Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Two Million Acres, Baby!

"Best Pictures From the Outside In" ~ Episode 4
Million Dollar Baby (04) and Cimarron (30/31)

NATHANIEL: In 2004, Oscar gave actor/ director/ producer/ composer Clint Eastwood his second Best Picture trophy for a boxing fable/tragedy about a retiring trainer, his faithful employee and his new girl fighter. Filmmakers have always liked to sit ringside but it's one of only two boxing picture to ever take home the Academy's highest honor. The other is Rocky. What is it that made this one the heavyweight champion with Oscar when The Champ and Raging Bull got knocked out in the last round and others never made the cut at all? Meanwhile back in '30/31, Oscar found its first Best Western (not the hotel) in Cimarron, a sprawling epic of the settlement of two million acres of Oklahoma territory. It tells this history through the marriage of the Sabra and Yancey Cravat (Irene Dunne and Richard Dix) who are among the first settlers and power players in the eventual state.
Since this series is all about these then & now fusions, please allow me to mangle co-opt some early philosophizing from "Scrap-Iron" Dupris (Morgan Freeman) who narrates Million Dollar Baby. You've all heard Freeman narrate enough movies by now. I'm taking over:
If there's magic in Oscar obsessing, it's the magic of watching movies beyond your endurance, beyond creaky narratives, awkward moralizing and dated racism. It's the magic of watching everything for a dream that few people have but you.
I didn't end up paralyzed on a hospital bed by going ten rounds with Cimarron but I felt pumelled all the same. And you my fellow obsessives?

NICK: Well, having seen Cimarron three times - and let me pause here, for your pity, awe, bafflement, or contempt - let me say this for it: I think that early seque nce of the wagons stampeding for the Oklahoma land grab is pretty spectacular. Wesley Ruggles shows little gift in this film for camera placement, much less camera *movement*, so I'm guessing he has a great A.D. to thank for all the vitality, the grandness, and the desperation of this moment. All of it completely plagiarized 60 years later by Oscar's next Best Western, Dances With Wolves - remember that buffalo hunt? But we'll get to that one in a few months. Anyway, I always think of myself as liking Cimarron more than I do because it makes such a strong early impression, every time.

And I do like that Yancey Cravat turns out to be such a heartless, unreliable, wanderlusty poop -not because I think the movie makes any coherent point about this, but it does defy our basic expectations, and it leaves room for the occasional moment of touching grief and shared disappointment between his wife (Irene Dunne) and his best friend Solomon (George E. Stone), the only explicitly coded Jew I can remember in any Western.

Otherwise, though, it stinks. Speechy. Stolid. Instantly antique. Episodic and barely integrated "plot" threads. Unbelievably erratic pacing. The tedious villain stuff with Lon Yountis. The crazy distraction of that hussy Dixie Lee. That courtroom sequence! That stuttering, watermelon-eating pickaninny! Frigging Edna May Oliver, who is kryptonite to me! I'm guessing I will wind up Cimarron's biggest champ here, just because I don't totally hate it. But I'm sort of baffled that I don't. What do you think, Goatdog? And why do you guys think it won, especially over audience treats like The Front Page and Skippy?

GOATDOG: As much as I'd like to credit Cimarron for something -- anything -- I can't join you, Nick, in praising the Oklahoma land grab, for two reasons. First is that it blatantly ripped it off from the finale of William S. Hart's phenomenal final Western, Tumbleweeds (1925, clip here skip ahead to 4:23), which, having arrived on this territory first and having claimed the vitality, grandness, and desperation, gets to build a little house on this prime land. Perhaps only to lose that house in a card game or to be run off by marauding spinsters, but still: it's the little house on the prairie that gets my vote. (I wonder if Costner & Co. knew they were ripping off a ripoff sixty-odd years later.) The land grab is valuable for me for one reason, that being the fact that Yancy Cravat (surely either the worst or the best character name in film history) can bemoan the fact that the whites are basically stealing land from the Native Americans, but still gallop with the same amount of enthusiasm to do his share of stealing.

