LOS ANGELES — Perhaps atoning for past sins, Hollywood named the brutal, unshrinking historical drama “12 Years a Slave” best picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards. Steve McQueen’s slavery odyssey, based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, has been hailed as a landmark corrective to the movie industry’s virtual blindness to slavery, instead creating whiter tales like 1940 best-picture winner “Gone With the Wind.” “12 Years a Slave” is the first best-picture winner directed by a black filmmaker.
On Sunday night screenwriter Bob Nelson will be seated in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards. His movie “Nebraska” is up not only for his screenplay but for five other Oscars, including Best Picture. Heady stuff for a self-described “boy from Kent.”
“Pompeii” is half sword-and-sandal epic, half disaster movie and all guilty pleasure. Director Paul W.S. Anderson, taking a break from cranking out “Resident Evil” movies, has a strong command of CGI technology and 3-D effects, and the movie is so grand in scale that you can’t help surrender to the spectacle, even if the stuff that’s going on with the people in the film is often close to risible.
“The Monuments Men” is the “Last Vegas” of World War II movies. A roughly true/fictionally embellished account of the efforts of American arts scholars drafted into the Army to preserve the artistic patrimony of Europe from the scourge of combat and theft by the Germans, it is a cute but clunky ensemble piece that director George Clooney rarely bestows with the gravitas and jauntiness this material demanded.
The funniest unintentional laugh in “Labor Day” is the way adaptor/director Jason Reitman treats this eye-rolling, melodramatic romance novel as if he’s got his hands on the works of Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. A genteel escaped convict hides out with a grieving divorcee and offers another chance at love? It’s “The Prisons of Madison County.”
James Thurber’s whimsical short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was about a bored, unassuming married man who escapes his humdrum life through wildly adventurous fantasies in which he becomes a war hero, a test pilot and the like. He avoids the boredom of errands and life’s routine that way.
Unlucky 2013? Some weekends, it seemed that way at the movies. Big bad movies, cheap bad movies, ill-advisedly awful and ignominious efforts. Johnny Depp outstayed his welcome, Adam Sandler sucker punched his enabling fans one last time, Will Smith made a movie so bad people were attaching Scientology recruitment to his motives and Disney made a Pixar spinoff that was the worst thing ever to wear Mouse ears.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s most charismatic performance ever anchors Martin Scorsese’s robust and raunchy lowlifes-of-high-finance comedy “The Wolf of Wall Street.” This is their greatest teaming, a veritable “Citizen Kane” of the post-”greed is good” era — three hours of cocaine and orgies and high-living by the sorts of gauche gamblers who brought that age, and the world economy, to its knees.