September 26, 2017

Post Oscar Film Fest


I have been on a kick to watch films nominated for various awards in the Oscar race earlier this year. Here are the ten movies I rented by mail from Netflix.

“All Is Lost” should have garnered a best actor Oscar for Robert Redford who gives the equivalent of a one man stage show sailing solo in the ocean. There is very little dialogue with actions definitely speaking louder than words as Redford tries to save his boat and himself. The film only received an Academy Award nomination for sound editing. Bob, you was robbed.

“American Hustle” got a lot of hype for it’s evocation of the Abscam era (late 70’s, early 80’s) with its silly hair styles, flashy music, fashion and decor, and yes, some of the acting is amazing, but I just didn’t care enough about the story or the people.

“Blue Jasmine” was enjoyable with an Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett, but I couldn’t help thinking that this was a very minor Woody Allen work.

“The Butler” was deemed a middle-of-the-road depiction of slavery as opposed to the artiness of “12 Years a Slave,” but this film engaged me more emotionally. Oprah gives a stunning performance as the boozy, cheating spouse of White House butler Cecil Gaines played by a heartbreakingly wonderful Forest Whitaker. The Freedom Marches of the 1960’s, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the war in Vietnam, the actions of the Black Panthers and the election of our first black president, all of these events provide the historical backdrop for the Gaines family’s journey.

“Captain Phillips” lets Tom Hanks shine as a paternal hero who weathers a horrific encounter with Somali pirates who threaten his ship and his crew. First time Somali actor Barkhad Abdi gives an incredibly dynamic performance.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is not only a great vehicle for the exceptional acting of Matthew McConaughy and Jared Leto, but it’s also a rousing true life story based on AIDS patient Ron Woodroof who smuggles unapproved pharmaceuticals into the country for himself and others suffering from the ravages of this illness.

I was kicking myself for not having seen “Gravity” in a movie theater. While I was able to appreciate the film craft involved in shooting this space odyssey, I couldn’t help but imagine how much more impactful this movie with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney must have been on a big screen with surround sound. This is the same general plot of “All Is Lost” as a lone person battles an inhospitable environment.

“Nebraska” features the fantastic Bruce Dern in a late career film role that makes you alternate between laughter, crying and horror. The viewer sees glimpses of their own elderly family members in Dern’s portrayal of Woody Grant, a lovable curmudgeon who still has his own big dreams. Director Alexander Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska so he depicts this geographical, cultural and emotional black and white terrain in loving detail.

No surprise that actress Judi Dench is fabulous again as a woman searching for the child she was forced to give up for adoption decades earlier in “Philomena,” but the real revelation is comedic actor Steve Coogan turning in a bona fide dramatic performance that goes toe to toe with Dame Dench. Having been taught by Catholic nuns as a youngster, this movie really delivered an emotional wallop.

The film world is being enriched today by directors of color, with British director Steve McQueen gifting us with “12 Years a Slave,” his masterwork film starring the magnetic Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free black man who is erroneously forced into slavery “down South.” Lupita Nyong-o is luminous as the young slave Patsey. Quvenshane Wallis, the child actress who starred in 2012’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has a small role. Several name actors like Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt add a Hollywood sheen to this international cast.

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