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…
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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