Best Visual Effects
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Another technical section, another award Mad Max should be winning. It’s not as obvious an award for the movie because the effects aren’t overused and are seamless within the movie. The fact that one doesn’t realize how much effects work done here is the reason it should win. The backgrounds aren’t actually what was filmed, but done in post to make the world more cinematically dystopian. The amount of effects work done to erase the seams that made the seemingly insane stunts actually a bit safe for the stuntmen to partake in. A whole world was built and it was done so perfectly you wouldn’t even think that it was faked in a computer. So come on. This movie deserves it.
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It’s a Star Wars movie. And a Star Wars movie not done by Lucas, but by JJ Abrams with the backing of Disney. So you’re damn right the visual effects are fantastic looking. Jumping to these completely unreal worlds and making them feel real with all the sci fi trimming needed to make it real. The seams aren’t showing and it’s an amazing sight.
3. Ex Machina
There isn’t as much effects work in this one but the ones that show up are so fucking seamless that you gotta marvel at the work being done. The seamless effects work done on Alicia Vikander to make her into that striking robot is unbelievable. The world is built very in such a low key way but you never doubt the sci fi of it all. But it’s also done in an almost Frankenstein meets Apple way as to make things a little uneasy. There’s no flaws in it, so the only knock against it in this category is that it doesn’t do crazier stuff seamlessly.
4. The Martian
This is the more traditional effects work in the movie. Nothing done here isn’t anything that needed to be figured out for the first time. It’s fucking gorgeous but it’s very traditional and easy. Like the movies ahead of it it’s seamless but it’s not like an action movie that needs to make some crazy shit look plausible or some sci fi shit look realistic. We’ve seen this kind of effects work plenty of times and it would be more surprising if Ridley and company couldn’t make it look easy.
5. The Revenant
What effects work? Some fake arrows flying around? That not totally real looking bear? Or how bout that terrible effect of Leo riding that fucking horse off a mountain? It’s really nonsensical that this got nominated here. It’s almost like they confused the cinematography for visual effects. Because otherwise it’s a god damn crime that this got nominated. But we gotta circle jerk this movie into oblivion, so let’s just throw it noms it most definitely didn’t deserve. Why not?
Swap Out The Revenant for Avengers: Age of Ultron
Marvel made two movies this year and this is the most impressive of the bunch, so you nominate this. Really, how the fuck is this not as impressive than the god damned Revenant in this category? How fucking blind with comic book hatred does this industry have to be to pull that shit?
Best Hair and Makeup
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
This movie has gotten praise for it’s immense world building. All the production design and character design would all be for naught if the hair and makeup people working on this movie didn’t help out here to make these people look like they are living in a dried out wasteland. Look at Max at the beginning of the movie, with his grungy hair to him later in the movie, with his hair looking hastily chopped off. Look at the war boys with all the details on them from paint and scars and bodily mutations. The old ladies at the end who look sanded down. Immortan Joe is a work of immense beauty in it’s ugliness. The brides all look properly sheltered from the world at large, prim and proper. The work done here is, like the rest of the movie, next level great.
2. The 100 Year Old Man
I didn’t hear of this movie until these nominations. So I obviously scoffed at it’s inclusion here when it isn’t represented anywhere else. But alas, the work in this category here is stellar. The real reason it’s here is for the work it does on making one man effectively play the same character at drastic points in his life, an old and younger man. It’s great work in that department. So while there may not be the neverending stream of makeup work being done all over, it’s got that one masterfully crafted effect to be proud of.
3. The Revenant
I can be a snarky little shit when it comes to this movie all day long, but there are elements of this movie that do not deserve such derision. This is one of them. It’s well done stuff in a more subtle way than Mad Max or even 100 Year Old Man, but you just gotta realize these guys aren’t actually mountain men. So the massive amounts of dirt and grime on their persons isn’t due to the overblown production woes, but the carefully applied work done by professionals and not by the elements. From all the injuries sustained by Leo throughout the movie like a grim dark Mr Bill to the fantastically done head scars/stringy hair appliance done to Hardy’s scalp or the well made up Natives, it’s a well done movie. It just doesn’t hit the highs of the other two.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s an action film that caught the attention of everyone who saw it and is going to influence filmmakers for years to come. To make an action movie work and have the action have any impact, you need impeccable editing. And this has beyond perfect editing. It’s like the textbook for editing from here on out, reaching such a level that it’s going to be damn near impossible to beat. Only the next highpoint in this genre will be able to take the trophy.
