It’s the awards show that caps off the awards season and is regarded as the highest honor in film making. It brings the biggest names in entertainment together for one night to reminisce, to reward and to replay the highlights from the previous year’s best films. It’s part runway show, part concert, part comedy roast and thanks to today’s social media culture, it’s instantly a discussion starter. The discussion kicks off with the nominations and progresses long after the Vanity Fair party has ended.
This year, five of BLEEP’s contributors came together to talk about the nominated films, our other favorites from the year, the year’s hot topics, and YES, we talk about Star Wars.
Let’s start with the Best Picture nominees. The first film reunites two of Oscar’s most beloved creative forces, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, in Bridge of Spies.
HATLEY: The subject matter is one that’s very interesting. He’s a character that was incredibly influential during the Cold War, and the film has a sense of serious urgency, while also being brilliantly and subtly humorous, something that fits perfectly in the fast-paced, slow burn of the Cold War era.
RYAN: For me, it’s just nice to see Tom Hanks being all “Tom Hanks” on the big screen in a Spielberg movie.
LAURA: That’s the thing though… it was Tom Hanks, “being all ‘Tom Hanks’” in a “slow-burn” period film. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a misstep in Bridge of Spies. The story is well paced, the performances are engaging, and the subtle gray tint of the film gives the movie that classic thriller ambiance, just as was intended. Everything here rings true, and I would expect nothing less from Spielberg & Co. But I might have been better satisfied with a little bit more, too.
RACHAEL: This movie surprised me, in a good way. I was waiting for a run-of-the-mill spy story, but what I got instead was a deeply moving snapshot of what it means to be ethical and moral in the midst of trying circumstances. I also think Mark Rylance’s performance is one of the best supporting actor performances of the past decade.
Two of the Best Picture nominees this year have had quiet runs at the box office, but offered two of the strongest female roles, not only of this year, but of the past few years. What did you think about Brooklyn?
CALEB: I loved this way more than I expected to. It’s a period piece that both felt like a period piece but was also very relevant. I grew up on old Hollywood films and this felt like one of them, albeit a much prettier one. As far as the subject matter and performances, wow, this felt like it could’ve been set today. I’ve been following Saoirse Ronan’s career for a while, but her performance in this was a real level-up moment. PS: Emory Cohen for young Han Solo.
LAURA: Brooklyn was such a delight to watch, which is a phrase that cannot be as easily applied to many of the other films on this list. It isn’t just that Saoirse Ronan gives such a splendid performance, and it isn’t just that the production design is so beautifully expressive – both of which are totally true. I had the exact same thought as Caleb: Brooklyn somehow feels like an old classic, simple and soft, but still boldly romantic.
RYAN: This is a story about an immigrant coming to America and building a life for herself. It’s sweet, it’s charming, and even though it’s a period film, it’s startlingly relevant.
HATLEY: It’s a beautifully shot movie that Saoirse Roman gives one of the best performances of the year.
The other film that featured a stand-out female lead was Room.
LAURA: When I originally read Emma Donoghue’s novel several years ago, I did so all at once – without pausing to sleep, eat, maybe even to breathe. This excellent film inspired the same exhilaration. The true triumph of this film was how seamlessly it was transitioned from page to screen. Of course it helps to have the original author as your screenwriter, but Room is simply the most faithful adaptation I have ever seen.
RYAN: Brie Larson is getting the credit for this, and she should, but really, the boy is the foundation, the root and the star of the film. Jacob Tremblay was so good, I felt like I was the one wrapped up in a rug, terrified of absolutely everything around me. I felt that terror deep in the pit of my stomach in the same way I felt my heart lift as he discovered a real world around him.
HATLEY: I went into this cold, not knowing anything about it. Holy crap. Not only did I cry three times, I was unbelievably tense the entire time, which is impressive since the only really suspenseful part is about ten minutes of the film. The performances from Larson and Jacob Tremblay are incredible, and this movie goes from something that I thought was a sci-fi movie, to a brilliantly honest and tastefully disturbing film.
CALEB: Fantastic with so much emotion and so much suspense (even in the scenes where the ‘big bad’ had been dealt with). Nothing up to this point has made me feel such empathy for people who’ve been in situations like this. This one nailed that intimate nature, without feeling voyeuristic.
RACHAEL: It was extraordinary and Jacob Tremblay should have been nominated.
It’s impossible to talk about strong females in movies this year without referencing Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.
