Saturday, February 27, 2016

OSCAR 2016 - Pre-Show Thoughts & Predictions & Rants

OSCARS 2016 Thoughts and Predictions:

 Another Oscars, another year of controversy and complaining. What's always amazing to me is how every year, it suddenly seems to dawn on people that the Oscars are less-than-definitive. I mean, even putting aside issues like lack of diversity in terms of nominations, the Oscars have always failed to represent a broad spectrum of film genres and voices. The problem is the voters. It seems suspect that the film awards of record are voted on not by critics or journalists who make it a point to see as many new films as possible, but by Academy members who - no surprise to anyone who knows the entertainment biz - don't watch all that many movies, and don't exactly tend to be plugged in to anything outside of the mainstream. And so, the Oscars become a political game of which studio pushes which films the hardest and most effectively. Therefore, the systemic issues in how films are nominated and voted on also lead to the lack of diversity in the nominee pool. One of the best movies I saw in 2015 was Beasts of No Nation. If this film had received as vigorous an Oscar campaign as, say, The Revenant - then perhaps it would have been nominated for Best Picture, and Idris Elba for Best Supporting Actor. But the movie did not get that same push, and its status as a Netflix original production likely made it a puzzling film for stodgy Oscar voters who view streaming services with a wary eye. So, as usually tends to happen, the conversations around the Oscars become less about what movie was actually best, and more about which cult-of-personality actor has finally "earned" their Oscar, as if they were running for political office rather than being evaluated on artistic merit. This is why true film fans will always take the Oscars with a giant grain of salt: because we know that the awards are being decided by Hollywood establishment more so than true cultural critics or leading-edge cinematic voices.

With all that said, there are some minor miracles in this year's pool of nominations. Mad Max: Fury Road, first and foremost. My pick for the Best Movie of 2015 is exactly the kind of movie that the Oscars would typically ignore. But somehow, the hype for Fury Road hit so hard that it ignoring the film became impossible - and the movie came out early enough in the year that there was time for its cult to spread in the months following its summer release. I honestly don't know if Mad Max has a shot of winning Best Picture. But if it does win, it will be hard to complain about this year's Oscars - it will truly be a hell of a moment for film fans. There are a few other truly great, superlative movies in the Best Picture race. Spotlight is a triumph - and again, it's the kind of slow-burn potboiler that could have easily been ignored in year's past. Room, too, is an absolute masterpiece - an ultra-intense human drama that features the year's best acting performance from star Brie Larson. Somehow, Larson seems to be a lock - and deservedly so. It's rare that the right person is the frontrunner, but hey, this year the stars aligned. Or maybe Larson was just too damn good to ignore.

Speaking of people and movies that got ignored ... here are my Top 10 OSCAR SNUBS of 2015:

1.) Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor - Idris Elba, Best Lead Actor - Abraham Attah - Beasts of No Nation

- I'll start back here. I mean ... WTF. Elba's Commandant is an all-time memorable movie character - a nightmarish militia leader whose unhinged charisma makes him both feared and adored by the members of his child army. How was this career-best turn ignored? And then there's Attah. This child actor absolutely kills it in Beasts - transforming before our eyes from an innocent, happy-go-lucky kid to an ice-cold child warrior. A remarkable performance that should have been nominated. Now, maybe I could understand Beasts' omission from the Best Picture race if the nominee pool was completely stacked. But it isn't. Beasts - poignant, visually-stunning, unforgettable - is the superior film to Bridge of Spies (lower-tier Spielberg), The Big Short (funny but flawed), and The Revenant (draggy and pretentious).

2.) Ex Machina ... for anything.

- Here is the classic case of a movie coming in under the radar, but quickly gaining a cult following because it's freaking awesome. I was an early supporter of Alex Garland's science fiction tour de force, and it pains me that it got no real Oscar love. At the least, Alicia Vikander should have gotten a nod for her incredible turn as a lifelike robot. It's a performance that's already earned a spot in the sci-fi cannon, and for good reason. Ex Machina was the kind of smart, heady sci-fi that we need more of, and it should have gotten some Oscar recognition (it got a nom for Screenplay, but come on ... it deserved more!). 

3.) Best Director - Quentin Tarantino - The Hateful Eight

- The Hateful Eight was generally screwed over by the Oscars this year. Maybe there is some Tarantino backlash in the air, but whatever. The guy is one of the great living directors, and The Hateful Eight is yet another landmark QT film. No one else could make a movie like this. The tension-through-dialogue, the layered themes, the sheer sense of fun and insanity. The Hateful Eight should have been a contender. And while Jennifer Jason Leigh did get a much-deserved nom, I'll also give a shout-out to Samuel L. Jackson and Walton by-god Goggins, who were also deserving.

