Category Archives: Academy Award Winners for Best Supporting Actor

All the President’s Men (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: They take down Nixon.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 1972 five men are found burglarizing the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Office complex in Washington D.C. The next day a young Washington Post reporter by the name of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) is assigned to cover the case. Initially it was considered only a minor story, but as he digs further into the details he finds wider connections including links that lead directly to the White House. Together with Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman),who is another reporter, the two men continue to research and end up battling one roadblock after another in their quest the uncover the truth.

If there is one area where this film really scores in it’s in the way that a journalist’s job gets portrayed. In fact many colleges show this film to their student who are majoring in the field in order to given them a realistic perspective of what the profession actually involves. For me I found it quite enlightening particularly the first hour. The many people and steps that a reporter has to go through just to get one solid lead is interesting as is the protocol system determining which story gets the front page and which don’t.

The layout of the newsroom was also fascinating as it all seemed very authentic and like they were working in an actual one. To my absolute shock I found out later that it had all been constructed on a film set, but so meticulously done that you couldn’t tell the difference. Initially several scenes were filmed in the real office using actual employees in the background, but the knowledge of being on camera made some behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t and this ultimately forced the filmmakers to decide to recreate it on a soundstage and use actors as the office crew.

The performances by the two leads are good, but neither of them resembles their real-life counterparts. Both Redford and Hoffman were already pushing 40 at the time and looking it while Woodward and Bernstein were still in their 20’s when this story occurred so the line that the Jack Warden’s character makes about these two being ‘young and hungry’ and looking for a good story to build their careers on doesn’t make as much sense.

The characters aren’t well fleshed out either. No time is spent on what these guys were like when not ardently following up leads, which is absolutely all we see them doing.  The original screenplay, which was written by Woodward and Bernstein, had a subplot involving the two trying to score with women, which would’ve helped add a comical touch and parts of that should’ve been kept in.

The second half lags as there are too many leads and names that get bantered about that don’t have faces connected to them making it seem like information overload that doesn’t help the viewer get as emotionally involved as they should. Having cutaways showing Nixon and/or is aides becoming increasingly more paranoid as the reporters closed in on them could’ve added that much needed extra dimension.

There is a stunning bird’s-eye shot of the inside of the Library of Congress, which is amazing and the fact that many of the scenes get filmed at the actual sites where the real-life instances occurred is both impressive and commendable. I also enjoyed the wide-array of recognizable faces that show up in bit parts including Valerie Curtain as a frightened source and Polly Holliday as an evasive secretary. They even cast Frank Wills the real-life security guard who broke the case wide open playing himself in the film’s opening scene, which is cool even though for me the film’s second half fails to be as entertaining as the first, which prevents it from being a classic.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 19Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Last Picture Show (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Texas sized drama.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story deals with the inter-workings and relationships of a people living in a small Texas town known as Anarene during the years of 1951 and 1952.  There’s Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) two high school seniors who are also best friends. Duane dates the highly attractive Jacey (Cybill Shepherd) who seems more geared to playing the field with every guy in town and even makes a play for Sonny, which seriously affects his relationship with Duane. There’s also Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the lonely coach’s wife who begins a brief affair with Sonny until he decides to bail-out for the more attractive Jacey. Sam (Ben Johnson) makes up part of the older generation still stuck in the dusty town and trying to make ends meet by running the local movie theater and pool hall both of which come to a halt when he dies suddenly.

I saw this film just recently outside on the big screen as part of the Texas Film Heritage and Preservation Society here in Austin. Although I had seen it before I was hit with how much more impressive and visually sumptuous it is on the big screen. Robert Surtees’ black and white cinematography is top-notch and the main ingredient to what makes it so spellbinding, so much meticulous attention is taken into each and every shot that one could almost watch this with the sound down and still find it thoroughly compelling.

Director Peter Bogdanovich takes great care to make sure that all of the elements are there and spins them together like a well-crafted machine so the viewer learns bit and pieces about these characters and their attitudes through each shot and camera angle that comes along. Filming it on-location in Archer City where McMurtry grew up helps accentuate the authenticity as does playing the country music from the period although I could’ve done with a little less of that and more of the sound of the wind and dust crackling across the barren region instead.

What surprised me most was how interesting and varied the love making scenes where and how instrumental they became to the film as a whole. One of the most memorable ones is when Sonny first tries to make love to Ruth, but is quite awkward about it. We see the pained expressions on both of their faces, hear the rusty springs of the mattress, and then finally witness Ruth’s attempts to shield her crying and frustration from Sonny. Duane’s futile attempt at sex with Jacey later on is also good particularly the fiery look of anger spewing from Jacey’s eyes when he is unable to perform. The scene involving a mentally challenged young man pushed into attempting sex with an obese and caustic prostitute inside the backseat of a cramped car is both darkly funny and sad, but the most provocative love making moment comes near the end when Jacey has sex with her mother’s boyfriend (Clu Gulager) on top of a pool table inside a dark and lonely pool hall while bracing the table’s side pockets with her hands for leverage.

