anne_mikolay_120The 84th Annual Academy Awards will take place February, 26th 2012. The contenders for Best Picture this year are: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. There are, however, other fine movies released this year that did not receive deserved notoriety.

Sarah’s Key, a powerful movie described by the L.A. Times as “an emotional detective story” is based on an international bestseller by Tatiana de Rosnay. The story hops back and forth between Paris in 2002 and Paris in 1942, when French officials (not Germans) imprisoned 13,000 Jews for days in primitive conditions in one of the city’s indoor bicycle-racing tracks before shipping them off to Auschwitz. During this Velodrome d’Hiver roundup, ten year old Sarah Starzynski tries to save her younger brother from capture by locking him in the bedroom closet. Her promise to free the boy is her sole motivation for survival in the ensuing horror imposed upon the Starzynski family, and the impetus for a modern day journalist to uncover the fate of Sarah and her brother while investigating a surprising personal connection to Sarah. Though a few of the modern day scenes in Sarah’s Key plod along slowly, Sarah’s emotionally compelling story grips the viewer. Sarah’s Key, well acted and thought provoking, will definitely stir reaction.

History buffs will enjoy The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford, a courtroom drama that examines the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln. Though everybody knows Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865, the scope of the conspiracy to eliminate the president and members of his staff is not as well known. The Conspirator tells the true story of Mary Surratt, the only female charged as a co-conspirator in Booth’s plan to assassinate Lincoln. After John Wilkes Booth makes his dramatic escape on April 14th, seven men and one woman  are arrested for conspiring with Booth. Much of the drama is centered on the inexperienced ex-Union soldier’s reaction and attempts to defend Mary Surratt in a military tribunal (no jury). Mary maintains her innocence but does little to help herself and refuses to reveal the whereabouts of her son and fellow conspirator, John Surratt. For the most part, the The Conspirator sticks to history, but civil war enthusiasts will notice Redford playing with the facts at the end, something that does not detract from the film’s powerful impact.

Neither Sarah’s Key nor The Conspirator enjoyed widespread marketing or received the attention they deserved. Both are important films we can learn from. The Velodrome d’Hiver at the core of Sarah’s Key is hardly discussed in history classes today, and I was shocked to discover Jews had been so persecuted in France. The Conspirator’s examination of John Wilkes Booth’s extensive efforts to kill Abraham Lincoln and the controversy surrounding Mary Surratt will surprise some viewers; history teachers would do well to include The Conspirator in lesson plans. 

Both Sarah’s Key and The Conspirator can be rented from Netflix.

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Anne Mikolay

Anne Mikolay

Anne M. Mikolay joined The Atlantic Highlands Herald as a columnist in 2008. Prior to penning “The Armchair Critic,” Anne wrote feature articles for The Monmouth Journal. Her work has appeared in national...