Archive for March, 2012


Movies like “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Schindler’s List” (1993), “The Elephant Man” (1980), “Braveheart” (1995) have provided one of the greatest cinematic experience Hollywood has produced. Real life offers an infinite number of structural and cinematic possibilities, and it is the films that best take advantage of this fact that this list is designed to celebrate. The ten films here take a wide range of approaches in portraying an equally diverse array of lives of the last decade (2000-2009), but for me, they all pass the principal test of the great biopic: defamiliarizing the familiar. By creating living, breathing characters out of figures best known from history books and pop culture annals, they make real life as revelatory and surprising as fiction. Most of the listed movies have won number of awards and recognition whether it’s in the acting category or the directing category.

10. Monster (2003)

SUBJECT: Aileen Wuornos

Charlize Theron just about disappears into Wuornos, a prostitute who murdered seven men — who she alleged tried to rape her — over 12 months in 1989 and 1990. The actress gained weight and went through extensive makeup for the Oscar-winning role, but Theron’s real feat was capturing Wuornos’ damaged rootlessness, communicating a lifetime of abuse and rage in a burning blink of her  eyes.

9. The Aviator (2004)

SUBJECT: Howard Hughes

Director Martin Scorsese made a sprawling, messy film for a sprawling, messy man: Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) hopped from movie producer to aviation mogul with the lighthearted, restless zeal of a boy unable to sit still, and, indeed, the man’s powerful obsessive- compulsive disorder nearly toppled his empire.

8. La Vie en Rose (2007)

SUBJECT: Edith Piaf

Perhaps the most popular French singer of the 20th century, Piaf is best known for the songs ”La vie en rose’’ and ‘‘None, je ne regrette rien.” Although her life included numerous hardships — four years of childhood blindness, the death of lover Marcel Cerdan, and an extended addiction to morphine — Piaf cherished performing on stage, and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard was miraculously able to channel that artistic fervor.

7. Ray (2004)

SUBJECT: Ray Charles

Jamie Foxx won a well-deserved Oscar for playing the pioneer who powered through physical limitations and crippling addictions to invent the music that we’d call soul. Taylor Hackford’s film manages to be honest about both Brother Ray’s genius and his demons, while also taking us on a grand tour of some of the 20th century’s greatest music.

6. Milk (2008)

SUBJECT: Harvey Milk

A fixture of 1970s San Francisco politics, Milk was  assassinated in 1978, less than a year after winning a  seat on the city’s board of supervisors as the first  openly gay man elected to major office in the U.S.  Director Gus Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, though, wisely and poignantly focus on Milk’s life, on his uncanny ability to make politics personal and the personal political. Aided by Sean Penn’s transformative performance, the film delivers a remarkably timed homily on the vital importance of community organizers.

5. The Last King of Scotland (2006)

SUBJECT: Idi Amin

After taking control of Uganda by force in 1971, Amin ruled as the nation’s president for eight years. During that time, the dictator’s regime murdered at least 100,000 people, many of whom supported the overthrown president, Milton Obote. The movie worked because Forest Whitaker, who won the Oscar for Best Actor, managed to present Amin as both a ferocious tyrant and a charismatic leader capable of wooing millions.

4. Walk the Line (2005)

SUBJECT Johnny Cash

From his signature opening line (”Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”) at concerts to his iconic black attire, Cash lived life with style. The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter was constantly in the public eye, whether it was for his drug use or his advocacy of prison reform. James Mangold’s take on the Cash legend delves deep into the ups and downs of his rise to fame, and Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon’s harmonious covers of Cash’s tunes are worth the price of admission alone.

3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

SUBJECT: John Forbes Nash

Nash’s mathematical brilliance was severely hindered by mental illness, and Russell Crowe nailed the confusion and humiliation of a veritable genius bedeviled by the voices in his own head. Though the film was criticized for whitewashing elements of Nash’s life, Crowe’s ability to juggle the real and imagined illuminates Nash’s internal struggle.

2. Hotel Rwanda (2004)

SUBJECT Paul Rusesabagina

Maybe it’s an overly sanitized depiction of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda — and arrived 10 years too late — but Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda was still a wake-up call to an American public that new little about the events it depicts, even when they were happening. Don Cheadle plays savvy hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan Oskar Schindler who in real life sheltered 1,268 Tutsis from the Hutu militias who killed over 800,000 people.

1. Downfall (2004)

SUBJECT: Adolf Hitler

There have been countless portrayals of the darkly  charismatic leader of Nazi Germany, stretching from  deeply serious to downright silly, but none as  mesmerizing nor as chilling as this portrait of Hitler’s  final days in a Berlin bunker. Actor Bruno Ganz (The  Reader) flat out nails the man’s gripping bark,  commanding a room even while seized with paranoia,  hubris, and seething anger — often within the same  minute. In fact, the scene in which Ganz as Hitler finally, explosively loses it has become fodder for many YouTube parodies about spectacular failure.

