Best Pictures of 2015

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It’s that time of the year again.

That time of the year in which everyone gets up in arms about nominations, caring a lot about a broken awards ceremony run by a rather politically-driven organization. And people will always bring it back to a racial issue and a gender issue – which is completely valid. It is. But it’s not really up to the anonymous voting of the Academy to fix that, is it? It’s up to the entire film industry, that at its core, has a serious discrimination bias.

It’s not about the films and merits, everyone. It’s about who knows who and who likes who. That’s it. Anonymous voting, remember? But let’s talk about the fun stuff: The best picture nominations – because, usually, at least this category will have some entertainment (or frustration) as its foundation.

Now, before I get going, I must admit I have yet to watch Room and Bridge of Spies, both of which are in my agenda of things to do, but I can at least run down the rest, and one glaring misstep in nominations.*

The Big Short: This movie is incredibly creative when it comes to the genre it finds itself in. Educational and blunt, this film does a really good job of making the audience hate the people behind the market crash of the late 2000’s. Its acting never falters and it’s one of my favourite pieces of the year for its clever use of breaking the fourth wall and its incredibly witty characters making me understand so that I can feel smart. How often does that happen in a movie that depicts Wall Street?

Bridge of Spies: Spielberg pulled out all the stops by taking this Coen brothers’ classic, cold-war spy thriller that had the charm, tension and feel-good characters that come with watching a Spielberg period piece. I understand why it was nominated, and I think I’d like to see it a second time, but I really doubt this one is going to take home the award. It didn’t push enough boundaries nor did it satisfy that need to see something big and different that comes with the award season in contemporary cinema.

Brooklyn: Brilliantly emotional, well shot, and for some reason by the end of it both my girlfriend and I were homesick for Ireland despite never having been. Although it was very well written and acted, it did not exactly blow me away, and I really disliked the protagonist for how shitty she behaved when it came to her love back in New York. I understand positive critical appraisal for this film, but I’m honestly surprised that it was nominated for best picture.

Mad Max: Fury Road: Okay. The fact that this spectacle of action and imagery is nominated for best picture says a lot about how far the Oscars have come. Yes, we should be mad that Gone Girl and Wild were not nominated last year, and that Beasts of No Nation wasn’t nominated this year, all for obvious backward thinking. But the fact that the most action-packed two-hour-long chase scene was nominated for best picture? I honestly hope this one wins. Yes, it’s only an action film. But it’s an action film that managed to succeed in doing its genre to 100%.

The Martian: “That was a great flick,” sums up my feelings on this film. After seeing it I was both surprised and amused that I walked into what I expected to be the modern day Apollo 13, and what I got was the year’s best comedy. I’m surprised it’s nominated, though, and I don’t think I would have voted for its nomination. It was incredibly good, don’t get me wrong, but it falters in not really pushing anything forward or doing anything spectacularly different – it just did everything really well, which makes for a “great flick” but not one I think is by any means best of the year. It felt safe.

The Revenant: And here we are at the picture that will most likely take home every award. Gutteral, real, visceral, well written and well acted, the only downside to the film is that it’s obviously a little self-indulgent by the mind behind the piece, Alejandro González Iñárritu. As a friend put it, “There are some parts that are trying to be Tree of Life, but can’t be as Tree of Life as Tree of Life was.” Which is valid, it was definitely a bit slow and pandering at parts, but it was an incredible feat in storytelling on the big screen. If Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t win best lead this year, this whole “Oscars” thing is a sick joke to screw with him.

Spotlight: Brilliantly smart and well acted, if The Revenant doesn’t take all the awards home this year, it will be Spotlight. The film is an intelligent depiction of the events that led up to the discovery of the biggest scandal in the modern day Catholic church. And to boot, all the characters are so incredibly real that I felt like I was right there with them going, “Yeah! This is really fucked up!” I expect Ruffalo to take home the best supporting award if Tom Hardy doesn’t get it. My favourite part of this movie is that there’s no injected, fake character that tries to actively hold back the story to prevent the other characters from succeeding. These people felt like real journalists uncovering the truth, and their drive to success is as real as it can come on the silver screen.

Where is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens?: This film has both fans and critics alike surprised and in love with where the series is once again headed. It has a higher metacritic rating than The Revenant, the picture everyone thinks will take home all the awards this year, and yet it didn’t make the cut for any of the “creative” nominations. Once again The Academy has shown to be biased on hand-shaking and drink-sharing and it has very little to do with actual film-making merit. And it’s not as if a space opera cannot take home awards at the Oscars, because the original Star Wars won several, including best picture. Oh well, at least we have Mad Max: Fury Road in the running.

I’ll add Room to the list once I’ve seen it. Thanks for reading!

A New Hope

My God.

Hello, everyone. So the Christmas season is underway in my family, I’m up at my parents’ new house for the holidays helping them prepare for Christmas Eve’s feast and celebrations, and all I can think about is how a few days ago my world changed for the better when I saw the newest addition to a series I’ve been in love with since my childhood: Star Wars.

No film I’ve seen since starting down the path to the film snob side of the force (thanks, film school) has been as impactful as this one. Let me paint a picture for you: I was five. I had already watched the entirety of the original trilogy multiple times. I loved A New Hope the most as a kid, followed by Return of the Jedi and finally Empire Strikes Back (don’t worry, that order has changed). I was brought to the theater by my parents to watch the newest addition to the series, that even as a little boy I understood was the most exciting thing in ten years. What I got, as a child, was magic. It was wonderful. My already favourite thing was getting something new. But even I, as a child, recognized a difference.

As I grew older, I saw Attack of the Clones in theaters… and was not, by any standard, blown away. Even as an 8 year old I thought that it was a pathetic piece of filmmaking compared to the other films – even Phantom Menace. I thought it was illogical, I thought Anakin was way too emotional, I thought the love plot was incredibly uncomfortable and I thought the CGI action was nowhere near as cool or exciting as the Stormtroopers of yore. Although I got plenty of enjoyment out of playing Battlefront and other games that involved plenty of Jedi and blaster action.

Finally, when Revenge of the Sith came out, although I wasn’t as upset as I was at Attack of the Clones, I thought it was still nonsensical and pedantic. I left the theater depressed at the ending (why did they have to show that he killed the younglings?) and dejected at the direction my childhood love had taken.

Years pass. I play Knights of the Old Republic, the Old Republic MMO and countless other games, I read stories, and catch up on lore on Wookiepedia whenever I want to learn of Extended Universe concepts I didn’t know of. I had no hope of another Star Wars film ever coming out… I have several discussions with friends about how they could have made the prequel trilogies better, but all I wanted was a new movie that could renew my hope.

And then it grew. Slowly. Christopher Nolan steps into the world of science fiction with Inception. I think it’s fantastic, an original SciFi, major blockbuster, and Hollywood seems to be happy about it. Other films start coming out, and the feeling of SciFi magic coming back into cinema begins to grow. J.J. Abrams directs the Star Trek reboot, and I love it. I love it because I grew up on Star Wars, and that’s what I got. A Star Wars movie with the Star Trek cast. And then, as the momentum grew, something magical happened.

Disney bought Lucasfilm. All of it. Total rights control, merchandising, everything. And George Lucas, a childhood hero of mine, did not even keep any of the money – he donated it all. This transaction was made, from his perspective, purely for the sake of continuing his legacy. Kathleen Kennedy becomes the head of the project, and boom, Episode VII was announced. It did not have a title yet, it did not have a director, but what it did do was give me hope. And boy did that hope grow.

Step by step it became the most anticipated film in history, both with me and the world. They announced J.J. Abrams was directing (via suggestion by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas’ best friend and my other childhood hero), yes, the same J.J. Abrams that made the Star Wars-esque Star Trek reboot. They announced Lawrence Kasdan was the co-writer with J.J, the same man that helped bring us both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. They announced the return of the original cast as supporting, and the lead cast being practically brand new to Hollywood, just like the original trilogy. Then the trailers, with that tear-inducing moment of Han saying, “Chewie. We’re home.”

Everything was perfect. The expectations were so high, and the production was under so much wraps that it was the best kept secret in Hollywood for over a year what in the hell the movie was about. The film had every reason to disappoint everyone, everywhere for all time. It had every reason to break my heart and make me cut all ties with my childhood. And you know what?

It didn’t.

It was the most beautifully crafted piece of film I have seen in a long time. A long time. Unique characters, witty dialogue, beautiful visuals, perfect pacing, a simple and strongly structured plot like the originals, and all nostalgia mixed with all the new I could have wanted (BB-8 is the greatest apology for Jar Jar they could have given their fans). I have never felt the need to burst into cheering and tears for the entirety of a movie before. And I don’t know if I ever will again. But Force Awakens is the New Hope I have desperately needed from my favourite IP. I’ll be going back to see it multiple times – and I’ll be getting the new Battlefront for Christmas. All I want is to run around in a robe with a lightsaber and pretend to be a Jedi once again, like a child.

Thank you, Kathleen, for taking on and running with the project until its completion. Thank you, J.J. and Lawrence, for bringing to me a story that’s as strong and inspiring as the originals. Thank you to the entire cast for doing such an amazing job that even the film critic in me loved your  every quirk and believed your every facial expression (I genuinely can’t decide if Fin, Rey or Dameron is my new favourite character). And finally, thank you George, for bringing to me my original inspiration and love of filmmaking, and for stepping down when new blood wanted a crack at it. If it weren’t for you, Star Wars would not be what it is today.

Cheers