What to Watch: Academy Awards Edition

Juan Barquin/Columnist

With the Academy Awards being announced earlier this week, everyone is wondering what is worth watching and where to watch it. 

Many times, the nominees can be obscure and hard to find, but this handy guide will keep you informed and ahead of the curve.

In addition to a short review on each of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture, I’ve included the options available for watching each movie – whether in theaters or on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Artist

To think that a black-and-white silent film could be made today is almost unreal. Michel Hazanavicius has managed to bring this surprising and entertaining one to the world.

The film follows silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) through the late ‘20s, as the arrival of talking pictures in Hollywood begins to take its toll.

At the same time, we have a young woman, Peppy (Berenice Bejo), an up-and-coming star, who never forgets the man who helped give her the start she needed. Bejo and Dujardin give award-worthy performances, as does the adorable dog Uggie who lights up the screen every time he shows up.  Ludovic Bource’s score adds to the feel of the silent film, placing you straight into the intended era.

While I have some reservations about it—specifically the use of music pieces that stand out far too much, and a quick bit of spoken word— “The Artist” will be sure to enchant and entertain audiences around the world, even though it would probably be a forgotten film had it been made in the time period it portrays.

[“The Artist” is currently in theaters and showing at AMC Sunset Place 24, Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, Movies at the Falls 12, and AMC Aventura 24.]

Hugo

While advertised as a light-hearted adventure film, Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” turns out to be quite a surprising treat. Based on the novel by Brian Selznick, the film colorfully illustrates the tragic history of Georges Melies through the eyes of an orphan named Hugo, who has a budding passion for invention and cinema.

While Hugo as a character is not particularly great, the story would not be the same if told through a different point of view. Scorsese has always been a master of both technical and artistic aspects of cinema, but with “Hugo,” he truly manages to tell something personal, all while capturing the true essence of cinema and the power that movies have over us.

The film starts off slow, but once it kicks into gear, it unfolds into a very touching love letter to the history of film. Viewers might hesitate due to the 3-D aspect of the film, but the way it is handled makes for a wondrous and satisfying experience.

This is one of the few films this year that leave you with a sense of pure joy rather than feeling cheated with illusions of something magical that are not delivered.

[“Hugo” is currently showing in theaters only in 3-D at both AMC Sunset Place 24 and AMC Aventura 24.

Midnight in Paris

With over 40 years of filmmaking under his belt, Woody Allen continues to bring us beautiful films year after year—and “Midnight in Paris” can be regarded as one of his best. Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a screenwriter who is working on a novel while traveling with his fiancée and her family in Paris.

At the strike of midnight, a group of partiers pick him up and sweep him back to Paris in the 1920s where he meets a colorful collection of famous writers and artists of the time.

Allen returns to what makes some of his older films so appealing: fantasy and romance; not the romance between Gil and his fiancee, but between Gil and Paris.

The film not only bring us to a city with an extremely rich history in the arts, but it also transports us into a world which has that Allen magic. It is a world where anything can happen and nothing feels out of place, no matter how implausible it really is.

[“Midnight in Paris” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.]

The Descendants

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, “The Descendants” is not a great movie by any standards. In the film, Clooney dives into the character of Matt King—a man in the middle of a land deal that will determine the fate of his family’s fortune, and who has just found out that his comatose wife was cheating on him. While these issues weigh heavily on him, he must take responsibility for himself and for his two children when he has never had to confront anything in his life.

Despite Clooney’s impressive performance, Alexander Payne’s story is just plain weak. The writing is completely off-focus, and the subject matter is tackled without any tact. His attempts at adding comedy into the film is so poor that one might be shocked at how inappropriately timed and unfunny they are. The supporting cast is a mixed bag of sincere and artificial, but that could all tie back to just how messy the script was. All in all, “The Descendants” is nothing more than a mediocre film that is anchored by a stunning performance from George Clooney.

[“The Descendants” is currently in theaters and showing at AMC Sunset Place 24, Paragon Grove 13, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, and AMC Aventura 24.]

War Horse

Steven Spielberg seems to be back in action, riding his way back to the big screen with two feature films in one year. “War Horse” revolves around a horse named Joey, who is sold to the war by the family of his owner, Albert (Jeremy Irvine). The film follows Joey’s journey from person to person and Albert’s determined journey to find his horse, showing glimpses of how the war takes its toll on individuals of every nationality.

Everything in “War Horse,” from the sentimental approach to the stunning technical work, especially during war sequences, echoes Spielberg’s past works, and just listening to John Williams’ grandiose score gets you right in the mood for another one. While the film is relatively lengthy, clocking in just under two-and-a-half hours, at no point does it drag. The wide cast of characters, all of whom perform well enough to entertain but not stand out, add to the appeal and intrigue of the film.

Its impressive technical work and gorgeous cinematography should draw anyone in, and those who dismiss Spielberg’s “War Horse” as just another horse movie will be missing out on much more than that.

[“War Horse” is currently in theaters and showing at Regal Kendall Village Stadium 16, Paragon Grove 13, Cinemark Paradise 24, Regal Southland Mall Stadium 16, Flagship Cinemas Homestead, AMC Aventura 24, and Regal Oakwood Stadium 18.]

Due to its recent release and a lack of time (and interest), I have been unable to watch and review the ninth nominee for Best Picture, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”

[It is currently in theaters and showing at Palace 18 Cinema, Regal Kendall Village Stadium 16, AMC Sunset Place 24, Cobb Theatres Dolphin 19, Dolphin Mall’s CineBistro, Movies at the Falls 12, AMC Mall of the Americas 14, and Paragon Grove 13.]


“The Tree of Life”

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is quite possibly the grandest and most divisive film of the year. This movie, which still remains an enigma to many who have witnessed it, is more of an experience than any average flick. Many have compared it to Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” in terms of visual beauty, and they are very right in doing so. However, the beauty and wonder of “The Tree of Life” extends far beyond visuals for open-minded audiences.

The film does not offer a concrete narrative structure. In part, it is about the origin of the universe and the creation of Earth, bringing many visually stunning sequences featuring animals, planets, landscapes and even dinosaurs. We are also shown the life of a simple family through the eyes of a young man. Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt are the heads of the household, and both give up their own personalities to perfectly embody their roles.

“The Tree of Life” is an intensely personal film from Malick, a man whose life is as obscure and mysterious as his movies. There is plenty of philosophy and religion mixed into the film but never forced on audiences, leaving everyone to their own interpretations of this poetic piece of cinema.

[“The Tree of Life” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.]

“The Help”

“The Help” begins by introducing us to Skeeter (Emma Stone), a young woman with aspirations of being a writer who asks her friend’s sincere maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) for help on a cleaning column. After realizing just how unjustly her friends have been treating the help, Skeeter decides to take matters into her own hands: proposing interviews with Aibileen and others about their experiences as African-American maids working for white women.The tales of Aibileen and a few other women, most notably Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer), are all interwoven through friendship, rivalry, and especially through Skeeter, who is driven to tell the story of these women by publishing a novel about them.

The film’s greatest flaw is that it is what many would consider a “white savior” film. Rather than focusing on the struggles of these African-American women, “The Help” leaves them to fend for themselves until the privileged white character offers the help they need to overcome this.

Regardless, the casting of “The Help” is pretty impeccable, and every single actress fits into her role perfectly. Davis provides the heart and emotion, Spencer delivers the sass and laughter, and Jessica Chastain adds a refreshing and warm touch to the film that no one could have expected.

[“The Help” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.]

“Moneyball”

If anyone ever asked me why America’s greatest pastime was considered to be baseball, I would probably answer them by asking who actually thought baseball was a good idea in the first place. Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” tells the story of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s who attempts to put a baseball team together on a low budget by using a computer-generated analysis of players.The screenplay, adapted by the talented Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, is drowning in sentimentality. It distorts the image of the real Billy Beane, and it attempts to force us into caring about a relationship between him and his daughter that, frankly, should not even be touched upon. Miller makes the film look great in every scene, just as he did with “Capote,” but it is not enough to save this schmaltzy underdog baseball movie.

As for performances, this film hardly has any good ones to commend. Brad Pitt has demanded attention in dozens of films, but this one comes off as just another average role. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, an immensely talented actor, is painfully underused, and somehow Jonah Hill managed to score an Academy Award nomination even though he only shows up in the film to babble on about nothing important.

While many consider “Moneyball” to be one of the greatest sports films ever, some—including myself—fall on the opposite end of the spectrum. “Moneyball” may not be the worst, but it definitely is not a good movie.

[“Moneyball” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.]

Reel to Reel is a weekly film review column. Juan Barquin is an intern for the Miami International Film Festival.

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