John Shearer: Review Of 5 Movies Nominated For Best Picture At The Oscars

Friday, February 22, 2013 - by John Shearer

For the third year in a row, I decided to see at least five movies nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

I watched “Argo,” “Les Miserables,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” but did not see “Amour,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Except for maybe the historically questionable torture segment in “Zero Dark Thirty,” I wished I could have seen all of the movies.

However, I feel confident I saw one of the movies that will win Best Picture. But this year was somewhat different from the previous two years for me in that one movie did not necessarily stand above the others, as was the case with “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist” the last two years.

And the one I selected as my favorite this year will likely not win.

Regardless, I had fun once again and was greatly inspired watching five well-done films. And I will likely have an even better time watching the Oscars on TV this Sunday night on ABC and cheering for and applauding all my favorites.

So here are my five reviews, ending with the critique of the movie I liked best.

5th Favorite : “Lincoln” – This Steven Spielberg-directed film follows President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to get the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.

And he has to do it in a delicate manner at a time in 1865 when the Civil War appears to be winding down and he fears interest will be lacking later.

Although some historians have said this movie is not 100 percent accurate, the president is portrayed as an appealing person wanting to pass the amendment because it is the moral and right action to take.

Also appealing is Daniel Day-Lewis, whose portrayal of the 16th president is expected to get him a Best Actor Academy Award. And what makes his acting so good is not just the words he says, but also his non-verbal actions. Examples of the latter include the way he uniquely walks and sits.

Also playing a pretty good Sen. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania is Tommy Lee Jones.

The movie overall is well done, especially the way the dramatic vote to pass the amendment is portrayed. But perhaps only a college American history professor could keep up with all the political figures and historical storylines.

Also, one or two other scenes could have been presented with a little more drama and emotion to excite the viewers even more.

4th Favorite: “Silver Linings Playbook” – This touching love story follows the life of actor Bradley Cooper’s character, who is released from a mental hospital, where he has spent time due to his bipolar disorder that caused him to injure a man having an affair with Mr. Cooper’s wife.

He goes home to live with his parents, and his father, played by Robert De Niro, has a similar temper and spends much of his time betting on his beloved Philadelphia Eagles’ football team to help pay for a restaurant he wants to open.

Mr. Cooper wants to get back together with his wife, despite a court restraining order, but eventually meets up with a widow played by young Jennifer Lawrence. Despite her own problems, including previously struggling with sexual addictions, she and the equally problematic Mr. Cooper become unintentionally positive therapists for each other.

And, by the way, they also fall in love – but that does not become obvious until the end. Ms. Lawrence, who has already been nominated for two Academy Awards despite being only in her early 20s, has a cute and appealing manner not much different from that of Renee Zellweger in “Jerry Maguire” a few years ago – despite the darker character Ms. Lawrence plays.  

The movie – which received its name because Mr. Cooper’s new playbook on life in this football-themed film is to find the silver lining or positive in each situation -- has several additional subplots. But at the end all the storylines come together as Mr. Cooper and Ms. Lawrence try to get a mediocre score of 5 in a dance competition to help his father, who is also betting on the Eagles that day.

And yes, they dramatically achieve both goals, and that is a touching moment. But the real show stopper comes right after that, when Mr. Cooper’s character decides he definitely loves Ms. Lawrence’s, not his former wife.

The feel-good movie depicting Philadelphia culture reminds me of an R-rated version of a Hallmark channel movie, where someone realizes which one of the two people of the opposite sex is actually the more ideal soul mate and truer love.

One wish I had was to have seen the Stevie Wonder hit, “My Cherie Amour” -- which was played at Mr. Cooper’s wedding and during his wife’s tryst -- worked into the end in some kind of creative and appropriate manner.

Overall, however, it is a well-done movie. Two people with serious emotional issues become a happy and perfect couple, and that makes for a great Hollywood story.

3rd Favorite: “Argo” – Although I must admit that I often prefer love stories instead of films focusing on suspense and chase scenes, this movie was excellent. And it was definitely inspiring.

The fact-based movie – and Best Picture favorite -- follows the rarely told story of six American diplomatic workers who manage to escape to the Canadian ambassador’s home after angry Iranians take over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, beginning in November 1979. The takeover was done to protest the Americans’ prior support of the deposed shah.

