“The Good Lie,” a new drama starring Reese Witherspoon in full-on Sandra “The Blind Side” Bullock mode, shines a light on an important story but does so in a familiar way.
The story begins during Sudan’s civil war, a brutal conflict that forced thousands of people—most of them little more than children—to walk thousands of miles to flee the violence. Almost all ended up in refugee camps, some for years. “The Good Lie” is aboutleft four “lost” boys and girls who were given a chance at a life in America. Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal) and Mamere’s sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) are the recipients of humanitarian aid and relocated to the US, but due to a bureaucratic rule Abital is separated from the men.
In charge of finding work for the new comers is Carrie (Witherspoon), a case worker who, at first, is looking to get their file off her desk but soon becomes involved in their lives and their need to be reunited as a family.
Academy Award-nominated “Monsieur Lazhar” director Philippe Falardeau is straightforward in his telling of this story, mixing the human interest story with large dollops of humor and humanity, but echoes of other movies, like “The Blind Side” and “Dangerous Minds” reverberate throughout.
Falardeau focuses on the story of the refugees but the inclusion of Carrie, Witherspoon’s well-meaning case worker, shifts attention away from the crux of the story, as if the Sudanese somehow has more gravitas if told through a North American lens.
It is, however, a well-intentioned, feel good movie, nicely performed by Witherspoon and the Sudanese cast—Duany and Oceng are stand-outs—that is more successful at raising a smiles than awareness.
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.
“The Blind Side” is Sandra Bullock’s third movie this year, following “The Proposal,” a fun rom com that became her biggest hit to date and “All About Steve,” a critical flop that nonetheless showed she can be charming despite a terrible script. This time around she brings a different set of acting chops to play Leigh Anne Tuohy, a big-hearted but tough-as-nails Memphis mom.
Based on a true story, “The Blind Side” centers on teenager Michael “Big Mike” Oher (Quinton Aaron), an inner city teen on his way to becoming a statistic. He’s been tossed around from foster home to foster home, forgotten about and neglected. After earning admission to a Christian private school based on his athletic ability, he still feels lost, a lone African-American in a sea of white faces. It isn’t until he is spotted by a guardian angel in the form of Leigh Anne Tuohy that his life takes a dramatic left turn. After a chance meeting she realizes that he has no where to live and invites him to her family’s home for the night. One night turns into a lifetime, as Michael becomes part of the family.
“The Blind Side” is a hokey movie. Most of the characters are stereotypes and the dramatic arc is so simple a five year old could see how this story is going to end up, but despite its Hallmark feel it’s also a crowd pleasing four Kleenex tear-jerker. It’s a mix-and-match assortment of themes and styles—there’s the fish-out-of-water story, the inspirational sports tale, a family drama and a study of race and class in America. Phew. There’s a lot going on but Bullock and newcomer Quinton Aaron are the glue that hold it all together.
Bullock has transformed herself here. The cute and cuddly edge of her rom coms is gone, replaced with a mane of blonde hair and a take no prisoners attitude. Even her voice has a harder edge to it than usual. It’s the kind of performance she’s been hinting at ever since her dramatic turn in “Crash” and one that could earn her awards in the coming months.
As Big Mike Quinton Aaron not only brings an imposing physicality to the role but also a tender side. He’s a gentle giant with a warm smile who gets the audience on side with him from the get go. The whole story hinges on whether or not viewers care about Big Mike and will want to go on his life journey. Aaron wins us over early on and holds our attention in a quiet, understated performance.
“The Blind Side” isn’t a great movie, there’s too much emotional manipulation and huge problems seem to get solved a little too easily for it to be 100 percent believable, but it is an entertaining movie anchored by two very good, but very different actors.