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25 Movies to See Before the Oscars: 3. Captain Phillips

Nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

Barkhad Abdi (L) and Tom Hanks in 'Captain Phillips'
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The year 2009 marked the first time in two hundred years that an American cargo ship had been hijacked by pirates: on April eighth a group of men from Somalia boarded the MV Maersk Alabama and held it hostage for four days. Some time after, the ship’s Captain Richard Phillips penned a memoir of the events that was then adapted into the film Captain Phillips. Yes, there are plenty of real-life stories of heroism that become epic movies, but what makes Phillips so different is that there are no flashy additives or tactful alterations, no choreographing of events to maximize appeal or overt excess to demand attention. It is a film as well rounded if not more so than the other films nominated for Oscars this year.

Greengrass manages to put his audience in the center of everything while maintaining both sympathetic and objective views of what’s going on: he doesn’t rub your face in the violence nor does he try to shield you from it; he doesn’t deliberately canonize the hostages nor does he deliberately vilify the hostage takers; he offers his viewers a complete portrait of the events and leaves the feelings and opinions to form organically for each audience member. A frame of reference is not only allowed to Captain Phillips, played with honesty and strength by the great Tom Hanks, but also his filmic foil pirate leader Abduwali Muse, played by the humblingly talented newcomer Barkhad Abdi. The prologue shows Phillips preparing for his journey in his modest but nice home and being taken to the airport by his wife, and then shows Muse, ragged and thin, in his village vying for the only work he can find that will yield money against so many others. Both men are presented as average guys in their own respect, in their own part of the world. Greengrass continues this idea of parallel human semblances throughout the film but, despite knowing how the whole ordeal ends, it would be wrong to divulge anything else about the film for those who haven’t seen it.

Its exciting to see Greengrass come into a directing achievement like this with all of his films being amazing though just south of tremendous. With Phillips all of his signature components fell into place to his advantage – the intense affects, the documentary style cinematography, the unknown cast this time smartly tethered to Hanks’ talent and star power – putting it heads and tails above the awesome though maddeningly implausible Bourne movies (Supremacy and Ultimatum), the powerful though uncentered United 93, and the politically self-righteous Green Zone. Sadly enough Greengrass missed out on getting a director’s nomination this year as did Hanks in the Lead Actor category despite his outstanding return to form after so many years without any plum roles to his credit. It does however have its name up for Best Picture, a reward unto itself as per the titanic race he category has become this year, not to mention a nod for screenwriter Billy Ray. But the most exciting nomination of the six Phillips has received is certainly the Best Supporting Actor nod for Barkhad Abdi – from Somali refugee to limo driver and now an Oscar nominee. You really can’t help but cheer this guy on…if it weren’t for current “It” man Jared Leto’s sure thing win in the category, I would put my money on Abdi. I really hope to see a lot more of him in the near future.