The French Connection

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The French Connection

1971:

  • January: Idi Amin stages a coup in Uganda and becomes president
  • July: the first e-book, a copy of the US Declaration of Independence is published on the University of Illinois mainframe, marking the start of Project Gutenberg
  • October: Walt Disney World opens in Orlando, Florida

Trivia:

The French Connection was the first R-rated film to win Best Picture.

Will:

The French Connection is not the kind of film I would expect to enjoy, so it wasn’t surprising to me when I didn’t. But it doesn’t even seem to contain the redeeming features I would expect of a supposed crime thriller. It was slow paced and dull. A scene where a character keeps getting on and off a subway train to lose the cop tailing him particularly comes to mind as an example of an overlong and exceedingly poorly paced scene. Suspense is – for me – normally a redeeming feature of the genre, but The French Connection was mostly lacking in this most basic of requirements for a thriller. I was thoroughly bored throughout.

Rating: 2/10

Mark:

I was really disappointed with The French Connection as it is the kind of film I like and it has Gene Hackman in it, who is awesome. I’d expected something much grittier and suspenseful, but most of it felt pretty throwaway and uninteresting. Obviously the car chase is brilliant, but this didn’t have the panache and excitement that many cop films have. I think the screen play could have benefited from being slightly tighter as often bits felt slightly tangential and/or accidental to the main story.

Rating: 3/10

Combined rating: 2.5/10


Ordinary People

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Ordinary People

1980:

  • January: Six United States diplomats, posing as Canadians, manage to escape from Tehran, Iran. The event is later made into the film Argo, which won Best Picture for 2012.
  • April: Six Iranian-born terrorists take over the Iranian embassy in London.
  • October: Margaret Thatcher declares that ‘the lady’s not for turning’.

Trivia:

Timothy Hutton was the youngest person to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, aged just 20 when Ordinary People was released.

Will:

Ordinary People is a compelling and forensic depiction of the breakdown of a family’s ability to relate to each other, as they are torn apart following the accidental death of the eldest son. The process as Conrad, younger brother and survivor of the accident, struggles to come to terms with his grief and the guilt he feels is moving and gripping in equal measure. The swirling mix of grief, frustration and anger is explosive and makes Ordinary People an exceptional film, without ever being overstated.

Rating: 7/10

Mark:

A very moving film that centres around Conrad Jarrett, a young teenager who has tried to kill himself and has only recently returned to ‘normal’ life. The film follows Conrad and his family as he – and they – try to readjust. Timothy Hutton gives an extraordinary performance as Conrad; he hits the right notes in every scene and provides a fascinating insight into a delicate mind. One particular scene with Conrad and Dr Berger (a brilliant turn from Judd Hirsch) is one of the best things I’ve seen on screen; a genuinely moving argument about how we relate to those who’ve left us. The strength of the film is in its challenge of the American idyll; the Jarrett’s are an affluent family who are well connected and enjoy many privileges. Ordinary People explores the lengths people are willing to go to to maintain their ‘normal’ life. A very good film.

Rating: 8/10

Combined rating: 7.5/10


Annie Hall

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Annie Hall

1977:

  • February: Fleetwood Mac release Rumours
  • June: Celebrations are held for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee
  • October: The last natural case of smallpox is discovered in Somalia, the disease is accordingly considered eradicated

Trivia:

Diane Keaton’s nickname is Annie; her maiden name is Hall.

Will:

I remember friends raving about Annie Hall when I was at university. Their ebullient enthusiasm made me wonder what the fuss was about; having seen Annie Hall, I’m now left with the same feeling. While not unfunny in parts, this is a frustrating film, particularly in the way it plays fast and loose with structure. Add to this the fact that Woody Allen is incessantly irritating, and you are left with a somewhat disappointing and severely over-hyped film.

Rating: 5/10

Mark:

It is difficult to write the review for Annie Hall as it is some time since we watched it and I can’t really remember anything that happened. I don’t remember disliking the film and I found bits of it pretty funny, but I also don’t remember any bits of it that I loved. It just felt a bit ‘meh’. I’ve subsequently read the Wikipedia plot summary and it hasn’t really triggered any emotions, which makes it very atypical of the other best pictures we’ve seen. I do remember it feeling a little dull and over-analytical for my taste; it was mildly funny but hardly a masterpiece.

Rating: 4/10

Combined rating: 4.5/10


The Bridge on the River Kwai

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The Bridge on the River Kwai

1957:

  • March: The Treaty of Rome establishes the European Economic Community, the precursor to the European Union
  • September: The Wolfenden report is published, recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality
  • October: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth

Trivia:

Footage of the climactic (and unrepeatable) scene went missing, and turned up a week later on airport tarmac in Cairo, sat in the hot Egyptian sun. Miraculously, the film was undamaged by the heat, even though it should have been completely destroyed.

Will:

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a film of perfectly balanced tensions and divided loyalties. In these it divides our loyalties too; leading us to sympathise both with the Japanese and Allied Forces. We never for a moment question Lt. Colonel Nicholson’s motives, although we can see the consequences of his actions. Even so, the film’s famous climax is dramatic and shocking, revealing both Nicholson’s complicity and – as an audience – our own.

