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Movie Review: Recap of Best Picture nominees 2016

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Before Oscar night this upcoming weekend, refresh your memory with a review of this year’s Best Picture nominees.

“Spotlight”

The film follows a small group of investigative journalists for the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team that unmasked a series of sexual abuses and pedophilia by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston. Piece by piece, the journalists, determined to expose the wrongdoings of the Church, uncover the shocking extent of the cover-up that stretches even beyond Boston.

The film stars Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and Brian d’Arcy James as the original “Spotlight” journalists. Directed and written by Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight” plays tribute to the craft of journalism and the triumph of truth and morality. The film’s ensemble is made up of excellent actors, leaving nothing to be desired. The script is of undoubted quality: intelligent and well-developed.

“Spotlight” brilliantly, yet subtly, condemns the impunity surrounding the Catholic Church, for neglecting to report abuses against children and for protecting the image of the Church over the well-being of its congregates. The film’s message is of utmost importance: people have the ethical responsibility to challenge and hold religious institutions accountable for their actions.

Grade: A+

“The Revenant”

Set in the American wilderness, “The Revenant” follows a fur-trapping expedition, led by Captain Henry (Domnhall Gleeson, “Ex Machina,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”), on its way back to base camp after suffering a surprise attack by a Native American tribe. Along the way, guidesman and fur-trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio, “Inception,” “The Great Gatsby”), who has a Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) is attacked by a bear and sustains life-threatening injuries that prevent him from continuing on the trip. Unable to wait for Glass' recovery, Captain Henry orders two people to stay behind. With a sizable payment attached to the offer, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises”) and the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter, “We’re the Millers,” “The Maze Runner”) volunteer, joining Hawk in caring for the crippled Glass.

Worrying for his son’s safety and imminent attack by Native Americans, Glass agrees to let Fitzgerald kill him. But before Fitzgerald can finish the job, Hawk sees what’s going on and attacks Fitzgerald. In a short struggle, Fitzgerald kills Hawk in front of Glass. To cover his tracks, however, Fitzgerald hides Hawk’s body and coerces Bridger to flee the scene. The remainder of the film follows Glass and his journey to recovery and avenge his son’s death.

In a quasi-silent role, DiCaprio seamlessly communicates his emotions through his eyes and breath. Assembling every element of the body and soul, DiCaprio delivers an unforgettable performance as the leader of the expedition. While DiCaprio stands out as an experienced, brilliant actor, the remainder of the crew follows his lead and delivers outstanding performances. Hardy goes beyond playing a simple villain: he instead transforms Fitzgerald into a complex character, just as determined and driven by his emotions as Glass. Gleeson and Poulter also showcase their skills with well-rounded and intense performances.

Overall, “The Revenant,” which premiered in a limited number of theaters in December, did everything right and deserves its Oscar nomination as one of the best motion pictures of the year. Iñárritu delivered an immensely ambitious movie, with unique takes, exceptional performances, original writing and fantastic score. Even with some violent sequences, the film is mesmerizing and will linger in audience’s memories long after leaving the movie theater. ” 

Grade: A+

* Excerpt from “Movie Review: The Revenant”. Read the full review here.

“The Big Short”

In 2008, the U.S. housing market collapsed, causing large banks to declare bankruptcy and triggering a global economic crisis. A small group of finance gurus predicted the collapse after identifying a housing “bubble” - based on unstable subprime mortgage loans to people with low credit - and bet against the banks. Their analysis and studies come together in this year’s Oscar-nominated dramaThe Big Short.

The docudrama film is directed by Adam McKay - former head writer for SNL and co-creator of Funny or Die - who treats the complicated subjects of the financial sector with humor and sarcasm. One of the best scripts of the year, “The Big Short” breaks down the complexity of the market, having the characters appeal directly to the viewer. Some of the best moments of the film include the celebrity cameos, like actresses Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez and chef Anthony Bourdain, to explain confusing stock market terminology. The high caliber cast, including Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, contribute to making a fast-paced, energetic film that keeps the audience on their toes.

“The Big Short” offers a reflection on the carelessness of the financial market and the havoc the housing crisis generated in the lives of ordinary people. The film ends with a cautionary message that another crisis is on the horizon.

