Wednesday, July 30, 2008

And Busby Berkeley would sh*t, I know...

"To see 42nd Street billed below /
Drab ol' /
(bum, bum-bum, doo-di-doo...)

NICK: As we march through Best Pictures from the Outside In, we learn that certain maneuvers can always help if you're trying to net an Oscar. Grand visual scale. Weighty historical themes. But perhaps none is so effective as a one-word title that starts with C. You think I kid, but: Casablanca won Best Picture despite being over a year old at the time, and despite being the kind of timeless popular classic that inevitably loses. Crash won despite the Brokeback momentum and a low critical profile. Cimarron won with literally nothing on its side except the C thing. Chocolat and Cleopatra earned jaw-dropper nominations for no earthly reason. Cabaret came thiiiis close to swiping the top prize from The freaking Godfather. Shit, this trick even worked for Cher.

Certainly, this tried 'n' true shortcut to glory has to explain part of the Chicago and Cavalcade phenoms. Chicago had ace timing and good tonal judgment on its side: riding the crest of the musicals' resurgence; boisterous but still snarky (for the kids!); radiating a kind of holiday-season pedigree without being a downer like The Hours and The Pianist, or a head-scratcher like Talk to Her or Adaptation, or full of fat old naked people like About Schmidt. But you don't have to look long at Chicago, especially at its faux locations and its odd cast, to see how much Miramax was skimping on this production while hemorrhaging money into Gangs of New York, at least before Harvey realized somewhere around Christmas Eve that he'd bet on the wrong reindeer.

Still, if Chicago is, like its two snake-skinned protagonists, a slightly tattered winner, Cavalcade is a case of blatant, unremitting, left-the-house-but-forgot-to-put-pants-on Folly. I'm going to leave it to my brethren in arms to start the autopsy on this one, but bear this in mind, all of you: since 1932-33 was the "bridge year" ceremony between the old August-to-July Oscar timetable and the new, more sensible calendar-year plan, AMPAS had 18 months of movies to choose from, and they went ... with ... this. What can we even say? Or do I speak too soon? Are there Cavalcade fans in the hizzouse? I concede that it has some great hats, and the camera never once fell off the tripod.

NATHANIEL: Didn't it? It sure as hell would have been easy to disguise a falling camera amidst Cavalcade's interminable swirling montages of TIME PASSING that start to eat up the film's running time the closer it gets to the end—which, in a gimmicky narrative trick, is also New Year's Day 1933... the year the film came out.

Theoretically, I have nothing against "political as personal" narratives, the kind of intimate journey that's actually a historical drama, but you have to be so careful with them. If they aren't masterfully handled, they can read as so gimmicky and simplistic in their self absorption... Cavalcade was basically Forrest Gump for people who prefer Noel Coward and tea time to Tom Hanks and chocolate boxes.

GOATDOG, né MIKE: Well, it's clear that the reason why the camera never fell off the tripod is that Diana Wynyard was keeping such a close eye on it. Why did she keep looking at the camera, guys?

NICK: I assumed she had spotted a shiny quarter on the ground, somewhere to the right of the camera crew, and she was nervous someone would scoop it before Frank Lloyd yelled 'Cut.' (Ed.: More thoughts about the 1933 Best Actress race here.)

MIKE: It creeped me out, especially when combined with that "Norma Shearer's not sure how to deliver this line" combination: chin tucked, eyes elevated, looking just a hair past the camera and intoning in a voice that's both breathy and congested. God, that's got to be serious stuff she's saying, because she looks like she might fall over with the weight of all that seriousness (not to mention the seriousity). I swear, this is the worst nominated performance I've ever seen, or at least that I've seen in a few weeks.

(Norma Shearer and Diana Wynyard engage in a brutal Far-Off Look-Off)

NATHANIEL: The First Lady of MGM and I are laughing off that lowball insult with our eyes crossed and heads thrown back. And besides: there's nevermore to be any question about which is the worst nominated performance of all time. That "honor" goes out to Richard Dix of Cimarron. How soon we forget, Goatdog. How soon we forget.

MIKE: Ouch! Why'dya have to bring up Cimarron again, Nathaniel? I was obviously doing such a good job of forgetting it even exists.

But back to Cavalcade. I'm totally with both of you that this botches the "let's look at exactly 33 years of history through this one family" thing in every possible way. What events do we get? The Boer War, the Titanic (surely the worst scene in the film—all that unintentionally silly foreboding dialogue), and World War I, with a handful of throwaway scenes inserted where someone walks on camera, mentions some historical personage, and walks off, leaving one of the film's increasingly shitty montages in his or her wake. So here's my challenge: say something nice about Cavalcade that doesn't involve hats or tripods. I dare ya. I'll start: I liked the old biddy who hangs around in the kitchen, who's always telling dire tales of woe.

NICK: Is this the "Little Bit of Good in Everyone" game? I guess I didn't hate what Herbert Mundin and reliable scarecrow Una O'Connor were doing with their roles as the loyal housekeepers—that is, early in the film, when their emotions had some layering and their relations with the Marryots seemed interestingly ambiguous. But then, the director and the script conspire to push both actors to garish extremity after the first forty minutes or so. Does that still count? Nathaniel, got a better one?

NATHANIEL: There's a moment late in the picture that I do like. It's not giving us the old razzle dazzle—it's just a simple quiet touch. The news has arrived that there's a new war in town, World War I. The youngest son shares his patriotic enthusiasm but his mother, who's already lost one child, can't. She's silent and looks devastated yet what you hear is the cheering from the crowds outside her window. It's an effective juxtaposition, and for a moment the movie had me. But then Wynyard spoils it by going into a bad speech that essentially explains the dichomoty we've just felt in beautiful miniature.

Otherwise, hmmm. I love the posh accents? The way everyone keeps saying "marvelous." In truth, though, I found Cavalcade much easier to sit through than Cimarron because when it's bad, it's bad in an entertaining way. I love the unintentionally subversive, nearly incestuous sexuality. There's far too few characters for a film meant to represent every part of English history, so all the adult lovers began their relationships as childhood playmates. Sick! And I actually loved the Titanic scene for its demented determinist chutzpah. I saw it coming but I just couldn't believe they were going to go there... And they did!

The movie is awful but it's awful in that egomaniacal, forceful way that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the talentless ambitions of Roxie Hart. Cavalcade isn't going to quit until its final curtain call. It wants to tell you everything about British history as badly as Roxie wants to be a ce•leb•ri•ty / that means somebody everyone knows...

NICK: Indeed, Nathaniel. As Roxie and Velma sing in this version, "We move on..."

MIKE: Is this where I say Renée Zellweger is by far the best thing in Chicago, aside from the editing? And the fact that she can't really dance all that well, and has a passable singing voice, is just marvelous, since she's playing "a two-bit talent with skinny legs"? Because this is where I'm saying it. She nails that character, the way she slips between wide-eyed naïveté and street-smart sass, and as long as she avoids doing that squinting thing (maybe her eyes are crossed like Norma's, but she's smart enough to hide it), she's a joy to watch. Certainly light years ahead of a certain Oscar-winning costar who can dance and sing but forgets to make her character interesting. Renée wasn't the best Best Actress nominee in 2002 (have to go with Julianne Moore), but she's higher on my list than Nicole Kidman's nose.

NICK: The contrast in my first two viewings of Chicago still summarizes what I admire about it and what I don't. On opening day, in the huge and gaudy/splendid Clearview Ziegfeld in New York City, with a sold-out crowd squeezed in among all the red velvet walls and sitting before the huge screen, Chicago was spectacular entertainment. Energetic, sleek-looking, designed for 100% entertainment in the moment. And I agree that Renée aced the daydreaminess but also the brittleness and smallness of Roxie. A great audience surrogate, selling the conceit of Roxie's "mind's eye" with no problem—partially through her own newness to the genre but also through some really smart acting, especially in her book scenes.

Two months later, in a smaller, gummier theater, with my partner, who totally cares about musical execution and coherent physical performance in a way that I don't, Chicago looked slipshod and a little desperate. It had a bag of old Fosse tricks and hand-me-down lighting designs that were just enough to get by—but, anachronistically, one could imagine Michael Kors spotting all of its last-minute hems and crooked seams, and Nina Garcia admitting that she was bored. And the major performers seemed either in over their heads (Zellweger, Gere, Reilly) or capably but joylessly hitting her marks, and only intermittently connecting with her colleagues (I'm with you, 'Dog).

I still see both Chicagos: the zesty and formidable good-time machine and the patchy first-timer production that's still looking for an overall shape and a richer, more integrated troupe. Although, either way, I always hate "Razzle Dazzle," and I always love that guns-blazing finale.

NATHANIEL: Preferring Roxie to Velma, boys? 'Whatever Happened to Class?' Oh, sorry. That's a deleted number there, lost from stage to screen. I get that Renée understands Roxie as a character, and I still admire that she snagged her first two nominations for comedic work (not easy to do), but I just... can't agree.