The performances are all-around outstanding and both Leachman and Johnson won the Academy Award for their work here, but I still came away feeling, just like I did twenty years ago when I first saw this film, that Shepherd does the best job and leaves the most lasting impression. I love how her character slips between being insecure and indecisive to cunning and conniving and Shepherd’s facial expressions are completely on-target all the way. Her striptease done on top of a diving board is still pretty hot and my only complaint about the character is the way she elopes with Sonny and then completely bails on him the next day. I realize she didn’t love the guy and she’s just used him like she did others, but I didn’t understand what her motivation was in this instance as she seemed to get little if anything out of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Coach Popper character played by Bill Thurman didn’t have a bigger role in the story. The way he berates his players during practice is amusing and would most likely get coaches in today’s more sensitive world in hot water. I also found his constant spitting of tobacco juice into a cup that he carries around with him to be grotesquely amusing, but my biggest beef is the fact that we have a main character screwing his wife and the whole town knows about it, but never any reaction from the man himself. Maybe he was aware and didn’t care, but the movie should’ve made an attempt to show this, or at least some interaction between Sonny and the Coach since Sonny was at one time one of his players, which would have to make things quite awkward whenever they would bump into each other and in a small town that would most likely happen on more than a few occasions.

Overall though this is a great movie and I was surprised at how frank and explicit it was despite its 1950’s setting. Some may argue that it was done with too much of a revisionist mindset and things weren’t quite this wild, but others, like myself, will insist that it probably was, but just not talked about as much.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Cabaret (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life in pre-war Germany.

Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) is a singer at a seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub in pre-war Germany. She meets and falls in love with Brian (Michael York) who is a bi-sexual. The two begin a relationship only to have Max (Helmut Griem) enter who seduces them both and gets Sally pregnant.

This is a very stylish look at the pre-war years of Germany when it was still under the rule of the Weimer Republic and not yet succumbed to Nazi authority. The dramatic storylines are spliced in-between musical numbers done at the club, which are visually fun and have just the right amount of sensuality and theatrics. In many ways this looks like an obvious inspiration to the later hit Chicago and netted Bob Fosse the Academy Award for best director.

Joel Grey is amazing as the club’s emcee. He has no speaking lines and yet gives a one-of-a-kind performance that also got him the Academy Award for best supporting actor. His distinguished presence gives the film its unique flavor and personality and has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Unfortunately the stories between the songs seem awfully trite. There is nothing really profound or interesting about them and they tend to bog the whole thing down while making Germans look uniformly dopey.

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Minnelli won the Academy Award for best actress, but it is hard to see why. Yes she certainly does command the stage when she is singing and dancing, but seems misplaced otherwise. For the most part she seemed to be continuing the insecure, kooky character that she already created in The Sterile Cuckoo without adding any new spin to it. One really can’t sympathize with her nor really wants to and I felt the character became overdone and pushed the viewer’s patience.

Pairing her with refined English teacher York helps…a little yet their romance seemed hard to believe. Having this educated, good looking guy become jealous every time she talks to another man seemed unnatural given the circumstances.

Technically it is sound with a good eye for detail, but falters dramatically and isn’t strong enough to be anything more than a slight diversion. The only interesting scene to me was when a young clean-cut teen wearing a Nazi uniform gets up and sings an impassioned pro-German song as it perfectly illustrated visually all the rampant nationalism and brain washing that went on and is both creepy and sad at the same time.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 13, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director; Bob Fosse

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Subject Was Roses (1968)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: This homecoming isn’t happy.

Tim (Martin Sheen) arrives home from the war to find that things aren’t going well with his parents John and Nettie (Jack Albertson, Patricia Neal). Their aloofness towards each other slowly becomes more apparent and seems to come to a head when Tim decides to buy his mother a bouquet of roses and his dad pretends it was his idea. When Nettie realizes it wasn’t John who bought them she leaves the house and doesn’t return, which causes John to panic and try to find her.

This movie has a compelling quality to it and is the old-fashioned type of drama that they don’t seem to make anymore. The characters are real and believable and will probably remind one of their own parents, or even themselves and their marriages. The dialogue has a great conversational style and the viewer feels like they are eavesdropping onto an actual household. The action happens slowly, but deliberately and is devoid of any neat and tidy wrap-ups.

However, the film is also a bit frustrating. We are never explicitly shown what it is that is troubling Nettie so terribly. We are given some definite hints of things bubbling just underneath the surface, but there is nothing that completely comes out into the open. The viewer becomes primed for some great revelation, but when it doesn’t come and the characters end up remaining in the same situation as when it began it makes the whole thing seem pointless.

