It’s that time of year folks. The Oscar nominations are out and it’s time to discuss the movies nominated and not nominated. On this site here, my boy Mike has started his own journey down the rabbit hole of nominations. Check out the first piece here. Me, I’m gonna be a secondary opinion on his choices. Some will be shared and others will vary greatly. So take a look at his then come back to mine, and enjoy the ride. This first entry luckily has nothing worthless and all enjoyable in some way. Let’s start the ride.
Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Room – Emma Donoghue
It’s hard to make a movie about two people locked in a room interesting. A good deal of it comes from the directing aspect of it, making it all dynamic enough to sustain interest. But if the script ain’t there to have the skeleton of a great story, no amount of visual dynamism can save it. So luckily, Room has a fantastic script. Probably helped along by the fact that the woman who wrote the book helmed the screenplay, so she has a little insight into the material. It’s very human and well detailed, giving us the sense of the life lived in this room. The way the mother and son interact, how the mother keeps the son contented by hiding the truth of the world from him and how she eventually reveals it to him. The heartbreaking way the two of them cope with returning to the world and how they rely on each other so much. Abrahamson directs the hell out of it and Larson/Tremblay act up a storm, they’d be up shit creek without such a massively impressive script.
2. Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
Much like Room above it, this is a truly humanistic movie. The basic premise of the movie is one told a hundred times, but it’s in the details where it truly counts. This is no melodramatic love triangle, but a truly beautiful story about a woman building a life for herself and what she wants that life to be. Seeing her life in Ireland makes the homesickness connect to the audience, as does the isolation in Brooklyn. But Ireland isn’t completely a utopia, while Brooklyn isn’t a dystopia. It’s just that we understand why this woman is so adrift. And then the way she crafts the Italian boy she falls for is totally understandable. He’s a good guy and he fits her perfectly in that opposites attract way. The situations flow perfectly, the dialogue is rich and the thematic work is never beaten over our heads. It’s a great little movie that feels very much like a book.
3. The Martian – Drew Goddard
Goddard may have had it easy compared to some of the others, with this book being very film friendly from the jump. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive how he condenses a lot of the technical jargon and nitty gritty of survival without making it any less thrilling or intellect supporting. This is a master work of economy, having to snip out some of the stuff that would be considered vital in a book but fat in a movie. We’ve seen for years now that if Ridley Scott isn’t given a script that works, the movie is gonna be a pretty failure. But Goddard has given him the best script he’s seen in years.
4. Carol – Phyllis Nagy
This is a good script but not one I’d really write home about. It’s a fantastic movie but one that really comes across mainly thanks to Haynes’ fantastic direction. Tone and pregnant pauses are the name of the game. With a far less talented director with a less adept handling of tone and pace, this could have ended up as the prestige lesbian love story version of Drive (which I’m sure there’s a fetish for).
5. The Big Short – Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
McKay is the saving grace of this script. Not that it’s bad, but that it is a very unwieldy script. It’s goal is to condense the gigantic clusterfuck that was the financial crisis of the late 2000’s into something that is easily graspable by the average joe, all the while making it funny but dramatic. If he didn’t assemble the cast capable enough to deliver this stuff and he didn’t have the talent to wrangle it all together into a frenetic pace that makes it more watchable than a CNN/Fox News Report with some humorous cheats in part (cutting to random celebs to deliver exposition). The script does make all this palatable, but McKay makes it sing. But the biggest problems in the movie comes from the script. It’s not too particularly funny nor is it too dramatic. It has moments where it works on both aspects, but the whole doesn’t connect at the highest level.
Swap Out The Big Short for Steve Jobs
How the hell does a year with an Aaron Sorkin script not put it in the nomination pool? He is one of the best writers working today and his stuff sings like very few others. When you see a Sorkin picture, you know it’s him. This year saw him deliver one of his best yet, managing to make an interesting picture out of a man I never gave two shits about. And he does it in such a unique way, making it a three act play for the most part. Three scenes for the most part set in different time periods of Jobs’ life that allow us to see who the man is. No typical biopic here. An absolute stunner of a script and one that has been surprisingly snubbed at the awards show this year.
Best Original Screenplay
1. Ex Machina – Alex Garland
This movie deserved alot more nominations than it actually got, but it sure as shit deserved this one. This is a movie that was tackling some heady, out there ideas in such a small way that it had to work on the page. If it didn’t, none of the visual flair that Garland threw at the movie would elevate it above a DTV movie. Taking place essentially in one location, Garland made a movie about humanity and toxic masculinity with a little dash of Frankenstein. It’s totally human and easily digestible, never making the viewer feel too out of touch with the heady stuff it’s tackling. That’s all thanks to Garland, a terrific writer who has reached an all new high here.
2. Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley
After a few years toiling in the ditch with unnecessary sequels/prequels, Pixar comes back like a monster with one of the strongest movies it’s made yet. And much like the heady Ex Machina above it, it has some deep stuff going on about the complexities of human emotions. Specifically about the raging emotions going on inside a girl on the verge of puberty. And it does so in a way that kids can enjoy without feeling bored and adults can enjoy while laughing their asses off in between the tears. It’s a meticulously crafted world that makes the human mind a more fun and organized place than it really is. Universality is the name of the game, and it does so with heart and humor.
3. Spotlight – Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
It’s not an easy task to make a movie out of a journalists investigation into something, especially when it’s a true story so there can’t be any thriller elements thrown in to goose it up. But that’s what these guys have done and made it one of the best movies of the year. It’s one of subtlety, but it hits just as hard as the other movies. Another hurdle it had to cross was making a movie that wasn’t too heavy to watch out of the Priest Molestation coverup, and they did it. Unflinching without being exploitative, this is one story that will infuriate you. All the twists and turns of the story are done perfectly and in a clear way, confusion taking no part here. Maybe the most surprising aspect of it is that it doesn’t have an agenda against religion or Catholicism, but more that it’s beating heart is one that bleeds because the institution betrayed us. A remarkable feat.
4. Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Joel Coen, and Ethan Coen
The first of the bunch that I don’t think truly deserves to be in this field, but it’s not bad by any stretch. It’s just that the movie works thanks to the directing and the acting, it’s fairly pedestrian script. It takes the real life story of the trial of a Soviet Spy and the negotiations for a downed US Pilot and puts them in a good order for Spielberg to knock out of the park with his trademark visual mastery. There’s some Coen flourishes in there but not enough to make the whole remarkable on paper. This one could have been cut from this field for something a little meatier.
5. Straight Outta Compton – Johnathan Herman and Andrea Berloff
I legitimately don’t understand how this is the only nomination this movie got, as it is by far the weakest element of the whole thing. The movie, much like the one ahead of it, succeeds thanks to it’s direction and the simple fact that the story/time period it’s covering is inherently interesting. So seeing it done on film right holds alot of weight. But even the directing can’t overcome that there is too much story here and some of the stuff in the second half of the movie feels rushed. Just should not be in this field.
Swap out Straight Outta Compton and Bridge of Spies for The Hateful Eight and Bone Tomahawk
Two of the best scripts this year that didn’t get love in this category are westerns starring Kurt Russell. Yet they are both wildly different westerns that don’t even feel like they are the same genre if they didn’t take place in the West.
Quentin Tarantino is one of our best writers today, arguably the best. His penchant for throwing the myriad movies he loves in his head and vomiting up a wholly original movie of his own is unparalleled. No one writes dialogue like him and no one creates the situations he puts his characters through. But the one thing he doesn’t get credit for his wringing tension out of situations, and he does that in spades here. Basically making a Western version of Reservoir Dogs if Sam Peckinpah directed it, this is easily the most intelligent movie he’s made in his whole career. Not that his stuff has been stupid, but they haven’t had the depth that this one has. Tackling racism and all the in between that keeps us apart as people by throwing all the hateful parts of us into one room yields a dense tapestry of thematic heft. A far cry from the man who once had Ving Rhames get raped by the bad guy from The Mask.
The other Kurt Russell western is the one that feels the most like the Tarantino-esque mashup, by mixing a classic John Ford type of Western with an Italian Cannibal movie. Yet it elevates itself above pop culture pastiche to make something truly remarkable. It’s one of pure humanity above anything else, and its thanks to the masterful way writer/director S. Craig Zahler handles his characters and dialogue. It may not be Quentin or David Milch, but his dialogue is some chewy stuff that, like the best stuff, gets to the hearts of these men without stopping to deliver exposition. Zahler has a masterful sense of storytelling too, breaking the movie up into three parts that all feel distinct but of a whole, allowing us the full breadth of a Western before delving into pure horror, showing us the true depravity of man with a little dash of optimism at the good we can do. This has gotten no love at all, which is a god damn shame.
