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And The Winner Is… Four Weeks Of Academy Award Nominees: Week 2

This week’s 3 pack of Oscar nominated films is a mixed group of titles coming from somewhat disparate sensibilities, but still manage to portray some of the best aspects of cinematic medium. Rounding out today’s roster is “Moneyball,” “Hugo,” and “Tree Of Life,” which all represent some of the greatest strengths of movies in general. “Moneyball” focuses on an underdog story that is inspiring and enlightening to the right viewer, while “Tree Of Life” is an interesting take on what makes the structure of a modern day film, and finally “Hugo” brought audiences one man’s love letter to cinema cast in the backdrop of a cute adventure story. Personally, each of these titles challenged me to look past their obvious exteriors to see what might have warranted their Academy nods. So be sure to tell us what you think.

 

Hugo

I’m of two minds when it comes to Hugo and am never sure which mind should win the battle. On the surface; “Hugo” is a heart-warming (yet shallow) tale of an orphaned young man named Hugo and his adventures working in the clock tower of a bustling Parisian train station. Yet beneath this saccharine sweet exterior, Scorsese creates a film that delves into the magic of early cinema, while utilizing computer-assisted shots for a number of the movie’s visuals. Giving an artiste like Scorsese a digital box of tricks to play with has yielded a film that is a joy to drink in but also has Scorsese’s focus on a strong story at its core.

Without a doubt, the story at the core of ‘Hugo” left me with a strange desire to dig up the large catalog of silent films that I’ve just never had the gumption to view. Scorsese’s passion for film permeates ever inch of the screen as the story, as audiences watch Hugo’s quest to find the meaning behind his father’s old journal while exploring the rich history of film. But sadly, while these parts of the film was able to fill me with wonder and appreciation for the creativity of those early days, the rest of the film seemed to fall flat for me. Hugo’s side of the story, and the story’s cavalcade of “quirky” characters felt like a tacked on piece of family friendly fun meant to guide audiences from one silent film fact to another, but with little there to actually give those characters any depth. Hugo’s real triumph lies with Scorsese’s camera work and his ability to easily express his love of film, yet it fails as a forced adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel.

Tree Of Life

I’ve had first-hand experience with films that have left me questioning my own film comprehension, and Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” is the newest entry into this short list. On the surface, “Tree Of Life” is an eclectic mix of beautiful CGI scenes and well shot flashback sequences, but it is also filled with a deeper meaning that feels just as fleeting as the seemingly random moments of 1950’s suburbia, which plays across the main stage of the movie. This film is always in a constant flux, and it is up the the viewer to either spend time attempting to decipher this cacophony of visual and auditory moments, or sit back and enjoy the symphony that can be pieced together once you let Malick lead the way.

By no means am I saying that I completely got the subtle meanings behind Malick’s work, but I can definitely say that I appreciated some of the film’s more serene and awe-inspiring sequences. Does that make “Tree of Life” a good film, or a triumph of art that works as a string of finely filmed and acted memories with very little narrative pulling them all together? Then again, maybe the “Tree Of Life” is a film representation of how many branches our own memories and lives have with our ownership of them being the only real trunk holding it all together. Writing this review, I realize that I’m not sure what I feel about the film, but I can admit that I did enjoy it and I am glad to have been challenged by what I experienced.

Moneyball

Moneyball’s inclusion in the Best Motion Picture category had me scratching my head as to why a sports film would find its way onto the Academy’s list. A few clicks away had me realizing that “Moneyball” comes from a long-standing tradition of movies like “Raging Bull,” “Seabiscuit,” and “Jerry Maguire.” The Academy has a love of movies that feature underdog stories, and the sports movie genre provides the perfect framework for these types of stories. “Moneyball” not only provides a gripping underdog story; it also parallels the frustrations we all have against the audacity of Big  Business ideals. The story behind “Moneyball” is based on the Oakland A’s 2002 baseball season and their unorthodox approach to creating a winning team through statistics rather than a huge bankroll.

I will start off with saying that I enjoyed the journey that “Moneyball” provided and that I was moved by the theatrics of the A’s epic run for the World Series. On its own, “Moneyball” is an entertaining movie that has good performances and a story that will have you rooting for a team that just doesn’t look like it could gain traction. I was at the edge of my seat as I watched the A’s history making winning streak unfold, and held my head in my hands as they struggled through their rough start. The Oakland A’s rise to glory on their own merit rather than off the might of the dollar is a story we can all appreciate and “Moneyball” milks it for every bit of its worth.

The satisfaction I’ve felt watching the top Motion Picture nominees of the year has continued with these three films. Each of these films provide a unique experience that was distinctly felt with my viewing of “Tree Of Life,” and I feel lucky to have had a chance to partake in the experiment that Terrence Malick has performed on his audience. While that has a certain place in art house cinema, I feel the Academy usually sets its eyes on movies that provide more substantial narrative experiences, and both “Hugo” and “Moneyball” provide better stories than “Tree Of Life.” Regardless of my agreement with the choices the Academy has made, I can easily see the merit each of these films have.

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  • Jcuddehe

    As my father used to say ” that’s what makes horse races”. It is almost inconceivable to me that the writer missed the subtle and magical qualities of Hugo. A “shallow” story? Characters that are “tacked on”? This movie is a masterpiece, in every way, and deserves the 11 nominations it received.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=669531158 Rj Montalvo

    That’s the beauty of opinion, we can each have a different one. I just personally felt the movie was hurt by the inclusion of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character’s love story or the older couple’s cute but ultimately useless dog love story. But as I said in my writing…I do have a lot of love for this movie regardless of my gripes with some of its contents…but that’s just my opinion.