by Roxana Hadadi
If you watched the Oscars last night, you may still be talking about Kirk Douglas. As presenter of the Best Supporting Actress award, he managed to flirt with all five nominees, keep everyone in suspense as he goofed around onstage and then finally got hit on by winner Melissa Leo. Such charisma! I guess it gets better with age.
With the Oscars behind us, movie-lovers can finally move on with the films of 2011. We haven’t really had anything good come out so far this year – the Justin Bieber movie and B-movies like “Drive Angry” aren’t going to win any awards anytime soon – but last night’s Oscars ceremony reminded us how good 2010 really was for cinema. With 10 Best Picture nominees that ran the gamut from animated and emotional to intense and visceral, the Academy gave the award to “The King’s Speech,” a deserving film that excelled at nearly everything, from Colin Firth’s Best Actor-winning performance to its uplifting message about conquering our personal demons.
But does that mean the other nine films in the category were somehow bleh? Of course not. Every nominated Best Picture this year had something fantastic to offer children or their parents, and here Chesapeake Family breaks it down for you. Get your DVD players ready, people.
TOY STORY 3
If you didn’t cry during “Toy Story 3,” you may not be human. One of the most emotionally involved films of the year continued our fantastic relationship with toys, our companions since “Toy Story” was released in 1995. Led by cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), the toys struggle to discover their role in the world now that owner Andy is moving on to college. As they struggle with deceitful toys at Sunnyside day care center and explore what their lives will be like without Andy, Woody and co. show us more about emotional subtlety and loyalty than most human characters do.
Family-friendly factor: Kids will love the G-rated flick for the animation, which has only gotten better with time and is crisp, colorful and immersive. Parents will appreciate the touching themes about love, life and friendship, which don’t weigh the film down but only add a beautifully empathetic layer.
Viewing verdict: Undoubtedly one of the year’s best, for both children and parents. It’s that simple.
The brutal-but-inspirational true story of Aron Ralston, a mountain climber trapped under a boulder for five days in Robbers Roost, Utah. Battling for survival, Ralston eventually broke the trapped arm and amputated it with a blunt knife to save his own life. With director Danny Boyle at the helm and James Franco in the starring role, “127 Hours” was visceral and emotionally exhaustive, as Ralston struggles with delusions and lack of food and water. As he looks back on his life and realizes the only way to get out alive is to lose the arm, the film takes a gruesome turn that – despite its disgustingness – is somehow hopeful, too.
Family-friendly factor: Here’s a true story. While seeing “127 Hours,” this reviewer fainted twice, hit her head against a toilet seat twice (while dry heaving, naturally) and collapsed twice, all after trying to flee the film’s amputation scene. It’s a horrific affair that is unbearably bloody, and if you’re at all squeamish – seriously, even a little bit – skip it.
Viewing verdict: A great film about the triumph of the human will, but totally not fitting for anyone under 17, as the R rating dictates. And if you’re older than 17 and can’t handle blood, prepare to go the same embarrassing way as this reviewer did.
A look at what – and who – makes a family. Lesbian director Lisa Cholodenko paints a portrait of a family with two moms, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Benning), and two kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). During her last summer at home before she goes to college, Joni is convinced by Laser to contact the sperm donor who is their biological father, a guy named Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Paul’s arrival in their lives changes everything, especially Joni’s and Jules’s relationship with stricter mother Nic. What eventually defines the relationship between the five changes their perception of what they need for themselves and from each other.
Family-friendly factor: It’s rated R, and there’s lots of cursing and sexual content here, such as numerous sex scenes, suggested oral sex between two women and two men, female nudity including breasts and behinds and excerpts from a gay porn film, such as male behinds; there’s also drug and alcohol use by underage teens. Definitely for older teens with their parents, or parents only.
Viewing verdict: It’s not as emotionally wrenching as some of the other films nominated this year, and it’s been criticized by some for depicting a lesbian woman engaging in a relationship with a man with no discussion given as to how this relates to her sexuality. That lack of character development is troublesome, but overall the film is an interesting analysis of how we fix our families when we didn’t even know they were broken.
Directors Joel and Ethan Cohen put their spin on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, which was adapted into a film first in 1969, starring John Wayne. The most straight genre film of the brothers’ careers, “True Grit” is a true Western, with all the horses and guns and outlaws needed for such a task. The film follows the life of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a girl out to avenge her father’s death at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin); hearing that U.S. Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) has “true grit,” she hires him to track down Chaney. Also after the outlaw is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who joins Mattie and Cogburn as they travel into Native American territory to avenge the teen’s father’s death. An adventure that forces the three to depend and rely on each other, “True Grit” displays fantastic performances from Steinfeld, Brolin and Bridges, who click as quarreling travelers.
Family-friendly factor: The film is rated PG-13 and is a Western, so there are the typical gunfights and brawls, like some bloody gunshot wounds and cut-off fingers. There’s also drinking and some corpses, but it should be OK for most teens and their parents.
Viewing verdict: It’s a solid offering from the Coen brothers, who bring dry humor and precision to the flick. It’s not necessarily happy, but which Coen movies ever are?
Way to go, Marky Mark. The former leader of the Funky Bunch hip-hop group shows us everything he’s made of in “The Fighter,” the real-life story of boxer Micky Ward and his half-brother and trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn), a former fighter whose career disappeared after he became addicted to crack cocaine. “The Fighter” displays the complicated relationship between the two, who subconsciously compete for attention and love from their mother Alice (Melissa Leo, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar), a domineering woman who can’t seem to understand the harm she’s doing to Micky. As Micky strives to be taken seriously as a fighter and Dicky gets in trouble with the law, their family struggles to understand what it takes to support both brothers.
Family-friendly factor: This may be Wahlberg’s most family-friendly film, even though its PG-13 rating fits with the scenes including sex, drug use and brutal boxing. Overall it presents some solid themes older teens and parents can discuss, like the dangers of drug use, while also presenting an uplifting true story about the payoff of working toward your dream.
Viewing verdict: See it. It’s like the perfect underdog movie, with strong performances and an inspirational life lesson to boot. Oh, and Wahlberg’s abs. Those help.
So bleak, so haunting – yet ultimately balanced and even hopeful, an impressive feat, given how desolate and downtrodden most of the film is. Based on the 2006 novel by David Woodrell, the film is set in the Ozarks, a place that seems forgotten by our modern society. Most everyone here is somehow related, which helps because some of them are cooking meth – and everyone keeps quiet about what everyone knows is going on. In this disaster is 17-year-old Ree (an astonishing Jennifer Lawrence), who struggles to keep her younger brother and sister afloat; her catatonic mother is essentially useless, and her father is missing. In fact, her meth-cooking dad has put their house up as bond, and if he doesn’t show up to court in a week or so, Ree’s life falls apart. Finding him, though, becomes a formidable challenge as Ree gets ignored or warned away from the task by everyone she knows, including her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), whose role in her life becomes more complex as she struggles to get answers about her father.
Family-friendly factor: It’s up to parents to decide if older teens are emotionally mature enough for this rated-R drama, which includes relationship and family violence, drugs like meth, cursing and a vicious scene where a female character is beat up. There’s also a chainsaw, a corpse and some dismemberment.
Viewing verdict: Astonishing in the way “There Will Be Blood” or “The Road” were, in which characters did anything to survive because they didn’t have any other choice. Lawrence, as the resolute, determined Ree, will break your heart, and Hawkes is a fantastic mystery as the whip-angry Teardrop. See it, but prepare for the worst.
One of this year’s most surprising hits, “Black Swan” was like a crown jewel for Natalie Portman, who won the Best Actress Oscar, and director Darren Aronofsky, who continued the visceral quality of his previous film, 2008’s “The Wrestler,” in this flick. Aronofsky creates a world in which perfectionist ballerina Nina (Portman) is pushed to her emotional and physical limits after being cast as the Swan Queen in a production of “Swan Lake.” Forced to question her sexuality and pushed and pulled by her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), manipulative director (Vincent Cassel) and main competition (Mila Kunis), Nina’s sanity begins to unravel as she works to embody both the characters of the virginal, fearful White Swan and lustful, impetuous Black Swan. What’s truly happening and what’s not tests both Nina’s and the audiences’ ideas of reality.
