Precious, The Blind Side, and An Education

These were the last 3 Best Picture nominees I needed to see this year, after having previously seen 3 in theaters (Inglourious Basterds, Up in the Air, and Avatar) and 4 at home (Up, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, and District 9). With Cinequest about to start and the Oscars happening immediately afterwards, this was absolutely the last minute.

To make my schedule work, I actually drove over to Santa Cruz to see Precious (official title: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire). This was the Best Picture nominee I was looking forward to the least. While I heard it was good, it didn’t sound at all pleasant to watch. Well, it mostly wasn’t, but it was good enough to make me glad I was “forced” to see it (this is the 15th year I’ve seen all of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars). Precious (Gabourey Sidibe, Oscar-nominated for this role) is a very overweight teenager who is failing in school, due in large part to a home life that makes the word “dysfunctional” seem like an extreme understatement. She’s pregnant, for the second time, both times due to being raped by her own father. Her mother (Mo’Nique, also Oscar-nominated here) is only slightly less abusive. This is one of those films where when it’s hard to imagine things getting any worse, they do. And yet somehow it isn’t as much of a downer as, say, Requiem for a Dream. The performances are outstanding. I would give it a solid  out of .

The Blind Side is a pretty traditional Hollywood movie based on a true story. Sandra Bullock (Oscar-nominated for her performance here) plays Leigh Anne Tuoy, a very wealthy mother of two in Mississippi. She sees a homeless black teen named Michael Oher and takes him in, at least for one night. Her family wonders if it’s a good idea, and her friends are sure it isn’t, but Leigh Anne doesn’t much worry about what other people think. Heartwarming results ensue. Actually, the movie is somewhat better than I expected, and seeing photos of the real people depicted in the movie during the closing credits was pretty cool. Bullock’s performance is good, though I probably wouldn’t have singled her out for an Oscar nomination for it. Overall I’ll give it a strong  out of .

The buzz about An Education is all about the lead performance of newcomer Carey Mulligan, which is pretty impressive in a film that also includes Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina, and Peter Sarsgaard. Mulligan, 24, plays Jenny, a 16-year-old British schoolgirl in the 1960’s. She wants to get into Oxford, though not quite as single-mindedly as her parents (especially her father, played by Molina) want it. Her social life, especially with boys, is pretty minimal, until she meets David (Sarsgaard), a 30-something man with a flashy sports car and an appreciation for her quick wit. He gives her a chance to see a cosmopolitan life that her working-class parents cannot possibly offer her, even if they were so inclined, which they’re not. You can probably guess some of the places the film goes, but very likely not all, and I definitely won’t be the one to spoil the journey for you.

I loved this film, ranking it at the top of the 10 Best Picture nominees. The bulk of the credit does go to Mulligan, who has been compared by many to Audrey Hepburn, though frankly I liked Mulligan slightly better than I’ve liked Hepburn, though I think I’ve only seen about four of her films. I’ll also give credit to the screenwriter Nick Hornby (adapting a memoir, so this was a real story) and Danish director Lone Scherfig (making her first English language film). I’ll obviously give it a full out of .

Seen on 2/21/2010, 2/21/2010, and 2/22/2010, respectively.


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