Three films that were looked over for best picture

Juan Barquin/Columnist

Photo courtesy of FilmDistrict

Year after year, casual moviegoers leave it up to the Academy Awards to let them know what films are the cream of the crop. The biggest issue with this is that the Oscars are just as flawed as any other award show in their selection of nominees. This year’s ceremony, even with its grand total of 61 nominees, brought along another predictable batch of winners that aren’t doing much to help the film industry.

This isn’t to say that all the films nominated for Academy Awards this year, specifically the nine Best Picture nominees, are bad. Quite the opposite, actually.

Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” makes full use of the 3D technology made available today. The enigmatic Terrence Malick’s film, “The Tree of Life,” proves to be one of the most experimental and divisive works in cinema today, challenging everyone to think outside the box even through his depiction of Earth’s creation.

Best Picture winner, “The Artist,” stands out by focusing on the silent era to the point where the film itself is a black & white silent film.

Audiences can only imagine how hard it is to find actors who can express sentiment using only their facial expressions, write a script with no dialogue and compose a score that can hold a grip on the audience from start to finish.

Regardless of great films like these, there are just too many bad apples that make it into the running that don’t deserve a nomination.

This year, it is films like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “Moneyball” and “The Help” that I personally believe were entirely undeserving of their title as Academy Award nominees for Best Picture.

The following three movies are ones that I and many other film buffs genuinely believe deserved far more recognition than they received this year.

Drive

What can I say about “Drive” that hasn’t already been said? It’s a movie about a nameless stunt driver, but also a whole lot more than just that. It is definitely not the sort of thing that fans of “Fast and Furious” are accustomed to.

This same man moonlights as a getaway driver, seemingly living a lonely life with no attachments. We slowly see him becoming involved in the life of his neighbor Irene and her son to the point that he offers to help her husband Standard in a tight situation involving the most unforgiving of gangsters.

It’s easy for one to dismiss this as just another action film after reading the synopsis, but there’s nothing average about Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.” In terms of its technical achievements, it rises above the craft of many filmmakers today.

While one can see the influence of filmmakers like Michael Mann— especially in his late 1980s work, including the production of the popular series “Miami Vice”— Refn allows his film to embrace the past while establishing its own noir-like style in a genre that is as bloated with bad films as action is.

The performances alone are enough to watch this movie; Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of the driver is some of his best work yet.

If you instantly fell for him after “The Notebook,” watching him bash someone’s head in might cause you to either fall out of love or make him even more appealing to you.

The supporting cast, featuring Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Bryan Cranston, all bring top-notch performances.

The film undoubtedly belongs to Gosling, but Brooks’ work stands out above the other cast members, leaving millions to wonder how these two intense and frightening characters were left out of the race for Best Lead and Supporting Actor.

“Drive” is an artistic, violent, engaging and unique film that is appealing to stingy critics and average moviegoers at speeds that most filmmakers just can’t keep up with.

Shame

It’s an NC-17 movie that features a lot of sex and has full frontal nudity. Why hasn’t every single person gone out of their way to watch Steve McQueen’s movie? Probably because NC-17 films rarely get a chance to see the light of day, even though they tend to be the bravest depictions of harsh topics.

In this case, we have a relentless look at the life of Brandon, a sex addict whose life is disrupted by the arrival of his sister, Sissy.

“Shame” might sound like borderline pornography, but I can assure you it’s anything but erotic and will likely leave people feeling uncomfortable rather than aroused.

McQueen places the audience in a purely voyeuristic position, utilizing an immense amount of long shots to enhance the somber mood of the film. Even the use of full frontal nudity does not go to waste; it shows us Brandon in his most vulnerable state—physically and emotionally.

This year has undoubtedly been remarkable for Michael Fassbender, but his performance as Brandon is one that truly showcases his superb talent.

While he has a body that everyone dreams about seeing either in the mirror or on their bed, the camera is focused on the slightest changes in his facial expressions that show us the downward spiral his character is taking. Without his perfect acting guiding it, the film would be nothing.

This isn’t to say that Carey Mulligan doesn’t bring her best to the film. Breaking from her usual characters, she dives into the role of Sissy, embodying this mess of a woman perfectly. The two complement each other in the best and most unusual of ways.

“Shame” is a film powerhouse and a masterful character study. It is well-deserving of Oscar nominations for its stunning direction, cinematography, the lead and supporting performances by Fassbender and Mulligan.

Take Shelter

Photo Courtesy of sonyclassics

“Take Shelter” was featured at plenty of festivals, but it didn’t make it to a single theater in Miami last year, making it one of the most underrated films of 2011. It is a tough film to watch; it focuses on the idea of mental illness and the effects it can have on even the most average individual.

Curtis, a construction worker living a quiet life with his wife and daughter, begins having dreams of an impending apocalyptic storm. These dreams begin to plague his everyday life as he obsessively builds a shelter for safety and questions whether or not he may be losing his mind.

“Take Shelter” is only Jeff Nichols’ second feature film and he’s already proven himself to be someone to look out for. His camerawork is steady and haunting; it is able to instill anxiety in any viewer as they watch Curtis’ descent into madness.

From start to finish, one wonders whether this man has genuinely lost his mind or if their approaching demise is in fact reality. In addition to Nichols’ visual effects, the use of sound and David Wingo’s unsettling score enhances the atmosphere of horror and tension that the film is going for.

Its two-hour length may not please everyone, but no one can deny that Nichols packs it with anxiety, even in its final minutes.

Michael Shannon, who most recently has been featured in “Boardwalk Empire,” delivers what one might consider his most stunning performance to date. His characters are always intense and demanding, but they never feel like he’s giving the same personality to each.

He manages to embody all the flaws that a character like Curtis has, jumping from a strong silent scene to a booming nervous breakdown in front of an audience. The other great performance in the film comes from Jessica Chastain, who also has the ability to easily slip into any role that’s given to her.

While she was nominated this year for her supporting role in “The Help,” there is no denying that this character (not to mention her role in “The Tree of Life”) is the most memorable of her performances this year.

Few films can blur the lines between disaster movie, family drama and psychological thriller so well, but “Take Shelter” expertly blends these genres together, creating a film that will leave one feeling hopeless and emotionally vulnerable for hours after the credits roll.

“Drive” and “Take Shelter” are currently available on DVD and Blu-ray, while “Shame” will be released on April 17 on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Reel to Reel is a weekly movie review column. Juan Barquin is an intern for the Miami International Film Festival. Email at juan.barquin@fiusm.com.

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