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!

Best Picture (2015)

This year, one of eight nominated films will be inducted into an exclusive society of movies when it receives the Academy’s greatest honor: the Oscar for Best Picture. Some of the films that this year’s winner will be joining include It Happened One Night, The Bridge on the River KwaiOliver!Driving Miss DaisyBraveheartNo Country for Old MenBirdman, and many more. Needless to say, this year’s Best Picture winner will be joining an elite collection of the world’s greatest films of all time. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Picture:

WINNERMad Max: Fury Road

2. The Revenant

3. The Big Short

4. Spotlight

5. Room

6. The Martian

7. Bridge of Spies

8. Brooklyn

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.

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 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.

Best Film Editing (2015)

The Oscar for Best Film Editing is awarded to a particular film for the finest post-production digital editing.  The award is presented to the film’s principal editor(s).  This is the first year since 2011 that the category is not made up entirely of Best Picture nominees. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Film Editing:

Margaret Sixel MMFR

WINNERMad Max: Fury Road (Margaret Sixel)

2. The Revenant (Stephen Mirrione)

3. The Big Short (Hank Corwin)

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey)

5. Spotlight (Tom McArdle)

Best Supporting Actor (2015)

 

The media predicts, “Sly, Sly…and, oh yeah, Sly” to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. According to the major awards ceremonies that have taken place so far, that prediction is spot on. I, on the other hand, take a different view on this category. Even though Sylvester Stallone will most definitely take home Oscar gold later this month, my vote goes to someone else. With stellar performances in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend, and The Revenant, this other actor gets my vote! The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

After doing some research, it appears that no one—seriously, no one—pegs Tom Hardy to finish anywhere but last place in the Oscar voting for Best Supporting Actor. They are probably absolutely correct. As I read this week, this could be due to Hardy’s standoff-ish nature when it comes to awards, the media, or anything else outside his own private, personal life; in fact, he has actively avoided any sort of Oscar “campaign” like most nominees take part in. To that, I say: So what? If this award is truly about the best acting performance, then Hardy deserves to win—which is why he has my vote. Hardy 2In The Revenant, Hardy plays John Fitzgerald, the film’s antagonist who leaves his men to stay behind with Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) after the latter’s bear attack. Fitzgerald eventually deceives his men by killing Glass’s son and leaving Hugh Glass for dead. DiCaprio is most likely going to win the Oscar for Best Actor (rightfully so), but his performance throughout is mostly silent. Hardy is the film’s voice, albeit an evil one. Hardy is traditionally thought of as the “pretty boy.” But in The Revenant, much like in Bronson (Hardy’s greatest role to date), Hardy revels in his malevolent, bad-boy role. Hardy 3He lies, he misleads, and he kills unemotionally; this takes a complete transformation for an actor to sell this kind of character, if it is to work on a grand scale. Obviously Hardy succeeded in that challenge: The Revenant is up for 12 (the most nominations for any film this year) Oscars and is considered the frontrunner for Best Picture. Does a lot of that have to do with DiCaprio and director Alejandro Iñárritu? Absolutely! But is Tom Hardy’s performance the key to its ultimate success? I argue that it is. Hardy outperformed DiCaprio in my mind, and although he will not win the award, I truly believe he is the most worthy. Hardy has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Creed05073.dngIf I were to rank the greatest sports movies in the history of film, I would be hard-pressed to track down anything more gritty, raw, inspiring, or altogether masterful than Rocky. I am a die-hard fan of the franchise (except for Rocky V—let’s pretend that never happened), and I was on Cloud Nine the moment I heard Sylvester Stallone would be reprising his role in the seventh installment in the franchise, Creed. In the film, Rocky Balboa trains the son of his longtime rival and friend, the deceased Apollo Creed. The Balboa in Creed is as we have never seen him before: aging, wounded, lonely, and, most of all, vulnerable. Stallone is a household name because of his beloved Balboa character, and to see him reprise this role nearly 40 years after the original film (and almost ten years since Rocky Balboa) would have been enough for me and many fans of the franchise. Stallone 2However, Stallone shocked us all by delivering one of his greatest performances of his long and storied career, rivaling only—you guessed it—his Oscar-nominated performance in the original Rocky. The 69-year-old looked like an actor in his prime, providing us with a memorable performance that will live on in film history. Anywhere you look, Stallone is the favorite to win this Academy Award, and rightfully so—he has already taken home hardware from the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards. I also believe he will win the Oscar, but for me, Tom Hardy simply delivered the year’s best, which is why Sly does not get my vote. Stallone was previously nominated for both Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for his work on Rocky (1976).

  1. Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)

Ruffalo 1In Spotlight, Mark Ruffalo portrays the real-life Michael Rezendes, 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. A couple of days ago, I wrote about how Rachel McAdams delivered one of the more surprisingly effective performances in one of the year’s best films. But Spotlight succeeds at its core because of Ruffalo’s remarkably emotional and heart-wrenching performance. Throughout the film, Ruffalo is unrelenting in his journey to uncover one of Boston’s most horrifying scandals. His efforts are unyielding and his devotion is indomitable, and Ruffalo owns his scenes with determined gravitas. RezendesAt first I thought the only annoying part of Ruffalo’s portrayal was the odd mannerisms, but a quote from Entertainment Weekly put me in my place: “And for those who know the real-life Rezendes, the resounding consensus is that Ruffalo nailed both the man’s physical nuances and his character traits without turning the performance into a caricature.” Bravo, Mark Ruffalo; your third Best Supporting Actor nomination in six years is, per usual, well deserved! Ruffalo has been previously nominated two times in the Best Supporting Actor category, for The Kids Are All Right (2010) and Foxcatcher (2014).

  1. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

ST. JAMES PLACE

In Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance portrays the real-life Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy who is captured by the CIA and ultimately sent back to the Soviet Union in exchange for American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Bridge of Spies was a tremendous film, and Rylance is one of the key figures behind its success. For those of you feeling unfamiliar with Rylance’s previous work, do not fret—most of us are! Rudolf AbelRylance has not acted in many popular feature films, as his true love is the theater; in fact, he is critically acclaimed in that arena, winning two Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Play. I sure hope to see him appear in more films in the future because his acting performance in Spielberg’s latest feature was top-notch. He portrayed Abel as quiet and unassuming, but all the while wise and unwearied—his subtleties shone brightly! Rylance has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Christian Bale (The Big Short)

Bale 1In Adam McKay’s The Big Short, Christian Bale plays the real-life Dr. Michael Burry, an incredibly eccentric hedge-fund manager who predicted the housing market collapse of 2007-08, making millions of dollars in the process. Simply put: Christian Bale is one of the best and most talented actors in Hollywood. But despite his impeccable performance in The Big Short, I was quite surprised to see him receive an Oscar nod. Michael BurryI am not knocking his performance because, per usual, Bale nails it—Burry is a reclusive, socially awkward savant, and Bale crushed the portrayal. However, I cannot get on board with his nomination because in my opinion, Bale gave the third-best performance in the film; Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling absolutely stole the show. Bale was previously nominated for Best Actor for his role in American Hustle (2013), and he won his lone Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for 2010’s The Fighter.

Actors snubbed in this category: Benicio del Toro (Sicario), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Steve Carell (The Big Short), Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation), and Jacob Tremblay (Room)