2. The Big Short
The whole strength of this movie is the editing. It needs to be slick and quick and breathless to make the 2 hour discussion of wall street jargon watchable. And the movie does that pretty well. It manages to convey all the information quickly but succinctly. For a man who came from movies where editing mainly consisted of merging improvised takes into something coherent, he takes to the shooting a script thing quite well.
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
This movie is fucking breathless. It starts and it pretty much never stops, and even in the scenes where it’s not action packed the movie is moving with a hummingbirds pace. The action scenes are edited quite well too, clean and concise and thrilling. The biggest problem with the editing is that the script kinda fails it. It has to be edited in such a way to keep things unclear and open for future installments. So information isn’t necessarily clear at points and the lack of hand holding makes it easy for those to have complaints to bitch about things that are actually in the movie as if they weren’t. And there’s the scene where Han is introduced and it’s kinda slack, so I’m gonna have to hold that against it too.
This doesn’t deserve to be on the list, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a well edited movie. It coulda been boring and really fucking slack, but it’s anything but. It condenses a long investigation into something coherent and makes it watchable. This isn’t a fun movie by any stretch, but you aren’t gonna be bored to death. It moves and gets the info out quickly, but let’s the heavy moments sit with the requisite weight they need. But the material it’s working with is a lot less tricky than the stuff above it and stuff that shoulda been in here.
5. The Revenant
The editing in this movie is trash. Not in the way that scenes are cut poorly or it’s a jumbled stream of images like Taken 3. There is no economy to this movie. Everything runs way too long, comically so at points. And it does not land any of the emotional beats at all. With some more judicious editing, this could have been a hard nosed movie but it’s not. It’s a movie that starts in fits and starts, focusing too much on Leo crawling. You don’t get the sense of distance in Leo’s travels or how long this is actually taking.
Swap Out Spotlight and The Revenant for Creed and Kingsman: The Secret Service
Creed is a movie that is very reliant on it’s editing. Any good fight scene needs the right editor to make it cinematic and thrilling to watch, to hide the seams of the obvious fallacy that is the lack of a real beating being dished out. And with a movie like Creed, a lot of it is smaller character moments to help emotionally build up the fight scenes later. So the fact that it’s never a bore is not just a testament to the scripting and directing, but the editing for making the journey never ebb or flow. Being a Rocky movie, of course there’s montages leading up to the fights and they’re great. And even though the first two fights in the movie are essentially one long take, the final fight is a master class of editing. You can’t really go wrong nominating this movie, so of course those dumb shits didn’t nominate it.
Kingsman has the sad but common distinction of being an amazing action movie released in 2015 that was completely overshadowed by Mad Max. But that stroke of year long bad luck shouldn’t be held against the movie, because it’s fucking amazing. And it’s one of the most slickly and energetically edited movie since Edgar Wright’s last flick, The World’s End. It also has the unwieldy job of making the movie feel light and funny in the scenes where it needs to but also thrilling and pulse pounding in the fantastic action sequences. You just gotta look at the church massacre and the end siege on the villains lair to see the fantastic tonal cocktail on display.
I’ve spoken a good deal about this movie ever since it came out. It’s next level greatness can not be denied. Any one who does is either suffering from wet brain or has a stick up their ass about entertaining movies. It’s gotten a lot of flak from those that don’t think it deserves the award simply because it’s an action movie. Sure, it’s immensely watchable and expertly crafted. But Best Picture material? Those are the kinds of people who have made the Academy a breeding ground of samesy bullshit, following around sleepy oscar bait at the detriment of real cinema. Cause while this movie really is next level action filmmaking, it’s a marvel on every level. And it has thematic weight that most prestige pictures wish they could have. It builds an entire world in between the spaces, never having any expository dialogue to sell the world. You just believe it due to the immense filmmaking and production design. Miller knows how to visually tell a story, building one of the most rich stories/worlds inside of a chase. Cause the whole movie is almost all on the road, yet you never feel like the movie is slight. Visually one of the best movies of the last 20 years, with Miller going away from the grey aesthetic the post apocalyptic genre became entrenched in thanks to his work on The Road Warrior. Nothing about this should have worked. A 70 year old director returning to a franchise 30 years later to reboot it with a new lead to replace an icon to tell a story about a new female character that’s all one long chase. But it worked and it worked well. Movies like this come once a decade or so, and it would be a shame to dismiss it like the last one (The Dark Knight) simply because it doesn’t fit the easy criteria that the Oscars have crafted for their awards. Even without the best picture win, it’s gonna inspire filmmakers for generations. No disrespect to any of the other nominees here, but they aren’t gonna do that. So let’s be real. This is the best movie not just of the year, but of the decade and one of the best of the last 30.
“My name is Max. My world is fire and blood. Once, I was a cop. A road warrior searching for a righteous cause. As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken. It was hard to know who was more crazy… me… or everyone else.”
This has seemingly been a year about professionals doing their jobs despite the pressures put on them for doing so. Half the movies in this pool do that. Not all of them are about good guys, but hard work is at the center. And this is the best of them. Following the true story of the Boston reporters than uncover the massive coverup in the Catholic Church regarding pedophile priests, this is a fantastic movie. Expertly crafted, emotionally devastating and mind opening. Seeing how a society can seemingly allow an evil to seep into it’s soul without ever openly acknowledging it is fascinating. How the truth has been begging to come out but has been silenced by a lack of interest. And how a little quiver on the table can knock the whole house of cards down. Much like the next movie on here, it doesn’t lack in gut punches without becoming disgusting. It doesn’t shy away and doesn’t pull punches. The best low key movie this year. Any other year, this would be the best of the nominees. But alas.
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.”
Sometimes a movie is so good you never wanna watch it again. The goal it’s aiming for is sometimes hit so hard that it’ll leave a scorch mark on your soul and it’ll be too draining to take that trip again. This is one of those movies. Following a woman who was kidnapped and imprisoned for sex in the room she is trapped in, left on her own with the son she sired from her captor. It’s a wrenching movie, spending the first half in the room with them. The second half focuses on their adjustment to the world. The movie really is draining. It’s expertly crafted, acted with fiery passion by it’s two leads, and just takes a raw emotional honesty into an extraordinary experience. It could have been ugly and provocative with it’s kidnapping story, but it has the grace to pack a punch without devolving into the muck. At once a movie about rebirth and postpartum depression, the movie works just on the surface level without even delving into the thematic material at the center. Don’t brush it off as an indie movie. This is true cinema and deserves every god damn nomination it has, and then some.
“Once upon a time, before I came, you cried and cried and watched TV all day, until you were a zombie. But then I zoomed down from Heaven, through skylight, into Room. And I was kicking you from the inside. Boom boom! And then I shot out onto Rug with my eyes wide open, and you cut the cord and said, “Hello Jack!””
4. Bridge of Spies
It’s ridiculously easy to take Spielberg for granted when he just cranks a movie like this out with apparent ease. After coming off the pretty big Lincoln, he pares it down just a tad to tell what is essentially a legal drama set in the 50s that is pretty damn timely. A companion piece to Lincoln, this is another movie about a man fighting for the principals of the US. But this time out it’s about the red scare during the cold war. There’s a real world mirroring of the way POW’s have been treated today, an absolute travesty to the ideals our founding fathers have set. And Hanks’ character knows that if we don’t treat POWs with the ideals we hold for ourselves, we are no better than our enemies. So we watch his fight and it’s great. Funny and dramatic and thematically rich, all done with Spielbergs immense craftsmanship at the helm. This is a movie that is gonna be slept on but I feel will grow over time.