Best Original Score
Ennio Morricone is one of the best composers of all time. For my money, he’s the best. His stuff is pure musical magic, putting him up their with one of the iconic composers of all time. You can just listen to his music without having seen the movie it accompanies. And after a decade of homaging spaghetti westerns that Ennio helped to make iconic and using Ennio’s music from those flicks in his own movies, Quentin gets the man to make a wholly original score to his newest western. And it works just as well as that marriage sounds. But being that this isn’t a typical western, this isn’t a typical western score. It’s more a horror movie score, like a western tinged version of his score to The Thing. Ominous as all hell and just pure magic on the ears, this is an unfucking believable score.
2. Carol – Carter Burwell
This is a sumptuous piece of music making here. Perfectly in tuned with the movie, it’s delicate and romantic and subtle and everything the movie is. It doesn’t get too big because this is a movie about secret love, love that can’t be proclaimed without fear of exile. The movie is quiet and the music keeps it moving without being overbearing. A fine piece of work here.
3. Bridge of Spies – Thomas Newman
Much like the movie itself, this is a low key score that helps to build the world of 1950s US/USSR. Part spy movie music and part Capra-esque law movie all shifted to fit the world of Spielberg. It’s not anything memorable or classic, but it gets the job done.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – John Williams
The only reason this ranks so low is because it’s basically a cheat. The new music here isn’t very abundant. Not bad, but nothing so obvious that you really remember it. Not like the older Star Wars stuff that Williams crafted all those years ago that we can’t help but remember. I can’t really rank it any higher with that little caveat. But it’s Star Wars, so of course it’s great. Just nothing too new or used too iconically.
5. Sicario – Johann Johannsson
I honestly don’t remember the score to this movie. I love the flick, don’t get me wrong. But man, did the score not stick out to me. Listening to it now it’s not a bad score, but it’s not one that is particularly used all that much. It’s fine and all, but the movie doesn’t really have much use for it, gaining more tension from the lack of that musical business.
1. George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
I’ve been saying this for a long time, but it’s true and needs to be said. Nothing about Fury Road should have worked, on paper at least. Making a sequel 30 years later after the franchise has seemingly run its course with an all new star to replace the iconic lead and have the whole movie essentially be a chase. Not to mention that a creator returning to a franchise he created in his old age hasn’t worked well before. And that the creator being a 70 year old man didn’t exactly set up expectations for a high quality action movie. But yet somehow George Miller has crafted another movie that defies all expectations in a career of defying expectations, crafting a new high watermark for action movies. It’s a movie of unbelievable action set pieces, fantastic visuals, an ingenuity for world building, and a precision of visual storytelling to make everything feel clear without any exposition. Hell, this could be a silent movie and it would work. All because George Miller threw everything he had at the movie, from his bonkers creativity to his physical stamina to spearhead such a massive film. And unlike another director on this list, the movie was a difficult proposition from its very inception and not some ploy to gather unwarranted credit. This is not just the best directed movie of the year, but one of the best directed movies ever. It’s something that will be influencing filmmakers for decades to come.
2. Lenny Abrahamson – Room
Lenny has taken such a small movie, essentially limited to one room for the most part and focusing on only two characters and made a movie that feels as big as it’s emotional impact is big. He does such a fantastic job of making the movie visually dynamic that you never get antsy at it’s singular location. Because much like the characters in the movie, this is our whole world and it is as big as we need it to be. And the basic premise is one that could be handled in a graphic and extremely off putting way (I point you to the superbly disturbing The Woman) but is handled with such grace in it’s lack of punch pulling that you never really notice that you never see any of the depravity that centers the story. You don’t need to based on the fantastic performance he gets from Larson, conveying all the pain and sorrow one would expect from someone in this position. Much like the next movie on this list, this would be one to brush off as it isn’t big or filled with a lot of moving parts. But that would be an a mistaken assumption. A fantastic piece from a man who has already proven himself to be very varied in his tastes.
3. Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
It would be easy to think this wasn’t a difficult movie to direct. The visual style isn’t one that brings attention to itself and it’s a movie about people talking to each other and scribbling in notepads. But this is a directing job of restraint and subtle propulsion. Making a watchable movie out of journalists researching a story isn’t inherently cinematic but McCarthy makes it so. He elicits a sense of place in Boston without descending into cartoonish reference points. He keeps the performances from going to big and self important, with a movie about such a subject having the potential to be an annoyingly cloying movie. But none of that. This is a quietly devastating movie and his restraint makes it all work. Great performances and a slick editing style that doesn’t call attention to itself but keeps the information coming quick but clearly. This is some fine directing here. No reinventing the wheel or flashes of genius, but competently done at a very high level.
4. Adam McKay – The Big Short
McKay shows a directing strength unseen previously. Not that he’s made bad movies before. I’ve liked all his stuff prior to this (Anchorman 2 withstanding). But he’s made heavily improvised movies with no need for a real strong directorial sense. Let the actors play and wrangle it together. But here he makes a heavily planned movie and he does it very well. He adapts a handheld style that makes it feel like a doc at points. The color scheme is a bit drab, giving it a sense of a world at the end of it’s time. Seeing as it’s right before the financial crisis of 2007, that’s pretty fitting. Performances are strong across the board and it’s got a good sense of momentum. But the main problem here is that it doesn’t hit as hard as I wish it did. It’s not as funny as it could be. McKay is focused on making it all palatable that the whole suffers a bit. This is a good start for him if he intends to make more serious minded movies in the future. But to put it in the top 5 directed movies this year? I don’t think so.
5. Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu – The Revenant
It’s rare to see a director be so strong in so many areas yet undercut himself at so many moments as to make his movie a mess. Innaritu has a big sense of scale and place and action that you watch in awe as he makes a movie look so easy on the technical side. But then his self indulgence sinks the ship, having no sense of storytelling. Scenes run too long and there’s too much repetition. He doesn’t work well with actors, getting a dedicated but empty performance from Leo. The only good acting job is from Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson, two men who have shown good work in movies with weaker directing. But the worst part is that he peppers in dream sequences that add nothing other than a sense of deeper meaning being grasped at but failing to do so. And the themes he lays on thick at the end are not the themes being dispelled through the text of the movie. He wants to take a B movie and elevate it to elite status but he doesn’t come close to executing that, only succeeding in the grittier aspects and failing in it’s thematic quest. All because Innaritu is seemingly incapable of utilizing his fantastic technical skill to harness the ideas he so desperately wants to convey. This is a nomination purely based on flash and behind the scenes trivia, the narrative of a hard shoot elevating his work more than it really should since it was difficulty taken on for no other reason than flash. Absolutely an undeserved nomination.
Swap out Innaritu and McKay for Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight) and Ryan Coogler (Creed)
Any year with movie by Quentin Tarantino is a year where Tarantino should be nominated for director. Because even if the movie isn’t top notch, that’s usually at the fault of the script and not the directing. His skill as a visual storyteller is growing greater and greater each time out and his work in The Hateful Eight is unreal. It’s a movie with staggering vistas to set up the force of nature closing in on the characters and tight closeups to build tension in the closed room they’re locked up in. He uses 70mm to basically tell a stage play, widening the frame to give more space to show off the scenery, making every little part of the frame vital. His strength at tension building reaches new highs here, making a chamber play into a horror show of the inherent hatred in our blood. He takes his most literary script and makes the most intellectual movie yet by making his meanest and most cutthroat movie yet. The nastiness may put some off but those willing to dive into this heart of darkness that tackles racism and misogyny and the lack of empathy in humans with the skill of a less commercially inclined director.
Ryan Coogler was poised to become new Hollywood royalty after his indie success story in Fruitvale Station. So his decision to make the 7th Rocky movie was a head scratcher. But by making it more a movie about Apollo Creeds illegitimate son, Adonis, he makes a movie as emotional and personal as the original Rocky was. And unlike many indie darlings that make the jump to bigger scale movies, Coogler shows off an unbelievable visual acuity. His fight scenes are legit next level, shot unlike any boxing movie before it. Every choice is about the emotional journey of Adonis and it all works. Going from the verite style on the streets of Philly to the highly cinematic style in the ring, it’s a mashup of styles that works like gangbusters. Dealing with legacy, growing up a black man without a father and the will to fight, this is an elite movie that escapes the expectations of being the 7th Rocky movie. And the biggest sign of a good director? He’s gonna end up getting Sylvester Stallone an Oscar for the role he created 40 years ago. Now that’s talent. Coogler has shown he is one of the most exciting young talents today. His snub is an embarrassment.