Michael Keaton pulls a Russell Crowe, starring in back-to-back Best Picture winners. Except Keaton's winners were worthy of the awards.

Between Whitey Bulger and pedophile priests, Boston didn’t exactly have the most positive portrayal on film this year.  Next year, the Marathon bombings!

The 88th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 2015.  The nominations were announced on 14 January 2016 and the awards were held on 28 February 2016.

Best Picture:  Spotlight

  • The Revenant
  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Martian
  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • Room
  • Mad Max: Fury Road

Most Surprising Omission:  Carol

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Carol

Rank (out of 88) Among Best Picture Years:  #33

The Race:

26 August:  Well, the Gurus of Gold haven’t started yet, but GoldDerby has, so it’s time to start the race with the “it’s too early to do anything but guess, but let’s guess” game.  The betting odds for these first listings are:

“Joy” – 7/1
“The Revenant” – 15/2
“Carol” – 9/1
“Steve Jobs” – 10/1
“The Danish Girl” – 12/1
“Bridge of Spies” -12/1
“The Hateful Eight” – 12/1
“Inside Out” – 16/1
“Black Mass” – 16/1
“Suffragette” – 25/1

That’s 10 films.  Last year, at this time GoldDerby had 9 films with odds of less than 50/1.  Three of those films would be nominated (and those three films would be the main contenders to win on Oscar night) and some others would be major contenders.  But it also included Fury, whose good reviews wouldn’t get it any nominations, and Unbroken, whose mediocre reviews would sink its award chances.

Of these initial 10 films, one is out in wide release (Inside Out) and one was seen at Cannes (Carol).  The Revenant, Steve Jobs, The Danish Girl and Bridge of Spies are all directed by former Oscar winners and Joy and The Hateful Eight are directed by directors who have been nominated multiple times.  That leaves Black Mass and Suffragette, both of which are true stories.  Actually, it’s worth noting that seven of these ten films are based on true stories.  What does this mean?  It means that, depending on how many of those true stories are based on books and how many are original scripts, it looks like Pixar is battling Tarantino for Best Original Screenplay.  (Post-Nomination Update:  Last year, they went 3 for 9.  This year they went 2 for 10.  Maybe they should just not start their odds until October or November.)

29 August:  The Gurus of Gold have started now and I can’t do a complete comparison because they have separated their films into three categories: Already Seen / Upcoming on Festival Circuit / Still Unknown Quantities.  But it’s still possible to sort them out, as ten films in all have votes from all 13 voters.  So, those films are Carol, Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road (seriously), The Danish Girl, Steve Jobs, Spotlight, The Revenant, Joy, Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight.  So they agree with GoldDerby on their Top 8.  Mad Max can be probably be thrown aside because of a lack of films already seen that might compete.  Since the drop from 10 films to the 5-10 range films, only three out of 24 BP nominees have been released prior to Labor Day, as compared to the 11 out of 30 in the three years where there were 10 nominees, so it’s not a surprise that there’s not much out there yet.  Spotlight continues the trend for true life films to be high on the list so far.  Perhaps people are trying to predict better than last year when, at this time, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything were absent from the tops of the lists.

14 November:  Heading into the awards season and more films have opened and more films have been seen.  The major films which still have not been seen by anyone are Joy, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and The Danish Girl.  That makes it a little tricky, since some of the pundits won’t vote for films they haven’t seen.  Still, there is a big strong 9 at Gurus, with a big drop to #10.  Those nine, in order, are Spotlight, The Martian, Room, The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Joy, Carol and Steve Jobs.  So, several films have already moved around.  Room and The Martian have both opened to very good reviews and The Martian has been a huge box office hit.  It also benefits from being just about the only Comedy on the radar, thus making it the odds-on favorite at this point to win the Globe.  The same nine films have the best odds at GoldDerby in a slightly different order.  Right now, Spotlight, which has opened to rave reviews, is the odds-on winner with both groups.

1 December:  Well, the National Board of Review gave their Best Picture to Mad Max.  Veronica is very excited by this because she keeps hearing about how subversive it is.  On the other hand, it annoys the hell out of me.  There were three films this summer from franchises that I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t ceased to exist.  The first, Jurassic World, grossed a gazillion dollars, and I’m not sure why, because it isn’t that good.  The second, Mad Max, is getting all sorts of raves from critics which I can’t understand, though I haven’t actually seen it yet.  The third, Terminator, actually tanked (relatively), so at least one franchise might go away, but I doubt it.  The NBR also gave Best Supporting Actor to Sylvester Stallone.  Their Top 10 list was dominated by popular action-based fare and was missing most of the big critical hits out now.  But The Martian won Director and Screenplay, so it got a big boost.

2 December:  The New York Film Critics restore some normality to the race, giving Picture, Director, Screenplay and Cinematography to Carol.  It earns the eighth most points in NYFC history and had it won Actress, it would have had the most.  Ironically, the film with the most points in NYFC history is also by Todd Haynes: Far From Heaven, and it failed to earn Picture or Director nominations back in 2002.
The NBR and NYFC continue to differ.  Since 1997, only four films have earned more than 150 points from each group: Brokeback Mountain, No Country for Old Men, The Social Network and Zero Dark Thirty.  This year is no different, as Inside Out is the only film to win awards from both groups.  But, it might be for the best.  Of the seven films since Schindler’s List to do well with both groups, only No Country went on to win the Oscar.
Could the total lack of awards from either group mean anything for Joy or The Revenant (Spotlight won Actor at the NYFC)?  Not necessarily.  Argo didn’t win an award from either group.  The NYFC might be entering a drought like they had from 1994 to 2002, when Shakespeare in Love was the only eventual Oscar winner to win any awards from the NYFC (it won Screenplay).  And last year, Birdman became the first Oscar winner in six years to win anything from the NBR.

6 December:  The LA and Boston critics chime in.  Their directors awards go Carol (not surprising) and Mad Max (surprising).  But they both restore some real normality to the race by giving Picture and Screenplay to Spotlight, which is right now the odds on favorite to win at the Oscars.  But, it’s a checkered history when these two groups have agreed.  Excluding the year the Boston Critics split their award between Wall-E and Slumdog while the LA Critics gave theirs to Wall-E, the groups have agreed 14 previous times.  All 14 of those films went on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  Eleven of them lost.  Only Unforgiven, Schindler’s List and The Hurt Locker have risen to win.
So, SAG and the Globes come next.  SAG usually doesn’t help.  The Globes do, though because of their split categories, the Director and Screenplay categories usually help more.  I’ll go ahead and make a prediction that if the Globes nominate five directors, it will be Tom McCarthy, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and David O. Russell.

