I’ve seen all but three of the films in the top categories. The list of nominees is here. Some of them I have blog posts on: Bridge of Spies (tops), Spotlight (excellent), The Big Short (good), The Hateful Eight (sucked), The Martian (very good). As for the more numerous among them that I haven’t posted on, here’s my brief take on each, starting with the Best Picture nominees:
Brooklyn: A good movie about emigration, love, commitment, loss, and not being able to go home again, set in early 1950s Ireland and New York City, and based on the novel by the well-known writer Colm Tóibín. Best Actress nominee Saoirse Ronan is meritorious but I’m not voting for her, and I would be most surprised if it won Best Picture. Those who have not seen it should by all means do so, however, as it is worth the while.
Mad Max: Fury Road: I have not seen this. It did not occur to me to see it when it opened last May, not even for a split second, and despite the stellar reviews. Not that I have a principled objection to seeing movies like this, but it’s just not my genre. And one can’t see everything. Noting that it made the “best of” list of the year of practically every Le Monde and New York Times critic, however, I thought that maybe I’d open my mind and catch it on DVD. But that thought was quashed after watching the trailer. Not a chance I’ll sit through such a film for two hours (and send my wife fleeing while I’m at it). As for its ten Oscar nominations, I don’t doubt that it deserves some of the technical ones but as for Best Picture, this I cannot imagine for a split second.
Room: I haven’t seen this one either, as it hasn’t opened in France yet. When it does (next month), I will.
The Revenant: Is there anything to be said about this movie that has not already been? It is, of course, great Hollywood genre entertainment—the classic revenge story of two men, only one of whom will survive to the end—notable for the extreme climatic conditions under which it was shot, which everyone has heard or read about by now. It is a directorial tour de force by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and, above all, Leonardo DiCaprio’s role of a lifetime. Amazing to think that he actually did the things one sees him doing in the film, that it wasn’t special effects. [UPDATE: Gilles Havard, director of research at the CNRS and member of the Centre d’Études Nord-Américaines, has an essay (March 14th) in the intello/academic webzine La Vie des Idées, “Le trappeur, fantôme d’Hollywood: À propos du film d’Alejandro González Iñárritu.” And there’s an essay in Le Monde’s Culture & Idées supplement (dated February 20th) by Marc-Olivier Bherer, “Dans ‘The Revenant’, un méchant à l’accent délicieusement français,” in which Gilles Havard’s new book Histoire des coureurs de bois is reviewed.]
And then there are these:
45 Years: Critics fell over themselves with dithyrambic praise for this film but I’m going to come straight out and say that I didn’t like it. Sure, the acting and all that is fine, and with Charlotte Rampling’s Best Actress nomination no doubt deserved, but I simply did not relate to the story, which is the discomfort, bordering on jealously, of Rampling’s character when her husband of 45 years—and it’s been a reasonably successful, trouble-free marriage, so we understand—has sudden occasion to think and reminisce about the first love of his life, tragically deceased before he met his wife, and whom he would have married had she lived. So people have a past. La belle affaire. I simply do not see how a partner in a decades-long marriage could get all upset about such a thing and into his or her 70s no less. This is alien to my way of being. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.
Carol: The reviews of this were even more stellar than for the one above, and with everyone I know who saw it praising it to the heavens. I thought it wasn’t bad, though won’t say it knocked my socks off when I saw it. The depiction of early 1950s America was, for me at least, easily the most impressive aspect of the film. This was really good. But I was not initially convinced by the story, of the relationship of the Cate Blanchett (Best Actress nominee) and Rooney Mara (Best Supporting Actress nominee) characters. A discussion of the film with a young female colleague, however, prompted me to rethink my reaction, as she convincingly explained that the lesbian relationship of the two women was credible and well-portrayed, that the dynamics between two gay women are quite different from those between men (which I have no problem believing). Looking at the film in a slightly different light, I now think more highly of it. And it does merit comparison to ‘Brokeback Mountain’—a chef d’œuvre IMO—as a portrayal of a relationship between two gay women in an era before such became socially acceptable.
Creed: I would not have seen this had it not been for Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor). Now I knew this one was related to the films in the Rocky series—of which, believe it or not, I had not seen a single one—but I did not realize going in to the cinoche that it was a sequel, that the pic was, in effect, Rocky VII. Moreover, this was only the second film I had ever seen starring Stallone—the previous one, ‘Fist’, dating from 1978 (I also watched part of ‘First Blood’ in a bar in Tel Aviv in 1985). Crazy, no? Now I did know something about the Rocky series, as it’s been part of popular culture for four decades now, but not all the details and characters. I must have been the only person in the salle in this situation. Three short comments: First, seeing this movie was not a judicious use of my time. Second, if one has not seen the other Rocky movies, there’s no point in seeing this one. Third, Stallone’s Oscar nomination has to be purely sentimental, as he looks to be playing his stock character. Voilà, c’est tout.
