I’ve reviewed every Best Picture nominee from this year’s Oscars, so now I will get the rest of the Oscar-related reviews over and done with in one fell swoop. The five films below all missed out on a Best Picture nomination but were all nominated for at least one other award.
The Master (2012)
Nomination(s): Joaquin Phoenix (Best Actor), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Best Supporting Actor), Amy Adams (Best Supporting Actress)
I was a little disappointed in The Master because I am incredibly fascinated by Scientology (and this was supposed to be a veiled depiction of its founder, L Ron Hubbard) and I love all three leads and writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, who blew me away with his previous effort, There Will Be Blood.
Joaquin plays an ex-soldier who is sex-obsessed and a drunk. He stumbles across a cult called The Cause, ruled by Hoffman and his wife, played by Adams. He gets involved in the cult but has trouble following rules and keeping his emotions in check because he is so damaged.
While it was skillfully made, carefully paced and driven by three of the best performances of 2012 (in particular the lads), The Master was more about how and why people get sucked into cults (in general) rather than a Scientology expose. It is artistic and intentionally slow in parts, much like There Will Be Blood, but lacks the same edge-of-your-seat tension and explosiveness. For me it was just a little too flat and detached to pull me all the way into the story.
3 stars out of 5
PS: Maybe I was expecting too much, or maybe I was just thinking about this whenever I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman and couldn’t take him seriously.
The Impossible (2012)
Nomination(s): Naomi Watts (Best Actress)
I was wary of this film as I’m usually wary of tear jerkers, but this turned out to be one of the better ones, and not just because it’s based on a true story. Well, the true story involved a Spanish family caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but the filmmakers decided to turn them into a British family. I didn’t have a problem with that — they had to do what they had to do to sell film.
The movie works better if you don’t know how it ends, so if you haven’t seen it, avoid finding out. The special effects and the make-up are amazing, and the moment the tsunami hits is as realistic (and terrifying) as you could have hoped it to be.
But such a film wouldn’t work if it didn’t strike the right emotional cords, and the right emotional cords would not be struck if the performances didn’t hit their mark. In this regard The Impossible delivers because Naomi Watts is stunning as the battered mother, and Ewan McGregor is also very good as the distraught father. The one who links the film together, however, is young newcomer Tom Holland, who plays the eldest son of the family.
I didn’t shed any tears but the emotions did get to me, and that’s already quite an impressive feat because I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.
3.75 stars out of 5
The Sessions (2012)
Nomination(s): Helen Hunt (Best Supporting Actress)
If you want to be crass about it, The Sessions is a true story about a horny disabled guy’s mission to get laid. John Hawkes plays Mark O’Brien, a poet who has lived with an iron lung after being struck down by polio as a child. He is paralyzed from the neck down and requires near-constant care for life’s most basic activities.
Mark has a sharp mind and an even sharper wit, and he’s also a smooth talker, a charmer and a flirt. If he was able-bodied he’d probably be quite a ladies man, which is why he is so frustrated that he can’t get a girlfriend, or simply someone to help him lose his virginity.
Enter Helen Hunt, a “sex surrogate” who specializes in cases like Mark’s. The two have a limited six sessions together, but things don’t turn out the way Mark had envisioned. Naturally, instead of just a physical relationship, both of them undergo emotional changes that will affect their lives forever.
Sounds like an uncomfortable movie, doesn’t it? But The Sessions is poignant and surprisingly hilarious, tackling the sex with humour and wit. It doesn’t shy away from it — Hunt goes the “full Helen” for the first time since The Waterdance in 1992, when she played the girlfriend of a paralyzed writer — but the sessions are skillfully portrayed and have a gentle and lighthearted feel to them.
Emotionally, I didn’t connect with the film as much as I thought I would, but I was still impressed by how funny it was (especially Hawkes’ exchanges with a priest played by William H Macy) and the way director Ben Lewin (a former Aussie barrister!) handled the difficult subject matter.
3.5 stars out of 5
Won: Best Animated Film
I had only seen one other animated film nominee and that was Wreck-it Ralph (the others were Frankenweenie, ParaNorman and The Pirates! Band of Misfits), which I liked but thought didn’t fulfill its full potential. If I had to compare the two then Brave would have gotten my vote too.
That said, Brave, while a very good animated film, is not in the same league as former winners such as Toy Story 3 and Up. It’s is an ambitious story set in the Scottish Highlands about a girl who refuses to accept her fate by expressing the desire to not marry, setting off a chain of events that predictably teaches us to follow our hearts before leading to an obvious conclusion.
It has a strong female protagonist voiced by Kelly Macdonald and with Emma Thompson as her overbearing mother and Billy Connolly has her stubborn father. The Scottish accents were finely tuned to ensure audiences could understand them.
Notwithstanding the predictable underlying message and ending, I found Brave generally enjoyable and amusing and one of the stronger Pixar efforts I’ve seen over the years. But if this was the best animated film of the year I think it was probably a relatively weak field.
3.5 stars out of 5
The Invisible War (2012)
Nomination(s): Best Documentary Feature
The Invisible War lost out to Searching For Sugarman for Best Documentary, meaning the latter must be one heck of a film because the former is one of the best and most important documentaries I’ve ever seen.
The film documents sexual assault in the US military, and the stories you will hear are shocking and sickening and will probably infuriate you. It’s not just the assaults, but the trauma the victims have to continue to suffer when they are ignored, blamed and/or ostracized by the military while the perpetrators continue to roam free and even get promoted.
The filmmakers do a fantastic job of letting the facts, the statistics and the victims speak for themselves, and the commendable research and interviews provide a broad spectrum of victims (predominantly female but also male) and loved ones. It’s heartbreaking to watch at times but it’s a film I would recommend everyone to watch.
The film has already sparked some changes in the way the military handles assault cases and will hopefully continue to do a lot more. This is what’s happening to the men and women who serve their country and it’s unacceptable.
Putting aside all the anger, The Invisible War is simply a finely crafted documentary that will keep you engrossed.
4.5 stars out of 5