In the run-up to the Oscar party season, I offer you my impressions. Here are all the Academy Award nominated films I’ve seen in the categories for best picture and best foreign film along with the four main acting categories. I explain why I rated each one either:
Now That’s a Film,
Uneven at Best, or
NOW THAT'S A FILM
Waltz with Bashir
This is a magic piece of film-making from Israel that uses startlingly compelling animation to tell the story of a soldier trying to reclaim forgotten memories of his role in the incursion into Lebanon in the 1980s. During that war a sickening massacre of Palestinian civilians was perpetrated in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps by the Lebanese Phalangist movement under Israeli cover. What starts out as a psychological detective story finishes with a punch to the solar plexus. Do not miss this astonishing film.
Check out my review of Slumdog Millionaire in which I say that this film “has got the narrative, the romance, the beauty, the violence and the tension that make for riveting cinema.”
This was undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, although it was out months ago. The Visitor has charming, complex characters performed with finesse, a story line that grips and the courage to talk about immigration in the most human touching cinematic language.
This was a unique “little” film that showed early last year. A chance meeting between two single mothers leads to their collaboration in smuggling human beings between French Canada and a New York Mohawk reservation. Frozen River is an enthralling exploration of poverty, motherhood and lack of choices.
UNEVEN AT BEST
This film did not move me, did not fascinate me and did not have much narrative tension. It wasn’t exactly boring, but it sure wasn’t exciting. In one word? Flat.
I am the only person I know who didn’t feel “Milk” was well-acted. Because I was unable to suspend disbelief, I just found myself thinking Sean Penn instead of Harvey Milk, Josh Brolin instead of Dan White. Besides, were virtually all the campaign volunteers white lads, as in the film? – I don’t remember it that way. Perhaps I was spoiled by the wonderful 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. On principle, however, I wish “Milk” very well.
This film has the distinction of having someone nominated to all four best actor categories. And the acting was definitely interesting and in at least one case - Viola Davis – absolutely mesmerizing, if too brief. (As Meryl Streep said about Davis when accepting the Screen Actors Guild Award last night, “Someone give this woman a film!”) But the accents are unreliable and the story a bit suspect, ending in an ambiguity that is supposed to make you think, but annoys you instead. I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing this, though.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
I really wanted this film to be as hot as each individual actor in it (Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem), but it wasn’t. I wanted it to be a love letter to Barcelona from Woody Allen as promised, but it wasn’t.
Mickey Rourke starts the film as a sweaty former wrestling champion reduced twenty years later to doing gigs in sad little halls. He has alienated every woman in his life. Fast forward through such delights as staple guns bouts in the ring. The film ends with Mickey Rourke as a sweaty broken down wrestler who has alienated every woman in his life. Give me my money back.