Does ‘silent’ film still stand up as the best of the best? Did it ever?

By Todd Hill

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Jean Dujardin, right, star of Best Picture winner “The Artist,” poses with his Academy Award for Best Actor as he holds his co-star, Uggie, at the 84th Academy Awards on Feb. 26, 2012 in Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse/AFP

The possibility that hindsight can be 20/20 should never be confused with a guarantee that it will be. This is especially true of motion pictures, and thank goodness.

Professional film critics — an endangered species, although there’s still a few of them around — may appear to have an easy job. Who wouldn’t want to get paid for going to movies every day (or having them come to you as screeners) and then writing about them? …


Movies reflected the news of the day, except when they didn’t

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From left, actors Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”) and Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”) pose with their Oscars at the 85th Academy Awards on Feb. 24, 2013 in Hollywood. Photo courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

By Todd Hill

Articles like this one are forever attempting to make connections between the motion pictures that break through and the times that we live in. This particular article will attempt to make the case that these ties are tenuous at best.

In 2011, America’s war in (or with) Iraq finally wound down to something like an official end after eight long years. In that same year, Osama bin Laden was tracked down and killed, concluding the journey begun with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 with considerably more finality.

Was it just a coincidence then, that the Best Picture winner at the 85th Academy Awards was “Argo,” based on a stranger-than-fiction tale about the Iranian hostage crisis that closed out the 1970’s but had much to say about America’s relations in the Middle East during the 2000's? …


Did ’12 Years a Slave’ make up for ‘Gone With the Wind’?

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From left, Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”), Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”), Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) and Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) pose with their acting Oscars at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood on March 2, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters

By Todd Hill

There’s no statute of limitations when it comes to cinematic mea culpas, but should there be?

One of the most popular and important motion pictures in Academy Awards and Hollywood history — 1939’s “Gone With the Wind,” winner of eight Oscars on 13 nominations — hasn’t aged particularly well. Like the novel from which it was derived, it completely ignores the unpleasant realities of slavery in America’s antebellum South.

This article isn’t the place to get into whether “Gone With the Wind” should fall victim to today’s cancel culture; I’ll save that for my piece on 1939’s Best Picture nominees. …


Oscar bait packed the house, but Academy Award went to ‘Birdman’

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The winners of the Academy Awards’ acting Oscars gather backstage during the 87th Oscars in Hollywood on Feb. 22, 2015. From left are Patricia Arquette (Best Supporting Actress for “Boyhood), Eddie Redmayne (Actor, “The Theory of Everything”), Julianne Moore (Actress, “Still Alice”) and J.K. Simmons (Supporting Actor, “Whiplash”). Photo courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

By Todd Hill

The Academy Awards are rich with tradition — well, perhaps “rich” isn’t the best word to use in this instance.

If a tradition can be defined, snarkily, as something that’s repeatedly done a certain way simply because it’s always been done that way then yes, the Oscars are most assuredly traditional. And no, this usually doesn’t work out to be a good thing.

The phenomenon of “Oscar bait,” so called, is one such tried and true Academy Awards tradition. And it is long past time for it to be ditched. …


Should we add ‘Spotlight’ to the pantheon of great journalism movies?

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Actor Mark Ruffalo, center, reacts after the film “Spotlight” is named the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 28, 2016 in Hollywood. Ruffalo received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

By Todd Hill

There are a good two dozen (or so) movies that, while not exclusively about journalism, tell a good story as seen by, or uncovered through, a journalist’s eyes. And many of these are good movies — “The China Syndrome” (1974), “Zodiac” (2007), even “Almost Famous” (2000), technically. The list goes on.

But the list of superlative movies that can be said to be wholly about journalism remains small — “Broadcast News” (1987) and “All the President’s Men” (1976), which seems unlikely to ever lose its title as the best journalism movie ever made. Should we now add to this list “Spotlight?” …


South Korea’s ‘Parasite’ made history, but will it be remembered?

