MY OSCAR PICKS FOR 2020

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF: MY OSCAR PICKS FOR 2020

PART ONE

PART TWO

Well it’s that time again – tucked right between Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day – to hand out the Oscars! Some think of it as a time to recognize outstanding achievement in the art of cinema. Louis B. Meyer referred to it as a trade show. George C. Scott called it a meat market and refused to participate. But, however you think of it, the winning of this award confers a great deal of attention and is a heck of a resume enhancer for those on both sides of the camera.

Let’s start by identifying the categories. You can get your own ballot HERE.

Originally called the Academy Award of Merit, it was the brain child of Louis B. Meyer who thought up the idea in 1929, allegedly to forestall unionization, asserting: “I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them.”

Sculpted by George Stanley, a native of Iota, Louisiana (significant to me, personally, as that is my home state), Stanley followed the design by Cedric Gibbons, the Art Director for such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gaslight, and Brigadoon.

The far more famous moniker for the Academy Award of Merit is, of course, Oscar – supposedly dubbed by a passing secretary who was alleged to have quipped: “That looks like my Uncle Oscar!”

The most anticipated awards are for best: Picture, Lead Actor and Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress, Director, Screenplay and Song. But there are, all told, 24 standard categories plus the periodic endowment of a Life Time Achievement award and a variety of lesser known technical and merit based awards.

I’m only going to cover the areas on which I feel comfortable expositing – acting, directing, cinematography (with some assistance from my excellent photographer husband), writing, and music.

Below I offer some rules of thumb.

ACTING

Do you get to know the character? I think a good rule of thumb in evaluating acting is to ask yourself after having seen the performance – do you know this character? Has the performer put so much nuance and exposition into his filmatic creation that you could take a good guess as to how they might react in any given situation? Now limitations here are not always the actor’s fault. There just might not be enough pallet in an individual film to paint enough of a spectrum to allow this kind of extrapolation. But some actors can, with just a glance, body language, change of inflection or what they DON’T do or say, get into the skin of their character.

This becomes evident when noting there have been awards handed out for the smallest of screen time characters: such as Beatrice Straight’s 5 minutes and 2 second supporting actress performance in Network, or for Ingrid Bergman’s 5 minute continuous shot in Murder on the Orient Express.

MUSIC AND CINEMATOGRAPHY

Does it serve the film? Though, obviously, two different categories, music and cinematography have the same job – do they both “act” as performers in their own right AND blend in, in such a way that unless you are listening or watching for it, you don’t notice? Examples are the way Stanley Kubrick recreated the first significantly realistic cinematic experience of being in space in 2001: A Space Odyssey – astonishingly accurate for its time, especially given the limited technology with which to innovate. Watching it now the visuals seem natural – of COURSE this is what it would be like – the weightlessness of the floating pen, following Dave Bowman as he runs in the circular habitat. But if you step back and realize Kubrick did it without actually going into space with 60 year old technology you realize what a stand out performance the cinematography really is. Or how the music in Casablanca fits, enhances and captures the mood and time of the era and place of Vichy France during World War II, as well as reflects the personalities of the outstanding cast. The music buoys up the performances of Bergman and Bogey seamlessly, yet later you realize how enchantingly memorable the themes are.

WRITING

Was it done with a conscience? Is the story created within a coherent Universe which, depending upon the rules IN that Universe are: reasonably without holes, with believable characters, structured by a convincing plot and with a worthy theme that made the time you spent watching a good investment?

DIRECTING and BEST PICTURE

Is it timeless? Does the movie come back to you again and again, revealing layers you never saw the first or second or tenth time you saw it? Like: It’s a Wonderful Life, Groundhog Day, or Branagh’s Hamlet.

So armed with these admittedly somewhat shallow explanations for what is, fundamentally, an intellectually driven visceral response to the films at hand, I give you:

MY PICKS FOR THE OSCARS 2020

Of the ones I pick, I’ll do them in the order the Academy more or less USUALLY presents them. In full disclosure, I have only seen ALMOST all of the movies in play. I promise not to declare a vote for anyone/thing I haven’t seen. I also plan to see all the ones in the categories for which I’m voting – and if that causes a later change in vote I’ll do an update.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Hands down the most incredible performance of 2019 (See my review HERE) Hanks WAS Mr. Rogers. Every subtle vocal and physical mannerism, the kindness, the deeply spiritual charisma of Evangelical belief that was Fred Rogers, is all on gentle display with Hanks. In this movie I got to know Rogers as though he HAD been my neighbor.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

There are some terrific performances up for nomination this year. But my nod would have to go to Scarlett Johansson as Rose in Jojo Rabbit. Her presentation of a single mother leading a double life in the heart of Nazi Germany gives us a view of this woman in every possible light. She is shouldering the impossible task of protecting her son and trying to maintain the facade of a normal life while her country is under the thumb of psychopaths and soulless serial killers, all while harboring a heroic secret which could get them all brutally killed. We see the struggle in her eyes while admiring the courageously thrown up jaunty attitude with which she faces the world. Johansson reveals the beautiful soul of this woman all while operating within the confines of a supporting role.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Klaus (See my review HERE) Clever story, engaging and personable characters, delightful animation, unique take on an old traditional tale, excellent vocal performances, and a richly worthwhile theme make this my absolute favorite for this category.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Jojo Rabbit is one of the oddest films I have ever seen. Without diverting into “Springtime For Hitler” territory, it shows Nazi Germany near the end of the war through the eyes of a pre-adolescent boy forced into the Hitler Youth. We see through his naive eyes as he concocts an initially Tigger-like jovial bouncy Hitler (performed with bizarrely adorable exuberance by the writer/director Taika Waititi, whose unusual sense of humor reinvigorated the Thor franchise with much needed humor). We understand the child-innocent well meaning enthusiasm toward the Hitler Youth in general and Nazi Germany in general, the way children today might go to summer camp. He simply did not understand what was really going on. There is an unexpected lightness to Waititi’s script, based on Christine Leunen’s book Caging Skies, which darkens with the characters the more Jojo matures and comprehends. Jojo Rabbit is a profoundly moving piece of work which is both hard to watch and endearing to embrace as it demonstrates how the smallest of lights can illuminate so much even in the darkest of places. Waititi creates a world wherein decent credible people are trapped in the insanity of the Nazi death culture, who fight it with the strength of their courage and the beauty of genuine other-centered love.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

I struggled a bit with this one because all of the entries are outstanding. Knives Out (SEE REVIEW HERE) is a funny and clever anti-mystery. 1917 captures the World War I era with a terrifying beauty. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a refreshingly unique take on such a horrific moment in history. OK Parasite is terrible. Had no trouble bumping that one.

But Marriage Story is the stand out winner – a brilliant, insightful, gut wrenching take of a marriage as it is torn apart piece by piece from the inside out in a way only Hannibal Lector could approve. Two perfectly nice, compatible people decide they have different goals and instead of DECIDING, against any other consideration, to work it out for the sake of their vows, their child, and their own sanity – they consult …. divorce attorneys. This is, of course, a bit like trying to wash a bloody wound in a river full of piranhas and expecting to get something back other than a stump. Written by Noah Baumbach, the gifted director/writer with unfortunate first hand experience of the subject, it is the most tragic love story I have ever seen. It is also one of the single most convincing expositions against seeking a divorce for anything other than abuse or something life threatening.

And yet the tale as written is also warm, funny and paints even the attorneys in ways which allow the audience to empathize with every character to a certain degree. Marriage Story is gifted writing with a conscience, at its best.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

1917. Honestly all the other contenders, as good as they are, should graciously bow out. There is no competing with this astonishing visual accomplishment, whereby we seamlessly follow soldiers for two edge-of-your-seat hours, during a desperately perilous mission, in what appears to be one uncut shot, through the Hellscape that was the front line in France during World War I.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Joker. (SEE REVIEW HERE). While I truly enjoyed all of the music from all of the movies (even from Little Women, which story I thought awful {SEE REVIEW HERE}), all but one painted “simple” enhancing atmosphere. All but one film had soundtracks which were: original, inventive, witty, romantic, tense, frightening and/or just lovely musical tapestries. But only one – only Joker – created an entirely different character just with sound. The Icelandic composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir wove, from the ephemeral air, music that did not just set a mood but companioned Arthur Fleck, giving tangible auditory representation to his descent into utter madness. While Phoenix’ performance was riveting, the presence of his accompanying soundtrack achieved a visceral connection with the audience which he could not have created from mere visuals, no matter how brilliantly wrought.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

I am not a big fan of the Frozen movies but I really think Kristen-Andersen Lopez and Robert Lopez’ “Into the Unknown” deserves special commendation. The haunting melody is far more complex than you might expect, especially for an animated feature. “Into the Unknown” is a gigue in 12/8 time (a very fast waltz time likely undanceable) in C#. While, unless you have absolute pitch or a music degree, the relevance of that won’t be obvious, suffice it to say it is a complex key signature using a TON of sharps. Choices like these are made by composers for almost subliminal reasons – to give a specific flavor and feel to music using a particular keyboard range, for example. There is also a psychological aspect to using all those sharps. As a “sharp” is a half step UP from a “normal” note, it LOOKS, on sheet music like it rises, so lends itself to a feel of spritely upbeatness. Since anything written in the key of C# would be bathed in a “sea” of sharps (“see” what I did there – sorry couldn’t help myself), this visual helps facilitate the intense  forward moving personality of the song.

This fascinating piece is sung with an irresistible rhythm and mystery which not only gives an arc to Elsa’s character, admitting her previous failures, but is written in a way that, performed independently of the movie, could be interpreted in a variety of ways. It could be someone holding back from an enticement to temptation or conversely, being compelled to accept a challenge. It could be someone trying to talk themselves either into or out of something and that is part of the song’s charm and fun. It has the malleability to be many things to many people and is enticing for that. In addition Idina Menzel’s performance is incredible. Ranging from hesitant ghostly whisper to wall rattling boldness, her portrayal is almost operatic in its execution. Not to mention it’s darned catchy.

BEST DIRECTOR

Has to be Sam Mendes for the sheer determination and vision he brought to bear in pulling 1917 into life. Aside from the experimental Russian Ark (which really WAS shot in ONE – one hour and 39 minute take – SEE REVIEW HERE) and Hitchcock’s faux “one shot” Rope, no other film has quite captured the intensity of the one take film as Mendes has, OR accomplished it with such appropriate purpose. Russian Ark was almost a stunt. Hitchcock used the technique as just another arrow in his quiver of quirky ways to create suspense. But Mendes’ worthy intent was to provide the viewer with a sense of camaraderie with these soldiers – not just to sympathize with them but to EMPATHIZE – To honor the memory of these brave servicemen by recreating the experience, walking with these men, almost as though in accompanying boots. 1917 bears the intensity and immersion of the 27 minute long landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, then carries it for another NINETY-TWO additional minutes, maintaining the appearance of a single shot, all while sustaining an entertainment value that will keep you glued to the screen for two incredible hours.

BEST LEADING ACTOR

This is a toughie. All the men in this category did a superb job. Banderas was as detailed and delicately understated in Pain and Glory as Joaquin Phoenix was wildly exubertant in Joker. Di Caprio was surprisingly delightful and funny as the washed up actor in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Adam Driver, especially to anyone mostly familiar with him as Star Wars’ Kylo Ren baddie, was heartbreakingly empathetical as the shut out husband and father in Marriage Story.

But my vote has to be with the incomparable Jonathan Pryce. Pryce let us in to the mind, heart and soul of Pope Francis, revealing in just a gesture or a double take, a hesitation in his voice or a quick Mona Lisa grin, the deep history of a man who had seen too much with a full heart and an aching to bring the love of Christ to a broken world. Watching Pryce we begin to understand the flawed, sometimes troubled, Cardinal Bergoglio who, by his own admission in this story, made grave, albeit well meaning, mistakes during his time as bishop in Argentina. We, the audience, can actually feel his humility and regret, as well as the hint of over confidence in his own opinions. We also get a glimpse into what compels the Pope who now occupies the Seat of Peter in a personal way rarely seen by outsiders, thanks to Mr. Pryce’s beautiful and respectful yet honest portrayal.

AS A SIDE NOTE – A WRITE-IN

BUT – according to my own parameters I would like to submit a write-in for at least a nomination. Given my rule of getting to know a character through the performance of an actor, I can think of no other cinematic creation we, as the viewing public have gotten to know better than this, my write-in. There has never been, and may never be again in cinematic history, a character quite this well fleshed out by a single actor over the length of time and movies involved here.

We watched the profound arc of an extreme narcissist who, through multiple traumas, sheer determination, strength of character, and support from friends and family, becomes the hero he incorrectly believes himself to initially be. Over the course of many trials and agonizing losses he finds: altruism, responsibility, an ability to genuinely love, and ultimately a willingness to sacrifice everything he has – wealth, brilliance, family, happiness, comfort, security, and ultimately his own life – to secure all those things for, not only his loved ones, but for humanity and generations he will never meet.

This character develops from puerile man-child to a worthy leader of heroes and yet never loses that certain spark of flawed playful arrogance which makes him easily relatable. It’s an incredible balancing act which this actor maintained throughout 11 years over the course of appearances in 10 out of 22 movies.

I am, of course, referring to Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man aka Tony Stark, in the Infinity Saga, which both began and ended with Tony’s declaration: “I am Iron Man.”

Downey’s Stark’s legacy continues through flashbacks and archival footage in both Spiderman: Far From Home and the upcoming Black Widow. We knew this character inside out under every circumstance possible. For better or worse, like him or not, he became a very well known, unmistakable personality.

While the culmination of Stark’s arc was in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, admittedly the entire journey did not all take place during the course of this one movie. BUT if fictional characters could get life time achievement awards, this would be the one to give it to. Furthermore, Mr. Downey shouldered the majority of this somewhat Herculean task. Not only did he maintain a constant personality for Tony but allowed it to grow and struggle and expand, yet never lost the essential core that made Stark a magnetic fan favorite.

Others have tried this stunt and failed: Schwartzenegger’s Terminator, Depp’s Captain Sparrow. But those died of stagnation, audience fatigue, and lost of enthusiasm. In contrast, Downey managed to make Tony Stark thrive and mature and flourish with each appearance. It was an astonishing feat of creativity and it is a shame that it was not and likely never will be officially acknowledge by his peers. But the fans will remember and I suspect that is more than enough —- that and the gazillion dollars Downy earned playing Stark. As my Dad used to say: “I’m sure he’s crying all the way to the bank.” LOL

BEST LEADING ACTRESS

I admired all the performances I saw in this category. But the most outstanding one was Renee Zellweger’s Judy. Her complete transformation into Judy Garland, in the iconic star’s last, waning, rather pathetic months, both showed the open raw wound she had become, as well as retained a glimmer of the child star with whom we all fell in love while watching Wizard of Oz. In addition, Zellweger’s renditions of the famous songs by Ms. Garland were incredible. She reminded me both of Gary Oldman’s astonishing turn as Churchill in Darkest Hour {SEE REVIEW HERE}and Malek’s heartbreaking Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody {SEE REVIEW HERE}. This masterful accomplishment was all the more amazing given the poor quality of the film, Judy, in general {SEE MY REVIEW HERE}. But Zellweger’s performance was the stand out gem in the otherwise tattered coat that was Judy.

BEST PICTURE

Marriage Story – for all the reasons I chose it for Best Original Screenplay. This is a movie which will stick with you, help inform your decisions if you let it, and be worth sharing with those who desperately need it. It will charm you, break your heart and make you a wiser person for having seen it – IF you take the lessons it has to offer to heart.

SO THAT’S IT FOR NOW!!!!

Good luck to one and all! And may the best actor, actress, director, movie, screenplay, cinematographer, song, and music —- WIN!

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS – TAKE A ROAD LESS TRAVELED STARRING AMERICA’S FINEST ACTOR

SHORT TAKE:

This first is in a series of movies which I will review which are unlike any other films. I begin with a gentle comedy fantasy, starring the greatest American actor who ever lived, with a new perspective on Sherlock Holmes.

WHO SHOULD SEE THESE:

Depends on the movie – but the range for ones I have in mind are about mid-teen and up, for plot topics, or language, or because younger kids would simply be bored or frightened. As always, but especially with these since there is often little to compare them to – you should check them out first before showing them to your kids.

INTRODUCTION:

A preponderance of movies now-a-days are derivative. You can’t blame movie executives for it really. When you are sinking millions of dollars of other people’s money into a project it is a great comfort to know it is similar to another one that made a profit. And I love formula movies. There is an enjoyable reliability in the anticipation of a familiar theme – like listening to a variation of a song you love by a different artist. Like Buble’s upbeat jazzy version of the originally clunky Spiderman theme song. Or Sia’s creepily ominous version of “California Dreamin'” from the recent disaster movie San Andreas.

But every now and again I find a unique little one-off which makes it fondly to my list of favorite movies. By unique, I mean it has no sequels, no prequels, and no one (yet) has plans to remake it. They are not part of a franchise, few people have ever even heard of them, and if you go on Amazon to look for them the “Customers Who Watched This Item Also Watched…” you will not find a single item anything like it. Oh, you’ll find a list of other movies the actors have been in or the director has made or a stab at the genre, but NOTHING approaching these sparkling gems in the cinematic firmament.

Here is the first of my favorites in no particular order – aside from the fact it stars my favorite actor ….. ever.

LONG TAKE:

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971)

I think George C. Scott is probably one of, if not THE best American actor ever. (Sorry Marlon). His filmography spanned decades. He threw himself completely into every role but never lost sight of the idea it was a job and he a performer whose responsibility it was to entertain his audience the best way he knew how. His career was as varied as his thespian skills were intense. At home in comedies, mysteries, biographies, romances, classics, horror, dramas, you name it, he played cops and lawyers,  generals and sleaze-balls, gangsters and scientists. He was an attorney in Otto Preminger’s 10 Oscar nominee 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder, and the off-the-wall General Turgidson in Kubrick’s 1964 classic 4 Oscar nominee Dr. Strangelove.  He was the man of choice in a version of Scrooge, Edward Rochester with a Jane Eyre played by Suzanna York (who later played Christopher Reeve’s Superman’s mom), the Beast opposite his then wife Trish Van deVere’s Belle, Fagin in Oliver Twist, Mussolini in a biodrama about the dictator, one of 12 Angry Men, the captain in a version of the Titanic, a hit man in a Stephen King movie, and the stalwart and heroic General George S. Patton in 1970’s amazing Patton, the latter a winner of 7 Oscars including best director, movie, screenplay, and lead actor.

Mr. Scott turned down both his Best Supporting nomination for The Hustler and stuck to his guns turning down even the Oscar for his win in Patton. He maintained the Oscars had morphed from a friendly dinner among compatriots to a “meat parade” with “contrived suspense for economic reasons,” and that he was not in competition with his fellow thespians.

THEN, right after his definitive turn as Patton, at what was then the height of his career, he made a little known film for a small budget, whose virtues rest squarely on the shoulders of the actors. They Might Be Giants was written by James Goldman, directed by Anthony Harvey, and with music composed by John Barry (who also scored 11 Bond films), were the same three men who crafted the brilliant Lion in Winter.

The premise of They Might Be Giants is that Judge Justin Playfair (don’t look at me, I didn’t make up the name, but this will give you a clue as to the film’s ambiance), is so stricken by grief over the loss of his wife that he has retreated into believing he is Sherlock Holmes. His brother, with motives other than Playfair’s best interests, seeks out a psychiatrist to have him committed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, her name just happens to be Mildred …. Watson. Dr. Watson is gently played by Joanne Woodward, who with a considerable acting track of her own, was the wife and long-time working companion of Paul Newman. Scott is (one viewer noted) “majestic” in this quirky mystery-romance, describing the film as a “delicate … comedy/fantasy”. I couldn’t agree more. Without giving ANY spoilers, I will admit this is not a perfect film, but what is there is creative, memorable, and delightful.

So, as Robert Frost might encourage, take the road “…less traveled by,” and check out this small movie aptly named They Might be Giants.

It is also available on Amazon HERE.

MEMORIAL DAY MEMORIES AND MOVIES

SHORT TAKE:

While contemplating my favorite Memorial Day weekend appropriate movies I thought of: my Dad, some movies I didn’t see on anyone else’s list, and some classic favorites, in that order.MEMORIAL DAY – MY DAD, THE PATRIOT

When contemplating Memorial Day and patriotism I do so, unabashedly, through my father’s eyes. Billy Ashton Weisfeld was a radarman on the destroyer Breckenridge during World War II back in the day when radar was so top secret just talking about it outside of their classrooms could land them in Portsmouth Naval Prison. He was very proud of his service and I have always been proud of him. And I see patriotism through the filter of his definitions. He was the one who risked his life for four years. He earned that right.

He taught me to stand during the pledge of allegiance and during the Star Spangled Banner. I remember, sometime during junior high we had a choir teacher who refused to instruct us to stand while we practiced the Star Spangled Banner. I remember being very upset about this and making an impassioned plea on behalf of the men and women who were currently fighting and dying in Vietnam. My arguments fell on deaf eras. (Ironic for a choir teacher.) However, when I approached my parents with my dilemma my Dad took me for an appointment with the principal. I made my case and thereafter we stood for the Star Spangled Banner – whether in performance or practice.

On a more humorous note my Dad and I went to see Poltergeist at the theater in 1982. I don’t know if any of you will remember this but it starts with the TV actually “signing off” for the day as stations were wont to do back then. The end of the programming day was heralded with – The Star Spangled Banner. Not even realizing it was the beginning of the movie – not that it would have made much difference – when the Anthem began, my Dad immediately stood up and I stood with him —– by ourselves —– because it was just the beginning of the movie. I can’t help but chuckle to this day. But, funny as that was, I was and am so proud of him for that. It is one of my favorite memories.

Now, while my Dad, thankfully, did not lose his life during the war – obviously, given these recollections from events which took place in the early ’60’s and ’80’s – he did lose his hearing. His radar station was beneath the big guns which classically blast out during every sea based World War II movie, booming noises rattling your seats even before Extreme Digital was a thing. Though he was fully entitled to disability from the government he refused to apply, saying that his service had been a privilege. Again, I was very proud of my father for his attitude.

