A Savvy Guide to Oscar 2013


Before the Oscars arrive on Sunday, February 24th, why not try and see the multitude of films nominated? We have separated the Oscar-nominated films into age appropriate groups to make your time most efficient.

For Middle School: Life of Pi

Life of Pi tells the imaginative story of a shipwrecked boy and the tiger who survives with him.

Life of Pi tells the imaginative story of a shipwrecked boy and the tiger who survives with him.

The Life of Pi is as much a cinematic achievement as it is a technical one. Based on a book that was deemed  “unfilmable”  by many Hollywood producers, director Ang Lee employs his considerable storytelling talent and remarkable visual effects to create a dazzling movie experience. Follow Pi (Suraj Sharma) as he becomes lost at sea with no one for company but a full grown, Bengal tiger. The terrible power of nature is contrasted with its incredible beauty throughout the film, and the relationship between Pi and the tiger is a compelling one. Although this film is one of the few on our list without any sex, guns, or car chases, it does contain incredibly intense emotional scenes of animals killing other animals, a shipwreck and ultimately tells the story of a boy losing his family. However, the images are lyrical and the battle of wits between boy and beast –not to mention the sight of a boy alone on a deserted island — will captivate MS kids.  Viewers who love the movie should go back and read the novel by Yann Martel.

For Baby Boomers: Argo

The CIA and Hollywood team up in Argo.

The CIA and Hollywood team up in Argo.

As much as we  hate to admit it, we can remember the real-life events portrayed in Argo. Director Ben Affleck’s impressive retelling of the now familiar tale of political kidnapping employs believable and interesting characters, and the look of the film threads the needle between nostalgia and realism effectively. Seeing Argo will prompt discussions of the ongoing politics of the Middle East, and is the type of movie that we all wish Hollywood would make more of — it introduces a corner of history in an accessible vehicle (i.e. Hollywood producers fake making a movie in Iran to provide a cover for a CIA operative to rescue hostages). Without big stars, and with a large dose of clever writing, it is a fantastic film that mght just bring home Oscar.

For Everyone: Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have great chemistry in this dramedy about mental health.

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have great chemistry in this dramedy about mental health.

Silver Linings Playbook, an uplifting film by David O. Russell, is perfect for any young teens undertaking the daunting task of growing up. Pat Solatano (played by the dreamy Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a psychiatric ward, and is trying to piece his life back together after a rough separation from his wife. Enter Tiffany (the incredible Jennifer Lawrence), newly single for entirely different reasons. The two try and help one another while they navigate their off-kilter worlds, with an amazing ensemble cast (Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver) fleshing out this truly believable world of characters. The culmination of the film will make you believe in love, in family, in the redemptive power of football and dance… and in Bradley Cooper’s ability to be more than just a pretty face.  With a nod to the insanity of football fans (Jennifer Lawrence’s stat-rap calls to mind Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-winning performance in My Cousin Vinny)  a dance contest finale that will bring tears (of hilarity) to your eyes, Silver Linings Playbook is a movie with something for everyone.  And, it gets our award for best titled film of the year.

For Everyone: Moonrise Kingdom


A reckless boy scout and a reclusive girl are the romantic leads in Wes Anderson’s quirky “Moonrise Kingdom”.

Last summer’s Moonrise Kingdon from filmmaker extraordinaire Wes Anderson is set in 1965, where the beautiful and fictional island of New Penzance is in an uproar over the disappearance of two preteen runaways. Bill Murray and Francis McDormand star as the concerned parents of young Suzy (played expertly by Kara Hayward), while Ed Norton leads his Boy Scout troupe on a hunt for Sam (an endearing Jared Gilman). The film captures the rebellious spirit of young people, and the especially rebellious spirit of  young people in love. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a sappy story of The Notebook variety – these young teens are comically innocent in their relationship, and the excellent cast brings Anderson’s quirky vision to life. Take the time to see Moonrise Kingdom, and take a nostalgic summer journey before the Oscars!

For Musical Fans: Les Miserables

Les Miserables is an epic French tale with live singing - check it out!

Les Miserables is an epic French tale with live singing – check it out!

Of course if you like musicals, sitting back with a popcorn and watching Les Miserables is a no-brainer. But we urge even the non-believers to give this film a shot. Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of the famous Broadway hit was shot in France, with expansive and breathtaking sets that transport you to the heady days of revolution. The singing in the film was recorded live, as opposed to being recorded later where an audio technician could perfect the sound, so the you’re treated to the honest-to-goodness voices of Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried.  Anne Hathaway in particular steals the show for her portrayal of Fantine, a desperate factory worker and mother, who gets to sing the show stopper “I Dreamed a Dream” (and make off with the Oscar, most likely!) Even if you aren’t a fan of musicals, Les Miserables just might make you sing a different tune.

For Teens: Django Unchained

Django Unchained deals with America's difficult past in an action-packed way.

Django Unchained deals with America’s difficult past in an action-packed way.

Django is a controversial film, aimed at mature audiences. With that disclaimer out of the way, let us say that Django is an exuberantly creative, wild romp of an exploration of the bombastic practices of slavery in our country. Director Quentin Tarantino tells the traditional story of a damsel in distress, but sets it in the deep south before the Civil War. The quirky and captivating characters – Jamie Foxx’s chivalrous Django, Christoph Waltz’s witty Dr. Schultz, and Leonardo DiCaprio as the villainous slave owner Calvin Candie – blend perfectly with the beautiful scenery to create a visually enthralling film. The complex issues of the old South, slavery, and racism will make your teen think about this country and its history. But the love story and general bad ass nature of Django’s quest will make sure they leave the theater thoroughly entertained. Warning: this film, true to Tarantino’s form, is very violent… in the auteur’s signature cartoon-y style.

For Everyone: Lincoln

Daniel Day Lewis does an astounding job portraying our nation's 16th president.

Daniel Day Lewis does an astounding job portraying our nation’s 16th president.

With Django and Lincoln, the Civil War era is definitely in vogue this Oscar season. Written by Tony Kushner (of Angels in America fame), Lincoln was directed by Stephen Spielberg and stars Daniel Day Lewis. With such a methodical actor, a prolific playwright, and an acclaimed director, the film itself is evidence of the incredible work that can be accomplished when great minds collaborate. Beyond this collision of greats, the film tells the story of Lincoln’s life 4 months before his assassination as he pushes the 13th Amendment through Congress. Daniel Day Lewis keeps good company, as the performances of the other actors in the film (Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Sally Field) are brilliantly executed. We recommend the film for any history buffs out there, but caution that the film is long and requires some understanding of political process. Fifth grade and over recommended.

For the Cinephiles and Romantics: Amour

Amour is captivating in its depiction of a husband's devotion to his wife.

Amour is captivating in its depiction of a husband’s devotion to his wife.

Amour topped most critics Best Film lists for the year and indeed, it is a perfect film. The ideal actors, a haunting set and story and a director at the top of his game. Not many people will see the movie, for its subject matter is indeed difficult to watch (especially if your parents are getting on in years). Nominated for Best Foreign Language film, Michael Haneke’s drama tells the story of an elderly couple and how they cope after the wife has a stroke. The film is set in France, and it won the coveted Palme d’Or  at the Cannes Film Festival. It is an emotionally devastating story, but magnificently acted by France’s top three stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant,  Emmanuelle Riva, and Isabelle Huppert. Worth taking a deep breath and watching… with tissues.

For the Documentary Fans: Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man will excite any fan of classic rock music.

Searching for Sugar Man will excite any fan of classic rock music.

American musician Rodriguez never tasted much success in the United States, but in South Africa he was a wildly popular rock music icon. Two diehard fans from Cape Town decide to uncover the truth behind Rodriguez’ music, and to find out if the musician is alive today. Follow their journey, and see the exciting world that super fandom and classic rock music create. The Academy Award nominated film by Malik Bendjelloul has been hailed by critics from Roger Eberts to Manohla Dargis. If your kids are fans of rock music, they will enjoy this documentary. If they are fans of exotic locales, they will appreciate the South African accents throughout. If they simply like documentaries, this one is definitely worth seeing.