9 December:  Well, the SAG Awards have either become a major player or a non-factor and we’ll have to see.  Braveheart, in 1995, the second year of the SAG Awards and the first year of the Ensemble Award, is the last film to win Best Picture without any SAG nominations and the last to win without an Ensemble nomination.  Spotlight is the only film in GoldDerby’s top thirteen odds-on favorites to win Best Picture to earn an Ensemble nomination.  And The Martian, Joy and The Hateful Eight, all of which were expected to contend, failed to earn any nominations at all.  Nothing necessarily lasts forever – Argo won without a Director nomination and Birdman without an Editing nomination.  But it certainly doesn’t bode well for any film outside of Spotlight.

10 December:  Well, I got three directors right.  I considered going with Todd Haynes and I should have.  But I have definitely under-estimated the strength of Mad Max, which is in the Globes for Picture and Director.  Curiously, Spotlight is the only film with Picture, Director and Screenplay nominations but it has no other.  Carol leads the pack with 5 nominations but doesn’t have a Screenplay nom.  It’s followed by The Big Short (in Comedy and with no Director nom), The Revenant (no Screenplay nom) and Steve Jobs (no Picture or Director) with 4 noms each.

14 December:  Well, Mad Max is apparently for real, with a tie for the lead at the BFCA with 9 noms, including Picture and Director.  Carol and The Revenant also have 9, but none of these three films earn Screenplay nominations.  The three films that earn Picture, Director and Screenplay nominations are Spotlight, The Martian and Bridge of Spies.  This should be very good news for Bridge – only two films since the Best Picture lineup expanded have earned Picture, Director and Screenplay noms at the BFCA and not earned a Best Picture nom at the Oscars – unfortunately they were both last year (Unbroken and Gone Girl).  It’s also worth remembering that at this point last year, Whiplash was just getting its first big bump from the BFCA and American Sniper wouldn’t really get into the Best Picture race until the PGA, which won’t hit until January.  So no film is completely dead yet.

5 January:  The long wait is over and we’re into the big push for the final week before the nominations.  The PGA announce and it’s a doozy: not the absence of Star Wars, which I had hopes for by this time, or even the presence of Straight Outta Compton (which earned a SAG Ensemble) and Ex Machina, but the snub of Carol.  I just can’t even process that.  It still has a shot – Selma made it in last year with Globe and BFCA noms but no PGA nom.  Still, it might like more like Inside Llewyn Davis, which did great with critics and did well at the Globes and BFCA but was mostly snubbed by the guilds – in the last two days Carol has also failed to earn either ACE or ADG noms (which I can’t fathom, since it’s my #1 film in both categories).

6 January:  Well, Carol finally broke through with some guilds, earning WGA and ASC noms.  But the nomination at the WGA for Straight Outta Compton is interesting- it now has PGA, SAG Ensemble and WGA noms.  Since the BP lineup expanded in 2009, only one film has earned those three and failed to earn a Picture nom – Bridesmaids.

8 January:  The BAFTAs hit and they’re kind of interesting.  They give a needed boost to both Carol and Bridge of Spies, both of which earn 9 nominations.  The Big Short also does well, the only other film with Picture, Director and Screenplay nominations is looking more and more like a potential Best Picture winner.  Spotlight does manage a Picture nom, but is only the second film in 20 years to earn a Picture nomination with less than 4 total noms.  The fifth nominee is The Revenant, which continues to rack up Picture and Director noms.  The Martian is not completely ignored, earning a Director nom among 6 noms while Brooklyn also earns 6 noms, including Best British Film.  Mad Max: Fury Road does earn 7 noms but they are all in Tech categories.

11 January:  The morning after the Globes and things are strange.  Spotlight was shut out.  The two Picture awards went to The Revenant and The Martian.  Do we have a repeat of 2009, when a film was nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay and nothing else at the Globes and got shut out (The Hurt Locker and Spotlight) beats the most recent two films to win Picture and Director without a Screenplay nom (Avatar and The Revenant)?

I don’t know if it will impact the nominations, but the last film to win the Oscar without earning nominations in all four preceding awards (Globes, BAFTA, BFCA, PGA) was Crash.  That means the Oscar choices are Spotlight, The Big Short or The Revenant.

12 January: The DGA nominations come out and Carol is out again.  It sets a new record for consensus points without a DGA nom, even before the Oscar nominations.  It’s ridiculous.  The nominees are Spotlight, The Big Short, The Martian, The Revenant and Mad Max.  The only films now with nominations from all the major guilds (SAG Ensemble, PGA, DGA, WGA) are Spotlight and The Big Short.

The Results:  The Academy blows it, as I mention here.  It’s the first time since 1998 that my #1 film of the year is not even nominated.  They do give 12 nominations to The Revenant, making it the big winner of the day.  Five films are nominated for Picture and Director: The Revenant, Mad Max, Spotlight, The Big Short, and in a shocker no one saw coming, Room.  So, now the question becomes, can a film with 6 (Spotlight) or even 5 (The Big Short) nominations beat films with 12 or 10?  The people at GoldDerby, who had Ridley Scott at #1 for Director in spite of him not winning at the Globes and his film not earning a Best Picture nomination at the BAFTAs are wondering if The Martian will pull an Argo.

17 January:  The first awards show after the nominations doesn’t exactly clear things up.  Spotlight wins Best Picture at the BFCA but Mad Max wins Best Director.

24 January:  And, now The Big Short wins the PGA.  Since the BP expansion, no film has won the Oscar without the PGA, which has a similar voting procedure.  But The Big Short is only the 8th film to win the PGA without having won either the Globe or BFCA.  Then again, one of those years was last year, when the PGA and the Oscar were the only two things that Birdman won.  And we may not have anything else to guide us – it competes in a different category from Spotlight at the WGA, where Mad Max and The Revenant aren’t nominated and this looks a lot like a year where we could have a Picture / Director split, so the DGA might not help.

31 January:  Spotlight wins the SAG Ensemble.  It really looks like we’ll either need the DGA to sort out a front-runner or completely bollocks the whole thing up.

7 February:  And, Alejandro González Iñárritu becomes the first director to win back-to-back DGA awards.  I would personally love if The Revenant won at the Oscars, as Carol wasn’t nominated and it’s my #2 film.  Since the inception of the SAG Ensemble Award in 1995, only three previous times have the SAG Ensemble, PGA and DGA gone to three different films.  The first time, it was the PGA winner, Gladiator, that took home the Oscar.  But, the other two times it was the DGA winners (A Beautiful Mind, Million Dollar Baby) that won.  It’s worth noting that only one of those three winners, A Beautiful Mind, won the WGA and that Gladiator wasn’t nominated.

14 February:  The BAFTAs chime in and now we have a historic choice.  Either The Revenant becomes only the fourth film since 1933 to win Best Picture at the Oscars without a Screenplay nomination or it joins Brokeback as the only films to win the BAFTA, Globe – Drama and the DGA but not the Oscar.

28 February:  I turn to Veronica just before Best Picture and point out that we have three options.  1 – The Revenant wins Best Picture.  2 – A film wins Best Picture without any other major Oscars for the first time since 1940 (Mad Max).  3 – A film wins Best Picture with only one other Oscar for the first time since 1952 (Spotlight, The Big Short).  Clearly I’m not the only one who thinks the first is the most likely, as Morgan Freeman pauses for a moment before he says Spotlight.

Whitey Bulger and abusing priests? Thank god the Globe gave Boston something positive on screen this year. Next year? The Marathon Bombings!

Just a nice reminder of the power of the press to make a difference.

Spotlight

  • Director:  Tom McCarthy
  • Writer:  Tom McCarthy  /  Josh Singer
  • Producer:  Michael Sugar  /  Steve Golin  /  Nicole Rocklin  /  Blye Pagon Faust
  • Stars:  Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James
  • Studio:  Open Road Films
  • Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Ruffalo), Supporting Actress (McAdams), Editing
  • Oscar Points:  310
  • Length:  128 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (True Story)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  6 November 2015
  • Box Office Gross:  $28.84. mil  (#69  –  2015)
  • Metacritic Rating:  93
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #4  (year)  /  #131  (nominees)  /  #36  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Ruffalo), Supporting Actor (Tucci), Supporting Actress (McAdams), Editing
  • Nighthawk Points:  205

In a film filled with moments that bring unbearable sadness, revulsion or uncontrollable anger, the most poignant might be one that involves not a victim of clergy abuse, nor a member of the institution which enabled it, denied it and swept it under the rug for so long.  It simply has a young woman whose job it has been to report all of this and her elderly grandmother, who goes to that church three times a week, reading the work of her granddaughter and struggling to understand the thing that has been such a part of her life and why it has gone so horribly wrong.

As one survivor of abuse puts it in the film, the crime that was perpetuated against the young was not just physical and sexual abuse – it was spiritual abuse.  For a lot of these children, being part of the church was an important part of their young lives.  It was an honor to be chosen to do things.  Then to have that taken away at the same time as the other horrible things done to them was beyond repairing.  And it didn’t end there – it ran down through all the members of the church who would learn about it and have their own faith shaken.  I have the advantage of never having belonged to any particular church from which I could be broken.  What little faith I ever had, was broken as a teenager, as I already related in my review of The Diary of Anne Frank.  But that never involved faith in an institution.

This is one of the great shames of the city I live in.  I saw this just a month after seeing Black Mass, which highlights yet another great shame of my city.  In both cases there were men in power who allowed horrible things to happen and to continue to happen and to be left unchallenged.  Eventually those things were brought to light and things changed, but not soon enough, and in both films, part of the story is the delay before these stories finally saw the light of day.

Spotlight is modeled, of course, after All the President’s Men, the great film of journalism as drama and the importance of getting the story right.  The irony of the connection of the two films, that Ben Bradlee oversaw the coverage at the Post and his son, played by John Slattery, oversees the coverage at the Globe, is never once touched upon in the film.  And in a sense, they are very different films – Men was played more for the suspense, the danger involved for the reporters and the larger national story.  This is a story that really focuses on the city.  In fact, that’s how the story gets started in the first place, with Marty Baron coming in from outside to take over the Globe and deciding it needs to focus on stories that will draw in the Boston readers it is starting to lose in the age of the internet.

But it is the team that makes it happen.  There are three different teams I refer to here.  The first is the team of reporters on Spotlight, that department of the Globe that works on long-term stories like this.  Those four reporters worked their asses off for most of 2001 (delayed by 9/11, as depicted in the film) to not only get the story, but to make certain that they had it right before it hit the front page and changed this city.

The second is the team of filmmakers that make the film with sheer perfection.  The writing is brilliant, the direction is top-notch, the editing makes the film flow perfectly and the music knows exactly when to bring us in and when to push us back a little.  The key talent involved is Tom McCarthy, the writer/director who also brought us The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win, all highly original films that told their stories with grace and wit.

But it’s the third team that isn’t getting its rightful attention, partially because of category confusion.  With a film like this, who exactly is a lead, who is a supporting player?  Michael Keaton won an early award for Best Actor, with Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo each getting supporting nominations.  But did Keaton lose out on an Oscar nomination because of category confusion?  When I first watched the film, I marked my spreadsheet with both Keaton and Ruffalo as leads, but with an ensemble film it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.  And do the bravura performances of Keaton and Ruffalo, two performances that are very different, one for its cold composure, the other for its fiery explosions, make us overlook the other performances in the film?  When listing the cast for these films, I usually only list a handful, but I made certain to list Slattery, Liev Schreiber (Baron) and Brian d’Arcy James (the final member of the Spotlight investigative team) because this is a true ensemble piece and all of the performances are worth remembering.  There’s a very good reason that this film won the SAG Ensemble award.

In the end, I kept hearing dialogue in my head after the film was over.  It wasn’t dialogue from this film and it took me a bit to realize what I was remembering.  “What did we do wrong?  We did nothing wrong?”  “Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.”  Those words are actually from A Few Good Men and it’s a reminder that what happened was that kids were harmed, people who couldn’t fight for themselves had no one else fighting for them either.

Filled with more beautiful shots than a good half-dozen great films.

Filled with more beautiful shots than a good half-dozen great films.

The Revenant

  • Director:  Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Writer:  Alejandro González Iñárritu  /  Mark L. Smith  (based in part on the novel by Michael Punke)
  • Producer:  Alejandro González Iñárritu  /  Arnon Milchan  /  Steve Golin  /  Mary Parent  /  Keith Redmon
  • Stars:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleason
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Actor (DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Hardy), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Oscar Points:  420
  • Length:  156 min
  • Genre:  Western
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:   25 December 2015
  • Box Office Gross:  $171.17 mil  (#15  –  2015)
  • Metacritic Rating:  76
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #110  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (DiCaprio), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Nighthawk Points:  420

There is no question that this film didn’t need to be nearly as long as it is.  It runs over 150 minutes with any number of shots that do nothing to further the narrative, not to mention an entire subplot that could have been excised easily.  And yet, I have no complaints about the length of this film.  Does it set up any number of scenes with shots that don’t need to be in there?  Yes.  But this film is also filled with more beautifully photographed shots than half-a-dozen great films.  I would not sacrifice a single one.  They are all a reminder of the painstaking nature of beauty at the same time that it can wear down and strip the life from your body.  As for the extraneous subplot?  It connects back to the main plot in a variety of ways – the reason they are being so hounded on their journey, the basic humanity at the core of the title character, and the lengths that people will go through for love.

This film was viewed, before its release, primarily as the chance for Leonardo DiCaprio to finally win an Oscar after four previous nominations had not managed the feat (two of which won the Nighthawk).  And there is no question that DiCaprio’s performance is perhaps the best of a very impressive career (just look at some of his work outside his Oscar nominations, like The Departed, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island or Django Unchained).  So much of it relies on his ability to communicate his emotion with his eyes (in the aftermath of the mauling) and with his whole body (after he is again able to move and begins his journey).  But to focus solely on DiCaprio’s performance is to ignore all the other impressive aspects of this film.

To begin with, there is the acting.  This is far from a solo performance by DiCaprio – this isn’t exactly Cast Away.  While we follow his journey, we also follow the fortunes of the men who initially left him behind and then those who left him for dead.  While Tom Hardy was getting most of the pre-release supporting buzz and eventually earned an Oscar nom (I’m not much of a fan of Hardy as can be seen from my review of Mad Max down below), the more impressive performances are from Domhnall Gleason, as the leader of the expedition who suddenly finds himself out of his depth and Will Poulter.  I first saw Poulter when he played Eustace Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and I thought that with his odd looks that he was absolutely perfectly cast.  But he’s really developed into a remarkable actor.  His performance has more depth and subtlety than Hardy’s cruel, distasteful, more one-note one (the bear scene was especially hard to watch, and possibly the horse scene was even harder to watch, but the most disgusting thing in the film is probably what Hardy says to DiCaprio at the film’s climax).  Indeed, the most powerful scene in the film might be the one that was for a long time my Nighthawk Notable for best dramatic line: “Say the lord’s prayer!”  The actions that immediately precede that line and the look in both men’s eyes, the man who says it and the man who it is being said to, show the depth of feeling in the performances in this film.

All of that must be brought back to the direction as well.  González Iñárritu would win his second of back-to-back Best Director Oscars (the best of the nominees, so an excellent choice) for this film.  I suspect most voters were thinking about the gorgeous cinematography throughout the film as they were voting for him, but his sure hand is also reflected in those performances.  These two films contain any number of career-best performances and that’s not a coincidence.  His sure hand also brings the film together, with first-class editing that marvelously blends all of those beautiful shots together.  There is also, in the background of many of those shots, a magnificent score that was sadly not eligible for the Oscar but had no problem ending up in my lost of nominations.

One last thing I feel I must comment on is the script.  This film became the fourth film to earn nominations from all five major groups for Best Picture and fail to earn a writing nomination from any of them.  I think the lack of dialogue in the film, as well as it being a Western with a lot of gorgeous cinematography where nothing is happening, contributed to the under-rating of the script.  But this script is very carefully written and its construction, the way it brings in a subplot that seems extraneous, but actually not only links to the main action but draws a parallel between the actions of two very different men, shows how well written this film is.  It’s just a shame that no one thought that it was worth rewarding.  But, hell, one of the most talented directors at work today just became the first director in over 60 years to win back-to-back Oscars, so at least they got that much right.

Another Spielberg film racks up Nighthawk nominations. It's what he does.

Another Spielberg film racks up Nighthawk nominations. It’s what he does.

Bridge of Spies

  • Director:  Steven Spielberg
  • Writer:  Matt Charman  /  Ethan Coen  /  Joel Coen
  • Producer:  Steven Spielberg  /  Marc Platt  /  Kristie Macosko Krieger
  • Stars:  Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance
  • Studio:  Touchstone
  • Oscar Nominations: Picture, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Rylance), Score, Sound, Art Direction
  • Oscar Points:  215
  • Length:  142 min
  • Genre:  Suspense
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:  16 October 2015
  • Box Office Gross:  $72.26 mil  (#42  –  2015)
  • Metacritic Rating:  81
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #6  (year)  /  #161  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Rylance), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction
  • Nighthawk Points:  260

Spotlight highlights the shame of a particular institution highlighted in a particular city.  Bridge of Spies addresses the shame of an entire nation at the same time that the nation acts like complete fucking idiots who have forgotten the whole notion of the Constitution.  The day I write this there is a story in the news about parents in a Virginia county protesting their children’s homework assignment about Islam.  Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial.  These are all things that are ingrained in our country’s legacy and when we forget that we fail as a nation.

Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer who is dragged into offering up a token defense for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet who has been caught by the FBI.  Donovan is told we need to defend Abel because it is part of America – the right to a fair trial.  But Donovan already sees some distinctions about this case that others don’t.  His children complain that Abel is a traitor and Donovan explains that, no, the Rosenbergs were traitors, because they betrayed their country, while Abel is a Soviet who is simply working for his country as a spy and that there’s a difference.

Donovan continues to remind people of the importance of this case – that it is necessary not to just defend him, but to do the job right, to fight for his rights, to try and keep him alive rather than sentence him to death because who knows, maybe the Russians might capture one of ours and we might want to have a bargaining chip.  This works precisely because of the casting of Tom Hanks as Donovan.  Hanks is the man that we have come to accept as our American conscience – the man who wouldn’t let them kill the Nazi in Saving Private Ryan because it is not what we, as a country, do.  This continues to resonate.  The same type of people who would shoot bullets into Donovan’s house while his children are home are the same type of people who would stand in front of a mosque with a gun and claim they are doing it for the safety of the worshippers.  They are base cowards who would hide behind a weapon, reprehensible and disgusting individuals who would try to make us cower in fear at what might be different and claim that it is the “others” who are un-American, be those others Communists, Muslims or whatever might come next.  These are people who have no real concept of what it means to be American and we are lucky that they have not dragged us into more pointless wars.

This film might sound like a morality play.  Certainly I imagine my review must read as such.  But the film does not come off that way.  Partially that’s because Donovan, after unsuccessfully defending Abel (though successfully preventing his execution), will work on the trade that will allow him to go back home and we see the remains of East Berlin and what has been done to it under the Soviet occupation and we remember precisely what it is that we love about our country and the freedom that living in it entails.  But it is also partially because the film is so well-constructed.  The early part of the film deals in part with Abel, who is played so very well by Mark Rylance, in a role absolutely different from his masterful performance as Cromwell, yet so subtly played that he makes Hanks seem almost like a ham (which is a compliment for Rylance, not an insult to Hanks who I liked more in this film than in almost any film I have ever seen him in).  The Abel story is played out against the development of the U2 program and the flight of Francis Gary Powers that ends with him getting shot down (a masterfully done series of shots that looked brilliant and scared the living hell out of me because I don’t like heights – I cannot fathom that he survived).  The editing is so good that we seamlessly transition between the two stories and also gets moments in the life of Donovan before all of the action moves to East Berlin for the eventual trade that will bring three men home (there is a third story as well, also seamlessly transitioned in).  The cinematography is first-rate, whether it is the bright American cities of the 1950’s (the art direction and costumes are perfect and I am reminded of the time that is within my parents lifetime but seems a world away, when all the men wore hats and everybody smoked everywhere), the skies at 70,000 feet, or the bitter cold of East Berlin in winter.  There is also the score, a fantastic work by Thomas Newman (John Williams, the usual composer for Spielberg, couldn’t do it for health reasons and because he had to do the score for Star Wars, for which I am very grateful).

Spielberg has long made films that don’t fall into basic black-and-white categorizations.  Schindler’s List worked because Schindler wasn’t a saint – he was a very flawed man who did a very great thing.  Munich was attacked from both sides precisely because the film didn’t chose one side over the other.  Lincoln had a great cause at its heart, but also showed the dirty side of politics that had to be handled to get the amendment to pass.  Bridge of Spies is a reminder of all that ways that we failed ourselves during the Communist hysteria of the Cold War but also all the things that can make America great.

Not the best Sci-Fi sequel of the year (thanks to Star Wars), but Saving Matt Damon II is pretty damn good.

Not the best Sci-Fi sequel of the year (thanks to Star Wars), but Saving Matt Damon II is pretty damn good.

The Martian

  • Director:  Ridley Scott
  • Writer:  Drew Goddard  (based on the novel by Andy Weir)
  • Producer:  Ridley Scott  /  Simon Kinberg  /  Michael Schaefer  /  Mark Huffam
  • Stars:  Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Oscar Nominations: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Damon), Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • Oscar Points:  205
  • Length:  144 min
  • Genre:  Sci-Fi
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:  2 October 2015
  • Box Office Gross:  $226.62 mil  (#8  –  2015)
  • Metacritic Rating:  80
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #7  (year)  /  #190  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Damon), Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • Nighthawk Points:  200

It’s astounding to realize that The Martian is directed by Ridley Scott.  It’s true that Scott is a great director, a man who can transition between Sci-Fi (Blade Runner), Drama (Thelma and Louise) and both current War (Black Hawk Down) and historical (Kingdom of Heaven).  So, looking at how good The Martian is, how artfully it is made, how entertaining it is, well, that’s not hard to see from Scott.  After all, how many Sci-Fi films are both as entertaining and masterfully made as Alien?  But that’s where Scott surprises you and where the constant griping at the Golden Globes just looks silly.  I have no problem classifying this film as a Comedy, because, overall, it is a Comedy.  That Scott could make a Sci-Fi film as terrifying as Alien and one as constantly funny as The Martian is pretty damn impressive.

I shouldn’t have to explain the story at all – the trailers and commercials make that perfectly clear.  A mission on Mars goes badly and the team is forced to evacuate the planet and start heading home, believing that one of their number has died.  It eventually is revealed, first to the audience, and later, slowly, to Mission Control back on Earth, that the astronaut, played by Matt Damon, has survived (the shrapnel went through his life signs device, explaining why everyone was certain he was dead).  Unlike Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Damon is a scientist who has been more fully trained for what he must now deal with.  He knows how long he has before there is any chance of rescue, what there is left for him to survive and what he must do to bridge the gap between those two things.  That’s where the film takes a nice twist that you get a glimpse of in the trailer, but becomes so incredible on-screen.  Damon, in what is perhaps his best performance since Good Will Hunting, maintains a reserve of humor and self-deprecation in live journal entries detailing his quest to survive.  He refuses to give in to despair (or disco) and he keeps struggling, day by day.  We watch some of his triumphs (growing potatoes in the Mars soil) and some of his failures (blowing himself up).  But there is the steady perseverance that keeps him moving forward.

But, like I said above with The Revenant, this is not Cast Away.  It is also not Gravity.  This is not a one person show and we’re not watching him try to figure out how to get himself out of his mess.  He can’t get himself out of his mess.  He’s stuck on another planet.  Someone has to come get him.  So, while the Damon part of the story, the primary part of the story, gives us warm humor, the drama comes down on Earth, where those people in charge suddenly realize they’ve left a living person on another planet.  Luckily there’s some talented people involved, and I’m talking partially about the ideas they come up with to get back to him as soon as possible before he can starve to death, and I’m also talking about the acting performances from Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Daniels, in particular, gives the best supporting performance, a man stuck between his duty and the rules and doing what can possible (and feasibly) be done to save both the man and the program.

