music friday: 1975
who's a star

best picture oscars

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016).  I knew nothing about it going in, not that three actors played one character over time, not that there was a gay angle, not that Janelle Monae and Naomie Harris were in it, not that it took place in a drug milieu. I'd never heard of Mahershala Ali, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Pretty much all I knew was that it won last year's Best Picture Oscar. (Since even at this late date, I've only seen three of the Best Picture nominees from 2017, it doesn't mean much, but Moonlight is the best one I've seen.) The film is seamless as it progresses through three different periods in a young man's life, with the three actors portraying the boy/man clicking on an emotional level, no matter whether they look like the same person. Like the best coming-of-age stories, Moonlight is passionately specific in its story yet remarkably universal in its appeal. It feels true to the life of a black boy gradually discovering his gayness, but the insights into his life let everyone in the audience into the story. Complex, but made with such confidence that it never confuses. Great acting across the board, as well. #89 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

Grand Hotel  (Edmund Goulding, 1932). An early winner of Best Picture, and still the only such winner that was not nominated in any other category. It's noteworthy today for its cast, which included Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore (who between them had 3 acting Oscars and 11 nominations). And it is most famous for being the movie in which Garbo said she wanted to be alone. The acting is variable ... Beery and Lionel B overact as usual, so your tolerance depends on how much you like them. John Barrymore is perfectly cast as a thief with a heart of gold, even if he is old enough to be the father of the two possible love interests. He seems decent, and, as befits his nickname "The Great Profile", seems to be shot in profile 90% of the time. Garbo is the film's star, Crawford (for some people) steals the film. Although they were roughly the same age, Crawford had made almost twice as many movies as Garbo, but she was third-billed after Garbo and John B. For me, Crawford's best work was done in these early years, and she is quite wonderful in Grand Hotel, but once Garbo comes on the screen, you don't look at anyone else. (Critic Mick LaSalle has written, "She is the woman who wrecked my life, or at least changed my life. Before Garbo, I always figured I'd go to law school, and I never had any special interest in movies -- certainly not any fanatical interest. And then I saw Garbo in 'Grand Hotel,' and some switch went off in my head.") With all of this, Grand Hotel still isn't a very good movie. When none of the three big stars are on screen, the movie drags, and the entire plot and characterizations are serviceable and nothing more. Worth seeing for Garbo, though.


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