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9 Oscar Nominated Films We've Lost

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Although you’d be tempted to believe that all the films that have ever been nominated for Oscars—especially the ones that actually walked away with a little gold man—have been cherished, cared for, looked after, and tucked away for fans to enjoy for many years to come, you’d be wrong. Sadly enough, plenty of films are considered “lost,” and not in the “someone misplaced them somewhere but they’re probably okay” way, but more like “don't exist anywhere.”

The numbers on lost films are shocking—it’s believed that the majority of American silent films have been lost, and when it comes to the early years of sound films (from 1927 to 1950), it’s estimated that about half are lost (the use of 35mm “safety film” after 1950 has helped curb losses in a big way). Although campaigns remain in place to quite literally find and restore those lost films, it’s still slow going—and it’s no surprise that the Academy Film Archive is also in on the hunt with its “Oscar’s Most Wanted” search, because a few of its own honorees are currently still missing. 

1. Song of the Flame (1930)

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This Alan Crosland-directed musical drama hit the screen as an adaptation of the Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto A. Harbach Broadway operetta of the same name. The film was quite notably photographed entirely in Technicolor and was the very first color film to include a widescreen sequence, thanks to the Warner Bros. process known as “Vitascope.”

Clearly cutting-edge visually, the film was also a bit of a marvel in the sound department, and was nominated for a Best Sound Recording Oscar for the 3rd Academy Awards. The film is considered lost, but sound discs for five of its nine reels still exist (thanks to another Warner Bros. process, “Vitaphone,” which recorded the film’s soundtrack separately).

2. The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1930)

Basement Rejects 

It seems like 1930 might not have been a good year for the Best Sound Recording nominees, because yet another one of those Oscar hopefuls is also considered lost. No prints of the Herbert Brenon-directed drama (based on the German novel of the same name) are believed to exist, which may be a good thing—historical reviews of the film were not kind.

3. The Broadway Melody (1929)

Flick Facts

The first of a string of other MGM Broadway Melody films (three not-quite-sequels hit screens in 1936, 1938, and 1940 with similar plotlines), the 1929 Harry Beaumont musical—the studio's first—was a huge hit. The film wasn’t just commercially profitable, it was also the first sound film to win Best Picture (it also received nominations for Best Director and Best Actress).

Although the entire film has not been lost, a massive piece of it has—the production was one of the first to use a Technicolor sequence that helped spawn the trend in other musicals of the time. Said color sequence is presumed lost, and only a black and white version has survived.

4. The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1927)

Mostly Paper Dolls 

This Alexander Korda silent film has a few distinctions under its toga—it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1929 (the very first year of the Oscars) for an award that was given out just once. As the Oscars came into being during the transition between silent films and talkies, one particular award that only applied to silent films made its way into the first ceremony: Best Title Writing. The Private Life of Helen of Troy was nominated in the category, which honored those responsible for the intertitles that explained action between scenes. While writer Gerald Duffy didn’t win and died before the ceremony took place, he was the very first person to be posthumously nominated for an Oscar.

The entire film is not lost, but a large chunk of the middle is missing. As of now, the British Film Institute has managed to preserve two sections of the film (from its beginning and end) that run about half an hour long.

5. The Way of All Flesh (1927)

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A number of Victor Fleming’s silent films have been lost over the years, but his The Way of All Flesh has its own special distinction that sets it apart from the pack, even if it’s for a particularly sad reason.

Emil Jannings won the Best Actor award for his dramatic portrayal of a duped (and occasionally drunk) bank teller who falls very far from grace as the film winds on. Jannings’ win is notable for a number of reasons—he was the very first actor to win the accolade at the first ceremony and it was given to Jannings for two roles, not just one (he also received the award for his work in The Last Command)—but it’s also the only Academy Award-winning performance with no known copies (or even sections) available.

6. A Star is Born (1954)

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The Judy Garland-starring George Cukor classic notoriously had enough behind-the-scenes drama to satisfy even the most fiendish film trivia fan, but underneath all of its many personal dramas there was a far more technical snafu—the loss of many minutes of footage. Despite plenty of production trouble (including a switch from filming in WarnerScope to filming in CinemaScope after two entire weeks of production), the film’s first previews were a huge success. Which makes it all the more strange that Cukor chopped 15 minutes from the film before its premiere, including a bit from the “Born in the Trunk” sequence and plenty of non-musical drama.

While the musical segment has been restored and is included in recent home releases of the film, the other footage (including a number of scenes focused on James Mason’s Norman Maine character) is considered lost in its original form, despite many restoration efforts (the 1983 restoration of the film came with a “reconstructed” version of some scenes, using production stills and soundtrack).

The film was nominated for a slew of Oscars in 1954, including Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song, and Best Original Score, though it did not walk away with any Oscars.

7. The Patriot (1928)

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Our friend Emil Jannings can’t seem to catch a break. This Ernst Lubitsch-directed semi-biographical tale of Czar Paul I starred Jannings as the mad czar, but like his other big lost film, The Way of All Flesh, no complete copies remain.

In fact, The Patriot is the only film nominated for Best Picture that does not have a complete surviving copy. While the film didn’t ultimately win at the 2nd Academy Awards, it was the only silent film nominated that year (it wasn’t until 2012 that another silent film was even nominated for the accolade, when The Artist took home the statuette). The film did win that year—pulling in the Oscar for Best Writing Achievement—to go alongside its other nominations for Best Actor, Best Art Direction, and Best Director.

As of now, the film’s trailer is preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and one reel of the film has been found and preserved by the Cinemateca Portuguesa.

8. Chase of Death (1949)

This nominee for the Best Short Subject, Two-reel Oscar (from 1936 until 1956, the Oscars differentiated between short films with “Two-reel” and “One-reel” sections; the award is now known as “Best Live Action Short Film”) is considered lost. The Academy Film Archive currently has a case file open for the film, and is actively looking for it.

9. The Kiss (1958)

Write Work

Another short, this 19-minute John Hayes film was nominated for Live Action Short back in 1958, but ultimately lost out to Disney’s Grand Canyon. The film marked a strong beginning for Hayes, who went on to direct a number of B-movie genre pictures, such as Walk the Angry Beach and Garden of the Dead. The Academy Film Archive is also actively searching for copies of the film.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.