Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: The Best of the 1977 Best Shots

While I agree with Oscar on selecting Zsigmond’s work for Close Encounters as the overall winner, does it have my choice of best Best Shot? Let’s review the Best Shots from the past week…

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Vilmos Zsigmond

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Islands in the Stream – Fred J. Koenekamp

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Julia – Douglas Slocombe

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Looking for Mr. Goodbar – William A. Fraker

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The Turning Point – Robert Surtees

And best of the Best Shots is…

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Julia”

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There is enough distance between the present and claims of author Lillian Hellman’s embellishment and falsifications for the origin story of Julia to see the story for itself. One wonders if a contemporary viewing audience would even know who the hell Hellman is (for shame), likely surprised that it was based on a portion of her memoir. Though the film does put her on the pedestal of self-important, suffering artist, if not the story’s hero, you can see how the narrative served to puff herself up. The film was released before authenticity lawsuits were brought up, so its original audience perhaps viewed it differently.

No, now we view the film primarily through the lens of its terrifying depiction of rising fascism. It’s not just the current election the makes it seem all the more real, but the rise in nationalism elsewhere in the world today that’s all too familiar to the fifty years leading up to the events in the film.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”

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Had I heard that Looking for Mr. Goodbar wasn’t very good or that it was just dated? For some reason, I remembered it carrying a certain scattered and hokey reputation that the film proved wrong when I caught up to it.

The feminist themes of the film may be more eloquently discussed today since the film is closer to the women’s liberation movement’s infancy, but it’s passionate observations still connect to our contemporary point of view. Even if it seems passe to have a film hinge on a woman’s sexual liberation, that’s only a sense of contemporary entitlement convincing you that women don’t have it as bad as they always have. The conversation may have evolved, refined, and gained nuance, but we’re still fighting for the same old crap.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “The Turning Point”

turningpoint3.pngThe Turning Point beautifully captures a pain I’ve never otherwise seen expressed on film. Certainly not as vividly.

Occasionally, I’ll miss performing so much that it aches. There is a pull that will simply never go away no matter how far removed you are from your last performance or the decision to step away. There’s always minor emotional rugs pulled out from under you, small sadnesses you have to live with even though you feel no regret over the decision: seeing friends performing but remembering the chemistry you had together, celebrating their growth with vague embarrassment for your less interesting life developments. When you’re off the stage, everything else seems so small compared to those who stayed.

And of course you hear what it means to stay: the loneliness, the broken bodies, the realized dreams that turn on you.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Islands in the Stream”

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Unfortunately I’ll be following up my favorite of this week’s mega-Hit Me With Your Best Shot with my least favorite. Islands in the Stream is the most forgotten of 1977’s Best Cinematography Oscar nominees, so I’d been hoping for a surprise that never came. The least visually interesting of the bunch, you kind of wonder if the Academy was just taken with the film’s landscape or if this was the result of some carryover love for Patton with Islands reuniting director Franklin J. Schaffner and director of photography Fred. J. Koenekamp (who won the cinematography Oscar in 1975 for The Towering Inferno).

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

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This week, Hit Me With Your Best Shot is getting the jumbo treatment with each of the Best Cinematography nominees of 1977 receiving a daily installment. First up is the Spielberg classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Recently with the start of Netflix’s Stranger Things and the misfire of The BFG (I’ve yet to partake either) have reignited talk about Spielberg’s aesthetic its weaker would-be descendants. Encounters remains the perfect prototype for the true Spielberg formula: primal fear, emotional resonance, and a sense of earned awe. Thematically, it’s also possibly his best in dealing with social outsiderism and daddy issues.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Zootopia”

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I’m not among the many vocal admirers for Zootopia. The amusing character design and relationships are a delight, and of course it has a fiercely progressive (and unpreachy) message for children that is hard not to root for. While the film’s upsides are front and center, they still don’t mask the film’s flatness and unpropulsive energy, and even the social commentary becomes a little muddled by the end. On first glance the animation looks unrefined, but there’s an expressive attention to lighting and tone that probably does more to push the emotions than the screenplay itself.

But Zootopia‘s core is so warmhearted and well-thought out that focusing on its faults feels a bit mean-spirited, and downplays how accomplished it is visually.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

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Oh, to have a straight-forward musical comedy like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes these days. In a brisk 90 minutes the laughs keep coming not just from the mile-a-minute punchlines, but also from the editing and shot compositions. The melodies are genuinely infectious and brightly optimistic without being cloying. The whole film works its ass off to entertain you without cracking a sweat, something the cynicism of recent musicals fails entirely at – especially the ones working even harder to apologize for their own genre.

Generally the film is as visually alive as its witty screenplay, all pops of color and effortless iconography. The director/cinematographer team of Howard Hawks and Harry J. Wild is harmonious in building the musical numbers to truly entertain, and almost in as much awe of the Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe power pairing as we are. In fact, that joyous actress revelry in two key songs is more than enough for one post, so let’s.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Working Girl”

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You can see why Working Girl was a hit in its day – its emotional arc satisfies like a machine built to crank out warm fuzzies. It may not have the visual gravitas of Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, but similarly Nichols elevates the material to its full potential (even if Working Girl‘s ceiling is substantially lower). Melanie Griffith’s role is well suited to her unique balance of blue collar modesty and understated drive, playing directly to her natural abilities to star-making effect. Sigourney Weaver’s expressive subtlety is a great contrast, her directness merely a facade hiding deep insecurity and lack of self-awareness.

However, the film doesn’t hold up to contemporary scrutiny for its feminist intentions. Griffith’s Tess may be our hero, but the script is hell bent on treating her with pity rather than sympathy, defining her more by her foolishness than the gumption that makes her achieve her goals. As the villain, Weaver’s Katherine doesn’t fare much better. The actress is measured in making Katherine vapid, hilarious without tipping into farce. That lack of self-awareness is her downfall, for she’s as blind to her own patriarchal subjugation as she is to her ability for cruelty. The film is all too pleased to punish her when Weaver reveals her to be most vulnerable and human.

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Oscar Predictions Are Back!

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Now that we’re half way through the year, I’ve brought back the Oscar predictions. You can find them in the top search bar and you can also click here. The first half of the year has been solid on quality films, but few are going to break the Oscar mold of nominating late year releases. The most likely candidate: Zootopia, an outside Best Picture contender and surefire Animated Feature frontrunner (I’ll finally be catching up to it this week).

Oscar Predictions