Deserving…The Piano

Being a pianist myself, of course I was going to rush off to watch The Piano (1993) as it came out on the big screen. Having no real idea what it was about (the days before YouTube and where trailers were pretty much only seen at the cinema) I was totally blown over by this wonderful movie. So much so that I bought the soundtrack sheet music (for piano, naturally), the soundtrack CD and even the book. This is one superb movie. Regardless of the Oscar nominations and wins. But, those too, it is absolutely deserving of:

Best Picture: oh wow…yes! Yes! Beautiful. Different. Totally engrossing. Sadly, no win but that’s fine because we’re still left with this work of art to watch over and over and over.

Best Director: Jane Campion was nominated for doing such a sterling job. Not winning this one though, she did win for…

Best Original Screenplay: The story is wonderful (See Best Actress for a very brief overview). To come up with such a unique tale requires great skill and creativity. No wonder this was a win for Jane Campion!


Best Actress: Holly Hunter plays mute Ada who is married off to a man she has never met and so is sent to New Zealand from Scotland with her beloved daughter. Landing on a beach from which there is quite a trip by foot to reach her new home, she is forced to leave her prized piano behind by her husband (Sam Neill). Baines (Harvey Keitel) sees an opportunity (which I won’t disclose) and manages to bring the piano back to his home and the story unfolds from there. Holly Hunter is fantastic as Ada. I can’t imagine it easy to play the role she does here. And so convincingly.

thepiano2Ada‘s character naturally flows over to and probably goes hand-in-hand with…

Best Supporting Actress: Flora, Ada‘s daughter, played by a then roughly 11 year old Anna Paquin is perfectly cast with Holly Hunter. She portrays a confident child that still has a lot to learn. Her role, which in my opinion, brings the situation to a head, is deserving of the win. Without a doubt.

Best Cinematography: Receiving this nomination but not winning is Stuart Dryburgh. Without the beautiful cinematography, most of the magic and passion of this movie would definitely have been lost.

Best Costume Design: Oh wow…need I mention the amazing costumes. Beautiful. Every single one of them. All courtesy of Janet Patterson who unfortunately didn’t win.

Best Film Editing: As with the cinematography, the editing is what brings across the magic. Brilliantly done to bring us this work of art. This nomination went to Veronika Jenet.

But….The Piano wouldn’t be The Piano without the exquisite soundtrack composed by Michael Nyman. Ah….just to think of it now. I can hear it in my head. It is well worth listening to…or even playing if you can (not an easy one though, but once those fingers glide…ahhhh….). I agree with Debbie’s post (here) that it was overlooked at the Oscars.

Thanks Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club for letting me take part in this 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon again. For my last year’s entry, The Sting, click here. Hmmm….The Piano, The Sting…I’m clearly starting a pattern here in terms of titles.


31 Days of Oscars…The Sting

31Days 4The Sting (1973). Agh, easy to write about…and even easier having found out, thanks to this wonderful 31 Days of Oscars Blogathon, that it is winner of Best Picture Academy Award. But…hmmm…this is actually a tricky Oscar winner to choose because it means self control to avoid mention of the other win categories. Just have a look at this:

Academy Award Wins

Best Picture
Best Director – George Roy Hill
Best Writing, Original Screenplay – David S. Ward
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – Henry Bumstead and James W. Payne
Best Costume Design – Edith Head*
Film Editing – William H. Reynolds
Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation – Marvin Hamlisch

Academy Award Nominations

Best Actor – Robert Redford
Best Cinematography – Robert Surtees
Sound – Ronald Pierce & Robert R. Bertrand

The Players** are fantastic – both the actors and the characters they portray. Paul Newman and Robert Redford have such a great on-screen rapport and complement each other well. In fact, the entire ensemble seems to “gel”. I’ve read about different actors considered for the role https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9c/Stingredfordnewman.jpgbut I’m sure that had anything changed this masterpiece would just not have been the same. Robert Redford definitely was deserving of that Best Actor nomination for his role as Johnny Hooker, the small-time con-man who teams up with Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), the big-time con-man,  in an attempt to pull off a “revenge” con.

The Set-up is this: you have the audacity to cheat a cheat. Never mind the fact that he’s the big mob boss cheat, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) and knowing that he’ll take notice, in which case you need to plan and create the world of the con convincingly with trustworthy accomplices.  The way this all unfolds is something I admire in storytellers. Everything, and I mean everything, flows and ties up and keep you guessing to the last frame. But how many movies manage to convince you on subsequent viewings that things will work out differently this time round? I’ve read that this was inspired by the written account by David Maurer of the real-life Gondorff brothers who pulled off a similar caper, albeit with a different outcome.

The Hook is when you put out that wriggly worm. The lure to get Lonnegan interested. And how better to bait that cheating mob boss’ hook than with a cheat he can’t cheat himself. I have watched that poker game scene over and over and, just like Lonnegan and his bodyguard Floyd (Charles Dierkop), I still don’t get the point at which those cards were switched (ok, yes it’s a movie so naturally I wouldn’t see it but still…). Paul Newman’s brilliant drunk-stint creates more than enough distractions. I suspect the switch was somehow carried out when he kept making those obvious shows of looking at his cards close up to his body and then casting that mistrusting look at whoever was behind him. (This together with the nudist scene in The Prize are two of my favourite Newman scenes.)

The Tale doesn’t only convince Lonnegan that “his” horse is going to win, it even convinces the viewer and in parts of this section I was sure Hooker was going to pull Gondorff down. In fact, every single person involved in the con is so in character that you can never really be sure who is playing whom. You never quite trust yourself. That’s how smooth it is. Even the betting parlor has you thinking it is legitimate despite having watched its creation.

The Wire is what I had to look up and as in the movie, is an outdated type of con where a unsuspecting victim (or, in this case, maybe not such a victim, depending on how you look at it) is fed advanced knowledge of the outcome of a race, being horse racing in The Sting. In this section of the movie, Lonnegan wants to meet the person running the wire at short-notice resulting in a clever office scene. Anyone, even today, would have been fooled by the painters who were in urgent need of yet another fake office. Brilliant execution all round.

The Shut-out is tops. With these guys trying to set up the perfect con, you’d think they’d give Lonnegan a second chance to bet his “test” money just to be sure that the wire is working. Exactly that’s where it comes alive…they plan the perfect outcome ensuring that he is seconds too late to place that winning bet. Possibly that’s what kept suspicion from setting in. At this point you start questioning what Hooker is up to. Those tiny seeds of doubt are sown. And you start thinking that he is, after all, just a “kid” and will blow the whole thing.

The Sting is my absolute favourite section but I won’t give it away. I just can’t – it would be so unfair. Let me just say that the sting of The Sting is one you don’t see coming. And, when you figure out what’s just happened, your smiling jaw will still be half-way open in both disbelief and wonder. At this point you’ll realise that you’ve been smiling right from the start, admiring this story where not a beat is out of place.And, you’ll be nodding in agreement that it is worthy of the multitude of Academy Award wins.

So, Best Picture is very well deserved in this great classic!


*I just can’t resist adding this: Apparently (source IMDB) on winning she said “Dressing the two handsomest men in the world and then getting this.” So lovely.

**The Sting is divided into sections (The Players, The Set-up, The Hook, The Tale, The Wire, The Shut-out and The Sting) by means of title-cards.