LAURA: I came into Mad Max: Fury Road as a total newb, just barely aware that there was some 80’s trilogy that Mel Gibson had something to do with. George Miller wastes not a single second to let the viewer acclimate to this strange, grimy new world and I felt as though I spent two hours trying to hang on and avoid road rash. The production design of this film is endlessly creative and committed, and deserves every award it gets. I’m so excited to see a bona-fide action flick among some of the usual biopics and such this year.
RYAN: It’s a really simple story isn’t it? It’s the rescue motif with a post-apocalyptic setting. But where it became so interesting to me is when it became clear that this was ultimately a girl-power film. That’s when it went from “the sequel no one asked for” to “can’t miss revelatory film.” It’s the girl-power film Joy aspired to be.
RACHAEL: I agree that this is a “girl-power” film. The performances were strong and the visuals amazing.
HATLEY: George Miller renewed everything we loved from the original trilogy, Tom Hardy is perfect as Max, and Charlize Theron is one of the most kick ass characters of the year. I agree with Ryan that this is also a brilliant way to have a feminist film without it being so in your face that you lose focus on the story matter. It’s beautifully over the top two hour car chase is so brilliantly done in a way that only an experienced director can accomplish.
Mad Max leads the pack of Sci-Fi/Adventure which includes The Martian, Star Wars, Ex Machina. Is Sci Fi becoming more high-art?
RYAN: I think it’s interesting to see solid storytelling told within any genre. To me, that’s the key. In terms of Mad Max, The Martian and Ex Machina, it’s about the sum of their parts equaling something more than a popcorn movie. It’s a fine line and I’m not sure who gets to draw that line, but to me, there’s a palpable difference between Mad Max and Star Wars. I loved Star Wars but it felt like a “popcorn movie” whereas Mad Max felt more highbrow for some reason.
LAURA: With shows like Black Mirror and Humans on TV this year, artificial intelligence seems to be the new boogeyman, a lingering threat that inspires both fear and curiosity. Ex Machina will undoubtedly take its place as a cornerstone of AI-related sci-fi, and I really think this movie should also have taken a spot in the Best Picture category. The three cast members each give electrifying performances. The cinematography is sleek and surreal. Most of all, the script is brilliant, merging high-concept ideas with the basic, sometimes Neanderthal, compulsions of humanity. It’s The Most Dangerous Game for the modern tech world, and it’s terrifying.
HATLEY: It’s interesting, because all the movies you described are so unbelievably different, while still being able to all fall under the ‘sci-fi’ genre. With masterpieces such as 2001 and Alien, I think sci-fi has always been high art, but like all the other genres, there are a ton of awful ones. It’s interesting though, because the awful sci-fi movies, like horror, still become very successful, overshadowing the few diamonds in the rough of sci-fi that still manage to sneak in there.
CALEB: Going off of what Hatley said, I think there’s definitely been some sort of digression after decades of people riffing on something that started out sort of high art (the first Star Wars, for example, is a piece of technical genius) to please the masses. I like that people are now shifting away from the status quo and not letting ‘genre’ define the content on every level. I think genre is merely a starting canvas to tell any story, and I’m glad people are being validated to do that now. More and more lately, people are realizing that character can be spectacle and that spectacle isn’t character.
LAURA: I don’t know that Sci-Fi is “becoming” more or less high-art. I think Hatley said it right: sci-fi films have always scattered across the spectrum, from the cerebral upper-crust to the gooey and god-awful. I do think we are currently living through a sci-fi renaissance of sorts, and it is growing in popularity and importance, which is really exciting. This is the genre that fosters the most original content and promotes the most exciting technological advances in production.
The Martian isn’t exactly science fiction, but it is a space-centric film that plays off the same grand scope of the universe, and it’s the in Best Picture race.
HATLEY: This is a two and a half hour movie where everyone does their job correctly, but somehow, it still is a hilarious film that is one part intelligent, and never-endingly tense. I also always forget that Jeff Daniels is an incredible dramatic actor. He’ll always be Harry in my heart, but I think that’s what is beautiful in his work; I don’t think that at all when I’m watching him.
RYAN: This is the most “popcorn” of the films in Best Picture this year, but it was a great story, told well, with a great cast, rooted in a not-too-distant reality that felt approachable and realistic.