How much do you think the filmmakers understood the point they were making here? They even make it twice -- it pops up again before the next grab that takes Yancy away from his family the first time. The creation of the United States requires the destruction of individual families? That's a strong statement, if they actually meant it. Did they mean anything except "look at this huge budget"? As for why it won over the far superior, if far simpler Skippy (and even The Front Page, which I disliked when I watched it, but that was long before I could turn off my racism radar), it must be that this one is big Big BIG! It sprawls messily over the West, which it clearly reads as being sprawled over the entire history of This Great Nation. That's enough for Oscar, at least sometimes.

This made me appreciate the extremely limited palette of Million Dollar Baby, the boxing movie that refused to be about anything but boxing. And life, and relationships, and God, and fate, and damnation. But still, its deliberately un-filled-in scenes -- from the sparse lighting, which made it look like we were seeing small pools of life in the middle of emptiness -- to the sparse characterization, to the sparse background (so few people onscreen in the entire film) (I've lost track of my dashes and parentheticals): this all felt like it was saying something valuable about being alone and who you can trust and dealing with the ramifications of your actions. I didn't love the film as much this time around, but I value it for having a coherent worldview. After Cimarron, any coherence at all was a blessing.

Nick, you haven't watched Cimarron three times. It's impossible: isn't it at least 20 years long? You'd still be watching it the second time.

NATHANIEL: Clearly Nick is enjoying some merciful Cliff Notes version of Cimarron. There is no way the actual feature could be watched thrice --no way on gods green earth. Or gods dusty black & white earth in this case.

Speaking of black and white, I hear you on the limited palette of M$B. I love that the characters are almost spotlit whenever the reappear, emerging from pools of black.

Cimarron uses theatrical title cards for each character. Eastwood doesn't take Million
Dollar Baby
quite that far but the lighting suggests stage entrances all the same.

The palette is such that I kept getting the feeling that Eastwood and his cinematographer Tom Stern wanted it to be a black and white movie but didn't quite have the nerve. That was probably a smart move, Oscar-wise. A black and white Million Dollar Baby might've only exposed it's mediocrity in comparison to Raging Bull. Oscar passed that over for the big prize, but the point remains.

But maybe I'm wrong. I don't generally even think of it as a boxing movie so perhaps others wouldn't be quick to pair it subconsciously with Raging Bull. I think M$B is artfully made and stirring as drama but I don't think it's willing to fess up to the inherent violence within its milieu which limits its punch, pun intended. My chief problem with the movie (which I like more than I think I'm conveying) is its desperation to be loved. It's the only way I can explain the saint-like presentation of the title character. As presented and performed this is a girl who wouldn't hurt a fly. And yet... she lives to fight. She's also described as "trash" but she has little of the coarseness, impotent rage or bad manners that might be conveyed as products of that self-assessment. Her family has been "gifted" all of that instead. I like contradictions and troubling disparities in movie characters... but only if they're presented as such. M$B is so in love with both Maggie and Scrap-Iron that it doesn't allow them appropriate dimensions.

The only character who emerges with realistic edges is Eastwood's own. It's the least heralded performance from the movie but it's also the best. His turn as Frankie Dunn improves with a second look. The other two performances, though successfully jerry-rigged by both the direction and performances to move you, are complete with just one view. There's nothing new to discover a second time around. Are they effective? Definitely! But not much more.

NICK: Re: Cimarron, I didn't know about the Tumbleweeds precedent, and clearly the movie does take several steps back every time it attempts to move forward on racial, cultural, and historical questions. But I still think the movie's stance toward Yancey's bloviating fundamentally changes when he winds up as such an absentee and a sad-sack. If ever a character explicitly lacked the courage of his convictions... I do see the movie, in its hugely limited way, as taking some key stock of its protagonist's shortcomings, and I find it interesting how much of the final half-hour plays like a funeral. Am I completely alone?

GOATDOG: I couldn't buy the ending of Cimarron as a funeral for anything (except maybe modern viewers). Yancy's off living the American dream; he's a relic, I suppose, but he's the kind of relic we need to build statues to honor. Why bother him with things like taking care of his family or watching his kids grow up? There's Adventure to be had! If the film is sad about anything, it's that poor Yancy ends up forgotten in life, if not in legend; and it ends up back at excusing his failures for the sake of lionizing him as an embodiment of a particular type of American icon.

