PREVIEW: OSCAR NOMINEES

Some of the movies you can expect to see at the 86th Academy Awards

Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata

 

A British director who brings alive a powerful story about American slaves, another who has an eerily correct vision of the future, a virtuoso director who goes beyond his and the audience’s expectations, and yet another who hopes to repeat his last Oscar win. Just some of the movies you can expect to see at the 86th Academy Awards.

 

The Wolf of Wall Street

 Ever wondered what Goodfellas would have looked like if it had moved out of Brooklyn? Well, now, we know. It would have looked a lot like Wall Street.

Martin Scorsese’s 49th feature film has crime, sex, loyalty, and betrayal just like his 1990’s film. Of course, this one comes with a lot more drugs, dames and debauchery than Goodfellas could have ever bargained for.

A look at the life and times before recession, The Wolf of Wall Street is a smart, incisive, satiric gaze at the 80s, when greed was good, and money could buy you anything (even midgets). Leonardo DiCaprio’s voiceover warns of what is ahead right in the beginning: “My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” What follows is Martin Scorsese following the money as it is scammed and spent or brazenly smuggled into Swiss banks. The movie also faithfully follows, without missing a single decadent moment, Belfort’s downward spiral into self-destruction.

This is the director doing what he does best: holding a mirror to us as a society, following unredeemable lives while making them seem almost redeemable, and in the process giving us a swirling, surreal, masterpiece of a film where even a goldfish being swallowed by a man in a suit seems almost normal.

 

Her

If you have ever have had a conversation (an actual 10 minute conversation) with Siri on your Apple iPhone, you are ready for the future of Her.

Painted in Pantone colors,
present-day Shanghai turns into future Los Angeles for Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who is a writer at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, a surrogate for expressing feelings for people who are too busy to do so. Director Spike Jonze deliberately creates a world of artifice, where every relationship is strained or contrived, whether it’s a divorce or a blind date, and the only relationship that comes close to real is between Twombly and his OS (operating system), Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). They go on picnics, have meaningful conversations, and yes, sex, in satisfying degree. This virtual world inhabited by Twombly and the audience is Utopian, till Samantha starts to develop a mind along with a dulcet voice. It’s then that one realizes that, like every other relationship, heartbreak is just lurking around the corner.

Melancholic, lonely, yet warmly written, the riff between Twombly and Samantha is also a perfect harmony between script and direction. Jonze makes you inhabit a world of interiors, of inner reflections and desires played out in a very private world, the same as the one you inhabit when you plug your earphones in the subway to shut out the world. It is also a world that is just waiting to intrude once the earphones are off.

Her is a gentle film that leaves you very uncomfortable, because if it is an ironic fable of the future, it is also a telling commentary on our already aloof, plugged in present.

American Hustle

American Hustle is a game of smoke and mirrors. A movie about the real life Abscam sting operation should be a good thing, right? But, by the end of this movie you are left wondering: Was the FBI operation so exhausting?

American Hustle sparkles with great performances. Every scene, every cameo, every role is acted as if the actor’s life (or Oscar) depended on it. But in the pyrotechnics of fabulous makeovers (Christian Bale is fat! Bradley Cooper is wearing tiny curlers!) and scenes (Jennifer Lawrence blowing up the microwave, Christian  Bale confronting Bradley Cooper, whaa…was that Robert de Niro?), the plot fails to deliver and even the final denouement leaves you with the feeling of too little, too late.

David Russell’s earlier outing with Silver Linings Playbook worked because each scene contributed to the character arc of its deeply flawed but lovable characters. In American Hustle he gets the 1970s look and feel right, but the film feels like it is trying to cram too much drama, too many characters, and too many events in too small a script. What comes across is a flamboyant but  safe con-caper, redeemed only by its great star cast, who almost deceive us into thinking that this movie could have been fun. Yeah, that is the biggest hustle of all.

 

12 Years a Slave

Hattie McDaniel was the first African American actor to receive an Academy award for her performance in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind. She played the big voiced, bold, witty, and sympathetic house slave Mammy who helps raise the willful Scarlet O’Hara. This year’s Oscar nominees include the Steve McQueen-directed 12 Years a Slave, but his portrayal of slaves is diametrically different from the way Hollywood has portrayed African American history in the last seventy five years.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2014