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Wednesday, February 2,2011

The Screening Room

Overlooked by Oscar, but worth looking into

by James Sanford

There are only so many slots available in each Academy Awards category, which means there will always be worthy performances and notable films that will go unrecognized. Several of them have just been released on DVD and Blu-ray. The Academy voters may not have seen them, but you should.


"Let Me In" — Horror fans scoffed at the prospect of an American remake of the Swedish shocker "Let the Right One In," but those who actually watched director Matt Reeves’ underappreciated film wound up eating their words. The story of a bullied boy and his friendship with a mysterious new neighbor is anchored by a stunning performance by Chloe Grace Morenz, whose soft face and gentle voice are offset by eyes that seem to have seen the darkest corners of the world. A young actress of astonishing versatility, Morenz made her mark in three films last year: as the cool, kind classmate in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"; as the human tornado in "Kick-Ass"; and here, as a very old spirit trapped in the shell of a 12-year-old. She’s a talent to watch, as is her excellent co-star, Kodi Smit-McPhee.


"Conviction" — For a few weeks, it looked as if Sam Rockwell would be the man to beat for the best supporting actor; as it turned out, he didn’t even get a nomination. But he puts a real charge into this based-on-a-true-story drama, playing an accused murderer whose eccentric behavior and abrasive personality keep you guessing about whether or not he’s guilty. Hilary Swank is steely and steady as his devoted sister, and Juliette Lewis is sensationally sleazy (and very funny) as a scheming tramp. Also look for Williamston Theatre’s John Lepard as the minister who witnesses Rockwell’s arrest.


"Never Let Me Go" — Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network") are heartbreakingly fine as life-long friends faced with dire destinies in this elegant, subdued adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel. There are subtle science-fiction undertones in the story, but what truly comes through is the poignancy of Mulligan and Garfield’s predicament: They’re caught between pursuing their own happiness and doing what society expects of them. It’s a challenging film that often defies expectations. Instead of creating a typical tearjerker, director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland allow the actors to reach for something deeper, and Rachel Portman’s superb score — which was also worthy of a nomination — reinforces the story’s fascinating, often disturbing themes.

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