Every year, many films and people are overlooked by the Academy Awards. The Oscar is Hollywood’s most prestigious award and you better believe it is a political process. The following are my thoughts on this year’s Best Picture nominees. I have transcribed my reviews for Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Revenant and posted comments for Spotlight and The Big Short. I have yet to see Bridge of Spies, Room, or Brooklyn.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Logline: In a post apocalyptic desert wasteland where water and gasoline are scarce commodities, two rebels join forces to flee a cult leader.
Review: After thirty years since the release of a Mad Max film, George Miller’s stark dystopian world returns to the screen and does not disappoint.
The original Mad Max trilogy includes Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). At the moment, I have only seen The Road Warrior, which is truly one of the best of its kind; a relentless action film that is a pure adrenaline rush. Fury Road takes the action to an entirely new level. It is astonishing that Miller is able to sustain the film’s action at such a breakneck pace. Fury Road is beautifully shot and Miller makes great use of the film’s vast desert landscape. Every grain of sand becomes palpable and the viewer is thrust right into the action.
Despite the title, the film is by no means carried by Max (Tom Hardy) and he is not even the central character. Rather, the film belongs to Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a strong female character driven to find her birthplace.
Fury Road does not rely on CGI but rather, utilizes many practical special effects. The film is full of surprises. Nowadays, it is hard to come by an action film that is as astonishing and unpredictable as Fury Road. The best part is that Miller has stated that he has two more Mad Max stories to tell.
Rating (out of ****): ***1/2
Logline: Left behind by his crew, an astronaut must learn how to survive on Mars.
Review: Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a strong science fiction adventure about survival. It is pretty lighthearted when compared to Scott’s other films, which are usually much darker. The Martian has a healthy dose of humor and features a strong performance from Matt Damon as the stranded astronaut Mark Watney. The viewer becomes invested in every step of his survival on a desolate, hostile planet.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the film is its special effects. The film does in fact look as if it was shot on Mars. Recent films such as Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014), and The Martian plunge the viewer into the far reaches of space.
The film can be seen as an allegory to humanity’s present situation on Earth. When it seems as if all is lost and we are on the brink of environmental catastrophe, we must not lose hope. As Mark says in the film, “You can lie down and die or you can fight.”
The rescue sequence finale is not as satisfying as one would hope. However, The Martian is still highly entertaining scifi from a filmmaker who directed two undisputed classics from the genre, Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Fans of Scott should definitely see it and for everyone else, it is also worth a watch.
Rating (out of ****): ***1/2
Logline: On a fur trading expedition in the 1820s, a frontiersman is badly injured by a bear and left for dead by members of his own party.
Review: After 2014’s excellent Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu tops himself yet again with The Revenant, a haunting, beautiful film that explores the cruelty of man against the backdrop of a vast wilderness.
Survival, loss, betrayal, and revenge are all elements of The Revenant, an epic tale told on a personal scale. The viewer is there for every step of Hugh Glass’s journey. Leonardo Dicaprio is amazing as always. Perhaps, the forty-one year old actor will finally be awarded a long overdue Oscar this year for his role as Glass.
Iñárritu collaborated with his cinematographer from Birdman, Emmanuel Lubezki to achieve the film’s aesthetic. The visual style is astounding with natural lighting that supports the film’s unflinching realism. The film is brutally realistic in its jarring juxtaposition of humanity and nature. There are some incredible set pieces. The opening assault is breathtaking and the remainder of the film sustains a high level of intensity. I was in awe for the majority of the film’s two and a half hour run time, which is surprisingly brisk. The film’s raw, ferocious intensity is coupled with a meditative, poetic tone.
The Revenant is a modern-day classic complete with gorgeous visuals, superb acting, and a visceral intensity. It is masterful filmmaking and one of the year’s must-see films.
Rating (out of ****): ****
Logline: The Boston Globe uncovers a massive scandal involving the Catholic Church and a cover-up of child molestation.
Comments: Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is an important film because it tells a true story that everyone needs to know. The editing and pacing of the film is like that of a thriller. The players, including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci, all deliver top-notch performances.
Rating (out of ****): ****
The Big Short
Logline: A group of men predict the credit and housing bubble of 2007.
Comments: Adam McKay’s The Big Short is another of this year’s nominees that has an important true story to tell; in this case, the build-up of the housing bubble and crash of 2007. Frankly, I was surprised that this film was nominated. It is a bit of a jumbled mess. However, it is a pretty solid production with some fun performances particularly from Christian Bale.
Rating (out of ****): ***