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Episode 140 - My Fair Lady vs. Mary Poppins (w/ Russ Fischer)


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Poll: Episode 140 - My Fair Lady vs. Mary Poppins (w/ Russ Fischer) (38 member(s) have cast votes)

Which 1965 Best Picture nominee should enter The Canon?

  1. My Fair Lady (8 votes [21.05%])

    Percentage of vote: 21.05%

  2. Mary Poppins (30 votes [78.95%])

    Percentage of vote: 78.95%

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#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 04 February 2018 - 08:36 PM

Film critic Russ Fischer joins Amy to kick off Oscar Movie Month with a musical showdown from 1965. First, Amy and Russ talk Best Picture winner “My Fair Lady,” noting Audrey Hepburn’s physical expressiveness, director George Cukor’s use of freeze, and standout songs. Then, they break down “Mary Poppins,” touching on its technical achievement, its depiction of the suffragette movement, and the exuberance Julie Andrews brought to the titular role.

#2 Cronopio

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 09:46 AM

This was a great head to head, clash of the musical titans episode, and I really loved the discussion.

I voted for Mary Poppins. I think that one of the worst things to happen to film, especially at the end of the silent era, was the over-reliance on theater as source material as it tends to weigh movies down. And I think one of the best things to happen to film is George Melies and his magic-show "look what movies can do" approach to movie-making. My Fair Lady, for me, remains a filmed play, and Mary Poppins is in the tradition of Melies's illusions. Arguably, My Fair Lady is a more mature, more subtextual, more thematically relevant movie, but Mary Poppins is about the exuberance and wonder of movie-making (and the songs are catchier.)

If I were to induct a George Cukor film into the canon, it would be The Philadelphia Story - yes, I know, based on a play.

#3 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 11:52 AM

Mary Poppins by a country mile. My Fair Lady held up pretty poorly upon recent rewatch. It's way too long and too much in debt to the source material, Hepburn does her best but is plainly miscast, and Higgins' misogynistic abuse isn't well-contextualized enough to always read as satire. It's a tough watch with a lot of great songs in it. I understand the satiric intent, but it's not always carried off well.

Russ Fischer appears to be living on another planet in finding it boring, because every time I watch Mary Poppins I am transported in exactly the way it wants me to be. Not a single scene is boring; each one builds to heights of entertainment that most 1950s musicals can only dream of. It certainly is vignette-y, but I'm with Amy that these vignettes are perfectly executed across the board. To me, Banks' redemption doesn't read as a theme they threw in at the end, but rather something that has been stealthily weaved in throughout the picture and comes unexpectedly to the forefront as exactly what it always should have been about. The whole movie is about the kids being shown something magical and wonderful by Mary Poppins, and then their father pooh-poohing it at the next opportunity. They constantly show Banks missing the strange and funny things happening around him (in the very first scene, when he barely seems to notice the women running around to fix the furniture after the cannon blast), and then to put a button on it, Mary sings "Feed the Birds" specifically to teach the children about this. This idea that Banks needs to learn to appreciate life and have more fun could hardly be more signposted.

The surest sign for me that Mary Poppins belongs in the Canon is that it felt meaningful in completely different ways when I was a kid and now, as a grown man and father. I loved the colorful song-and-dance numbers and the comedy as a child. Watching it as an adult, Banks' realization about how much of his children's lives he's missed hit me like a ton of bricks. "Go Fly a Kite" actually chokes me up now, realizing what Banks is doing and how much he's cast off to do so.

Easy vote. Poppins is the more meaningful, the more culturally relevant, and the more cinematically inventive film.

#4 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 12:57 PM

Addendum:

I also found it odd that both podcast hosts thought that Mrs. Banks attaching her suffragette sash to the kite represented the idea that she's giving up on her cause. I don't read it that way at all: I see it as her adding something of her own to the thing her family built together. It's not like they're throwing the kite away after flying it, or that she can't get another sash.

Do other people read this as a rejection of the suffragette movement? The only previous scene where she mentions it is when she marches with the chimney sweeps, and she still seems pretty gung-ho there. I don't see any other evidence that she's giving up the cause.

#5 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 01:38 PM

I grew up on both of these films and have a lot of nostalgia for each of them. I feel bad for crushing Amy's NEVERENDING STORY dreams last week, only to now get to vote in one of my childhood favorites. One of the ways I'm considering these films is how they fare as adaptations. I think one of the reasons MY FAIR LADY won the Academy Award that year was because the stage musical was already a proven and beloved success. It had the leg up having already been considered a classic, which is also why I think Rex Harison won Best Actor, and why Julie Andrews would have won Best Actress if she had been cast in MY FAIR LADY instead of MARY POPPINS that year. And as a stage to screen adaptation, MY FAIR LADY is very good, if perhaps a little too faithful and comprehensive. Cukor does not leave a lot out of the film, and it suffers a bit with repeated viewings due to its length. Cukor does manage to provide the film with brief moments of cinematic flare, but for the most part each scene is presented more or less how it was seen on stage, only with more elaborate, (and apparently very expensive) sets.

While I know that most of our greatest and most classic musicals are adapted from other sources, I do sometimes take away points for lack of originality. Aside from a few noteworthy changes, MY FAIR LADY is not drastically different from Shaw's PYGMALION. If the film got a leg up on awards because it was adapted from an already successful stage musical, then I must acknowledge that even that stage musical was greatly helped by the source of an already famous and classic play. And as an adaptation it is mostly quite excellent, but I also believe that you can see the chain of assists from each incarnation of the piece. I know this is a silly nitpick, but it's one that continues to haunt the theatrical world. My wife works in musical theater in New York and we are constantly confronted with news of future musical adaptations from beloved films, which is basically an easier way to sell a familiar story to theater-going tourists. In the near future we can look forward to musicals based on TOOTSIE, THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS, and PRETTY WOMAN, itself a loose adaptation in the first place which will be playing a few blocks away from a new revival of MY FAIR LADY. I do really enjoy the film though. Hepburn, with beautiful albeit non matching vocals from Marnie Nixon, is wonderful, and I've always found Rex Harrison hilarious as Higgins and his signature style of "singing" has proven to be incredibly difficult to immitate by others. Though definitely a toxic male character wielding power over women and other street urchins, I appreciate that he's revealed to ultimately be a nerdy outcast who even his own mother can't stand. The ending is a bit too pat, but Harrison makes it work as well as one can. It's possible that the film won Best Picture because Hollywood was despreately clinging to the lavish musical as an art form as it was losing its relevence, but much worse musical films would go on to be nominated and even win Academy Awards in the years following the film's success. While parts of MY FAIR LADY haven't aged as well as other classic musicals, it's still much better than the likes of OLIVER, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and DOCTOR DOOLITTLE. Rex couldn't save that one.

MARY POPPINS is also an adaptation of P.L. Travers' series of books, but I'm far more enamoured with Disney's very unique and original take on the material, transforming Travers' crude and ugly witch of a character into a whimsical, sweet-voiced, practically perfect dream nanny. You can learn all about this in the wonderful film SAVING MR. BANKS. (just kidding, Amy) MARY POPPINS is one of the first movies I ever remember seeing, thus naturally it left a lasting impression on me. I appreciated Amy and Russ discussing Bert's early breaking of the 4th wall, which seems a tad unnecessary watching the film now, but as a child I was raptured by the notion that I was being addressed and that the story was being told right to me. Dick Van Dyke's accent is attrocious, but it's also incredibly charming. By contrast, when I saw the stage musical adaptation of the story, Bert was played by an actual British actor and he wasn't nearly as engaging of a character with a proper British accent. Andrews' performance is so enchanting, and sets itself apart from there mere categorization of a mere "musical" or "children's movie." But it's the arc of the children's relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Banks that still impacts me so much to this day. As a young child, I didn't even fully understand or recognize these two characters as Jane and Michael's parents, because (having a rather ideal childhood) I didn't recognize their actions of distraction and neglect as the behavior of parents, and so I was simultaneously confused and even a little frightened by them. It's unpleasant to see parents depicted as domineering authority figures at such a young age, but it makes Mr. Banks' redemption and giddiness at the end of the film all the more satisfying. I had never considered that Mrs. Banks tying her sash to the kite as an abandoment of her values. I always thought it was more a desire to advertise her suffragette slogan high in the sky for everyone around to see. As great as Andrews & Dyke are in the film, I love David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns. Tomlinson is doing an agrier and more repressed take on the upper class snob that Rex Harrison does in My Fair Lady. Perhaps they should have been competing that year. Incidentally, if you want to see Tomlinson and Johns have some sexy, pre-code, mermaid love-making, you should check out the fantasy film MIRANDA.

I could rattle on about MARY POPPINS for pages. It's such a delightful film. I don't think there's a single bad song in it, and the "Step in Time" dance sequence is one of my favorites from any movie musical. There are many live action Disney films that are borderline classics, (I'm very partial to TREASURE ISLAND, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON), but even at their best there is a shadow of the Disney brand cast over them, especially with so many familiar contract cast members showing up in the companies of the films. But MARY POPPINS stands apart for me and is worthy of being called a bonnefied classic film, even without the qualifying label of being under the Disney tree. I do think that MARY POPPINS should have won Best Picture in 1965 and it deserves to be let into The Canon now.

#6 caringtype1

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 03:16 PM

My Fair Lady is my favorite movie of all time. I will never forget the first time I saw it. I was in the 9th grade and it came on TCM one afternoon and my eyes were just glued to the screen. I think it is gorgeously made, every frame is perfect. It has since become the movie I watch whenever I'm not in a great mood because I know it will make me smile for two and a half hours. I have now seen it several times and it is always a satisfying and rewarding viewing experience.

As a lover of musicals, I was really baffled by Amy saying she likes it when people who can't really sing do their own singing. To me, there is nothing worse than when a performer cannot hit the notes as written. It drives me insane, it's like nails on a chalkboard. There are times when a film can get away with it (such as in La La Land where the songs aren't especially difficult to sing), but you can never, ever get away with it on stage. That is why, for films like MFL that is adapting a Broadway classic with a beautifully intricate Lerner and Loewe score, dubbing is the option I prefer. That way you get the best of both worlds - acting and singing - and the majority of the audience doesn't know the difference.

Another reason I'm glad they dubbed Hepburn's vocals with those of the immensely talented Marni Nixon is that I get to enjoy Hepburn's performance without that her singing is weak (Actually Hepburn had a lovely voice, but nowhere near the range that Eliza's songs are written in). Yes, it would have been great to see Julie Andrews recreate her work (go listen to the original Broadway cast recording - it's heavenly), but I think Hepburn's acting is truly spectacular. This is my favorite of all the Audrey Hepburn makeover movies because the transformation is so exaggerated. In the beginning, we know that it is Audrey Hepburn, the most beautiful and glamorous woman in the world, deliberately made to look un-glamorous, so the tension for the first chunk of the movie is getting to the point where she becomes the Audrey Hepburn we know and love. And then we get the second half of the movie, where Eliza comes to a new understanding of everything the upper-class culture values so highly, and it is so much more impactful because the audience then realizes that seeing Audrey Hepburn in a stunning ballgown was not the point of the movie. It adds another layer to the film that isn't really as pronounced in other versions of the story.

From a musical standpoint, I was kind of shocked to hear people say they think the music in Mary Poppins is better. Sure it's much more popular and maybe more catchy, but Lerner and Loewe's musical score for My Fair Lady is one of the all-time bests. It's more lyrically clever and melodically intricate than any of the songs in Mary Poppins. There's going to be a Broadway revival of My Fair Lady this spring with Diana Rigg as Mrs. Higgins. I, of course, bought my tickets the minute they went on sale.

I really do not want to make the high art vs popular entertainment argument because I hate that argument and think it's lazy, but I can't help but point out that MFL is the film with more to say. I know that Mary Poppins is definitely going to win this, and I'm fine with that because that is a great movie that I love as well. This brings up an interesting debate about your personal favorites vs. films that are incredibly culturally significant. I think there is room for both in the Canon, and I will gladly agree that Mary Poppins absolutely deserves to be there. But, as for my vote, my heart will always belong to My Fair Lady.

#7 TheFanon

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Posted 06 February 2018 - 07:36 AM

(Abstaining from voting until I can rewatch Mary Poppins, which I haven't seen since I was around 5)

I guess I am in the minority here, but I was disappointed that My Fair Lady, a three hour film about an upper class misogynist treating a lower class woman like garbage, has so little to say about class disparities outside of manners and accents. It doesn't really work as a fable or as a satire of the British upper class. This is best exemplified in the horribly tone-deaf scene where Eliza's father reveals how torturously boring his life is now that he is no longer poor (come the fuck on). I was not expecting a modern 'prove how woke you are about class issues' scene, but I guess I hoping for something with a little more substance.

#8 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 06 February 2018 - 04:57 PM

View Postcaringtype1, on 05 February 2018 - 03:16 PM, said:

As a lover of musicals, I was really baffled by Amy saying she likes it when people who can't really sing do their own singing.


I did enjoy how Russ threw La La Land in her face after that comment, though. :)

#9 Dale Cooper Black®

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Posted 06 February 2018 - 05:19 PM

Which 1965 Best Picture nominee should enter The Canon? Dr. Strangelove.

#10 hippogriffrider

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Posted 07 February 2018 - 03:51 AM

It's really bizarre how much Amy hates La La Land since whenever she talks about musicals and her preference for ambition and messiness-especially with singing ability!!, I'm like "that's La La Land!" oh well just one of those things.

Anyway both deserve to be in the Canon for different reasons what a great episode. Voting for MFL because it's the underdog as of this writing. And its feminist themes become clearer on each watch--Eliza's agency and self-worth is striking and Higgins' own blind pomposity and uselessness more appreciably jarring. Mary Poppins on the other hand has little regard for women who aren't Mary Poppins, and seems like an exercise in feminine exceptionalism.

#11 bleary

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Posted 07 February 2018 - 01:45 PM

I don't particularly care for Lerner and Loewe musicals as a general rule, and I think the thing that infuriates me about My Fair Lady is the same thing that infuriates me about Gigi, which I also recently saw. Both films introduce these really great, energetic female characters, then spend way too much screen time on the men around them that totally suck, and ultimately handcuff them to these crappy men at the end. If you argue that this is the point, then I argue that it takes far too long to arrive at that point, and the ending undercuts that point.

On the other hand, Mary Poppins is just the best. For one thing, it's absurd how deep the bench is in terms of great songs, which particularly contrasts with the Lerner and Loewe trend of one or two memorable songs per film. I mean, the Sherman brothers were unstoppable earworm machines for their entire careers, but for my money, this is their best full assembly of songs. (In fact, I would be hard pressed to name ANY musical with a better collection of songs than Mary Poppins, full stop. "Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious" is actually low-key one of the worst songs in the film, and it's an all-time classic. Meanwhile, as an adult, I still sing "Chim Chim Cher-ee" to myself on a regular basis.)

There's not much to say about Mary Poppins that wasn't already said either in the episode, or above by sycasey 2.0 and Johnny Pomatto. I will echo above comments that disagreed with Russ's read on the suffragette material. In some ways, I think the film takes similar views toward both parents, in that it respects their non-family responsibilities, but suggests that both parents should make time for family. Mrs. Banks is not necessarily a bad mother for devoting time to the suffragette movement (important!), and Mr. Banks is not necessarily a bad father for devoting time to providing for his family financially (also important!). Mr. Banks' epiphany that the bank is not worth being miserable over is certainly played as a bigger moment than Mrs. Banks contributing her sash towards the family kite, but I believe the film intended them as parallels.

Finally, I just want to say that I'll happily take a film whose notion of darkness and conflict is a man getting his hat punched through over a film whose notion of romance is the phrase "I've grown accustomed to her face." Mary Poppins all the way.

#12 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 07 February 2018 - 02:18 PM

View Postbleary, on 07 February 2018 - 01:45 PM, said:

On the other hand, Mary Poppins is just the best. For one thing, it's absurd how deep the bench is in terms of great songs, which particularly contrasts with the Lerner and Loewe trend of one or two memorable songs per film.


In fairness to My Fair Lady, I think it has more than two great songs in it.

#13 rickyssofake

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Posted 07 February 2018 - 05:06 PM

Just noting my issue with the fact that Amy and Russ agreed on their statement that Mary Poppins "has no point." In fact watching it this time around as an adult, it was particularly interesting to see how Mary pulls off her "scheme" to bring this family together: bringing spontaneity into this strict home, convincing their father to bring them to the bank (and also "incepting" Michael about how to spend his tuppence), all the while underplaying her role in it all - both to put the parents at the forefront of the children's minds ("as it should be"), and to keep a professional boundary, for her own sake.

#14 bleary

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Posted 08 February 2018 - 04:09 AM

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 07 February 2018 - 02:18 PM, said:


In fairness to My Fair Lady, I think it has more than two great songs in it.


I said "memorable," not "great," and I stick to that. If you ask me in a year what songs are from My Fair Lady, I highly doubt I'll come up with more than "Rain in Spain" and "I Could Have Danced All Night," and it's very possible I'll forget the latter because, although it's the best song in the show, there's nothing in it that specifically ties it to My Fair Lady in my memory. The most iconic movie performance of "I Could Have Danced All Night" was by Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, and Hank Azaria in The Birdcage. Again, I feel like this is a Lerner and Loewe trend. Brigadoon has "Almost Like Being In Love," a thoroughly recognizable song, but not one that I associate with Brigadoon. Gigi has "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" and "I Remember It Well," which I don't associate with Gigi as much as I just generally associate them with Maurice Chevalier. I give Lerner and Loewe credit for writing some all-time classic songs, but I don't think their songs do service to their shows and films in the same way that the Sherman brothers' songs do.

#15 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 08 February 2018 - 07:36 AM

View Postbleary, on 08 February 2018 - 04:09 AM, said:

I said "memorable," not "great," and I stick to that. If you ask me in a year what songs are from My Fair Lady, I highly doubt I'll come up with more than "Rain in Spain" and "I Could Have Danced All Night," and it's very possible I'll forget the latter because, although it's the best song in the show, there's nothing in it that specifically ties it to My Fair Lady in my memory.


I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, because even before rewatching the movie last week (not having seen it in probably 20 years or so), I could have also easily rattled off "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "On the Street Where You Live," and "Get Me to the Church" as memorable songs from My Fair Lady, in addition to the two you listed here. After watching it again, I'd have to say that "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Just You Wait" are also pretty memorable. (The Rex Harrison numbers are maybe more stylistically memorable than musically.)

Anyway, I also had problems with the movie (for similar reasons to yours), but personally I can't impugn the music.

#16 Marsellus_H

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Posted 08 February 2018 - 12:52 PM

I'm back from my sabbatical here at the canon. What did I miss?

So, My Fair Lady vs Marry Poppins, uh. Oh boy. Observations I had during watching these films: Both films go on for way too long. That said, I think Rex Harrison gets a bit of an unfair wrap. I think Rex Harrisson is really, really good in My Fair Lady. I think he brings surprisingly a lot of nuances and humanity to a character that would have been pretty flat in a lesser actor's hand. Julie Andrews, of course, is phantastic. I enjoyed the songs of My Fair Lady a bit more than the ones of Mary Poppins. I have not much passion for any of these films, they go on for too long and provide too little. Long story short, I guess I'll give my vote to My Fair Lady. But honestly, if I wanna watch a decent academy award winning film musical from the 60s, I prefer Oliver! by a mile. That film will surprise you with how well it holds up, and is much tighter edited. Oliver! vs. a space odyssey, that would have been a bonkers episode ;)

#17 BostonBrand

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Posted 09 February 2018 - 06:08 AM

It's not even a question for me. Unlike Amy and Russ, I love the score for "My Fair Lady" -- but the movie is ponderous. "Mary Poppins," on the other hand, is truly magical, not just in its subject matter but in its cinematic wizardry and quirky spirit. I don't mind the vignettes, because they all add up to a satisfying and surprisingly moving whole, reflected in the performance of David Tomlinson as he rediscovers joy and love. I don't even mind Dick Van Dyke's ridiculous accent, because it's one-of-a-kind, like Peter Sellers' ridiculous accent in the "Pink Panther" movies. Honestly, my only real problem with "Mary Poppins" is the sash/kite-tail moment, which is indefensible. But this movie clearly belongs in the Canon, despite that one lapse.

#18 Susan*

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Posted 10 February 2018 - 11:16 AM

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 05 February 2018 - 12:57 PM, said:


I also found it odd that both podcast hosts thought that Mrs. Banks attaching her suffragette sash to the kite represented the idea that she's giving up on her cause. I don't read it that way at all: I see it as her adding something of her own to the thing her family built together. It's not like they're throwing the kite away after flying it, or that she can't get another sash.


It was interesting to think about what the sash-on-kite might mean--it hadn't occurred to me before and I liked thinking about it. It doesn't blemish the movie for me, but I guess I never thought the mom was a serious suffragette--more of a fashion statement for her. I have always loved the suffragette song. And I worship Glynis Johns.

(For the record, I skip the animated portion. It drags.)

#19 DwightUngar

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Posted 10 February 2018 - 07:43 PM

In rewatching My Fair Lady today, I appreciate its message, I appreciate its performances and I appreciate its art direction. But it is unmercifal in its epic length. So many musical sequences, particularly in the second half, go far too long to the point where I become numb to them. And by the time we finally get to the conclusion of the picture, my interest has certainly wained.

This is not the case with Mary Poppins, which despite a lengthy running time as well, never ceases to come up with new magical ideas in every scene and nearly every shot. While my fond childhood memories of watching the film undoubtedly help sway my opinion here, the number of memorable shots in Poppins is exponentially greater than those in Lady. While the endless musical sequences in Lady are rarely much more than a point and shoot style, Mary Poppins keeps the camerawork and cinematography wonderfully dynamic and interesting without ever overwhelming the performances or choreography.

Audrey Hepburn, despite the unfortunate dubbing, gets some real laughs out of her performance in My Fair Lady, and allows her to do comedy in a way that we never really see in her other famous performances. So that's appreciated. Rex Harrison is charismatic enough as well. With less extraneous fat to sit through during the rest of the film, I could probably appreciate these performances more. But the movie frequently just gets so boring.

All 139 minutes of Mary Poppins entertained me from start to finish when I was a young child, and continues to do so to this day. It's a film of such perfect whimsical joy with music that has remained in the hearts and minds for so many people for over half a century. And while My Fair Lady can claim this as well, it's nowhere near to the same extent as Mary Poppins.

And finally, if we need an Audrey Hepburn movie in the Canon, we already have Breakfast At Tiffany's. If we need another, I'd much rather have Roman Holiday or Wait Until Dark. I think it would be nice to finally have a classic Disney film in the Canon that Walt Disney himself was a part of seeing as how his influence on film history is undeniable.

So yes, in case it hasn't yet been clear enough, my vote is for Mary Poppins.

#20 andyradicalpossumtackler

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 04:27 PM

View PostMarsellus_H, on 08 February 2018 - 12:52 PM, said:

if I wanna watch a decent academy award winning film musical from the 60s, I prefer Oliver! by a mile. That film will surprise you with how well it holds up, and is much tighter edited. Oliver! vs. a space odyssey, that would have been a bonkers episode ;)


Oliver! is marvelous, and it's a shame that no one really talks about it much anymore. I think it gets swept under the rug for being old-fashioned, but the scope and execution is so impressive. I'd probably pick "The Lion in Winter" for best picture that year, but "Oliver!" is still top 5.