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Best Picture Essentials 10 Movie Collection (Blu-ray + Digital)
Since there has been a lack of volume when it comes to big studio releases over the last year for obvious reasons, it made a certain level of sense to see a repackaging of some catalog content to put everything under one release. And Paramount decided to go whole hog, releasing a mammoth ten-title, fourteen-disc release called, easily enough, "Best Pictures Essentials," which I'll dive into in no particular order.
I mean, we can all agree that The Godfather is perfect, or just about close to perfection, right? The viewer is brought into the concept of La Cosa Nostra early on, as Don Vito (Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now) entertains a variety of people that offer their congratulations, but mostly they ask for offers of business assistance, on the day of his daughter's wedding. They are aware, as we will be soon enough, that the Don's presence in the community is as much about respect as it is about power and fear.
As the marriage shows us, the Don has a big family to boot, a bevy of children with a variety of strengths and weaknesses; Sonny (James Caan, Elf) has a temper but also a fair sense of what the modern family business may be; Tom (Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies) is an adopted child whose values would seem to invert these. Fredo (John Cazale, The Deer Hunter) and Connie (Talia Shire, Rocky) are mirror images to a degree, just in different bodies, and then there's Michael (Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon), who seems to be the smartest and have the strongest will of the group. We see them through various highs and lows over the course of the film, and their travels are the travels of a lot of Americans.
After God knows how many times I've seen it, in God knows how many different versions (video, edited for TV, chronological cut, chronological cut for TV off the top of my head), the thing I continue to enjoy and have a deeper appreciation for the relationship that Michael has with his Dad, the one who didn't want Michael to get involved with what he does, but seems to meet and surpass it, and taking the wider sense of family within "the family" and cutting out its heart, for the sake of its business. Perhaps Don Vito sensed that with Michael and that was why he didn't want Michael to be a part of it. Francis Ford Coppola adapted Mario Puzo's novel and he seemed to sense this, and Michael had a sense of reluctancy until he didn't.
I'm happy to admit that the movie is perfect because of the cast's collective work in it, and perhaps I have a bias to it because The Godfather remains a wonderful movie to watch, but the actors really do have a sense of ownership to the characters that shows in Coppola's filming of them and the story he's put together for them, and it remains one of the few films that, if I stumble on it when channel surfing, that I'll leave on in order to continue to absorb the story and character nuances and learn something different. Whether it is due to recency of life bias it almost never ceases to be revelatory.
Terms of Endearment:
The film came into my life at a point where I was learning a lot of stuff, and in a way served as a bridge between what I learned about movies and stories that my parents already knew; there were a ton of already recognizable people in the film, all here to tell the story of a widowed mother and the daughter that is her only child, and the decades of life they shared.
The mother is Aurora, played by Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment), and the daughter is Emma (Debra Winger, Forget Paris), and there is such a feeling of authenticity in their relationship which may be driven by their real-life dynamic that you cannot help but see it jump out at you. It is the dynamic many children have with their parents, sometimes the complications of having parents and children as best friends is such that even the deepest of candor gets in the way of helping, or consoling, or just being what it is that you should be to them, whether it's child to parent or vice versa, and you are left lost a little by it, especially if there is nothing else around to support you.
Like The Godfather, a ton of people have seen Terms, and know how the last 45 minutes or so unfold. But it does so in a way that James L. Brooks (who adapted Larry McMurtry's novel into a screenplay that he also directed), managed to retain what's made the film last beyond its theatrical run; it hits the humor equally effectively with the emotional moments. Think about the scene where Aurora kisses her neighbor on the shorts of the gulf. It is a romantic moment turned comically left, and executed to note perfection by MacLaine.
She won an Oscar for her performance, as did Jack Nicholson, who plays the neighbor Garrett Breedlove, a former astronaut who enjoys his longstanding notoriety but in his neighbor, finds that he has to compromise himself, as she does, and their relationship makes you smile every time you see them onscreen together. Winger's performance is an underrated gem through the years, and I've got to play myself off before getting into Jeff Daniels and John Lithgow, who appear in varying degrees through the film.
Terms is funny, it's beautiful, it's sad, like the people who stroll on and off screen for it, and all humming at a particular time in their professions where everything clicked. Given the evolution of so many characters over the course of the film you could make the case that it's story's simplicity could be one of the best acted American films over the last several decades. It's stature is that good, and for good reason.
No Country for Old Men:
The Coen brothers adapted Cormac McCarthy's novel, and they also directed it to boot. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, American Gangster) is hunting elk in the Texas plains when he eventually stumbles across a curious scene:several cars in a groupwith bodies in and outside of them that have been clearly executed. Among this scene Moss finds a pickup truck full of heroin. He also sees another body resting against a tree, and the body has a suitcase holding$2 million. Moss decides to take the money, but he doesn't know the type of forces that would like to get the money back. Enter Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls), a man whose purpose is to get the money and drugs back at any cost. Always seems one step behind them is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones, Ad Astra), an aging sheriff in this sleepy Texas area, who has rarely seen the type of violence that he will soon witness.
My introduction to No Country For Old Men was first through the book. After I read the book, it's remarkable to see just how faithful to the source material the Coens were. Cripes, they were so devoted that the book's cover seems to have been replicated into a shot for the film! But I encourage everyone to read the book if they haven't already, because the dialogue is spot on. The film's memorable scene where Chigurh almost kills a gas station attendant? From the book. Jones' monologues? The book. The quirky Texan charm that you'd think was a Coen trademark? Book, with some minor tweaking of course. Most everything, even down to burst carotid arteries, is in the film, even a good portion of McCarthy's narrative. It's remarkable and a textbook lesson in cinematic adaptation from one of the best creative teams out there.
That's not to say that No Country For Old Men is just about the material; the performances do the story justice and Bardem and Jones help elevate it into instant classic territory. The Coens could have chosen anyone to play Chigurh, but Bardem does it with a near expressionless intensity that instills fear in the hearts of anyone he encounters, even those who are asked to call a flipped coin for no apparent reason. In fact, watch the scene with the big coin toss sequence at the gas station, the one you saw in the trailers. Watch how Chigurh flips it and begins talking to the man. It's almost an inconvenience for him, like he is anticipating the annoyance that he's about to go through in explaining to the attendant the reasoning for this game of odds. And even by knowing that, you're still never going to know everything about Chigurh, and yet it helps explain the menace that much more.
As the Sheriff who's getting on in years, Jones manages to use restraint in this performance, much as he did with In the Valley of Elah, and he portrays a man who grew up and remembers the early days fondly, before all the violence that he sees. Sure, it could have used a commentary, deleted scenes and the usual blah blah, but the Coens have been a little bit averse to doing this, so I'm not crying foul by any means, but some of those who have seen the movie seem to have a problem with how it ends. Ironically though, after going through the book, it seems like the Coens made the logical decision to end it where they did. If we're talking about faithfulness to the book, it seems like ending it at any other time would cheapen it, not to mention the ludicrous notion of perhaps changing the ending in such a way that there is some form of closure for them. It's insulting to the material. Besides, on the higher level, anyone who had a problem with the movie's ending seemed to forget what the film's title is to begin with. In fact, there are some smaller nod sat how the introduction of a foreign element seems to change people. There are two scenes in particular, one where Moss runs into some college-age kids while crossing the border into Mexico, and another when Chigurh gets injured and two separate and younger kids find him. Money is introduced to the young boys in both scenes, and seeing how their sensibilities start to change as a result, no matter how topical, is another part of a powerful message. Sure, the drug money is the reason for the chase and is the larger character changing event, but the smaller stuff has equal resonance with me.
The furor and anticipation surrounding James Cameron's epic was so palpable you couldn't escape it. And a large part of the hysteria couldn't wait to see Cameron fall flat on his starboard side with this hugely overblown project. Hugely overblown productions in Hollywood usually become media events, and eventually wind up as sacrificial lambs for critics. The prior track record didn't really favor Titanic much either, as Heaven's Gate killed off United Artists in 1980. The more recent film Waterworld, lovingly titled "Kevin's Gate", was a huge, $175 million behemoth that wasn't as bad, but served as folly for a lot of people.
Imagine the surprise when Titanic was released, and not only did not suck, but was actually a fairly compelling film, despite its over three hour length. What made the story appealing for the Y chromosome was a tangible romance between two young people from different backgrounds. In Rose (Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street), you had a romance that women could identify with, as there are obstacles thrown up to prevent true love for the couple. The most notable obstacle being class, as the early part of the century featured groups that were very structured by how much they made and what their standing in life was. In Rose's life, her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher, Unforgiven) plays a huge part in it, and has virtually arranged a marriage to Cal (Billy Zane, Dead Calm) that will put both women in the lap of luxury. Jack just has his sketch pad, and lives the bohemian lifestyle, enjoying every minute of it.
