There is nothing precious about the movie “Precious”. Nothing twee or frivolous. If the word “heartbreaking” hadn’t already existed in the English language it might have been invented to describe the story of Clareece “Precious” Jones an inner city NYC kid with big problems.
“Precious” is about the power of the educational system to help lift a person up from adversity but it is much more than just an inspirational teacher movie. It’s a movie about victims—one who transcends and one who doesn’t. “To Sir with Love” this isn’t.
Set in 1987 Harlem it follows the progress of “Precious” Jones, a pregnant, overweight and illiterate sixteen year old. She lives with her welfare mother Mary (Mo’Nique) in a rundown apartment where she lives a life of constant mental, physical and sexual abuse. “I’ll be OK,” says Precious. “I’m always looking up… looking for a piano to fall. There’s always something in my way.”
The only thing that keeps her on an even keel is her rich inner life, but even that is filled with self hate. When she looks in the mirror she imagines a skinny, pretty blonde girl staring back at her. Despite her big dreams she feels people regard her and her family as “black grease that needs to be wiped away.” The one bright spot in her life is Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) a supportive alternative school teacher. With her encouragement Precious may find a way out of her hellish situation.
“Precious” is one of the most grueling movie experiences of the year. It transports the viewer to an uncomfortably down-and-dirty world were pain and anguish are the price of admission. Hope, for Precious, is a dim light at the end of a very long tunnel but director Lee Daniels keeps the movie from being an exercise in viewer self flagellation with pitch perfect (and unexpected) casting and a sure narrative hand.
Cast wise the most surprising element to “Precious” is a career making performance from comedian Mo’Nique in a decidedly non-comedic role. Best known for parts in low budget comedies like Soul Plane and Beerfest she shows a dramatic side here as Mary, a vicious mother and welfare scammer.
Who would have imagined her (potentially) Oscar worthy scene would be opposite Mariah Carey? Carey’s work as a tough-as-nails social worker should erase all the ill will her “performance” in “Glitter” earned, and who knows, maybe she’ll be able to add an acting prize to her Grammy shelf come awards time.
At the center of it all is first timer Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe in the title role. She pulls off a difficult portrayal, making it believable; giving Precious the dignity she needs to survive and shows some real backbone in a character who could easily have been a cliché.
“Precious” is filled with disturbing imagery—incest and abuse—although when the going gets tough, mercifully, the screen often fades to black, but not always, and that is one of the strengths of the film. It doesn’t back away from the real life horror of Precious’s life. It’s bleak yes, but compelling.
An animated film, an Iraq war movie and one of the biggest blockbusters of all time were among the expanded list of 10 pictures nominated for Oscars Tuesday morning.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its Oscar nominees in Los Angeles, and the list included some favourites as well as a few surprises.
The list of best-picture nominees:
* The Blind Side
* District 9
* An Education
* The Hurt Locker
* Inglourious Basterds
* A Serious Man
* Up in the Air
Canada AM film critic Richard Crouse said the best picture list, which included 10 films for the first time since 1943, was notable for what was not on it as much as for what was included.
“The movie that surprised me that wasn’t nominated in the top 10 for best picture was ‘Star Trek,'” Crouse told Canada AM Tuesday morning.
“And I only say that because when they first announced that they were going to expand the field to 10, everyone said that’s because they want to have ‘Star Trek’ in there. And ‘Star Trek’ was used as an exemplar of the kind of movies that were then going to get nominated.”
In what’s emerging as a showdown between ex-spouses, James Cameron’s “Avatar” is tied with “The Hurt Locker,” directed by his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, for nine nominations each, including best director.
While “Avatar” has swept awards shows leading up to next month’s Oscars, Bigelow was named best director by the Directors Guild of America, long a harbinger for directing honours at the Academy Awards.
Bigelow is only the fourth female best-director nominee, following Sofia Coppola for 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” Jane Campion for 1993’s “The Piano,” and Lina Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” in 1975.
Upon hearing the news of her nomination, Bigelow said she was gratified and humbled.
“It’s a huge, huge compliment to the entire cast and crew,” Bigelow said. “It was a very difficult shoot of heat and sun and windstorms and sandstorms and they had to unite crew from Lebanon and Israel.”
