It's almost Oscar Sunday, and with this exciting time of the year, many of us get to learn more about some amazing movies that we may have passed up or missed in the theaters - both of Oscar past and present. In celebration of this highly acclaimed season, I've collected a handful of the best available movies on blu-ray (see my official reviews by clicking the titles). Whether they're winning classics or nominated hopefuls, these movies should be owned, watched, and admired.
Synopsis: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011.
Despite knowing how it will turn out Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping thriller that serves as an expose that is less about the killing of Osama Bin Laden but more about the looping process, the steadfastness of someone destined to see it through and finally, proof that sometimes one person can make a difference despite seeming insurmountable odds. Don’t expect to stand up and cheer at the end but be prepared for a reeling and memorable film experience that has made it to my list of favorites.
Synopsis: In 1941 Hawaii, a private is cruelly punished for not boxing on his unit's team, while his captain's wife and second in command are falling in love.
This is a superbly constructed film with its three distinct story-lines and wonderfully drawn characters. I can’t praise the performances of the ensemble cast enough. Their marvelous chemistry sells the unfolding and inevitable events making the evocative nature of the drama all the more involving. The finale and memorable closing moment is the icing on the cake.
Synopsis: Acting under the cover of a Hollywood producer scouting a location for a science fiction film, a CIA agent launches a dangerous operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran in 1980.
Argo isn’t your typical story of heroes but as far as films that depict daring, courage and tension go it’s assuredly riveting. It grabs hold right at the start and doesn’t let go. There isn’t time for deep character building which is fine since we see them as credible based upon the factual nature of the storyline. The screenplay does a superb job of establishing a foundational correlation between the characters while integrating thematic melodrama and effectively building suspense. It is a brilliant thriller that is among the best films of 2012.
Synopsis: A hack screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent-film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity.
I found Sunset Boulevard to be poignant, sad and immensely compelling. Not to be missed, this is a classic piece of American filmmaking that deserves a place on the shelf of every film enthusiast.
Synopsis: The merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Rush is as big as its biographical subjects. I loved its visceral honesty and evocative drama which when mated with its subtly crafted yet completely involving action made for a compelling and gratifying film experience that reminds me why I am a film enthusiast.
Synopsis: A mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.
Scorsese is a visionary filmmaker with a master craftsman’s touch. This film, like its subject, is gritty, raw, disturbing and compelling, all at the same time. It takes us on a journey into the psyche of an individual whose motivations are probably never completely understood (even by himself). It took me thirty five years to finally sit down and watch Taxi Driver and the wait was well worth it. It’s a modern classic that garnered four Academy Award nominations, appears on several of the American Film Institutes top 100 lists and is considered by many to be a cinematic masterpiece. I whole heartedly agree.
Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.
I watched it with my family and by the end we had experienced a range of emotions including outrage, empathy, and a deep sense of pride in being Americans. Good films tend to bring us to the brink of stepping into the story and Captain Phillips, underscored by the brilliant performance by Tom Hanks, takes us about as close to being there as it gets. We absolutely loved it.
Synopsis: A seventeen-year-old aristocrat, expecting to be married to a rich claimant by her mother, falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
Titanic is truly an experience. Epic in scope, grandiose in execution it is a trans-generational film that I find haunting, tragic, and engaging. Being a romantic I can’t help but root for Jack and Rose. The script is well crafted, historically significant and contains elements of melodrama, thrills, suspense, romance and humor. Winner of 11 Academy Awards, Titanic is a sweeping and memorable epic film that remains among my personal favorites.
Synopsis: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
Jaws is one of my all time favorite films. It’s a gripping thriller with a superbly crafted story that is driven by suspense, a transcendent music score and iconic characters that include the 25 foot great white shark. I think what I love best about Jaws is it characters. The primaries in Brody, Hooper, Quint and the shark are of course the standouts but there are a host of colorful and complimentary secondary characters, which would include John Williams’ music, that are essential to what makes this classic film so special.
Synopsis: In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.
I would like to believe that most that have seen this film were affected by it on at least some level. It is based on one of the darkest periods in human history however its subject represents a defining light amidst unspeakable atrocities. No matter how many times I have seen Schindler’s List it always evokes the same responses. Frankly, it isn’t a movie that leaves you yearning to see it over and over. However it leaves an indelible impression that serves as a reminder of past events, that while difficult to watch, should never be forgotten. Based on real events, Schindler’s List is a powerful and moving film that tells a timeless and important story of survival during the holocaust and the man that discovered that whoever saves a life, saves the world entire.
Synopsis: A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While a cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger.
Based on the book of the same name that has sold more than seven million copies, Life of Pi is a story of personal discovery that takes place over three continents, two oceans, many years, and speaks from an imaginative and heartwarming perspective. Four years in the making, director Ang Lee’s passion and vision are fully realized in this dazzling spectacle that stretches the limits of imagination as it teeters between what we as the audience might conceive as possible or impossible. Either way it reaches out to us on varying levels allowing us to draw from its visual lyrics and shaped metaphors.
Synopsis: Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.
Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Chariots of Fire needs little introduction and is an inspirational and powerful dramatic film based on the true story of two very different men striving for Olympic glory during the 1924 games in Paris, France.
Synopsis: An enterprising Saudi girl signs on for her school's Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the remaining funds she needs in order to buy the green bicycle that has captured her interest.
Wadjda is the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and was written and directed by Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker. It was all that I expected and tells a charming and poignant coming of age story about a little girl who refuses to be constrained by the boundaries of her culture. The film offers a unique insight and speaks of universal themes of hope and perseverance. What would seemingly be a simple story about a child wanting a bicycle evolves into a complex story that speaks to the human condition via a rewardingly drawn landscape that beats to a culturally different but universal drum.
Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
Alexander Payne’s films aren’t difficult to spot. His characters are generally earthy, awkwardly funny, and the stories speak to the human condition from a place that seems genuinely identifiable at least on some level. Nebraska is a character driven film derived from relationship between a father and son who for years lived together but apart. What they discover is that the most important aspect of their journey is that they took it together. None of the situational drama in this film is overtly original. What makes it special is the nuance found in the subtext of the story as it pertains to the characters and their interaction. The recipient of 6 Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Alexander Payne, Nebraska is simply one of the best films of 2013.
Synopsis: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Gravity is all that I hoped it would be and speaks to the human condition from a place that most can't embrace from a literal standpoint. This is a powerful and, at times, gripping film experience with an escalating level of suspense that subtly builds. At times I found myself holding onto the arms of the chair as the sort of roller coaster series of events unfold. From a creative and production standpoint Gravity is a marvel to behold. The execution of the variety of pre and post production work required to bring it to life the way it did comes through with breathtaking results. The cinematography is integral to deriving the most from the conceptual design and is simply outstanding.