Welcome back gang. We got part two of the immense viewing of the 2016 Academy Award nominations. You can click here to see the first part of mine, here for the first part of Mikes, and here for the second part of Mikes. Just a quick refresher. I’m giving my feeling on the nominees and ranking them in the order given and swapping out where I see fit. Not saying which will win exactly. This is all me. So dig in and enjoy the newest part.
Best Production Design
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Cinema is a magic trick. It’s all fakery and sleight of hand to trick the viewer into thinking what they are seeing is real in the moment, with the allusion fading sometime after. The lesser ones fade while watching, while the best last for a long time. Just look at the decades long love affair with Star Wars. The hardest ones to make last are the ones where it’s set in an alternate universe that isn’t trying to emulate our own. Sci fi or fantasy lands take true imagination and craftsmanship to sell the act. And there hasn’t been as massively successful a building of a world since The Lord Of The Rings trilogy than Mad Max: Fury Road. Every little detail in this world is perfect, completely selling the idea that this is a dead world filled with little reminders of what was. The look of the world is gorgeous and oh so perfectly designed for the unreal action sequences. This movie is perfection and of course the perfection extends to the world it builds. Without dialogue to explain everything to us, this feels like a real world. More real than alot of lesser movies.
2. The Martian
This shares a similar aesthetic in many areas with Fury Road. Mainly that a lot of it is set on a dusty, desolate wasteland where human life shouldn’t survive. Where they differ is this is a more real life aesthetic to it, albeit one with a little more of a budget in the NASA arena. Ridley being a man of visual panache, he makes a space program with a little more style than should be. Mars looks great, they make the space tent that Damon has to live in dynamic enough to not be boring, and he has some good fun detailing the space ship that is coming to rescue Damon. This is one of those movies that people will think of when Mars is brought up, making it the visual reference point for them.
3. Bridge of Spies
It’s a god damn Spielberg movie. Of course this is gonna be a gorgeous god damn movie. Even in his worst movies, the design of them is good (minus a Hook, of course). This is a perfect representation of the 50s, for New York and Soviet Germany. This transports you back in time and it helps to immerse you in the story that is very much of the time and the attitudes of the time. It’s got the benefit of being of a real time, so the achievement isn’t as impressive as the ones above it. But even within that caveat, this is a gorgeously designed movie.
4. The Danish Girl
We see a movie like this every year at the Oscars it seems like. Something set in such a lavish time period. Here it’s the 20’s in what is apparently supposed to be Denmark, but nothing about this feels specific to a place. I honestly didn’t know where they were supposed to be for the most part and the god damn name of the movie indicates as such. Much like the movie itself, it’s a very boring design. Not bad, but just completely lifeless.
5. The Revenant
I never felt any sort of reality in this movie. Not in a fantasy way, but in the way that it doesn’t feel alive. It’s filmed gorgeously, but there’s nothing in there. The world within is utterly hollow, basically just using the woods to do the heavy lifting. Innaritu’s pretension that filming outdoors would do the work for him didn’t really succeed in that area. It’s a bland movie that really doesn’t have anything to it. For as long a distance that Leo supposedly traverses to get his revenge, it all looks so samey that it never feels like a journey.
Every year it seems there’s a period piece drama released that’s sole purpose is to win someone an award in this category. And usually you can’t fault them because they are well dressed if nothing else. But to reiterate the point I made above, it’s harder to make something out of whole clothe to build a world that doesn’t exist or hasn’t existed. That’s what is done here. The styles are thrown together pieces of disparate items from the past to make something wholly unique and signifying of the worlds dead status. This is highly stylized movie and it would be a lesser movie if the denizens of its world didn’t look appropriately dirty.
Any other year this would be the movie to beat in this category. But as I’ve been qualifying many times this year, Mad Max has taken many a movies to school. This is a lushly designed movie and the costume work is next level great. It takes inspiration from the cartoon but gives them enough detail to work on the live action stage. Even if the movie didn’t work, you’d have the fantastic costume work to make it worthwhile on some level. Visual candy.
3. The Danish Girl
Say what you will about the movie (it’s not good), but the costume design is on point. It’s a movie where clothing plays a central role to the story, so the clothes have to look good on screen. And they really do, playing up the styles of the time to make them appealing to us in the audience. Be it wear them or look upon someone in them, the styles are great and the work done is superb.
This is a movie about love, but love told in a quiet way. It’s about love at first sight, something being unleashed in someone they didn’t realize was inside them. Love at first sight hinges on the sight part, so you want the people involved to be striking. And being that this is Todd Haynes going into the 50s, obviously the costumes are gonna be good. They don’t hit the highs of the more lavish movies above it or the grittily world building though.
