Best Picture Nominations: Micro-Reviews, Part 1 (No Spoilers)

by K.M. Zahrt

This year’s Oscar nominations for Best Picture were announced, and the following nine films (listed in alphabetical order) got the nod:

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. American Hustle
3. Captain Phillips
4. Dallas Buyers Club
5. Gravity
6. Her
7. Nebraska
8. Philomena
9. The Wolf of Wall Street

Based solely on Internet buzz, my hunch is, even though American Hustle took home the Golden Globe for Best Picture, either 12 Years a Slave or Dallas Buyers Club are the leading contenders for the Oscar. I have yet to see either film, but both will be featured in “Best Picture Nominations: Micro-Reviews, Part 2,” before the award is presented on March 2. Once again, Ellen DeGeneres is hosting the show. Her hosting performance in 2007 was a great success, and this year should be no different.

American HustleAmerican Hustle
I have written about American Hustle elsewhere on Michiganders Post. Since the plot is mostly character-driven, it’s important that the characters are well acted. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper all deliver in spades. Amy Adams’ performance in this film is far superior to her performance in Her. The film is loosely — repeat, loosely — based on the FBI operation in the late 1970’s known as ABSCAM. The operation as presented in the film had many angles, which begged two questions. Who is working whom? And, Who is winning? For the viewer, the mystery generated by those questions all-too-often crossed over into confusion. Perhaps some of the mystery will be clearer upon a second viewing.

By far, Gravity provided the best experience from a strictly movie-theater-going perspective. I doubt the film would feel the same when viewed at home. I would strongly recommend seeing it in 3D, if not in IMAX. After a quick Google search of film reviews, you’ll find that viewers tend to fall into two camps: (1) Gravity was simply an action-packed thrill ride, or (2) Gravity, along with action and suspense, had significant depth, providing commentary on the human experience. I lean toward camp 2. These camps are divided in response to Sandra Bullock’s character’s backstory about a daughter that died tragically. The backstory highlighted an interesting element to the story, for me: the fact that human lives are incredibly fragile at times and unbelievably resilient at others. Many in my camp will also argue the story demonstrated remarkable craft in terms of screenwriting by Alfonso Cuaron. At the very least, we should be able to agree that Sandra Bullock’s performance anchored this film like Tom Hanks did in Cast Away. I agree with the nod, but ultimately, Gravity has little chance to take home the trophy.

I suspect Her may be like a fine wine. It may take some time to ferment. Out of these four films, Her seems to demand a re-viewing the most. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance was captivating — so much so, in fact, that Amy Adams’ performance seemed to pale in comparison. Like Phoenix’s interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air this week, I’m not sure what to make of it, but I think I like it. I’ll have to watch and listen again, before I decide.

The Wolf of Wall StreetThe Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio should team up even more often, don’t you think? My wife, still bitter from the 2008-2009 Wall Street debacle (you know, the whole lack of oversight/almost non-existent prosecution of white-collar criminals who made money on and caused the thing), thought the film should have had a clearer conscience on Wall Street corruption. I suspect many of us, members of the lower 99%, feel the same way. I felt the moral of the tale was about how the 99% are actually complicit in the crimes of the wolf, because we are (supposedly) prone to desiring the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and gobs ‘n’ gobs of money lifestyle he represents. Even the cop who was chasing the wolf wasn’t free from the tormenting question, How great would it be to be able to live the life of luxury? The question — What would you be willing to sacrifice to get and maintain that lifestyle? — was, at best, a distant second thought. In that regard, I thought the film was a success. The acting and directing were superb (almost goes without saying). Even Jonah Hill is perfectly cast as wing-man Donnie Azoff. Regardless, I’ll still be surprised if The Wolf of Wall Street walks away with the statue. The award seems to favor films that pull more on the heart strings.


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