Smarty Movie Review: And the Oscar Goes To….
It’s that time of year—the Academy Awards! Oh how I love awards season and the Oscars are the biggest and brightest show of them all! I can’t wait to see the stars, the dresses and the big winners! There really are some terrific films nominated this year. If you want to do some last minute binge watching to get ready for the big day, here are the nominees for Best Picture.
One of my favorite films of 2016, Arrival is anything but some mindless sci-fi action flick. When twelve alien spaceships appear on Earth and spread around the globe, there is worldwide fear and confusion—why are the aliens here and what are their intentions? Linguistics professor Louise Banks (the always amazing Amy Adams) is brought in to advise the military on how to communicate with the aliens. Louise is joined by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) as they meet the squid-like creatures (dubbed heptapods) and begin the difficult job of creating a common language. At the same time, experts in other countries are using other strategies to communicate, and tensions increase when China and Russia have differing views on the heptapods’ motives. Ok—I am betting that you might be rolling your eyes at this point thinking that you would never be interested in this film but I can’t tell you much more of the plot without ruining it for you. Just give it a chance—it’s out on DVD and it’s a brilliant film. In my humble opinion, Amy Adams was completely robbed of an Oscar nomination as she is my pick for Best Actress of the year. I watched this movie with my 13 year old space loving son and we had the most amazing conversation afterwards—it’s a movie that you will be thinking about for weeks and you’ll want to analyze and discuss with anyone and everyone who has seen it.
Ok, full disclosure here. If you remember from last year there was one film that I just didn’t want to see and it was The Revenant. Bears mauling people, mauled people living for revenge, characters who don’t brush and floss—just not my thing. Fast forward to this year and while I am fully aware that this screenplay has a tremendous pedigree (based on a Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning play) that will very well come home with some acting awards, I just didn’t go to see it. There were several times I tried, but with so many heavy and depressing films this year, I just didn’t want to go. I really couldn’t stomach watching my beloved Denzel Washington berate and belittle his son and treat poor Viola Davis so badly that she gets the ugly cry. So shame on me for missing this critically acclaimed darling, but I’m sure I’ll catch it one of these days.
I’m always somewhat reluctant to see war movies as I’m not a huge fan of of watching realistic violence. Witnessing young men being gunned down and killed is not usually my idea of a great time. However, Hacksaw Ridge pulls off an amazing feat of being both brutal and beautiful at the same time. The story tells the true tale of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an Army Medic in World War II who was a conscientious objector to the war who still wished to serve his country. Doss refused to even carry a gun, angering his superiors and endangering his career and personal freedom. The first hour of the film details Desmond’s early life and the defining moments that helped to shape his unwavering faith. Once Desmond prevails in his fight to serve without carrying a weapon, he is then shipped off to Okinawa with his unit. The remainder of the film relentlessly details the incredibly brutal battle at Hacksaw Ridge where countless lives were lost. During this horrific fight, Desmond’s faith gives him incredible strength and courage. He refuses to leave his fellow soldiers behind and works tirelessly to save their lives. He continues his prayer to God for strength to save just one more life over and over. This bravery eventually earned Desmond Doss a Medal of Honor. Let’s hope the Academy considers sending some awards towards this film as it is certainly worthy. British actor Andrew Garfield nails his Blue Ridge, Virginia accent and is just perfect as Doss. Vince Vaughn is fantastic as Doss’s Sergeant and I wish he had gotten a Supporting Actor nod. Regardless of his personal troubles, Mel Gibson is still a brilliant director and I’m glad that the Academy has recognized his amazing talent as this was a very complex story to tell and film. Even if you have to cover your eyes during some scenes, it’s still worth it to watch this exceptional film.
Hell Or High Water
What starts off as a seemingly typical bank robbery turns out to be anything but simple. Brothers Tanner and Toby Howard (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) have taken to robbing branches of the Texas Midland Bank. Why only that bank? It turns out that Texas Midland holds the reverse mortgage on the family ranch. Unless the brothers can quickly raise $43,000, the bank will seize the property. The desperation that Toby and Tanner feel is heightened since oil has recently been discovered on the land. Tanner relishes the idea of stealing from the bank that has taken advantage of his mama, but Toby is conflicted and struggles with turning to a life of crime. Standing in the brothers’ way is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) who wants to solve one last big case before retiring. Bridges completely disappears into the grizzled old codger who despite his age still enjoys chasing down bad guys. This story really succeeds in highlighting the intriguingly gray areas of morality. I’m not typically a fan of the Western genre, so while I appreciate the complexity of this film, it’s not one of my top picks for an Oscar nomination. But I still love you Chris Pine!
This terrific true story highlights the lives of three courageous African-American women who worked tirelessly at NASA to help put a man on the moon during the turbulent times of segregation in the 1960’s. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did not let prejudice keep them from dreaming and striving to succeed in a white-male dominated world with fantastic results. Led by a terrific cast including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Kevin Costner, this family film is inspiring, heartwarming and educational. For my full review of this great film, check it out here.
