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Dipped in Gold
By Alex Carrigan
*Editor's Note: This article is part of a series written by Alex Carrigan about this year's Academy Award nominated films. To see the rules for this challenge and to find other articles related to it, go to this page.
I want to believe I've grown over the last ten days. I want to know that writing about eight different movies and the awards ceremony around them would make me realize something new about myself or about the Academy Awards. I feel this way because I want to know that there was some impact from doing something like this series. Aside from getting me to publish regular content with personal deadlines, I want to believe this experience has made me a better critic and a better film goer.
I think this ties in with how the Academy Awards always go. It's an event where directors, writers, actors, and other individuals who work in the film industry look to find out if their hard work warrants merit. For some, the work they do is specifically to get that merit, while for others, it's something nice they stumble into months after their film came out. There are tons of complaints about the Oscars not reflecting the public, not being relevant, and being overall unimportant in the grand scheme of things. After all, Citizen Kane didn't win Best Picture, and that's the Citizen Kane of film, so why take these too seriously?
I'll admit that I don't think the Academy Awards are a perfect system of judging and rewarding art. Most years, I find myself extremely tired and bored by the time the ceremony ends and I want to stop thinking about Hollywood's televised back patting circle as soon as possible. I know that's not the best way to go if I'm trying to be a legitimate film critic, but it's a sign that I'm not getting too swept up that I can't be objective and critical.
Now that I've blazed through this year's Best Picture nominees, the first time I've ever seen all the nominees for that category, I feel a lot better about going into the Academy Awards in February. Maybe it's because I feel more informed, and maybe it's because I now have more reasons to be invested, but doing a challenge like this made me want to see the results. I know the reason the general public is disinterested is because most people don't see the nominated films before the show. Most likely, people have seen Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and Bridge of Spies due to their high box office and their wide releases, but the public was less likely to see something like Room or Brooklyn, which most likely could only be found in limited releases and in small theaters.
I'm not the most informed person going into this awards show. I haven't seen Carol, Creed, The Danish Girl, Straight Outta Compton, or several other films with nominations outside the main category, so I can't pretend I'll be able to predict everything. But I've seen enough that I feel it's easier to discern who could win and who I want to win. Before this challenge, I had to rely on other award shows to know that Leonardo DiCaprio was the front runner for Best Actor, but having seen The Revenant, I can now understand why that's likely, and I can form an opinion on whether or not I think he will or should win.
Part of me does feel having this understanding of the nominated films leads me to feel a bit more snobbish. Heck, I even dedicated ten days of my life to writing about these movies. Even so, I know this is only my own opinion and my own idea on the awards ceremony. Once the ceremony is done, it really won't matter what I think, and there won't be many conversations to discuss it. What does matter is that I made an effort to expose myself to art that is currently culturally relevant, and I've come away with a new appreciation for certain actors, directors, screenwriters, and films.
What follows now is my final ranking and opinions on the movies I watched this week. While not much has changed over the week (at least in terms of final placing), time has allowed me to think about what I feel about each movie and what they say about the Academy. Note that this is merely my opinion and is likely not accurate to the final result.
Without further ado, here are my final rankings:
8th Place: Bridge of Spies
Yeah, nothing's changed here. Bridge of Spies is the weakest film in the bunch. There has to be one in each group, and since the Academy changed the number of films that can be nominated, there will always be films that clearly would not be here if they weren't trying to hit a magical number. I don't know if Bridge of Spies would be anyone's pick to win Best Picture, or if it could be anyone's favorite film of 2015 (I know I could be wrong about both of these). But for me, Bridge of Spies is just the weak kind of "good movie," where nothing was really challenged or dared in the story. It's a simple Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg film set in the mid-20th Century. We've seen it enough, and there's nothing to make it worth remembering years from now, so it can easily be passed aside.
7th Place: Brooklyn
Looking back, I feel kind of bad dumping on this movie so hard (especially since it was before I saw Bridge of Spies), but I do feel this is a movie I should like. Saoirse Ronan is one of my favorite young actresses working today, and I know she's good here and in other films. The film may have been really quiet and drama free, but I've liked quiet films in the past. I love slice-of-life stories. I like everything about Brooklyn, but I just didn't find the movie that great. I don't expect this film to be one I remember years from now, but I won't look back at it negatively.
6th Place: The Martian
The Martian is a good movie, and it's one a lot of people can enjoy. It can appeal to a lot of demographics, and it can leave an impression on people. I liked this one when I saw it, but as the week continued, it definitely started to slip off my radar. I don't think it's terrible or even mediocre, but I think if there was a five film cap like there was ten years ago, this is one that would probably just be edged out of the final race. It's a fine film, but it's not anywhere close to winning the award.