Family-friendly factor: It’s a hard R, with lots of sexual content, including a lesbian sex scene, masturbation and a heavy make-out session between two dancers; as well as cursing, violence and gore (such as a character getting stabbed, another involved in a horrible car accident, the negative side effects of ballet on one’s body). Definitely not for teens, this one is for parents only.
Viewing verdict: Portman’s performance is obviously impressive, and Kunis and Cassel provide some smirking edginess to Portman’s innocence. If you’re old enough and in the mood for some trippy, reality-testing violence, go ahead, but prepare for some lingering creepiness.
This reviewer’s favorite film of 2010, an action tour de force that proves Christopher Nolan is one of the most impressive, exciting directors working today; the fact that he didn’t get a nod for Best Director by the Academy is an irredeemable flub. The man directed, wrote and produced “Inception,” which explores the idea of the unconscious mind as somewhere perfect for both business sabotage and completely life-like dreaming. Nolan gives us a world where Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professional thief, working with others to break into people’s minds and steal their ideas. After an important job stealing information from the mind of wealthy businessman Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, Saito himself hires Cobb and his crew to suggest an idea into a rival’s mind; if the process – inception – goes right, Saito will help Cobb return back to the U.S. and to his family. What follows is a relentlessly exciting film that will keep you enthralled with fantastic effects, a complex plot and great performances from everyone involved, including DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Marion Cotillard. It’s no surprise Nolan has cast so many of them in his next film, 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Family-friendly factor: Teens should love it, as the PG-13 film gets more challenging and absorbing with every plot twist and turn. It’s a little hard to follow, but the gunfights, explosions, wonderfully executed fight scenes and cinematography should keep both teens and parents invested.
Viewing verdict: It’s too late to see “Inception” on the big screen, but buy the DVD. If you haven’t seen it already, what were you doing last summer? For shame.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Welcome to The Social Network, a story of Facebook and how creator Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea from two handsome twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, while they were at Harvard together and then stabbed his best friend in the back when the website began to take off. That sounds dramatic and scandalous because it is – director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin take some liberties with Zuckerberg’s life in this tale, which is based on Ben Mezrich’s 2009 nonfiction book, “The Accidental Billionaires.” So it’s not all accurate, but it’s certainly entertaining: Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as Zuckerberg, a vindictive, petty and brilliant Harvard undergrad whose nearly every decision is made out of spite. Rejection by an ex-girlfriend and jealousy over his best friend Eduardo Saverin’s (Andrew Garfield) acceptance into a popular club at Harvard shape how he handles Facebook, which grows into a huge company that turns Zuckerberg against nearly everyone.
Family-friendly factor: The film is PG-13 and has cursing, sex, drug and alcohol use and backstabbing – lots of backstabbing. Nothing is extraneous or overdone, though, meaning that those more-adult elements balance well into the story and allow the characters to take center stage. Teens can probably see it by themselves or with parents to get a better idea of what went into that website that everyone uses, much to Zuckerberg’s $12.5 billion benefit.
Viewing verdict: Eisenberg and Garfield are fantastic together, and the progression – and deterioration – of their relationship is what makes the film so phenomenal. Justin Timberlake is also surprisingly good, and Fincher’s fast-cut editing style and jumping between various narratives makes the film gripping.
THE KING’S SPEECH
Can you be an underdog if you’re royalty? “The King’s Speech,” much like “The Fighter,” is another true you-can-do-it! story, the tale of how Prince Albert (Colin Firth, who won the Best Actor Oscar) struggled with a stammering problem, a crippling confidence-breaker that caused him to doubt his own ability to be king. Aided by determined wife Elizabeth (a restrained, masterful Helena Bonham Carter), Albert is introduced to speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose unconventional methods go against everything Albert has been taught. The two spar and fight, but as Albert realizes he is to be King George VI, it’s only with Logue’s assistance that Albert is able to come into his own.
Family-friendly factor: The film is currently rated R but is getting a PG-13 re-release, which mutes some instances of the f-word. Is it necessary? No. The word is used often in the film but in appropriate context, so parents comfortable with their children hearing the word shouldn’t be too worried. The word’s use in the film is empowering, not offensive, and its overall encouraging message is good for everyone. There’s nothing else that’s really questionable here, so the R rating is a mystery.
Viewing verdict: It got the Best Picture Oscar, so you have to see it. Duh.