Feb 24, 2016

2016 Best Picture Nominees: Part 1

Hello, reader people. Sorry for the silence this last month, After watching 425 movies in 2015, I've been finding it difficult to work up any energy about pop culture. Even updates on the Gilmore Girls revival have failed to rise me from my apathy. Well, that's a lie; I'm not made of stone. #TeamDean #Iknowhesabuttfacedmiscreantbuthewasinterestingandsweetinthefirstseason

Anyway... the OscarsSoWhite are this Sunday, which means it's time for film buffs the world over to fill out ballots, giddily predict winners with friends while getting mani-pedis, and angrily yell (in a bar at 8pm) about the fact that Dope isn't even nominated. That last one is maybe just me.

If you're like most members of the American public, you probably haven't seen most of the films up for Best Picture. I get it. Some of them are hella boring, and your time is precious. Still, nobody likes to be left out during a party (unless you're a dog that needs to pee), so I'm here to help you in your time of need. Consider me your Oscars Sherpa. Over the next two blog posts, I'll lay out the strengths and weaknesses of the nominees for Best Picture while also giving you some bon mots to keep your fellow partygoers delighted. Let's dig in!

The Big Short
Starring Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Dandy from AHS, Marisa Tomei, Hamish Linklater, and a ton of brown-haired white dudes
Directed by Adam McKay, Written by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
Story: Basically it's the story of the housing market and economic collapse of 2008 disguised as a heist film. It's told from the perspective of the dudes who realized that the market was being over-inflated and made a lot of money betting on the prediction that the bubble would burst.
Pros: It's incredibly well-acted, particularly from Steve Carell (who is really the only sympathetic figure in the film). It's a great way to learn about recent American history, and it's fun that the tutors are Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie. It's occasionally funny and sporadically light-hearted.
Cons: The movie feels a little disjointed tonally and story-wise. None of the individual characters/story lines connect with one another (Christian Bale feels like he's on an ice floe separated from the rest of the main cast) and it ping-pongs wildly between comedy and drama. Also, like The Wolf of Wall Street before it, this is a film about awful people. They're markedly less awful than the people around them, but they're still betting on the fact that millions of people are going to lose money and financially collapse. Sure, it would happen even if they weren't betting on it, and they seem to get really torn up about it. But the fact that they are frowning while wealthy doesn't negate the fact that they are still becoming richer while other people suffer. All the Ocean's 11-type stylistic choices (and Ocean's 11's own Brad Pitt) aren't enough to make you forget that.
SHOULD it win Best Picture: No. It's a fine movie that should be remembered as an educational tool full of educational tools.
WILL it win Best Picture: It's one of three front-runners for Best Picture, but the prospects aren't good.
Fun Trivia for Oscar Night: If you look hard enough at the cast, you'll find at least one black person who is a woman and a few Asian Americans. None of them are the protagonists.

Bridge of Spies
Starring Tom Hanks, that guy from Friday Night Lights, Mark Rylance, I think a guy who was in that movie with a dolphin without a tail, winter coats, a bridge that's not as full of spies as I was promised, and Amy Ryan
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen
Story: In this "based on a true story" tale, Tom Hanks stars as a lawyer tasked with putting up a defense for a captured Soviet spy but puts too much oomph into it. And then he's hated by the American people. And then there's a bridge that has, like, two spies on it max. And then maybe America loses but democracy wins?
Pros: Amy Ryan brings a lot of weight to a role that is super light on the page, and Tom Hanks is reliably good. Better than he is in The Terminal (more like The Interminable, amirite), less good than he is in Big. Cold War spy dramas are really interesting, because there is a ton of build-up but often very little payoff. World War II ended with explosions. The Cold War sort of just fizzled out due to a poorly-planned skirmish with Afghanistan and some crumbling, load-bearing structures. That kind of unresolved tension fun to watch. Spielberg creates a type of gentleman's war, where decency is prized above all else, and all of the spying is so obvious it isn't even threatening. Like, anyone could catch these spies  there's not a Sydney Bristow among them. The film is also lovingly shot and, given that the story is super predictable, occasionally engaging.
Cons: From the man who directed the super boring War Horse comes an even more boring and less nuanced movie about an even colder war. I love Steven Spielberg, but this movie is so slowly paced and uninteresting. He's out of step with how films should feel and move. There are also very few surprises in the film.  From the beginning, you know whether or not Rylance's Rudolf Abel is a spy for the USSR, and that knowledge robs you of any excitement as the plot unfolds. Also, without the musical help of John Williams (whose score basically carried the lame War Horse on its back), the film falls flat. Every single person involved in this project has done something better. Also, there aren't nearly enough spies on the titular bridge.
SHOULD it win Best Picture: No. This is a nomination resulting from the contractual obligation of old Academy members to vote for everything Spielberg does, regardless of quality.
WILL it win Best Picture: No. 
Fun Trivia for Oscar Night: One of the most stirring moments in the film, wherein Hanks watches people get shot while trying to escape over a wall, never actually happened to the real life person Hanks is playing. It's cheap emotional chicanery.

