Kaleidescape Blog

Oscar Nominees—In Other Good Movies by Leonard Maltin

February 28, 2014

I must admit, I’m a bit tired of reading and hearing about the past year’s Oscar nominees, good as they are. But I never tire of touting movies that may have escaped your attention—like the following examples that feature some of the very performers who are in the running for Academy Awards. Some of these titles are quite recent while others go back a few years. They’re all well worth seeing.

To start with the most recent: Matthew McConaughey has never been better than he is in Mud, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ deeply-felt film about two 12-year-old boys who live in Arkansas near the Mississippi River. They chance to meet a drifter on the lam and decide to help him realize his unattainable dream. Nichols was influenced by Mark Twain, and that’s reason enough to check out this highly original movie. McConaughey says it’s the best film he’s ever made—and he’s right.

Amy Adams has been on a well-deserved winning streak, but not enough people saw her as Clint Eastwood’s estranged daughter in the sentimental drama Trouble with the Curve. It’s a sweet film about a baseball scout who’s getting on in years and his highly-driven daughter. There are no great revelations here, but it’s an entertaining picture with solid work from both actors.

Sandra Bullock has been firing on all cylinders, as well, but I’d call your attention to her excellent supporting performance as Harper Lee, the Southern novelist who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, in Infamous, from 2006, the “other” film about Truman Capote and the development of his fact-based novel In Cold Blood starring Toby Jones and Daniel Craig. (It came out after Capote, which earned Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar, and got lost in the shuffle.)

Nothing Leonardo Di Caprio does goes far off anyone’s radar these days, but if you go back to his teenage years you’ll find he was giving great performances even back then. One of my favorites is Marvin’s Room, a moving family drama that casts him as Oscar favorite Meryl Streep’s son. He got the job because the film was produced by Robert De Niro, who was so impressed playing opposite the young actor in This Boy’s Life.

Chiwetel Ejiofor may be new to many people who saw 12 Years a Slave, but he’s a major talent who first came to my attention in the 2002 sleeper Dirty Pretty Things, as an illegal Nigerian immigrant who gets sucked into a strange criminal underworld in London. It’s a knockout of a movie directed by Stephen Frears (whose latest effort is Oscar nominee Philomena).

Meryl Streep’s career has been so long and diverse you could throw a dart at a list and find a good movie. Two of my favorites from years past are A Cry in the Dark, in which she plays a ferocious, real-life Australian mother in a crisis situation, and Music of the Heart, which was also inspired by an actual person, albeit a more benign one: she’s a dedicated music teacher.

And if you never saw The Shipping News, based on Annie Proulx’s best-selling novel, you missed a gallery of great performances from Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, and two of this year’s nominees, Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. Not everyone loved this film but I think it got a bum rap. I encourage you to give it a try.

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