And the Oscar for Best Picture goes to…

Guess what? I’ve seen all of the 2016 Best Picture nominees! Even though I kind of hate the Oscars! Turns out I’m a completist.

Since these are the films that are going to be dominating the cultural conversation over the next few weeks, at least, it seems worthwhile to sum up my blog coverage.

The 2016 nominees are, overall, a pretty good bunch of films. The are no screaming howlers (though I might argue for placing The Big Short in this category), at least three of them pass the Bechdel test (um — yay?), and several of them are truly wonderful. Overlapping themes emerge: there are two stories of men surviving in inhospitable wildernesses (The Martian, The Revenant); two stories about wronged women fighting to overcome their abusers (Mad Max: Fury Road, Room); three stories about lone voices of truth confronting corruption (Spotlight, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies).

The most surprising inclusions are probably Mad Max and The Martian, as ‘genre’ films and comedies tend to get short shrift. There’s nothing as experimental as last year’s Birdman and Boyhood — in fact, several of the 2016 nominees are what you might call ‘solid and old-fashioned’, which in the case of these films is absolutely not an insult. The most glaring omission is the lack of films featuring an actor of colour in a significant role — the exceptions, to some degree, being The Martian and The Revenant.

Here’s my quick take on each of the nominees, based on a single viewing, loosely listed from my least favourite to favourite.

The Big Short

I liked Steve Carrell’s performance, and the script’s underlying sense of anger. I didn’t like its smugness, sexism and lazy storytelling. I said:

The film’s hyperactive, snarky script proves to be both its strength and its weakness… a decidedly mixed bag.

The Martian

I liked its sense of humour, its unabashed positivity. I didn’t like its thinly sketched characters. I said:

Well, that was a lot of fun. You can’t really fault The Martian on pure entertainment value, and its optimism is infectious.

The Revenant

I liked its stunning cinematography and immersive portrait of a place and time. I didn’t like its rather dull revenge narrative. I said:

The film’s relentless violence, and the idea that this violence may be viewed as a measure of its authenticity or worthiness, bothers me. But there’s no denying that The Revenant conjures a world of incredible vividness and primal beauty.

Spotlight

I liked its low-key storytelling and compassion for abuse survivors. There wasn’t much I didn’t like. I said:

The straightforward, unglamorous nature of Spotlight is its secret weapon. This is a film of quiet and unassuming profundity which gathers momentum slowly, never descending into sensationalism or melodrama.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I liked its mad, singular creativity and subversive leanings. I didn’t like all of that noisy crash-bang action, but that’s an unfair criticism of an action film. I said:

It does what any good piece of art should do: conjures a world all of its own, in this case a wrecked landscape full of haunting images and bizarre, evocative details. I wish I’d had the chance to see it in the cinema, and be fully immersed in its demented vision.

Bridge of Spies

I liked its humour, humanity and the magical Mark Rylance. There wasn’t much I didn’t like (though I may be giving it a pass when it comes to lack of female characters). I said:

Well, that was a genuine delight… Bridge of Spies is immensely likeable, its story told with a lightness of touch that staves off most of the worthiness and potential for sentimentality. I was captivated by its evocation of a fraught time in history, and moved by its portrait of the connection between Abel and Donovan.

Room

I liked its performances, its sense of wonder and hard-won hope. There wasn’t much I didn’t like. I said:

The sequences depicting Ma and Jack’s life together in captivity are moving and harrowing, but I found the film’s second half, in which they must adjust to the outside world, equally powerful. I’ll be thinking about these characters, and their tentative journey towards hope, for a long time.

Brooklyn

I liked its sweetness, romance and involving human drama. There wasn’t much I didn’t like. I said:

Brooklyn is the loveliest thing you will see at the cinema this week, or possibly this year. Irish actress Saoirse Ronan shines here in her first real adult role. The film is a coming-of-age tale as well as a romance, charting Eilis’s journey from naive girl to older, wiser woman.

Originally published at filmblog.damaris.org on February 22, 2016.

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