Currently browsing the "Academy Award Nominee" tag.

Timbuktu

Timbuktu was a very deserving 2015 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign film. The movie was inspired by the real life events of 2012-13 when religious fundamentalists, took over the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, destroying much its cultural heritage in the name of Islam and imposing Sharia law on the inhabitants. (They were ultimately run out.) In the film, we meet these militants as they chase down and shoot gazelles from their jeep and then turn those same guns on a cache of wooden statues, particularly ones of naked women. We find them next strutting around the town with megaphones laying down the law, upsetting the townspeople with their strict-to-the-point-of-ridiculous rules. No music. No soccer. No smoking or drinking. No fun. And women need to be nearly invisible and have zero rights. Needless so say, the locals don’t take kindly to it, including the local imam who shoos the heavily armed Jihadists from his mosque. Director Abderrahmane Sissako contrasts this claustrophobic extremism with the story of a pastoral family living in the dunes just outside town whose life soon intersects with the new order.

War Witch (Rebelle)

I really wish that films nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar were available before the awards were given out, so that just once I could fill out a ballot having seen them all. Only Amour got a big release and a bunch of hoopla! (And the Oscar, not so coincidentally.) Kon-Tiki opens in April. No and A Royal Affair have been around but only in limited release. And I was only able to see War Witch this week via a screener. I realize that if I lived in LA or New York, I could see more films earlier in their “limited releases,” and that they need that Oscar buzz for audiences around the country to venture out, but it makes me wonder how many wonderful small films from foreign lands we in the hinterlands never have a chance to see.

The Oscar nominated Live Action Shorts

The live action shorts are not nearly as short as the animated ones. Some even clock in at over a half hour. (The cut-off is 40 minutes.) I imagine that is because animation is so labor intensive. But the added time is not wasted. These movies are more than scenes cut from a longer story. They are stand-alone films where the narrative may be compact, but the characters live out their full arcs. And the genres for these films are as varied as the locations they cover — drama, fantasy, even comedy, in New York City, Somalia, and Afghanistan. All of them are extremely well made with interesting stories, directed with assurance and with some surprising casting choices. The full roster of shorts is showing in some theaters around the country, but I think that is a horrible way to see them. They should be seen one at a time before a feature, as the film gods intended. (You can view all the trailers at the end of this post and decide for yourself if you want to venture out ahead of the Oscars.)

A Better Life

If there was one surprise in the 2011 Oscar nominations, it was Demián Bichir’s nod for Best Actor in a really small film called A Better Life. I’m not sure how many people could have seen this movie. It didn’t even gross $2 million. To be fair, it was named one of the top ten films by the National Board of Review and Bichir was nominated as Best Actor by the Screen Actors Guild and the Independent Spirit Awards. But it is refreshing that this little indie flick did not fly under the Academy’s radar. And that they appreciated Bichir’s outstanding performance.

Incendies

Incendies is a French Canadian drama that was nominated for the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign language film and is totally deserving of the honor. Living in small town USA can be frustrating for the lag time in getting to see these films in a theater, but finally, it arrived. (Only 2 left now.)

Restrepo

Gasland

Fracking! That is what Gasland is all about. If you haven’t heard of fracking, you’ll know more than you could imagine after watching this frightening documentary. It all begins when filmmaker Josh Fox gets a notice that a gas company wants to lease the rights to extract natural gas from his pristine land in Eastern Pennsylvania. They are offering him $100,000, which is pretty enticing. So he visits a nearby town Dimock, PA to see how they are doing, since they are already an active drill site. There he sees the first evidence of the immense damage that fracking causes, most dramatically demonstrated when the residents show him that the water coming out of their kitchen faucets can be lit with a match.

The Last Station

This is a wonderful film! It should be on the expanded Academy Awards list for Best Picture, but sadly it isn’t. At least both Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as his wife Sofya are nominated in their respective acting categories. The Last Station is the story of the last years of the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s life, his tempestuous relationship with this wife, his coterie of adoring sycophants who turned him into a cult figure, and a young man who became his personal secretary and family confidante.