CALEB: This is one of the films I enjoyed the most in 2015. I agree with Ryan that this one definitely falls into “popcorn” territory, but it was so balanced in its execution that it feels worthy. It felt like (Oscar winner) Apollo 13, and the fact that it could pull that off while not being based on an actual true story (it sure felt real) impressed me. It’s one of those films that reminds me why I love going to the movies.
RACHAEL: This is what Interstellar and Gravity attempted to be.
LAURA: The Martian is just about flawless. What more is there to say? It is the only movie on this list that I turned around and saw a second time, just because I wanted to.
The Martian was a giant hit, but let’s face it, there wasn’t a bigger hit this year than Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
CALEB: I can’t say enough good things about it. If a movie of this magnitude needs to be nitpicked to find flaws, then we should all be sending JJ Abrams gift baskets. I’ve seen it three times so far, and each viewing is a new delight. The new additions to the cast are my favorite: each one seems to fit seamlessly into the galaxy, and I love what they bring to the table. I absolutely love what Disney is doing with this franchise; I think as far as the expanded universe of multimedia around it (essentially they’re reverse engineering the Marvel approach), they’re managing to take a commercial giant and cradle it in loving hands to give the fans something that feels curated for them. I feel like a kid again.
RYAN: I really did enjoy it, but the level of promotion and sponsorship and commercials tied to it were really too much. To me, that represented what this film is, a commercial product akin to Jurassic World or The Avengers. I liked all of those films, but did we need coffee creamer that looked like C3PO? The movie would have sold without it.
RACHAEL: I enjoyed my R2D2 French Vanilla Coffee Mate, thank you.
HATLEY: I know you didn’t just call out BB-8 Ryan. He’s the freaking best.
LAURA: Of course the movie would have sold without droid-inspired coffee creamer; Star Wars stuff is marketed in order to sell the stuff, not the movie. And it’s really the only franchise that can so easily carry that economy the way it does. I’m just glad that The Force Awakens delivered so tremendously well. It entertained worldwide, across generations, from the oblivious first-timers to the action-figure-collecting, canon-preaching super-geeks. Bring on Episode VIII and all the C3PO coffee creamer that follows!
Some people thought Star Wars, because of its box office clout, might sneak into Best Picture, which it didn’t. There were some other big films that some perceived as snubs when the nominations came out for the Best Picture race. Inside Out seems like a sure win in the animation category, but it missed out on the Best Picture nomination.
CALEB: I didn’t love this like I love some Pixar films, but I also think it’s one of their best ones. I think it’s a Godsend for people with kids, and if that’s not worth commending I don’t know what is. It’s easily one of their most important offerings.
RYAN: This one didn’t make me cry like it did for so many others. Perhaps it was because I was too focused on the intricate and incredible storytelling. This, much like so many Pixar films, was elevated storytelling where the depth of the film really flies over the kids’ heads.
LAURA: Wow, are you two devoid of tear ducts or something? I was sobbing like a gold-medal Olympic champion by the end of this movie, for the same reasons you mentioned – unique storytelling. The emotional level was definitely too high up for the little ones to grasp, but that was perhaps Inside Out’s greatest strength; The film was a beautiful and poignant reminder to adults that we are all made up of similar stuff, and it is essential to hold on to a little bit of childhood.
RACHAEL: I was not expecting to love this as much as I did. I think it taps into what it is like to be an adolescent girl more than any other film I have ever seen.
Another critical success was Sicario and it is absent from the performance and Best Picture race as well.
HATLEY: This movie to me is like The Hurt Locker. The first two acts of the 3-act structure of the film are brilliant, every aspect of it. The border crossing scene is one of the best scenes I’ve seen in any movie in years. However, the third act falls flat and I think that’s what ultimately killed it from the Best Picture nom. That being said, still one of my overall favorite films of the year, and Benicio Del Toro continues to be one of my favorite actors. Plus, the Roger Deacons silhouette shot towards the end of the movie is freaking incredible.
LAURA: I think Sicario absolutely deserves the technical category nods it has received, namely cinematography and sound editing. Those were the obvious strengths of this film. Another not-so-obvious strength here is how the narrative captures the chaos and duplicity of the war on drugs. At first, I was confused and frustrated by the lack of a clear pro-/antagonist, and I wondered at one point if we were being cheated out of the more interesting story at play. But the final scenes make it clear: that is the ultimate point. Nothing here is going to resolve neatly, wrapped with a moral little bow on top.
How about the Rocky sequel, Creed?