NICK: Speaking of final acts that play like funerals, I love M$B more every time I watch it. I think it's a pretty great movie about poverty and desperation, without being overt or didactic about these things -- except in the grating, discordant treatment of Maggie's intolerable family. Certainly a case where it might have behooved Clint to try a little rehearsal, or at least do more than his celebrated one or two takes. But otherwise, the tact and expressive precision of the movie are wondrous to me. That inky cinematography is all the movie often needs to telegraph sadness, limitation, aloneness. (And to signal, too, how much we're not seeing: for example, what DID Frankie do to his daughter? Yikes…)

I love the simplicity and charge of the boxing sequences, especially the grace and vivacity of Maggie's opponents compared to her hunkered-down strength and diligence.It's part of why I disagree that the movie is unqualifiedly in love with her: her diligence, in boxing as in life, is an admirable but limited coping strategy. True, the movie rarely (if ever?) engages in explicit criticism of Maggie or Scrap, but it's well alert to their handicaps and masochisms and vulnerabilities. The movie comes right to the edge of pitying Maggie, and of pitying Scrap, this homeless man who refuses to see himself as such, even as he walks around the gym with his tail between his legs exchanging half-hearted, fatigued repartee with his one, very angry friend. M$B, for me, is like Old Joy if Old Joy were older, more bitter, more muscular, and more worried about death.

Among its Best Picture vintage (The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways), I'd say M$B is by far the LEAST invested in sentimentalizing itself or requiring our love. If the movie wanted to be loved, wouldn't it look a lot less dark and leave a lot out? - the crisis of faith, the biting of the tongue, the smudgy final shot. However appealing these characters are, my reactions of sadness so outweigh my reactions of fondness or admiration. For me, the emblematic shot of Maggie is that pitiful, self-effacing way she waves at the little girl in the gas station. Movies so seldom catch anyone doing anything so invisible yet so naked.

I thought M$B's enigmatic un-filled-in feel was helped tremendously by the fights. Until the final one, they're all as distilled to their essence as the lighting is and the character backgrounds are -- it's always the knockout, without the preliminaries, because, as Nick convincingly argued, Maggie doesn't have anything else in her bag of tricks, and the film is about people who do the few things they're capable of because they don't have any other options. Freeman's another story, though. Maybe because he's burdened with the narration, which I tend to see as an unnecessary crutch -- if you're going to paint in deliberately insubstantial daubs, don't provide a built-in commentary track -- and maybe because he carries so much baggage as an actor that he can't be anything but saintly by this point in his career, I did think the film strayed too far into semi-worship.

As usual (if four entries in can establish what's "usual"), this series provided us with an interesting pairing of films about major American themes, namely, absentee fathers and violence (among other things). Cimarron wowed 1931 audiences with its ... well, we're not exactly sure what happened there; maybe you can help us figure that out in the comments. Whereas Million Dollar Baby seemed to cement Clint Eastwood as America's favorite director and Hilary Swank as Nathaniel's favorite actress. (hee!) We'll see next January if Eastwood has been distilled so much that all he can do is direct Best Picture nominees.

NATHANIEL: Indeed we shall. Your turn, readers How do you think M$B is aging? Have you ever been able to make it through all 2 hours 20 years of Cimarron?

More @ Nicks Flick Picks & Goatdog's Movies

Cimarron was nominated for 7 Oscars including an inexplicable Best Actor citation for Richard Dix. It won 3 (Picture, Art Direction and Adapted Screenplay). Million Dollar Baby was nominated for 7 Oscars. It won 4 (Picture, Director, Actress and Supporting Actor)

Previously episode 1 No Country For Old Men (07) and Wings (27/28) episode 2 The Departed (06) and Broadway Melody (28/29) episode 3 Crash (05) and All Quiet on the Western Front (29/30)


Anonymous said...

I tried to watch Cimmaron earlier this year and could not make it past the 30 minute mark. All of your points are spot on about that film. Its a very difficult viewing experience. Million Dollar Baby seems to be a film that will age well. It a fairly simple story that draws the viewer in. I would still have given the best picture award to The Aviator, however, M$B took the prize.

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, once again you prove yourself to be as terminally clueless about Eastwood & his movies as every other time you've mouthed off on the subject.

What IS it with oscar bloggers & their antipathy toward Eastwood? Is it a youth thing? That so many are in their twenties & still easily persuaded by a flashy directorial style & hipster nihilism of a Scorsese, Mann, Fincher, Nolan, etc, & that when confronted with the humanism, empathy & pared down style of an Eastwood movie like Million Dollar baby they simply don't know how to take it? Sure sounds like it.

