2016 Oscars Best Picture Nominations Roundup

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The 88th Academy Awards, to be broadcast on Feb. 28 at 7:00 p.m. EST from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, CA, has been shined with a dim light in recent weeks since The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominees. Opinions have been flying and, though all are valid, have distracted from the Award’s true purpose: the celebration of film. The story on every headline regards an important and immediate problem that has to be solved, but I’d like to take a step back from it for a moment and look at this year’s Best Picture nominees. This section will strive to find the light in the darkness, even if it may require pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

The Best Picture slate this year has a little of everything, just like your favorite three course meal. Best Picture is typically earmarked for dramas, but 2015 presents a main course of action drama; a sprinkle of indie spice; and a tall glass of comedy. And for desert? One scoop of political thriller sorbet to clean your palate. Voila! Bon appétit! Now that dinner is served, let’s dig in.

The Big Short
You wouldn’t think that the man behind Anchorman and Talladega Nights would be able to tackle such an issue as the 2008 crash of the United States housing market and achieve it with an artistic self-awareness that audiences are not accustomed to. Attempting to entertain, as well as educate, writer/director Adam McKay frequently breaks the fourth wall to carry the audience along for the ride. The Big Short follows a group of off-Wall St. lenders and analysts who saw what no one else dared to glance at: the instability of the housing market. They plot to short, or bet against, the market in anticipation of massive returns when the defaulting bonds they have shorted go bust. But when they realize what they have done — bet on a broken system — reality takes out its bat and takes a big swing for the fences sending our guys into a spiral of riches and melancholy understanding. Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, and Brad Pitt, The Big Short was a favorite of mine in 2015 because of its light-hearted, human approach to a side of, perhaps, the most somber event of the last decade.

Its nomination is well deserved, but I do not anticipate The Big Short to take home the prize. The nominations list has some heavyweight fighters on it, and The Big Short sports a mean right hook, but the field seems too stacked for producers Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner to be walking on stage on Oscar Sunday.

Additional nominations: Actor In A Supporting Role, Christian Bale; Directing, Adam McKay; Film Editing, Hank Corwin; Adapted Screenplay, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay

Bridge of Spies
There are certain players in Hollywood that play on another level from others. If the director is the head coach, Steven Spielberg is Bill Belichick. Tom Hanks is Tom Brady. When these two pair up, you can count on the movie being good. Bridge of Spies is no exception. Hanks plays James Donovan, a Cold War era insurance lawyer chosen to represent captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Rylance delivers the performance of note. Political thrillers run few and far between nowadays, but Bridge of Spies is another top tier film in 2015.

Additional nominations: Actor In A Supporting Role, Mark Rylance; Original Score, Thomas Newman; Production Design, Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration, Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich; Sound Mixing, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Drew Kunin; Original Screenplay, Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

I will admit it: I am a crier. When movies can make me well up, that’s a sign that I am thoroughly enjoying myself. Congratulations, Brooklyn. Some are calling the lead, Saoirse Ronan, a “breakout star,” but I wouldn’t call her a “breakout.” She’s been here for years. Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her role in Atonement, Ronan delivers again as Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who immigrates to New York in search of a better life. Set in the 1950s, Brooklyn’s exploration of themes like family, home, and the mysteries of the heart is shown elegantly by director John Crowley. The film is visually stunning, with an intriguing script that uses the juxtaposition of cultures to its advantage.

Additional nominations: Actress In A Leading Role, Saoirse Ronan; Adapted Screenplay, Nick Hornby

Mad Max: Fury Road
Perhaps the biggest “dark horse” nominee among the eight nominated films is director George Miller’s wasteland road rager. What I remember after eight months since its May release are the stunning visual effects, dynamic cinematography, and music. Starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road is an epic journey through endless desert to escape the clutches of Immortan Joe. It is not a complex story that makes this film as brilliant as it is. It is the rooted effort to achieve originality that sets Fury Road up for brilliance. Personally, I think Mad Max: Fury Road has the smallest chance of winning Best Picture simply because of how unlike typical Oscar winners it is. It is not the best film of the year, but it is my personal favorite.

