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Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Elevating the Oscar winners, Part 5: Best Supporting Actress

Elevating the Oscar winners:

This continues my experiment with predicting this year's Oscars entirely without logical thought of reference to rumors and odds, but entirely on the basis of my emotions, with reference to the newly-named human emotion of Elevation.

My usual logical and, of course, profound official predictions will appear with the annual Outguess Ebert contest on Feb. 8. These early judgments are entirely subjective and inarguable. They won't even include discussions of the other four nominees. They will not necessarily be reflected in my Feb. 8 selections.

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by Roger Ebert

Viola Davis, of course. She walks into "Doubt," which is a great film to begin with, and stuns us with a scene that portrays an entire reality outside the closed world of the school. She's the mother of a boy who the school principal thinks may have been abused, and in words of fire and insight, she shows how well she understands her son and the choices in his life. She pulls the ground out from under both the nun and the audience.

It's said she "steals" the scene with Streep. Not so. If she had, it would have been an acting error. She plays the scene with Streep, head-to-head. I can't find any authoritative source saying how long the sequence goes on. Some say five minutes, some 10, some 15. It may seem longer than it is, because it's the emotional pivot of the film, essentially the cause of the Streep character's doubt. John Patrick Shanley's writing is flawless.

Viola Davis is a great actor. If she is ever given a leading role in a movie, she will come to full glory, as she has on the stage. She was powerful in a supporting role in Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven," a remake of a Douglas Sirk film, and would be perfect as the mother in a re-fashioning of Sirk's "Imitation of Life." She has a magnetism that allows her to illuminate an important scene even when she has no dialog, as in Denzel Washington's "Antwone Fisher," where she plays the hero’s' crack-addicted mother, consumed by regret and despair.

It is extraordinary that all four lead performances in "Doubt" were nominated. I suspect if Davis had not been the film's catalyst, none might have been. In a way, you want to follow her out of the film, and go home with her and into the next movie.

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