Every year, cable TV channel Turner Classic Movies (TCM) shows Oscar nominees and winners with their 31 Days of Oscar promotion. They run the vaunted films for a month preceding the Academy Awards.
I’ve decided to do 4 Weeks of Oscar…reviewing some 2012 Oscar nominated films each week until the Oscars themselves on February 26, 2012.
I will start with a performance in a film that was, to say the least, a longshot. Demian Bichir in A Better Life was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award but most (including myself) thought the Oscar nomination would elude this relatively unknown character actor in this little-known film.
The SAGs have been known to seek out performances that are stellar just on the basis of the stellar performance alone. The Oscars is a bit more political. And cutthroat. And vicious.
So, Bichir's Best Actor nod, announced on Jan. 24th, was unexpected but most very, very welcome. A Better Life is a searing, heartfelt drama about fathers and sons, Americans and immigrants, fair and unfair. It’s a powerful statement on what is wrong with the immigration system in this country…but also why we need some system set up to prevent these very things from happening over and over again.
Basically, the film is about an L.A. area single father, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, who works as a day-labor landscaper to keep his son fed and clothed and away from gangs. The son, an American citizen since he was born in this country, sees his father as a joke…a lowly gardener who is poor and close to worthless. When the father is able to borrow some money to buy his employer's landscaping truck, both father and son feel a new sense of pride and accomplishment that anything is possible in this great country.
Once the landscaping truck is bought, the problems begin — what starts out as a chance for more respect and appreciation between father and son ends up a devastating turn of events that will leave this small family reeling for years to come.
The film itself is a dramatic masterpiece in how it tells this doomed tale of father and son. But, Bichir’s acting as the father really reinforces what acting should be. Bichir reaches into his soul for this performance as a lost, sad man who brings a lot of his problems on himself just by trying to make a better life for his son.
Bichir makes sure the audience knows the father is well aware that his problems are self-inflicted. That’s where the turmoil and inner strife come from….not only the series of circumstances themselves but the knowledge that the father is the cause of all of these problems. And, somehow, someway, Bichir is able to convey this dichotomy to the audience. If you want to see one of the many fantastic Oscar-nominated performances this year, put this one at the top of your list!
A Better Life: 2011, 98 minutes, PG-13, directed by Chris Weitz, starring Demian Bichir and Jose Julian. The owns this title on DVD.