2016 Oscars: Spotlight

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Source: Wikipedia

Spotlight was this year’s surprise winner of the Best Picture Oscar, and though very few thought it would actually win the award, I would be surprised to hear many people say it was not deserving. The film was actually rather unique in the modern era – it was entirely dialogue-driven and featured no action sequences. The only suspenseful moments had to do with the information these brave journalists were unraveling and the sensitivity of the subject matter. The premise of Spotlight is that a small group of investigative journalists for the Boston Globe stumble across some old press clippings and case files that lead them to dig deeper into the, now famous, Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. The movie shows these intrepid reporters’ journey to unravel decades of cover-ups, misinformation, and even outright collusion between church officials, Boston area lawyers, law enforcement, and even media executives. As the truth comes together, it becomes enormously clear just how horrible and how rampant the abuses were, making the cover-up that much more horrific. Plot-wise, the subject is certainly worthy of a film and makes for an important topic to be reminded of today. It is a timeless lesson in the importance of standing up against abuse and protecting our neighbors from systemic problems; a message that certainly resonates in today’s world, where media outlets, political agents, and corporations are becoming increasingly intermingle.

Regarding the film’s stylistic choices, the director, Tom McCarthy, deserves a lot of credit. The film is perfectly cast, and undoubtedly features the strongest ensemble cast of any film this year. The performances of Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, and everyone else were incredible. If there is any doubt that Mark Ruffalo is much more than just the Hulk, look no further. The format is also very enjoyable, with minimal film effects or dramatic lighting, it feels much more like a documentary in tone and feel. This makes the information being relayed and the heartfelt acting feel incredibly real and important. The content of the story is very upsetting, but the tone of the film is relies on dialogue and portrays the story’s development much more how it would have felt to the reporters who uncovered it. The result is that Spotlight is a must-see film and one of the most important stories of the year. Though it tells a very specific story in great detail, the film’s importance is much more far-reaching and its message is timeless. An unexpected, but well-deserved win for Best Picture. Academy Pick: Best Picture

 

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2016 Oscars: Creed

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Source: Wikipedia

First, let me say that Creed is a good film. It starts off kind of weak, but after the first 40ish minutes, it really picks up and the whole middle and end are quite good. If it hadn’t been for the initial under-development of Adonis (played by Michael B. Jordan), I would say it should have been nominated for Best Picture. Some have called it a snub, but I’m not so sure. It’s better than the two weakest Best Picture nominees (The Martian, and The Revenant) in both story development and cultural significance, but it struggles to find itself up front and that may have cost it. In my opinion, the movie did not sufficiently set the stage for Adonis in California before he moved to Philadelphia. The foster care scenes worked and added a deep dimension to the film, but I think they should have done more to show the white-collar life Adonis walked away from. Audiences were told he was a successful employee and a smart, go-getter, but I would have rather seen 2-3 additional minutes of him cutting deals in a board room and making a splash at the office or something. That would make his decision to quit mean a lot more. Without it, Adonis seems like a rich kid with a chip on his shoulder instead of the natural fighter destined for greatness that Director Ryan Coogler intended. The film did certainly regain its footing and strong acting from Jordan and Stallone along with a well-written script by Coogler delivered a modern and relevant reinvention of the classic boxing genre. It’s very good. I recommend it for sure. Side note: I am very excited to see Coogler take on the Black Panther in the MCU!

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Look at Rocky training Adonis, doesn’t that remind you of something? Source: thelegacyofthejedi.tumblr.com

I also want to mention something odd I noticed about Creed: there are a weird number of similarities with Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. Hear me out. Adonis is obviously Luke, orphaned and rash, and his whole shtick is about overcoming his father’s legacy. But the even better case is that Rocky is Yoda. An anachronistic old guy who makes Luke, er, Adonis, go through a series of weird and cryptic training regimens: jumping ropes, balancing acts, and chasing a chicken (no that is not a euphemism). I’m surprised Rocky didn’t make Adonis carry him on his back. Mild *Spoilers* the illness and futility of the quest (“you have not yet finished your training”), not to mention Stallone’s cryptic style of speech, are also very Yoda-y. Plus *SPOILER* Adonis doesn’t even win, the message is that he’ll be back to fight another day. That’s sooo Empire.