Rating: 8/10

Mark:

An absolutely superb war film that told the story of a railway bridge built by British prisoners of war. It is able to combine epic scenes with very intimate and personal moments with ease, and brilliantly demonstrates an unusual bout of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ with Lt Colonel Nicholson. There really wasn’t much to dislike about The Bridge on the River Kwai and I’d happily watch it again and again.

Rating: 9/10

Combined rating: 8.5/10


Argo

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Argo

2012:

  • April: Claire Squires dies while running the London marathon, over £1 million is donated to the Samaritans in her memory
  • July: The Olympic Games open in London
  • November: Felix Baumgartner becomes the first person to break the sound barrier without any machine assistance during a record space dive 24 miles (39 kilometers) over Roswell, New Mexico

Trivia:

The phony Hollywood production office at the core of the CIA plan proved so convincing that even weeks after the rescue was complete and the office had folded, it received 26 scripts, including one from Steven Spielberg.

Will:

Argo‘s premise is brilliant, and it’s surprising that such a seemingly outlandish idea is taken from real-life. However, the execution never lives up to it. The extraction itself is made to seem ridiculously simple; I’m sure such must genuinely be more complicated than taking a few polaroid photographs. And any attempt that is used to make it seem like a closer run thing just results in the bluntest of attempts at creating suspense. For me, though, the biggest issue is that the more interesting story is left untold. I was left wanting to know more of the plight of the hostages in the American Embassy in Tehran. And I can’t help but feel that that would be both a better and a more emotional story.

Rating: 6/10

Mark:

Argo is a relatively simple ‘look at how clever the American spies are’ movie, with suitably ridiculous suspense thrown in for good measure. The high point was the fake Hollywood studio and the humour elicited from the big science fiction movies of the time. The major low point was the complete failure to try and explore the reactions and feelings of the Iranian people, who were effectively all (with the exception of one female) depicted as slightly crazed Anti-American homogenous loons. I actually enjoyed Argo; it is the kind of movie I’d watch anyway, it told a story in a clear and effective way and it built the tension up. The problem I had was that the premise (trying to free endangered Americans using a fake film company) is so brilliant that I felt the rest of the film didn’t do it – or indeed the real life events – justice. I imagine there will be another version of this story in the future that is more historically accurate, but for now Argo is perfectly fine. Nothing extraordinary, but certainly not bad.

Rating: 6/10

Combined rating: 6/10


Amadeus

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Amadeus

1984:

  • January: The Macintosh personal computer goes on sale
  • April: Researchers in the United States announce their discovery of the AIDS virus
  • November: Band Aid records ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

Trivia:

When presenting the Best Picture award to Amadeus, Laurence Olivier simply walked up to the podium, opened the envelope and read the winner; he neglected to read the list of nominees first.

Will:

Amadeus is a triumph. It is a film that is full of energy and excitement, colour and character. The central performances from Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham, as Mozart and Salieri, seem effortless in their humour and nuance; they are the jewel in the metaphorical crown. I couldn’t help being dazzled and exuberantly intoxicated by it, as Mozart is by Vienna. Amadeus willingly swept me up with its virtuoso story-telling and comedy.

Rating: 9/10

Mark:

One of the joys of watching every Best Picture is that sometimes you come across a film you wish you’d seen many times before. Amadeus is such a film. Funny, interesting and tense; it tells a brilliant story of creative genius and the emotions that such creativity sparks in others. An absolute triumph and a film I will certainly watch again.

Rating: 9/10

Combined rating: 9/10


Gone with the Wind

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Gone with the Wind

1939:

  • April: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is published
  • August: The Wizard of Oz premieres at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
  • September: Germany invades Poland, marking the beginning of the Second World War

Trivia:

Gone with the Wind was the first colour film to win Best Picture.

Will:

Gone with the Wind is simply too long. That is its main flaw. And yet it still tries to cram far too much into the bloated 220 minute runtime. If ever an adaptation of a book merited a mini-series, it would seem that this is it, if only for the pace and space it would provide for story telling. That aside, I’m still not sure I’d enjoy it. I simply can’t find any sympathy for its characters or their plight; Scarlet O’Hara is an especially unsympathetic character. After battling my way through nearly four hours, I couldn’t help but find myself agreeing with Clark Gable’s immortal line; frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Rating: 4/10

Mark:

Gone with the Wind was my mum’s favourite film, and so it is with some regret that I declare it a bit of a bore. It is a frustrating film; too long overall with a meandering plot, it centres around fairly annoying and unsympathetic lead characters who invariably take frustrating decisions. Worse than that though is that it felt like (at least) three separate films awkwardly joined together with little attention paid to the viewer and their experience. Perhaps in the world of sequels and film franchises, I’ve become too used to separate storylines that neatly conclude at the end of one film, but as a viewer I like to be told a story in an interesting way, and that doesn’t apply to Gone with the Wind.

Rating: 4/10

Combined rating: 4/10


Lobbying the Lords

This lunchtime I went and posted letters to several members of the House of Lords asking them to support the marriage bill. As it has it’s second reading in the Lords on Monday, it couldn’t be more important than now to write to some Lords and encourage them to support the bill.

You can easily contact members of the Lords via WriteToThem, and for some inspiration I’ve included my own missive below:

Dear Lord X,

I wanted to take the opportunity to write and ask you to support the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. I could make a deeply personal and emotive appeal to you – marriage equality would mean a great deal to my partner and I – but I’d like to focus instead on the benefit to society.

This debate has demonstrated how important marriage is to society. The commitment that marriage entails doesn’t just strengthen individual relationships, but society more broadly. It fosters stability and is a public demonstration of love and commitment. As marriage makes society stronger, it follows that allowing all couples to marry, regardless of their gender, will make it stronger still.

By backing the bill with such a sizeable majority, the House of Commons sent a signal to LGBT men and women that they are valued and accepted. This message matters. Attitudes towards homosexuality have undoubtedly progressed enormously, but the effect of the prejudice that remains is severe: gay and bisexual men are 7.5 times more likely to attempt suicide for example.

This untold tragedy is the consequence of a society where homophobic language is endemic in schools and LGBT men and women are implicitly told that they are lesser. This bill triumphantly declares that this is untrue. By legally recognising that same- and opposite-sex relationships are equally valid, we will open the door to visible, committed same-sex marriages that reinforce this message.

I can’t ignore the topic of religion; it’s clearly important to respect religious belief. The Church of England has said the so-called quadruple locks ‘do what they are intended to’, i.e. protect religious groups from being forced to marry same-sex couples. But it also allows groups who wish to marry same-sex couples to do so.

The voices of religious group in support of marriage equality have been drowned out by a very vocal minority; we cannot allow the religious freedom of one group to trump another’s. I use the term minority advisedly. Polling consistently shows that a majority support marriage equality; YouGov’s most recent poll shows 54% support and 37% opposition. This support rises as high as 74% among 18-24 year olds.

Opponents of marriage equality argue that we shouldn’t redefine marriage. In reality, marriage is an institution that has always evolved to reflect society. Polling shows that society’s definition has and continues to expand to include same-sex couples. The time is right for our legal definition of marriage to reflect that.

I urge you to support the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at its second reading on Monday 3 June.

Yours sincerely,
Will Knock


The Hurt Locker

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The Hurt Locker

2009:

The Hurt Locker was first released in 2008, but won the award for 2009.

  • April: outbreak of a new strain of the H1N1 influenza virus, commonly known as Swine Flu, in Mexico
  • June: Michael Jackson dies after suffering a cardiac arrest
  • December: The Lisbon Treaty comes into effect in the European Union

Trivia:

The Hurt Locker is the lowest grossing best picture when adjusted for inflation ($14 million)

Will:

With The Hurt Locker, the Academy returns once more to its preoccupation with war. This is admittedly a very different type and view of warfare portrayed, the bomb disposal squad at the film’s heart being thrilled by it. This is carefully, if somewhat predictably, juxtaposed by the death around them and the effect it has on them. In this way The Hurt Locker takes us too on a roller coaster ride, from adrenaline filled intensity to the shock of sudden and brutal death. In the end though, The Hurt Locker felt overlong to me, primarily because it is too repetitive. This holds it back from excellence for me.

Rating: 6.5/10

Mark:

The Hurt Locker is an impressive film that details the workings and interactions of a small group of bomb disposal experts in the US Army. The clever use of close, frenzied camera shots and movements and unbearable tension amongst the characters gives the film a claustrophobic feel that very few war films manage. The film does a brilliant job of ensuring that the brutality and sheer danger of war is conveyed, and I particularly enjoyed the bits that explored the motivations of the main characters and the impact the war has had on them. In the end the film falls down a little by becoming a little predictable and obvious towards the end; the random and slightly disjointed feel of the beginning felt more realistic and – frankly – more interesting; but it’s a very impressive film.

Rating: 7.5/10

Combined rating: 7/10


The Departed

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The Departed

2006:

  • April: President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirms that Iran has successfully produced a few grams of low-grade enriched uranium
  • July: Twitter is launched
  • December: Saddam Hussein is executed

Trivia:

The Departed is a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film, Internal Affairs; it is the only remake to win best picture.

Will:

Directed by Martin Scorsese, and with a cast to die for, it’s inevitable that The Departed is sure to satisfy. It is a very enjoyable thriller, but there is a lot of interest going on beneath this. Not least among this is the impact that living under a false identity has, with the effectively mirrored roles played by Leonardo di Caprio and Matt Damon leading to the same destruction of the body to reflect the destruction of the self. This is highly effective and is one example of how The Departed is elevated beyond pure thriller.

Rating: 8/10

Mark:

I really enjoyed The Departed, a tense thriller with great performances and good twists and turns. It helped that I knew nothing about it before we watched it, so I was able to enjoy it free of any prior knowledge. I must confess this is the kind of film I’d go and see at the cinema, so my rating is probably a little high, but I think it is one of the best of what is a pretty extensive genre. Plus it has Leo in it, which always gets a bonus mark.

Rating: 8/10

Combined rating: 8/10