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Best Picture Oscar Nominees 2016

Dominic Narcissi, Staff Reporter

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The Oscar nominees are in. Compared to last year, the films are much more uplifting and motivational, but in some cases can be more tragic and sullen. There are two categories that most of the films can be divided into: a story of isolation and survival or a tale of conspiracy. In the isolation department lies The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, and The Martian. In the conspiracy department Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, and The Big Short reside. Then there is Brooklyn, the sole romantic drama of the bunch. Not all of the films are spectacular, and some may even be worth skipping entirely. Below are brief summaries and reviews of each nominee.

Brooklyn –

Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley, is the story of an Irish immigrant who travels to America, finds love, temporarily returns to Ireland, and then returns to America. There is, of course, more to it in terms of relationship drama, but the drama remains absent from the film until the last hour or so. So what is the film then, if it is a drama that is devoid of any real drama for over half of its runtime? Boring and pointless. The entire story could be told in less than fifteen minutes, the other hour and forty five minutes can only be classified as filler. The film felt more like a Hallmark TV movie special than an Oscar nominated movie. The acting is decent but not really noteworthy by any means, the soundtrack is unnoticeable, the humor is, for lack of a better word, lame, and no advancements in the field of cinematography are present. The film also suffers from its sets, as is the case with most films set in the past, where every location and prop is very recognizably a prop or set, disrupting the immersion of the viewer into the film. Even the message is ill conceived, as the pay off holds a lackluster and anti-climactic quality primarily used to express a point, but in this case the point is so simple and overdone in other mediums that it embodies a sense of emptiness, only adding to the already long list of negatives the movie has. To be fair the film is not poorly made nor acted, but it is not exceptional by any means either.

Mad Max: Fury Road –

Of all the Oscar nominees this year none are as offbeat as George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The film doesn’t fit in with the rest primarily because it’s the fourth in a franchise, and rarely do franchise films make it into the running. George Miller returns to directing the series after a thirty year hiatus, casting a young Tom Hardy as Max rather than the aging Mel Gibson who played him decades ago. Max, however, could have been played by anyone as his only real purpose in the film is to fit the story into the Mad Max universe. And there certainly is a universe which the film takes place, taking the audience away to a twisted, post apocalyptic future filled with disgusting, strange, and bizarre characters and customs. Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa, is really the true main character of the film. The movie itself is fairly entertaining, focusing heavily on visual storytelling and practical special effects. The unique visuals do maintain the films memorability and uniqueness, but the film is plagued by a preference of style over substance. The plot has a basic “point A to point B” structure and lacks any ethical themes or deeper meanings. Fury Road is a quirky, well made action movie, but it is an action movie nonetheless; entertaining visually, but absent in content.

The Revenant –

                Alejandro G. Inarritu, director of last year’s best picture winner Birdman, returns to the best picture nominee list with his latest film The Revenant. The story is one of survival, determination, and the motivation of revenge. Visually the movie sustains the reputation Inarritu made for himself last year, and the same goes for the absolutely stunning cinematography Emanuel Lubezki. Though the film may contain long spaces of silence and a general lack of dialogue in general it never becomes too uninteresting. The visuals alone maintain interest especially for nature lovers, as the gorgeous scenery and natural landscapes often speak for themselves. The wonderfully composed soundtrack also alleviates the silent and isolated scenes. Despite all these positives, the film has been recognized mainly for one thing: Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting. It’s pretty fantastic. DiCaprio manages to keep the audience invested without needing to speak for such a long time, and that is no small feat. You really experience his misfortunes with him. Many are hoping that this will finally be his chance to win best actor and with this performance his chances are high. Though Leo manages to maintain interest in the film, the plot is arguably thin. Additionally, as the film contains a portrayal of Native Americans and American settlers there was a lot of potential for controversy in the realm of inaccurate portrayals, but this was mostly avoided as both the natives and the settlers are depicted as both good and evil, placing the final judgments of morality into the viewers’ hands. The gruesome realism and violence are also note worthy, especially in some of the later fight scenes. All in all, the film is visually stimulating, intense, and, despite a long run time and lengthened periods of silence, worth a viewing.

Bridge of Spies –

Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance is another one of Spielberg’s timepiece films like 2012’s Lincoln and best picture winner Schindler’s List. These films are famous for their unique cinematography as Spielberg often manages to make each shot seem like a historical photograph come to life. In comparison to his most previous historical film, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies is much more entertaining. When making a historical film one of the largest difficulties to overcome is the audiences’ knowledge of the outcome: when the audience knows how the film will end, they are less invested. Obviously Lincoln would end with the thirteenth amendment being passed and his assassination, but not obvious is how this film would end for not everyone knows the story. Tom Hanks carries the film as always, stealing every scene he’s in, except for when Rylance’s character is in the room. The acting by the both of them manage to sustain interest through the long and possibly uninteresting blurbs of heavy dialogue the film is filled with. The story itself is one of diplomacy and hope, focusing on one simple lawyer’s ability to do the right thing despite social prejudice and a genuine fear for his life and the lives of others. It was also surprisingly co-written by the famous directors, the Coen Brothers. The set pieces, unlike other certain other films, appear as if one was looking at the late fifties, not a set imitating the late fifties. Despite some bad computer generated images here and there, and the controversial portrayal of an American war veteran as potentially weak willed, the film is an inspirational, well made, and interesting story that not many were aware existed.

The Martian –

Known for groundbreaking films such as Alien, Blade Runner, and the best picture winner of 2000, Gladiator, Ridley Scott does an exceptional job directing The Martian. Matt Damon brings just the right amount of humor and drama to his character to keep you thoroughly entertained while glued to the screen. The films scientific basis and credibility also give it a certain realism not often found in science fiction. The only un-immersive element within the film is that there is a lot of NASA propaganda. This in itself can barley be considered a flaw, but when in every shot there’s blatant “product placement” the viewer is likely to remember that they’re just watching a movie, not experiencing one. Additionally, of all the survival stories told this year, The Martian holds the title of being the most hopeful and inspiring: the humor, the attitude towards the situation Matt Damon’s character possesses, and the amount of teamwork and endurance the team on earth has all unite to establish this. In short, The Martian’s humor, hope, and intentional realism make it one of the most positive and uplifting films of the year, and, in the process, may inspire some to devote themselves to science.

Spotlight –

Directed by Tom McCarthy, who prior to this was most known for directing the much inferior Adam Sandler movie The Cobbler, makes a gigantic leap forward with his new film Spotlight. The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams and tells the story of an investigative journalism group that single handedly revealed major conspiracy and cover-up by the catholic church of priests molesting children. The movie is exceptionally put together, well acted, and has an intriguing story, but that story may not be for everyone due to its offensive and controversial topic. The power of investigative journalism is shown in its greatest form as the only successful means of tackling corruption and cover-ups and other things that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. However, the movie does focus less on revealing a shocking truth because, as this was based on a true story, many already know the outcome. Instead it focuses on the difficult process of bringing the truth to light and the amount of corruption in seemingly harmless institutions. The story intrigues and the dedication inspires but due to a lack of true surprise the corruption does not enrage; in that regard The Big Short is superior. Otherwise, Spotlight is a great film and worthy nominee.

Room –

Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, tells the story of a woman kidnapped at age seventeen and kept locked in a garden shed for seven years while raising her and her kidnapper’s son in the sullen environment. Real cheery stuff. But that’s not the entire film, as the second act focuses on the child’s first experience of the outside world and the consequences of his tragic upbringing. There’s not too much to say about the film in terms of plot. The film is much more of a character drama, focusing on the psyches of the mother and son. Now, though the story may be tragic, it’s not very depressing. In fact, the film is fairly uplifting. Right off the bat the audience is shown the worst of humanity in a most tragic way, but once they leave the room, Jack, played by the young Jacob Tremblay, experiences the world for the first time. The entire film is told from his perspective, and that really adds to the appreciation for the good things around us. Every little thing we take for granted from leaves to neighbors is suddenly shown in a new light. The only issues the film has are that Brie Larson’s character and the lack of follow through. Though acted well and not technically a flaw of the film, is revealed to be a very amoral and difficult person in the real world, and that takes away a lot of the respect you develop for her through her tragedy. And in terms of resolution the films ends finely, but there remains the fact that so many opportunities to explore the themes and struggles of the characters further are missed. Overall, aside from the film’s missed opportunities it has the potential to successfully change a person’s outlook on life, a true accomplishment in any medium.

The Big Short –

If you want to see a entertaining, genuinely funny, well acted film that demands anger, is chock full of visual and musical symbolism and ethical dilemmas, and concerns just about everyone, then Adam McKay’s The Big Short is for you. The film centers on the housing market crash of 2008 and the microscopic amount of people who saw it coming. It’s about taking a stand and that sometimes you just need to believe in yourself despite what the entire world says. Many people, if in the situations these characters are placed in, would have folded, said that the fact the housing market could crash was preposterous, and that everyone else was right.  The ethics of economics come into play as well with Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt’s characters each showing a different side of the moral coin.  Are those who cheat the system any different than those who corrupt it? Are people really just numbers on a chart? Is money worth their suffering? All these questions and more are proposed. The acting, especially by Christian Bale and Steve Carell, is fantastic, and all of the characters are interesting in their own right. The film has a smug sense of humor, especially through Gosling’s narration, and as personal as it may be, it’s still clever. The soundtrack too sustains the films quality, utilizing songs that fit lyrically into situations as well as in mood. There has yet to be a film that can inspire this much anger against corrupt institutions. Is it political? Slightly, but not in a way that could disrupt the film’s message or offend anyone. Yes, the film can be condescending, yes the economics talks can be hard to follow, but if you can give it your attention and humble yourself a little it can easily become a favorite.

Not all of these films are suitable or appropriate for everyone, so to check the amount of explicit content and rating for each, go to the parental guidance section of the film on imdb.com.

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Best Picture Oscar Nominees 2016