Past Oscar winners (and a few gems the Academy snubbed)
The Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, so it’s a good time to look at some previous Oscar nominees and Oscar winners, as well as some that should have been, all available for streaming.
We have a few acting nominees, as well as a winning performance by Denzel Washington, who recently received the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes for his remarkable career.
There’s also a few movies that scored in other categories, like costume design or cinematography, as well as a few other movies that were too edgy, or too funny, or just all-around too offbeat, to get the mainstream acceptance needed to score a nomination.
Training Day (Netflix)
Six-time Academy Award nominee Denzel Washington won one of his Oscars for this amazingly vivid police story. Rookie Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) begins his training as a narcotics cop with veteran Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) as his mentor. The movie immediately knocks us sideways as Jake prepares to go to the office for orientation, but Alonzo insists they meet on his own turf instead. Alonzo is intimidating at best and scary at worst, and there’s a palpable sense of uncertainty. As the day wears on, the mood becomes more violent and sinister, or at least up until a slightly disappointing ending; this movie deserved better.
Training Day (2001) was written by David Ayer, who went on to direct some excellent films of his own, while Antoine Fuqua handled the directing duties here. The supporting cast of big city denizens includes Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger, Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray, Dr. Dre, and Eva Mendes.
The Future (Hulu)
The writer, actress, and artist Miranda July tends to inspire either adoration or annoyance in her viewers; the word “twee” is frequently used to describe her work. Her second feature film as director, The Future (2011), is much weirder than her first, Me and You and Everyone We Know, but it’s charming and thoughtful and funny enough that brave viewers may enjoy it.
July and Hamish Linklater play Sophie and Jason, a couple preparing to adopt a cat. When they are told they will get the cat in 30 days, they begin to anticipate their new responsibilities in life; they decide to spend the ensuing month being “free,” i.e. turning off the Internet, quitting work, etc. Sophie attempts to perform a new dance each day. Before long, things turn unrealistic, such as time stopping, a talking cat, and a talking moon. But then Sophie makes a choice that will make it difficult for things to return to normal. July is a fascinating presence and deserves some credit for her unique and intelligent work.
Married to the Mob (Hulu)
Just before he won an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme made this lightweight comedy, full of colorful characters and kept at an even keel; it never feels forced or dumbed-down. Beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer discards her blond locks in favor of short brown curls for her Golden Globe-nominated role as Angela, the unhappy wife of a mobster. When her husband (Alec Baldwin) gets killed for two-timing with his boss’s mistress, she takes the opportunity to move herself and her son away from that life.
Unfortunately, a pair of FBI agents, Mike (Matthew Modine) and Ed (Oliver Platt) start following her, and the mob boss Tony “The Tiger” Russo (Dean Stockwell) becomes interested in her as his new mistress. To make matters more complicated, she accidentally meets Mike in her building, and, not knowing who he is, asks him out. Stockwell earned an Oscar nomination for his purring, persistent performance, and Mercedes Ruehl is terrific as Tony’s wife. David Byrne provided the score and a selection of pop tunes to perk things up.
Roxanne (Crackle — expires Jan. 31)
Steve Martin has never received an Oscar nomination, but he certainly deserved one for his hilarious, commanding, and touching performance as C.D. Bales, the small town fire chief in Roxanne (1987). He is, of course, based on big-nosed Cyrano de Bergerac. He falls in love with the beautiful astronomer Roxanne (Daryl Hannah). She, in turn, is attracted to brawny doofus Chris (Rick Rossovich). So, against his own heart, the smart, funny C.D. tries to help Chris say all the right things to win her.
Martin wrote the screenplay, building a fully contained world in which the ridiculous plot seems entirely plausible, and frosting it with true sweetness. The talented Australian director Fred Schepisi uses his gift for widescreen frames and outdoor cinematography to emphasize the sense of place and community. Look for Shelley Duvall, Fred Willard, Michael J. Pollard, Damon Wayans, and Kevin Nealon as C.D.’s fellow small-towners. This is a special comedy that works on many levels, and is worth more than one viewing.