Then the ship hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic, sinking the unsinkable ship, resulting in a massive loss of life. And Cameron's depiction of the events that led to the final hours is both vivid and unsettling. The thing that stays in someone's mind is that when the real-world events of the last decade, even the last 5 years, Titanic's impact is lessened, and it focuses more on a romance that may work on the screen, but the written word is as wooden as the life boats on the ship. As a creator of a lot of sci-fi and action films, Cameron's first foray into romance is commendable, but it's missing a certain quality in its dialogue. Consider any films by Richard Curtis (Love Actually) and the level of dialogue in them, and put it up against "I'm flying!" or other touchstone moments in the film. Titanic is memorable and the technical accomplishments in it are groundbreaking, but of all the nominations, consider that Cameron was not recognized for work on the screenplay when you marvel in how good or bad the film is.
Moving all the way back to 1927 and Wings, the silent film that earned Paramount's first Best Picture Oscar, the World War I film (which doubles as a romance) written by Hope Loring and Louis Lighton and directed by William Wellman focuses on Jack (Charles Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen), a couple of alpha males who want to be the beau for Sylvia. They eventually move to France to fly planes against Germany, and Mary (Clara Bow) followed both of them to Europe as an ambulance driver, in the hopes of getting Jack's attention.
When you see a romantic comedy (whatever THOSE are these days?), you can see glimpses of it in Wings, with character explorations, awkward and kind of charming laughs amongst the people and by themselves, what have you. And Wings uses them to strangely positive affect against the backdrop of the air theater of the first World War, and Wellman as a veteran, gives us a look into soldiers that have bravado but also conceal vulnerability.
Rogers and Arlen handle their roles well, and I think this is the first time I've seen Bow and she's charming, as is Jobyna Ralston, who plays the more beautiful Sylvia, who is the palpable object of David and Jack's attentions. The story is heartfully told even as the third act unfolds maybe just a tiny bit predictably, but redeems itself with the coda. I was not sure what to expect from Wings but I can see the reason for the accolades it got and it handles its material and character's emotions with a sense of maturity that earns a certain timelessness.
My Fair Lady:
I had never seen My Fair Lady before but it seems like I've seen it in a lot of other movies and not realized it; someone from the lower class is brought in to take on the behavior and mannerisms of the upper class? I mean hell, Trading Places even did that! But there's a certain charm that inhabits My Fair Lady by almost everyone involved, and I can understand that charm.
In this case, the lower class person is Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's), full of moxie and a Cockney accent. Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison, Cleopatra) brings her into his home, gives her Dad a stipend and provides her with class and culture that turns her into a prospective princess. She finds that the grass is not necessarily greener, and Higgins finds out the impact of her presence is more than she expected.
From Alan Jay Lerner's book and directed by George Cukor, the film had been a Broadway play (which Harrison and Julie Andrews costarred in) and you can tell the rhythm and beats of it are apparent in the film, and more than that the film is just proud of the story it tells and sings amongst the cast. And Hepburn carries the gumption of Eliza well as well as her dilemma about having this new life that he had always wanted, and not being happy with it. Harrison's Professor has some emotional burdens of their own, but he's putting on a brave face so that they don't reveal themselves, or perhaps that's the era of stoic male lead.
My Fair Lady comes from an era where films based on musicals were proud to be based on musicals and appear to be a straightforward telling of them, not reimagining things somehow, and having the songs flow naturally is something that we see in few films today. It was a nice stroll back through that particular era, and the performances of the ensemble were wonderful. I get it, I really get it!
As someone who saw Gladiator recently as part of the recent 4K release, I'm going to defer to this for anything here, and in the following sections.
As someone who saw Forrest Gump as part of Paramount's Sapphire Series titles, the extras are identical and I'm reasonably sure the transfer and soundtrack are the same, so I'm going to defer to this for anything here, and in the following sections.
The English Patient:
Moving past the segue of Elaine Benes and her cinematic takes on The English Patient, I guess the thing I was impressed by when it came to the film was the pedigree of the people in front of and behind the camera. Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain) adapted Michael Ondaatje's novel into a screenplay that he directed, and the film was produced by Saul Zaentz (Amadeus), edited by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now), and so on. Oh yeah, what about the cast and story?
The focus is on four people who are serving out the final days of World War II; a nurse named Hana (Juliette Binoche, Chocolat) is having a secret relationship with Kip (Naveen Andrews, Lost), a bomb diffuser for the English. She is also tended to a badly burned English man who does not know his name, but through a series of flashbacks we find out his name is Almasy (Ralph Fiennes, In Bruges), and he reminisces about a relationship he had with Katherine (Kristin Scott Thomas, Gosford Park
That is essentially the stage being set for what goes on in the film, and we see that Katherine is married to a man named Geoffrey (Colin Firth, King's Speech), and the feelings amongst the trio are compelling to watch unfold. And we learn more about the burned man's life as he talks with David (Willem Dafoe, John Wick), and we get into his life and Hana's with admiration, romance and tragedy.
The performances of the ensemble are what you would expect by the group, Fiennes and Thomas are the standouts, but for me it felt like Binoche was the heart of the film; she served as our eyes and ears for all this and the reactions are so genuine and resonant with the viewer. The English Patient does have problems with straggling a little from a pacing perspective, but it's not what I thought it was coming into it (which was all based on Julia Louis-Dreyfus, so there's that), but you have to pack a lunch and throw all the other screens away to give it your fullest attention.
I feel like American Beauty could be put next to Terms of Endearment on an arthouse twin-bill because the films are strangely the same but the tone is a little different. Both cover families in America, perhaps even the heartland if you wanted to make the reach for it. But the family within American Beauty is a lot more cynical than perhaps the ones in Texas two decades before. And for better or worse their story is just as fun to experience.
From a story by Alan Ball (True Blood) and directed by Sam Mendes (Skyfallv), American Beauty follows Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, L.A. Confidential), who has a midlife crisis of sorts, quitting his job, becoming more confrontational with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening, The Grifters) and tries to become more friendly with his daughter Jane (Thora Birch, Ghost World) as a way to get to her best friend. In the meantime he starts smoking weed again and buys a convertible in a way to regain his childhood that he seemed to gloss over too quickly at the time but wants to enjoy now, in his 40s.
Spacey sort of did this role when he appeared in the underrated gem The Ref, but Lester is given a complexity that gives him a chance to expand on it and give it a certain inevitability while you roll along with him working out, or listening to stoner rock of the 1970s. There are laughs with some melancholy emotions in the second and third acts, complemented nicely by playing against Bening and Birch, whose performances are praiseworthy on their own merits.
Mendes' reputation before coming onto the film at the time (and if memory serves) was one more of a stage director than theatrical, but he seems to give the ensemble their own moment or two over the course of the film and they deliver. It might not have stood the test of time given some of the things that have happened to America (and to Spacey) over the last couple of decades, but the comparison to Ordinary People may be appropriate to American Beauty, in that it serves as a hilarious and tragic touchstone of the moment for people in the country, buttressed by excellent performances and a more than capable direction of accomplished storytelling.
It is fascinating to see how Paramount tackled film through the decades, to the point where they've got films in the double digits that run at an epic length in parts, and some of the films remain on top of the forefront in the American moviegoing public. And Best Pictures is here for you.The Blu-ray:
This is the restoration version, so image detail is good as is the contrast of the image against lighter source material. I hadn't seen this version in a while and had forgotten the sepia tones that the image carries through the film, while at the same time using more of the naturally lit moments both in daytime and night. Image detail is good and flesh tones are natural, and looks like a solid presentation.
Terms of Endearment:
The 1.78:1 widescreen presentation of Terms of Endearment looks good, or at least how it looked back in the multiple VHS tape days. Film grain is present thorough the feature and colors are reproduced naturally and accurately. The film could use a little bit of a facelift in terms of a remaster effort, but looks fine.
No Country for Old Men:
One thing's for sure, the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation of No Country For Old Men sure looks like an Oscar winner. It's encoded with the AVC MPEG-4, and the Texas landscapes look as good as they did in the theater. Fleshtones are very accurate too. The opening scenes where Moss and Bell are in the midday heat, you don't see anything carryover to the skin tones which was nice to notice. In addition, the black levels remain pretty solid to boot. The feature maintains a high bitrate throughout and was well worth watching again.
The film looks a little better than I remembered and the picture is vivid and clear, free of any artifact issues. Visual effects look sharp, the darkness is deep, black and inky, and the daylight or brighter shots are all solid and without complaint. Still looks good after all these years.
The 1.33:1 presentation of the film was a painstaking process to be realized for home video, and it looks excellent. There are some color hues when planes are hit and on fire, along with some detail when bubbles go into the air, and even a little bit of image detail can be had on this. We're coming up on a century since the film came out, and it looks great on Blu-ray.
My Fair Lady:
The film has gone through a restoration (or did when it was released a few years ago), and this half-century-plus release looks fantastic. Colors pop on the title cards and in the ballroom (well, everywhere, to be honest), and image detail is consistent and fantastic. Black levels are remarkably deep and provide solid contrast, flesh tones are natural and remarkable, and the result of the restoration is excellent.
The English Patient:
The 1.85:1 presentation of The English Patient looks good for the most part; film grain is present and consistent through the feature, and colors are warm and natural, as are flesh tones. It feels like now that we're in the quarter century-ish anniversary of the film that it get a remastering since a lot of people like it, but on its own it's a solid transfer.
So the 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray of American Beauty includes legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall doing what made him one of the best at his job, and some of the shots in the film really stand out; like when Carolyn talks to the neighbors outside, or during the basketball game where there is darkness set against the overhead school lighting of a gym. There are moments where the film does have a multidimensional look, but this is in need of a remastering at some point in the future.The Sound:
The Dolby TrueHD track gives Nino Rota's score a lush barrier of sound to play with, but the actions through the film are a touch underserved? The Sonny causeway scene is immersive but a little hollow sounding in the gunfire (loud but not robust), and the Apolonia scene with the car has what sounds like a redone explosion that also seems like it would sound better over a mono track than this. It is an excellent track, just some minor nits of the film showing its age.
Terms of Endearment:
DTS-HD MA for the film, which is a little confusing since the film does not have that much to do. Nevertheless, Michael Gore's music for the film may be on the low end of film scores that you would recognize in the opening notes when it's played, and it sounds clear, and the scene where Garrett is driving his car with his feet is the closest thing to a broader soundstage that it has, with low engine rumble happening through the speakers, albeit more of a ‘highly balanced' type of approach. Dialogue sounds clear and directional effects, panning and subwoofer engagement are relatively low, and overall is an okay soundtrack. There is an additional two-channel track which is also decent listening material.
No Country for Old Men:
The PCM soundtrack is also modestly powerful. You've got subwoofer usage during any scene with a shotgun present, and there's a fair amount of immersion and surround activity during the feature too. Less is more when it comes to this soundtrack.
Those who do not have the capability for DTS encoded soundtracks are missing out on a lot, as the second half of the movie provides so much activity, even on the subtle parts, that it's probably the thing to show off a soundsystem. Cameron's prior history of quality sounding movies continues with this outstanding work.
There are two soundtracks here; a six-channel DTS-HD MA track (including participation by sound effects legend Ben Burtt) and a two-channel one on pipe organ. There are merits for each; the six-channel one is easily more robust and versatile, using more musical elements and instruments, but I liked the atmosphere of the two-channel one, which conveyed a nice feeling to go with the silent film. Both are excellent in their own ways, and you can't go wrong with either.
My Fair Lady:
The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is great; there's a robust feeling to the music using as much of the soundstage as possible when it comes to introductions and preliminary songs. When Higgins exclaims that he did it (you KNOW he did it) it's clear and bold through the center channel. The horse races include channel panning and a tiny bit of low-end fidelity, dialogue is well-balanced and consistent, and the music envelops the listener. Quite possibly the best sounding film of its age on home video.
The English Patient:
The DTS-HD track is a superb dynamic experience. Music is broad through the front of the theater, the explosions of mines and plane crashes provide ample low end fidelity and quieter moments provide effective directional effects and channel panning. Dialogue is consistent for the duration of the film and it's a beauty technically.
The DTS HD-MA soundtrack shows off a little of Thomas Newman's score, and some of the original music (think The Who's "The Seeker") sound good coming through the front of the soundstage, but the film tends to lack a little when it comes to panning and low-end fidelity. Dialogue is clear and well-balanced also, but the film could use a technical bump.The Extras:
This appears to be the 2010 Blu-ray port from the 2008 Coppola restoration set, but just the feature (with the commentary track from Coppola) and no other extras. It's an excellent track; Coppola has marvelous recollection of the supporting cast and battles with the studio over the film., and his approach to casting the film, adapting Puzo's story, and working with Robert Evans. There are gaps where he is watching the film (and those gaps widen as it goes), but his recollection of events are damned impressive. It would have been nice to have someone from the crew to sit in on this, but it's a trivial complaint.
Terms of Endearment:
This appears to be a port of the 2013 release, so the only extra save for a trailer is a commentary track with Brooks, producer Penney Cox and production designer Polly Platt. And Brooks is an active participant, discussing how he was able to get the film made, and on the casting decisions. He has some shot recollection and shares his thoughts on the actors and their work in it, and is a mix of production anecdotes and trivia. It's an active, lively track and just as good as the Coppola track, but with a different dynamic. Well worth a listen for fans of the film.
No Country for Old Men:
This looks to be a portover of the the 2008 release, which is sparser than the subsequent 2009 version. You've got the usual making of featurette that lasts about a half hour, and includes the cast's thoughts on the story and the characters they portray, including some footage of the Coens onset. There's even some quality time with the crew members, and Bardem's haircut is even talked about. "Working With The Coens" features ten minutes of discussion around how Joel and Ethan run a set, and there are quite a few veteran cast members that talk about their time. The other piece is "Diary of a Country Sheriff", and features Jones' thoughts on the character he plays and for Chigurh, and Bardem shares his two cents as well.
This one looks like it's from the 2012 3D release, minus the 3D disc of course. There are three commentaries, starting with Cameron, where he talks about what shots are real, what are staged, and what he thoughtof the actors' performances. In the second part of the film, he identifies which parts of historically accurate, and explains where the details come from. Even though he says in the beginning that DVD commentaries are "suspect", this one is pretty good. Next is a cast and crew commentary that a ton of people appear on. By my count, Winslet, Stuart, Paxton, Zane, Victor Garber (Alias), Jonathan Hyde (The Mummy) and I think Kathy Bates (Misery) were among the actors, while producers Rae Sanchini and Jon Landau, along with composer James Horner, were among the recognizable crew names. There are at least a half dozen others that I'm missing, and everyone seems to have some good information and memories about the production. It would have been particularly nice to have Winslet and DiCaprio do a track by themselves (Winslet is particularly engaging and says that "Leo was the girl between the two of us"), but the track is chock full of info. Third is a commentary by Don Lynch and Kevin Marshall that is designed to provide a historical context for the film, but doesn't shed too much new information, and almost came off as a cheerleading piece for how much of a visionary Cameron was/is, which was a little annoying.
Kicking off the extras is "The Final Word," where Cameron headed out to the debris site in the Atlantic again to try and close the book on his fascination and on the story itself. Lots of "what REALLY happened" and looking at things forensically, and is another lengthy piece on the real-life story. "Reflections on Titanic" is a retrospective piece on Cameron getting the story made from conception to awards. There are a bunch of deleted scenes here, with two or three extended takes. The 29 scenes comprise about 45 minutes of additional footage, with optional commentary by Cameron, in which he discusses the reasons they were left out and whether any were historically accurate. Also is THAT music video for "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion. I love the Canadians, they've given the world Wayne Gretzky, SCTV and Degrassi Junior High, but maybe this export after several hundred airings of this video is a bit much. Starting off in the Marketing section, there's a Fox TV look at the production entitled Breaking New Ground. Narrated by Peter Coyote, the piece focuses on Cameron's quest to get the film made, along with some footage of the dives that were taken by Cameron to help get the film off and running. There's a pretty cool illustration of how severe the water pressure is using a Styrofoam cup, and some deleted scenes (which have been included on the set) are here, and there's an extensive look at the historical figures that were on the ship too. There are even some clips from A Night to Remember, which is thoughtful. Next is a poster gallery to promote the film that included its original summer release date, and there are an additional twenty minutes of on-set press interviews that cover the rncast, film, production and director.
Further still, there is has a fictitious newsreel using cast members hyping the ship's maiden voyage, but the cool feature is obviously the dive footage from the initial dives. Cameron provides some commentary on this, and not only is he detailed on what is being shown, but there are transitioning photos to the real locations that were taken before the ship sailed, which is pretty cool. Next is a crew video that is really more of a gag reel than anything else. It would make sense that a three hour film has a twenty minute gag reel, but there was some imagination put into it. Aside from some footage from The Poseidon Adventure, I think I saw a clip from Esther Williams' Million Dollar Mermaid which is kind of funny too. It's all lighthearted, good fun. A brief look at the sets used for a short film for the historical society is included, illustrating just how much detail went into the work, and twenty minutes of videomatics and visual effects shot breakdowns follow. Still galleries with paintings, drawings, production photos, storyboards, and other materials are here too, and the still gallery totals about two thousand. Yes, two thousand.
Like the last one, this one also looks like it's from 2012, starting with "Grandeur in the Sky" (35:56), which gets into movies and America at that time, and gets into the production history for the film and why people like it as they do. "Restoring the Power and Beauty" (14:21) gets into said restoration of the film and the challenges of doing it, and "Dogfight!" (12:54) provides some history into aerial combat in World War I.
My Fair Lady:
It looks like this came from the 2015 release which is excellent. "More Loverly Than Ever" (57:58) takes a look at the restoration of the film, but also is an appreciation of the film by many contemporaries including Martin Scorsese and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Inspiration for the scenes is talked about, and sound demonstrations, and Hepburn's parallels with Andrews' Eliza, and the style of the film in general. A dinner to kickoff filming for the film is shown, along with interviews of the stars (27:20), and premieres in Los Angeles (4:53) and London (2:17) are recounted. "Cukor Directs Baroness Bina Rothschild" (2:39) takes a peak at the director, and there is a radio interview with Harrison (1:06). Test footage of the film is next (7:04) along with vocals by Hepburn (7:20). "Comments on a Lady" (2:23) include more takes by Marty and Andy. The theatrical featurettes start with "Story of a Lady" (5:05) which give us cast introductions, costumes and test footage, and the behind the scenes for the films looks fantastic. "Design for a Lady" (8:22) look at the wardrobe and set design, and explanations for the costume drawings. "Fairest Fair Lady" (9:31) examines set and production design. You also get a still gallery section and seven(!) trailers for the film. The ‘Awards' section includes a BFI Honor for Harrison (2:08), a Golden Globe Acceptance speech (:47) and compilations of the speeches from the Academy Awards (2:09).
The English Patient:
This looks like it's from the 2012 release, so give that a look also. The commentary with Minghella is pretty good, as he talks about working with American and European actors, shot explanations and inspiration, and the evolution in his work, and working on this film. It's more active that I expected and an informative track, as is the second track where he's joined by Zaentz and Ondaatje, which focuses more on the story and how to shape it into a film, and from a cinema storytelling perspective is worth a listen as well.
Next up are "Filmmaker Conversations", where Minghella (30:32), Zaentz (19:34), Ondaatje (7:34) and editor Walter Murch (25:51) get into their respective processes and aspects of the making of the film, "The Work of Stuart Craig" (3:57) gets into production design while "The Eyes of Phil Bray" (2:50) covers stills galleries. There are nine deleted scenes (19:59) which get into the reasons for excision via Minghella, and the making of on the film (53:01) gets into the cast and crew, the story and thoughts on the film, and the crew discuss their roles and some shot discussion, with occasional voiceover. "About Michael Ondaatje" (21:57) provides looks at the author's work, and his rise of repute that comes with this tome, and "From Novel to Screenplay" (7:11) examines the adaptation work involved and thoughts on the story. "The Formidable Saul Zaentz" (1:59) includes cast and crew takes on him, while "A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy" (8:18) looks at the inspiration for the book. All in all this is a nice look at the production.
Yet another of the Paramount Sapphire Series that make it into this set (you can check out Thomas Spurlin's review of it here), the film's big extra is a commentary with Mendes and Ball. This is largely driven by Mendes as he discusses shot intent, production anecdotes and such, while Ball chips in with character motivations and backstory and the two discuss alternate scenes. It is a good track to listen to, one I may have listened to, and forgot about at some point? You also have two trailers (4:22), a storyboard presentation with Mendes and Hall (1:01:20) where they discuss intent some more, along with technical challenges and shot breakdown, and "Look Closer" (21:52) serves as the film's EPK, with how Ball came to the film, Mendes' thoughts on the story and his approach to it while the cast and crew share their thoughts on Ball's script and Mendes' direction. Steven Spielberg shares his thoughts on the story and film as executive producer while more on the film such as preproduction, rehearsal and other components are touched upon, in what turns out to be a fascinating look at the film.Final Thoughts:
Ten films, most if not all of which are more than two hours long, and all have won awards? Well, Best Picture Essentials has most of it when it comes to Paramount movies. And by "most of it" I mean that some releases are missing extras from the standalone releases, which comes across as lazy for something that you're being asked to shell out $75 for. If you've got some of these already then you're good to go, but I'd imagine that there's at least one or two titles in here that you have not seen and should check out at some point.rn