Oscar nominees for best movies that capture place: Six nominees

Each year I see all the movies nominated for Oscars in all the major categories–plus more. As I watch movies, where they are filmed and how the place influences the story interests me. Perhaps this is because when one travels, the places one travels influences the experience.

There’s not an Oscar for movies that best capture a sense of place, but if there were, here are my suggestions for movies that came out this year. As you read the list, think of movies that have struck you. My list is from this year’s movies, but any movie and any year counts.

Best movie for capturing the sensuality and sexiness of place:

Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

This whole movie made me drool over Barcelona, Spain and the city of Oviedo, another location. The architecture, art, the fountains, the glasses of wine, statuary and little courtyards–divine. Plus, it was sunny! As a bonus, that delicious feeling of being young women off on a European adventure was perfectly captured. Who wouldn’t want to have a romp with Javier Bardem?

Best movie for capturing a place that is past its prime:

The Wrestler

With the economy’s downturn has come the closing or downsizing of beloved attractions. The scene in the abandoned carousel room at a no longer in use boardwalk in New Jersey where Mickey Rourke’s character danced with his daughter encapsulated that longing for simpler times and childhood memories gone-by

Best movie for capturing the intricacies of cultural interactions and neighborhood change:

Gran Turino

I was so disappointed this movie wasn’t nominated. The scenes between Eastwood and the Hmong immigrant family from Cambodia were superb. Also important were the shots of the neighborhood in Highland Park, Michigan. My favorites were when they kept plying him with food, something he eventually relished. What a wonderful tribute to the idea that culture is mostly about what makes your heart sing.

Best movie for capturing a place of color and vibrancy:

Slumdog Millionaire

As much as I wasn’t all that enamored with Slumdog Millionaire as a package, the vibrancy, sounds and colors of parts of Mumbai drew me in. Plus, what a feat to capture the footage in the sprawl of Dharavi, the “slum” community there.

Best movie for capturing how place influences how people live:

Frozen River

As I watched Michelle Leo steer the car across the ice of the St. Lawrence River next to the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in Upstate New York, I thought about how where people live can affect outcomes. The storyline and place was a perfect match. I can still hear the sound of the ice crunching.

Best movie for capturing place that has been a heartbeat of change:


San Francisco’s role in the movement of gay rights was an integral part of this film. Along with depicting the important people like Harvey Milk and Cleve Jones (who started the Names Project, the AIDS Quilt), this was a terrific look at how the city has played an important role in U.S. history.

Best movie for capturing the sense of self discovery that travel brings:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons

All the footage of Benjamin Buttons traveling as a young man, particularly in Nepal, brought back memories of how travel is an integral part of developing a sense of self. Anyone who has washed out clothes and hung them on a piece of string in a country that is not your own, knows what this feels like.