Safety Not Guaranteed (Crackle — expires Jan. 31)
In 2015, Colin Trevorrow directed one of the all-time biggest box-office bonanzas with Jurassic World, but before that, he made the terrific sci-fi comedy Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) for less than $1 million. Based on an ad published in a magazine (“Wanted: someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid when we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before”), the movie follows a reporter (Jake Johnson) and two interns (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) as they investigate the mysterious man behind the ad (Mark Duplass), trying to determine whether he’s serious.
Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly could easily have given their movie a cynical streak, ridiculing the poor, misfit characters, but instead they all have touching inner lives; the humor rises from personalities rather than situations. A subplot about Johnson’s character visiting an old flame is key to this. Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kristen Bell, and Jeff Garlin co-star in sparkling smaller roles.
An Affair to Remember
An Affair to Remember (1957) is generally known, thanks to Sleepless in Seattle, as one of the ultimate “chick flicks,” but it’s a great movie regardless. Director Leo McCarey began as a comedy director, working with Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and Harold Lloyd, before winning Best Director Oscars for his films The Awful Truth (1937) and Going My Way (1944). Perhaps because of his career path, he developed a touch for human behavior that was, and still is, rare in Hollywood.
Coming near the end of his career, An Affair to Remember was a remake of his own 1939 film Love Affair, but in full color and widescreen. The plot, of course, involves Nickie (Cary Grant) and Terry (Deborah Kerr), who meet on a cruise ship and fall in love, even though they are both involved with other people. They agree, if they both come to be single, to meet in six months at the Empire State Building, but Terry is hit by a car. It sounds dreadfully maudlin, but rather than diving straight for the tear ducts, McCarey—aided by Grant’s similarly light touch—keeps it tender and lovely. It was nominated for Oscars for its cinematography, music, and costume design, as well as the title song.
Dazed and Confused (Amazon Prime)
Richard Linklater earned his first Oscar nomination for Boyhood (2014), but, as proven by the cult classic Dazed and Confused (1993), he was already making great movies decades ago. This one takes place on the last day of school in Texas in 1976; a battered drive-in marquee advertises Hitchcock’s Family Plot to quickly illustrate the generation gap. Jocks, freshmen, stoners, and bullies abound as these teens wander aimlessly looking for a good time or some kind of release. There’s no real plot, but events center around a hazing ritual and a keg party, and the lucky characters learn a little bit about who they really are.
Named for a Led Zeppelin song, the movie is, of course, filled with vintage tunes by Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, KISS, Sweet, and more. The amazing cast, many of them just starting out, includes Ben Affleck, Rory Cochrane, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Joey Lauren Adams, and more, with Matthew McConaughey a particular standout as a sleazy 20-something with a memorable line about high-school girls.
Ball of Fire (MUBI)
Howard Hawks was one of the greatest of all Hollywood directors, turning in beautifully constructed entertainments in a variety of genres, from the Western to the screwball comedy. Yet he always managed to include his favorite themes of professionalism and camaraderie, and even included a series of tough women. Barbara Stanwyck is one of the best of those in Ball of Fire (1941); she plays nightclub singer “Sugarpuss” O’Shea, who likes to show off her magnificent legs, but needs to hide from the police because of her association with a mob boss. Meanwhile, the socially awkward Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) is writing an encyclopedia with seven older professors, and working on the “slang” section. When these two opposites come together, Sugarpuss volunteers to help him with his slang, most of which is out of date. It’s actually a jazzy take on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” except that the girl falls for the professor.
The movie has an impressive list of credits: Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote the screenplay, the deep-focus, black-and-white cinematography was by Gregg Toland (who also shot Citizen Kane the same year!), and Henry Travers, Dan Duryea, Dana Andrews round out the cast. Look for Elisha Cook Jr. as a waiter, and drummer Gene Krupa in a nightclub. The movie received four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Actress for Ms. Stanwyck. MUBU posted this on January 8, so with a membership, viewers can watch it any time within 30 days of that date.
