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

 

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 5 – Ex Machina

Ex Machina is a science-fiction thriller written and directed by Alex Garland. The film tells the story of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a computer coder for a powerful technology giant, who wins a competition to spend a week at the private compound of his company’s CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Once the two make acquaintances, Nathan tells Caleb that he was chosen to spend the week with him to witness one of the greatest scientific events in the history of man—Nathan’s creation of “Ava,” an A.I. (artificial intelligence). Caleb must perform a “Turing Test” on the A.I. to determine if Ava has the ability to exhibit intelligent behavior that is equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. As it becomes evident that Ava possesses incredible intelligence, the lines quickly become blurred between human and machine, and Nathan’s creation proves to be far more sophisticated than anyone could have ever imagined.

Ex7This movie is not your run-of-the-mill sci-fi. This movie is an experience unlike many others I’ve ever had—it’s a psychological thriller that is more of a character study than anything else. I have enjoyed a range of other “artificial intelligence” films in the past, such as Steven Spielberg’s A.I. (2001) and I, Robot (2004), but those movies never quite accomplished what Ex Machina has—in my opinion, the depth and genius of Ex Machina starts with writer/director Alex Garland. Garland cemented himself in the industry with his striking screenplay for the horror film 28 Days Later (2002), and in that script, he created one of the finest films in the horror genre; however, his story never became too “tropey,” meaning it never seemed cliché. In Ex Machina, he has done the same thing—only better! The plot of the film leaves the door wide open for a filmmaker to shell out the same boring motifs that already saturate this genre. Thankfully, Garland avoided this temptation and delivered a film that this genre should look to as the modern standard.

Ex3I do not want to sugarcoat anything—the film definitely gets incredibly philosophical, pondering what really makes us human. It is a lofty idea to conceptualize, but Garland does so in stunning fashion. His visuals are remarkable (Ava was part live-action and part-CGI), and his characters are even more spectacular. For starters, Ava’s entire existence and ability to learn how to interact like a human sets the tone for the twists, turns, and overall message of Garland’s film. She constantly poses thought-provoking questions to Caleb during his “Turing Test” research. Little by little, these questions create struggles for Caleb that manifest in him questioning his true role in Nathan’s experiment—he especially wonders about his very own existence. Ex5Speaking of Nathan, he is the most captivating character for me. He is a billionaire tech-genius with seemingly enough resources to live a lavish life. But the lavishness is not what one would imagine—he lives in a beautiful home (which doubles as a research facility), but he is completely secluded from the real world. In this home he is imprisoned, both mentally and physically, and he appears to be nothing more than a reclusive savant/madman. He claims to create Ava for purely scientific purposes, but it is apparent that his motivations are to create the perfect woman—this is his downfall.

Ex6Aside from Garland’s filmmaking vision, Ex Machina impresses from an acting standpoint. I am a huge fan of Domhnall Gleeson—he is incredibly charismatic in every role he takes on, but in Ex Machina, he ends up being more of a placeholder than anything else. It is worth noting that although Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac outperform Gleeson, this is not due to the latter’s own acting abilities, but instead the fact that Garland left the real story arcs to Ava and Nathan. Vikander nails her portrayal of Ava with grace, yet mystery. Playing a robot-like character is a tall task for any actor, but Vikander succeeds by delivering a perfect character equilibrium—Ava is not too robotic, but not too human, either. Vikander broke out as an actress in 2015, but despite the Oscar nomination for The Danish Girl, this, in my opinion, was her best performance from the past year. As alluded to earlier, I was exceptionally fascinated by Oscar Isaac’s performance as Nathan. He makes hilariously dry jokes and drinks copious amounts of alcohol—Isaac thrives off his character’s apparent charm. But at the same time, Nathan is demented and scary. This two-faced personality profile makes Nathan a character that cannot be trusted, even by the viewer—you never know if Nathan is showing his true colors. Ex4Oscar Isaac also helmed my favorite scene from the film. At a critical point in the movie where Caleb’s trust in Nathan is rapidly waning, Nathan’s assistant (Sonoya Mizuno) starts to dance on Nathan’s command. Nathan tells Caleb to dance with her, but Caleb has no interest—he wants to speak one-on-one with Nathan and question him about Ava. While asking Nathan what he was doing with Ava, Caleb says, “You tore up her picture.” Without missing a beat, Nathan pompously boasts, “I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude, check it out.” Not taking Caleb seriously, Nathan and his assistant then proceed to engage in one of the greatest dance scenes in film history—far and away my favorite moment! Ex Machina is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references, and some violence.

Ex Machina trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYGzRB4Pnq8

Academy Award nominations for Ex Machina:

Best Original Screenplay (Alex Garland)

Best Visual Effects (Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett)

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

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

Best Original Screenplay (2015)

This year’s Best Original Screenplay category features a wide variety of previous Oscar experience. A handful of the writers nominated will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time, while others will be making repeat appearances. The most experienced writers nominated are the Coen brothers, who received their 14th nomination as a duo for Bridge of Spies. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

Alex-Garland-Ex-MachinaWINNER: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Alex Garland has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

  1. Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight)

Tom McCarthy, also the director of Spotlight, was previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay for his work on Pixar’s Up (2009). Josh Singer has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

  1. Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton)

None of the Straight Outta Compton writers have previously been nominated for an Academy Award in any screenwriting category.

  1. Matt Charman, Joel Coen, and Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies)

Joel and Ethan Coen have each been nominated for 13 Academy Awards (26 total), five of which were in writing categories. The Coen brothers have been nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category twice, winning for Fargo (1996). Additionally, they have been nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category three times, winning for No Country for Old Men (2007). Matt Charman has never previously been nominated for an Oscar in any screenwriting category.

  1. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen (Inside Out)

Pete Docter has previously been nominated for five Academy Awards, three of which were for Best Original Screenplay (Toy Story (1995), WALL-E (2008), and Up (2009)). None of the other three writers for Inside Out have previously been nominated for an Oscar in a screenwriting category.