Best Picture Baking Project: Gigi

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(Photo Credit: MK Holman)

Firstly, I know I didn’t post about the Tony’s. I meant to, I took notes and everything, but I had a job interview the morning after the show and then, I kind of didn’t want to…and the biggest plus of a blog I do for fun is that…I don’t have to. Anyway…I got the job! (And I’ll be back to posting about awards shows soon I’m sure.)

Something I definitely wanted to do – eat cake, drink champagne, and watch Gigi! 

Had I seen this one before?

Only about 100 times as a child. My mom got me the VHS and I loved it, though I don’t think I understood it at all really.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. It’s so much more complex and frankly less horrifying than I remembered it. When I was a kid, I mostly just loved the costumes and Leslie Caron’s hilarious, huffing physicality. But as I grew up songs like this:

and the general plot where a man watches a girl grow up and then falls for her, left a general sense of ickiness in my mouth about the whole thing. But, on this rewatch (having noticed that it was based on a novel by Colette) I can see it’s actually a really arch satire of the misogynist culture of infidelity and the “keeping” of mistresses in Parisian culture and there are so many more layers to the relationship than I could have seen as a kid. (Maurice Chevalier’s character is still super creepy and hard to watch – but I see that’s on purpose.)

2. Even as satire though, the flippant, maybe even giddy, response to Gaston’s first “lady love’s” suicide is really fucking hard to watch, especially since there is no reckoning with that particular sin after his last minute (almost literally) revelation that his lifestyle is empty and sad.

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Justice for Eva Gabor

3. This movie is still so much fun to watch, and I’m glad I don’t have to feel as queasy recommending it as I thought I did for years. Gather your girls, pour some champagne, enjoy!

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Auntie Mame – Haven’t seen it, but it feels pretty culturally similar

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Damn. This is a great movie…I mean, Paul and Liz!

Separate Tables – All I know about this is David Niven won Best Actor for it and I won a trivia point once for knowing that.

The Defiant Ones – Sidney Poitier was in this, I think?

I’m clearly not super qualified to make this call, but between the two I’ve seen…I’m still partial to Gigi, Best Picture is an Oscar for production and this is a grand one.

Bechdel Test Pass?

The Bechdel Test site says no, but I think it does. There are four named women, three of whom talk to each other. Gigi’s grandmother and aunts discuss her life (and teach her about jewels). Yes, these conversations often hinge on the idea of a man, but that’s kind of Colette’s point, I think. Patriarchy limits her options, but they are still hers. I give it a pass.

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Given my favorite song from this score, I had to make a champagne cake, which was easy and turned out so pretty!

Champagne Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 package two-layer white cake mix
  • Champagne or sparkling wine
  • 1 can 16oz pink Funfetti frosting
  • 4 large fresh strawberries

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Grease two layer cake pans (I did one 9in round pan and one slightly smaller disposable pie plate, but you can adjust based on what you have)
  3. Prepare the cake according to instructions on mix, except replace the water called for with an equal amount of champagne (Mix slightly longer than you normally would)
  4. Pour batter into prepared pans, spreading evenly
  5. Bake according to package directions, approx. 30min
  6. Cool in pans for 10 minutes
  7. Remove from pans and let cool completely
  8. While the cakes cool, rinse and slice strawberries for decoration
  9. Place bottom tier cake on serving plate, frost the top
  10. Frost bottom side of top layer
  11. Place upper tier on top of the bottom cake
  12. Frost top of cake, and place strawberries in circular pattern on top of cake

Best Picture Baking Project: Gentleman’s Agreement

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It’s (somehow) almost the end of May, so it was time for the next Best Picture, Gentleman’s Agreement, which is very 40s, but pretty good. All I knew about it going in was it’s basic premise (journalist pretends to be Jewish to expose anti-Semitism) so I searched for “Jewish desserts” and saw that cheesecake came up on every list. (It is also set in New York City, so it wasn’t a terrible choice really.)

Had I seen this one before?

Nope. Like I said, all I knew was the (potentially very problematic) premise. But I think (with a few exceptions, which I’ll get to), it holds up!

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. The acting in this movie is great (again with a clear exception – see point 3). I mean, this wasn’t exactly a surprise, it’s Gregory Peck! And John Garfield (who is the subject of a great You Must Remember This episode that you should listen to here). But my favorite (by far) was Celeste Holm as Anne, Peck’s coworker at the magazine, that he should have fallen in love with. (I honestly don’t know how anyone wouldn’t). Thankfully the Academy recognized this too, and gave her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

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2. Though it gets preachy (and obviously does not have a modern conception of the dangers of cultural appropriation), the general morality of this movie holds up exceptionally well. I mean, taking to task all the nice people in Connecticut who know how bad prejudice is, but won’t say anything when a man at the dinner table makes a horrible joke, is (unfortunately) pretty relevant still.

