Movie Commentary: Award-Nominated Films 2016

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.
Photo: Disney

I’m currently on Oscar watch, actively viewing the movies up for awards at the 2016 Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and potentially, the Academy Awards. Below are my thoughts on the films I’ve finished thus far. For purposes of not repeating myself in each section, please note that I found all of the movies below just okay or worse, except the last 4 films in this post.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

BROOKLYN
While this film is also a potential Best Picture nominee, mainly it’s been garnering Best Actress buzz for its star, Saoirse Ronan (Atonement). I was also interested in watching it when I heard the screenwriter is Nick Hornby, who also wrote one of my favorite books, A Long Way Down.

Brooklyn isn’t my favorite, but it’s a sweet film. Centered on an Irish immigrant choosing between her homeland and America, the movie broke box office records in Ireland. If nothing else, it’s already a success in that it has most likely paved the way for more Irish films in Hollywood.

I also have to talk about Ronan’s co-stars. Ronan’s love interest was so charismatic the moment he appeared on screen that I Googled him and was surprised to find out that he was the same actor who played Bradley Cooper’s son in the critically acclaimed The Place Beyond the Pines.

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Emory Cohen and Saoirse Ronan, stars of ‘Brooklyn’ | Photo: Indiewire

The actor, Emory Cohen, looked so different in both films that not only is he emotionally transformative as an actor, but physically transformative as well, which makes him a casting director’s dream. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cohen was nominated for his own Oscar in the future.

 

Ronan’s other love interest in the film is played by Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter, Ex Machina), who is also on his acting game. With the both of them, Brooklyn continues the trend of having two equally good love interests for its central character. Neither of them is the bad guy, which just makes for more interesting storytelling.

Even though I was looking to watch the movie for the aforementioned reasons, I was most excited when I saw Emily Bett Rickards on screen in a small role; I let out a small shriek of glee as I’m a fan of hers from the television show, Arrow. She’s just another reason for you to watch Brooklyn, if you’re a Rickards fan like me.

With the two great love interests and countries of choice for its lead character, it looked like it would be hard for the story to stick the landing. However, to me, the ending was satisfying.

JOY
Joy is a contender this awards season for Best Actress nominations for its star, Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games). In this film, Lawrence didn’t particularly shine for me, but I’m a fan and she’s a talented actress and worthy of an Oscar nomination.

ROOM
Based on Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel about a mother and son stuck inside a room, the film adaptation is a potential Best Picture nominee and has a potential Best Supporting Actor nominee via Jacob Tremblay as the son and a practical shoo-in for a Best Actress nod with Brie Larson as the mom.

Again, I wasn’t wowed by the lead performance, but so far, my hope is that the Best Actress win goes to Larson.

Talent, of course, should be the main factor, but to go into the politics  of the other nominees a bit, Lawrence already has a win to her name and Ronan is fairly popular already and she’s the youngest so she may have the most time to win one in the near future.

Larson is a remarkable actress who deserves to be at the top of casting director’s lists now and in the future, and an Oscar win can make that happen for her. Not to mention that she and her previous work in the amazing film, Short Term 12, were criminally overlooked in the past.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
After good word-of-mouth, I expected more of this film. I wanted to like it, especially since many were applauding its feminist qualities (strong female roles, no love interests for the female characters, among others), but it fell short. It had more than one flaw, but I would say my chief critique would be that it lacked heart.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT
I’ve enjoyed writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s recent works, such as Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, and I thought this would be the case with his latest movie as well. It is not.

I also wasn’t expecting it to be more than 3 hours long but it was.

The award chatter surrounding this film is for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Best Supporting Actress turn in the movie. With a vague idea that it was a Western movie, I thought she would be a badass leading woman. As it turns out, she’s the prisoner.

What a letdown.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Walter Goggins in ‘The Hateful Eight’ | Photo: Disney

Prior to seeing the film, I was able to hear that there was plenty of violence, specifically toward African-Americans and women, but it was still tough to watch, especially the constant violence toward Leigh.

I’m excited though for the future possibilities for her co-star, Walter Goggins. He’s done amazing work on TV, such as Justified and Sons of Anarchy. Unfortunately, with this role, voters can’t really see what he can do, but perhaps a future role in one of Tarantino’s last films could be Goggins’ ticket to his Oscar.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Not being a Star Wars fan, nor this movie being very good, I don’t see this as a Best Picture nominee as some pundits predict, and I hope I’m right. It was just an average film. It didn’t pack strong emotional punches; there was no successful, rewarding crescendo moment.

Aside from that, they could have picked a more charismatic actor who could also land the jokes better than newcomer John Boyega. However, Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina) again proves that he’s one to watch. (I mean, do I need to say it? It’s in his name: Oscar winner in the future!) Newcomer Daisy Ridley is also likable as the female lead, which is no surprise as director JJ Abrams and his team has a knack for casting terrific female leads.

I SMILE BACK
I watched this because much to most people’s surprise, the film’s star, comedian Sarah Silverman, is nominated for a SAG Award for Best Actress. I’m also a fan of her co-star Josh Charles (The Good Wife).

It was a nice surprise for me to find that Thomas Sadoski is in it as well. Sadoski has next to nothing to do here (you can just watch it or perhaps Google for a shot of his butt), but his work on the TV show, The Newsroom, was brilliant, and I would also wager that he has an Oscar in his future.

After I watched I Smile Back, I learned that, like her character, Silverman suffered from depression. While it’s applaudable that she’s recovering from that and is open about it, for me, there’s nothing to see here really.

SPOTLIGHT
Spotlight, which chronicles the Boston Globe’s investigative team that uncovered the pedophilia crimes by Catholic priests, is considered to be the front runner for Best Picture. Because of 1) that, 2) the reviews I read, 3) having an interest in journalism, and 4) being familiar with the writer-director’s previous works, I had high expectations for the film, but unfortunately, Spotlight didn’t meet them.

I’m a big fan of writer-director Tom McCarthy’s previous films, such as The Station Agent and The Visitor. (The Cobbler is an exception, though McCarthy has said in an interview that he doesn’t regret that film. While I may understand his sort of “no regrets” policy, it makes me question his sanity a little bit, but not his genius.)

He set the bar so high with those films that I was excited about Spotlight. While it didn’t meet my high expectations, I’m glad McCarthy will most likely receive an Oscar nod for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Hopefully, it will turn more people to his other — and in my opinion, much more — beautiful works.

One review also stated that the film didn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of what happened to the survivors (not to be called victims), but I didn’t necessarily see that. Perhaps the people behind the movie could have picked — or written — better survivor stories, or had better actors in the roles of the survivors.

Spotlight is also thought to score Best Supporting Actor nomination/s for one or both of its stars, Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers). However, Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes) is the one getting most of the major award nominations as Best Supporting Actress.

McAdams didn’t necessarily stand out to me, but she’s an exceptional actress and one of my faves who is deserving of an Oscar nod. I could also see a nomination for the gifted Ruffalo, especially since he has the emotional scene in the movie, wherein I teared up a bit.

I don’t think there’s a winner who could give a more funny or  a more powerful speech than [Amy] Schumer, given her political views and recent events (shootings and gun control legislation). … I mean, even if she doesn’t use the stage to talk about gun control, she could also talk about relevant women topics, such as body image or equal pay, as she does on her television show.

STEVE JOBS
This was a talk-y movie, not in the Before Sunrise way, but in an Aaron Sorkin way (who wrote Steve Jobs). I’m a fan of Sorkin’s work, but this had less of that delicious Sorkin dialogue a la the fun and funny walking-and-talking in The West Wing. Apart from the comedy that was missing, this movie would have benefited more with a different treatment from another writer and/or director.

It has a rousing ending, which was the best part of the movie, partly because the ending also put the focus back on Jobs’s relationship with his daughter. While there are traces of their relationship in the movie, there wasn’t nearly enough, since clearly, that was what would have elevated the film.

Award-giving bodies may also find something lacking in Steve Jobs as they’re primarily nominating Michael Fassbender (Shame) and Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in acting categories.

INSIDE OUT
Since the part where most people cried was kind of spoiled for me, I feel like that’s why I didn’t cry when I watched the movie and why I’m not amped about it as others are. Still, it’s deserving of at least a Best Animated Feature nomination, if not Best Picture (as some pundits argue).

THE MARTIAN

‘The Martian’ cast, including (top row) Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon and (bottom row) Sebastian Stan and Kate Mara | Photo: Pinterest

This movie is said to be up for Best Picture, Best Actor for Matt Damon, and Best Director for Ridley Scott. I would say that Best Picture is a stretch because it’s not a great film even just going by summer blockbuster standards and the overall tone of the film (which includes a lot of cursing) doesn’t necessarily scream, Academy Award, to me.

I don’t know if scenes were cut for time or what have you, but I feel like The Martian shortchanges the audience in terms of the relationship between Damon’s character and the other space crew members (played by Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, and Kate Mara, among others). The crew’s willingness to go back and rescue Damon isn’t earned.

