Beasts of No Nation Review

Every once in a while there comes a movie that, while difficult to watch, is so brilliantly crafted by expert hands that it is impossible to turn away from. “Beasts of No Nation” is a perfect example of one of those films. Just like in a film such as “Blue Valentine,” it is impossible to say that you are being entertained by the painful and occasionally horrific events that are unfolding before you, but because the story is told in such a complete manner, with loads of emotional and thematic depth, it forces you to keep watching because it has fully engrossed you in the world it has created. This fictional story of a West African child to a murdered family that is eventually forced into becoming a child soldier under the powerful “guidance” of a man that refers to himself as the “Commandant” is far from easy viewing. It is harsh. It is brutal. It is uncompromising. At the core, however, it is brilliant.

While not for the faint of heart, this visually stunning and incredibly acted feat instantly stands out as one of the finest films of the year. It is actually the best film I have seen in 2015 to this date. The violence is raw and filled with emotion, and the characters display an unconditional amount of emotional complexity. One of the biggest pitfalls facing war films is they spend too much time focusing on the mindless action sequences rather than the characters. This film balances action and character development perfectly, with the action and violence also serving a very important purpose. It isn’t just random killing in this film; the violence sends a message and enhances the narrative in a way that all war movies should. Agu, our main character, is brilliantly played by newcomer Abraham Attah, with the film featuring the perfect balance of spoken narrative to explain his emotions and close ups of facial expressions to get a deeper understanding of what is going on in this little boy’s head.

As good as Attah is, Idris Elba carries his scenes with such a commanding force that I have yet to see this year. It may be early on, but I can say with confidence that I will be very surprised if we do not see his name on the shortlist for the Best Supporting Actor Award. His character is so much more than a power hungry, controlling warlord. He shows scenes of strength and certainty, but at times is vulnerable, cautious and even lost in the journey he finds himself on, and Elba displays all the emotions brilliantly.

While Elba is a sight to behold in this film, he isn’t the best part about what makes this film great. What makes this film stand out as perfect to me is its ability to show Agu’s decent into despair and chaos from the calm serenity depicted the beginning of the film. The journey is progressed with a deliberate pace that parallels that of “The Pianist.” While these children feel like “beasts” and do perform unspeakable actions at the word of their commander, they are still humanized and the director makes sure to display that at their core, these are still children, just children lost in a world where they find themselves fighting for something that they truly don’t comprehend.

This film will be significant since it’s the first feature length movie to be produced by Netflix, but it should be remembered for so much more than that. This film is a full in-depth analysis of the costs of war that helps provide greater understanding to a situation that seems all to foreign to us, with a brilliant and empathetic character study at the center of it all. It is an all around work of art that captures every essence of what makes cinema so great. Despite it’s harsh realities and gut-wrenching scenes of horror, it is a film that I cannot wait to see again because I haven’t felt so engrossed by a film like that in quite some time. If you can stomach the violence, it is a must see.

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Beasts of No Nation (2015): 4/4 stars

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Top 10 “Best Picture” Losers

Sometimes the Academy gets things wrong when giving out their awards every year, or sometimes there are just two very deserving films.  One of the reasons why I like watching the Oscars so much is because it gives me a chance to go on more extravagant movie rants to all of my friends who, quite frankly, couldn’t care less.  Over the years, there have been some controversial Best Picture winners, with some classics being snubbed for the award.  I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 films that were nominated for the award but never won (I will be making a different list for the best films that were not even nominated for the award in the first place).  I have put the movie that actually won the award in parenthesis.  Also, some of these films may have rightly lost to the actual winner, but if it is a great film then they are included in this list.  A movie didn’t have to be wrongly snubbed in order to garner a spot.  I hope you enjoy, and feel free to comment with any films you think were good enough to win the coveted gold statue.

10.  Raging Bull (Ordinary People): I don’t adore Ordinary People but I don’t hate it either. In the grand scheme of things, however, Raging Bull is one of the greatest films of all time from one of the greatest directors and would probably come as a shock to most film fanatics that it never won the coveted golden statue.

9.  Citizen Kane (How Green Was My Valley): Citizen Kane is regarded by many as one of the best and most influential films of all time. While I don’t quite rate it as high as some people do, I certainly think it was deserving of a Best Picture win. There’s a reason why everyone knows about Citizen Kane but hardly anyone talks about How Green Way My Valley I’ve never seen it, but I’ll let the public’s silence and lack of knowledge about the actual winner speak for itself.

8.  A Clockwork Orange (The French Connection): I can see why this film didn’t win Best Picture, namely because it was banned in England upon its initial release because of its content. That being said, this film is still one of the all time greats in my opinion and deserves a spot on this list even if I agree with the fact that it didn’t win best picture.

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7.  Goodfellas (Dances With Wolves): How Goodfellas lost to Dances With Wolves I will never know. Goodfellas is my favorite film to come from Scorsese and comes scarily close to challenging The Godfather for the title of best gangster movie of all time.

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6.  There Will be Blood (No Country for Old Men): Paul Thomas Anderson did an incredible job when crafting There Will be Blood and I think this movie will go down to be one of the best of this century. It’s a bold statement but I’ll stand by it. It is an intensive character study that just can’t be ignored and gets better with each viewing.

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5.  12 Angry Men (Bridge on the River Kwai): The Bridge on the River Kwai is a fantastic film, but when looking at everything 12 Angry Men does well, there is no questioning its cemented place in cinema history.

4.  Boyhood (Birdman): I have nothing against Birdman winning and in the long run, I think not winning Best Picture will turn out to be a good thing for Boyhood. That being said, it is still an incredible feat of cinema history and deserves a place on this list despite its young age.

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3.  Shawshank Redemption (Forrest Gump): People will hate me for saying this but Forrest Gump is one of the most overrated films of all time, and when compared to the brilliance that is the Shawshank Redemption, I am amazed that Shawshank didn’t win. Forrest Gump also snubbed many other great films, including Pulp Fiction, that year.

2.  Saving Private Ryan (Shakespeare in Love): Shakespeare in Love is fine, but Spielberg was at the peak of his powers in the 1990’s and Saving Private Ryan is one of his best films to date. Worse war movies have won the award, such as Platoon, when facing competition of a similar stature of Shakespeare in Love.

Honorable Mentions:

Fargo (The English Patient)

A Streetcar Named Desire (An American in Paris)

To Kill a Mockingbird (Lawrence of Arabia)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Chariot’s of Fire)

Social Network (King’s Speech)

Pulp Fiction (Forrest Gump)

Bonnie and Clyde (In the Heat of the Night)

Chinatown (Godfather Part II)

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (A Beautiful Mind)

Star Wars (Annie Hall)

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (Midnight Cowboy)

Jaws (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

1. Apocalypse Now (Kramer vs Kramer): I don’t want to take anything away from Kramer vs Kramer because it is a great film, but for me, Apocalypse Now is the best film of all time and therefore shouldn’t have lost. I theorize that it didn’t win because The Deer Hunter won the year before and the academy didn’t want to give the award to two Vietnam War films in back to back years.