2015 saw box office records break. However, Hollywood seems stagnant in its dependency of superheroes, sequels, and series. Of the top 10 highest grossing films, 8 were sequels, spinoffs, or re-imaginings. Despite this, plenty of truly great films came out last year; so many, that I wrote a Top 10 of those NOT nominated for Best Picture. From 1944-2009, the Academy was only nominating 5 films each year for Best Picture. This year, 8 movies are nominated for the top honor. Some were all too obvious, while others came far out of left field.
Let’s countdown and rank from 8 – 1 this year’s Best Picture nominees…
Warning: Some descriptions may include SPOILERS!!!
8. Brooklyn – Every year it feels like the Academy nominates a quaint little movie that few people have seen. Despite other films receiving BOTH critical and financial success (Straight Outta Compton, Creed to name a few), the 8th slot for Best Picture was given to a small story of an Irish immigrant girl. Saoirse [Sur-shuh] Ronan and all the actors involved were good, the screenplay by Oscar nominee Nick Hornsby is good, and that’s really all I can say about Brooklyn. It was a nice, simple, GOOD movie. Nothing spectacular, nothing stand out; I honestly don’t get why this was nominated in a year filled with far superior films.
7. The Martian – Multiple-time Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott directs a movie starring a multiple-time Oscar-nominated Actor… sign me up! Except I felt like everything in this film had been done before, and done better. Tom Hanks in Castaway, and Sandra Bullock in Gravity were both better performances in overall better movies about being lost and alone and trying to figure out how to get back home. Plus, we can laugh together at how this won “Best Comedy” at the Golden Globes.
6. Bridge of Spies – Spielberg AND Hanks! The second I saw the trailer Bridge of Spies, I joked that the movie will be nominated for an Oscar by default. Together they have over 20 Oscar nominations! Spies is a well-paced Cold War drama about the trade of a convicted Russian spy for a U.S. pilot captured in Soviet territory. Hanks plays the insurance lawyer asked first to defend the spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance, nominated for Best Supporting Actor), but then oversee the trade in the middle of wall-building Berlin. This was a great movie that was actually really funny, thanks to an Oscar-nominated script co-written by the Coen Brothers. The amazing thing, is Spielberg’s resume is so stacked that this film, a Best Picture nominee, barely registers recognition… but that’s no fault to the film.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road – A kick-ass action movie nominated for Best Picture!? Yep, 37 years after Mel Gibson first portrayed the silent but deadly Australian cop turned Road Warrior, director George Miller returns and out does himself, effectively re-imagining his 1981 sequel as a 21st century nonstop thrill ride. The groundbreaking special effects (mostly done for real, without CGI) and the vast Australian outback are the stars here. Miller’s film is total spectacle that barely allows you a breath (or a sip of water) to compose yourself before another crazy convoy, attack, or battle. Charlize Theron is the main character and the most awesome female action star since Uma Thurman was Kill Bill. Tom Hardy kinda just stands back as Max and let’s Theron’s Furiosa stand tall.
4. The Revenant – Alejandro Inarritu is the reigning and defending Best Director, winning last year for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and he ups the ante this year with the physical torture put upon his actors (especially Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Revenant. DiCaprio is Hugh Glass, who along with his young Native son are leading a group of frontiersmen through the mountains to avoid more conflicts with the indigenous peoples. Hugh is mauled gruesomely by a bear and needs to be carried. John Fitzgerald (the also nominated Tom Hardy) volunteers to stay with him while the others move on ahead. But Fitzgerald leaves Glass behind to die and what follows is 2 hours of riveting cinematography and ferocious physical acting as Leo literally scrapes and crawls through snow, ice, rivers, over mountaintops, and in and out of dead animals to get revenge. At over 2.5 hours, some felt it boring, but there is a huge distinction between between boring and slow. The two leads are fantastic and Leo will assuredly get his first Oscar here. While Inarritu has a film that is likely the frontrunner for the top spot, and does some truly avant-garde stuff (like filming completely in natural light), there are some things I didn’t love about this. The Gladiator-style dream sequences were unnecessary and there was an overall sense that this entire movie seemed made to win Oscars. But for my money, you won’t find a better last 15-minutes in a film this year as Hardy and DiCaprio go toe to toe in a brutal and realistic-looking fight scene.
3. The Big Short – Having watched a lot of documentaries about the 2008 financial crisis, I was hoping that by watching The Big Short I would actually understand something. Thankfully The Big Short is creative in the way it explains the near-unexplainable “credit default swaps” that led to the collapse of the housing market and the biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression. Director Adam McKay, having been successful with screwball comedies, uses those tools to make a movie about math and economics fun and somewhat understandable. Breaking the Fourth Wall, check. Using sexy celebs in bathtubs to explain complex economic tools, check. Having Selena Gomez demonstrate how things got out hand… yeah, all there. The cast is tremendous, led by Oscar-nominated Christian Bale, and starring Ryan Gosling (as a better Jordan Belfort-type than DiCaprio was in in Wolf of Wall Street), Brad Pitt, and Steve Carell in another fantastic serious role. While I enjoyed the heck out of The Big Short, it wasn’t the best film that focused on a modern scandal. That was…
2. Spotlight – One of the best ensemble casts of the year, Spotlight is the name of the Boston Globe’s investigative team that broke the story of pedophile priests and the Church’s attempts to hide them back in the early 2000s. Everyone in the cast is superb, from Oscar-nominated Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams to Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, and Brian d’Arcy James. Everyone plays a role, whether it’s tracking down and interviewing witnesses and victims, researching the church itself, or playing politics with one of the most powerful organizations in the world. It’s hard to believe the scandal was as big and destructive as it was, and for that reason it’s even more astonishing the reporters somehow managed to break the story. When the film ends, I felt myself just shaking my head in disbelief, and then shaking more in disbelief at my disbelief… this was an all-around great film.
1. Room – 20-minutes in, I was so uncomfortable watching Room, I wanted to turn it off. But I powered through and I’m so glad I did because it was in my opinion the best of the Best Picture nominees. As a parent and as a human being it is just hard to watch this film. There’s no fun to be had as you watch how “Ma” (the Oscar frontrunner Brie Larson) lives and cares for her young son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) inside a shed in the backyard of a kidnapping rapist. Trying to explain to Jack that the world (only visible through a skylight) is much bigger and better than “room” is heart-wrenching. When they finally escape, the reconditioning for her and complete conditioning for him takes even more of a toll on the viewer. Watching her now-divorced parents react to their daughter’s return after 7-years… feeling helpless for dad (William H. Macy)because he can’t bring himself to look at Jack, knowing who his father was. I can’t remember a film as emotionally taxing as Room with performances that in Larson’s case will win her an Oscar and in Tremblay’s case should’ve garnered him one. Room is a powerful, sad, and yet ultimately inspirational film, and was in my opinion, the Best Picture of 2015.
At the end of the biggest and longest night in Hollywood, only one film can be named 2015’s Best Picture. While I think Room is the best of 8 films nominated, I’d put my money on Alejandro Inarritu and The Revenant. It’s a historical epic, a biopic starring a Hollywood star in brutally physical lead role, uses natural lighting only, and has sprawling cinematography… these are types of films Hollywood loves when it’s time to give out the Academy Award. If not The Revenant, then I could see Spotlight or Room sneaking away with the statue.
Here are my final predictions on what and who WILL win:
Picture – The Revenant
Director – Alejandro Inarritu
Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio
Actress – Brie Larson
Supporting Actor – Sly Stallone
Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander
Here are my final picks what and who SHOULD win:
Picture – Room
Director – George Miller
Actor – Michael Fassbender
Actress – Brie Larson
Supporting Actor – Tom Hardy
Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander
The 88th Annual Academy Awards will air on Sunday, February 28th on ABC, hosted by Chris Rock.