Tag Archives: Brooklyn

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

Oscar Preview Week: Acting and Writing Category Predictions

Unlike some years, there isn’t a lot to say about the acting categories this year.  The folks that have been winning all the awards this season will likely win on Sunday.  Still, for your office pools it might be helpful to review.

Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant

Leo’s been winning everything.  All he needed to do was get mauled, bitten, nearly drowned, stabbed, beaten, buried alive, thrown off a cliff, and forced to eat raw bison liver.  Hope that doesn’t give too much away.

In all honesty, this isn’t the best performance of his career.  It might be the most physically demanding, but it isn’t Blood Diamond (2006), Gangs of New York (2002), or The Departed (2006).  In any other year, I think the drumbeat would be louder for Matt Damon in The Martian (who by the way, hasn’t won an Oscar either).   Eddie Redmayne would have a better chance for The Danish Girl if he hadn’t won last year too.  But this is Leo’s year.

Best Actress – Brie Larson for Room

For a long time I was feeling like there was no way someone could beat Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn, but award season has proven me wrong.  Larson is amazing in Room, a performance that requires a great deal of subtlety in order to succeed.  A lesser performance would have hammed it up or leaned on genre cliches.

I still think that Brooklyn doesn’t get nominated for anything without Ronan.  Time has proven, however, that Best Actress isn’t “Most Valuable Actress,” and I’ve come around to seeing Larson’s performance as the one with a higher degree of difficulty.  Not only will she win, but she should.

Best Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl

I haven’t seen The Danish Girl, so I can’t gauge Vikander’s performance myself.  Judging by her award season haul, she’s the clear favorite.

Kate Winslet seems to be her biggest competitor here, but Winslet may be held to a higher bar for Oscars these days because she’s so well established as one of the top performers of the last two decades.  I thought she was typically great in Steve Jobs, but I didn’t think her performance was better or worse than she usually is.  This is Vikander’s award to lose.

Best Supporting Actor – Sylvester Stallone for Creed

Would the Academy give someone an Oscar to atone for past wrongs and out of pure emotion?  Nooooooooooooo.  Why would you think that?  I mean it’s only happened about 100 times.

I loved Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight, especially one particular monologue.  Still, Spotlight is a sea of great performances and it’s hard to say he deserves an Oscar over anyone else on the cast.  Stallone has the award season momentum and appeal to emotion, so I think he wins here.

Best Original Screenplay – Spotlight

Spotlight won the Writer’s Guild Award here, which is a good predictor for the Oscars.  I can’t argue if it wins here.  It’s up against some strong competition, and there might be some pressure to give hardware to Inside Out or Straight Outta Compton for getting snubbed in the Best Picture category.  The screenplay for Spotlight is really amazing, though, you could close your eyes and just hear the dialogue and you’d still get 80% of the effect of the film.

Best Adapted Screenplay – The Big Short

It’s either The Big Short or The Martian, but the Guild award for The Big Short should break the logjam in people’s minds.  It’s a shame, though.  The Big Short is a well directed and acted film, but I didn’t think its writing was better than The Martian.  If The Martian scores an upset here I won’t be disappointed.

Tomorrow: Best Director and Best Picture

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview Week – Best Picture Reviews

It’s that time of year again – Oscar Preview Week!  I realize it’s already Thursday, but to make up for it I’m putting three posts in one today.

I’ve already reviewed five of the Best Picture Nominees, but I’ve seen all eight.  Here are the links to my previous reviews:

Bridge of Spies


Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant


All set?  Good.  Here are the other three in alphabetical order:

The Big Short

Directed by Adam McKay, US, 2015

Up in the Air (2009) may be a more visceral “this is how it feels right now” reaction to the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, but The Big Short is far more cerebral.  It is less of a narrative film and more of a docudrama.  It is complete with humorous asides to help the audience grasp some of the meatier financial concepts required to understand what is in essence a disaster movie.

The crisis is established as an unstoppable force, foreseen by only a handful of investors.  Its worst excesses are made clear to the viewer, from the smug mortgage bros (one of which is New Girl’s Max Greenfield at his most bro-ish), to regulators asleep at the switch, to greedy bankers laughing behind a wall of money and lies.  And like the forces of nature in films like the Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), and Earthquake (1974), the perpetrators of the disaster are left unpunished.

Who does Director Adam McKay get to help him tell this story?  A parade of Hollywood’s finest actors giving fantastic performances.  Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Melissa Leo, and Marisa Tomei lead a fine cast.  McKay remains the real creative star here, however, using the same tools that he used to make comedy classics like Anchorman (2004) to tell one of the most important stories of our time.

You might like The Big Short if: You have an interest in what the hell happened in 2008.

You might not like The Big Short if: You are one of the perpetrators of what the hell happened in 2008.

The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott, US, 2015

Two of this year’s Best Picture nominees are man versus nature tales.  With all due respect to getting partially eaten by a bear, The Martian is the more impressive victory over the elements.  Say what you want about a frozen forest in North America, the Earth is teeming with life, water, and air.  Mars is hostile to all three.

Mars is named after the Roman god of war.  The ancients named her that due to her red hue, but for astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon at his most Matt Damon-y), it is a fitting name for more personal reasons.  Left for dead by his crew members, every day is a fight for survival against a world that has no use for organisms of any kind, much less human beings.

