Thursday, July 1, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Oscar Winner Edition-Best Cinematography & Best Special Effects


It's another double hitter and it is all about the ooohs and aaahhhs. We could be somewhat bored with a film but love the way it was "photographed" and/or the special effects. I am becoming bored with all the CGI nowadays because, I think, it is relied on too heavily. One of the Avenger flicks starts off with all of them either running or driving through the woods to get to the bad guys. I seriously thought the film hadn't started yet and was watching a promo for a videogame. It just looked so fake. When it is done well, I am impressed but it gets pretty ridiculous now. OK enough rant. Here are my picks for each category and, after commenting, head on over to Wandering Through The Shelves to see what the others have chosen. 

Best Cinematography...


OK, I know I spoke about this sensuous, beautiful film before and I was thinking, "I should choose something else," but I kept coming back to this amazing film by Powell & Pressburger, noted for their very colourful imagery, like "The Red Shoes". Jack Cardiff, a great Cinematographer, won the Oscar for this film that takes place near the Himalayas. A beautiful nun, played by Deborah Kerr is to head a nunnery high up, near the Himalayas, in an old palace for the King's harem, that, in parts, are filled with decadent paintings of court life. To bring her to the old palace, is a devil may care agent for the owner of the palace who is very handsome and questions everything. There is an attraction between these 2 and we can feel it ooze out of the film along with the erotic images. The nuns try to run a school and hospital for the natives in the area where we see the virtues of some students vie with the eroticism of others especially played by the young Jean Simmons. Throw in the winds, primitive drums, colours and a crazy ass nun and we have a great film.


This is a great musical, not as good as some others but still great, in my humble opinion starring Gene Kelly as the American Ex-Pat trying to make it as a painter in Gay Paris! His friend is the lovable(lovable??) Oscar Levant who is actually an excellent pianist in his own right, trying to make a go as a, well, pianist. They have a mutual friend (Georges Guetary) who is big in the Follies Bergere, who has a girlfriend he adores. Well, this gal, played by newcomer, Leslie Caron, meets up with Kelly and they fall in love. The finale, has 20 minutes of just pure dance with colours, costumes and sets created against the greatest Impressionist artists from Van Gogh, Rousseau, Toulouse-Lautrec and others. It's a pretty basic story but the dancing and cinematography are anything but. Alfred Gilks & John Alton were the cinematographers for this and they truly captured many great scenes that exuded the feel of this film from that great 20 minute balletic type scene to Levant's daydream, the Stairway to Paradise number and the love scene along the Seine.  

3. BEN-HUR (COLOUR)-1959

Forget the remake(blecchh), this still stands the test of time just like Hestie's chiselled face. Yes, This was done before CGI and it is impressive isn't it? You have Charles as Ben Hur taken away to become a slave on a Roman battle ship. All he has is vengeance on his mind for how his former friend, Messala, played by Stephen Boyd, back-stabbed him and his family. When the leader of the Roman Battleship is saved by Heston after the ships are sunk, Heston is given his freedom and is taken under the wing by this Roman head. Charlie heads back to his homeland and finally decides to drive his new friend's beautiful white horses in the famous chariot race. You also realize his mom and sister are lepers but not all is lost especially when he offers Jesus a drink of water, something Jesus did many years ago for him when he needed it.  This film has beautiful shots, not only of the famous chariot scene but also the scenes on the boats and in the desert plus many others. Robert Surtees is the cinematographer and he created a great piece considering how colossal this picture was. 

Just so you know...for many years 2 Oscars were given for Cinematography-one for Colour and the other for Black and White films.

Special Effects...


When I finally saw this film, I was enchanted at how great the special effects were back in 1940 from the Genie to the magic carpet and the beautiful horse. The colours, sets and costumes were also great and it starred one of the earliest known Indian film stars made famous in Hollywood, Sabu(who was also in Black Narcissus). He is the young lad, a thief, who somehow becomes centre stage between a young man, a prince, imprisoned by the evil Jaffar (the wonderful Conrad Veidt) and a beautiful princess whom Jaffar covets for his own. Through their adventures, we meet the genie, a daffy old prince (the princess's dad) who loves toys and the many "toys" Jaffer creates for the old guy. It is one of the best versions ever made of this classic fairy tale. Lawrence Butler and Jack Whitney were the collaborators creating the Genie and the wondrous toys. They truly deserved to win the Oscar that year.

2. STAR WARS-1977

Yup, I am assuming this will be a popular one this week but for good reason since it created a whole new way to do special effects and started the Industrial Light & Magic that every man, still living with his mom in the basement of his childhood home, dreams about visiting. It's hard now not to find the new and improved versions of the first, er, I mean middle, I mean, well, the first ones to be shown in the theatre. John Stears, John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Grant McCune and Robert Blalack(ughh, that's a lot of guys) were the reason for the special effects that blew my ex-husband away when he first saw this. He always remembers the beginning scene of the spaceships going through space only for this much bigger ship to appear, blowing my ex's mind away. We know the story, young man wants to see space and feels he is held back. His Uncle buys 2 droids and while fixing them, the kid comes across a message from a princess looking for Obi-Wan. Anyway, Obi Wan finds them and they go on a quest to find a fast spaceship. Enter Chewie and Han Solo, hired to bring them to the dark side where evil Darth Vader is as well as the princess. Chaos ensues. I saw this back in 1977 and remember feeling underwhelmed because I thought the story was simplistic, not really caring about the special effects. Oh well....


 I saw this in the theatre as well and was properly impressed with these dinosaurs that scared the living bejeebies out of me! Again, the story is a bit simple; an old coot, played by Richard Attenborough, invites 2 palaeontologists to his island to see what he has accomplished. Also along for the ride is a lawyer and Jeff Goldblum who irritates the old coot to no end. There are the old coot's 2 grandkids here, as well, ready to see the wonders of what this nutbar created from the DNA extracted from really old mosquitoes. I had to laugh when the Sam Neill character tells the kids that these huge brontosaurus are safe just like cows (really??). When the T-Rex is introduced, I was scared as it was done so very well. It's a fun flick which has now spanned many sequels with CGI taking over and you can see the difference...not to the better. Oh are the winners for this Special Effects Oscar this year-Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Phil Tippitt & Michael Lantieri-all greats in their field.

So there is my lengthy post, which 3 would you choose?


  1. Hi, Birgit!

    I am sharing a box of popcorn with you in the balcony "At The Movies," dear friend!

    I appreciate your picks for award winning cinematography and special FX. I haven't watched Black Narcissus, but with two of my favorite actresses in the cast, Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons, I'm tempted. Those high elevation shots are breathtaking. I could listen to that voice-over trailer narrator read the telephone directory cover to cover and remain enthralled.

    I haven't seen An American In Paris, but love films with Oscar Levant. Oscar was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. I'll never forget the night he was sitting there in the guest chair chain smoking and acting like he was zonked on some kind of controlled substance. Johnny asked him about his health: "What do you do for exercise?" "I stumble and fall into a coma," remarked Levant.

    My folks took me to see Ben-Hur when it was released to theaters. My eyes popped as I watched the chariot race and other intense scenes. I saw the original Star Wars upon its release but never got into the series. I have watched Jurassic Park several times along with its sequels. I especially enjoyed Jurassic World (2015) starring Opie Taylor's daughter Bryce Dallas Howard.

    WHAT??? No mention of Sharknado 1 thru 12? :)

    Have a happy Thursday and a nice weekend, dear friend BB!

    1. I think you would like Black Narcissus. Deborah Kerr is excellent in the role. I just about fell of my chair with Levant"s comment about exercise...that is too funny. You zip through the dancing and singing to watch the film but it is pretty neat to figure out which artist is being used in the final 20 minute ballet. I chose Star Wars because it has lead to all special effects we have today. I still have to see all the latest ones. Sharknado..hahahaa

  2. Jurassic Park still holds up but not the Star Wars special effects.
    I'd go with the last three Christopher Nolan movies for special effects - Inception, Interstellar, and Tenet - all who won for special effects.

    1. I agree about Star Wars...the latter flicks. You did a theme within a theme. I really like Inception and Interstellar was also great and had me think about that film for a while. I still have to see Tenet.

  3. We match on Jurassic Park! That films still looks great all these years later.

  4. Wow, I've seen all six. Being a Star Wars junkie, they are certainly the first films to pop into my head.

    1. good for you! I still have to see the latter ones to be honest. They are on my list to see.

  5. This is one of those technical categories that I'd have to think about for a while to come up with something other than the obvious choices. You picked some excellent films with which I'd agree. So many to choose from since special effects have become so advanced and prevalent in films that I often long for the simpler films or those with pretty cheesy effects.

    There are so many films that have captivated me with the cinematography and I can't think of a lot of those now. So I got my help from Wiki for some examples:

    Apocalypse Now--won in 1979 and it's one of my favorite films.

    The Mission--won Oscar in 1986. It's a movie that impressed me so much that I took 2 of my friends to see it later. They didn't seem as impressed as I was, but I still like it and bought the DVD despite Robert DeNiro being in it.

    I'll add Roman Polanski's Repulsion, another favorite of mine. The subtlety of the camera work makes for a rather intense experience without too much in the way of special effects.

    As far as Special effects-- so many from which to choose so I'll go with some hokey ones:

    Knowing--I do like Nicholas Cage a lot and this film has all the elements that I enjoy in a film of this nature. Great plane crash, etc!

    Sherlock Jr. a silent Buster Keaton film from 1924 that I do want to watch again. I recall being impressed by the effects when I first saw the film and getting a good laugh at the same time.

    Godzilla--the Japanese original from 1954. Sure it's somebody in a monster suit, but I still think the massive scenes of destruction are pretty impressive for its day. The miniatures they constructed are really not too bad. I saw this film in the theater as a child and was truly more impressed than I was scared. After that I had an insatiable appetite for these types of sci-fi disaster films that remains to this day.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. I have to see Apocalypse Now again as it has been so many years but it is amazing with the camera. I still have to see The Mission which I wanted to see since it came out. Repulsion is such an eerie and somewhat creepy film. Catherine Deneuve is brilliant as the troubled girl. The cinematography is excellent capturing that closed in feel that the girl feels. Your picks didn't win any Oscars but I am so glad to see the Great Buster Keaton here. I don't know the Cage movie but who doesn't love Godzilla!

  6. All good ones but Star Wars hands down for me.

  7. I don't love Black Narcissus as much as some do but it is a glorious looking film for sure. I could say the same for Ben-Hur which I fine something of a chore to get through (give me Spartacus any day). If you remember An American in Paris was one of my choices for Dell's Against the Crowd blogathon so needless to say I'm not a fan. It does have that MGM sheen however.

    The Thief of Bagdad is good fun with for its time great effects. What I said about Black Narcissus holds for Star Wars and Jurassic Park. Good, well-made films that I don't hold any particular fondness for.

    I came up with two this week in an instant because they are so visually memorable but then get a little stuck. So I went to the list of winners and was delighted to find a pirate movie that I used to watch all the time there and just like that I was done!

    The Black Swan (1942)-Florid swashbuckler with Tyrone Power as reformed privateer Jamie Waring. Commissioned by the newly pardoned master pirate Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) now governor of Jamaica to offer amnesty to the other bandits of the sea he sets off on the task along with his trusty sidekick Tommy Blue (Thomas Mitchell) but runs afoul of renegade picaroon Billy Leech (George Sanders-buried under a red wig and beard) and his henchman Wogan (Anthony Quinn) who refuse to give up their thieving ways. Much swordplay ensues. All the while Waring romances the fiery beauty Lady Margaret Denby (Maureen O’Hara). This all unfurls in lush sumptuously rich Technicolor provided by Leon Shamroy who won the Best Color Cinematography Oscar, at the time the category was divided between color and black and white.

    A River Runs Through It (1992)-Mediative drama of two Montana brothers Norman and Paul Maclean (Paul Sheffer and Brad Pitt) and the divergent paths their lives take with their shared love of fly-fishing serving as a metaphor for the vagaries of life. While the story is solid and the acting by the entire cast superior it’s the breathtaking vistas as well as the more intimate scenes shot by Oscar winner Phillipe Rousselot that truly dazzle the eye.

    Legends of the Fall (1994)-Brothers Tristan, Alfred and Samuel Ludlow (Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn and Henry Thomas) all love the same woman, Susannah Fincannon (Julia Ormond) in the wide-open spaces of their father William’s (Anthony Hopkins) sprawling ranch leading to sorrow for all. Sweeping family melodrama once again set in Montana but a quite different one than A River Runs Through It. This is the Montana of vast spaces and operatic happenings and emotions. Venturing farther afield to other continents and the majesty of the ocean cinematographer John Toll earned his award by using his keen eye to lend a strong chiaroscuro element to the picture.

    1. Yes, I remember your dislike for An American in Paris. I have to revisit that again:) I still have to see The Black Swan which I know is great colour adventure with the beautiful Maureen O'Hara and her red hair. I almost went with your next 2 choices and may pick them another time. I realize that i am quite a fan of Robert Redford's storytelling style. His films are quiet but intelligent and good to watch. Legends of the Fall is a long film but so wonderful to watch. The stunning cinematography really capture the land and vistas.

  8. I know all of your special effects ones but only one of your cinematography choices: An American in Paris - lovely movie.

    Okay, mine...

    Fellowship of the Ring
    Pan's Labyrinth

    One that should have won but wasn't even nominated: The Black Stallion. Tess won that year.

    Best Visual Effects... obviously, even being asked the question is a geek's dream come true. I love all of the Star Wars movies and all of the Lord of the Rings movies more than I love just about any other movies period but for the sake of the exercise, I'll move beyond them.

    What Dreams May Come - It's a stretch to say I like the movie but it's certainly memorable and visually stunning. That sense of walking around in a painting is wonderfully executed.

    Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - Still an under-appreciated work of genius.

    Thunderball - The underwater scenes are beautiful.

    1. Pan’s Labyrinth is popular this week. I love Hugo!! Yes, there are many that should have won and were not even nominated. Yes, Star Wars and LOTR are in a league all their own. I love, love What Dreams May Come and the use of colour, artists and Dante’s Inferno. Roger Rabbit is great and I love Thunderball.

  9. I wuu it ah people weren’t so hung up in the “remake” stigma. Ben-Hur was popular in every iteration until its most recent one (which I personally think is excellent). It’s only been very recently that “remake” was such a bad idea. The Maltese Falcon was shot as a movie three times; it’s the third one everyone considers a classic.

    1. I wish that I had proofread, and so yeah, that jumble at the start is also “I wish that…”

    2. Oh yes, some remakes are excellent, I just didn’t like this one. Yes, the Maltese Falcon was the 3rd film and really good but I like the earlier ones too. All Quiet On The Western the original but also really like the one with Ernest Borgnine and Richard Thomas

  10. We both match on Jurassic Park! Those visual effects still hold up to this very day!

    Here’s my Thursday Movie Picks!

    Ronyell @ Rabbit Ears Book Blog

  11. Although the 1959 Ben Hur is a remake of a silent version...

    My old oboe teacher got to play on the soundtrack for Jurassic Park. He said they'd blocked out the dinosaurs in the screening so as to not spoil it while they were recording. Alas, he could only work one day as he had the day job (university professor).

    1. That’s cool that he worked on the music. I think it best they didn’t see the dinosaurs because they would jump and screw up the timing, that would be funny though­čść

  12. Filming that chariot race in Ben-Hur was extremely dangerous. It's an amazing sequence but man, did they go through a lot to get it.

    Star Wars and Jurassic Park go without saying. I need to see the others.

    1. It was and now it would be all cgi which is a shame. Because so many are out of work plus it doesn’t seem real. It looks more like a video game.

  13. BIRGIT ~

    Ahh... now *this* is my kind of topic!

    When it's TV-related stuffs, I have a hard time getting into it. I haven't liked anything on TV since 'Frasier' & 'Raymond', and I haven't even had TV service for about 6 or 7 years.

    Well, the Special Effects half of this I will not contribute to because, honestly, most movies that feature Special Effects are rarely my kind of films to begin with. Special Effects movies are usually a form of 'Action' film, and other than maybe 4 or 5 'War' movies, they just aren't for me.

    But Cinematography... yeah, baby!

    Sadly, I think it's fairly rare when the truly best movies win in the Academy Awards categories. For examples: 'The Black Stallion' (1979) and 'One From The Heart' (1981) weren't even NOMINATED for a Cinematography "Oscar"!! And those are two of the VERY BEST examples of fantastic Cinematography that I have ever been blessed with eyes to see!

    What a total scam the "Oscars" are!! 1983 was the last year I bothered to watch 'The Academy Awards' program.

    But looking through the winners in Cinematography, I think my top 3 picks (that I have seen) would be...

    THE THIRD MAN (1950)

    THE QUIET MAN (1952)


    Alright, I take it back! I *DO* have one Academy Award winner selection under 'Special Effects'...

    Awesome stuffs!

    FUN FACT: Although I have often heard and seen 'BLACK NARCISSUS' mentioned, I've never watched it. However, solely because of this blog bit o' yours, my Brother and I, and a good friend of mine in Colorado are going to watch it TONIGHT, beginning at 6:00 PM, Pacific Time. I thank you for the recommendation, Birgit!

    ~ D-FensDogG

    1. did you like Black Narcissus? I hope you liked it. Yes, the Black Stallion and so many others deserved to win or even be nominated. I love your picks..The Third Man is one of my favourite films as well as The Quiet Man. The way Maureen O’Hara is lit, the Irish wonderful

  14. I'm having a hard time getting my comments to go through. I won't write another one in case the first shows up.

  15. Hello, hope all is well. I came over from "Laws of Gravity" I'm not much of movie watcher.
    Coffee is on and stay safe

  16. I see my comment didn't show up so I'll try again. I've never seen Black Narcissus, but based on the trailer and your description, I'm interested. I have seen an American In Paris and Ben-Hur. I'm with you on CGI. It's ugly and has become ubiquitous. For special effects, I'll go with The Impossible because they did NOT use CGI to create the tsunami. I love the cinematography in Nomadland, Legends of the Fall, and Dr. Zhivago, among many other movies.


  17. We share a pick with Black Narcissus. Oh... I love that movie. I'm so glad to own it on DVD as I just love the colors in that film and what Jack Cardiff did with the Technicolor cinematography. The attention to detail in that is just astonishing.

  18. I haven't seen any of your cinematography choices, but I have seen two of the special effects films. The first time I saw Star Wars was in a movie theater. At the very opening, I felt the large ship in my chest as it entered the screen. It was really powerful.

    I also saw Jurassic Park but wasn't as enamored with it as everyone else seems to be. I agree the animals were the high point of the film. The film that really did it for me was the first Indiana Jones, where the huge ball on a track comes flying after Indiana. I was hooked!

  19. I agree that Star Wars and Jurassic Park have great effects (it blows my mind how good they are every time I rewatch these movies). I haven't seen the others but both An American in Paris and Ben-Hur are on my watchlist.

  20. Agree on Jurassic Park. The special effects were awesome and the story line easy to follow. Fun entertainment.
    Hope today is a pain free day.

  21. Interesting choices, Birgit. We match with Star Wars and Jurassic Park.
    I should add An American in Paris to my Classic Hollywood challenge, and I think I've seen Ben-Hur (is there a leper colony in it?) but a long time ago when I was a kid visiting my grandparents or something.

  22. Jurassic Park! Yes! That movie holds up SO well even in 2021 with all the CGI and technology they have now. The dinosaurs are still just as realistic and terrifying as they were before. Fantastic choice with Ben Hur too! What a gorgeous movie.