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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

Category: Oscar Countdown
February 27, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Oscar countdown: ’12 Years a Slave’

Our alphabetical march through the Best Picture nominees is nearing its end today, with the film that just might win it all: “12 Years a Slave.” Though it tells a very American story — based on the memoir of a free black man captured and sold as a slave in the 1840s South — it’s…

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February 26, 2014 at 10:45 AM

Oscar countdown: ‘Philomena’

Down to the final three in our alphabetical Best Picture countdown, and here we have “Philomena,” a funny, gentle heart-tugger of a drama from Stephen Frears. Based on a true story, it spans 50 years in the life of Philomena Lee, who as an unmarried teenager gave birth to a baby in 1950s Ireland, and watched miserably as the child was placed for adoption. Decades later, she became determined to search for her child, and “Philomena” is mostly the story of that search. Unexpectedly, it’s something of a road movie, with Judi Dench (as Philomena) and Steve Coogan (as the journalist accompanying her) making an effective odd couple. There are surprises along the way, but “Philomena’s” greatest miracle is its ending, which manages to be both heartbreaking and joyful. (I like every movie in this year’s Best Picture lineup, but if you forced me to name a favorite, this would be it. I haven’t met anyone yet who didn’t love this movie.)

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February 25, 2014 at 2:08 PM

Oscar countdown: ‘Nebraska’

Our alphabetical march (more than halfway through already!) through the Best Picture nominees continues with “Nebraska,” Alexander Payne’s quietly moving tale of a father and son not-quite-reconnecting on a trip to the father’s home state. Written by Whidbey Island resident Bob Nelson, “Nebraska” beautifully walks a very careful line: it’s never sentimental, and yet, particularly in its final scene, touches our hearts. Payne, whose previous two films “The Descendants” and “Sideways” also received multiple nominations, boldly made this film in black and white — the better to capture the unadorned through which Woody and David drive, chasing a father’s foolish dream. That he finds just a tiny piece of it is a tribute to Payne, to Nelson — and to Bruce Dern, a perpetual supporting actor who found the role of a lifetime here.

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February 24, 2014 at 10:51 AM

Oscar countdown: ‘Her’

Midway through the Best Picture alphabet, we have “Her,” Spike Jonze’s unique love story, set in the near future, between a man and his operating system. It sounds like a joke – like exactly the sort of movie that shouldn’t work at all — but Jonze pulls off one of the movie year’s near-miracles by creating a sweet and touching story. Written by Jonze, “Her” was inspired by his encounter, a decade ago, with an artificial-intelligence program: “For the first 30 seconds, I had that buzz, like, It’s responding to me! Then it quickly fell apart and you realize, Here are the tricks, here’s how this works. But what if I could sustain that forever?,” he said, in an interview with Vulture. For the duration of “Her,” he does sustain it, taking us along for an unexpectedly moving ride.

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February 21, 2014 at 10:01 AM

Oscar countdown: ‘Gravity’

And today our Oscar countdown through the Best Picture nominees takes us to “Gravity,” Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful space odyssey. Like many of its fellow nominees, “Gravity” had a long road to the screen: Cuaron and his son Jonas wrote the script years ago, but it lingered in development until it was acquired by Warner Bros. in 2010. Ultimately filmed in England (that’s partly why it was eligible for, and won, the category of Best British Film at the BAFTAs last week), “Gravity” employed many innovative techniques to give the impression of shooting in space; most notably, the creation of a nine-foot-wide light box in which star Sandra Bullock (who’s alone on screen for most of the film) shot most of her scenes. The result is an eerie and unexpectedly soulful film, set in space but about something more: life and death, spirituality, a yearning for home. Cuaron, whose eclectic career runs from children’s movies (“A Little Princess,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) to futuristic thrillers (“Children of Men”) and raunchy coming-of age tales (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”), took seven years between his last feature and “Gravity”; it was worth the wait.

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February 20, 2014 at 11:02 AM

Oscar countdown: ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

Our alphabetical parade through the Best Picture nominees continues with another based-on-a-true-story tale:  “Dallas Buyers Club,” about a homophobic Texas electrician who became an activist after being diagnosed as HIV-positive in the late ’80s. The screenplay had been floating around Hollywood, the story goes, for nearly two decades before producer Robbie Brenner gave the script to Matthew McConaughey, who saw in Ron Woodroof the role of a lifetime and fought to get the movie made. Shot in a mere 28 days, using only natural light (to save money and time), the film tells an unforgettable story — and has revitalized the careers of McConaughey and Jared Leto (who plays Rayon, a transgender AIDS patient who befriends Ron), both of whom are now first-time Oscar nominees.

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February 19, 2014 at 10:36 AM

Oscar countdown: ‘Captain Phillips’

Our alphabetical march through the Best Picture nominees continues today with “Captain Phillips,” the gripping drama about a U.S. container ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Like many of the nominees in this category (six out of nine), “Captain Phillips” is based on a true story — and on a memoir written by Captain Richard Phillips, the character played in the movie by Tom Hanks. Many Oscar watchers, myself included, were shocked that Hanks didn’t turn up in the Best Actor category; this performance, particularly the movie’s final act, stands among the finest of his career.

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February 18, 2014 at 10:33 AM

Oscar countdown: ‘American Hustle’

And off we go: It’s time for an alphabetical countdown of the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture, — because, yes, it’s only nine working days until Oscar night. (That will be March 2. I’ll be hosting a live chat that night, as always, and am still figuring out my ensemble, as for some reason no stylists have been in touch. Yet.) So let us begin with “American Hustle,” the movie that begins with perhaps the year’s most delightful title card: “Some of this actually happened.”

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