Thoughts on… 2016 Academy Awards

The 2016 Oscars have come and gone, taking plenty of surprises, great moments, and diversity jokes with it. Here is our reaction to last night’s awards.

LEO!

All it took was getting attacked by a bear and eating bison liver for Leonardo DiCaprio to finally get that Oscar. He earned it, and hopefully we’ll see him win another one in the future.

Mad Max Dominates

Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the winners of the night, taking home six awards and (virtually) sweeping the technical awards, only losing out to Ex Machina in visual effects and The Revenant in cinematography.

#OscarsSoWhite

I thought Chris Rock’s opening monologue was very funny and appropriately shed light on the diversity issue. Unfortunately, he decided to beat the topic to death. All the parodies, all the jokes, EVERYTHING was about the lack of black actors at the Oscars. I’m a non-white male, but even I know that the omission of black nominees was due to the lack of good black performances. Will Smith over who, exactly? There definitely needs to be more opportunity for minority actors, but no one got snubbed for their race this year.

 

The Revenant Pulls Through

Emmanuel Lubezki has now won three straight years, first for Gravity, then Birdman, now The Revenant.  It is an incredible feat and one that has sadly flown under the radar. Alejandro G. Iñarritu has now won twice in a row, and of course Leo won Best Actor. The Revenant did very well for itself.

Lady Gaga snubbed

Lady Gaga, moments after delivering an incredibly powerful performance singing “Till It Happens to You”, lost to Sam Smith for “Writing on the Wall”, two hours after he dropped the ball with an awful performance. What a shame.

Surprises!

There were a trio of surprises outside of the Gaga upset, in my opinion. The first was Ex Machina winning Best Visual Effects, which I thought was awesome. Vikander looked great, solely because of the visuals. The second was Mark Rylance taking home Best Supporting Actor. He was the early favorite but faded out, though was obviously good enough to win Best Supporting Actor. He was really good, so I can’t complain, even though Tom Hardy winning would have been awesome. The third was…

The spotlight is on Spotlight

Mad Max and The Revenant were the stories of the night, but Spotlight ended up with the big money. I didn’t see this coming because of how momentum pointed towards The Revenant, but I was thrilled when it happened. Spotlight was a fantastic film, powerful, enlightening, and probably the most important film of the year. I am ecstatic, albeit surprised, that Spotlight was able to pull off the shocker, even though it was the favorite for a long time, and take home Best Picture.

Our 2016 Academy Award Predictions

Best Documentary- Short Subject

Body Team 12
Chau, beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom

I did some reading.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Claude Lanzmann: Spectre of the Shoah

Let’s get these no clue ones out of the way first.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Chau, beyond the lines

Best Documentary- Feature

Amy
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

For the first time ever, I saw a movie nominated for Best Documentary! Amy was great, so I’m really pulling for it.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Amy
The Oscar Goes to…: Amy

Amy took home a BAFTA and I personally enjoyed it. Best of luck to it tonight.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Amy
The Oscar Goes to…: Amy

amy_winehouse1-xlarge

Best Live Action Short Film

Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
Shok
Stutterer

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Stutterer

Religious themes are always powerful.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Ave Maria

Best Animated Short Film

Bear Story
Prologue
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

Again, couldn’t really tell you much here.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: World of Tomorrow

Who doesn’t like animals, I guess?

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Bear Story

Best Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent
Mustang
Son of Saul
Theeb
A War

I think this is the last of the categories I have absolutely no clue about.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Son of Saul

The Academy and any Holocaust drama. We all know the relationship.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Son of Saul

Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

I think I remember proclaiming “Pixar is back” after watching Inside Out. It was a charming, emotional adventure with an excellent story and great voice acting. It felt like vintage Pixar, though that was ruined until The Good Dinosaur came out… Regardless, Inside Out has the story and poignancy to be one of Pixar’s most memorable films, right up there with Toy Story and Up.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Inside Out
The Oscar Goes to…: Inside out

Pixar! Get your award polish out of wherever you’ve been keeping it since Cars 2! In all seriousness, Inside Out was a welcome return to form as it really showed off just how dynamic a single film with enough genuine care could be (I can only count on one hand which films have had friends crying and laughing within the same two hours and all of them are Pixar features). Well done, Pixar. More of this please.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Inside Out
The Oscar Goes to…: Inside Out

inside out 4

Best Original Score

Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Admittedly, I have yet to see Quentin Tarantino’s Western epic but everything indicates that it will take home Best Original Score. John Williams’ return to Star Wars was epic, and definitely my favorite string of compositions just because of the novelty of the music and how it made me nostalgic, but I don’t anticipate it winning. Look for Ennio Morricone to take home the gold for The Hateful Eight.

Shoulda Been Here: Inside Out
I Would Vote For: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Oscar Goes to…: The Hateful Eight

I know the Academy is too high falutin for Star Wars but come on, there’s a universal appeal when those chords thunder and that title bursts on to the screen (It even earned applause in the theatre I was in). John Williams said that continuing the Star Wars score was like finishing up a letter to an old friend: he’s stepped right back into the universe and his return has been exultant as hell.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Oscar Goes to…: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

Best Original Song

“Earned It”, Fifty Shades of Grey
“Manta Ray”, Racing Extinction
“Simple Song #3”, Youth
“Til It Happens To You”, The Hunting Ground
“Writing’s On The Wall”, Spectre

This is actually a very interesting category. The Weeknd and Sam Smith both have the big name songs, with “Earned It” and “Writing on the Wall” respectively, both of which definitely have a shot at winning because of the magnitude of their names and the popularity of the movies they were featured in. That being said, Lady Gaga’s song is the best one, and probably the one that will appeal to Oscar voters the most. Plus she’s Lady Gaga…

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Till it Happens to You
The Oscar Goes to…: Till it Happens to You

Wait, the Weeknd is up for something? That’s awesome! Too bad it came tethered to a terrible movie. Next year, buddy. Anyway, Gaga is always good at banging out her work from the heart (Say what you want about her work but at least you know it’s her work) and “Till it Happens to You” proves to be a powerful anthem on sexual assault and a deep coda to the messages of the documentary it came with.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: “Writing’s on the Wall”
The Oscar Goes to…: Till it Happens to You

Best Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant 
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I’ve finally figured out the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing! Editing is the creation of new sounds and Mixing is literally the mesh of all different kinds of sounds that the movie features. Ok… maybe I don’t actually know the difference. This one is a toss up between Mad Max and The Revenant, but I think the scale will tip in the favor of The Revenant. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mad Max gets it though.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: The Revenant
The Oscar Goes to…: The Revenant

I really never have a terrible amount of commentary on sound but I’ll do my best: I think Mad Max had a lot of chaos that was most likely tough to work around in the booth. However, it turned out to be a terrifically loud film. Anyways, sound is indeed usually a shot in the dark so Revenant may indeed bring it home but I do think Fury Road is the safer pick, if not for its own sheer volume.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

 

mad max 1

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian
The Revenant 
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sound Mixing only tends to split in years where there are movies based around music, like Whiplash last year, Les Miserables in 2012, and Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. Otherwise they are usually the same. Since I went with The Revenant for Sound Editing, I’m going to stick with it for Sound Mixing. But like I said before, I could easily see Mad Max running the table and winning both of them. 

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: The Revenant
The Oscar Goes to…: The Revenant

It’s okay, you can look up what sound mixing is. I’ll wait right here.

Got it? Good. Anyways Revenant is a well-oiled, lean machine and boy howdy does it make sure all of its sounds work in conjunction with one another. On top of that, Revenant took home several audio work awards in BAFTA a few weeks ago so I’m also really just going off that as well.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: The Revenant
The Oscar Goes to…: The Revenant

Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Spoiler alert: all the design categories are going to go to Mad Max. The Production manager is the official who overlooks all aspects of set design, costume design, etc… Basically everything visual. What made Mad Max incredible was the beautiful design that created this post-apocalyptical universe. I could see this slipping to The Revenant, but I’m gonna stick with my guns here.

Shoulda Been Here: Spotlight
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

Yeah, strap into your crazy, over the top vehicle because Fury Road’s got a good part of this show locked. If you were a total believer in totally exclusively marching forward with CGI and computerized special effects than damned if Mad Max didn’t show you the light: these set pieces are huge and ridiculous. I think the Academy will very well see we’ll probably never get a movie of Max’s scale for years.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Mad Max: Fury Road
The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed out
the Window and Disappeared
The Revenant

Shocker: Another tight race between The Revenant and Mad Max! While The Revenant does do a great job of transforming Leo, I think that Mad Max has this one in the bag. From the character of Immortan Joe to Nicholas Hoult, Fury Road’s makeup and hairstyling is easily the best this year.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

Halfway through Fury Road, I leaned over to one of my friends and said “Man, you’ve got to respect the actors that caked that sh** on”. I meant it from the bottom of my heart but it’s also a deep compliment to those in charge of styling and makeup for the movie who (pretty obviously) trusted their actors and let their creativity run absolutely wild. The professional critic speaking to you did not even know that the female lead was Charlize Theron until halfway through. Yeah.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Costume Design

Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

This is where it gets interesting. I know I said Mad Max would win all the design categories, but I’m just feeling an upset coming on. Legendary costume designer Sandy Powell was nominated for both Cinderella and Carol, and could actually win for either. Mad Max obviously has a great shot. I’m just feeling like The Danish Girl comes out of nowhere and surprises people on this one .

Shoulda Been Here: Bridge of Spies
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: The Danish Girl

Yeah, Mad Max is pretty set for all these aesthetic categories and for good reason: it pours its energy into this slambang, upside universe that stands somewhere between Wacky Races, the original Max films and classic dystopian posturing. The creators of Fury Road recognized that environment is derived just as much from the look of its characters as it is from setting and ran from there. The results are beautiful.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

 

Best Film Editing

The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Whattaya know: another tight race between The Revenant and Mad Max. Mad Max’s furious pacing can be attributed to its excellent, skin tight editing, giving it a texture that is unique and interesting. The Revenant on the other hand is filled with long, stretched out shots that extend the depth of the film. I think Mad Max gets it, but again, it could easily go the other way.

Shoulda Been Here: Sicario
I Would Vote For: The Revenant
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

This film’s insane. Insane is ridiculously hard to articulate into film. That is all.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

 

star wars 6

Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I think this one is more of a race between Star Wars and Mad Max, rather than the latter and The Revenant. Star Wars is obviously a helluva work of art, with incredible visual effects. That being said, it is very likely that the Academy will give the award to a film like Mad Max, since it has more merit than an action film. With that said, I would be more than thrilled if Star Wars wins.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Oscar Goes to…: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max is some of the best action I have seen on the big screen and will probably ever see. It’s an unabashedly big and bold film bolstered well by the fact that its special effects blend in well with its extremely well done practical ones. However, I believe those special effects are few and far between which actually penalizes it in this category which means I’m turning this one over to Abrams’s team which most likely leaned more on green screen and CGI pretty deftly (Especially coming off the heels of Lucas’s phoney, Pixar-esque animated world for the prequels.)..

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar Goes to…: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

revenant 1

Best Cinematography 

Carol
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant 
Spotlight

Emmanuel Lubezki is an absolute beast. He is on track to win Best Cinematography for the third consecutive year, following up Gravity and Birdman with another incredible job in The Revenant. The prolonged nature of the shots in The Revenant extends the brutality of everything that happens to Glass, the most notable scene being the infamous bear mauling scene. Lubezki is incredible with the camera, single handedly making The Revenant one of the most visceral films that I’ve seen in awhile. Mad Max could take this, but I think it’s very unlikely. The only thing stopping Lubezki is the fact that he’s won this two straight years.

Shoulda Been Here: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I Would Vote For: The Revenant
The Oscar Goes to…: The Revenant

We’ll get more into the power of the extended shot when we get to the directing category but, for now, let me just pat cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki on the back for what is sure to be his hat trick. Lubezki was handed an even greater challenge this year as he had to work with more disorganized movement and brutal action (This is the Wild West after all.) yet he spun it into absolute gold, nailing action scenes without sacrificing the film’s fluent and slower pace. Unless the Academy somehow decides a triple is too much, Mr. Lubezki can sit tight for most of the evening.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: The Revenant
The Oscar Goes to…: The Revenant

Best Writing-Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight 
Straight Outta Compton

Screenplay awards are actually very underrated in their importance. I think it says a lot about a film if it has the best writing in a single year, because it also means it’s got the best story, best characters, etc. I personally think Inside Out was the most creative film this year and if I were a part of the academy, would vote for it in a second, but Spotlight will definitely be the winner here. It has an intriguing story filled with rising tension and interesting characters. This might be the only award Spotlight takes home.

Shoulda Been Here: The Hateful Eight
I Would Vote For: Inside Out
The Oscar Goes to…: Spotlight

Spotlight is carefully crafted and professionally paced without losing some of the raw excitement and power of other films involving investigative journalists (Think All the President’s Men, which I believe Spotlight has surpassed). The characters are real and struggle with reconciling their day job with the morally hefty work it involves in a very balanced way that betrays Hollywood dramatics. Above all else, like any great story, it knows just when to start and just when to end to pack its punch and boy does it succeed.

(That Tarantino snub hurts. Poor guy. Poor crazy, crazy guy. Maybe the Academy’s a little wise to his act though.)

Shoulda Been Here: The Hateful Eight
I Would Vote For: Spotlight
The Oscar Goes to…: Spotlight

spotlight 2

Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
The Martian
Room

I first have to acknowledge the atrocity that is the snub of Aaron Sorkin’s masterful adaptation of Steve Jobs. This was probably the best writing of the year, Adapted or Original, and would be by vote. But since that is obviously not an option, I think The Big Short has this in the bag. It is the most interestingly crafted story of the year, breaking the fourth wall and using a nonlinear structure to make it as cool as it is. The Big Short is very well done, making it the hands down favorite to win Best Adapted Screenplay.

Shoulda Been Here: Steve Jobs
I Would Vote For: The Big Short
The Oscar Goes to…: The Big Short

Do I have to even say on this damn blog one more time how important of an ability it is to make a heavy topic bite size and intriguing without compromising its weight? Big Short breezes through the causes of the recession without failing to justly lampoon the blind “too big to fail” shrugs of Wall St. and the unbridled, ugly avarice of those who prey on average albeit financially illiterate Americans. It’s a dark and scary message….but it’s funny as hell.

(Academy, where’s Aaron Sorkin? We all get a little tired of walking and talking and quick silver tongue wit but guys, come on.)

Shoulda Been Here: Steve Jobs
I Would Vote For: The Big Short
The Oscar Goes to…: The Big Short

 

big short 5

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies 
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

This is one of the awards that I’ve got no clue on. I could see any of Hardy, Rylance, Ruffalo and Stallone winning, though after Stallone won the Golden Globes, the scale is slightly tipped in his favor. Everyone likes a good underdog, comeback story and Stallone provides just that. Personally, I loved Hardy the most for his turn as the villainous John Fitzgerald in The Revenant. I would also be pleased to see Ruffalo win, though I think this is more of a long shot. Stallone looks like the favorite, but it is not a lock by any stretch of the imagination. If Jacob Tremblay had been nominated here, then I really would have loved to see him take home the win since I legitimately feel that he was better than anyone else in this category. Unfortunately, that’s not happening.

Shoulda Been Here: Jacob Tremblay, Room
I Would Vote For: Tom Hardy
The Oscar Goes to…: Sylvester Stallone

For lack of a more eloquent phrase: oh geez. This is the tightest category there is. My mind tells me Tom but my soul tells me Stallone (I love both.). But of course, as they said in the Film & Criticism class I never attended, you always have to go with your heart which means I’ve got to pick Sly. And, really, that’s not just the fanboy in me speaking: Stallone did a helluva job slipping back into the character as an aged and worn fighter who has lost a little more than just his groove. Is half of my decision here based on the image of seeing Sly getting up on that stage one more time and getting handed the gold? Maybe, maybe but I wouldn’t be absolutely despondent if Hardy took it either. This could go plenty of ways.

Shoulda Been Here: Jacob Tremblay, Room
I Would Vote For: Sylvester Stallone
The Oscar Goes to…: Sylvester Stallone

creed 3

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Don’t be confused by my statement that Alicia Vikander was snubbed but she is also going to win. I haven’t seen The Danish Girl, but it looks to be a two horse race between her and Winslet and I think Vikander will get it due to the Academy’s apparent disdain for Steve Jobs as a film in general. Winslet did win the Golden Globes, but everything since then points to Vikander. I personally think she should have been nominated for Ex Machina rather than The Danish Girl, but it’s ok if she wins either way. I have a feeling she’ll get some votes for having a great year either way. This is another race that I’m saying will go one way, but could easily go the other way. In other words, my predictions are far from being a sure thing. It’s a pretty crazy year.

Shoulda Been Here: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
I Would Vote For: Kate Winslet
The Oscar Goes to…: Alicia Vikander

Behind every great narcissist master of the universe is a woman, right? Of course. Well, Winslet laid out a powerhouse performance as headstrong Joanna Hoffman, a key commander of the fledgling Apple and NeXT launches and an assistant and designated “work wife” to Jobs himself. Who else to bounce between professional and family squabbles with Fassbender’s Steve than this patient yet powerful portrait on Winslet’s part? Winslet does a terrific job acting as Jobs’ conscience/part-time mom and almost a voice of the audience against his corrosive attitude.

On top of that, not for nothing but the Eastern European accent doesn’t seem manufactured at all. (I don’t know I think doing a dialect is underratedly tricky and it deserved some recognition).

Shoulda Been Here: Helen Mirren, Trumbo
I Would Vote For: Kate Winslet
The Oscar Goes to…: Kate Winslet

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

The two leading actor categories are probably the only two categories with clear cut winners this year, maybe with Best Animated Feature. Leonardo DiCaprio is the hands down favorite to finally get the Oscar that has alluded him for a long time. He has lost four times and been snubbed countless more times, so this is well deserved. If anyone has a chance to beat him, it’s Michael Fassbender, who I actually thought would win immediately following my viewing of the film, but don’t expect that to happen. His determination to get that Oscar is evident, though that’s probably because he literally eats bison liver… This role put him to the test, physically and mentally, and he was up for the challenge. For perhaps his finest performance to date, expect Leo to win Best Lead Actor and get a standing ovation for it.

Shoulda Been Here: Johnny Depp, Black Mass
I Would Vote For: Leonardo DiCaprio
The Oscar Goes to…: Leonardo DiCaprio

Leo, it’s time.

I honestly thought I’d be dead before it would happen. Leo winning the Oscar always seemed like the idea of a cure for cancer, the end of mass starvation or the invention of the flying car: it was the stuff of fanciful dreams for the future. But it appears God is a DiCaprio fan because he has given him one more big swing at the Academy and all signs are pointing to a home run. The Oscarless actor has swept all awards for his performance in The Revenant and do I dare find it a little darkly comedic that, after a series of well-crafted, well-researched performances on his part, it’s the grunt-y, blink-y one that gets the gold? Absolutely.

(As an aside, I just want to say that I really wish Fassbender hadn’t picked this year to dole out the Jobs performance he did. Some other time, buddy. You’ll get them.)

