In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Despite the supreme lack of diversity at this year’s Oscars (no Ryan Coogler for Creed? COME ON), I am very pleased with the majority of nominations. I’ve seen every nominee in the “Big Five” as well as a decent sampling of others, and I’ve made my picks for each. Mind you, it is impossible to predict who will win. The Academy is like that. Any time I think I’ve got their motivations pinned down The Hurt Locker wins Best Picture. So no, the following will not be a list of predictions, but rather a list of hopes. MY picks.
Best Adapted Screenplay
-The Big Short -Brooklyn -Carol -The Martian -Room
The Big Short. Adam McKay and Charles Randolph have done the impossible in adapting Michael Lewis’ book. What could have been a simple talky Wall Street dramedy is instead a fast-paced comedic circus that is as entertaining as it is educational. As presented, The Big Short tells a tale that should and will make the audience mad, but keeps the humor coming so regularly that the entertainment factor never dips. The Big Short elevates the audience to the material rather than reducing the material to please the lowest common denominator. Aaaaand ifThe Martian wins I’m okay with that too.
Best Original Screenplay
-Bridge of Spies -Ex Machina -Inside Out -Spotlight -Straight Outta Compton
Ex Machina! Ex Machina! Ex Machina! Timely, funny, startling, and nuanced to the point that every subsequent viewing is an entirely new experience, Alex Garland’s directorial debut is top of the line. Ex Machina uses a Frankenstein-inspired story to explore a wealth of themes from body autonomy to technological sentience to how crazily frustrating it must be to be God. The film is a bit of a puzzle too. Before solving the mystery we have to figure out what that mystery is … and it takes multiple viewings to determine either. Ex Machina is a great film on every level of production, but it all starts on the page, and these pages are perfection.
Best Supporting Actress
-Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight -Rooney Mara, Carol -Rachel McAdams, Spotlight -Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs -Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
If only Alicia Vikander had been nominated for Ex Machina rather than The Danish Girl. If only. Buuuuut she wasn’t, so this goes to Jennifer Jason Leigh for her terrifying performance as the foul, toothless gang leader, Daisy Domergue. Tarantino has always hinted at making spin-off films for some of his best characters (RIP The Vega Brothers), but the only one I want to see would be the tale of Daisy Domergue. She’s a well-written character for sure, but it’s Leigh that really breathes gruesome life into this atypical criminal. Her wretched drawl induces a cringe while her singing voice suggests a faded femininity hardened by harsh times. She plays like she’s two steps behind while secretly being three steps ahead and Leigh makes it oh so believable and fun.
Best Supporting Actor
-Christian Bale, The Big Short -Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight -Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies -Sylvester Stallone, Creed -Tom Hardy, The Revenant
If anyone gets in the way of my main man Stallone getting an Oscar for playing Rocky, may all of life’s misfortunes rain down upon them. Not only is it thematically appropriate for him to win (Underdogs! Comebacks! Champions!), but he absolutely deserves it. With his performance in Creed Stallone reminded all of us of how good he can be when he’s given the right material. He reminded us that Rocky is a character and not just Stallone playing himself. He reminded us that it doesn’t matter how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. Yeah I said it. I mean, if Rylance wins I won’t be too mad, but that just means I’ll be punching a hole in my TV rather than throwing it out the window.
-Cate Blanchett, Carol -Brie Larson, Room -Jennifer Lawrence, Joy -Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years -Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Remember when Brie Larson was a pop star? She was on TRL for a bit back in the day, but her music career never took off. Frankly, we’re better off for it. Had she gone that route, she’d likely have been put through the wringer of the music industry, sucked dry, and forgotten about. Luckily for us, that parallel universe is inaccessible and the Brie Larson of our world is one of – if not the – best actress working today. Between Room and Trainwreck, Larson put on two of 2015’s best performances. Room, by its very nature, could have easily fallen into exploitation territory, or worse, become a Lifetime movie. Instead it was a heartfelt exploration of the bonds between mother and child being tested in the most extreme of circumstances. If it were revealed that Jacob Tremblay were Larson’s real-life child I wouldn’t doubt it for a second, and this has everything to do with the inimitable talents of its star.
-Bryan Cranston, Trumbo -Matt Damon, The Martian -Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant -Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs -Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
On this one, I will confidently make a prediction. Leo WILL win. Should he? No. He should have won a few times in the past (Shutter Island, most notably), but he will win. He’s not my pick, however. For this one, I’m going with Fassbender. Steve Jobs opened to mostly positive reviews, but no one seemed to be as floored by it as I was. Sure, it’s sort of The Social Network all over again (Sorkin script + a toned-down flashy director), but that doesn’t make it any less compelling. Steve Jobs does not aim to show us an accurate portrayal of the titular man, but rather to give us insight into the type of person one has to be in order to gain mythical status. Fassbender captures this notion flawlessly. He makes it so you can see why Jobs’ cohorts gravitate toward him and aid in his mission, frustration be damned. Anyone can read a Sorkin script at a lightning pace and sound like they’re doing something notable, but few can populate what little space there is between word with pure character. The character of Steve Jobs is both mammoth and fragile; cocky and terrified. Every move he makes is plagued with the duality of his emotional spectrum, and Fassbender works this struggle into every moment.
-Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant -Lenny Abramson, Room -Tom McCarthy, Spotlight -Adam McKay, The Big Short -George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller. Duh. Although I should really note that all of these nominees did tremendous work in terms of directing. Miller gets my pick by sheer force of his insanity. A man in his seventies took a bunch of stuntmen, vehicles, and explosives, put them in a desert, and rammed them into each other for our entertainment. There’s no reason why anyone would think that this could work a fourth time, but Miller made it happen, and in doing so he made the best action movie in decades, and the best Mad Max film since the original. There’s a poetry to the madness that evokes a sort of heavy-metal Buster Keaton. A Looney Tunes in bondage, if you will. In fact, if Fury Road were a silent film, it would work just the same. In addition to the technical prowess on display, Miller also made a socially relevant film. Odd that a simple formula (cars go boom) can be thematically reworked for forty years so successfully. Even odder that a movie called Mad Max: Fury Road (cars go boom) can appropriately find itself at the forefront of feminism in film. All hail George Miller. LORENZO’S OIL FOREVER!
-The Big Short -Bridge of Spies -Brooklyn -Mad Max: Fury Road -The Martian -The Revenant -Room -Spotlight
Every single movie in this list is excellent. Every. Single. One. But Bridge of Spies is the most excellent of all. When the chief criticism is that it’s “just another Spielberg masterpiece” you know you’re in for a treat. Tom Hanks crushes it as a man on an unforgiving mission suffering from an unforgiving head cold in the midst of a dangerous situation, surrounded by a palpable lack of integrity. It’s been so long since we had a protagonist whose only flaw is his unflinching need to do what’s right, and to see it done so classically is refreshing (I love a rapscallion as much as anyone, but it’s good to be reminded of the virtues of, well, virtue). Spielberg shot Spies on film, and even in digital projection, the care that went into constructing each shot is apparent. The script, partially penned by the Coen brothers, has a playfulness to it that allows for humor to punctuate the darker elements. You know, like real life. It’s a talker, but it’s not nearly as brooding as it may have been in different hands. There are multiple tonal shifts throughout the film, all of which are handled with the deft skills of a master. No other filmmaker could drop an action-packed plane crash sequence into the middle of a shadowy espionage flick and not have it be jarring (and seriously, this scene is next-level great). Spies is easily the briskest 2.5 hours I’ve spent in a theater, and I left feeling inspired to be a better man. Being an election year, it was nice to have a political piece of popular media that champions integrity in a non-partisan way. There’s not going to be much like it for a while, so I think it’s important that we really drink it in.
Agree? Disagree? Don’t worry. Come Sunday we will all be wrong, but until then, hit up the comments!