Friday, 27 January 2012

Decoding the Oscar nominations - Part 1

The Academy award nominations are out. In a long time, maybe after 2005, the fight for Oscars will be a closely contested one. Not since the year when Million Dollar Baby, which was pitted against The Aviator, Ray, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways, won the Oscars, the clutch of nominations  have been so rich.
Just like 2005, this year too, films with a strong emotional core have made it to the shortlist. These films may be set in various times and countires, but, they all have one thing in common. All the movies revolve around simple, believable and relatable human emotions.

In this post (which is the first in the 2 part series) , I shall write about Midnight in Paris , The descendents, The Help , The ides of March, and Moneyball.

Midnight in Paris –

This surprise selection is my favorite of the lot. This romantic comedy is set in Paris and is about a family that goes there because of business, and two  young people who are engaged to be married in the fall have experiences that change their lives. It’s about a young man’s great love for a city, Paris and the illusion that people have that a life different from theirs would be much better.
Certainly there‘s no better place on earth that Woody Allen could have chosen for his new romantic comedy than Paris. The past endures and shines brightly in Paris, which makes it well- suited for a story of a man reinvigorating his feelings and finding inspiration to reflect on his life.

While there are always dark themes underneath all of Woody Allen‘s comedies, the tone of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is more upbeat. The movie is hopeful in that Gil comes to that conclusion that it‘s better not to delude yourself—even though it‘s more pleasant and less painful, it‘s still better not to.

As is typical for a Woody Allen film, a group of superlative actors fill out the supporting cast. The film‘s locations include some of Paris‘s most cherished sites, including: the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, the grounds and Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, Monet‘s Gardens at Giverny, Musée Rodin, Musée des Arts Forains, Marché Paul Bert (flea market), Rue Montagne St. Genevieve (where Gil goes at midnight).

The descendents –

Having won the Golden Globe award for the best picture, this is a front runner in the Oscar race. This is not a movie that is easily defined.
This movie celebrates the flaws and imperfections of human beings. Alexander Payne directs George Clooney and a bunch of others in this delightful family movie which takes you on  a ride.

 I chose to use the word ride, because, Matt King (Played by Clooney) goes through great turmoil, dealing with the sudden situation  he is not prepared to handle. When his wife meets with an accident, he is suddenly required to take care of his 2 daughters apart from handling the issue of selling off his ancestral property. This story is about the coming –together and the falling-in –love story of the dysfunctional family.

Payne sets his story with a simple premise in Hawaii. The city lends the movie a beautiful character. Complemented by some breezy performances by Clooney and the rest of the cast and equally breezy soundtrack, Payne deftly handles  a protagonist who is put in a dilemma with monumental tasks to handle.
Not the finest, but certainly one of the best of 2011.

The Help –

As far as performances go, this is the best I have seen this year. Set in 1960s, this movie tracks the stories of black women who served as maids / helps to white women. This is an incredible film that not only pays justice to the bestseller on which it's based (according to those who have read the book AND seen the film), but is phenomenally cast. Without any major star, this movie manages to stand –out on the sheer strength of the performances by it’s leading ladies.

This movie delves deep into the lives of maids who give up their lives in order to raise white kids who grow up to become like their uppity mothers. This thoroughly nuanced and detailed movie is both heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time. While the basic premise may sound very simple, the story unwinds leisurely and  addresses issues like domestic violence, race discrimination, education and love.

The costumes, homes, settings, accents  give you a very 1960’s feel.

Ides of March –

How does George Clooney get it right all the time? Is there a higher hand, a divine intervention that helps him choose these scripts? I’m sure there is.

This is the story of a young hot-shot election campaigner who is sucked into the vortex of politics. Ryan Gosling, who impressed the critics earlier this year with a silent but powerful performance in Drive, goes on to show why is he billed a the next big-thing in Hollywood. George Clooney gives plenty of screen-time to his younger co-star, while he helps himself to a very under-stated role himself. He looks every bit the senator , running for the post of the “most powerful man in the world”.

As if these two were not enough, there is Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Gamiati  who light up the screen. Watch it to get a ringside view of what unfolds behind the screens during a Presidential election campaign, what do people do to make the President-elect look good in front of people. Clooney treats the film like a pseudo – thriller and throws in some smart dialogues which escalate the film to a different level.
Little known fact – Leo Di Caprio was suppose to play Goslings character, but ended up producing the movie.

Moneyball -

Brad Pitt and Oscars? Now, I have seen it all. Well, it is a sports film (something that the Academy jury loves) with eye-candy Brad Pitt as the lead star.

On a serious note, this is one of the finest sports films in the recent years. I do not know a thing about Baseball, but I thought this is a beautifully crafted film and it is a wonderful representative of the game.

Based on a true story, Moneyball is a movie for anybody who has ever dreamed of taking on the system. The premise is the real story of how, with an extremely small budget for a professional sports team, he managed to win a surprising number of games, including setting an all-time major league record of 20 consecutive wins. Pitt is the top of his game. As an everyman—or at least one that isn't played up as wealthy, a man struggling to keep his job—frustration is clearly seen in Pitt's face. Pitt brings humanity to the ominous job of a general manager.

Writer Aaron Sorkin knows how to write, and as evidenced by "The Social Network" (2010), he also knows how to turn computer-programming into riveting cinema. We find humor in the least-expected of places, we find heart in the least-expected of people, and 'Moneyball" gives us a completely enjoyable movie that becomes so much more than numbers.

All these films talk about the triumph of human emotions and take us through a joyful ride.
Yet to see the rest of the movies that have been nominated. Cannot wait to experience the rest of the movies.
Long live, show business.

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