I have reached a milestone in my hunt for Oscar, having now seen all the Best Picture nominees. I am now moving onto other nominations as I have the chance. There may be fewer movie showings as well since my life decided to get complicated for no reason. After seeing Brooklyn last week and The Revenant this week, I also wanted to mention the amazing year that Bill Weasley has had. Did I say Bill Weasley? I meant Domhnall Gleeson, of course. Domhnall appears in not one but four Academy Award nominated movies: Brooklyn, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Ex Machina. What’s even more impressive is that every film that Domhnall was in this year was nominated for an Oscar, which means that his taste in films and his agents are KILLING THE GAME. Domhnall is also the son of Brendan Gleeson and having a father with that acting pedigree cannot be easy when he decided to go into the same industry. Alternatively, two of the worst films I’ve seen this year have starred Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. Griffith has also had some award winning turns and her daughter is definitely shrinking in her shadow.
I dreaded seeing this movie from the time it was announced as a nominee though my dread came long before the nomination. There is a joke that the script for The Revenant was kept in Leonardo DiCaprio’s house under glass that reads “break by 40 if still without an Oscar”. This joke was definitely in my head while watching this film. I cannot deny the movie its props in regards to cinematography and other technical categories-The Revenant pulling in the most nominations of any other film this year. This film is undeniably beautiful, however, in my opinion, a film is dependent on its plot and story and the execution can only go so far to enhance a failed storyline. I also must acknowledge that I may have been in too militant a headspace (thanks, Beyoncé) to judge fairly.
I was immediately turned off by the use of Native Americans as obstacles for White men to overcome, no different from the other harsh elements that stand in the way of their successful expedition. The Revenant is set in the 1800s of the harsh American wilderness. The plot turns on Leonardo’s character Hugh Glass being mauled by a bear and Tom Hardy’s (Best Supporting Actor) character killing his half-Indian son after a failed attempt to kill Glass and return to the other exhibitioners who have abandoned them. The side-plot centers around the Rhee tribe and Chief on a mission to save his daughter Paquawa from the Englishmen, though she was actually being held by their French allies. It’s also worth noting that in a climactic scene Glass’ helping Paquawa saves him from certain danger. However, I fully expect either The Revenant or Spotlight to take home the top prize as it includes every Oscar cliché known in its pursuit of that goal.
Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Cinematography, Directing, Actor in a Supporting Role, Costume Design, Sound Editing, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Visual Effects
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi we are returned to the Star Wars universe with the rebel alliance in a race to find Luke Skywalker who has retreated into isolation. Orphan and scavenger Rey finds herself on an adventure with disillusioned Stormtrooper Finn. While on the search for Luke Skywalker, Finn and Rey encounter Chewbacca and Han Solo all while outrunning fascist regime, the First Order.They also encounter pilot Poe Dameron and General (Princess) Leia. inside the First Order we see Kylo Ren, (SPOILER!) a former Jedi seduced by the Dark Side and enamored with his grandfather Darth Vader, work with the First Order to crush the rebel alliance with their superweapon the Star Killer Base.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens continues JJ Abrams' brilliant track record of rebooting beloved franchises. Very quickly I noticed the similarities between The Force Awakens and A New Hope, the first movie in the Star Wars franchise, both in tone and plot. Though the film is essentially a remake of the original I found it both brilliant in its execution and in the reasoning behind it. By knowing where the plot was going, I was able to spend more time with the new characters. There were so many references and callbacks to other parts of the franchise that it was quite enjoyable to watch and very easy to fall into that suspension of disbelief that is so powerful while watching Star Wars.
Visual Effects, Music (Original Score), Sound Mixing, Film Editing, Sound Editing
Ex Machina was one of those films I was interested in from the beginning it was announced yet somehow never made it to the theaters to actually see it. There are very few times when a movie hits so many of my personal interest: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and the threat of the robot takeover. Ex Machina is about the administration of the Turing test on an Android with advanced AI by a programmer, Caleb Smith. Caleb was chosen by his employer, billionaire genius Nathan who invented the android, Ava. Caleb builds a relationship with Ava over a week of conversations and decides to try to help her escape.
Ex Machina was a very engrossing film and though it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, I believe it would have been well deserving of Best Picture and Best Director. The juxtaposition of the beautiful wilderness and the sterile "house" which is actually a research facility was so well executed and thoughtful. Domhnall puts in a great performance as well as Alicia Vikander - who did get some nominations for her performance from other award shows. Oscar Isaac (another actor killing the game) portrays the "eccentric billionaire" as both sympathetic and menacing. His ability to charm and manipulate Caleb is as important and impressive as Ava's. I loved this film and as much as I had personal misgivings about the subject matter and how close to reality this is, I felt the story was creative and well executed. The perfect pairing of story and technique - these are the types of films that the Academy should be holding up.
Visual Effects, Writing (Original Screenplay)