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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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

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.

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)