Oscar Nominations 2011

Here are the ten movies you might like to watch before the 83rd Academy Awards on Feb. 27:

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone

For a complete list of nominees and to watch the announcement from this morning in case you missed it at 5:30 am (PT) or 8:30 am (ET), CLICK HERE.

The nominations count are as follows: King’s Speech = 12, True Grit = 10, Social Network = 8, Inception = 8, The Fighter = 7, 127 Hours = 6

The King leads the pack.  A royal flush they say, hope that’s the hand on Oscar night.  Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, and director Tom Hooper all get nods. Other categories include Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Screenplay.  To read my review of The King’s Speech, CLICK HERE.

The surprise here is True Grit.  The Coen brothers’ film got snubbed at the Golden Globes and comes back with a vengeance.  Two years in a row they get the nod for Best Picture, after last year’s A Serious Man (my review here).   True Grit is a remake of the 1969 Western for which John Wayne got his Oscar.  Here we have a distinct Coen style film with smart dialogues and great acting.  “Nothing is free except the grace of God,” the beginning voice-over says, matched with the tune of the old hymn ‘Leaning on the Ever Lasting Arms’… I was amused to see how these two notions echo at the end of the film. At 13, Hailee Steinfeld beat out 15,000 other girls in the audition to get the role of tough and articulate Mattie Ross, seeking justice for her daddy’s death.  Now one year later, she has landed at the Oscars. Amazing. Also, Jeff Bridges gets the nom again, after snatching the Best Actor Oscar from Colin Firth last year.  It’s interesting to note that, while Colin Firth can act with half a voice, Jeff Bridges here shows us he can act with just one eye.

I’m excited to see Mike Leigh finally getting recognition for his poignant original screenplay for Another Year.  Unfortunately, the film does not get any more Oscar nods.  Veteran British actors Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, and Lesley Manville give a performance of deep resonance.  Lesley Manville is no less deserving than anyone on the list of Best Actress nominees.  This is one of the most neglected movies of 2010.  I saw it at the Calgary Film Festivals last year.  I know some cities are just showing it now. Don’t miss it.  CLICK HERE to read my review.

Toy Story 3.  The animated feature that gets into the major league, following the only two other animations ever to be nominated in a Best Motion Picture category, Up (2009) and Beauty and the Beast (1991).  The theme of growing up and parting with your beloved and familiar finds its way into a touching animation that may well appeal to parents more than kids.  The idea of a child leaving home for college has been used in several movies in recent years, most notably, The Blind Side (2009) and The Kids Are All Right (2010).  I’ve watched all of this year’s ten Best Picture nominees. But, don’t laugh, Toy Story 3 was the only time I’d shed a few tears.

For Best Documentary Feature, I’m glad to see our notorious graffiti artist Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop has not evaded the Academy.  To read my review CLICK HERE.

The Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, Feb. 27.  This time Anne Hathaway and James Franco (a Best Actor nominee himself for 127 Hours), the youngest of Oscar hosts, are set to offer a fresh new look.  Hathaway had proven her versatility dancing and singing with Hugh Jackman two Oscars ago, and Franco has been hailed as the new Renaissance Man…  Just hope they will live up to expectations.

Another Year (2010)

Update Feb. 10: Leslie Manville just won British Actress of the Year at the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards.

Update Jan. 25: Mike Leigh is nominated for an Oscar for Original Screenplay.

Update Jan. 18: Another Year is nominated for a BAFTA for Outstanding British Film of the Year, and Leslie Manville for Best Supporting Actress.

“Ah, look at all the lonely people.”

— ‘Eleanor Rigby’

Every DayAnother Year, film titles like these evoke the oblivious passage of time, and the human experiences that float down the stream of life. The kind of films we would find in art-house cinemas, not your fast-paced action or effects-generated spectacle.  Another Year would gratify one’s need for slow ruminations and offer one time to savour the dynamics among characters.  The film was on my ‘must-see’ list at the Calgary International Film Festival 2010, which ended last weekend.  It had met all my expectations and offered more.

What’s more is the excellent performance from a high calibre cast of British actors.  Their nuanced portrayals of characters convey emotions unabashedly, but in a deep, restrained and unsentimental manner.  That is what makes Another Year so satisfying.  I enjoyed it much more than director Mike Leigh’s previous title, equally acclaimed Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), in which Poppy (Sally Hawkins) the happy gal is just a bit too loud and even obnoxious for me.  While here in Another Year, Tom and Gerri are the happy couple whose relationship is one of mature, quiet and gentle bliss, compassionate towards themselves and others.

Framed in the passing of the four seasons, the film explores the realities of life: ageing, loneliness, death, love, marriage, friendship… Yet the occasional animated and humorous renderings of the characters allow a lighter way of handling the subject matters.

Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and Tom (Jim Broadbent) are a happily married couple living in London.  In the midst of the bustling city, they have their own plot of land close by their home where they work hard to grow vegetables. They bring home fresh produce to cook healthy meals and entertain guests.  Their vegetable garden is an apt metaphor for the love they cultivate in their relationship despite the busyness of everyday life. Tom is a geologist and Gerri a counsellor in a medical office. If there’s any pun intended here with their names, it would be for the very opposite effect that they are a harmonious pair whose relationship has attracted those less happy to cling on for stability and support.

Their usual dinner guest is Gerri’s office administrator Mary (Lesley Manville).  A single, middle-aged woman, emotionally fragile, alcohol dependent, and desperately seeking love and companionship. Her male version is Tom’s long time friend Ken (Peter Wight), equally miserable. A heavy smoker and drinker, Ken’s physical health mirrors his emotional state.

But why Tom and Gerri gather such damaged and dependent friends the film does not explain.  What we do see is a most gracious couple extending their lives to them. Through their interactions, we see the contrast. While we admire the almost perfect marriage, we ache for the singles, sad and lonely… as we see them in this film.  I trust the director is making a specific rendering and not a generalization on singlehood.  The contented Poppy (Sally Hawkins) in Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) is the best spokesperson for the single league.

Tom and Gerri have an adult son Carl (Martin Savage) who frequently comes home to visit his parents from a nearby town by train. When I saw the shot of a commuter train going past on screen, it flashed upon my mind the image in Ozu’s works.  That is one of the Japanese director’s signature shots, a train passing through, and his favourite subjects also being family, marriage, nuanced interactions.  I thought, if Ozu were an Englishman living today, this would be the kind of films he would make.  And lo and behold, I found this tidbit of trivia on IMDb: One of Mike Leigh’s top 10 films of all time is Tokyo Story (1953).

If one is to find fault with Another Year, it could be the very fact that Tom and Gerri’s marriage is just too perfect. But with all the ubiquitous dysfunctional families we see represented in movies nowadays, Leigh might have opened a window to let in some much needed fresh air. Tom and Gerri make an ideal contrast to what we have so sadly gotten used to seeing in films.

There are excellent performances from the veteran actors, but one stands out. Lesley Manville’s animated portrayal of the vulnerable Mary deserves an Oscar nomination. The most impressive shot comes at the end. Without giving it away, let me just say the ending shot lingering on her face and the ultimate fade to black is poignant and most effective. Of course, it’s acceptable to applaud after a festival screening. And so we did, appreciatively, a much needed channel for a cathartic response.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Every Day (2010)

In the movie Shadowlands, there’s a line that goes like this: “We read to know we are not alone.”  I think it applies to watching movies as well.

I’m glad somebody thinks the every day family life worthy of movie material.  Nothing spectacular or heroic, nonetheless difficult and to some, a struggle.  This is especially true when it comes to the so called sandwich generation, adult children who needs to care for their elderly parents as well as their own children.  Caught in the middle, parents to both.  In the midst of daily challenges, there remains the key relationship, the meat in the sandwich if you will, that which is between husband and wife, and always, the bare essence of a person and his/her integrity.  Herein lies the ingredients of the story.

Screened at the Calgary International Film Festival last night, the indie dramedy stars Liev Schreiber and Helen Hunt as a NYC couple, Ned and Jeannie.  Their marriage faces a testing turn as Jeannie, driven by guilt and responsibility, brought her recently widowed father home to stay.  Ernie (Brian Dennehy) is not just any grumpy old man.  He is wheelchair confined, in ill health, and utterly bitter about everything and with everyone.  Jeannie is stressed out as she keeps pace just to live every single day.

Ned too has his share of problems at work.  As a scriptwriter for a seedy TV series, he has to meet the perverted demands of his boss Garrett (Eddie Izzard) to churn out scripts that are beneath his style.  To solve the problem he is assigned to work with a flirtatious colleague Robin (Carla Gugino) to rewrite something more daring and less boring.  Ned is tempted to do exactly that not only in his script.

And for their sons, they may look alright, but both yearn for direction and care just the same.  15 year-old Jonah (Ezra Miller) has just come out and is heading towards some risky friendship.  The younger one Ethan (Skyler Fortgang), though talented, has to deal with a defeating self-image. Amidst their own problems, Ned and Jeannie try to be good parents, loving yet setting limits, albeit finding a happy medium is hard to do.

Though not meant to be a serious film, it does touch on two thought-provoking questions implied by two unlikely characters.  From Robin the seducer:  Is a marriage finished when the ‘fun’ is over? Similarly from Ernie the bitter old man:  Should a life be ended when there is no happiness?

With subject matters as such, sitting through Every Day could be a gloomy ordeal.  But as a fusion of comedy and drama, it has come through to me as an enjoyable film. Written and directed by Richard Levine of the TV series “Nip/Tuck” fame, Every Day could seem episodic.  But the fast scene changes keeps the momentum going and the subplots clear.  Liev Schreiber is convincing as the family man in mid-life crisis.  Brian Dennehy is a veteran and spot on in his performance.  The boys are alright.  I have enjoyed Helen Hunt the most.  Her precarious roles of mother, wife, and daughter have resonated with me.  It has been three years since her directorial debut Then She Found Me.  I look forward to more of her works in the coming year.

Every Day premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC this April.  During the Q & A after the screening, Schreiber mentioned that the film is “a simple story and simple stories are often overlooked.”  Somebody has to make simple films like this, and somebody has to watch them.  I was one of the lucky ones last night at the CIFF.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Photo Source: myveronanj.com