An Honor To Be Nominated: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared

THE CONTENDER: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (2013)

Number of Nominations: 1 – Makeup and Hairstyling (Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr)

Number of Wins: 0

Accepted wisdom has it that foreign language films historically have a difficult time at the Oscars. The rules for eligibility in the Best Foreign Language Film category (which is evidently going to be redubbed Best International Feature Film as of next year) are admittedly labyrinthine and strange; with countries submitting entries for consideration like it’s the Eurovision Song Contest. If a film is not an “official entry” from a country, it’s often out of luck. Even if they are official, they can still be disqualified or withdrawn for a wide range of reasons, from language to distribution to politics.

But this fails to take into account the huge number of foreign films that have been nominated in other categories. Granted, only a handful has competed for Best Picture. But there have been dozens of documentaries, several animated films, and a long line of actors and actresses recognized in their categories. The complete list of nominated writers and directors reads like a who’s who of international cinema masters. And if you look at the technical categories, foreign films are extremely well-represented in Costume Design, Cinematography, and Art Direction.

Makeup is one of the few categories where international films are arguably under-represented, although they have been catching up in recent years. The number of foreign language films nominated in the category has almost doubled in the last decade alone. Recently, Sweden has been on a bit of a streak, racking up its most recent nomination just this past winter for Border. The country’s first nod in the category came in 2016 with the marquee-busting comedy The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared.

Directed by Felix Herngren and based on the novel by Jonas Jonasson, The 100-Year-Old-Etc chronicles the adventures of Allan Karlsson (played by popular Swedish comedian Robert Gustafsson). On the day of his 100th birthday, he decides he’s had enough of the retirement home where he’s been forcibly placed and…well, you can probably figure it out. He buys a bus ticket for as far as his pocket change will take him, which turns out to be not far at all, a defunct train station in the middle of nowhere. But before he can get on the bus, a skinhead biker, frustrated that he can’t squeeze his oversized suitcase into the cramped restroom with him, demands that Allan hold on to it for a minute and not let go. That’s exactly what Allan does. He just gets on the bus, too.

Reaching the end of the line, Allan is befriended by Julius (Iwar Wiklander), an older man who’s facing the likelihood of being put into a retirement home himself soon. Meanwhile, the skinhead turns out to be a courier for a British crime boss (Alan Ford, who you may recognize from Snatch) and the suitcase contains millions in cash. Thus begins a journey across the Swedish countryside with the skinheads trying to track down the suitcase and a bored policeman (Ralph Carlsson) trying (not very hard) to track down the hundred-year-old man.

Layered on top all of this, we have Allan recounting his life story in flashback, a distinctly Forrest Gump-like journey that finds Allan discovering his one true passion in life: explosives. His love for blowing stuff up first lands him in a mental hospital. But upon his release, he’s able to put it to use, first in Spain alongside the revolutionaries against Franco, then as part of the Manhattan Project, and eventually in a Russian gulag, where he’s imprisoned alongside Herbert Einstein, Albert’s idiot brother. After an escape, Allan ends up working as a spy for both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War, feeding both sides useless information.

So what we have here is essentially a mash-up of Forrest Gump and an absurdist crime comedy. Think Coen Brothers Lite. Perhaps surprisingly, the present-day antics work a lot better than the flashback romp through history. There’s a simple reason for this. The characters in this half are a whole lot more compelling than the various historical caricatures Allan encounters. Apart from Herbert Einstein, who is admittedly funny, Allan encounters Franco, Stalin, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, Truman, Gorbachev, and Reagan; all played indifferently by actors who sound nothing like their counterparts. If this were a Hollywood movie, these would be opportunities for scene-stealing cameos. In European cinema, they’re awkward moments best glossed over as quickly as possible.

But the characters in the present-day story are a lot of fun. Allan and Julius’ little group grows to include Benny (David Wiberg), a stammering, middle-aged graduate student who is perpetually a few credits shy of completing whatever degree he’s working on at the moment. We also meet Gunilla (Mia Skäringer), a young woman who lives on her own with Sonja, a liberated circus elephant. (Oh, did I not mention there was an elephant involved? There is.) Gunilla’s ex-boyfriend also happens to be the brother of one of the skinheads, in case you’d forgotten about them. Spending time with these characters is so pleasant and breezy that you almost come to resent Allan’s past intruding on the story.

The Oscar-nominated makeup is pretty good but I don’t think I’d deem it Oscar-worthy. Gustafsson’s old-age makeup is clearly the showcase piece and it’s fine, though not up to the heights hit by Dick Smith earlier in films like The Exorcist. As for the historical figures, some like Einstein and Stalin are perfectly acceptable, while others like Reagan are downright dodgy. Makeup artists Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr would do better work on their second Oscar-nominated film, A Man Called Ove, the following year.

The Makeup category has taken a hit in recent years, as advances in digital technology have blurred the lines between makeup and visual effects. The category used to be dominated by science fiction, fantasy and horror films. These days, the Academy is more likely to be impressed by historical transformations and old-age makeup than by monsters and aliens. Most of the innovative work in that area is now a marriage between digital effects and practical makeup artists and, unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t seem to know quite how to address that yet.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is now the third highest grossing Swedish film of all time, behind only the original versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire (the Swedes do seem to like long titles, don’t they?). In fact, a sequel was recently released called (deep breath) The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out On The Bill And Disappeared. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and a glance at its IMDb page suggests that the filmmakers decided to double down on the structure of the first one, with flashbacks to Allan’s eventful life intercut with a quirky road trip to find a Russian soda recipe. Feels like the very definition of pushing your luck to me but who knows? Maybe it’s just kooky enough to work.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Music Box Films.

