Well, friends, the Super Bowl of the entertainment awards – The 84th Annual Academy Awards – will air next Sunday at 8:30 p.m. But in the meantime, let’s take a look back at one of my favorite films from the last ten years of Oscars.
“The Social Network” (2010) (see full review on QuadNews.Net)
Certain films portray more than just a story; they take a snapshot of their generation. “The Social Network” is a nearly pitch-perfect account of the beginnings of Facebook and the start of the social network revolution. Jesse Einsenberg shines in his award-winning portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, but the most praise belongs to David Fincher’s slick direction and Aaron Sorkin’s witty, wordy script. Almost a postmodern “Citizen Kane,” its flashback creates a solid frame for a fascinating story of greed and friendship, an intriguing character study of an unlikely, unlikable billionaire and a commentary of modern business and social behavior.
“Precious” does the impossible: it tells a difficult, somber story without feeling exploitative or sappy. Part of that’s due to the debut of Gabourey Sidibe as the title character, an obese, illiterate teenager who lives in Harlem with her abusive mother (a staggering, Oscar-winning turn by Mo’nique) and son. Based on a novel by Sapphire, the story of redemption is told in a documentary-style straightforwardness that undercuts the afterschool-special themes. Not an easy film to watch, but “Precious” is the kind of Oscar film that will stay with you long after its over.
Much like how “Social Network” captured 21st century social change, “Milk” does the same for the homosexual revolution in 1970s California. It follows Harvey Milk as he comes to San Francisco and becomes the first openly gay elected official. The starry cast, lead by Sean Penn’s magnetic performance, is strong and diverse and Dustin Lance Black’s Oscar-winning script sticks closely to reality and stays far away from overly politicizing Milk’s story. “Milk” is a film that everyone should to see, based on a mostly forgotten piece of history that needs to be known.
“There Will Be Blood” (2007)
Daniel Plainview is a harsh, complicated man at the center of Paul Thomas Anderson’s harsh, complicated character study. Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an oilman in the days when big scale capitalism was just starting to emerge who is at war with a local preacher (Paul Dano) over a plot of land. Told with a stark aesthetic and operatic emotion, “There Will Be Blood” is an uncompromising two-and-a-half-hour theatrical epic elevated by Day-Lewis’ bravura performance.
“The Departed” (2006)
The story, of a mobster infiltrating the police and a police officer infiltrating the mob, may not be new, but Martin Scorsese’s crime drama is about as suspenseful and intense as a thriller can get. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg are all top-notch, but it’s Jack Nicholson (as the sadistic, opulent crime boss) who steals every scene he’s in. Scorsese’s direction is fast-paced and fluid but punctuated by Irish punk music and gory set pieces, making "Departed" a-not-to miss film.
“Corpse Bride” (2005)
“Corpse Bride” is a family-friendly, gothic fairy tale in the style of “ Nightmare Before Christmas.” Told in a lush, macabre visual style (and in old-fashioned stop motion animation), the film stars Johnny Depp as a skittish groom on the way to the alter. Before he can tie the knot, he inadvertently gets hitched to an undead woman (the perpetually quirky Helena Bonham Carter) who leads him into the underworld. Although it fails to live up to “Christmas,” “Corpse Bride” is full of colorful characters, fun musical numbers and beautiful, Tim Burton visuals. It’s a very entertaining, if not somewhat forgettable, fable.
“Ray” is a musical, in the sense that it tells its story through music. The songs, all hits by legendary soul music pioneer Ray Charles, highlight his journey from a small, blind child in the rural South to his meteoric rise to fame and womanizing, drug-addicted stumbling blocks. Jamie Foxx perfectly captures Charles' infectious but vulnerable spirit. Although it can veer into melodrama, Taylor Hackford's film stays true to Charles' legacy. Besdies, it's worth it for the rockin' soundtrack alone.
“Mystic River” (2003)
Hands down, one of my favorite movies of the last decade. “Mystic River” is the intertwining story of three Boston-area childhood friends whose lives were forever changed when one was abducted and abused. 30 years later, these men (Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins) are forced to come together once again after another tragedy strikes. Part noir mystery, part character study, “Mystic River” is a powerful, emotionally charged film that explores the depth of humanity and how our lives can be changed in an instant.
“Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)
The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is one of the best film series ever made. It really has something for everyone: daring adventure, humor, lovable characters, heroes, monsters, magic, stunning visuals and epic battles. Part 2 continues the story of hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood) as he journeys across Middle Earth to destroy an evil ring. Followed by an entourage of hobbits, elves, wizards and other assorted magical creatures (including the bug-eyed Gollum), Frodo leads an epic battle of good and evil of biblical proportions. Peter Jackson’s direction is flawless, the special effects top-notch and the storytelling timeless, “LOTR” is simply a modern classic.
“A Beautiful Mind” (2001)
Most biopics view the subject from the outside looking in. But "A Beautiful Mind" delves fearlessly into the mind of brilliant mathematician John Nash (Russel Crowe). But Nash's mind is a troubled place to me. For years, Nash suffered from schizophrenia, living in a world populated by real, complicated equations and imagined, national threats. But with help from his devoted but long-suffering wife (Jennifer Connelly), Nash was able to rise above his disorder and win a Nobel Prize. Woven as a richly detailed tapestry by director Ron Howard, "Mind" is a film that satisfies both the brain and heart.
What I'd See This Week