Film review special: Catch up on Best Pictures for Oscar Sunday

Connor Burke, Alex Carrigan and Brian Charlton
Contributing Writers

With the Oscars just around the corner this weekend, three of Spectrum’s intrepid film reviewers have joined forces to provide the run-down on each of the nine nominees for Best Picture and catch you up on what you might have missed.

The 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony will take place this Sunday, Feb. 26, and will be broadcast live on ABC starting at 7 p.m. Those without television access are advised to instead watch their Twitter feed.

 

“The Descendants”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Based on the novel by Kaui Hart, “The Descendants” follows Matt King (George Clooney), a Hawaii-based lawyer and family man whose wife goes into a coma after a waterskiing accident.

Left to parent his two daughters alone with his wife comatose, Matt discovers that his workaholic lifestyle has put him at a distance to his children; meanwhile, Matt is in the process of lining up a transaction to sell a large and beautiful plot of family land on the island of Kaua’i.

His world is turned upside down when he learns from his oldest daughter that his wife was having an affair before the accident – and the “other man,” a Hawaii-based real estate agent, is a crucial player in Matt’s land deal.

With two major Golden Globe Award wins, one for Best Picture and another for Best Actor (George Clooney), “The Descendants” is a serious contender in the 84th Academy Awards.

By Connor Burke

 

“Midnight in Paris”

Photo courtesy of Sony Picture Classics

“Midnight in Paris,” which won a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay, is perhaps the most talked-about and critically acclaimed Woody Allen film in years.

This romantic comedy follows Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter who is vacationing with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), in Paris. As Gil falls in love with Paris, he yearns to take a break from screenwriting so that he can pursue a more sophisticated career as a novelist.

One night, finding himself away from Inez, Gil winds up in an antique car that takes him back in time – to the golden age of 1920s Paris, where he meets artistic icons such as Alice B. Toklas, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Ernest Hemingway. Torn between the artistic guidance and inspiration of some of the literary greats and his present-day reality, Gil ultimately realizes that his relationship with his fiancée Inez is crumbling beneath his optimistic ignorance.

By Connor Burke

 

“Tree of Life”

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Palm d’Or Award, is a visually stunning amalgam of film genres, from experimental to historical to coming-of-age.

The film begins with Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn), an architect reflecting on his childhood after seeing a tree being planted in front of his place of work. It then flips between two different world perspectives – the macrocosm (the broad perspective, the astronomical beginning of the galaxy and the distant history of the Earth) and the microcosm (the coming-of-age tale of Jack O’Brien and his family).

The viewer follows Jack through the monumental moments of his childhood in idyllic 1950s Waco, Texas, juxtaposed with those of his two brothers, as his father (Brad Pitt) raises them with discipline. A tale of love, life and loss, “The Tree of Life” stands apart in a genre of its own among the other Academy Award Best Picture nominees.

By Connor Burke

 

“The Help”

Photo courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

Tate Taylor’s directoral debut follows a young writer in 1963 writing about the experience of African-American hired help in white homes in Jackson, Miss. The dangers of publishing a book where three African-American women speak out against their white employers in the early ‘60s American South hover over both the author and the maids whose story she wishes to tell.

The film is most notable for its cast: Actresses Viola Davis, Ocatavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain have received numerous nominations for their roles, while the film itself won Best Ensemble Cast at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards.

This Sunday, Spencer and Chastain compete for Best Supporting Actress, while Davis competes against Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and newcomer Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) for the coveted Best Actress award.

By Alex Carrigan

 

“Moneyball”

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Based on a true story, “Moneyball” follows Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team. He meets a young Yale graduate who proposes to Beane an algorithm he’s devised to pick the best players to draft to the team. Desperate to save their team from collapsing, the two of them pick a team that goes on to win 20 consecutive games in the 2002 season.

The film currently has six Oscar nominations. Among them, one is for lead actor Brad Pitt, one for supporting actor Jonah Hill (of “Superbad” fame) and one for Aaron Sorkin’s adapted screenplay. Sorkin won the screenplay award last year for “The Social Network,” so it will be interesting to see if he can win two years in a row.

By Alex Carrigan

 

“War Horse”

Photo courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

This film by Steven Spielberg follows a horse named Joey as he travels from owner to owner (some British, some German and some others) in the midst of World War I, including many of its major battles.

The film is up for a few awards, mostly in the technical fields, including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Original Score. Spielberg knows how to shoot war films, so it is likely the film could sweep the awards for the long and detailed fight scenes.

By Alex Carrigan

 

“Hugo”

Photo courtesy of Paramount

Martin Scorsese, one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic directors, captures the magic of movies in his adaptation of a novel based on Brian Selzick’s award-winning New York Times best-seller, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

“Hugo” follows the journey of a resourceful orphan, left to evade orphan-collectors and keep the clockworks running after his father’s death. His natural gift for engineering inspires him to steal gears, tools and other doodads from the station’s toy-shop owner, Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), who eventually employs him in toy repair. Through Georges, Hugo meets a young Isabelle (Chloe Grace Mortez), his goddaughter, who unknowingly possesses the key to Hugo’s father’s legacy.

“Hugo” has lead the Academy Award nominations this year, earning 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.

By Brian Charlton

 

“The Artist”

Photo courtesy of EPA Weinstein

In late 1920’s Hollywood, silent film idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and his dog (Uggie) are at their peak: George is happy, he is loved, and he  has just finished his latest premiere. Then, when Kinograph Studios announces their end of producing silent films, Valentin is dismissive; he insists sound in movies is just a passing fad.

“The Artist’s” 10 nominations this year are second only to “Hugo’s” 11, including Best Picture, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Supporting Actress (Bérénice Bejo) and Best Original Screenplay (Michel Hazanavicius).

By Brian Charlton

 

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers

Director Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is one of six Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars that were adapted from novels.

Young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is introduced as the son of Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), who died in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. After his father’s funeral, Oskar wanders New York City, searching for the meaning of a strange key he finds inside a blue vase in his father’s closet. It’s contained in an envelope marked “Black.” Seeing there are 417 people with the last name Black in the New York City phone book, Oskar vows to meet each one of them to see if they knew his father – thus beginning Oskar’s mission to solve a family mystery.

At this year’s Academy Awards, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” has been nominated for both Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow).

By Brian Charlton  

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