Movie News & Reviews

Get up close with Oscar nominees

Finally, after the interminably long awards season, we've come to the only ones that really matter: the Academy Awards. Yes, Oscar has lost a bit of his luster because there are 72 other awards shows out there, but if you asked any of the nominees what they'd most like to win, the little gold guy would be the answer.

As is the case every Oscar season, most of the contenders have not yet reached DVD, as studios try to milk every last theatrical dollar out of the publicity Oscar nominations bring. But a few are out there, and now's you're chance to check them out before Sunday, when they'll start handing out statuettes at 5 p.m.

*****

Audacious, profane, visceral and utterly engrossing, there's no denying that THE DEPARTED ( R, 4 stars) deserved each of its nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese) and Best Supporting Actor (Mark Wahlberg).

This looks like the film that will finally end the egregious losing streak for Scorsese, who masterminds this colorful production with his usual verve and technical skill. After all, as John Stewart noted last year, Three 6 Mafia has an Oscar, for crying out loud, and Scorsese doesn't?

Based on the Hong Kong smash "Infernal Affairs," this remake shifts the action to the Boston underworld, where legendary kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson, in a role that suits his oiliness to a tee) has stayed one step ahead of the cops, thanks to a mole in the police department (Matt Damon, unjustly left off the Oscar ballot).

To counter Frank's intelligence, the cops plant a man of their own (Leonardo DiCaprio) inside Frank's organization, and from there, the cat-and-mouse game begins.

Scorsese is a master at capturing the inner workings of the criminal element, but here he also deals in-depth with the cops, giving Wahlberg a wicked role as fiery investigator Dignam. Alec Baldwin (does this guy ever take a break?) also shines as a police superior.

It's been a long time since I was so involved with a film, but I was on the edge of my seat in the second half as the combatants inched ever so close to each other. And I was certainly shocked by the film's climax, as it does differ from the source material.

Yes, it's violent. Yes, there's a ton of cursing. But we're all adults here, aren't we? I think you can handle it.

I haven't seen all of the contenders, but it's going to take a lot to convince me that something was better than this.

*****

Ryan Gosling is the kind of actor who seems to do what he does from a purely artistic standpoint, rather than finding motivation in piling up a ton of money. His resume is filled with flashy roles in small projects, and he is generally regarded as an up-and-coming star.

That prediction came through with a knockout performance in HALF NELSON (R, 2.5 stars ), although the film as a whole was a little shaky for my taste.

Gosling stars as Dan Dunne, an idealistic New York City schoolteacher. He reaches his kids with a unique teaching style and coaches the girls basketball t eam, yet he is fighting his inner demons in the form of a burdensome drug habit.

When one of his students, Drey (Shareeka Epps), discovers her teacher in the bathroom in a crack-induced haze, it forms an unlikely bond between these two lonely souls. While Dan might be spiraling out of control, he sees something in Drey and tries his best to shield her from troublesome elements in her life.

The role is a showcase for Gosling, who grabs the reins and doesn't let go. Dan twitches and tweaks, but underneath his drug-addled facade, you get glimpses of the passion he has for teaching and for his students.

I give the movie a lot of credit for not going down the well-tread road of noble white teacher rescuing poor black students; in fact, it's Drey who is doing the rescuing here.

Still, I feel like there's something missing here; several scenes seemed superfluous (including the entire "family dinner") and the ending was a little too vague for me. I didn't want it all wrapped up in a pretty bow, but I could have used something more.

*****

Meryl Streep could probably earn an Oscar nomination doing the title role in "Britney Spears: The Movie," so it's no surprise that she earned her 14th nod for her work in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (PG-13, 3 stars), the rare movie that actually improves on its source material.

Yes, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I've read this staple of "chick-lit," but because I think I was in Cabo or Hawaii or someplace warm, all bets are off. The book was an easy read, but trite.

I didn't hold much hope for the film, but thanks to Streep's work, she elevates what could have been a standard rom-com into something more.

Recent Northwestern University graduate Andy (Anne Hathaway) wants to get into serious journalism, but instead winds up working at Runway, a fashion magazine run by the notorious Miranda Priestly (Streep, in a role supposedly based on Vogue editor Anna Wintour).

Since I am a Northwestern grad who was an editor of the school paper, I'm going to overlook the fact that Andy, despite the same credentials, could not find a job suited to her talent. What I won't overlook is the fact that she and her chef boyfriend (Adrian Grenier) live in a fabulous apartment in New York despite neither one of them making much money.

Anyway, this is Streep's movie, and she struts through it in a dazzling array of couture and sunglasses, turning Miranda into one of the most fearsome characters in quite some time. However, I would have preferred that the film didn't try to "soften" her up with a couple of dramatic scenes with Andy - why would such a powerful person admit weakness?

See it for Streep and the underappreciated Stanley Tucci, and to see that sometimes the movie is better than the book.

Elliott Smith writes for Goodwill in Seattle by day and is The Video Guy by night. Readers can send comments or suggestions to ejsteeler@hotmail.com.

  Comments