This year, mi media naranja (aka my husband) and I decided to try to watch as many Oscar films as we could. Why? Because we wanted to see what the deal was. Why, in heaven’s name, are all of the top nominees white? Why can’t uplifting films get some respect? What the heck is going on with the Oscars these days?
So we settled in with the Best Picture nominees and have been working our way through other films as well. Before all is said and done, I plan to watch many of the snubbed films like Carol, Concussion, Creed–wait, I have have just figured it out. The Academy decided to exclude all of the “C” movies! No, that’s not it, because there’s also Beasts of No Nation, Sicario, and Straight out of Compton. If I’m missing a movie you think should’ve received a Best Picture nod, please do tell. Just understand that I draw the line at anything else like The Revenant or The House of Sand and Fog. (Side note: The last time we attempted to watch all of the Oscar movies, The House of Sand and Fog was among them. I’m still scarred lo these many years later)
Today I’m going to mainly talk about the Best Pictures nominees, although I’m sure I’ll sneak in some thoughts on specific performances. One of the unexpected benefits of this little experiment is that, as a writer, I’ve had new stories to analyze. Many of them are stories I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see. I also wanted to see for myself the lack of diversity in films and will so note–it’s, um, depressing. Oh, and there will be spoilers, although I’ll try not to overdo it. So, here is an approximation of the order in which I would rank this year’s Best Picture nominees:
8. The Revenant
I’m told there’s some artistic merit to this movie? Fine There’s some haunting panoramas of landscape and some close up shots in the snow, so close that “blood” splatters on the camera. I don’t care. This movie was SO MISERABLE TO WATCH. I HATED IT SO MUCH THAT FLAMES…
So why did I hate it? First of all, it’s practically naturalism. Ever read Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat”? You know that short story where a boat goes down and the strongest swimmer is the one who drowns, and we’re all supposed to shrug and say, “Oh, well, life isn’t fair. And then you die!” The Revenant is a lot like that, only you have to sit through TWO HOURS AND THIRTY-SIX MINUTES of death and violence and snow and cold water and bears and more death and more violence and more snow and….I think you get the picture. For the life of me, I do not understand why this story had to be told. And the director wants to immerse you in the story? Oh, good. You, too, can now experience snow and water and bears and being buried alive and lynchings and rape and cutting open a dead horse and crawling inside–I know it’s just how I want to spend my Friday nights! All of this, and I swear there is no point to this story. Someone’s going to jump into my comments and try to tell me there are glorious themes of survival and revenge and–save your breath. There’s NO POINT to this story. I suppose Tom Hardy gets his justs in the end, but that’s about it. Speaking of, he did a phenomenal job and should be a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor based on the films I’ve seen thus far. As for Leo? I guess he did a great job? He couldn’t speak for significant chunks of the movie but has wheezing down to an art. Personally, my biggest regret is that the bear didn’t finish off his character so I could get out of the theater that much earlier. If The Revenant wins Best Picture, then the Academy will more than prove their problem with diversity and their unnatural affinity for all things “male.” There are practically no women in this film–one of whom is being raped. There are Native Americans in the film, but they are primarily either agressors or victims or sometimes both–not a lot of nuance.
7. Bridge of Spies
This movie was so unbelievably meh to me. Hanks is Hanks and has a few good speeches, but I don’t remember anything extraordinary. Mark Rylance did do a good job as the Russian spy–I don’t think he should win Best Supporting Actor, but the nomination felt warranted. I suppose the story was fraught with a fair amount of tension, but on the whole I was ZZZZZZZ. To add to my irritation, you can forget about any strong female characters. You have a moony daughter, a frantic and imperiled East German lover, and a nagging wife. No thank you. Bridge of Spies was about a bunch of dudes not really wanting to live up to the American ideal of innocent until proven guilty and that, as Ross Perot would say, is just sad.
6. The Martian
I hesitate to put this movie so low because I actually enjoyed it. It was loads better than I thought it would be and fairly family friendly aside from some language and Matt Damon’s derriere. I’m not sure that I would consider it Best Picture material, but it had nice pacing and Damon was quite entertaining. Several of the supporting characters are actually POC and one of the astronaut bosses is a lady! I know, right? Bonus points for showing diversity in the math and science departments! Bottom line: good movie, entertaining movie, but I don’t think it’s the best movie.
I hesitate with where to put Room, The Big Short, and Mad Max. I would say these three movies are fairly interchangeable here in the middle of the pack. So Room. Yeah. This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Sure it’s heartwarming that the mother can manage to give her child as normal an upbringing as possible despite their horrible circumstances, but then we have to watch what happens to her when she returns to the real world. I’m glad to see a story that addresses the violence perpetrated against women and children get recognition, but that doesn’t make this movie any easier to watch. It’s a great movie. I will never, ever watch it again.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
I wanted to love this movie. I really, really wanted to love it, but I can’t. Maybe it’s because it’s Dystopian, and I have a well known bias against that genre. Maybe it’s because it’s yet another relentless juggernaut of violence and action and more violence and action. What elevates this movie up to this spot on my list is that it does function in many ways as an allegory against the patriarchy. I’m all about undermining the patriarchy. Also, Charlize Theron was robbed. She should’ve received a Best Actress nomination for this. Tom Hardy should win Best Supporting Actor just because he filmed this movie in the scorching desert and then The Revenant in the bitter cold. It could be a perseverance award. Also, this movie gets bonus points for a) guitar man and b) shiny spray and lots of talk about Valhalla.
3. The Big Short
Often, I think a Best Picture nominee should be in some way timely, and this film about the housing bubble that lead to the Great Recession is entertaining and educational. It’s also filled with cursing and the occasional booby. I gotta give them some props for what they did structurally with this story. Ryan Gosling holds separate threads together and breaks the fourth wall to comedic effect. Occasionally, characters will explain certain minutiae of the crazy Wall Street system either while sipping champagne in a bubble bath or at a gaming table. (Yay, Selena Gomez!) If you’re looking for women and POC, you are once again out of luck. Marisa Tomei does the best she can with what she’s got, and there’s another boss lady in there. I know Christian Bale got the nomination, but it was actually Steve Carrell who I thought gave the better performance. One more thing that this movie does well is balancing the euphoria of beating the system with the despair of then realizing what you’ve done. Oh, and then there’s the general depression when you realize exactly how effed up our current financial system is and that all of those bankers got away with it.
Speaking of timely, Spotlight gives us the story behind how who-knows-how-many Catholic priests had been molesting children and how the Catholic Church covered it up. While there’s nothing explicitly graphic visually, the pathos of the victims resonates through their own words. The pacing and story are pretty darn good, and I don’t think you could fix the slight pacing problem anyway because September 11th intrudes, just as it did in real life. This is, above all, a movie about people–their weaknesses, their strengths, their compassion, their callousness. It’s also a mystery with our intrepid reporters doggedly chasing down clues. Stanley Tucci is. . . .well. . . . Stanley Tucci, that is to say, awesome as always. Rachel McAdams is good, but I don’t see her winning for this particular role. I’d say the same for Ruffalo. He does well, but I don’t think this is the best part he’s had to work with. Also, it’s yet another very white movie with, perhaps, an African American receptionist.
What? Trumbo wasn’t nominated, you say? I know. It should’ve been. The story of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is another story about people in all of their glory and shame. This movie was brilliantly done. It has a nice story arc and incredible performances, particularly from Bryan Cranston and the woefully overlooked Helen Mirren. Not a lot of roles for POC, once again, but several strong ladies and Trumbo’s daughter is an outspoken opponent of segregation. Remember when I was talking about timely? Trumbo informs us about the current political climate in the same way that Arthur Miller used the Salem Witchcraft Trials to inform his comtemporaries about the Red Scare. Trumbo is a cautionary tale about our continued polarization and the dangers of letting overzealous patriotism get in the way of the best parts of being an American. All this, and it’s entertaining, too! (I expect more .5s as I watched the aforementioned snubbed movies, but I haven’t got there yet. Several weren’t coming out until March 1st)
For my money Brooklyn is the best picture of 2016. Not only is it well shot and gorgeous in its setting and costuming, but it, too, speaks to the present day in its themes of immigration and what it truly means to be an American.* This film has so, so many layers. On its surface, it’s a bildungsroman and a love story. Underneath that coming of age story is one about National identity and how that influences our individual identity. The love story between Irish immigrant, Eilis, and son of immigrants, Tony, becomes a love triangle with Jim, a boy from the Ould Sod. This love triangle then becomes rather symbolic of how Eilis loves her new country but is also being pulled back to her old world. I’m a sucker for stories that come full circle, and Brooklyn does. Eilis goes from lost Irish immigrant on the boat to America to the savvy new American who’s showing a newbie the ropes. Great, solid story that makes the audience work through a full range of emotions, and–dare I say it–this one actually has an uplifting ending.
*As long as being American means being…white. I think there’s an African American extra in there somewhere.
Okay, and that’s Sally’s Best Picture Roundup. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on television. I’m also not a member of the Academy, and they’re probably never going to invite me after I called them out. I won’t tell you exactly what my father says about opinions, but you can be sure that opinions are like a certain part of the body that everyone has. As an author, it’s my job to know story. That’s the only expertise I bring. Any movies that you think should’ve been nominated that weren’t?