Saturday, October 09, 2010

BPFTOI: Driving Through the Best Years of Miss Daisy's Lives

"Best Pictures From the Outside In" is back. But, oh fiddle, because the series is so infrequent we have to keep explaining it. It's a joint production between Mike at Goatdog's Blog, Nick at Nick's Flick Picks and Nathaniel at The Film Experience. We began in 2008 pairing the most recent winner No Country For Old Men with the first winner Wings and we've been working our way inward ever since from both ends of the Oscar chronology. Get it? Got it? Good. We've now reached 1946 vs. 1989.

 These men have been through enough Daisy. Let Hoke take the wheel!

NATHANIEL: Just when you get used to things a certain way...

Nothing is more certain in life than change so it's something of a human mystery as to why we're always so surprised or discomforted by it. In the Oscar winners The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989), we have four protagonists who are dealing with it from the comforts and, this is a fine point, new discomforts of their own homes. When I say "dealing with it" I sometimes mean not dealing with it all. It's a testament to this double feature that there's quite a lot of truth in the coping mechanisms presented, up to and including the coping mechanism of not coping. Sometimes we all just need a little time.

(Oscar sometimes needs a lot of time, which is why he likes to reward social issues movies like Daisy that take place in the rearview mirror.)

Since I mentioned four protagonists, allow me to introduce them. I'm referring to the three World War II veterans Al (Fredric March), Fred (Dana Andrews) and Homer (Harold Russell) who are returning to the homefront in The Best Years of Our Lives and the widowed Jewess (Jessica Tandy) of Driving Miss Daisy who is holed up in her estate when she's suddenly deemed unfit to drive. I stop at four because, Morgan Freeman's Lead Actor nomination aside, I can't buy Miss Daisy's chauffeur as anything like a fifth protagonist. Though he's quite literally driving, he's incongruously but a passenger.

Miss Daisy wants Hoke to drive at the speed of walking but I want the both of you to answer the following question like you've got a lead foot and somewhere else to be. (Let's just get it out of the way and drive on). How offensive (or not) did you find Hoke and/or the movie's complete lack of interest in his story and how much of that was mitigated by the entertainments of Grumpy Old Woman?

MIKE: It's not just uninterested in Hoke's story, it's uninterested in the entire story of the black freedom movement in the three decades after World War II. The only mention we get of anything approaching the Civil Rights Movement is a 1966 speech by Martin Luther King, more than an hour into the film. The only racist violence we hear about is the bombing of a Jewish synagogue. The only racist encounter we see occurs on a trip to Alabama --so I guess Atlanta in the 1960s was a little model of cooperation, as long as the help stayed in the kitchen and didn't grumble under their breaths too much. But there was a TV in that kitchen--surely SOMEONE saw SOMETHING going on that poked a teensy hole in the "slow and steady evens the races" model this film is pushing. And that ending--"You're my best friend, Hoke"--is one of the few times you'll ever see me moved to praise the recent Best Picture winner Crash, because I sort of think Crash knew how ridiculous it was when Sandra Bullock says the same thing to her beleaguered housekeeper. But here in Miss Daisyland, there's no such thing as self-examination. Meanwhile, out in the world, while the Academy was praising carefully crafted, Old Left films about gradual social change, Spike Lee was tossing garbage cans through windows trying to get people's attention. The Academy noticed, of course--the white dude in Do the Right Thing got a Supporting Actor nomination. This film, and this window into the Academy's soul, both make me sick.

 Hollywood Race Relations: Sincere or Ridiculous?

NICK: That's a tough act to follow, so my only option is to surprise even myself by at least playing devil's advocate for Driving Miss Daisy. Just to be clear, I don't think it's a good movie, and along with Field of Dreams and Dead Poets Society, it serves as proof that AMPAS somehow Rip Van Winkle'd its way through one of the stronger years for commercial film in the 1980s. (Then again, the directors and the actors and the writers and the nominators in almost every single category had better ideas than the high-fructose consensus that emerged in Best Picture, so maybe 1989 just proves the liabilities of how the Best Picture slate is determined.) Daisy's images are almost unrelievedly similar and boring. The editor often falls asleep. The score gets hilariously bombastic and misused after that pleasingly shuffle-along title melody. The biggest problem for me is that the script and the direction seem so damned tentative about pressing further into almost any of the story ideas or thematic issues it raises.

But I have to say, on that score, the script doesn't seem inclined to poke around Miss Daisy's backstory or the dilemmas of being Jewish in mid-century Atlanta any more than it wants to poke around Hoke's past or his private life. I don't think she's any more of a "protagonist" than he is, really. When the movie clicks at all - and it does for me, just a little bit, in its closing scenes - it's because I actually do think it hints at the thinness of the bond between these characters, who never know each other very fully even as they gradually feel warmer to each other or get more involved in each other's lives. Daisy's "You're my best friend" is, after all, uttered amid a bout of dementia, and Freeman doesn't imply that Hoke agrees here at all. The golden close-up on their clasped hands is a bit much. But almost immediately Daisy cuts to a very dark long-shot unlike almost anything else in the movie, which makes Daisy herself and this plaintive exchange both look awfully feeble and cold.

NATHANIEL: Well, when your only other option for Best Friendship is your obtuse son with the wandering suthehn accent and your silent housekeeper, isn't chatty Hoke a good option? At least he'll laugh at your jokes.

NICK:  That generous sense of humor helps this movie a lot. It's one of the hundred or so ways in which Freeman manages to bat back at the cloying and insulting potentials in this script and make Hoke (for me) an intriguing, legitimate character. In terms of what Mike pointed out, I do also appreciate that quick, earlier moment when he rebuked Daisy's idea that race relations were "totally changing" in the era of King.

MIKE:  I totally agree that there should be more to this discussion than just DMD's racial politics, but I keep getting dragged back--Hoke's sense of humor reminds me of the skit in the middle of Public Enemy's "Burn Hollywood Burn" about the casting director looking for a black actor willing to play a "controversial" character (a butler who chuckles under his breath). But you were saying.

NICK: I do agree it's demented to vote this Best Picture, and a particular slap in the face in the year of Do the Right Thing (or Crimes and Misdemeanors, or When Harry Met Sally..., or Roger & Me). But I think the movie finally shows at least some sobriety and tact about exactly what kind of relationship these two have. I don't think Daisy does a very good job even at being the basically safe movie it is, but I don't know that it's fair to ask it to be Do the Right Thing, either. I'm much more annoyed by movies of this era like Mississippi Burning, which styles itself as exactly the kind of bold, historically minded, race-focused protest picture you want Daisy to be and actually distorts the record and omits black perspectives even more than Daisy does.

 "Well, I'll be. We got 9 nominations and 4 Oscars! Do The Right Thing went 0 for 2"
That Hoke... such a kidder. Wait, that was a joke, right? That didn't actu ---oh god.

NATHANIEL: I'd actually love to excuse the Academy's love of this whole mini genre of minority struggle narratives coopted to tell stories of tolerant white people (see also the previous Best Picture's episode!) as dementia. At least then, they'd have an excuse. But it's a wider problem than just Oscar taste level. Critics, media and audiences tend to embrace these films in large numbers, too.

MIKE:  OK, off the topic of racial politics, there are some things I like about this film. That snappy little jingle that pops up in the score when it's not being bombastic is tops for me. I think I like Hoke, mostly because of the gravitas Freeman brings to the character, which keeps him from drowning in the script. The glowing cinematography got old, but there's some darkness that verges on the wildly experimental, given the film's overall conservativeness: that weird "oh my god look at all our reflections in the mirror" bit during Tandy's first "spell" seems like it's dropped in from a different film, but the long, dark shot at the end that Nick mentioned is a sobering way to close things. And I sort of like Dan Aykroyd, despite the wandering accent, for his genial longsufferingness. As for Jessica Tandy, I couldn't really separate her performance from the film: it seemed like one of those "oh no this old lady's gonna die soon" awards that happened a few times (some deserved, some not) in the 1980s.

NATHANIEL: You know how difficult it is for me to praise Jessica Tandy here (given the Oscar tragedy that played out... that unspeakable tragedy that I'm always speaking about) but I do think she does fairly good work with the innocuous material. Not Oscar nomination worthy good but good all the same. I like that you can see cracks growing in her "I'm not prejudice" mantra. She's not exactly self aware but she's not exactly not either and you can see that this annoys her more than it moves her towards actual change or self examination. That feels, to me, like a cool acknowledgement of the way people often process their own failings.

And this movie can take any tiny cold snap anyone can gift it with. The cinematography was so golden soft that I felt it was constantly trying to tuck me in for bed with a very warm blanket or roll me right up into a papoose so that I'd never have to feel anything uncomfortable or chilly ever again.

But I like the chill since it helps me appreciate the warmth.

War heroes in the round: The Airman, The Soldier and The Sailor return home.

Speaking of which, how about the versatile cinematography and shot composition in The Best Years of Our Lives? I swear to god... it was like entire miniature movies in every scene. Warmth and chill and other glorious complements everywhere I looked.

NICK:  Totally! The approach to lensing, shot structure, and editing in The Best Years of Our Lives is just so inspiring. I remember being not prepared at all when I first saw the movie, because I wasn't used to looking for technical virtuosity or intense formal variety in projects that look on the surface like unpretentious domestic soapers. This is the kind of movie that Hollywood so often shoots so boringly--relying entirely on actors to drive home all the emotional beats in the script, as though trying to convey feeling through focus, camera movement, lighting contrasts, or whatever would somehow undercut those emotions. Which is funny, because just within this series, William Wyler's own Mrs. Miniver seems like a good example (as, frankly, does Driving Miss Daisy) of exactly that sort of punch-pulling movie. Still within this series, though it's nothing like The Best Years of Our Lives, American Beauty was another example that if you explore middle-class domesticity with formal flair and visual invention, the ticket-buying populace really can get excited about it.

 William Wyler in the 1940s. Did any director ever have a decade this good?
6 Features | 2 Best Pic & Dir. Winners | 3 Best Pic & Dir. Nominees |
1940s Haul for Wyler Features: 47 nominations | 18 wins
| 1 Honorary

I don't absolutely adore Best Years the way I did on first pass, but if you compare it to the chilly, self-conscious formalism of Wyler's Little Foxes in '41 or the unambitious warmth of Mrs. Miniver in '42, it's just amazing that he's able to rifle through his entire bag of technical gambits and still make the Derrys and the Stephensons and the Camerons and the Parrishes at least as dear to us as the Minivers were. More so, really.

MIKE:  I'm with you guys 100%, except the part where Nick doesn't absolutely adore Best Years like he did on first pass, because I think I love it even more this time around. It vaults into my handful of best Best Picture winners ever (which might seem like damning with faint praise). What jumped out to me most this time around was Gregg Toland's use of deep focus, which he had knocked out of the park a few years earlier in Citizen Kane. He uses it with such versatility here, and it's amazing how many different things it can do depending on the context of the scene. My two favorites were (1) the barroom scene where Harold Russell and Hoagy Carmichael were playing the piano in the foreground, Fredric March was nervously in the middle ground, turning from the piano to the far, far distant background where Dana Andrews is giving Teresa Wright the heave-ho via telephone. It's like there's a million miles between them! And (2) the wedding scene (which still makes me cry) with Andrews's face in the foreground, the happy couple in the middle, and an angelic-looking Wright in the background. Here, the focus pulls everyone together, emphasizing their closeness.

One filmmaking technique = Two entirely different feelings.

And I love your "unpretentious domestic soaper" line, Nick, because the film does feel episodic. You could "tune in" for a couple of scenes and then go do your laundry, then come back and watch a different section of the movie. Not many films feel like they can work as a whole or as bite-sized, but still self-contained, chunks. And even though it's following more than a half-dozen characters, it manages to make them more fully formed than Daisy did with three. (And the extended running time only partly explains that.) Who's your favorite? Mine is Dana Andrews's Fred, who uses Andrews's unique bruised masculinity better than any of his other performances.

NATHANIEL: Hear hear on Dana Andrews. His performance felt like a marvel of internal distress signals to me... which made his inappropriate romance with Teresa Wright so relatable; she was tuned to his frequency. Her erotic attachment to him is not as simple as "I can save him" but that element is definitely there. Fortunately, despite all the potential cliches this team is working with I feel like they just nail down the core truths of certain familiar tropes with such precision and force. One scene that really knocked me over with its expressiveness in both performance and direction -- all the filmmaking tools Nick mentioned -- was Dana's solo moment in the cockpit where he lets himself access the war memories he's been keeping at bay. I found it to be such a beautifully judged emotional climax but used as transition into the last sequences where the storylines thread back together for the wedding.

 This cockpit has seen heavy fire; this pilot is all burned out.

You know, I think today's audiences (and I'd include myself here) are missing out whenever they dismiss earlier entertainments as "simpler times". Just because the movies didn't have body counts, profanity or sex scenes, doesn't mean they weren't extremely adult in tone. In fact, it's tough for me to even imagine a modern war drama delving this deep into both interpersonal connections and abcesses. You mentioned the movie's episodic nature and maybe that's why it plays out with such modernity to me. I felt like I was watching a lost Emmy-winning series from HBO or AMC had either been around in 1946. There are just so many through lines and longform dramatic beats in the screenplay.

My least favorite of the film's three threads is Harold Russell's. It wasn't because his scenes weren't moving so much as they didn't transcend their romantic drama / war film templates as well as the other two stories did. Aside from Dana Andrews, my favorite star turn belonged to Myrna Loy. She works absolute magic in her wifely duties both to Fredric March and to the picture itself, keeping so many scenes grounded with pragmatism, patience and a lived-in resiliency. Loy gives you a real sense of both what her character was like as a wife before the war and how the war changed her even from the peaceful homefront. But despite her realistically portrayed wariness and annoyance at some of the life changes on the way, she's such a comforting grounded presence that you know her husband (and the larger movie) will be able to work through his post-traumatic stress issues and readjust as best he possibly can to civilian life.

NICK:  Agreed on Andrews: so great at charting implosive feelings, right before that became the sole province of neurotic Method tics. Agreed on Loy, whose taking-in-stride of her husband's embarrassing bender is played so simply, but is so modulated and complex. I like Wright slightly less than these two, but I like her for all the reasons Nathaniel cites. That none of these three got Oscar noms despite the juggernaut status of the film is too bad. I'm sure Andrews is too "quiet" for AMPAS tastes, and I wonder if the studio deferred to March's star power by putting all their push behind him. There could well have been category confusion about the women, but honestly. They nominated Jennifer Jones for playing a tempestuous Tex-Mex and Flora Robson for glowering in blackface. Blackface!