Shoulda Been Here: Johnny Depp, Black Mass
I Would Vote For: Leonardo DiCaprio
The Oscar Goes to…: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Ramping, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Like I said, the two leading acting categories are essentially set in stone, with 26 year old Brie Larson looking like the favorite for Best Actress. This one is a little closer, as Saoirse Ronan’s performance in Brooklyn was also very impressive, but in the end all she is is a very, very dark horse. She delivered one of the most powerful performances of the year as ‘Ma’, a woman kidnapped and trapped in a room with her young son. She shows maturity beyond her years and is inspiring from beginning to end. The category this year was a bit of a mess, with Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander sneaking into the supporting actress category, but regardless, Larson is the clear winner for her heartbreaking performance in Room.

Shoulda Been Here: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
I Would Vote For: Brie Larson
The Oscar Goes to…: Brie Larson

Yeah, Brie Larson seems to be the favorite (Snagging a Golden Globe and conquering BAFTAs, the Oscars’ weird foreign cousin.) and it’s not hard to see why: Larson handles a relationship-driven film pretty spectacularly. She simultaneously captures the raw stress of being captive but also well exhibits the basic issues of motherhood while attempting to preserve your child’s well being through a hardship. Could she face a challenge from Ronan? Maybe but Larson did have get to flex her ability to be dynamic more, navigating some more heavy-hitting scenes.

Shoulda Been Here: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
I Would Vote For: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
The Oscar Goes to…: Brie Larson

'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says

Best Director

Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant 
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

If you thought I was mad about Sorkin, then you don’t want to know how I feel about Ridley Scott not being nominated for Best Director. He clearly did a better job with the space odyssey that is The Martian than Lenny Abrahamson. Shame. As for the winner, I think this will be one of the tighter races of the night. Alejandro Inarritu seems like a very good pick to win, but he did win last year, and George Miller did an incredible job in making Mad Max the well rounded, ace of a film that it was. I think Inarritu will win in the end, because The Revenant was ultimately better than Mad Max and a more impressive film artistically. The Revenant is a favorite across the board, Best Director included. Miller is a sleeper, but I could definitely see him winning.

Shoulda Been Here: Ridley Scott
I Would Vote For: George Miller
The Oscar Goes to…: Alejandro G. Inarritu

I’ve always been enamored with lingering, slow shots that take their time with the world at hand. To me, they just instantly involve the audience. Well, I was a sucker for Birdman last year and the lengthy takes work even better here amidst the tumult of The Revenant. Long shots help to introduce the vicious environment the characters are combatting (If you want your heart to hammer a little, see the amazing opening scene of the movie at least) but also quietly build a certain apprehension and anxiety. It takes talent to make a grey, snowy forest seem absolutely awake and hellish instead of drab and, of course, we should all give a little respect to how exhausting the logistics of the filming process was (Also, Mr. Inarritu doesn’t do half bad with an action scene either.).

Shoulda Been Here: Ridley Scott
I Would Vote For: Alejandro G. Inarritu
The Oscar Goes to…: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Best Picture

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

And here we are, the most important award of the night. I had never witnessed a battle as close as the Birdman-Boyhood battle last year, but this year is definitely more exciting than that. A three horse race between Spotlight, The Revenant, and The Big Short, I could see any of these films winning. Spotlight was my personal favorite, but it has lost steam since it first came out and is following Boyhood’s downward trajectory. The Revenant won Best Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes, but the GGs are not necessarily reliable because Birdman actually lost last year. The Big Short won the Producer’s Guild Award for Best Picture– which has correctly predicted the Best Picture winner for the past nine years (save for a tie between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave)– which means it has a shot as well. Ultimately, I’m going to go with The Revenant because it was the most ambitious film and seems like a favorite across the board. That being said, I would not be surprised or upset at any of the three winning. A lot of the categories this year are tight, which is why it is appropriate that Best Picture might just be the closest of them all.

Shoulda Been Here: Steve Jobs
I Would Vote For: Spotlight
The Oscar Goes to…: The Revenant
~Vig

To me, the Best Picture winner has to command surprise from the viewer above all else. It has to be such an overall feat of production that it renews that sense of wonder and thought to the moviegoing experience (It should make you ask “My God, how’d they even do/think of that?” more than few times.). Moreover, it should it be a film crafted so well that it warranted the visual medium; to tell it using any other way would corrupt the story itself. Well, this year, the champion by those metrics is The Revenant, a piece that surges to new heights of absorption and intensity. Think of all the moving parts to its success: absolutely every element of production massively contributes to its living and breathing world. A true Best Picture demands that all its cogs mesh together in perfect synergy and damned if Revenant doesn’t fit the bill. Congrats, Alejandro. I truly hope there’s space on your awards shelf.

Shoulda Been Here: Steve Jobs
I Would Vote For: The Big Short (I loved it, sorry.)
The Oscar Goes to…: The Revenant
~Zach

2016 Oscar Contest!

Hi viewers! For the second year, we are giving you an opportunity to win a prize! Send in your predictions for the following categories to screenwars@gmail.com by Sunday at 4:00. The person with the most correct answers will receive THREE bonus tickets to any Bow Ties Cinema.

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Original Screenplay
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Animated Feature
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Foreign Language Film

Tiebreaker: Length of Chris Rock’s Monologue

Click here for a  full list of nominees:

Good luck!

Creed

Though we’re done with the Best Picture nominated films, we’re going to take a look at the Rocky-sequel Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, the latter of which is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It is rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality.

From IMDB: Adonis Johnson is the son of the famous boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died in a boxing match in Rocky IV. Adonis wasn’t born until after his father’s death and wants to follow his fathers footsteps in boxing. He seeks a mentor who is the former heavyweight boxing champion and former friend of Apollo Creed, the retired Rocky Balboa. Rocky eventually agrees to mentor Adonis. With Rocky’s help they hope to get a title job to face even deadlier opponents than his father.

9.5 out of 10

The first time my dad showed me the original Rocky from 1976, I didn’t quite understand why it was so iconic in film history. I had seen all of the same plot points in other sports movies I had watched, though they had came after Rocky, and didn’t think there was enough boxing in the actual movie. It took me a few years after I had seen it to realize that the movie took the subject of boxing to tell a grounded, realistic love story. But then the sequels went to ridiculous points from Rocky fighting Mr. T to singlehandedly ending the Cold War and although that can be fun, I can say with much confidence that Creed brings back what makes the original movie great.

creed 3

When I first heard that they were making a Rocky spinoff movie, I completely dismissed it as an unnecessary cash grab of a property that had once been great. But my interest initiated then I heard that the director of Fruitvale Station (great film to check out if you haven’t) Ryan Coogler as well as the main actor in that film, Michael B. Jordan, signed on to the project. In Creed, Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, who fought Rocky in the original film but the two went on to be friends until he died fighting in the ring. Adonis, without a father, bounces around Juvenile prison and gets into other mayhem around Philadelphia until he finds his father’s passion for boxing, so much so that he gets an older Rocky, played again by Sylvester Stallone, to train him.

The directing is a standout in its brilliance. Coogler was able to take bits and pieces from the franchise to make it feel like a Rocky film but not hit you over the head with it to make it original in its own right. The most incredible moment I find from the film involves a boxing match in the middle of the film that is all shown through one shot. This reimagining of a sequence that we have seen executed so many times is incredibly impressive considering he choreography that must have been done to be able to weave the camera around the boxers.

creed 1

As well as the excellent direction, the acting is what makes you feel connected to the story. Jordan is great in portraying Adonis’ inner that he slowly translates onto the boxing. Also, the actress who plays Adonis’ love interest, Tessa Thompson, is very good and the two create a genuine relationship where each relies on the other for support. But Stallone really steals the show not by playing the grizzled veteran, but coming off as sensible and kind hearted. Every time he appears on the screen, the audience either wants to laugh, smile, or cry.

These three along with Coogler are able to transcend the story beyond boxing to be more about the relationship between the protagonist and their arcs. It brings all the same emotional pull that the original does, but in a new way.

Flaws are hard to come by in this movie, but if I were to nitpick I would say that sometimes the movie relies a bit on boxing movie cliques with the training montages and how the final fight is set up.

But a film that can cause an entire crowd to scream out in joy when the Rocky theme is teased for a couple of seconds, is a success.
~Seth

9.5 out of 10

Filmgoing sportos, which do you like better: a comeback story or an underdog one? Lucky for you, Creed boasts such a dynamic duo that you don’t even have to choose. Yes, Sly’s latest feature is a nice little reunion/reboot combo that gives fans the best of both worlds.

If you’re looking for a rightful descendent of the old Rocky films, you better believe it’s here. Creed fits neatly in with the whole saga as it acknowledges the canon, picks up right where we left off and drops a few tasteful tidbits of nostalgia (Just the right serving, I promise.). Heck, even some of the franchise’s goofier moments aren’t forgotten here and the jabs at them are brief but welcome.

But if you’re the one guy who hasn’t experienced classic Rocky, this film is still damn entertaining. The choice to focus on newbie Michael B. Jordan’s character over the Rocky everyone knows and loves was a bolder one (Heck, listen to it. It sounds like a typical Hollywood cash-in spinoff begging to spin out the series.) but it paid off quite well: our new lead Creed and the team in his corner (A host of characters who are all granted dimension beyond being a set of cheerleaders) prove to be exceedingly engaging enough to court any viewer, well acquainted with the previous films or not.

creed 2

Which brings us to the Stallone/Jordan team-up that drives the feature: it’s a sublime passing of the torch. Stallone isn’t merely talking with the camera on or trying desperately to slip back into old Rocky form, he knows the character’s changed and he’s changed right with him, deftly demonstrating the Italian Stallion’s descent into illness and old age without sacrificing his lovable tough guy attitude. Jordan, in turn, holds his own with Academy Award hopeful, delivering his own great grit. Are there some typical, somewhat cliche partner push-pull moments that you can tell the direction of pretty easily? Yes, but the chemistry is more than enough to carry you through.

Perhaps the real guiding star of the movie though is director Ryan Coogler who crafts some marvelously paced fights. It takes especial talent in shooting and editing to make a rapid sport like boxing seem deliberate and demanding of tact shot for shot yet Coogler gets the job done as he lays out what very well could be the Rocky series’ jaw dropping slugfests (They’re so good they’ll make you feel even worse that you actually paid for Mayweather-Pacquiao that one time). The climax in particular used bursts of action and slowmo breathers so well it demanded a few gasps from the audience I saw it with.

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Creed stands among the best installments of the franchise (Objectively and technically in fact, it’s probably the best Rocky film to date.) and leaves things nicely open-ended as it could very well be a stepping stone to a spin-off (Which I’d oddly welcome after seeing all this renewed story.) or a knockout closer to a series that has certainly had its ups and downs. Will Sly get some good news come the 28th? Maybe. Let’s put American flag shorts on Tom Hardy and call him Apollo until then.
~Zach

 

Thoughts on… 2015 Best Picture Films

With the Oscars are right around the corner, here are our rankings of the eight films up for the best picture Oscar. For more in depth analysis on all of these films, you can read the full in depth reviews on this website for each one. Now on with the list…

Number 8

I’ve already said it: Bridge of Spies was probably the film that disappointed me the most this year, which is hard to do with Tom Hanks starring, Steven Spielberg directing, and the Coen Brothers writing. I mean, it was on my most anticipated films of 2015 list! How much more exciting does it get. Unfortunately for me, it failed to live up to the hype. There was some solid acting and the production quality was great, but other than that it just fell flat. The film’s two acts were very disjointed and felt like two TV episodes poorly weaved together. There were no stakes and no tension, which resulted in a very mundane climax. I guess it could have been worse.
Now, let me be clear: the eight best film in this category is not necessarily a bad movie. This cold war thriller starring Tom Hanks is a really well directed movie by the one and only Steve Spielberg with an incredible performance by Mark Rylance. But I did feel that the film is clumsily split into two parts, where I found the first to be much more captivating than the second. It also has a very schmaltzy ending that Spielberg is infamous for. With a disappointing script by the Coen Brothers, the film didn’t grab me as much as I wanted it to, and so is the lowest on the list.
 

Number 7

Brooklyn

This was the nominated film this year that I really expected not to like, but ultimately did. Saoirse Ronan is great, and Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are both rock solid in support of her. That being said, it’s a cutesie romantic drama and nothing more, paling in comparison to the heavy hitters (Spotlight, Revenant). The film had the same fatal flaw as Bridge of Spies did; a lack of an interesting, high pressure climax. An entire hour and a half worth of build up led to absolutely nothing, and poor writing led to a very anticlimactic ending. Other than that, it is a cute film that will be remembered as Ronan’s coming out party.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn has been highly regarded for its central lead performance by Saoirse Ronan as an Irish Immigrant coming to New York in the 1950s as well as its script by Nick Hornby. And both are deserving of this praise, giving this character a subtle yet powerful arc that you do not realize how strong she has become until the end. With that being said, the direction is very standard and a bit cliched at points (despite selling the 1950s look thoroughly) as well as its central female characters over dependence on men. But despite these flaws, including a performance by Emory Cohen that set me off at points, Brooklyn is a sweet and charming period piece.

 

Number 6

I was not nearly as high on this film as many others, including my counterpart Seth. I thought Larson and Tremblay were both fantastic, providing two of the year’s finest performances and probably giving Larson the Best Actress award. The reason I have it at 6th is because of my issues with the film’s second half. It began dragging as soon as they left the ‘Room’, as I felt that the urgency and tension dropped immediately. That being said, Room is a great look at what it takes to move on from tragedy and how people do it. It isn’t cute and flowery, but it’s emotional density and poignancy makes this one of the better films of the year.
The Revenant, the story of a man in 1800s west going on a revenge plot, has been gaining much momentum from others awards and is now the favorite to take home the best picture Oscar with its dramatic and much talked about central performance by Leonardo Dicaprio, who should finally be getting that Oscar, and its use of natural light. Seeing the film and hearing about the horrors of production, I must praise the work of director Alejandro G. Inarritu and cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski, both who took home Oscars for last years Birdman, for making it as engrossing as it is with long takes and wide shots. The film does have issues in its existential message with flashbacks and there simply being too much of its brutal nature , but is a truly ambitious project with fantastic acting, both by Dicaprio and Tom Hardy, and sensational cinematography
 

Number 5

The Martian is probably one of the more unexpected movies on this list. Basically a comedic, quippy version of Gravity with more than just Sandra Bullock floating through space, what I like about The Martian is that it does not take itself too seriously. Sure it’s unrealistic how chipper Damon’s character is, and I do think one of the major flaws is the one-sided nature of his character, but the lightheartedness of the movie is what gives it the distinction of being a breath of fresh air. Damon getting a Best Actor nomination for this may seem a little bit extreme for such a silly role, but I think he’s a huge part in making this movie such a commercial and critical success. I don’t think The Martian has much of a shot at Best Picture or any of the other major awards, but I think it’ll be one of the more memorable films in the long term.
Walking into The Big Short, I had very low expectations. I was prepared to get considerably bored watching a film that deals with the housing crisis in 2008 and the people that saw it coming, based off the book by Michael Lewis. So I was shocked when I felt myself engaged and enjoying a lot of The Big Short. And that is a credit to the script and the direction by Adam McKay, who has done comedies such as Anchorman and The Other Guys. McKay is able to make the whole situation digestible, with fun descriptions of economic theories with popular stars like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez. The film is also very funny in how screwed up the system was until you realize that people actually suffered from it, anchored by excellent performances by Christian Bale and Steve Carell amongst a great ensemble cast. McKay does make some choices that get on my nerves and point and get in the way of telling the story, but his bold direction and ability to make it investing is what makes The Big Short really work.
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Number 4

As I re-watched this film the other day, the only thing I was thinking was “How the hell was this movie nominated for Best Picture?”. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love that it was, but it just defies logic. Is it one of the ten best films this year? Absolutely. But does it fit the bill of a typical Best Picture film? Absolutely not. That being said, the production value is incredible, the costume & makeup design is stellar, the motifs regarding feminism and isolation are very well executed, and to wrap it all up into a giant car chase results in a movie like no other. Mad Max: Fury Road, while very confusing and at times mind boggling, is a ton of fun and easily one of the best films of the year.
I walked out of The Martian the first time a little bit disappointed because I had expected a tension filled, dour survival tale of Matt Damon stuck on Mars. But I actually loved it the second time, realizing that it was more of a lighthearted adventure with just enough moments of pressure to keep you on invested in the story, especially after I read the novel it was based off of. The film switches back between Damon in Mars figuring out how to survive and at NASA trying to figure out how to get him home, and each is surprisingly just as interesting. The film is incredibly smart with each piece fitting to another in its mission as well as its great look of Mars due to the excellent direction of Sci­Fi veteran Ridley Scott. It is an incredibly fun ride with fantastic visuals.
 

Number 3

The Big Short

This film kind of came out of nowhere for me, or so it seemed. I did not anticipate that The Big Short, a film that is kind of the middle ground between Inside Job and Wolf of Wall Street, would be as exciting and riveting as it was, mainly because of its subject matter. That being said, the stellar trio of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling give the film a really strong ensemble, each of whom deliver great performances as men discovering the financial crisis in separate situations. What makes the film so good, however, is not just the performances, but Adam McKay’s stellar direction. He recognizes the fact that the terminology of the financial world is almost impossible for an everyday audience to understand, and uses this to make the film interesting. He interrupts the flow of the story by breaking the fourth wall to actually explain these terms, even using celebrities to do so. The overarching message of the film is that the reason this crisis occurred in the first place is because of the ignorance of the general public no one understood what was going on. That message is mirrored in the film as the audience has no idea what is going on due to the complex nature of finance. It is easily one of the best films of the year, even if it is one of the more confusing.

Spotlight

Spotlight is one of the most subtle and restrained Oscar contender movies I have seen in years, and it is successful because of it. It tells the true story of a number of journalists at the Boston Globe uncovering multiple cases of sexual assault of minors by catholic priests. I say it’s restrained because it doesn’t hit you with a bunch of Oscar­bait, dramatic moments but solely relies on its story, giving every piece of the journalists encounters and not dumbing it down to the audience. This is the power of its screenplay by director Tim McCarthy and Josh Singer, which is a shoe in for the best original screenplay Oscar. It’s direction by McCarthy is also held back until a poignant montage at the end that is so earned that is incredibly effective. And finally, the cast of journalists is what keeps you so invested in the story. Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber amongst others are all great, but it is Mark Ruffalo’s performance that I was most struck by, playing the savvy journalist that does everything to find all of the parts of this story, seeing the passion behind his eyes. So go check out Spotlight already; it is an important film that will most likely leave you affected afterward. It is also the only film besides The Revenant that I would say has a chance at the best picture Oscar.

 

Number 2

When it comes to these last two spots, they are kind of interchangeable. The Revenant is Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s second straight masterpiece, taking the real life story of frontiersman Hugh Glass and making it into one of the most intriguing, exciting stories of the entire year. Leonardo DiCaprio is incredible, and it looks like he’ll finally get that first Best Actor award. He ate freaking bison liver as part of the role. Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson are fantastic in supporting roles as well, Hardy getting a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his effort. The opening scene is reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, setting the tone for a gritty, violent, and enthralling adventure through 1820s Midwest territory. Iñárritu is at the top of his game and could very easily pick up his second straight Best Director award, using his signature style to prolong the brutality of the film, seen specifically in scenes like the bear mauling. Leo will win Best Actor without contention and I would not be surprised if The Revenant won Best Picture, though I’m hesitant because of Alejandro G.’s outstanding success last year with Birdman.
I walked into Room with very little knowledge of the movie, and walked out of it absolutely floored. All that I will tell you is that it’s about a mother and her son and their involvement with this room. Early on, the film grabbed me with its tension in the first half, and then grabbed me emotionally in the second half. Making both settings of the film equally engaging is a credit to director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donahue, who also wrote the novel it’s based off of. And the chemistry that the mother and son have is what makes you so emotionally invested in the characters, due to the performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Larson, who is the favorite for the best actress Oscar, is truly great, trying to remain calm to her son while at the same time being bold enough to deal with both situations. But for Larsons greatness, 9 year old Tremblay is what really struck me. He appears to be delivering a real performance instead of just following the directors orders, like most child actors. His voiceovers really add to the film as well. Room is not always an easy watch, but is a truly moving performance for almost all viewers.
 

Number 1

Like I said Spotlight and The Revenant are basically interchangeable in the 1 and 2 spots, as I loved them both, but what put Spotlight in the number one spot was how it resonated with me and is undoubtedly the film made this year that will stick with me the longest. None of the actors– Ruffalo and McAdams were both nominated– will be winning any of the major acting awards and I don’t think McCarthy has much of a chance at Best Director either. But the script is so well written, building up tension with each scene as a group of reporters work to reveal the true nature of the Catholic church in Boston as they unveil covered up allegations of pedofilia to the public’s eye. Spotlight makes you question faith, religion, and most of all the institutions. Without trying to make this a regurgitation of my review, the journalistic aspect of this helped to continually build the stakes and keep the audience on edge. In the end, Spotlight is a film that forces you to reflect on everything you believe in, and that’s why it was my favorite Best Actor nominee of the year. We’ll see how it fares at the Oscars, but for now it’s one of the year’s top films and has a great shot at Best Picture.
~Vig
Mad Max: Fury Road was my favorite movie of 2015. I knew it when I walked out of the theatre in mid May and I knew it at the end of the year. Being the fourth film in a franchise that hasn’t been alive in thirty years, Fury Road appeared to be another cash grab for a dead franchise. But it ended up to be the most exhilarating film of the year in my opinion, all dealing in the simplicity of its plot. It is about a truck that has Tom Hardy’s Max, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, and a bunch of stolen wives that try to escape the rule of tyrannical Immortan Joe. That’s it. But in its simplicity, it has complexity in amazing car action sequences. Director George Miller did an incredible job in his ingenuity of these set pieces, which include spot on editing and a great mix of cgi AND practical effects, a rarity in today’s film. But it isn’t just soulless action, the film has incredible characters that have just enough backstory that you care about. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is simply incredible and her as well as the wives’ toughness proves to be some of the best female action stars in recent memory, a great empowerment of women in a genre where they are so commonly neglected. I cared about the characters in Fury Road more than other films that just dealt with character motivation, which is incredible considering how fast the film goes. The film is so well executed that even the drama heavy academy had to reward it with ten nominations. I usually go to the movies for art or entertainment; in Mad Max: Fury Road, I get both
~Seth
 

Spotlight

For our 100th (!!) post, we will be concluding our look at the Best Picture winners with Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy. Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, it is rated R for some language including sexual references.

From IMDB: When the Boston Globe’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.

9.5 out of 10

Before we start, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all… six of you who read this blog. It’s been a lot of fun for me and Zach, so thanks to everyone who has read and written.

spotlight 4Now to main course: Spotlight. By coincidence, we happened to leave, in my opinion, the best for last. This is my best film of the year, hands down. With an incredible cast and an outstanding script, Spotlight, emulating All The President’s Men 35 years later, is an eye-opening, life changing look into the impurity of religious institutions.

Michael Keaton, who might be in his second straight Best Picture winner, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams are all fantastic, playing journalists who begin to question everything they believe in after working on uncovering molestation of allegations in the Catholic church. Ruffalo is the best, transitioning from relentless investigator to manic journalist running after cabs and through courthouses. His desperation to expose the church’s wrong doings is especially evident, providing the most memorable moment of the film by delivering a scathing speech against the church about their wrongdoings. With solid performances all around, the most impressive part of the cast is that they perfectly blend together to create a skilled and interesting group of journalists that we are rooting for all the way.

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The journalistic aspect of the film provided the drama with its energy. The constant researching, interviewing, and digging is an exhaustive process, and when 9/11 comes along and hits the group like a train, that exhaustion is evident. The reality of the situation is clear. These are real people being destroyed by a real life scandal that the church is responsible for. Spotlight does an incredible job of sticking to the story and having the intensity increase with every scene. The events of the film keep managing to topple themselves.

This doesn’t have the shock value of The Revenant or the flair of The Big Short, but what makes Spotlight so special is its profundity. We see the psychological trauma of thousands of victims who suffered at the hands of one of the world’s most powerful institutions. Spotlight takes the discomfort of the situation and tackles it head on, sparing no detail and creating a story that forces you to question the everything you believe in, including the church– an institution with the implication of purity.

After the conclusion of the movie while the credits role, one can’t help but feeling despondent. The truth comes out, the church exposed, and victims finally come forward. But it’s almost impossible to keep faith– in God, in our judicial system, and in human beings– after taking it all in. If Spotlight does not make you feel uncomfortable, then it has not succeeded. Tom McCarthy takes the sensitivity of the subject of molestation and pedophilia and uses it to make the tone one of intense discomfort.

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Of all the films this year, Spotlight was the one that resonated with me the most. It had the most electric performances, best written screenplay, and ultimately is the movie that will have the most significant impact on society by bringing these issues to the public’s eye on a much larger scale than the original Boston Globe article in 2002. If that isn’t a Best Picture winner, then I don’t know what is.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

In my opinion, the only thing better than grand fiction played right is a true story that need be told being done absolute justice. Sure, crafting a movie with intricacies and moving cogs all motioning in one direction is great but, to me, nothing can quite match a film that embraces uncertainty and reality, shuns pizzaz, resists the temptation to taint its real life subject with any fabrication and chugs forward. Sometimes that means sacrificing conventional pacing. Sometimes that means banishing big, cinematic, Oscar-baiting moments. Sometimes it means earning more admiration from a viewer than sheer enjoyment.

spotlight 6

Spotlight is one of the rawest movies I’ve seen in years and stands among the best because of it. It may not offer the most riveting pacing (The first fifteen minutes are actually mostly office reorganization and story shuffling) and it’s very, very rarely loud or big yet it derives so much strength from how untreated it is. It’s difficult to explain but there’s just this accumulation of tension and intrigue that comes from watching an infantry of hard-boiled reporters slowly and carefully unearth a still-searing story. As with any fantastically daunting investigation, each answer opens up more questions.

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And who to carry this slow dive into an article better than this star-studded cast? Ruffalo and Keaton (among several others whom I can’t do any justice in these 500 words) deliver some whopping performances as their characters reconcile with the fact that their 9 to 5s have become an all-out ethical quest. The actors aren’t given that many monologues but any thrilling material tossed to them is handled incredibly well (Without giving away too much, Ruffalo in particular tears into a heckuva tirade on the whole thing that leaves your blood boiling).

Director Tom McCarthy’s masterwork is also an unabashed celebration of the power of the press as the Globe picks up moral slack in a city where local lawyers, politicians and, yes, the Church itself fail to do so. Not since All the President’s Men (which I will shamelessly say this one’s surpassed) has the might of the pen (as well as the perils of pushing it) been so well flexed. After seeing a whole onslaught of people who’ve looked the other way throughout the film, you’ll be more thankful than ever for journalists – who act more as crusaders than mere reporters.

spotlight 1

Rage-inducing? Yes, a little, this is some good ol’ fashioned muckraking after all. That tension we talked about earlier builds up but never really lets up. The film itself (again, without giving away too much) seems to communicate the problem it deals with is ongoing and you’d be hard-pressed to step out of this one without at least questioning the hypocrisy of religious institution. Overall, this contributes well to helping the whole thing pack a bigger punch.

Will this take home the Oscar? It sure is my pick at the moment and, for now, let’s just say it’s certainly hard to handwave. If it doesn’t get it, however, at least you can be sure it will earn a place as the film some lazy Journalism teachers show to their students during the Ethics unit. To me, well, that’s one of the bigger honors there is.
~Zach

Room

This week, we will be taking a look at this year’s sleeper hit, Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, and Sean Bridgers. It is rated R for language.

Kidnapped and kept captive for many years, Ma (Larson) and her spirited son Jack make do in a 10×10 shed that Ma calls ‘Room’. She attempts to provide her son with a normal, pleasant life for as long as possible, but when Jack’s curiosity for the situation grows, they plan to escape. Once they make it to the real world, everything has changed, and Jack makes a thrilling discovery.

7.5 out of 10

Abduction stories are the absolute worst. I couldn’t help think of Josef Fritzl or Ariel Castro while watching Room, something that simply added to the horror of the situation. Just the idea that there are people evil enough to keep others locked away for years disgusts me. Of course, like Hollywood is always able to do, they take this horrifying story and make it into something inspirational, which can be attributed to incredible performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, who play a mother-son duo that has been to hell and back.

In case you haven’t heard, Larson is the hands on favorite to win Best Actress. She delivers the performance of a lifetime as Ma, who attempts to raise her son under the awful conditions of being trapped in a square shed coined ‘Room’. The most impressive part of the performance is the psychology behind it– the transformation from nurturing mother to struggling victim is remarkable, and something that Larson does flawlessly.

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While Larson does a great job and is indefinitely the backbone of the film, I think Jacob Tremblay gave the most impressive performance. The young actor (8 years old at the time of the film’s release!!!) does a fantastic job of playing Jack with the naivety and innocence that this boy needed to have. He was a child wanted to eat cake before bed and would yell at his mother if he didn’t get something that he wanted… Typical things that kids do. But what is impressive about this is he is able to translate that to confusion and denial when Ma opens up about the situation to him. It is rare to see such a multi-dimensional performance from an actor so young and inexperienced.

My one qualm with the movie is that the second act really dragged. Once Ma and Jack finally escape from the room, the movie did not feel worth watching, which is unfortunate because of how interesting the psychology of being a victim is. The transition in between the transition from the room to outside of it was very abrupt and did not feel gradual, resulting in some pacing issues that present Room with its only major flaw. The majority of the struggles for Ma and Jack come outside the room, which is why it is disappointing that the film dragged towards the second half.

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With that said, pacing issues are usually a fatal flaw for most dramas. Luckily for Room, it was not significant enough to take away from the rest of it. Ultimately, the message of hope is what stands out when you finish the movie and absorb it all. The sad reality of the film is that is an event that occurs in real life– the book was based on one of the Fritzl victims– and this movie provides some sort of closure on those victims, good or bad. Room is a really good film, not the best of the year but far from being the worst of the year. Watch for Brie Larson’s name the next few years– she will be everywhere.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

I walked into Room knowing only two things: 1. that it was about a mother and son and 2. that it had gotten really good reviews. And from this blankness came a film that grabbed me emotionally and didn’t let go for its entire 118 minute run time, turning into one of my favorite films of 2015 (after Mad Max, Sicario, and Inside Out of course).

'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in “Room.” (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)

I don’t want to give the entire plot because its first act revelation mostly why it completely worked for me, but I will say that Room is about a mother and son living in what they call Room, a small area that is the only place that the five year old boy knows of in the whole world, and grappling with leaving the room. The film has been nominated for four Academy Awards including best picture. Brie Larson is also the favorite to take home the best actress category for her performance as ma. And she definitely deserves it, both being comforting and sweet to her child whom she loves very much as well as bold enough to deal with her situation in both settings, in the room and out of it.

But the performance that I walked out of the theatre struck by is nine year old Jacob Tremblay as Jack, who was snubbed for a nomination in my opinion. Usually child actors can come off as annoying and “acting” instead of feeling natural, but Tremblay appears to have inhabited the character and makes choices based on it, which is extremely impressive coming from such a young kid. His voiceovers, which explain how he sees this world, are performed with an awe and wonder that contrast nicely with the intense situations that the characters find themselves in.

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Both the directing by Lenny Abrahamson and the script written by Emma Donahue, who wrote the novel it was based off as well, are able to balance the tension of the first half and the sheer emotional evolution of the second to make both just as engaging and balance each other well. The best thing I can say about Abrahamson’s direction (who was also nominated along with Donahue’s script, is that he is able to make us feel this story from the child’s perspective in the low angle camera shots as well as making the Room as expansive as it is in the child’s head, especially when you see it later from farther away and realize that it is a tiny room.

As for any complaints, the film does drag to an amount towards the end with scenes that feel very similar, until a really strong emotional punch with a new character at the end. Other than that, I found Room to be an emotionally captivating film that stuck with me long after it was over from its combination of excellent acting, writing, and directing.
~Seth