Sam Brooks said...

Said simple and plainly: Not a fan of Cimarron.

Million Dollar Baby is a whole other can of worms, though. I like the movie, and I think it's one that only Eastwood could have made, but I don't like Hillary Swank in it. I believe that she's competent, but little more than that. Otherwise, it's a perfectly worthy, middle-of-the-road Best Picture winner.

Back then, I was a Sideways boy through and through. In retrospective, I'm wondering if I would actually give it to Sideways after all.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen Cimmaron yet, but according to 'Inside Oscar', it was "applauded... for being one of the few talkies to approach the visual sweep of the silents and made stars of the couple who played the leads".

It was also extremely expensive at the time and made its money back, so its win might have just been Hollywood collectively sighing with relief; or, as I like to call it, "Titanic Syndrome".

NicksFlickPicks said...

@Anonymous: Nathaniel can say more about his objections to Eastwood if he wants to, but for my own part, I'll just get in there that part of the "Oscar blogger antipathy" (though I don't myself share it) is probably a suspicion fostered whenever an artist who has been doing a certain caliber of work for a while and couldn't get arrested (where were the noms for Bird? White Hunter, Black Heart? A Perfect World? Anything for Bridges besides Meryl?) is certainly promoted to being nominated ubiquitously. It's probably true that it's (very broadly) easier to like Eastwood movies as an older person or as a devotee of older filmmaking styles, but it's also very dubious that AMPAS is so pro-Eastwood when they ignored his work forever, when they still ignore comparably old-fashioned movies that lack his personal imprimatur (surely he loved We Own the Night, but Oscar didn't care), and when they regularly embrace films that embody all the flashiness and superficial dazzle that his movies abjure. Just a guess.

I'm just glad that, whatever the reasons, they caught onto Million Dollar Baby enough to make such a strong choice, even in a banner year that had so many equally fine and even finer movies (none of them, for my money, represented by the other four nominees).

NicksFlickPicks said...

[Sorry, I meant suddenly promoted, not certainly.]

Anonymous said...

anonymous two (7:30 pm), can you be more specific in your complaints regarding Nathaniel's opinion re: Eastwood. Lord knows I disagree with Nathaniel on this subject quite fervently, but I'm interested in what he's stated here that proved he was "terminally clueless."


yes, i'm curious too since I like the movie and said so.

Otherwise, I stand firmly by my opinion that the Freeman and Swank characters are inappropriately saintly in context of this otherwise rather severe and sometimes tough piece.

Does anyone like Cimarron?



"What IS it with oscar bloggers & their antipathy toward Eastwood?"

i believe Nick answered this question rather well.

"Is it a youth thing?"

I'm not young. SADLY ;)

"still easily persuaded by a flashy directorial style & hipster nihilism of a Scorsese, Mann, Fincher, Nolan, etc, & that when confronted with the humanism, empathy & pared down style of an Eastwood movie like Million Dollar baby they simply don't know how to take it?"

Why do we have to knock down others to lift Eastwood up? For the record hip directorial style is no more of an automatic minus than classicism and pared down style.

none of these things are inherently better or worse. It's how the directors use them.

i really don't like the idea that I have to accept that Eastwood is better just because his style is quieter !? That makes as much sense to me as arguing that Scorsese is best because he can be flashy.


Anonymous said...

Maybe the prestige accorded to Cimarron had to do with the source material by Edna Ferber, who was a Pulitzer Prize winner AND popular writer, and had a number of successful adaptions of her writing (the musical "Showboat", "Giant"). Maybe that lent a respectability to the movie, that from your descriptions, it doesn't deserve.

Anonymous said...

Oh God, I am with Eastwood to death.

You still get foold by title character arc, when everyone who tries to feel and understand Eastwood's career and auteurial vision knows that Maggie is just a McGuffin, and the whole thing is about Frankie.

Once again, Eastwood creates a pitch-perfect portrait of a person who is a victim of violence, inflicted by the others and by himself. That's Eastwood is interested in boxing, because people beat each other professionally.

One more time, we get to see a person who can't live anymore with violence (Frankie can't see his pupils in danger, because he can't get violence any longer) but is so drowned in this universe that can't see a way out.

His directorial style is not best because is quieter, but because is the best style for this picture, and all his pictures. His classicism has a rugged quality that is absolutely perfect for these people he likes to film. I am not overrating Eastwood, but his movies, if they were books, could be signed by Hemingway. There is not a single false note in the way he films. It's beyond perfect.

I DO LOVE Clint Eastwood. To death.

- cal roth

Anonymous said...

Wow, these words I've just posted are kinda confused, but you'll understand anyway, I think.

- cal roth

Anonymous said...

What Nick said. MDB is not sentimental. It's dark and complex, but still very simple. It goes straight to the heart because it never goes the easy way. Only a guy in his 70's can make such a beautiful, touching and precise movie.

- cal roth

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Are you Armond White? Seriously, you just trotted out a perfect "Armond" quote. Also: if you want nihilistic, just look at Eastwood's own High Plains Drifter

I Love Clint Eastwood, But this is one of his lesser movies. I actually don't remember much of it, except a vague feeling that the first half was far superior to the second, and that the scene with the parents brings the whole thing to a screeching halt. I do give it a thumbs up however, perhaps because I'm such a fan of Clint.


I absolutely agree that we need both striped down and fired up direction styles. We seem to have far too many who say it's an either-or proposition, but I for one want to see all of it.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Thanks, Cal, for huzzah'ing my take on M$B &#151 although, just to play devil's advocate, I would argue that Michel Gondry (at 41), Joshua Marston (at 36), Richard Linklater (at 44), and Julie Bertucelli (also at 36) also made movies in 2004, or at least released Stateside in 2004, that were equally "beautiful, touching, and precise." Gondry proved that even a hipster can do this, but Maria Full of Grace, Before Sunset, and Since Otar Left are just as directly and confidently expressive as the Eastwood. So I wouldn't want to say you "have" to be in your 70s to make a film with those qualities.

This isn't to dispute your point that M$B feels like the work of an older person, or that it benefits in intriguing ways from that perspective. One could plausibly have named this movie No Country for Old Men, and I think it speaks more eloquently to that idea than the movie that actually bears that title.


Cal, a couple of things --- i really appreciate the clarifications. not really trying to argue so much as discuss. but here goes.

"Oh God, I am with Eastwood to death"

this is why I have made so many enemies by identifying Clint with our capacity for hero worship. I don't think people can see clearly when they believe someone else to be perfect. and you do and many others do.

it's frustrating because I do think he's a good filmmaker but because I take this contrarian stance --i.e. i'm not remotely able to worship his work -- people miss that I think he's talented and they only concentrate on the fact that I'm not willing to genuflect. it makes me crazy.

which admittedly is not a good place to be if you want to be discerning about someone's work. so in a way my inability to deal with the way other people deal with Eastwood is just as much of a problem as the mass hero worship.

i get that.

"everyone who tries to feel and understand Eastwood's career and auteurial vision knows that Maggie is just a McGuffin, and the whole thing is about Frankie."

This is an interesting read and I appreciate you saying this. I don't really like the idea that a title character is a mcguffin though. Especially looking at the way the movie fawns on her. seems a bit dishonest... so it might just be a taste thing.

"Once again, Eastwood creates a pitch-perfect portrait of a person who is a victim of violence, inflicted by the others and by himself. That's Eastwood is interested in boxing, because people beat each other professionally."

thanks for saying this. it is helping me to understand why people see more in this movie than I do. but i wish that he had been less shy about the violence within this milieu... I can never by Maggie as someone willing to beat the shit out of other people for a living because she's just so damn nice. She even feels guilty for hitting people. Abnd she's a BOXER.

"His directorial style is not best because is quieter, but because is the best style for this picture, and all his pictures."

see this is where I get lost again. it's a circular argument. 'its' the best because its the best....' and it's an argument that doesn't allow that all filmmakers have flaws. all of them (yes even the ones i love the way you love Eastwood)

"I am not overrating Eastwood, but his movies, if they were books, could be signed by Hemingway. There is not a single false note in the way he films. It's beyond perfect."

i liked the film. I truly did. I edited out a paragraph about how the Oscar race got in my way of appreciating it at the time (on account of the article was getting really long) but this is why the Oscar race got in my way... you've illustrated it well. When i hear people talk this way I just get so defensive and "HOW? HOW CAN ONE PERSON BE DEEMED SO PERFECT???" that my blinders go back on and i miss out on the very real qualities of their work.