Fredric March is one of my favorite actors, and I have plenty of glowing things to say about him, too. I'll leave myself to one, since it overlaps with Wyler's staging idea: the famous moment when he returns home and each family member discovers his presence, one by one. Everyone's great in this scene, which uses depth of field so conspicuously you can feel the "staginess" despite the marvelous emotion that still pours out of this reunion. And I think March brilliantly accounts for some of the "staged" quality of the filmmaking into his psychological profile of the character. Al clearly likes the idea of a Heartwarming Reunion, and it's not as though he's at all insincere. But as poignant as the moment is, you see how quickly he realizes he's not ready for all this, and kind of wants to be left alone. Tearful embraces are great, but they don't tell the whole truth.

 We've got choreography! A beautifully "staged" family reunion.

I don't think all of Wyler's ideas work so perfectly or integrate themselves so well. If there's anything to be said against the movie for me, it's that you almost hear Wyler and his team figuring out what nifty lensing or staging conceit they want to try out now. It's like the directing version of Kael's notorious anti-Streep comment: click, click, click... And, way too many times, the "big idea" they bring to Harold Russell's scenes is, "Let's make the audience patiently watch while he does something in real time that you'd imagine a man with no hands could not do."

Still, the film is so obviously humane and, in ways that count, emotionally restrained enough that it never feels exploitative of Russell, or of anyone else. And I totally agree that the whole movie is a remarkably rangy, sobering, and novelistic experience. I second (or third?) every lovely thing you guys have said about it.

NATHANIEL: Novelistic is right which is why this movie could easily provoke a week's worth of conversation... but we have to draw the line somewhere.

Am I correct in assuming we all think the Homer (Harold Russell) third is the film's least effective? As someone who generally distrusts sentiment in movies (I often feel like it amounts to emotional pornography, all mechanics with manufactured emotions) I was surprised how well these scenes did work for me. And I think it's for the reasons you've stated. Yes, it's a little obvious but I admire that Wyler is willing to put us in an uncomfortable place as an audience on his way to more traditional movie warmth. More than once the audience awkwardly shares the wary emotional POV of Homer's fiance's parents. We're forced to gawk and even though our hearts are telling us this is an incompassionate place to be, you do have to wonder if you'd want that caretaker life for your daughter.

Just discussing this movie makes me want to dive back in right now. It totally earns its sentiment and that's a rare achievement.

MIKE:  Looking back over fifty years, Harold Russell’s story is the least effective, for the reasons Nick mentioned—the goal here was to have a heart-to-heart with American audiences who were going to have to get used to seeing that kind of thing, and to remind them of the sacrifices people made in the war. It’s certainly part of the overall message of the film, that war is not necessarily glorious, it messes people up both physically and emotionally, and it might make your husband/boyfriend/son seem like a stranger. But we don’t need that patient semi-lecture today; we’ve seen Platoon and Saving Private Ryan and countless other films that take that as a given. So Russell’s story is where the film seems too message-y (although I absolutely LOVE how Toland shoots his house), and it lacks the acting firepower of the other storylines, and it is too occupied with that “this is how you take off your pants if you don’t have hands” pseudo-documentary feel. But Russell’s story gave us those wonderful scenes in Hoagy Carmichael’s bar, which rank among my favorites in the movie. So there you go.

 You hardly recognize them. They hardly recognize themselves.

The absence of that “we have some tough things to tell you” attitude was what irked me the most about Driving Miss Daisy, which wanted it both ways—it’s a loving paean to a way of life that’s long since disappeared, but it’s also a (spineless) criticism of that way of life. Best Years shows us that you can demonstrate your love for small-town America while still taking it firmly to task for being bigoted, or unthinking, or unappreciative. To do it mostly without preaching is a little miracle.

Of course, next time around we’ll have preaching up to our armpits, as Elia Kazan and company grab us by the scruffs of our neck and teach us a lesson about anti-Semitism in Gentleman’s Agreement; it will
be paired with one of the weirdest Best Picture choices of all time, Rain Man, and I can only imagine how we’ll pine for the warmth and complexity of Best Years of Our Lives as we give each other those baffled but affectionate looks that Morgan Freeman kept giving Jessica Tandy. Oscars. There’s lots of them.
 Miss Daisy stubbornly insists on walking to the video store to rent Rain
and Gentleman's Agreement. She doesn't know from Netflix.

NATHANIEL: Readers, back to you. Chime in!

for a complete index of this series thus far, click here.


kent said...

great writeup all! it makes me really want to watch THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES again. i'm definitely on the wyler bandwagon. i've yet to see a film of his i dislike.

also so happy to hear good mentions about myrna loy. she always seems to be forgotten even in classics like this.

/3rtfu11 said...

Until this year I hadn’t seen The Fabulous Baker Boys. However through the magic of DirecTV I’ve watched it several times. Michelle Pfeiffer -- I can’t agree that she was robbed. That doesn’t mean I believe Tandy deserved it. In fact I’m beginning to question her abilities as an actress and suspect the love she’s gotten is based purely on sentiment. She received a second nomination for Fried Green Tomatoes -- she’s cute in the film but no one upstaged Kathy Bates (God I promise everyone to stop talking about her in my birthday month (November) unless of course theirs news concerning her here -- in that film. The Academy had to punish the fat girl for winning the skinny bitch prize. I think I count only three fat actresses as Best Actress winners at the time of their win.

dinasztie said...

Wow, I think both Jessica Tandy and Driving Miss Daisy deserved to win. Michelle Pfeiffer was not that brilliant IMO.


kent -- i've found that Myrna Loy doesn't get much media play when old movies are discussed BUT among individuals, you say her name and everyone loves. I think she needs a revival!

/3rtfull & dynasztie -- u both crazy. La Pfeiff earned that
oscar. anyway it's sometimes tough to think about 1989 as Nick mentioned because there were films which were quite appreciated in some ways (FABULOUS BAKER BOYS won a handful of nominations and SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE was a media darling) that were head and shoulders above the Best Picture pack and it's head scratching. Sometimes great films just don't get any traction. But when they do and still can't beat totally inferior movies for nominations... OH, DEPRESSION.

everyone -- i'm curious if y'all love BEST YEARS as much as we did? I thought i was going to have to watch it in pieces because it's long but I did it in one sitting and when it ended i was like WHAT? because it flew by I was so absorbed in it. I would've watched it a second time IMMEDIATELY but my schedule was too tight.

Mirko said...

Well done! but my fav perf from William Wyler's picture besides Andrews, March and Loy it's Virginia Mayo's. Wyler and Walsh are the directors that obtained the best by the beautiful gal. I think she deserved an oscar nomination for this one (and another for WHITE HEAT, two movies in which she played a cheating wife) but the Academy chose to overlook her. What a pity!

Richter Scale said...

Maybe it's because I am sentimental, but the Harold Russell third really worked for me. I thought Harold Russell did a beautiful job with his scenes, simply by being natural. It's a performance that simply plays to the realities of Russell's and the character's situations, and even though a lot of his dialogue feels dated, the performance still works. I do agree that the Oscar should have gone to Dana Andrews though. That was an amazing performance (not that Frederich March wasn't fantastic, but he felt Supporting to me). I saw this film in a Narrative Cinema class in college, and it remains my second favorite film from the 1940's (right behind Casablanca).

cal roth said...

This post is SO great, I basically agree with your vision about both movies.

Driving Miss Daisy is the movie that taught me to love Morgan Freeman. It's like he is aware all the time the movie is superficial but decides to play the game the same way the driver deals with this old lady. I mean, define Charisma.

People don't give Freeman the praise Freeman usually deserves because they see only gravitas in his unbeliavable subtle style of acting. He's got charisma, but there'a always hundreds of nuances in even his most basic parts.

(The epitome of this confusion is that moment in Million Dollar Baby when Maggie says his room is fine, and he laughs, and then realizes she really thinks that was a fine room. I can't think of any actor who can spell this charm and play such a complicated and subtle note without even thinking about emphasizing it. Most actors try to find the feelings of their characters and play them, but we don't this in real life. We just feel.)

So, I think Freeman is the saving grace of the movie, much much better than Tandy. Yes, that was an unspeakable tragedy. I can't believe one of the best performances of the 80's didn't win. ADJANI should have won!

ON The Best years of Our Lives, I always think about it as a Japanese movie. It has something defintely unsensational about it all. Its flow is so calm and acumulative, and then you realize you are so moved about the whole thing and you want the movie to go on and on because you don't want to leave that people. And it doesn't overplay anything (not even Russel's story, IMO) to achieve this goal. It's so calm. Wyler makes me think it was easy to make the movie. And the screenplay, minimalistically (!) heartwarming. It's almost like an Ozu movie!

cal roth said...


Best Picture - The Best Years of Our Lives
Best Director - William Wyler
Best Actor - Gregory Peck, Duel in The Sun
Best Actress - Jennifer Jones, Duel in The Sun
Supporting Actor - Dana Andrews, The Best Year of Our Lives
Supporting Actress - Mirna Loy, The Best Years of Our Lives


Best Picture - Henry V
Best Director - Kenneth Branagh
Best Actor - Kenneth Branagh
Best Actress - Isabelle Adjani
Best Supporting Actor - Martin Landau
Best Supporting Actress - Brenda Fricker


cal -- i appreciate what you wrote about Freeman although I'm not sure I agree. It helps me to understand at any rate what so many people see in him. My principle problem is that I always feel like he's giving the same performance.

but about BEST YEARS "calm and accumulative" is just right. I am so glad i didn't watch this in multiple sittings. By the end I was just a mess. I LOVE THIS MOVIE.

Richter -- agreed that Dana is the lead... though really aren't all three of the men leads essentially? It's basically three braided stories about the same thing.

cal roth said...

Maybe the charm is the same, but not the notes. He builds his characters exactly like human beings. There is our outside (and he, as an actor not much fond of mimicry usually does the same parts) and the inside, that only occasionally is brought to skin, with spectacular effect since we're not seeing a performance. He is an actor who plays feelings inside and give us hints of what's happening.

He is a master of suggestion, and it's really a beautiful thing when he got to look at him and see that's he's got absolute control of what he will show and he will not. It's not what we are used to expect from actors, but it's a fascinating style of acting.

cal roth said...

Back to these Oscars, I still find it unbelieavable that a movie that nominated for Best Director could win Best Picture. It's like they are absolutely sure the movie is mediocre and still vote for it.


well... it's less of a travesty when you remember what else was nominated.

I'd rank them like so:

heavy-handed but has its moments
shamefully cheese-flavored popcorn jumbo bucket

I haven't seen MY LEFT FOOT... i know know. In my defence i had left the country by the time it opened in my city (Detroit at the time) but given my feelings about the nominated field that year, I can only assume it would be my "shoulda won"

my top 5 from 1989 in alpha order


but i'll leave the fifth spot open because everything else kind of blurs together and I should see a few more things (or re-watch). But i totally stand behind those 4 as worthy nominees.

Volvagia said...

Call me half a Van Winkle, but I really enjoyed Field of Dreams. Dead Poets Society? Only the last 20 minutes mean ANYTHING.


Picture: A Matter of Life and Death
Actor: James Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life
Actress: Ingrid Bergman, Notorious
Supporting Actor: Marius Goring, A Matter of Life and Death
Supporting Actress, Leopoldine Konstantine, Notorious
Original Screenplay: The Archers, A Matter of Life and Death
Director: The Archers, A Matter of Life and Death


Picture: The Killer
Lead Actor: Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing
Lead Actress: Winona Ryder, Heathers
Supporting Actor: Alan Alda, Crimes and Misdemeanors (And, by the way Cal, how is Landau anything other than a co-lead?)
Supporting Actress: Penelope Milford, Heathers

Volvagia said...


Original Screenplay: Heathers
Adapted Screenplay: The Killer (Based on Le Samourai.)
Director: Spike Lee (The Killer occasionally has sloppy visual construction. Can't quite say, then, that it's the best directed movie of 1989.)


Adapted Screenplay: It's a Wonderful Life


I should note that I think Fabulous Baker Boys is one of the best movies of the whole decade (and not just because of The Pfeiffer Mania that set in that year and would never leave me be ever again) and I sometimes wonder, given its 4 nominations (including major gets like editing & cinematography) how close it got to the top five. Maybe those were alway going to be the five but given the lack of a Director nomination for Miss Daisy I wonder if it was one of those deals where it was actually the 5th place as a nominee but ended up being the consensus winner?

i assume if you expanded it to 10 BP slots that year the other nominees woulda for sure included:

and who knows what else. maybe CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS. the other spot coulda gone anywhere but i think SEX, LIES is still wishful thinking despite its Cannes triumph and indie hit status.


back to Daisy! & WWII heroes.

cal roth said...

Who directed The Fabulous Baker Boys? I have no idea right know and I'll have to go to IMDB. Maybe that explains something? I think you're a lonely voice. I don't believe anyone considered this movie THAT great.

OtherRobert said...

Judging by the actual nominated films in 89, I have no issue with Driving Miss Daisy winning. It's the only one of those films I can say I like even a little as entertainment. I can appreciate My Left Foot for Day-Lewis's commitment, or the intentions of (the dreadful) Dead Poet's Society, but I just have to wonder how any of those nominees wound up on top.

Robert said...

I recall reading a piece that said Driving Miss Daisy won best picture that year because everyone was thinking about issues of race.

Of course everyone was thinking about issues of race because of Do the Right Thing.


cal -- that'd be Steve Kloves. The only reason people don't remember that is he didn't keep directing and started writing Harry Potter screenplays (which is what he's been doing for 10 years now. It must pay well). If he had kept it up behind the camera who knows what might have been.

and I know quite a few BAKER BOYS devotees thank you very much :)

robert -- ha. oh the twistiness of fate. I totally think that's true but it probably makes Spike Lee (justifiably) gag all the same.

otherrobert -- yeah too bad HENRY V or BAKER BOYS couldn't unseat one o' those.

has no one seen BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES?

aclp said...

Cal, I couldn't agree more. I love Morgan Freeman. He has such a sophisticated style of acting, he always works with layeres and shades in such a naturalistic, subtle and simple way, that's so refined, complex, inteligent and deep...He's never showing off, because he doesnt need to....I love him!

/3rtfu11 said...

