Countdown to the Oscars 2012: Movie Reviews

Feb 20, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Christine Autrand Mitchell, Diana Hockley, James Garcia Jr., Movies, Terrance V. Mc Arthur

by KRL Staff

The Oscars will air on Sunday, February 26 at 4 p.m. on ABC. Over the next six days KRL is going to review several movies with Oscar nominations, including most of those nominated for best picture. So enjoy our Oscar countdown and please share with us your thoughts on who you think should win in the comment section! Instead of a brand new post for each movie–we will be adding a new movie to this post every day so be sure and come back right here to see what we’ve added.

The Artist

Review by TV McArthur

Take Singing in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard, A Star Is Born, and the Carl Reiner-directed The Comic starring Dick Van Dyke, and rip out their soundtracks, then throw in the German silent The Last Laugh, and you’d have The Artist. It’s one of those top-of-the-world-star-on-the-way-down-meets-talented-nobody-on-the-way-up stories set in the era when silent films were being replaced by talkies, and the big gimmick for The Artist is that it’s a silent film.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, OSS:117, looking very Gene Kelly/Douglas Fairbanks Sr.-ish) is a self-centered actor who cares more for his scene-stealing dog (Uggie the Dog…and three other like-painted canines) than for his co-star wife (Penelope Ann Miller, Kindergarten Cop, Big Top Pee-Wee). At the premiere of his latest starring vehicle, he bumps into a struggling actress, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, A Knight’s Tale), who manages to steal the limelight, the photographers, and his interest. They almost have an affair, and he gives her the secret of getting that extra something in the movie biz that sets her on the way to success and stardom.

The studio head (John Goodman, much thinner than his Roseanne days, who now looks a lot like a cross between William Demarest and William Frawley) tries to warn George about the fading popularity of silents, but is ignored in a quest to make a movie that will bring back the crowds, but it opens on the heels of the stock market crash. Valentin spirals into poverty, staunchly supported by his loyal driver/butler/valet/cook (James Cromwell, Babe, Star Trek: First Contact), while Peppy becomes one of the top stars of the early talkies, still longing for the man who started her up the Hollywood ladder of fame.

Valentin’s tragic flaw is his pride, his inability to listen to anyone’s advice or accept anyone’s help. If he only realized it, he is surrounded by assets: Peppy’s love, his driver’s devotion, and the talent of his pooch.

Sound—and the lack of it—is used as an important element in the film. During a nightmarish sequence, sound effects surround Valentin, from a glass clinking against a table to the laughter of passing people, but he can make no sound. The most intensely emotional moment of the film is accompanied by complete silence: no music, no sound effects, only the black-and-white images on the screen. By the end of the film, spoken dialogue would seem like an intrusion or a distraction.

Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius made this as a thank-you to audiences that have sat through his more-complex films. It’s an old-fashioned movie, using old-fashioned techniques to tell an old-fashioned story. That’s what makes it so new and refreshing.

The Artist is nominated for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role Jean Dujardin, Actress in a Supporting Role Bérénice Bejo, Art Direction-Production Design: Laurence Bennett, Set Decoration: Robert Gould, Cinematography Guillaume Schiffman, Costume Design Mark Bridges, Directing Michel Hazanavicius, Film Editing Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius, Music Original Score Ludovic Bource, and Writing (original screenplay) Michel Hazanavicius.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He is currently writing a stage adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild for the Fresno County Public Library’s next The Big Read. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.

War Horse– reposting of a review from December of 2011
Review by TV McArthur

In 1982, Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse was published in Great Britain, becoming a deeply loved horse story to rival Anna Sewell’s nineteenth-century Black Beauty. Later, one American girl read it and begged her father to make a movie of it. Her father was Steven Spielberg. He saw a stage production based on the book, was impressed, and he made that movie.

War Horse is a glorious film. You feel a patriotic love of one’s country, whatever that country might be, and you see war as a dehumanizing meat-grinder of men. It’s the story of Joey, a part-thoroughbred horse raised in the Devon countryside. Bought by a drunken farmer who didn’t want the horse to go to the rich landowner (David Thewlis, Professor Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter movies), the colt is raised by Albert, the farmer’s son. Joey, a horse made for racing, is taught to pull a plow, is sold to a British Army officer at the start of World War I, is captured by German troops, a French farm girl, and British troops, and is sought by Albert.

Since it is a film about war, there is violence and danger. Bodies fly through the air, men are attacked with poison gas, horses die, tanks menacingly chase the innocent, and barbed wire is a menace to man and beast. These scenes can horrify adults, and I don’t recommend the film for children. It’s like watching Old Yeller and Bambi’s mother being shot by machine guns.

