Here are short capsule reviews of titles hoping to leaving with Oscar in hand come next February.
Eastern Promises (Focus Features)
David Cronenberg’s latest thriller has the elements of becoming an Oscar favorite from stellar performances (Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen), an engaging screenplay and the directors’ trademark unique visuals and story telling method. The films follows a mid-wife (Watts) who discovers an intrigue diary that sets her on a path to collide with the Russian mob. Mortensen’s seemingly frightening turn as a driver eager to join the ranks of the London crime family is a revelation. The actor single-handedly delivers one of the best fight scenes in the last five years and one that will stay with viewers days after seeing the film. For all its accomplishments, Eastern Promises starts to fall apart which it enters its final act as the unpredictable film begins to fall into a well-traveled path. You will be hard pressed to find a better thriller than Eastern Promises in today’s crop of thoughtless celluloid that fills theaters across the country.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor
Long Shot nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor
Margot at the Wedding (Paramount Vintage)
Another touching drama about people with issues, but Writer/Director Noah Baumbach knows how to create interesting, identifiable flawed characters we can all connect with. The man behind 2005’s celebrated The Squid and the Whale invites viewers into the inner-workings of a relationship between two very different sisters. Margot (Nicole Kidman) visits her sister and disapproves of her choice of husband. Margot at the Wedding boasts sensational performances from Kidman, Jack Black and in particular, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The cast takes these characters and infuse them with humanity that in other less experiences hand could have been simply unlikeable. The film is a beautiful character driven story and a great companion to his previous body of work.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Original Screenplay
Long Shot nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress
American Gangster (Universal)
Ridley Scott, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are a powerhouse who have managed to produce one of the fall’s first blockbusters, American Gangster with a whopping $120 million in the bank. The movie chronicles the rise of drug thug, Frank Lucas (Washington) and the detective, Richie Roberts (Crowe) eager to bring it to an end. The movie has immediately caught attention, but mostly has been labeled as entertaining and good. American Gangster faces comparisons with last year’s Best Picture winner, The Departed, a battle that Gangster can’t win. The film may be able to snag a few nominations but don’t expect this movie to pull any type of upset.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay
Long Shot nominations: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor
No Country For Old Men (Miramax)
The Coen Brothers’ are back with No Country For Old Men after a string of badly developed projects. The team that brought audiences Raising Arizona and Fargo have returned to their roots for this incredibly original crime drama. A trio of men all try escape/in hot pursuit are tied together by a $2 million that was found. Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones all deliver career defining performances helping to bring this unique tale to life. No Country For Old Men is exactly the type of film that makes you want to spend $14 and wait in line to see. The film blends together many different genres all the while keeping the viewers on the edge of their seat.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor
Long Shot nominations: Best Original Score
Into the Wild (Paramont Vintage)
The tragic story of a young man who leaves everything behind and unknowning becomes a cautionary tale for millions is stirringly captured in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. Emile Hirsch, known most recently for Alpha Dogs, surprisingly is very haunting in this doomed role. The film has become a box office top 20 mainstay since its release and has slowly gone on to gross nearly $16 million without much hype besides word of mouth. If the good word continues through December, Into the Wild could be rewarded with a few prestigious nominations. The film is wonderful but it is not without its flaws. At certain moments the film seems to drag and all to often Penn’s directing is all too typical looking more like a special on the Discovery channel rather than a film.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay
Long Shot nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress