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And The Winner Is… Four Weeks Of Academy Award Nominees – Week 1

The 84th Academy Awards are set to air on February 26th, 2012 and I’d like to celebrate this important time for the movie industry by spending the month of February watching the 9 films nominated in the Best Motion Picture of the Year category. Over the next three weeks I will be watching three of the movies each week, with my final thoughts and prediction for winner being the focus on the Friday before the airing of the Oscars on the 26th. This week’s entries will be “The Artist”, “The Help”, and “Midnight in Paris.”

Midnight In Paris

First up we have “Midnight In Paris,” which is Woody Allen’s latest work to be nominated for an Academy Award, and his first to receive a nod for Best Film in quite some time. “Midnight In Paris” serves up a heaping serving of Woody Allen’s sardonic humor with his penchant for mixing the fantastical with quirky characters that could be found in your day-to-day life. What I found most striking about the film was just how jaw dropping the sights of Paris can be even when they serve as only a backdrop to the sarcastic dialogue from the main characters. The movie’s main focus is on a screenplay writer that is currently feeling a strain on his creativity by the success he’s had with the mainstream dribble he has been forced to write over the years. While in Paris, his artistic juices begin to flow and his dream of someday publishing a novel is nurtured by the allure Paris holds for all up and coming artists.

As with many of his movies; Woody Allen creates a very apt avatar for his sense of humor and sensibility, and this time it is perfectly played by Owen Wilson. Even the time travel element that eventually hits the story is treated with a shrugging of the shoulders and serves as yet another way to be pulled into into the rich tapestry that has been created by the artists that have inhabited Paris’ streets over the years. While I found “Midnight In Paris” to be an interesting and quirky stroll into the intoxicating nature of Paris’ world, I feel the movie just seemed to fall flat. Whatever themes it sets up regarding the hazards of losing yourself in the past are quickly lost in the mundane treatment the rest of the plot receives.

The Help

The next Academy nominated movie I watched this week was “The Help,” which is based on the best-selling book from Kathryn Stockett. Without a doubt, this was the more emotional and inspirational of the three movies that I watched during this first week. It focuses on a group of Jackson, Mississippi housemaids during the 1960’s, and their tribulations in upholding households for people that barely felt they were human; let alone equals. Their story culminates with the writing of a book recalling their plight that was penned by a young aspiring writer that saw the importance of getting their stories down on paper.

I was moved to tears quite a few times throughout my viewing of “The Help,” but none more than when I saw the strength that could be found when people came together to fight the adversity they were faced with. Part of me was bothered with how poorly this movie was advertised, as the ads seemed to make it out to be some comedy set during that time, and not a thoughtful civil rights piece with comedic undertones. This pre-determined view of the movie is what had me questioning why both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were nominated for Lead Actress and Supporting Actress Academy Awards respectively. After my viewing I can admit Octavia did a fantastic job playing Minny Jackson in the movie, but the stand out star of the film is Viola Davis whose subtle performance shows the conflicting feelings pulling at her soul on a daily basis.

The Artist

Lastly, there is “The Artist” which was the most artistic and surprising movie I had seen from last year’s releases. “The Artist” works as a recalling of the time during the final breaths of the age of silent movies, and serves as an actual entry into the genre. The movie is black and white throughout and silent except for the few times sound is utilized to show the eventual move into the modern age of “talkies.” At first it was a bit of a shock to feel the heaviness that enveloped me while watching “The Artist” but the actors and the superb score worked together to create a cohesive blend that kept me gripped throughout the film.

First and foremost; I would like to put emphasis on how great Jean Dujardin’s performance was in “The Artist.” Without a single word uttered; he gives off all the swagger, charisma, and sex appeal of the leading male actors of the day, but also does a great job with the comedic and dramatic beats of the film. “The Artist” uses an old film making style to tell an old story in a way that works as a tribute and a culmination of the medium’s best traits. Where “Hugo” left me wanting to go back and experience some of the older films I had missed; “The Artist” made me feel like I was experiencing silent cinema at its finest.

The drastic differences of these three movies has already justified the semi-monumental task I have before me with watching the other 6 top film nominees. I heard the complaints raised by many critics when the 2012 Nominees were released and I’m glad that I’ve taken up the challenge to find the reasons behind the Academy’s choices. While not all for the same reasons, without a doubt I can see why these three films were chosen. “Midnight In Paris” for it’s inventive and well written story, “The Help” for its heartwarming portrayal of a small part of the Civil Rights movement, and “The Artist” for using an old film making style in a whole new way.

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