This is a Spielberg film, so the action scenes are exciting, the tender scenes rip out your heartstrings, and the John Williams musical score cues every emotion you are supposed to feel. Because it is a Hollywood film made in England, based on a screenplay adapted from a stage play inspired by a book, there are changes in the story. Characters are added and subtracted, motivations are changed, a lot of time is spent in pre-war Devon worrying about paying the mortgage on the farm, and it would be hard to keep the book’s first-person narration by Joey the horse without turning the film into a Disney talking-animal fantasy (although it is a release from Touchstone, a subsidiary of Disney Studios). The cinematography is gritty and bleak in the trenches, and rich with color in the English countryside (There are shots that evoke Rhett and Scarlett embracing in “Gone with the Wind”).

It’s a big, old-fashioned epic, old-fashioned in all the right ways. Take hankies or tissue and someone to hold onto, but leave the children at home. When it comes out on video, sit down with the children and watch it together, prepared to pause it and talk about the historical, political, and philosophical issues that come up, and ready to deal with the fear, anxiety, and crying that it might provoke. It is a powerful film that should be seen, but be aware of the emotional state of your children.

War Horse is nominated for Best Picture, Art Direction- Production Design: Rick Carter Set Decoration: Lee Sandales, Cinematography Janusz Kaminski, Music (original score) John Williams, Sound Editing Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom, and Sound Mixing Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and
Stuart Wilson.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He is currently writing a stage adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild for the Fresno County Public Library’s next The Big Read. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.

The Descendants
Review by Diana Hockley

This film was reviewed and touted many times on the television, before my husband Andrew and I made a trip to our nearest large town, 46 kilometers away. The trip turned out to be well worth our time and the cost of the fuel.

Set in Hawaii, the plot concerns lawyer and absentee dad Matt King’s quest to bring his family close and support his daughters after his wife, Elizabeth, has an accident. At the same time, Matt is about to wind up a family trust which owns property on the island, a move which will bring his large extended family–led by Beau Bridges–incredible wealth.

Matt King, brilliantly played by George Clooney, is a man who realizes that he doesn’t know his daughters as well as he thought–or his wife. His daughter, Alex, has some startling and unpalatable news for him.
Clooney’s good looks are well known as the source of millions of women’s sighs–my own among them–but in this film he transcends his appearance and becomes Matt King–a grieving, betrayed, middle-aged dad. His performance, in my opinion is flawless and a credit to him.

He is supported by a powerful and talented cast. Sid, the surfer boyfriend whom Alex insists accompanies them throughout is a doofus–but he too suffers a private grief which he shares with Matt, thereby allowing a glimpse of the mature man he will become. Nick Krause is a young man of considerable talent.
Shailene Woodley (Alex) and Amara Miller (Scottie) deliver perfect portraits of children in uncertainty and grief. It is very easy to see them as sisters and Amara Miller as 10 year old Scottie is amazing.

The Descendants is not a film of grief, more a renewal of life and certainty that the inner family unit will survive, as indeed will the extended one. There are many funny moments along the way and I would see The Descendants again if the opportunity arose. The final scene in this film is brilliant, satisfying and comforting.

The Descendants
has been nominated for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role George Clooney, Directing Alexander Payne, and Film Editing Kevin Tent.

Diana Hockley is an Australian mystery author who lives in a southeast Queensland country town. She is the devoted slave of five ratties & usually finds an excuse to mention them in her writing, including her recent novel, The Naked Room. Since retiring from running a traveling mouse circus for 10 years, she is now the mouse judge for the Queensland Rat & Mouse Club shows. To learn more, check out her website.


Review by James Garcia Jr.

I am a Chicago Cubs fan. What does that have to do with a Brad Pitt film about Billy Bean, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball Club, you may ask? We’ll get to that in a few moments. In the meantime, Moneyball is a film that is up for six Academy Awards on February 26, including Best Picture.

When the film begins, we watch as the Oakland As fall to the mighty New York Yankees and their huge payroll in the American League Championship Series in 2001. Billy Beane, played wonderfully by Brad Pitt, visits with his owner soon thereafter in a futile attempt to get more money to spend for their club. Unfortunately, the As are a small market team and do not have the money to afford the huge payroll that the Yankees, Red Sox and other large market teams have. Consequently, the As lose three star-caliber players that following year, Jason Isringhausen, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon, with Giambi ultimately signing as a free agent with the Yankees.