Starring Saoirse "rhymes with inertia" Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Emily Bett Rickards, Molly Weasley, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, and Jessica Paré
Directed by John Crowley, Written by Nick Hornby
Story: Based on the novel by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn is the story of Eilis (Ronan), a young woman living in a small Irish town in the 1950s who moves to Brooklyn to make something of herself. Along the way, she makes mistakes, falls in love, and feels the pull of Ireland calling her home.
Pros: This is the first of the films on this list that made my Best Picture list. Successful adaptations of novels are surprisingly rare, because it's easy to make a film that feels dependent on the novel for full enjoyment (like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) or so faithful to the novel that the film fails to breathe any life onto the screen (like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). I haven't read the book on which Brooklyn is based, but I imagine it would be easy to adapt it into an incredibly boring film. This movie avoids boredom traps with the help of a great writer (Hornby) and an exceptional cast, led by the wonderful lost-Fanning-sister Saoirse Ronan. With power players on both sides of the camera, the film crackles with understated intensity and warmth. Eilis's journey becomes a relevant story of hope, rather than falling onto the pile of forgettable films in the same genre. It's also an incredibly pretty movie. I am disgusted by just the thought of beaches (sand  ugh, saltwater  double ugh), but the cinematography and costuming had me dreaming of putting on an old-timey one-piece and heading to Coney Island for a dip.
Cons: It's a long film, but the last fifteen minutes feel rushed, which seems to be a problem with 2015 films starring Domhnall Gleeson (ahem Star Wars and Ex Machina). I don't want to spoil any part of the movie, but Eilis has some decisions to make in the final act, and the film doesn't give her time to breathe and think. It all gets a little fluffy and fast in the final frames.
SHOULD it win Best Picture: It's a beautiful movie full of beautiful people, but it probably would have been a stronger contender 10 years ago. Or even 30 years ago.
WILL it win Best Picture: Nope. Ronan has the best chance at Oscar gold, and even she's a longshot.
Fun Trivia for Oscar Night: Though the film is primarily set in Brooklyn, only two days were spent there during filming. That's a boring fact, but it's the best I could do.

Mad Max: Fury Road 
(pasting and re-editing in my earlier review)
Starring Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and a ton of super pale Australians
Directed by George Miller, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris
The Story: Set in an even more dystopian future than the first three Mad Max films, the titular Max once again finds himself in a situation where he begrudgingly helps out a band of underdogs (because it's the right thing to do, dammit!). But the movie is really more about Imperator Furiosa (Theron), a driver for the megalomaniacal Immortan Joe who takes an opportunity to do something good by depriving Joe of the thing(s) he loves most. What starts (and ends) as a car chase becomes a fight for decency and redemption.
Pros: This movie is gorgeous from start to finish. I've never seen a desert so beautiful and haunting, a bleak and constant reminder of the dangers the heroes face. Practical special effects make everything more interesting, and there's a guitar-playing Doof Warrior who is a lot of fun to watch. It's easy to discount the acting, with the minimal dialogue making the characters more like action figures than real people. However, Theron, Hardy, and Hoult all turn in amazing performances, able to balance the camp and grit of the film without being overwhelmed by it.
Cons: Honestly, there are very few cons. It's basically one-long chase/battle sequence, so it does occasionally feel repetitive. An extensive sequence in a dust-storm is particularly unnecessary, but it is really pretty.
SHOULD it win Best Picture: This surprisingly-feminist action movie is glorious from start to finish. It would be crazy if it won Best Picture, but in a good way.
WILL it win Best Picture: Probably not. It's genre-heavy in a genre that's not loved by the Academy.
Fun Trivia for Oscar Night: Director George Miller said he would not return for another installment, but then changed his tune as soon as he was nominated for Best Director.

That's all for Part 1. Check back soon for my reviews of the other four films nominated for Best Picture, and have a great day!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...