My Review of the 88th Academy Awards

Well, that’s a wrap on the 88th edition of the Academy Awards. More so than any year previously, the show began with a giant elephant in the room. Deciding to stick with his plans to host, comedian Chris Rock was expected to bring the heat with regards to the serious diversity issue surrounding Hollywood’s biggest night—for better or for worse, he definitely came to play. This year’s Oscars, like most years, had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony:

Chris Rock and the Diversity Issue:

We all knew it was coming from the moment Chris Rock stepped on stage. With the #OscarsSoWhite campaign grilling the Academy’s every move, diversity was always going to be a central topic of the night. Chris Rock, a comedian who has never shied away from racially themed rhetoric, was the catalyst Hollywood so desperately needed to address these issues on Oscar night. Oscars3As far as Rock’s opening monologue, I thought he killed it. While most hosts focus on all of the movies and performances from the year, Rock instead spent his entire opening speech discussing the diversity issues in mainstream cinema. The best part about his monologue was that it was equal parts spoof and sincerity. He hilariously addressed the fact that Jada Pinkett-Smith of all people was the lead protestor of this year’s ceremony due to the lack of diversity in acting categories (although her main beef was obviously that husband Will Smith was “snubbed”). Rock remarked, “Jada is going to boycott the Oscars. Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

In this day and age, race is a particularly hot topic, and although most modern racism is not exactly as it once was (see the 1960s), it absolutely still exists nationwide, even if not so blatant. Rock made light of this fact as well: “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. But it ain’t that racist that you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”

Comedian Chris Rock hosts the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood

Chris Rock made the debate funny, while still inserting kernels of truth. He ultimately ended his monologue on a serious note, making a poignant statement that I absolutely agree with in regards to this diversity debate in cinema: “What I’m trying to say is, you know, it’s not about boycotting anything. It’s just, we want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.” In his opening monologue, Chris Rock hit the nail on the head!

Best Moment: (Leo takes home the gold)

Was there really anything better than watching one of the greatest actors in the history of film hear his name called for the very first time at the Oscars? No, people…the answer is “no.” Leonardo DiCaprio has furnished movie-lovers everywhere with an endless supply of quality acting performances in some outstanding films, yet, the 41-year-old actor had never won an Oscar, despite being previously nominated four times in acting categories. UNTIL THIS YEAR! Oscars6As I have mentioned more than once on my blog this year, Leo’s win was never going to be a lifetime achievement award. This was never going to be a “make-up call” for snubbing him multiple times in the past. This year, if Leo won, it was always going to be because his performance in The Revenant was raw, unrelenting, and downright incredible. When Julianne Moore announced Leo as the winner for Best Actor, the crowd stood and cheered loudly—partly because everyone knew this was way past due, but also partly because each and every person in that crowd knew that this year, nobody was better! It was one of the coolest moments in my lifetime of watching the Oscars. Congrats, Leo!

The REAL MVP: (The dude/gal who knew better than to “play off” Leo during his speech)

We have waited decades for Leo to finally take home his first Oscar. And when he finally got on stage to accept his much-deserved award, he gave a speech that clearly appeared as if it would last a good while. I sat on my couch with bated breath, waiting for the orchestra to start playing Leo off. But I waited…and waited…and waited. And the music never came! THANK THE LORD!!!Oscars8 If I would have been at the show, and the orchestra started to play Leo off, I might have throat-punched the conductor (or whichever producer gave the conductor the cue to start the music). Fans of Leo’s career have waited a long time to see him up on that stage, and whoever was in charge of deciding whether or not to play Leo off—you the REAL MVP for saying, “NO!”

