Smart ladies love movies, ranking the Academy Award Best Picture nominees

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This year I really worked hard (if you can call watching movies work –though when it comes to The Revenant that was work) to see as many potential awards nominees as possible. While I didn’t see all of them (you’re on my list Sicario and Straight out of Compton) I did see ALL the Best Picture nominees.

Tina and Amy at the EMMYS

This year the academy only opted to nominate eight films but I feel like they egregiously left off two movies that were in my (and others) top ten list so I have included them in this list of worst to best (also I like lists of ten not eight –STUPID AMPAS). There are also four instances where I felt a nominated film could have been swapped out with another film that wasn’t nominated and I wouldn’t have noticed or cared, such as The Hateful Eight instead of The Revenant.

10. The Revenant

I’m going to be incredibly honest, I knew I would hate this film before I went to see it so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t enjoy it much. I will say that it was the prettiest movie of the year (and that is saying a lot, as I saw Carol) and I might have liked it if it were a good 45 minutes shorter. One of the things that really irritates me is that The Revenant has very little plot and YET Brooklyn (which was my number one movie this year) has been the movie critics have spent the last couple of weeks re-reviewing and criticizing its “small” story (both Melissa and I will talk about this more under Brooklyn). It is without questions a nearly three hour revenge film and in no way is it EVER about the environment no matter how much DiCaprio and the producers want to spin that.

Nominee swap: The Hateful Eight

While I didn’t LOVE The Hateful Eight, I appreciated it so much more after I saw The Revenant. Both movies are revenge-focused (The Hateful Eight is also a three act play so it has WAY more plot), both are revisionist westerns (The Revenant is a lot like The Searchers though that’s a WAY better movie), and both are beautiful (The Hateful Eight was filmed on 70mm and in the wide shots it is lovely, it also boasts an amazing score).

9. Bridge of Spies

I enjoyed Bridge of Spies so much more than The Revenant and yet I’m still at a loss as to why this movie was nominated at all. It’s not a bad movie, but it certainly isn’t one of Spielberg’s best movies and only half of it held any interest for me. I found the half that focused on the soldiers doing covert spy plane missions over Russia dragged down the movie every time we switched to them. It felt like we would switch to that storyline every time the Tom Hanks/Mark Rylance story would get really interesting (I would have watched an entire movie of the two of them having conversations in interrogation rooms) and this would leave me sad. Overall there was just too much plot in this movie and because of that everything got glossed over and no one plot thread got to breathe.

Nominee Swap: Steve Jobs

I really loved Steve Jobs–I think it would have done better at the box office in November and NOT October. It was such a well-made movie and ALL of the performances were phenomenal, particularly Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. I think Aaron Sorkin’s idea to make the story small by having three acts, with each act a product launch, was an excellent way to tell the story of personalities and how they change over time without dragging us through a standard biopic or as with Bridge of Spies, an incredibly complex historical story.

BONUS Adam Driver as Steve Jobs…

8. Room

I just saw Room, it was not as intense as I feared, but it is still intense. Brie Larson is great, but the real revelation is Jacob Trembly as Jack. Since all of the action is from his point-of-view it was incredibly important for Jack to act like a real child and not an overly precocious child actor or the movie would have quickly veered into full-on TV-movie melodrama. Instead Room is an incredibly small movie about a child’s ability to adapt to terrible situations and thrive if they have somebody who will utilize everything they have control of to make that child’s environment tolerable.

7. The Martian

I LOVED The Martian which was hard, since at the time it came out I was super pissed off at Matt Damon for mansplaining diversity in Hollywood to Effie Brown on Project Greenlight and most of the action in The Martian is just Matt Damon alone on Mars. What makes The Martian truly special is the fact that it never goes full Hollywood. Instead we get a science fiction movie that tries to play it as straight as possible. There are no enemies, there is no government stooge refusing to save Matt Damon. Instead, there are a lot of people who try and make the best decision for the safety of everyone. Not all of those decisions are good nor all work but I like the fact that we see a lot of scenes of people trying to come up with ideas and no one person is an asshole. It’s refreshing to watch a movie where you either like or are ambiguous to all the characters.

Nominee Swap: Ex Machina

Though I really enjoyed The Martian, I wouldn’t have minded it being swapped out for Ex Machina, another sci-fi movie that plays it straight and could actually happen today. What I really liked about Ex Machina are the performances (all three are fantastic) and how weird the story was allowed to get without ever becoming ludicrous.

BONUS seven minutes of Oscar Isaac dancing on loop…

6. Egregious omission: Creed

I am unbelievably biased toward any movie with Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, so my love for Creed might be inflated and YET I stand by the fact that it is a really good movie and dare I say better plotted than, oh, say… Bridge of Spies. Creed was one of two sequel/reboots of series from the seventies that had rocky (pun totally intended) showings in the nineties and aughts and not only excelled as sequels but for Rocky, really regenerated the series which I think many thought was way past its prime. Both Creed and The Force Awakens –which I’ll talk about in detail later– played on our nostalgia for the old by incorporating older characters in major ways, but by adding new characters with similar goals as the old but wildly different histories the series was reinvigorated. Adonis Creed’s background and personality are completely different from Rocky’s and so the movie is able to explore the relationship between these two people while also following the same plot structure of the first movie and yet you never feel like you are just watching Rocky. This works better in Creed than The Force Awakens because its universe and story are vastly smaller (and let’s face it, Rocky fans aren’t as nuts).

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

It delights me that this reboot of a near-dead franchise is nominated for so many awards. First, this almost NEVER happens, and secondly, the academy historically hates genre movies. What works in Fury Road’s favor is a solid storyline with very few, if any, contrivances, impressive visuals which were for the most part filmed rather than created through CGI, and characters who were much more nuanced than standard genre characters (though I could do without another near-silent leading man in a movie or TV show). Though Furiosa is an amazing character, I wish the other women–mainly the wives–had been more fleshed out beyond the various tropes they represent (the mystic, the priss, the tough one, etc.), especially given the amount of time we spend with them. I will not, however, fault a movie with this many named female characters who are diverse and who fight for autonomy from an oppressive patriarchal society.

Nominee swap: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Would I actually make this swap if I was the dictator of AMPAS? Probably not, but I do think The Force Awakens could have been a Best Picture nominee and it does have a lot in common with Fury Road and of course, Creed. Like Creed, it is both a sequel and a reboot which uses old characters to create nostalgia while also creating NEW characters that drive a plot very similar to the both series first movie. While Creed does a better job of hiding the fact that it is reusing the basic plot structure of Rocky I think The Force Awakens does a better job of creating new characters (though I LOVE Tessa Thompson in Creed she doesn’t do much other than fill the requisite girlfriend role movies demand). In particular I find the creation of Finn to be relatively new in the Star Wars cannon; a silent stromtrooper turned rebel is new and instantly compelling. It also gives us insight on stormtroopers who up until now have been laser fodder.

Like Fury Road, The Force Awakens has an immediately appealing female protagonist that in a lot of ways subverts genre expectations and became extremely popular in pop-culture. It also caused a lot of dumb boys on the internet to question whether Rey was TOO GOOD at stuff to which I say FUCK YOU, women are good at a lot of things all at once all the time, it’s just we are unfortunately limited by opportunity. More importantly, Rey isn’t any different than any other force messiah we have seen in this series before, it’s just that those had been male. ALSO, Anakin Skywalker was a mass murderer by the time he was Rey’s age and before that as a child he built robots and flew pod racers while being a slave, therefore it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a women in her late teens early twenties could speak multiple languages, fly space ships, and control stormtroopers with her mind even though she is a scavenger.

BONUS Kylo Ren on Undercover Boss

4. The Big Short

This is the first of two movies on this list that are extremely well made and based on real events that have terrific ensembles. I enjoyed this movie a lot; I think it did an excellent job of being funny while also explaining the complex housing/banking crisis. It featured some really impressive performances, especially from Ryan Gosling, who I really think deserved awards recognition, and also some of the worst wigs in a movie ever (it’s a testament to how good this movie is that I forgot how bad the wigs were until re-watching the trailer).

