One conclusion can be made from the 2016 crop of Oscar nominees: 2014 was an incredible year for movies. The Oscar nominee class from last year featured several stellar films with unique filmmaking techniques (Boyhood, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel), a behind-the-scenes look at American heroes (Selma, American Sniper), and inspirational stories that focused on previously untold aspects of the lives of internationally acclaimed geniuses (The Theory of Everything The Imitation Game). This year’s class — movies released in 2015 — is underwhelming. Almost all nominated movies last year could take the top Oscar from any of the nominees for best picture … well except for one.
Following is a short review of each movie, in order from the most deserving of an Oscar to least deserving of an Oscar.
Perhaps better than any movie ever released, The Revenant showcases the innate human desire to survive. Leonardo DiCaprio beautifully plays the role of frontiersman Hugh Glass, who has to fight to grasp on to every piece of life that is left in him. DiCaprio excels at showing us not only the physical pain, but the mental anguish suffered by his character. His performance is so powerful that at times we become so distraught at his pain that we want to check out of the movie, just like his character must have wanted to check out of life. But his incredible performance, and the beautiful imagery ordered by director Alejandro G. Inarritu, makes The Revenant by far the Best Picture of 2015.
I’ve always thought that the hardest acting gigs were ones in which the actor largely acted alone in the movie (like Tom Hanks in Castaway and Sandra Bullock in Gravity). It’s easy to be a good actor when surrounded by other good acting performances. In The Revenant, DiCaprio is mostly on screen alone, and furthermore has no dialogue throughout much of the movie (unlike the narration of Matt Damon in The Martian). Yet he still displays a powerful performance, well deserving of the Best Actor award. Furthermore, Inarritu has cemented himself as one of the greatest filmmakers of this generation with The Revenant, which is drastically different from his previous award-winner, Birdman. While Birdman made us laugh with its clever dialogue and filmmaking technique, The Revenant made us cry with its raw emotion and imagery so powerful we felt the chill. For the second year in a row, Inarritu deserves the Best Director award. And in 20 years, he’ll be collecting his lifetime achievement award.
The last time I was uncontrollably crying in a movie was in 2004 Oscar winner Crash. (If you didn’t weep when the little girl jumped in front of a bullet to save her father, then check your heart, because it’s probably not beating.) That changed when I watched Room. The story has two equally inspiring chapters: the first shows us how a kidnapped mom tries to paint an imaginary world for her growing boy, and the second shows us how the pair adapt to a brand new world once they escape. Admittedly, I never read the book. But the movie is very good. It’s a shame Jacob Tremblay wasn’t nominated for supporting actor for playing the 5-year-old Jack, because his performance was the most memorable aspect of a terrific film.
I saved Brooklyn for last on my Oscar movie binge. I had no doubt it would be a good movie, but the storyline wasn’t my style: an Irish woman in the 1950s who immigrates to Brooklyn and later goes back to Ireland must choose between the two lives. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the movie. It was carried by a phenomenal performance by Saoirse Roman, who plays the socially awkward Ellis who finds herself adapting to the American way. Her character is not all that charming, but Roman makes us like her, especially when she is faced with her own moral dilemma. She is deserving of the Best Actress award.
Movies are often based on real-life events. But turning the 2008 financial crisis into a movie would seem to be a difficult task. A story about bankers and investors? A comedy about the second biggest financial collapse in the world economy? That’s exactly what The Big Short is, and it’s very successful at it. Based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name, the film tells a highly complicated story about the housing market, default credit swaps and credit ratings in a unique way — for instance Selena Gomez explaining the intricacies of synthetic collateralized debt obligations — that makes what could’ve been a boring movie highly entertaining. While the cast is strong, it’s the writing that makes The Big Short shine, and is why director and co-writer Adam McKay deserves the Writing-Adapted Screenplay award.
As a journalist, there was no movie I was more excited to see than Spotlight. But where The Big Short succeeded, Spotlight failed. I wasn’t expecting Spotlight to make light of the story of Boston Globe reporters uncovering the Catholic Church molestation scandal, but the movie came off as more of a documentary than an entertaining movie. It will take its spot right next to All the President’s Men as one of the best investigative journalism movies ever, but not as one of the best movies ever.
The Martian is the lone science fiction picture among the nominees. Matt Damon plays an astronaut stranded on Mars, and like every movie Matt Damon stars in, we root for him. The movie is very entertaining, with its depictions of Mars and space and the always lovable Matt Damon. For the time-committed, it’s not nearly as gut-wrenching as another movie that clocks in at more than 130 minutes — The Revenant. Entertaining? Yes. Award-winning? No.
With Tom Hanks star power, Steven Spielberg at the helm and an age-old rivalry of America vs. Russia, Bridge of Spies was destined to succeed. The movie is just OK, at times really slow. While the action and dialogue were just OK, the imagery was the star of the movie. Seeing the Berlin Wall being erected, watching a U-2 pilot being shot down, viewing a captive release at Checkpoint Charlie was all fascinating … but I can get that on The History Channel. I was hoping for more.
For the life of me, I cannot understand how Mad Max: Fury Road was included on the nominee list. I love action movies. And I can even handle brutal action if it has a riveting storyline (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained … come to think of it, any Quentin Tarantino movie). But Mad Max sucks. The storyline is too simple. The acting is over the top. And the violence is too much. This was actually one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and the fact that Academy voters put this on the list over films like Straight Outta Compton, Chi-raq and The Hateful Eight just gives fuel to the argument that voters are prejudiced.