In the last couple of years a number of movies about the Iraq War have come and gone, barely making an impact with audiences. Well intentioned, but earnest movies like Lions for Lambs, Redacted and In the Valley of Elah were box office poison to a public inundated by images of the war on television. That downward spiral may be stopped by a movie from action director Kathryn Bigelow, a character study placed against the backdrop of the Iraq War called The Hurt Locker.
Set in 2004 Baghdad, The Hurt Locker follows a series of missions with the Bravo Troop as they dismantle IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on the last 38 days of their rotation in Iraq.
What emerges is more a wartime character study than a war movie. There are shoot outs and terrifically tense moments, but the action is, by and large, low key and realistic. Bigelow stages effective action scenes but they don’t have the over-the-top bluster we’re used to in modern war movies, instead they rely on intensity and the shocking randomness of wartime violence to make them memorable.
At the center of the action is Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) an adrenaline addicted bomb diffuser who revels in risk taking. His team members, Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), still rocked by the sudden passing of their previous team leader, see James as a reckless troublemaker who may kill himself, or worse, get them killed. The tension in the film comes from their relationship with the showboating bomb expert as much as the battle scenes.
The film is episodic; not so much a story as it is a series of events, but as the clock ticks down toward the end of their stay in Iraq and the end of the movie it becomes clear that Bigelow is letting the pictures tell a bigger story. The relationship of the men is the main thrust but her use of “show me don’t tell me” shots of life in Iraq in the midst of the unrest tell us a broader tale. The wordless way life in the background plays out shows us the uneasy relationship between the soldiers and the locals. It’s subtle, evocative filmmaking that binds the whole thing together.
The Hurt Locker isn’t a typical Iraq War film and that’s probably a good thing. By focusing on the people fighting the war and the effect of soldiering Kathryn Bigelow has made the most effective and most harrowing movie about the consequences of the war since Coming Home.
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.