Neal is outstanding and the main catalyst for why this works. This was her first film after she had suffered several near fatal strokes in 1965. Although she does very well one can still see some subtle effects of it like the way she walks and her speech being just a little bit slower, but in context with the role it makes her seem older than she really is and therefore better for her role. I was surprised at how physically demanding the part was including having her dance rigorously around the living room with Sheen as well as having to aggressively fight off Albertson’s unwanted advances. Her sad and pained facial expressions leave the most lasting impressions.

Although it was Neal who I felt should’ve won the Oscar it was actually Albertson who did. His performance, which he recreated from the Broadway play that also netted him the Tony, is solid especially for doing a character that at times is off-putting. He does get the film’s best line “The humping that I am getting isn’t worth the humping that I am getting.”

The story takes place in the 1940’s and is basically a loose autobiographical story of Frank D. Gilroy who wrote both the award winning play and screen version. For the most part it succeeds with its retro look, but the music by Judy Collins doesn’t fit. Personally, I love Collins as a vocalist, but her raw, moody folk music sound seems out of place for a 40’s setting and takes the viewer out of the story in the process.

Transferring a story done for the stage to the big screen is never easy, but director Ulu Grosbard manages to make it cinematic. None of it was done on a soundstage, but instead the apartment was built inside a warehouse in the same Bronx neighborhood where Gilroy grew up and painstaking detail was done to give it an authentic lived-in look. The scenes done at their lakeside cabin is also effective as it captures the blossoming spring time landscape and gives a nice soothing feeling. You also get to witness Sheen skipping stones across the lake several times something that I could never get the hang of myself.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ulu Grosbard

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive)

Topkapi (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Granddaddy of heist movies.

Elizabeth (Melina Mercouri) and Walter (Maximilian Schell) have formed a group of amateur thieves to help them steal an emerald dagger out of the famed Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Problems ensue when one of the original members of the group becomes injured and they are forced to hire on the services of Arthur Simon Simpson (Peter Ustinov) a bungling, portly small-time crook whose on-going ineptitude almost throws their well thought out plans into jeopardy.

This film has become the granddaddy of heist films and rightly so. Based on the novel ‘The Light of Day’ by Eric Ambler the story is well-crafted and nicely detailed. The plan is elaborate, but fortunately believable and plausible. Director Jules Dassin seems to have all the logical loopholes covered. The production design is plush and captivating with just the right amount of offbeat touches to keep it original and cinematic. I found myself enjoying the dry humor and characterizations interspersed in-between the planning and action. The momentum builds evenly without every feeling rushed, or draggy. The on-location shooting is a plus that not only captures the sunny climate, but also the distinct ambience and look of the region.

The climatic sequence involving the actual heist is exciting. The actors do all of their own stunts including Gilles Segal as Guilio being lowered upside down into the palace by a rope being held rigorously by Walter and Arthur and doing most of his maneuvers trapeze style. The whole scene had me holding my breath most of the way and Dassin manages to capture if all from different and interesting angles while allowing the silence to help create the tension.

Ustinov is in fine form and deservedly won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Supposedly the part was originally intended for Peter Sellers, but Ustinov gives the character a lovable quality that I don’t think Sellers could. Ustinov’s rotund physique is an added benefit and his nervous looking facial expressions are consistently amusing with the interrogation scene by Turkish authorities being his best moment. It’s nice to see the character evolve and find a confidence he didn’t think he had while gaining a begrudging respect from the others.

Mercouri sizzles. Normally I am not crazy about women with deep, throaty voices like hers, but she makes it tantalizing. The character is a self-described nymphomaniac and the expression on her face as she watches a group of men spread lotion over their half-naked bodies is worth the price of the film.

The rest of the supporting cast is okay, but I found it odd how very polished they were when Walter insisted that he wanted amateurs for the heist that had no criminal background, or record. Having them behave in a befuddled besides just Arthur would have been more realistic and expected. I also didn’t like that the Guilio never says a single line of dialogue. Apparently the character was a mute, but there is no reason given for it and in the process makes him transparent and boring.

Spoiler Alert!

The only real problem I had with the movie is the ending. As Guilio is exiting the palace a little bird flies through the window while he is closing it, which in turn sets off an alarm, which leads to the gang getting arrested. However, I couldn’t understand how the trapped bird would’ve allowed the police to figure out what happened as an exact replica of the dagger that they swipe is put onto the chest of the sultan figure. To me it just seemed like one twist too many and the scenes showing them inside the prison is campy and forced. These guys had been portrayed as being slick and sophisticated most of the way, so why turn them into clowns at the end. Possibly this was done to show that ‘crime doesn’t pay and no crime portrayed in a film should go unpunished’, which was a code most movies were forced to work under in the past. Either way it doesn’t work and kind of hurts what is otherwise a snappy piece of entertainment.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1964

Runtime: 2Hours

Not Rated

Director: Jules Dassin

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 and 2), Amazon Instant Video