4.) Best Picture - Creed

- Okay, let's think about this. The original Rocky *won* Best Picture. Creed is arguably the best Rocky film since the original, and the Academy acknowledged it merely by giving the token nod to Stallone for Best Supporting Actor? Dude. I'm all in favor of nominating Sly, but the reason he's so good is because of the overall team effort. Ryan Coogler should have gotten a Best Director nom, Michael B. Jordan a Best Actor nom, and most importantly - CREED - a truly great movie ... should have gotten a Best Picture nom.

5.) Best Leading Actress - Charlize Theron - Mad Max: Fury Road

- Sure, a Fury Road Best Picture nom is cool - but how then does the Academy not honor the movie's already-iconic turn from Theron, as Imperator Furiosa?! An all-time great action-hero performance, Theron is the heart and soul of the film. This reminds me of when Uma Thurman was not nominated for Kill Bill. Academy, I dub thee "mediocre!".

6.) Best Supporting Actor - Jacob Tremblay - Room

- Another of 2015's amazing kid-actor performances, Tremblay is preternaturally great in Room. He and Brie Larson play off of each other amazingly, and there's no way the movie would have worked as well as it did with a lesser actor in the role.

7.) Best Leading Actor - Sir Ian McKellan - Mr. Holmes

- I mean, did anyone in the Academy even watch this movie? McKellan gives a freaking acting master-class in it, playing Sherlock Holmes in two different eras and absolutely destroying throughout. Huge snub.

8.) Best Picture - Inside Out

- Inside Out is one of the top two or three Pixar movies ... which means that yes, it's an all-timer. If Inside Out isn't one of 2015's Top 10 movies, then good lord, the system is broken. Obviously the movie is a frontrunner in the animation category - but it's also proof that animation continues to be ghettoized even when an animated film is one of the year's best. 

9.) Best Leading Actress - Emily Blunt, Best Supporting Actor - Benicio Del Toro - Sicario

- Sicario was jam-packed with great performances, but two in particular were sheer dynamite. Emily Blunt was off the charts good - she is now solidified as the preeminent female badass of our time. And Benicio Del Toro delivered his best acting role in ages, cranking up the intensity to eleven. Sicario was totally snubbed by the Oscars - and that's a true crime.

10.) Best Adapted Screenplay - Aaron Sorkin - Steve Jobs

- I don't always love the writing of Aaron Sorkin. But when he's on, he's on. And he's on fire with Steve Jobs - a long-day's-journey-into-night glimpse into the void that is a harrowing, hypnotizing look at the soul-crushing price of success.



Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

- Like I said, to me there are three nominated movies that deserve to win: Mad Max, Spotlight, and Room. All three got flat-out "A's" from me. But when push comes to shove, Mad Max is my pick for Best Movie of 2015. It's a new action classic that raised the bar for blockbuster filmmaking - delivering both thematic heft and unparalleled set-piece action scenes. And it will be re-watched, discussed, and marveled at for years to come.

Will Win: The Revenant

-Ugh. The Revenant should not win. But the hype train for Innaritu's pain-porn adventure seems too strong to stop. This is the classic case of a movie that so badly wants to feel big and important, but is all sizzle and no steak (much like Innaritu's winner last year, Birdman). But Oscar voters, caught up in the ambition of it all, will probably and predictably give it up for Leo and co.


Should Win: Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs

- This category is pretty devoid of truly legendary performances this year. But Fassbender is my pick. I thought Steve Jobs was underrated, and Fassbender was amazing in it. He didn't look like Steve Jobs, but he captured the central conflict of Jobs' life via an amazing, kinetic performance. He made Aaron Sorkin's dialogue sizzle and pop. He owned the movie totally and completely.

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant

- So much hype. The thing is, Leo should have won for The Wolf of Wall St. That was his true masterwork. But it was probably *too* good for the Oscars, who didn't get that movie and it's greatness. Leo is good - very good - in The Revenant. But I kept thinking that he wasn't even 100% the best man for the part. That to me is not the stuff of a Best Actor award. But god forbid the Hollywood royalty goes too long sans Oscar.


Should and Will Win: Brie Larson - Room

- This one is the biggest no-brainer of the night. Larson DESTROYS in Room. I've been on the Brie-is-awesome hype train since her incredible (and not-even-Oscar-nominated) turn in Short Term 12. As amazing as she was there, she's even better in Room. I liked Cate Blanchett in Carol. I really liked Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. But Larson in Room is a tour de force.This is one of those so-damn-good-she-has-to win performances. Larson is a lock.


Should Win: TIE: Sylvester Stallone in Creed, Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight

- I can't not root for Stallone. He's ROCKY. One of the greatest fictional characters ever. And Stallone is freaking great as Rocky in Creed. Stallone, really, is always great as Rocky. But in Creed he's got a sharp script to work with and a great star to play off of in Michael B. Jordan. And that final scene. On the steps. Hoo-boy. At the same time, Ruffalo is fantastic in Spotlight. He goes all-in, changing his whole posture, speaking style, and mannerisms. And he's got some huge, chill-inducing scenes in the film. It's the standout performance in a movie filled with great performances.

