This is the most unpredictable race in years. So many outstanding films. Nonetheless I will breakdown each nominee and my bold prediction for this year’s winner of Best Picture. And the nominees are…
The Big Short
The Big Short hits on all the right notes at all the right times. The subject matter was challenging to make accessible and understandable but he did it. Top notch performances and a slick, clever script make this one of the main contenders. Will the subject matter hurt it or help it? I don’t think it will matter. The film is just that great and did I forget to mention Margot Robbie?
Bridge of Spies
An enjoyable albeit by-the-numbers drama from Spielberg who has become less deft at telling stories using subtlety. I think as he’s gotten older his filmmaking has become more geared towards his own demographic. He is playing to audiences who tend to prefer the clear and obvious over the underlying and interpretive. But let me go back to the word “enjoyable” because the film is that. It might not be the best but it is definitely enjoyable.
Brooklyn is at its heart a love story but elevates itself out of the usual superficiality and formulae. Eilis Lacey’s journey from a girl in Ireland who wants more options in life than just to marry a man with a bright future to a woman in America making a life for herself is both inspirational and tender. Some knock it for being sappy and sentimental. I say it’s sweet and full of beauty.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sweet and full of beauty is not what I would say about Fury Road. What I would say is this movie kicks ass. From the opening moments this film is engrossing, astonishing and wickedly fast. I don’t think you get a chance to catch your breath for about 30-45 minutes. And you better do it quick because before you know it you’re back at it. The story is sleek and the characters are well developed. Both Fury Road and The Revenant both have main characters haunted by the death of their family that they couldn’t prevent. I appreciated how Fury Road handled that aspect much more. The Revenant beat you over the head with it repeatedly. Fury Road layered it into Max’s experience with greater nuance. One of this year’s best movies and I couldn’t be happier to see it included.
Another blockbuster with a well-deserved seat at the Best Picture table. I’m disappointed Ridley Scott wasn’t nominated for his direction because he made an outstanding film. Castaway in space? Nonsense! This is a much better film and much more enjoyable. Mark Watney’s tale of survival on the red planet is equal parts adventure and science project. The fact that the science is totally fabricated is a testament to the strength of the story-telling. It sounds right so who cares if it’s real? It’s a movie, not my senior thesis on interplanetary botany. I’m pretty sure we can’t really clone dinosaurs from DNA inside dead mosquitos trapped in amber. But Jurassic Park is awesome. So is The Martian.
The strength of this film is its performances and its visual grandeur. There’s a reason the screenplay isn’t nominated. The story is only… well… meh. But watching DiCaprio and Hardy light up the screen is worth the price of admission. Alejandro Iñárritu’s direction is innovative and stunning. There is one moment early on in the film with what I can only guess is a dolly shot (or maybe a drone?). I have no idea. The camera captures the actors as they climb this side of this ledge from the river bank to a higher elevation about 10 feet up. It is seamless and breathtaking. I think I actually exclaimed “wow” in the theater when I saw it. Now, that being said, camera tricks and great acting doesn’t make up for a lackluster script. But this is an incredibly well-made film.
Oh, did someone say “incredibly well-made film”? Yes, that was me about 3 seconds ago. Boy oh boy is this movie great. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay exhibit spectacular on-screen chemistry. Stellar performances. I’m still disappointed Tremblay wasn’t nominated but I think he’s got a great career ahead of him. After all, he’s only 9. The care taken to tell a story about a woman and her son who experienced this kind of abuse but not make the story about abuse is masterful. Lenny Abrahamson’s direction couldn’t be better. I’m so glad this film got as much recognition as it did. With nominations for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actress it really was one of the best of the year.
I’m going to say something and I’m not saying it lightly. Spotlight is one of the finest films I’ve ever seen. I don’t just say that about my pick for Best Picture each year. Birdman was the best film I saw last year. It’s not one of the best ever. Spotlight is. I couldn’t tell you right now where on my top 10, 25 or 100 list it might be but it in the conversation. It is such a remarkably great film it deserves every accolade it received and then some. It isn’t a technical marvel or a visual epic. What it is is an incredibly well-written script with impeccable acting. It balances the humanity of its characters with the importance of what they’re trying to achieve. They’re individuals with their own struggles trying to do the right thing in the face of extraordinary opposition. The layers of emotion, intrigue and risk are nearly perfect. At the end of this film my first thought was “Yes. That’s how you make a movie.” Oh, and I’ve talked about Michael Keaton being overlooked for Best Actor (which is true) but let me give a shout out to the unsung hero of this movie, Stanley Tucci. This guy is off the charts good.
PREDICTION: Well, it’s clear what my pick would be. But sadly, the Academy doesn’t let me vote yet. So in predicting the Best Picture winners each year I always look at what other nominations the films received. Three of these eight films didn’t receive a director nomination. It is ultra-rare for the Best Picture winner to be a film whose director wasn’t nominated. It happened with Argo a few years ago but before that it hadn’t happened for about 25 years. Before that it hadn’t happened since 1932. So that rules out Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn and The Martian. I also take into consideration the screenplay nominees. It isn’t quite as rare for a film to win Best Picture without a screenplay nomination. It’s only happened 7 times ever but 4 of those were in the first 6 Academy Awards. The nominations were very different in the early days. Since then Only Hamlet (1948), The Sound of Music (1965) and Titanic (1997) won the big prize without their scripts being nominated. Frankly, only The Sound of Music deserved to win and I don’t begrudge the Academy for not knowing how to evaluate the script for a musical. Although The Revenant has a lot of attention I think there’s a reason the screenplay wasn’t nominated and the Academy knows it. So that leaves Room, The Big Short and Spotlight. Room is the little movie that could but its lack of star power is probably a factor. I think it comes down to The Big Short and Spotlight. The Big Short won the Producers Guild of America Award but Spotlight won the Screen Actors Guild Award. Both are very strong predictors of the Oscars. Since 2007 every PGA winner has gone on to win the Oscar. Since 2007 there have been 3 times the SAG winner didn’t do the same, including 2 of the last 4 (American Hustle, The Help). As much as my heart wants to say Spotlight I am going to predict The Big Short to win the 2015 Oscar for Best Picture. It’s a great movie so I won’t be crying myself to sleep Sunday night.
Whayda think? Right on the money? Out of my mind? Let’s discuss.
I’ll be back after the Oscars to breakdown the winners and what it all means. Until then, check out my other predictions here.