Oscar Blindspots: Warrior/A Better Life

Before we get done with 2021, I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 2011

Warrior and A Better Life represent men reaching their sensitive sides while being forced to keep a hard masculine shell. While the former does better than the latter, both films keep up the quality of other 2011 dramatic entries.

Directed by Gavin O’Connor

Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) and his brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) have been estranged for years. Tommy left his alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte) with his mother, while Brendan stayed with his long-time girlfriend Tess (Jennifer Morrison), who eventually becomes his wife. Despite their distance, both brothers become involved in MMA fighting. Both men enter an MMA tournament, each with their own motives. Will the brothers reconcile inside or outside the ring?

O’Connor is smartly patient with both sides of this story. Tommy’s side is more introspective and straightforward, while Brendan’s is centered around the emotion of his family and friends. Tommy wants no information about his life in the world, while Brendan is doing what he is doing out of necessity, not fame or fortune. Both characters are very easy to root for.

Hardy relies more on his physicality and stoicism than any dialogue. His rock-hard exterior masks a great deal of pain, that he parses out a tiny bit at a time. Edgerton plays a wonderful hero/family man. Yes, he is performing a violent act for money, but his absolute decency and humanity can’t help but shine through. Nolte also exudes warmth, but his characterization is tempered by the character’s past misdeeds. As much as he wants to be a good person, his history is too much for the brothers. Nolte does have a standout scene late in the film where he lets his emotions get the better of him. Despite some takes that Nolte was wildly undeserving, his Oscar nomination is not one that I am flabbergasted by.

Warrior is one of the best sports films of the 21st century, in no small part to a trio of deft performances and very realistic MMA action. It was one of the big surprises of my whole 2011 catch-up.

A Better Life
Directed by Chris Weitz

Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) works as a gardener in Los Angeles. An undocumented immigrant, Carlos aims to achieve higher in life to provide a better upbringing for his son Luis (José Julián). Carlos arranges to buy the work truck of his retiring partner and build the business up to move Luis to a better school and house. When the truck is stolen, Carlos and Luis must search the streets of Los Angeles to get it back. Along the way, Luis learns about how his father sees the world.

The central action traces the pair’s journey to retrieve the truck. The vehicle is not just a mode of transportation, but a gateway to salvation. Not only does Carlos want more for his son, but he also wants to hire an immigration lawyer to maintain legal residence in the United States. Carlos is more of an ideal than a realistic character. He is honest, hard-working, and determined; the liberal ideal of what an immigrant could be. Luis takes everything for granted and is never given much agency. Luis only reacts, never being proactive.

Bichir’s sensitive performance lifts the film to much higher heights than it deserves. Each time there should be a lengthy monologue filled to the brim with cliches, Bichir keeps it pent up. But, he is not a kettle ready to burst, he is in complete control of his emotions because he knows letting them loose will not benefit. Julián doesn’t have much to work with and is limited to being an annoying kid. The pair do have a standout scene at the film’s climax that serves as both the emotional crux and a standout acting scene for both Bichir and Julián.

Despite Bichir’s wonderful performance, the film can never match his brilliance. The film doesn’t mess around, and at a mere 94 minutes, it is an easy watch.

That’s it! I’m all caught up on the Oscar films of 2011! Check out my Best of 2011 page for my favorites from 10 years ago. And have a Happy New Year!

All Oscar Blindspots

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