It is awards season, so I just gotta give some love to the flicks that the big Tinseltown award parades passed by, undeservedly so. Here be the nominations that Hollywood messed up, plain and simple.
Achievement in Sound Editing: Love and Mercy
As much as I adored the hellish machinations of the sound crew on FURY ROAD, I choose to champion the smaller movie that got absolutely no love at the Globes or the Oscars. Love and Mercy, the Brian Wilson biopic, was a truly engrossing and emotional journey through the life experience of the boy genius behind the Beach Boys. Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Giamatti were great performers in the film, but the highlight was the sound score. Not simply the music, but the soundscapes that emulate the inner workings of Wilson’s musical intuition that permeates the movie like an anarchic blanket that constantly buzzes, hums, throbs, and rattles over and under the action. It provided a perfect aural compliment to the musical charms and the emotional peaks and valleys that were presented over the course of the film’s length. By all means look for this one. I’m sorry to have missed it in theaters.
Best Production Design +Costume Design, Crimson Peak
The artists who land the gig of working for Guillermo del Toro are among the most blessed individuals working in the industry, exponentially moreso than Kirk Cameron can claim to be. The settings and properties even outside of the massive mansion are dripping with period specificity. The film reeks of both Hammer horror and Victorian Sears Roebuck catalogue. Taking the horror elements out of the discussion, the film just looks right. The halls are as spooky as what you’d expect of a creepy mansion. The cities look classy, yet still natural without too much whitewashing of the presence of little things like mud and clay. And the costuming is simply superb, all threads looking lived in and actually wearable unlike those that Disney has it’s feminine characters clad in. It is a delight to see a slight case of naturalism injected into costuming, because your brain tends to flag things that just don’t look right in costuming, but Guillermo and his staff are already way ahead of that curve. I really need to own The Art of Darkness, the concept art book where I got the image from.
Both actresses had busy years, with Chastain pulling in double duty with Ridley Scott’s The Martian, and Vikander having the busy year to rival Ex Machina co-star Domhnall Gleeson, with roles in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Danish Girl, and Ex Machina. While Ms. Vikander is nominated for an Oscar for Danish Girl, I will argue to the last day that she was nominated for the wrong role, much like Leo is going to win for the wrong role. She only stood out in Danish Girl because her level of talent and ability was too good for that incredibly hollow and lackluster movie. I will say that she is an adorable dancer, though.
On the other hand, Chastain was the stand-out of the ensemble of Guillermo del Toro’s ode to gothic romance and ghost stories, exhibiting a mad tenacity reminiscent of the golden age of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford that some might call “scenery-chewing”, but I refer to as insanely entertaining acting. Every time Chastain’s Lucille Sharpe appeared on screen, all eyes are immediately on her, for fear if you don’t pay close attention she’ll sneak up and whisk you off to oblivion. Both actresses sent chills down my spine in an age when most movies are lucky to get someone pretty in them that can read lines with half-decent conviction. Alas, no one listens to the court jester when the enemies are at the gate. They’ll learn eventually.
Best Supporting Actor of the Year: Tom Hardy, Mad Max FURY ROAD
*Most probably expect me to go with Benicio del Toro in recognition of his harrowing turn in SICARIO, and while I did admire Benicio’s work, I take into account that he’s already won an Oscar before. My specialty is supporting those who have not yet been recognized; on that note, Tom Hardy!
Mister Hardy has proven to be a force of nature on-set, off-set, and online. And as with Vikander above, he is nominated for The Revenant. But I will argue he is actually more deserving for carrying the torch from Mel Gibson rather well in portraying “Mad” Max Rockatansky. He still has the anti-social ticks, the subdued to the point of repressed emotional responses, and the animalistic swagger that made Mad Max well and truly mad in all senses of the wording. Most viewers will tell you, Max is very much a supporting presence in the movie, though still important nonetheless. His name may be on the title but it could have easily been called simply FURY ROAD, had the bean-counters at Warner Brothers not insisted on name-dropping the franchise because why treat your audience like they are smart when you can double down and bet on the unintelligent flocking to your movie like sheep? Funny, CREED seemed to draw in crowds without Rocky Balboa’s name on the marquee…
One of the most memorable aspects of Miller’s epic action-fest was the smaller moments dealing with Max’s internal demons, taking form of a type of post-traumatic stress disorder, accentuating the times that he’s failed to save others from the dangers of the unruly Wasteland. These moments could easily have been throwaway moments, but they build to payoff after emotional payoff that only confirm the solidarity of Georgie’s storytelling and the wonderful dramatic presence that is Tom Hardy, Esquire. As good as Fitzgerald turned out in Alejandro’s brutally bloated take on the western, without Hardy or a similar Nick Nolte level of performer, the character would have simply come and gone as a decent villain archetype. Max needed proper and considered care in order to translate properly into a new generation, and Miller and Hardy undoubtedly succeeded in giving him that.
