Monday, December 27, 2010

My Oscar Reviews 2009

I set a goal for myself to watch all the films nominated for an Oscar last year (2009). The year is almost over. The Golden Globe nominations were announced 12/14/2010. The Screen Actors Guild Awards were announced 12/16/2010. The Oscar nominations will be announced 01/25/2011. As of 12/27/10, I have seen 52/58 of the nominated films, that's 90%. I know I can get at least one more of the remaining six (Which Way Home). I might be able to see two others, but it is highly doubtful. Here I've written a brief (100 words or less) review of each film. They are listed in alphabetical order in case you want to find a particular film. The date in parenthesis is the date I saw the film. The most recently written reviews are underlined.
  1. Ajami was nominated for Best Foreign Film (Israel). It is the story of two brothers in Tel Aviv. The film is divided into five stories. The stories all connect at different points. That was interesting, but the theme of the stories was desperately depressing that I cannot recommend this film unless you are deeply curious about life in Israel. (11/2010)
  2. Avatar was nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Score, Best Picture, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. It's a great show. It lives up to its hype. The animation is extraordinary, but the story is not original. I've seen it at least three times, and I thought the science fiction was a bit weak. The avatars and the ponytails were cool, but I thought the end was bit anticlimactic. (01/10/2010)
  3. The Blind Side starring Sandra Bullock was nominated for Best Actress and Best Picture. It's the true story of a woman who adopts a homeless boy who becomes a big shot in the NFL. I love stories like this. The woman was a real hero who made a real difference. I hope I have that kind of bravery. Sandra Bullock is a very popular actress, but this is her first nomination. I love seeing popular celebrities achieve critical and professional acclaim. (c. 11/20/2010)
  4. Bright Star was nominated for Best Costumes. It has great costumes, and a character to point out their greatness. The pace of the story is uneven, but if you like John Keats, you should not miss this film. It's about his love affair with Fanny Braun. If you don't know Keats, you might appreciate knowing that he died young and unappreciated. I love period films. They're like time machines. Still, I remained perplexed by the lives and lifestyle of 19th century English gentry. (02/06/2010)
  5. Burma VJ was nominated for Best Documentary. (It lost to The Cove.) It is about the video journalists who documented the popular uprising against the ruling military regime in Burma in September 2007. They did all of their work with hand held cameras and smuggled their images out of the country at great personal risk. Although the uprising was ultimately unsuccessful, and many of the video journalists were imprisoned, their work has inspired more Burmese to document what is happening in their country. (06/11/2010)
  6. China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province was nominated for Best Documentary Short.
  7. Coco Before Chanel was nominated for Best Costumes. It's about the most famous designer of all time. At nine, her father left her in an orphanage. At 18, she worked as a seamstress and a singer. She follows a man to Paris where she meets another man who helps her open a hat shop. Her clothes are stunningly revolutionary. She wears a lot of black and no corsets. It is a beautiful film. I highly recommend it. (03/05/2010)
  8. Coraline was nominated for Best Animated Feature. It's a stop-motion animated film made right here in Oregon. It looks a little like The Nightmare Before Christmas. It's also set in Oregon which is super-fun for me. Coraline is tricked and abducted by some kind of witch, and she must use her wits to escape. It's really creepy, but my kids love it, too. It actually provided an opportunity for some good discussions - highly recommended. (c. 07/21/2009)
  9. The Cove was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Free Willy and the subsequent mission to actually free Keiko, the whale who performed in that film, made me aware of the evil that is Sea World. This film is about that industry (captive sea mammals as entertainment). It is also about the systematic slaughter of dolphin as vermin which makes no kind of sense whatsoever. The horror is truly heart breaking. It's time to save the whales - again. (02/20/2010)
  10. Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Song. It's fictional biography of a country singer. Predictably, he neglects his family and abuses drugs. I thought it honestly portrayed his drunkenness as worse some times than other. His rock bottom was interesting: he lost his girlfriend's four-year-old boy. He leaves the area and can't give security much information. They find him anyway. All's well that ends well, but he finally checks into rehab. (03/01/2010)
  11. District 9 was nominated for Best Film Editing, Best Picture, Best Visual Effects and Best Screenplay. I really loved it right up until the South African betrayed the alien, then I disconnected, and I didn't care what happened for awhile. I found the scenes where they are experimenting on the South African to absolutely disturbing. They will stick with me for a long time. (12/31/2009)
  12. Il Divo was nominated for Best Makeup. I don't recommend this film unless you are familiar with the subject: a seven-term president of Italy with connections to the mob. The film seemed to serve as (beautiful) illustrations for a story which its target audience already knows. I am clearly not a member of its target audience. I was pretty bored. (02/07/2010)
  13. The Door was nominated for Best Live Short. It is an Irish film but everyone speaks Russian. The film opens with a man sneaking around, breaking in, and stealing a door. Later we learn that it was his own door he was stealing. He had to abandon his house, but he wanted the door for his daughter's funeral. His daughter died of radiation poisoning following the Chernobyl accident. It's a terribly sad story. (02/25/2010)
  14. An Education starring Carey Mulligan was nominated for Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Picture. Mulligan reminded me of Audrey Hepburn. She was enchanting. The story is about a young student in the 1960s trying to get into Oxford when she falls in love with an older man. She has to choose between her man and her education. I think the film did a very sloppy job of answering that question. What do you think? Why do women need a university education? (03/02/2010)
  15. El Secreto de Sus Ojos was nominated for Best Foreign Film (Argentina). This is film is two stories told out of sequence: that sounds like the sort of thing that would normally annoy me, but I think they did it very well, and I liked it very much. The first is the story of a murder and the investigation. The second is the story of the investigator and his infatuation with his boss. It's a great film. I particularly liked the character of the grieving widower. He puts forth a convincing argument for a life sentence over the death penalty. (11/30/2010)
  16. Fantastic Mr. Fox was nominated for Best Animated Feature. It is stop-motion animation (like Coraline), but it never really drew me into the story. The characters are all a bit odd, and I just kept noticing the film-making. The way the animals' fur moved reminded me of the old Rudolf cartoons from the 1970s. (02/07/2010)
  17. Food, Inc was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. It was very enlightening, better than Super-size Me, much better than King Corn. I was very surprised to learn that the USDA has lost the authority to shut down meat packing plants that fail their quality control tests. I was also surprised to learn how many children die from e. coli poisoning in the ground beef that they eat. It's an important film. I hope the Oscar nomination gets it watched by lots and lots of people. (02/03/2010)
  18. French Roast was nominated for Best Animated Short. I saw it on You Tube. I liked it VERY much. The images were interesting and the characters were charming. The filmmaker employed this very clever device where a mirror on the wall behind the main characters allowed us to see what they were looking at without changing the camera angles, but the thing that really made me fall in love with the film was the message was at the end. (02/24/2010)
  19. Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty was nominated for Best Animated Short. I saw it on You Tube. It's cute and clever. Granny comes in to tell her granddaughter a bedtime story. She starts telling the story of Sleeping Beauty, but she identifies with the bad fairy. It turns out to be quite a statement about being nice to the elderly. In the end she leaves her granddaughter quite terrified. It's pretty funny. (02/24/2010)
  20. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was nominated for Best Cinematography. I was disappointed that the filmmakers didn't tell more of Voldemort's story in this film. I think we needed more dialogue between Dumbledore and Harry following his views of selected memories. I loved the bits about the love triangle. Some people think that was the wrong place to focus, and maybe they are right. The Cinematography nomination is well-served. There are some really great shots in this film. (c. 07/15/2009)
  21. The Hurt Locker starring Jeremy Renner was nominated for Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Screenplay, Best Picture and Best Director. It is the story of a soldier who disarms bombs in Iraq. He is really good at his job, but sometimes he seems very reckless and stupid, and sometimes he seems very brave and noble. The pace of the film is quite uneven, but I really liked the ending. (02/15/2010)
  22. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Costumes. It really is a very beautiful film. I didn't find it at all confusing as other reviewers. Dr. P sets himself up as a sideshow and people may enter his imagination for a small fee. Even though the imaginarium is a wondrous place, his business is failing until his troop rescues Heath Ledger who seems a hero before revealing himself a villain. (05/19/2010)
  23. In the Loop was nominated for Best Screenplay. I did not like this film. It a political comedy about how government operatives in the United States and Great Britain try to stop the invasion of Iraq. Of course they fail miserably, and they end up miserable, so how is that funny? It did make me feel a little bit better about the so-called office politics where I work. We are complete amateurs compared to the characters in this film. (03/11/2010)
  24. Inglorious Basterds starring Christopher Walz was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Screenplay. The pace is uneven. It begins as an action film with Jewish American soldiers terrorizing the Nazis in France. Then it becomes a French film about a Jewish woman who accidentally catches the favor of a German war hero. When the stories converge the French story ends tragically and the American story ends triumphantly - typical. (c. 08/21/2009)
  25. Instead of Abracadabra was nominated for Best Live Short. It is a Swedish film. This film is about a young twenty-something magician, still living with his parents, trying to impress the new girl next door. It's very funny. The lead actor does awkward super geek to perfection. It's almost painful to watch. It is quite reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite (02/25/2010)
  26. Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon was nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. It is the story of South Africa winning the rugby world cup shortly after Mandela was elected president. It is very much like other sports movies, very exciting and very sentimental. It made me cry. The setting of this film is unique. I came away with a better understanding of who Nelson Mandela was - quite extraordinary. Unless you really hate sports movies, I highly recommend this film. (03/04/2010)
  27. Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Actress. This film is based on two true stories. It is the story of Julia Child's life in France and how she accidentally became a first class chef. The love story between her and her husband is really very charming. The other story is about a girl named Julie living in New York just after the September 2001 attacks (more historical context). She distracts herself by cooking every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook. (c. 12/08/2009)
  28. Kavi was nominated for Best Live Action Short. It is about a little boy in India who is forced to make bricks all day with his mother and father. His father owes the kiln owner a lot of money, so he has effectively been sold into slavery. It' was hard for me to watch the abuses laid on this sweet boy, but he managed his escape in the end. The closing credits listed the film as part of someone's MFA. (02/25/2010)
  29. The Lady and the Reaper was nominated for Best Animated Short. I saw it on You Tube. It is very cute. I don't think that it was the animator's intention to make any kind of a statement about the right to die, but it did leave questions and worries in my head. I don't believe that doctors really try to revive older people over and over again as depicted in this film. (02/24/2010)
  30. The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner was nominated for Best Documentary Short.
  31. The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant was nominated for Best Documentary Short. This film was a little hard to find. It was made by HBO films, and I was finally able to buy a copy from What I found most interesting was that the plant was closed in spite of having one of the highest efficiency ratings in the whole company. It was closed because sales were down of the particular truck they made. I find it incomprehensible that factories are built to make only one thing, and then when we want to build something else, we have to build a whole different factory.
  32. The Last Station starring Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren was nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress. It is about the last year of the life of Leo Tolstoy. The title refers to the last train station on the Russian border. Tolstoy and his wife were obviously in love with each other, but they had grown to want different things. The countess wanted financial stability and security. Tolstoy wanted to improve the lives of all Russians. It seemed so tragic that I just cried and cried. (03/01/2010)
  33. Logorama was nominated for Best Animated Short, and it was preceded by an advisory warning of foul language and violence. There were lots of bad words. The most violent thing I think was when a man kicked a child in the head. The animation seemed really unique to me. Everything was a logo: the people, the landscape, the buildings and vehicles. The story was a car chase. The police were played by Michelin tire men and the villain was Ronald McDonald. (02/25/2010)
  34. The Lovely Bones starring Stanley Tucci was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It's about a young girl who is gruesomely murdered (off screen). Surprisingly, the message of the film turns out to be how the dead cope with death, which I think is really very interesting. It might have been more interesting if I hadn't been so distracted by the other two stories: how the survivors deal with their loss and how the bad guy gets away with it. (01/31/2010)
  35. A Matter of Loaf and Death was nominated for Best Animated Short. It is a British film starring Wallace and Grommit. They have a new business now as bakers but there is someone in town that is killing bakers. Of course Wallace meets her right away and Grommitt is unsuccessful in his attempts to convince him that she's no good - a very nice little film with some very witty dialogue. (02/25/2010)
  36. The Messenger starring Woody Harrelson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay. This film is about a wounded soldier assigned to perform notifications to the next of kin following the deaths of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's quite dull, but I'm really very glad I saw this film because my father told me that he was assigned to this same duty when he finished his tour in Vietnam. He says it was the worst or hardest duty he had ever been asked to perform. I wish we had seen the film together. (06/12/2010)
  37. Miracle Fish was nominated for Best Live Short. It is about a boy in Australia with a toy fish that predict your future. After a nap in the nurse's station he wakes up to an empty school. The little actor who plays the boy is super cute and a joy to watch. Eventually we learn why the school is empty and the boy shows enormous resilience in his ability to handle the situation. (02/25/2010)
  38. The Milk of Sorrow was nominated for Best Foreign Film (Peru) The title comes from the belief that mothers under stress transfer their fear to their nursing babies. The main character's mother was raped by Shining Path, and although she is now safely in Lima, she is still afraid of everything. For example, she keeps a potato in her vagina to ward off rapists. Her mother dies in the opening and she spends the rest of the film trying to secure her burial. Along the way she is cruelly cheated by a rich, white woman, but she triumphs in the end. (12/27/2010)
  39. The Most Dangerous Man in America was nominated for Best Documentary. This is my favorite film, so I'm allowing myself more than 350 words for this review. This film is about Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in an attempt to bring an end to the Vietnam War. I learned a lot; for example, all five presidents lied to the public about American involvement in Vietnam, just because no one wanted to be the guy who lost the war.

    A memo from the Defense Department under the Johnson Administration listing the reasons for American persistence: 10% - to permit the people [of South Vietnam] to enjoy a better, freer way of life - 20% - to keep [South Vietnam] (and the adjacent) territory from Chinese hands - 70% - to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat - ALSO - to emerge from the crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used - NOT - to 'help a friend'. American soldiers are willing to die to preserve another's freedom. They are not willing to die to preserve another's pride.

    In the end, the leak of the Pentagon Papers did not contribute to the end of the Vietnam War, but the leak did strengthen our First Amendment right to freedom of the press as the Supreme Court had to make a decision regarding the injunction to stop the New York Times from publishing the Papers. The leak also prompted Nixon to do one more illegal thing that got him caught and impeached - which was a good thing - I think that man hated the Constitution more than anybody since Jackson.

    Daniel Ellsberg was arrested for treason, but the government's case was so full of irregularities that the judge declared a mistrial. He was released on his own reconnaissance. He was not acquitted, but the film included clips of him protesting the war in Iraq, and I think that is the happy ending. In spite of the obvious and horrible levels of corruption, they were not limitless. Ellsberg was not imprisoned or tortured or murdered as he might have been in some other country. (09/09/2010)
  40. Music by Prudence was nominated for Best Documentary Short.
  41. The New Tenants was nominated for Best Live Short. Two guys move into an apartment and before they can unpack, their neighbor knocks on the door and asks for some flour. She tells them that the previous tenant was murdered. Another guy shows to collect his heroin. The neighbor returns claiming her granddaughter is sick. The heroin dealer kills her. The grand daughter shows up and kills the heroin dealer. Then she dies. The film had some very clever dialogue. (02/25/2010)
  42. Nine starring Penelope Cruz was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and Best Song. It is a story about filmmaker trying to make his ninth film. As he struggles with an idea he fantasizes about the various women he has loved throughout his life. Each fantasy was presented as a stage production. The hero is finally exposed as a villain. We are lead to believe that he finds redemption, but we only see his down fall. (03/04/2010)
  43. Paris 36 was nominated for Best Song. It is a French film about a group of out-of-work singers and comics who open up a theater as a co-op during World War II. It's an interesting story which includes a love triangle, a murder, and some really great songs. It got to be a bit dull in the middle, but it had a really great ending, which I don't expect from French films. (02/22/2010)
  44. Precious starring Gabourney Sidibe and Mo'Nique was nominated for six academy awards: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Picture. It is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who is pregnant for a second time by her father and how she escapes her abusive home. There are lots of heroes in this film including the alt-ed teacher and Precious but I was also impressed by the positive roles that the public school system and the welfare system played in her story. (03/01/2010)
  45. The Princess and the Frog was nominated for Best Animated Feature and twice for Best Song. It is about a young black woman in New Orleans in the 1930s, she has a dream of opening her own restaurant when she kisses a prince and turns into a frog. I thought the way they portrayed the racism and sexism from that era was totally appropriate for children. I loved this film. It was enchanting. I loved that it was 2-D cell-animation. (12/27/2009)
  46. Un Prophète was nominated for Best Foreign Film (France). A well crafted film to be sure, but I never connected well with protagonist, a 19-year-old French Arab convict sentenced to six years in prison. The film traces his transformation from an illiterate, tentative, naïve coward into a bold, brutal, cunning crime boss. I would have liked it better if it were only half as long. It's 2hrs 30min. (09/06/2010)
