When I decided that Terms of Endearment was to be my next Oscar Best Picture Winner, I did not know what type of a film it was. With a character driven plot, Terms of Endearment follows the lives of a mother and daughter that have a strong yet unique bond. While this film was not my favorite, it had some outstanding performances in it that made the film compelling and worth watching.
If there was a single word that could describe this film it would be dysfunctional. When I say dysfunctional I am not referring to the camera shots or direction of the film, I am talking simply about the characters themselves. The film focuses on the mother/daughter duo Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma Greenway Horton (Debra Winger). It becomes clear early on that despite thinking about the world in very different ways, Aurora and Emma are best friends. Married to professor Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora moves to Des Moines Iowa for Flap to pursue his career. Eventually having three children, Tommy Horton (Troy Bishop), Teddy Horton (Huckleberry Fox) and Melanie Horton (Megan Morris), the two sink into a fairly unhappy marriage. With Flap unable to deal with the pressures of having a family and Emma trying to raise the children on her own both have affairs, Flap with a young college student and Emma with Sam Burns (John Lithgow). Flap job eventually forces them to move to Kearney, Nebraska and their marriage continues to fall into disarray. The Horton’s lives are tragically put into perspective however when Emma finds a cancerous lump under her armpit.
Meanwhile, without her daughter there, Aurora Greenway is forced to live her own life. Still in constant contact with her daughter, Aurora and Emma talk on the phone often. Working her way through a string of interested gentlemen, including Vernon Dahlart (Danny DeVito), Aurora is attracted and drawn to her neighbor, Astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). Aurora is a dramatic woman that needs to be in control of every situation while Garrett is a crude, fly by the seat of his pants, drunk who does not like to be tied down. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is watching Aurora and Garrett both adapt and deal with each other’s misgivings to eventually meet each other in the middle to create a workable relationship.
While the directing and script for this film were good, there were two aspects of film that absolutely blew me away. The first was character development. Not only do the characters in this film all have fairly large flaws but the film’s script accentuates and hinges upon these flaws. Throughout the film the characters are really forced to acknowledge and deal with their own flaws as well as many of the other characters’ flaws. It allows the characters to really grow, even if it is for the worse. The other aspect of this film that I found to be amazing was Jack Nicholson. Earning himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Nicholson stole the screen every time he was on it. Playing a misogynistic astronaut that has far outlived his glory days, Nicholson’s character learns to be an actual adult while cultivating a relationship with Aurora.
In my mind, Terms of Endearment is not a Best Picture winning film but when it comes down to it, none of the other Best Picture nominees, the Big Chill, the Right Stuff, Tender Mercies and the Dresser, were any more deserving. The film’s director and writer, James L. Brooks, took home an Oscar for Best Director and Best Writing and Shirley MacLaine earned her own Oscar for Best Actress. I would give this film a 6.5 out of 10. While I thought Jack Nicholson gave an outstanding performance I found the film to be somewhat boring and depressing and most of the characters did not get the final outcome the film seemed to be working towards.
In a small town people will always suspect the worst of someone. But they’ll also suspect the best.
I would have never even thought to give the film Bernie a second glance had I not watched the 2013 Golden Globes. When announcing the nominees for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy, Jack Black’s picture flashed across the screen. I am quite a Jack Black fan and I believe that he is an underrated actor that doesn’t take roles that show he can really act. The moment I saw he had been nominated for a Golden Globe I made not of what movie it was for. Finding it was on Netflix Instant Queue, I decided to watch it and was quite surprised by the uniquely entertaining film.
Based on a true story, the film is not a full blown mockumentary but has many elements of one. The film tells the story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), a man from Carthage Texas who is loved by one an all. An assistant funeral director, Bernie is also heavily involved in the church and the community. When her husband passes away, Bernie takes an interest in Marjorie “Marge” Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). A mean old lady whose family has tried to sue her and has lost all of her friends, the only person Marge is happy around is Bernie. For a while Bernie and Marge get along, spending every second together and going on trips. As time goes on, Marge starts to take Bernie for granted and starts to see him as her property.
Running the nicest man in the world to the bone and eventually to insanity, Bernie has no choice but to kill her. Prosecuted by Danny Buck Davison (Matthew McConaughey), the case makes history when it is moved from Carthage because the people of the town loved Bernie so much that Davidson did not believe the jury would make an impartial decision.