HATLEY: I won’t say anything bad about any of the current Best Picture noms, but I strongly believe this film is better than a few of them. Incredible performance from Jordan and Stallone, and director Ryan Coogler continues to come out with films that hit you hard emotionally and powerfully.
CALEB: I think the controversy here is the strangely high bar we’ve placed for the Rocky films. I really enjoy these movies, but I didn’t ever think they were Best Picture caliber. However, since the first one did win, and this newest offering feels like it might be the best of the bunch, I get it. Stallone rocked it in this one, and Michael B. Jordan steals the show in absolutely everything he’s in. He’s a national treasure.
Some people thought Michael B. Jordan deserved to be in the mix, which brings up another issue. This makes the second year in a row where there has been a noticeable lack of diversity in the nominees, which is reflective of the lack of opportunities for anyone other than white people to shine in a great role. What can Hollywood do to more better reflect our culture?
RYAN: To me, it’s not the Academy’s fault, mostly. I do think Idris Elba should have taken a spot in the supporting category, but the depth of roles wasn’t there this year. Or last year. Or the year before that. Producers should be held accountable. Broadway is slowly coming around and TV has been coming around for some time now.
HATLEY: This is a tricky subject. While there is a lack of diversity, I think there is honestly a lack of great performances as well. Yes, there is a problem, but at the same time, it’s unfortunate that art and politics play so hard off each other in America, for obvious reasons. It calls for people to be nominated for things not because of their performances, but because of their color or gender. 12 Years a Slave won everything two years ago, and yet the very next year, everyone lost their minds over a couple Selma snubs that were blown out of proportion. And honestly, Selma wasn’t near as good as the other films nominated. You can’t just give a reward for best film of the year solely on the subject matter.
CALEB: So many angles for this. In some ways, like the others have said, this has been unfairly blown out of proportion. I think with some of the more notable ‘snubs’ (and I think it’s hard to use that word unless there’s a home-run performance that was shutout) there are more things in play there. I think Elba has the Netflix thing working against him with the Academy more so than his race. I think Straight Outta Compton got hung up on its subject matter (It’s about rap music, which doesn’t really play to the majority of voters) rather than the actors involved in it.
Well, subject matter or not, let’s talk about Straight Outta Compton. It was one of the year’s biggest films and well-reviewed as well.
HATLEY: Straight Outta Compton was an amazing film, that got overshadowed from its historical inaccuracies, but if you’re able to get past the ‘Dre not beating the shit out of women in this film’ and ‘certain creative stretches’ in the story line, the overall effect of the film is fantastic and a great movie symbolic of the time period of one of the most influential bands of our generation.
CALEB: Props to the filmmakers here, who took something I had relatively zero interest in and made me captivated by it. I was a little bit surprised that this one was left out of the Best Picture race, just because the subject matter is so timely and it’s something that is communicated in a gripping way here. Compton took a lot of the themes that Selma was trying to convey and made them hit home in a more urgent way.
RYAN: It was a snapshot of a moment in history and it was a well-made film. It’s omission from Best Picture was disappointing. I think it suffered in the nominations because there wasn’t a clearly defined lead in the film or a standout supporting cast member that voters could hone in on. Again, to me, the bigger disappointment is Idris Elba not being included in the nominations pack.
HATLEY: This year I would have loved for Creed and Idris Elba to get nominated for more, but the people who were nominated did a better job, and Elba’s film didn’t have the same screeners sent out in the same manner that the others did.
LAURA: The #OscarsSoWhite phenomenon is troubling, there is no doubt about it. Looking at the demographics of the AMPAS (94% Caucasian, 77% male) it is clear that they need to do a little navel-gazing. If you want to know what I think, though, it’s that the lack of diversity in Hollywood hurts the Academy and the industry itself more than it hurts minorities. Sure, they get a lot of press as buzz builds up and boycotts start to develop, but by failing to update their membership standards, the Oscars will quickly lose relevance and support.
RYAN: Yes. If films want to remain the highest regarded form of art, they need to reflect the diversity of the audience. That means skin tone, that means gender, and that means point-of-view.
CALEB: The big problem is really on the producer end, as far as who is getting cast. The numbers show that when put in those showcase roles, black actors leverage those performances into awards with a pretty fair consistency. The problem is, more often than not, they’re not getting those roles. I think that’s the key, getting those roles cast fairly.
LAURA: As much as we want Hollywood to be about great entertainment and artistic achievement, the conversation about equality is too big for the studios to ignore. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t a civil rights issue, it’s a money issue. The studio execs won’t be swayed by a march on Hollywood Blvd.
