Tuesday, February 4, 2014

February Best Picture Hustle, Part 1

A decade ago, the man of my dreams (MMD) and I decided to fill the gap between the Super Bowl and Spring Training with a different kind of sport—a mad dash to see each of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar®. With only five nominees in the early years, the game was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend four weeks worth of cold, snowy Wisconsin weekends. Since 2009, as many as 10 films have been nominated, and it’s now a race that begins in mid-January, as soon the nominations are announced, or whenever the Packers have been eliminated from the playoffs.
So the Mr. & Mrs. Rogers sprint to see this year’s nine nominees is well underway. And in 2014 I’m adding a quick, personal take on each film, in hopes of attracting you and others to our game.
These are all really good movies and missing even one would be a shame.

AMERICAN HUSTLE takes us into a world of con-men, crooked politics, the mob, and, though it’s fiction, the late 70s story of an FBI sting operation that became known as ABSCAM. It’s hilarious with heart, and we’re pretty much mesmerized by Irving and Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence) a small-time con-man and his unbalanced wife, not to mention Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), Irving’s sexy partner in crime, and lowly FBI Agent Richie DeMaso (Bradley Cooper) who will do whatever it takes—anything— to make a big-time bust.

The actors in American Hustle are unforgettable and the story so ridiculous that those of us who lived through the late 70s and early 80s will surely cringe at the truth.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a ripped-from-the-headlines true story of a U.S. cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. You may remember the story of the Maersk Alabama and of Richard Phillips who was lauded as a hero for saving the crew and his ship. The movie brings to life the gripping details and survival truths that were glossed over or ignored by journalists: the pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who had little choice but to capture and ransom the ship and its crew or face brutal warlords demanding allegiance in exchange for their lives, an unarmed Maersk crew at the mercy of international maritime protocols which underestimated the risks posed by the pirates, and the military rescuers with orders to sacrifice Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), the crew and the ship if the pirates succeed in bringing their captives to Somalia.

It’s a thrilling, breath-holding collision that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. (It’s available on DVD and Time Warner’s Movies On Demand.)

DALLAS BUYER'S CLUB is another true story that takes us back to 1985 when the AIDS epidemic was relatively new in the U.S., a time when there was no hope of surviving an AIDS diagnosis. Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), a fast-living, bull-riding Texan, is in disbelief when he learns he has contracted the virus and has only 30 days to live. Woodruff’s transformation—both emotional and physical—takes him first to Mexico in search of experimental treatments not available in the U.S., then to a scheme to become rich selling the unapproved treatments to other desperate AIDS patients back home, and ultimately to a courtroom where he fights for the right to use any treatment available—approved or not—when certain death is the alternative.

McConaughey’s memorable performance leaves no trace of the superficial “Sexiest Man Alive” tag, and Jared Leto’s turn as the captivating transgender activist Rayon is as compelling, pure and important a portrayal as I’ve seen.

NEBRASKA is a movie about which people may disagree. The story is set entirely in rural America between Billings, Montana, and Lincoln, Nebraska, and I'm betting that people from our urban American coastlines may not appreciate Nebraska (the movie, not the state) as I did. I flat-out loved it.

It’s the simple story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an elderly Montanan who is determined to get himself to Lincoln where he will collect on a million-dollar sweepstakes payout that he is told he has won. Along the 700 mile journey we meet Woody's wife, his sons and other family members and friends with idiosyncrasies that are oddly familiar (if you’re from the Midwest.) The small towns, the Main Streets, the cars and bars will all resonate, too, in this elegantly told story.

Of these first four movies, Nebraska is my favorite. Many will disagree with that selection, and that’s more than OK with me.  There isn’t a single movie here that wasn’t worth twice the price of admission.

There’s still time to see most of the nine nominees on the big screen—many theaters are bringing them back because they are nominated—and having seen them makes the Oscar night telecast a new sport unto itself. How many of the awards can we accurately predict?

You don't agree? Leave your own review in the comments section below and stay tuned for part 2: Gravity, Philomena, Her, 12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street.


  1. I'm so glad you're back to blogging for many reasons, particularly in this case because I happen to fully agree with ALL your evaluations! (At least, so far....I think we may diverge on "Gravity" and "Wolf of Wall Street". We'll see.)

    It's a shame we don't live in closer proximity. I think it would be a real hoot to "double-date" with you and TMOYD (the man of your dreams, i.e. Pete) - I'm confident the four of us would have a ball watching the movie, and then discussing it over a nice Bordeaux or a hefty Porter!

    Toni and I get to see a fair share of the Oscar-nominated films together, but too frequently the press of time prohibits that - her being a full-time employee. I'll go to a movie alone, on Friday morning, and if I think it's Oscar material, I'll say to her "this is one we should see together".

    I digress, as usual. Good to read your stuff again - can't wait for the next installment!

  2. Glad you're still with me, Tim, and that you're liking this year's crop of nominees. I just wish Nebraska was getting better buzz ... and a double date would be fun sometime! Who knows?