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Two great Golden Globe-nominated films to see before Sunday’s awards

The 77th Golden Globe Awards take place this Sunday.

Family divorce drama “Marriage Story” leads all nominations with six. The comedy “Knives Out” has three, tied for second most in the Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy category.

“Marriage Story” is one of four Netflix films nominated for Best Picture (out of the 10 films – Netflix had three out of the five nominees in the Drama category alone).

“Knives Out” finally opened here last week (at Galleria Cinemas – yes, they’re still open!), after debuting in the U.S. over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Both are well done films. Surprisingly, or not, the one dealing with death may leave you feeling a bit better about life than the one dealing with marriage.

“Marriage Story”
(U.S.-rated R)

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta

Genre: Comedy-Drama

Dwight’s Rating:

Unlike what most Lifetime movies suggest, when it comes to crumbling marriages, there isn’t always a good spouse vs. bad spouse situation.

While the put-upon saint pitted against an unmitigated demon makes for dramatic television, often, the reality is that two relatively decent people have simply drifted apart.

Those scenarios present challenges for the family and friends caught in the middle who can sympathize with both sides. And “Marriage Story” explores how even an initially amicable divorce can become contemptuous, especially when children are involved.

A theater director and his actress wife (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) struggle through a grueling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.

Listed as a comedy-drama, there are indeed amusing moments. But for the most part, this is a tough, often uncomfortable and painful look at deeply personal moments.

The film is blessed with two of the best performances of the year. Johansson and particularly Driver (both nominated for Golden Globes in the Drama categories) are compelling, and do a fantastic job of making their characters sympathetic enough that you will root for both, and won’t see either as being “the bad guy” or totally in the wrong.

Yes, at times, “Marriage Story” is a little too reminiscent of “Kramer vs. Kramer”, and yes, sometimes it feels like you’re watching a slow-moving stage play. Also, in typical Netflix fashion, it does seem to go on for a little longer than necessary (booking editing time must be really costly for Netflix).

And it makes divorce and divorce attorneys (Laura Dern – Golden Globe nominated for Best Supporting Actress – has some of the best lines as a lawyer from possibly hell) seem like the worst things in the world. But it also makes you wonder whether marriage makes any sense too.

So, “Marriage Story” might be a bit of a downer in some ways, but it is a moving, powerful and exceptionally well-acted drama, and probably far too real and realistic if Lifetime is more your cup of tea.

“Knives Out” (Rated B)

Cast: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer

Genre: Comedy, Drama/Thriller

Dwight’s Rating:

Consider this the ultimate episode of “Murder, She Wrote”.

Or a very modern update of an Agatha Christie-style mystery, or the best ever game of Clue.

Mystery/thriller “Knives Out” lives up to the hype, and proves to be one of the smartest movies this past year (and possibly in many years).

And just as was often the case with “Murder, She Wrote”, in which author-turned-sleuth Jessica Fletcher used almost everything said and done by the characters each week to solve a murder case, screenwriter and director Rian Johnson (who wrote and directed 2017’s “Star Wars: the Last Jedi”) has expertly crafted an intricate mystery that’s exceptionally satisfying and rewarding to those who’ve been paying attention from the very start.

When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dies just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives at his estate to investigate. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Thrombey’s untimely demise.

With sparkling dialogue, clearly defined characters and impeccable attention to detail, with little golden nuggets of twists and surprises everywhere, every seemingly insignificant moment is key to the plot. Seemingly every line uttered or image in each frame holds a clue.

Additionally, there are many little stories within the story, with recurring jokes and the subtle (but also not so subtle) statements on immigration issues, and how many, especially the rich and privileged, actually see legal and illegal immigrants.

Little-known Ana de Armas as Nurse Marta is actually the star of the film. De Armas, who seems poised for stardom (and is Golden Globe nominated for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy) heads up what is probably the best acting ensemble this year, and includes Craig (also nominated for Best Actor) and Oscar-winner Plummer, along with Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon and Lakeith Stanfield.

Campy, clever, witty and a lot of fun, multiple viewings of “Knives Out” will reveal just how close to genius it really comes. Why we don’t have more movies this smart is one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email dwight@nasguard.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969. 

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