Feeling like winter will never end? That is the downside of retiring in New England, unless you make the winter pilgrimage to Florida. However, if you’re wondering what you can do to entertain yourself while you’re waiting for spring, here’s an idea – get ready for the upcoming Academy Awards show on March 2nd. I’ve been spending my time seeing the nine movies that were nominated for best picture this year. Now I don’t know what the criteria are for “best picture”, but in my mind it has to include a compelling story line in addition to strong performances. The strongest of this year’s nominations are based on real life experiences. Here’s a quick opinionated summary of my viewing:
American Hustle: I have no idea how this picture got into the nominations. There are some very fine performances here, one in particular by Jennifer Lawrence, but the story line is simply absurd, in spite of the opening assurance that “some of this story really happened”. It’s not a high choice for winning, in my opinion, but see it anyway and watch carefully for shots done in Worcester. I saw the Worcester Art Museum, Union Station, some Worcester street scenes, and the Worcester airport (I think).
Captain Phillips: This is a wonderful picture about the capture of a Maersk container ship by Somali pirates. Tom Hanks gives a gripping performance as the captain kidnapped by the pirates. Even though I knew he got out OK (it is based on the 2009 actual event), I was on the edge of my seat throughout the film. Not only that, but you get to see the inside workings of the container ship business, which are really quite interesting. The film is so balanced that you come away with some sympathy for the plight of the pirates. A very strong bet for “best picture”.
Dallas Buyers Club: I had no interest in seeing this film, but it turned out to be much better than I would have thought a movie about the early years of the AIDs epidemic would be. Be warned that there’s lots of nudity, bad language, and drugs, but this memoir effectively plays with the viewer’s emotions. Matthew McCaughney plays a fairly unlikable person who turns into someone that you are rooting for by the end of the film. An interesting story, but not a “best picture” contender in my opinion.
Gravity: I just loved this movie. Sandra Bullock is compelling as an astronaut stranded in space and trying to get back to earth alive. It is so rare to have a movie that relies almost totally on a single performer, and even rarer to have that performer be female. Hollywood should take note that there is a place for strong female roles in the movies! This movie grabs you and won’t let go until the end. My strongest vote for “best movie” goes to Gravity.
Her: If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ve seen this plot before – one of the crew members gets just a little bit too attached to a character on the holodeck. Although this time a real person gets too attached to a personality inside the computer, the idea is similar – it will all end in tears. Not a contender in my opinion, but an interesting movie nevertheless.
Nebraska: This movie is really different, something rare in Hollywood these days. Bruce Dern (aged 77) plays a man convinced that he’s won a million dollars in a publishing lottery, and that he has to travel from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his winnings. Under duress, his son, played by Will Forte, agrees to drive him. Although this sounds like a set up for a typical road trip movie, it isn’t just that. The black and white photography is unforgettable, as are some of the family scenes. I think I lived through the awkward scene where all the brothers are reunited, and can’t find anything to say to each other, so they watch television. I don’t think it will win the Oscar, but it is well worth seeing.
Philomena: Such riches – another film starring a woman. Judi Dench stars as an aged Irish Catholic woman searching for a son born out of wedlock and taken from her by nuns to be adopted. The trail leads to the U.S., and then back to Ireland again. The wronged party turns out to be more forgiving than the religious involved in this story. Well worth seeing, and a strong contender for the Oscar.
12 Years a Slave: The title tells it all: Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a free black man captured and sold into slavery in Louisiana for 12 years. It’s another movie based on a memoir. If you saw “Roots”, you’ve seen this movie. It’s hard to watch, but probably news to the current generation, who has not seen anything like this before. It is a strong contender for best picture.
The Wolf of Wall Street: If there is any justification for a three hour movie, this isn’t it. If they took all the “f” words out of this movie, it would only be two hours. Again, there’s lots of nudity, sex, bad language, and drugs. I didn’t expect to like this movie, but I did. There’s a scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio has taken too many drugs, and has driven out to a local country club to make a phone call, as the feds have tapped his home phone. By the time he reaches the phone, he can no longer speak coherently. And then he can’t even walk or crawl. Although this sounds ugly, it was so funny that I haven’t laughed so hard since Woody Allen got out of the comedy business. Put your scruples on hold, and go see the movie. It probably won’t get best picture, and doesn’t deserve it, but it’s well worth seeing.
Once you have taken in all of these movies, plan a party for March 2nd, and see how close you came to picking “best picture”.