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 Actor (2015)

Last year, four of the five nominees for Best Actor were receiving their very first Academy Award nomination. It was a group of rookies. That simply is not so this year. In fact, Bryan Cranston is the lone actor in the category receiving his first Oscar nod. The other four nominees this year have combined for ten previous nominations. It is also noteworthy that last year’s winner for Best Actor—Eddie Redmayne—is again nominated in this category. But as we all know, this year is all about whether Leo DiCaprio will finally take home his first Academy Award. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) 

As I wrote earlier today in my post about The Revenant, the Academy absolutely needs to give this man an Oscar. And when he wins, it will not be the Academy giving Leo a make-up call for his past snubs—this one will be because he took on the challenge of a lifetime and succeeded in glorious fashion. DiCaprio 1As most of you already know, The Revenant tackles the legend of the real-life Hugh Glass, a 19th-century fur trapper on the American frontier. After an attack by a wild grizzly bear renders him essentially lifeless, Tom Hardy’s character buries him alive and leaves him for dead. Glass ultimately crawls from his grave, still very much alive, and proceeds to journey across the wilderness to avenge his son’s murder. DiCaprio did everything in his power to deliver one of his greatest performances to date. As is well documented, many crewmembers abandoned the film’s director Alejandro G. Iñárritu because of the cold weather and exhausting shooting schedule. DiCaprio, despite nearly suffering from hypothermia throughout, stuck it out and rose to the occasion.DiCaprio 2 He knew that “film is forever” and he sacrificed his body and soul in ways most actors could never dream. He ate a raw bison liver. He slept in the carcass of a dead horse. He was whisked up and down ice-cold rivers. It is a wonder he even made it out alive, to be honest. But with his unrelenting spirit, Leonardo DiCaprio, albeit silent throughout, delivered one of the gutsiest performances in the history of American cinema. Leo, your very first Oscar is long overdue. But I am pretty positive that it is finally coming your way this Sunday! DiCaprio has previously been nominated for five Oscars, four of which were in acting categories (he was also nominated for Best Picture for 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street as a producer).

  1. Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

In Steve Jobs, Michael Fassbender gave us an amazing performance as the titular Apple genius. In my post regarding the film, I made special mention of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s wildly rapid-fire dialogue, and an actor with Fassbender’s competence was truly needed to give those words a visual representation on the screen. Steve Jobs was by all appearances an innovative marvel, but, as I mentioned in an earlier post, “the skeletons in his closets were always present, feeding off his stressful life.” Fassbender thrived off his character’s duality—he brought to life the calamitous intersection of Jobs’s professional and personal lives. Jobs was maniacal at times—he was devoted to his work and did not care who he had to step over to get to the top.Michael Fassbinder Makenzie Moss Although the film delves into this eccentric part of Jobs’s personality, I was most impressed with the focus on his relationship with his daughter Lisa throughout the film. This, for me, is where Fassbender proves himself. Fassbender is uncanny as a Steve Jobs who boasts and brags and yells and fights, but when Lisa is present, Jobs is at his most vulnerable—Fassbender drips with subtle sensitivity in those moments. The film as a whole is great, and Michael Fassbender holds down the fort as Steve Jobs with striking legerdemain. Fassbender has previously been nominated for Best Supporting Actor (12 Years a Slave).

  1. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

Cranston 1Bryan Cranston is critically acclaimed in TV circles for his award-winning role as Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. But in Trumbo, Cranston asserts himself as a force to be reckoned with in feature films. In the film (which is set between the 1940s and early 1960s), Cranston portrays the real-life Dalton Trumbo, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter who was a member of the “Hollywood Ten,” a group of filmmakers that were cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted after refusing to answer questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Trumbo (Real) 1Forced to write in secret, his uncredited work on The Roman Holiday and The Brave One received Oscar wins. This is a movie about the movie industry—the Academy loves to reward these pieces (see 2011’s The Artist). But I think the Academy nailed this nomination because Bryan Cranston was absolutely fantastic as Trumbo. His performance is full of range and gravitas, and Cranston knocks it out of the park. Cranston has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Matt Damon (The Martian) 