See, I fall into Nick's partner's school of feeling when it comes to this genre. I need the proper skills exhibited. I care not a whit about verisimilitude of character in these cases. I want the full razzle dazzle of skilled performers when it comes to musicals... even if the characters aren't supposed to have great skill. You can hear the opposite complaint about Renée in Chicago in various critiques of Liza Minnelli in Cabaret. The reasoning goes that Liza is way too skilled to be playing Sally Bowles, who is a minor league performer. But I say, ALWAYS err on the side of too good when it comes to musicals. Musicals live or die by their numbers, so they need to be great even if the characters aren't. Cabaret is one of the greatest musicals of all time, but if they had cast for a performer representing Sally's supposed skill level, it couldn't have been.

I agree that "Razzle Dazzle" is a disaster of direction (and everything else), but that final number, for all its energy—I love the lights and gunfire—actually hurts me more in a "what could have been" way. Catherine Zeta-Jones moves like a real musical theater performer, and I love her every twist, hair toss, and gesture. But Renée just keeps spoiling the lines and frame. It makes me crazy... her characterization be damned.

NICK: What about "We Both Reached for the Gun," Nathaniel? I find that to be the most complete and charmingly mounted number in the movie, and Renée really sells the dummy act (helpful practice for her Cold Mountain perf, where she moved her mouth perfectly to Elly May Clampett's voice.) Anyway, if you're going to spring for Zellweger anywhere in the film, might it be here?

I totally take your points, and remember hearing them from D–––– many times in my kitchen, in my living room, while taking out the trash, et al. But for me, what a musical performer most needs to do is serve the film and the ensemble. Zellweger's uncertain, occasionally storky dancing totally works for Roxie, and she's giving her all, whatever that might be, to THIS movie. CZJ barely looks at Roxie, ever, and seems all the while like she's claiming a fiefdom over all starring roles in all future musicals, and assuaging her boredom in book scenes by imagining where she'll store her fan letters and her inevitable Oscar. Of course I admit that she's not bad, just chilly. I am surprised she has gotten no musical work since this (and not much work, period).

NATHANIEL: In an opposing way we're both coming from the same place. I see your "Renée sells it as Roxie might" and raise you a "CZJ ferociously (and yes, coldly) demands it only for herself, just as Velma would."

NICK: Point: Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL: Either way, I think they're an engaging, thorny duo, and I like the movie quite a bit for all of its half successes. But how about that Fanny Bridges in Cavalcade for a musical/comedy trio? She's a star across the pond, 'round about the same time as that killer diller double act in Chicago. Velma and Roxie would eat her alive but I love that both Velma and Fanny are hanging on desperately to old acts. Velma is coming at it practically—hey, it used to work, viz. "My sister and I had an act that couldn't flop"—but what's Fanny's excuse? She's still peddling the same exact dance moves she was rehearsing when she was an eight-year-old.

MIKE: And the clouds parted—I never realized that they're basically contemporaries. What a bizarre contrast. Fanny's obviously being presented as a successful act, which is so mind-boggling, because she's so terrible, singing about the blues in her high, clear voice and ruffles, kicking her legs up. She don't know from the blues, despite the fact that she's just endured most of Cavalcade's running time. Am I a bad person for hoping that one of those zeppelin bombs would solve her career problems for her?

NICK: Let's make this act five-wide, throw in the Mahoney Sisters from The Broadway Melody, and give Velma and Roxie some more options about how to use those automatics.

MIKE: Re: Renée, though, I guess I'm expressing my admiration for this awkward performance in this particular role. There's no way I would extend any goodwill at all to Richard Gere's non-dancing and horribly affected singing; I'd like to pitch him out of the film, and I think his scenes lost a lot of energy when they depend on things he doesn't possess, like charm and ability. I'm lukewarm on Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly, too.

So we covered the RZ vs. CZJ point of contention; what do you think about the editing, which seemed to provoke a lot of arguments at the time? Even after repeat viewings, I think that's one of Oscar's smartest picks in that category in a long time. Despite the "I want to see a dancer complete a movement" complaints, and the argument that the editing was designed to disguise the fact that most of the cast couldn't dance very well, I think Martin Walsh was just going for something else entirely: he created something approaching full integration of body movements, music, and plot, to an extent that most musicals don't attempt—they tend to sit back and follow the performers. I think it's an amazing achievement, and it still carries me past some of the film's rough patches.

NICK: I generally like the editing: it's so fleet and suggestive so much of the time that you notice when the camera's just plopping back and gawking, or when a performer like Reilly isn't giving Walsh any interesting movements or angles to cut on. A few of the numbers do feel over-edited to me ("Cellblock Tango," for instance) but there are at least as many moments where that fusion you describe just pops off the screen. Renée and Dominic West's early, elated romp in the bed is one. Her projection of herself onto the stage in Velma's place is another, with those urgently interwoven push-ins. I agree that the editing, more than any other single contribution to the film, often supplies a verve and a sense of continuity to the movie that is always welcome, and often very exciting, even on a small screen.

NATHANIEL: I'm one of those grouches who likes to complain when the editing on musical films covers up for lumpy dancing... but otherwise, I basically agree with the points as stated. It's over-edited surely (the Richard Gere body-double tap-dance is a major sore point) but if editing has to work double duty as coverage, the least it could do is perform its work with verve and rhythm as Martin Walsh does here.

Speaking of editing... good cutting is all about communication and combinations. Chicago has it and the movie is compulsively watchable and compelling. Good cutting can make a picture cruise by. It may surprise you to hear how these pictures clock in. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, Cavalcade does not continue for centuries. It's curtains at 110 minutes. Curiously Chicago, fleet of foot even while dancing with clumsy ones, is actually 3 minutes longer. Cavalcade's cornucopia of contiguous catastrophes and current events needed Martin Walsh as badly as Chicago did.

And in closing... I concur: Oscar is crazy with C words. It's a conspiracy.

READERS, we love you. And you love us. And we love you for lovin' us... but we simply cannot do it alone. Don't make us feel like Mr. Cellophane. Chime in with your thoughts below, especially if you found some nugget of value in Cavalcade that we missed, or you'd like to take the stand for or against Chicago, or you can explain how Camille, Carrie, Clueless, Collateral, and Crank all inexplicably missed their dates with Best Picture.

Stats: Cavalcade was nominated for four Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Art Direction. Chicago was nominated for thirteen and won six: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Zeta-Jones), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound.

This Week: Nathaniel's tie-in entry
Previously: ep.1: Wings & No Country; ep.2: Broadway Melody & Departed; ep.3: All Quiet & Crash; ep.4: Cimarron & Million Dollar Baby; ep.5: Grand Hotel & LOTR:ROTK

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Blogger Catherine said...

Funniest installment yet, guys. For real, the "Diana Wynyard staring at the quarter" part had me in stitches (not to mention, Mike's 'seriousity') and now I'm dying to see this film. I'd never even heard of Calvacade before, but I'm going to try and hunt this down. While perusing its page on the IMDB, I came upon a commentator's review which states "It is a golden cinematic treasure- waiting to be found anew for those who may know nothing of its existence." Right. Sounds like a keeper!

As for the more recent flick, it's been a while since I watched Chicago, and only once at that. I do remember prefering CZJ to RZ, much in the same vein as Nathaniel. She just looked so much more comfortable and sure footed, which is what I like to see while watching a musical. Still, Renee is absolutely fine and I quite like her in this, even though the music does very little for me.

I love this series, by the way. Totally forget it was due today and I was delighted when I logged on. Keep on fighting the good fight!

3:44 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger StinkyLulu said...

Ditto on the funnys, guys. (I think I'll be saying, "Shit, that explains Cher" for a good an Ellie Mae accent...whether I'm in the kitchen, or parking the car, or taking out the trash...)

Hee hee to the hee.

Sign me up for the Zellwegger favoritism, though. Though she's at times what one of my students calls "a little cracky", RZ grasping freneticism remains the dominant vibe for the film, of course, and I find I take most of my "style" cues from her and the editing. Perhaps as a result, CZJ's more lubricated affect always feels a little behind the beat. (And it's probably best that I not even discuss poor QL; she's a whole measure behind the others...)

And, gents, were you 3 to stage a special screening of Calvacade with your commentary as an additional audio track, I suspect we'd have a hit on our hands.

4:37 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

catherine thanks for the props... sometimes hugely ambitious efforts like this practically beg for more feedback than they get so it's nice to hear that you're playing along and delighted when you see a new eppy.

stinky ...speaking of hugely ambitious efforts. Would that we had all the time in the world. Surely a DVD commentary would be great fun for any number of pictures. Especially the bad ones!

5:02 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

and Nick. It's been a few days since we started this conversation but I am STILL giggling about your opening "...and the camera never once fell off the tripod"


5:33 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:41 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Catherine and @Stinky: Thanks, and thanks! I admit that we totally fished for compliments, but you would, too, if you had just watched Cavalcade.

@Nathaniel: And I am still marveling at my ability to forget about the soul-scraping horror of the scene where Not Richard Gere tap-dances. Even when I have just watched it. Clearly I can't preserve that memory and continue to function. Between this and the time my family and I stumbled into the 1,0008th round of cast replacements for the Broadway production—forcing us all to observe Huey Lewis as Billy Flynn—I'm wondering how much more abuse that role can take. Huey actually waited for applause after his voice cracked and quit, in an attempt to replicate that long James Naughton note at the end of "We Both Reached for the Gun." When he got none, which was eminently understandable, he made a rolling-hand motion, like, "Come on, audience!" And they went wild for him. At this moment, I got my money's worth, because I had a profound experience of Aristotelian pity and fear.