Since Beane is forced to deal with a small payroll, he must find new ways to compete and struggles to get the old-school scouting department to come to grips with this fact. A chance encounter with a young staff member in Cleveland leads Beane to think that he might have found just a way. Focusing on how often a player gets on base (On-Base Percentage) and, therefore, giving a team more opportunities to score runs, Beane and his new wunderkind Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, begin filling their roster with just such players. These players end up being cast-offs, players who must learn new positions or aging superstars, causing strife between Beane and not only his scouting department, but Manager Art Howe as well. After a horrible start to the season, the team goes on to do great things, including a record 20 consecutive wins.

One might think that this is a film for only sports fans, but it isn’t, and consequently why it was nominated for Best Picture. The film is loaded with talented actors, including Pitt, Hill (who isn’t known for these types of roles) and Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays Howe. The film looks at Beane’s struggles to field a winning team with a wonderful mix of humor, drama and intrigue. Beane proves to be a complex man who is driven by many of the same superstitions that plague his players, including going on long drives or hitting the weight room during the games, for fear of “jinxing” the team were he to watch them play.

Many critics and prognosticators believe that Moneyball, based on the 2003 book of the same name by Michael Lewis, is a long shot to win Best Picture, but the fact that it was nominated should explain much about the quality of the film. At its core it isn’t a baseball movie, but a well-crafted drama.

So impressed with these new results was John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, that he summoned Beane to Boston for an interview after the 2002 season, where he offered Bean what would have been the highest contract ever for a General Manager. Ultimately, Beane opted to stay in Oakland, partly to be near his young daughter. When Henry failed to convince Beane to come to Boston, He discovered another up and coming young baseball mind who championed a similar approach to player evaluation that was pioneered by Beane and Brand. Two years later Boston broke their 86 year World Series drought. That man was Theo Epstein.

Epstein won two World Series titles while with Boston and just left to become the President of Baseball Operations this fall for the Chicago Cubs. If he is able to achieve the same results there it would be monumental. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908.

Moneyball is nominated for Best Picture, Actor in A Leading Role Brad Pitt, Film Editing Christopher Tellefsen, Sound Mixing Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick, and Writing Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin Story by Stan Chervin.

James Garcia Jr. is an ongoing contributor to our Downtown Doings section and a long-time resident of Kingsburg where his debut novel, Dance on Fire, is set.

The Help (reposting of this review from August 15, 2011)
Review by Lorie Ham

The Help is about a young female journalist in the south who decides to write about life from the perspective of the black women in her town who have been serving southern society families for years; never realizing how this will turn her town and her life upside down.

Skeeter (Emma Stone) returns to her hometown and to the southern society she was raised in determined to make a name for herself as a journalist instead of becoming another spoiled southern society wife like her friends. Her love for the woman that truly raised her, and frustration over the way her and others like her are treated, gives her the idea to write about life from their perspective. Two of those women face their fears and help her, even though it could endanger their lives and is actually against the law in their state of Mississippi. The three women form an unexpected and shocking (by the standards of the time and those around them) friendship.

This movie not only shows Skeeter’s side of things, but also that of those two women—Abileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer). In the midst of a country facing outcries for desperately needed change for black people, we see a small town facing the challenges and terror that ensues with beatings, killings, and black people being treated horribly, and the courage of those that stand up against it—both black and white. To look back at these atrocities just boggles the mind—to think that people once thought it was okay to treat people like that. It also shows the incredible power of the pen and how a writer can truly help change the world.

If this movie does not receive Oscar nominations then something is desperately wrong. Not only was the acting phenomenal, but the story was one of the most moving, inspiring and powerful stories I have seen in a long time. I seldom cry at movies, but I was pretty close to tears many times in this one. As a writer, it inspires me to make a difference with my pen and reminds me why I am a writer.

There are a lot of interesting and great side stories as well and even a little fun and comedy—I love everything about this movie, except for the fact that this really is the way things were back then. The Help is filled with courage, love and inspiration and is a good, and probably much needed, reminder of how things were and must never be again.

If you’re looking for a movie that makes you laugh, cry, smile, cheer and want to run out and do something that matters in the world—then The Help is for you.

The Help
is nominated for Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role Viola Davis, and Actress in a Supporting Role Jessica Chastain.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.

Midnight In Paris
Review by Lauryn Crum

Midnight in Paris takes Gil (Owen Wilson) back to the 1920s where he wishes he could live. However, he can only go back when it reaches midnight. Gil can’t believe what is happening at first; he assumes that he is just too drunk after a wine tasting that night to believe what was going on.

I have a great fondness for this movie not only because of the characters in the movie, but also because I have a great love of anything 1920s. I think my heart dropped when the Fitzgeralds came on the screen. I have so much admiration for that period of painters, writers, and the general merriment that surrounded the “Golden Age”.

As we discover from the movie, and from ourselves once we reflect, every age seems boring and dull because you are living it. There will always be a “Golden Age”, and if we decided on one, the moment we begin to actually live it, it becomes our era and the boring will seep into it. We are living in our own “Golden Age”, and every era before has felt how we feel about being born in the wrong era.

One thing that I really liked about the film was the mirror of Gil’s life into his novel without really seeing it. He begins to write about the goings on of his relationship with his fiancé, all the while he doesn’t see what is going on under his nose until a fellow author that he has idolized points it out to him.

This movie has given me a newfound love of the 20s, and other periods as well. I find that I want to know more about what makes the era I live in to be as marvelous as the eras that I’ve dreamed and studied about.
For a dose of nostalgia and history I greatly recommend Midnight in Paris, you see not only the art of Paris but also the people that put it there, and the influences that came along to create such memorable pieces.

Midnight in Paris is nominated for Best Picture, Production Design: Anne Seibel, Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil. Directing Woody Allen, Original Screen Play written by Woody Allen.

Lauryn Crum is and currently a freshman at Reedley College. She plays tennis and enjoys fashion. Lauryn would like to become a psychologist.

Check out the other Oscar nominations on KRL’s event page and check back here tomorrow for another review.

Review by Christine Autrand Mitchell

Hugo (which I watched in 2-D) is a meld of coming of age story and tribute movie, but don’t let that detract you. Martin Scorsese directed this film because he wanted to make a movie his young daughter could watch, in case you were wondering. John Logan adapted the script from the Brian Selznick book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Here’s the short of it. It’s the 1930s and Hugo Cabret, brilliantly portrayed by young Asa Butterfield, is a twelve year old orphan living in the walls of a Paris train station, keeping the clocks running. He’s trying to rebuild the automaton his father had begun to restore by stealing parts from the toy maker, played by the amazing Ben Kingley, who has a shop in the station. Through his adventures, Hugo has to evade the injured and obsessed police man, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, but wins an accomplice in the shopkeeper’s ward Isabelle, another wonderful performance by Chloë Grace Moretz. The shopkeeper has much to hide until Hugo’s world collides with his. There are great performances by familiar faces such as Emily Mortimer and Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Frances de la Tour, Francis Griffiths (whom young Harry Potter fans will recall) and Helen McCrory as Mama Jeane.

Hesitant to see a Scorsese bloodbath and unsure of what he could offer me with this adaption, what Mr. Scorsese manages to impart beautifully is the lonely–yet fascinating–life Hugo is forced to lead. One can feel the cold, the grease, his tiny living quarters, his hunger and, most vividly, his pain. He’s an orphan and he has to survive. Hugo is an incredibly bright and industrious child, that he proves in one scene where the toy maker forces him to put a toy together from scraps and Hugo builds a machine that far exceeds the shop’s offerings. But a mystery is born in Hugo’s notebook, full of mechanical details the toy maker is clearly disturbed by, and he takes it away from the boy.

Through Hugo’s life, we’re introduced to those who work in the train station and are drawn tenderly into their tragedies and triumphs, their heartbreak and their joys. We see parts of the toy maker’s life as well, and are taken into his heartbreak. The emotional part of the film is what, in retrospect, fascinated me most. Kudos, Mr. Scorsese.

It’s almost impossible not to give away one of the main storylines, but here it is, the tribute portion of the film and the reason I assume Scorsese jumped aboard: the career of pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès.

Half of the film is really dedicated to his accomplishments. It is touching and amazing, and nice to see that even though we’ve come a long way in the last century in the film industry, many things haven’t changed at all. Those little tricks so easy to do with cameras are still used today – just check out the behind the scenes of the latest Star Trek film.

I would say that the audience I saw this film with was mostly comprised of adults, and not children. But it is a story for all ages because at the heart of it is the heart: love, acceptance, loss, recognition, and the fact that we are not alone. I highly recommend this film and look forward to watching it again.

Hugo is nominated for Best Picture, Art Direction–Production Design: Dante Ferretti & Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo, Cinematography Robert Richardson, Directing Martin Scorsese, Film Editing Thelma Schoonmaker, Music Howard Shore, Sound Editing Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty, Sound Mixing Tom Fleischman and John Midgley, Visual Effects Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning, and Writing Screenplay by John Logan.

Christine Autrand Mitchell writes & edits for KRL. She writes fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, is a filmmaker & coaches other writers. Her screenplays have been shortlisted in international contests. Her Producer credits include short films & an award winning feature. She is the owner of Entandem Productions, specializing in casting and production services.



  1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret: Book & Movie Review | Kings River Life Magazine - [...] of Georges Méliès, you will be amazed, and you’ll want to learn more. Check out KRL’s Oscar movie countdown…

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