3. Egregious omission: Carol

I still have no clue how this movie was missing from the Best Picture nominees. Do academy voters not like gorgeous cinematography, perfect art direction, costumes, and make-up, a great story that’s layered and contains not one but two female protagonists (it’s sadly this), and finally a director with such a clear vision that he makes a film that has his soul and spirit in every frame? I’m also saddened and perplexed that Todd Haynes was not nominated for Best Director –REALLY. Incidentally it was nominated for all of the art awards but that still doesn’t make up for NOT getting Best Picture or Best Director.

2. Spotlight

This is the second movie on this list to be based on real events with a large and amazing ensemble cast. Spotlight is one of those rare movies based on real events where the filmmakers did so much research that the figures portrayed in the movie say it is nearly a perfect recreation of the actual events. This is no small feat considering the amount of research and time the real Spotlight team took in their massive investigation into the Catholic Church. What’s so amazing about this movie is that we are shown the dogged search for truth by reporters, going door to door, interviewing victims, and sometimes shown the minute details of their research. As someone who uses Excel, I can tell you that it is not interesting and yet those spreadsheets tracking leave for accused priests was never less than riveting.

Another great story choice was that all of the victims featured were given a name, a personality, and a story so that we the audience were able to be feel like those journalists in wanting the story to be told truthfully. This is one of the reasons I think Spotlight is slightly better than The Big Short, in that film the aftermath of the housing/banking crisis is explained to us by our protagonists who made millions off the crisis not the victims. Now it makes more sense when you consider the tone of The Big Short that it would want to use angry yet funny rants against the banking industry instead of creating characters we care about losing their home but when I left Spotlight I felt something deeper than when I left The Big Short.

1. Brooklyn

As soon as I left Brooklyn I knew that I would one day own it and that when it came to pay cable I would watch the hell out of it –actually I knew it when I saw the trailer. Brooklyn may appear on the surface a slight film, a nice film, or a simple film but that’s not really true. It’s about opportunity, personal change, and ultimately choosing to do what’s hard because it’s what’s right for you. Those who miss these things are most likely people who have had opportunities that they have taken for granted or don’t understand the complexity of changing one’s life for the better. It is most certainly NOT a romantic drama where our heroine has to choose between two suitors and yes A.V. Club, Eilis does have to go back to Ireland to fully realize how much she has changed and to embrace the life she built rather than the life that was handed to her. Without giving too much away here is the basic outline of Brooklyn:

  • A person has to leave home because of lack of opportunity.
  • In order to find opportunity they have to go very far away to a place that is similar to home but also very different.
  • After an initial period of sadness and homesickness this person embraces the new opportunities and begins to build a life in this new place only to suddenly be sent back home.
  • Once home, they are given all of the opportunities that were initially lacking, they think that maybe they could build a fulfilling life with the people and places they have known there whole life.
  • Finally they realize that the life they built far away has become more home than the life they always thought they wanted.

Brooklyn is NOT the story of people isolated and seeking revenge or rescue, nor is it about righting great wrongs; it is different than all of the other nominees because it’s about change and how we respond to it, how we grow with it, and how we can be swayed by the familiarity of the past because that’s easier. Out of all the films on this list Brooklyn by far spoke the most to me on a deeply personal level.

[I think Katie did such an amazing job with this post that I don’t want to detract from it by posting silly comments. But I wanted to say I fully agree with her about Brooklyn; in fact, her piece here made me cry in a training class. Anyway, that AV Club article was not the only re-review of the movie–I heard one on a podcast (maybe The Monitor?) too. To me, they are criticizing the movie for not being as “important” as issue-based front-runners like Spotlight or The Revenant, which is sexist. Identity AND personal change are as important as institutional cover-ups and environmental issues. I don’t think people value seeing a woman become self-actualized on screen, either through examining the concept of home or exploring a lesbian relationship (I fucking loved Carol, it’s my #2). Anyway, Brooklyn doesn’t care about your sexist reviews. Brooklyn was just happy to be nominated. -M]

As for whom I think will win I think the favorite is The Revenant as it won the DGA and has the momentum but The Big Short (won the PGA) and Spotlight (won the SAG) could also easily win. [I had a dream vision that The Big Short won, so now I’m convinced. I was rooting for you, Brooklyn! -M]

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