1939 Endy Awards

It’s been a few months, so it feels like time to hand out some more awards. 1939 is generally considered one of the greatest film years ever. The Hollywood studio system was at its peak and the French, British, Soviet, Italian and Japanese film industries were yet to be entirely devastated by war. I don’t know that it’s my favorite year, 1932 and 1937 might even be the best years of the 1930s. I do think that eventually 2012 will be remembered among the great years in movie history.
Here are my fake awards for 1939. In the Endy Awards Index you can find entries for 2011193219641957 and 1994, as well as posts for the awards I made several years ago. Eligibility is determined by imdb date and by whether or not I’ve seen the movie in question. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order and the winners are bolded. And the Endy goes to. . .

Best Picture:

1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
2. Only Angels Have Wings
3. The Rules of the Game
4. Stagecoach
5. Young Mr. Lincoln

Best Director:

1. John Ford, Stagecoach
2. Howard Hawks, Only Angels Have Wings
3. Kenji Mizoguchi, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums
4. Jean Renoir, The Rules of the Game
5. John Ford, Young mr. Lincoln

I don’t think that any director has ever had a better year than John Ford did in 1939, but Renoir made one of the very best films of all-time this year.

Best Actor:

1. Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind
2. Robert Donat, Goodbye Mr. Chips
3. James Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
4. Cary Grant, Only Angels Have Wings
5. Henry Fonda, Young Mr. Lincoln

My favorite performance from the greatest actor in movie history gets the win here, against a very strong field. Donat won the Oscar, with Stewart getting the make-up prize the next year for The Philadelphia Story. His co-star in that film, Cary Grant, would probably be my pick that year instead, on the strength of His Girl Friday. Although, Stewart was also in my favorite film from 1940, The Shop Around the Corner. We’ll see what happens when I get around to giving out those awards.

Best Actress:

1. Claudette Colbert, Midnight
2. Bette Davis, Dark Victory
3. Greta Garbo, Ninotchka
4. Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz
5. Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind

Supporting Actor:

1. Harry Carey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
2. Marcel Dalio, The Rules of the Game
3. Jean Renoir, The Rules of the Game
4. Thomas Mitchell, Stagecoach
5. John Wayne, Stagecoach

If John Ford had the best director year ever in 1939, Thomas Mitchell may have had the best year for a supporting actor. Standout performances in five great movies (Stagecoach, Only Angels Have Wings, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone with the Wind & The Hunchback of Notre Dame)? Can anyone top that? Tough to leave out Claude Rains in Mr. Smith and Humphrey Bogart in The Roaring Twenties here. I suspect they’ll be getting some Endy-love in the 1940s.

Supporting Actress:

1. Jean Arthur, Only Angels Have Wings
2. Olivia DeHaviland, Gone with the Wind
3. Marjorie Main, The Women
4. Maureen O’Hara, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
5. Maria Ouspenskaya, Love Affair

Original Screenplay:

1. Jacques Viot & Jacques Prévert, Le jour se lève
2. Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder, Midnight
3. Sidney Buchman, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
4. Jean Renoir & Carl Koch, The Rules of the Game
5. Lamar Trotti, Young Mr. Lincoln

Adapted Screenplay:

1. Joel Sayre & Fred Guiol, Gunga Din
2. Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder & Walter Reisch, Ninotchka
3. Jules Furthman, Only Angels Have Wings
4. Dudley Nichols, Stagecoach
5. Matsutarô Kawaguchi & Yoshikata Yoda, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums

Impressive for Brackett & Wilder getting nominated in both screenplay categories. They didn’t win (tough to beat out two of the most perfect screenplays in film history), but I expect we’ll be seeing more of these guys.

Non-English Language Film:

1. The Rules of the Game
2. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums
3. Le jour se lève

Unseen Film:

1. Each Dawn I Die (William Keighley)
2. Sincerity (Mikio Naruse)
3. The Spy in Black (Michael Powell)
4. St. Louis Blues (Raoul Walsh)
5. Union Pacific (Cecil B. DeMille)

I’m actually surprised there aren’t more of these, especially with my having seen only three non-English language films. But looking through imdb’s database, these were the best I could come up with. There’s another Naruse from this year, but Sincerity sounded better.

