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Charlie Wilson's War (#110 of 3)

Oscar Prospects: The Master

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Oscar Prospects: The Master
Oscar Prospects: The Master

Time will tell if the Academy’s newest rule adjustment will throw off the mojo of latecomers like Les Misérables, but it’s sure to benefit a movie like The Master, which has graciously offered voters several months to see it before casting their ballots. Often, such an early-season release would carry the risk of a loss of steam, and that may well be the fate of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, but it seems there are too many Oscar-friendly factors at play here to doubt the movie’s long-term clout. The cast is smack-dab in Oscar’s comfort zone, the Scientology parallels are present enough to offer some baity relevance, and with critical champions like A.O. Scott, the film has the reviews it needs to make it a veritable must-see, even if it’s not being gushed over quite like There Will Be Blood. There is the consideration that the Oscars aren’t what they were in 2007, when critically adored fare aligned with Academy favorites, and a curio like the saga of Daniel Plainview could go toe-to-toe with the elliptical nihilism of No Country for Old Men. But, then, The Master isn’t in the same key as its predecessor either, and if anything, its rather straightforward narrative makes it Anderson’s most accessible film since Boogie Nights. Though likely not a top-five contender, the movie’s Best Picture nomination chances look fairly solid at the moment, boosted by a very impressive box-office performance.

Stingers & Endgames: Charlie Wilson’s War

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Stingers & Endgames: <em>Charlie Wilson’s War</em>
Stingers & Endgames: <em>Charlie Wilson’s War</em>

In a party scene toward the end of Charlie Wilson’s War, Rep. Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), who led the drive to arm Afghan rebels against the Soviets in the ’80s, celebrates the USSR’s pullout while his key C.I.A. partner, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), stands on a balcony outside the gathering, worrying about the country’s future. Charlie urges Gust to enjoy the moment, but Gust soberly relates a Buddhist parable about a Zen master, a boy and a horse. Gust had previously tried to tell Charlie the story but was always interrupted; its message is that in life—unlike fiction—just when you think a tale has reached a definitive conclusion, it will suddenly go somewhere else.

Broken English, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Namesake, and Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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<em>Broken English</em>, <em>Charlie Wilson’s War</em>, <em>The Namesake</em>, and <em>Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street</em>
<em>Broken English</em>, <em>Charlie Wilson’s War</em>, <em>The Namesake</em>, and <em>Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street</em>

Broken English (Zoe R. Cassavetes). Warts and all, this is the best American independent film I’ve seen all year. After Juno, it’s refreshing to see something so intelligently keyed to the way people in the real world dress, talk, and feel. Parker Posey is prone to all sorts of bad habits: Her quirkiness often seems to be fighting against the films she’s in, an approach that almost never works (her avant-garde disconnect in Blade: Trinity being a notable exception). Here, though, that uniquely Poseyian energy very much belongs to her character Nora: a thirtysomething woman sadly content with her dead-end job, burned by men who have made mincemeat of her confidence, thus resistant to the affections others seem to promise. Unpretentiously filmed, Broken English is decorous only in the attention it pays to its main character’s needs and fears, and the anxiety Nora suffers when trying to figure out whether or not an adorable Frenchie is just using her feels very real. Their alternately indignant and rapturous romantic tango is sweet, painful, and dangerous—as if one misstep could change their lives forever. This may be spoilerish for those who haven’t seen it, but I love how the movie accommodates a happy romantic ending while still getting to the point that Nora can feel fulfilled without a man in her life. Finally, a Cassavetes offspring daring to carry their father’s torch.