5:42 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger ctrout said...

My Ranking:

1. The Pianist - A
2. Chicago - A-
3. The Hours - B
4. The Two Towers - D-
5. Gangs of New York - D-

1. Smilin' Through - A-
2. I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang - A-
3. State Fair - B
4. Cavalcade - B
5. 42nd Street - B-
6. She Done Him Wrong - C+
7. Lady For a Day - C+
8. The Private Life of Henry VIII - C+
9. Little Women - C
10. A Farewell to Arms - C-

7:53 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Sean: We heartily agree on The Pianist, which I'm looking forward to re-screening before I see the new Polanski documentary. But the A– for Smilin' Through? You gotta say more about that! (I didn't re-screen that nominee in advance of this feature; I remember it as appealingly light, and as getting away with its high Corny Factor, but I've been a little reluctant to revisit it.)

8:03 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

(I tried to write A-, but the Unicode for short emdashes, like lots of other Unicode, doesn't seem to be working well in Comments fields these days...)

8:04 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger Hayden said...

I'm so happy Richard Gere missed out on that Best Actor nomination. It was an insulting campaign to suggest that he was actually even a leading player, let alone suggesting he deserved a spot in the 2002 lineup.

8:35 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

The only thing I'll say for Gere is that I do like it when actors go whole-hog for a kind of stylized performance, even when they don't bring it off, and even when I dislike the actual performance they come up with. I at least appreciate the chutzpah of going out on a limb, which it's so easy for famous actors not to do. Almost as easy as letting your stunt-double (and stunt-triple, I'd suspect) do all your dancing. But yeah, that Globe was embarrassing, and it was hard listening for a few weeks to talk of Gere's "snub."

8:45 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

I was waiting for this one (although I haven't seen Calvacade, I kinda want to now!teehee) because I absolutely love Chicago. Was my #2 film of 2002 behind Bowling for Columbine. I wrote on my own blog a while back after rewatching it that:

"It's strange, that out of the seven Academy Awards ceremonies so far this decade, the Chicago win is the one I am most happy about, yet for a lot of people it's one of - if not the - worst. Even if Brokeback Mountain had won last year, Chicago would be #1. Sure, Brokeback is the better movie, but as we all know, that movie had won everything under the sun so it's winning would have just been icing on the cake ... Chicago on the other hand, while being the frontrunner that year, really just makes me so happy that it won because it's a frivolous musical with no sympathetic characters! In this day and age that doesn't exactly scream BEST PICTURE to me. It still amazes me that it won."

And I stand my that. The Academy could have easily gone with the WW2 drama or the whatever, but they went with a musical about people shooting each other!! It's not tragic like, say, West Side Story or classically prestigeous like a Cabaret (even though that one lost Best Picture).

I really like Zellweger in it though, her "Roxie" number is probably my favourite of the while film, but Zeta-Jones is still tops. Love her in this movie. She has movie star chutzpa like she never had before (or has had since).

etc, I just love it. Oh, except for Gere. Yikes.

8:58 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

Oh, and I wanted to say that I am so glad Rob Marshall is directing Nine. I think he "gets" musicals for cinema much more than other directors who have tried recently. And considering how bad Memoirs of a Geisha was, I would much rather see him attempt something like Nine than, oh I dunno, a Coen Bros styled comedy.

8:59 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger Dame James said...

There's no doubt in my mind that Cavalcade is an awful film, but it's actually quite a bit of fun in all of its ridiculousness. Cavalcade is definitely more watchable than The Broadway Melody or Cimarron with it's silly plot and now hilarious look at the class system in Victorian Britain. Diana Wynyard, who obviously had her origins in the stage, is all kinds of awful here, but, thankfully, she eventually learned how to act in the movies for the 1940 version of Gaslight (and is actually better at certain points than Bergman in the 1944 version that won her an Oscar).

I have to agree with Glenn and say that the Chicago win is easily my favorite of the decade so far. After seeing the stage version and then comparing it to the film, you have to admit that Rob Marshall is a mad genius to change the structure so radically. He could have transferred it directly from Broadway a la The Producers, but, especially coming from a first-time director, his decisions made so much more sense. I loved RZ here, but the movie, to me, obviously belongs to CZJ. She gets all of the best numbers, her dancing is top notch and she is fierce long before Tyra started using it as a compliment. The best Supporting Actress win of the decade, hands down.

And am I the only person who liked Richard Gere in Chicago? I thought he had charm and personality to spare and was probably the best choice for the role.

10:08 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@DJH: This is not constructive of me, but since I'm in the middle of a deadline revision, I have to start trimming my comments to epigram length:

Thanks for writing!
Fair enough (re: Cavalcade's redemptive camp absurdity).
So I've heard (re: Gaslight)
Tilda Swinton (surely better than CZJ?)
Hugh Jackman (initially courted, very keen, Harvey axed it, but why?)

10:16 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger John T said...

I actually have only hit one of the 1932-33 nominees, and was duly unimpressed (She Done HIm Wrong should continue to remain the 30-seconds worth of legendary Mae West clips instead of an actual "movie").

As for 2002, I agree with Nathaniel, and I believe it was he who compared Renee in Chicago was similar to Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights. It's better to have a good actress playing a bad actress than a bad actress playing a bad actress (similar to having a great singer playing a middling singer).

As for the year, though, I don't think you can get past The Two Towers, which may be my favorite in Jackson's trilogy-Gollum's descent, fascinating battles, and the twist from hope to despair. The Hours would be next-I find the trio beautiful, and I have never betrayed the fact that I thought Nicole deserved that Oscar (particularly for the bitter, confessional train station scene). Third would be The Pianist, with a fascinating central performance and some beautiful direction. Next Chicago and CZJ's legs. Finally, Marty's failed experiment (the less said, the better).

It's a pity that they didn't have time to honor Spielberg that year, however. Catch Me was a ridiculously fan adventure for the first half of the movie (and Leo was an unhonored delight), and the first two-thirds of Minority Report, are, in my opinion, his best film. Shove them together, and there's a movie truly worth honoring!

10:17 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger goatdog said...

I was going to compose a list of films more deserving than Cavalcade of Best Picture that were released between August 1932 and December 1933, but then I realized that the list contained nearly every one of the 50 films I've seen from that period. So I'll just provide a top ten: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Trouble in Paradise, Duck Soup, Man's Castle, Movie Crazy, King Kong, One Way Passage, The Eagle and the Hawk, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Footlight Parade.

And Nick, great graphic comparison of Norma and Diane--I don't know who to pick! We know Norma was a bit cross-eyed, and she demonstrated it in more films, but I'll be damned if Diane doesn't manage to make it look a little menacing in that still. I'm calling it a draw.

10:25 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger goatdog said...

And Nick, again: I looked at your Best Actress page for 1933, and what a great alternate lineup you proposed instead of Oscar's picks! Francis in Trouble in Paradise, Hepburn in Little Women, and Stanwyck in Bitter Tea would have been among the best fields ever.

10:30 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@John: I guess where I disagree is that I think Renée IS a good actress playing a bad/middling actress here: she's just not a great dancer. I'm with Mike that Renée pumps a lot into her performance, which Catherine doesn't seem to do in the non-musical numbers. She actually becomes more amoral over the course of the movie, instead of just starting there, like a lot of Roxies seem to do (and Chicago's cynicism is least interesting to me when it's pervasive and presumed). Renée shows us how Roxie parlays personality, averageness, and newly apparent moxie into a giddy form of sudden celebrity, surprising even herself. Artfully done, I say.

And she's not a terrible dancer. Go rent Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost, and then see how much you feel like complaining about Renée's singing and dancing Chicago. Though I concede, I wouldn't normally be moved by the argument that "Person X must be fine because Person Y is even worse!" Hmmmmm.....

@Goatdog: Don't forget M, made in 1931 but premiering stateside in '33. And thanks for the props on the alternative Actress list. What's even more amazing is how many heavy hitters I haven't seen yet, several of whom have been lionized in ways that suggest the Francis-Hepburn-Stanywck lineup, however sensational, is not inviolate. Go vote, people!

11:18 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger RJ said...

Reading this, I realized I had NO idea what Cavalcade even is. None. That says something, I guess

12:30 AM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@RuralJuror: Meaning you realized you've never heard of the film, or that you weren't sure what a cavalcade is? The film either doesn't care or assumes we know. There's a repeated, Renaissance Fair image of "knights" and - maidens, I guess? - proceeding on horseback over a hill, totally non-diegetic, which is clearly meant as a kind of march of history, though it's an under-articulated metaphor at best and, more likely, a totally incoherent one. (Again, I realize that you may not even be asking this, but maybe someone wants to know.)

12:46 AM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger RJ said...

Either/or really

I'd HEARD of the film as in, "Cavalcade won best picture," but I had no earthly idea what it was about or who was in it.

