Summer has come to an end. And while it is only September 30th — 116 days before nominations are announced — the Oscar season has already begun. With new Academy rules on movie campaigns, which bar non-screening events after the release of nominations, and the Best Picture category which will have anywhere from five to 10 nominated pictures, studios and critical prognosticators are already hard at work. (Even Movieline, the bastion of movie news and reviews, has already begun its Oscar Index.)
And while many contenders — Eastwood’s J. Edgar, Spielberg’s War Horse, and Fincher’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo — are weeks from being released, three excellent films are already playing in Philadelphia theaters: Drive, Moneyball, and Warrior. Read on for reviews of each film.
As you watch Drive, you sense that you are watching something that feels both new, yet familiar. It’s exciting, concise, and dangerous. With an ’80s-inspired logo and (synthesized) soundtrack, a ’70s-inspired story, but a completely modern aesthetic, this violent film will be on many year-end top 10 lists. And Ryan Gosling (possibly) and Albert Brooks (certainly) on acting shortlists.
Ryan Gosling stars as the unnamed Driver, a stunt-driver by day and a get-away driver by night. He only looks after himself, until one day he is drawn to his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son. But when a robbery goes wrong—horrifyingly, ferociously wrong—he must do everything he can to keep himself and Irene alive.
Without a doubt, Ryan Gosling is one of the most talented actors working today. With his flawless physique and looks, he could easily work in action or superhero flicks, but it is his tremendous range that makes him an independent darling. With scant dialogue, Gosling’s Driver is magnetic. Just a flick of the eyes, a slight smile, the movement of the toothpick in his mouth, and the moments where he visibly fights to stay in control (like the animalistic look he has after the horrifying elevator scene) create a fully dimensional character. Never mind that we don’t know his real name, or his back-story. It doesn’t matter. We know everything we need to know.
But while Gosling’s character is about control, Albert Brooks’ mobster, Bernie Rose, is about loss of control. With frightening indifference, Brooks’ performance is filled with terrifying and bloody scenes. While one moment he is having a quiet discussion with another character, the next he is stabbing a person in the neck. It is a surprising, memorable performance from the man who was the voice of Marlin in Finding Nemo.
My Grade: A
Based on the 2003 book, Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane’s leadership of the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. Throwing convention aside, Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his assistant General Manager, the novice economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), hire players based on statistical analyses—their likelihood of getting hits—rather than old-school averages and performance.
Appearing in almost every scene, this is Pitt’s movie. With a great maturity, Pitt’s Beane is a likable, frustrating and complex character. Pitt is also aptly able to show Beane’s utmost determination, which could easily have been mistaken for arrogance. While the movie itself is not fully successful, Pitt gives a quiet performance with great, stirring moments, that will likely lead him to a Best Actor nomination.
My Grade: B
At face value, Warrior seems like a cross between The Wrestler and The Fighter. And while Warrior does center on the relationship of men, torturing their bodies for success, and their families, it is this relationship, between brother and brother and son and father that makes the movie feel special.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton star as two estranged brothers, Tommy and Brendan, who, for vastly different reasons, enter a mixed martial arts tournament. Both Hardy and Edgerton give wonderful performances, but Nick Nolte as their ex-alcoholic father, Paddy, is unbelievably heart breaking.
Similar to Rourke’s character in The Wrestler, Paddy is looking to reconnect with his family and heal they wounds he may have inflicted, in this case alcoholism. But the wounds appear to be too deep, as both Tommy and Brendan want nothing, personally, to do with him. Nolte’s gravelly voice, hard-ridden appearance, and personal familiarity with his character’s problems make Paddy come to life. As Nolte takes this gruff, broken character to his breaking point, you have to marvel at the extraordinary talent of this extraordinary actor.
My Grade: B+