Every Oscar season has titles that fall by the wayside. Some don’t even get a chance. As fall started last year, prognosticators had their eyes on two films with winning pedigrees just to see them pushed back to spring of 2010. I finally caught up with Shutter Island and Green Zone recently. I’d say I my reactions to the two were roughly opposite.

Ghost lovin': better in hindsight than sitting through it

Any combination of Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and material written by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River) is bound to get some Oscar looks. Here, DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are 1960s FBI agents investigating a patient’s disappearance from a mental institution located on an island in Boston Harbor. Once there, a storm hits and weird things start happening. The film is part horror, part supernatural thriller, and part procedural. Scorcese really amps up the visual flair when delving into the supernatural. I found the middle too disjointed and too WTF bizarre that by the time the emotional and beautifully portrayed (and totally expected) ending came along, it had lost me. The work as a whole has hung in my head for a while, however. Just not enough that I’d watch again.

On the other hand, Green Zone thrilled me from the get-go. Matt Damon teams up with his Bourne director Paul Greengrass for an Iraq war action thriller. Damon is an army officer charged with finding weapons of mass destruction soon after the fall of Baghdad in 2003. When he repeatedly comes up empty he decides to find out why. Greg Kinnear is a CIA officer in charge of the WMD search and Amy Ryan plays a journalist whose stories backed the flawed case for the war. From an action perspective it’s taut and exciting; from a thematic perspective it’s a very effective indictment of the war without becoming preachy. A lot of the horrific details of the bungled occupation related in the Oscar nominated (and my #9 film of 2007) documentary No End in Sight find their way into the narrative and sets. It’s a great mix of action and content.

For much of the movie I was ready to declare it my favorite of the year so far. But it unfortunately falters in the last act as it devolves into ridiculous action sequences. For a film that is so thoughtful for the first two-thirds, the rising body count of the climax is too incongruous. I also think the plot errs by making the conspiracy Damon attempts to uncover the entire Iraq war. Narrow your scope, guys.

Still, a terrific movie and I heartily endorse it to everyone.

If both films had remained in their release dates last fall, each could have made a minor Oscar push. Greengrass’s signature jerky cam action earned an Editing win for The Bourne Ultimatum and that style is significantly more effective and less nauseating in Green Zone. Scorsese is always a force to be reckoned with come Oscar time, but Shutter Island likely could have only succeeded in below the line categories like Costume, though who knows with the ten Best Picture slots. Now of course both have a long uphill slog to the Kodak Theater. Green Zone is gone and forgotten though Shutter Island could still make a play given the afforementioned Scorsese Factor (and I hear an awards season campaign is forthcoming). I don’t think I’d agree, but at least any awards success it finds will show that awards can still be won with February release dates.

Advertisements