Additional nominations: Cinematography, John Seale; Costume Design, Jenny Beavan; Directing, George Miller; Film Editing, Margaret Sixel; Makeup and Hairstyling, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin; Production Design, Colin Gibson; Set Decoration, Lisa Thompson; Sound Editing, Mark Mangini and David White; Sound Mixing, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo; Visual Effects, Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, and Andy Williams

The Martian
Ridley Scott’s The Martian traps Mark Watney on Mars after a storm separates him from his team. The team is forced to liftoff after connection with Watney is lost. Surviving the storm, Mark must retrofit his skills and equipment to survive while attempting to make contact with Earth. At face value, there’s not much difference than Cast Away or Robinson Crusoe but The Martian takes a unique approach to the survival story, and not at the expense of character. Watney is not the serious survivalist most left-alone stories star. Watney is a charismatic man with a self-aware sense of humor. The film hits on a series of comedic instances that paces the film quite nicely. Most of the drama, in fact, takes place back on Earth as the world tries to establish contact and wade through the public relations disaster that is leaving someone alive on Mars. Some are calling Ridley Scott’s not being nominated for Best Director one of this year’s most glaring snubs, and I am inclined to agree. The pacing, comedic, and production elements of The Martian are to be celebrated and, though the film did receive a number of other nominations, Scott should be congratulated on another successful venture into sci-fi.

Additional nominations: Actor In A Leading Role, Matt Damon; Production Design, Arthur Max; Set Decoration, Celia Bobak; Adapted Screenplay, Drew Goddard

The Revenant
Only two directors in history have won back-to-back Best Picture awards: John Ford in 1940 (The Grapes of Wrath) and 1941 (How Green Was My Valley), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 (A Letter To Three Wives) and 1950 (All About Eve). Alejandro G. Iñárritu can join this list with his exposé on the resilience of the human spirit and the will to survive. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as hunter/explorer Hugh Glass, The Revenant is a powerful film that achieves excellence on a number of different levels, none more so than the acting and cinematography. Leonardo DiCaprio is a fan favorite to win the Best Leading Actor category, and Emmanuel Lubezki could be receiving his third consecutive Oscar for cinematography, having won in 2013 for Gravity and in 2014 for Birdman.

Another of my favorites of 2015, The Revenant is being discussed as one of the films most likely to take home the ultimate prize, though it will not be easy.

Additional nominations: Actor In A Leading Role, Leonardo DiCaprio; Actor In A Supporting Role, Tom Hardy; Cinematography, Emmanuel Lubezki; Costume Design, Jacqueline West; Directing, Alejandro G. Iñárritu; Film Editing, Stephen Mirrione; Makeup and Hairstyling, Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini; Production Design, Jack Fisk; Set Decoration Hamish Purdy; Sound Editing, Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender; Sound Mixing, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thorn and Chris Duesterdiek; Visual Effects, Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer

One year ago, an independent film called Whiplash was nominated for Best Picture. Audiences stormed theaters as a result of the nomination and persistent positive word of mouth. The film received a strong following and a hefty bump at the box office, all stemming from sheer quality. This year, the film I anticipate reaching similar credit is Room. Brie Larson plays Ma, a young mother who, seven years prior, was abducted and put away in a garden shed called “Room.” Now, Ma and her five-year-old son Jack must gain their freedom so Jack can experience life outside Room for the first time. Director Lenny Abrahamson explores the power of love, family, and the beauty of the world despite its worst occurrences to present a beautiful film. Based on the novel of the same name, Room is adapted for the screen by the book’s author Emma Donoghue. Good movies that exist strictly within a genre have anticipated reactions. Action movies should raise your heart rate. Comedies should make you smile. Dramas should make you cry. But great movies are able to use elements from all these to fuel its story. On a series of occasions, Room had me crying, or smiling, or having a heart attack. This is a gripping story and a film worth treating yourself to. Larson has already received a number of awards for her performance and is my choice for Best Leading Actress. Though not nominated, young Jacob Tremblay has also been recognized for his performance as Jack, and rightfully so.

Additional nominations: Best Leading Actress, Brie Larson; Directing, Lenny Abrahamson; Adapted Screenplay, Emma Donoghue

I have not seen a courtroom drama accomplish what Spotlight was able to. In any number of ways, this film could have fallen apart. There are so many moving parts, but director Tom McCarthy is able to keep the train on the tracks. Certainly one of the best ensemble pieces in recent years, Spotlight is the story of the “Spotlight” investigative team at the Boston Globe during the development of the Pulitzer Prize winning exposé of abuse in the Boston clergy in 2001. The brilliance of Spotlight is in the delivery of its message. The film is essentially a biopic, meaning we know how the story ends. What we may not know, and where the delivery lies, is the journey and the characters’ reactions to the startling revelations of the story. This was executed with an elegance and maturity that you would come to expect from champion journalists. There’s no childish shouting matches or nonsensical overreaction. Only a gripping and disturbingly unsettling story unfolding itself before your eyes.

Additional nominations: Actor In A Supporting Role, Mark Ruffalo; Actress In A Supporting Role, Rachel McAdams; Film Editing, Tom McArdle; Original Screenplay, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy