Holy shit did I disappear. I’ve seen an overwhelming amount of films the last two months, but at no point did I compel myself to bring my fingers to keys. Actually, that’s a lie; I did write a review for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation but it was such a flaming bag of dog shit that I deleted it upon completion. The movie was good, though. Unfortunately, the responsibilities of being an adult was far too overbearing for a man of my stature. There’s nothing more depressing than a man succumbing to his career and family. Side note to kids on the internet: don’t ever grow up. Enough about me. Let’s hand out fictional film awards! *Now with less white people!*
Best Score: Carol, Composed by Carter Burwell
Todd Hayne’s Carol is a subtle love story built around two women from disparate social circles and differing age brackets. Their relationship begins as a social exercise, with each woman examining how far their counterpart is willing to go. In time it blossoms into a romance society views as an abnormality, but provides the two lovers with a sense of freedom and purpose they so desperately needed. Underscoring the romance is a stirring, elegant score from Carter Burwell. There are moments where Burwell’s compositions burn slowly, offering a sense of mystery to the budding romance. And there are flat-out moments of sweeping romance. Woodwinds, strings, and a harpsichord passionately coalesce but the most significant part of Burwell’s score is the subtle sting of unease creeping beyond the majestic notes, perfectly encapsulating the exhilaration and fear of a romance the outside world doesn’t understand.
Best Special Effects: Ex Machina
When it comes to this category, selecting a massive blockbuster is par for the course. I nearly went that route with The Force Awakens, but that’s almost too obvious. The film that truly integrated its special effects, without sacrificing an ounce of story, was the fantastic Ex Machina. Turning Alicia Vikander into a robot is the film’s crown achievement, as the special effects team meticulously replaces her flesh and bone with cold, cold metal. This fusion between performance and manipulation is utterly convincing to the point that we believe the world exists; we believe that man and machine occupy the same suffocating space.
Best Cinematography: The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki
Emmanuel Lubezki is a god in cinema. Through his lens he has captured some of the most stunning, resonant images on-screen. Few cinematographers control the frame as well as the man known as “Chivo.” Whether it’s the frightening beauty of Gravity or all-consuming splendor of The Tree of Life, Lubezki draws us into the world with unbelievable grace and power. Lubezki’s latest endeavor is The Revenant, a brutal film that captures the disheartening, vicious power of Mother Nature. Shot using only natural light, an obscenely difficult task, Lubezki miraculously captures the frigid, desolate world our characters inhabit. In spite of the pain and the violence, Lubezki also finds a level of serenity amidst the treacherous terrain.
Best Screenplay: Steve Jobs, Written by Aaron Sorkin
It’s a shame Universal buried Steve Jobs only weeks into its release because it’s a phenomenally written film. Written as a three-part chamber piece, Steve Jobs isn’t concerned with accuracy, which is one reason why the film faced a lot of disparaging criticism. It’s a dissection of genius, and whether it adequately represents Jobs is beside the point. As usual, Sorkin’s dialog rattles and hums in every scene, as his penchant for tight spacing and rapid pacing generate much of the film’s drama. Fierce, calculating, and dizzying, Sorkin’s screenplay for Steve Jobs is one of the year’s biggest achievements.
Best Director: Ryan Coogler, Creed
After seeing The Revenant, my Best Director award was almost instantaneously given to the ambition and power of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s work. I even thought about Tom McCarthy’s calculated, understated direction for Spotlight. But I kept coming back to Ryan Coogler’s work behind the camera for Creed. Coogler’s vision not only reinvigorated a flaccid franchise but also an actor in Sylvester Stallone who spent years foolishly resurrecting his 80’s action star persona. Coogler masterfully shoots the boxing sequences with an unbelievable level of physicality. From brutal ring choreography to a jaw dropping one shot fight sequence, Coogler captures bruising fight sequences that haven’t been seen since Scorsese’s Raging Bull. Beyond the fighting, Coogler does an impressive job of capturing the world in which Creed (Michael B Jordan) begins his ascension. Whether it’s in the streets of Philadelphia or gyms beaten down by the passage of time, Coogler delivers authenticity in spades. We can smell the beads of sweat dripping down Creed’s tired frame. We can feel the roar of the crowd, and the ferocious hits to the body. It’s simply one of the year’s most rousing experiences, and Coogler deserves recognition for such an achievement.
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Big Short
I was prepared to call this a tie between Bale in The Big Short and Mark Ruffalo from Spotlight. Both are terrific performances but ultimately I was a little more empathetic towards Bale’s performance as Michael Burry in The Big Short. Bale’s performance is full of nuance and complex facial expressions, some of which are disarming in the film’s opening frame. Yet, as the film moves along these expressions and reserved body language help us connect with an outsider, a man operating on the fringe of society. Being that Burry is often seen as an awkward man, Bale imbues him with a bubbling rage- one that Burry unleashes when his peers simply can’t see his vision. It’s a towering performance from Bale, and it’s one of the year’s most human, lived in creations.
Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara, Carol
Rooney Mara has quickly become one of my favorite actresses. Much like Kate Winslet, she has this innate ability to tap into her characters with great ease. It’s almost as if she’s lived many years in her character’s skin, aware of its nooks and crannies. In the case of Carol, Mara plays Therese, a young woman bewitched by the film’s titular character. Anchored down by a boyfriend and societal expectations, Therese is blindly floating through life. Mara illuminates Therese’s personal disdain through quiet aversions like limited eye contact and tight, compact positions. When Therese and Carol finally generate their relationship, Mara creates a palpable chemistry with Blanchett. Mara’s secret glances turn from curious to romantic in an organic way, coercing us to ache and pray Therese finds what she’s looking for.
Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Is this really a surprise to you? I imagine not. Brie Larson is the odds on favorite to win the Oscar this Sunday, and it’s with good reason. Her performance is staggering. Stripped down and fueled by fear and love, Larson brings to life a character that’s on the verge of losing her soul. Confined to a single room- her character was abducted and placed in a shed years before- while raising a child, Larson’s character teeters between hope and loss in nearly every frame, as she grows more and more weary of her predicament. One gets the sense that Larson used the small, encroaching environment to her advantage as there are mental breakdowns that are downright disheartening and frightening. Yet, in spite of the acts of desperation, frustration and misguided anger, Larson never lets her character’s motherly love dissipate. Her ability to turn anguish into tenderness is beautifully profound, much like the film.
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
I know everyone is defaulting to DiCaprio with this particular category, but I struggled picking him because there were a lot of great performances this year. Fassbender’s dexterous and rousing performance in Steve Jobs is tremendous, while Michael B Jordan’s performance in Creed is also revelatory but I simply couldn’t go against DiCaprio’s monumental effort in The Revenant. Much has been made about The Revenant’s difficult creation- so much so that the film’s quality is clouded by it- but one can’t help but admire DiCaprio’s deeply invested performance. From enduring the brutal conditions to practicing habits of the time, DiCaprio is fearless in his depiction of a man staving off death and seeking revenge. And even though DiCaprio’s Glass is hungry for retribution, DiCaprio never loses sight of his soul. The need to keep moving, to keep living is potent, and is all the more resonant in DiCaprio’s thoughtful hands.