I have a motto that life’s too short to watch bad movies. So I spend a lot of my spare time trying to tick off ‘Best Picture’ winners, nominees and classic films from previous years. I’m currently watching Hannah and Her Sisters. In 2015 I also checked off The Maltese Falcon, Norma Rae, The Sixth Sense, Saving Private Ryan and The Guns of Navarone among others.
That’s right. I love film, yet before this year I hadn’t seen either the Sixth Sense or Saving Private Ryan. Shame on me. They’re both amazing.
This is also a funny time of year to do a ‘best of’, I know, but the end of February is award season, the true end of the film year. When you see deplorable films like Grimsby on the horizon, you know the films of quality have finished their runs.
1) Films had to be eligible for the 2016 Oscars (this Sunday, US time)
2) Films have to be watchable. There are some films that are ‘epic’, possibly ‘well-acted’ and from a ‘name’ director, but are terrible and unwatchable.
3) Films must be seen by me personally, at least 90% through. That’s fair. It covers Twitter binges.
2015/16 was the year of ‘quite good’. There were many films that slotted into that category, your 7.5-8.5/10 level films. So the question becomes this year: how do you pick the greatest film in a year with a lot of all-round solid movies? And the sneaky sub-question: what does it mean to be an ‘Oscar movie’?
The ones that were close:
20. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Okay, those two were not close.
19. Fast & Furious 7
16. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
14. The Hateful Eight
Then a big gap, then:
11. Beasts of No Nation
Oscar films missed:
THE TOP TEN:
10. The Martian
Why does The Martian deserve its Best Picture nomination?
I would argue it doesn’t, but it’s close. In a year where only 8 films were nominated, a blockbuster with good acting from Matt Damon and Donald Glover like The Martian doesn’t quite cut it. The Martian has nothing really wrong with it – like most films this year, it is ‘quite good’. But it seems to serve as this new-age version of humanistic triumph that is replacing blind patriotism as the Kool-Aid of choice. Damon deserves his Oscar nod, but his supporting cast is both stacked with stars and fairly disappointing acting. It’s 20 minutes too long (see Revenant, The) and to me serves as a 2016 version of Braveheart. I have a sneaking suspicion that The Martian won’t hold up well – if you’ve seen Braveheart in the last 5 years, you’ll know what I mean.
I do feel for Ridley Scott, whose direction makes this movie an 8/10 instead of a 6.5/10. #RiwardRidley
9. Bridge of Spies
Why does Bridge of Spies deserve its Best Picture nomination?
Spielberg knows exactly what Academy voters like, he’s been pumping them out for generations. Bridge of Spies is just about perfect for a 90’s Oscar nom. It is gripping, well-casted and has a satisfying resolution. But does that mean it deserves to be in the nominees?
I would argue yes – just. It creeps home against more creative fare like Beasts Of No Nation and Sicario (which is the ideal 2000’s Oscar nom, just not the 10’s), thanks to the brilliant, understated performance of Mark Rylance, Tom Hanks winding back the clock for a vintage performance and a great script written by, of all people, the Coen brothers. Who would have thought the quirky minds behind Fargo and No Country For Old Men could write such a straight-up, Spielbergian thriller.
The best description I can give is that I went to see this with my dad and it was the best possible movie for that. I think that’s a compliment.
So why, exactly, can’t Creed be nominated for an Oscar?
No, Michael B. Jordan didn’t deserve a Best Actor nod, sorry Spike Lee and #OscarsSoWhite. But he was very good, Stallone was brilliant and Ryan Coogler (who could easily have got a director’s nod and is a much more legitimate snub) does a masterful job at taking an ancient franchise and rebooting it near-perfectly. Rocky was released in 1975 friends. That’s a mighty long time back. Yet Stallone holds up and so does the concept.
There has to be a place for excellent, creative, well-made sports movies to have a shot at an Oscar. Creed was the Academy’s chance to do that AND to promote black actors and directors at the same time. And they screwed it up.
7. The Big Short
This is a tough film to rank. Clever, funny, tricky to film and featuring many of this generations favourite actors – Bale, Pitt, Carell and smug Gosling – The Big Short is another quite good film. It deserves its Oscar nod and McKay deserves his Best Director nod for a really tricky job.
But because the subject matter is so tough, it’s not that cohesive. And McKay seems determined to mostly paint the characters as heroic…even though most of them are just in it to make bucketloads of money.
This is the most likely film to win the Oscar that would leave me disappointed if it won it. We’re not going to remember The Big Short as the best film of the year
6. Ex Machina
This is the first of (my) Oscar-nominated films that features Domhnall Gleeson, aka #Domhination.
But it’s Oscar Isaacs and Alicia Vikander who steal the show (and in Alicia’s case, almost the year). This indie-ish effort about AI, ethics and EI (emotional intelligence) is gripping from start to finish and absolutely should have been rewarded for its vision and creativity. In some ways, it’s the direction – and linked cinematography – from newbie director Alex Garland – better known for his screenplays. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the screenplay is phenomenal and the direction a little weak. But the 3 stars shine through.
Do yourself a favour and check it out.
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What would make The Force Awakens an ‘Oscar movie’? More innovation in story-telling? It is, after all, pretty much just a rehash of A New Hope. But that’s one of the most beloved films of all time and it does a successful retelling of the story, with much greater diversity and complexity to the lead characters. It integrates the nostalgia of the 70’s smash hits seamlessly. It waltzes effortlessly away from the wasteland that was the first trilogy. It raises young actors with huge futures to prominence, notably Daisy Ridley and John Boyega (Adam Driver has a fair profile already). It continues to push the storyline that 2015 was the year of #DOMHination for Domhnall Gleeson.