Joining Cameron and Bigelow in the directing category are Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds,” Lee Daniels for “Precious” and Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air.”
Daniels is only the second African-American filmmaker to be nominated for best director. John Singleton received a nod in 1991 for “Boyz N the Hood.”
Daniels said Tuesday he was just as excited about his film’s nomination for best picture.
“After 82 years, it’s the first film nominated for best picture directed by an African-American,” Daniels said. “Isn’t that great? It’s so exciting.”
The nominees for best actress include emerging favourite Sandra Bullock for true-story football flick “The Blind Side.” Bullock won the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for her role as a wealthy woman who helps a homeless teen, Michael Oher, who is now a star with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
Bullock said winning is less important to her than the opportunity to meet her fellow nominees, actresses she greatly admires.
“You laugh at the absurdity of it all and how they pit women up against each other. We go, ‘Why are they making us out to be fighting when we’re just happy to share this moment?'” Bullock said. “The women I’ve met and gotten to know along the way have made me so happy for this business that didn’t really support women for a long time. It’s been really sweet. I feel really lucky to be working at this time.”
Joining her in the category are Helen Mirren as Leo Tolsoy’s wife in “The Last Station,” Carey Mulligan as a rebellious teen in “An Education,” Gabourey Sidibe as a teen mother and abuse victim in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” and Meryl Streep as chef Julia Child in “Julie & Julia.”
Mirren said she was “very happy and honoured” to learn of her nomination. Mulligan said hearing the news was “like a really good, friendly punch in the stomach.”
Favourite Jeff Bridges, also a Golden Globe and SAG winner, heads up the best actor category for “Crazy Heart,” in which he plays a down-on-his-luck country singer trying to turn his life around.
Also nominated for best actor are George Clooney as a company hatchet-man in “Up in the Air,” Colin Firth as a gay professor grieving his dead lover in “A Single Man,” Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in “Invictus,” and Jeremy Renner as a bomb defusing expert in Iraq in “The Hurt Locker.”
Los Angeles Times film critic Pete Hammond said Bridges is “by far the front-runner here.”
“He’s a veteran, he’s 60 years old, people love him in the industry and they think he’s due and this is a terrific performance,” Hammond told Canada AM. “So look for him over George Clooney in the final race.”
Despite being a long shot in the best actor category, Freeman, who was in Rome when the nominees were announced, pointed out that it is his fifth nomination, “and I’m more proud of that than all the rest of it I think.”
Comedienne Mo’Nique appears poised to add to her award haul for her blistering turn as an abusive mother in “Precious.” She is joined in the best supporting actress category by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for “Up in the Air,” Penelope Cruz for “Nine,” and Maggie Gyllenhaal for “Crazy Heart.”
Matt Damon in “Invictus,” Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger,” Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station,” Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones,” and Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds,” make up the best supporting actor category.
The 82nd annual Academy Awards will be handed out March 7 at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, and will air on CTV.
New Oscar producers Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic promise a livelier, more fun show than years past.
After Hugh Jackman livened up last year’s show with song-and-dance numbers, humour will likely be the order of the day for co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.
While television ratings for the show have sagged in recent years, the presence of the highest-grossing film of all time in so many categories will likely draw in viewers.
Ratings peaked 12 years ago when Cameron’s “Titanic” nabbed 11 nominations. “Avatar” has since surpassed “Titanic” as the number one film of all time at the box office, with $2 billion in revenues worldwide.
With two weeks left until the opening gala of the Toronto International Film Festival, reporters gathered at the Hazelton Hotel to get a rundown on the buzziest films (Precious), parties (One X One), possible Oscar contenders (Mo’Nique, the woman from Soul Plane) and TIFF-inspired cocktails (Skyy vodka for all).
CTV film critic Richard Crouse said the Oprah-backed film Precious could mean a possible Oscar nomination for Mo’Nique, while co-star Mariah Carey can finally shake off the tarnished glitter from, well, Glitter. Closing film Young Victoria also got a thumbs-up and was predicted to be Emily Blunt’s big break. But the most intriguing film tidbit (and a brilliant marketing move to boot) was that everyone who went to the pre-screening of Heath Ledger’s last film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, had to sign a waiver that forbid them from talking about it.