Nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing)
Availability in the US: Now in theatres
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence
War Horse is the tale of a young boy named Albert who joins the British army during World War I so he may travel Europe in search of the horse his father sold to the cavalry. The horse—whom Albert named Joey, but who earns several other names throughout the course of the film—passes from owner to owner over the course of several years, serves both the Entente and Central Powers, and somehow miraculously avoids being shot about 2,000 separate times.
I'll admit I went into this film with a slight bias: I'm not a horse person; I don't like horses or movies about them. That said, War Horse is a particularly good example of why I don't care for the "horse movie" genre. First off, horses can't act. I'm not particularly big on dog movies either, but at least those guys can be kind of cute and have some ability to make facial expressions. Secondly, Joey is only extraordinary in his ability to inspire love in every human being with whom he interacts. Other than that (which is poorly executed on the human actors' parts, I might add), if the swelling music is any indication, we're supposed to get excited about the horse pulling a plough, jumping over a ditch, and running in a straight line for no conceivable reason. Isn't this what horses are supposed to do? Why is Joey so special? Because a possibly-mentally-handicapped boy named Albert thinks so?
This film was boring, predictable, poorly acted, and completely pointless. The only good thing I have to say about War Horse is that at least it's not as bad as The Tree of LifeGrade: C-
The Tree of Life
Nominations: 3 (Best Picture; Best Director: Terrence Malick; Best Cinematography)
Availability in the US: On DVD and Blu-ray
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for some thematic material
So this is the part of most reviews where I describe the plot of the film; unfortunately, The Tree of Life has no plot, at least not one that can be clearly discerned. I sat through all 139 excruciating minutes of this film, and I can honestly say I wish I had gotten a root canal instead; it would have been less painful. The film centers around a family with three sons in the 1950s, or at least most of it does. There is also a twenty-minute portion of it that shows the history of the universe starting with the Big Bang, continuing through the planet's volcanic period, lingering for a few minutes on dinosaurs roaming the earth, moving along to early humans, and finally resting in the 1950s. A similar segment follows the main action of the film, which shows what is presumably the future of our planetary fate and all the film's characters meeting up in what appears to be some sort of afterlife—if Heaven is essentially a backwoods bus station.
Maybe it's good when a film leaves you asking questions, but I doubt the questions I had are what any filmmaker has in mind. What is this movie about? Is Brad Pitt's character bi-polar? Do you only have to pay Sean Penn half his usual rate if he doesn't speak at all and most of his screentime is the back of his head? Is that blob of orange light supposed to be God? Does Heaven really look like a backwoods bus stop? Has there ever been another Best Picture nominee that featured dinosaurs? (On this last point, I've determined that Toy Story 3 does not count.) Who voted for this dreck? Most importantly, who do I speak to about getting two hours of my life back?
All I have to say is if this wins any Oscars, we all need to seriously reevaluate how we determine what the best films each year are.Grade: D