[#2015oscardeathrace] Selma (2014)

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Director: Ava DuVernay

Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Stephen James, Wendell Pierce, Common, Alessandro Nivola, Keith Stanfield, Cuba Gooding Jr., Dylan Baker, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey

Screenplay: Paul Webb

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Glory” by Common, John Legend) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

Selma is the story of a key moment in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year): the fight for the right to vote. King has tries to get help from President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins, The Grand Budapest Hotel), but to no avail. His wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, TV’s Zero Hour, The Purge: Anarchy), would hope to keep him out of harm’s way. But in Selma, Alabama, a woman named Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple, The Butler) can’t even get registered to vote. King takes his civil rights movement to Selma in hopes of swaying Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth, TV’s Lie to Me, Pulp Fiction) to let them vote.

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While the film Selma isn’t perfect, it does contain some of the more perfect casting and performance work of the past year. David Oyelowo is the spitting visage of the late Dr. King. He has the look, he has the voice, and he has the mannerisms down to a science. Tom Wilkinson plays the former President filled with self-doubt and delusion. Rapper Common (TV’s Hell on Wheels, Smokin’ Aces) gives one of his best roles as James Bevel, as does Wendell Pierce (TV’s The Wire, Parker) in the position of Reverand Hosea Williams. We also get some great turns from some major Hollywood players, like Martin Sheen and Dylan Baker (Spider-Man 2, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), in small roles to elevate the craft of the other actors to something truly great.

Director Ava DuVernay’s camera is more stoic than static, offering what feels more like a live docu-drama than a sweeping picture, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did mess with the flow slightly.

I really enjoyed the song “Glory” from Common and John Legend that plays over the closing credits. It displays a plethora of African-American cultural music from the time of Dr. King to present day.

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Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a film that must be watched, if only for the powerful messages it conveys. I honestly did not know as much about this facet of the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the events in Selma, Alabama, and so I found the film engaging and shocking at times, and definitely worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] The Princess and the Frog (2009)

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Director: Ron Clements, John Musker

Cast: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jennifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman

Screenplay: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards

97 mins. Rated G.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (“Almost There” by Randy Newman)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (“Down in New Orleans” by Randy Newman)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

Disney has been known for years to be the leading developer and creator in 2D animation. So even after they had essentially made the change to CG animation, it was a shock to see Disney reverting back to 2D for their next release in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. It was a definite risk as most moviegoers had made themselves comfortable with the newest form of animating.

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Tiana (Anika Noni Rose, Dreamgirls, Bag of Bones) wants, more than anything, to own a restaurant. It was a passion she shared with her father (Terrence Howard, Iron Man, Sabotage) until he passed away. Now, after years of all working and no playing, Tiana is a dull girl but has forged enough dough to buy her restaurant. It seems like everything is going her way finally, until a talking frog claiming to be the rich Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos, Mimic 2) convinces her to kiss him to turn him human. That kiss backfires, changing Tiana herself into a frog. Now, the two, along with some new friends, must find Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis, Cars, Think Like a Man Too) in order to turn back to humans.

I happen to find The Princess and the Frog to be one of the more unique entries in the Disney Animated catalog. It also falls into one of the safer entries in that same catalog. I enjoyed the film and the stylistic choices made for the music and the characters, but I don’t feel like The Princess and the Frog takes any steps to be less generic. I feel like the Disney execs were so worried about not offending anyone by showing the first black Disney princess in an imperfect light that they turned the film rather bland, which is too bad for a film with so much flavor. It jumps back and forth in the belief that it will be approved by everyone and in that sense it doesn’t leave the audience with much. Likable? Somewhat. Memorable? Less so.

The voice work is fine, with extra praise to Keith David (TV’s Enlisted, Platoon) for his portrayal of Dr. Facilier and Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple, The Butler) as Tiana’s mom.

The film deserves attention for the music by Randy Newman, usually known for a specific style which is wholly unlike what he gives us here.

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Is The Princess and the Frog worth a Best Animated Feature Oscar? Probably not, but it is a fun romp which kids should enjoy and adults should be able to sit through.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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