best actor nominee

A Better Life (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

A Better Life (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Actor (Demián Bichir).
Watched September 28, 2012.

A Better Life is everything you have ever seen before, and yet it isn’t.  It is poverty, relationships, gangs, and overcoming difficulties only through the help of loved ones.  It is the story of an illegal immigrant to America whose one goal in life is to provide a better life for his son.

 

Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) works six days a week as a gardener, pretty much from dawn until well after dark.  His 14 year old son, Louis (José Julián) is trying hard to stay out of the gang life that is so inticing to his classmates, and that seems so inevitable to him.  It doesn’t help that his girlfriend’s uncles are deep in the life and eager for him to join them.  Carlos is mostly clueless as he spends the majority of his time outside of the home, but his love for his son has no bounds.  An illegal alien himself, he is careful and timid about stepping on anyone’s toes or doing anything that might attract the police.  Louis was born in the States and therefore his only worry would be losing his dad.

 

One day, Carlos’ boss tells him that he is getting out of the business and that Carlos should buy his truck.  Blessed with a generous sister who married an American to get her papers, Carlos accepts, and in doing so paints a beautiful picture for Louis about what their future will look like–no gang life, a better neighborhood, and a school with a good soccer team.  Fate, it seems, does not enjoy this plan, and on Carlos’ first day out with his truck on the job he is robbed and he spends the remainder of the film chasing down the thief, who is just as bad off as he is.

Carlos is gentle, timid, and a heroic role model we rarely see in the cinemas.  He puts his everything into Louis, and even when he seeks out justice, he will be nothing but honest and forgiving.  Bichir is amazing.  His smallest movements, the emotions behind his eyes–everything comes together so beautifully that his performance is the pinnacle of the film.  The honesty of the story is nothing compared to the honesty of his role.

 

I thought Julián did a fairly good job emoting, but the rest of the acting was average or worse.  All in all, once we got past the first half hour I thought it was pretty good.  Some might find it predictable, but I am rarely a good judge of this.  It is a typical story of a father trying to bridge the gap that is forming between himself and his teenage son, but with a few twists thrown in.  For an honest look at the more impoverished side of life in LA, I would definitely recommend this movie, although it wouldn’t be at the top of my list.

Sources:  Langue or Parole? The Christian Science MonitorIMDBRotten TomatoesEntertainment WeeklyTwitch FilmThe GuardianJohn Likes Movies

The Patent Leather Kid (1927) Review | Jamie Daily

The Patent Leather Kid (1927)
1st Academy Awards 1929
4/5 Stars
Nominated for Best Actor (Richard Barthelmess).
Watched August 28, 2012.

 

I took a break from loving the 20s film movement, but now I’m back on board after watching The Patent Leather Kid.  One thing is for sure: Richard Barthelmess could teach today’s actors a thing or two about acting with nothing but their face.  For some who think that silent films are overacted, Barthelmess might be the one to change your mind.  His costar and love interest Molly O’Day falls into this trap on more than one occasion, but the Kid more than makes up for her excessive movements.

 

Barthelmess and the Kid are two cinematic characters of history that many of today’s actors are attempting to live up to.  One of two men nominated for the best actor award, I can see fully and completely why this is considered the best performance of his career.  A story that is typical these days, one should note that this is the story that it originates from–a cocky fighter who only thinks of himself and his career learns that life is more meaningful, and that his courage is only a front for the fear that hides beneath.

 

It is 1917 in New York and Curley Boyle (O’Day) is going to a fight with the wealthy Hugo Breen (Lawford Davidson).  Everyone is cheering for anyone but The Patent Leather Kid because he is so cocky.  We see immediately that Curley is a fiery personality.  A lone woman among men spectators, she heckles the Kid ruthlessly.  After knocking down his opponent, he shouts at her to meet him outside.  Driven by curiosity, she does, and a few minutes later he’s told her that she is his girl and no one else’s.  Their strong personalities, as well as a constant comedic tension between Curley and the Kid’s manager populate the first half of the film well.


As is a common theme among the early movies of the twentieth century, America goes to war.  This is when we see the true colors of the Kid.  He can be in the ring and knock down his opponents over and over, but the prospect of guns and bayonets terrifies him.  He refuses to salute the flag, and despises the love that Curley has for the men in uniform.  Finally, after Breen shows up as a Lieutenant, and the Kid’s trainers join the fight, Curley tells the Kid that she’s going to France to dance and nurse so that she can cheer up the boys.  Still, his fear rules him, and he only goes to war when he is drafted.

 

Inevitably, this is where he finally finds his courage.  Placed on the front lines, he is forced to overcome the walls he has constructed and pull off a rescue mission only the Kid could do.

 

Despite O’Day’s exaggerated movements, she plays her difficult character well and makes her witty gumption very powerful and endearing.  She is a fitting costar for Barthelmess, although I wish Janet Gaynor had played the role.

 

The only negative side of this beautiful film was its length–well over two hours, no matter which version you watch.  If you have the time and the patience (I watched it in two sittings), please add The Patent Leather Kid to your repertoire!

 

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Sources: IMDBRotten TomatoesNew York TimesCin-EaterA Certain Cinemaall posters