I just assumed a cavalcade was a fun word they pulled out of a hat or made up like Cimarron.

1:06 AM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger Katey said...

Imagining Hugh Jackman in this movie makes my heart hurt, so I'll have to pretend I never knew that WHY has no one cast him in a movie musical yet?

It's interesting reading all these critiques, particularly of acting, with regard to Nine. It seems Marshall is taking a similar tack with casting, bringing in all kinds of non-singers and non-actors (and, um, Fergie). Can anyone more familiar with Nine predict how this might affect the movie?

9:28 AM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger ctrout said...


I liked Smilin' Through so much because of Leslie Howard. He's one of my favorite actors of all time and he's perfect here. This is probably his best role behind Ashley Wilkes and just ahead of Henry Higgins. And I'm glad someone else loves Norma Shearer as much as I do, Nathaniel. And Fredric March is always good.

I also saw myself in Howard's role for some reason. It really struck a chord with the whole unrequited love bit. I know the odds are against your adopted child looking exactly like your murdered fiancee, but this is 1932.

1:27 PM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

I haven't seen Calvacade but if you guys rip every bad winner as mercilessly and hilariously as this, I realise I'm gonna have to backtrack through all your BP showdowns.

On Chicago: Am I weird for liking Richard Gere in this? AND 'Razzle Dazzle'? I can see how he's pedestrian and a little unsure of himself at times but he's great fun nonetheless. Believably corrupt anyway, and that ventriloquist act is a winner.

I think I prefer Renee to CZJ but that probably comes down to the character. It's a bit like All About Eve with Renee's ascendence from understudy to leading lady (though much more convincing than Baxter was), and the fact that CZJ is so much more comfortable musically and rhythmically kind of ties in with that idea.

Overall, I'm with Glenn in that this is one of my fave BP winners this century. I think people hate on it because of how strong 2002 was, and admittedly I preferred The Pianist and The Hours, but yeah... there's something pleasing about a deliciously dark musical triumphing over a holocaust movie and a period drama.

7:15 AM, August 01, 2008  
Blogger Matt Sigl said...

This is a great series and I was particularly looking forward to your discussion of Chicago. Being a big musical theatre queen myself I was loaded with opinions. While it's fun to nitpick now I'll never forget turning to the person I first saw Chicago with and saying aloud, "now that is how to do a movie musical!" I couldn't believe that a big brassy dance heavy musical had actually been made again. That it went on to win best picture (and make more money for Miramax than ony other flm) made me jump for joy. Having said this, when I watch the film now I quibble with many of the details.

I think the editing of the dance numbers is actually quite problematic. More a dance based show than "Cabaret" ever was (a film that Marshall cribs from incessantly...mostly for the better), I miss all my Fosse bowler hats and pelvic undulations. Most of the time I can't tell what the choreography even is! "Cell Block Tango" comes across as the best of the numbers because it is the only one that actually flirts with longer takes, and a more theatrical audience/performer perspective. As Fred Astaire said "either the the camera dances or I do!"

As a worshipper at the altar of the Broadway revival (being too young to have seen the original) I was surprised I didn't mind most of the cuts to the score, save one. Why cut "Me and My Baby?" The interspersed book scenes are there, as is the underscore. Rennee dancing with two grown men dressed in baby bonnets and sucking on pacifiers would have been fun and fit the movies vaudeville mise en scene.

Finally, I am of two-minds about CZJ. She certainly brings the dance and vocal chops but lacks the ice queen diva attitude that Bebe Nuewirth and (I can only imagine) Chita Rivera brought to the role. Maybe I'm just to stuck on Bebe's brilliantly droll delivery to accept anything else. Nonetheless, the feeling is there. Lastly, knowing the show so well, I wonder if the cynicism that pervades the stage production is as present to a Chicago neophyte when they see the movie for the first time. Or does Marshall's command of "razzle-dazzle" dull the knife edge of social satire that makes Chicago such delicious entertainment.

5:53 PM, August 01, 2008  
Blogger Brian Darr said...

Catching up with the reading I missed on vacation, and just wanted to leave a comment appreciating this series. I've seen almost all of the BP nominees from 1932-33, and Cavalcade is by far the worst. The best? The original State Fair, at least that's how I see it.

2:10 AM, August 12, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

WOW. I love an unexpected endorsement. I just saw State Fair recently, and while nothing about it bothered me, and I liked the look of it, it didn't seem to push itself or its audience (or be elegant and precise enough to make its own modesty a treasure by itself). I'd love to hear more of your take, though I certainly agree that Cavalcade is the caboose in this bunch, no matter which titles you've still got left to catch.

