Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015). Room is driven by the acting. This might be stating the obvious, since Brie Larsen won a Best Actress Oscar. More to the point, though, Room did not win the other three categories (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay) it was nominated in. Room is absorbing, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t like the acting part of movies. The claustrophobia of the room is effectively presented, and the scenes where the two protagonists return to the “real” world are properly heartfelt. But too much of the time, the movie felt to me as a trick as much as a film. The second half of the movie, when the trick is gone, is ordinary ... OK, but ordinary. Larsen, a favorite of mine from Short Term 12 and United States of Tara, is quite good. I only saw one of the other four Best Actress nominees, so I can’t compare them all. But Larsen isn’t an embarrassment to the Academy. Probably the biggest mistake is that he co-star, Jacob Tremblay, get a nomination. He’s at least as good as Larsen. #396 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10.
City of Hope (John Sayles, 1991). The kind of movie the word “sprawling” was made for, City of Hope has a few dozen “main” characters and several intertwining plots about big city corruption. The cast is equally sprawling ... there’s an Oscar winner (Chris Cooper, Adaptation.) and a few Oscar nominees (Angela Bassett, John Sayles, and David Strathairn). There is a who’s who of B-listers and “hey, it’s that guy”s ... I don’t mean they aren’t any good, only that they are better known for indies and TV ... Vincent Spano, Tony Lo Bianco, Joe Morton, Frankie Faison, Gloria Foster, Tony Denison, Kevin Tighe, Barbara Williams, Joe Grifasi, Gina Gershon, Jude Ciccolella, Lawrence Tierney. It is quite involving, and, as Roger Ebert noted at the time, stylistically similar to Slacker. And the Paul Haggis movie Crash owes a lot of City of Hope. I noted when the latter came out that it might have been better as a television series ... the same might be said for City of Hope, which could certainly maintain interest over a longer period of time, given the large cast of characters. As with so many of Sayles’ films, I liked it but didn’t go crazy over it. (Lone Star is the one exception to that rule.) I think I probably overrated Crash when it came out, and I feel now like I prefer City of Hope, so I’ll give it a rating that reflects my recent thoughts. 8/10.