You haven’t experienced cinema until you’ve seen a movie that’s more than 100 years old, and is still massively entertaining. French director Louis Feuillade specialized in crime and adventure serials, and Fantomas (1913) was his first great masterpiece. Divided into five episodes that run between an hour and an hour-and-a-half (just think of it as binge-watching), the movie focuses on the criminal mastermind Fantomas (René Navarre). He has no family, no morals, and no redemption, and the entire movie is about his enormous skill at doing bad things. Among them, he kills a famous artist and uses the artist’s fingerprints to commit more crimes!
Fear not, police inspector Juve (Edmund Breon) and newspaperman Fandor (Georges Melchior) are on his trail. There are many disguises and escapes, and it’s all a lot of fun. Feuillade was one of the first to employ location shooting and sustained, intertwining plotlines; this early effort can sometimes be a bit static, but he definitely improved over time. (His Les Vampires and Judex are also recommended.)
The Walk (Vudu)
Definitely one of the more under-appreciated efforts of 2015, Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk (2015) fictionalizes the events depicted in the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. In 1974, French street performer and wire-walker Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) strung a wire between the twin towers of the recently-built World Trade Center in New York and walked between them, hundreds of feet in the air. Zemeckis’ film details everything that transpired for this nearly-impossible task to actually take place, but the tour-de-force is the walk itself, a nerve-clenching display of camerawork, acting, and effects that, while spectacular on the big screen and in 3D, is no less effective at home.
Many critics complained that this 123-minute film is a slow-starter, but thanks to Gordon-Levitt’s animated performance and Zemeckis’s energy, it moves briskly and with enthusiasm. Best of all is the subtle and moving love letter to New York in particular, and America in general. Ben Kingsley is terrific as Petit’s mentor.
River's Edge (TubiTV)
A shocker when it was first released, Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge (1987) has lost little of its power. In a suburban California wasteland, teen John (Daniel Roebuck) sits blankly by the body of his girlfriend, whom he has strangled and killed. His friend Layne (Crispin Glover) tries to cover up the murder, hiding John with the bizarre drug dealer Feck (Dennis Hopper), who lives with a blow-up doll as his companion. Meanwhile, other teens around town seem to feel nothing about the incident, going about their lives, skipping school, smoking pot, and going home only when it’s necessary. Only Layne’s pal Matt (Keanu Reeves), who has just begun a romance with the pretty Clarissa (Ione Skye, credited here with her real last name, Leitch), begins to think about what’s going on.
Like a black-sheep second cousin to Blue Velvet, Hunter’s film is less about nightmares and more about frightening realities; very little is scarier than the prospect that people just don’t care.
Henry V (1989) (TubiTV)
At age 28, Kenneth Branagh audaciously took on this $9 million production of Shakespeare’s Henry V (1989), directing and starring himself. Purists were offended that anyone would try to out-do Laurence Olivier’s beloved wartime version, but Branagh replaced Olivier’s bold colors with a muddier, bloodier, more realistic approach. His battle of Agincourt is still incredibly striking, including a memorable several-minute-long take, and he received dual Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Actor (the film won a single award for its costume design).
It’s quite glorious, even though, overall, it’s not one of the clearer adaptations of Shakespeare; while Branagh included “flashbacks” from other plays, illustrating his relationship with Falstaff (Robbie Coltrane), it helps to have a little knowledge of the Bard before going in. The cast includes luminaries like Ian Holm, Brian Blessed, Judi Dench, and Paul Scofield, plus a lovely young Emma Thompson as the French princess won by Henry, and an even younger Christian Bale as the “luggage boy.” Derek Jacobi narrates, starting the movie off from a film set. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends!”
Looking for more filmd recommendations? You’ll find all past Now Streaming columns listed here.