I should note that I think Fabulous Baker Boys is one of the best movies of the whole decade

How does this film not play dated to you? The “Smooth Jazz” flourishes in the score, the gaudy Pfeiffer makeup in those pre-Blossom hats (side note: Terry Hatcher wore a pre-Blossom hat in Tango & Cash [also 1989]). Oh and if I really want to piss you off Pfeiffer was Supporting (won’t cry category fraud just will reference Sharon Stone in Casino as an example of the female lead with little screen time being position as a Best Actress contender). I was in shock at how little she’s in the film…the movie really is about The Fabulous Baker Boys.


/3rtfull -- oh here we go again: screentime does not equal whether you are supporting or lead, story does.

dinasztie said...

Come on, this is ridiculous. I am crazy but not because I don't worship La Pfeiffer (who was good). Not everyone agrees with you. Face it. I'm happy to say that I prefer Tandy (at the moment, that might change).

Volvagia said...

Personal 1946 Picture Ballot:

La Belle Et Bete
Partie de Campagne
A Matter of Life and Death
It's a Wonderful Life

Personal 1989 Picture Ballot:

Field of Dreams (corny, yes, but a much better piece of corn than either Driving Miss Daisy and Dead Poets, so it's probably between it, Born on the 4th and My Left Foot to be the best of the nominees.)
The Killer
Do the Right Thing
Crimes and Misdemeanors

(A note: Just because a film is "pure cheesy popcorn" doesn't mean it isn't great at what it is. I acknowledge DMD and Dead Poets as awful at even being that, just as I acknowledge FoD satisfies the, admittedly, low expectations it had to satisfy, initial mis-placed Harvey bashing and all. Great films can't all be in the Tokyo Story mode.)

Andrew R. said...

@Nate-If they expanded it to 10 slots in 89, the 6-10 nominees would've been: Do the Right Thing, Glory, Crimes and Misdeamanors, Henry V, and When Harry Met Sally. In that order.

This is not my opinion. It is what would've (most likely) happened.

Great group, too. I like 7 or 8 of those movies. Glory and Miss Daisy, no. Conflicted about Dead Poets Society-overrated, but not a bad movie.

1989 is one of cinema's great years. And who wins Best Picture? DMD, which beat out four superior nominees.

I mean, here's my list:

Honorable Mentions: Batman, Dead Poets Society, Dekalog, Henry V, The Killer, Kiki's Delivery Service, Meet the Feebles, Santo Sangre, Say Anything

9 Losing Nominees: Born on the 4th of July, Crimes and Misdeamanors, Drugstore Cowboy, Field of Dreams, Heathers, Little Mermaid, My Left Foot, Sex Lies and Videotape, When Harry Met Sally

WINNER OF 1989 IMO: Do the Right Thing

For the record, Danny Aiello ("the white dude") should've won the Oscar. Have you seen Do the Right Thing recently? The entire cast is great, but Aiello and Ruby Dee (should've been nominated) are amazing.

(Don't mention Glory. Denzel's quite good, but the film brings him down.)

1946 is an improvement. Best Years is a great film. Shouldn't have beat It's a Wonderful Life, but a great film anyway.

ADC said...

I understand why, but the "Field of Dreams" bashing irks me. I can't help but love that movie. Especially Doc Graham walking across the 1st base line...

morhannah said...

I actually love "All the Best Years of Our Lives." I watched it last year and wondered, why doesn't anyone talk about this movie? It's not only moving, but you feel like you could know these people. AND, I don't feel like I'm watching an "old movie" when I'm watching feels very timeless. Because I liked it so much, I ended up recommended watching it to a professor in a WWII class I was in.. he ended up assigning to the class in our discussions on the return to the home front. Since it was only released in 1946, it really captures the sense of America at that time -- for those troops. As someone who loves history, I appreciate that movie for that as well.

cal roth said...

Yes, History. The 40's were just like the 00's for Oscars. Zeitgeist. The Lost Weekend, The Best Years of Our Lives, Mrs. Miniver, Casablanca, Gentlemen's Agreement, All The King's Men.

It's hard to be a Going My Way in times like these. You have, let's say, 30% of winning, against the zeitgeist.

That's why The King's Speech will have an uphill battle to beat The Social Network.


DINASZTE -- it's one of those things for me. it's an unassailable position like cats being awesome, ice cream tasting good and and nighttime being dark. Pfeiffer is the queen. :) and yes, I am also crazy.

CAL -- except we're not in the Aughts anymore. We've started the 10s/teens decade. so who knows (just playing devil's advocate although your parallel is totally interesting.)

ANDREW R -- that is an opinion silly ;) we can't know. I for one, who lived through the year and was already obsessed with the Oscars (christ i am too old), feel with 100% certainty that When Harry Met Sally would have been shut out. Audiences loved it but it was perceived as a fun piece of fluff at the time and not an instant classic... it actually got a lot of "lukewarm woody allen" digs at the time. And no way in hell would DO THE RIGHT THING have been in 6th place. That only did as well as it did because the critics were pushing so hard. actually the more i think about it -- which i didn't intend to but am (argh) -- the more certain i am that HENRY V would have been in sixth place and GLORY in 7th. They're in Oscar's typical wheelhouse.

My point is that ANYONE'S IDEA, yours or mine, is pure speculation which is by it's nature opinion-based but fun to discuss nevertheless! I base my opinion/assumption (that Baker Boys would have made it) on CINEMATOGRAPHY and EDITING which historically have much correlation with the Best Picture field, unless they're nominations due to being genre spectacles (which Baker Boys wasn't.)


MORHANNAH -- i'm so glad that made a difference and that he assigned it. we all need to stick up for the great films. That's how they survive the turn of the decades, people passing the love on. Best Years of Our Loves is totally one of the best Best Picture winners of all the 80+ years.

Volvagia said...

To make a 10:

Santa Sangre (A limp central performance forces it off the 5.)
Batman (Probably would have been on the initial 5 if I could compose a list in '89, but with the shadow of Returns around, it has to remain just off.)
When Harry Met Sally... (A good Woody Allen influenced rom-com mixed with phenomenal interview cut-aways, but it's still nowhere near Reiner's peaks (Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride and Stand By Me.))
Roger & Me (It wasn't that exciting a movie and maybe it's manipulative, but Battleship Potemkin was the same way. The point is still made.)
Glory (I know this one is being replaced. Broderick is great, but Freeman is surprisingly forgettable and Denzel won an Oscar more for humiliating himself than actually giving a great performance. If an actor's dedication is greater than the actual performance, I feel impressed and NOMINATE them, but I don't hand them the win. See: I have NEVER seen DeNiro give a Best of the Year acting job in a Scorsese (Scorsese makes amazing films, but he's at best only a GOOD performance director). 76: Peter Finch, 80: Jack Nicholson, 83: Peter Capaldi. DeNiro gets it instead in: A Lead Actor in 84 for Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, Supporting Actor in 85 for Gilliam's Brazil, A Lead Actor Tie with Tom Hanks in 88 for Brest's Midnight Run.)

Volvagia said...

How little /3rtful? If it's 40% or more, I start thinking about someone as a co-lead. It starts getting hazy around the 30% marker. Below 25%, though, and I would have to agree on supporting status.

Volvagia said...

