Movies

2015 Awards Season: Feature Film Highlights

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The Academy Awards are taking place earlier this year (February 22), but there’s still time to catch up on some of the nominated movies! (up for best picture, directing, writing, acting, visual effects, music).  As in previous years, I’ve picked a half dozen highlights.

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“American Sniper”

The opening scene strikes terror into your heart and the firing sound will make your heart feel like it stopped beating for a minute. Throughout four tours, Chris Kyle is forced to make split-second decisions with supreme precision, every single time.  Each time he returns, he’s not the same man that left.  Most of us would never experience the horrors of the battleground, let alone make the life-or-death choices that Chris did, where he’s credited to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills. The story is brought to the screen just right.  And realistic.  The film does not shy away from the brutal reality of war, but it also feels close to the heart. You’ll hold your breath and feel every trigger pulled, every shot fired or blood splattered. It demonstrates costly personal ramifications, without glorifying the decorated war hero. It is an example of accomplished filmmaking and one of the finest, most real and personal, most harrowing and absorbing films in a while. An “as is” story, that tells the life of Chris Kyle.  There was collective applause and then reverent silence filling the theater as the closing images concluded the film. “American Sniper” honors the memory of Chris Kyle, an exemplary life of service and sacrifice.  Check out the full review here.

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“The Imitation Game”

In 1939, Alan Turing applies for a cryptographer job at a secret government school and begins working on a stealth project, deciphering Enigma. If successfully decoded, the device would reveal military strategies and surprised attack plans to be deployed by the Nazis.  The device resets itself every midnight and there are 159 million combinations. Alan focuses all his efforts into creating a machine that could instantly decode those complicated codes.  A defining moment happens when the machine finally works and the team has to decide on the next step, which in essence, decides who lives and dies.  It painfully remains a secret they have decoded Enigma so that the Germans would never suspect and adjust their strategies.  This achievement has been credited to shortening World War II by more than a couple of years and saving millions of lives.  If one were to conjure up a heroic character, it would be hard pressed to imagine someone like Alan Turing.  Yet he was real, and knowing how he lived towards the end of his life – after all he had contributed to humanity – makes it the all the more tragic.  Paced like a ticking clock and suspensefully unfolded, “The Imitation Game” purposefully hits the mark in shining the light on one the most heroic figures of the 20th century.  Check out the full review here.

***

“The Theory of Everything”

The film tells a life story of the world-renowned astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking.  More of a love story than a document of intellectual discoveries, it’s told from his first wife Jane’s perspective.  Stephen is first introduced as a vibrant young man with a brilliant scientific mind and quirky humor, quickly charming an arts student, Jane.  Stephen receives a devastating diagnosis, degenerative motor neuron disease with an estimated life expectancy of two years.   As the deadly disease progresses, he gradually loses his abilities to do routine things.  It is painful to watch and serves as a powerful reminder of how much we take everyday living for granted.  His brilliant mind remains, however.  It’s the singular thing that he has control over and continues to put to great use.  Life eventually does take a toll on Jane as a primary caretaker as Stephen’s life stretches for many years, but through it all, Jane and Stephen’s bond is lifelong.  They’re shown as very human and fully realized. Filled with much life, love and tears, and sprinkled with laughter, “The Theory of Everything” is a beautiful film.  Check out the full review here.

***

“Gone Girl”

Nick and Amy Dunne are a married couple with marital woes.  In the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary, Nick comes home to find the door to his house open, smashed coffee table, and no sight of Amy. Yet everything else appears suspiciously neat and immaculate. It becomes very apparent right away that things are not what they seem. Nick’s nonchalance and unsettling clues left by Amy, along with Nick’s own missteps make him a prime suspect. With Amy being sensationalized as America’s sweetheart, Nick is guilty in the eyes of the public. While continuing to maintain his innocence, he finds himself running out of options and turns to a slick celebrity defense attorney.  They uncover each layer of mystery and find out what really happened.  The film does feel long, but deft direction, sharp storytelling, purposeful pacing, brisk dialogue intermingled with surprisingly dark humor, accompanied by an eerie score maintain the suspense and keep us guessing. What begins as a whodunit puzzle unfolds as a complex, character-driven page-turner, ending with a brutally bizarre twist.  Meticulously constructed, “Gone Girl” is layered with intricacy and laced with dread and wit. A deliriously diabolical psychological thriller, it won’t be gone from our collective mind anytime soon.  Check out the full review here.

***

“Nightcrawler”

Lou Bloom is desperate for a job, scours and scrapes for anything. One night he runs into a freelance videographer filming a crash rescue, producing footage that can be sold to the highest bidding news station. This speaks to him. Riding a beat-up car and equipped with an amateur police scanner and cheap camcorder, Lou is in business and thrives. Lines are crossed, as Lou realizes that power and dollars come with getting the right shots at all costs.  It’s not just creeping or crawling into any crash, fire, murder, stabbing or carjacking. There’s such thing as the “right” neighborhood, the “right” victim or the “right” circumstance. So what’s the harm in manipulating frames at crime scenes?  It gets the message across, scores and praises. But at what point is a line crossed to the point of no return?  “Nightcrawler” is a great macabre satire about how the news is made, packaged and pushed to the limit behind the scenes, sensationalized and consumed by the public, and those who profit from tragedies and atrocities. This movie is a dark comedy and thriller rolled into one.  There’s something to be said about the public’s appetite for ghastly sensationalism. As long as people are watching and ratings are soaring, the media would continue to publish. And that is where the horror lies.  Check out the full review here.

***

“Interstellar”

Earth is on life support, on the edge of extinction. Cooper, a former astronaut, returns to his calling for a journey to the unknown.  A wormhole has been found, which may be the key to finding another place in space for humanity.  Time is truly of the essence and there’s a sense of scarcity. Every decision must be thought out thoroughly and calculated carefully.  Once through the wormhole, an hour translates to seven years on earth.  One mistake could cost decades and humanity’s extinction.  “Interstellar” is a duel of philosophies. The first proposed being human and feeling connected to our loved ones and our generation. The other encourages meeting the obligation to reach higher and do something greater for the future survival of mankind. And at its heart, this is an emotional tale between father and daughter that transcends time and space. The visuals are vast and victorious. Majestically framed and filmed, they invoke a sense of awe.  The score impeccably underscores tense moments with peaking with crescendo and cutting into silence. “Interstellar” is imperfectly perfect in its stellar storytelling, simplicity of the plot and complicated details. A celestial tapestry of space exploration, time bending and a heartfelt human story, it earns its place among the stars.  Check out the full review here.

***

And a shout to fellow superhero fans… not only “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” ruled the box offices, they’ve earned critical acclaims as well and been nominated for visual effects.

Copyright (c) 2015.  Nathalia Aryani

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (http://sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: http://twitter.com/the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com.

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

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