I’m not hosting the Beat the Movie Man contest this year, which means though you don’t get to see me dressed up like a star (and this year’s theme was going to be the Muppets — ha!), it does mean you still get to see me go out on a limb and make my Oscar picks. So here it goes.
I’m not hosting the Beat the Movie Man contest this year, which means though you don’t get to see me dressed up like a star (and this year’s theme was going to be the Muppets — ha!), it does mean you still get to see me go out on a limb and make my Oscar picks. So here it goes:
Best Picture: A slam dunk. All the buzz has “The Artist” taking the big prize, and who am I to disagree? Plus, the idea of a silent, black-and-white movie winning is too much fun to oppose. Who’d have thought we’d see that in the far-flung future of 2012?
Best Actor: The silent heart of “The Artist,” Jean Dujardin, is going to win. I’ve liked him ever since seeing his 2006 spoof, “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” a few years ago. The guy’s got style to spare!
Best Actress: A few years ago, Viola Davis had a single scene with Meryl Streep in “Doubt” and almost stole the whole movie. This year, for her work in “The Help,” she’s going to steal the statue from Streep, who played Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
Best Supporting Actor: Gay character (played by a straight man)? Dying character? Beloved actor with no Oscars? It all adds up to a win for Christopher Plummer, who played Ewan McGregor’s dad in “Beginners.” Plus, Plummer’s strong performance in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” sure doesn’t hurt his chances.
Best Supporting Actress: I’ve been waffling between Octavia Spencer in “The Help” and Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids,” two performances in two beloved movies by two up-and-coming actors. I’m giving the edge to McCarthy, mostly because the supporting category is one of the few that occasionally honors a comedic performance.
Best Director: There’s been some talk about Martin Scorsese taking home another trophy for his love letter to movie history, “Hugo.” But I think the academy is going to choose the other love letter to cinema, “The Artist,” and award its director, Michel Hazanavicius. (Which is fine by me — I liked “The Artist” a lot more than “Hugo.”)
Meet Wheeler & Woolsey
Almost forgotten today, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey made several comedies in the 1930s, full of offbeat jokes and absurdist humor that, at its best, resembled the Marx Brothers. The fine folks at Warner Archives have just released a few of their movies on DVD, giving us modern audiences a peek at what our ancestors laughed at.
“Diplomaniacs” was released in 1933, the same year as the Marxist masterpiece “Duck Soup,” and it’s also a surreal political satire. Starting on an Indian reservation, where our boys are struggling to work as barbers (the movie claims Native Americans have no facial hair — not true!), it quickly proceeds to a peace conference in Geneva, where their efforts to end war are opposed by everyone else looking to make a few bucks. As with “Duck Soup,” the plot barely matters. Instead, it’s the gags that count, and while many are funny, some will look pretty shocking to 21st century eyes. There’s a stereotypical “Chinaman” played by distinctly non-Chinese actor Hugh Hubert, and, of course, the portrayal of Native Americans is less than politically correct. Most jaw-dropping of all is the final musical number, when a bomb is hurtled into the peace talks and, instead of killing everyone, it instead gives them an instant blackface makeover. Ah, the good ol’ days of happy Hollywood racism. Still, as a cultural artifact — and, occasionally, as a comedy — “Diplomaniacs” is worth a look.
Released the following year, “Kentucky Kernels” is slightly less racist than “Diplomaniacs,” but it’s also less interesting. The typically meandering plot follows Wheeler and Woolsey (this time playing a pair of struggling magicians/fisherman) as they adopt a boy on behalf of a guy trying to kill himself, then take the boy down South to claim his inheritance, winding up in a decades-long feud between two families. (I’m not making this up.) “Kernels” will probably interest mainly old movie fans (like yours truly), who will relish the chance to see legendary Little Rascal Spanky McFarland in a non-“Our Gang” role (he plays the boy) and Marx brother foil Margaret Dumont, who plays an orphanage worker. Otherwise, my advice is to stick with the Marxes. Their movies are still hilarious eight decades later.
Read Will Pfeifer’s Movie Man blog at rrstar.com/blogs/willpfeifer/ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some DVDs arriving on Tuesday, Feb. 28
“Hugo”: Martin Scorsese directing a kids movie? In 3-D? Yes, that’s what “Hugo” is, and it turns out to be one of the most personal movies of his long career, celebrating childhood discovery, arcane technology and, most of all, a love of cinema. (By the way, I didn’t love it, but I’m apparently one of the few who didn’t.)
“Scarlett Street: Kino Classics Edition”: The late, great Edward G. Robinson plays a henpecked husband who falls for a scheming lady of the night (Joan Bennett) in this great Fritz Land film noir that’s making its debut on DVD.
“Johnny English Reborn”: Rowan Atkinson — best know for his silent slapstick character Mr. Bean — returns to his other screen persona, that of a bumbling James Bond-type character. Your kids will probably watch it a zillion times.
“The Manions of America”: Speaking of James Bond, ex-007 Pierce Brosnan stars in this 1981 miniseries telling the decades-long story of an Irish family’s struggle to build a new life in the United States
“Todd & The Book of Pure Evil”: Here’s the complete first season of an offbeat TV show telling the tale on (as the title says) “the book of pure evil” and the goofball teenagers who stand in the way of the end of the world. It’s a comedy, by the way.
“The Myth of the American Sleepover”: This critically acclaimed film focuses on four teens trying to make the most of the last weekend of summer in suburban Detroit. Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell and starring a cast of largely unknown actors, it’s been compared to “American Graffiti” and “Dazed and Confused,” which is pretty impressive company.
Lyle Lovett, “Release Me”: As you might have guessed, this album by the former Mr. Julia Roberts (really!) contains some cover songs, including the title tune and “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.” It also features a performance from k.d. lang and Kat Edmonson.
The Cranberries, “Roses”: The band, which made a big dent in the U.S. charts with the song “Zombie,” returns with its first studio album in more than a decade.
Pink Floyd, “The Wall: Immersion Box Set”: I’ve got nothing against Pink Floyd, but I have a hard time thinking of an album I’d less liked to be “immersed” in than “The Wall.” Talk about depressing!
— Will Pfeifer
Sources: thedigitalbits.com; tophitsonline.com