For the second year in a row, the Academy Awards, airing Sunday, Feb. 28 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC, will be mired in a storm of controversy. Even after last year’s uproar, there isn’t a single person of color nominated for an acting award, causing Hollywood’s elite and regular moviegoers to express their anger.
The fact that this problem has persisted for two years in a row has prompted the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, a boycott of the event by certain celebrities and even an announcement from the Academy to reform and change in the nomination process so this doesn’t happen again.
While this issue rightly aims to address much larger issues that plague Hollywood, focus has been shared with the fact that 2015 was a strong year for film. The race for Best Picture features a list of films that comprise a number of different genres and atmospheres, creating an interesting and hard to predict fight.
First up is “The Big Short,” a fascinating look at the few economists and bankers who predicted the 2008 financial crisis and figured out how they could profit off of it. This one became a major contender after winning big at the Producers Guild Awards, but ultimately seems like it would be too “left field” for the tastes of the Academy. Expect it to make a strong case for Best Adapted Screenplay though, providing the satisfaction that when the weekend is over the director of “Step Brothers” might have an Academy Award.
Next up is “Bridge of Spies,” a Cold War thriller from the incomparable director-star duo of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. In it, Hanks plays a lawyer who is recruited to negotiate a trade between the United States and the Soviet Union for agents of each respective country. The film is gorgeous and filled to the brim with period detail, but lacks stakes and tension. It’s most comparable to 2012’s Best Picture winner “Argo,” another film about an overlooked act of Cold War espionage. “Spies” lacks the memorability, suspense and ultimately the enjoyability of the former, which will most likely relegate it to lesser status in the Spielberg canon and not worthy of the Academy’s top prize.
“Brooklyn” is a charming romance about an Irish girl who immigrates to the titular city in 1952 and falls in love with a young Italian man. As you can tell, “Brooklyn” is cute and pleasant, and is bolstered by a great turn from Saoirse Ronan. The problem? Well, the last time a straight-up, no nonsense romance won Best Picture was 1985. “Brooklyn” may successfully harken back to a bygone era, but it’s hardly likely that it’ll make the Academy feel the same way.
“The Martian,” a Ridley Scott film, depicts Matt Damon’s astronaut Mark Watney having to fend for himself on the Red Planet after a technical malfunction leaves him stranded 50 million miles from home. This is honestly one of the best movies of the year, with the entire production firing on all cylinders, superb acting, a witty script, sublime effects and effortless direction from Scott, all based around a message of hope and cooperation. Even if it doesn’t win (and it probably won’t since it’s a sci-fi film and this is, well, the Academy), it’s still a movie everyone should see.
Following that is “Room,” which stars probable Best Actress winner Brie Larson and breakout child star Jacob Tremblay as a mother and son who have spent seven years trapped in a small shed. It’s a depressing, even unpleasant at times movie. And while it does end on a positive note, it takes a lot out of the audience to get to that point. Larson’s win will most likely be all it gets.
“Spotlight” is about the team of Boston Globe journalists who uncovered the sex scandal surrounding the Catholic Church in 2002. It effectively tackles the dense subject matter while providing strong performances and being a well-made film. However, the fact that it’s not much more than a well-acted information dump kind of hinders its chances at being the best. Expect the dialogue-heavy screenplay to make a strong pull for Best Original Screenplay though.
Ultimately, the biggest battle is taking place between the two front-runners, which also happen to be very similar films. “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant” are both tales of survival, both take place in two of the harshest settings ever put on film, both star a tough to understand Tom Hardy, and both feature incredible cinematography, special effects, and performances. But while both movies present themselves as straightforward survival epics, only one of them strives to have more going on underneath than it originally looks. Amazingly, it’s also the one with a character named Toast.
While it definitely has been overpraised to death, make no mistake: “Fury Road” is the real deal, showcasing an uncompromising vision of a post-apocalyptic universe, memorable characters, multiple levels of subtext, and some of the best action scenes of all time from director George Miller. While “The Revenant” is gorgeous and well-acted, there isn’t much to think about other than that an angry Leonardo DiCaprio wants to kill Tom Hardy’s character. Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of movie that wins Best Picture. Director Alejandro G. IÃ±Ã¡rritu might pull off a major victory and win Best Director and Picture two years in a row, unless the Academy acts entirely out of character and decides to honor the masterful breath of fresh air that Miller and his team created. At the very least, AGI can take pride in the fact that he directed the film that will most likely give DiCaprio his long-awaited Oscar, sending the Internet into a frenzy for a week or two.
All in all, it’s going to be a very interesting Awards evening.