Fortunately for Watney, he is blessed with some resources, the gift of a brilliant mind, and a great sense of humor.  While he could despair, he instead takes the opposite attitude and finds the whole situation a bit of a joke.  Those who are trying to rescue him, from mission control to his shipmates (led by Jessica Chastain’s Captain Lewis), are less amused, but no less competent.

Overall, The Martian is probably the most uplifting of the eight movies nominated for Best Picture (Brooklyn is a close second).  It’s a triumph of scientific competence and good humor.

You might like The Martian if: You want to see a movie that will restore your faith in science and humanity.

You might not like The Martian if: You saw Gravity (2013) and you never want to see another “marooned in space” movie ever again.


Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Canada/Ireland, 2015

Room presents to us a situation of monstrous horror, humanity at its very worst.  A young girl is kidnapped, raped, and locked in a shed for seven years.  Her tormentor leaves her with a child to care for, and neither is allowed to leave the shed.  The horror and evil isn’t the focal point of our story, however, instead it is the perspective of the little boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay).

Jack isn’t traumatized by “Room.”  He was born there, and that’s all he’s ever known.  His mother, Joy (Brie Larson) creates a fiction for him that allows him to process his situation in a manner that keeps him not only sane, but happy.  His mother is tormented night and day, but she makes sure that her son is not.

The trailers and promotional materials make it clear that they get away from their tormentor, so I’m not spoiling anything by saying that, I hope.  Indeed, they are only in “Room” for the first twenty minutes or so of the movie.  Once they escape, we continue the story through Jack’s perspective.  We see a well-adjusted, happy child, but we also see that seven years of captivity and torture have driven his mother into insanity.

Brie Larson deserves the awards she’s been getting for her role here.  The perspective of the film is from her happy and creative child, and she does her best to keep him well-adjusted by hiding her growing anxiety, anger, and depression.  We only see glimpses of it through most of the film, so Larson has to be subtle.  It’s a difficult task, but one that’s well executed.

If Room were told from Joy’s perspective, it would be a horror movie.  From Jack’s perspective it’s a coming of age film, albeit a traumatic and difficult one for the audience to process.  As strong as Larson and Tremblay’s performances are, this is the most interesting aspect of the film.

You might like Room if: You are interested in how shifting perspectives can change the nature of a story.

You might not like Room if: You are expecting a more conventional horror movie.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe



Brooklyn (Review)

Directed by John Crowley, UK/Ireland, 2015

Brooklyn is an exceptional film – the best one I’ve seen thus far in 2015.  It is exceptional for what it isn’t.  Decades of Oscar nominations have left us with an impression of what constitutes a great movie.  Brooklyn may not win the Oscars it deserves because of this, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it is a great film.

Hollywood has taught us that the best picture of the year needs to be about a great hero, World War II or some other historical cataclysm, or about an important social issue of the day. The reasons why Brooklyn is a great film, however, are that it contains none of these elements in the manner of the usual Oscar-bait Hollywood film.  Instead, it uses elements from other traditions of filmmaking to craft an intimate, relatable, and beautiful story.

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) isn’t a great hero as presented to us by decades of flashy, Hollywood biopics.  However, through Ronan’s subtle performance, it shows us a protagonist that could easily be any of us in our early twenties.  Whom among us hasn’t been torn between staying put in our hometown or blazing a new trail for ourselves?  For most of us, this choice doesn’t involve leaving Ireland for New York City, and in an age of social media and reasonably priced flights even that would be quite different these days.  But still, the emotion and the struggle remain familiar, and Ronan’s performance creates a powerful connection between Eilis’ experience and the experiences of the audience.

Brooklyn is set in the middle of the 20th Century, but it isn’t about World War II or the Cold War.  It doesn’t need to be, as such emphasis on an over-story would detract from one of the film’s greatest strengths.  Throughout the film, Eilis is torn between her love of her hometown and her family, and the life she has built for herself in Brooklyn, which includes a college curriculum, a steady job, friends, and a boyfriend (Emory Cohen).  This is an deeply personal conflict – disconnected from the mighty forces of history usually emphasized in what we’ve been told are “great” movies.

It touches upon a social issue, immigration, but not in a way that is directly relevant to the immigrant experience today.   Eilis isn’t forced to leave Ireland due to external circumstances, rather she is given an opportunity to do so by her sister’s connections and good fortune (Fiona Glascott).  She doesn’t face discrimination (1952 was well past the days where Irish immigrants faced that challenge) or poverty – the typical themes of the immigrant experience on film.  Her experience isn’t that different from someone going to college on the other side of the country would have been at that time in fact.  But that’s okay – there are plenty of fine films about the challenges of the immigrant experience.  Brooklyn doesn’t need to touch upon those issues – it is effective enough without them.

Is there room for a well crafted, finely acted story about a common personal conflict in our definition of what constitutes a “great movie?”  I believe that there is.  As the films of the great director Yasujiro Ozu demonstrate, not every great film needs to deal with themes of scale.  Themes of intimacy can be equally effective, and Brooklyn certainly occupies the same category as films such as Tokyo Story (1953) in that regard.

You might like Brooklyn if: You are looking for a film that you will recognize in yourself.

You might not like Brooklyn if: You just can’t think of any film right now except for a certain space opera coming out in a couple of weeks.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe