Best Picture Nominee Round-Up 2016

Once again, I have been able to see all of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees.  Like last year, I am going to give a brief overview of all eight nominees in alphabetical order.  Note that I am not trying to predict anything; I’m just talking about my opinion.  And for the first time in a while, I’m very happy with all the movies nominated.  As a whole, this is definitely a step up from previous years!

The Big Short:

A comedy about the 2007-ish financial conditions that led to the major recession…wait, did I say “comedy”?  Yep.  While not funny throughout–it’s still about the country’s financial collapse–it manages to tackle the subject in an approachable manner.  It goes so far as to break the 4th wall to explain complicated terms to the audience, which was a fun touch.  Even with the explanations, it occasionally went over my head, so I couldn’t quite understand the personal stakes near the end.  Still, it’s both educational and entertaining, a rare combination.  7/10

Bridge of Spies:

There is nothing flashy about this movie.  No real action scenes, or secret traitors, or characters yelling with drawn pistols.  It is simply a mostly-true story of an international negotiation at the height of the Cold War.  Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance give stellar acting performances, and the script is full of quiet tension.  The audience is very much invested in the two main characters, and that keeps things exciting until the very end.  7/10

Brooklyn:

Saoirse Ronan has been on my radar since 2007, in Atonement.  She is nearly always excellent and delivers again here as an Irish immigrant looking for a better life in America.  It turns into a love story, and the whole endeavor could be classified as “sweet.”  There is some mystery at the end as to how things will turn out, and for a moment, the filmmakers very nearly lost me.  But the movie redeemed itself in my eyes, and I was back on board.  Sometimes it’s nice to see a movie about happiness and optimism. 8/10

Mad Max: Fury Road:

Most likely the best action movie of the year, and calling it an “action movie” doesn’t do it justice.  This movie has more imagination on display than most comic book movies can dream of.  Combined with memorable music, stunning cinematography, jaw-dropping vehicular stunts, and the revival of an iconic character, this movie has got more going for it than just an “action movie.”  8/10

The Martian:

I am slightly biased against this movie, actually.  I listened to the audiobook, which has so much more detail that I couldn’t get it out of my head while watching the movie, and I noticed everything that was left out.  The resulting movie to me felt far too easy for Mark Watney to get home.  I’ve been assured by people who only saw the movie that it didn’t feel this way to them.  I certainly can’t argue with the acting, effects, and overall tone; they were spot on.  But it’s not as good as the book.  7/10

The Revenant:

Impressive in every way.  The Canadian wilderness looks beautiful and deadly.  The long shots and gruesome effects blend together seamlessly.  Leonardo DiCaprio commits to what looks like the most uncomfortable acting job I can ever remember.  If there is one complaint, it’s that maybe there is one too many obstacles before the culmination of the story.  At 2 1/2 hours, it wouldn’t have missed one of the many hardships that Leo’s character endures.  They’re all good though, so I wouldn’t know what to cut.  I’d like to discuss the final shot with people too.  8/10

Room:

I can’t believe I’m going to use this old cliche, but the movie is actually an emotional roller coaster.  I know, I know, but it’s true.  I ran the gamut of emotions during this, since I didn’t know much about it, so I didn’t know what kind of movie it would turn out to be.  I struggled to identify with some choices the main character made, but I went with it because I’ve never been in that situation.  I did think it meandered a little after a strong start, but it never got boring.  8/10

Spotlight:

These kind of sensitive topics (in this case, the Catholic sex-abuse scandal) are often overly dramatic “Oscar bait” material.  Luckily, Spotlight isn’t a dramatization of those events, but follows a team of journalists who uncovered the story.  With very little cooperation from anyone, it was only their determination and their editor’s faith in them that led to bringing such a crime to light.  The acting is great all around, especially Mark Ruffalo, and the movie is almost a thriller as you discover new clues along with the team.  Not funny like The Big Short, but similarly educational and enthralling.  8/10

This year has been a marked improvement on average from the past, with the majority earning 8/10 stars from me.  The other three are all wonderful and could easily have been rated that highly as well.  The Martian would have made it if I didn’t read the book, Big Short would have if I was slightly more able to follow the technical details, and Bridge of Spies would have if I was more of a history buff or if it was slightly faster paced.  I recommend seeing every movie on this list.  Of the 5 I ranked highest, I want Mad Max to win because it would be great for my studio, Warner Bros., and because it would be nice for the Oscars to not only go to low-budget dramas every year.  Plus, I have no doubt I’ll be watching Fury Road many more times in the future than the rest of these.  However, what I think will win is The Revenant.  It’s good at all aspects of filmmaking, so it should have broad support from the different voters–actors, directors, effects, etc.

I wonder if the Academy is voting for more mainstream movies on purpose lately.  Of this group, I would only consider Room to be a traditional independent film.  Everything else, even Brooklyn, was full of familiar names and faces.  Hopefully this indicates a new trend, where respected filmmakers can get quality movies made by the studios, without the indies having to be the standard-bearers for Oscar movies.

Ryan S. Davis

I love board games, thrill rides and travel. I'm happy to watch and review all kinds of movies, from mainstream blockbusters to art house indies. As a Warner Bros. employee, I'm privileged with a glimpse of Hollywood many don't see, but my opinions here are my own and not representative of the company.

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