With the Oscars right around the corner, I’m scrambling to finish up seeing as many nominated movies as possible. I’m concentrating on films with at least two nominations or one major nomination (acting, director, picture, screenplay). At this point, I am able to judge on 55 of the 109 nominations (excluding live action short, animated short, and documentary short), and 30 of the 40 major nominations! I also recently completed two full categories: Best Actor and Best Original Song. Last night, we picked up Hustle & Flow, Junebug and got The Constant Gardener on demand.

Hustle & Flow was this year’s winner at Sundance, and it’s not hard to see why. Terrence Howard plays a small town pimp who decides to change his life for the better by becoming a rapper. His performance is the stuff the Oscars were made for. He’s incredible, and you can truly see his character, DJay, become transformed through the power of art.

The other performances in the film are excellent, which was nominated for a best ensemble SAG award — the only film nominated that isn’t nominated for a best picture Oscar, alongside Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash and Good Night and Good Luck.

Funny story. About ten minutes into the film, I sighed and said to Mike, “I can’t understand a single word they’re saying.” Mike looked at me in disbelief, then started laughing so hard he turned five shades of red and purple. He couldn’t believe I was serious. Come on — they were in the South! We had to put the subtitles on so I could follow the plot. Mike cracked up every few minutes just thinking about it.

Next, Junebug. This movie was delightful — I read Roger Ebert’s review, and he remarked that this is a rare dysfunctional family comedy that actually has people using realistic dialogue. A newlywed art gallery owner travels from Chicago to North Carolina to woo an older, eccentric painter and visit her new husband’s family, who live half an hour away. The husband’s brother has a very pregnant young wife, and she is bubbling over with kindness and a brand-new attachment to her sister-in-law, while the rest of the family is pretty stoic for the most part.

Amy Adams’ performance as the pregnant woman, Ashley, has won the Sundance Award and most of the awards this season, but since none of them have been very prominent (mostly city critics’ awards), she’s seen as an underdog. Her performance is bright and gives meaning to all the other characters. I’d be pleased if she won.

Third, The Constant Gardener. A British diplomat living in Africa learns that his young wife has been murdered while driving out on the road. He sets out to investigate, and finds a conspiracy involved with a company disguising tuberculosis drugs as tester drugs for the third world, testing on people who wouldn’t be noticed if they died.

It’s complicated, so I’ll stop there. But I really enjoyed the cinematography, and the film editing most certainly deserves its Oscar nomination. And Rachel Weisz’s performance is very, very good as the wife, who appears only in flashbacks. She’s won the two most prominent awards for best supporting actress — the Golden Globe and the SAG. I’d say that the race is between her and Amy Adams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if vote splitting occurred and Michelle Williams took home the Oscar.

Ack, it’s late….I would definitely recommend all three of these movies, with Hustle & Flow being my favorite of the three. Just make sure you get the subtitles.