Most Boring Moment: (The dreaded length of the ceremony)

This show has got to get shorter. For the fourth straight year, the ceremony lasted over 3 ½ hours (this year’s length was 3 hours, 37 minutes). This year, the Academy instituted a new feature: All winners had already recorded a list of people that they would like to thank, which scrolled across the bottom of the screen like a Sportscenter ticker. Despite this new element, the show still plodded on and on. One of the main things to blame, in my opinion, for the show’s length is the excessive commercial breaks. The NFL can get away with so many cuts to commercial because when the game returns, its hard-hitting action keeps us occupied—the Academy Awards, on the other hand, does not pack that kind of punch. Oscars4When it came down to the final four awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director), the show took 2 commercial breaks. Best Director was announced right after a commercial break, and then—you guessed it—the show took another commercial break. When the ceremony returned, Best Actress was revealed. Then, yep, another commercial break. It was already almost 11pm (CST) at that point, and yet, the show stumbled to the finish line. Something has to be done about the length of the Oscars. Although I love the Academy Awards, I totally get where people are coming from when they complain about its boring nature. Here’s to hoping something changes next year.

Most Surprising Moment: (Mark Rylance defeats Sly Stallone for Best Supporting Actor)

Oscars5

No, Spotlight winning Best Picture is not the most surprising moment of the night—although I disagreed with the Academy’s decision in that category, it was not completely out of left field. This year was one of the tightest Best Picture races in history, as there was never a clear-cut favorite—in fact, The Revenant, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Spotlight all garnered “Best Picture” wins at variously renowned awards ceremonies this year. The biggest surprise for me was Mark Rylance winning Best Supporting Actor, a category that most viewed as a complete lock for Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Leading up the Oscars, Stallone’s odds were 2/7 to win the big award, although, to be fair, Rylance was always his biggest competition (his odds were 5/2). Although I did enjoy Rylance’s performance in Bridge of Spies, I was completely caught off guard because the hype has long indicated that Stallone would be a shoe-in for the win.

Hottest Dress: (Rachel McAdams)

Oscars9Look, I am a movie guy—I am not at all a style critic. But let’s be honest, Rachel McAdams looked smokin’ in that green dress last night. The 37-year-old Canadian actress was definitely one of the best dressed from Oscar night, and her gown even had my wife crushing on how “hot” she looked! Let’s all take a minute to bask in the beauty of one of Hollywood’s most stunning stars!

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 6 – Spotlight

Spotlight is a biographical drama directed by Tom McCarthy, with a screenplay by McCarthy and Josh Singer. The film tells the true-life story of a group of investigative journalists with the Boston Globe as they work to uncover a child-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Throughout a year of investigating, the “Spotlight” team discovers a systemic cover-up at all levels of authority in Boston (religious, legal, and governmental). What is more horrifying is that Boston ends up being merely one of many child sex-abuse scandals centered on the Catholic Church around the entire globe. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, or whether you are planning on seeing it or not, it is absolutely worth your time to read the original publications from the “Spotlight” team, which earned the Boston Globe a Pulitzer Prize.

Spotlight4Spotlight is sad, angering, and despicable at times—that is what makes it so incredibly compelling. The Catholic Church has immense power and prominence worldwide, but the fact that this story takes place in Boston is vital—the Catholic Church is a way of life in Boston, just like the Red Sox and clam chowder. In the film, the Globe’s new editor Marty Baron kicks off the investigation, and the journalists are initially thrown off—characters question Baron vigorously about whether it is such a good idea to take on the Catholic Church in a community where that institution permeates everyday life. Throughout the investigation, citizens of Boston—including lawyers, members of the Church, and even victims of sexual abuse from Boston priests—are hesitant to speak with the “Spotlight” team, and some are even downright appalled that this story is even a thing. It is against this backdrop that makes Spotlight such an important film: Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church runs rampant, and yet, as contemptible as it sounds, everyone who denies the graveness of the scandal becomes complicit in its cover up.

