Sunday, 31 January 2016

2016 Oscars: Best Picture Nominees Ranked


Eight films are to go head-to-head in the race to win this year's Best Picture award at the 2016 Oscars this Sunday evening. While it may be severely lacking in other categories, the diversity of genre and style of this year's nominees is refreshing and interesting to see, making my tasks at ranking the releases all the more challenging; critical acclaim, appreciation and nominations aside, very little links these contenders as they race for supremacy. Everything from small, dependent indies to massive blockbuster hits have made the cut; films about loss and films about discovery define the mix and characters driven by freedom, integrity and reputation populate these films, illustrating and representing a wider disparity of genre and style than we have ever seen before.

The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Martian, Max Max: Fury Road, Room, The Revenant and Spotlight will all hoping to pick up the superlative golden statue when the winner is announced at the end of the evening - which is arguably the biggest night of the cinematic calendar - and while some frontrunners have emerged and others are turning up out of formality, I've taken a look at all eight films and ranked them to establish my preference in who to hope emerges victorious. Take a look at my mini-review on each of the films below and I'll keep my fingers crossed that one of my favourites - and more importantly that my least favourite does not - emerge successful. Tomorrow I plan to make my predictions on the win, so this is entirely on who or what I would like to win.

So, here is my ranking, in descending order,  starting with one of my least favourite and/or enjoyable films in a good while is...

8. The Big Short


Honesty is the best policy, so with that in mind, I'll put it out there straight away; I really, really disliked The Big Short. It is the only one of this year's crop in which I found very little enjoyment in and would go as far as to say I intensely hated. I won't look at the Oscars the same again if it pics up the Best Picture award when the category is abundant with genuine, moving, emotional, revolutionary and sensitive films. But what does my thoughts count for when the film has been nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and, of course, Best Picture? At the moment, for some audacious reasons unbeknownst to me, the film is considered a front runner for the superlative prize.

Messy, unbalance and tonally all over the place, some of the performances (no names named) are so paint-by-numbers you can see the paintbrush and the narrative is somehow plagued by being both overlong and lacking clarity and depth. When it does attempt to clarify itself, it comes across incredibly condescending and patronising, with too many characters you care very little about bounding all over the place, cluttering the piece with important and intolerable individuals who seemingly seek to intensify my hatred for the film. This is a film that doesn't know how to treat an audience and it very clearly shows.

Unsure whether it is a comedy, drama or political piece, The Big Short's absence of a clear direction inhibits a successful execution, resulting in a film that is as irredeemably smug as it is shallow. living in the shadow of the far superior Wolf of Wall Street of a similar thematic link just a couple of years ago, the satirical scattershot of the 2008 financial crisis is facile and laborious, cultivating feelings associated with the economic crash - the subject matter of this malapert mockery - itself. Christian Bale comes out least scathed, offering at least some depth and complexity to the character, with John Margaro and Finn Wittrock at least attempting to assert something different - you know, actual meaning - that otherwise has very few redeemable features, which begins crumbling under the weight of its own self-importance just moment after it begins. The talking heads, featuring some bizarre and bold cameos, are hit and miss, but at least something in the film actually sticks the landing.

Summary: Smug, shallow, facile and unbalanced, The Big Short cements its place of one of the most defective Oscar nominees in a long while, but at least my search for the worst film of the year is over.

Highlight: Selena Gomez's appearance. I never would have ever thought to be saying that about an Oscar nominated picture.

(2/10)


7. Bridge of Spies


Bridge of Spies may be an outsider in the Best Picture race, but it is a nominee nonetheless, totalling six nominations across the event. Steven Spielberg's historical drama-thriller film boasts an impressive cast of Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, leading the script written by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers.

Entertaining and factual, Bridge of Spies is an undeniably solid film. Hans does a stellar job as James B. Donovan in conveying his remarkable tale and journey, but is somewhat outshone by the supporting Rylance whose portrayal of Rudolf Abel - a prosecuted Soviet spy - evokes sympathy and determination, making him a very strong contender in this Best Supporting race. Spielberg presents both Berlin and New York with opulence and detail for an overall solid espionage thriller.

Yet, with such a terrific line-up, it never feels like a sum of its outstanding parts. For their acclaim and success, one would expect that the stars to align to illustrate a defying tale and result in an exceptional film, but it never reaches the levels of excellence expected - it rather falls short. It feels stuffy and only ever partially interesting, opposed to immersive or engaging, somewhat inert and stagnate in places. In a nutshell, it never reaches its full potential despite having all the elements in place to do so. It still remains a solid and entertaining picture but not quite what one should expect for a Best Picture nominee.

Summary: Bridge of Spies is a solid espionage biopic with a pedigree of individuals who do not quite live up to expectations. It never really comes together despite some strong showings.

Highlight: Rylance's performance is particularly refreshing to see, a coup for the film.

(6/10)


6. The Martian


Not only was Ridley Scott's The Martian the tenth highest-grossing film of 2015 and the biggest box office success of this year's nominees, it further managed an impressive seven Academy Award nominations, including prestigious nods for Best Picture and Best Actor. The Matt Damon vehicle was an indisputable critical and commercial success, further fulfilling the increasingly prevalent pattern of the 'lost in space' narratives that began back in 2013 with Gravity and was followed by Interstellar in 2014. Does The Martian live up to the hype and celebration is has received?

Compelling and enthralling, The Martian achieve in striking a balance between fact and enjoyment, suspending the often weighty material with a refreshing incorporation of humour, setting itself a part from the aforementioned 'lost in space' stories. Directorial effervescence certainly helps this picture, but the entire piece is elevated by a formidable performance from Damon, who more than earns his Oscar nominations with the gravitas of the performance. Resilience, fortitude and courage define the character of Mark Watney, who battles against the odds to survive his mission, all of which are excellently demonstrated by Damon with great belief and likability. Scott's direction helps portray the isolation of Mars and is a visual treat.

Damon certainly exiles with his performance, apparently battling against a problematic structure; The Martian ricochets between Earth and mars at an inconsistent rate, never staying long enough to develop characters or themes throughout the Earth narrative, beyond that obvious that manifests through Damon's performance. Cluttered and overrun with characters who often fail to connect, Jessica Chastain and a surprisingly good Kristen Wiig are the only ones to truly connected with their characters and give the audience some interest outside of Damon's personal story.

Summary: The Martian is an enthralling, if inconsistent tale, that balances fact and comedy well, all of which is supported by an affirming performance by Matt Damon.

Highlight: Matt Damon's performance who certainly earns with Best Actor nomination.

☆☆
(7/10)


5. The Revenant



The Martian and The Revenant fought a very tough battle for sixth/fifth place, but the mesmerising and enchanting direction by Alejandro G. Inarritu pushes it further up the ranking.

Summary: A committed performances from Leonardo Dicaprio, matched with memerising direction from Alejandro G. Inarritu culminates in an unflinchingly grim, if overstretched film, that is best experienced on the big screen for full immersion.

Highlight: Alejandro G. Inarritu's direction and the outstanding cinematography applied are all-encompassing of the film and the truly unique selling point.


☆☆
(7/10)


4. Mad Max: Fury Road


Today, I realised than an injustice has been made. An incredibly distressing injustice. Dismissive of, and arguably prejudice towards, I immediately wrote off Mad Max: Fury Road as a testosterone-fuelled excuse of a film that offered very little progression and narrative ground, populated instead by audacious special effects and visuals in what was slowly becoming a one-note genre. Just how wrong can one person be?

Even after critical acclaim and goodwill came in abundance for the film - which hit cinemas back in May 2015 - I neglected to even entertain the idea that Fury Road was the injection the genre so intensely needed. My eyes rolled as the film scooped 10 Oscar nominations, the second highest haul of this year's collection. In my bid to become insightful towards the acclaim it experienced, and to the category in general, I decided to do my upmost best to view each film with an open mind, electing to go for Mad Max: Fury Road to get it out of the way so the real Oscar contenders could begin to show. And now I owe the film an apology.

Arguably one of the greatest actions films of all time, Fury Road is fuelled by a rip-roaringly intense ride the entire journey. Weaving easily between all-out action, character development and stunning cinematography - all of which is topped off with an immense soundtrack and score - it truly is worth the Best Picture nomination I was initially so sceptical of. Sensually smashing through gender stereotypes and powered by feminist influences and themes, it really is refreshing to see an action film - or any film at all really - depicting such a wide range of characters and counter-types. Add that to the invigorating visuals and inventive direction, the film is quite the joy to watch and immerse yourself in.

Not without its flaws, it's pulverising action is occasionally exhausting and sometimes in need of a different approach, which is certainly limited by its wasteland desert setting that spreads for miles and miles, almost in a beautiful long take. As generally well-crafted as it is, the third act begins to lose the balance between action and character but is still well-above the rest and something completely creative and fresh. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult bring it all to the performance and it certainly tells; I am positive that Theron's take of Furiosa will be an iconic delivery for years to come.

Summary: Mad Max: Fury Road is visually exhilarating, narratively progressive and defiant of the stereotypes that so often bog down the genre, meaning it produced invigorating, if exhausting results that should be remembered for a long time to come for reinventing the wheel.

Highlight: The way in which it totally rejuvenates the genre and defied all expectations.

★☆
(8/10)


3. Brooklyn


Historical period dramas aren't really for me. I've never been particularly interested or compelled by them in the slightest, meaning that Brooklyn was something pretty new for me. Nominated for three Academy Awards and receiving extremely solid reviews and acclaim, it may be a Best Picture outsider, but is it worthy of its nomination?

Generally, Brooklyn is a really lovely film. Decedent and opulent, as well as emotionally-charged, Brooklyn should be truly thankful of Saroirse Ronan's shattering lead performance (who I have finally forgiven for the tragedy that was The Host). Gracing each and every scene with sensitivity, fragility but an inner power, Ronan captivates the audience and takes them on the journey of a girl with her heart split between two homes - Brooklyn and Ireland. Very few manage to come close to the heart and soul that Ronan puts into this film, but Julie Walters is scintillating and memorable in her supporting role - if the competition wasn't so fierce, I would be appalled at her absent nomination, but her role just is not large enough to warrant it, especially when some players are being demoted from lead to supporting. Heartwarming and affirmative, its simplicity is a wonder to behold in a cinematic landscape so occupied with people and films thinking too much and trying too hard.

Whilst Brooklyn may loses it magic and spirit when it leaves the titular suburb by lessening conviction and starting to fade, when we reunite with the city that initially brought so much magic, the film really succeeds again. This was another tightly fought battle with Fury Road, but my niggles (and they were only niggles) were slightly fewer for Brooklyn, so they beat it to the finish line. 

Summary: Warm and affirmative, Brooklyn's magic and soul lies in a stunning performance from Saroirse Ronan in this decadent and opulent ode to an equally compelling suburb.

Highlight: Ronan's performance is most certainly Oscar-worthy and I wouldn't at all bet against her to swoop the Best Actress prize.

★☆
(8/10)


2. Spotlight



The rating for Spotlight has improved since my initial review for how much the film has stuck with me; I catch my self continually thinking about it, and has made a real impact on me - as a film should.

Summary: Spotlight is captivating for its grounded take on the real life investigative work performed by selfless individuals, which is in turn demonstrated by a cast who never lionise and instead approach with subtly and poise for Oscar-worthy performances.

Highlight: In a film this 'dark', highlight is probably the incorrect word, but the scene that stands out is the montage sequence with a chilling rendition of 'Silent Night' playing over the top. That, and the power of the final title cards will stick with me long after I leave the theatre.

(9/10)


1. Room

Room is exactly the film the Oscars were conceptualised to celebrate. Poignance and emotion define this harrowing, yet life-affirming picture about a mother and child imprisoned between four walls and  their battle and determination to escape, as well as their apprehension in acclimatising to the outsider world they have been starved of. As uncomfortable and harrowing as this film is, a plethora of beauty can be found in the Lenny Abrahamson picture that has won my support for the Best Picture award at 2016's Oscar ceremony.

Very much a tale of two halves, Room explores the dynamics between a mother and son who have known nothing but each other since their confinement, as we join their search for freedom and release, utterly immersed and compelled for them for each and every moments. An expansion of humanism and depth, despite the harrowing subject matter that is incorporated, but does not define this film, allowing us to explore the world of our protagonists without feeling detached or isolated from them, intruding or invasive, all of which is helped tremendously by the impressive directorial panache that emphasises the contracts between the worlds with detail and clarity.

It feels criminal that I have gotten so far into this review without truly acknowledging the heart, soul and magnetism of this film - Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay bring absolutely everything to the forefront of this film, with such precision and believability despite the heartwrenching and unimaginable circumstances. Larson carries the emotional weight poetically and profoundly with such conviction and rawness that you become totally mesmerised by her. Tremblay, equally convincing, brings an naivety that is beautifully portrayed and more powerful than I imagined a child actor could possibly achieve. What's even better than these two individual actors those, is the bond and dynamism they lovingly craft. I have never seen chemistry like this and it makes for the magnificence and captivating moments between them that this film centralises.

I cannot begin to commend the beauty that is found in this film. Inspiration, life affirming and tender, it explores it themes in unflinching detail, but is all the more rewarding for doing so. Larson more than deserves her Oscar nomination and I will cheer her on if she does. For Tremblay not to receive a nod himself is an upset, but he has such a prosperous career ahead of him. Room is a completely stunning and compelling film, already an absolute favourite of mine

Summary: Room is a stunning portrait of the unconditional love between two people placed in the most unimaginable situation. Life affirming, tender and heartfelt, I have found my Best Picture winner.

Highlight: It is incredible difficult to narrow it down to one moment, but it truly is the performances that make this film - Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are absolute forces to be reckoned with and translate the emotion so profoundly. 

(10/10)

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And that's it! The definite (well, for now anyway) ranking of the eight Best Picture nominees. Whilst my allegiances lie predominantly with Room, I will not be all that upset if Spotlight nabs the award. But nothing could be worse than The Big Short winning. Please no. 

Let me know your rankings, thoughts and opinions and make sure you check back tomorrow where I will make my final predictions before the ceremony that evening! 


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