Funny Girl (1968)

funny

Starring: Barbra Streisand (in her film debut), Omar Sharif, Kay Medford, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis

Director: William Wyler

Summary: Comedienne Fanny Brice fights to prove she can be the greatest star and find romance even though she isn’t pretty

Other Nominations: Actress (Streisand)*, Supporting Actress (Medford), Musical Score, Original Song (“Funny Girl”), Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-Streisand is the reason to watch-she’s charming, funny, she makes you feel sorry for her in her relationship, she can sing obviously, she’s perfect. I Can’t really see who else could have played the role anywhere near as well-the studio originally wanted Shirley MacLaine despite Streisand having originated the role on Broadway, but nobody would do it without Streisand. She capture’s Brice’s overwhelming Jewishness, humor, singing ability and even physical features.

-The songs are alright, without anything being that great but nothing sticks out as bad or anything. Streisand is a good singer even if her style isn’t my thing.

Negatives

-The Story itself is nothing to write home about and is below-average in comparison to most of the other 50s-60s musicals I’ve watched for this project (and it’s one of the longer ones at 2 hours, 40 minutes). It’s a standard romance melodrama and the movie really falls off after the intermission where it becomes totally focused on the downs of the relationship.

Overall

Beyond Streisand’s excellent lead performance, there’s not a lot to talk about, but it’s enough to make this above average

Rating: C+

The Lion in Winter (1968)

winter

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins (in his feature film debut), John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton (in his film debut), Jane Merrow

Director: Anthony Harvey

Summary: England’s Henry II and his estranged queen battle over the choice of an heir

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (O’Toole), Actress (Hepburn)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score*, Costume Design

Positives

-There’s constant backstabbing, political maneuvering, sexual histories constantly being brought up, and general bitchiness between the characters: at it’s core, it’s a really entertaining big soap opera and I love it. What makes those elements great though is the lead performances and the dialogue though which elevate this. O’Toole and Hepburn are two of my favorites, with O’Toole returning to play Henry II again (and he’s just as good as he was in Becket), but this time he’s matched up against somebody who’s just as charismatic and ruthless as he is-Katharine Hepburn’s Eleanor of Aquitaine. Seeing them match wits in their love-hate relationship with their sons as pawns (including a solid Anthony Hopkins as Richard) and with Philip II of France (Dalton) as a wild card never gets old because of just how good the actors are, along with the consistently great dialogue. In addition to Hepburn, this should also have been easily O’Toole’s Oscar win; instead it went to Cliff Robertson for his performance in Charly which was considered mediocre at the time and has aged worse, but he had a big studio campaign behind him. Saldy, O’Toole would never win that Oscar, going 0/8 in his career.

-John Barry wasn’t just the guy behind the early James Bond themes, he won he won five Oscars for his work on other films over his long and successful career, including this one which was very good and one of the first scores to use gregorian chants to great effect.

Negatives

-It was what is it-there’s not a lot of bigger, great themes or character growth or anything like that, it’s an entertaining movie that while it has substance, isn’t one of the great works of cinema.

Overall

Very enjoyable medieval soap opera with stellar lead performances from two of the all-time greats and a very good script.

Rating: A-

*Oliver! (1968)*

Oliver

Starring: Mark Lester, Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Jack Wild, Shani Wallis, Harry Secombe, Joseph O’Conor, Hugh Griffith

Director: Carol Reed

Summary: Musical version of the Dickens classic about an orphan taken in by a band of boy thieves

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Moody), Supporting Actor (Wild), Adapted Screenplay, Musical Score*, Sound Mixing*, Costume Design, Art Direction*, Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-Moody and Wild are both really good and deserved their nominations, and Wild is especially good for a child actor; however, the person who I think was best in the film was Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes. Everytime he’s on screen, he’s incredibly intimidating, his voice is like death and his eyes make you feel like he has no soul. His performance reminds me a bit of Charles Laughton in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, so if you remember that review, you know that is high praise.

-The sets and costumes are perfect and evoke Victorian-era (ish) London completely

-I generally like the songs, with Fagin’s songs and “Who Will Buy?” being my favorites, even if some of them go on too long.

Negatives

-Besides me not being that big a fan of musicals, I’m also not that big a fan of Dickens. Oliver Twist, much like the majority of his main characters, isn’t very interesting and basically serves to stand there while other more interesting supporting characters do things. His plots also tend to be built on giant webs of coincidences and all of his characters are very broad, either being totally pure and good or complete monsters about 90% of the time although this one is a little better in that regard than some.

Other Stuff

-This is the only G-rated movie to win Best Picture, with this being the first year of the MPAA rating system, although some previous winners were retroactively rated as such. I’m a little surprised though that this got a G rating considering it has someone bludgeoned to death, someone shot, children put in life or death situations and a prostitute (although never directly referred to as such).

Overall

It’s good for a musical for some very good performances (especially Reed), but I’m not that big a fan of either musicals or the source material in general, so I just thought it was pretty good.

Rating: B-

Rachel, Rachel (1968)

rachel

Starring: Joanne Woodward,  Kate Harrington, James Olson, Estelle Parsons, Terry Kiser (in his debut)

Director: Paul Newman

Summary: A small town teacher tries to overcome her shyness

Other Nominations: Actress (Woodward), Supporting Actress (Parsons), Adapted Screenplay

Positives

-This was a very strong year for Best Actress-Joanne Woodward (Newman’s wife who had won an Oscar long before he did) was a legitimate competitor to Hepburn and Streisand with all three giving very different but very strong performances. One reason I think all the internal monologues her character has in the film are unnecessary is because her face successfully conveys all the information the audience needs to know about what her character is thinking. She’s sensitive and depressing, but she never goes over the line into hysterics or scenery chewing even though she very easily could have.

Negatives

-Besides Woodward, most of the other elements feel clumsy. I already mentioned the internal monologuing which really just detracts from Woodward’s performance, but there’s also a number of flashbacks (most either being seamless transitions from present-day to her childhood or directly integrated into present day) that don’t add a lot or have a real payoff, and the main character has a number of vivid fantasies about what she would like to do that play out in her mind that are hit-or-miss. It’s very artsy and offbeat whereas I think a more straightforward presentation would have worked better.

-The movie moves pretty slowly and some of the scenes drag out too long (despite the runtime being only 100 minutes). The main culprit for me is revival meeting scene, which is odd in the first place and goes on too long. Yes, there was a..sort of? important scene after it (that again, doesn’t get that much of a payoff), but it could have come in elsewhere. Again, a lot of the movie feels clumsy and could have ended up as something really good with a better screenwriter and/or director.

Overall

Joanne Woodward’s excellent performance can only carry so much of the movie when the rest of its elements don’t work all that well. It has a lot of the right pieces on a narrative and character level, but it never ends up working altogether.

Overall: C

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

romeo

Starring: Leonard Whiting (his film debut), Olivia Hussey, John McEnery, Milo O’Shea, Pat Heywood, Michael York

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Summary: Spoilers, they both die at the end

Other Nominations: Director, Costume Design*, Cinematography*

Positives

-Stylistically, it feels more vibrant and fresher than other adaptations. Part of this is due to the cast being younger than other adaptations (Whiting was 18, Hussey 17 at the time of release, others were age-appropriate for the characters), part of it is due to characters feeling less stiff and more modern while still sticking to the play’s roots and part is due to the quality cinematography that isn’t as flat and stagy as earlier versions.

-The performances are generally good (including the two leads who were both unknowns at the time), and I would call out McEnery’s performance as Mercutio as the best, with a very lively but not cartoonish take on the character.

Negatives

-While it’s probably as good of a straight adaptation of the source material as you’re going to get, I still am not a fan of the play to begin with. While it’s a story more about its themes (love, impulsiveness of youth vs. the unyielding attitudes of parents, and that grudges can last for way longer than there being any good reason for them to) than its characters, man the leads are just not compelling at all. At its core, it’s still a love story, and I simply cannot get myself to care about these two people whose romance seems so superficial and whose characters have very few defining traits. It’s one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays and even though I can appreciate the other themes that are there, the central crux of the story just doesn’t interest me.

Overall

As an adaptation, it succeeds and breathes new life into Shakespeare when there hadn’t been any big movies made out of his plays since Olivier. However, my lack of interest in the source material makes this one that I like less than most people probably will.

Rating: B-

1968 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1968

2001: A Space Odyssey: A massive omission-nominated for 4 Oscars (including Director for Stanley Kubrick and Original Screenplay) but not Best Picture despite it now being considered one of the greatest of all-time. Upon its release, it was extremely divisive due to its amazing visuals and intelligence, but many found it incomprehensive; there still are many in both camps, but it’s universally appreciated for being way ahead of the curve. #6 on the Sight and Sound List.

Once Upon a Time in the West: In my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made and the culmination of everything Sergio Leone had been doing with Westerns. There’s so many things to talk about with this movie-Henry Fonda doing an amazing job playing against type, Charles Bronson’s sheer presence, Ennio Morricone’s score, the stunning Claudia Cardinale, the pacing of scenes, its themes about the death of the wild west via the railroad, I love everything about it. If you haven’t seen it, you absolutely should even if you don’t like Westerns. Unfortunately, it was trimmed by 21 minutes for its initial U.S. release which ruined its shot at a BP nomination if there ever was the possibility. In the National Film Registry.

Rosemary’s Baby: One of the seminal horror movies of all-time, which is what happens when you have a fantastic director (Roman Polanski) making a horror movie which plays with extremely accessible underlying themes (the fear of something going wrong with your/your wife’s pregnancy) and 100% committed performances playing it completely straight. Nominated for Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress. In the National Film Registry.

Night of the Living Dead: Another seminal horror movie and the movie that made zombies mainstream and forever defined what a zombie should look and act like. A huge part of this movie’s success besides its obvious merits is due to it’s always being in the public domain (due to a failure to affix copyright correctly when that was a requirement), meaning that it got shown everywhere and by everyone. In the National Film Registry.

The Odd Couple: The most celebrated of the many collaborations between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and is considered one of the great comedies of all-time. Nominated for 2 Academy Awards for Adapted Screenplay and Editing. In the National Film Registry.

Bullitt: Everybody remembers it for its legendary car chase and Steve McQueen in one of his definitive roles, but this is one of the best movies ever at capturing the look and feel of a city with the whole movie filmed on location in San Francisco and San Mateo, which provide great snapshots for cities that have undergone massive changes since then. Nominated for Editing and Sound. In the National Film Registry.

Planet of the Apes: Charlton Heston is always fun and certainly is here, and the makeup was revolutionary for the time. Of course, what most people remember above everything else is its twist ending-what most people don’t know is that it wasn’t in the original novel, but was actually written by the master of the twist ending himself, Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame. In the National Film Registry.

The Producers: The directorial debut of the great Mel Brooks who was one of the first directors whose movies I fell in love with and this is one of his most enduring works that later became a massively successful musical. Nominated for 2 Oscars (Original Screenplay which it won for and Gene Wilder for Supporting Actor in his breakout role). In the National Film Registry.

1968 in Review

The Lion in Winter: A-

Oliver!: B- (Won Best Picture)

Romeo and Juliet: B-

Funny Girl: C+

Rachel, Rachel: C

This is a year of wasted opportunities: just imagine a Best Picture nominee slate of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Once Upon a Time in the West, Rosemary’s Baby, The Producers and The Lion in Winter-that might have been the best year of nominees ever. What we got is a couple of decent but unexceptional musicals (which dominated the Oscars that year), along with an offbeat drama that doesn’t quite work, a good adaptation of a Shakespeare play I’m not a fan of, and just one great movie. Sigh.

November 1st, 1968 was the date the old Production Code was replaced with the current MPAA rating system; you didn’t see it have much of an effect on the nominees for this year, but I have a feeling next year will be a bit different. We have: A movie who’s 10 nominations in the face of mediocre reviews and box office was in no way due to the filet mignon and champagne dinners accompanied by the screenings for Academy members; The movie that holds the record for most BAFTA Awards ever (nine); The first movie to ever be released on VHS; The only X-rated movie to win Best Picture or be shown on network TV; and the first foreign language film to get a Best Picture nomination since 1938.