2:57 AM, August 12, 2008  
Blogger Marc said...

I must confess I have a secret affection for Cavalcade-that most obscure and maligned Oscar winner.It stems from the sentimental affection of youth.I sought out all Oscar winners as a teen in the ore video age of the 70's.Cavalcade was that title tantalizingly out of reach.It was the Oscar winner in the year of King Kong,42nd Street for Gods sakes! I had to see it somehow.Finally I found a showing in a library in Long Island miles away
I was too young to drive and I dragged my mom at night to the screening.There were perhaps 5 people there.It was a little boring.creaky,an ancient print but it had the obscureFox Films logo .I had finally seen Cavalcade-the holy Grail of Oscar winners at that time.(little did I know that one day I would be able to see The Divine Lady and Bad Girl as well!) Also,in those days I was a little obsessed with Upstairs Downstairs,which to tell the truth was ripped off from a lot of Cavalcade.So do I disagree with the criticism ?No. But it has its charms for me,particularly the 20's montage and the corny theatrical toasts.Don't hate me for loving it just a bit. Secret-as a teen ,I wrote a synopsis of a remake of Cavalcade that went from the 20's to the 70's and starred Robert DeNiro.The folly of youth!

10:02 AM, August 16, 2008  
Blogger Marc said...

I must confess I have a secret affection for Cavalcade-that most obscure and maligned Oscar winner.It stems from the sentimental affection of youth.I sought out all Oscar winners as a teen in the ore video age of the 70's.Cavalcade was that title tantalizingly out of reach.It was the Oscar winner in the year of King Kong,42nd Street for Gods sakes! I had to see it somehow.Finally I found a showing in a library in Long Island miles away
I was too young to drive and I dragged my mom at night to the screening.There were perhaps 5 people there.It was a little boring.creaky,an ancient print but it had the obscureFox Films logo .I had finally seen Cavalcade-the holy Grail of Oscar winners at that time.(little did I know that one day I would be able to see The Divine Lady and Bad Girl as well!) Also,in those days I was a little obsessed with Upstairs Downstairs,which to tell the truth was ripped off from a lot of Cavalcade.So do I disagree with the criticism ?No. But it has its charms for me,particularly the 20's montage and the corny theatrical toasts.Don't hate me for loving it just a bit. Secret-as a teen ,I wrote a synopsis of a remake of Cavalcade that went from the 20's to the 70's and starred Robert DeNiro.The folly of youth!

10:02 AM, August 16, 2008  
Blogger RJ said...

I'm not really a Zellwegger person BUT, I rewatched Chicago recently, and I kind of loved her in it. Sure she's a little over the top when not singing, but it kind of works. In the musical numbers, it really looks like she is giving it her all, ya know?

3:42 PM, October 09, 2008  
Blogger RJ said...

And I actually really liked Queen Latifah in it. So sue me.

nd I'm really glad John C. Reilly is done with his puppy dog faze. His whole sad sack, "Come to bed, honey," schtick didn't work with the possible excpetion of Magnolia.

3:43 PM, October 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI. Your picture purporting to be Norma Shearer and Diana Wynyard is, in fact, Una O'Connor and Diana Wynyard. Irish actress Una also starred in the Errol Flynn 'Robin Hood' as Maid Marion's Nurse.
Cheers. Laurence Foster, Actor/ Director, Dublin.

12:07 PM, May 07, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Laurence: I do know that's Una O'Connor, just as I know that's Clark Gable in the photo with Norma Shearer. The caption you're reading corresponds to the juxtaposition of these two images, not to either of them alone.

1:41 PM, May 07, 2009  
Blogger Vidor said...

I liked "Chicago" and I liked Richard Gere in it. I would have been happiest if "The Two Towers" had won that year--it's the best one of the LOTR bunch, a brilliant achievement--but all of them except for "Gangs of New York" were worthy.

"Cavalcade" was just awful. I got a kick out of the brief glimpse of the gay nightclub towards the end. I also got a kick out of the way that Wynward has to assume a physical position when she puts on her British stiff upper lip face--looking up and to the left. It does have one good moment, when Wynward staggers out of the house in a daze after hearing that her other boy is dead, right into an Armistice celebration, and she picks up a flag and waves it with this crazed look on her face. That was effective. The rest of the movie, not so much.

Not as bad as "Cimarron" though. Hoo boy was that terrible. Most movies that win Oscars you can take something good from, even the mediocre ones--"Wings" had great aerial combat scenes, "The Broadway Melody" has some good songs and Anita Page in her underwear. "Cimarron", just nothing. Worthless.

11:50 PM, August 22, 2015  

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