Tag Archives: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Oscar Preview Week – Best Picture and Best Director

Now the two final “big categories.”  I’ll have to skim over some of the other categories, like animated short (expect a heart-warming Pixar cartoon to win over one about the consequences of naked war) and visual effects (Mad Max is primed to sweep most of the technical awards).

Best Picture – The Revenant

Let me be clear.  I, personally, do not feel that The Revenant is the best picture of 2015.  Three of the nominees are definitely better films (Spotlight, Room, The Martian) and three others might be better films (Mad Max: Fury Road, Brooklyn, The Big Short).  I am conceding here that it’s a more compelling movie than Bridge of Spies, but that’s about it.

As my generally positive review makes clear, I think the Revenant is a good film with fine acting and beautiful cinematography.  However, in many ways, it’s a pretty conventional western, like a more gruesome version of Davey Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier (1955).

In contrast, Spotlight uses every tool in the film toolbox to tell a powerful and important contemporary story, Room challenges conventions of genre and perspective. The Martian is equally intense and well-acted, but is actually about something other than “man versus nature.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Spotlight ends up taking the big award, or even Mad Max: Fury Road.  But as of right now, the smart money is on The Revenant.

Best Director – Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant

Best Director should be a three-way race between Iñárritu, George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), and Adam McKay (The Big Short).  If this were an award for technical direction, Miller would win.  If it were an award for telling a complex story in an accessible, even humorous manner, McKay would win.

However, given that the Academy usually lumps Best Director and Best Picture together, there’s a very high bar to exceed here.  I don’t think there’s enough ammunition for McKay or Miller to pull off an upset.  Iñárritu it is.

Have fun watching on Sunday night!

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

The Revenant (Review)

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, US, 2015

The first of our Oscar nominee reviews this month is the early favorite, Iñárritu’s “The Revenant.”  And yes, Leonardo DiCaprio deserves an Oscar for his performance based on degree of difficulty alone.  But let’s get away from this year’s troubling award season to consider the Revenant as a film.

The Revenant is no masterpiece, but it comes awfully close.  Thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, we are treated to breathtaking visuals of the American West.  DiCaprio delivers a compelling, physically demanding performance.  I can’t recall a single role he’s had which has called for such a physical and emotional transformation.

DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass, based upon the legendary mountain man of the same name, has a rough time.  By rough time, I mean he’s ripped apart by a bear, buried alive, stabbed, strangled, starved, frozen, and wet.  His goal is simple – survive so that he can have his revenge against the man who betrayed him and murdered his son, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

The Revenant is gripping, entertaining, intense, and gruesome.  At the same time, it can’t quite figure out what it’s about.  Is it about the callousness of vengeance?  Survival in the wilderness?  The injustices enacted upon Native Americans?  It touches upon all of these themes, but doesn’t stay long enough with any of them to get beneath the surface.

The Revenant is top notch entertainment, propelled by excellent acting, cinematography, and direction.  However, it is also a thematic jack of all trades/master of none.  Also, there’s a bear attack, in case you haven’t heard.

You might like the Revenant if: You enjoy thrillers and you want to see what all the fuss is about.

You might not like the Revenant if: You expect your Oscar favorites to have thematic focus, or you don’t particularly want to see a man ripped apart by a bear.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

Birdman

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, US, 2014

“What do you mean, Phib?” asked Miss Squeers, looking in her own little glass, where, like most of us, she saw – not herself, but the reflection of some pleasant image in her own brain.”

– Charles Dickens, from “Nicholas Nickleby”

When an actor looks into the mirror, what pleasant image does he see staring back?  Is the image larger than life? Capable of success in all artforms? Or do they not see the pleasant reflection?  What if they only see that which they hate the most?

We spend most of Birdman inside the crowded backstage of a small theater, but we spend the most time inside the mind of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed up superhero actor.  Keaton is fantastic in the role, and contrary to the most logical hypothesis, this is not because Keaton=Thomson. The only thing he and Thomson have in common is that their best known role is playing an iconic superhero (Thomson played the titular, fictitious Birdman).  Keaton, after all, has a filmography so long that it places him in the top percentile of working actors since Batman Returns (1992) and Thomson has nothing beyond his superhero role.

The film is isolating – mostly shot in small spaces and using a generous helping of tracking shots to limit perspective.  Iñárritu shows us that fame is isolating, but also addictive (a lesser director would merely tell us).  Thomson hates Birdman, but Thomson needs Birdman too.

When the film leaves Thomson’s perspective, it casts an examining eye on theater and its dysfunctional relationship with film.  Theater people hate movie people, but then they become movie people.  Then they try to become theater people again.  Then the theater people hate them even more, until they don’t.

Neither artform comes off well in Birdman.  Theater is shown as pompous and arrogant, film is shown as obsessed with violence and mayhem.  Yet somehow by criticizing the art, we reach an understanding of the people who make the art.

You might like Birdman if: You want to explore the mind of the artist and the conflict between “art” and “popular culture.”

You might not like Birdman if: Trippy movies disagree with you.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe