'A Better Life': 2011's first awards movie?

This year’s Oscars weren’t even two weeks ago and already we could have an awards contender on our hands for next year. This week I had a chance to see A Better Life, a drama directed by Chris Weitz (New Moon) about a single-dad gardener from Mexico living illegally in Los Angeles and trying to keep his teenage son away from the pervasive gang culture. Summit Entertainment is releasing the film at the end of June, in the same slot it gave to The Hurt Locker two years ago.

They have reason to be high on the film. A Better Life is an unfussy, yet quite powerful drama with a terrific central performance by Demián Bichir, who played Fidel Castro in 2008’s Che and also dated Mary-Louise Parker on Weeds. The film will remind many viewers and critics of The Visitor, which scored Richard Jenkins a Best Actor nod two years ago — both movies feature major characters facing possible deportation — but should also have no trouble standing on its own. The behind-the-scenes players are interesting as well: Weitz is a past Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay for About a Boy, and the film is the first producing effort for actress Jami Gertz (Still Standing) and former agent Stacey Lubliner, who have their own production company together, Lime Orchard Productions. (The film’s other two producers are Christian McLaughlin and Paul Junger Witt.) At the very least, A Better Life seems like a good bet for some Spirit Award nominations next year (most likely for Bichir). With the right reviews and commercial reception, it could go even further.

Comments (41 total) Add your comment
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  • Joseph

    Thanks so much Dave for the heads up. I’ve been craving for an awards worthy film since the Oscar entries last year. Haven’t seen a film since the start of the year. I’m so lazy to try the new releases knowing that it won’t be worth my money and time. I will be on the lookout for this film. Thanks again.

  • Sky

    if any movie will be this years “Hurtlocker” it will be Meek’s Cufoff.

  • Joe

    So glad to see a film about latinos starring actual latinos actors. It would’ve been fracked up if even to tell these stories, they would’ve deemed latinos not good enough, and hired white actors.

  • PapaRazi

    Illegals sicken me! Deport them now! Just kidding. Haha.

    I’m glad an American is using illegal immigration as the foundation for a great story in Hollywood. Although, it does feel like an Oscar-bait film because of the politics; this story will obviously create a lot of controversy and generate a huge amount of discussion in the country.

    It also took a lot of courage on the producer’s part to have actual Mexican actors play the lead roles since there is a risk that their audience will not be as broad without a famous Spanish-Speaking actor like Antonio Barreras or Javier Bardem.

    • Carlos

      I’m really hoping for the day that it’s commonplace (and not the exception) to see films about blacks and latinos that are not about “important issues”; in other words…I wanna see romantic comedies, action films, teen films, dumb raunchy laffers, etc, who just happen to star minorities, as matter-of-factly as the tons of films we have that star caucasian actors.

      • Meg

        I will add to that Asians and gays. When we see all kinds of films, good or bad, Oscar-bait or crappy cash-grabs, that like you said, just happen to be centered around people of different colors, credos and sexual orientations, we’ll know we truly have made progress. For now, we’ll have to do with “Gay Bashing”, “Illegal Immigration”, “Inner City Struggle”, “Racism” and all those issues everytime Hollywood deems to make a film about non-whites…

      • Lex

        Carlos and Meg, thank you for making these comments. As a minority I really appreciate it. :)

  • heelarryous

    Dave, thanks for the heads up, can’t wait. Joseph, I just saw The Adjustment Bureau yesterday and it thought it was a great film. Great date movie and much more romantic than the previews suggest but not in a cheesy romcom way.

  • Alan Smithee

    I have mixed feelings on this movie. Obviously, I’m against illegal immigration but right now, there’s such anger and hatred directed towards anyone with a tan and a Spanish last name. The thought pattern of many seems to be tan=immigrant=illegal. I grew up in Arizona. Every fourth person was tan. Their families were writing in the caves in the SW while mine was in Ireland trying to build a big enough boat to come over. It’s frustrating when people ask me stupid questions about my Hispanic husband. No, he didn’t marry me to get a green card. No, our kids don’t have dual citizenship. To where? The U.S. or the U.S.? No, I didn’t teach my husband English. No, he doesn’t vote in the Mexican election. Why is Gustafson American but Garcia (not my last name) not?

    • Veruca

      What an awemsoe way to explain this—now I know everything!

  • James

    Summit will probably grossly mishandle its marketing the way they do with most of their non-Twilight films.

  • brando814

    I think Chris Weitz is a pretty mediocre filmmaker, this doesn’t look all that good. I’ll still see it, but the sequence of words “Chris Weitz Award Winner” just does not compute. I think “About a Boy” was a great book turned into a mediocre movie and unless the performers in his film are naturally gifted it’s going to be full of lots of subpar performances because an actor’s director he is not.

    • chrisweitz

      Ouch. Well, I have enjoyed all of your movies.
      Chris Weitz

      • Perez

        I thought it was awesome…. I admire how you sought out community resources such as Legacy LA and Homeboy industries for involvement in your scenes…. This is the most true depiction of illegal immigration and the real people who live this everyday, wanting a better life ….

  • A

    This is 2011’s first awards movie? But what about the great cinematic achievements from the past couple months like Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son, The Roommate, and Beastly?

    • will j


  • Summer Bay

    Well considering the woeful Alice in Wonderland won 2 Oscars, a couple of those god awful films could get nominated for Make Up or Effects.

  • Rob

    Dave, why isn’t “Jane Eyre” 2011’s first awards movie?

    • alan of montreal

      it got pretty mediocre reviews, so it might get some production-related nods, such as art direction and costume, but that’s about it.

      • adam

        What are you talking about? Jane Eyre did not get mediocre reviews. It has a 78 on Metacritic, indicating generally favorable reviews. And 87% on Rotten Tomatoes (with a 94% from the top critics on the site). Nothing mediocre about that.

  • Sid Shy

    I’m waiting for Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut this year, “Sympathy for Delicious” – looks great.

  • TV/Movie Fan

    It should be obvious by now that the Academy Awards favor movies that are released late in the year, after Labor Day, and often between Thankgiving and New Year’s Eve. They just love the movies they saw the most recently. Most of the time they tend to forget movies released in the early or middle part of the year. They tend to have a very short term memory.

    • b

      Of course everyone knows that. But there are still always exceptions. It’s noted in the article that this film is being released at the same time that The Hurt Locker was a couple years ago, and that film went on to win Best Picture and Best Director.

  • Ronnie P

    For me this movie looks like its really positioned very well for award’s season. It has a pedigree director with an Academy Award nomination. A very relevant topic.And the material seems to be emotional. If Sandra Bullock can win — then Demian Bicher should at least be nominated. The question remains, will Summit market the film (assuming strong reviews) to the Academy crowd during awards season. That’s a wild card, especially since Summit doesn’t seem previously committed to Latino films (this seems to be driven by Weitz’s passion, not Summits). Can’t wait to see it.

  • amy

    The trailer is dreadful.
    It looks like an After School Special remake of “The Bicycle Thief.”
    I wouldn’t count on any awards traction.

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