CALEB: If Hollywood is going to cling to a myth that actors of color can’t carry a film at the box office, vote with your dollars when you’re buying tickets. That’s the solution. Not posting angry Facebook statuses. We need to put our money where our mouths are! I think it’ll take a bit of time, but I honestly think it’s coming. As we move into that new generation where equality is more a thing of practice than just an idea of some legal documents, that culture will be more reflected on every level.
So, let’s talk about our picks for Best Picture.
CALEB: It’s not exactly one of those “right up my alley” movies as far as story/genre, but I walked out of The Revenant breathless. This one’s my pick for Best Picture, and a lot of that has to do with Alejandro Iñárritu’s direction. I think he deserves to make it two in a row at the Oscars; few movies have ever felt so immersive, without feeling gimmicky. Leo is fantastic, no surprise there, but I think the supporting cast deserves a lot of credit, especially Dohmnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Forrest Goodluck. They made this larger than life story feel real.
HATLEY: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie as beautifully shot as that one. Emmanuel Lubezki continues to show why he is one of the greatest cinematographers of this era of film making, while everyone who worked on this film showed just how far people are willing to go to create a piece of art.
LAURA: Remember that Quaaludes scene in Wolf of Wall Street, where Leonardo DiCaprio spends nearly three minutes of screen time dragging himself 15 feet to his Lamborghini? The Revenant was 2.5 hours of that. It takes a great deal of fortitude and focus just to sit and watch this movie, so I can’t begin to imagine the depth of commitment Inarritu and the production team must have had in order to get this story on film. While I could never say I “enjoyed” watching The Revenant, it has been the one that has caught in my mind, the one that left me the most awe-struck. I would not be at all disappointed or surprised to see this film take home the most important Oscar of the night. I also think The Revenant ought to win for Best Costume Design because, let’s be honest, Leo was wearing a horse carcass.
Okay that’s one for The Revenant. What else?
LAURA: I’m having a hard time picking my personal favorite movie of the year, but The Big Short might be it. It has a little of everything: comedy and wit, concern and compassion, and awesome editing to boot. The intricacies of the financial crisis still fly ten feet over my head, but the thrilling way McKay unfurls these stories was so engaging that it didn’t really matter. The Big Short is, at times, more exhilarating than any kidnapping, car-chase or bear attack we sat through this year.
HATLEY: This movie was my biggest surprise of the year. When I heard that the director of Anchorman and Step Brothers is making a movie on the real estate crisis, I honestly thought, “uh oh.” However, with a subject matter as difficult to provide logical exposition to without dragging on, he brilliantly brings a film that’s equal amounts of humor and drama, told in a way that uses some strategies that are hilariously brilliant.
CALEB: Lots of fun, and I’m not entirely sure how. It’s about real estate, and it makes the very likable leading cast rather less-likable than we’re accustomed to…and I loved it. I think biggest props here go to the direction, which was just pitch perfect in walking the tightrope of what could have been a difficult concept.
RYAN: The way that this film played out like a 90’s MTV promotional campaign thrilled me. The story infuriated me. The dialogue entertained me. I think it succeeded on all fronts.
Now we have one for The Revenant and one for The Big Short.
RYAN: Spotlight is my choice for best film of the year. Of everything I saw this year, no story was more compelling, more well told and more enticing than this one.
HATLEY: I’m with Ryan. It’s easily my favorite movie of the year. The performances, script, editing and composition are flawless in a true story that is very easy to make too over the top on the scandal side, or honestly too boring in the journalistic side.
RACHAEL: This is my choice for Best Picture of the year too. The editing, acting, story, and directing were pitch perfect. I think this had the feel of All the President’s Men and the same type importance.
LAURA: I agree, Hatley, that the brilliance of Spotlight is how effortlessly the film balances between dramatic flair and documentary-like composure. I’ll be the pattern-breaker here and say that Spotlight wouldn’t be my choice for favorite of the year, but I absolutely commend this film for finding an important, captivating story to share and telling it with both subtlety and unflinching candor.
CALEB: I’m torn on this one, only because it was so effortlessly perfect. I think it’s the second best film of the year, and perhaps only falls short just because it was so well-executed. Hard to explain that, but I definitely mean it as a compliment. This is the only movie in my entire life that actually made me weep, so maybe I’m talking myself into this being Best Picture. Also I love that Michael Keaton is back.