And the Nominees Are 2015: Round 7

I’ve gotten to the point now where I’ve seen most of the “big” movies so I’m making my way through those ones that have later releases/are in my Netflix DVD Queue (yes I still have one). Also I’m back into the swing of school so that means less time for going to the movies, but I did get around to these 3:

A Most Violent Year

Maybe it was just the week of viewing I had last week, but I expected to be cringing and covering my eyes throughout the whole of this – but I was willing to go because Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac are two of my favorite actors working today. (And I didn’t even know I would be getting bonus Albert Brooks & Alessandro Nivola, whom I’ve loved since Junebug.) But despite its name I only had to cover my eyes twice in this movie. Instead of a bloodbath, it’s a real time capsule of a New York City that doesn’t exist anymore, and it captures the feeling of living in a violent place, with the barely audible news reports of daily murders, even when it isn’t directly affecting your life.

I never knew that the heating oil business was so cut throat, but writer/director J.C. Chandor does an amazing job of setting up the stakes and letting things unravel. At its heart this is (yet) another portrait of American masculinity in crisis, asking the questions; can someone in a dirty business stay clean? And when is violence ‘worth it?’ But what saves it from fading into all the other movies about what it means to be a good man this awards season is Jessica Chastain. She’s strong and vulnerable and scary as Hell as that clean man’s wife with a dangerous back story.

It’s also incredibly dark, somewhat in subject matter, but I mean visually. I’m sure Chandor was going for grit and ‘realism’ but sunny days aren’t that dark even when you’re dealing with gangsters.

Unimportant but the coat game in this movie is strong.

Cake

I read this review that made me think I was going to hate this movie and then about 20 minutes in I realized I was being completely unfair. Is this the best movie I’ve seen recently? No. Is Jennifer Aniston‘s performance as a grieving woman who suffers from chronic pain and definitely abuses opiates a shameless Oscar grab? Maybe. But honestly, who cares? Plenty of good art is made every year with that little golden man in mind. In fact, its role as a motivating force for creation of movies that aren’t about superheroes or sequels is the real reason I think the Oscars are still relevant. (Well that, and I like tradition, especially traditions that involve ball gowns.)

But awards aside (since Aniston’s grab was ultimately unsuccessful), this movie tackles a sensitive subject with sensitivity and balance. And thanks to Adriana Barraza as Claire (Aniston)’s long suffering house keeper it also has real warmth and humanity. That review I alluded to, calls this a glorified Lifetime movie, but I think that’s just straight up sexism. If a man’s physical deterioration is a worthy subject for art then so is a woman’s. Another assumption to debunk – people are saying Aniston is the only remarkable thing here, but nope. The supporting cast – Chris Messina, Mamie Gummer, Anna Kendrick, and particularly surprisingly to me Sam Worthington – are all deeply engaged in this really emotional story. It’s not perfect, certain scenes are painfully contrived, but it will make you feel.

The Lunchbox

It’s movies like this that make me really glad that I added the BAFTAs to me list a few years ago, because without its Foreign Language nomination, I’m sure I wouldn’t have heard of it, and it’s the best romantic comedy (sort of) that I’ve seen in a long time. The premise – a woman, played by Nimrat Kaur, cooks delicious meals for her indifferent husband in order to win him back but they get mistakenly delivered to a cold, lonely widower who’s about to retire – is unique and charming (and made me hungry. Why are all romantic comedies this year about food?)

I think I’d seen the man (Irrfan Khan) in something before (note: it was Life of Pi), and his gradual warming up is beautiful. (He’s not really mean, you see he’s just lonely.) But the real delight for me was discovering Kaur; at least half of the story is told by her expression shifting from despair to hope.

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