“My name’s Donovan. Irish, both sides. Mother and father. I’m Irish and you’re German. But what makes us both Americans? Just one thing. One. Only one. The rule book. We call it the Constitution, and we agree to the rules, and that’s what makes us Americans. That’s all that makes us Americans. So don’t tell me there’s no rule book, and don’t nod at me like that you son of a bitch.”
Sometimes a movie doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel or be a loud movie to be one of the best of the years. A well told, classical story can just hit the right grace notes to really impress over some of the more ambitious movies. This is a very small movie. Despite another movie in this groups small scale in terms of locations, this is something that isn’t completely out of the ordinary. Just a girl having to adjust to a new place and growing into her own person, falling in love. Simplicity at it’s finest. But it does enough work in the margins to separate it from the pack, never feeling stuffy and coming from a place of honesty and humanity. You feel like you’re in the time period with these people. It’s a lovely little story that packs a hell of an emotional punch.
“You have to think like an American. You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day, the sun will come out you might not even notice straight away-it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past. Someone who’s only yours.And you’ll realize that this is where your life is.”
6. The Martian
This deserves to be nominated if only for the sheer whiplash one would get from realizing that Ridley went from the clusterfuck run of Robin Hood, Prometheus, The Counselor, and Exodus to this. It would almost feel like it’s a different director if it wasn’t a masterfully crafted technical achievement. Taking the fantastic book about one mans journey to survive on Mars and the people back home on Earth trying to help that survival possible, Ridley has made his most human movie ever. There’s no grandstanding here. Just smart people being smart with a focus on the little moments. Visually gorgeous and featuring great performances, anchored of course by the great Matt Damon. Funny and thrilling, it never dips into dour while never undercutting the tension of the situation. It would be a hell of an achievement for most directors, but miraculous coming from the apparently over the hill Scott.
“Every human being has a basic instinct: to help each other out. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”
7. The Big Short
This is a fine movie. It’s a good way to get McKay into a more dramatic world. It does what it sets out to do, making the housing crisis palatable to regular folks while being funny and dramatic. It’s quick and breezy and an entertaining watch. But it’s missing a certain ingredient. Something to put it over the top into greatness. Maybe it’s that it never does any of what it sets out to do at peak levels. Funny but not gut busting. Dramatic but not too serious. There’s no characters to really connect to on the level that the crisis would affect them and therefore have us really care beyond the level of knowing what happened in history. It’s like it was one more draft away from being great. But hell, it’s a good movie. I can’t complain too greatly, other than the fact that a good deal of better movies deserved to be nominated. The tonal work is great and the fact that it’s about assholes and calls them out on it is fun. Like The Wild Bunch but for white collar jerkoffs.
“Truth is like poetry. And most people fucking hate poetry.”
8. The Revenant
It’s an absolute joke that this movie was nominated. The unwarranted love that Innarittu gets and the ridiculous praise heaped on the movie for being a “difficult” shoot and the narrative that Leo deserves to win an Oscar has blinded people from the severe flaws in this movie. It’s an empty shell of a movie, trying to goose up what would be a bland B movie into an elite class film. It has no idea what points it’s making by the time it spells out the themes for you in the last scene, completely contrasting with what came before. The basic plot has no weight since the connection between Leo and his son is never believable, only getting any service because the movie tells you you should. It’s overlong to the point of being laughable, not knowing how to get to the point of it’s scenes. Good, brutal scenes are undercut by its lack of cutting. The ever continuing case of Emperors New Clothes syndrome with Innarittu is to blame for this empty husk of a far better movie (ie The Grey) being nominated.
“Grunt, grunt, wheeze, yelp”
Swap Out The Big Short and The Revenant for The Hateful Eight, Creed, Ex Machina, and Chi-Raq
When Quentin Tarantino makes a movie, it would just be easier for everyone to nominate it for Best Picture. No one makes movies like him and no one knocks them out of the park the way he does. His movies are pure cinema, celebratory without being simple circle jerks. He always crafts a real movie imbued with a passion for this medium and it always makes the movies watchable. But this time out, Quentin has something to say. Django and Basterds had some stuff on their mind, but this is something else entirely. He’s always been a man with the intent to entertain first, but this time the message comes first. That’s why it’s been hard for people to connect with it, because the message is angry and the movie is mean. There’s no revenge fantasy at the heart of this like Django or Basterds. This is as close to real life as he can get with such a cinematic movie. In a year where Spike Lee made a movie about racial strife, Quentin made the meanest and most honest one. Cause his view is straight Peckinpah levels of nihilistic, where everyone is a piece of hateful shit who can only come together to put down a shared enemy. It’s filled with all of his brilliant dialogue, colorful characters and penchant for blackly humorous violence. But there’s weight to the violence too and it shoves your face in the nastiness. And for a movie about deceit and distrustful scumbags, it’s lone straight shooter is a Confederate terrorist. So yeah, it may not be for everyone looking to be coddled. But it’s got a message and alot to chew on in between the classic Tarantino goodness.
“The man who pulls the lever, that breaks your neck will be a dispassionate man. And that dispassion is the very essence of justice. For justice delivered without dispassion, is always in danger of not being justice.”
Mad Max wasn’t the only franchise to dust off and come back for another go round. Ryan Coogler revived the Rocky franchise to tell a deeply personal story by not focusing on Rocky, but having him in a supporting role. This time out we focus on a different kind of underdog. That of Apollo Creeds illegitimate son, Adonis. Having grown up both poor and then rich, he is a kid stuck in between worlds. He can survive as a white collar dude, but his heart is that of a bruiser like his father. But he’s got an anger he can’t shake. Life with his fathers shadow hanging over him with his father no longer around, Adonis needs to make a name for himself. But it’s more complicated than that, which leads to one of the most emotional moments in a movie full of them. Coogler took Stallone’s semi autobiographical series to tell his own personal story. And he even has Stallone in there to continue the trend of Rocky Balboa getting some shit off of Stallones chest. And Stallone just kills it, giving the best performance of his career. Michael B Jordan ain’t a slouch either, giving perhaps his best performance too. Coogler elevates himself to elite status with a masterfully crafted film. And the fights are so next level that they may very well alter how boxing scenes are filmed from here on out. A thematically rich entry into the iconic series that matches the original in heart and thrills? How can you go wrong?
“Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated.”
Ex Machina is one of the best sci fi movies we’ve had in a long time. It’s an indie that doesn’t feel it, is every bit as polished as the biggest budgeted movies in the world and is immensely fun to watch while having some heavy themes going on inside. Basically this is what Frankenstein would look like if a feminist Asimov wrote it. And for a movie that is seemingly very male oriented, it fits into the feminist bent that has crept into the Oscars this year. Featuring stunning performances, including Alicia Vikander in a performance that is better than her nominated work. Domnhall Gleeson in one of the 366 movies he did in the 12 months and Oscar Issac both give potentially career best performances. Gorgeous, tense and highly intelligent, this is a progressive flick that should have been given a lot more respect in this organization.
“One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa… an upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.”
Spike Lee hasn’t made a heartfelt masterpiece in almost 20 years, since He Got Game. He’s done some good work since, but none as highly personal. That is, until he came roaring back to life with Chi-Raq. The most energetic and angry movie he’s made in decades refocuses Spike as a director, giving him a juicy subject to chew into. It’s a big movie, taking big swings that don’t always hit. But the balls it has, going after everyone in laying the blame for gun violence in this country and for taking big swings with comedy. The tonal shifts could be disorienting in lesser hands, but he handles them with ease. You go from some goofy shit at a strip club with Wesley Snipes and Dave Chappelle to a tearful Jennifer Hudson scrubbing her dead childs blood off the streets without blinking an eye. Cause this, for as heightened a world as it is with it’s rhyming dialogue and theatrical storytelling, there’s a raw honesty to this. There’s humor and tragedy, so there’s no need to separate the two. A big ball of emotion and energy, this is a hell of an achievement. Yet somehow this wasn’t the best movie to tackle race relations this year.
“Yellow police tape, teddy bears, t-shirts, balloons – these are the national memorials of our neighborhoods. And it doesn’t look good.”