Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar Catch-up and
Final Reviews

If you're a movie lover like me, then this is a big weekend with tomorrow night's 83rd Annual Academy Awards (8pm ET/5pm ET on ABC). My predictions in leading categories will be posted here by tomorrow morning.

Every year, I have a goal to see all the Oscar-nominated films and performances before the Academy Awards telecast. And more recently, I have expanded that goal to include all the following:
  • 10 best picture nominees
  • 3 best animated feature film nominees
  • 5 best director nominees
  • 5 best original screenplay nominees
  • 5 best adapted screenplay nominees
  • 5 best actor nominees
  • 5 best actress nominees
  • 5 best supporting actor nominees
  • 5 best supporting actress nominees

When the nominations were made last month, I only needed to see these seven films to achieve my expanded goal:
  • Animal Kingdom - best supporting actress Jacki Weaver
  • Another Year - best original screenplay
  • Biutiful - best actor Javier Bardem -- and also best foreign film
  • Blue Valentine - best actress Michelle Williams
  • The Fighter - best picture, 3 best acting nods, best director, etc.
  • The Illusionist - best animated film
  • The King’s Speech - best picture, 3 best acting nods, best director, etc.

Well, I completed my goal last Sunday -- with a week to spare! Here are my quick reviews of these seven -- and three more films I saw that garnered some nominations (but that I hadn't previously reviewed). All other reviews for films nominated in these key categories can be found by clicking on the FILM REVIEWS archive icon at left.

Animal Kingdom

A crime family unravels in this Australian film that I found a bit too slow. Jacki Weaver is fine as the matriarch, but her nomination wrongly excluded some more worthy candidates (e.g., Mila Kunis in Black Swan). The main focus is centered around the matriarch's teenage grandson played by James Frecheville. The lead's performance is too wooden to be absorbing. Enough twists occur to hold your interest, but this was my least favorite of the bunch -- and I cannot recommend. Grade = C+

Another Year

There is something magical about director/writer Michael Leigh's movies. You feel like a fly on a wall watching real-life human interactions -- rather than actors on the screen. A married couple who have remained happy into their autumn years are surrounded over the course of the four seasons by family and friends who all suffer some degree of unhappiness. The movie has a great message about taking responsibility for your own life and your own happiness. Terrific performances by Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen -- all who were robbed of nominations.
Grade = A-


Javier Bardem turns in another amazing performance in this Mexican film set in Barcelona, Spain. Bardem is a street criminal with two children, a bipolar estranged wife, a guilty conscience and a terminal disease. This film is dark, gritty and most of all, depressing. But Bardem's performance is unforgettable. Grade = B+

Blue Valentine

Michelle Williams earned her second nomination as half of a young couple in a dissolving marriage. And Ryan Gosling was robbed of a nomination for playing Williams' husband. The movie escapes being a total downer by interspersing scenes of their meeting and courtship. Excellent performances in a raw drama. Grade = A-

The Fighter

Talk about excellent performances -- this movie is filled with them. It's about two brother boxers in a dysfunctional family. One whose career has passed (Christian Bale) and one who is out to make a name for himself (Mark Wahlberg). Melissa Leo plays the matriarch and Amy Adams plays Wahlberg's girlfriend -- and both prove once again why they are two of our top actresses (competing against each other for supporting actress this year). Oscar-nominee Bale is nearly unrecognizable as the drugged-out former star. Great story, great direction, great performances. Grade: A-

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Included here because of its visual effects and art direction nominations. But the magic of this first half of the series conclusion goes well beyond technical recognition. This time around, the story really concentrates on the three young wizard leads -- and boy, have they've grown into these roles. The captivating story and visuals combine to make this the best film in the series to date. Grade = A-

How to Train Your Dragon

Nominated for best animated feature, the film has no chance against the far-superior Toy Story 3. But it's still a fun film in its own right -- about a young teenager earning validation in a mythical Viking world. The animation is top-notch and the voice acting of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig are well cast. Grade = B

The Illusionist

Also nominated for best animated feature is this French film. Every scene is like watching an artist's masterpiece painting. The beautiful visuals help carry a sometimes slow and simple story about an aging magician who befriends an adoring young woman. Amazingly, there is hardly any dialogue -- but ultimately, you'll still find deep meaning in what is conveyed. Grade = B+

The King's Speech

If you're a lover of history, I cannot recommend this British movie enough. Colin Firth plays King George VI (father of current monarch Queen Elizabeth II), who works to overcome his stutter with the help of Lionel Logue, an unorthodox speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush. The two men become friends as they work together, and after his brother abdicates the throne, the new king relies on Logue to help him make a crucial radio broadcast at the beginning of World War II. Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter (as George's wife -- who we all knew later as the Queen Mum) are at the top of their game. This beautiful film is more than just a history lesson though -- it's a rewarding exploration of true friendship. Grade = A-

Winter's Bone

Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence is a revelation as a teenager trying to keep her family together in a dirt poor Ozarks town -- while her mother remains in a catatonic state and her father is missing. It's one of those movies that will make you glad you have the life you live -- because there's always someone out there that has it worse off than you. Also earned nominations for best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting acting (John Hawkes). Depressing, but uplifting just the same. Grade = B

There you have it -- my final film reviews (more on that big news later). And a reminder to check back tomorrow morning for my predictions.

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