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Courtesy of The New York Times

February 26, 2016

Arts Writers Feud Over Potential Oscar Winners

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The only thing more divisive than religion and politics is opposing Oscars predictions. The Arts section has weighed in on their favorites; where do yours stack up?

Best Picture

Will Win: The Revenant

Courtesy of The New York Times

Leo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass tracks down the man who left him for dead.

As much as we would like to see something smart like Spotlight or funny like The Big Short take home the coveted award of Best Picture, we will probably see Alejandro Iñárritu walk out with a little golden man for the second year in a row.  The story of a frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio) out to seek vengeance on the man who left him for dead (Tom Hardy) is a simple yet intense storyline.  It is beautifully shot — thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki —  with vast shots of nature and landscapes.  This is much more aesthetically pleasing than the long, sweeping shots throughout backstage Broadway in Birdman.  The storyline is compelling, and since it has been nominated for 12 Oscars overall, it’s fair to say the Academy is pretty favorable to it.  It has also been an award show favorite this year, so the odds of it winning are almost guaranteed.

—Marina Watts, ’16

Should Win: The Big Short

The Big Short is arguably the definitive cinematic response to the Great Recession, virtuously animating the financial catastrophe of 2008 with a socially-conscious accessibility. Aided by its charismatic ensemble cast, the film demonstrates a tonal nuance superior to that of other post-Recession films: over its enthralling run-time, it amalgamates the political anger of Inside Job (2010) with the existential emptiness of Margin Call (2011) and the raucous fun of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) — which, despite not being literally about the Great Recession, falls within the post-Recession zeitgeist. Shot without visual pretense, the film’s maturely impartial style allows our anger to build gradually, alongside those of our sympathetic protagonists as the fascinating procedural structure uncovers each new revelation of financial irresponsibility. It is ultimately director Adam McKay’s ability to combine this respect for his audience’s intelligence with a keen ability to summarize the complexities of banking within a tautly-edited two hours that ensures The Big Short avoids the condescension which usually accompanies accessibility. It is one of the year’s best films, not merely because of its ability to entertain, but also because of its ability to infuriate.

— Lorenzo Benitez, ’19

Best Actor

Will Win: Anyone who knows me well can argue that I’ve been campaigning for Leo long and hard, but this year is  going to be his year — even if his award is a consolation prize for not winning beforehand.  The Revenant is by no means his best film, but he will ultimately win this Oscar for putting himself through physical and psychological anguish in preparation for his role as Hugh Glass.  The man ate raw bison, slept inside an animal carcass and took regular swims in freezing water.  The Academy loves this kind of commitment to a role. Glass gives him a very simple motivation.  He is stripped down and barren, which is different from DiCaprio’s history of the charismatic Howard Hughes, Jordan Belfort and Frank Abagnale, Jr.  As much of a go-to winner the biopic Steve Jobs is, DiCaprio’s been sweeping every award show since January for The Revenant.  The Internet is just waiting for his win so the Leo memes can commence in celebration.

— Marina Watts ’16

Courtesy of The New York Times

Leo is perplexed that he hasn’t won an Oscar yet.

 

Should Win:  Michael Fassbender

As troubled as Steve Jobs is as a film, what redeems Danny Boyle’s agitated direction is Fassbender’s compelling performance. As the focused, meticulous, abrasive Apple co-founder, he embodies Jobs’ well-documented idiosyncrasies with a conviction that beguiles and disturbs. While the film’s clunky, three-act structure quickly tires in its second act, Fassbender’s ability to concurrently maintain a continuity of personality throughout while also evolving in accordance with Jobs’ personal growth salvages Sorkin’s flashy, but empty, script by charging it with an acceptable semblance of character development. We witness the gaunt, ruthless, Apple dictator gradually transform himself into the mature, turtle-neck wearing savant we remember him for. But Fassbender doesn’t allow us to forget the original Jobs, revealing that beneath the wire-rimmed glasses, there still burns the predatory gaze. Therefore, his ability to convincingly animate Jobs’ fiery personality and demonstrate how it evolved over the course of multiple years makes Fassbender a worthy recipient of the Oscar for this category.

