PHILOMENA

It cuts a lot of corners with too-easy setups and too-quick resolutions, and it hinges in part on a moth-eaten gay/AIDS plot turn, but the ways in which Judi Dench and Steve Coogan recreate this (quite real) encounter opened up my tear ducts. The story is told simply. (At times it seems like a made-for-TV movie.) But it’s gentle and humane and the two actors give it their all. Dench is so composed, her acting so invisible, it’s almost like a state of grace, which rather sums up her character as well. And Coogan — so exuberant in other roles, so comically daft — doesn’t so much dial it down here as simply bring his drama chops to the fore. They’re perfect together. Also worth mention: beautiful shots of Northern Ireland (checkerboard fields) and Washington D.C. (the Potomac) and a touching score. — Jeff Schultz

In a year of good but not great movies nominated for Best Picture,  this one moved me the most. Steve Coogan not only writes a beautiful and moving film, he also sheds his Alan Partridge persona and lets Judi Dench shine. This drama unfolds like a mystery with more twists that a lot of mysteries I’ve seen lately. Themes of forgiveness, acceptance, and faith are big deals here but Coogan’s script never hits us over the head with them. I was surprised at how emotional and at times funny this was and think that out of the nine movies up for Best Picture that I’ve seen (sorry Her and Captain Phillips), this one was the best. — Stormy Curry

There are 9 movies nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture this year. PHILOMENA is the quietest and an enormous underdog. PHILOMENA is a woman who was forced to give up her child in the 1950’s because she was not married and lived in a convent. “Give up” is a nice way of saying her son was stolen from her. She never told anyone for 50 years until it was a secret too heavy to keep hidden any longer. Judy Dench plays Philomena to perfection. She’s is every bit as perfect as June Squibb is in Nebraska and has to carry more of the load here. The movie was co-written by the enormously talented Steve Coogan and should walk away with adapted screenplay. It’s smart, funny and emotional without being sappy. Coogan also stars as the disgraced former journalist who needs work and takes on the task of helping Philomena find her long lost son. That’s about all the plot I feel I can share without spoiling the film. It will make you laugh and cry and wonder just how horrible the Catholic church can be. Yeah, even in the wake of priests abusing children, you might be surprised at the level of outrage you may feel here. Could PHILOMENA be a winner for Best Picture? Probably not, but it definitely deserves to be in this company of the years best films.  — Alan Yudman

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