Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review of Beasts of No Nation: Childhood's End

Why isn't this movie in any category at the Academy Awards?
Most polite guess:  enough voters thought if the movie was made by a streaming service, it's disqualified. Even if it was shown in theaters, it couldn't be considered.

More accurate guess: it's just too scary for most of the voters.The BAFTAs and Screen Actors Guild recognized it, though. They weren't scared.

This is really an intense movie about a child in a West African country, and his journey from a child to a soldier in wartime. Agu, played by Abraham Attah, is enjoying his childhood while in a war somewhere in West Africa. Suddenly, his world is torn apart when the war overruns his village, and government soldiers kill his father and brother. He runs into the jungle and is captured by another rebel force, the Native Defense Force. It's led by the Commandant, played by Idris Elba. Seeing him train and command kids to fight is amazing. He's the biggest man there, with the biggest presence and authority. No way could you say no to him. He's kind of like a military version of Fagin of Oliver Twist.

From there, we see how Agu loses his soul, then his identity, to the cause. It happens when the Commandant orders Agu to kill someone, but even more so when they do something else. It's enough to make Agu more of a killer. Through all of this, he talks to God, quite aware of what he has done. He wonders what happened to his mom, and whether he will see her again. He'a also aware if he's ever captured, he can't go back to being a child again. That's what war does. Attah is heart-breaking as a child who grows up too quickly

This is a very intense movie, and it would make sense if Oscar voters were a bit too scared over a subject like war and turning children into soliders. Seeing kids that, in another country, would talk  about Drake and Jay-Z instead of firing mortars and shooting innocent civilians is a tough thing to see. Yet the movie does a fine job showing an ugly part of the world and who the real victims are.

While this movie was snubbed by the Oscars, it's still in good company. Entertainment Weekly points out a few glaring omissions like Trainwreck and Crimson Peak. Still, Elba should have been in the final cut for Supporting Actor.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Now That The Oscar Primaries Are Over...

February is here, and in Reno we'll be lucky if Spring arrives in April, judging from the snow we had over the weekend. Still, maybe it will melt just before the Oscars in four weeks.

Anyway, three award shows are in the books, the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and SAG Awards. The Best Picture race is now a three-movie race, while the Best Actor and Actress races are just about done. I'd include Supporting Actress, but that race may be settled if the new front-runner wins at the BAFTAs for her other movie.

First off, Brie Larson and Leonardo DiCaprio are your Best Actress and Actor of 2016, period. Brie's dominance is earned, and if you saw her in Room, you know why. For DiCaprio, it's just his turn, but an old trick has also helped him. After being in suits and romantic roles, he went out of his comfort zone as a mountain main dealing with a bear  and a double-crossing friend in order to survive. It's really impressed the voters, and it looks like he'll finally get his Oscar.

In my last two-bit opinion piece on the Oscars, I thought Rooney Mara would win for Carol, but the movie's stock is sinking. A TV spot that ABC won't air because it features Mara and Cate Blanchett kissing in bed--and topless (which would have set off the Parents Television Council's letter-writing alarm)--isn't helping, either. Mara could win at the BAFTAs on Valentine's Day because she won for the same role at Cannes. Her competition includes Jennifer Jason Leigh for Hateful 8, Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs (which got her a Golden Globe), and Alicia Vikander for Ex Machina. Vikander's already won SAG and Critics' Choice Awards for her role in The Danish Girl, but she's in the Best Actress race at the BAFTAs. Larson should win there, but if Vikander wins for Ex Machina, she'll be the big favorite come Oscar time. If Mara wins, her chances will get better. It all depends on what the BAFTAs will do.

The race for Supporting Actor will not be affected by the BAFTAs, though. Those who saw the SAGs know why. Idris Elba won for Beasts of No Nation (available on Netflix), and he's a nominee at the BAFTAs. He could win there, and also faces a challenge from Mark Rylance, who played a Russian spy in Bridge of Spies. Mark Ruffalo from Spotlight is also there but Sylvester Stallone from Creed is not. Stallone is still considered the sentimental favorite to win at the Oscars, with Ruffalo his biggest competition. If Elba also snagged a nomination there, he could have gotten a serious look,. Maybe Oscar voters should have realized the movie wasn't made just for Netflix. In any case, a win by Elba in London will show what could have been.

People are hoping for a real battle for Best Picture. Spotlight was considered the favorite until The Revenant got Best Drama at the Golden Globes. Then the Producers Guild said The Big Short (aka The "Better Grasp of the US Economy Than The Wall Street Journal" Movie) was Best Picture. This was big because it's had a better track record of predicting the top film at the Oscars than most award shows. Spotlight still has the edge mainly because of its win at the SAG Awards, and I think it will win at the Oscars. Voters may like that movie better than a movie made by the guy who made the Anchorman movies and has the gall to use Margot Robbie in a bathtub to explain sub-prime loans better than CNBC. Then again, it will be enough for Adam McKay to get Adapted Screenplay, and maybe Best Director. The only way this changes if the BAFTAs do choose The Big Short over Spotlight.

P.S. Just saw Beasts of No Nation. Either the Oscar voters thought this was made for TV (or actually streaming TV) or they were just too scared of this movie. I'll have more about this later, but Idris Elba could have given Sylvester Stallone and Mark Ruffalo runs for their money in the Supporting Actor race.