5. The Revenant
I gotta aim back to the point above about how this movie just feels empty and the world it builds feels fake. Despite all the brags about how hard it was to shoot on location, this movie is hollow. The costumes here are fine but they don’t really add to the world. The only one that helps to build the character is Hardy’s role, and it mainly boils down to the work they do on his head with that weird little wig/hat thing they got going on to visually show us how hard a life he lives. The rest is all stuff we’ve seen before done in a more interesting way.
Swap The Revenant for The Hateful Eight
Everything in a movie has to serve the story. Costuming has to help build a character and make them feel real/lived in. Not many movies this year do that more strongly than The Hateful Eight. Every single character is dressed immaculately, helping us get to know these people. And the costumes themselves are superb and just amazing to look at. There’s a flashiness as is the norm for Quentin, but also a more resourceful quality to them too. It’s all fantastic costume work and stands out in a much more deserved way than The Revenant.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
There was some serious internal debate in this category. I wanted to do the thing that seems like the obvious choice, but my heart was tugging at me. Tugged so damn hard it knocked my brain into the right wavelength because I’m going with the answer that shouldn’t be dictated by behind the scenes narratives. Seale does some absolutely stunning work here, totally doing top notch work here that is gonna be the base line for a lot of movies in the future. Unlike every post apocalyptic movie since The Road Warrior, this is not a washed out grey movie. The color here fucking pops, like it’s some fever dream of those in the wasteland. His camera work in the numerous mindfucking action sequences are astonishing, breaking ones mind at trying to figure out how he captured an image. An action movie has to shoot it’s action well and make the magic trick of making what we’re seeing look like it’s actually happening with stakes. And boy howdy does he. An absolute gorgeous visual treat with unreal camera work, this cannot be undervalued. Lubezki may be getting the praise this year, but Seale’s work is next level.
2.The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
For any problems I have with the movie itself, the cinematography is stunning. The only real benefit from the filming on location in natural light is that the movie if gorgeous and Lubezki does the best work of his career. Every frame can be a painting. He is trying his damnedest to elevate the movie above simple B movie fare, to give it more weight than it really has. And sometimes it does. Other times the material isn’t up to snuff with the visuals, but I won’t hold that against him. This is a work of majestic glory. And Lubezki is rightfully gonna get the award.
3. The Hateful Eight – Robert Richardson
But it’s all in one room! What a waste of 70mm film and the talents of Richardson. Those are the cries of the lesser people of the world, those who can’t watch a movie on it’s own terms and engage in it and the history of visual storytelling. Sure, this is not a big grand vista flick like Lawrence of Arabia, but it isn’t trying to be. Using the giant frame of 70mm allows Quentin to do two things. Have these immense closeups of peoples faces and make the wide shots give the cabin a theatrical feel to it. This is a movie of duplicity and bullshit artists at work, with a lot of hatred coming to the surface. And every little detail is brought to screen in utter perfection thanks to Richardson, capturing this immense piece of theatrical satire in a purely cinematic way. This is also essentially a horror movie, and the tension that Richardson helps to wring out of this is tops. This is of the best visual treats in Quentin’s ever growing oeuvre of visual treats. Richardson has done fantastic work with Quentin and this is a good indication that they shouldn’t stop collaborating.
4. Sicario – Roger Deakins
You gotta feel bad for Deakins. He does amazing work year after year on amazing projects and he never gets the awards recognition he deserves. This year is another one where he does phenomenal work on a fantastic movie and is gonna be shut out yet again. But when you look at the three above him, you can’t really blame him becoming the DP version of Peter O’Toole. Cause this movie is gorgeous in such a bleak way. It’s got a steely, icy quality yet somehow is warm enough to feel like you’re in the abyss of war-on-drugs torn Mexico. Another movie full of unreal tension, Deakins keeps you so on the edge of your seat waiting for something to pop out at any moment. You gotta feel bad, but at least the dude ain’t resting on his laurels.
5. Carol – Edward Lachman
This is a good looking movie, but one that is much more conventional than the other nominees. It captures the 50s in a very gorgeous way, but the visuals of this movie aren’t gonna be the first thing I remember when I think of this. That may be due to the fact that this is a very quiet and subdued movie, so the camera is quiet and subdued. So it isn’t given the chance to shine like the other movies here. Maybe I’m in the minority here but I don’t think this deserves to be here.
Swap out Carol for Creed (Maryse Alberti)
Creed is one of those movies that is gonna influence what comes after it for years to come. If nothing else in the movie was shot well, the fight sequences are next level and are evolutionary in the portrayal of boxing on screen. The one take fight sequence in the middle of the movie is a bravura piece of filmmaking and the final fight is the exact kind of masterful fight that helps solidify this as the new generation Rocky. The fights evolve too, but always keep you immersed in the fight to feel like you’re in Adonis’ shoes. The first two fights are all one take fights to convey Adonis’ rookie status. But by the end, there’s more comfort in Adonis so we can be at more of a distance. It’s stunning work on a visual and thematic level. Luckily the rest of the movie is gorgeous too in a more verite style than the superbly cinematic fights. It isn’t an ugly verite like many mediocre indie movies. There’s a sense of style and place to the visuals here, embedding us into a subsection of the Philly streets we haven’t seen in the series before. An absolute stunner of a movie and one that should have been on this list.
