Oscars 2009

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Here we go again. Oscars, 2009 will bring a flood of achievement and talent all wrapped in Hollywood politics and fashion finery, and we can sit home and enjoy the show. As ordinary movie lovers, let's take a look at the favored six of the ten nominated films with a hard look at one glaring omission. Let's start with the omission.

            The Hollywood powers managed to nominate the richly deserving Helen Mirren for "The Last Station" but in their infinite wisdom, ignored the movie itself. This movie should have been an Oscar front runner. Beautifully photographed and acted with style by Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, and James McAvoy, it is a period piece with thoroughly contemporary sensibilities - a study in the timeless vagaries of human behavior. With such a hot property in their hands, why did the studio put it out in the limited release that ensured limited exposure for one of the year's finest movies?

            The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow has taken a tightly focused look at one specialty of war. With precision that quietly builds an awful tension, Bigelow shows us how bomb defusing soldiers deal with the challenges that war throws in their paths. Director, actors, and the movie itself belong at the top of any list.

            Inglorious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino's brilliant - no other word will do - fantasy about how World War II might have had a different outcome. Supremely clever, it is propelled by three terrific acting performances including a gem by Christoph Waltz.

            An Education succeeds on the shoulders of Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan who has the brains, personality, and sensitivities to be around for a long time. Older man/younger woman theme is enlivened by Mulligan's charm as her character struggles to shed the limitations of her life. Life lessons follow.

            The ordeal of watching Precious literally wrings us out because we know this kind of tragedy not only exists but eats its innocent victims alive, leaving in its wake young people whose courage is no match for circumstance. Mo'Nique's extraordinary performance as the mother silences the theater.

            Up in the Air - If this one is a symbol of our new century, then it's just too bleak to bear. A traveling businessman whose job is to fire people for companies too cowardly to do it themselves, leads an empty life with an empty heart. It's snappy and skilled, but not on the level of the best. George Clooney and Vera Farmiga are a great team.

            The grand special effects of Avatar are simply overwhelmed by ordinary acting and an overcooked plot. The worn tale of military subjugation of another culture is cartoonish. In perspective, it will one day be seen simply as the advent of 3D.

            Critic's picks: Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Best Supporting actress: Mo'Nique. Best Supporting actor: Cristoph Waltz. Best Actress: Helen Mirren. Best Actor: Jeff Bridges. Best Picture: The Hurt Locker (in the shameful absence of The Last Station).


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