Videophiled: Oscar Nominees ‘Gravity’ and ‘Nebraska’

With less than a week before the Academy Awards are handed out, two of the Best Picture nominees arrive on disc: Gravity (with ten nominations in all) and Nebraska (with six nominations).

Gravity (Warner, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand), directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Sandra Bullock as a civilian and George Clooney as a veteran astronaut who are trapped in orbit when a disaster destroys their shuttle while on a space mission. The biggest hit among the nominees, this is sure to pick up Oscars in the technical race and Cuarón is a favorite in the Best Director race if only for the sheer achievement of this completely-imagined film and immersive experience created out of performance, a few props, a camera that is constantly in motion, and 360 degree digital imaging.

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Nebraska (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, On Demand), directed by Alexander Payne, is far more low-key, a meandering road movie starring Bruce Dern as a cantankerous old man who insists on heading out to pick up the million dollar award that his junk mail certificate promises. Will Forte is the son that grudgingly offers to drive him, just so the old man won’t try to walk all the way. Photographed in black and white along the highways and small towns of Montana and Nebraska, which gives the film an aged, weary, live-in quality, it begins as an acerbic character study but eases into a perceptive film about family and history and how life changes people along the way.

Dern picked up a well-deserved Oscar nomination (his first since Coming Home in 1979) for his performance as the foggy old Woody Grant, played without a trace of self-consciousness or actorly ticks, and he gives the character dignity simply by his doggedness and frankness. Woody has nothing to prove anymore and Dern doesn’t either. He’s already earned and it comes through here. Equally good is June Squibb in a smaller role as Woody’s plainspoken wife, who has come to simply accept Woody as is. When they finally settle in together at the impromptu family reunion, their byplay feels like it’s been decades in the making.

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Blue is the Warmest Color (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand) was not nominated—thanks to Academy rules for foreign films, it wasn’t eligible due to the timing of its French theatrical release—but it took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes and its two stars, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, shared the Best Actress prize. It also became the center of furious critic tug-of-war for months afterwards and those controversies stole the conversation from what the film is actually about: first love, overpowering desire, the excitement of discovering yourself and the fear of what others may think of you. Adèle (played with so much vulnerability by Exarchopoulos) is a young woman who finds herself with another woman (Seydoux), an artist whose self-confidence is as attractive as her physical beauty. The graphic (though not explicit) sexual coupling in the opening act is all anyone seems able to focus on. Sure it’s provocative, but this is no peep show or erotic spectacle. It’s about letting all boundaries go and giving in to desire and pleasure, about devouring another and being devoured. And it’s about Adèle’s fear of embracing her identity and her love in front of the world. As the original French title of the film, La vie d’Adèle: Chapters 1 & 2, suggests, Adèle is a work in progress. Kechiche explores her stumbles on the way to finding herself.

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