 

 

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2016 Oscars: Bridge of Spies

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Source: Wikipedia

Bridge of Spies is a classic political historical drama under the proven directorship of Steven Spielberg and led by Tom Hanks’ dependable acting. Bridge of Spies is a beautifully crafted movie about an important, but dark time in our nation’s history: a prisoner exchange with the USSR during the early years of the Cold War. The US is in the grips of the Red Scare, as anti-communists like Senator McCarthy incited fears of anti-Americanism and paranoia. The lighting throughout the film is dark and shrouded in shadow, which lends itself well to the elements of mystery, espionage, and subterfuge that underlie the movie’s plot. The film follows a controlled, linear plot that successfully built suspense and set the stage for the internal conflicts of its characters. The depiction of occupied Berlin in the late 1950s as the wall is being built was jarring and made more real than any history book could achieve.

The true strength of the Bridge of Spies lies in the acting talents of its two main characters: Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance (who actually won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor). The relationship between Hanks’ character, the lawyer who becomes the unlikely catalyst for a prisoner exchange, and Rylance, the accused Soviet spy, show the complicated political and emotional factors at play, while still relaying the story in a very personal way. The mutual respect of Hanks and Rylance crosses the Cold War and guides the plot through an empathetic lens. Though hardly groundbreaking, with its period piece style and classic dialogue-driven format, Bridge of Spies is a well-executed film that is very worthy of a nomination and well-worth the time to watch. Academy Pick: Best Supporting Actor

 

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2016 Oscars: The Revenant

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Source: Wikipedia

The Revenant, AKA, Leonardo DiCaprio tries everything he and a crazy Spaniard can think of to get him an Oscar. This film is the elephant in the room (or should I say bear?) Everyone has been talking about it for months. “Oh, Leo, simply must get his first Oscar!” This movie is beautiful. The landscapes and on-site filming definitely paid off. Gorgeous Chilean landscapes pretending to be Wyoming, overlaid with a CGI bear that was actually tastefully done, and some killer makeup work for all of Glass’ (Leo’s) implausibly severe injuries. While watching the film, I actually really enjoyed it. DiCaprio and Tom Hardy were absolutely captivating. I know, I know: it seems like I’m just buying into the hype, but DiCaprio’s physical acting worked remarkably well with little dialogue. However, I felt that in many scenes Hardy seemed to steal the show, creating the most complete character in the film, whose motivations and selfish brutality came through in every interaction he had. So between the strong acting, beautiful camera work, and some really startling, shock-value-type scenes (eating bison liver, neck cauterizing, Tauntauning*, and other nasty stuff), the movie is definitely good.

However, the more I think about it, the less this movie makes any sense. It’s shot and played like a period drama (or at least historical fiction), but the level of implausibility keeps escalating as the movie progresses. Quick *Spoiler* for the number of things Glass survives: bear attack, waterfall, riding a horse off a cliff, and all of the sanitary, injury, and climate-based complications he encounters. He crawls for miles, survives being shot, heals really fast(?), can swim with a broken leg, spends a night Tauntauning in his dead horse, and still is only barely behind Hardy the whole time? Eh, plot-wise it gets kind of lost in all of the fantabulous stunts that DiCaprio (or really his stunt double/CGI-workers) go through. Also, sorry, but the ending was dumb; there are huge plot holes with the Native Americans’ subplot and their role at the end is confusing. Also, the final fight scene is kind of anticlimactic after all of the lead in, the decoy horse, etc. *Spoiler* Hardy and DiCaprio clumsily rolling around in the snow seemed too drawn out and didn’t fit with the grit of the first 2.5 hours of the movie. It’s hard to see how there’s any emotional resolution for Glass, since he doesn’t have anything left to live for, presumably.