— Lorenzo Benitez ’19

Best Actress

Will/Should Win: Brie Larson

Brie Larson had been under the radar for years, with small roles in 21 Jump Street, The Spectacular Now and Scott Pilgrim, but she is one hell of an actress. It was her turn in the 2013 gem Short Term 12 which made me fall in love with her — frankly, she was snubbed during the nominations that year, as I doubt there was a finer performance from a leading lady than hers. In Room, she captivates just as earnestly and marvelously in a very emotionally difficult role.

Alongside her brilliant young acting partner Jacob Tremblay, Larson stars as Joy Newsome, a kidnapped girl who has given birth to a son while in captivity. Now that he is five, she decides they have a chance to escape together. Larson takes what must have been an exhausting and psychologically draining role and tackles it with fearlessness and vibrance. Her performance choices are bold and fierce, and she and Tremblay create such gravitas, warmth and love in the face of abject circumstances that the movie becomes a harrowing, moving testament to the relationship between mother and child.

— Mark DiStefano ’16

Courtesy of The New York Times

Brie Larson arrests with her depiction of a mother held in captivity.

Best Director

Will/Should Win: George Miller

What you saw in Mad Max: Fury Road a confluence of cinematography, editing, story structure, visual/practical effects and emotion all working in concert together to create a synergistic chorus of wonder and amazement — that’s great directing. Many people scratch their heads and wonder what directing is. It’s an invisible art which can’t be appreciated as much as distincter production values like set design, writing and performance—directing includes all of them. More than any other filmmaker this year, Miller brought the best out of his technicians and master craftspeople while they shot for eight months in the Namibian desert, and shaped their efforts into one of the best action movies ever made. Ask yourself: when are action movies nominated for Oscars? When are they embraced so thoroughly by the critics and the public alike?

 Miller himself happens to be quite wise when it comes to his view of filmmaking. “It encompasses every human discipline you can imagine—composition, art, technology, music, movement and choreography. It encompasses all of life,” he says. Show me a better demonstration of said skills on the big screen this past year, and I will write you a check for a hundred dollars.

— Mark DiStefano ’16

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone often gets mocked for being a dumb lug. And to be fair, he sometimes has embraced this image. But this is also the dude who wrote and directed Rocky. He’s smart, and he also can be a really thoughtful, understated actor when that’s what the role calls for. Stallone is at his best in Creed. The mumbling affect and showmanship disappear. When Rocky gets a piece of sad news in this movie, there’s no histrionics. He just sadly puts away the paper with the bit of bad news in his pocket, and moves on. He’s an old man who knows his time is up, and is content to be training a young fighter. Stallone’s generous and subservient acting here may mimic real life; he’s happily passing down his beloved franchise to director Ryan Coogler and leading actor Michael B. Jordan, knowing the next generation is in good hands.

— Jesse Weissman ’16

Should Win: Christian Bale

Although Rocky Balboa will inevitably carry Oscar gold for the first time in his illustrious boxing career, Christian Bale’s convincingly eccentric hedge fund manager Michael Burry popped out amongst an already star-studded cast in The Big Short.  Claiming that he should win shouldn’t be a surprise, as Bale deftly adopted the subtle quirks and oddities of the numbers guru, giving his character depth and vulnerability. Bale’s barefoot performance propels The Big Short into contention for Best Picture, creating a person parallel to the real-life man who miraculously predicted the burst of the 2008 Housing Bubble. His performance flew under the radar but inevitably deserves the Oscar nod because it gives a three-dimensional perspective of an unconventional businessman who dons a glass eye, brushes his teeth in office and is believed to have Asperger’s, all while alleviating the backlash of predicting the biggest financial crash since the Great Depression.

—  Tim Rehm ’19

Courtesy of The New York Times

Christian Bale learned how to play drums for The Big Short.

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Alicia Vikander

Confusion and utter denial glow from Alicia Vikander’s eyes as she painstakingly crafts a wife whose struggle is just as valid as her husband’s. What elevates Vikander’s performance from noteworthy to Oscar-worthy is the undeniably real crisis she endures through her soft spoken, altruistic attempt to understand and reconsider the idea of identity – setting aside her desires and preconceived notions to let her husband be free. It isn’t easy to flawlessly portray a flawed person, one who goes beyond the scope of the dialogue to shudder in real worry and dismay at losing the essence of a loved one, but Vikander grippingly was up for the challenge. Multi-faceted and striking, Vikander has all but locked herself in for sure Oscar gold, for it’s not often we see such a dynamic supporting performance.