I know Memorial Day is to honor those who died fighting for our country and her ideals. My father would have been the first to shy from comparing his efforts to those who never got a chance to offer decades to America, but much like the white martyrs of the Catholic church, my Dad gave his entire life in the service of the ideals of his country by the way he lived and by inculcating those ideals to his children. In return I and my siblings and our spouses have tried to pay it forward to our children.

MOVIES – THE UNSUNG HEROES

There are a plethora of really good patriotic movies. There are a handful on my list which I did not find on anyone else’s.

Now an advisory. There are some well done movies about war which do not deserve to be placed on this list. They are movies which I admit are creative, artistic, fascinating, even literary masterpieces. But they do not deserve a place with these better brethren because they do not respect America, her ideals or the reasons for which we went to war. America fights not to conquer but to free. We are the only major power who has not colonized as victors. Instead of taking Kuwait as a territory we freed it. Instead of laying claim to the areas we won during World War II we asked only, as General Powell notably said, for enough ground to bury our dead.  America protects the innocent, feeds the hungry, heals the broken, adopts the homeless, and helps our enemies to get back on their own feet. This philosophy was even immortalized in an affectionate jab of political satire called The Mouse That Roared wherein a small destitute country attacks America just to be defeated so she can receive much needed aid. The movies that do not recognize or respect that distinctly American tradition and morality do not deserve a place with this group any more than does the coward who Patton famously slapped belonged in the military hospital, demoralizing the wounded soldiers. So —- I won’t mention them here, but I suspect you know the ones to which I refer.

This first group of Memorial Day-worthy movies are ones which I did not find on many, if any, prominent list, because of political correctness, age of the film, or plain old quirkiness.

The Green Berets – A classic old John Wayne movie about the Vietnam War – likely the ONLY movie which extolled the virtues of why we went there in the first place, made at a time when we were told the plan was to win. Liberal reporter David Janssen and patriot John Wayne as Green Beret Colonel Kirby face off in an in-country expedition to explore our original mission: to defeat the cancerous brutal totalitarian political structure of Communism then creeping into Southeast Asia, and to provide humanitarian aid to Communism’s indigenous victims.


The Scarlet and the Black – Based on the actual account of Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty, Gregory (To Kill a Mockingbird) Peck portrays this brave priest at the Vatican during World War II who aids in the sequestration and rescue of thousands of Jews under the nose of the reigning Nazis who surround it and infest Italy.


Victory – another based on a true story – starring Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and real life soccer legend Pele, the story is about the soccer game between an international group of POWs and German soldiers. The intent, much like the 1936 Berlin Olympics, was to prove German “superiority” by publicly humiliating the non-German losers. Needless to say, like their Olympic failure to Jesse Owens, it backfired spectacularly.

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming – comedy this time. At the height of the Cold War, a Russian submarine Captain, (Theodore Bikel, who later became known as the Klingon Worf’s adoptive human father from Star Trek: The Next Generation) runs aground off Gloucester Island. The Captain just wanted to get a look at America to satisfy his own completely non-political curiosity and got a little…too…close.  Stuck on a sandbar, the Captain and his crew faced American imprisonment as spies on one hand and lethal Russian retribution if suspected of trying to defect on the other. So to prevent an international incident, not to mention his own capture, extradition and likely execution, he sends a team out headed by Alan Arkin as Lt. Rozanov, to find a way to pull the sub free before the submarine is discovered. This hilarious, and warm-hearted comedy also stars Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters and Carl Reiner, along with a plethora of familiar funny faces. I picked this one because it is a demonstration, albeit done in an affectionate parody, of how average American citizen-patriot/soldiers, willing to die to protect America and her ideals, are also willing to extend friendship, show common ground, and offer protection to the helpless when the opportunity arises, even to our enemies.