Best Supporting Actor
Somehow, we are in a year where Sylvester Stallone is gonna win an Academy Award for acting and it’s a well deserved one. And it’s not the year where Rocky came out, where that would have made sense. No, it’s 2015/16 and he’s had a career as a meathead action star. And he’s gonna win it for going back to that old mainstay Rocky Balboa. It can’t be said enough how much he deserves this win. This is a fantastic performance than is not simple repetition on his part. It feels like Rocky but a defeated Rocky. He’s slower and a little less talkative. There’s no fight left in him. All that’s left is regrets and a yearning for what he’s lost. Stallone portrays that beautifully, letting all the sadness emanate from his entire body. It’s a fantastic performance that wrings every emotion out of the audience. A superb performance and one that shouldn’t be all that surprising by the undervalued Stallone.
2.Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
A fantastic performance of complete restraint and subtlety. Rylance plays things very close to the vest as a Russian Spy. It’s easy to think this isn’t that hard of a role, but that would be a mistake. This is a rich character, one who is steadfast in his principles and one not prone to fits of emotion. One just has to watch the movie and see how immensely watchable he is and how fun he is to realize what a great performance it is. To capture so much attention by doing apparently so little is quite the feat. You understand completely why Hanks’ character is willing to do right by him.
3.Tom Hardy – The Revenant
In a movie filled with one dimensional characters and a lack of inner life to the proceedings, Hardy is a breathe of fresh air. Never one to lay back and just do the work without building a fully realized, Hardy makes a meal out of what could be a simple villain role. You believe this guy exists. A man that isn’t total evil but isn’t good either. He’s a survivor and it informs his every action. He’s got a weaselly southern voice and the mannerisms of a man who has lived looking over his shoulders. You just gotta see his eyes to know that this man is real and he is deeper than one would assume. Otherwise the movie would be over a lot quicker than it is. Not to mention he’s fun to watch and brings an energy that the movie is sorely lacking.
4. Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo is in the unfortunate position of being outshone by not only the majority of the actors in this category, but within his own movie. It’s not that he’s bad. Far from it, since no one in the movie gives a bad performance. But compared to Keaton, Schrieber, or James you feel like he’s lacking a bit. He’s trying to do a performance and it feels like it a bit, with a put on vocal pattern. It stands out next to the naturalism of the others. He sells the determination and the heartbreak of the character, but there’s just too much obvious acting choices.
5. Christian Bale – The Big Short
Bale does fine work here. He almost usually does good to great work, so this is no surprise. But there’s nothing absolutely superb in the role. He plays semi autistic well enough. You believe he’s smart and able to figure all the shit out that he does. He just doesn’t have much to do to really stand out from the outstanding pack. It’s good if unmemorable.
Swap Out Tom Hardy, Mark Ruffalo, and Christian Bale for Richard Jenkins(Bone Tomahawk), Benecio Del Toro (Sicario), and Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight)
Walton Goggins is the stealth MVP of The Hateful Eight. In a movie filled with big performances and gigantic scumbags, Goggins plays the only one of these immense scumbags with any kind of honesty. He’s a bit too stupid to play the deceit game everyone else is playing. Not too stupid, though, to be completely bushwhacked by the marauders in the flick. He’s an absolute shitheel that you can’t help but like to watch. Magnetic and full of life, Goggins does some fantastic work here that should have been recognized.
In a role that may have been too subtle, Benecio is unjustly snubbed in this fantastic performance. He gets slept on alot, with most people kinda forgetting how great he is when you aren’t actually watching him. But this performance, in what feels like the darker version of his role in Traffic, is unreal. This is a man completely within, having withdrawn from any sort of outward emotion after some tragedy in his life. There’s intelligence and brutality within him. And for a man who in lesser hands could be considered a comic character with such a high level of badass, Benecio brings him to Earth.
This is the only performance that could give Stallone and Rylance a run for their money. Richard Jenkins does unbelievable work in the little seen western. But despite it’s lack of awareness, the work Jenkins does needs to be praised. He’s always been a reliable performer but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in such a transformed performance. Playing the simple minded sidekick to Kurt Russell’s sheriff, it’s a role that could have just disappeared into the background. But thanks to Jenkins, he becomes the heart and soul of the piece. This is no cartoon of a stupid character. It’s a real character with depth and humanity and Jenkins nails it. I can’t praise his performance enough. In a masterpiece of a western, Jenkins steals the performing category out from under a murderers row of great performances.