Oscar season is upon us again, and with it come the releases of the films that the studios believe have the best chance of taking home the coveted statuettes. While Oscar-nominated films aren’t necessarily the best films in any given year, more often than not they are good ones. Two of the films that are expected to feature prominently in this year’s awards – ‘Atonement’ and ‘American Gangster’ – again prove the accuracy of this rule.
‘Atonement’, adapted from the Ian McEwan novel, recently won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, and is essentially a well-written love story set against the backdrop of 1930s England and WWII-era France. It is difficult to say too much about the plot, as the twists and turns in the story is what gives it some of its impact. Suffice to say that it’s a warning call against the perils of creativity. I actually enjoyed the movie more than the book, as it seemed to make more of the audience’s time. In one particularly well-executed scene, the camera pans across the chaos of the evacuation at the Bray Dunes, capturing in a couple of minutes a mood it took McEwan eight pages to establish (and McEwan’s prose is not uneconomical itself). The events of the novel stayed on just the right side of believability, but both director and cast are committed to making it work. ‘Atonement’ is packed full of powerful scenes, and has an ending that puts ‘Titanic’ to shame. Make sure to bring along a box of tissues though, either for your partner or your self.
Ridley Scott’s ‘American Gangster’, based on a true story, aspires not only to be a top crime flick but a social document as well, covering topics such as drugs, exploitation, racism and police corruption. That may not always make it particularly thrilling to watch, but its impressive in the detail in which it re-creates a troubled era in American history. The film works both with and against the public image of its stars: Denzel Washington plays the slick, smooth kingpin of crime while Russell Crowe plays the ‘boy scout’ cop who is a bit rough around the edges. Their stories are told in parallel narratives, which have led some to compare it to Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’, but I also saw some similarities to Steven Spielberg’s (admittedly) more light-hearted ‘Catch Me If You Can’. Chances are it will not beat ‘Atonement’ for the Best Picture gong on Oscar night, still, I don’t think that will perturb the creators too much, as ‘American Gangster’ seems less like it was made with the Oscars in mind. It’s every bit as good as ‘Atonement’, but it’s not for the queasy.