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Into the Wild-Movie Review *** 10/13/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Based on true story, César Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, David di Donatello Awards, Drama, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Highly recommended, Movies, National Board of Review, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Young Artists Awards.
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INTO THE WILD (American) 2007 ***
Based on the true story of Christopher McCandless
Adapted from the book by Jon Krakauer

Screenplay written and directed by Sean Penn
Starring Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, and Hal Holbrook

Into the Wild received many awards and nominations, too numerous to list here.

In the early 1990s, Christopher McCandless graduates from college but does not follow the path to law school that his parents (played by Harden and Hurt) expect. Instead, he takes all the anger he feels toward his dysfunctional family and escapes from civilization, intending to live totally in the wild, completely untethered to society. Renaming himself Alexander Supertramp, he does so – for a time.

Outstanding cinematography and performances by respected actors make this a film definitely worth seeing. Hirsch does a superb job of balancing anger toward his parents and openness to life. Hal Holbrook plays a kindly grandfatherly type who is one of several interesting people who cross Alexander’s path. A young Kristen Stewart, who appears as a brief romantic interest, shows her singing ability.

Author Jon Krakauer has authored other bestselling books about the wilderness, including Into Thin Air, about climbing Mt. Everest. McCandless himself left behind photographs and journals. For a wealth of related information and links, check here.

Highly recommended. (#170 on IMDB’s Top 250)

149 min. Rated R.


Bernie-Movie Review 06/09/2013

Posted by dbinder in American, Based on true events, Comedy, Crime, Golden Globes, Gotham Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, Light Drama, Movies, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle Awards.
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Bernie (American) 2011
Based on actual events

Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Shirley MacLaine

Among other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy (Black), Golden Globes
NOMINATED, Best Ensemble Cast (McConaughey, Black, MacLaine; Best Film, Gotham Awards
NOMINATED, Best Feature; Best Male Lead (Black), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Top Ten Independent Films, National Board of Review
WINNER, Best Supporting Actor (McConaughey); Second Place-Best Actor (Black), New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Bernie Tiede (Black) moves to the small town of Carthage, TX and finds work at a funeral parlor. He proceeds to impress the entire town with his engaging and caring personality. He even wins over Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine) the wealthy, curmudgeonly widow of the bank president, a task that was thought to be impossible. But Mrs. Nugent gradually shows her true colors, and Bernie concludes that the way she treats everyone, including himself, is just not right.

A funny, documentary-style telling of events that surely fall into the category of “truth can be stranger than fiction.”

Jack Black especially amazes with his singing voice (who knew?), and Shirley MacLaine’s facial expression is spot on for her character.

99 min. Rated PG-13.


A Separation-Movie Review *** 04/11/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Asian Film Awards, César Awards, Drama, Emotional Drama, Fajr Film Festival, Golden Globes, Iranian language film, Movies, New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Pula Film Festival.
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A SEPARATION (Iranian) 2011 ***
Jodaeiye Nader az Simin

Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Starring Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, and Sarina Farhadi

Among many other awards and nominations, here are a few:
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film; NOMINATED, Best Original Screenplay, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Director; Best Editor; Best Film; Best Screenwriter; NOMINATED, Best Actress (Hatami), Asian Film Awards
WINNER, Best Foreign Film (Farhadi), César Awards
WINNER, Audience Award-Best Film; Crystal Simorgh-Best Cinematography; Best Director; Best Screenplay, Fajr Film Festival
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film, New York Film Critics Circle Awards
WINNER, Golden Arena-International Competition (Best Film), Pula Film Festival

Nadir (Moadi) and Simin (Hatami) are a couple facing separation and possible divorce when the wife wants to leave the country to provide a better life for their teenage daughter Termeh (Farhadi). After Simin moves back into her parents’ house, Nadir, who has been caring for his ailing father, gets embroiled in a possible murder charge when the housekeeper he hires suffers a miscarriage.

Very compelling performances by all parties, with the lack of a soundtrack contributing to the authenticity of the emotions portrayed.

The film was a big award winner in many international competitions (above are just a few examples). In the interview with the director, Farhadi provides insights about the culture behind the dilemma faced by the participants. Also, the girl who plays Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) is the director’s daughter and has appeared in some of his previous films.

Highly recommended.

123 min. Rated PG-13.


Biutiful-Movie Review 01/27/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Action/Thriller, Cannes Film Festival, Drama, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Goya Awards, Image Awards, Movies, Palm Springs International Film Festival, Spanish language film, Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards.
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Biutiful (Spanish) 2010

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, and Guillermo Estrella

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Leading Actor (Bardem), Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Actor (Bardem); NOMINATED, Palme d’Or (Iñárritu), Cannes Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Actor (Bardem); NOMINATED, Best Cinematography; Best Score; Best Production Design; Best Original Screenplay; Best Supporting Actor (Eduard Fernández); Best Supporting Actress (Ana Wagener), Goya Awards
WINNER, Outstanding Foreign Motion Picture, Image Awards
WINNER, International Star Award (Bardem), Palm Springs International Film Festival
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film, Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards

In Barcelona, Uxbal (Bardem) is steeped in the world of corrupt cops, drug dealing, and illegal immigrant labor. Since his ex-wife Marambra (Alvarez) suffers from bipolar disorder, he raises their two children, Ana (Bouchaib) and Mateo (Estrella) as best he can. When he learns that he has terminal cancer, Uxbal lovingly tries to do his best to provide for their future, in increasingly negative circumstances.

Not an uplifting subject, and sometimes tough to watch, but it is well worth it for the very admirable performance from Javier Bardem (one of my favorite actors).

148 min. Not rated. Adult themes and language.


Il Divo-Movie Review 12/16/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Based on true events, British Independent Film Awards, Cannes Film Festival, David di Donatello Awards, European Film Awards, Golden Globes, Italian language film, Italy, Movies, Paolo Sorrentino.
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Il Divo (Italian) 2008
Il Divo: La spettacolare vita di Giulio Andreotti
Based on true events

Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Starring Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, and Giulio Bosetti

Among other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Achievement in Makeup, Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Film, British Independent Film Awards
WINNER, Jury Prize (Sorrentino), NOMINATED, Palme D’Or (Sorrentino), Cannes Film Festival
WINNER, David Award, Best Actor (Servillo); Best Cinematography; and five other awards; NOMINATED, Best Director; Best Film; Best Screenplay; and five others, David di Donatello Awards
WINNER, Best Actor (Servillo); NOMINATED, Best Cinematographer; Best Director; Best Film; Best Screenwriter, European Film Awards
WINNER, Best Screenplay; NOMINATED, Best Director, Golden Globes, Italy

Please note that this is not a music DVD!

Among other government posts, Giulio Andreotti (Servillo) served as Prime Minister of Italy for several terms during the 1970s and early 90s. Il Divo (the star) was one of the many nicknames associated with him.

Via a compelling performance by actor Toni Servillo, director Sorrentino delivers a sense of the personality behind the man, keeping the controversies that surrounded him as a series of montages in the background.

In 2003, Andreotti was in the news when he was cleared of a murder charge.

110 min. Not rated. Violence.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-Movie Review 11/27/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Based on a short story, Emotional Drama, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fantasy, Golden Globes, Movies.
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (American) 2008
Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Directed by David Fincher
Starring Brad Pitt, Taraji P. Henson, and Cate Blanchett

Among many other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Art Direction; Best Makeup; Best Visual Effects; NOMINATED (among others), Best Music; Best Motion Picture; Best Leading Actor (Pitt); Best Supporting Actress (Taraji Henson); Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Roth and Robin Swicard), Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Director (Fincher), Best Motion Picture; Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplay); Best Actor (Pitt); Best Screenplay (Roth and Swicard), Golden Globes
Many of the other awards and nominations recognized the soundtrack and special effects.

Benjamin Button (Pitt) narrates his own life story through diaries that are found after his death and read to his dying friend Daisy (Blanchett) by her daughter. Benjamin, whose mother died in childbirth, was born with the physical characteristics and illnesses of an old man. Rejected by his grieving father because of his appearance, Benjamin was raised by Queenie (Henson), the proprietor of a local rooming house. He recounts the experiences of his life, which was spent growing younger and younger.

I’ve meant to watch this film for some time, mostly because the subject matter seemed so curious, for lack of a more imaginative word. Brad Pitt certainly deserves kudos for not relying on roles that use his good looks only. In this case, he undergoes a transformation that is nothing short of astonishing (hence all the awards and nominations for special effects). Surprisingly, Cate Blanchett didn’t seem emotionally present in her role as Daisy; in my opinion, Taraji Henson as Queenie steals the show in that regard. Definitely worthwhile viewing if you haven’t already seen it.

166 min. Rated PG-13.


The Descendants-Movie Review 10/07/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, Light Drama, Young Artists Awards.
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The Descendants (American) 2011

Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Amara Miller

Among many other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Writing; Best Adapted Screenplay (Alexander Payne et al.); NOMINATED, Best Director (Payne); Best Picture; Best Leading Actor (Clooney), Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Drama; Best Actor-Drama (Clooney), NOMINATED, Best Director (Payne); Best Supporting Actress (Woodley); Best Screenplay, Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actress (Woodley); NOMINATED, Best Director (Payne); Best Feature, Independent Spirit Awards

WINNER-tied, Best Young Actress in a Feature Film (Miller), Young Artist Awards

When his wife has an accident that leaves her on life support, Matt King (Clooney) has to get more involved with the day-to-day lives of his two daughters (Woodley and Miller) while also dealing with the discovery that his wife had an affair.

The story takes place in Hawaii and ties in with Matt’s attempts to make a profitable land deal for his extended family members, who are heirs to a large parcel of beautiful and unspoiled land.

Despite its overriding premise, the film does have humorous moments. It was very well received at awards ceremonies (what I’ve listed above doesn’t begin to cover them). I thought it was very good (not great) and worth watching, especially for the scenery (which includes Mr. Clooney).

115 min. Rated R.


The Last Station-Movie Review*** 07/29/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Based on a novel, Biographical, British, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Hessian Film Award, Highly recommended, Independent Spirit Awards, Michael Hoffman, Movies, Romance, Satellite Awards.
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The Last Station (British) 2009 ***
Based on Jay Parini’s 1990 novel, The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy’s Last Year

Directed by Michael Hoffman
Starring Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, and Paul Giamatti

Among other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Mirren); Best Supporting Actor (Plummer), Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Mirren); Best Supporting Actor (Plummer), Golden Globes
WINNER, Best International Literature Adaptation (Hoffman), Hessian Film Award
NOMINATED, Best Director (Hoffman); Best Feature; Best Female Lead (Mirren); Best Screenplay (Hoffman); Best Supporting Male (Plummer), Independent Spirit Awards
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (McAvoy), Satellite Awards

As renowned and beloved author Leo Tolstoy’s (Plummer) life approaches its end, unwanted drama surrounds him in the form of his family and associates. His associates aim to convince Tolstoy that, in his final will, his works should become the property of the Russian people; his passionate wife, Countess Sofya (Mirren), fears that she and her children will be left with nothing.

Plummer’s Tolstoy tries (but doesn’t always manage) to retain a sense of peaceful dignity as he contends with his distraught wife. Mirren’s Sofya pulls no punches with increasingly erratic behavior as she once again puts in an outstanding performance that makes this a film worth seeing.

Highly recommended.

112 min. Rated R.


Mysteries of Lisbon-Movie Review 07/15/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Athens Panorama of European Cinema, Golden Globes, London Critics Circle Film Awards, Prix Louis Delluc, Raoul Ruiz, São Paolo International Film Festival.
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Mysteries of Lisbon (Portuguese/French) 2010
Based on the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco

Directed by Raoul Ruiz
Starring Adriano Luz, Maria João Bastos, Ricardo Pereira, João Arrais, Joana de Verona, and Clotilde Hesme

Among other wins and nominations:
WINNER, Best Film, Athens Panorama of European Cinema
WINNER, Best Actor (Luz); Best Actress (Bastos); Best Film, NOMINATED, Best Actor (Pereira); Best Actress (de Verona), Golden Globes
NOMINATED, ALFS Award, Foreign Language Film of the Year, London Critics Circle Film Awards
WINNER, Best Film (Ruiz), Prix Louis Delluc
WINNER, Critics Award-Best Film (Ruiz), São Paulo International Film Festival

Based on Portuguese author Camilo Castelo Branco’s popular 19th-century novel, originally published serially in newspapers, Mysteries of Lisbon generally follows the story of João (Arrais), a boy whose parents were forbidden to marry. Raised by Padre Dinis (Luz), a kindly priest, the teenage João wishes to know the truth about his parentage. The viewer soon discovers that no one is who they seem to be.

Some compare Branco’s lengthy (900+ pages) novel to those of Charles Dickens, and the length of the film (more than 4 hours) might cause many to give pause, so caveat spector in that regard. Director Ruiz skillfully weaves the novel’s sprawling diversions and intertwining stories, which include subtle humor and the occasional flight of fancy. I found the story, with its depiction of the customs and lifestyles of the aristocracy of that time period, interesting, entertaining, and touching at the same time.

257 min. Not rated. Suitable for teens.


The Messenger-Movie Review *** 06/17/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Berlin International Film Festival, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Drama, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Gotham Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, Oren Moverman, Samantha Morton, San Diego Film Critics Society Awards.
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The Messenger (American) 2009 ***

Directed by Oren Moverman
Written by Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
Starring Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, and Samantha Morton

Among many awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson); Best Original Screenplay (Camon and Moverman), Academy Awards
WINNER, Peace Film Award (Moverman); Silver Berlin Bear-Best Screenplay (Camon and Moverman); Golden Berlin Bear (Moverman), Berlin International Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson), Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson), Golden Globes
NOMINATED, Breakthrough Award (Foster), Gotham Awards
WINNER, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson); NOMINATED, Best First Feature; Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actress (Morton), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Best Supporting Actress (MORTON); 2nd PLACE-Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson); NOMINATED, Best Actor (Foster), San Diego Film Critics Society Awards

Returning from Iraq, injured and with three months of service left, Will Montgomery (Foster) gets assigned to Casualty Notification and is paired up with career officer Tony Stone (Harrelson), a recovering alcoholic. Their job is to inform the next of kin, in person and as soon as possible, when a loved one has been killed in the line of duty. The range of emotions they must deal with in the family members corresponds to the range of emotions they must face in themselves.

As noted above, Woody Harrelson received much-deserved acclaim for his role as the tough-minded captain trying to break in the new messenger. I also thought Ben Foster did an outstanding job as the younger, more vulnerable, and, in some respects, more mature Will Montgomery.

Highly recommended.

112 min. Rated R. Adult themes.