As of today, I have officially seen each of this year's Best Picture nominated films for the second year a in row. I can honestly say that I enjoyed each one of them and am so glad to see that the ones I didn't care for did not end up being nominated. Rather than reviewing the films in depth, I'll just provide my insights on the top three films that I, personally, would choose to win. Also, I've provided the cheat sheet that I use each year to remember who is nominated and who I've predicted to win.
Below are my three favorite movies of the nominees.
It would be difficult for me to choose just one favorite movie from the nominees but if I must, I choose Spotlight. Someone said that it had the aesthetic of a day-old coffee stain and I completely agree. However, I don't believe that to be an insult. We rarely see journalism movies that actually reflect the realities of the industry. To me, Spotlight's aesthetic was day old coffee, filing cabinets, sour-smelling yellow paper, a cold day, and loose-fitting khaki pants. That's exactly what it should be. Tom McCarthy is telling a story that is far from glamorous.
Moving beyond the aesthetic, the performances were remarkable. Yes of course, we should all give applause to Mark Ruffalo (whose portrayal of Mike Rezendes was uncanny), Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, and Michael Keaton but the performances that astounded me came from the smaller, secondary characters---those who gave their testimonies to the Spotlight team. I was especially moved by Michael Cyril Creighton portraying one of the abuse victims.
Finally, I want to mention the beautiful score. Recently, I've been listening to it whenever I write because it immediately launches you into a concentrated mindset. Although it seems that The Revenant may be stiff competition, I'm pulling for Spotlight to take home the big award and really believe it would be a mistake if it does not.
Mad Max: Fury Road
When I first saw Mad Max: Fury Road, I went to see it twice in one week over the summer. At the time, I hadn't seen the trailer nor any of the previous movies and I didn't imagine that it would be nominated for so many awards months later. I'm so glad that others are in agreement with how highly I think of it.
The production design alone deserves all of the awards. From the appearance of the characters to the "dieselpunk" cars to potentially the greatest minor character of all time---guitar guy---there are so many interesting things going on in this world. For instance, I love that we know very little about Max's background and that, despite being the titular character, he mostly exists in the background as a supporting character to Furiosa (my queen).
Another interesting element of Mad Max is the editing. The film was edited by director George Miller's wife Margaret Sixel. This was possibly the best decision George Miller could have made, as Margaret's editing is what sets the film apart from any other action movie you've seen. Each shot was carefully designed to be easy on the eyes as opposed to the messy, fast cuts you often see in high-speed action films. With over 480 hours of footage to work with, she managed to put it together in a way that was visually unique but also easy to digest.
Last year, I campaigned hard for Boyhood to win Best Picture only to have it lose to Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman. This year, I've feared that this would become a pattern---with Inarritu's The Revenant beating my pick, Spotlight. Sunday night, I saw The Revenant and immediately knew that I couldn't be upset if this film is to win. For a movie with so much blood and violence, so many dead animals and frosty beards, I never imagined it could be so beautiful.
The title itself is evoked in the story through elements of Native American mysticism which I thought were so beautifully portrayed. The cinematography was some of the best I've ever seen, with the film shot entirely in (completely stunning) natural light. I've gotten a bit angry reading shallow criticisms of Leo's performance, saying that his quiet, grunting performance does not deserve to take the Best Actor category. A lack of dialogue doesn't signify a lack of effort. To me, a remarkable actor is one who bares everything emotionally in order to reach the objective of the performance and who disappears into the character. Sometimes, I forgot that I was watching Leo DiCaprio and not an actual guy whose boy was taken from him.
I also have to give shout-outs to Domhnall Gleeson and Tom Hardy, but especially Tom Hardy who was eerily believable in his role. How he managed to transform himself---an unbelievably handsome British man---into a gruff, American fur trapper. Even more surprising was his ability to portray his character Fitzgerald with such a subtle depth--a sort of emotionally corrupt desperation that is unsurprising for a man in Fitzgerald's position.
Academy Awards Guide
Every year, I put together a list of all the nominees and highlight who I think should/will win for each category. It's a lot of fun to fill the pages up with check marks as the night goes on. Below, you can download my cheat sheet (which includes my picks) and add your own.
Click "Download" to access the full guide!