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Why the Academy Awards Go On and On

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“I just want to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

—  Kim Basinger,

winning Best Supporting Actress for  “L.A. Confidential” in 1998

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A Hard Day’s Night

31st_Acad_Awards

Johnny Carson hosted the Academy Awards in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, and again in 1984.  In his first appearance he quipped, “Welcome to the 51st Academy Awards, two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over a four-hour show.”

While the telecast might seem to go on for hours and hours, the awards ceremony did not go over four hours until March 1999 when Whoopi Goldberg hosted. At two minutes after the four-hour mark, Shakespeare in Love took Best Picture.  The following year when Billy Crystal was host and American Beauty won, the show went 4 hours 4 minutes.

Ever since, the telecast has been under four hours, except in March 2002 when, again, Whoopi Goldberg hosted. Lasting 4 hours 23 minutes, the evening finally ended when A Beautiful Mind took Best Picture.

How will Ellen DeGeneres do?  She received a Primetime Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program” when she hosted the 79th Academy Awards in 2007.  In case you’re wondering, the show went 3 hours 51 minutes and The Departed won.

As for her appearance this year, she says, “I am so excited to be hosting the Oscars for the second time. You know what they say — the third time’s the charm.”

They also say, “It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log…”

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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80 Years Ago: It Happened One Night

At the 7th Academy Awards held at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles to honor the best films of 1934, It Happened One Night took Best Picture and swept the other top four categories, as well:  Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Yep, Frank Capra, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, and Robert Riskin, respectively, had a critical and commercial hit on their hands.

Going my way?

Going my way?

What? You never heard of Robert Riskin?  He was the screenwriter, which only goes to prove the old Hollywood adage that writers get no respect.   “What’s this business about being a writer?” producer Irving Thalberg once asked.  “It’s just putting one word after another.”

Riskin, by the way, was also nominated for four other films during his career: Lady for a Day, 1934; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, 1937; You Can’t Take it with You, 1939; and Here Comes the Groom, 1952.  He deserves credit for such titillating dialogue between Gable as rogue reporter Peter Warne and Colbert as runaway heiress Ellie Andrews in the famous hitchhiking scene, after Elllie stops a car by showing her leg.

Ellie Andrews: Aren’t you going to give me a little credit?

Peter Warne: What for?

Ellie Andrews: I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.

Peter Warne: Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.

Ellie Andrews: Well, oooh, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.

Sarcasm works just as well today as it did back them.

Not to make too big a deal of it, but it wasn’t until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, followed by The Silence of the Lambs in 1991, that a movie again won in the top five categories.  Will it happen this year?  Maybe.  American Hustle, based on an original screenplay scribed by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, the later also the director, has nominations in the requisite categories.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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60 Years Ago: Down by the Docks

My husband and I watched On the Waterfront from 1954 the other night.  What a movie! Based on a series of articles, it’s about corruption in the longshoremen’s union in New York, although it was shot in Hoboken, Frank Sinatra’s hometown.

Oil on canvas 1934 by Pino Janni; Photo by: cliff1066

Oil on canvas 1934 by Pino Janni; Photo by: cliff1066

Everyone knows that its star Marlon Brando won his first Best Actor Oscar for his role as Terry Molloy.  When he told his brother, “I coulda been a contender,” it was heartbreaking. He had been nominated three times before: in 1951 for his performance as Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire; in 1952 for Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata; and in 1953 for Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.  The later was in the same year that Brando played the iconic rebel biker Johnny Strabler in The Wild One.

Look at who else was in the cast.  Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger were all nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  Eva Marie Saint, in her debut film role, won for Best Supporting Actress. Unaccredited actors included Fred Gwynne, Martin Balsam, and Pat Hingle.

Behind the scenes, Elia Kazan directed and Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay.  They earned Oscars, too.  All told, On the Waterfront had twelve Oscar nominations, including one for Leonard Bernstein for Best Score.

Yep, twelve, and On the Waterfront won in eight categories.

