'War Horse' Makes Strides for Oscar Race

An incredible movie directed by Steven Spielberg.


Since I began this column in November with a review of the film “J. Edgar,” I’ve been to a lot of movies, but only few have been worthy of the term “Oscar Bait.”

To give a short update before I get into the review Steven Spielberg’s 2011 opus, “War Horse,” here’s what’s been going on in the world of cinema:

  • It was confirmed by the Huffington Post in early November that Billy Crystal is hosting the upcoming Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. Apparently, Eddie Murphy was supposed to host, but this is a better choice. Billy Crystal is synonymous with the term “Oscar host.”
  • Nominations for the best of 2011 cinema will be announced on Jan. 24. You can bet this column will be kicked up a notch as I race to see all the best picture nominees.
  • I saw “New Year’s Eve” -- cute, but nothing to write home about; “Young Adult,” – weird, good performance by Charlize Theron, semi-depressing; “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo,” -- fantastic acting but not nearly as good as the books, very likely hard to understand if you’re unfamiliar with the story; and “War Horse,” to be discussed below.

Without further ado,

“War Horse” May Change Your Life

A dramatic statement, the kind I tend to make after seeing a really good movie, but hopefully it motivates you to go. Please go.

When I first saw a trailer for “War Horse,” I thought to myself, Wow, this movie looks really dumb and ultra-Disney. I will not see it. If you’re in that camp, change your mind. I changed mine and I’m really glad I did. And it’s not a Disney movie, as much as it sounds like one when you first hear the title -- it’s a Steven Spielberg film based on a Nick Stafford play based on a Michael Morpurgo book.

And when you’re watching the news and seeing all the bad stuff happening, all the tensions with Iran straining, all the craziness unfolding, you’ll need to see something uplifting just to make you believe in humanity again. “War Horse” is two hours and 26 minutes of hope, love, loyalty, and wonderful filmmaking.

“War Horse” is the story of an English boy, Albie (Jeremy Irvine), who lives in the countryside with his parents (Peter Mullan, Emily Watson) on their farm just before WWI. The man who owns the farm, Lyons (David Thewlis), lurks and waits for the day he can take the farm back from Albie’s dad Ted, a drunk with a limp who can’t pay the rent.

In the meantime, Ted bids for a beauty of a horse at an auction in town when he’s supposed to be bidding for a plow horse. He brings home his prize and Albie is entranced -- he names the horse Joey. Albie and Joey are inseparable as Albie trains Joey to work the farm and help Ted grow a harvest so his family can keep the farm.

Unfortunately, events out of the characters’ control unfold and they result in Ted selling Joey sold to a young officer as Britain enters WWI.

The movie follows Joey and Albie’s separation. Joey touches the lives of people from all walks of life -- the British soldier, a pair of German brothers, a little French girl and her grandfather, and men battling for the end of the war at the Second Battle of the Somme.

Throw in the superb acting from Mr. Irvine, a score by John Williams, and Spielberg’s talent at showing scenes of a harrowing war and keeping the film PG-13, and you’ve got yourself a movie of the year. Sniffles echoed throughout the theater during the last 20 minutes of the film.

Perhaps not everyone is as vulnerable to sentimentality as I am, but if you are, you will be happy to see this movie. It is a guaranteed Oscar contender.


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