Spotlight2Although Spotlight is by far one of the best movies from 2015, I do not credit Tom McCarthy with much of its success as a director (he did co-write the script, which is impressive). I know, this sounds like a pretty bold and cynical statement considering McCarthy received an Oscar nomination for Best Director (I assure you, he does not deserve the nomination—especially since The Martian’s Ridley Scott was left out of the category in a year when he absolutely deserved to be included), but Spotlight thrives off its screenplay and story. Visually, there is nothing that jumps out as unique; the camerawork is simple and McCarthy’s direction is minimal. Spotlight3Spotlight makes its mark due to its remarkable script, written by McCarthy and Josh Singer. The story is gripping, and the screenplay reads like a thriller at times. With every passing moment, the substance of the film grows more sickening, and it is this tough-to-stomach plotline that keeps you on the edge of your seat. McCarthy (as a writer) and Singer rely on their award-winning source material to guide this film, and they do so with marvelous precision.

Spotlight6Despite the fact that the film succeeds due to its heavy reliance on the story, a talented ensemble cast carries out this triumph dexterously. The film features great performances from Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci. However, the best performances come from Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, both of whom received deserved Oscar nominations in the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories, respectively. Spotlight7Ruffalo plays Michael Rezendes, a “Spotlight” reporter whose unyielding efforts to take on the Catholic Church provided some of the most noteworthy insights into the scandal. Ruffalo is a masterful actor, and his portrayal of Rezendes earned him his third Oscar nomination in six years. McAdams delivers my favorite performance in the film as Sacha Pfeiffer, another “Spotlight” reporter. Spotlight8Pfeiffer’s character has one of the more fundamental, yet complex character arcs, and McAdams excels in her portrayal. Pfeiffer’s grandmother is a devout Catholic, and Sacha attends mass with her regularly. This storyline delineates the constant confliction McAdams’s character faces—how can she reconcile her loyalty to her grandmother with her determination to take down the Church as a disreputable institution? McAdams flourishes in this role. Spotlight is rated R for some language including sexual references.

Spotlight trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb_WgKDqPsE

Academy Award nominations for Spotlight:

Best Picture (Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust)

Best Director (Tom McCarthy)

Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo)

Best Supporting Actress (Rachel McAdams

Best Original Screenplay (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer)

Best Film Editing (Tom McArdle)

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

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

Best Supporting Actress (2015)

 

This year’s Best Supporting Actress category features a “Who’s Who” of Oscar novices. Only Kate Winslet and Rooney Mara are veterans to the ceremony. Most view this category as a two-horse race: Winslet for Steve Jobs and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. Four weeks out from the show, the competition appears to be neck-and-neck between two distinctly different actresses—Winslet a long-time Hollywood heavyweight and Vikander a radiant starlet. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) 

Vikander 12015 was the year that Alicia Vikander broke out onto American movie screens with a vengeance. 2016 will be the year she cements herself as a perennial contender among Hollywood’s elite. How so, you might ask? By taking home that coveted gold statue on Oscar night for her brilliant role as the real-life Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl. Right up until I started writing this post, my vote was for Winslet’s performance in Steve Jobs—she really was stellar. But with wins at the SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards ceremonies, Vikander is deserved in leaping past one of film’s greatest actresses for this award. The Danish Girl tells the true-life account of Einar Wegener (who later became Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery) and his wife Gerda. Honestly, I did not enjoy the film much. It looked great (all Tom Hooper films do; e.g., 2010’s The King Speech), but Redmayne did not sell it for me as a viewer. Vikander 2Despite this critique, Vikander stood out brilliantly as the lone bright spot in an otherwise boring movie. As her husband began to struggle with his identity, Gerda, the love of his life, struggled through denial and rage; through sadness and acceptance. Those emotions told the true story, and Vikander delivered each line, each look, and each tear with stunning delicacy—the grandeur of the 27-year-old Swede’s acting was nothing short of moving. Vikander has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) 

