by Coop Cooper
Of the following films are on the short list for Academy Awards nominations, and while they all have Oscar-caliber qualities (particularly acting), I felt they fell short as “Best Motion Picture” contenders… except for one.
1. “War Horse” – Based on a book and a stage play (????), “War Horse” chronicles the story of a boy searching for his remarkable horse that is lost in the chaos of the battlefields of World War I. Possibly the best film ever in which a non-talking animal is the main character of the story, “War Horse” didn’t unfold as maudlin as I expected. Director Steven Spielberg tends to serve his weepy dramas with an overdose of sugar, but this film has just enough action and skillful execution, it rises above the typical “Lassie” story. While the plot is episodic and awkwardly paced, it’s just too much fun to root for that beautiful horse, especially during the jaw-dropping trench warfare scene when the animal runs for its life amidst mortars and gunfire. 3 ½ out of 5
2. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” – This very slow, very British adaptation of a John le Carré novel shot to the top of many critic lists although I’ve had trouble figuring out why. Gary Oldman plays Smiley, a retiring spy who uncovers evidence of a Soviet sleeper agent in the midst of his leadership. How does he figure it out? Paperwork and sullen conversation! Fine performances, but I’ve never experienced a spy story as boring as this one. 2 out of 5
3. “Young Adult” – A sociopathic, alcoholic writer (Charlize Theron) on the verge of a nervous breakdown returns to her hometown in an attempt to woo her former high school flame despite the fact he is now happily married with children. Along the way she finds an unlikely friend in the nerdy perpetual victim (Patton Oswald) she ignored back in school. This darkly comedic script from Oscar winner Diablo Cody pulls no punches in portraying Theron’s character as completely unlikable, but the actress squeezes a few drops of pathos solely by talent. Terrific but the complete opposite of a feel-good film. Oswalt and Theron both deserve nominations. 3 ½ out of 5
4. “50/50” – A 20-something professional (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) suddenly has his life turned upside down when he becomes diagnosed with a rare cancer. He develops a crush on his young, grief counselor psychologist (Anna Kendrick) while his slacker best friend (Seth Rogan) goes to great lengths to keep his spirits up during chemo treatment. Cancer is a lousy premise to base a comedy around but “50/50” somehow makes it work. The wonderful performances make it even more exceptional. Easily the most likable cast ensemble of the year, the film was lucky the subject matter didn’t torpedo the entire effort. 3 ½ out of 5
5. “Warrior” – Two brothers, a down-on-his-luck family man/teacher (Joel Edgerton) and a war vet with post traumatic stress syndrome (Tom Hardy), defy the odds to fight against each other in a championship Mixed Martial Arts tournament. Drawing disingenuous comparisons to “Rocky,” this film succeeds in being the most overrated movie of the year. With a forced premise and cheesy delivery, this blue-collar story utilizes so many cliches, it only leaves room for one option in terms of an ending. Much like last year’s “The Fighter,” it contains fine performances from great actors, but there are no characters genuine enough to root for. 2 out of 5
6. “We Need to Talk Abut Kevin” – A guilt-stricken mother (Tilda Swinton) tries to pick up the pieces of her life after her son commits a heinous “Columbine”-style school massacre. She endures the ire and judgment of her community as she thinks back to Kevin’s childhood, remembering her helplessness as he developed into a monster right before her eyes. Easily one of the bleakest movies of the year, there’s something surreal and horrific about its delivery. The film really finds its stride in the second half when it abandons its hallucinatory pacing to give us a frighteningly sober account of Kevin’s final spiral downwards, and the shattering of his family. Swinton is one of the best actors of her generation and should earn an Oscar nomination for this. This should have been on my “Best of the Year” list. 5 out of 5