Courtesy of The New York Times

February 28, 2016

Guest Room | Some Last Minute Best Picture Reflections

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If you were to ask last November which movie was poised to win the 2015 Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, a strong majority would subscribe to Carol as first-in-line for Oscar gold, as Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara crafted a dynamically real and voyeuristic affair. The queer-centric film was heavily lauded by critics not only for those performances, but also for its message that is breaking ground for gay rights and equality. As a result, I was left scrambling for clarification when the nominees were announced and Carol was surprisingly omitted. Thus, the question remains: who will win the ultimate award of Best Picture?

If the past is indicative of anything, it is that unpredictability is inevitable. This year’s playing field yields no guarantee or heavy front-runner — besides Best Actor; Leonardo DiCaprio should probably begin to dust off a spot on his living room mantle. Aside from that, there aren’t many definitive right or wrong opinions when it comes to this year’s ballot containing Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room and Spotlight. Each film is unique from the blazing set design of Mad Max to the touching love story in Brooklyn. The Revenant has taken home Best Motion Picture – Drama from the Golden Globes and Best Film by the BAFTA (British American Film and TV Arts) awards, while Spotlight recently won Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actors Guild awards — their version of the Best Picture award. It’s a safe bet to say that The Revenant and Spotlight have the prowess and potential to win Oscar gold.

A refreshing addition to the normally Oscar-bait movie list, Mad Max: Fury Road serves an interesting juxtaposition to the dramatic and stereotypical Oscar nominations we are used to. The movie is focused on over-the-top violence and action rather than dialogue and character development.. Fast-paced until the last scene, Fury Road straps you into a scorching vehicle and drives you through a searing wasteland, invigorating you every step of the way. Mad Max: Fury Road is a fantastic way to blow off steam and get the blood pumping; its beautiful red and orange overtone feels hot and desolate and is truly a marvel to watch. George Miller probably has a better chance winning Best Director than the film has for Best Picture — he skillfully revived the old franchise with bombastic colors and monstrous make-up and costume design — but nonetheless Mad Max has a very deserving chance.

Ridley Scott was surprisingly snubbed from the Best Director ballot for his work in The Martian. The Martian is a high-stakes rescue tale that stretches the limits of physics and reality to create a near-impossible story. Mark Watney’s (Matt Damon) rigorous odyssey endured on Mars propels this space epic into Oscar caliber and viewers to the edges of their seats. The film won Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes — a hilarious designation — but will likely be overshadowed by stronger competitors and lose with the other recent successful space movies like Interstellar and Gravity. Damon’s performance was superb, but there was nothing monumental to launch The Martian into the top tier of nominees.

 Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies were both deftly crafted, with subtle yet successful performances by Saoirse Ronan and Tom Hanks, but I place both these films as longshots of this year’s nominees. As willfully eloquent as Saoirse is, Brooklyn is simply too slow-paced to be crowned Best Picture. Bridge of Spies is a sublime thriller which takes the stigma against a defense lawyer during the Cold War, but when stacked against The Revenant as top drama/thriller, DiCaprio’s committed performance will overcome and leave Bridge of Spies towards the bottom of the pack.

Spotlight and The Big Short are two very similar, intense movies based on real-life events (the Catholic Church molestation allegations and the 2008 Housing Crisis). They amalgamate multiple unique personalities with chopped-up, fast-paced storytelling to evoke awareness of issues that struck way too close to home, literally. What gives the edge to Spotlight over The Big Short is its human aspect; the film explores the ramifications the Catholic Church had on the people of Boston through a poignant journalist named Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) of the Boston Globe. Spotlight is a near perfect story, driven by real depictions of real people to outline the gravity of the twisted issues within the machinations of the Church. Along with Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams go beyond the scope of simply portraying the scandal and further punctuate the intrinsic duty of the press and the moral conflicts it faces when faced with possibility of tarnishing the name of a well-indoctrinated system such as the Catholic Church. The Big Short stands a formidable chance against Spotlight, thanks to Christian Bale and Steve Carrell, but doesn’t have that emotional gravitas Spotlight does.

As for Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, Brie Larson is top dog for Best Actress in a Lead Role, and the unparalleled relationship between her and Jacob Tremblay heightens the exceptional story of a woman introducing her wide-eyed son — or really her son reintroducing her — to a reality only believed as fantasy after being shackled for years in captivity. Larson is striking; her emotionally shattered Joy Newsome cuts deep and moves the viewer into an uncomfortable position of what the turmoil must be for victims of abduction. Although the movie hasn’t gained the momentum to be considered in the top tier of nominees, if there was to be an underdog winner, which isn’t completely nonsensical, Room would fill that spot.

Finally, we look at The Revenant, which was raw from the opening shot to the last scene of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), with teary-eyed daggers, staring at the viewers. Arguably the most aesthetically pleasing of the nominees (besides Mad Max: Fury Road), The Revenant deploys a man on a mission with one essential action — revenge against the man who killed his son. Unforgiving, chilling and gruesome, The Revenant may be a simple story of a man seeking redemption for his fallen son, but will nonetheless leave you speechless. Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning cinematography might catapult the film into the top spot, but its straightforward plot and Oscar-bait nature may hinder it from topping Spotlight. Watching The Revenant will leave you grimacing and shivering, holding nothing back to manifest itself as a very admirable nominee.

THE VERDICT: With a strong core at the top between Spotlight, The Big Short, The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road, I see Spotlight edging out The Revenant, with Mad Max: Fury Road not far behind. As for potential upset, Room could be the dark horse, leaving The Martian and The Big Short in the middle of the pack with Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies as the long shots. Of course, with all speculations around this year’s Academy Awards, we know only one thing for sure — nothing is set in stone.

Tim Rehm is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].