In 1981 Reds, which, coincidentally, was also about unions, albeit it in the 1910s leading up to the Russian revolution, repeated the feat, earning twelve nominations which included recognition for its star, director, and screenwriter, Warren Beatty, as well as Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Maureen Stapleton, other members of the cast.  It won in three categories, losing to Chariots of Fire for Best Picture.

All of this brings us to the current Oscar season.  Gravity and American Hustle, both of which I saw and thought were terrific, each received ten nominations, and Twelve Years a Slave received nine.  Impressive numbers to be sure, but not record-breaking.

Is it too early to say that they don’t make movies like they used to? Or, were there so many good movies this year that will all be around for a long time to come?

Before you answer those questions, On the Waterfront was shot for just under a million dollars and grossed ten times its production costs in its initial release.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Let’s Go to the Movies

I love this time of year.  No, I’m not thinking about holiday parties or hearing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” for the twentieth time in a television commercial. And I certainly won’t spend the month putting together my New Year’s resolutions. I’m talking about the movies!

Photo by: Janine

Photo by: Janine

The Oscar buzz has already started. Frontrunners, per pundits, include 12 Years A Slave and Gravity with Captain Phillips gaining.  It’s a competitive awards season, some even call it “cluttered”. For me it means more movies worth watching and performances to appreciate.  I’m partial to Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (which I saw last weekend) and Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.  

There’s more comedy, drama, romance, fantasy out there: Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Fruitvale Station, Prisoners, Rush, Blue Is The Warmest Color, Before Midnight, Mud, The Place Beyond The Pines, Philomena, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, August: Osage County, The Book Thief, Her, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Lone Survivor, Labor Day and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.

And more to come.  David O. Russell’s American Hustle with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence (what a cast!) is in theaters December 18. The Disney movie Saving Mr. Banks with Tom Hanks (who might be nominated for Best Actor for Captain Phillips) playing Walt Disney opens everywhere December 20, and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio (and Matthew McConaughey, again, but in a supporting role) opens Christmas Day. The trailers are wild.

I haven’t seen everything I’ve mentioned, nor will I.  I’m usually guided by the reviews, good or bad.  But I’ll be drawn to the cinema again and again.  If I have an appetite for action, I might take in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a runaway success.  It stars a talented young actress who has already scored an Oscar. 

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

“Let’s Go to the Movies” from Annie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wftKf04N5r0

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At the Movies: Casting Makes Perfect

If Michael Madsen, whom Quentin Tarantino wanted for the role of Vincent Vegas, was in Pulp Fiction (1994) instead of Wyatt Earp (1994) with Kevin Costner, would John Travolta have accepted the part of Forest Gump (1994)?

Photo by: JWSherman

Photo by: JWSherman

Would Forest Gump have been Best Picture at the Academy Awards that year with John Travolta rather than Tom Hanks in the starring role?

If Tom Hanks, not Tom Cruise, had made Jerry Maguire (1996), and, by the way, the part was written for Hanks, would Renée Zellweger’s oft-quoted line, “You had me at ‘hello,’” been as memorable?

If Kevin Costner, instead of Tim Robbins, had agreed to star in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), would he have been saved from making Waterworld (1995)?

If Warren Beatty hadn’t turn down the role of porn director Jack Horner in Boogie Nights (1997), would Burt Reynolds have had a comeback?

Playing musical chairs when a movie is going into production comes with the territory.  As Travolta once noted, “What you turn down can be a gift to someone else.  There is enough to go around.”

Going back a couple of decades, producer Robert Evan told director Francis Ford Coppola during casting for The Godfather (1972), “I want to smell the spaghetti.”  Frank Sinatra, who certainly fit the bill, desperately wanted to play the head of the Corleone crime family, but the honors, including the Best Actor Oscar, went to Marlon Brando.

Who else could have played Michael Corleone, the don’s youngest son, but Al Pacino? Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Martin Sheen, and Dustin Hoffman were considered. Jack Nicholson turned the part down saying, “Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians… Al Pacino was Michael Corleone.”

The Motion Picture Academy thought so, too, and Pacino won for Best Supporting Actor*, beating out fellow The Godfather actors James Caan and Robert Duvall.

So where did this leave Jack Nicholson?  He was cast as Randall McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), a role James Caan had turned down.  Why? “At the time, I thought – because I’m a genius – it wasn’t visual enough.” Caan professed. “It took place in these four walls. I didn’t know that [director] Miloš Forman was as good as he was. It’s my opinion that I’m stuck with, unfortunately. I’ve made some bad choices.”

Haven’t we all?

And then there’s Stanley Kubrick, but he knew what he was doing when making The Shining (1980).   He considered Robert De Niro, but felt De Nero wasn’t psychotic enough to be Jack Torrance, despite having won an Oscar for Taxi Driver (1976).  Conversely, he deemed Robin Williams, based on his television performance as Mork, too psychotic.  But he thought Jack Nicholson was just right.  Author Stephen King, on whose novel the horror movie was based, didn’t want Nicholson, believing that, even five years later, he was so linked to the character McMurphy that it would be a tip-off to his going mad.

What do writers know?  The Shining didn’t win anyone any Oscars, but, make no mistake, it is often described as “seminal,” it’s place secure on any list of the scariest movies ever made.

Robin Williams, who played Popeye in Popeye (1980) that same year, was finally recognized for his acting chops in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) for which he was nominated for Best Actor Oscar.  In the recently released The Butler, he plays President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His fellow cast members include James Marsden as JFK, Liev Schreiber as LBJ, John Cusak as Richard Nixon, and Alan Rickman (a Brit!) as Ronald Reagan.

This fall, Williams returns to television in  “The Crazy Ones,” a situation comedy co-starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.  The duo plays a father/daughter advertising team.  She’s all buttoned up; he lets it all hang out.  Now that sounds like perfect casting.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

* Both Al Pacino and Marlon Brando boycotted the Academy Award Ceremony.  Brando was protesting Hollywood’s treatment of Native American Indians.  Pacino felt that, having more screen time than Brando, he, too, should have been nominated for Best Actor.  He received his just dues when he won the Best Actor Academy Award for The Godfather: Part 2 (1974).

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Hooray for Hollywood Movie Stars

Marilyn and Jane: real movie stars.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were immortalized at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard on June 26, 1953 before the release of their movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Looking their best in their low cut summer halter dresses showing lots of cleavage, the blonde bombshell and the statuesque brunette were all smiles as they stepped up to the plate.  Then they stretched out and settled in on a cushion put out for their comfort.

Officials of Grauman’s soundly ignored Monroe’s suggestion that they imprint their best assets for posterity – hers being her bottom and Russell’s being her breasts – so, they signed their names, left their shoe and handprints, and wrote the name of their movie across their adjoining squares in the cement.

Marilyn, concerned that she would mess up, had the opportunity to practice beforehand.  Rather than placing her high heel pumps into the wet material, she went barefoot.  The test slab, measuring 17 X 22” and weighing 23 pounds, was sold in 2010 for $30,000.

More Monroe memorabilia has been on the auction block the past couple of years. The tight red sequin dress with slits down the front and up her leg she had on when she and Russell sang “Two Little Girls from Little Rock” sold for $1.2 million about the same time.  While that’s not as much as her iconic white halter dress from The Seven Year Itch that went for $4.6 million, it’s not too shabby.

The strapless pink satin gown with the oversized bow that showed off Marilyn’s curves when she performed “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” went for $320,000.  While not quite in the same league as her other attire, Madonna commemorated the outfit when fittingly she wore a copy in her video “Material Girl.”

As Russell in character as Dorothy Shaw said of her best friend Lorelei Lei, “You know I think you’re the only girl in the world who can stand on a stage with a spotlight in her eye and still see a diamond inside a man’s pocket.”

This being Oscar season it’s worth noting that the famed classic, a commercial and critical success, didn’t receive any nominations, let alone any awards – not for best movie, best actress, best screenplay, best songs, or best costumes.  This begs the questions: what does the Academy know and when do they know it?

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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To see more of Marilyn and Jane at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, visit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWNiTUmwf0Y