunt him forever. Domino is also drawn into the seedy world, is feisty but vulnerable. Moco is a cigar smoking, white-suited menace who oozes villainy. Truly one of the best ultra low budget films ever.

Let us know what you thought of El Mariachi and any of the sequels and how you feel the director’s career has progressed over the years!

The Everlasting

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

I’ve never understood the hate this one gets, particularly from longstanding fans of the band. Perhaps it’s because it’s so overtly a ballad in sound, perhaps it’s because it revels in its own defeatism, perhaps its because there isn’t a trace of punk either in sound or attitude. What it is though is one of the most beautiful, tortured ballads ever written, the admission of a band who set out to conquer the world that they failed utterly (at least they believed they did) and that they lost so much along the way. It’s the most honest 6 minutes of tragedy you’re ever likely to hear, all played to gorgeous strings, broken up guitars, gut-wrenching melodies, and one of my all time favourite guitar solos – the stretched, extended notes fish-hooking into your soul and tearing for all they’re worth. A brutal and brilliant way to open the album.

481569425

The Everlasting: 4/Great

Misheard Lyrics: All you are old I hear you say

Actual Lyrics: Oh you’re old I hear you say

Chart Music Through The Years – 1961

Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here – https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-uk-top-40/

Greetings, Glancers! Let us twist our heads 180 degrees like a Reagan possessed and see what fell behind us in those heady, innocent days gone by. Hands up if you remember 1961? Not me! I am reliably informed that JFK became President of those United States, that man and chimp ventured off world into space for the first time, The Bay Of Pigs came and went, Catch-22 was released, Ernest Hemmingway died, and Ken first met Barbie. In the world of music, The Beatles performed in The Cabin club for the first time, The Supremes signed to Motown, Mick Jagger met Keith Richards, and rock music continued to challenge the scourge of Swing throughout the year. Indeed, the ten songs featured below suggest a shift in popularity between the old and new, with pop rock upstarts taking the top prizes over the crooners of the past. Looking at the these ten songs, I can’t say that I recognise any of them from the titles alone, but I do know eight of the artists. Lets get stuck in, kids.

  1. The Shadows: Kon-Tiki

The famous twanging guitar, clear and crisp. Yes, it does evoke shimmering images of beach side Caribbean lounging. There’s still a country twist in there too. That this ever made it to Number 1 in the charts is bizarre to me – not because it’s bad, just because. At under two minutes long it doesn’t go very far or ask many questions, but a mild diversion and still sounds good over 50 years later.

2. Billy Fury: Jealousy

Big ass bass and trumpets. String blasts. Sounds like a tango. Certainly a strange collection of tones and styles, offset by the clean, smooth vocals and dark lyrics. Melodies are all over the place though. In trying to go in a hundred directions at the same time, it feels disjointed.

3. Highwaymen: Michael

Whistling. Guitars. Ok, hallelujah. Another bizarre song to ever be in the charts. Nicely sung, has the famous melody, but boring and uneventful – of course plenty of people are into that sort of thing.

4. John Leyton: Johnny Remember Me

Sighing. Cowboy guitars and vocals. Interesting mix of vocals, haunting sound. It frequently feels like the tempo is changing, even though it isn’t. Galloping guitars. This is a good one, even though I don’t like this style of male vocal. This was pretty good, and pretty weird.

5. Shirley Bassey: Reach For The Stars

Scary strings intro. Young Bassey voice… doesn’t sound like the vocals I know her from. Until she hits the bigger notes. It’s a strange song that doesn’t have your typical verse, chorus structure. It’s dreamy and drifting and the melodies don’t have an addictive quality. Difficult to fault the ability of the singer of course, but the vocals at points are too loud and overblown for the music.

6. Elvis: Wild In The Country

Another adventure into Western territory for Elvis, this soothing ballad is straightforward – a soft guitar and humming vocal accompaniment for a gentle Elvis vocal. This feels like a lightweight song that would be easily forgotten if sung by anyone else -even with Elvis singing it feels uneventful, though there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it.

7. Cleo Laine: You’ll Answer To Me

Squealing violin. Stirrings of Stephen King nostalgia. More squealing violins. Suggestive of stabbing, based off the lyrics? Crazy ex or crazy mother? It has a certain charm, and the lyrics are quite funny.

8. Connie Francis: Together

More King nostalgia. Swaying swooning. The complete opposite of the previous song, but retains a certain similar charm. Although the lyrics do become possibly sinister. Spoken part. Not sure if this is happy, creepy, or sad.

9. Del Shannon: Hats Off To Larry

I’ve always liked Del Shannon. More lyrics about lost love. Starts slow, then gets into a ripping tempo with weird blips and Shannon’s trademark high notes. Addictive stuff, angry, but fun, good good.

10. Eden Kane: Get Lost

More funky rock n roll. Strange mix of whispers, growls, and Elvis for the vocals. This is pretty good too, not as instantly catchy as Shannon’s. What was that about a shotgun?

A very good second half of songs, any of which I’d be happy to listen to again. The group of songs are a fair reflection of what was popular and good in 1961, with the year’s top selling songs including other hits by Elvis and Shannon. I’m not even going to attempt to pick an alternate top 10 for 1961, primarily because they wouldn’t be too different from the artists listed above, and also because albums were not really a big deal yet – mostly collections of singles and covers and tracks not good enough to be singles. Feel free to leave a comment about any of the songs or artists from 1961, and let us know what you were up to then!

Best Picture – 1971

Official Nominations: A Clockwork Orange. The French Connection. The Last Picture Show. Fiddler On The Roof. Nicholas And Alexandra.

1971 was a great year for films and for the Oscars as they mostly got everything right. With so many strong films though, only a panel of comatose cyborgs would get it wrong. William Friedkin would come to popularity (after releasing a few art-house and small films) this year with the action-packed thriller The French Connection, highly regarded as one of the best cop films ever. As well as the perfect partnership between Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider the film is famous for its breathless car chase and for being the first R rated film to win Best Film. Unlike films of just a few years before this feels modern timeless, and the script, characterizations, and story don’t feel like they have aged at all. It would be difficult to argue against this film winning the main award, but the year had a couple of other masterpieces.

Stanley Kubrick returned after a three year hiatus bringing one of the most famously controversial films ever made to screen. He turned Anthony Burgess’s novel into a funny, scary, futuristic vision of the world and filling it with violence, bizarre imagery, sex, and some of the most famous scenes ever committed film. Not shying away from the argot which Burgess used in the novel, Kubrick creates a flawless social commentary on youth, on fear, on paranoia, on authority and any number of other subjects. The lack of redemption which appears in the movie serves Kubrick’s typically bleak style and sets up McDowell’s character Alex as an anti-hero for the ages. The film was banned in many countries including Britain for content, for its messages, yet today it stands as a powerful look at an extreme, yet not impossible future. The cast is uniformly brilliant, McDowell is never better, the classical score is used as a plot device rather than simply background noise, and everything moves at a sickening pace.

Just as famous and proof that the musical was still dragging its tippedy tappedy heels around is The Fiddler On The Roof. Unusual for a musical is that the story is mildly interesting, Williams’ score is decent, while the songs are bouncy enough but hardly memorable. Topol gives a good performance as the poor Jewish lead but the film is largely forgettable. Also forgettable is Schaffner’s Nicholas and Alexandra. It is epic, tragic, inspiring, but lacks the strength in its cast to make it as powerful as it could have been.

That leaves Bogdanovich’s smart coming of age drama The Last Picture Show to complete the roster. Featuring all round wonderful performances, particularly from Bridges, Johnson, and Bottoms and filmed in beautiful black and white it is probably the director’s best. It is a much more simple film than the two big ones here but equally as affecting. My winner is A Clockwork Orange for its daring, for its shocks, for the visual flare, and for an engaging story which forces your brain to tick rather than tide over, though either of the other two big boys would be a worthy winner.

My Winner: A Clockwork Orange

clockwork_orange.jpg

My Nominations: A Clockwork Orange. The French Connection. The Last Picture Show. The Big Boss. Wake In Fright. Get Carter. THX 1138. Walkabout. McCabe & Mrs Miller. The Devils.

As is generally the case I expand my search to the wider movie world, bringing in Britain, Hong Kong, and Hong Kong into the mix. The Big Boss is the first true Bruce Lee film and remains a startling introduction to his performing skills, and not just as a fighter. It’s a fairly straight film with Lee helping out his neverending group of cousins and investigating corruption and murder in a small town but it has an energy and inspired rebellious spirit like few other films. McCabe & Mrs Miller is another Robert Altman classic – he had a string of these all the way through this period – this seems just as worthy of a nomination as those which got one. With no chance of getting such honours, The Devils remains one of the most highly sought after and rarely seen controversial movies – certainly not an easy watch it nevertheless is one of a kind.

Get Carter is one of the finest British movies of the decade, and for my money one of the last truly great British films. Wake In Fright is equally one of Australia’s best – a biting satire with gripping action, machismo, violence, and a stark style while Walkabout is a joint venture between the two countries and offering a different but equally deadly glimpse of the outback. It features some gorgeous cinematography and haunting images. Finally, THX 1138 is an early George Lucas effort before he set his sights on a galaxy far, far away. His dystopian film is a world away from what we think of when we think of George Lucas movies – this is stark, cold, but bold and inventive in crafting an imaginary world. The film was dismissed upon release but has been re-evaluated over time as a near-classic, a sign of a young writer, director finding his feet, and a chilling vision of a future which seems increasingly plausible.

My Winner: A Clockwork Orange

Let us know in the comments which film of 1971 you would pick as winner of the Best Picture Oscar!

Rings

rib

A brief bit of history – Ringu is my second favourite horror movie of all time, and one which kicked off my love for J-Horror. Its sequel is problematic but a lot of fun, while its prequel is glorious and criminally underrated. I saw both the US remake and its sequel upon release – I hated The Ring at the time – a watered down, cheap jump-scare filled mess, while the sequel I thought was decent throwaway fun. There was no real need for another entry, but then again enough time has passed and enough new technology has arrived to allow for some interesting new spins to explore. Does Rings explore these?

Does it fuck. Rings is a mess. I can’t think of a single, remotely scary moment in the film – no tension, not even any jump scares, and Samara is again some ultra cheap CG mess who looks like she would slip and break her back sooner than crawl across the room to murder you. The film does offer interesting ideas, but either abandons them or messes them up in some convoluted fashion. The idea of being trapped on an airplane with someone about to succumb to the curse is sound – hell, that’s a movie in itself right there. This is messed up and rushed and filled with inexplicable moments – why do all the screens change, why does the plane crash etc? The idea of a group, almost cult set up surrounding the video – who both apparently worship and fear the video, while simultaneously creating a system for viewing and sharing the video to keep each other alive while not spreading the loop too wide – again a sound idea. This is abandoned fairly early and doesn’t get a lot of discussion – it’s basically a minor plot point irrelevant to everything else that comes afterwards. There may be other interesting ideas, but I can’t recall given that my mind is clouded by the other crap.

So the plot is that a guy is leaving his gal to go off to college. They’re very luvvy-duvvy. After a while the guy doesn’t return her calls so the gal goes looking for him. For some reason she has dreams which seems to involve Samara, before she knows anything about it. After some amateur sleuthing she realizes that people seem to be covering up her bloke’s recent whereabouts and there is a lot of talk about watching a video. The girl goes to a house with another girl who promises to find the guy if she watches ‘The Video’. The guys calls just in time to tell her not to watch so she hides and the other girl is killed. Soon we hear all about it, the girl watches the video anyway to save her man, then they both go to investigate the history of the video, which for some reason has decided to display new images.

So, we get a lot of unnecessary additional back story which doesn’t tell us anything new, and some sort of unexplained convoluted reasoning to explain how Samara wants to break free from the binds of the videotape, using the girl. How could she have foreknowledge of the girl? Did she smell her through the bathroom door and thought she was some sort of key? Why? What is special about this girl? It seems pretty obvious that one of the first things any viewer of the videotape in the last 10 years would do is upload it and send to their friends, yet that seems to be the big scheme and shock ending after all. Why? Why find the body, why find the man who got the mother pregnant, why anything? It’s just completely absurd.

Why make it another teen movie too? Ringu was powerful because it was about a mother, her son, her ex partner. There were kids in it too, but they were peripheral. I have no problem with teens being the focus, except when it is only there as a cynical cash grab. And yet with all this, I didn’t hate the movie. Maybe it’s because when I watched it I was dying with some stinking cold and was possibly hallucinating a better movie as I watched, or maybe I’m too lenient on movies, crap as they may be. Aside from Samara, it looked decent enough – standard bland stuff, and the performances were fine – nothing memorable, nothing bad. In the end it’s an entirely pointless exercise with zero scares, and a nonsensical story. I still say someone could make another good Ring movie, but I think it’s time we let it die.