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What the Academy Overlooked

Sunday, February 17, 2008

When it comes to Oscar, sometimes what we love gets the snub. Style critics and reporters fondly recall movies from 2007, from the art house and the multiplex, that we would give a statuette (or two) to.

"ENCHANTED"

War, guns, betrayal, death, depression, dysfunction. Gee, thanks a lot, Hollywood, you big fat downer! But wait, here's "Enchanted," a parody of a Disney fairy tale in which the singular Amy Adams trills and twirls and brings princesses, friendship and true love into our tight little hearts. Why the enchanting Adams was overlooked for an actress nomination is unfathomable. She is a delight. She is Cool Whip on cookie dough. We haven't left the theater skipping like this since the surprisingly good Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore rom-com "Music and Lyrics." Meanwhile, Disney should receive some sort of special meta award for releasing a movie that's a parody of its very Disneyness. And one that makes you leave the theater skipping.

-- Leslie Yazel

"THE HOST"

I keep thinking of that stealthy beast in "The Host," dangling, waiting beneath a bridge over Seoul's Han River. I went in knowing that this was a Korean monster movie with vague anti-U.S. undertones. What I hadn't expected, and what haunts me still, and what makes me wish "The Host" was up for Best Foreign Film, is its quirky and tragic portrayal of the Park family: When their youngest relative is taken and killed (or not?) by the rampaging monster, these estranged relatives arrive at the crisis center and collapse, together, in an anguished heap. Then they start beating and kicking the you-know-what out of one another. In this latter-day "Godzilla" comes the year's best movie about home dysfunction not starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. The monster isn't even half the Park family's problems.

-- Hank Stuever

"CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR"

The '80s, those were heydays, eh? Ladling out the pork by day, knocking back the single malts by night (in a hot tub with Miss November). That's the kind of American-style political shenanigans you can get behind. Charlie Wilson, in the famous phrase, might have been "a little nutty and a little slutty," but the congressman from East Texas had style. And in Mike Nichols's film, with a script from Aaron Sorkin that just zoom-zooms, we have the Office Scene: Wilson, played by Tom Hanks, scrambling to control the damage of a blooming sex-and-drug scandal as he simultaneously hatches a plan with new best friend, CIA spook Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, in walrus moustache), to covertly fund a proxy war against the Soviets on the side of the mujahedin in Afghanistan. Talk about walking and chewing gum at the same time.

-- William Booth

"ROCKET SCIENCE"

Can somebody explain why a film as brilliant as "Rocket Science" was dumped on an indifferent market in mid-August? Maybe that just seemed to fit with the other indignities suffered by its adolescent lead character, Hal Hefner, whose life is painfully circumscribed by a cruel stutter. So of course it makes total sense that our antihero tries out for the debate team and his crush is the team's whip-smartest girl. Thus can the yearning arc of his character be ignited, although nothing flies in a predictable trajectory. I didn't love it only because I'm soft on funny/quirky/high school/indie-soundtrack/dysfunctional-family pictures; writer-director Jeffrey Blitz deepened, shaded and somehow rendered authentic every character here. Like "Rushmore" or "Dazed and Confused," it's a teen classic.

-- Richard Leiby

"4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS"

How do you get audiences into theaters? You don't, apparently, tell them that this stark but elevating film by director Cristian Mungiu is about two women seeking an abortion on a gray winter's day in Ceausescu's Romania. You tell them that it's probably the best film in any category released last year, and that its omission by the foreign language branch members of the Motion Picture Academy is proof that their participation is no longer useful, or required. Did they watch it? (I suspect not; too bleak for voters who prefer movies about children, the elderly or silly romance.) If they did watch it, did they see it? (Unquestionably not, because the film is as powerful as cinema can be, and if you can't take the heat, get out of the Academy screening room.)

-- John Anderson

"LARS AND THE REAL GIRL" (AND "THE SAVAGES"!)

I liked "Juno" as much as the next member of the art-house demographic -- honest to blog! -- but yet it trafficked in just about every indie cliche in the quirky, ironic, edgy-but-with-a-heart-of-gold book. What makes the "Juno" love particularly hard to take are that there were two frankly better movies: "Lars and the Real Girl," which took its too-quirky-by-half cliches in an altogether unexpected, even mournful direction, and "The Savages," a tough, ruthlessly observant movie about aging (both are deservedly nominated for Best Original Screenplay). Even if "Juno" wins this year's popularity contest, with any justice "Lars" and "The Savages" are doodles that will stay did, homeskillet.

-- Ann Hornaday

"ZODIAC"

Every scene in David Fincher's darkly haunting "Zodiac" -- about the hunt for the real "Zodiac" killer who terrorized San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s -- is a masterpiece in miniature. But none spooks us quite so completely as the interrogation of a suspect named Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch). As he drones on about his innocence, his three questioners (Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards and Elias Koteas) aren't even listening. They're all staring at a compelling, personal possession of his. One that screams guilty. We're staring, too. Could we be sitting in the same room . . . as Zodiac?

-- Desson Thomson

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