I’m currently embarking on a journey to see all of the 2016 Oscar nominees before the awards are broadcast in February. This week I saw three Best Picture nominees, Spotlight, Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies. I was very pleased with tham all. To me they seemed like old fashioned Best Picture nominees, heavily resembling past Best Picture nominees of the past. This shows both the age and subjectivity of the Academy but also that a film, if made properly, can be of high quality no matter how familiar the story.
I was unaware of Brooklyn until after the nominations were announced and I was very excited to hear that it was written by Nick Hornby. Nick Hornby, who I've written about previously, is one of my favorite writers and his first foray into screenwriting also garnered him a nomination. I saw a lot of similarities between Brooklyn and his first film, An Education, in terms of tone. The film is less dependent on plot than mood, a character study. In Brooklyn, a young woman from a small town in Ireland immigrates to America and has to adapt to a new life without her mother or sister. She slowly builds a new life for herself--getting a job, studying for a career and falling in love with an Irish-American boy--when her life is turned upside down. She returns to Ireland determined to come back to Brooklyn and continue her life only to find her opportunities and circumstances completely changed.
I found this movie to be very soothing, like drinking a warm cup of tea after a long day. The joy was in watching the maturation of Eilis from shy young girl to self-confident woman. There is no dystopian wasteland, financial crisis or impending disaster the Eilis must face, this is a portrait of the struggles and decisions a young woman must make in the formative years of her life. At the start of the film when Eilis takes her initial journey to Brooklyn, she is mentored by another Irish woman who passes her wisdom along and at the close of the film, Eilis becomes the mentor. It is a beautifully done film and Saoirse Ronan is well deserving of the Best Actress nomination. Brooklyn and Room remind me of how much I love the power the Academy has to shed light on films that would not be noticed by a wide audience otherwise. Brooklyn was lyrical and emotional, I don't know if it can be heard over the noise of the larger movies it's up against and take home any awards but It's definitely worthy of the nomination.
Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
There was a slow build to Spotlight that really impressed me with how well it was able to pull it off. Unlike Mad Max: Fury Road where I checked out of pretty early and the movie was never able to bring me back in, Spotlight did the reverse. I pretty quickly noted the channeling of previous Oscar nominee All the President's Men and was skeptical that this film about the Boston Globe uncovering the depth of the Catholic Church abuse scandal would be able to live up to the comparison. However, the story was compelling with strong performances from a stellar ensemble cast. I don't think the performances from Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams stood out so much more than the other cast members or Idris Elba's (SAG awarded) performance in Beasts of No Nation, but you know, I'm not comparing performances.
This film was engrossing and it reminded you of how big the Catholic church scandal was and how many people were affected. The first of two "based on a true story" films I saw this week, I was surprised at how engrossed I was by the end of the film. It was not particularly groundbreaking visually or cinematically, however, but I think the plotting and screenplay were impressive. Spotlight hasn't stuck with me the way Room has, weeks later and I am still thinking of that movie. However, I would recommend the film and thought the SAG award for Best Ensemble was richly deserved. Unfortunately, that category does not exist at the Academy Awards and the movie falls short in the biggest category; Best Picture.
Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Directing, Film Editing, Writing (Original Screenplay)
Bridge of Spies
I was all ready to finish my write up when I noticed that Bridge of Spies was available for me to rent. This film has some of the best pedigree of all of the nominees, starring Tom Hanks, directed by Steven Spielberg and written by the Coen Brothers. There are 35 previous nominations between these three stars alone and a slew of winners. This film is also based on true events, however, unlike Spotlight, the suspense and drama is at a peak throughout. I remember the story of the Cold War spies but it's been so convoluted with the myriad of spy thrillers made about that time it's hard to piece together what's true or not. Bridge of Spies centers around the role private lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) in defending Soviet spy Rudolph Abel and then negotiating his release in exchange for US spy pilot Francis Gary Powers and innocent student Frederic Pryor.
This film was technically superior and I would expect nothing less from a period drama directed by Steven Spielberg. I was quite surprised, based on what I've seen so far, that he did not receive a directing nomination. Of course, this period drama that takes place in New York and both East and West Berlin was well deserving of the Production Design nomination but I also think it could have been nominated for more technical awards. This is the type of film that feels like it's checking boxes for Academy Award recognition but still maintains a good story and a pace. "Oscar Bait" is usually a negative term given to movies of this caliber but I think it was able to keep the focus on the story and I enjoyed the movie thoroughly. Compared to other nominees it definitely fits into the category and with the name power it brings it has a good chance of taking home some awards.
Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role, Music (Original Score), Production Design, Sound Mixing, Writing (Original Screenplay)
Well, I have one final Best Picture nominee to see, how fitting that it is the one movie I dread seeing the most. I'll try to sneak in some additional movies for the other categories but no promises. Life is hard and theaters are expensive :)
Only a few more weeks until the show is aired and the winners are announced. I remain skeptical that any of these films will take home the top prize, but anything can happen. Another reason why I enjoy Oscar season so much is that regardless of the outcomes, I had the pleasure of viewing some great works of cinema. While some people will go home disappointed, by and large, they're millionaires who get to make movies for a living so how bad can you feel for them really?