CIA operative Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, and others come up with a plan to try to rescue them by having the captives pretend they are all part of a crew scouting shooting locations for a science fiction film called “Argo.”

Mr. Affleck is certainly a cool customer as he and the six diplomats go through several security checkpoints at the Tehran airport while trying to depart on a Swissair jet. The last 30 minutes of the movie are by far the best and most suspenseful found in any of the top nominated films I saw this year.

When the Swissair jumbo jet barely lifts off at the end amid the pursing Iranian police who just realized who those seven people were, I wanted to cheer like crazy. And that moment was not spoiled when I later learned the jet was not actually pursued in real life.

The movie also took me back to my University of Georgia years, when the Iranian hostage crisis made Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” show regularly.

On a lighter note, it was also a trip back to the time of late 1970s’ television sets and wild clothing accessories. Did we really wear such funky-looking eyeglasses in the late 1970s and early 1980s?

2nd Favorite: “Life of Pi” – When I was making plans to see this movie, I thought it would basically be a simple story about a boy and a tiger traveling on a boat, and it would be suitable for children.

I was completely wrong. It is for adults, but in a good sort of way. It pulls on the emotions of human survival in such a complex and uplifting way that I was totally engrossed for most of the movie. As a result, it was the most pleasant surprise of the five Oscar-nominated movies I saw.

It deals in part with an Indian family’s travels to Canada on a Japanese freighter. The ship sinks during a storm and the teen-age boy, played by the previously unknown Indian actor Suraj Sharma, ends up in a lifeboat with several animals, all of whom are eventually killed except a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

In an ingenious way and with the help of a survival book and equipment, the boy is able to live for numerous days and eventually tames the tiger to an extent to which they can co-exist.

They briefly stay on a strange island but eventually continue their trip and land in Mexico very weak physically. A touching scene near the end is when the ill tiger lays his head on the boy’s lap. They had gone from adversaries to depending on each other.

The two would sadly get separated from each other, but not by death to the animal as expected.

At the end, while the boy recovers in a hospital, he is interviewed by Japanese insurance agents. After they do not believe his story, the godly youngster tells them another survival story involving people, and I surprisingly realized after the fact that the animals could have been representing certain people.

Overall, it was a very uplifting movie. While last year’s hit movies “The Artist” and “Warhorse” made me want to go home and hug my pets afterward, “Life of Pi” made me want to hug a close family member, even though it deals with animals.

Favorite: “Les Miserables” -- Hollywood has proven in the past that turning a Broadway musical hit into an Oscar-worthy movie draw is not always easy, but “Les Miserables” may be one of the few to receive high praise.

The music, particularly the touching song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” carries the film, but the deep emotion I felt was likely also due to the good acting and the excellent way the mostly somber scenes were depicted. The fact that all the singing was recorded live during the shooting and not later in a studio also added to the quality and genuineness of the movie.

The movie – the title of which comes from the French words implying “the miserable” -- follows the lives of several downtrodden and oppressed people through several periods of the French Revolution in the early 1800s.

Actor Hugh Jackman’s character is released from a long prison sentence after a minor criminal offense and he eventually becomes a noble man of Christian faith, helping Anne Hathaway’s character and her daughter. He also aids Eddie Redmayne’s character, who marries the adult daughter, played by Amanda Seyfried.

The film also includes a humorous portrayal by corrupt innkeepers Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who have mastered the art of pocket picking. Russell Crowe, meanwhile, plays a guard generally always in pursuit of Mr. Jackman’s character. Some symbolism is depicted with the fact that Mr. Crowe walks on a thin and high ledge at three totally different times of his life.

His unfortunate suicide leap at the end is painful to watch, not only because he jumps, but also because he lands on a hard place.

But the movie as a whole is joyful – although quite emotional. This is particularly true in the last couple of scenes.

And as the movie ended in the theater where I was watching, I saw a sight I have never seen before -- everyone stayed to watch the entire credits. The reason was that “I Dreamed a Dream” was being played.

It was a magical moment, just as the previous 2½ hours had been.

Jcshearer2@comcast.net

 


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