It would have been better to include more scenes with Damon and the other actors before Damon is stuck on Mars, to establish their camaraderie. That way, the talents of their great cast would have been fully realized. I was looking forward to seeing this for Chastain and Stan, but unfortunately, their roles are quite small. The star, Damon, was just ordinary, and by his own admission, he would give the trophy to other actors. 

TRAINWRECK

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Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Schumer | Photo: People

Having read about the celebrity-based decision-making of the Golden Globes, I’m pretty sure Trainwreck and its lead (and writer) Amy Schumer was nominated so she would attend the award ceremony with newfound celebrity bestie, Lawrence, and duke it out for Best Actress in a Comedy. They would no doubt boost the hype and youth demo of the show, leaving a gazillion gifs in their wake.

 

 

I have no complaints as one can hardly deny that it’s Schumer’s year. Moreover, she has been using her raised profile for good, supporting causes like gun control, following the shooting at a Trainwreck screening.

It’s also been said that voters give awards to actors they want to see give acceptance speeches at the award ceremony. I don’t think there’s a winner who could give a more funny or  a more powerful speech than Schumer, given her political views and recent events (shootings and gun control legislation).

Actually, now I’m super on board with this. I mean, even if she doesn’t use the stage to talk about gun control, she could also talk about relevant women topics, such as body image or equal pay, as she does on her television show. Who would have thought something good would come of the celebrity-centric Golden Globes other than photos of your fave celebs together and drunk?

SPY
I really enjoyed this Golden Globe-nominated comedy, moreso than Bridesmaids (they have the same director Paul Feig and actresses, Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne). I feel like Bridesmaids caters to the more specific American humor while Spy has more accessible comedy.

It’s also refreshing to see McCarthy in a leading action role. I felt like re-watching it the moment the end credits rolled.

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS

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Blythe Danner in ‘ I’ll See You in My Dreams’ | Photo: Awards Circuit

This was a lovely, quiet film about an elderly woman who meets a new friend as well as a new love. There’s some chatter that lead actress Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents) is a Best Actress nominee longshot, but to me, she’s one of the more deserving ones this award season, and one I would like to see win.

Danner shines and the supporting cast is superb. Martin Starr (Party Down) does his best work here as the new best friend and Sam Elliott (Justified) is charming as always.

THE DANISH GIRL
Of the award-nominated films I’ve seen thus far, this is one of the few movies I like. Also based on a true story, it takes us through the life of Lili Elbe as she becomes one of the first to undergo sex reassignment surgery from a man to a woman around the 1920s. Also essential to the story is her relationship with her wife, who was supportive of the change — unprecedented for the times.

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Eddie Redmayne (left and center) and Alicia Vikander of ‘The Danish Girl’ | Photo: Indiewire

Award-nominated actors Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Alicia Vikander (Ex-Machina) created such a beautiful relationship on screen that I’d love to see more films starring the two of them. Redmayne, in particular, is not only deserving of a nomination but a win.

Another reason why I wanted to see this movie was it also stars Ben Whishaw (Bright Star, Skyfall) in a supporting role. I would consider him one of my favorite actors and his work in this only confirms that.

Trivia: Did you know that Nicole Kidman was attached to star in The Danish Girl‘s leading role for years before Redmayne assumed the role?

BRIDGE OF SPIES
In the midst of the average award-nominated films this year, Bridge of Spies is my favorite that I’ve seen so far. It was like a burst of fresh air. Like, finally! A good one.

If you’ve seen Spielberg’s recent movies, the film is reminiscent of that style and is one of his finer works. The movie was definitely inspiring. It just hit all the right notes. I really hope it at least gets a Best Picture nomination, if not a win.

Bridge of Spies is also about the stuff Oscar-nominated films are made of: “During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot.” To top it all off, it’s based on a true story.

I also really like the moving and relatable messages it conveys: 1) everyone, even an enemy of the state, is entitled to the protection of the law, the U.S. Constitution and 2) it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks; you know what you did (if you betrayed your country or not).

What I’ve been reading from the award pundits is that there’s no category that’s locked in this year, where there’s a film or actor that’s sure to win every award, like previous years’ J.K. Simmons for Whiplash or Mo’Nique for Precious. However, the most locked-in acting award this year seems to be Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Rylance for his work in this film — and rightly so.

Rylance plays the Soviet spy and a case could be made that he has just one main line to say throughout the entire movie (“Would it help?”), but he gives a great delivery, almost to a humorous degree after the nth time he says it. His performance overall is also great — understated, drawing you in.

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