“What Happened, Miss Simone?”
We continue Oscar month by looking at one of the nominees for Best Feature Documentary. Director Liz Garbus has made a lot of films about a lot of subjects, but perhaps her most impactful movies have focused on enigmatic celebrities. “Bobby Fischer Against the World” handles the chess champion with honesty and compassion. The same goes for the beautifully transcribed, “Love, Marilyn,” which weaves Marilyn Monroe’s words into other personal accounts to tell the tragic actress’ story. Here, Garbus moves into music and the puzzling personality of Nina Simone. We get the whole picture, from her beginnings as a young classical pianist to the singer of Americana and soul to the growling blues singer and civil rights activist that became known as the “High Priestess of Soul.” Not only do we learn about the troubles of her personal life, we see how the turmoil of America in the sixties heightened those issues. We get to see what happened, and we’re still left with lingering questions – worth a watch.
This one isn’t knocking it out of the park concerning Academy Awards, only raking in one nomination for Best Original Song with Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.” Plus, there’s been plenty of talk about changing 007 actors, but let’s put this in perspective. Daniel Craig revitalized the James Bond franchise when he took the role in 2006’s noirish, “Casino Royale.” His strength as an actor allowed them to develop a storyline and character arc through 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” the pivotal “Skyfall” and resulted in this endgame fourth installment. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes returned from “Skyfall” for another chapter, and the trademarks are all here. French actress Léa Seydoux and Italian actress Monica Bellucci serve as exotic Bond girls – tempting and tantalizing. Ralph Fiennes is the MI6 paper-pusher in Bond’s way. Christoph Waltz creates evil schemes with the most iconic Bond villains, and Dave Bautista is a Bond baddie with brawn to spare. Has this whole thing been done like 24 times before? You bet your ass it has, but it’s still worth a watch.
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Now, we come to another film that got passed over by this year’s Oscars. It’s brought to you by an up-and-coming female director Sarah Gavron. It was written by British award-darling Abi Morgan (“Shame” and “The Iron Lady”). It stars Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan and multiple Oscar-nominee Helena Bonham Carter. There’s a cameo from three-time Oscar-winner Meryl Streep. It has a bummer storyline about the early feminist movement in London. There’s plenty of brutality and loss and determination of the will to get mad at and pull at heartstrings and cheer for. There’s a great performance from Brendan Gleeson to go along with the great work done by Mulligan and Carter. It really is a head-scratcher as to why this one got missed by the Oscar committee, whoever they are. If you’re into Oscar flicks, there’s nothing to suffer through here – worth a watch.