So – I’ve embarked on an EPIC challenge to watch every movie ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. To do so, I’ve put all the years from 1929 to 2019 into a bucket and I’m pulling out years one by one to determine what movies to watch.
5th PULL: 2016
- The Martian
- Spotlight (winner)
- The Big Short
- Bridge of Spies
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- The Revenant
The Martian: Based on the best-selling book of the same name, The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who is lost during a storm on Mars and left for dead by his crew. With any type of help literally millions of miles away, Watney is forced to put his skills and know-how to the test and figure out how to survive on a planet that does not sustain life.
The cool thing about this movie is that it doesn’t only answer the big questions – like how do you create food and water with the bare essentials around you, but what do you do if your helmet cracks? How do you survive the loneliness of being the only person on Mars? How do you find it in yourself to not give up?
As luck would have it, Watney is a trained botanist and is able to turn his bunker into a greenhouse where he grows several potato plants to help keep him alive. When he’s not in his garden, Watney is conversing with himself or his digital diary (aka the audience) about his mental health and the state of his situation.
Back home, the director of NASA (Jeff Daniels) comes to discover that Mark Watney is indeed alive and alone on Mars, just after he organized a very public memorial for the astronaut thought to be dead. With a team made up of various scientists, PR executives and head-honchos, the NASA group quickly begins figuring out how to bring Watney home safe…and alive.
Despite the stress of the situation, The Martian still seems to find the humor in everything. Watney’s wisecracking jokes are just the comic relief we need to cope with his situation and the blunder and folly that takes place at NASA headquarters almost feels like an office workplace comedy. While this movie worked hard to be as scientifically accurate as possible, it also didn’t take itself too seriously, which really gave it a warm and almost relaxed feel.
Is The Martian predictable? YUP. But most castaway movies are, aren’t they? This is a story about man vs. nature, about the will to survive. And in movies like this, the lesson remains the same:
Spotlight: On January 6, 2002, the city of Boston woke up to the following story on the cover of The Boston Globe:
Church allowed abuse by priest for years
Since the mid-1990’s, more than 130 people have come forward with horrific childhood tales about how former priest John J. Geoghan allegedly fondled or raped them during a three-decade spree through a half-dozen Greater Boston parishes. Almost always, his victims were grammar school boys. One was just four years old…
Read the full Pulitzer Prize-winning article here.
Needless to say, this article not only shook up the residents of Boston, but the entire Catholic church. Not only did this article uncover nearly 80 priests in Boston alone that had abused young children, but also outlined how the Catholic church knew about it and tried to cover it up.
The journalists who put this article together were members of the Spotlight team – an investigative branch of The Boston Globe newspaper. This film is the story of that investigation.
When the new editor-in-chief of The Boston Globe, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), first brought up the idea of covering the abuse scandal surrounding the Catholic church to his editorial team, it was not well-received. Boston was, after all, predominantly Catholic and most of the writers on The Boston Globe were active members of the Catholic church. For a paper struggling to sustain subscribers, this was not the way to gain their trust and admiration.
But Baron was persistent and put the Spotlight team on the case. In a true testament to ensemble acting, the team made up of editors Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) and Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery), researchers Sasha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) and writer Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) begin the journey from skepticism to revelation as they work with victims, survivors and lawyers to uncover the truth of what’s been going on behind the veil.
The drama in Spotlight comes in a slow build to discovery, highlighting the unglamorous leg-work that goes into creating a power-house expose. Without any CGI explosions or superheroes flying in and out of frame, Spotlight was one of the most thrilling movies I’ve seen in the last 5 to 10 years.
This film is not easy to watch. It’s gonna sit in your gut for a while, as it should. You’re going to want to think about it. You’re going to want to talk about it. You may even want to see it again. There’s a reason this movie won more than half the awards and accolades it was nominated for. Not only does Spotlight break the story – it breaks the silence.
The Big Short: Remember that scene in The Office when Michael Scott asks Oscar to explain surplus to him like he’s 5 and Oscar uses a lemonade stand example to help him understand? That’s what I need to make sense of The Big Short.
There are two things I took away from this movie. One – no matter what role Steve Carell has from here on out, I will always just hear Michael Scott. Two – banks are bad.
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, The Big Short is a biographical comedy/drama about the financial crisis of 2008, which was triggered by the US housing bubble. With almost an obnoxious amount of banking and stock terminology, this movie uses unconventional techniques to help explain itself. Various celebrities, including Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez and Richard Thaler, break the 4th wall to explain concepts such as subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations. Gosling, who also serves as the narrator of the movie, talks to the audience here and there as well to better explain the complicated plot.
Though I didn’t understand this movie fully, I got the gist. Major banks all engaged in fraudulent, criminal activity and didn’t give a rat’s ass about it. The government bailed them out, just like the banks knew would happen, and the little guy had to pay for it all. This caused millions of people to lose their jobs, their homes, their retirement plans and their futures. And the scary thing is, it could will happen again.
Despite its heavy content, The Big Short does have a sense of humor and is actually quite funny. As one reviewer said, “This is by far the most entertaining movie I never understood.”
Bridge of Spies: I really shouldn’t be surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed Bridge of Spies. I mean, it stars my fave – Tom Hanks – dressed in retro swagger and walking to the slow, beautiful beat of a Thomas Newman soundtrack. Win, win, win.
Set during the Cold War, Bridge of Spies is a real-life thriller scripted by the Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski). Yup, I was just as surprised as you are 😉 True to form, director Steven Spielberg tells the story of a man taking on something bigger than himself. This felt like a modern To Kill a Mockingbird story – and what Gregory Peck did for Atticus Finch, Tom Hanks did for insurance lawyer James B. Donovan.
Perhaps because of his great job performance or his ability to rock a dad sweater, Jim Donovan (Hanks) is asked by his boss to act as defense attorney for captured Soviet spy, Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance). Donovan is just asked to be a warm body in the courtroom, someone to make sure the process runs smoothly. But America’s dad is not about to sit there and be quiet without at least trying. After all, as Donovan points out, it might be in America’s best interest to treat Abel with respect, as we would want an American POW to be treated in return.
And so, Donovan mounts a defense for Abel, fighting for jail time rather than the death penalty (which the public wants to see happen). Though Donovan’s defense is not well-respected at first, things begin to change when Gary Powers, a CIA pilot sent to take pictures in Russia, is shot down and captured by the Soviet Union.
Hanks finds the perfect scene partner in Rylance (Rudolph Abel) and the respect these men have for each other both on and off-screen shines. They may come from different places, they may be on different sides of the war, but they’re both men who are simply following orders. They both refuse to take the easy way out. There is a sense of respect in that and a friendship blossoms between the two that seems so genuine and real.
Bridge of Spies received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Rylance, which he ended up winning.
Unlike most war films, this one had a pretty happy ending, all things considered. It may not be COMPLETELY historically accurate, but that shouldn’t take you away from it. This film is not about the Cold War, that’s merely the backdrop. This movie is about a seemingly unlikely friendship and how our similarities sometimes outweigh our differences.
Mad Max: Fury Road: I wasn’t really crazy about Mad Max: Fury Road the first time I saw it – and I was even less crazy about it this time. In this apocalyptic world of The Fast and the Furious meets The Terminator, I felt completely lost and disengaged in the story line.
Mad Max: Fury Road is set in the near future. The landscape is dying of thirst and civilizations have gone by the wayside. Essentials in this world, like water and gasoline, are severely rationed and fought over by those few who have survived.
One of those survivors is Max (Tom Hardy), who is captured and enslaved as a blood donor for a warrior named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When word gets out that a runner for the Citadel, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), has gone off road and abandoned her journey to Gastown to pick up gasoline, Max finds himself strapped to the front of a car with Nux at the wheel to chase her down. What follows is basically an hour and 58 minutes worth of car chases and explosions.
For those who love action movies or post-apocalyptic fiction, I could totally see how you would love this movie – maybe even classify it as one of the best of the bunch…but this is just not my jam. I’ve also never seen any of the other Mad Max films, so take this review with a big ol’ grain of salt. Though, for what it’s worth, I did not mind staring at Tom Hardy for 2 hours!
I can’t even imagine what the CGI budget was for this movie…especially considering pre-production started way back in 1997! September 11th and the Iraq War made it difficult to continue shooting this movie, and other projects pulled director George Miller away from this project a few times. When it was all said and done, film editor Margaret Sixel had nearly 480 hours of footage to edit – which took three months.
It payed off, though – Mad Max: Fury Road won 6 Academy Awards in 2016: Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Visual Effects, but lost in those categories.
When all was said and done, I liked parts of Mad Max, but not the whole. I didn’t understand the point. There were so many opportunities to get in Max’s head and better understand his rage, but I feel like those were just glossed over. For me, this movie felt like someone’s guilty pleasure – like why I might watch Legally Blonde or Rush Hour – for shear, mind-numbing entertainment.
Room: To 5-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he’s grown up. It’s where he lives with his Ma and is a place where they can eat and laugh and play together. It has everything Jack needs, everything he knows.
But to Ma, Room is a prison. It’s where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years, raping and abusing her daily. It barely has enough space for one person, let alone two – and the only bit of sunlight to enter Room comes from a small skylight. Depression and poor health plague Ma every day and soon she comes up with a plan to escape – the only problem is that she must put Jack’s safety on the line for it to work.
Based on Emma Donoghue’s award-winning novel of the same name (which you should totally read if you haven’t), Room is not only a story about survival, but about the impenetrable bond between a mother and her son.
Though the escape of Jack and his Ma is best seen and not spoiled, it’s no secret that they do, indeed, get out (I mean it’s in the trailer for the movie). And as is the case with most abduction cases, being free is not quite the same as feeling free. In the comfort of Room, Ma could be a provider and keep Jack safe, even if they weren’t necessarily free. But outside the walls of Room, it seems that Ma and Jack reverse roles – with Ma acting like a needy, petulant child and Jack taking on the role of protector.
Brie Larson won an Oscar for Best Actress for her part as Ma and, in my opinion, Jacob Tremblay (Jack) was robbed of his own nomination. His performance here was nothing short of stellar and he absolutely deserved to be recognized for his talents.
The coolest thing about the novel is that Room is told in Jack’s voice, from the perspective of a five-year-old boy. I worried that would get lost in the movie version, but it really doesn’t. This is a beautiful reinterpretation of the novel and a heartbreaking study into what we actually need to survive.
Brooklyn: If I had to describe this movie in a word, it would be ‘lovely’. What a refreshing, heart-warming and beautiful movie this is. With an almost nostalgic feel of classic cinematic works, Brooklyn tells the story of a girl named Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) and her decision to start a new life for herself by moving from a small town in Ireland to a big city in America – specifically Brooklyn, NY.
Upon arriving in America, Eilis is overcome with homesickness. Though she receives letters from her family and resides in an Irish boardinghouse, she struggles to fit into traditional ‘American culture’. It’s not until she meets an Italian boy by the name of Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) that Eilis finally feels a sense of belonging.
With his unmitigated charm and stereotypical Italian swagger, Tony softly coaxes Eilis out of her shell, and their relationship begins to bloom. It’s soft and romantic…intimate and fresh. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a romantic film like this and I was completely swept up in their love for each other. There are no grandiose gestures, no hot and heavy sex scenes – rather he offers her his arm when walking her home from night class and rides home with her on the bus just to simply be by her side. It’s how I like to imagine ‘the good ol’ days’ were, when getting to know someone didn’t happen over a phone or a computer, but over coffee and parlor games.
At its heart, Brooklyn is a romantic coming-of-age story about a young girl trapped between who she was and who she wants to be. Back home, Eilis has history – a mother and a sister, friends and family that know and love her. But in America, Eilis finds a future, a job, a man she loves. What’s a girl to do?
The idea of home courses through this movie and hits hard for anyone who’s ever left what they know and love for a better life. Is home where the heart is or is it the other way around? Once we’ve flown the coop, can we ever REALLY go home again? Or maybe the idea of home can mold and change as we do.
The Revenant: I’d like to just start this review by quoting Rolling Stone magazine, because I think they really said it best: “Note to movie pussies: The Revenant is not for you.”
After fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is injured and left for dead, he begins the harrowing and brutal journey to hunt down the man who betrayed him (oh and killed his son right in front of him). Set in the wild west in 1893, The Revenant is literally 156 minutes of torture for both the cast and the audience.
In what is arguably the most gruesome scene in the movie, Glass is violently attacked by a bear. Hyperbole aside, this was truly one of the most amazing and terrifying things I’ve seen on screen in a long time. I heard his bones break. His blood COVERED the ground below him. The bear looked so real that I had to convince myself a couple times that it wasn’t. This scene alone could have been what solidified Leo’s Oscar win, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.
What makes The Revenant so truly astounding is that it was shot using natural light and scenery. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki didn’t create a world, he brought us into our own. The cold, the snow, the wind – it was all real. The scenery of this movie almost becomes a character itself, offering a beautiful and albeit peaceful foil to the unmitigated agony that seems to plague Glass. The heavy use of panoramic shots – especially during battle scenes – literally put us in the center of the action. You don’t just watch The Revenant, you experience it.
That brings us to my bae, Leo. Now, there’s no denying that Leo is a great actor. He’s been nominated for Oscars for his roles in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (which he should have won), The Aviator (which he also should have won), Blood Diamond, and The Wolf of Wallstreet. In what would come to be his first Oscar-winning performance, Leo is challenged to express raw fear, hatred and pain all with facial expressions, which he does flawlessly. With maybe 10 words of dialogue in this movie, Leo puts on a performance that will certainly become a pinnacle of his career.
A revenant is defined as a person who has returned from the dead or a long adventure, and I can’t think of a better way to describe Glass’s journey. His body was broken time and time again, but his spirit remained unwavering.
Again, lots of great movies this year. The Martian was so enjoyable to watch that I might even have to purchase that one on one of them ol’ DVD’s. The Big Short was also a fun dramedy, even if I barely understood any of it. Mad Max seriously delivered on the action, but wasn’t really my cup of tea.
The Revenant, besides being hard to watch, was so beautifully done. Certainly worth watching if only to see Leo’s outstanding performance. While I thought Room was also a lovely movie, I think it got a little lost amongst the caliber of the other films in this category.
Brooklyn was my hidden gem this year. It was so lovely and whimsical and truly is one of the best romantic movies I’ve seen in years. Bridge of Spies was also a pleasant surprise and an interesting case study on humanity in general.
The Best Picture winner for 2016 was Spotlight, and I have to say I agree. This movie got down and dirty with one hell of a hot-button issue without resorting to rhetoric. The casting was great, the story was great, and the message resonated for weeks after seeing this film.
From being trapped on Mars to fighting for life here on Earth, these movies showcased the power of human survival and determination. Just like Mark Watney, Hugh Glass, Ma, and those crooked financial investors, we’re all just doing what we can to make it to tomorrow, holding on to life, our jobs, our health, our future in whatever way we can.
On to the next pull!