  47. Rabbit à la Berlin was nominated for Best Documentary Short.
  48. The Secret of Kells was nominated for Best Animated Feature. This is a really beautiful film. The animation is quite unusual. Everything about the story is quite unusual. It is sort of epic in nature. It begins with a boy and doesn't end until he is an old man. It seems to be set in a monetary and there is significant disagreement over how to deal with an impeding invasion, but there is much magic at work as well. I streamed this film from Netflix, and I recommend you take a look. (11/2010)
  49. A Serious Man was nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Picture. I hated it. It's by the Coen Brothers, who I usually like, but it managed to offend me on several levels. This film was supposed to be about a man whose life spirals out of control due to forces beyond his control, but I was not convinced that he was trying. He seemed to me to be allowing people to mistreat him without protest. (02/24/2010)
  50. Sherlock Holmes was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Score. I don't think I've ever seen the great detective portrayed as a brawler before, but I really liked the way he described the injuries that he was about inflict upon his enemies. I liked the usual scenes of how he analyzes minute details. The chemistry experiments were cool, too. I was less interested in the villain. I thought he was kind of boring, but I will show up for the sequel. (01/10/2010)
  51. A Single Man starring Colin Firth was nominated for Best Actor. It's the story of a man mourning the loss of his partner in 1962. The period elements of the film are wonderful. He has been miserable for 8 months, and he has decided that today he will kill himself. He enjoys every part of his day as he sets his affairs in order. He is especially nice to people, and in the end, a new friend convinces him to live. I wish that were the end, but the very next moment, he dies of a heart attack - lame. (08/08/2010).
  52. Star Trek was nominated for Best Makeup, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. This movie was really beautiful, and I even liked the actors and the characters, but I did not love the premise. I don't want the franchise re-launched by creating a new continuity. If they wanted to create a whole bunch of new situations, why didn't they just come up with new characters, like they did for The Next Generation? How about a Star Trek series with lawyers, like JAG? (c. 12/28/2009)
  53. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was nominated for Best Sound Mixing. It was also nominated for the Razzie for Worst Picture. I did not love this film. It was fun to see Shea Beowulf and his costar again, but some of the Autobots were really annoying and the story line was mostly lost on me. I particularly detested the scene in which the mom takes her boy to college and accidentally buys some brownies laced with marijuana and then acts like a fool. (c. 12/28/2009)
  54. Up was nominated for Best Animated Feature, Best Score, Best Picture, Best Sound Editing and Best Screenplay. This is an absolutely charming film. I love the way they tell two short stories before the end of the opening credits and then tell another short story during the closing credits - very craft fully done. I also loved the way that the house floats like a parade balloon: sometimes they are weighing it down, and sometimes it is carrying them along. (c. 05/29/2009)
  55. Up in the Air starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick was nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress twice, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay. I thought it was really good, very unusual, and terribly sad. It is the story of a man who flies a lot for work. He likes this lifestyle because it keeps him disconnected from everyone. He comes to realize this is not a great way to live, and he tries to change his life. (01/16/2010)
  56. Which Way Home was nominated for Best Documentary.
  57. The White Ribbon was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Film (Austria). I did not like this film. It is set in Germany just before WWI. The children in the film are being abused, and they in turn commit horrible crimes against their neighbors. The message seems to be that violence begets violence, but it ending is so unsatisfactory that I cannot recommend it. (09/12/2010)
  58. The Young Victoria was nominated for Best Costumes, Best Set Design and Best Makeup. It is a stunningly beautiful film. It is also a very beautiful story. It begins one year before Queen Victoria's coronation when she is 17 years old. She is being manipulated by her mother and step-father. It tells the story of how she gained independence, power and love. It's really too beautiful to be true. I've got to read a biography of Queen Victoria.(03/02/2010)

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