Will Win: Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies

- Rylance is great in Bridge of Spies. Not showy great. But really, really good great. And I figure, Rylance is probably the main reason why this B+ movie was treated as an A-lister this Oscar season (you might say "well, it was Spielberg" - but many of the best Spielberg movies have not fared well come Oscar time, so who knows). In any case, I have a feeling Rylance might pull off an underdog win.


Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight

- A strange, bloody, brutal role - Leigh's turn as Daisy Domergue in QT's latest is one for the ages. Leigh is fearless and holds nothing back, and she holds her own in a movie filled with all-time badasses. She may, in fact, be the baddest of them all.

Will Win: Rooney Mara - Carol

- I can't begrudge a Mara win, as she's phenomenal in Carol - with an understated, nuanced performance. Though the movie is called Carol, Mara's Therese is the real star. Why? Because the film is filtered through Therese's point of view, and it's Mara's performance that anchors and grounds the movie. My guess is that voters will want to reward Carol, and will do so by way of a Mara vote.


Should Win: George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road

- My line of thinking here mirrors what I said earlier about the Best Picture race. Miller should win for Fury Road - he's a master who, despite already being a living legend, completely raised the bar for himself and for action movies in general with his latest. I mean, come on - the direction in Fury Road is *breathtaking.* At the same time, I was pretty floored by the directing in both Room and Spotlight, so could not be too upset if either of those films won. Room, in particular - the intensity and nail-biting nature of the film deserves recognition.

Will Win: Alegandro Inarritu - The Revenant

- I don't know. Maybe the Academy will do the right thing and go with Miller. But the cynic in me says they will do the predictable thing and go with Inarritu, sucked in by his tales of a life-and-death-struggle of a film shoot and his pretensions as a true artiste of cinematic greatness.The dude has talent, no question. There are moments of amazing visual splendor in The Revenant. But the story is lacking, and the film is in many ways emotionally and thematically hollow.


Should and Will Win: Spotlight

-Spotlight had an amazing screenplay. It builds and builds and intensifies and intensifies. It is sprawling yet never hard to follow. It's small in scale, but feels big - the stakes are huge. It is, in its own way, quite epic. Spotlight was my pick for the best Screenplay of the year, and I think it will win. Shout-out though to both Ex Machina and Inside Out - each were incredibly well-written as well.


Should Win and Will Win: Brooklyn

- It might surprise you that I pick Brooklyn here, but man, it's got one hell of a screenplay by the great Nick Hornby. I don't tend to love rom-coms, but Brooklyn transcends the genre by just being an insanely charming love story with a lot of heart, but also a lot of authentic-feeling emotion, layered characters, and an abundance of wit.


Should and Will Win: Inside Out

-My one caveat here is that Anomalisa is such an outlier in this category. It feels a bit silly to have it competing against a bunch of family and kids' movies. I feel like there should be two distinct animation categories - adult animation and kids/family animation. Or just do away with animation and have a kids/family category (and a comedy category, while we're at it!). Suffice it to say, Anomalisa is a pretty incredible film. I'd say it's a Best Picture-worthy one. But ... Inside Out, in my view, is a Pixar masterpiece. This is its year. The way it visualizes and conveys complex emotions into easily-distilled themes is truly remarkable. It's a clever, joyful, sad, emotion-packed, visually-stunning work of imagination and wonder and great empathy. A lot of times I feel like Pixar just wins these things by default. But this year, it is deserving.


Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

-No other movie of 2015 so utterly and completely transported me to another world like Fury Road. This is a fully-realized post-apocalyptic world that fires the imagination. The detail, the aesthetic - amazing. And it's all so, so metal. Fury Road takes it. Although ... Alicia Vikander going all-in as an android in Ex Machina makes for tough competition.


- Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road


- Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
- Will Win: The Revenant


- Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road


- Should and Will Win: World of Tomorrow


- Should and Will Win: The Look of Silence


- Should Win: ?
- Will Win: Last Day of Freedom


- Should Win: ?
- Will Win: Day One


- Should and Will Win: Son of Saul


- Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road


- Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road


- Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road


- Should and Will Win: The Martian


- Should Win: The Hateful Eight
- Will Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Should Win: ?
Will Win: "Writing's On the Wall" - Spectre

Well, it will be an interesting Oscars. There are A LOT of great films nominated this year, despite what the backlash to the nominations may have you believe. I strongly urge you to check out movies like Spotlight, Room, and Steve Jobs if you haven't already. At the same time, there are, again, plenty of amazing movies that won't be talked about at this year's Oscars. That includes movies that inexplicably missed the cut - like Beasts of No Nation - as well as indie and genre movies that never really stood a chance of awards recognition. In 2015, some of the movies that inspired me most and and got me most excited about cinema included gems like It Follows, Ex Machina, Crimson Peak, Dope, Bone Tomahawk, Predestination, Kingsmen, and Cop Car. So at the end of the day, realize that the Oscars are not the end-all, be-all. What makes being a film fan so much fun is finding the unique voices, the bold visions, and the unexpected gems.

No comments:

Post a Comment