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March 1, 2006

 

-- Movies --

 

They shoulda been contenders

 

By Dan Mecca

 

When the Oscars are held March 5 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, the best of the best in the fields of filmmaking will be awarded and recognized for their superb performances.

Not quite.

At the end of each year there are always movies that Oscar missed, or simply didn’t fit the “Oscar profile,” despite the superior quality of the film as a whole.

Here are five movies that went virtually unnoticed by the Academy, and that need to be acknowledged before the awards are given out:

 

5. Red Eye

Now listen. It’s understood that a suspense thriller, directed by Wes Craven (Scream), will not be nominated for any awards at Oscar time. That is a shame. Is a suspense thriller less difficult to make than a simple love story or a book adaptation?

This original script by Carl Ellsworth and short (the film is less than 90 minutes long), sweet direction by the hot and cold suspense master Craven keeps every viewer glued to the screen, waiting to see what will happen next.

In a very simple, Hitchcock-ian fashion, Craven creatures a complex plotline while allowing his heroine (Rachel McAdams) to develop as a character, expanding from a stereotypical “damsel in distress."

And let us not forget Cillian Murphy, whose deliciously evil performance as Jackson Rippner in this film, along with two other eye-opening performances (Batman Begins, Breakfast on Pluto) makes this writer wonder why Murphy wasn’t given more than just a Golden Globe nod for Best Actor. A Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Murphy would’ve been nice.

Even though his role was a leading one, they gave a supporting nod to Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain even though he donned the screen for a solid hour and a half.

 

4. Batman Begins

Speaking of Cillian Murphy, he plays one of the many memorable characters in the best superhero movie ever made. After taking the failing Batman franchise under his wing, Memento director Christopher Nolan collaborated with Blade screenwriter David S. Goyer to create a darker, more stoic Batman, without the addictive perversities of Tim Burton, who directed the first two Batmans, or the Hollywood glamour of Joel Scuhmacher, who directed the third and fourth shameful sequels.

Christian Bale edges Michael Keaton out as the best Batman ever with his deep, silent, comical, and intense performance as Bruce Wayne. Bale was able to do this thanks to Nolan and Goyer’s focus on Wayne as a person and his creation of Batman, rather than the high wire adventures of the Dark Knight.

This strategy worked wonders, allowing Wayne to become a real, tortured person while the audience waited and anticipated the forceful, if few, action sequences with Wayne’s bat alter ego.

Liam Neeson gives a superbly sinister performance while the always reliable Morgan Freeman adds humor. And Michael Caine “out Alfreds” Michael Gough, who played Wayne butler Alfred in the first four movies.

Despite its superhero genre, the directing is crisp, the writing is original, and the acting is above and beyond.

 

3. Thumbsucker

This independent film, written and directed by Mike Mills, is underrated on many different levels. Despite its film festival awards, the movie did next to no business at the box office and got absolutely no business at Oscar time.

With newcomer Lou Pucci starring as Justin, a 17-year-old who still sucks his thumb; Vincent D’Onofrio as Justin’s disheartened, disillusioned, competitive dad; Keanu Reeves as a Buddhist orthopedist; and even Vince Vaughn as an unconfident debate team coach, the actors take the words off of Mills’ pages and create a satirical view of middle class America and the distractions used to avoid both change and redundancy.

The film is simple in its plot and in its characters.

However, by its conclusion, viewers see that the message is not simple, because every person making the film and watching the film suffers from it: the uncertainty of yourself, and the idea that anything else would be “normal,” or better. 

 

2. Sin City

Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (author of the graphic novels of the same name), this film focuses on three protagonists: one good cop, one vengeful renegade, and one cool, cold-blooded hero.

Every single character in all three stories is ruthless in his or her own way.

And while most of the performances are one-dimensional, the film offers talent easily stepped over by the Academy.

First and foremost, Mickey Rourke’s career-saving performance as Marv deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination, period. Rourke channels the rotten, revenge-seeking vigilante effortlessly and succeeds in his protagonist role, with the audience blindly rooting for Marv by the climax of his story despite all of the wrongs he has committed.

Along with Rourke’s snubbed nomination is Rodriguez’s snubbed consideration for a directing nomination. His direction literally brought the three stories from the page to the screen flawlessly, nearly word for word, comic strip to film strip. The black and white tone, accompanied by sparks of violent color, make the movie enjoyable to experience and absorb.

 

1. Lord of War

This is the most deserving movie of Oscar consideration that received the equivalent of no consideration at all.

Directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), this film starts with an amazing “life of a bullet” sequence that is unique both technically and emotionally.

Nicolas Cage plays Yuri Orlov, a gunrunner who climbs the ladder of success while his family and friends shrug off his lies and take his luxurious gifts. Cage constantly narrates the film, explaining the business that makes him rich while consistently rationalizing his sale of lethal weapons to any terrorist, war lord, or dictator with the green to back up an offer.

The character of Yuri Orlov is dynamic in a way characters seldom are. He is complacent with his sale of weapons, avoiding the truth, which is that he is giving bad people weapons to kill other people.

However, plot devices cause his complacency to fade, only to be met by a jaded acceptance of his life, his gun selling gift, and his place in hell.

Jared Leto gives an inspiring performance as Yuri’s younger brother who cannot bring himself to stop snorting cocaine or start selling weapons.

Ethan Hawke joins the cast as an Interpol agent determined on catching Orlov in the act. His determination is matched only by his honesty to the limits of his job, and he serves as a perfect counterpart to the amoral character of Yuri.

The fact that Niccol went unrecognized for his writing and directing of this important, entertaining film is a shame. And one can only imagine that the reason Cage did not received any recognition for his superior, film-carrying performance (he is in nearly every shot of the film) is because he has given even better in films such as Adaptation and Leaving Las Vegas, which he both received Oscar nominations for (he won the Best Actor Oscar for Las Vegas).

In the end, it seems a movie that can make you laugh, jump, smile with excitement -- but considering its theme can’t be an Oscar contender.

This assumption is the true in the case of Lord of War. Oh well, maybe next year. Maybe not.  

 


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