If you already gone through the latest series, perhaps it is time to up your viewing game and go through the library of award-winning films available at the press of a button. Here’s a list of Augustman picks that will get you thinking about life.

 

Girl Interrupted (1999)

Mental illness and society’s perception of ‘madness’ is the focal point of Girl, Interruptedstarring Winona Ryder and a pre-Brangelina Angelina Jolie. Based on the experiences of Susanna Kaysen at a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts, Girl, Interrupted tells the story of a suburban girl who is committed to an institution after failing to conform to society’s expectations. How else do you explain someone rejecting Ivy League in the hopes of becoming a writer? The reason – surely it must be madness ? At the clinic, Susanna (Wynona Ryder) comes into contact with other women of similar fate, among them the sociopathic Lisa (Angelina Jolie) with whom Susanna forms a close friendship. Feminist in its outlook, the film explores the kind of moral judgements that were placed on those who were different, particularly young women. It is more than 20 years since Girl, Interrupted was first released yet the issues addressed remain as relevant today. The film, though critically acclaimed, received just one Oscar nomination, won by Jolie who received a best supporting actress Oscar for what was described as a “scorching” performance. Girl, Interrupted features four Academy Awards winners – Jolie, Jared Leto, Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave and Oscar nominee Winona Ryder.

 

Mystic River (2003)  

A group of childhood friends reconnect under tragic circumstances and in the process are forced to confront buried secrets from their past. Mystic River features a powerful cast including Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden. While it is be classified as a thriller, the film is brutally emotional and will leave you shaken as you contemplate over the harsh realities that afflict some. The film ,directed by Hollywood heavyweight Clint Eastwood, deals with some gritty subject matter but in a poignant manner,. Mystic River received seven Oscar nominations in all major categories including best picture, best director and best supporting actress. It took home two Oscars, for Penn in the lead actor category and Robbins in the supporting actor category. Penn beat out some serious contenders including Bill Murray for Lost in Translation and Ben Kingsley for House of Sand and Fog. Penn’s performance was described as “frighteningly good” by New York Magazine while AP said that “Eastwood and his actors create a brooding drama whose events and interrelationships seem surreally improbably yet painfully authentic.”

 

Lost in Translation (2003)

A romance that reflects life in the 21stcentury. Lost in Translation tells the story of two lost individuals who find a connection at a distant location. Directed by Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation revolves around Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an American actor whose lack of work in the US takes him to Tokyo, Japan and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who is accompanying her photographer husband on a work trip. Both, in the midst of experiencing personal turmoil, find themselves drawn to each other. Lost in Translation received four Oscar nominations in the categories of best original screenplay, best picture, best actor and best director. Coppola who was nominated in three categories took home the film’s sole win which was in the writing category. The film is regarded as having set the benchmark for indie cinema based on what some would view as an unresolved ending. What transpired in the last scene between the two individuals? In Murray’s words, “it’s between lovers.” In interviews, Coppola said that she feared that film would be viewed as “a really self-indulgent, personal project.” Instead her second directorial effort established her as an artiste with a distinct point of view.

 

Darkest Hour (2017)

The film is set in 1940 but there are perhaps some parallels to be drawn in our Malaysian situation. Winston Churchill, just elected as prime minister, now faces his ‘darkest hour” as Hitler prepares to attack Britain. While history may remember Churchill as the great leader who galvanised a nation during World War II, he was not immune to mutiny from members of his own cabinet. Gary Oldman – who millennials will know as Harry Potter’s Sirius Black – takes on the mammoth task of playing Churchill, complete with his many quirks. His portrayal generated Oscar buzz from the get go. Hence, it was no surprise that come Oscar night, Oldman walked away with best actor award beating Academy Award winners Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington. Awards season was a clean sweep for Oldman who also won the Golden Globe and BAFTA that year. Darkest Hour was nominated for six Oscars including best picture. It won two. The other was for best achievement in makeup and hairstyling.

 

The Age of Innocence (1993)

At the time, it was rumoured that Martin Scorcese had become somewhat exasperated that a directorial Academy Award has thus far eluded him. He had already received three nominations for Raging Bull(1980), The Last Temptation of Jesus Christ  (1988)  and Goodfellas (1990), all of which were perhaps too gritty for the academy. With The Age of Innocence, it was speculated that Scorcese had attempted to create a ‘beautiful’ film that would assure a directorial win. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, exposes the complexities of New York high society (not unlike Gossip Girl) but set in the 1920s. The film stars multiple Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. As Wharton writes, “This was a world balanced so precariously that its harmony could be shattered by whisper.” That balance was shattered when the Countess Olenska (Pfeiffer) arrives back in New York on the brink of divorce. It is a tale of veiled betrayal, vengeance and hypocrisy, concealed by the fineries of genteel society. Despite critical acclaim, The Age of Innocence failed in its Oscar bid. It was received three Oscar nominations, only one in a major category, which went to Winona Ryder in the supporting actress category for her portrayal a young Machiavellian socialite. It deservedly won the best costume design award.  To date, Scorcese has received nine best director nominations. He won it in 2007 for The Departed(2006) though it has been said that The Age of Innocence is his most masterful work.

The Age of Innocence is on Netflix till March 31st2020 only.

 

Elizabeth (1998)

Another film relevant in today’s world of political maneuvering. At just 16, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) assumes the throne of England, after her sister Mary dies. Protestant by faith, her ascension was precarious from the start. Catholic advisors plotted her downfall while Protestant advisors attempted to manipulate her. Weak from the start, the young Queen also faced threats from Spain, and France while surviving assassination attempts from the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. If that wasn’t not enough, she girlishly finds herself drawn to the cad-ish Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Joseph Fiennes). An interesting aspect of the historical film is that it is told through the eyes of Indian director Shekhar Kapur. His goal was to present an objective view of the hallowed “Virgin Queen.” While the film received critical acclaim for its artistic take, Kapur also became the target by historians who claimed it was an inaccurate portrayal of the revered Elizabeth. Regardless, Elizabeth was hailed as a “powerful, arty production (Empire).” Blanchett was flawless in her take of the historical figure, with her character evolving into a powerful figure by the end of the film. Elizabeth received seven Oscar nominations including best picture and best actress in a lead role. Despite its many nominations, Kapur failed to receive a best director nod, widely seen to have been a snub. There was some upset when Blanchett, the favourite for best actress, was passed over for Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love).

 

The Post (2017)

As publishing grapples with survival, The Post reminds us of the importance of good journalism. Based on a true story, the film revolves around a group of journalists at The Washington Post who attempt the publish the classified Pentagon Papers detailing America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post features Oscar stalwarts Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Streep takes on the role of Katherine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper while Hanks plays editor Ben Bradlee. Interestingly this is the first time that the holy trinity comprising Spielberg, Hanks and Streep come together on a project. The result is a dramatic tale with a strong message, reminding of us of the importance of The Fourth Estate and the responsibility that the media has in informing the public. Despite the A-list cast and crew, The Post received only two nominations – best picture and best actress in a leading role.

 

Birdman (2014)

Perhaps it is a case of art imitating life in this film about a forgotten superhero actor who attempts to revive his career in a Broadway production. Many may fail to recall that Michael Keaton who plays the lead was once Batman, and a pretty good one, in my opinion. The dark comedy, directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, was described as “a freaky-deaky flight of fancy” by The Guardian. That description already gives us a hint as to why the Keaton was the right choice to play Riggan Thomson who in a bid to boost his languishing career takes on a stint on Broadway. Quirky in its approach, Birdman is also a cynical take on Hollywood and all its players. Birdman received a whopping nine in all major categories. It took home four – best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best achievement in cinematography. Despite Keaton being a favourite in the category, it was Eddie Redmayne took home the Oscar for The Theory of Everything.

 

Argo (2012)

Set in 1980 Argo details the events surrounding the escape of a group of Americans from Iran after militants stormed the US embassy taking 52 Americans hostage. Unnoticed, six Americans escaped and found refuge at the residence of the Canadian ambassador. To orchestrate their escape, the CIA embarks on a bizarre plan to stage their escape by making it seem that it was part of a movie. While it seem heavy given the subject matter, director Ben Affleck presents it as a dark comedy with some quite hilarious moments. Argo received seven Oscar nominations and took home three, claiming the coveted best picture prize. The win gave Affleck his second Oscar. The first was in the original screenplay category for Good Will Hunting. 

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Its 1969 and Hollywood is changing. Actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double and best friend as well as stunt double Cliff Booth  (Brad Pitt) are trying to make it an industry that isn’t quite what it used to be. As expected in a Quention Tarantino fllm, it isn’t linear storytelling. Throw in a murder and the result is an unconventional film with multiple storylines.  Once Upon a Time in Hollywood received an impressive 10 Oscar nominations including best picture. Tarantino received three nominations – for original screenplay, best picture and best director. DiCaprio was nominated in the best actor category while Pitt received his first acting Oscar for best supporting actor. He has previously won a producing Oscar from 12 Years a Slave (2014), also currently being shown on Netflix.

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