But the early 50s were also tapped straight into Zeitgeist. All About Eve, An American in Paris, Roman Holiday. In the mid-late 50s, though, it started becoming comparable to the 80s. (Solid entertainments, yes, but would anyone call them the best of the year? See also the most egregious win: Gandhi over The Verdict, Tootsie, E.T. and Das Boot. (The last one was probably the least likely, but anything over that pablum posing as epic. Probably the point where the Academy started becoming "conservative" in terms of their choices of winners. I also think: Um... shouldn't there have been two Academies? One: The Academy of Hollywood. They reward right away and all efforts that are 1. Foreign Language and 2. Not distributed by anyone tied to Hollywood, are completely out of contention, though there is another Academy you have to send a different ballot to... Two: The Academy of International Cinema. This Academy scans unaffected ballots, but operates under a rule I personally hold: FIRST RELEASE ANYWHERE IS YEAR OF RELEASE. And another rule: They only admit those with promising ballots, whether directly involved with the cinema or not. The ratio for the 2nd Academy: 30% film fans, 70% insiders. Insiders can still make the majority decision if it's unanimous, but any splitting or uncertainty can lead to the final choice being on the fans. And: If ballots stop looking promising, members can be kicked out, something that would be impossible for the 1st Academy. The 2nd Academy votes 10 years after the release of the film, to give members time to catch up, watch the films and reevaluate a few years later.

Dempsey Sanders said...

amazing post here guys! Best years had me absolutely glued, the more I watch it the more I love it and Baker Boys is so brillaint if I was to comment about it here it would be a whole post!
Looking forward to your next comparison.

Paul.D said...

I very much enjoyed the discussion about "The Best Years of Our Lives," probably my favorite American film. I have seen it many times on DVD, but I finally saw it on the big screen at the National Archives, and it was great. I think some mention should be made of the screnwriter, Robert Sherwood, a playwright and Roosevelt speechwriter who presented the liberal, optimistic spirit I find in the film.


Paul D -- it is beautifully written. it's amazing how much you can talk and talk about a movie and still not cover essential things (that is if the movie is worth going on and on about)

Dempsey -- yay. Love that Baker Boys backup. hopefully it won't take us 6 months for the next installment. lol.

aclp said...

Nat, do you see Freeman's performances in "Shawshank Redenption", "Nurse Betty", "Amstad" and "Gone Baby Gone" as the same performance?

Mike Phillips, aka Goatdog said...

I was looking over my top 10 list from 1989 and I realize I haven't seen a lot of those films since 1989. The late 1980s is not an era I like to revisit. But looking back at my dim memories of many of them, in addition to the few that I have revisited, I'm going to toss out John Cusack as a Best Actor candidate. Of course he doesn't win against Daniel Day-Lewis, but he's top-five material. Discuss.

Nathaniel, I know I've seen The Fabulous Baker Boys, but I remember absolutely nothing about it. But I will defend it against one charge, that of its being "dated." That's silly. It contains costumes that were fashionable in 1989, and the score has "smooth jazz" frills (how crazy, in a film about smooth jazz performers), and it's dated? Then any movie that takes place in the time it was made is dated. (This is all to excuse my lack of other defense of La Pfeiffer or the film.)

I wish this hadn't turned out to be so much about whether FBB is or is not good. What do you guys think about Driving Miss Daisy?

Volvagia said...

Um...Cusack has BEEN top 5 material (See Grosse Pointe Blank), but Say Anything...? Solid, but I think Mahoney is stronger in it.

My Best Actor ballot:

Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing
Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors
Christian Slater, Heathers
Jack Nicholson, Batman
John Mahoney, Say Anything...

My Best Supporting Actor ballot:

Danny Aiello, Do the Right Thing
Denzel Washington, Glory
Alan Alda, Crimes and Misdemeanors
Giancarlo Esposito, Do the Right Thing (If only the white guy gets a supporting actor nomination for this movie, you're a little bit racist. Plus: Buggin' Out is really funny.)
Jeremy Applegate, Heathers (His big joke may be sick now, considering how he eventually died, but it's still at the service of a great, well written movie.)


volvagia -- who is jeremy applegate? i'm suddenly confused. and i love Heathers.

mike -- there was more than just Pfeiffer vs. Tandy but you have to dig for it :)

i'm so happy that so many people love BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. and i hope we've convinced at least a few people who haven't seen it to watch.

/3rtfu11 said...

When a major red flag for a film over twenty years old is that it’s dated you have to consider that for this viewer the overall narrative wasn’t substantial enough for them. All movies are products of the time in which they were made. However the best films solider through the tail-tell signs of the picture’s vintage and so movies are ahead of their times by starting visual trends or not letting current trends in movie making influence the final product. My problem with Baker Boys is that 1989 is the only time this movie played with any genuine spark. Once 1990 came it was already a relic. Think of it this way – Total Recall (1990) was instantly dated the moment audiences saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The insane part is that T2 holds up better than big budget CG fest of today. There are many things in the picture that let you know you’re watching something made in 1991. Although ultimately there’s stuff that’s outright ahead of it’s time. Gosh I hope the above makes some sense somewhere to someone.

Volvagia said...

Jeremy Applegate played Heather Chandler's ex. Remember he said, "Dear lord, I hope this never happens to me because I don't think I could handle suicide." He committed suicide with a shotgun.

NicksFlickPicks said...

It makes sense, /3rtfu11. I don't really agree with you, though, because I think applying some sense of "timelessness" as the standard of "real" art doesn't make any more sense than any other rigid way of approaching the issue. Do you think you could explore the same ideas in relation to Daisy or Best Years?

I think it's just disorienting for us to have an organic conversation about two movies, and then figure out how to make the comment threads sustain a longer, point-by-point discussion about those movies without getting hung up on tangents and side-arguments. But we tend not to say that because it sounds like we're not happy to get the wonderful level of response that these BPFTOI installments keep getting, and we don't mean to sound churlish about it! Best case is when comments actually grow out continuously from each other, though all the specific responses to details or aspects or oversights in the published conversations, keeping the two winning films front and center, are also great. Once we get started on also-rans or on lots and lots of personal ballots and arcane digressions (sorry, Volvagia), the discussion gets harder to manage or re-enter.

That said, there's so much rich stuff in these comments! I'd be interested to hear more about whether people find Driving Miss Daisy "dated" to the late 80s in substantial ways, despite being a period pic. Or to explore why it is that so many of us seem to feel that Best Years manages to seem unmistakably of its time and also completely renewable for spectators of any era.

Apologies if I/we sound too ungrateful or controlling of the kind of feedback we're hoping for, at least in so far of keeping these two films foregrounded. Especially because there has been so much food for thought: more on Loy and Mayo and Andrews and Russell and Freeman, on Robert Sherwood's script, about how Best Years manages to be a pretty major canonical mainstay and yet people tend to come to it a little later than other classics... This has all been fascinating.

(And by all means, start watching Rain Man or Gentleman's Agreement now, so we can open out to a full-group convo on those two after the next BPFTOI!)


Nicks -- well, the Baker Boys digression is probably my fault since it's such a personal favorite. oopsie.

everyone as for the issue of being "dated"... i'm totally curious about Nick's question. I hadn't thought of that at all in relation to Driving Miss Daisy but I think it never crossed my mind because wasn't it dated even at the time it premiered? If anything being dated was its chief selling point to the Academy given that they were not at all ready for THE NOW of Do The Right Thing and I don't mean this in a "period piece" way so much as a "message/aesthetic/temperament" way.

and speaking of "dated"... isn't Do The Right Thing absolutely and unmistakably an 80s picture? But I'm not sure I view "dated" as a bad thing for any picture that is about the time its emerging from and continues to play with such gusto.

oh and... in case people are still reading this comment thread... i'd also like to hear what people thought of Virginia Mayo? It's kind of a stock role but I greatly enjoyed her in it. I think? Convince me one way or another ;)

/3rtfu11 said...

