Well, I caught up on some of the Oscar nominated movies recently.

I saw REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, the new Sam Mendes movie (he also directed AMERICAN BEAUTY), starring his wife. Kate Winslet. It also stars Leonardo DiCaprio as her husband, so in a way it’s like a TITANIC reunion. But man, this movie is as far away from the fluff of TITANIC as you can get. Based on the novel by Richard Yates, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is a story about the American dream, and the kind of people who want something more out of life. As April and Frank Wheeler, Winslet and DiCaprio play a couple in the 1950s who just aren’t happy with their traditional roles. He has a job he hates in the city, which at least seems to pay the bills okay. They have a nice house in the suburbs.She’s a housewife and mother of two. And yet, they both have these yawning chasms in their souls. The life of conformity and doing exactly what is expected of you just doesn’t satisfy them. So they decide to do something really radical and move to Paris.

Before they can actually go through with their plans, a series of roadblocks starts popping up, making them realize how trapped they truly are. Winslet is especially tragic (although the way her character so easily gives up her acting career early on, after a few bad experiences, seemed a bit hard to swallow, considering April’s strength and determination later on).

This movie deserved more attention from the Oscars, but only got an acting nomination for Michael Shannon as John Givings, a mathematician who has had a nervous breakdown and who is the son of one of the Wheelers’ neighbors who comes for visits. Because he is considered a freak for having mental illness (the stigma back then was a lot worse than it is now), he is the only character who is allowed to really say what’s on his mind, and he’s great in the role. But DiCaprio, and especially Winslet, also deserved Oscar nods for this one.

A powerful little movie. And it will hit a nerve if you’re one of those people who isn’t quite satisfied with the way things are.

The other big Oscar film I saw recently was SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. It’s about a poor kid from the ghettos of India who goes on the Indian version of the show WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE and makes it all the way to the end. The people in charge are sure he is cheating and torture him, but as the movie unfolds, Jamal Malik (Dey Patel) reveals to a policeman how he knew the answers, taking us through a lifetime of poverty and violence that includes his mother being clubbed to death because of her religion, a group of men who force children to work as beggars to earn money, and vicious gangsters.

Jamal’s own brother, Salim, becomes a violent gang enforcer, and Latika, a girl he befriends as a child and who becomes the love of his life, is lost to him at least three times before he finally finds her as an adult.

The use of the inane MILLIONAIRE show struck me as annoying at first, but as the movie went on, it was used in a very clever way to reveal key story points in Jamal’s past. And while certain parts of the plot seem a little too coincidental, director Danny Boyle (who also gave us TRAINSPOTTING and 28 DAYS LATER) somehow makes it all work. I thought this was an entertaining and powerful film – better than I expected.

I still wish THE WRESTLER and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD had received more nominations. But I’ll be curious to see what movie wins big at Oscar time.


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