2016 Oscar Nominations – Initial Reactions

And so we have it.  Eight Best Picture Nominees.  I’ve seen five of them, and have written reviews of two (Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies), and I’ll have reviews for Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Big Short soon enough.  It’s early in Oscar/Awards season, but here’s what I think so far about the Best Picture Nominees in alphabetical order.

The Big Short

I liked The Big Short, but it isn’t getting a ton of buzz as a Best Picture favorite. It wasn’t nominated in a lot of other categories, and it hasn’t been a huge hit at the box office.  Assessment: A strong ensemble film about an important topic, but not really a contender.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a poignant and well constructed film, but much of its power rests on the performance of its lead actor, Saoirse Ronan.  If Ronan starts winning “Best Actress” awards, look out.  Otherwise, this one probably doesn’t have the narrative heft to overcome some of the other nominees.  Assessment: Possibly a contender, depending on how the acting awards go.

Bridge of Spies

If this movie had a new actor and director in the lead, everyone would be heaping praise upon it.  Unfortunately we hold Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg to otherworldly standards, so great for them doesn’t really cut it with the Academy anymore. Assessment: It unfairly won’t win anything.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Is Mad Max: Fury Road an excellent action film?  Certainly.  Is it this shocking revelation, the greatest action movie of all time?  I think that’s a bit much.  It’s good, but it won’t overcome favorites in more Academy-friendly genres.  Assessment: It’ll get some votes and could be a darkhorse, but I just don’t see it winning.

The Martian

The Academy loved Gravity (2013), and The Martian occupies the same narrative space.  However, it’s not quite the spectacle that Gravity was, so I think that works against it here.  Assessment: If Gravity didn’t win Best Picture, this won’t either.

The Revenant

The Revenant has gotten the lion’s share of the buzz in recent weeks, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s peaked too early.  I can’t comment on its merits since I haven’t seen it yet, so that might change my assessment.  Assessment: The early favorite.

Room

Room is getting some late buzz, and Brie Larson’s performance has been driving a lot of it.  I’m going to put this one in the same category as Brooklyn for the time being.  Assessment: Like Brooklyn, it depends on how the acting awards go.

Spotlight

Based on reviews and buzz, Spotlight is a prototypical Best Picture winner.  Based on a true, contemporary issue?  Check.  Strong performances?  Check.  Nominations in other categories?  Check.  It seems like the safe choice, and the Academy loves the safe choice.  Assessment: The favorite if The Revenant’s buzz starts to fizzle.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe