Oscar Gold Goes Blu

It’s a perfect opportunity to purchase and enjoy some noteworthy best picture Academy Award winners that have recently bowed on Blu-ray — all excellent representations in HD: Wings, Rebecca, The ApartmentAnnie Hall, and Shakespeare in Love.

Wings (Paramount Home Ent.), the first best picture winner from 1929 but made two years earlier, is also the only silent to take home the Oscar. That is, unless The Artist soon joins it at the 84th Academy Awards. Thanks to Paramount and Technicolor, the aerial World War I drama has been lovingly restored, including digitally duplicating the Handshiegl color stencil process used for the original film’s bursts of orange machine gunfire and flames during air battles.

In addition, Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the team of sound engineers at Skywalker Sound added World War I sound effects as authentically as possible, using library sounds from earlier eras to give viewers a true-to-the-period experience. It turns out that Wings is one of the seminal influences on Burtt, who made his own version of the film on Super-8 as a teenager.

There’s a strange irony that Alfred Hitchcock’s first American movie with producer David O. Selznick, Rebecca, won the best picture Oscar for 1940 (John Ford, however, took directing honors) because none of Hitch’s movies ever won again and neither did he. Rebecca is available on Blu-ray (Fox/MGM Home Ent.) along with Spellbound and Notorious and looks stunning (a wonderfully oppressive use of black and white), thanks to the restoration work a decade by Scott MacQueen. And it’s a brilliant Gothic romance with Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, and George Sanders. Hitch learned about crafting sensitive dramas for a female audience that drove ticket sales in the US, and he honed his visual sensibility as well, pointing the way toward deeper, richer, more neurotic suspense-filled dramas. For more Hitch, Criterion has The Lady Vanishes, Paramount has To Catch a Thief stealing its March 6, and Universal has The Birds flying in later this year.

There aren’t too many romcoms that have won best picture and we have three representatives here, but Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960, Fox/MGM) wins hands down. Jack Lemmon dug deeper in this bittersweet tale of amoral corporate ambition (a precursor to Mad Men), and is perfectly complemented by the cynical Shirley MacLaine. It’s a tough balancing act between light and dark and Izzy Diamond was a terrific writing foil for Wilder. The romcoms of today such as Bridesmaids push the deft craft and the vulgarity, but Cameron Crowe is probably the best director who has carried on the Wilder legacy. Indeed, this is his personal favorite and a continual inspiration.

Woody Allen certainly came of age with Annie Hall (1977, Fox/MGM), the perfect synthesis of his angst-ridden stand-up and filmmaking sensibilities — and he took Hollywood and Oscar by storm at the height of the ’70s American renaissance. He was witty and original and the chemistry with Diane Keaton was hilariously romantic. It’s ironic how much Midnight in Paris (also available on Blu-ray from Sony Home Ent.) taps into a nostalgia for Annie Hall even though Allen rails against such nostalgia in his latest Oscar contender.

Shakespeare in Love (Lionsgate) charmed its way to Oscar gold in 1998, given that Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was the heavy favorite. But Harvey Weinstein pulled off a major upset with a political campaign that is still talked about today. In fact, the Weinstein touch still works in the post Miramax era, witness last year’s win for The King’s Speech and this year’s likely victory for The Artist. Indeed, Shakespeare in Love and The Artist both have their seductive charms. But the romcom about the Bard, writing, acting, and true love struck a chord that still delights on Blu-ray.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar

Add a Comment