Joy: I saw this for one reason and one reason only, which is Jennifer Lawrence’s Best Actress nomination. What to say, it’s light Hollywood entertainment, a biopic about a person, Joy Mangano, a rags-to-riches born entrepreneur in my adult lifetime, whom I had not heard of before seeing it, and played by Lawrence (Mangano apparently liked Lawrence’s performance, despite an age difference). I thought it was an okay movie—I don’t sign on to the mixed reviews of it—made watchable by Lawrence, who’s very good. The end was not satisfying, though: Joy is a struggling, near-failed businesswoman for almost the entire film, but does not give up, finally achieving wealth and fame in the end. I thought this part was sort of by the numbers. It is, however, a film that may be seen (at home, on the small screen) if one wants something light and that won’t tax brain cells or critical faculties.
Steve Jobs: This is not a conventional biopic, if one doesn’t know the film. It is structured into three acts, of the behind-the-scenes psychodrama (professional and personal) in the hour preceding Steve Jobs’s presentation at the formal roll-out of three products of companies he headed at the time (Apple and NeXT): the Macintosh (1984), NeXTcube (1990), and iMac (1998). Michael Fassbender (Best Actor nominee) is very good as Jobs—though the latter was, it seems, not as odious of a prick as he’s made out to be here (which would be the doing of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay)—as is Kate Winslet (Best Supporting Actress nominee) as Jobs’s right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman. The film does not evoke Jobs’s pre-Apple years, except in one scene, where, at a restaurant, he points out to an associate the restaurant’s owner, who Jobs says is his biological father. The restaurateur, Abdulfattah “Abed” Jandali—who hailed from Homs, Syria—had no idea at that moment that Jobs was his son. For the anecdote, my parents were friends with Abed Jandali and his first wife, Joanne Simpson, during the 1950s in Madison, Wisconsin. My mother has written on her blog about Abed & Joanne. If one is interested in reading her account, go here and scroll down several paragraphs.
The Danish Girl: I was initially not going to see this and despite the Oscar nominations—Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor, la belle Alicia Vikander for Best Supporting Actress—as I am not interested in transgender as a subject (apologies to any transgender persons out there mais c’est comme ça). But I was persuaded to see it by a colleague—the above-mentioned one, who got me to modify my view of ‘Carol’—who gave it the enthusiastic thumbs up. And she was pretty much right, as I liked the movie more than I had expected to. It’s beautifully shot and tells a moving story. My attitude was also perhaps influenced by the fact that I got a crush on Alicia Vikander while watching it (which can happen). The film is apparently riddled with inaccuracies and other distortions. Perhaps. I wouldn’t know. It’s just a movie.
Trumbo: Haven’t seen it. It opens in France in April.
BEST PICTURE: ‘Spotlight’.
No two ways about it. ‘Bridge of Spies’ is the second choice, ‘The Martian’ third.
BEST DIRECTOR: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (‘The Revenant’).
He got it last year (for ‘Birdman’) and deserves it again.
BEST ACTOR: Leonardo DiCaprio (‘The Revenant’).
This is so obvious that nothing more need be said.
BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence (‘Joy’).
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Brie Larson will win this one for her role in ‘Room’ but I haven’t seen it, so have to go with Lawrence here. [UPDATE: Having now seen ‘Room’ (March 20th), I will confirm that Brie Larson deserved to win the best actress award; she’s very good, as is the film.]
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mark Ruffalo (‘Spotlight’).
He’s a good actor and deserves it. Tom Hardy (‘The Revenant’) is nº 2.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alicia Vikander (‘The Danish Girl’).
But of course (see above). Kate Winslet (‘Steve Jobs’) is a close second.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Son of Saul.
The criteria for selecting the pics in this category are, of course, ridiculous but one goes with what one gets. Mustang and ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ are also credible winners. I haven’t seen ‘Theeb’ or ‘A War’.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: ‘The Look of Silence’.
I have seen none of the others in this category but don’t imagine that any could rise above Joshua Oppenheimer’s mind-blowing masterpiece on the memory of the 1965-66 bloodbath in Indonesia. Will eventually have a post on it.