Review: My Ballot and Countdown (2015)

And just like that, my fourth annual Oscars Ballot and Countdown blogging has come to an end. And in bigger news: The Academy Awards are finally here! Per usual, in preparation for tonight’s ceremony, I am providing a review of my blog from these past few weeks. This review includes all of the winners of the 16 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about (my personal ballot), and it also includes my list of the “Top 15 Films of the Year.”

Get caught up on my picks, and feel free to look back over any of my previous posts this season, which feature much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances. Lastly, make sure to tune into the 88th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: Mad Max: Fury Road

Actor in a Leading Role: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

Actress in a Leading Role: Brie Larson (Room)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Best Director: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Cinematography: John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Film Editing: Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)

Best Production Design: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Sound Editing: Mark A. Mangini and David White (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Sound Mixing: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Visual Effects: Mark Williams Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris, and Andrew Whitehurst (Ex Machina)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

Best Original Screenplay: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. The Big Short
  4. Sicario
  5. Ex Machina
  6. Spotlight
  7. Straight Outta Compton
  8. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  9. Steve Jobs
  10. Creed
  11. ’71
  12. Room
  13. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  14. Beasts of No Nation
  15. The Martian

 

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Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 3 – The Big Short

The Big Short is a biographical comedy-drama directed by Adam McKay, with a screenplay by McKay and Charles Randolph, which is adapted from Michael Lewis’s book of the same name. Set during the financial crisis in 2007–08, the film follows a group of brilliant men who discover that the global economy is on the brink of collapse. In order to push the market to its brink to bring attention to the downright fraudulent activity being conducted by Wall Street’s biggest banks, these men decide to do what no one else would ever dream of: bet against the housing market.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that a movie about the housing-market collapse would be so amazing, but The Big Short is just that. Many films have been made about the infamous financial crisis of 2007–08, including one of the best films from 2011, J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call. The problem with most of those movies, including Margin Call, is that most of the time, you really have zero clue what is going on. Why? Because financial jargon is ridiculously confusing and nonsensical at times. TBS5This is where The Big Short blows every film about the most recent financial crisis out of the water. Don’t get me wrong—The Big Short definitely still features some convoluted financial lingo, but it is writer/director Adam McKay’s method for making this complex subject understandable to the average layperson that makes the film so brilliant. He dumbs the subject matter down but never in a condescending manner—it is instead enjoyable and exciting. McKay perfectly utilizes the film technique known as “breaking the fourth wall.” In order to make this intricately dense subject comprehensible, his characters speak directly to the audience. Early on, Ryan Gosling’s character breaks the fourth wall to tell us, “I’m guessing most of you still don’t know what really happened? Yeah, you’ve got a sound bite you repeat so you don’t sound dumb but c’mon.” It’s true—most people watching don’t know what all really happened. Throughout the film, McKay uses famous celebrities in cameo roles to break the fourth wall and explain preposterously baffling financial terms to us. TBS4Margot Robbie is featured in a bubble bath sipping champagne as she breaks down “sub-prime loans,” and Selena Gomez is later shown at a poker table in Las Vegas to explain what a “synthetic collateralized debt obligation” is. These brief vignettes work—they dumb down the terminology for us so that throughout the rest of the film, we can completely understand what is going on when those financial words are referred to. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph’s strategy is incredible, and it makes this movie so much fun to watch.

TBS6Although this film is hilarious throughout, the third act puts everything into perspective: This story is, first and foremost, a heartbreaking tragedy. Adam McKay is the comedic genius behind iconic comedies like Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, so he obviously has a knack for humor. In The Big Short, he brings those deft comedic chops to the table dexterously. But I was most incredibly impressed with how he, as a proven comedic filmmaker, handled the brutally dramatic reality of the financial collapse. The movie made me laugh, but it also made me angry. I found myself bouncing between happiness and sadness throughout. During the film, you see the deceptive behavior conducted on Wall Street, and you want to see those guys suffer. When McKay’s characters come into the fold with the genius “big short” idea, you root for these guys. You want to see them succeed in their risky investments. TBS7But one scene towards the end with Brad Pitt summed up the true message of the film flawlessly. While Pitt’s character’s associates are celebrating the fact that their bet appears to be paying off (while the audience was internally cheering, too), Pitt reminds them what their success really means: “If we’re right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings. People lose pensions.” At one of the film’s highest points, this quote brings it all crashing down to the floor—this crisis ruined people’s lives. As mentioned above, this truly brings everything into perspective.

TBS3Another amazing aspect of The Big Short is the acting. Wow, McKay assembled an incredible cast. Christian Bale has garnered the most attention, as he has received a wealth of nominations at major award shows this season, including an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He plays the real-life Dr. Michael Burry, an antisocial hedge fund manager who initially conceives the idea of “the big short.” Bale is obviously one of the best actors in the game, and I admit, he was spot-on in his portrayal; however, I thought he gave the third-best performance of the film. The top two acting performances in my mind were Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. TBS2Carell plays Mark Baum, a character based on the real-life Steve Eisman. The character is bitterly angry all of the time at the big banks, and he receives his calling in life to participate in “the big short” because he can once and for all stick it to the guys he sees as society’s real criminals. Carell was fantastic last year in his Oscar-nominated role in Foxcatcher, but for me, this was his greatest acting achievement. TBS1My favorite performance, though, was Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett, a character based on the real-life Greg Lippmann. Vennett is a talented bond salesman for Deutsche Bank who, like Dr. Burry, makes the decision to short collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). His character is a cynical greaseball, but all the while charming. Gosling brings his heartthrob persona to this character brilliantly, and he definitely gives a performance that should have resulted in an Oscar nomination. The Big Short is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.

The Big Short trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgqG3ITMv1Q

Academy Award nominations for The Big Short:

Best Picture (Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Brad Pitt)

Best Director (Adam McKay)

Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Adam McKay and Charles Randolph)

Best Film Editing (Hank Corwin)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

  1. Sicario
  2. Ex Machina
  3. Spotlight
  4. Straight Outta Compton
  5. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  6. Steve Jobs
  7. Creed
  8. ’71
  9. Room
  10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  11. Beasts of No Nation
  12. The Martian

Best Director (2015)

In this year’s Best Director category, just two nominees are receiving their inaugural Oscar nomination (Adam McKay, who is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay; and Lenny Abrahamson). The other three directors have combined for twelve previous Academy Award nominations. Of those twelve, four are Oscar wins (three for Alejandro G. Iñárritu and one for George Miller). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Director:

WINNER: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Miller 1George Miller is the Australian director behind the original Mad Max trilogy, as well as Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two. During this awards season, George Miller has already garnered the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Director. Miller was previously nominated for four Oscars: Best Original Screenplay (Lorenzo’s Oil), Best Adapted Screenplay (Babe), Best Animated Feature (Happy Feet), and Best Picture (Babe). Of those four nomination, Miller has just one Oscar win: Best Animated Feature for Happy Feet.

  1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Inarritu 2Alejandro G. Iñárritu is a renowned Mexican filmmaker—he is the visionary behind the Oscar-winning film Birdman and the celebrated “Death Trilogy” (Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel). During this awards season, Iñárritu has already won the BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Director. Iñárritu has been previously nominated for seven Oscars: twice for Best Foreign Language Film (Amores perros and Biutiful), twice for Best Director (Babel and Birdman), once for Best Original Screenplay (Birdman), and twice for Best Picture (Babel and Birdman). Of those seven nominations, he has won three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay for Birdman.

  1. Lenny Abrahamson (Room)

Abrahamson 1Lenny Abrahamson is an Irish film director—he has previously directed What Richard Did (2012) and Frank (2014). In addition to his nomination for Room, Abrahamson has additionally been nominated for Best Director at the Irish Film & Television Awards and Satellite Awards. Abrahamson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award in any category.

  1. Adam McKay (The Big Short)

McKay 1Adam McKay is an American filmmaker, renowned for writing and directing critically acclaimed comedies, such as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and additionally producing such comedies as The Campaign, Tammy, Welcome to Me, and Get Hard. In addition to the Oscars, McKay has been nominated for Best Director at the BAFTAs and Directors Guild of America. He has also earned nominations in the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars and Golden Globes, while also winning the award at the BAFTAs, Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Writers Guild of America Awards. McKay has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

McCarthy 1Tom McCarthy is an American actor, writer, and director. In his acting capacity, he is best known as Dr. Bob Banks in the Meet the Parents trilogy. He is a critically acclaimed director for films such as The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2007). Additionally, he is an accomplished writer, penning scripts for the previously two named films, as well as the Oscar-nominated Up (2009). In fact, Up is his lone previous Oscar nomination (Best Original Screenplay). This awards season, McCarthy won the Best Director award at the Satellite Awards.

Best Adapted Screenplay (2015)

This year (just like the previous two years), nearly every single writer nominated in this category will be attending the Academy Awards for the very first time. In fact, the only writer in this year’s group that has ever been nominated before is Nick Hornby, nominated this year for Brooklyn. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:

McKayRandolph TBSWINNER: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

Adam McKay (also the director of The Big Short) and Charles Randolph adapted this screenplay from Michael Lewis’s 2010 non-fiction book of the same name. McKay and Randolph have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Emma Donoghue (Room)

Emma Donoghue adapted this screenplay from her own 2010 novel of the same name. Donoghue has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Drew Goddard (The Martian)

Drew Goddard adapted this screenplay from Andy Weir’s 2011 science-fiction novel of the same name. Goddard has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Nick Hornby (Brooklyn)

Nick Hornby adapted this screenplay from Irish author Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel of the same name. Hornby was previously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for An Education (2009).

  1. Phyllis Nagy (Carol)

Phyllis Nagy adapted this screenplay from Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking novel The Price of Salt (1952). Nagy has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.