All of this is done with exquisite artfulness.  The film was nominated for 7 Oscars and the only reason I don’t nominate it for the same 7 Nighthawks is because I don’t nominate more than 5 films.  If I did, it would have achieved a slightly higher level.  It is good to remember that on the morning of the 14th of January, before the Oscars announced their nominations, Ridley Scott was actually the front-runner to win Best Director.  He’s a director who had been nominated three times before but hadn’t won, even though his Gladiator had won Best Picture.  Somehow the Academy didn’t think he deserved a nomination though.  They were wrong.  It is Scott’s sure hand that holds this film together, the guiding force behind masterful editing (just outside my nominees), brilliant use of sound, masterful (and realistic) visual effects and a great ensemble cast all around.

Who would have guessed the director of Anchorman could make a great film? (hint: not me)

Who would have guessed the director of Anchorman could make a great film? (hint: not me)

The Big Short

  • Director:  Adam McKay
  • Writer:  Adam McKay  /  Charles Randolph  (from the book by Michael Lewis)
  • Producer:  Brad Pitt  /  Dede Gardner  /  Jeremy Kleiner
  • Stars:  Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Jeremy Strong
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Bale), Editing
  • Oscar Points:  230
  • Length:  130 min
  • Genre:  Comedy  (True Story)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  11 December 2015
  • Box Office Gross:  $68.60 mil  (#44  –  2015)
  • Metacritic Rating:  81
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #10  (year)  /  #235  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Supporting Actor (Bale)
  • Nighthawk Points:  30

That I rate this a four star film at all (and I do) is a triumph of filmmaking, writing and acting over several things it had going against it from the start.

The first of those is that this film is based on a book by Michael Lewis. I don’t like Lewis, something which has nothing to do with the fact that he is married to a teenage crush of mine (okay, that has a little to do with it), but is about his previous books. He wrote Next: The Future Just Happened, a worthless business book that Norton over-printed a zillion copies of, with a horrible flaky dust jacket and I was forced to deal with those books when I worked at Powells because we had hundreds of them that we couldn’t get rid of. Admittedly, that’s not a great reason to dislike an author. Okay, how about this? I care passionately about baseball and he wrote Moneyball, a book written around a theory with a serious flaw and which tries to make the theory the reason for the success of the Oakland A’s (you can read my review of the film version as to why this theory, as applied by him to the A’s, is simply wrong). So, here was another business book by him and I can’t really be bothered to care.

The second problem is along the same kind of lines, in the past of a person involved. In this case, it’s director Adam McKay, the man responsible for Anchorman, one of the most ridiculously over-rated comedies ever made, not to mention all the other mediocre Will Ferrell comedies he’s continued to make.

The third, is that this film is all about money. Not only that, it’s about people whose goal it is in life is to make shitloads of money. That’s all they really care about. You might think to yourself, but hey, everyone wants to be rich. Well, not really, no. I wouldn’t mind having money, but it’s not a goal of mine to be rich. I just don’t care about money and I care even less about people whose professional lives revolve around the making of money.

So, we have a film about people I don’t give a shit about, made by a director whose previous output I have found to be disappointing and based on a book written by an author I don’t like. And yet, this is a great film. It’s consistently entertaining, it’s very well-made, it’s smart and funny. It isn’t on the same level as the best films of the year – Carol, Spotlight or Bridge of Spies.  But it makes my Top 10 and I rate it at ****.  Why is that?  (It isn’t Brad Pitt, I’ll tell you that.  Pitt gave his best lead performance in the last Lewis adaptation but in here he’s mostly wasted – he stands around, giving out key information at the right time and then is the one person who bothers to point out to morality (or lack thereof) of what is being done here).

Part of it is because the writers found a way to make this story accessible.  Most people wouldn’t care about this story and they sure as hell wouldn’t understand it.  In both the writing and the editing (the former was 6th on my list and the latter the 7th, so they both just miss out on Nighthawk nominations) they not only make us understand what is going on, but entertain us with it as well.  More importantly, they give us two characters who, though they are massively flawed and doing something that will make them rich at the same time the economy craters, that we actually root for.  Part of that is in the writing, the way the film doesn’t try to hide that neither Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale) nor Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) are people you personally want to know.  They are both abrasive and rude (Burry almost certainly has Aspergers).  But they both know precisely what they are doing.  They are both damaged people in a sense, Burry because people refuse to believe in him and Baum because of a personal tragedy that weighs him down.  Yet, we want them to succeed in the face of these overwhelming odds precisely because they keep being told that they won’t.  Great credit goes to Bale and Carrell (who is knocked out of Best Actor in a very crowded year) for performances that really make us understand these characters.

In the end, there is something a tiny bit lacking, and it resides both in Pitt’s moralizing speech (which is played up in the trailer but is really late coming in the film) and in the use of Gosling as our guide through this world.  These people ended up getting rich at the same time that millions of people were losing their houses and their livelihoods.  The film tries to steer away from that by focusing on those greedy slimebags that made all this happen in the first place and deserved to have their finances get decimated in the housing collapse.  But that doesn’t change the fact that, in essence, we are rooting for people who are getting rich, not just as the expense of those who deserve to be punished, but also millions of others as well.  And it’s perhaps to this film’s credit that we only feel slightly bad for rooting for them in the first place.

It turns out romance isn't dead. Oh, and Jeff Wells is an idiot.

It turns out romance isn’t dead. Oh, and Jeff Wells is an idiot.

Brooklyn

  • Director:  John Crowley
  • Writer:  Nick Hornby  (based on the novel by Colm Tóibín
  • Producer:  Finola Dwyer  /  Amanda Posey
  • Stars:  Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleason, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent
  • Studio:  Fox Searchlight
  • Oscar Nominations: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Ronan)
  • Oscar Points:  125
  • Length:  111 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Romance)
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:  4 November 2015
  • Box Office Gross:  $36.59 mil  (#71  –  2015)
  • Metacritic Rating:  87
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #16  (year)  /  #284  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Ronan)
  • Nighthawk Points:  35

I watched Brooklyn immediately after watching Spotlight.  The first half of the film reminded me of what the church is supposed to do – give hope, bring peace, provide an outlet to find salvation and solace.  It brings Eilis, a young Irish girl, out of her town where there are no jobs for a smart girl like her, and to America in 1951 (digression: we know she comes in 1951, because she lives through a winter and a gravestone is marked in May of 1952, which means that her co-worker tells her about seeing The Quiet Man in 1951 and, as a movie buff, that annoys me).  But it doesn’t just abandon her.  When she struggles at work because of homesickness, it is the priest who is brought in to lend her a guiding hand and find something to keep her mind at ease (and further her life in America).  On Christmas, when she has nothing else to do, she goes to give a hand at the church to feed the poor, almost all of them older male Irish immigrants.  When a death shuts her world down, it is the priest who comes to tell her and the church that connects her to her mother via an intercontinental phone call.  It not only offers her a new life, but guides her through that life, looking after her and protecting her while allowing her to develop.  It is also at one of the dances held by the church that she meets a young Italian man who happens to like Irish girls and a romance is begun.  (Another digression: Jeff Wells, who writes about film and film awards, objected to the romance in this film saying it was unrealistic because in the 50’s, a woman would never have gone for a guy who is shorter than her.  Enjoy the romance in your soul and remember that Wells is an unpleasant curmudgeon.)

That romance is at the heart of the film for two reasons.  First, it provides the middle part of the film as she slowly grows to return his affection.  He is clearly taken with her from the start, staring at her at the dance, walking her home, telling her he loves her.  Her boss says she should hang on to him as he is apparently the only Italian boy in Brooklyn who doesn’t talk all the time about his mother or baseball.  He does in fact love baseball, especially the Dodgers (boy will his heart break in a few years) and when she comes over for dinner there is a scene that is both really funny (the little brother in the family is not shy about speaking his mind) and a little tragic (when he talks about how their kids couldn’t possibly like the Giants or Yankees and we feel her reticence to think about such things yet).  But, when she is forced to return to Ireland, it is their romance that provides something to go back to.  That becomes harder to do the longer she stays, as she is now able to find a good job and there is also a good man (played very well by Domhnall Gleason, who I was watching just a few hours after watching him be so evil in Star Wars: The Force Awakens).  What happens is what should happen in this story and it is never untrue to the characters it has developed.

The film is solidly made.  It is quite well-written, it is a very nice score and the period sets and costumes look wonderful.  But there is no question that the heart of this film, the real reason to see it, is Saoirse Ronan.  Ever since I first saw her in Atonement, it was obvious that this was an actress of exquisite talent.  At 13, she was already giving a performance far beyond the reach of most actresses.  She has continued to be fantastic as she has aged and now that she has reached the right age, this is the perfect film for her, the young girl really developing into a woman.  You can see in her eyes the uncertainty of how much to commit to her relationship and later, when she must tell her mother something she has been avoiding, the pain in her eyes is hard to watch.  Her performance, though, provides something so beautiful to this film that it should never be forgotten.

A sexual crime. A traumatized woman. A child who can't understand the world. Another good time at the movies.

A sexual crime. A traumatized woman. A child who can’t understand the world. Another good time at the movies.

Room

  • Director:  Lenny Abrahamson
  • Writer:  Emma Donoghue  (from her novel)
  • Producer:  Ed Guiney
  • Stars:  Brie Larsen, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen
  • Studio:  A24
  • Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Larsen)
  • Oscar Points:  205
  • Length:  118 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  16 October 2015
  • Box Office Gross:  $13.47 mil  (#115  –  2015)
  • Metacritic Rating:  86
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #33  (year)  /  #337  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Larsen)
  • Nighthawk Points:  35

Room is one of the creepiest films ever made, at least for the first half.  I thought Lovely Bones was difficult (probably because the book was so poorly written) but this film just hammered at me.  I knew what the subject matter was before the film was even made – it had been a big seller at the Booksmith most of the time that I worked there, proving that people will buy books about any subject matter (I would say well-written books about any subject matter, but 50 Shades of Grey, also made into a film this year, although a much, much, much worse one, was also a big seller at the Booksmith and its prose makes Lovely Bones look like Hemingway).  I had hoped that the film would fail to earn a Picture nomination, or baring that, that it would be out on DVD well enough in time for me to review it then.  But the DVD was coming out two days after the Oscars and it re-opened in theaters the day after the nominations, so I bit the bullet and went to see it and I must not have been the only one intrigued or awards-obsessed enough to see it because the theater was a good half full.

I would much rather have been watching this film on DVD, where I could back away from it a bit, distract myself by working on a jigsaw puzzle or LEGO.  It would have served me better rather than sitting there in the theater, unable to look away from the total lack of humanity unfolding in front of me.

Room is anchored by the level of performance that makes you wonder how the hell we didn’t know about this person before (kind of like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone).  Larsen didn’t quite come out of nowhere – her performance in Short Term 12 paved the way for something like this.  There are a few moments that really show the difficulty of the role, where first the character herself must act like her child has died and come through with the requisite amount of grief, then the grief becomes real as she watches her child go through that door and must wonder if she will ever see him again, if this is freedom at last or is the worst possible pain.  But, like in The Revenant, she is doing what she must to cling to life in any way possible (with a bit of amusing irony – her teenage wall has a picture of Leo on it).

Aside from the creepiness, the script never allowed me to fully get into the film.  The constant voiceover narration from Jacob Tremblay consistently threw me off.  Tremblay’s performance, when not speaking, is especially impressive when you consider his age, but when he would speak, the way his dialogue was written would continue to keep me from fully allowing myself to feel with the film.

But what the script does really well is remind us that in horrific events like this, there is almost a competition for whose pain has been the most unbearable.  When someone dies, they are gone, and there are people whose pain lives on.  But when something likes this happens and they do not die, the pain is shared among multiple people and those people often have no way to connect with each other about what they are feeling.  It’s part of why so many marriages don’t survive a major tragedy (including the one in this film).  The film does a good job of approaching this pain, but it is limited from its point of view and that hurts the film overall.