Film Editing:

1. Only Angels Have Wings
2. The Roaring Twenties
3. The Rules of the Game
4. Stagecoach
5. The Wizard of Oz

Cinematography:

1. Ernest Haller, Gone with the Wind
2. Philippe Agostini, André Bac & Albert Viguier, Le jour se lève
3. Jean-Paul Alphen, Jean Bachelet, Jacques Lemare & Alain Renoir, The Rules of the Game
4. Bert Glennon, Stagecoach
5. Yozô Fuji & Shigeto Miki, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums

Original Score:

1. Gone with the Wind
3. Le jour se lève
5. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums
2. The Wizard of Oz
4. Young Mr. Lincoln

Adapted Score:

1. Babes in Arms
2. The Rules of the Game
3. Stagecoach

Original Song:

1. “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, The Wizard of Oz
2. “Good Morning”, Babes in Arms
3. “If I Only Had a Brain”, The Wizard of Oz
4. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, The Wizard of Oz
5. “We’re Off to See the Wizard”, The Wizard of Oz

These soundtrack awards are pretty much no-brainers. Or if I only had a brainers.

Art Direction:

1. Drums Along the Mohawk
2. Gone with the Wind
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
4. The Rules of the Game
5. The Wizard of Oz

Costume Design:

1. Gone with the Wind
2. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
3. The Rules of the Game
4. The Wizard of Oz
5. Young Mr. Lincoln

Make-up:

1. Goodbye, Mr. Chips
2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
3. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
4. The Wizard of Oz
5. Young Mr. Lincoln

Sound Mixing:

1. Gone with the Wind
2. Gunga Din
3. Only Angels Have Wings
4. Stagecoach
5. The Wizard of Oz

Sound Editing:

1. Beau Geste
2. Gone With the Wind
3. Gunga Din
4. Only Angels Have Wings
5. Stagecoach

Visual Effects:

1. Gone with the Wind
2. Only Angels Have Wings
3. The Wizard of Oz

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This Week in Rankings

This week I finished up my run through the action films of the 2000s and I’m about to start research for my next They Shot Pictures episode, on Akira Kurosawa. In the meantime I spent three days getting lost in the NFL Draft (go hawks) and Gilmore Girls (oh when will Bunheads get renewed??) and not watching any movies at all.

I made a ranked list of movies written and/or directed by Paul WS Anderson (the Resident Evil/Auteurism project is still in progress) as well as updated my list of John Ford movies (I’ve picked up Joseph McBride’s Ford biography again after losing track of it for the first month of Henry).

Night Across the Street, the last film by Chilean director Raúl Ruiz, and one of my favorite movies of 2012, opened this week at the Northwest Film Forum. Also playing there is the documentary Leviathan, which I hear is very good but haven’t had a chance to get to yet. And Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder is still playing as well. So there’s no excuse for going to see the new Michael Bay movie.

These are the movies I’ve watched and rewatched over the last week, along with where they place in my year-by-year rankings, with links to my letterboxd comments. Another revision this week is that Spencer Tracy knocks Lowell Sherman off the nominee list for Best Actor in the 1932 Endy Awards.

Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh) – 6, 1932
The Gay Falcon (Irving Reis) – 25, 1941
The Muppet Movie (James Frawley) – 6, 1979
Event Horizon (Paul WS Anderson) – 53, 1997

Domino (Tony Scott) – 9, 2005
Hitman (Xavier Gens) – 71, 2007
Gamer (Neveldine/Taylor) – 41, 2009
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (John Hyams) – 21, 2012

This Week in Rankings

Continued with my project catching up on the action movies of the 2000s this week, and actually managed to write something other than a list as well. It was originally just going to be a single post about Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil movies, but my introduction about Vulgar Auteurism got out of hand and became its own post. Now the Resident Evil thing will be a series, the next part of which I’ll be writing whenever I can find another few hours of baby-free time.

Opening today in Seattle at the Grand Illusion is Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral, an interesting movie I saw and reviewed way back in September (someday I will finish my last three VIFF 2012 reviews, hopefully before VIFF 2013). The best movie in theatres now though is Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, the first movie I’ve been able to see in a theatre in a couple of months. Like all Malick films, there’s a lot of disagreement and dismissal following in the wake of its release, but I’m sure that in time it will find its place amongst the director’s other great recent works. I don’t know that I’ll be writing much about it: there’s already so much great stuff out there on it and I have so little time, but I loved it.

These are the movies I watched and rewatched over the last week, along with where they place on my year-by-year rankings. Links are to my letterboxd comments, where available.

The Musketeers of Pig-Alley (DW Griffith) – 1, 1912
Man on Fire (Tony Scott) – 9, 2004
Alien vs. Predator (Paul WS Anderson) – 24, 2004
Crank (Neveldine/Taylor) – 8, 2006
Déjà Vu (Tony Scott) – 10, 2006
Death Race (Paul WS Anderson) – 49, 2008

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (John Hyams) – 22, 2009
The Taking of Pelham 123 (Tony Scott) – 31, 2009
Crank: High Voltage (Neveldine/Taylor) – 46, 2009
The Three Musketeers (Paul WS Anderson) – 35, 2011
To the Wonder (Terrence Malick) – 6, 2012
Bachelorette (Leslye Headland) – 25, 2012