Best Screenplay: CREED, Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington
People went into CREED expecting only the bare essentials of a Rocky-caliber movie, and most crowds came out shocked and pumped. Coogler and his partner-in-crime Covington didn’t falter in keeping the spirit of Rocky Balboa’s Philadelphia alive, while infusing it with a fresh and culturally diverse perspective that is lacking in too much of the current Hollywood fare. He acknowledges the past work while ushering in a sense of new directions for the denizens of Philly. The opening scene alone deserves a mention for never stepping to the level of cheese or corny revelations that Stallone may have infused it with had he directed or written it. Nothing against Sly, but his writing style would not have meshed well with what Coogler was trying to convey in CREED.
Best Actress: Charlize Theron, Mad Max FURY ROAD
The Academy has always had a problem with recognizing exceptional performances in genre films. The only exceptions have been in such films that have art-house origins, typically in their director, such as in the case of that little science fiction called G R A V I T Y a couple years ago. Charlize Theron truly owns FURY ROAD hand in hand with the visionary director George Miller. Her Furiosa marches, fights, and screams like a primal being from the tribal days. She is the main driving force of the story line. Furiosa’s sense of maternal anguish over the women in her care and the obstacles she has to hurdle are palpable just by a glimpse of her eyes and body language. She tries to keep it together, but she has moments of wavering, and it is devastating each and every time. It doesn’t hurt that she is also the legendary Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley levels of badass, coincidentally an Oscar-nominated performance. <– The More You Know
Point is, you don’t mess with Charlize Theron, period. I know she’s already won an Oscar as well, but her work as Furiosa was an exceptional performance that redefines the scope of action heroine. She transcends the mere confines of action cinema and becomes an key emotional center for the film, alongside the Wives she protects, with her mechanical arm.
Best Actor: Michael B. Jordan, CREED
Of all the snubs that the Oscars could easily have avoided if they had made the effort, this one stings the most. Michael B. Jordan has been working his way up the figurative Hollywood ladder for a few years now, and unfortunately his 2015 resume was stained by the flop of Fant4stic, which certain critics, whose voice does not matter, will blame on the diverse casting of Johnny Storm in part. Frankly, an actor paired with a horrible script and sub-par direction is doomed to appear incompetent. With CREED, Jordan reunites with Ryan Coogler who directed him in his freshman effort, Fruitvale Station. And Jordan brings all the emotions to the forefront in his portrayal of the illegitimate offspring of legendary boxer Apollo Creed. Young Adonis has some abandonment issues, struggles with his personal anger and loneliness, and is not at all the gold-hearted bum like Rocky Balboa. And it never paints him as a jerk, with all his problems. He’s troubled, but not a bully. And that’s just what CREED needed in its protagonist.
Best Director: Ryan Coogler, CREED
As mentioned previously, Coogler’s handling of the Rocky universe really blindsided audiences and critics alike. As with his scripting, he keeps the material fresh through his kinetic sense of storytelling that hurdles over cliches like the pavement Adonis speeds down in training. The choices of direction shine within, never overshadowing the material like Alejandro’s visionary flourishes tend to in the likes of previous Best Picture BiRDMAN. He handles the camera similar to how Michigan-native Sam Raimi directed The Evil Dead in 1980, directing as if this was his last chance, though Coogler never strives into the extravagant as Raimi most likely would have. There are a few long takes in CREED, but they feel right for the narrative and don’t cry out for attention like certain directors would make them. They function more like fun Easter eggs that add to film lovers’ enjoyments on re-watches. Coogler was overlooked for Fruitvale Station back in 2013 and now it’s happened again. I hope this isn’t a shoddy pattern you’re starting, Academy.
Best Animated Feature: The PEANUTS Movie
I know I gave Inside Out a glowing review back in the day, and I do stand by that it is a marvelous comeback for PIXAR Animation. But, upon rewatch, several character and narrative flaws became evident that I was too starstruck to notice the first couple times I saw the film. That being said, the lifelong Charles Schulz fan in me will not stop promoting this gem of a film that was overlooked in favor of the PIXAR powerhouse, another example of how Disney just has the Oscars in their pocket. This film gets childhood like Inside Out gets mental development. But PEANUTS deals with interpersonal relations, carrying itself with good humor, fun for all ages to enjoy, and truly unpredictable aerial battles that give every recent war movie a run for its money. What makes me push for its recognition even more so is Blue Sky’s charming update of the classic PEANUTS animation style. The animation kept the style classic enough to keep audiences recognizing the classic characters, updating it but never pushing into the uncanny valley like PIXAR and Disney has been notable at fumbling into. All this present in a movie that at its heart is about a boy and his dog. What a film.
Best Comedy: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Yes, yes. Trainwreck was surprisingly good considering the track record of Judd Apatow and co., and it undoubtedly was the most popular comedy at the box office this year, but this is not a measurement of the popular picks. This is a subjective article on what some pudgy, Caucasian film snob from the Midwest thought of the cinematic year. That said, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is like a lost Wes Anderson coming-of-age film set in a high school filled to the brim with teens at the peak of their inherent awkwardness. This story of a socially misanthropic amateur filmmaker who befriends a leukemia-stricken classmate is told with the goofiest of hearts and honest themes that grip your heartstrings and takes no prisoners. Beware of films with “thematic elements”; those are the flicks that’ll give y’all the feels. And your cheeks will be very teary by close, thanks in part to the humor and the great characters you feel for.
Best Horror Film: Crimson Peak
The absolute best thing about watching Crimson Peak is the sense of detail and history that the director and his crew infuse everything with. Every set dressing feels real and like it was plucked from the best preserved Edwardian-era home on Long Island. Every costume breathes and ruffles appropriately without looking like it was just picked up from the local Kostume Room. The mood seeps through the celluloid and drips into your bones, like a harsh wind that subtly makes its way across the countryside. The cast glides through the brilliantly composed settings like specters of an age gone by. The sounds that reverberate down the cavernous halls of Allerdale Hall are super effective, like ice chips in homemade ice cream. And now every critic supreme will jump down my throat, demanding to know why It Follows, the obvious pick, isn’t sitting atop this title. Meanwhile, I’ll be enjoying myself just revisiting another Guillermo-helmed meisterwerk. More for me.
Best Science Fiction: Ex Machina
I will never get the Academy’s attitude against the science fiction and fantasy genre, as I’m sure there is a dedicated group petitioning for The Force Awakens to be nominated simply for not being disappointing as the previous entries. But this little film from the writer of the acclaimed zombie actioner 28 Days Later and bloody superhero reboot DREDD (a personal favorite of mine) stunned all with its lurking sense of curious anxiety. As the protagonist further studies Ava, the artificial intelligence created by an arrogant software baron, he comes to question his own station in life and the hierarchy of first-world humanity and the toys they create. Long story short, the film makes you think about the world we live in by making us slightly uncomfortable with the advances we are making in technology. Alicia Vikander is perfect as Ava, Domhnall Gleeson makes a great protagonist, and Oscar Isaac is also a likable sleaze as the carefree whizkid who plays God with his circuit boards and “wetware” android brains. The film’s pretty neo/post-modern architecture adds to the isolation of the mood, and director Alex Garland’s ingenious scripting just tightens the screws until the audience has no choice but to squirm.
Best Drama/Best Picture: Carol
Undoubtedly the biggest missed opportunity of this year’s award nominations, apparent racial discrimination aside. This small-scale romance about the affair between an affluent, but troubled mother and a department store ingenue was a perfect theatrical experience. The performances from screen goddesses Blanchett and Rooney Mara, plus roles by cult favorite Sarah Paulson, and television’s Kyle Chandler were spot-on and heartfelt, never straying into one- or two-dimensional caricature. The imagery was lustrous and just stunning from frame one. The music was the most ingeniously Burwellian thing Mr. Carter Burwell has ever composed. And to top it all off, the film is the perfect length. I can’t think of a single extraneous scene or situation that needed trimming. It is so rare to find a film that doesn’t overstay its welcome in the age of 3-hour length Transformers sequels and pretty but overblown Oscar-bait. If you haven’t yet, by all means see this movie before it disappears. CAROL deserves the big screen appreciation.
And, for the pièce de résistance:
Best Stuntwork, Mad Max FURY ROAD
What gives Academy? You have been flaking out on stunt performers for decades, and they actually made several of your movies classics. John Ford’s Stagecoach is legendary for the climactic chase with the Apaches, with guns a’smokin’ and performers leaping off and flying off horses. The Matrix owes its success solely to its originality in its stunt-work. Jason fricking Statham has been lobbying for recognition for stunt performers for years, and y’all just sit there pouting, refusing to acknowledge the people who actually risk their fragile well-beings for the sake of your entertainment. I anxiously await the day all the out-of-touch troglodytes are shuffled out of the system and we can retroactively give these people the respect and honor that the SAG Awards can manage to recognize, but the Hollywood Foreign Press and AMPAS are too self-centered to honor. Take my advice and don’t look both ways when crossing the street, you ungrateful snobs.