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Literally Oscar bait. Source: ivassalkapcsolatosproblemak.tumblr.com

 

Overall, the movie is worth watching for the views and the acting, but why does the academy keep giving things to Innaritu? I completely disagree with the Academy’s choice two years in a row to give the Best Director award to this dude who continues to artsy fartsy his way to Oscars. Boo. Blorg! Pick & Academy Pick: Best Actor; Blorg! Pick: Best Supporting Actor; Academy Pick: Best Director

 

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*Tauntauning (verb) the act of cutting open and climbing into a dead animal to keep warm in a wintry night. Anyone who doesn’t know what a Tauntaun is needs to drop everything and watch the original Star Wars trilogy (Ep. IV-VI, obviously). The act of Tauntauning was made famous by Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back and replicated unironically by Innaritu’s The Revenant.

The medical feasibility of Tauntauning has been rigorously documented in this brilliant and amusing article by Keith Veronese.

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Cute critter until you have to sleep in its gut. Image Credit: i09.gizmodo.com

2016 Oscars: The Big Short

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Source: Wikipedia

Thoroughly entertaining. The Big Short succeeded in exposing mass audiences to the extremely complicated and nuanced market forces that led to the 2007 Housing Crisis. The inclusion of celebrity cameos like Anthony Bourdain and Margot Robbie were especially helpful in explaining the complex concepts into more relatable and easily digestible pieces. The Jenga scene is already iconic for its ability to explain the Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO) crisis clearly and concisely (watch it here). A star-studded and hilarious cast, clever narrative style, and pseudo-documentary cinematography all lent themselves well to this timely and smart movie.

Christian Bale is one of the greatest actors that is currently active in Hollywood, and this film proves, yet again, that he can play any kind of character, from Batman to the Machinist, as he dives fully into his role as Michael Burry, an enigmatic genius with very few social skills. Steve Carrell, as Mark Baum, is also continuing to show that he is much more than a comedic actor. Carrell delivered another heartfelt and believable performance this year, earning his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He was never destined to win this year, since it is the year of the DiCaprio, but he will continue to get these kinds of roles and will certainly win one someday soon. Perhaps the most entertaining character of The Big Short though, is Jared Vennett, played by Ryan Gosling, whose performance blends the humor and fourth-wall-breaking documentary style that makes this film so unique. Half narrator and half supporting character, Gosling really ties a lot of the story together and shows his ability to play the serious moments and the comedic ones, all within the same film. Despite all of that, the crowning achievement goes to director and screenwriter Adam McKay, more famous for his comedic blockbuster Anchorman, who proved himself more than capable of handling a much more serious and intellectual film. McKay has proven his range and will likely produce more serious comedies in the future (here’s hoping!) He won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, in translating the Michael Lewis book into such a clever film. It certainly makes me want to read the book, so maybe you can expect a post on that too in the near future!

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Why Lehman Brothers? Why??? Image Source: Speakgif.com

My one big complaint, and probably the reason I think The Big Short should not have won Best Picture (which it did not, despite some late momentum in its favor) was that the final five minutes were overly politicized and a little light on facts. The fallout of the crisis, as described by the movie, leads audiences to believe that absolutely nothing had been done by the government or financial institutions to prevent a recurrence. There are certainly some politicians and economists who believe this, but the truth appears to be more nuanced, including the legal difficulties with prosecution of executives and the marginal (if not complete) success of Dodd-Frank legislation. A full account of the debate can be found at this Washington Post article. I recommend doing a little bit of independent research after watching the movie to help balance the facts with the opinions of the creators. Don’t get me wrong though, I really did enjoy the film and will recommend it to anyone who asks. I just think it’s important to temper the message with some research of your own. Overall, this movie is highly creative and very informative with clever writing and excellent casting, I strongly recommend it to all.

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