3. The ending of this movie is so frustrating. It basically undoes all the goodwill that it has stored up. (Spoiler alert for a film that is over 70 years old): The fact that he ends up with his nice-Connecticut-“I’m not prejudiced I just know it’s better to not be a Jew”-fiancée Kathy, after her last-act-change-of-heart is gross. Don’t get me wrong, I think people can change. And I’m super glad that she offers her Darien “cottage” to her fiancé’s actually Jewish friend and his family, but that’s not a reason to marry her. To be honest, I don’t buy their “love at first cocktail party” relationship at all. Partly this is due to the actress, Dorothy McGuire, is definitely the weak link in this cast, but she has ZERO chemistry with Peck (which is highlighted with his delightful energy with Holm).

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Crossfire – Never heard of it, but Gloria Grahame (an obsession of mine) was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for it so I’m going to assume it’s worthy.

Great Expectations – This is a great movie.

Miracle on 34th Street – Obviously a classic and I love that Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for playing Santa Claus.

The Bishop’s Wife – Another classic. (Though for nostalgia reasons, I am partial to its 90s remake.)

I would say that Gentleman’s deserved the win if you turn it off before the last two minutes. As is – it’s a tie with David Lean’s Great Expectations.

Bechdel Test pass

I don’t think so. There are 5 named women, 3 of whom are layered and well acted and certainly have their own emotions and feelings. But the only women I can remember talking to each other discuss which families are being invited to a party. Which I guess is technically not about a man, except it is really, because what they are really discussing is whether or not Peck is an acceptable boyfriend.

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There are a million cheesecake recipes on the internet. I usually choose a “No-Bake” version when I make one for our Sunday family dinner, but for the project I went with a slightly more involved version (but not like – water bath, corn starch involved).

Easy-ish Cheesecake

Ingredients for Crust

  • 10 whole graham crackers, crushed (I used the cinnamon sugar kind for a slightly more fun flavor)
  • 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for Filling 

  • 2 cups cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions 

  1. Select a 9″ pie pan, with a deep bottom (I used my standard 9in Pirex) 
  2. Preheat oven to 350F
  3. Make the crust be stirring together all the crust ingredients, mixing until thoroughly combined
  4. Press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan, making a thicker layer on the bottom than on the sides
  5. Make the filling by mixing together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth
  6. Mix in the eggs and vanilla, again mixing until smooth at a low to medium speed
  7. Pour filling into crust
  8. Bake for 20 min.
  9. Remove from oven and place foil around edges as a crust sheild
  10. Place back in oven and bake for 10 more minutes
  11. Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool
  12. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve

 

Best Picture Baking Project: Gandhi

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It feels like I just did the last one, but it’s already mid-April, which means it was time for the next Best Picture on the list! I attempted to make an authentic Indian dessert, but had some ingredient shopping issues. But more on that when we get to the recipe, first…Gandhi!

Had I seen this one before? 

Nope. But I’ve seen many clips in many Oscars montages about “important films” over the course of my life.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. Richard Attenborough has an outstanding visual eye. (So much so that, until I was lining up my notes from this post, I thought that he abandoned narrative filmmaking to craft nature documentaries, but it turns out that’s his brother David.) I guess a spectacular visual eye runs in the family.
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This shot included over 300,000 extras!

2. Despite being too long. (Very few movies need to be more than 3 hours.) This movie did teach me a lot about Gandhi’s life, while only occasionally slipping into a highlight reel of favorite quotes and Hallmark moments. Though honestly, I could have used both less detail (in terms of lingering over visual markers of superb art directions) and more context (i.e. who the Hell is that white woman – Mirabehn (Geraldine James) – who just shows up in the final third and why is she in the inner circle?)

3. This is (like last month’s film) another movie that feels like everyone is in it. Was that Martin Sheen? Yes. Candince Bergen? Yep! And she’s being driven by Cliff from “Cheers!” Isn’t that they guy who plays Vernon Dursley? You bet. A young Daniel Day-Lewis? Of course!

Also – I have stumbled upon a new rabbit hole I can’t wait to investigate – the career and life of Ian Charleson who plays a priest who helps Gandhi’s early work (and was also one of the leads in Chariots of Fire). He is great in both things I’ve seen him in so far, and he tragically died of AIDS, and I have a lot of feelings about this.

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What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – I haven’t seen this since I was a little kid, but it’s obviously a classic.

Missing – Never heard of it, but it got a lot of nominations and I love Sissy Spacek.

The Verdict – I’ve never seen this, but it’s Paul Newman, so I’m going to assume it’s good.

Tootsie – The concept of this has always been off putting to me. I’m sure it’s funny, but…I don’t know, I’m not sure I trust that it has aged well.

E.T. seems to have made a deeper impact on our culture, but the Academy has always loved a biopic and an epic. I guess (given that there are the only 2 nominees I’ve seen), I’m not mad Gandhi won.

Bechdel Test pass?

Nope. There are (at least) 3 named women and they do all talk to each other, but only about Gandhi. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising, given the name and focus of the film, but a lot of the men in the movie get to spend time talking about philosophy, social justice, and the future of India. The women get to talk about how much they love and admire one man.

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I planned to make kulfi, which is a cardamom flavored frozen dessert, but, I couldn’t find many of the ingredients in the recipe I linked to, so let’s call this

Bronx Little Italy Kulfi

Ingredients 

  • 3 cups full fat milk
  • 2 teaspoons corn start
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamon seeds, hulled and crushed
  • 10 to 15 nuts (the recipe recommends pistachios which I could not find)
  • 1/4 cup cream

Directions

  1. Use knife to husk cardamom (it was about 5 pods). Set aside.
  2. Bring 2 cups of milk to a boil in a heavy bottom pot
  3. Turn heat down to medium and allow milk it to boil for 10 minutes, stirring often (almost constantly) to prevent milk solids getting burnt at the bottom
  4. Place nuts and cardamom into food processor or blender and grind until mixture is a slightly coarse powder. Set this aside.
  5. After milk has boiled for 10 minutes, add the sugar
  6. Continue to boil for another 10 minutes, stirring very often to prevent milk from scorching
  7. Add corn starch to remaining 1 cup of milk and stir well, getting rid of all lumps
  8. Lower the flame completely and add corn starch mixture to heated milk
  9. Keep stirring and boil
  10. Add the nuts and cardamom powder, mix well to get rid of any lumps
  11. Pour cream into mixture and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring constantly
  12. Once thick remove from heat and let cool completely
  13. Pour the cooled mixture into popsicle molds or ice cube trays
  14. Let freeze overnight
  15. Remove from freezer
  16. Submerge molds in warm water for 1 minute
  17. Remove from mold

 

Best Picture Baking Project: From Here To Eternity

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Squeezed this month’s in right under the wire. This is the last “F” on my weirdly alphabetized list! And it was super fun! All I knew about the movie before watching was that one iconic scene and the fact that it is set in Hawaii. So I made something I found on the internet called “Hawaiian Dessert” which is very 1950s in that it is constructed out of various premade mixes and definitely not authentically “Hawaiian” at all. But the movie is all about white people so that’s actually probably pretty fitting.

Had I seen this one before? 

Nope. Just this:

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Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. This is the gayest non-explicitly-gay-themed movie I have ever seen. From the first scene, where three men talk about who is the best boxer and bugler available on base, there is a level of homoerotic subtext that is insane. Apparently, some of this is text in the source novel, but obviously they couldn’t be explicit in a 1953 film, but it’s…not subtle.
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Blow, Monty Blow

2. This has an all-star cast. In addition to Lancaster and Kerr, who I knew to expect, there’s Montgomery Clift (whom I have a minor obsession with),Donna Reed (more on her in a bit), Ernest Borgnine (nicknamed “fatso” here even though it’s the thinnest I’ve ever seen him onscreen, and Frank Sinatra. Sinatra actually won an Oscar for this, which allegedly may have been the result of some Mob pressure on Academy members, but also, he does an able enough performance so that may be just a mean rumor.

3. This movie culminated in the Pearl Harbor attacks, but I’ve never seen a “war movie” less interested in the politics, or even mechanics, of war. The Japanese bombers actually feel like an afterthought by the time they arrive. This isn’t necessarily a drawback, the human drama of these men’s lives was compelling enough to me, I almost wish it had ended on December 6th.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Julius Caesar – Never seen this Marlon Brando vehicle, but I like a Shakespeare adaptation

Roman Holiday – Oh, a classic! I love a love story and this one is a wonderful, messy fairy tale

Shane– Never seen it. It’s a Western I think?

The Robe – Funny story. One time, many years ago, Julia and I went to a bar in Chicago and this was playing on the screens. It took us hours to figure out what movie it was/what could possibly be going on. I remember it looking cheap and ridiculous. I’ve never actually seen it, and honestly don’t plan to, but I’ll have very warm feelings towards it because it will always make me think of giggling all night with one of my favorite people.

Hmmm. The Kathryn Dennett Oscar would probably go to Roman Holiday, but I’m not mad about an Eternity win.

Bechdel Test pass

Yes. Just under the wire, literally the last scene, Kerr and Reed talk about Hawaii and how they may or may not return.

But, the way Donna Reed’s character is portrayed, makes it hard for me to give this a pass. She’s a woman who is, euphemistically, paid for her time at a private men’s club. Until she is reformed by the love of Montgomery Clift, and suddenly her vampy looks (look how dark her hair is!) are transformed into a more traditional Reed image, white dresses and all.

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To be fair, Kerr’s character is given a more complicated back story, but it is rushed through, and so it’s hard to buy her as a real human despite her great chemistry with Lancaster.

But, more importantly, I made a dessert that involved coconut and pineapple, two flavors I really dislike, that I actually enjoyed!

Hawaiian Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1 (regular size) package yellow cake mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 packages Sugar Free Instant Jello vanilla pudding mix
  • 4 cups cold milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
  • 1 (8oz) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (20oz) can crushed pineapple, well drained
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Mix cake batter, water, oil, and eggs according to package instructions
  3. Pour into greased 13in x 9in greased baking pan
  4. Bake 20 min (or what cake box recommends)
  5. Remove from oven and press down on cake to release air
  6. Let cool
  7. In a large bowl, combine pudding mixes, milk, and coconut extract
  8. Beat for 2 minutes
  9. Add the cream cheese and beat until smooth
  10. Stir in pineapple
  11. Spread over cooled cake
  12. Whip heavy cream into whipped cream
  13. Spread over pudding layer
  14. Sprinkle with toasted coconut
  15. Place tray in fridge for at least 2 hours (I chilled mine for 22 hours and it was still soft in texture. You can also freeze if you prefer a firmer bar.)

Best Picture Baking Project: Forrest Gump

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To keep my “actually doing this every month” streak going, I ended up hosting a Best Picture Baking screening the day after this year’s Oscars. (No I have no idea what I will eventually bake for Green Book…thankfully Forrest Gump had a logically built in dessert.)

Had I seen this one before? 

Only about a thousand times on TV over the years. In college when I sat down to watch it (for a class? to avoid watching the thing I was meant to watch for class? Who knows.) I was surprised there were scenes I hadn’t see before, because I felt like I knew this movie back to front from childhood.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. Honestly, it holds up. I was a little wary, given our current cultural conversations, that it would come across as dated and cringey (so many Best Pictures do!) but the clearly metaphorical/satirical nature of the story means that while attitudes have changed, the mythical “America” Forrest et. al. are meant to portray/deconstruct is still a dominant narrative in our cultural understanding of our history and ourselves.

Oh, you weren’t expecting critical deconstruction of the metaphorical meaning of Forrest Gump, that’s probably because you take this movie too literally. (*cough* Dad, you’re very wrong about this one *cough*).

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2. All that being said, the reason this won best picture is because of Robert Zemeckis’s technical achievement of putting Tom Hanks into archival footage. And that stuff is still cute to look at, but admittedly a little cheesy.

3. This is not an important point. It’s far from the most important point to even make about her character, but Robin Wright’s hair in this film is perfect in every era, and I want to know what witchcraft Jenny was practicing.

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Every. Era.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Four Weddings and a Funeral – One of my all time favorite movies. It’s got some “Richard Curtis thinks American women are sex aliens” issues, but it is a classic and I love it.

Pulp Fiction – The origin of all of my anti-Tarantino bias. I saw parts of this way too young and honestly find it triggering.

Quiz Show – This is an underrated movie, that I always forget about until it’s mentioned, but it’s great!

The Shawshank Redemption – Fun fact: I finally saw this for the first time like a month ago! It’s very good, though I find it very upsetting. I know I am supposed to find it uplifting, but the sad parts stick in my head rather than the ending. This is admittedly my issue not the film’s.

Wow. I feel like given these options I would have assumed a Shawshank victory, but the Academy is going to Academy. I know that my film nerd friends want to say that this is was obviously Pulp Fiction‘s year, but Tarantino is trash. I love that Four Weddings was nominated, that the Academy used to pay attention to romantic comedies, but honestly, I’d give it to Gump. 

Bechdel Test pass?

Nope. But to be fair, I don’t think any men have conversations about anything other than Forrest, except for maybe Bubba talking about shrimp.

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Mama always said that life was like a box of chocolates, and years ago when putting together this original list I found a cake called a “Box of Chocolate Cake” but when I went to look for it again this week the link was broken! So I opened up my copy of How To Cook Everything and made Mark Bittman’s “Chocolate Layer Cake,” and “Chocolate Buttercream” and then bought a box of chocolates and put them on top!

Box of Chocolates Cake

Ingredients for cake

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups milk

Ingredients for topping

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cream (plus a little more if needed)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 box of chocolates (Note: I used Ferrero Rocher because it was the only box available at my grocery store which was fun and fancy – and hilarious if you know how unfancy my grocery store is.)

Directions for Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Butter the bottom and sides of 2 9in layer cake pans, sprinkle with flour
  3. Melt the chocolate in a small double boiler
  4. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  5. Using an electric mixer cream the butter until smooth
  6. Gradually add the sugar
  7. Beat until light and fluffy (approx. 3 minutes)
  8. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time
  9. Add the vanilla
  10. Add the chocolate
  11. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  12. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture a little at a time, alternating with the milk
  13. Stir until smooth, no longer
  14. Whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks
  15. Use a rubber spatula to fold them gently and completely into the batter
  16. Pour into the prepared cake pans
  17. Bake for 30 minutes (or until a knife comes out of the center clean)
  18. Cool in their pans for 5 minutes
  19. Turn out of pans to complete cooling

Directions for Decoration

  1. Melt the chocolate in a small double boiler
  2. Remove from heat and still until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  3. Using an electric mixer cream the butter
  4. Gradually mix in half of the sugar, alternating with the cream a tablespoon at a time
  5. Mix in the chocolate
  6. Return to alternating sugar and cream until all sugar is added, mixing completely after each addition
  7. Stir in the vanilla
  8. Move one cooled cake layer onto serving plate
  9. Cover top of tier with frosting
  10. Add second tier on top and cover whole cake with remaining frosting
  11. Decorate the top of iced cake with chocolates

Best Picture Baking Project: Driving Miss Daisy

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I’ve now officially seen the movie that won Best Picture the year I was born! That feels like some sort of milestone. I’m not sure what it marks except that I have actually managed to stick to a pattern of continuing this project consistently in the last few months, but I’ll take it as a win.

Had I seen this one before?

As you can guess from my intro, no I hadn’t seen it before, though, obviously, it’s joked about and referenced enough that I knew the broad outline.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. The score – recorded all on synthesizers by composer Hans Zimmer – is so 1989 and insane, but also bouncy and kind of fun.

2. I was on edge the whole time waiting for this uncomfortable premise (old Southern white lady hires an African American man to be her driver) to veer somewhere really offensive. (I watched Cimarron, Crashand Dances With Wolves all in a row I don’t trust the Academy very much on race right now.) But, despite the deferential language Morgan Freeman uses, which would have been true to the period I’m sure, this was much more nuanced that I was expecting.

3. The fact that Dan Ackroyd was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for this is insane. I mean, he’s fine, nothing wrong with his performances, but it’s literally just “affable guy with an accent.” They should’ve nominated Patti LuPone as his wife for her side eye alone.

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What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Born on the Fourth of July I have a lot of issues with Oliver Stone, but his is a great film

Dead Poets Society – As I am a former prep school girl obsessed with poetry, it will surprise no one that this movie is burned into my brain. it was the first time a move made me cry until I shook.

Field of Dreams – I’ll admit I’ve never seen this all the way through, but it’s great as far as I’ve seen

My Left Foot – Great. Classic. Large Irish Family, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jim Sheridan, what more could you ask for?

Wow, what a stacked year! I’m not mad Daisy won, but I’d give it to either Born or Poets. 

Bechdel Test pass?

Um, off the top of my head, yes I think this passes. (Note: The Bechdel site confirms it does!) Daisy and her maid – Idella – both have names and talk to each other. Though their conversations are in passing and their relationship is clearly a depiction of an uncomfortable power imbalance.

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But enough about all of that, I made a cake with Coca Cola (because the movie is set in Atlanta.) I modified the recipe by leaving the coca cola syrup off (it was supposed to have an entire box of powdered sugar in it, and as you can see the cake itself already had more than enough sugar in it.

Coca-Cola Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Coca-Cola
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Grease and flour 13 x 9 in pan (Or be lazy like me and just line it with parchment paper.)
  3. Combine Coca-Cola and buttermilk and set aside
  4. Beat butter at low speed until creamy
  5. Gradually add sugar, beat until blended
  6. Combine flour, cocoa and soda
  7. Add flour mixture to butter alternately with cola mixture (beginning and ending with flour)
  8. Beat at low speed until just blended
  9. Stir in marshmallows
  10. Pour batter into cake pan*
  11. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes

* This step broke my spatula (full disclosure, it was old):

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This is the kind of content you can get if you follow me on Instagram at @kathryndennett

Best Picture Baking Project: Dances With Wolves

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Look at me actually doing this two months in a row! Maybe it’ll only take me twenty years to finish the list! I made what the internet tells me is a traditional Lakota dessert, which was almost absurdly easy to make. But first, the movie!