La La Land
This year the majority of nominated films are really depressing stories—watching them can be a major effort like kids finishing their vegetables. La La Land feels more like getting straight to dessert. A gorgeous musical that celebrates the glory of film featuring beautiful people—it sure goes down easy! Watching Sebastian and Mia (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) fall in love is a lovely gift, and seeing their struggle to succeed in Hollywood may not always be happy but it still feels nice to live in their world for a little while. For my complete review check it out here.
How can this be a true story? It’s too fantastic of a film to be real! But this gripping story introduces us to the beautiful young five year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) who lives with his mother, brother and sister in a small slum in India. When the always eager Saroo wishes to accompany brother Guddu to work, he manages to get stuck alone on a decommissioned train that ends up taking him 1,600 miles away to Calcutta. Alone and afraid, Saroo lives on the streets until he ends up in an orphanage. He is adopted by John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman) and sent to live in Tasmania. While adult Saroo (Dev Patel) is well loved and lives an affluent lifestyle, he is haunted by his past and the knowledge that his family might still be searching for him and living in poverty. After he discovers Google Earth, he becomes obsessed with finding his home and reuniting with his family. However, he struggles with telling his adoptive parents for fear of hurting them. This beautiful tearjerking story really shows the strength of family ties and the gift that adoptive parents are to the world. Dev Patel is gorgeous and astounding as the adult Saroo and definitely earned his Oscar nod for this film (though I feel like this is much more than a supporting role). Nicole Kidman is absolutely deserving of her Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress—you completely forget that you are watching the glamorous star and only see the character of Sue. That is not an easy feat!
Manchester By The Sea
If you watch this stunning film, be sure to bring a full pack of tissues. I only had a few when I went and I might have resorted to using my sleeve at one critical point in the story. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck like you’ve never seen him before) leads an isolated, sad life as a janitor/handyman for a large apartment building in Boston. A phone call sends him back to his hometown of Manchester as his brother Joe has died from heart failure (Joe is played in flashbacks by Kyle Chandler—one of my absolute favorites!) Lee is obviously uncomfortable to return to Manchester, and even more distressed when he learns that he has been made the guardian of Joe’s teen son Patrick. Lee tries to take on the responsibility of looking after Patrick (Lucas Hedges) but he is haunted by a past tragedy and struggles to allow himself to feel anything for anyone. This story is devastating, funny, tragic and so real in its depiction of grief. The acting is beyond brilliant and there is one scene between Lee and his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) that should be played on repeat for anyone wishing to pursue the craft. This film is not to be missed if you don’t mind red puffy eyes for the day.
This critically acclaimed film is one that I really wanted to enjoy. I’m fine with a sad story and I don’t always think that a happy ending makes a great movie. But watching this film was hard and I left the theater feeling drained. The story is broken into three critical parts of the life of young Chiron—an African-American boy living in poverty in Miami. Chiron is therefore played by three different actors that really blend seamlessly together. In Part I, we meet Chiron when he is known as “Little” due to his small size. Chased into an abandoned building by bullies, Little is found by drug dealer Juan (the fantastic Mahershala Ali) who takes a liking to him. Juan brings Little home where he is shown much care by Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae as the one ray of light in this story). The next day, Juan brings Little home to single mom Paula (Naomie Harris) who happens to be a crack addict. Little finds solace at Teresa and Juan’s house but eventually realizes that Juan deals the crack that has ruined his mother. Cut to Part II, where Little has become teenager Chiron. Juan has apparently passed away, but Chiron still finds solace at Teresa’s house when things become difficult with his mother. Realizing he is gay, Chiron has a romantic encounter with his friend Kevin on the beach. Eventually, the bullying Chiron receives from being gay and the son of a crack addict becomes overwhelming and Chiron attacks a classmate—landing him in prison. We then cut to Part III, where Chiron is known as Black. He is now a huge iron pumping adult who also happens to deal drugs. The transition is complete as Black now resembles Juan who was such a huge influence on his childhood.
This coming of age story vividly highlights the devastation of drug culture on society—destroying the lives of addicts, dealers and the community. The struggle Chiron faces to embrace his sexuality also plays a huge role in shaping his identity. I realize that writer/director Barry Jenkins intended to show a series of snapshots at critical times in Chiron’s life—forcing the viewer to infer what transpires between the years. Unfortunately, this experience left me frustrated. What happens in prison to make Chiron turn to dealing drugs? What happens to Juan? How does Chiron’s mother finally get into rehab? Maybe I’m just lazy but I want to be shown a whole story with full character arcs. While the acting in Moonlight is tremendous, the holes in the story keep me from truly embracing the film.
So there you have it! Be sure to tune in Sunday February 26th to see who goes home with some Oscar gold!