Monday, December 3, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2015

The Contenders:

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Spotlight (winner)

What’s Missing

There were a lot of good movies in 2015, and it was the sort of year that, even with the expanded format, could have used more spaces. Naturally, a lot of the movies I’m going to mention here are the sort that are ignored come award season and that, if pressed, I wouldn’t really expect to see nominated. These include films like the little-known High Rise, based on one of my favorite novels. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a solid actioner, which doesn’t get Oscar play. Crimson Peak probably didn’t deserve a Best Picture nomination, but it was robbed on a nomination for set design. The VVitch is probably too grim, and Green Room too brutal from any real play, something also likely true of Bone Tomahawk. Movies like Trumbo, Black Mass, and Carol are performance pieces, which is also true of 45 Years. I’m a little surprised nostalgia alone didn’t rate a nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Macbeth was probably too under the radar. You know what movie got robbed, though? Straight Outta Compton deserved a nomination more than 75% of the actual nominations.

Weeding through the Nominees

8. I like all of these nominations and think all of these are movies worth seeing. In that respect, Oscar genuinely did fine by this year. My problems with Room have nothing to do with the performances or the way the movie is put together, but with the basics of the plot. I have a hard time with the initial buy-in of the story, and there’s no getting around the fact that there are places where this seems a touch…far-fetched. Perhaps it really isn’t and I’m being too critical. It’s not a movie I want to watch again, though, so I may never know.

7. I can say pretty much the same thing about Bridge of Spies. If Best Picture nominees should be more than something simply driven by a performance or two, I’m not sure why this movie is here. Tom Hanks is reliably good in this, and so is Mark Rylance. Beyond that, I struggle to remember a great deal about the story, aside from there being spies and a bridge that it takes the whole movie to get to. It’s a fine movie, but not one worthy of a huge amount of attention or praise beyond just being good.

6. There’s a lot to like with The Revenant, including Leonardo DiCaprio finally winning the Oscar that his career has long deserved. But this is another movie that, having seen it once, I’m not really that sure I want to watch a second time. There’s nothing particular about it that would prevent me from seeing it again—no scene of terrible horror (like in Bone Tomahawk), no plot holes or other problems. I just can’t think of a reason I’d want to watch it again, and that doesn’t bode well for Best Picture.

5. I genuinely liked Brooklyn but like many of the other films I’ve talked about so far, this is very much a performance piece. It’s a movie that is going to be talked about in the future for one specific reason: it will be brought up as evidence of the fact that Saoirse Ronan has deserved an Oscar for a long time before she finally wins one. This is going to be one of those movies that people point to when she does win, saying, “Yeah, I s’pose it’s great that she got an Oscar and all, but she really deserved one for Brooklyn.”

4. If you read this blog at all, you know that I’m a space junkie and that I love stories involving NASA. That being the case, it’s perhaps a little surprising that I’m putting The Martian this low. One of the reasons I love NASA movies is that they always portray science as one of the heroes. We’re never going to see science run amok and causing problems. Matt Damon even tells us that he’s going to survive on Mars by sciencing the shit out of the problem. We need more of that in this world of climate change denial and alternative facts.

3. I don’t have a real problem with Spotlight winning this Oscar. It’s a very good movie and an extremely important one, the sort of movie that, in a previous era, would impact real-world institutions. The cast is damn good, and the story, while the ending is known to just about anybody, always feels like it might still be in doubt. This is a film I have watched a second time, and it holds up on a repeat viewing. It does feel like it gives short shrift to some of the characters, but in the context of the bigger story, I don’t really take issue with that.

2. I was honestly surprised at how much I liked The Big Short. A part of that is that it’s a financial movie, and that’s a phrase that is more than likely going to get me snoring pretty hard. But we’ve got a good cast of characters and a compelling story. One of the best things this movie does is simplify the basics of the plot to a point where someone like me, who can’t convincingly balance a checkbook, can follow the whole thing. Like In the Loop, this is a movie you laugh at so that you don’t scream.

My Choice

1. Was there any doubt? Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the few movies I saw in the theater in 2015, and it was exactly what I wanted from the experience. I went in wanting nothing more than two hours of car chases and explosions. What I got was about 110 minutes of car chases and explosions, plus 10 minutes of credits. That it gives us a whole new side of the Max Rockatansky mythos is fantastic. That it creates a new epic character like Furiosa is the reason movies like this exist. That the existence of this movie pisses off men’s rights activists is just icing on the damn cake. Fury Road won a shitload of Oscars and it should have won at least one more.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree with ranking "Fury Road" at #1, but I'm surprised you put "The Big Short" above "Spotlight." "Spotlight" evoked actual disgust in me, whereas "The Big Short" had more of a distant, intellectual (and therefore less impactful) appeal. The movie with more emotional oomph wins (which is also why I'd put "Fury Road" at #1).

    FWIW, I reviewed "Spotlight" and "Philomena" in a two-fer review with the theme of Church malfeasance.

    1. I think Spotlight might be a more important movie than The Big Short, but I enjoyed the latter one more.

      Frequently, these posts reflect my opinion on a specific day--on another day, I might rank them a little differently.

  2. Yeah, Mad Max: Fury Road is a great thrill ride and as you I had a blast watching it on the big screen.
    The Revenant contains jaw-dropping best-of-the-year sequences though a little thin on characterization. I didn't really get to know the main characters.
    I wish Inside Out could have received a best picture nom as for me it's the best film of 2015.

    1. I'm a little less enamored of Inside Out than everyone else seems to be. I'm honestly not sure why that is.

  3. It'll probably be years until I get to this Best Picture field, if at all, but I do have a section of my Notepad file reserved for ranking the past few years of Oscar as they've come out and then been added to the 1001 List, forcing me to see them essentially early. Spoiler alert - of the five in this field that made it onto the List, you and I have them in the exact same order. I highly doubt any of the three films from this year's field that I haven't seen will top Mad Max, to boot, so unless when it comes time for me to write up this field I end up chickening out and giving it to The Big Short, we're in total agreement here.

    1. It's sad that for Oscar, movies like Fury Road "win" by getting nominated for this award. It wasn't a shock to me that Fury Road won a load of the technical awards, but it feels like it wasn't really in contention for the major awards.

  4. This was a rough year for me. I found myself more drawn to foreign or alternative films (Love, Breathe, Wild Tales, Clouds of Sils Maria) more than the nominees. But of the nominees, I would definitely be game for Mad Max or The Revenant winning over Spotlight.

    1. Spotlight is a very good movie, but I think it won because it's simultaneously a Very Important Movie(tm).

    2. I agree with you about Wild Tales. It was absolutely crazy, but so enjoyable in a subversive kind of way.