There were a number of things about this film that surprised me, the first being the fact that it was based on a true story. When something is based on a true story, it always makes you wonder how truthful the events in the film actually are. Jack Black’s portrayal of the charismatic Bernie Tiede had to be somewhat accurate because it was very difficult to dislike the character. He is famous for being the subject of one of the only cases to have a change of venue due to fear that the jury would be too biased in favor of the murderer.
Shirley MacClaine is one of my favorite female actresses and it does not surprise me that she was great in this film. Perfectly playing Marge, who can only be described as a bitch, MacClaine steals many of the scenes she is in. By the time Bernie actually kills her, you dislike her so much that its hard to feel bad for her death. What surprised me was Jack Black’s performance. The comedy came easy for the veteran but a number of scenes required Black to delve into drama and he easily rose to the occasion to make Bernie a well rounded and well done character.
This film was much funnier than I expected it to be, attacking what could have been seen as a very dark issue and making it oddly amusing. A lot of the comedy comes from the interviews that are interspersed through the story, showing the people of Carthage talking about the town, Bernie and the trial. As seems to be the case with many of my This Week on Netflix choices, you must like dark comedy to enjoy Bernie. I give this film a 7 out of 10. It is a funny film with a compelling subject with acting that will surprise and draw you in.
As should already be evident with these Best Picture posts, I am going in no specific order or pattern. I have a list of all the Best Picture winners since the Oscar’s started and have been randomly choosing films off the list to watch. For this installment in this series of posts I chose the winning film from 1960, a film called The Apartment. Filmed in black and white and starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, I was skeptical about this film at first but found it to be one of the better films I have seen in the past couple of weeks.
My skepticisms in watching this film did not come from the fact that it was in black and white. My skepticism came from a dumb assumption I made before actually watching the film. Judging by the screenshots I had seen and by the description of the film, I assumed that it was an old romantic comedy, which aren’t always my favorite films. The Apartment taught me pretty quickly not to, pardon the cliché, judge a movie by its cover. Though the majority of the film did have a humorous, light-hearted feel, the movie touched on a number of fairly serious and dark topics.
The plot and drama of the film is fueled by the ambitious C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), Buddy Boy for short, a man who doesn’t want to become a nameless worker where he works. To climb the corporate ladder at his insurance company, C.C. Baxter allows four of his superiors to use his apartment as a place to enact their extramarital activities. In return, Baxter’s superiors all recommended Baxter for promotion where a fifth higher higher up begins to use the apartment as well. Ignoring the fact that his superiors are taking complete advantage of Baxter, making him leave his own apartment when they need to use it, the real drama enters the film when Baxter falls in love with one of the superior’s mistresses, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).
Fran and Baxter both have their own plotlines that both converge and diverge multiple times and both plotlines are incredibly depressing. Fran, who works as elevator operator in Baxter’s building, has fallen in love with the powerful and married Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) who also happens to be Baxter’s boss. Throughout the film, Fran has to deal with loving a man she must sneak around with and can never truly be with. After watching her suffer endless heartache, Fran falls into such despair that she even attempts to take her own life.
While Fran is dealing with heartache, Baxter spends the film desperately trying to figure out how to stand up for himself. As his superiors continue to take advantage of him and the perks of climbing the corporate ladder do not trump sharing his apartment with five adulterors, Baxter starts to get fed up. Fighting to win Fran’s heart and keep his dignity at the same time, Baxter eventually finds a way to stand up fro himself and be happy with his own life.
This film is full of great performances. Lemmon brings the eager to please yet inherently sad C.C. Baxter to life and MacLaine is absolutely charming as Miss Kubelik. The adulterous superiors are represented by a hilarious crew of fast talking actors including Ray Walston and David Lewis. Jack Druschen gives a hilarious performance as Doctor Dreyfus, Baxter’s judgmental and scolding neighbor. The film was directed by the extremely talented Billy Wilder, winning him Oscars for both Best Director and Best Writing. The film also won the 1960 Oscar for Best Picture beating out the Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers and the Sundowners. I have not seen any of the other nominees for that year but I believe that the Apartment’s win was earned and well deserved. I give this film a 9 out of 10. With acting, directing and writing that create characters the audience can really care about, this film made you care for the characters from beginning to end.