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A Most Violent Year

What does J.C. Chandor have to do to get some mainstream love? He followed up his Oscar-nominated Margin Call (Best Original Screenplay) by stranding Robert Redford at sea in All Is Lost. Now he turns the cutthroat world of heating oil into something Shakespearean. 

In the most dangerous year in New York City history, 1981, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) struggles to build his business the right way while being hunted by competitors (headed by Alessandro Nivola) and an ambitious D.A. (David Oyelowo). 

Jessica Chastain earned her Golden Globe nomination as Abel’s wife, Anna, who is always one step away from returning to the criminal roots established by her Brooklyn-gangster dad. Albert Brooks appears in the role typically reserved for William Hurt; I prefer Brooks. This unpredictable, unsafe film fills with tension that never quite lets up.

Like Chandor’s previous films, it is in no rush to reach its conclusion, but everything besides the setting—frozen early-’80s New York does not seem pleasant—will make viewers appreciate the time spent. 

Obviously, the role of Abel was not quite showy enough to garner Isaac much awards love, but his quiet control is akin to Godfather-era Pacino. Maybe a lack of showiness is Chandor’s problem. A Most Violent Year is easily the equal of a handful of the buzzed-about award contenders, yet this gangster-movie-that-isn’t got left out in the cold. 

Year shares a discreet, dreadful buildup similar to Foxcatcher, which suffered a similar snub (at least for an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture). Don’t make the same mistake the Academy did and let this film slip by.