On June 24th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced some momentous news about next year's Oscars--there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture, instead of the usual 5. This is probably the biggest embarkment the Academy has taken since the inception of the supporting actor/actress awards in 1936. "After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year," said President Sid Ganis. "The final outcome, of course, will be the same – one Best Picture winner – but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009." This was clearly done in response to much debate concerning the exclusion of certain genres of films, such as animated features and action/adventure films, namely "WALL-E" and "The Dark Knight". The Academy's decision opens the doors for more movies to vie for the ultimate honor of being named Best Picture of the Year.
Being director James Cameron’s first non-documentary feature since his monster epic Titanic which was over twelve years ago, I was honestly expecting a great deal more, especially considering that this is a movie that he wrote, directed and produced. However, he does have a track record for technically advanced films that often fall short on plot and structure. And Avatar is no exception to this trend. This is probably the most overly hyped film of the year. Aside from the radiant special effects and masterful editing, there was nothing too impressive about this movie. Cameron had originally written an eighty-page scriptment some fifteen years ago and filming was supposed to commence immediately after Titanic. But he held off on pursuing its development and production because the visual effects capabilities were limited at the time. Cameron had a vision of what the film would look like and did not want to cheapen his foresight of this imagined world on screen. This kind of integrity for a filmmaker is indeed admirable, and I am not saying that this is a bad movie nor am I saying that Cameron’s work isn’t without merit. What I am saying is that Avatar simply isn’t as great as people have been making it out to be. (Read More Here)
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: Although a visually stunning spectacle, it is an overly hyped epic that is essentially just Dances With Wolves in Sci-Fi.
2. The Blind Side
Directed By John Lee Hancock
Starring Sandra Bullock, Kathy Bates, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Ray McKinnon, Jae Head, and Lily Collins
“This team is your family.” This line stuck out the most with me, on a personal level. A very close friend and teammate of mine recently conveyed very similar sentiments to me, having not been playing with them or even around much this past fall season. This concept of a team being like your family is the overriding theme of this film. There is much to be said about anything that unifies people from different walks of life and improves upon their very existence. This is the reason I have always loved playing team sports. Very few things in my own life have afforded me the kind of trust in my comrades and belief in my contributions as playing football and rugby. And that is precisely what The Blind Side so auspiciously conveys. Sandra Bullock, who portrays Leigh Anne Tuohy in the film, commented in a recent interview, “A family unit doesn’t work unless everyone’s working together. The Team doesn’t work, if everyone’s not working together… Working as a team or a family advances people faster and better than someone by themselves.” (Read More Here)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: Even if you're not a fan of football, you will appreciate the message behind this film. It is the feel good movie of the year!
3. District 9
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Staring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James
In 1982, a massive star ship bearing a bedraggled alien population, nicknamed "The Prawns," appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty-eight years later, the initial welcome by the human population has faded. The refugee camp where the aliens were located has deteriorated into a militarized ghetto called District 9, where they are confined and exploited in squalor. In 2010, the munitions corporation, Multi-National United, is contracted to forcibly evict the population with operative Wikus van der Merwe in charge. In this operation, Wikus is exposed to a strange alien chemical and must rely on the help of his only two new 'Prawn' friends. -Kenneth Chisholm
4. An Education
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Staring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson
An Education is a coming of age tale about a sixteen-year-old girl who falls in love with a man twice her age. Relatively unknown Danish director Lone Scherfig has created a film that truly captures the innocence of youth. The script itself is based upon the memoirs of British journalist Lynn Barber who didn’t originally publish her story until this year. There was an essay written in the "Granta", a student publication at Cambridge University, which featured Barber’s personal story. Screenwriter Nick Hornby read this and immediately was draw to the story. He states that what appealed to him most was this “suburban girl who's frightened that she's going to get cut out of everything good that happens in the city. That, to me, is a big story in popular culture. It's the story of pretty much every rock 'n' roll band.” Hornby, a novelist himself, also wrote the screen adaptation for such popular films as High Fidelity and About a Boy, and applies his usual shrewd understanding of pop palatability again here. (Read More Here)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: A remarkably distinguished coming of age story that truly embodies the angst and emotional trauma of life's many lessons.
5. The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Staring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty
“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” This opening quote from New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges’ novel “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” is the perfect summation for this movie. People throughout the ages have faced the front lines of the battlefield and endured the sacrifice of themselves for a greater cause. This is not that kind of war story. In fact, to classify this as an Iraqi War movie is a hasty assumption. The Hurt Locker is more a story about three men, three soldiers, and the emotional duress they endure while defusing bombs in Baghdad. There isn’t some greater cause that will serve some exorbitant conclave, or some revolutionary mission for the betterment of man, or some lofty discernment of some geopolitical purpose. The film focuses on the characters themselves and not the superseding circumstances of the war at hand. It separates itself from this A-typical scenario that so many preceding films of this kind have fallen to. (Read More Here)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: Finally a modern war film set in the Middle East that isn't cliché. A great film that focuses on the characters not the politics.
6. Inglourious Basterds
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Staring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Mélanie Laurent, and Til Schweiger
When anyone mentions the name Quentin Tarantino, a mélange of words come to mind: extreme, audacious, impudent. But much of his style is modeled after the numerous cult cinema classics and Inglourious Basterds is no exception to this. Tarantino not only has remade the original version of the 1978 film of the same name only spelled correctly (Inglorious Bastards), but he has crafted a parody on World War II films in general that rings to the tune of The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, and The Great Escape, to name a few. The drastic difference here is that Tarantino distributes an equal amount of screen time between the good and bad guys. Many of the more esteemed war epics often ignore that realm of contradictory regard. So while Tarantino may ignore the factual accounts of the period, he executes a balanced story that enhances the perspective of the enemy, though still diabolical, simply by allowing them face time. He focuses on the story, not just the history. This is precisely why he won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction. Though his approach is indeed noteworthy, the film itself falls short on the whole. (Read More Here)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: Entertainingly glorifies violence in a way we have not seen in some time.
Directed by Lee Daniels
Staring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton, and Lenny Kravitz
With all the hype surrounding this movie, I had expected an extremely moving film about the hard knocks of life. That was a huge underestimation on my part. This film relinquishes any preconceived inner-city stereotypes that one might have and exposes a down right horrific world of destitution and misfortune. To call Precious merely a social statement is like saying that Titanic was about a sinking boat. Director Lee Daniels has created a disarming film that doesn’t force false empathy or emotion from its viewers. The story line alone pushes the audience to feel for these characters with seeming constructed or imposing. With each scene there is a new revelation, some are hopeful but most are disarming. It is a rare occurrence for a movie to entice such a deplorable emotion reaction. (Read More Here)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Bottom Line: A heart-wrenching story about the hardships of an abused and seemingly hopeless teenager in Harlem. Masterful acting performances take this film to a whole other level.
8. A Serious Man
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Staring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Wagner Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, and Jessica McManus
There are two groups of people who should go see this movie: 1. anyone who is Jewish and 2. anyone who knows someone who is Jewish. Writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen have done it again with their latest parody on American-Jewish culture in the sixties. The public has come to know their style of film making to be intricately elaborate and situationally extremist, and A Serious Man is most certainly both. Personally, I wish I had gone to see this with one of my Jewish friends, but only so that I would have had an on-hand expert to immediately clue me in on some of the scenarios depicted in the film. There were several scenes where the audience bursted out into laughter without any real premise to do so; it dawned on me that these must have been some sort of Jewish inside jokes, if you will. Despite my lack of cognition, the movie was highly entertaining and not just in a Coen Borthers sort of way. We have seen this approach from them before in such films as Raising Arizona and Fargo that embrace a known ethnology that we may not all know personally, but certainly know of. This pre-establishes a level of endearance to audiences because most can certainly relate to the idea of what these characters are going through. So even if you're not of any kind of Jewish decent, the predicaments are so intriguing that it arouses a curiosity to want to know about being Jewish. Or at the very least, want to know about these characters. This is what makes this such a great film. (Read More Here)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: A must see! Especially if you can appreciate the dark farcical style of the Coen Brothers.
Directed by Pete Doctor & Bob Peterson
Staring Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer and Jordan Nagai
From the Academy Award-nominated team of director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and co-director Bob Peterson comes Up, a comedic adventure taking off and lifting spirits. Carl Fredricksen spent his entire life dreaming of exploring the globe and experiencing life to its fullest. But at age 78, life seems to have passed him by, until a twist of fate, and a persistent 8-year old Wilderness Explorer named Russell, gives him a new lease on life. Up takes audiences on a thrilling journey where the unlikely pair encounter wild terrain, unexpected villains and jungle creatures. When seeking adventure - look Up.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: A candid tale of two explorers who find themselves through the help of the other. Heart-warming from beginning to end.
10. Up In The Air
Directed by Jason Reitman
Staring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, and Sam Elliott
Have you recently lost your job? Is your business suffering because the consumer market is on a severe down? Have you felt the repercussions of the poor economy in any way, shape or form? If you are living anywhere in America right now, you probably answered “yes” to one of these questions. And if so, I highly recommend that you see this film. Director Jason Reitman has once again crafted a movie that drives its message home by focusing on characters through lightweight existentialism. Much like his prior films, Juno and Thank You For Smoking, Up In The Air takes a typically nontraditional protagonist and gives us a rare window into their unconventional existence. Reitman co-wrote the screenplay with Sheldon Turner, whose previous work is limited to mediocre horror film remakes and a bad Adam Sandler movie. Although it is based upon Walter Kirn’s novel of the same name, the film takes a vastly different approach than the original story. I would not be surprised if both Reitman and Turner take home an Oscar this year for their lofty adaptation. (Read More Here)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Bottom Line: A splendid contemporary glimpse into one man's ventures that induces us to reflect upon our own lives. An absolute must see!
The Short List:
"Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize," commented Ganis. "I can’t wait to see what that list of ten looks like when the nominees are announced in February."