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Winter releases are Oscar-worthy


Mara and Craig collaborate in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

By Anthony Lauriello     1/10/12 6:00pm

As we blissfully enjoyed the lack of classes and time away from Fondren, many of us reveled in the December offerings of our local Cineplex. Unlike summer releases, these winter offerings often take a more somber tone, appealing not just to the popcorn-eating masses, but also to the Hollywood elite.

One way to put yourself in contention for an Academy Award for Best Picture is to have a melodramatic anti-war film. Another way is to have your name be Steven Spielberg. War Horse, a grand epic about an equine participant in World War I's Western Front certainly has both those elements. Starting in a small, bucolic Scotland town, the film follows a stallion named Joey as he enters and changes lives on the sides of the Entente and the Central Powers. These episodes include characters such as his original owner, the annoyingly optimistic Albert (Jeremy Irvine, Life Bites) and the beautiful but irascible French girl Emilie (the debut of 15-year-old Celine Buckens). Since the film is set during one of the most brutal conflicts of human history, many of the lives Joey touches are later extinguished during the course of ?the war.

The movie is based off a children's novel, which seems strange, as the film's exploration of the horrors of war would most certainly upset any child. In fact, Spielberg effectively moves many in the audience to reach for their tissues. Unfortunately, this means the movie sometimes becomes overwrought and maudlin, causing reactions of rolled eyes and annoyance instead of an earnest outpouring of emotion. Furthermore, the film's pathos seems so focused on its four-legged characters that it completely ignores the plight of the humans involved in the war. However, for all of its problems, War Horse is a well-constructed film and an example of both the faults and magic of old-fashioned Hollywood storytelling.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, on the other hand, is quite the opposite of old-fashioned. Based off Steig Larson's best selling novel, the movie is a mystery set in present-day Sweden. The dying industrial magnate Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer,  Up) hires journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, Quantum of Solace) to investigate the murder of Vagner's niece, Harriet, who disappeared 40 years ago. To aid with his quest in understanding the complicated and clandestine Vagners, Blomkvist recruits the brilliant Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, The Social Network), whose distinctive tattoos and piercings are an externalization of her own troubled past.

With a tense score and artful use of the bleak landscape, director David Fincher (The Social Network) creates a thriller that keeps the audience on edge and engrossed in the plot. The story contains several rape scenes that are not pleasant to watch, but the audience watches nonetheless. Sometimes the rape scenes further the plot, but at other times it seems as though Fincher's restraint with coitus is comparable to Michael Bay's restraint ?with explosion.

The film communicates Larson's plot well and in an exciting manner, allowing for a mystery that is not only entertaining, but also sheds light on the darker sides of humanity we usually prefer to sweep under the rug.

Both War Horse and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are good movies by veteran directors accomplished in their craft, and both films will receive the nominations for Oscars that their creators desired. However, like all the other films of 2011, they never truly ?achieve greatness.

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