Paul WS Anderson-Related Exchange of the Day

Dave Kehr and R. Emmet Sweeney discussing Paul WS Anderson at Movie Morlocks last September: 

DK: It’s not like that audience is going to respond, “hey, this got a great review in the Times! Let’s go see Resident Evil 5!” It’s funny how people get that label of being schlock directors. I don’t know what he did to deserve that.
RES: It’s just received wisdom. His name has become shorthand for schlock.
DK: Yeah, but is he Uwe Boll or something?
RES: It’s the subject matter.
DK: But Christopher Nolan became an international star directing comic book movies.
RES: Yeah, but Anderson does video game adaptations, there is a difference. Comic books have risen in cultural capital the last couple of decades. Not so for video games. Roger Ebert says video games are not art, so Paul W.S. Anderson is out. He’s out. People always forget how Hawks and Hitchcock were regarded as vulgar entertainers in their day.
DK: It seems like that lesson never gets learned. Each generation of critics blows it in their own way.
RES: Not that I’m saying Paul W.S. Anderson should be compared to Hitchcock…
DK: Well, he’s at least Far Side of Paradise at this point. [laughs] Maybe he’s Gordon Douglas.

Army of Milla: Resident Evil and Modern Auteurism

 
Part One: On Vulgar Auteurism
 
In recent weeks I’ve been trying to catch up with the works of a number of contemporary action film directors, filmmakers who’ve been labeled by a small subset of the critical world as ‘vulgar auteurs’ for the quality of their movies and the low repute of the genres they work in. The main text for Vulgar Auteurism appears to be this post from mubi.com, which consists of a rough categorization of the filmmakers (inspired by Andrew Sarris’s lists in The American Cinema), followed by links to some writing about some of their films (the links only show up as exclamation points whenever I look at it, not sure if that’s my computer error, their internet error or entirely intentional for some reason that escapes me)[Note: Since this was written, the mubi folks have responded to some of the criticisms of Vulgar Auteurism by revising this post, adding a definition, readable links and revising the proposed list of directors. Here is a web archive link to the original post.]. There’s also a Vulgar Auteurism tumblrthat is pretty much nothing but screen captures, making the non-verbal argument that within these genre films lies a genuine (visual) artistry. As yet there doesn’t appear to be all that much writing about these directors in general, in even the short form that follows the lists in Sarris’s book. Mostly the arguments for their auteur status can be found within reviews for individual films. These arguments tend to focus on the artistry of the filmmakers’ image-construction over their thematic content (philosophical, political, etc) or narrative qualities (story, plot, character, dialogue, etc). This Formalist focus somewhat undermines the VA critics polemical stance in favor of makers of low genre film: auteur status comes from the high art sheen (the techniques of mise-en-scene) the directors impose on low material while the actual content of the films is ignored or even ridiculed, thus accepting the art-mainstream-vulgar division the movement is ostensibly opposing. See for example the review of Paul W. S. Anderson’s 2012 film Resident Evil: Retribution by Ignatiy Vishnevetsy:
 

Anderson’s work may not have a lot of narrative substance, but his visual sensibility is so well-developed that it often doesn’t matter; form is substituted for theme. Composed in crisp visual shorthand, Anderson’s movies are about images: strong, stoic-faced women meting out violence; characters executing somersaults through the air; tiny figures venturing into vast, foreboding spaces.
It’s certainly a lot of fun, though not exactly profound. A lot in the way of characterization and development gets sacrificed to make Anderson’s style work; his movies tend to be about stock characters talking in clichés in familiar situations—and, unlike the work of a Pop / camp fetishist like Roland Emmerich, it’s all done with a completely straight face. Anderson’s latest, Resident Evil: Retribution 3D, takes this even further: it’s his most generic movie, in every sense of the term. In certain ways, it’s also his ballsiest and most playful.



There’s nothing particularly new about critics finding art in disreputable places. The first generation of Auteurists made compelling arguments for the artistry of filmmakers working in such vulgar genres as the musical, the Western, the war movie, ‘women’s pictures’ and the crime melodrama (gangster films, police procedurals and films noirs). And often those arguments rested on the director’s creative use of filmmaking techniques in order to convey ideas about the world and about cinema itself (think Fritz Lang’s geometric compositions, Douglas Sirk’s mirrors, Josef von Sternberg’s otherworldly clutter, Vincente Minnelli’s reds, Howard Hawks’s medium shots and so on). But rarely did those arguments rest on the complete dismissal of the ‘content’ of the films. In fact, the autuerists took the radically egalitarian stance of treating low content exactly the same as high, and were therefore open to finding profound insights in the most vulgar places (John Ford’s vision of American history in all its sweep and contradiction or Charlie Chapin’s melancholy humanism). The ideal is for the auteur to have a complete artistic personality, where the form and content of their films combines to express a unique and compelling vision of the world. The classical auteurist project continues today as film and television work by directors like Joseph H. Lewis or Edgar G. Ulmer continue to be unearthed and re-examined. (This is the kind of analysis we were attempting on the They Shot Pictures Johnnie To podcast, To being a director who would certainly be categorized as a Vulgar Auteur if that group wasn’t (for some unknown reason complaining about which is beyond the scope of this essay) confined merely to filmmakers working in Hollywood). In all but a few rare cases, form without content is just as incomplete as content without form. I’ve yet to see this kind of comprehensive study of most of the filmmakers Vulgar Auteurism champions.
 
I don’t want to overstate this complaint. I haven’t read close to everything put out by the VA critics, so it’s certainly possible I’m misreading them or just missing the pieces where they make exactly the arguments I’m looking for. It’s also true that analysis of visual style is woefully rare in film culture, so the fact that they focus on it at the expense of plot-and-theme analysis has value in and of itself by helping to turn the conversation toward unexamined possibilities in film criticism. Beyond that, it may be the case that these directors just don’t have much going for them aside from their images: that the texts of their films really are empty and the only way they have of expressing an artistic vision is through their images (‘form is substituted for theme’), that they are simply not complete auteurs in the sense Ford and Lang were. It’s also the case that the most under covered filmmakers are also the ones with the smallest body of work: it’s simply too early in his career for a comprehensive analysis of John Hyams, for example, whereas there have been lengthy studies of VA favorites like Michael Mann and Paul Veerhoeven.
 
That said, I think the world needs a more comprehensive look at Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil films, one that recognizes not only the artistry of Anderson’s image-creation, but also the unique qualities of the world he’s constructed over ten years and five movies, a hyper-cinematic world where genre film tropes are given mythological status and ingeniously reworked and varied, a paranoid world of shifting surfaces, mad scientists, homicidal computers and omnipotent corporations, grounded only by the implacable presence of Milla Jovovich. They amount to a remarkable cinematic achievement, regardless of their dubious generic and source material, but is that enough to call Anderson an auteur and if so, does that make his movies, for lack of a better word, good? These are the questions I’ll try to answer in the next parts of this series.
 

This Week In Rankings

I watched a lot of movies over the last week, but have had no opportunity as yet to write more than a few lines on letterboxd about them as a very small grumpy old man takes up most of my free time. I hope to coordinate things better in the next week so I can write something about Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil movies at least, and maybe some other things as well. In the meantime I’ve been tweeting out some links to older content: this week saw a review of The Poor Little Rich Girl for Mary Pickford’s birthday and a They Shot Pictures episode for Hou Hsiao-hsien’s birthday. Also one of my favorite movies from last year is now available on Instant Netflix: Hong Sangsoo’s In Another Country. You can check out more in my Review Index or my Essay & Podcast Index.

These are the movies I’ve watched and rewatched over the past week, along with where they place on my year-by-year rankings. I’ve linked to my letterboxd comments where applicable.
Duel (Steven Spielberg) – 11, 1971
Modern Romance (Albert Brooks) – 3, 1981
Thief (Michael Mann) – 6, 1981
Something Wild (Jonathan Demme) – 6, 1986
Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter) – 19, 1987
The ‘Burbs (Joe Dante) – 14, 1989
Resident Evil: Extinction (Russell Mulcahy) – 16, 2007
Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg) – 39, 2008
Resident Evil: Afterlife (Paul WS Anderson) – 23, 2010
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard) – 8, 2011
Resident Evil: Retribution (Paul WS Anderson) – 27, 2012

This Week in Rankings

One week ago marked the arrival of Baby #2, Henry, and so for the next few weeks at least I won’t have all that much time for writing about movies. I’ll still be watching them of course, but now at much weirder hours of the night (4 to 7 am has been prime movie-watching time over the past couple of days). If you’ve a hankering to read some of my writing, you can check out my Review Index, full of capsule and longer reviews from the past several years.

My next They Shot Pictures episode will be in May, discussing the non-samural films of Akira Kurosawa. Until then I’m hoping to dive into films from Paul WS Anderson, John Hyams, Tony Scott and Neveldine & Taylor. As I noted in this essay a few weeks ago, there’s nothing especially new about the “vulgar auteurism” that champions these directors, but it is a catchy name.

These are the movies I’ve watched and rewatched in the last week, and where they place on my year-by-year rankings. I’ve linked each to my letterboxd comments, which range in length from one-liners to capsule reviews.

Gremlins – 10, 1984
Peking Opera Blues – 12, 1986
Gremlins 2: The New Batch – 10, 1990
Hard Target – 48,1993
Resident Evil – 15, 2002
Resident Evil: Apocalypse – 20, 2004
Damsels in Distress – 2, 2011