OVERLOOKED BY OSCAR: (#22) "Gran Torino"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Last year, the number of movies nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture doubled, from five to 10. It got me thinking about what films from the past decade would have, or should have, been nominated for best picture if 10 films were nominated each year. Thus, I'm writing a month-long countdown of these great films that were "Overlooked By Oscar."

#22: "Gran Torino" (2008)

"Gran Torino" is the story of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a Korean War veteran who is among the last white people living in his inner city neighborhood. His neighbors all around him are suddenly Hmong natives, and Kowalski is cautious and leery of his new neighbors. His wife has recently died, and Walt is gloomy, jaded, and edgy.

I loved this movie, even more than most critics nationwide. Eastwood's Walt Kowalski is vile in his racist humor, but it is hard NOT to laugh at some of the ridiculous, over-the-top remarks that he says. So, there is a lot of good laughs throughout this film.

This is no comedy, though. The neighbor boy, Thao, tries to steal Walt's prized Gran Torino as a gang initiation, but of course, the theft is halted. Soon, Thao is required to work for Walt to pay off the debt (his sins) for the attempted theft. Walt slowly learns some of the Hmong customs, and it is a great learning tool for movie-goers nationwide who are unfamiliar with the Hmong people and their traditions.

Soon, Walt is seen as the protector of the neighborhood, a title he doesn't want. By the end of the film, he is willing to make a major sacrifice to keep Thao and his sister, Sue, safe from the Hmong gangs that have infiltrated the neighborhood.

The lively Sue is one of the best characters here. Sue is a teenager, perhaps 17 or 18, and she has fun needling Walt for not knowing or understanding the Hmong culture. She stands up for herself and her family. When she is hurt late in the movie, your heart cannot help but break when you see her injured body.

This is a wonderful story. It's a story about overcoming xenophobia and racism. It's a story about redemption and forgiveness and loss of faith. Yet, it's funny and witty, while also dark and troubling. But in the end, I found a sense of hope and optimism I didn't expect. This movie is not for children; the racist language is somehow cute, or passable, coming from a grumpy old man, but would be downright offensive coming from the mouths of youth today.

"Gran Torino" was shot on a mere $33 million budget, and it earned a remarkable $270 million worldwide. Critics at Rottentomatoes.com gave it a solid 80 percent approval rating. About 68 percent of viewers gave it an ‘A' grade, while another 25 percent gave it a ‘B' grade, at Boxofficemojo.com.

Sadly, while the film was named among the 10 best films of the year by the American Film Institute, it was snubbed entirely by the Oscars.

Vetter rating: A


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