(A paragraph long digression here:  I would say that this is almost too horrific as to even be real if not for the events in Cleveland, and that leads to another, more personal point – Lovely Bones was inspired somewhat by true events, the rape of the author, but was fictional.  Room was inspired by true events.  But, in both cases, books that seemed too awful to ever be true, aside from their factual inspirations, had events that transpired after they became best-sellers that sadly made them all too realistic.  For Room, it was the events in Cleveland.  For Lovely Bones, while it was a best-seller, there was in the case in Portland of Miranda Gaddis and Ashley Pond whose bodies were finally found one night while Veronica and I were on our honeymoon, so if we have no love for Gallup, New Mexico, that’s because we will always remember we were there when the horrible events back at home were unfolding, events that had slowly building for years.  Neither case slowed down sales of the books with similar situations which really disturbs me.)

The entire film is presented from the child’s point-of-view (the fact that SAG nominated Tremblay as a Supporting Actor suggests that they are just as bad as the Academy at distinguishing lead from supporting).  We are watching a story unfold from the eyes of a character for whom this entire world is alien.  This leads to odd (and not necessarily good) choices in both cinematography and editing, approaching the world from his viewpoint.

In the end, the film couldn’t quite win me over.  Telling the story from the kid’s viewpoint just didn’t work for me.  It felt like I wasn’t getting the whole story.  It leaves things to dangle and disappear (her father can’t look his grandchild in the eyes because of the circumstances which brought him to life but then he’s just dropped from the film) we get a suicide attempt that makes no sense when we have seen the strength of that character’s will to live and then there is the ending.  I was tempted to drop the film from ***.5 to *** just because of the emotional manipulation of the ending, the dialogue that felt completely forced and the music swelling up to overwhelm us.  There’s no question that Larsen’s performance is a remarkable one, one easily worthy of an Oscar, even if she’s my third choice for the Nighthawks, but the film as a whole suffers from choices made in the direction and the script and in the end, it’s just hanging on to the lower ends of ***.5.

A desolate land, an absent plot, a critical darling, a complete mess.

A desolate land, an absent plot, a critical darling, a complete mess.

Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Director:  George Miller
  • Writer:  George Miller  /  Brendan McCarthy  /  Nick Lathouris
  • Producer:  George Miller  /  Doug Mitchell
  • Stars:  Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Oscar Points:  360
  • Length:  120 min
  • Genre:  Action
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  15 May 2015
  • Box Office Gross:  $153.63 mil  (#21  –  2015)
  • Metacritic Rating:  90
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #73  (year)  /  #468  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Points:  0

I am starting to lose faith in Tom Hardy.  Yes, he was solid enough in Locke, but he’s the weakest thing in Inception, I wasn’t impressed with him in The Dark Knight Rises and he does little more in Mad Max than mumble a lot and react over-dramatically to the things that only he can see.  In the two Nolan films, I lay the blame on Hardy, since Nolan is an incredible director and the rest of the cast shines.  In Mad Max, there’s just really not a lot for him to work with – he needs to look gruff and go out and mumble and survive the desert.

The shaking of my faith in Hardy’s ability is nothing compared to how I feel about the large number of critics who have greeted this film as one of the best of the year, sometimes the best.  When the film was released, I grouped it together with two other films – Jurassic World and the new Terminator film – as films that didn’t need to be made, whose franchises had come and gone and didn’t need to be revived.  The audiences who couldn’t get enough of Jurassic World proved I was wrong about that on a commercial level even if the film itself proved it didn’t really need to be made.  The critical love for Mad Max proved that I was wrong on one level for that film even if its domestic box office barely passed its cost.  I would say that at least Terminator was a dud on both levels but there still seems to be talk of yet another film, so does any of it even matter?  I decided to go into the film and treat it like I didn’t know how good it possibly be – after all, I dreaded seeing Inglorious Basterds after watching Brad Pitt in the trailers and it turned out to be my #1 film of 2009 (and just look at all the things The Big Short had going against it in my review above).  I have been wrong before.

I don’t think I was wrong on this one.  I can’t fathom what other people think is so brilliant.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I think this is a terrible film.  While Tom Hardy might be the star of the film, it’s Charlize Theron, with the one good performance in the film, who is the heart of it.  I must digress for a minute to talk about the background here.  Watching the trailers (I didn’t read anything about the film because I didn’t care about it, even when it was on the cover of Empire, which I subscribe to), I had no idea Theron was even in the film.  Then Veronica told me about how she heard that Theron was the real star and that uptight male assholes were complaining that it wasn’t manly enough.  I agree with Veronica that the use of Theron, her very mission in the film, gives it much more life than the previous Mad Max films and more life than a lot of mindless action films.  Anybody who complains about Theron in the film is an idiot because she’s the best thing about the film, by far.  But just because this film has an interesting concept at its core that makes it almost a feminist action film, I don’t think that makes this a good film.  I compare it to Trainwreck, which we watched on the same night.  I applaud that a film is made with a female at its core in a genre that is normally reserved for males.  That doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t nothing to transcend the genre and actually be good.  A stupid crass Judd Apatow film is still a stupid crass Apatow film even when it stars Amy Schumer.  A mindless action film that’s just a lot of noise and explosions and things that make no sense whatsoever is not saved by being a feminist film.  It still has to be a good film, and I don’t think this one is.

There are, as I said, some good things about it.  George Miller clearly directs it with energy, even if the energy goes nowhere.  Theron gives a very good performance – it’s rare to even have a female lead in a film like this, let alone for it to be a good performance.  I think she passes Eva Green in Casino Royale and moves into the Top 5 performances by a female lead in an Action film (joining Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, Natalie Portman in Leon and Uma Thurman in the two Kill Bill films).  I also think the score is extremely good – it drew me into the film in a way that the ridiculous explosions and mindless screaming of bizarre phrases did not.

Late in the film, Veronica asked a question about whether or not someone would have any blood left to give to another character.  My response?  “Now you want to look at a logical fallacy in this film?”  To me, this film constantly failed the Hunt for Red October Test (see here).  I won’t start listing the ways it failed for me because that might not be an issue for you.  But I kept watching the film and thinking: “Wait, what?”  I applaud this film for what it tried to do, even if its marketing campaign tried to completely hide it.  But, for a film, I don’t think it’s enough to have an idea.  You still have to make a good film.  I just don’t think this is one.

Advertisements