Fun fact about Domhnall Gleeson: if The Force Awakens had been selected as the 9th Best Picture nominee and Ex Machina for the 10th, he would have been in FOUR of the nominees this year. FOUR. That’s ridiculous. And it easily could have happened. That’s why he won 2015. And of course we all remember that Chris Pratt won 2014 (#YearOfPratt).
Anyway. Star Wars should have got a nom. Don’t be silly.
Sidenote: wouldn’t it be amazing if in 2018 the stand-alone Star Wars film was a Jar-Jar Binks spin-off? Yeah, it would be atrocious and universally panned, but everybody would still watch Episode IX in 2019 regardless and all the Star Wars nerds would force themselves to go anyway. It would be the greatest troll in history.
Words like ‘well-made’, ‘thorough’ and ‘comprehensive’ are rarely sexy enough to win you an Oscar. But in a middling year, Spotlight has enough to get it home if the voters lean that way. It is an excellently made, well-scripted, well-directed film that also features excellent performances by all its characters. Liev Schreiber and Brian D’Arcy James are especially good, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams a touch over-rated. It appropriately skewers the Catholic Church – and institutionalised church in general – without becoming a witch hunt.
Spotlight feels like the ‘right’ Oscar film for 2016. By that I mean it seems like a movie that the Academy, fresh off enjoying your big, get-it-right motion extravaganzas like 12 Years A Slave and Argo, would lap up. And it’s an excellent movie that is well worth your time. I just don’t think it’s the best film of the year.
3. The Revenant
I don’t want to talk about the multitude of physically degrading and transforming things that Leo had to do to grasp his Oscar. $50 says that the thought, “Sean Penn never did anything like this and got TWO!” has been on his mind for a while now. Listen – if you’re going to wrestle a bear and sleep naked in a horse carcass, you definitely want it bad enough.
The Revenant is 20 minutes too long and at times veers dangerously into Malickian territory of pointless nature shots that don’t progress the story or enhance the movie. But it is a gripping, powerful story of resilience and human nature and of course, is the highest ranked movie to DOMHinate this year.
Fun Fact: Inarritu could be the first man to win back-to-back Best Director Oscars since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949-1950. Money in the Mank.
<<Note to self: don’t use that phrase again>>
The other thing about The Revenant – apart from Leo’s acting and Inarritu’s direction – is the Tom Hardy factor. Maybe the hottest man in cinema right now deserves the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this performance and came a respectable 3rd in the Who Won The Year power rankings which are:
- Domhnall Gleeson #DOMHination
- Alicia Vikander
- Tom Hardy
- Amy Poehler (including Parks and Recreation)
- The Bear from The Revenant
- Leo, unless he loses
- Mark Rylance (including Wolf Hall)
- Oscar Isaacs (he was Poe Dameron, come on!)
- Michael B. Jordan/Rooney Mara (tie)
- The Horse from The Revenant
2. Inside Out
Inside Out is a legitimate contender for film of the year, and in an average-to-good year, it’s frankly embarrassing that beige films like Brooklyn are ranked ahead of it. We have to stop pretending that the very best in kids films are not some of the very best in films, period.
Amy Poehler is her usual effervescent self, Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader own their roles, but it is Phyllis Smith as Sadness who crushes it as the character who nobody thinks they need, but makes their team whole. The message crosses all boundaries. The thing about Inside Out is that it also connects deeply with your own childhood and – if you’re a dad with a daughter like me – it gets you thinking ahead to your own future relationship with your children. I watched this with my little girl and bawled like a baby (silently). Such a beautiful, powerful, poignant and genuinely funny film.
Fun Fact: In the 70’s and 80’s Phyllis Smith was a cheerleader for the St Louis Cardinals. So there you go.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
The case for Mad Max not to win the Best Picture Oscar probably sounds something like this:
“Oh, it’s just not an Oscar movie”
Thorough argument, right?
But here’s my counter-argument: shouldn’t the Oscar go to the best, most brilliant, creative, innovative and engaging piece of film of the year? This includes cinematography, screenplays, direction, sound and editing. When all of these come together beautifully – yes, even in a post-apocalyptic-two-and-a-half-hour-car-chase movie with basically no plot – it deserves to be recognised. Fury Road comes from a historic, yet not historically brilliant, movie franchise, anchored by a social pariah whose last installment was some decades ago. Yet it is an incredible experience, especially visually. If you can watch it on an iMax screen, it’s even better again. Its vision and spectacle are unparalleled and to reward it, you reward film as an industry and risk-taking and innovation become the highest priority once more.
In a film where the purported star, Tom Hardy, says about 19 words, Mad Max: Fury Road still somehow manages to be the most compelling offering cinema brought to us. And my desperate hope for tomorrow is that somehow, someway, it breaks through all the pre-existing opinions about ‘action films’ and takes home a well-deserved pair of Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director.
And the quick Oscar predictions:
Should be: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will be: The Revenant
Should be: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Will be: Alejandro Inarritu (The Revenant)
Should be: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant)
Will be: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Should be: Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Will be: Brie Larson (Room) – haven’t seen
Best Supporting Actor:
Should be: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
Will be: Sly Stallone (Creed)
Best Supporting Actress:
Should be: Julie Walter (Brooklyn)/Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)
Will be: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) – haven’t seen
Best Original Screenplay:
Should be: Ex Machina
Will be: Spotlight
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Should be: The Big Short
Will be: The Big Short
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