An Honor To Be Nominated: Legend

THE CONTENDER: Legend (1986)

Number of Nominations: 1 – Makeup (Rob Bottin and Peter Robb-King)

Number of Wins: 0

There are a handful of filmmakers who make the concept of a column like this somewhat difficult. It’s a problem I discussed when I wrote about Star Wars. Namely, the version of the film that is widely available today is not the same movie that was nominated for ten Academy Awards. The movie won Oscars for its visual effects and editing but today, thanks to George Lucas’ tinkering, those elements have been radically altered.

The Star Wars movies are extreme examples since Lucas literally removed the original versions from circulation. But there are other filmmakers who are arguably worse when it comes to making post-release changes. And yes, I am looking directly at you, Sir Ridley Scott. His filmography is so cluttered with extended, unrated and director’s cut versions that it’s almost difficult to think of a movie he hasn’t continued to fuss over. Even Gladiator, a movie that most people liked just fine the first time around and won Best Picture, received a superfluous “extended edition” on DVD. Some people are never satisfied.

So what are we talking about when we talk about Scott’s fantasy epic Legend? If it were up to him, he’d probably prefer that we only discuss the 113-minute director’s cut released on DVD back in 2002. If that’s not an option, then he’d likely steer us toward the 94-minute version released in Europe in 1985. That at least includes the original orchestral score composed by Jerry Goldsmith. But neither of those variants nabbed an Oscar nomination, so we’re going to focus exclusively on the 89-minute version released in America in 1986 with the synthesized musical stylings of Tangerine Dream. Sorry, Ridley.

If you read Starlog or Cinefantastique magazine back in the 80s, you were very, very excited to see Legend. I subscribed to both so I’m speaking from experience here. At the time, Ridley Scott seemed like the savior of science fiction cinema. He had blown everyone away with Alien and while Blade Runner had been a commercial flop, a cult of devoted fans was already beginning to form around it. Just the idea of Scott tackling the fantasy genre was enough to build anticipation. Given that track record and with pre-release publicity photos centered squarely on Rob Bottin’s spectacular makeup effects, Legend seemed like it should have been a home run.

Well, it wasn’t. Sure, Legend looks spectacular with its jaw-dropping sets and lush cinematography. But you could say that about any Ridley Scott movie. The man seems to be incapable of crafting a bad image. But looks ain’t everything and Legend has a whole raft of problems, starting, unfortunately, with its script. The idea to make a fairy tale came from Scott and he developed the story with the man who would write the screenplay, the late novelist William Hjortsberg (he’s probably best known for Falling Angel, which became the basis for the film Angel Heart).

The story they came up with would seem to have all the basic ingredients of a classic fairy tale. Good vs. evil. Light vs. darkness. Goblins, unicorns, fairies, elves, magic pixies…it’s a fifth-grade girl’s spiral notebook cover come to life. But what it doesn’t have is much of a point. Our heroes, forest dweller Jack (a woefully miscast Tom Cruise) and vaguely-defined “princess” (of what is never quite clear) Lili (Mia Sara), remain blank slates throughout. Cruise and Sara have zero chemistry as an on-screen couple, so there’s no reason to care whether or not they live happily ever after. Sara, at least, is given more than one note to play as she falls under the corrupting influence of Darkness (Tim Curry). But Cruise is simply out of his depth, unable to make the florid dialogue sound even remotely natural.

Tim Curry, on the other hand, bites into this kind of thing like a rare steak. His Darkness is easily the most compelling thing about the film. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Rob Bottin’s makeup is that Tim Curry’s essential Tim Curry-ness isn’t buried beneath all that red paint, rubber and fiberglass. You can still see him in his eyes and his mouth and you can definitely hear him in his voice, despite the addition of kind of chintzy vocal effects. In fact, almost all of the characters have some kind of weird, distracting video-gamey voice. Curry actually gets off pretty easy in this regard.

The makeup work by Rob Bottin and Peter Robb-King is nothing short of extraordinary and more than deserved its Oscar nomination. Darkness is obviously the marquee piece that gets all the attention but all of it is quite remarkable, from Darkness’ goblin toady Blix (Alice Playten) to Meg Mucklebones (played by Joe Dante regular Robert Picardo, of all people), a swamp-dwelling creature that deserved more screen time.

So how is it that makeup this great didn’t win? Well, Legend was released everywhere in the world except America in 1985. In this country, the release was delayed until 1986 so that Jerry Goldsmith’s score could be replaced by Tangerine Dream. And hey, I like Tangerine Dream a lot. But this is a bad score that screams 1980s even more than Giorgio Moroder’s music for The NeverEnding Story does. Anyway, that delay put Legend in competition with David Cronenberg’s The Fly for Best Makeup. As great as the makeup is in Legend, Chris Walas and Stephen Dupuis’ work on The Fly is arguably even better. Certainly the Academy would make that argument. They gave the award to Walas and Dupuis.

Not that an Oscar would have been a foregone conclusion if Legend had come out in ’85 like it was supposed to. In England, Legend was nominated for a BAFTA Award in the makeup category. Its competition included not one but two Oscar winners: Mask and Amadeus (which won). So no matter where they went, Bottin and Robb-King were up against some heavy hitters.

Rob Bottin is retired now but his work in special make-up effects has made him a legend in his own right. Movies like The Howling, The Thing, and RoboCop are classics today, thanks in no small part to his work. Remarkably, he never won a competitive Academy Award. He did eventually get one, as part of the visual effects team on Total Recall, but that was a Special Achievement Award presented in one of those weird years when the Academy can’t be bothered to nominate films and instead just hands it to you. And sure, I guess it doesn’t matter how you get your Oscar, just as long as you get one. Still, it seems like an odd injustice that one of the acknowledged masters of make-up effects never received an Academy Award for Best Makeup.

Legend is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.