The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to YA readers. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he shares his thoughts on the Oscars.
It’s Oscar time again, and I actually saw most of the films this year! With only two exceptions (noted below), all the nominated performances and directing took place within the nine Best Picture-nominated films, so I’ll just run down my pre-show thoughts on each of those. I’ve ranked the nine films in the same order that Entertainment Weekly has assigned their odds of winning Best Picture, most likely first.
A female scientist with no desire to be an astronaut is nonetheless stranded in space and must summon inner strength and confront her fears to survive. It’s less a sci-fi spectacular than a fascinating and emotional character story. No film has ever combined the sprawl of space with one’s turbulent inner landscape so brilliantly, so I won’t mind if it wins both Best Pic and Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron) as it’s expected to. Sandra Bullock isn’t expected to win for her emotional and nuanced performance, but it’s still a very good one.
The subtitle of the 1853 source novel tells the tale perfectly: “Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana.” Well-told, compassionate yet unsentimental tale of a very smart man in a very bad situation; as well as being important, it’s fascinating and very watchable. Lupita Nyong’o is favored to win Best Supporting Actress for her role as an abused yet spirited female slave, and to some degree she’s the film’s emotional core.
Mash up Goodfellas, Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo and it might come out a little bit like this. A funny, thrilling, and poignant tale of scammers scamming each other and ultimately themselves, based on real events but not real people, for the most part. It’s like watching a great crime picture, retro 70s comedy, and character drama all at once. All four leads are nominated for their performances, with Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams showing the best odds.
A brilliant and utterly decadent stockbroker builds an empire worth billions by flagrantly defying the law. Like American Hustle, this film also resembles Goodfellas in its structure and tone, which is unsurprising since it’s directed by Martin Scorsese. If you’re along for the ride it’s massively entertaining, but it’s an easy film to misunderstand: it’s an epic 3-hour comedy that unflinchingly portrays sexist males treating women like playthings. It’s easy, too, to miss the subtle self-loathing in Leonardo DiCaprio’s otherwise headlong plunge into debauchery.
Finding himself HIV-positive in the mid 80s, a very straight Texas cowboy smuggles life-prolonging drugs into the US, helping himself and hundreds of others. This one’s all about Matthew McConaughey’s brilliant performance as a good ol’ Dallas boy gaining sympathy for his largely gay clientele, and about Jarid Leto’s utterly committed part as McConaughey’s strutting, transgendered business partner. This is a fascinating and frequently hilarious little caper story that’s a lot more fun than it might sound.
Glorious black-and-white Midwestern tale of an old man determined to claim a dubious sweepstakes prize and his skeptical son getting dragged along for the ride. Both Bruce Dern and his movie wife June Squibb are nominated but not likely to win. I hope this fine, sweet, and very funny picture gets some recognition on Sunday night; it deserves a much wider audience than it’s gotten thus far.
Lucy saw this film but I did not. It’s essentially the story of a lonely man who falls in love with his affectionate, Siri-like artificial-intelligence interface. I was skeptical about this one but Lucy assured me it’s great. I certainly salute the restraint of putting box-office bombshell Scarlett Johansson in a film without showing her bodacious form (she plays the voice of the operating system).
Didn’t see this one either. I found the Somali pirate phenomenon fascinating but was satisfied with the drama A Hijacking and documentary Stolen Seas (both on Netflix Watch Instantly). It’s said to lessen in intensity partway through when Tom Hank’s titular character is taken off the ship and towed in a lifeboat. I’m sure I’ll see it and love it at some point.
Charming story of an aging woman tracking down the son she gave up for adoption and the journalist who helps her on this curious quest. I haven’t seen Judi Dench in much other than the Bond series, but I was really thrilled with her performance as a woman finally finding her strength late in life.
BLUE JASMINE – Cate Blanchett
Not a Best Picture nominee and I didn’t see it, either. Blanchett’s favored to win, and if she doesn’t it’ll likely be due to child-abuse allegations against the film’s director Woody Allen.
JULIA ROBERTS; MERYL STREEP – August: Osage County
Not up for Best Picture either, and didn’t see this one. Both have won Oscars before, which is perhaps why they’re both running a distant fifth in both of the actress races.
Who and what are your favorites from the past year, nominated or not? Let me know in the comments, and see you on Oscar night!