—  Tim Rehm ’19

Should Win: Rooney Mara

In one of the year’s most graceful, enigmatic performances, Rooney Mara communicates  a powerful expression of innocent affection —  both when restrained, and when unveiled. Not to be outdone by Cate Blanchet’s equally compelling melancholic seductiveness, the younger Mara balances her co-star’s mature screen presence with a doe-eyed innocence that is at once fiercely controlled, yet totally naturalistic — devoid of any extraneous artifice. Both characters circle one another with such tender affection that every basic interaction is charged with amorous desire. And in her own scenes, especially when her character is confronted by an unrelenting boyfriend, Mara reminds us of her character’s youthful innocence, demonstrating a stillness that evinces the internal conflict between her burgeoning passion for another woman and the painful knowledge that to do so would lead to societal condemnation. It is owing to Mara’s mysterious expressiveness that the collision of thoughts, desires and fears inherent to the passage from innocence to maturity —  from solitude to devout infatuation for another —  is so tenderly revealed by Carol.

—  Lorenzo Benitez ’19

Best Musical Score

Unfortunately, Quentin Tarantino’s eight film installment hasn’t gotten the academy attention I believe it should, but musically, The Hateful Eight doesn’t falter. Although composer Ennio Morricone took home the 2007 Academy Honorary Award for his prolific compositions, he is nonetheless overdue for Oscar gold for an individual work. Morricone intertwines rising tension with a hint of jaunty western flare to bring the suspense and unmistakable charm to Tarantino’s theatre-like production. The score ominously foreshadows the inevitable violence and conflict, and from the opening scene the atmosphere is set. Morricone heightens the complexity of Tarantino’s Hateful 8 by letting the bassoon drive this haunting theme of curiosity throughout the entire film. The score in The Hateful 8 is a vehicle for the movie to manifest itself as a Tarantino classic, one that deserves an Oscar nod.

—  Tim Rehm, ’19

Best Foreign Language Film

Will/Should Win: Son of Saul

Son of Saul‘s stylistic originality creates one of the most authentic cinematic experiences of claustrophobic trauma. From the very opening shot, Hungarian director László Nemes maintains a tight close-up of Saul’s pained stoicism — an initially-disorientating choice that quickly becomes secondary to the harrowing events which unfold. This is a film whose formal innovation appropriately serves to better communicate its horrifying atmosphere, rather than the ‘virtuosity’ (i.e., insecurity) of its director. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is more than a third-person surrogate; the atrocities that surround him are filtered to us through the subtlety of his performance, which is why his naturalistic reactions are so instrumental to the film’s potency. Indeed, by focusing on the pain of one person rather than a depersonalized mass of bodies, the film pioneers a novel representation of the Holocaust’s damage. Son of Saul, by mirroring the tension felt by a solitary Sonderkommando member, ultimately proves that cinema’s limitless possibilities can never elegize the Holocaust to the point of exhaustion.

—  Lorenzo Benitez, ’19

Best Documentary

Will/Should Win: The Look of Silence

Despite not aspiring toward the surreal like its predecessor, The Look of Silence isn’t necessarily a more conventional documentary. Yes, it is less stylistically radical, instead taking cues from the meaningful stillness of Ozu and Bresson. But it is through this restraint that director Joshua Oppenheimer is able to better concentrate on the varied reactions of the proud murderers when confronted by the “ghost” of one of their victims — a confrontation unprecedented in the history of activist filmmaking. Here, there are no meta-theatrical shields behind which the killers can safely indulge in their sadistic fantasies; if The Act of Killing witnesses a nightmarish hyperreality in which genocide is remembered with pride, then The Look of Silence, with a stronger critical voice, nobly aspires to return guilt to its rightful place as an instigator of reconciliation.

—  Lorenzo Benitez, ’19

Courtesy of The New York Times

Adi Rukan and Amir Siahaan in The Look of Silence.

 

Mark DiStefano, Marina Watts and Jesse Weissman are senior staff writers. They can be reached respectively  at mdistefano@cornellsun.com, mwatts@cornellsun.com and jweissman@cornellsun.com. Tim Rehm and Lorenzo Benitez are freshmen contributors. They can be reached respectively at trehm@cornellsun.com and lbenitez@cornellsun.com.

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