Katie Recommends: Oscar Edition

This year, I decided that I’d see all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars. Unfortunately, I forgot that this year they’d upped the Best Picture nominees to ten. Nevertheless, I did see all ten of them before the Oscars, and here are my thoughts on the Best Picture nominees.

I knew it wasn’t going to win, but this was actually my favorite nominee. It’s wonderful— funny, suspenseful, touching, and, at the beginning, incredibly sad. (The marriage montage? Tell me you weren’t crying during that.)

An Education
If I did a regular “Katie Recommends,” this would get top billing—it’s a gem of a movie that not enough people have seen. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as Jenny, a smart sixteen-year-old girl in the London suburbs in the early 1960s. Jenny’s well-meaning but overbearing parents are pressuring her to get into Oxford to study English. Then she meets David (Peter Saarsgard), a charming older man who gives her a ride home one day. Soon, he’s swept her off her feet, taking her to jazz clubs, the opera, even Paris—and charming her parents into letting her go. It’s so much more exciting than what she’s used to that she starts wondering what the point of all she’s been working toward is—why go to Oxford and then pursue the limited career opportunities she’ll have as a woman when she could have all the excitement David is able to offer her? The screenplay is by Nick Hornby, which is in itself a reason to see it, and combined with Mulligan’s acting, you start to find Jenny’s logic convincing, even as you begin to see that there’s something sketchy about David (not going to spoil the ending). It’s also unexpectedly funny—Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father, in particular, adds a lot to the movie.

I definitely recommend this movie, but you need to be in the right mood to see it. Precious is an obese, illiterate teenager whose mother physically and emotionally abuses her and whose father rapes her, resulting in two pregnancies. Mo’Nique is fantastically scary as the mother, and some parts of it are very intense. But weirdly, it’s as uplifting as it is depressing. Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Precious, is almost as good as Mo’Nique—I can’t believe she’d never acted before this. You’ve probably heard about Mariah Carey and her mustache, too (she’s not bad, but it’s not a terribly demanding part), but I’m really surprised Paula Patton hasn’t gotten more attention for her role as the teacher who helps Precious get her life on track. I wouldn’t say she was the character I remembered most, but she was up there.

Up In the Air
It seems like a lot of people are kind of meh on this movie, but I really liked it. For one thing, it’s very timely—George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a guy who works for a company that fires people from other companies, and considering they probably started planning for the movie before the unemployment rate started plummeting, the filmmakers are probably jumping for joy about the recession. Ryan is based out of Omaha, but really lives in the sky, flying all over the country without any connections to any one place or any one person. In a job where he’s paid to disrupt people’s lives, there’s no sense of accomplishment, so he finds a reward in collecting frequent flyer miles and membership reward points. But then his company brings in Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a twenty-something Ivy League grad, who has the idea to do the firing via videoconferencing. Ryan does not take this well—but first he has to travel with Natalie, showing her how the firing is done. It’s directed by Jason Reitman, whose last movie was Juno, a kind of unconventional romantic comedy. If you see this movie, you need to know that despite what you see on the commercials, it’s not remotely a romantic comedy. Also, while I love George Clooney, I don’t think he should have gotten an Oscar nomination—he’s playing the same role he always plays. Vera Farmiga, who plays a business traveler whom Ryan gets romantically involved with, shouldn’t have been nominated either. But Anna Kendrick is fabulous. Until I saw Precious, I was rooting for her to win Best Supporting Actress. Now I think Mo’Nique totally deserved the Oscar, but I hope this is just the beginning of a long, illustrious career for Kendrick.

The Hurt Locker
I probably wouldn’t have seen The Hurt Locker had it not been nominated for (and later won) Best Picture—war movies are just not my thing. That said, The Hurt Locker is extremely well-done for what it is. It’s one of those movies that’s easy to sum up in one sentence—it’s about soldiers dismantling bombs in Iraq. Jeremy Renner is great as one particularly reckless soldier, and the direction is fabulous. The script was written by a journalist who spent time with a unit like this in Iraq, and the result is a surprisingly apolitical movie, considering that it’s set in Iraq in 2004.

You’ve already heard my thoughts on another James Cameron movie. While my thoughts on this one are not quite as enthusiastic, I will say that Avatar is definitely worth seeing, and if you do see it, you should see it in the theater in 3-D. Visually, it’s absolutely beautiful. The writing, however, is awful. It’s incredibly simplistic with one-dimensional characters and a plot that’s stolen from the 90s kids’ movie FernGully. I’ve heard people read a lot into it—it’s a metaphor for Iraq, it’s anti-American, blah blah blah fishcakes—but honestly, I don’t think James Cameron was thinking about it that hard. And one random little thing that kept bugging me—the protagonist, played by Sam Worthington, is a paraplegic. The movie takes place in 2149—they’re invading other planets, but they haven’t found a cure for paralysis by then? Really? On the plus side, Sam Worthington is quite attractive.

District 9
I actually didn’t like this movie at all. It takes place in South Africa after a race of aliens have ended up stranded on Earth, and the government has to round up and relocate the aliens, who are derogatorily referred to as “prawns.” I think the biggest problem with it is that it’s told in a mockumentary style, which would work for a comedy, but in this case keeps you from getting drawn into the story. It’s too bad, too, because it had the potential to be an interesting commentary on racism and xenophobia, but for that to happen we would have to care about the rest of the movie.

A Serious Man
I’m not usually a fan of the Coen Brothers—I liked Fargo, but absolutely hated No Country for Old Men—but this movie wasn’t bad. Starring absolutely no one you’ve ever heard of, it’s about a Jewish professor in 1967 Minnesota whose life is falling apart to the point of absurdity. His wife has left him for another man, forcing him to sleep in a motel along with his freeloading brother. His kids are stealing from him, the father of a student is trying to bribe him into passing his son, he’s up for tenure and someone is writing letters to the committee telling them he shouldn’t be granted it, and he’s in the middle of a property dispute with his neighbor. A friend suggests that he consult with three rabbis, which he does, but he never finds the answers that would help him make sense of all the chaos. None of this is as depressing as it sounds, by the way—it’s more of a black comedy than anything else. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it…it’s somewhere in the middle of movies that came out last year.

Inglorious Bastards
A lot of people like this movie, but I just could not get into it. Don’t quite know why. Christoph Waltz is great as a Nazi, though.

The Blind Side
I liked this movie, but it won’t appeal to everyone. You’ve seen the commercials, and it’s exactly what it looks like—a sappy, feel-good sports movie based on a true story. Personally, I have a weakness for that kind of movie, so I enjoyed it. I don’t think Sandra Bullock was any better than the other Best Actress nominees, although her winning was worth it just for her great speech. However, I completely understood why she was nominated after seeing an interview with Leigh Anne Tuohy, the woman she portrays in the film. Leigh Anne seems like someone out of one of those Real Housewives shows— a bleached blonde, type A interior decorator from Memphis whose husband owns a bunch of Taco Bells and whose expression tells you that you won’t win any argument you start with her, and Bullock completely nails this woman’s personality, mannerisms, accent, and manner of speaking. My one issue with is it is that it doesn’t give Michael Oher enough credit for his own success—yes, he had a lot of help from his adoptive family, but many kids in similar circumstances wouldn’t have thrived the way he did. But if you like movies like Rudy or Remember the Titans, you’ll like this one, too.

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