Had I seen this one before?

Yes, at least twice, once as a kid and then as an assignment in my film criticism class in college. On that viewing I had to restart it multiple times because I kept falling asleep.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. It was better than I remembered, visually especially. Kevin Costner clearly loves the Western landscape and he wants the audience to see why. (It’s still too long though.)

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2. Kevin, the voice over? Why? The words you’re saying are often good, but as a director, you must know that your strength as an actor is not using words expressively. Did you really listen to this and think, “Yeah, that conveys emotion.”

It’s easy to make fun of Kevin Costner (and we did while watching this) but he has a good physical presence, so it’s confusing how that disappears when he talks.

3. The racial politics of this are…confusing. Like, I know it got praised at the time as a revisionist Western that treats the Lakota (Sioux) people as full human beings. And it does that, and it’s particularly cool that Costner has them speak speak in their own language rather than weirdly accented English. But, the Lakota’s enemies the Pawnee are still pretty stereotypically “savage” and they are portrayed as more painted and “other” than the Lakota. Also I know they need her to be a translator, but it’s a little weird that there is a white woman available for him to fall in love with in a tribe of Indigenous people.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Awakenings – I’ve never seen it and honestly don’t know much about it. But I love Penny Marshall.

Ghost – I love this movie, watched it many times, it’s a pulpy gem, but I’m genuinely surprised it was up for Best Picture.

Goodfellas – A classic and rightfully so, and the fact that it lost best editing to Dances is a travesty.

The Godfather: Part III – Wait, I thought its pretty well acknowledged this is bad?

Dances with Wolves is better than I remembered but I think it’s fair to say this should have been Goodfellas’s year.

Bechdel Test pass?

Nope. Two women talk at one point, but its just about Kevin.

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Also, how did she get such great 80s body in her hair out on the frontier?)

I wanted to make a Lakota dessert to go along with this, and google led me to this site. I’m sure the topping I made is far from authentic, but it was delicious!

Wojapi

Ingredients

  • 2 cups frozen cherries (Note: the recipe calls for “chokecherries, but I don’t know what they are)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tsp constarch

Directions 

  1. In a sauce pan mix berries, sugar and 1/4 cup water
  2. Bring to a boil
  3. Stir cornstarch into 1/4 cup cold water until it has no lumps
  4. While berry mixture is boiling slowly add cornstarch water
  5. Stir gently until combined
  6. Simmer for 2 minutes on low heat
  7. Remove from heat
  8. Let cool for 5 minutes

 

Best Picture Baking Project: Crash

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Every list of “worst Best Pictures” of all time includes the movie Crash, and so, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to getting to the next movie on my list, but it did give me a chance to attempt to make my favorite dessert, crème brûlée (because you crash through the surface…get it…), which wasn’t a complete success, but definitely less of a disaster than this movie.

Had I seen this one before? 

Yes. I saw it the year it came out, I was in high school, and remember liking it a lot. And then I saw it again in college and remember hating it a lot. I thought maybe on this viewing I would find a middle ground, but honestly I came away flabbergasted at my high school self. What grabbed me so much about this?

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. Wow, wow, wow, this movie is heavy handed. Did you know racism is bad? Did you know that Americans like to shoot each other with guns? Did you know that every person you have ever met is prejudiced in some way? Also, racism, still bad. As are guns.

         Of course, these aren’t bad messages on their own, but so few of the people in this               movie seem like actual humans with emotions and lives, instead they are all archetypes with Beliefs and anger issues. And this “all people are prejudiced in their own way” philosophy leads to some really, really strange false equivalences, the unintentionally funniest of which is the way that police misconduct and gun violence are given the same emotional weight as Sandra Bullock falling down the stairs:

2. SO MANY SUPER UPSETTING, BATSHIT CRAZY, UNSETTLING THINGS HAPPEN AND ARE THEN JUST ABANDONED. Like, if you haven’t seen this movie since it came out (because why would you have?) did you remember that it includes Ludacris “Chris” Bridges, opening a van he stole (after hitting the Asian owner with an SUV he stole from the white DA and his racist wife, played by Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock) and finds it FULL OF VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING? Because I had completely forgotten that. And in the end, he just drives off and leaves them in Chinatown with $40 and a smirk. WTF even is this movie?!?!

