- The Big Short
- Bridge of Spies
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- The Martian
- The Revenant
The Big Short owes the vast majority of its success to its phenomenal screenplay (which I have pegged to win) as well as to its outstanding editing, which I think should win. On top of both of those, Christian Bale gave an incredibly well-intoned performance of the eccentric Dr. Micheal Burry for which I think he should win an Oscar. All combined, The Big Short is an accessible and educational telling of one of the biggest financial stories of the last century. That it is terrifically entertaining as well is what puts it on this list.
Is it just me, or does Bridge of Spies open with perhaps the worst-described back-story possible? The layout of the words is bad (seriously, consult a comics letterer). The description is frighteningly basic, as though no one has ever heard of the Cold War. And for being so spartan, it still spins this flavorless sentence into generic melodrama by the end. The cherry on top is, of course, letting us all know that a Cold War spy story has some foundation in reality. The screenplay was "plodding" and "boorish." The production design is overused. The soundtrack is formulaic at times. The sound was at times laughably bad. And that's not even to mention that Tom Hanks was the star. Ugh. Fortunately for us all, Mark Rylance salvaged every bit of his character from the Coen brothers' script and spun an excellent performance. Not only can I not consider voting for Bridge of Spies for best picture, but I can't imagine considering recommending it to someone whom I care about.
Brooklyn is on this list despite only having two other nominations. The screenplay has a lot of things going for it, and was almost fantastic. Instead of letting this truly be a coming of age story for a young immigrant woman with a diverse cast, though, Brooklyn kept all the people of color to roles as extras and centered Eilis' story on the men in her life. Despite that, Saoirse Ronan gives a knockout performance that forces the movie to remain focused on Eilis herself. The score was stunning and got crowded out of a nomination by an impeccable field of composers. Brooklyn is here because of an spectacular composite performance. It's hard to fault the film in any category, but is just being all-around good going to be enough?
I have written ad infinitum about Fury Road. I love it. I would have this movie's babies. Junkie XL delivered an absolutely mind-numbing two hour soundtrack. The sound crew turned everything up to 11 in a spectacle that was improbably not garish. The costuming was the perfect blend of individualized and regimented to create characters while maintaining them within their castes. The production crew worked all of these other crews to some kind of perfection. The editing is getting mind-boggling hype for the ease with which it conveyed Mad Max's action. The makeup and hair work was pervasive and intensely realized. The effects are getting dissected with glee. And George Miller came back from a nearly thirty-year action film hiatus to create a movie that is going to be a a foundational piece of the genre going forward.
Was The Martian a good film? Sure. I guess. If I have to watch Matt Damon star in a movie, maybe it's this one. Was it best picture worthy? No. No it wasn't. The production design and effects were both very well done, but the rest of the film was rather average, to be honest.
Iñárritu is one of my favorite directors, and Lubezki is my favorite cinematographer. I feel they both got outshone this year, but I also think that they're both going to win anyway. I am predicting that DiCaprio is going to win his first Academy Award, and yet, I again am not convinced he should. Maybe you can see where this is going. The Revenant is a film with a lot of exquisite pieces. It is up for twelve Academy Awards. There is a ton of talent on this film and they're all performing at peak capability. Watch it. Absolutely watch it. The Revenant, though, is not more than the sum of its parts. It is less.
Like Brooklyn, Room is up for screenplay and lead actress, though it also has a directing nod. It is a deeply visceral film that claws deep and lingers in ways you really do not want it to. It is a powerful thriller cleverly disguised in all the wrappings of a drama. Make no mistake, though, Room is here to haunt you. There seemed to be some disconnect amongst its creators, though, and Room falters in a second half that, while still great, has an incongruent weight to it.
Spotlight is a glacially paced journalism story reenvisioned as an engaging and quickly paced exposition. The directing and screenplay were phenomenally on point here and were backed by a very nice editing job. The acting, though, was terribly misguided. Two actors scored nominations for their work here, and honestly, one was completely unmemorable to me while the other was perfectly acting a different character. Spotlight is that queer mix of incredibly great performances and tragically wasted potential.
You probably think I'm going to pick Fury Road, right? Nope. Well, that leaves The Revenant. Also nope. Both of these films are breathtaking in so many ways, and they're each going to win a bucketful of awards. Why not them, then? They have about the flattest characters possible. DiCaprio's Hugh Glass has about eight seconds of exposition before becoming a mindless revenge robot. And Fury Road? Come on. Its characters are well-developed for an action film certainly, but they're actively announcing all their subtext for their over-saturated world to hear. The world of Fury Road is perfectly realized, and for that, it stands an inkling of a chance of following The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for breaking its genre's glass ceiling. I can't imagine a film without a screenplay is going to be that film, though, no matter how much it recasts its genre. The Revenant, while stunning in so many ways, simply doesn't add up to what all those performances should become. No, I think this award belongs to The Big Short, a film that, on paper, sounds impossible to write much less shoot and edit. Every single aspect of that movie is remarkably solid, and a few are simply outstanding. All that said, The Revenant is totally going to win.
Should win: The Big Short
Will win: The Revenant