Fun and pure entertainment, this film won not only audiences around the world with its grifts and cons, but it won the Academy over as well, taking home the Best Picture Oscar. Newman and Robert Redford are back together (after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, along with director George Roy Hill (also a Butch Cassidy alum), for some high stakes shenanigans. The duo play two small-time conmen looking for that one magic job that will move them into the “con” hall of fame and set them up for life. A clever script and great performances by all…including Robert Shaw as one of the con-ees…makes this movie one of the best in its class.

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I honestly didn’t know what to expect here, other than Kate Winslet falls for a young boy. And that is just the tip of this one. For me, this film stayed with me for days…it lingered and I kept thinking about certain issues from the film that the main character, Michael Berg, has to contemplate. It is a movie that gets not only the brain going but it makes the audience wonder, what would I do? I kept wondering even days after seeing the film, did the character make the right decision. What would have happened if he had done this…or that? It is not a perfect film and I found parts of it a little too slow, but for the most part, The Reader is a fascinating exploration into the psyche.

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A powerful film that, being a child of the mid-70s, taught me what I missed about the gay rights movement. Set in San Francisco, Milk depicts the rise of Harvey Milk, a gay local store owner in a predominately gay area of San Francisco. When laws begin to get in the way of their freedom, Harvey and his large circle of friends protest and Harvey goes as far as wanting to run for public office. It takes some times, but he does succeed. Milk features a slew of excellent performances, mostly notably by Sean Penn, who shines here like he never did before, in my opinion. No matter what your politics, see this one for the cast and the wonderful work everyone does here.

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Here are some of the 81st Annual Oscar nominations, announced on Thursday, January 22, 2009 — for the complete list, go to http://www.oscars.org/
Best motion picture of the year
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“Frost/Nixon”
“Milk”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”
Achievement in directing
David Fincher for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Ron Howard for “Frost/Nixon”
Gus Van Sant for “Milk”
Stephen Daldry for “The Reader”
Danny Boyle for “Slumdog Millionaire”
Performance by an actor in a leading role
Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor”
Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon”
Sean Penn in “Milk”
Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Josh Brolin in “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt”
Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”
Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road”
Performance by an actress in a leading role
Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married”
Angelina Jolie in “Changeling”
Melissa Leo in “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep in “Doubt”
Kate Winslet in “The Reader”
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in “Doubt”
Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Viola Davis in “Doubt”
Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler”
Adapted screenplay
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, Screenplay by Eric Roth
“Doubt”, Written by John Patrick Shanley
“Frost/Nixon”, Screenplay by Peter Morgan
“The Reader”, Screenplay by David Hare
“Slumdog Millionaire”, Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy
Original screenplay
“Frozen River”, Written by Courtney Hunt
“Happy-Go-Lucky”, Written by Mike Leigh
“In Bruges”, Written by Martin McDonagh
“Milk”, Written by Dustin Lance Black
“WALL-E”, Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon

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When a wealthy and ultra-conservative banker’s son (James Stewart) falls for his secretary (Jean Arthur)…a stable girl from a flighty yet fun family…comedy ensues. Lionel Barrymore steals the show as Arthur’s happy-go-lucky grandfather. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, this film won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (Frank Capra). Not Capra’s best work but a fun film to watch for good, entertaining amusement.

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When you hear about gangs in New York, do you automatically think of the Sharks and the Jets? When is the last time you heard someone say that they feel or look pretty when you didn’t think of West Side Story and the infamous song I Feel Pretty… “I feel pretty…oh, so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and bright…” If you don’t know that song, you might want to watch or even re-watch this film and I promise that soon, you will humming at least one of its many catchy, timeless tunes. Trust me, this film is contagious. More than most musicals of its era, this one is filled with songs and characters that are actually memorable. True, there is some corny stuff here but it wouldn’t be a 1960s musical with some sentiment. Part of the “difference” of West Side Story comes from the music itself…a score and songs written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Both men perfectly capture the rhythm and energy of New York, but without forgetting about the grime and grit that goes along with any urban setting. Speaking of New York, this one is actually FILMED there…on the streets themselves…not on a set, like most musicals (and even many non-musical movies) of the day. So, the Jets and the Sharks are fighting about territory we REALLY see and can REALLY feel. The story, for the few who do not know, is really a modern day re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed who were doomed from the get-go. Whereas Shakespeare’s couple had feuding Italian families to hinder their romance, here it’s rival gangs and, more importantly, different cultures that get in the way of the young lovers’ happiness (Tony is in a White gang…The Jets…and Maria’s brother, Bernardo, is leader of the Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks). The real draw to this one, though, is the music…which is good since this is a musical, right? I promise after you hear a few bars of America, you will be singing along for weeks…“I like to be in America…OK by me in a America…”

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One of the best novels of the 20th Century is wonderfully adapted into one of the best films of the century, as well. Talk about a rarity! Many adaptations, especially those of well-received books, fall far from the mark usually. Either they are generally not good, or they are edited so much that the book’s story is hardly recognizable. In this faithful adaptations, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale stays true…mostly because of the vivid performances, especially by Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Peck won his only Oscar for his portrayal as the Southern Gentleman who is both a lawyer who defends innocent, yet African American, Tom Robinson and also the father of Scout and Jem Finch. Wonderfully directed and shot as well… the fictional town Lee created of Maycomb, Georgia really comes to life as a conflicted small-town. And the mood of the era…the 1930s…is also captured. Racism was rampant during these years…especially in the South. Southerners were still bitter over the Civil War and still saw Blacks as slaves. An almost-perfect interpretation of one of the more perfect books of American literature.

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Mildred Pierce is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I mean, this is an Oscar-winner (Joan Crawford won her only Academy Award for this great, over-the-top title performance), but for some reason, I always feel like I’m doing something “naughty” when I watch it. Maybe because it’s just so much fun. Not FUN on the traditional sense of a good comedy, but FUN in the fact that it’s one of the best campy melodramas ever. The story of a mother who will do anything….I mean ANYTHING…to please her spoiled brat daughter, Crawford gives one of her best performances here as the desperate, troubled Pierce who really should tell her daughter to $*%^&#&# instead of always trying to please her every selfish whim. Never is there a more evil and vindictive young female character than Pierce’s daughter, Veda. She is just AWFUL, without being actually criminal. But, what she puts her mother through is practically criminal. Watch this one for a great evening’s entertainment…and tons of melodramatic FUN.

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OK – Loretta Young won an Oscar for her performance in this film. So, right off the bat, you might think that you’re going to see a piece of high-caliber cinema…more high-brow than fun. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. This movie is pure FUN! It’s a charming, innocent romantic comedy that stars Loretta Young as Katrin, the only daughter of Swedish immigrants who…you guessed it…own a farm. She saves up enough for nursing school in “Capital City” and heads into the real world of skyscrapers and scam artists. After losing her money to the latter, she goes to work in a mansion owned by the matriarch of a political family…who also happens to live there with her single, attractive son. WOW! What a coincidence! Please don’t think I’m poking fun at this film…but to be honest it’s more of a guilty pleasure than anything. It’s not high art and Young, even though she is just perfect as Katrin, this is not an Oscar-worthy role, per se. Oscars are won for Shakespeare and for The Lion in Winter, not sweet films where the smile doesn’t leave your face throughout. So, if you are looking for an entertaining, delightful film that you might have missed, check this one out. It’s sure to please!

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Surprisingly, I didn’t see this one until I was in my 20s. I used to think Bogart was a rough, unappealing creature…that is until I saw 1954’s Sabrina and began to see him as a softer, more compassionate soul. He possesses a knack for charming women off their feet, while being just a bit brash about it. He’s still rough and tough when he needs to be, but he knows when to bring out to tough guy and when to bring out his softer side. In Sabrina, I got a sneak peak at this behavior. In Casablanca, Bogart had it perfected…his character Rick Blaine is the romantic leading man to end all romantic leading men—not because he’s OVERLY sensitive but because he’s JUST sensitive enough. Now for the story…basically it’s about a nightclub owner in Morocco during WWII (Bogart) who reunites with an old flame (Ingrid Bergman, looking her best) that he fell in love with in Paris during the German occupation of France. Complications are plentiful, such as that the “old flame” is married…to a member of the French Underground, no less, which makes him trouble to the Nazis in Casablanca. But…really the details of the plot are pretty irreverent. Why? Well, how come even though the story is rich and filled with subplots and interesting characters, people only remember the relationship between Bergman and Bogart? And even though this film is a WWII intrigue thriller, why is it mostly know for being strictly a timeless “love story?” Rent this one and see if you can put answers to these questions…

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