It’s no real secret that the Academy is partial to the biopic. Big or small, intimate or epic, celebratory or critical, they never seem to tire of the allure of actors channeling real-life figures, past and present. A lot of more of these biopic movies will be made in the future too and also will likely win many awards. 2010 Oscar winners prove this fact. The King’s Speech won almost all the major awards including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture. Who’s complaining unless you get to watch these epic movies.


Every year, brilliant movies are utterly ignored by the Oscars. The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Persona, Breathless, Hoop Dreams, King Kong, Caddyshack — the Academy has a long history of overlooking comedies, action movies, horror flicks, artsy foreign films, and documentaries that aren’t about World War II. While it makes a lot of great decisions, often it overlooks certain genres or stories that don’t appeal to them. This year, we’ll be taking a closer look at films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards.

With that in mind, here are the five major films that the Academy undervalued in 2011. Although some of the films on this list received a few Oscar nominations, overall the Academy did not give them the credit they are due. Instead of a nod or two, these films deserved much greater recognition and appreciation from the Academy.

50/50

50/50 received zero Oscar nominations this year. The film tells the story of a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is diagnosed with cancer and given a 50/50 shot chance of surviving. Yes, the film includes some crude humor and off-putting jokes, but it’s a great film with its heart in the right place.

In a lesser year, Gordon-Levitt would have been nominated for Best Actor for his performance, but the abundance of strong male performances in 2011 ruined his chances. Regardless, I still believe that either Anna Kendrick or Anjelica Huston should have been nominated for their brilliant supporting performances. And without a doubt, Will Reiser – who faced cancer in real life – should have been nominated for his honest and heartbreaking screenplay.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART II

Unlike a few of the films on this list, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II did receive a few Oscar nominations. It was nominated for Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects. But this epic finale to the “Harry Potter” series deserved more. It was an elegant and visually-stunning conclusion to a masterful series of films.

Many have argued that Alan Rickman deserved an Oscar nod for his supporting performance. His performance wasn’t nominated and I can understand why in this year of great supporting male performances. I can’t, however, understand why this film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. It was a critically-acclaimed blockbuster that appealed to adults and children alike. To not give it a best picture nod is an insult to those who loved the film as much as I did – and ignores the epic achievement that the series, as a whole, represents.

DRIVE

Drive, a dark film about a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver, was a thought-provoking and brilliant film. Instead of relying on a lot of dialogue, its story was mostly told through great performances and unique direction. Critics will be talking about this movie for years to come. But how did the Academy recognize it? With one single nomination for Best Sound Editing.

This is the most surprising film to be on this list because not only did I think that it should be nominated for more awards, I also thought that it should win a few of them. Nicolas Winding Refn directed this film with an awe-inspiring fierceness and intelligence, Albert Brooks delivered a brilliant performance as the story’s malicious villain and of course, Ryan Gosling who delivered a splendid low-key performance. All these men should have been nominated and in my opinion, all three should have returned home with statues. May be the movie was too stylish for the academy voter where most of them are past their 60s. The lack of nominations is beyond disappointing.

SHAME

Shame, Steve McQueen’s haunting drama about a tortured New Yorker named Brandon Sullivan (a revelatory Michael Fassbender), a sex addict whose life begins to unravel even more when his equally self-destructive sister Sissy (a fragile Carey Mulligan) arrives in town. Yes, there are explicit sex scenes (plenty of them) and yes, there are shots of the breakout actor’s highly-publicized package (plenty of them), but it’s the harrowing story of a man struggling with his demons and an unforgivably snubbed performance by Fassbender that made it one of the most talked-about films of 2011.  Fassbender’s performance will be remembered by everyone for a long time in the future. But this engaging drama was applauded with how many nominations? – NON.

Shame is a great, though by no means a perfect film, but there’s one big reason that this movie will stand the test of time and that’s Michael Fassbender’s… star-making performance. At least the academy voters should’ve nominated him.

WARRIOR

Every so often you’ll come across a combat sport movie that manages to find just the right balance of drama and action – that is, more drama than action. When fights are justified with backstories full of crushing emotion, they become all the more intense and gratifying. Warrior is one of those amazing movies. The fighting was almost an extension of the drama and connected the dots of this film beautifully. The combat that takes place in the ring was brutally real, vividly authentic, and in your face genuine.

Through the incredible acting talents of Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte, this confused and passionate chemistry really comes alive. All three actors put up some of the most convincing and heartbreaking performances of their careers; and seeing as how The Fighter garnered so many Oscar nominations last year, I was sure this one too would get at least get nominated for many categories or even win in some. But to my disappointment, only Nick Nolte got nominated for the best supporting actor (thank god for that)…At least some more nominations would’ve brought little gem of a movie a little more attention.

So though the show, as boring as it was, a round of applause to all the winners but don’t forget that some of the best films of the year weren’t recognized at all. Perhaps next year, the Academy will be better. Let’s keep our fingers crossed…