Movie Highlights: 2012 Awards Season

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[Updated 1/24/12] – For reviews of “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Iron Lady,” please visit


It’s award season!  The Golden Globes nominations are out and the Academy Awards are soon to follow.

In case you missed a number of the nominated films during the holiday season, there’s still time to catch up.  Except for the last one below, these films are still playing at the theaters in the greater San Diego area at the time of this writing.  Just don’t wait too long!

Here’s a half dozen of highlights:

“Midnight in Paris”
Woody Allen is a mixed bag.  “Match Point” was a high note and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” enjoyable, but “Cassandra’s Dream” not nearly as much.  “Midnight in Paris” is lovely, whimsical and kinda magical.  Meeting and chatting up Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Piccaso, Salvador Dali must be quite a trip.  If you’re a literature major, you may be enamored with it and totally gets the humor.  But even if you aren’t, it’s a must-watch for those into history, arts, culture… or anything French.

“J. Edgar”
Should have been a lot better.  “J. Edgar” is a close-up look at one of the most powerful, controversial figures in the 20th century and most enduring face of the FBI; it should have been a lot better.  Ahead of his time, it’s interesting to see the events or incidents leading up to the creation of now widely known laws, requirements or procedures.  Long, labored and suffering from a bad script and direction, nonetheless, the devoted relationships between Edgar and his domineering mother, lifelong work (and presumably life) partner and loyal-to-a-fault private secretary are fascinating and touching.  Acting-wise, applauded (although Leo DiCaprio‘s accent here is hard to get used to) for a multi-faceted, closely guarded and image-obsessed character, as well as Armie Hammer,  in a main supporting role.

The most stunning 3-D drama ever filmed.  From the mesmerizing opening scene of a snowy France in 1930s, it zooms into the rows of building windows, passing through  people on the platform of a train station, capturing the vibrancy of a marketplace with bustling cafe and shops, jazz music and colorful flowers.  The sweeping view of wintry Paris from the clock tower is truly wondrous.  One caveat – don’t expect an action-packed adventure or epic fantasy.  It’s an imaginative fable, but it’s a full-length drama, told from the eyes of a lonely orphan facing the harsh reality to survive and trying to piece together clues left by the untimely death of his father.  Surprisingly, it’s a dual-story, interconnected to a piece of cinematic history.  “Hugo” is a love note to cinema.

“The Descendants”
Funny, sad, quirky, heartfelt.  The Hawaiian setting adds a unique dimension and is a character on its own.  George Clooney (“The Ides of March,” “Up in the Air“) sheds his ‘movie-star’ persona and simply becomes a family man, clearly in over his head.  A middle-aged, workaholic lawyer who’s just trying to keep his head above water with newfound life.  Finding out about his comatose wife’s affair, handling a foul-mouthed, rebellious teenage daughter and a handful younger one, making the decision about the fate of a land passed down from his royal ancestors and managing quibbles among his extended family.  The father-daughter relationships dynamic is the heart of the film.  Clooney does his best work here,  expertly conveying an array of conflicting emotions through a split-second of facial expression or body movement.  Shock, disbelief, heartbreak, anguished, anger, clueless, weariness, sorrow, joy, love, grace, peace.  “The Descendants” is sprinkled with contemporary teen speak, sharp jabs and perfectly timed humor.  An incredibly affective family-centric dramedy, it leaves an island of impressions.  Check out the full review here.

“The Ides of March”
Razor-sharp with superb script, smart direction and compelling acting by the whole ensemble.  The astuteness is shades of 2010’s “The Social Network.”  The story is a brilliant human chess game.  Play or get played.  If you don’t make a move or respond accordingly, you’ll be taken out of the game.  Intense moments, even during quieter, unseen scenes would feel as if gunfire would break out any minute.  It feels like blood has been shed, even without a single weapon is drawn or shot fired.  It’s that good.  We’d like to believe that true democracy is alive and well and that the best person wins.  While “The Ides of March” is certainly a work of fiction, the story depicted may be as realistic as it can get to our political process.  Be a player or a pawn; it’s politics as usual.  Check out the full review here.

It’s a story about someone who’s always in the driver’s seat, but goes overdrive to protect the people he cares about.  ‘Driver’ is a man of intense actions with a few words.  Ryan Gosling (“The Ides of March“) owns every screen he’s in and conveys much through a glance, stare, smile, hand or touch.  Calm and controlled, but primal and deliberate.  As a whole, the film seems pointless and incredulous.  Yet it’s thoroughly absorbing and easy to suspend disbelief because of its noir style and trance-like atmosphere, underscored by its prevailing pulsing score, and maudlin in some.  “Drive” is not for everyone.  But this is one that will make a lasting imprint.  Check out the full review here.

The 2012 Golden Globes airs on January 15 and Academy Awards on February 26, 2012.  You can follow the official websites for the road to the Golden Globes here and the Oscars here.

Copyright (c) 2012. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She can be reached at Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (  Twitter:

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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