In recent weeks, we've caught up a bit on our viewing of Oscar contenders. Capsule reviews follow.
Hugo. Anyone who's ever watched Martin Scorsese talk about movies knows that he is absolutely in love with the art form. And "Hugo" shows that love in almost every frame. It is a story that stars children in the most key roles, but it is not a children's film (which is not the same thing as saying that children won't like it). Most of all, it is his love letter to the cinema, and everything about it works. Even the 3D enhances the viewing experience, rather than detracting from it - or seeming like a gimmick intended to do little more than to add to the box office.
I really can't think of anything to criticize about "Hugo" - Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz are wonderful as the children, Ben Kingsley is terrific as the mysterious merchant, and even Sacha Baron Cohen is effective as the train station magistrate. The story is magical, and it all works. A triumph of the most unlikely type for Scorsese.
Moneyball. Well, of course I loved it. I love baseball, and I've been reading Bill James for almost 30 years now. This would have to have been a horrible adaptation for me not to like it. And it was far from horrible; in fact, it is outstanding. Brad Pitt is perfect as Billy Beane, and even though his character is a composite, Jonah Hill does just fine as the egghead who has the temerity to think that hard data actually has value in the determination of what makes a good, productive baseball player.
It's hard for me to say whether a non-baseball fan can enjoy "Moneyball." All I know is that a rabid baseball fan can enjoy it just fine.
The Help. This is not a great movie, but given a choice between it and something like "Mississippi Burning," I'll take this any day of the week. I would argue that it is a very good movie, one that overcomes the flaws of its story with the power of three amazing performances - Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain. I really can't praise them enough, and I'm just sorry that all three can't take home a golden statue. I suspect that two of them will.
And after these, we watched "Drive" for a second time, and all I can say it "it wuz robbed!" I can understand why Ryan Gosling wasn't nominated, since the Academy just doesn't seem to go for that kind of performance, but there's no excuse at all for not nominating the film and Albert Brooks for Best Supporting Actor. Not for everyone, certainly - but great, great stuff nonetheless.