Damon 1Matt Damon. On an empty Mars. Talking to himself. Wow, what a challenge for the 45-year-old actor. Never would I have thought that such an isolated role could be such fertile ground for an incredible acting performance, but Matt Damon delivered just that. Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut that is presumed dead during a Mars mission and abandoned by his crew. Watney is thus stranded on the red planet with limited supplies, but, with cleverness and resourcefulness, Watney signals to NASA that he is in fact still alive. The film then follows his journey to survival. In an earlier post about The Martian, I stated that Damon evoked a series of complex emotions in his performance: “[H]e moves from scared, to humored, to terrified, to hopeful, to exhausted, to thrilled, and Damon does so with skill and radiance.” Although this is one of my favorite Matt Damon performances—and despite the fact that I believe the Academy got his nomination spot-on—it just did not have enough oomph for me to rank it much higher. Damon has previously been nominated for three Oscars, two of which were in acting categories (he was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, along with Ben Affleck, for 1997’s Good Will Hunting).

  1. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Redmayne 1Last year, Eddie Redmayne had my vote for Best Actor for his heartfelt portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The Academy had a similar feeling as me, handing Redmayne the award. Clearly the Academy values his acting prowess, as it has again nominated him for the Best Actor award. However, this year, Redmayne would have no place near the top of my ballot in this category—in fact, I would have him probably pegged as giving the tenth-best performance behind a number of better, yet snubbed, actors. In The Danish Girl, Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, the true-life accomplished Danish painter who endured an identity crisis as to his gender. Ultimately, Einar transformed into Lili Elbe, the product of the first documented sex-reassignment surgery. The story, although set in the mid-1920s, is as relevant as ever given issues faced by transgender people today. But no matter the film’s importance, Redmayne just simply didn’t sell it for me. As I mentioned in my post about the Best Supporting Actress category, Alicia Vikander stole the show as Einar’s wife. Her performance was powerful and emotionally affecting. But although Redmayne did a good job in his role, his emotional breakdown was not believable to me from an acting standpoint. In my opinion, his performance prevented the film from being great. Redmayne was previously nominated and won for Best Actor for his role in The Theory of Everything (2014).

Actors snubbed in this category: Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Jack O’Connell (’71), Tom Hardy (Legend), Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw), and Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies).

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 2 – The Revenant

The Revenant is an action adventure film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, with a screenplay by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, adapted in part from Michael Punke’s novel of the same name about the real-life Hugh Glass. Set throughout the American wilderness in the 19th century, the film follows Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper who, while briefly away from his men, is attacked by a bear. Although Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) initially agrees to part with his men and stay back with his fallen comrade, he ultimately grows tired of Glass’s “condition.” Fitzgerald slays Glass’s son Hawk in front of him, attempts to bury Glass alive, and leaves him for dead. The rest of the film charts Glass’s determination to trek across the cold, barren wilderness to get vengeance for his son’s murder.

Rev10When I bought a ticket and sat down in the audience of a dark theater over a month and a half ago to see Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s newest film, I was excited but truly did not know what to expect. What resulted was amazing: I did not merely watch a film—I experienced it! An experience is just what this film is. The Revenant is a visionary work of art, and the man behind it all is Iñárritu, a creator at the peak of his filmmaking career. In 2013, he gave us Gravity, an out-of-this-world (literally) depiction of two astronauts lost in space, which I did not enjoy initially but have grown to appreciate. In 2014, Iñárritu brought Birdman to the big screen, a film that would garner nine Oscar nominations and four wins, including Best Picture and Best Director for Iñárritu. Could the 52-year-old Mexican director really deliver another brilliant production in 2015? No matter what anyone might have thought, Iñárritu responded with a resounding, “Yes.”

THE REVENANT

With help from his loyal cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (who with The Revenant earned his third straight Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography; Chivo is going for a three-peat, having won that award the previous two times for Gravity and Birdman), Iñárritu has given us a film that will surely endure the test of time. The term “revenant” means, according to Merriam-Webster, “one that returns after death or a long absence.” DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass is just that, in both senses of the word; not only is he separated from his men for a long period of time, but he trudges back almost like a ghost, having been buried alive, seemingly left to die. Iñárritu ties this meaning of his title into a story that tells of perseverance and retribution; the only time he loses me is with his few scenes of philosophy and spirituality, but I forgive him for these brief interludes that lose focus. Rev4The opening scene features an intense battle that pits Glass and his team of fur traders against a group of violent Native Americans. This scene is remarkable—arrows whiz by the camera, bringing the viewer closer into the fold. The scene is reminiscent of classic war scenes, such as the Normandy invasion in Saving Private Ryan. At times throughout the film—especially during close-up shots—characters’ blood and sweat spew onto the camera, leaving visible spots. Most of the time this would be a reprehensible act, but in this film, it just works. You see characters’ breath fill the lens. This lends an extraordinary sense of realism to the film.

THE REVENANT

The film is beautiful and enduring, but the end result achieves even more acclaim based on the fact that the movie was a living hell for all involved. Many crewmembers abandoned ship during the production (either voluntarily or not; apparently Iñárritu axed many himself), and it was reported that the grueling schedule and terrible weather conditions were to blame. Principal photography spanned almost a year, and filming was incredibly difficult because Iñárritu and Chivo chose to shoot using natural light almost exclusively (they used only light from the sun, moon, and fires to guide production). Although this arduous process pushed everyone involved to his or her breaking point in a cold, inhospitable wasteland, the result is a gift to cinema. During his acceptance speech for Best Director at the Golden Globes in January, Iñárritu admitted the difficult nature of the film’s production, but recited one of the most poignant quotes in filmmaking: “Pain is temporary, but a film is forever.” Thank you, sir, for this beautiful movie; may it long endure as your masterpiece.

Rev2Now, let’s get to DiCaprio. My goodness, give that man an Oscar! Although his character is mostly silent throughout the film, Leo delivers a performance that will be discussed for generations. As mentioned above, the production of The Revenant was demanding, and Leo felt the brunt of that often. He admitted to being on the brink of hypothermia throughout and has openly described this film as the most difficult challenge he has ever taken on. Hugh Glass is faced with a set of circumstances that mean to deny him survival at every stage of the film, starting with his brutal bear attack early on, which, let’s be honest, is one of the most incredible scenes you will ever witness in a movie—it is the definition of an “edge-of-your-seat” experience, and it is filled with heart-pounding thrills. Rev6But he marches on. He endures. He survives. He is absolutely unrelenting in his quest for justice. He eats raw bison liver. He sleeps in a fresh horse carcass for warmth. Like I said: GIVE THIS MAN AN OSCAR! In all seriousness, Leo is the odds-on favorite to take home the Academy Award for Best Actor and rightfully so. But for everyone (which includes me) that feels Leo has been snubbed far too many times by the Academy, realize this: When Leo gets this award, it will not be a “Lifetime Achievement” award (i.e., a make-up call)—it will be because in this film, he absolutely deserves it for throwing himself into Iñárritu’s treacherous pit of film production and coming out alive, giving us a preeminent acting performance in the process.Rev7 I would be stupid not to at least mention Tom Hardy here, as he also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but I will point you to my earlier post about why Tom Hardy 100% deserves the Academy Award for his stellar performance. What I will say here is that Hardy’s portrayal of Glass’s nemesis was the glue that held this film together. Without Tom Hardy absolutely killing it in his supporting role (playing the voice of the film), this film falters. The Revenant is rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language, and brief nudity.

The Revenant trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoebZZ8K5N0

Academy Award nominations for The Revenant:

Best Picture (Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent, and Keith Redmon)

Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy)

Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Best Costume Design (Jacqueline West)

Best Sound Editing (Martin Hernández and Lon Bender)

Best Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, and Chris Duesterdiek)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini)

Best Visual Effects (Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer)

Best Film Editing (Stephen Mirrione)

Best Production Design (Jack Fisk and Hamish Purdy)

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

  1. The Big Short
  2. Sicario
  3. Ex Machina
  4. Spotlight
  5. Straight Outta Compton
  6. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  7. Steve Jobs
  8. Creed
  9. ’71
  10. Room
  11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  12. Beasts of No Nation
  13. 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 Cinematography (2015)

The Oscar for Best Cinematography is awarded to a particular film for the finest artistic and technical decisions in regards to the creation of the moving images on the screen. The award is presented to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) from the film. Including this year’s nominations, these five nominees have combined for 37 Best Cinematography nominations, including 6 wins. Additionally, The Revenant‘s Emmanuel Lubezki is hoping for a three-peat at this year’s ceremony—”Chivo” Lubezki has taken home the Oscar for Best Cinematography the previous two years (Gravity and Birdman). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Cinematography:

John SealeWINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)

  1. The Revenant (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  1. Sicario (Roger Deakins)
  1. The Hateful Eight (Robert Richardson)
  1. Carol (Ed Lachman)

Best Production Design (2015)

The Oscar for Best Production Design recognizes achievement in art direction. Since 1947, the award has been shared with both a film’s art director and set decorator. Aside from the acting, directing, and musical compositions within a film, the production design and set decoration help illuminate the visual image depicted on the screen. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Production Design:

Gibson MMFRWINNER: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson (Mad Max: Fury Road)

  1. Michael Standish and Eve Stewart (The Danish Girl)
  1. Jack Fish and Hamish Purdy (The Revenant)
  1. Celia Bobak and Arthur Max (The Martian)
  1. Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo, and Bernhard Henrich (Bridge of Spies)

Best Costume Design (2015)

The Oscar for Best Costume Design is awarded each year to a particular film for the greatest achievement in costume design. The costumes in the nominated films must have been conceived by a costume designer. The award is given to the film’s principal costume designer(s). This year, costume designer Sandy Powell is up twice for this award. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Costume Design:

Jenny Beavan MMFR

WINNERMad Max: Fury Road (Jenny Beavan)

2. The Revenant (Jacqueline West)

3. The Danish Girl (Paco Delgado)

4. Cinderella (Sandy Powell)

5. Carol (Sandy Powell)

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 Visual Effects (2015)

The Oscar for Best Visual Effects is awarded to a particular film for the finest contribution of visual effects and illusions to the overall film production.  The award is presented to the film’s visual effects artist(s) and visual effects supervisor(s). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Visual Effects:

ExMachinaVE

WINNEREx Machina (Mark Williams Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris, and Andrew Whitehurst)

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Chris Corbould, Roger Guyett, Paul Kavanagh, and Neal Scanlan)

3. Mad Max: Fury Road (Andrew Jackson, Dan Oliver, Andy Williams, and Tom Wood)

4. The Revenant (Richard McBride, Matt Shumway, Jason Smith, and Cameron Waldbauer)

5. The Martian (Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, Richard Stammers, and Steven Warner)

Sound Editing (2015)

The Oscar for Best Sound Editing is awarded each year to a particular film possessing the most fine and aesthetic sound editing or sound design.  The award is generally given to the film’s Supervising Sound Editors.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Sound Editing:

Mark Mangini MMFR

WINNERMad Max: Fury Road (Mark A. Mangini and David White)

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Matthew Wood and David Acord)

3. The Revenant (Martin Hernández and Lon Bender)

4. Sicario (Alan Robert Murray)

5. The Martian (Oliver Tarney)