Last year at the Oscars was unfortunate. You know why. It looks like my dog Iñárritu is looking to pull a twofer, which is about right. Some people fail up in different ways. But enough about Al for a moment. Let’s look at all the competition. It was tough to see everything nominated for best picture but I managed to rally this week. I wanted to watch all the acting nominated films but then I looked at what the films were and I thought “There is no reason to ever watch Trumbo.”
Wooo, Room. This could have gone so wrong but instead goes so very right. Brie Larsen is the favorite to win best actress and she has some showy moments and I see why she’s the favorite but I can’t call it a transcendent performance. It’s good, good work. It isn’t a transformation, which a lot of best actor and actress awards generally go towards (shouts to Charlize Theron), but it isn’t schmaltzy or cloying. Also important for Room, the kid is a good actor. He’s no kid-from-The Babadook but he’s good. Bad child actors will sink your whole operation. No shit, I thought the big twist of this movie would be a reveal that Jack is actually a girl but no, he just never cut his hair while in captivity. So no twist. Sorry twistheads. But why is William H. Macy in this thing? He shows up for a couple scenes, I’m betting on a juicy Bill Macy sequence and then he just never shows up again. Did they cut him for time? Maybe I’ve just been Macy deprived. Props to Sean Bridgers, who with Room and The Woman is one away from a kidnapper/creeper movie character hat trick. You’re a natural, Sean!
Spotlight is drab to look at, but it’s not boring but also maybe it tells the wrong story? Like, I believe that what the Spotlight team did was great and important work, but the dramatization of their quest for the truth is kinda bland. They run into roadblocks and conflicts sure, but nothing cinematic. Any sense of exciting drama is culled from Mark Ruffalo going method tic crazy with his notepads and slouching style, as well as his decision to hold a telephone just like the real guy(so I assume, it isn’t a normal way I would hold a phone)! At one point Ruffalo’s character discovers some particularly damning evidence and he takes a taxi while calling his editor to give him the juicy deets. The filmmakers decide to just show us a what looks to be stock footage of a taxi ambling along through traffic, while Ruffalo’s voice over drops the knowledge. All this did was let me know they didn’t want to strap a camera to the side of a taxi and film Mark inside. Nitpicking, I know! But when the whole thing was over and Rachel McAdams watches her grandma sigh and read and sigh and read the whole messy expose I thought “Isn’t the story what happened to these people that were abused?” And it is! The story that Spotlight wrote is the actual interesting story! But seeming them write it is like, well, seeing someone write something. Like, literally watching them write.
The Martian is a whole lot of fun. It’s like someone watched Gravity and thought, “Needs more jokes!” and that idea actually worked out. For the record, disco is great and this movie knows it. Later period Ridley Scott is kinda unpredictable, eh you guys? This, The Counselor, Exodus, Prometheus, guy seems like he’s just pointing at random, “That seems like a jolly good whatever.” I hope Matt Damon wins best actor, leans over to shake Leo’s hand and whispers “I never actually went to Mars.”
Brooklynnnnnnnnnnnn, stand up! Nah, it’s not really that interesting. A couple years ago James Gray made The Immigrant, starring Marion Cotillard (Oscar winner and nominee), Joaquin Phoenix (multiple nominee) and Jeremy Renner (he was nominated for The Fucking Town, son!) The Immigrant is a great film, but for a long time I could only be told this, because it’s release had been buried and/or pushed back. When it finally got released it played one theater in town for a week, and it was the shitty Birmingham 8 where old people talk through the whole thing and drop entire pockets of change on the ground during the quiet parts. After I saw it, I thought it’s quality was pretty undeniable and that the Academy Awards would latch onto it’s sad but honest story and performances and give it, if not a win, at least a nomination. But it was ignored there as well, and maybe the fix was in, because Brooklyn is basically the Sesame Street version of The Immigrant. Where in The Immigrant countless horrors and setbacks plague Cotillard’s character as she attempts to enter the country and then make a life for herself, being forced into a burlesque show and prostitution, Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis in Brooklyn faces the minor inconveniences of bitchy roommates and being in love with someone who adores baseball. What little conflict this movie presents is so quickly brushed away that the whole thing seems like an overlong trifle. Maybe I shouldn’t even bring up The Immigrant but that movie felt like a true expression by an artist. Brooklyn might as well be a painting in a dentist’s office.
The Big Short is bleak. Incredibly bleak. Popping along like a comedy with fourth wall breaking and zippy dialogue it might even be misconstrued as a comedy but the second half is so dire and hopeless that I’m surprised they didn’t just suck all of the color out of the images. But I liked it! It’s great! This is the kind of Steve Carell dramatic performance that I can get behind, just all screaming and pissy. When Gosling describes his angry face as “the bad guy in Dune” I wanted to applaud. Christian Bale is doing his weirdo ugly thing here: glass eye, weird teeth, bad hair, no social skills. In typical Bale fashion it’s pretty lived in, but by it’s nature he wasn’t my favorite character(I did like when he cranked Mastodon, that was great). The Big Short also works as a corrective to all my problems with Spotlight. Here is an event I am familiar with, presented from an interesting angle, well acted, but with cinematic style and flavor. We’re making movies, baby! Live it up!
Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest directors of all time. This is just a fact. Bridge of Spies is one of the late career films that people instantly underrate because it isn’t a big special effects picture and because it has a wonderful script. At least, these are the only reasons I can figure that people would say Bridge of Spies is a “minor work”. So yeah, minor work Spielberg gets a best picture nomination but no director because Tom Hanks didn’t actually freeze in Berlin. This is top level Hanks here. The plane crash sequence! And this script! It’s so great! Of course it’s co-written by the Coen Brothers! I really loved this movie, and it deserves to be seen by everyone forever.
What is left to say about The Revenant? Obviously it stinks and sucks, but why is it also the favorite to win all the Oscars? I think the reasons it stinks and sucks are also the reasons it will win. There is a solid premise here. A man left for dead comes back for vengeance? Great premise! Fight against the elements? Getting hotter! But it is how the movie is about these things that sinks it. Iñárritu can’t let a single image pass without reminding you that he was there too. So the grit and grime that this kind of picture needs is removed for admittedly beautiful pans and technically impressive one takes that are smooth when they should be the complete opposite. The script is abysmal, with no effort done to make anyone a real, three dimensional character. Tom Hardy comes closest, but that’s because he’s the only actor performing. Leonardo Dicaprio is a really good actor who I have loved in many many films and who I loathed for every second of screen time. Who is his Hugh Glass really? We never spend enough time with him to get a sense of what type of guy he really is, and the flashbacks are pseudo artful backstory filler that signify nothing. Tom Hardy’s character is right about him too! Hugh Glass definitely lead to the slaughter at the opening, his going off provoked the bear, and he was definitely slowing them down. I listened to a podcast where a couple guys enthused at length about The Revenant, with one guy exclaiming “This actually happened!” over and over again. Having read up on the story this is based on, they actually took a might be bullshit survival story and made it worse. There is no dead son, he doesn’t kill the guys when he finds them, and there is no rape scene. They added all that! They sat down and said “This story of survival needs only female characters that are either dead or a raped. Ok, print it out. Lets get some sandwiches.” Still, Birdman is worse.
Mad Max Fury Road is too good for the Oscars. Straight up. It either wins everything it is nominated for or it shouldn’t have been nominated at all. I’ve watched it twice, and both times it felt like a miracle. Furiousa’s “Remember me” is an all time, bad ass hall of fame ownage moment. Hope they include that in the clip package.