Here we are again. The annual blog entry with my thoughts on the Best Picture nominations at this year’s Academy Awards!
Please note that, with the exception of seeing The Revenant in the theater, I watched all the films on DVD as they became available so reviews were written over several months.
Comments are based on personal preferences, and don't take into account popularity at the box office.
THE BIG SHORT – in the first part of the 21st Century, a rogue investor named Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) came up with a new idea to bet that the booming home mortgage would come crashing down. When things didn’t see to go as planned, a deeper analysis showed just how volatile the housing economy was, which eventually brought down some of world’s most prestigious financial institutions.
With it’s gritty language and occasional dialog where the characters talk directly to the viewer reminded me a lot of 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
A great ensemble cast transports me back to the ten years ago, when things were melting down. Particularly worth mentioning are Bale and Steve Carell, (Mark Baum).
At time, the language got to me. I realize it was part of probably part of the original novel and, no doubt, part of the high pressure investment banker environment. But, I got tired hearing it.
BRIDGE OF SPIES – During the Cold War, the US thought they were untouchable. Butt, then Francis Gary Powers got shot down without taking himself with the plane. Luckily, they had a card up their sleeve with a Russian spy locked up. But, could publicly make a swap over something neither side acknowledged as happening?
Tom Hanks knocked out yet another strong performance’'; this time as James B. Donovan. As a person with no political experience, he had to use his trial lawyer abilities to make things happen the way he wanted them to go. Hanks knew when to act like a fish out of water, while at other times a strong force driving the agenda.
For any history buff, this was a great film. It had the look and feel of the period it was set in. It did seem at times to be a bit slow, like a slowly boiling tea kettle.
BROOKLYN – In 1950s Ireland, a single girl, seeing no hope in her native homeland, is sponsored for emigration to America, where she flourishes in her new surroundings.
The movie is based upon the award winning 2009 novel of the same name, by Colm Tóibín.
Relative newcomer Saoirse Ronan gives a stellar performance as Ellis Lacey (pronounced A-lish). This was her first adult role, and she carried it off fantastically. Her seemingly always moody portrayal lasts throughout most of the film, where she’s challenged by those around her, thinking they know what’s best for her. But, there’s a believable glimmer of hope when things change for her.
Unfortunately, it had a relatively short running time, and left me wishing for more interaction with her family and the Americans who befriended her.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – In a post-apocalyptic world rival bosses control the limited supplies. One person breaks ranks and tries to escape her bondage to find a better place. Along for the ride is Max, who was captured while wandering the wastelands.
Trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice, George Miller dusted off the Mad Max franchise. In the 31 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was released there have been tremendous advances in movie making. Had they not have been, this film would’ve been simply an addition to the cult series.
What made this so popular was the virtual non-stop action filled with lots of explosions, extraordinary costumes and vehicles set in out of this world-looking environments, and a loud ear piercing sound track.
Deservedly so, it won most of the Oscar’s technical awards. But, any of the actors could’ve been replaced with others, and nobody wouldn’t been worse for wear. That’s saying a lot considering the main actors were Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
Was this really Best Picture nomination worthy? No. While it was certainly entertaining, it was pretty much devoid of much of a plot, and was just a chase film from beginning to end.
THE MARTIAN – A sudden storm during a manned mission to Mars sends the crew scrambling to escape before disaster happens. Unfortunately, during their departure one of them appears to have been killed.
The next morning astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) wakes up to find he is alone, with what’s left of their base camp in shambles. Through ingenuity he’s able to survive and even communicate with NASA, sending the organization into a race against time to rescue Watney before supplies run out.
The first trailers of this reminded me of a 1960s sci-fi flick, Robinson Crusoe on Mars and I expected most of it was going to be just Watney’s struggles. However, it had a fair balance of screen time from a good crop of supporting actors.
Jordan’s Wadi Rum, with it’s vast scenery and rust red sands, was a perfect stand-in for the Martian surface.
THE REVENANT – Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a frontiersman hired to guide a fur trapping expedition into the untamed wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. While guiding the group to a nearby fort, he is brutally savaged by a wild grizzly bear, and eventually left for dead by his the party.
This was a gorgeous film. There are plenty of shots which really didn’t do anything to add to the story; just art for art’s sake.
It’s probably not too far of a stretch to say this was DiCaprio’s most strenuous acting gig, and I’d probably say it might be his best role to date.
One thing that disappointed me was to come home and read about Glass, only to find out a good chunk of what was in the film was fabricated out of thin air. As long as that doesn’t bother anyone you should thoroughly enjoy this film.
I do have to warn everyone that if get sick at torture and mayhem, you might get really ill with the beginning where Glass is mauled by the bear. It may be the most graphic movie scene I’ve ever watched. The good news is that if you make it through the first half hour of the film, you’re probably going to make it through the rest.
ROOM – An 11ft by 11ft room is the entire world for Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) . While there’s a door and a skylight, those are windows to the World, a place they’re forbidden to go. Their only contact is Old Nick (Sean Bridges), the provider of everything they need.
This was Emma Donoghue’s first feature length script, and based upon her award-winning 2010 novel of the same name. I have a special place in my heart for screenplays which are penned by the author of the original work.
To be honest, I found this film slow. VERY SLOW! It took a good 20-30 minutes before we finally found out why they found themselves in this predicament. I expected it to pick up at that point. But, it really doesn’t. The latter of the film moves along just as slow.
Larson won this year’s Best Leading Actress Award. Her portrayal is fine for the role, and I haven’t seen the other nominees’ performances. But, it didn’t leave me dumbstruck. The real gem of this film was 9-yr-old Tremblay, who knew nothing of the real world. His innocence was believable, and I look forward to further things from him as he matures as an actor.
The film wasn’t bad. But, was it really one of the best eight films from all of last year? Not so sure.
SPOTLIGHT – In 2001 the Boston Globe’s special investigative unit, Spotlight, turns it’s attention on a sexual abuse case from several years prior. What first appears to surround one priest, eventually exploded into one of the most horrific scandals in American history, including the cover up to try and sweep it under the rug.
This is certainly one of the best films of the year, and can probably be said of the last decade. The richness and depth reminds me a lot of another investigative journalism movies, All the President’s Men.
It boils along slowly as the team uncovers fact after fact about the scandal, until they break things wide open in the blink of an eye.
* * *
So what would have been my choice for Best Picture?
This was probably the easiest choice for me over the last four years since I started my post-Oscar reviews. Despite the creepy subject matter, it kept me interested from beginning to end without having some kind of flaw.
The only other film that did that was Mad Max: Fury Road. But, I just don’t consider that one Best Picture material because of the simplistic plot.