By Joan Ellis
AFTER THE OSCAR fuss is over, think about catching up on the good movies you may have missed. You’ll find them somewhere in the digital nether world of Red Box, Netflix, DVD, or Video on Demand. Let’s hope that by next year someone will have simplified the process.
Margin Call – In our polarized political world, Margin Call jumped right in with a sharp look at the self-induced collapse of a major Wall Street investment firm. It is a fascinating look at financial men under siege made compelling by Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, and Stanley Tucci. Wrapped in impeccable dark suits and self- protective restraint, these men reveal the personal price they have paid for collective success.
Incendies – This extremely tough film examines the losses of war – of family, homes, and towns without telling us exactly where we are. We know only that the war we are watching is rooted in religious hatred somewhere in the Middle East. By not identifying the location or the pros and cons of cause, director Villeneuve pulls us deeply into the brutality of human beings, one to another. This moving story unfolds in a flood of family revelations against a landscape of destruction. It’s unforgettable and horrific.
Sarah’s Key – In Paris, July 1942, the French are arresting their own. Whole families of Jews are herded to the Velodrome, a cycling arena that will serve as a holding pen for a trip that will end in Auschwitz. In Paris, July 2009, Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas) undertakes a search for the daughter of the family who once lived in her family apartment. WWII and contemporary Paris are each etched in fine detail while a family nightmare of the Holocaust reminds us again that the world has learned nothing from the experiences of the innocent people who experienced it.
In A Better World – Danish director Susanne Bier addresses the universal question of what it means to be a moral human being, and furthermore, she suggests an answer. Schoolyard bullying, misguided vengeance and unintended consequences test the values of everyone in this beautifully acted film. Each character is permanently affected by Mikael Persbrandt’s Anton who gives his friends, family, and the audience a towering example of what happens when a person refuses to retaliate in response to heartbreak and violence.
Certified Copy – I missed this one myself and will find it. Described as a brain teaser by critics, it stars the wonderful Juliette Binoche who won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her performance. The intriguing premise centers on a couple who may or may not be strangers.
Of these, Margin Call is a fast paced contemporary American drama; Sarah’s Key is a strong story of the role of the French in the Holocaust; Incendies and In a Better World are simply the two best movies I saw all year. The fact that they are still vividly alive in my head is a good measure of their power.