Another year, another season of awards to grace us with their presence. In previous years I’ve never had the chance to check out so many of the nominees before, but this time I managed to see most of the films on display. Here’s my brief roundup of the nominees for Best Picture from this year’s Academy Awards, in alphabetical order…
*Unfortunately I never checked out Bridge of Spies, nor do I have much intention to in the future. It seems like a perfectly competant Spielberg film, but everything that went into promoting the film to me painted it as an incredibly by-the-numbers Cold War drama. It’s not that that can’t be a great thing, but Bridge of Spies never captured my attention enough to make me see it.*
Directed by: John Crowley
Crowley’s adaptation of the Colm Tóibín novel is definitely lovely, inspiring film about experiencing new ways of life and finding yourself. It’s soars thanks to solid, often charismatic performances from it’s leads, especially Saoirse Ronan and Julie Walters (a spinoff series starring Walter’s character is even being developed by the BBC). The film shines in establishing a mood and tone in its New York and Ireland settings, though unfortunately upon the return to Ireland part way through, all the life is sucked out of the picture and it becomes almost painfully dull and predictable for a good third of the run time. Though this choice was likely deliberate (if so it was handled remarkably), it ultimately soured my overall experience with Brooklyn and left me less than satisfied come its conclusion. As for the film’s chances of winning, I’d put them at slim to none. Outside of Best British Film at the BAFTAs, Brooklyn hasn’t managed to pick many other prolific awards from the main circuit, despite a large number of nominations. The film is a great watch, especially for the performances, but outside of that I feel like it simply didn’t have much else to offer, especially in comparison to some of the other nominees.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Though I expected Miller’s post apocalyptic death metal album cover to sweep the technical categories, a nomination for Best Picture was quite unexpected, considering the Academy’s usual focus on dramas. However, despite unexpected occurences, it’s undeniable that Fury Road is a marvel of filmaking craft, rivaled this year only by The Revenant. The film, which is essentially a single 2 hour chase scene, takes the concept of practical stuntwork to an appropriately insane degree, showcasing some of the most ridiculously entertaining action set pieces I’ve seen in recent years. Whether it’ll manage to actually bring home the award, I don’t know (the film has 10 nominations, meaning there’s the possibility of another sweep scenario like we saw with Return of the King in 2003), but as much as I enjoyed the film, in some regards it is very thin on the ground, singular in its own madness. It’s also definitely not Tom Hardy’s strongest performance this year. Yet in spite of all these things, when I watch Fury Road, all I have to say is “What a lovely day.”
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
One of my favourite themes to explore in film and television is discovery. The Macross franchise is an excellent example of this and even the previously discussed Brooklyn presents a kind of cultural discovery, though few things have presented the theme as well as Room. Brie Larson is deservedly the favourite for Best Actress as Joy, the mother, and it’s a crime that Jacob Tremblay, hasn’t received more praise for what is, to me, the easy standout performance of the year as Jack, the boy whose spent the majority of his life within a small room, knowing nothing of the world outside except through what he sees on TV. Room is an unusual film in that it climaxes about half-way through and then proceeds to explore the consequences of Jack and Joy’s experiences on them. It’s an expertly constructed narrative, simple yet deeply intimate, based around the perspective of a child learning about just how big the world really is for the first time. This is definitely my pick for the film that should win Best Picture, though it’s unfortunately stuck towards the middle of the pack when it comes to actual odds of victory. In any case, Room has easily become one of my favourite films in general, and probably my favoruite film of 2015.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Focusing on the Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team as they uncover scandals of sex abuse from Catholic priests, McCarthy’s picture takes my pick as the most polished film among the nominees. Not only is it a winner in terms of strong performances across the board, paired with an engaging and wide reaching wide-reaching subject matter, but Spotlight is exceptional in the way in which it’s central issue is slowly escalated throughout the film. The build up to the investigative team’s reveal of what they uncovered is impeccably paced and sharply written, making Spotlight the standout of the numerous nominees based on real-life events. This is one of the top contenders for the Best Picture award, deservingly so. Described in one word, the film is enthralling and I happily wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it ended up taking the award on the night.
The Big Short
Director: Adam McKay
You could argue that one of Adam McKay’s aims with The Big Short was to make an entertaining satirical comedy that also makes the complicated causes of the 2008 economic crash dramatically accesible. Outside of its constant use of economic jargon, there is quite a lot of on offer in the form of hilarious, yet gut wrenching entertainment. The main issue with the film is that it clearly takes many stylistic inspirations from Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street. It’s not that these inspirations are not well founded, but having multiple sections of the film where shoe-horned in celebrities attempt to explain shady economic practices to the viewer is distracting and ultimately hurts the picture. I’m also wondering how Christian Bale is the one getting nominated in an acting category, while Steve Carrell is not. As a dramatic actor, Carell has really come into his own following last year’s Foxcatcher, and has the easy highlight performance of The Big Short. Like Spotlight, the film is one of the ‘big’ frontrunners for Best Picture, especially after picking up the Producer’s Guild Award.
Director: Ridley Scott
This years big realist science-fiction film brings together a few of my favourite things: a stellar and visually striking outing from Ridley Scott, an array of great performances from an ensemble cast including the consistently excellent Jessica Chastain, along with a healthy dosage of space drama to round out the overall package. The Martian successfully hearkens back to simple, yet tense and engaging pictures like Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, never getting bogged down in it’s adherence to scientific accuracy, but embracing it with flying colours. Damon soars in his finest performance since The Departed as stranded astronaut Mark Watney, possibly the finest performance of its kind since Sam Rockwell in 2009’s Moon. As it for it’s chances of winning, if the Academy’s track record is anything to go by, unfortunately The Martian probably won’t be able to nab the coveted statue, despite being victorious at the Golden Globes (strangely for Best Comedy or Musical), though it was not competing against the final nominee in those awards. Nevertheless The Martian is a standout work from Ridley Scott, his second best film of the 2000s behind Black Hawk Down.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Hot off the astounding critical success that was last year’s Birdman, Iñárritu delivers yet another tour de force of filmmaking craft, though in a much more divisive manner this time around. Much has been made of the arduous efforts from both cast and crew that it took to make the film (shooting only in natural light, the consumption of raw animal flesh etc.) and it certainly comes across on screen in a brutal, ravishing fashion. Yet for all its many marvelous technical achievements (especially the film’s phenomenal opening battle scene), the film disastrously fails when it comes to telling an engaging story. Leonardo DiCaprio (who really, really wants that trophy) gives a certainly determined run as Hugh Glass, the fur trapper left for dead and looking for vengeance against Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald, in an arguably far superior and more interesting role, but the film spends too much of it’s already lengthy run time making the audience watch Leo grunt and suffer his way through horrible situations, meanwhile simultaneously riffing drab and derivative flashback sequences straight from Gladiator. It seems all for nought in the end as well, as both lead actors are ultimately outdone in acting prowess by an angry, CGI bear. The Revenant starts exceptionally strong, but after the 30 minute mark never manages to recapture the magic from the opening moments that made it so engaging. The film is a remarkable piece of work don’t get me wrong and is sure to nab Iñárritu his second award for Best Director, but as for Best Picture, this will be the film I put my money on that will win the award, even if I think it doesn’t truly deserve it. As for Leo winning Best Actor or not, I’ll take it as a running gag right now, laughing wholeheartedly if he doesn’t win it, but at the same time, hopeful that if not now then soon he receives at least an honorary award for his overall body of work.
Who I want to win: Room
Who I think should win: Spotlight
Who I think will win: The Revenant