Oscar Preview – Best Picture

28 Feb

A quick look at the Best Picture nominees for 2016, in the order they were shown at AMC Theatres’ Best Picture Showcase. February 20 and 27.

Bridge of Spies

What is it?  A Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks movie set in the 1940s. In other words, Oscar Bait.

Who’s it by? Steven Spielberg, based on true events

Who’s in it?  Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance (Best Supporting Actor Nominee)

What’s it About? During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an accused Soviet spy in court. Following the crash of the American U2 spy plane, he is asked to go to the newly-divided Berlin to arrange a prisoner trade.

How is it? Good in an Oscar-baity, historical drama sort of way. Hanks does his Hanks thing, and Spielberg evokes the time period and expertly plucks at the heart strings.

Will it Win? No. It’s the most traditional of the Best Picture nominees, but in a diverse field (#OscarsSoWhite notwithstanding), it doesn’t really stand a chance.

 

Room

What is it?  A wrenching drama about the relationship between a young mother and her son.

Who’s it by? Irish director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Emma Donoghue, based on her novel

Who’s in it? Brie Larson (Best Actress Nominee), Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H Macy

What’s it About? A young mother, the victim of a kidnapping and repeated abuse, lives in a single room with her son, the product of her repeated rapes. Saying much more gives away things that probably shouldn’t be given away.

How is it? Very good. A harrowing drama, with some lighter, hopeful moments (unlike certain other nominated movies…see below). Larson is the odds-on favorite to win Best Actress (although my choice would be another young actress…see my Best Actress post, coming soon). This film ties for the hardest sell for viewers (“Hey, do you want to see a movie about a girl who gets kidnapped, imprisoned, and impregnated, or one about a guy who gets mortally wounded and drags himself across the wilderness?”), but for viewers who choose it, it’s well worth the time.

Mad Max: Fury Road

What is it?  A post apocalyptic chase across a desert featuring a one-armed woman warrior, a laconic cop, and a bunch of pregnant girls on the run.

Who’s it by? George Miller (Best Director Nominee), creator of the original Mad Max movies way back when

Who’s in it? Tom Hardy (Best Supporting Actor nominee, but not for this movie), Charlize Theron

What’s it About? In the desolate future of the Mad Max movies, the kick-ass Imperator Furiosa (Theron) is tasked by tyrannical ruler Immortan Joe to drive a tanker truck from the Citabdel he rules to Fuel City for (you guessed it) fuel to power Joe’s tricked out vehicles. She has another idea, however, and absconds with Joe’s favored wives, to deliver them to the idyllic Green  Place she was stolen from as a youth. Joe sends his forces after them, and a massive desert chase ensues.

How is it? This is the only one of the Best Picture nominees I had seen before, and I was less impressed by it the first time than the vast majority of critics. I went in to this viewing determined to see what the rest (and more than one of my Facebook friends) saw in it, and what I saw was this: An outstanding action/chase movie with impressive practical effects (i.e. stunts and effects that are done physically rather than using computer effects), but not much more than that. Judging by the smattering of boos when the theater manager asked “How did we like that movie?” following the marathon airing, I’m not necessarily alone in that judgement. I’m not judging or criticizing those who loved the movie — and there were enough that it got a freakin’ BP Nom, but I’m just not one of them.

The Big Short

What is it?  The story of the financial crisis of 2006-7, told through the eyes of four diverse investors who foresaw the crash and dared to bet against the housing market.

Who’s it by? Director Adam McKay (Best Director Nominee), previously known as the director of a whole bunch of Will Ferrell movies

Who’s in it?  Steve Carrell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale (Best Supporting Actor Nominee)

What’s it About? Eccentric investor Michael Burry (Bale) comes to believe that the US housing market is unstable and convinces major banks (who think he’s nuts) to create investment vehicles for him to bet against the banks, and a few other forward-thinking investors jump on board to ride out the coming financial crisis.