1776 – A musical – WAIT! THAT MAKES THIS ONE LITERALLY A SUNG HERO – or, at least singING ones – if you can believe it, about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Paraphrasing the last sentence of the Declaration, these 56 men, with hope in the protection of Divine Providence, pledged to support that Declaration with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Many saw their homes burned, their families abused, their children vanished. Some died in poverty or from wounds or torture. Some lost sons on the battlefield. Thomas Nelson, Jr., (who does not feature in this movie but whose sacrifice deserves mention) just as an example, discovering Cornwallis had encamped in his palatial home, fired the cannon to destroy it himself – and died a bankrupt. 1776 concerns who these Founding Fathers were and why they came together to so devote themselves – only they do it in song. 1776 mostly focuses on John Adams (William Daniels), Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) and Benjamin Franklin’s (Howard DeSilva) efforts to acquire unanimous consent on breaking with the British Empire. One of the most charming aspects of this little known film is the conversations the otherwise “obnoxious and disliked”  John has with his wife Abigail (Virginia Vestoff). Lifted from the pages of the letters between the real John and Abigail, these interchanges manifest themselves in bittersweet duets wherein they engage in playful banter and loving longing, unable to touch because they are really only conversing by written exchange.
Kelly’s Heroes – OK I hesitated to include this movie, because it rides right up to the line of being one of those anti-war films, BUT I do not think crosses that line. This is one of my favorite movies. A comedy-drama starring Clint (directs everything & cut his teeth on about a million spaghetti westerns) Eastwood, Donald (Hunger Games) Sutherland in one of the quirkiest roles you will ever see him in, Carroll O’Conner, and Don Rickles, about a group of exhausted soldiers near the end of World War II who find out about an enormous cache of German gold in a bank deep behind enemy lines. They plan to steal the gold the Germans have stolen. In the process, a general, played by Carroll O’Conner believing they are a gung-ho troop, decides to honor their apparent courage and follow them right into the heart of the offensive, breaking the German front line.
MOVIE STANDARDS
The ones in this next group are, and deserve to be, on just about everyone’s list of movies that exemplify the best of American courage and ideals in battle.
Patton – Brilliant portrayal by the unequalled George C. Scott of the ultimate patriot and complexity that was American General George S. Patton during the pinnacle achievement of his battlefield career. The movie follows Patton’s astonishing and irreplaceable contribution to winning the European theater during World War II for the Allies as well as the egotism which was almost his undoing. Brilliant military strategist and tank commander, inexhaustible commander who led from the front, never asking his men to go where he would not. Known as Old Blood and Guts he unabashedly prayed and wept openly for wounded soldiers, stood in open battle, fiercely loved and fought for America – he was probably our greatest American soldier.
The Longest Day – an ensemble accounting of D-Day starting with the preceding days waiting desperately for a break in the weather – with a cast which included some of the biggest stars of the time, including Sean (James Bond) Connery, Red Buttons, Henry Fonda, Richard (West Side Story) Beymer, George Segall, (THE) John Wayne, Kenneth More, Jeffrey (Captain Pike from the first Star Trek pilot) Hunter, Robert Wagner, Rod Stieger and Richard Burton!!! and more! If the names don’t ring a bell, look them up in us.imdb.com and if you are at ALL a classic movie afficionado I guarantee you will recognize at least one of the movies in which they have featured. The movie covers beach landings and straffings, the French resistence, parachute drops, hand to hand combat, a battle inside the town of  Sainte-Mère-Église, the Normandy advance. It combines beautiful individual moments as well as grand sweeping action about the turning point of the European portion of the war.
Guns of Navarone – very loosed inspired by the real Battle of Leros during World War II and starring David Niven and (again) Gregory Peck, the story revolves around a covert Allied mission to sabotage massive German battleship-killer guns on the Greek Island of Navarone. Classic heroism.
Battle of the Bulge – based very loosely on the Counteroffensive of Ardennes, it condenses months of preparation and campaigning into a few days. Starring Henry Fonda, Robert (Jaws) Shaw, Telly Savalas & Charles Bronson, it is another classic.
Schindler’s List – Heart breaking, and deeply moving drama about Oscar Schindler, an opportunist, Nazi collaborator and war profiteer who, in one brief shining Divinely inspired period of his life decides to risk his life, manipulate his Nazi connections and spend his life’s fortune saving over 3,000 Jews destined for the gas chamber. While neither American nor a soldier, Schindler risked everything for same ideals for which our American soldiers risk, as well as sabotaged his own military’s bombs, which in turn protected our soldiers.
American Sniper – directed by Clint (Kelly’s Heroes) Eastwood, tells the story of the military career of Chris Kyle, the decorated and deadliest American sniper in military history, and his heroic commitment to his fellow soldiers during the Iraqi War. A stand out, not only for telling Kyle’s story, but for the astonishing performance by Bradley (voice of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy) Cooper. Cooper transforms himself from a nerdy accountant physique with a hyperactive personality in A-Team to looking like Dwayne Johnson’s little brother with the “gentle giant” demeanor to go with the size. He did, I think, Navy Seal Kyle proud.
The Great Escape – one of the best war movies ever made. Starring, among others: Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Richard (Jurassic Park) Attenborough, and Charles Bronson. The screenplay is based on the book about the biggest mass escape from any German POW camp ever – Stalag Luft II in Sagan, Poland during World War II. The Germans made the critical mistake of putting the most ingenious serial escapees in a single prison, reasoning they could keep them all more closely guarded. What they did not consider was that together they made a formidable escape army. 600 men planned the tunnel escape of 200 men, none expecting to acquire permanent freedom but primarily to cause confusion and chaos behind enemy lines. These men succeeded in creating the most time expensive, personnel consuming recapture plans the Nazis ever required. This movie is a distinguished and honorable tribute to these internationally mixed heroes.
The Hunt for Red October – Cold War era defector Sean Connery sneaks a game changing silent submarine out of Communist Russia. Although not an American soldier, he and his men risked their lives to protect our country, as well as the world, from the brutality of Communist Russia.
There are many more, but let me leave you with the names of others which should definitely be on your bucket list:
Black Hawk Down
Monuments Men
13 Hours
Sole Survivor
Hacksaw Ridge
We Were Soldiers
The Alamo
The Patriot
If you can’t find a really good inspiring movie highlighting patriotism and the American spirit to watch this week – then you’re not really trying.

Patton!

SHORT TAKE:

One of, if not THE most, brilliant portrayals of a historic figure (OK Oldman's Churchill makes this a two way tie) ever filmed. General George S. Patton, U.S. military genius, Commander of the 3rd Army, without whom we might easily have been defeated by the Nazis. George C Scott, U.S. acting genius, winner of two Academy Awards and numerous other awards, without whom this movie might easily have been reduced to a forgettable biography.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Everyone, at least every American, eventually, should see this masterpiece. I saw it when I was twelve and despite the language and violence, it facilitated my unadulterated respect, appreciation, and love for our American Military. BUT – because OF the language and scenes of violence and war time brutality, (not nearly as unfiltered as Saving Private Ryan or Lone Survivor though), parents would be well advised to see it themselves to accomodate to their individual child's temperament and sensibilities.

LONG TAKE:

Patton. Some movies are an education unto themselves. No secret messages. No particular underlying themes. Just something to learn from watching. In 1970 I fell in love with both George C. Scott and General George S. Patton at the same time. Both men, geniuses in their given fields of endeavors.  Scott's portrayal of this iconic World War II figure is a stunning example of acting ability. He IS Patton – probably more Patton than Patton himself. This movie inspired an interest in the General that I continued for years. I am proud that General George S. Patton was OUR General. America's hero. Possibly the best American General in our history (possibly equaled by sheer nerve and determination  only by George Washington). Every battle Patton undertook he won. Every plan he pursued was brilliant.

But the man himself, as portrayed in this movie and backed up by the research I did on him in the years after, showed George S. Patton to be a complex man of ridiculously proportioned contradictions. Devoutly religious but verbally profane, he believed "give it to them loud and dirty and they'll remember it". Fought with his men on the front lines but almost courtly in his manner and dress. Reverent of life but in love with death, he wanted to die "by the last bullet fired in the last battle of the last war." Fiercely loyal to his men but intolerant of weakness as potentially lethal to the soldier and those around him Fiercely patrioticbut admiring of Rommel, his counterpart in the German Army tank division. Devoted student of the Christian Bible but believed in reincarnation. As a matter of fact he believed he had been a participant – often a humble one – in battles dating back thousands of years to the Roman military legions. He even wrote a poem about it, "Through a Glass, Darkly", a poem about reincarnation which harkens (in typical inherent contradiction) to a Biblical quote from 1Corinthians 13:12:

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o'er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more. (General George S. Patton)

Patton recounts brilliantly the most important slice of life of this larger than life man during his involvement in the latter part of World War Two to its European end. In the process of this recounting, the movie examines not just the man but his strategies, the view the German military intelligence had of Patton, and the horrors of war through the eyes of this man who was both appalled and enamored of it.

There are some people born for (or made by – sometimes hard to tell the difference) the challenge of the time with which they are struggling: Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, William Marshall, Pope John Paul II. Patton was one of those people.

Watching this movie is a history lesson and a biography.

But be warned – the language is ROUGH. No "f" bombs or any language directly relating to inappropriate sexual encounters. But there is a bucket load of damns, hells, and a few son of a b****, s***, and G-d***. There is NO sex in it whatsoever. His interactions with women are limited to PR talks with tittering elderly British tea drinkers. He was as devoutly faithful to his wife as he was to his country. But if the language offends you or you are concerned for your children then either limit this movie to your older kids or catch it when it is shown on TV. While current TV sports FAR worse language, the TV versions of this movie were edited at a time when auditory sensibilities were more attuned to a gentler culture. In other words – they cut out more profanity than they would today.

Patton is a, straight up, history lesson and presented in one of the finest performances by, in my estimation, the premiere American actor of his time. The finest American General during one of the finest hours of American history portrayed by the finest American actor of his generation. Can't get much better than that.

5-31-15