Monday, February 29, 2016

The 88th Annual Academy Awards - Reaction

Another Oscars have come and gone and it was an interesting night, both for the totally expected winners that I was thrilled to see walk away with awards and also for some surprises. Some good...and one that was downright awful. 

I have come to expect that my personal favorite films will not always align with what the Oscars recognize, although my number one picture of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road, did win the most total. It just didn't win Best Director or Best Picture, which in my opinion it was far and away the right choice for those categories but eh, what can you do? I'm not going to lose sleep over the lack of a George Miller acceptance speech or a Fury Road win of the top prize, but I am always baffled how a movie can be recognized for so many different aspects of what went into the process, and yet the vision of the genius who brought it to the screen isn't worthy. Fury Road was considered better than The Revenant in numerous categories, yet somehow what Inarritu achieved surpasses that of the work of Miller? I will never understand.

That's where I will lead off in terms of reaction, the Best Director win for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, his second consecutive and frankly he deserved neither. Last year he accepted an award that belonged in the hands of Richard Linklater for his absolutely brilliant craft of Boyhood, and now this year he gave a speech that was meant for George Miller. I have no angst for Inarritu or his films, in fact I ranked Birdman in my top ten last year, but the direction of masterpieces for two straight years have been ignored. 

I was honestly pretty darn happy that The Revenant didn't win Best Picture as well, although it wasn't that big of a surprise because I correctly predicted it wouldn't. To be fair, I picked The Big Short, but I was waffling between that and Spotlight which was the winner after all. The reason I had narrowed it down to those two films was the preferential ballot that is utilized for the Best Picture category only. Other categories the award simply goes to the person or film that received the most first place votes, but Best Picture works a little differently. In order to instantly win Best Picture, a film must receive 50% + 1 of the first place votes, which essentially never happens because of the expansion of the category to more films. Example, this year eight beloved films were nominated, no chance one of those eight was going to get over 50% of the vote right away. Long story short, assuming no film gets that large amount of first place votes, it then starts to matter that you were listed in second or third place on ballots and that's where the logic of picking either The Big Short or Spotlight comes in.

The Revenant is either held up as an absolute masterpiece or is considered a strange, ponderous misfire which would result in it being at the bottom of the eight options on many ballots. I don't think it's either, to be clear. I think it's a really terrific film that was exhausting to watch and too damn long, and with 30 minutes to go I grew weary of the spectacle and just wanted it to end. Spotlight and The Big Short may not have received the most first place votes, but they were far more likely to be listed second and third on a vast majority of the ballots because no one really hated those films. They were either the best or almost the best, and Spotlight reaped the benefits of this on Oscar night. It's a tremendous and important film so I'm glad it did, it was my #2 of the category behind only Fury Road.

Best Actor, we all knew it was coming and I was happy for the man. Leo DiCaprio. Nominated for the sixth time and finally a winner, and honestly he has deserved it far more for previous films but I don't begrudge him from his moment now. I would have given him the gold in 2013 for The Wolf of Wall Street which I found to be far more impressive and nuanced than his turn in The Revenant, but the narrative of just how difficult shooting The Revenant and the weather conditions he dealt with lead to an impossible to stop runaway train of votes that meant an inevitable win. Personally my favorite of the nominees was Matt Damon, but he never had a chance.

As for Best Actress, Brie is just so wonderful. Love that she won, love her. I didn't know when it would happen or what film it would happen for, but after seeing the astonishing Short Term 12 (on Netflix now, look it up now!) I said Brie Larson would win an Oscar at some point. Happened pretty darn soon after. The funny thing is, she wouldn't even have been my winner if it were up to me since Charlotte Rampling was her competition and she delivered my single favorite performance of the year in 45 Years, but Brie was my very, very close second place and I couldn't be happier she won. So beautiful, so talented, so seemingly likable, and her performance in Room was powerful and haunting.

In the supporting categories we had one surprise and one I predicted for a while now. Mark Rylance winning for Bridge of Spies over Sylvester Stallone in Creed was the surprise. It just seemed like Stallone's year and he would have received my vote, and my runner up would have been Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation who wasn't even nominated. Rylance was great, don't get me wrong, but I was underwhelmed in comparison to some of the other supporting work that moved me in 2015. On the other side, Alicia Vikander is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses and I am happy she won, although it was for the wrong role. Her best performance of the year came in Ex Machina, but I guess she deserves credit for being the only redeeming quality of the shameful, awful movie The Danish Girl. I look forward to many more nominations for Vikander for years to come, because her talent is undeniable and she is here to stay.

Speaking of Ex Machina, which was one of the finest films of the year, I love that it is officially an Oscar winning film but the fact that it won for its visual effects left me speechless for a moment. Not that it didn't have top notch effect work which was even more impressive considering it was a relatively unknown indie picture rather than a massive blockbuster with a enormous budget, but up against films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road, I really didn't consider the possibility that Ex Machina could win. It did. 

At the start of this post I mentioned a surprise on the night that was downright awful and it's about time I address it. Best Song. How in the holy hell did Sam Smith win for that dull, drab, lifeless song from the new Bond film Spectre when Lady Gaga was nominated for her BRILLIANT song from the documentary The Hunting Ground? Did not enough people see that film? Did no one hear the song prior to voting? Was I the only one that was banging my head on a table in order to stay awake during the Sam Smith song?

The Hunting Ground is an eye opening, important film about the rape culture epidemic on college campuses around the country, and Lady Gaga wrote an amazing song for it that brings tears to my eyes. Then she performs it at the Oscars, again, tears to my eyes. A couple hours before this, Sam Smith was out there singing a lullaby to us, and that's the song that wins? That Writing on the Wall nap time shit? Goodness. I couldn't believe it. I still can't. I think I would need voters to explain to me why they voted the way they did, and the only possibility I can conceive of is that a lot of them didn't watch The Hunting Ground and didn't go out of their way to hear the song associated with it. It can't be that they actually believed Smith wrote and performed a better song, and I have trouble even considering this a matter of opinion. 

Besides my disgust in the song department, it was a enjoyable Oscar night and a lot of very worthy people won. If you haven't seen Spotlight, please do. It's not a flashy film but it is deserving of being called the best, even if it would have been my personal silver medalist. Journalism films are really difficult to get right, and not only did Tom McCarthy get it right but he crafted a potential classic that tells a profound, unsettling story about sexual abuse in the Catholic church. It's perfectly acted and important, a true story about real people who were brave enough to pull the cover off of a widespread tragedy despite threats from powerful people to try and stop them. A lot of times the film that wins Best Picture is quickly forgotten, but I have a feeling that won't be the case this time around.


  1. We had most of the same thoughts...haha. Still don't see why everyone thought Stallone was going to win. Shocked BoS guy won, he was the weakest in my opinion and the comedy releif, I would have loved Tom Hardy to win supporting since he totally stole The Revenant from Leo. I liked leo in it, but it felt he won because everybody in the nation was crying over spilt milk.

    As for the song, is it really that awful? I mean, the more I listen to it the more I enjoy it, but it can't be God Awful as people are saying. Can it be interpreted as boring? Of course, music is suggestive, but even you have to admit that the songs this year were.....drab. Even Lady Gaga. I liked the message, and the song, but halfway through I felt like taking a nap.

    And as for Ex Machina, except for Vikander's face Eva is all CGI. Reading some interviews about the making of Ex Machina and in particular the SFX is so astounding that it was a shoe in they'd win.

    Overall I enjoyed this years oscars. Better than last years.

    1. Completely agree on Leo. Him winning doesn't bother me, it's fine, whatever, but he wouldn't have been my choice. I agree that he wasn't even the best performance in that film.

      Should probably mention that I really, really don't care for Sam Smith's music in general so was never likely to enjoy his Bond song. I find it to be insufferably boring, but that's how I view all of his music. Of the three performances shown, he would come in third for me, and if you include the two other songs nominated he would come in a distant fifth. I'm sure others enjoy it, hell I know Sam Smith has a lot of fans, but no thank you haha.

      I think Ex Machina just surprised me because it just felt like the underdog against those big films. Mad Max, Star Wars, Martian, Revenant...and then an indie Sci fi picture distributed by A24. Just one of those times I wondered if the politics of the awards would even give Machina a chance, so when they said it I was shocked. I guess it didn't win a single effects award leading up to the Oscars either and this is the first time in history a film won nothing before winning that category from the Academy.

    2. Okay,
      1.) If you take the bias away from the artist in the song would you say the hatred towards it is mostly because it's a Bond song, rather than a bad song?
      2.)And that's exactly why I think it was more obvious for Ex Machina. I mean, it's great that big budget films have enough money to do some amazing scenes. Like the mad max sandstorm. That was breathtaking, but I still knew it was fake. With Ex Machina I had no idea how they used the CGI, and when they were showing bits of it on the oscars it still surprises me how realistic the CG was, and because it made you question whether it was CG or not is the biggest reason I leaned towards it.

    3. 1) a fair question but I actually really liked the Adele Bond song. I thought it suited the into so well and kept the momentum going after the outstanding opening sequence, where as here an outstanding opening sequence fell off a cliff with a slow, boring song from Smith. I just don't care for his style at all, haha.

      You make a very great point regarding Ex Machina winning the effects award, and that's the thing, I don't think it was unworthy. I am pretty damn happy it won. I guess I just figure the politics of the Oscars can overwhelm a film actually getting what they deserve, and that the big budget pictures would find a way to get the votes they need over the little guy.