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25 Movies to See Before the Oscars: 7. August: Osage County

Nominations: Actress, Supporting Actress

(L to R) Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, and Julia Roberts in 'August: Osage County'
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Though Tracy Letts has only a handful of stage/screenplays to his credit, he’s developed a reputation for shamelessly exploring the grotesqueries of human nature throughout his work, and August: Osage County, adapted from his Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play, is, though a more metaphorical take of this idea, unquestionably a study of such. Directed by John Wells, the big screen adaptation of the famous play follows an Oklahoma family tragedy and all of the twisted, selfish, and immoral people who are connected to it.

If anyone goes to see this movie its likely to watch the never-disappointing Meryl Streep – which is as good if not better reason to go see a movie as any other – except that if said people aren’t prepared for what’s coming to them they’re bound to leave a bit shell-shocked. Streep stars as Violet Weston, a vitriolic old woman suffering from mouth cancer, whose husband Beverly, played by Sam Shepard, goes missing one day. In response Violet’s family descends upon the house: her eldest daughter Barbara (Julia Robert) and her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin); her middle daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson); youngest daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) and her current beau Steve (Dermot Mulroney); and sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and son Little Charlie (Benedict Cumberbatch). Not one of these actors should got without recognition in this film or any they participate in, which arises as the main fault of the film. All of these people are staunch talents in their own rite except that the material only allows so much to shine through the important moments for the main characters, Violet and Barbara. It all ultimately feels so crammed together, save for the big post-funeral lunch scene with the whole family at the table. There’s so much to appreciate, and it feels like a cheat not to be able to have the opportunities to do so.

Save the pain and insanity of the on-screen relationship, there’s nothing not to enjoy about watching the dueling tornadoes of Streep and Roberts. Both play the extremes of these troubled women with an uncanny ease – Streep’s verbally abusive Violet as demonizing in her terrible moments as she is wonderfully frank in her softer and vulnerable moments, and Roberts’ Barbara’s self-righteous indignation as honest and her embarrassing moments of personality and moral crisis. The love and nominations for these veteran actresses are well felt if only are consolatory your-nomination-is-your-prize nods – both have won before, so all is well whatever way it goes. For future reference, if by any chance your reading this AMPAS members, stop overlooking the maddeningly under-appreciated and amazingly and awesomely talented Margo Martindale – the unsung heroine of, like, every movie ever. If this movie isn’t proof of just how kick ass she is and always is, well…just stop forgetting about this lady. If she can shine through the tour-de-force of Meryl Streep, she can (and does) make everything better and should publicly honored for it.