Okay I want to apologize right now for derailing this conversation over a difference of opinion concerning the merits and category position of Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys with my lame and petty rant about the film being “dated”.

I still stand by the “smooth jazz” comment. But the fashion and makeup stuff is meaningless in as serious discussion of this film. As for Jessica Tandy wins an Oscar because Hollywood felt sorry for the old lady who had a Beatty White level late career resurgence as America’s favorite movie grandma – I have nothing really to add. I don’t like the movie or her performance. If there’s any soft spot for this actress I have is for Fried Green Tomatoes and even I don’t agree with her BSA nod but this of course was at out sentiment – same goes for Dianne Ladd’s third nomination for Rambling Rose.

Volvagia said...

Exactly, Nat. Haven't seen Baker Boys, but "dated" is as meaningful a criticism as "pretentious." Psycho is dated. Harold and Maude is dated. A Woman Under the Influence is dated. Does that matter? Of course not! The only filmmakers I would classify as immune from the "dated" criticism are The Archers, Leone and FF Coppola.

michael s. said...

Jesus Volvagia, didn't they just say try to keep the comments to the point? Your random praise of The Archers has nothing to do w/ anything anyone's brought up. Read the entry again if you are confused what movies to actually talk about.

I agree with whoever above said that Russell was great, maybe a little better than this entry gives him credit. I think Russell, Andres, and March should have shared a Best Actor prize for Best Years if that was possible. I know Oscar never allows that but they all play off each other really well in their group scenes, even Russell the non pro. And whenever they're all united again in Hogey Carmichael's bar, the scenes are always awesome. March and Andrews silently communicating their sympathy for Russell's character w/o feeling sorry for him to his face. Those two also feel like they're on the same "wavelength" in other ways, maybe because of what they've both been through. Which makes it hurt worse when March sort of nails Andrews to the wall for romancing his duaghter, b/c you can tell he'd actually like to be friends with this guy.

Don't really remember Mayo. I liked Wright too, who nobdy has really mentioned yet. Weird how Oscar went nuts for her in early 40s and then just dropped her even when she made big movies (well, this and Shadow of a doubt). Don't remember much about Driving Miss Daisy, which I'm okay with. Seemed like a TV movie to me. But it seems like it's still got fans.

- michael s.


michael s -- that scene when the friendship between Andrews and March cracks (then the forced phone call) is so fantastic. I think the phone call bit is the best scene in the movie. It doesn't force any of the feeling at all but it's like a hammer nonetheless. I miss deep focus!

NicksFlickPicks said...

I'll second that. I do think Russell's intuitions about the performance are really strong, and I don't mean to sound down on him or his plotline. But for the reasons you point out, Michael S., the Andrews and March performances just set an incredibly high bar, without seeming to sweat about it, even. Every single thing in Carmichael's pub does feel astonishing. I definitely agree that both actors are spectacular reactors and great silent communicators, and they work brilliantly within the subtle channels of layered thought or unspoken feeling that ground the movie, even as they sell their dialogue like regular conversation.

I'd also point to Andrews's scenes working in the department store as key instances of his greatness in the role. He brings a welcome humor to the absurdity of selling the perfume or whatever it was, as though he's beating everyone else by laughing at himself first, so it's not just a straightforward scene of despair or critique: "How have we reduced our fighting men to this?" And yet, you feel how low it's bringing him. And then the charming/sad surprise encounter with Teresa Wright, where she clocks it all immediately but matches his tone as a gesture of kindness, among other things.

So much great acting and directing in this movie.


it's weird. I never thought much of Teresa Wright outside of this movie and after watching it, I feel I may have underestimated her. Curious to see a few of her key things again.

adri said...

I've never seen The best Years of Your Life, but this commentary really makes me want to see it.

It's been a long time since I've seen Driving Miss Daisy. I remember liking how happy Dan Ackroyd was in the movie, as if he had achieved his acting dream and was grateful for every moment. I liked that his dream was to act with the best actors in the world in a serious piece. His comedy skills of listening and adaptiveness were useful here.

I also remember the violent smear campaign directed against the director of the movie. Think of "A Beautiful Mind" but more personal and vindictive.

On one side you had a kind of Clint Eastwood movie, professional set, on budget, etc. And on the other hand there were some Young Turk directors and their petty vitriolic followers, who ran over time, over budget, making movies that didn't turn much of a profit.

These auteurs felt threatened by a movie that they felt had no right to exist: about a woman and women don't count; (artistic meaningful movies are only about men); and old women should shut up and be invisible; and African-Americans should have minor roles and die in the first reel.

Consider the buffer that someone like Eastwood has against his backlash - industry respect, insider status, track record. Miss Daisy's director was an outsider and an Australian, and had no buffer. How often does a Best Picture have no nomination for Best Director? How often does directing a Best Picture mean that you'll be blacklisted and sidelined for the rest of your career?

Beresford has delicacy and restraint, and knows how to step back to give the characters some room. He is also gifted in narrative, whether the film is plot heavy or plot light, he moves it along and paces it. Also, like some other Australians, there's enough nonjudgemental space around the characters that anything can happen: dementia, sudden death, gunfight, attack.

I think that the vicious gossip directed against Bruce Beresford backfired in some ways, making the movie more honored than it would have been otherwise. The sexism, racism and ageism of the New Hollywood pampered director brats (who expected other people to pay for and indulge their genius) was rejected by Old Hollywood. And those brats had to shape up to get financing - that was one message.

And maybe Old Hollywood wanted more movies like the Best Years of Our Lives (from what I've read here), where humanism wasn't seen as an old-fashioned liability.

000 said...

Nathaniel, go ahead and Netflix Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" if you haven't already seen it. Teresa Wright is phenomenal in it.

Oh, and guys..."Gentleman's Agreement" AND "Rain Man" next time? I don't think you'll have two worst movies paired together in this series.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

I know I'm late to the conversation here, but I have just have to say that Driving Miss Daisy is the middle picture of the worst three year run of Best Picture winners ever. Dances With Wolves, Driving Miss Daisy, and Rain Man. I can't decide which is worse. They're all awful in their own sloppy minded ways.

Of the five nominees, My Left Foot is definitely the best movie. It doesn't really have any flaws. It's just a "small movie." I remember reading at the time that it got kind of a late start in the conciousness of the Academy and if voting had been delayed a couple of weeks, it would have won.

The only other decent movie at all is Born On The Fourth Of July which is at least a visually exciting movie. It seems well directed if a bit "obvious."

About The Best Years of Our Lives - rarely has a topical movie actually one in the year its subject matter was topical. Usually it's 10 or 20 years later. I'm still shocked the Academy got it right that year.

I found (and find) Harold Russell's performance to be terrific. Very naturalistic and more like a foreign film performance a la Bicycle Thief or Open City or something.

Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, and Fredric March are just great actors period.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Did I really say "one" instead of "won?" Must be the cough syrup.

NicksFlickPicks said...

@Adri: I lived very consciously through the '89 release, and though Daisy and Beresford certainly had fierce detractors, your diatribe here makes almost no sense otherwise. The only "young Turk" director I remember who roundly came out against Daisy was Spike Lee, who obviously doesn't think African-American characters should have minor roles and die in the first reel. Who else are you talking about? And Beresford hardly lost his career after Daisy; he followed up with one of his strongest efforts, Black Robe, and went on to direct a truly out-of-nowhere smash in Double Jeopardy. He's had an extremely uneven career, I'll grant you, but that has as much to do with his dubious choices of material and execution, I would venture, as with some petty, vitriolic cabal of spendthrifts and bigots. I'm not even sure he's interested in fostering a huge Hollywood career. His tastes seem pretty rangy, only occasionally going in for director-for-hire gigs. I thought he did a nice job with the humanism but also the logistical demands of Paradise Road, so maybe we can agree there.

@000: Believe me, we all have night-sweats about having to deal with GA and RM in tandem. Thank God for a while after we get at least one film to look forward to in the subsequent pairings. Mostly. Whatever. It won't be this bad again anytime soon. I'm reminding myself as a mantra.

@Dave: Thanks for such a rich comment, and I am totally with you on the relative merits of the '89 contenders. In comparing Russell's performance to those we see in Rossellini or De Sica films of the same decade, I wonder if you aren't comparing a philosophy about onscreen realism (capturing people untrained or barely trained as actors, contending with circumstances not unlike those they face in life) more than you are comparing approaches to character. I don't see a lot of similarity between how Russell acts and how, say, the key figures in Bicycle Thieves or Open City act, but I definitely see a corollary in the films' desire to get at "real situations" and "real people" - particularly when we watch Russell struggle with his clothing or unscrew a Coke bottle or otherwise inhabit the world as a double-amputee.

cal roth said...

But Russell's performance is not Hollywood. I got the foreign feeling, too. Not neo-realism, but, as a said before, a Japanese vibe. Something studio-bound, but understated, calm, not that controlled. That's what I meant when I mentioned Ozu.

James T said...

I just finished The Best Years.. and I've seen Driving Miss Daisy a year+ ago so I'm ready for the party!
Is anyone still here? I hope so.

I don't really want to stay on the DMD subject so i'll be short. I liked it a lot when i saw it and i just realised i gave it a grade that might be higher than the one i'm about to give The Best Years. But that probably means that my grading system is problematic b/c i admired Best Years much, much more.

Anyway, i don't remember DMD that clearly so i can't really debate and your criticisms seemed potetnially fair and certainly interesting, as always.

(big spoilers)

On to The Best Years of Our Lives..
Aware of it, but unable to do anything about it, i was prepared to be disappointed even though i hoped i'd love it.
Thankfully, i quickly realised how strong this movie had the potential to be. I cried at the scene when Homer's parents see him and at some point notice the hooks.

And the moment Myrna Loy realises this is/might be her husband having returned, is GREAT! We didn't even need to see her face!

There were many witty/insightful/funny lines and just in the right places and with the restraint and accuracy i liked them to be delivered.

Myrna Loy is just exceptional? Not nominated? Given the adoration for the film?? Insanity!

I liked how in the last scene, we see Peggy and Fred looking at each other when the priest (he's a priest, right?) says (sorry for the lame verb) the vows. It's like the movie tells us that four people are being united in that moment. Well, two pairs of people, that is :p

And i also like how Wright seemed almost fascinated by the, on the surface, not very joyful predictions for their future made by Fred.

James T said...

Now.. i do have some problems with the film. But minor ones.

Cathy O'Donnell's and, partly, Teresa Wright's performances kind of frustrated me. O'Donnell seemed to only be able to look fragile. She wasn't bad at it, and most of the time that's what she had to do but it was just ALL THE TIME!
In the scene when she assures him/us she wants to be with Homer no matter what, she should have shown more strength and determination.
And Wright was pretty good half the time but there were moments when it seemed she didn't know what to do and i really hated the way she conveyed sadness/melancholy. "Stop doing that thing with your face!" i shouted but she ignored me.

Also, i know it wasn't exactly a competition between her and Fred's wife, but did she have to be that selfish? We get it, Peggy is the one we should be rooting for. Though i liked how the movie did't feel the need to punish her in the end and/or make Fred eventually find a great job and be hugely successfull.

I have a problem with the whole Fred-Peggy-Al thing. We have two people who are in love with each other but there seems to be a big problem - he's married - and that problem is also the reason Fred and Al's relationship goes into a crisis. So, how did the movie fix that? Fred's wife decided she's had enough and divorces him. Everything is fine now! But.. was it THAT simple? Because you (the movie) certainly didn't make me think so. Oh yes, and he might have gone away (another problem) if only he hadn't seen those airplanes (another problem fixed).

It bothered me less than i probably made it seem.

Overall, very good movie (the things it got right are 20 times as many as the things it didn't) and a great discussion by the three of you! Thank you so much :)

adri said...

@Nick - first, I apologize for going on forever. I've been out in the mountains for a week, without reading, being online, etc. and the fresh air must have rotted my brain.

I'm sure you remember that era better than I do - maybe because it was the first time I'd ever read comments detracting against an Oscar contender that it seemed so strong to me. And I was very disappointed in the people that I read making those comments - I'd always respected them. But I guess that just naiveness talking.

Again, my apologies.

A.R. said...

I haven't seen Driving Miss Daisy since I was a kid, so I don't really feel capable of making a full assessment. I suppose I thought it was good at the time, but rather hokey.

I did see The Best Years of Our Lives earlier this year and mostly like it, though the sentimentality of the melodrama is a bit much at certain points. Overall it's a great film of the era, in no small part because of Toland's cinematography. Wow. But I agree with the general consensus on the performances. Russell is definitely the weakest link, but his presence does add something to the film overall.


A.R. -- Toland really did add so much to every film. Certainly near the tippity top of cinematographers from any era in terms of his contributions to cinema.

JAMES T -- you know. i hadn't thought about the plot moves in that way but I understand what you're saying because i usually hate it when plot things work out so nicely/neatly. But that said, i do think the film was clear eyed enough to get away with this becaues i think enough problems have been underlined with Fred that you sense this new (presumed) marriage won't necessarily be without its own bumps.

but... i LOVE what you say about Wright's performance and I totally agree (in terms of her being fascinated by hardship) and for that reason I buy the relationship fully. I do think she as an actress was making specific choices that totally show you how Fred, being f***edup is exactly what she wants. I'm not saying she's an adrenaline or drama junkie but i think she doesn't want a safe life.

does that make sense?

Adri & Nick -- i had no idea about much of this but as i believe i mentioned earlier i left the country around the time the oscar hoopla was starting. but it's interesting to read the different takes about Beresford. It is an awfully weird career.

classicfilmboy said...

All I can say is "The Best Years of Our Lives" is one of my favorite movies of all time. Bravo for a brilliant discussion. When the realism of war began showing up in films like "Platoon" or "Saving Private Ryan," it gave me new respect for what "Best Years" did with the Dana Andrews character. Fred has nightmares, he has flashbacks, and while the audience never sees what he experienced during the war, I applaud the filmmakers for dealing with it so well within Fred's storyline. Today I think it's one of the movie's strengths. I also like how Fredric March's son is less than enamored of the "souvenirs" dear old dad brought back with him. Again, it was unexpected considering the rah-rah patriotism at the time. Every actor is superb. It's a time capsule film that gives us a glimpse into another era without feeling dusty today. Brilliant.