Feb 27, 2016

2016 Best Picture Nominees: Part 2

With the Oscars (and the Independent Spirit Awards) nipping at our heels, it's time to review the final four movies nominated for Best Picture. And, because I love you and my own free time, I'm going to be quick about it:

The Martian
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig (!), Sebastian Stan, Donald Glover (!!), Chiwetel Ejiofor, and someone who is Jeff Daniels or Jeff Bridges or Beau Bridges
Directed by Ridley Scott, Written by Drew Goddard
Story: Based on the novel of the same name, The Martian tells the story of botanist Mark Watney (Damon), who must brave the harsh Mars atmosphere and survive after being accidentally abandoned by his crew (he is presumed dead after a dust storm). Will NASA realize their mistake? Will his crew (led by Interstellar's Murph Jessica Chastain) come back for him? Will the Asian-American characters in the book be played by white actors? The answer to those questions may surprise you. JK, the answer to all of them are "YES."
Pros: This is a movie anchored by long soliloquys from Watney, who passes his time on Mars by listening to disco music and recording everything he does for posterity. That kind of monologuing could be incredibly boring to watch, but Damon is fantastic. Even with all of his accomplishments, he's still an underrated actor, and this movie proves his worth on the screen. Also, after being impressed by the special effects of Interstellar but never connecting to the images, it's nice to watch a film that blends practical effects with special effects to create a very lived-in world. Obviously, director Ridley Scott knows how to make a space epic. Additionally, it's just a fun, well-crafted movie that moves along and makes you forget that you're largely watching a man grow potatoes and talk to himself.
Cons: Winning Best Comedy at the Golden Globes seems to be the biggest knock against it, because the film is more charming than comedic. Saying that you're going to "science the shit" out of something does not make your entire film a laugh riot. Also, it's a little repetitive, and everything happening off Mars is pretty boring. There's even a third-act romance that comes out of nowhere and does nothing.
SHOULD it win Best Picture: It's not wholly deserving of the prize. It's a solid, really entertaining movie with great performances, but it's not setting the world on fire.
WILL it win Best Picture: No.
Fun Trivia for Oscar Night: Mars was named after the Roman god of war. Mars Bars means "God of War Bars" in Italian.

The Revenant
Starring Le-Oscar-do DiOscario, a big bear, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, a horse carcass, and lots of people carcasses
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Written by Mark L. Smith and Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Story: After a massacre and a pseudo-sexual bear attack, DiCaprio's Hugh Glass is left for dead and forced to fend off multiple attempts on his life on his quest for revenge.
Pros: The film is visually stunning, with really beautiful, bleak visuals throughout. Movies try to pull that whole "frontier life was difficult" stuff all the time, but this is the first movie where that hardship is palpable. People look miserable all the time. Acting-wise, Tom Hardy is fantastic as a ruthless and cunning villain whose desperation makes him all the more violent and cruel.
Cons: The effects are neat, but, special-effects wise, we're a few years away from having a completely CGI bear attack look real. The film is also difficult to watch for other reasons. Namely, because each physical hardship that DiCaprio and his costars face is uber-violent and full of blood and viscera. And DiCaprio, while a very talented actor, comes off a little "tryhard" in this. If the Oscars went to the actor who tried the hardest, he'd have it in the bag. You can feel his desperation for Academy recognition seeping through the screen.
SHOULD it win Best Picture: No. It's an interesting and beautiful film, but it's empty and cold. The violence leads nowhere, and it's unclear what message the film wants to send. Moreover, the movie makes some good strides in race-and-period accurate casting, but the Native Americans are also created as vague stereotypes.
WILL it win Best Picture: It certainly has a good shot. Iñárritu is probably winning Best Director, and DiCaprio is basically a lock for Best Actor. So that's...something. Also, tt's got a Gravity-feel to it that the Academy loves, but that movie didn't win the big prize. 
Fun Trivia for Oscar Night: DiCaprio and his Titanic co-star Kate Winslet, who are both nominated this year, have been nominated for 13 Oscars, collectively. One of those nominations has resulted in a win. Because her name isn't Kate Nomination-slet. It's Kate Effing WINslet.
UPDATE: I just Googled it, and Kate Winslet's middle name is actually Elizabeth, not Effing. I saw the "E." and jumped to conclusions.

Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, some chairs, a bed, a sink, and not a whole lot else
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Written by Emma Donaghue
Story: I don't want to spoil anything, but basically this is story of a small boy and his mother being held captive in a one-room bunker, and the ways in which she tries to make his life better and normal amidst terrible circumstances.
Pros: Adapted from a novel by Donaghue (which I loved), Room seemed impossible to film. Tackling a difficult subject from a child's perspective is tricky, and the book occasionally gets mired in its own love of "kid speak." But this movie is a masterful (albeit super-depressing) film. Brie Larson as "Ma" and young Jacob Tremblay carry the film admirably. Larson, in particular, who has been killing it recently, turns in another stellar performance. The relationship between mother and son is necessary for the success of the film  so much hinges on their believable chemistry, and there's not a false note between them the entire film. Huge portions of the film are shot in a room the size of a woodshed, and the cinematography and direction use that to great effect. The room expands and contracts depending on the needs to the story, sometimes seeming as big as a universe and sometimes as small as a cabinet.
Cons: The film can get a little saccharine, and some of the representations of depression feel surface level (but saved by Larson). The film's score is also overbearing, and threatens to turn this film into a Lifetime original movie. Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but in this case it is.
SHOULD it win Best Picture: It's a wonderful film. But if the Academy gives the award to Larson, then justice will be served.
WILL it win Best Picture: No. It's too small, Not just in scope, but also in the fact that very few people have seen it.
Fun Trivia for Oscar Night: Larson's character in the film is named Joy, which makes this one of three Oscar-nominated films this year where the main protagonist is named Joy (the others being Inside Out and Joy).

Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Sabretooth, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Cyril Creighton, and the scariest epilogue I've ever seen
Directed by Tom McCarthy, Written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
Story: From the people who wanted to make a movie more difficult to watch than The Revenant comes Spotlight...
Lots of your favorite actors star as reporters at The Boston Globe, working to uncover the systemic corruption and history of child sexual assault in the Catholic church. Along the way, they face opposition from the staunchly religious city of Boston, their own editors, and their own family. On the quest for answers, they uncover more unspeakably awful truths about men who exploit power and the people that cover up their crimes.
Pros: Though this story is now well-worn territory, it's impressive to think that it only came out a little over a decade ago. Tom McCarthy, who has made amazing films like Win Win and The Station Agent, has written and directed a haunting film that looks at this true crime story from all angles, spending time to understand the many things that are supremely f*cked up about it. The film shows us corruption and sexual assault, but it also shows how normal, good people can be a part of the problem due to trust in an institution and skepticism of people who speak out against power. There's a lot of ground to cover, and the film could have become mired in exposition, but the writers blend story and character so seamlessly that it doesn't feel preachy or talky. It just feels real and brutal. Stellar performances from Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, and Rachel McAdams bring the material to life as the story unfolding hits closer and closer to the characters' homes.
Cons: I'm not sure. It's a really great movie.
SHOULD it win Best Picture: Yes. It's all the things you want from a movie. It's engaging, it's soul-crushing, it tackles a huge issue from a personal perspective, and Michael Keaton is in it.
WILL it win Best Picture: It's lost some momentum on the awards circuit as The Revenant chugs right along to Trophy Town. Still, I'm hoping for a win here.

Time to buckle up for The Oscars. It's going to be a wild tepid ride.
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