5th Place: The Revenant
I expect this to be the placement where I'm most challenged and most criticized. But if this was a year where five films were in the running for Best Picture, I would still see The Revenant as the weakest one. It's got a great central performance and a good directorial eye, but putting it beside the other seven films, there were a lot of elements that I found handled better in other movies. The Revenant got really artsy-fartsy at times, whereas other movies in this group could handle dream sequences and action sequences in a way that was just as artistic, but less pretentiously so. This film very well could be the winner, but I think it would be a slight misstep to do so.
4th Place: The Big Short
I had fun with this movie, but I think the reason it won't win is because of one simple fact: not everyone will get it. It's a movie about banking, housing, and stocks, and while it has a unique way of handling the subject of the housing market crash, it's not something everyone will enjoy. I think this movie could be one of the most polarizing ones in the bunch, even with some good comedic performances and hilarious writing. I do think it's one of the better films here, but winning seems unlikely. I will give it credit that I would rather watch this one tomorrow than the four previous films on the list, so I think those who like it will appreciate it and possibly give it another look.
3rd Place: Mad Max: Fury Road
I treated this film as the standard. The ripest fruit hanging on the highest branch. This was the one I had to compare the others to. I think this film will have the longest staying power of the eight films. Sure, whatever wins will have that eternal recognition stamped on the front of the Blu-Ray case, but this is the one I feel most people will remember and want to watch. Despite the violence, I think this is the easiest film for anyone to watch. Considering it's a two hour car chase that manages to be both explosively insane and subtly human at the same time, that's quite impressive. I want Mad Max: Fury Road to win as many awards as it can, and I really want this to be a standard for letting genre films enter the Oscar race in years to come.
2nd Place: Room
Room is not the easiest film to watch, and probably one of the creepiest based on premise alone. However, this is the movie that is most like my favorite films, and to see it in competition makes me happy for independent filmmaking and lesser-know actors. Room's most likely to only get an award for Brie Larson, but I'd be so happy for her to win since she really was amazing in this film. Room is a movie I'd like to own and recommend as much as I can to others, especially for people who are looking back at this year's Oscar group, so I think it's one of the films I'd most like to win, even if everything else suggests it won't.
1st Place: Spotlight
I have no idea if Spotlight will win. I've seen it on several Best Of lists and it's won quite a bit so far. But Spotlight I feel is the film I need to see win. Spotlight is such a great retelling of a real event, with a fantastic ensemble and a really tightly written script. It only builds in intensity as the film progresses, and the payoff is incredible. It's also impressive because, of the eight films, this was the only one to make me question myself. It made me wonder how much of my Catholic upbringing tied in with the events of the film. It made me question whether I should have pursued journalism more seriously as a career. It made me also wonder if I would go to the lengths the Spotlight team did to break the story. I think the film that wins Best Picture should be the one that makes the viewer really examine the world around them, and Spotlight is the best for that.
So what's next for me? Well, I'm taking a break from writing about film. Ten articles in ten days proved to be somewhat mentally taxing. I'll get back into it by the time the ceremony rolls around, but I need a sabbatical. I need to watch movies that aren't likely to win awards or are not there for me to critique so harshly as I have the eight above.
Once I'm relaxed, I think I'm going to keep watching movies for this year's ceremony. Like I said earlier, there are films I've yet to see, but now I'm excited to see them. I want to see Carol, Trumbo, Creed, Ex Machina, Anomalisa, Son of Saul, and many others. If anything, this series made me realize just how damn much I love watching movies. The Academy Awards helped bring these films to my attention, and I feel I owe the filmmakers to watch their films. Hell, if I really like them, I might tell people about them.
I think what this series has helped affirm is that writing about film, while it can be challenging and something I often feel doubt about, is really something I love to do and want to keep doing. It's hard to find a paying job as a film critic these days, but I know film criticism is something that I want to keep in my life and I want to get better at. The Academy Awards may not be as relevant or accurate as they were a long time ago (or ever, really), but they help bring to light films I should be looking at, and help branch into looking beyond this one award ceremony. Sundance is going on now, and Cannes is a few months away. There are dozens of other film festivals and award shows to pay attention to, and maybe I'll try to repeat this when those roll around.
If you followed me through this whole series, thank you for doing that when you really didn't have to. I hope I got you interested in these films and this race, and I hope I opened up something new to you. If you agreed with me, it's great to know we have something in common. If you disagreed, I'd be interested to know why so we can discuss it. Otherwise, I'm just glad you made me a part of your life these last ten days. That makes me want to keep going.
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