Winslet 1Kate Winslet did almost everything she could in Steve Jobs to earn my vote for Best Supporting Actress. The only thing standing in her way was the up-and-coming Alicia Vikander’s performance in The Danish Girl. As has been mentioned, this category will come down to these two actresses. Whether she wins or not, Winslet will forever be ingrained in Silicon Valley history with her daring portrayal of Apple’s head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman. Steve Jobs was a tremendous film, but it felt more like a stage play, something I was not expecting. There are only three scenes in the entire film, set behind the scenes at three separate Apple-product launches, and Winslet makes a stunning mark on the entire movie. While Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) struggles throughout with the debacle that is the crossroads of his personal and professional life, Hoffman is always the one by his side to reconcile his troubles. I rarely say this—because it is one of the most pretentious-sounding comments regarding film—but I truly forgot Winslet was playing Hoffman. She was that entrenched into this character. Winslet GifShe mastered the accent (a product of English mixed with Hoffman’s Polish and Armenian origin), delineated the requisite emotions of a strong, independent woman, and even stole the show from Fassbender at times. Never have I watched Winslet shine like this; not since Titanic and The Reader. She won the Golden Globe for this performance, so I would not be surprised if somehow she pulls off the Oscar victory—she would deserve it. Winslet has previously been nominated for six Academy Awards (four for Best Actress and two for Best Supporting Actress), winning only for her leading role in 2008’s The Reader.

  1. Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)

McAdams 1Rachel McAdams has always been one of my favorite actresses, but I never have thought of her as someone deserving of an Oscar nomination for anything in her career; that all came to an end when I saw Spotlight. In Spotlight, McAdams portrays the real-life Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the investigative journalists on The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, which worked to uncover a vile child-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. Entertainment Weekly perfectly described McAdams’s difficult role: “[She] plays a woman who is equal parts determined journalist and loyal granddaughter of a devout Catholic.” That personality dichotomy created an oasis of potential for McAdams to explore—she nailed it! One minute, her character is wrought with emotion, as she is on the receiving end of some horrifying details of a rape victim’s story; the next minute, she is shown at mass with her grandmother. The Pfeiffer character is torn with the turbulent circumstances she finds herself in, wrestling to make sense of it all. McAdams hits the nail on the head in what can only be described as a performance built upon subtle nuances. McAdams has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

JJL 1In Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, seven of those eight main characters are men—Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the lone woman. She is an outlaw that is being brought in by a bounty hunter to face justice for murder. Daisy Domergue is a truly unique character—the preeminent result of Tarantino’s wild and twisted mind games. She curses frequently, tosses racial slurs around willingly, and yet evokes a faint sense of sympathy for her character as John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) batters her throughout the film. The character is as diverse as she is crude; as complex as she is filthy. And Leigh delivers a memorable performance. I had high hopes for The Hateful Eight, but in most ways the film left something to be desired. However, of the few bright spots is Leigh’s grim, gory, and gnashing portrayal of Daisy. Whether it was her oddly interesting guitar ballad or her bloody façade towards the end of the film, Leigh brought Daisy Domergue to life in all the right ways. Leigh has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Rooney Mara (Carol)

Mara 1In Carol, Rooney Mara portrays Therese Belivet, a department-store clerk in 1950s New York City. Belivet falls under the charm of the much-older Carol (Cate Blanchett), and before long, a deep and affectionate love affair strikes. Carol has garnered much attention worldwide for its ardent and amorous take on a taboo subject (given the time period the film is set in). Not only is the film receiving rave reviews (full disclosure: I am NOT one of them; the movie was bland, plodding, and you will not find it on my list of top films), but Blanchett and Mara are also being heralded for their adept performances. While I agree that the Blanchett did wonderful job in her leading role, Mara always seemed the subordinate performer. That is not necessarily an inherent knock on Mara, considering Blanchett is one of the all time greatest in this field; however, I really think Mara delivered the inferior performance in this category as a whole. While she is a tremendous talent in Hollywood, I truly think her uninteresting, unaffecting portrayal is due to a slow year in supporting female performances. If you watch Carol, hopefully you get something out of her performance. I know I sure didn’t. Mara was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role in the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).