How is it? Very funny. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph have come up with a clever way of explaining complex financial concepts, and the actors all inhabit their characters well, despite the fact that we all know how the situation they’re profiting off of turns out. I wasn’t as impressed with Bale’s performance as the Oscar voters appear to have been, though this may be one of many instances this year where an actor’s reputation carried them to a nomination rather than the actual on-screen result (see: Bridge of Spies, Jennifer Lawrence)

Brooklyn

What is it?  A young Irish woman emigrates to America and discovers love in the 1950s.

Who’s it by? Director John Crowley from a script by Nick Hornby (About a Boy), from Colm Toibin’s novel

Who’s in it?  Saoirse Ronan (Best Actress Nominee), Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

What’s it About? A young Irish woman leaves her insular home town to live in Brooklyn, New York. She battles homesickness, discovers love, and is forced to choose between her past and her future when a family crisis causes her to return to Ireland for a temporary (?) visit.

How is it? Outstanding. My favorite movie of the BP Nominations, and Saoirse (pronounce it “Seer-sha” in your head) Ronan gives my favorite performance of any actor. Neither of which mean I think she or the movie will win; the movie’s too “small”  to be a Best Picture winner, and Ronan’s up against odds-on favorite Larson. Still, Ronan would be a wonderful upset winner, and I’d love to see the first Oscar tie in an acting category since 1968.

Spotlight

What is it?  All the attention that’s been focused on Clergy abuse around the world? This is what started it all.

Who’s it by? Director Tom McCarthy (Best Director Nominee) and screenwriters McCarthy and Josh Singer (Best Original Screenplay nominees)

Who’s in it?  Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Brian D’Arcy James, Mark Ruffalo (Best Supporting Actor nominee)

What’s it About? What it’s not about: The child abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Church. What it’s actually about is the reporting that led to the breaking of the story of the child abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Church.

How is it? Very good. An engrossing drama that depicts the growing horror on the part of the reporting team as their investigation into a couple of abusive priests leads them to the realization of just how wide the abuse — and its cover-up — spread. Again, Ruffalo’s performance was good, but not great, but he did stand out ever so slightly from a really great ensemble cast.

The Martian

What is it?  An astronaut is left for dead on Mars and has to find a way to survive and let the world know he’s still alive.

Who’s it by? Director Ridley Scott, screenwriter Drew Goddard (Best Adapted Screenplay nominee), from Andy Weir’s book

Who’s in it?  Matt Damon (edit: Best Actor nominee), Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena

What’s it About? An astronaut specializing in botany is stranded on Mars following an accident during a storm. While he tries to figure out how to survive, NASA has to juggle resources, publicity, and science to figure out how best to save him — or if they even should.

How is it? Very good. Damon was robbed of a Best Actor nomination (edit: no he wasn’t. it’s late, and I’ve been watching movies all day), and the movie relies heavily on his nature and personality. The effects are good, the philosophical debates are pertinent and realistic, and science rules!

The Revenant

What is it?  A wilderness guide is left for dead in the 1800s and must find a way to survive his injuries, the elements, and hostile Indians as he claws his way across the landscape.

Who’s it by? Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Best Director nominee)

Who’s in it?  Leonardo DiCaprio (Best Actor nominee), Tom Hardy (Best Supporting Actor nominee)

What’s it About? Wilderness guide Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his half-Indian son are leading a fur-trapping team when it’s attacked by Indians. Decimated, the group debate on the best way to get back to their fort base. When Glass is mortally wounded, he is forced to battle nature and betrayal to find his way to aid and vengeance.

How is it? Beautiful and grueling. This is a lush movie which features the two best male acting performances of the year (DiCaprio is considered a lock for Best Actor, while Hardy is the longest of long shots). It’s also one of those movies that I’m glad I saw, because that means I don’t have to see it again. It’s the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture.

My favorite movies of the bunch: Brooklyn, The Big Short, The Martian

My choice for Best Picture: Spotlight or The Big Short

My prediction to win Best Picture: The Revenant

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