3. There are a couple of performances that rise above the ridiculous crap they are given to say. Matt Dillon was Oscar nominated for this, and I remember feeling that was justified at the time, and he’s not bad here (high praise, I promise.) But the only scenes that feel like they are inhabited by actual human beings, are those with Michael Peña and his daughter. So, remake Crash as a movie about a struggling locksmith who keeps running into people who talk like aliens who are one slightly stressful moment away from saying an incredibly racist thing at any moment.

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This is the believable character. That’s how subtle this film is.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Brokeback Mountain – A beautiful, heartbreaking, small story with larger social significance and lovely, sweeping imagery. It holds up.

Capote – Obviously a showcase for the central performance, but watchable on the whole.

Good Night, and Good Luck – I haven’t seen this one since the year it came out, but I loved it then, and certain moments from it are lodged in my head.

Munich – I’ve never seen it, but Steven Spielberg is pretty good at making movies.

I seriously have no idea how this won. I think Academy voters were conned into a narrative where if they didn’t vote for it they were racist. Any of the rest of these should have won over Crash, but I would give it to Brokeback.

Bechdel test pass? 

Technically, yes. But those interactions are so incredibly racist, it’s really hard for my intersectional, feminist heart to grant it a pass. Sandra Bullock being cruel to her housekeeper about her dishes or a cop trading racial slurs with the woman she got in a fender bender with is not exactly the representation I crave.

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My attempt at crème brIûlée was, in the grand tradition of custard desserts I have made for this project, less than one hundred percent successful, but I think I know what I did wrong, and have annotated the recipe below.

Torchless Crème Brûlée

Ingredients for Custard

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients for Topping

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions 

  • Position rack in the middle position of your oven
  • Preheat oven to 325F
  • Set ramekins and a large casserole pan off to the side (NOTE: Don’t substitute French onion soup bowls for ramekins, they don’t work the same way)
  • Whisk together egg yolks, sugar until creamy, cohesive, and lemony in color
  • Add cream, vanilla and salt
  • Which until smooth and combined
  • Carefulle divide mixture between four ramekins, filled about 3/4 of the way full
  • Pour 1/3 an inch water in baking pan
  • Place ramekins in water and fill until water is about halfway up ramekins
  • Place pan in oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, custard should be slightly set
  • Let cool (NOTE: Don’t forget completely to let them cool, you will basically make sweet soup) 
  • While ramekins cool, remove water from baking pan
  • Set oven to broil
  • Place ramekins back in dish
  • Sprinkle remaining sugar evenly over the top of the custar
  • Place pan under broiler for 3-5 minutes monitoring closely to avoid burning

Best Picture Baking Project: Cimarron

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I think at some point I’ve explained on the blog that the reason that I’m doing this project alphabetically was to avoid “getting stuck in the 30s.” Well, so far the early winners I’ve watched (All Quiet on the Western Front and Cavalcade) had pleasantly surprised me. But…um…this one…did not. But, I found a really good cinnamon coffee cake recipe. (I chose it because I knew literally nothing about this movie going in except it’s name, which sounds like cinnamon.) But first, this mess of a movie:

Had I seen this one before? 

Nope. I thought it was about a horse named Cimarron, but it’s about a dude named Yancey Cravat, his wife Sabra, and very tangentially their son named Cimarron. (It literally took us until the penultimate scene to realize this.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. This movie is a racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic mess. Made even more so by the fact that it thinks it is being progressive by portraying Native Americans and sex workers and Jews at all without explicit condemnation. But this is how they introduce the character of Yancey’s black servant Isaiah (Eugene Jackson):
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Yes that’s an actual child hung up above a dinner table to fan the white people eating a meal. It does not get better for this character from here

2. The plot pacing of this is insane. It starts with the Land Run of 1889 in Oklahoma (with nary a mention of the Native Americans that land was stolen from by the way) and then it jumps a few times, first by 3 years, then 5, then like 20. And the main character, Yancey, disappears from the story with very little explanation twice. His wife (Irene Dunne) in the meantime has become a congresswoman, but we don’t get any details on that, because…her husband wasn’t there while it happened? Or something?

Irene Dunne and Richard Dix in Cimarron

Also Richard Dix wears SO. MUCH. MAKEUP. throughout the whole film

3. All of that being said, I know why the Academy wanted to honor this film. It was grand and ambitious, and technically a marvel for the time. I mean, look at how many people they got racing in the opening sequence:

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Apparently it took 40 cameras to capture, which is impressive, I guess.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

East Lynne – Never seen it. But the IMDB plot description seems like it as bonkers as this, but maybe less racist?

Skippy – Didn’t know this existed until right now, but it’s interesting that what is essentially a kids movie could get nominated for Best Picture at this point.

The Front Page – I’m not sure if I’ve seen this version, but I LOVE this play

Trader Horn – Also never seen this. But it’s IMDB plot includes the phrase “darkest Africa,” so it’s probably as racist as this, if not more

Umm…I obviously can’t really judge, but The Front Page is at least fun to watch. My friends and I needed multiple bottles of wine to make it through Cimarron, so…I’d say give to Ben Hecht.

Bechdel Test pass? 

Actually, yes. There are at least 4 named women, and they talk to each other about each other, and land, and the threat of those savage Native Americans. So…again, not the bastion of progressive values that it thought itself to be, but the women in it are human beings.

On the bright side, this coffee cake (adapted from this recipe) was delicious! And super easy to make!

Easy Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Whisk together flour, salt, sugar, baking powder
  • In a separate bowl mix milk, eggs, and vanilla
  • Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet (I did it a cup at a time mixing completely after each step)
  • Add the melted butter
  • Pour batter evenly into a greased 9×13 baking pan
  • Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together
  • Spread cinnamon sugar evenly onto better
  • Swirl sugar with a fork
  • Bake for 30 minutes
  • Let cool and enjoy!

Best Picture Baking Project: Chicago

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Hey! Remember when I used to do this! It’s been over a year since the last one (which you may recall involved a botched attempt at mixing, cake, alcohol, and fire), but I finally got my act together last night and made some “Frango” mint brownies in honor of Chicago, the first musical to win Best Picture since 1969 when it won in 2003 (none as won since, though for about 3 minutes in 2016, La La Land thought they had…) Anyway, focusing on an actual best picture winner:

Had I seen this one before? 

Yes. As a musical theater middle and high schooler I watched this countless times. But I don’t actually remember when I last saw it. I had a glowing memory of it as a near perfect movie in my head, and…it doesn’t quite live up to that but it is a really fun adaptation that makes Bob Fosse mainstream somehow, which I appreciate.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. Despite what my boyfriend referred to as, “a troubling pattern of violence against men,” this song holds up:
    And see Mya there! This movie is full of cameos! Including Dominic West! And Chita Rivera! And Lucy Liu! I’m sure that I was excited about Ms. Liu at the time, but last night I was the most excited to see Chita, since she was in the original broadway cast of Chicago and it’s pretty cool that she was included here.

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2. I remember people talked a lot about Richard Gere was miscast in a musical, because he can’t sing. But Billy Flynn isn’t a hard part to sing, the issue is that he can’t dance/give himself over to the unreality of a musical number. He sounds fine, he just looks so uncomfortable.

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Look at those shoulders! He is so tense

3. Every single character in this movie is a sociopath, except Amos (John C. Reilly). I knew it was about murders, and the beginnings of a vampiric crime press, but I mean seriously these are all the worst humans. Except Amos, bless his dumb little heart. He deserves so much better than these monsters.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Gangs of New York – I’ve never seen all of this, I’ve heard good things, and it’s Scorsese…

The Hours – I love this movie, but it is so small and quiet, this nomination feels like its win

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers  – I have attempted to watch this multiple times and fallen asleep each time. (I will eventually see it when I get to Return of the King on this list…I promise).

The Pianist – Ooomph. This one is a gut punch.

So, it was a real grab bag of a year. At the time I was thrilled for Chicago and probably I’d still give it to them today. The Pianist is probably a better film, but Chicago is a more impressive production, which is technically what the Best Picture award is for.

Bechdel Test pass? 

Yes! They may all be horrendous criminals who murder men for revenge or money but they also have names! And they talk about their ambitions and fears and crimes.

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I wanted an old timey Chicago dessert, and all I could think of was Frango mints. I found a recipe for Frango mint fudge. But longtime readers know how fudge tends to go for me. So I adapted this recipe for mint chocolate brownies (mostly by simplifying it) and invented my own version of the classic treat:

Frango Mint Brownies 

Ingredients 

  • 1 box of fudgey brownie mix
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 tablespoons of butter softened to almost melted
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1.5 teaspoons mint extract
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions 

  • Mix and bake brownies in a 9 by 13 in pan (I baked mine only 28 minutes for more of a cakey texture)
  • While they’re baking/cooling (I popped mine in the freezer) combine powdered sugar, milk, butter, and mint extract in a large bowl using a mixer
  • When brownies are cool, spread mint cream mixture evenly over the top
  • Top with a layer of chocolate chips
  • Place in fridge or freezer to cool/solidify
  • Slice and serve!