Snack Break: Congratulations

Once again, I thought I had this Best Picture Oscar pegged and get surprised with a film that traditionally would not have won. I hope this means we’ll see more representation from other genres than “drama” in the years to come.

The Shape of Water

Of the nine contenders for Best Picture this year, there were plenty that I thought were truly great. It’s tough to choose one over the others, especially with some really thought-provoking and well-made films. Personally, my favorite was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, followed by Darkest Hour, Get Out, Dunkirk, and Lady Bird. The Shape of Water was in that list of favorites as well, but that’s because it was directed by one of my favorite directors: Guillermo del Toro. In fact, a number of my favorite directors had showings this year, including Christopher Nolan and Martin McDonagh.

It’s tough when there’s not necessarily a front-runner for the Oscars, as each category presented proves to be a real mystery. Many of them could have gone a number of different ways, but at least the ones that won were certainly well-deserved.


#321. Marilyn Monroe

What makes someone into an icon? Is it an accumulation of moments and sound bites, or can a single picture cement an individual as a piece of our popular culture? We all know that “sex sells,” so perhaps the idea of an icon isn’t as accurate as saying someone is a sex symbol. For whatever reason, Marilyn Monroe is the de-facto sex symbol of American history. A few moments from her career and life have made her into a muse for an enormous amount of artists and entertainers, even if it is occasionally in parody. From her sultry birthday song to former President John F. Kennedy to the famous subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955), her suicide in 1963 only fuels the never-ending obsession with Hollywood’s favorite “dumb blonde.” This week’s two films highlight bookends to Marilyn Monroe’s film career.

Some Like it HotSome Like it Hot
Year: 1959
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours

In the decade before the end of her life, Monroe was on a hot streak on Hollywood. She appeared in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), which included the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and The Seven Year Itch, with its aforementioned subway grate shot. In the height of her popularity, she even started her own film company, which released The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), the filming of which was the main plot of the biopic, My Week with Marilyn (2011). Part of the appeal of her roles in these films came from the “dumb blonde” persona. When she acted like a beautiful girl without a brain in her head, often comedy would ensue. If anything, it perpetuated a negative female stereotype. At any rate, one of her final films was none other than the classic, Some Like it Hot (1959).

Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) is a singer and ukulele player for an all-female ensemble en route to Miami for a gig. When their train leaves from Chicago, they pick up a saxophone player named Josephine (Tony Curtis) and a double-bass player named Daphne (Jack Lemmon). When Josephine and Daphne join in on Sugar’s forbidden drinking, the trio becomes fast friends. Sugar bemoans the fact she can’t find a good man and hopes to turn her luck around with a bespectacled millionaire in Florida. As luck would have it, she finds such a man, but only because Josephine is actually a man named Joe. He and Daphne (nee Jerry) dressed as women to escape the mob. Donning another disguise as Junior, Joe woos Sugar but cannot keep the ruse up for long as the mafia soon finds the two men again. In a rushed kiss during their escape, Sugar learns that Josephine is both Joe and Junior and decides to run away with him.

All About EveAll About Eve
Year: 1950
Rating: Approved
Length: 138 minutes / 2.3 hours

Even with half a dozen movies under her belt, Marilyn Monroe was still relatively unknown by 1950. Often, a pretty face will get you in the door, but you need something extra to break through into stardom. By 1953, with such hits as Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire, Monroe had finally grabbed everyone’s attention by simply oozing sexuality. What is interesting about her films before this point is seeing her in minor roles and thinking, “Isn’t that Marilyn Monroe?” Despite many of these earlier films not standing up well over time, All About Eve (1950) still remains culturally relevant. As the Best Picture for that year, All About Eve focuses on what it takes to get ahead in the theater. Interestingly enough, the heavily Marilyn-influenced TV show, Smash, revealed the same amount of backstabbing in today’s theater world as well.

Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is pleased to find an endearing fan in Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) and hires her to run some of the minutiae of her life. During a surprise party Eve set up for Margo’s boyfriend, Bill (Gary Merrill), Margo gets drunk and soon learns that her producer, Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), has agreed to audition the beautiful arm-candy of theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). Miss Casswell (Marilyn Monroe) auditions with Margo’s new understudy, Eve. Since this was news to Margo, she starts to recognize the warning signs: Eve is trying to replace her. After all, the papers are touting Eve as an up-and-coming star who fits in the roles better than the “mature” actress that Margo has become. Now Margo is on full alert, but it is already too late. Eve has played the system and is soon recognized for her accomplishments.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 marvelous Marilyn Monroe roles

Bacon #: 2 (Some Like it Hot / Jack Lemmon -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#319. Shirley MacLaine

While there are plenty of comediennes in Hollywood today, this wasn’t always the case. Most of the women who appeared in comedies were either cast as serious characters to offset the hilarity of their male counterparts (as was done in The Marx Brothers’ films) or were used only as naïve damsels who would eventually fall in love with the male main character. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when women started to have roles that could showcase their comedic talent. Shirley MacLaine was one of these women, and she has continued to support comedies to this day. With such a long and diverse career, MacLaine has managed to maintain her poise and dignity in a genre that often resorts to slapstick and lowbrow jokes to get their laughs. This week’s two films highlights some of Shirley MacLaine’s best roles.

Terms of EndearmentTerms of Endearment
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

When it comes to awards, comedies are often at a disadvantage when compared to dramas. It is disappointing to have such a bias toward dramatic stories and roles when there are plenty of excellent comedic films. This bias is also present for the actors who play these comedic roles. Because of this challenge, the comedic actors and actresses who manage to be nominated for their work have overcome much to earn that honor. Shirley MacLaine has received nominations for Best Actress five times during her career. For three decades, she received nominations for Some Came Running (1958), The Apartment (1960), Irma la Douce (1963), and The Turning Point (1976). Finally, in 1983’s Terms of Endearment, a film that also took home Best Picture, she took home that coveted statuette for her role as Aurora Greenway.

Despite being alone, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) readily confides in her adult daughter, Emma (Debra Winger). Both of them are practically in the same life stage: searching for love wherever it may reside. Unfortunately, as Emma finds love with Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora’s disapproval puts a wedge between them both. Meanwhile, Aurora gets to know her neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) and falls in love with the retired astronaut. Through some difficult times in Emma’s marriage and journey through motherhood, Aurora is always there for her. Unfortunately, there is little Aurora can do once Emma is diagnosed with terminal cancer. A mother never wants to bury their child, even if said child has had a meaningful and love-filled life up until that point.

The ApartmentThe Apartment
Year: 1960
Rating: Approved
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

From her very first role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), MacLaine soon found herself in many Best Picture winners. Only a year later did she have a role in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), the Best Picture for that year. Four years after that, she would appear in The Apartment (1960), also a Best Picture winner. Along with the aforementioned Terms of Endearment, MacLaine certainly has a knack for appearing in fantastic movies. Of course, when I go back and watch The Apartment, I realize how young she really was. Today, she has aged gracefully into other roles in such movies as Steel Magnolias (1989), Guarding Tess (1994), Bernie (2011), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), and The Last Word (2017). Still, one of her most iconic roles for me was as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment.

Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) is an elevator operator in an insurance office. While her job has its ups and downs, the least of which is repeated sexual harassment from some of the men, she eventually runs into Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon). Bud asks Fran out on a date to go see The Music Man at the theater that night. Fran accepts but never shows up since she first has to meet up with her lover, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Coincidentally, Sheldrake takes Fran back to Bud’s apartment. Bud had been loaning his conveniently located apartment out to his co-workers so they could have their extramarital affairs in exchange for a recommendations to get him promoted. When Bud finally comes home, he finds Fran in his bed, having attempted suicide by a sleeping pill overdose. Over the next few weeks, he helps her get back on her feet, and they both fall in love in the process.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magnificent Shirley MacLaine roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty / Joey Slotnick -> Hollow Man / Kevin Bacon)

#318. James L. Brooks

Some people have the ability to bring out the greatness in others. Or, at least, they have the capacity to see the greatness in others and guide it into the spotlight. I would like to think that a producer has this ability, mostly due to the success of James L. Brooks. As the winner of several Emmy Awards, he clearly knows how to produce a television show, many of which have become a part of the popular culture fabric of our society (The Simpsons, for one). Regarding his films, he has only directed six of them, but they have been a little more hit-or-miss. When the right elements come together, his films are certainly successful, both critically and financially. Perhaps this is due to his ability to get to the humanity of a story and its characters. This week’s two films examine the successful directing of James L. Brooks.

Broadcast NewsBroadcast News
Year: 1987
Rating: R
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

With as much television experience as Brooks has, it is no wonder that he eventually decided to direct a film about it. The behind-the-scenes of the newsroom could only come from an intimate knowledge of the industry, of which James L. Brooks certainly has. Broadcast News (1987) was only one of a handful of Best Picture Oscar nominees he directed. Each time he made an Oscar-worthy film, it is interesting to note that he also obtained nominations for Best Writing as well. As Good as It Gets (1997) earned this distinction alongside Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment (1984). Of course, as a producer of films, he was also in the running for a Best Picture Oscar with Jerry Maguire (1996), a film he did not direct or write, but did produce. Unfortunately, most of these films left him without any Oscars for his effort.

Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) has boundless ambition when it comes to her job as a television producer. Her best friend, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), secretly has a crush on her but is unable to confess his feelings. Meanwhile, a promotion moved Tom Grunick (William Hurt) from sports to the main anchor chair, despite his only skill being a photogenic personality. Jane learns Tom is also attracted to her, but Aaron tries to warn her about him while at the same time finally confessing his own feelings. It turns out Tom has broken a few ethical rules during a heartfelt interview that he obtained from a woman who was sexually assaulted. In the end, all three of them have to disband and live their lives elsewhere when the network goes under. While each of them found their own individual success, they still managed to maintain their friendship through it all.

Terms of EndearmentTerms of Endearment
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Brooks’ breakout film was none other than the aforementioned Terms of Endearment. I’d hate to draw correlations to his work and the work of M. Night Shyamalan, but he seemed to peak with his first two films. Terms of Endearment won Brooks his only three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Director, the latter of which was also his only nomination in that category. Lately, his films have not been quite successful at all. I’ll Do Anything (1994), Spanglish (2004), and How Do You Know? (2010) are all largely considered much weaker than his Best Picture-nominated work. Since he only seems to direct two films every decade, we probably can’t expect anything from him soon, but when he does return to the director’s chair, I certainly hope he can earn another Oscar for his work.

The mother-daughter relationship is perhaps one of the tightest relationships any two people can ever have. Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter, Emma Greenway-Horton (Debra Winger), have both wanted to find love in their lives. When Emma is married to Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora’s mothering nature fails to show how much she cares about Emma and instead strains their relationship. As Emma starts her own journey into motherhood, Aurora finds love with her next-door neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), a retired astronaut. While Emma’s marriage is threatened by an affair held between Flap and one of his students, a cancer diagnosis for Emma forces the family together. Flap and Aurora do their best to put their differences behind them to support Emma in her final months.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best by James L. Brooks

Bacon #: 2 (Modern Romance / Jane Hallaren -> Hero at Large / Kevin Bacon)


#301. Matt Damon

If you had one Trillion dollars lying around, would you use it to save Matt Damon? A few years ago, someone threw some numbers together to estimate the amount of money spent on rescuing all of Matt Damon’s characters and the total was close to a Trillion dollars. Granted, Matt Damon certainly has some skill when it comes to being an actor, but why his characters always need saving is quite the question. Part of why this number is so large is due to the variety of Damon’s roles. From sci-fi epics like Elysium (2013), Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015) to modern-era films like Syriana (2005) and Green Zone (2010), Matt Damon has shown time and again that he knows how to act like he needs help. With so many excellent roles to choose from, this week’s two films highlight some award-winning films featuring Matt Damon.

The DepartedThe Departed
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours

What helps set Matt Damon apart from other actors is the fact that he can remain as an individual in a cast filled with high-profile actors. From his role as Linus Caldwell in Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) to his role as James Granger in The Monuments Men (2014), few films with a star-studded cast including Matt Damon have been nominated for Best Picture. Unless you also want to include Good Will Hunting (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and True Grit (2010) in this list, in which case it’s happened three times. However, the only film to include Matt Damon alongside a cast full of A-list actors that also won the Oscar for Best Picture is that of The Departed (2006). Of course, partly because of the large cast of excellent talent, Damon was not nominated for an acting award for his part in this film.

Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) has come a long way since his childhood in South Boston. As he proved his reliability in the Massachusetts State Police, eventually he was placed on a task force to rid the city of organized crime. What his supervisors do not know is that this position is a conflict of interest for him, since the mobster they are trying to catch, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), is the man who helped raise him. Soon Colin is trying to use his connections to find a mole in the mob while also trying to not be found out as the mole in the police. Both moles eventually learn each other’s identities, but when it comes down to loyalties, each one has to determine for themselves which side of this fight they want to be on. Unfortunately, with secret identities now revealed, the conflict explodes in a hail of bullets, leaving few alive.

Good Will HuntingGood Will Hunting
Year: 1997
Rating: R
Length: 126 minutes / 2.1 hours

While The Departed did not garner Damon an acting Oscar, he has been nominated a number of times. This comes as no surprise as Matt Damon holds the eponymous role for such films as the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan, , as well asThe Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and Jason Bourne (2016). His most recent nomination comes in the form of another eponymous role: The Martian. Before this, he was nominated for Invictus (2009), but merely in a supporting role. The real trick is, even though he didn’t win an Oscar for his acting in Good Will Hunting, he did earn one for this film. Along with Ben Affleck, the two of them wrote the screenplay for this coming-of-age film, immediately launching both of their careers for decades to come.

The titular Will Hunting (Matt Damon) works as a janitor at MIT where he comes across a mathematics problem posted for graduate students. His solution to the problem piques the interest of the professor who posted it. Realizing the genius who solved the problem isn’t one of his students, Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) gets Will out of some jail time by promising to mentor him. While this allows Will to avoid punishment, it also comes with a catch: Will must receive therapy. With Lambeau’s attempts to coach Will through his problems being unfruitful, Lambeau decides to hand him off to Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). Despite initial coldness, Will eventually opens up to Maguire, learning that they share some of the same struggles. At the same time, Will’s blue-collar friends gradually convince him that he’s meant for greater things and to take the opportunities he’s given.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magnificent Matt Damon roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Rainmaker / Mickey Rourke -> Diner / Kevin Bacon)

#300. Crime in Boston

Cities are known for many things. We associate Paris with art, New York with theater, and Washington D.C. with politics. Unfortunately, sometimes cities can be known for their less-wholesome aspects. Despite Boston’s numerous tourist and cultural attractions, many people associate it with crime. While the Italian-based mafia tended to be based out of New York City, the Irish-based mafia usually congregated in Boston. As a result, there have been a number of films which use the crime-filled underground of Boston as their backdrop and main conflict. That’s not to say that every film about crime in Boston is about the mafia; in fact, Spotlight (2015) highlighted the Boston Globe’s uncovering of a sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. Still, the “exciting” action films tend to focus on the mafia. This week’s two films examine mafia crime in Boston.

The TownThe Town
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

Because the mafia is outside the law, sometimes they can perform actions to bring about their own form of justice. Especially with a tight-knit group like the Irish-Americans who control the mafia in Boston, the ties that bind them together are based in their nationality. This notion of an extended family means that members will do whatever it takes to look out for one of their own. Sometimes the legal process is too slow, so they’ll take matters into their own hands. The Boondock Saints (1999) is a prime example of this, as two brothers take on the Russian mafia in order to clean up Boston. Similarly, the friendships built through growing up in some of Boston’s tough neighborhoods, like Charlestown, can lead people to join the mafia as their only means of making a living. In The Town (2010), we find how difficult it can be to escape this life of crime.

Fergus Colm (Pete Postlethwaite) is the leader of an Irish-American crime ring that runs out of the Charlestown section of Boston. Four childhood friends work underneath him, including Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy MacGloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke). These four rob a bank and take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage, eventually releasing her unharmed. Unfortunately, not only does she live in the same neighborhood and could potentially identify Jem, but Doug develops feelings for her as well. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is closing in on the group and manages to kill or capture most of them during a heist at Fenway Park. Not wanting to put Claire in danger, Doug flees to Florida to try and find his estranged mother, leaving Claire with the stolen money and the wish to meet up again.

The DepartedThe Departed
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours

As mentioned earlier, the connections of the Irish-Americans in Boston lead to some strange bedfellows. The famous mobster, Whitey Bulger, was portrayed by Johnny Depp in Black Mass (2015), a film that showed how he was able to evade capture for so long: a South Boston friend involved with the FBI keeping Bulger a few steps ahead of the feds. Similarly, the connections between the Boston mafia and those who are tasked to take them down are often tightly tied together. These familial connections muddle the waters of characters’ moral intentions. Should they remain faithful to the group that gave them their identity and heritage, or should they bring these criminals to justice? This complex and twist-laden plot is best attributed to Martin Scorsese’s only Best Picture win, The Departed (2006). After all, the best director to handle a film about the mafia is none other than Martin Scorsese.

Growing up in South Boston, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is brought under the wing of Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a mobster who uses Colin to infiltrate the police. Years later, Colin has joined a task force focused on bringing down the very mafia that raised him. Meanwhile, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is recruited by the police to go undercover into the mafia because he too has family ties to the seedy world of organized crime. As Billy and Colin interact in their different spheres, their loyalties are questioned as each tries to figure out who the respective moles in their organizations are. The back-and-forth game of cat and mouse (or rat) continues until they eventually learn of the true identities of the other. In a bloody string of murders, both the police and the mafia are left with losses, revealing the harsh reality of crime in Boston: nobody gets out alive.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 mafia movies in Massachusetts

#299. Ben Affleck

Have you ever tried to be something you’re not? Do you know someone who has succeeded at one talent, only to try and capitalize on the success by attempting a different talent? While Hollywood is filled with actors who want to be directors and directors who want to be actors, very few of them can succeed in both realms at the same time. Take Clint Eastwood, for instance. He was a great actor back in his heyday, and now he’s a great director, but there wasn’t much time where he was both. Somewhat similarly, Ben Affleck has shown he is an excellent director as of late, but his early acting efforts were not quite as exemplary. Perhaps Affleck has finally found his niche after being lauded for his writing skills early in his career. Of course, he still enjoys his time in front of the camera as well. This week’s two films look at the directing and acting of Ben Affleck.

Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours

At age 25, Ben Affleck (along with his friend, Matt Damon) won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting (1997). While he had acted in a few films before, including two by director Kevin Smith (Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997)), none of his roles could ever be taken seriously. Instead of pursuing his writing, Affleck ended up appearing in numerous films, most of which were forgettable or terrible (most still say Gigli (2003) is the worst film ever made). And yet, when he started directing full-length films, his acting seemed to improve almost overnight. Within five years from his directorial debut, Affleck would win his second Oscar, this time for the Best Picture, Argo (2012). While he also appeared in the leading role of this film, his performance was much better than most of his previous attempts.

Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is astounded to learn that there are no viable plans to rescue the six escapees of the Iranian hostage crisis. While his exfiltration skills are top notch, he doesn’t have any better ideas. After a phone call with his son while Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) is playing in the background, he is struck with inspiration. Using the cover of a Canadian film crew performing site surveys for a sci-fi film, Tony heads to Iran to help coach the six individuals through his plan. Even though all the prep work in Hollywood has been done to make the film look like it is real, the hoax only works on the ground if the six diplomats can manage to convince the Iranian security forces that it’s truly what they’re there for. In the moment of truth, the group head to Tehran International Airport and attempt to leave the country the only way they can.

The TownThe Town
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

In 2007, Ben Affleck put on his writing cap and wrote the screenplay for Gone Baby Gone. Despite having directed a short film much earlier in his career, Gone Baby Gone was his first feature-length film as a director. While he did not appear in the film, leaving the leading role to his brother, Casey Affleck, when 2010 rolled around, he was back in front of the camera (as well as behind it) for The Town. Once again, audiences could see that Affleck does have talent for writing, as he wrote the screenplay for The Town as well. Despite the uproar of his casting as Bruce Wayne / Batman in the DC cinematic universe, this role, along with Nick Dunne in Gone Girl (2014), have shown that Affleck takes his acting much more seriously now, perhaps as a result of his directing. Time will tell if his most recent writing and directorial effort, Live by Night (2017) will be as well received as Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is just one of a group of friends who grew up together and are now partners in crime. Along with Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy MacGloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke), the four friends rob a bank and take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage. After they release her, they realize she lives in their neighborhood and could potentially identify them to the police. In order to find out what she knows, Doug starts following her, but eventually the two of them develop feelings for each other. Unfortunately, since the four friends are still deep in the world of crime, they continue to make robberies. Because these heists still occur, they eventually find that the FBI has figured out who they are. The Feds perform a sting at Fenway based on intelligence they received from a jilted ex, with few of the crew managing to escape.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 deftly directed pieces by Ben Affleck

Bacon #: 2 (Shakespeare in Love / Colin Firth -> Where the Truth Lies / Kevin Bacon)