Films race to Oscars
Though 2011 saw its fair share of extravagant 3-D epics and noisy action flicks, many films that received critical acclaim did so without huge budgets, but through nuance and a keen focus on story and character development.
Critics and audiences have been buzzing about the following pictures as Academy Award contenders. With so many excellent performances and stunning works, it‚Äôs next to impossible to provide a comprehensive list, but here are a few of the films you need to see before Oscar night on Feb. 26 ‚ÄĒ that is, if you intend to win your Oscar pool.
Written by the acclaimed Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball is a fast-paced jaunt through the minds of geniuses, using their talent and fierce determination to turn around a failing Oakland A‚Äôs team. Brad Pitt, in perhaps his finest acting role to date, plays the baseball team‚Äôs general manager, Billy Beane.
Though it is nice to see a superstar like Pitt finally choose the right project to showcase his talents, the true surprise of the film is Jonah Hill. Holding his own against Pitt and other Hollywood greats, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hill commands the screen with every piece of dialogue.
Some might find that the film devotes too much time to the complicated baseball scouting system at the heart of the plot, but with the cast‚Äôs shining charisma, Moneyball becomes the feel-good sports movie of the year.
4. Margin Call
Perhaps the most underrated film of the year, Margin Call tells the fascinating tale of a Lehman Brothers-like investment firm during a period of 24 hours prior to the financial crisis of 2008.
With an all-star cast, including Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley, Margin Call manages to offer a fascinating and angering look at the infamous financial fiasco.
It is difficult to believe that Margin Call is writer-director J.C. Chandor‚Äôs first feature-length film. Taut, riveting and smart ‚ÄĒ a very difficult combination to pull off ‚ÄĒ the film allows for just the right amount of character development mixed in with intelligent and dramatic boardroom showdowns, while doing so in a playful manner.
Christopher Plummer shines in Mike Mills‚Äôs dramedy Beginners as a man who comes out as gay more than 40 years after the death of his wife. Ewan McGregor stars as Plummer‚Äôs son and the two manage to depict a spellbounding father-son relationship.
The film also stars M√©lanie Laurent as an actress with trust issues. When Laurent‚Äôs Anna and McGregor‚Äôs Oliver meet after the death of his father, a beautifully tortured romance begins.
Mills manages to portray both the highs and lows of life.¬† The film doesn‚Äôt confine itself to specific genres, either ‚ÄĒ instead, it is a reflection of life as it really occurs.
Portraying a spectrum of experience and emotion, Beginners is not a study of some random character, but rather the character study of all human beings.
2. The Artist¬†
Heartfelt, funny and moving, the silent film shows Hollywood that character development is more important than flash and pizzazz.
Modern films have forgotten about what makes cinema so mesmerizing. It‚Äôs not about special effects and IMAX screens: The best films are about the characters. The Artist allows viewers to identify with these characters, going on an impactful emotional journey alongside them.
Take Jean Dujardin‚Äôs performance as George Valentin, for instance. Emotions clearly come across through the look of his eyes and the way his mouth curls, allowing viewers to feel everything that he feels without even uttering a word.
Though The Artist is about the flash and glitz of Hollywood, the film manages to show us that sometimes the simpler the better ‚ÄĒ or better yet, sometimes things are better left unsaid.
1. The Descendants
The Artist accomplished wonders within its limits and stands apart as one of the best films of the year; however, Alexander Payne‚Äôs The Descendants elevates itself as a modern American classic.
George Clooney stars as Matt King, a lawyer in Hawaii who is juggling the chaos of his family life, including his rebellious teenage daughter, Alex, played by Shailene Woodley. Taking the usually hackneyed role of the daughter who rolls her eyes at her parents, Woodley mesmerizes.
The other performances are just as memorable; it is, a near-perfect film. In no other film this year will you find such top-notch performances derived from an incredible script along with superior cinematography.
Though The Artist might show us the majesty of the past, The Descendants serves as an exemplary precedent for the future of cinema.