a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

The WalkBeastsRoomIt’s that time of year again. Cinemas are currently just about exploding with Oscar-seeking pictures, and Oscar hopefuls among the actors’ performances abound.

Of course, there’s the “Throw-Up Movie” (otherwise known as “The Walk”) which we can just about discount. Though it opened the New York Film Festival recently, NEWS programs have been devoting SEGMENTS, ENTIRE SEGMENTS on how this movie is making people run to the Men’s Room(or the ladies’) and vomit, it’s so violently vertiginous. It’s about Phillippe Petit’s tight-rope walk between the World Trade Center Towers pre-9/11. The special effects are so graphically believable and intense that it’s making movie-goers violently ill.

And as Maurice DuBois the host of CBS Evening News in New York said on the air yesterday, “Why bother going?” (to a movie that makes you sick.)

So that automatically “x-es” out “The Walk” Oscar chances. Academy voters aren’t going to risk blowing their cookies.

Meanwhile, two other films that are very powerful and compelling are starting to screen post-TIFF, and are opening VERY soon. Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” and Cary Fukanaga’s “Beasts of No Nation.” Both are very, very good films, but they have in common two things. One, they are both tough sits. And two, they are dominated and propelled by Award-caliber performances by their two leads. Actress Brie Larson in “Room” and the powerhouse Idris Elba in “Beasts.”

I heard a lot about these movies at TIFF, but I didn’t see either there. And the Oscar buzz has been building and building, especially around Brie Larson, and deservedly so.

But just saw these great, gut-wrenching films  last night and the night before, and both can be described as harrowing. Certainly the ordeals that their lead characters  go through are horrifying in the extreme. And also, both boast superb performances by the juvenile actors in them, who also carry their pictures. Newcomers Jacob Tremblay in “Room” and Abraham Atta in “Beasts.” Will the academy nominate all FOUR of these stupendous performances? They might.

Brie Larson really jumps into the mainstream here with an extremely moving performance that the Academy will find hard to deny. It’s a role with a range unlike any other. It is a story ripped from the headlines. A young girl is kidnapped and imprisoned by a violent rapist. She is locked up in a “Room” (actually a garden shed) and repeatedly raped . This horrifying event has happened seven years before the movie starts and it is not for the weak-hearted by any means. The child Jack she has had by her captor who impregnated her, is now five years old and as played by Tremblay, is a beguiling, smart, inquisitive child. He’s the narrator and beating heart of this frightening movie.

The first half of the film is extremely claustrophobic as it takes place entirely in the “Room” and we begin to feel as trapped as the characters, Joy and Jack. How they ever survive this ordeal is truly incredible. And of course it makes you think of all the horrific, unthinkable real-life cases where this has happened. And it is interesting to note that this particular horror story has not been portrayed on-screen before.

And Brie Larson, an Indie actress new to me, did win me over with her intensely  gripping portrayal of a mother ironically named Joy. Her life force just won’t let her quit no matter how dire and unforgiving the situation. She never gives up hope that she will escape her captor and her devotion to her child is so strong and complete and her creativity in keeping her young son happy, occupied and well, despite their grimmer-than-grim circumstances is edifying, enlightening and awe-inspiring.Understated, brunette this time and with no make-up whatsoever, Larson’s is a completely vanity free performance. Kudos to Larson who is currently leading the list of Best Actress hopefuls all over the Internet and Oscarology. If you see this film, you will see why. She may be unstoppable.

Jacob Tremblay as the five-year old Jack, whose point of view the picture is told from, is equally award-worthy.What, at such a young age, he is required to do  is staggering. He is an innocent that has no concept that there is a world outside “Room” no matter how many times his mother imaginatively tells him tales about it. The Academy could nominate him in Supporting, if it really stops to think about the power and difficulty of this challenging role, especially for such a young child, in this disturbing, unforgettable indie movie. It’s bleak, but it’s power can’t be denied. I’m still thinking about it.

A completely different race is going to be run by Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation” as he battles his way to a Best Actor nomination as the terrifying, brutal war lord in “Beasts of No Nation.” The Academy caveat is this. Will they watch it?

“Beasts” is just as powerful as “Room,” as it depicts an un-named African civil war. It is  also told from the bewildered perspective of a child. Agu, the incredible Abraham Atta, is also kidnapped as Joy and by extension Jack are in “Room.” This time the abduction is by an entire band of renegade African “soldiers”. Butchers, really. Who have killed Agu’s father and brother right  in front of him and have destroyed his entire town.

“Beasts” is over-long and one of the most bloody, violent films to ever be in the Oscar conversation. It is elevated to Academy heights, by Elba’s towering performance. As his reign of terror begins to come to an end and his world falls apart around him towards the end of “Beasts”, Elba does have the requisite number of Academy-friendly acting moments as he begins to worry “Was it worth it?”

And after last year’s debacle of them NOT nominating  African-Americans Ava DeVernay and David Oyelowo for directing and starring in “Selma” respectively, they MUST nominated a person of color this year. And it could be the magnificent British black actor Idris Elba who benefits from this terrible, seemingly racist oversight.

An African war-lord in the Best Actor race? Well, didn’t Forrest Whittaker WIN a Best Actor Oscar a number of years back for playing Idi Amin?

Will Brie Larson be in the Best Actress conversation? For sure. Will Idris Elba FINALLY got an Oscar nomination? I hope so.

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