There are false notes in this movie. They're not hard to spot (i.e. Maggie's DisneyWorld loving family).

but again... i like this movie so much more than the article and these discussions convey. But I'm never able to articulate it because I spend so much time going "no uh really?" and I get back to "it's not THAT good" ;) it's a vicious circle for me.

ctrout said...

I don't know man. I was blown away when I saw Cimarron.

My Ranking:

1. Ray - A-
2. Sideways - B+
3. Million Dollar Baby - B+
4. Finding Neverland - B
5. The Aviator - C-

1. Cimarron - A+
2. Skippy - B+
3. East Lynne - B-
4. The Front Page - C+
5. Trader Horn - C+

NicksFlickPicks said...

@Sean: I'm sure I'm not the only person who's eager to hear a longer statement about what blew you away in Cimarron. I'm not being snarky; I really want to know.


yes Sean do share. i'm dying to hear from someone who loves it. Because yeesh... (for me)

tim r said...

Y'all have me wanting to stick Cimarron on my lovefilm queue... about 4678 ranks down, somewhere around The House of the Spirits.

I really like a lot of the appraisals of M$B here, which get at the heart of what works in the movie without ignoring its significant flaws -- the florid narration, the sanctified characters, and I could go on. That film is a whole bag of contradictions -- I agree with Nick that its core feeling is intensely sad and despairing, but for me the relationships ARE sentimentalised, way more than anything in The Aviator (which was my pick to win that year, and which I take to be a acute study in isolation and emotional paralysis masquerading as a take-to-the-skies biopic. But maybe it's just me.)

I really took against M$B on a first viewing, partly because of my hunch that all the things I don't like in the movie were the factors that made it an Oscar front-runner. I think the script and characterisation, Eastwood aside, are pretty much ridiculous, and even Frankie is burdened with some very clichéd ideas of Catholic guilt and redemption. Those sheepish scenes with the priest bugged me enormously for setting all this up while not really admitting to it up front. But, four years later, I can't shake the damn film off, and it must be something to do with Nick's point about sadness percolating its way into every frame, establishing a much more consistent governing mood than anything the overwrought, overwritten script particularly suggests. That shot of Maggie in the car is my favourite, too, and I think I'll give Swank a bit more credit than most here for making such moments work so well, even when her whole character arc is like Seabiscuit in reverse.

tim r said...

PS. I'm not sure the Hemingway comparison, even though he's actively courting it, does Eastwood many favours, either. "Some place between Nowhere and Goodbye"... sheesh.

Tim said...

I have nothing of any remote substance to add to Goatdog's lovely enumeration of the flaws in Cimarron, other than to mention that it was one of only two Best Picture winners that I couldn't get through without having alcohol handy.

(The other was Out of Africa, but I think I was just in a bad mood when I was trying to watch it).

Anonymous said...

Nat, thank you for replying. You know, I am not a writer, and I want to articulate my feelings with more precision, but I just can't.

The circular argument, is just not only that what I wrote. It's just, like, some movies require flashness, other need quietness. Clint jost got the right style for his universe, you know. That's what I wanted to say.

The way Maggie feels guilty about hitting people and Frankie can't tolerate violence is right in this movie's concept. It's like: even if you don't like it, you have to live with violence. William Munny in Unforgiven couldn't get any violence anymore, but had no way out, or Jimmy in Mystic River, you know.

It's a John Ford idea: people always want to go home, have a family, but it is just impossible, because they have those big blood stains on their souls. Regular life is just not for them. Just look at Ethan Edwards and Tom Doniphon in The Searchers and Liberty Vilence. The whole "mature" western thing is about the guilty outcast. Eastwood also shares these concerns, that are so fundamental to understand America.

- cal roth

Anonymous said...

Since you'll have to see Unforgiven again, I strongly suggest you see The Outlaw Josey Wales, A perfect World and Bird, too.

Anyway, I don't think you'll be able to. You always have too much projects do deal with. Good luck, and we're reading.

- cal roth

Benji said...

I made it through all of Cimarron a while ago, in my bid to watch all BP winners (only Cavalcade is still missing, can't get my hand on it). I was particularly put off by its racism (which was common at that time, I guess) and its pretentious "scope".
One should also note that Cimarron was an expensive flop in its day and sealed the Western's fate as a dead "A"-picture genre until the late 1930s. Which makes its Oscar win even more mysterious...

No comment on M$B. Still too pissed-off about Beelzebub's Oscar win (when they could have honored Winslet...argh!)


benji i hear ya. Though I wish I had added a paragraph in there about Oscar madness and hoopla sometimes getting in the way of seeing a movie for what it is. It was interesting to watch M$B again and realized what i missed to some degree because it represented so many things I don't like (the late December sneak attack --fresh in the minds with unfair advantage, Hilary Swank, honoring actors because we love the films they're in whilst ignoring actors that are much better in films that aren't quite as loved) etcetera...

the Oscar parade got in the way of noticing how good M$B actually is. It's still only my 3rd favorite nominated but seeing it again made me much less angry about the clint best director thing (of course that issue was solved by Scorsese finally winning in 2006 so maybe this point isn't a good one ;)

Cal --You're more articulate than you think. I appreciate the clarification.

Tim --i loved Out of Africa in the 80s (haven't seen it since) so maybe give it another chance.

tim r --you've said it so well. i feel this same way about M$B (hard to shake even if you don't love it at first) and The Aviator (misunderstood and undervalued for what it's trying to do)

ctrout said...

All right, I'll let you know how I felt. I'm a big fan of Edna Ferber's work. Giant was a kickass movie and Show Boat ('36) was amazing.

But Cimarron is my absolute favorite. It was one of the first westerns I'd ever seen and I got caught up in that land rush in the beginning. For me, it didn't let me down afterwards. I love Irene Dunne, so I'm all eyes and ears when I'm watching one of her movies. Even Richard Dix came off as the perfect choice to be in this movie. I don't think there was a better rugged, earthy guy in 1931.

Didn't anyone else like the fact that Irene Dunne's character became an independent woman? This movie was made in a time where fifteen years earlier, she couldn't even vote. And what about the interracial marriage? Ahead of its time in some ways.

Where can I start with the ending? I know it was pretty coincidental that the two of them would be so close in geography, but Ilsa walking into Rick's cafe was pretty coincidental too. That ending had me on the verge of tears. When a movie does that, I know it's special.

Maybe it's just me, but I had fun with Cimarron. I really enjoyed going back in time and it's one of my favorite westerns.

Brian Darr said...

Eastwood's had my goodwill at the Oscars ever since his Unforgiven prevented the only two Best Picture-winning Westerns from being Cimarron and Dances With Wolves: two ambitious but ultimately misguided and patronizing attempts to bring a social conscience to a genre that has long presented problematic depictions of the settlement of this country by Europeans.

Eastwood's film takes a different tack on essentially the same problem, following in the traditions of the best films by Anthony Mann, John Ford and Eastwood's mentor Sergio Leone in demythifying the Old West by pointing to the uncivilized violence of the invading European-Americans. But it arguably goes one further, commenting on how these films are often read as celebrations of the violence they're critiquing.

And though Million Dollar Baby is not quite as effective, it's basically doing the same kind of thing for another glamorized genre: the boxing picture. Definitely my pick of the BP nominees from that year. Leaving aside Finding Neverland, which I didn't see.

Anonymous said...

"No comment on M$B. Still too pissed-off about Beelzebub's Oscar win (when they could have honored Winslet...argh!)"

You mean Imelda Staunton... ;)

NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brian: "Leaving aside Finding Neverland" is a principle you should always stick to. I practically want to cross-stitch it, frame it, and hang it in my hallway.

tim r said...

Except if you see Stay or The Kite Runner, in which case those take precedence. (Shoot me now, but I actually like Finding Neverland.)



Classicfilmboy said...

Another great entry! And thanks to Goatdog for pointing out how the opening scene of Cimarron rips off Tumbleweeds, which I did not know. I neither love nor hate Cimarron, and I have actually watched it through. Once -- and I'm in no rush to see the entire film again. However, I have seen the opening several times, because, despite it ripping off another movie, it's still pretty thrilling. It's unfortunate that a movie that starts out so well is unable to maintain the excitement throughout. Also, it's telling that Oscar, in its fourth year, already has set a precedence for awarding the sweeping epic (I would put Wings in this category alongside Cimarron).

Anonymous said...

'Million Dollar Baby' will never be a cursed movie because it is a masterpiece.