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South Korean filmmaker Bong John-ho amuses himself with two of the four Academy Awards his film “Parasite” won, including Best Picture and Best Director, at the 2020 Oscars ceremony. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

By Todd Hill

Remember when the movie business still made relative sense?

Think back, if you can, to Feb. 9, 2020, when the Academy Awards were handed out to scores of films that were, arguably, more deserving than they often are. The event had Hollywood’s movers and shakers gathering en masse to celebrate an industry that had more reason to be confident about the future than it usually does.

Weeks later, of course, the coronavirus arrived in the U.S., closing movie theaters nationwide and largely eliminating the film release schedule until further notice. As of the date of this article’s publication (June 24, 2020), many states have finally allowed exhibitors to reopen, although with studios pushing their titles back to the fall or later, it’s worth asking what theaters would find to show. …


‘Green Book’ for the top prize? Really? Were they serious?

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Mahershala Ali appears as an educated African American man who’s never eaten fried chicken before in arguably the most racist scene in the 2018 film “Green Book,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

By Todd Hill

Talk to most filmmakers, and they’ll tell you they would take a hit picture over an award any day. Everyone knows what a hit looks like; a dollar figure always comes attached. But what, exactly, does an Academy Award for Best Picture even mean anymore?

Settling on what it meant in 2018 is especially challenging. The annual lineup of Best Picture nominees is always a bit of a mishmash, a comparison of apples and oranges, particularly now when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems so conflicted about what exactly is intended by advancing the art form of cinema. …


What are the odds two films about the WWII Battle of Dunkirk would top the list?

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The Battle of Dunkirk, which was more an evacuation — of British and other Allied troops from northern France in May-June of 1940 — was the subject of two 2017 films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, “Dunkirk” and “Darkest Hour.” Neither won. Photo courtesy of Doyle Collection

By Todd Hill

Back when I was an official, full-time film critic (remember those?), I had the privilege of screening each year’s eventual Oscar nominees for Best Picture several months before they were chosen. Consequently, the nominations were rarely surprising, but frequently disappointing, since I had also seen a number of other deserving films that failed to land a nod.

Now I have to watch the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture like most people — well, most people never get around to watching them all. …


‘La La Land’ had its moment, but year belonged to ‘Moonlight’

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Audience members at the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre exhibit a range of emotions watching “Moonlight” win the Oscar for Best Picture minutes after the honor was mistakenly awarded to “La La Land,” on Feb. 26, 2017. Photo courtesy of Associated Press

By Todd Hill

Frankly, it’s surprising that it hasn’t happened more often.

Historically, the 89th Academy Awards could have been remembered for rewarding the most deserving nominees, hardly a perennial event. At least most film critics felt that’s how it went down.

These Oscars perhaps should have been remembered for their remarkable, even historical, diversity — as far as black actors and films about the black experience were concerned, since the diversity certainly didn’t extend to other demographics. …


Are they among the best movies ever made, or is that just their reputation?

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Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” (1972) caught Marlon Brando, starring as Vito Corleone, at just the right time, when his film career was in need of rejuvenation and before his eccentricities made him impossible to work with (“Apocalypse Now”). Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

By Todd Hill

After several weeks of listening to one of those seemingly countless podcasts out there about movies, I decided to part ways with the program after hearing a co-host admit one too many times to never having seen yet another classic title. We all have blind spots when it comes to important motion pictures and that’s fine, but if your job involves writing or talking about cinema those blind spots better be few in number.

This is why I lived under a heavy, wet blanket of shame for decades, simply because I had never seen Francis Ford Coppola’s first two “Godfather” films. I had at some point unwisely attempted to get through 1990’s final installment in the mob trilogy, but having no context by which I might be able to appreciate it I gave up halfway in. That was more than enough for me to realize that the much-derided movie, an admitted money grab by the director, wasn’t worth my time. …

About

Warm3wind

Todd Hill is a former journalist with 30 years of experience, much of it in film criticism, who misses neither journalism nor the film beat.

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