Oscar Time: Best Picture

February 21, 2014
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By Joan Ellis

Of the 10 movies nominated this year for the Best Picture Oscar, the three best have the strength of being based on true stories. Let’s start with the one that shouldn’t be here.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is about dishonesty, cruelty, betrayal, misogyny, and greed. A narcissist Leonardo DiCaprio served a jail term for his financial crimes but never lost his taste for debauchery. In grim reflection of the financial fraud that fills our daily papers, one character announces: “Move the client’s money from his pocket to yours; we don’t build anything.”

“American Hustle” follows a bizarre bunch of con artists, each a living, breathing stack of fakery, but this time it’s fun. Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence jump with delight into director David O. Russell’s vision of personal reinvention as the essential tool in practicing the art of survival in the game of hustle.

“Captain Phillips” is guiding his giant cargo ship toward Kenya when it is boarded by inexperienced, disorganized, pirates off the Somalian coast.  The conflict between pirate leader Barkhad Abdi and Captain Tom Hanks creates unbroken suspense as the frightened young men promise death to the captain.

“Gravity” captures the essence of the absolute silence of space and gives the audience ample time to realize the terror of being stranded there alone. Sandra Bullock deserves praise for navigating the technical filming difficulties with grace but we are left feeling that the movie’s main gift to us is the understanding of a spacewalk gone wrong.

“Nebraska” soars quietly in the hands of director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson who create their vision of small town isolation in rural Nebraska where small towns bisect desolation. That’s what made these people who they are and they are played beautifully by Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb as a family you will never forget. There is not one false note in this portrait of a land and its people.

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“Philomena” is the true story of a woman whose baby was taken and put up for adoption when she was an unwed mother in an Irish Catholic abbey. Jump ahead 50 years to Judi Dench, who takes us, along with a fine Steve Coogan, on the two paths of Philomena’s spiritual life: faith in her church and love of her son. She shows us the strength of a woman who refuses to blame one for trying to destroy the other.

“12 Years a Slave” is a major contribution to our understanding of our past. The power of the film is its truth as written in Solomon Northup’s memoir of the nightmare he endured beginning in 1841. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong and Michael Fassbender deliver this story with mighty force to a public that does not want to hear what they say.

As of this writing I have not seen “Dallas Buyers Club” or  “Her. ”


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