Grade: A

“Brooklyn”

The film follows the arrival of a young Irish woman Eilis Lacey, played by Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”), in Brooklyn circa 1950 who initially experiences emotional distress brought about by the arduous process of adaptation and socialization. Eilis soon meets Tony (Emory Cohen, “The Place Beyond the Pines,”“The Gambler”), a sweet Italian guy, who sweeps her off her feet. He alleviates her homesickness and helps her adapt to Brooklyn. Life continues smoothly for Eilis until she receives devastating news that forces her to return to Ireland. Back home, Eilis is faced with a difficult choice: to risk everything to be with Tony or to stay home.

“Brooklyn” is refreshing and charming, despite dealing with such complex subjects. Nick Hornby’s script stands out as he carefully weaves in a love story without focusing the entire film on romance. Instead, he gives precedence to the issue of belonging and the hardships of immigration. The endearing performance of Saoirse Ronan comes as the highlight of the film, and she stands out as a rarity in today’s young pool of actors. Ronan’s treatment of her character Eilis with such fragility and simplicity produces a coming-of-age-story capable of bringing the audience to tears.

Grade: A

“The Martian”

After the Ares 3 mission to Mars is hit by a violent storm, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon, “Saving Private Ryan,” “Good Will Hunting”) is abandoned by his crew, who believed him to be dead. Having survived the storm, Watney finds himself destitute and alone, forced to grow food on a planet that cannot sustain life. However, he puts his botanist skills to use and grows his own potatoes, made out of human waste. On Earth, NASA continues to monitor the Mars camp via satellite images and, to their surprise, the scientists discover that Watney is still alive. Now, NASA must find a way to keep him alive until they are able to send the next mission, in five years. As Watney’s creativity and bravery unfolds, the world comes together to root for his safe return home.

Besides Matt Damon, the movie features great performances by supporting actors Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover. The '70s discotheque music - left behind on Mars by Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) - was a great choice that provides Mark’s character with incredibly witty remarks and the audience with laughter. Additionally, the film’s cinematography and the special effects perfectly complement each other by creating striking visuals. In a change of pace from his more serious and suspenseful science fiction films, like “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” director Ridley Scott fashions a light and fun production with “The Martian.”

Grade: A

* Read a full review of the movie here.

“Room”

Based on Emma Donoghue's novel of the same name, “Room” is the traumatic story of a woman, Ma (Brie Larson, “21 Jump Street,” “Short Term 12”) held in captivity for more than seven years, whose only salvation is her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay, “The Smurfs 2,” “Santa’s Little Ferrets”). Ma tries to provide Jack with as normal a life as permitted within the confinement of a concrete room. Against all odds, Ma manages to raise a smart, healthy, normal boy. Having never left the room, Jack’s only contact with the outside world has been the characters and programs he sees on the television and in books, although he had been taught that nothing existed outside of “room”. That is until his 5th birthday, when Ma formulates a plan for escape. She decides that Jack needs to understand the truth about their situation and that beyond “room” lies a big, beautiful world waiting for them.

“Room” promises an emotionally-charged narrative of a mother’s unconditional love for her child. Larson and Tremblay are a force to be reckoned with: Larson gives a beautifully complex rendition of Ma/Joy and Tremblay exhibits an incredible balance of naiveté and maturity for a then-seven-year-old actor. Ultimately, the plot of the film is part grueling and part uplifting and teaches us to take life one step at a time.

Grade: A-

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

In a post-apocalyptic future where people fight for petroleum, iconic protagonist Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises”) is captured by Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays Byrne, “Mad Max,” “Moby Dick”) cult followers. Immortan Joe sends one of his most competent warriors, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, “Mad Max,” “Hancock”) on a mission to collect gas in a nearby city. Along the way, Furiosa changes course and launches into a speedy getaway with Immortan Joe’s prized “breeders”. In need of escaping himself, Max joins the women on their journey to freedom. In response, Immortan Joe gathers the force of all his men to retrieve his the fugitives, which leads to epic car chases and fight scenes.

While Tom Hardy delivers yet another great performance this year as Max Rockatansky, it is Charlize Theron’s Furiosa who steals the show and is arguably the main character of the movie. With few words and lingering looks, Theron skillfully transmits her character’s troubled past and creates a powerful female heroine. Director George Miller returns with a visceral "thriller" loaded with action and adrenaline, a touchstone of the “Mad Max” series. The insane scope of the production - from stunts to special effects to cinematography -, coupled with the fact that it was conceived almost entirely in the director’s head, makes it one of a kind.

Grade: A-

“Bridge of Spies”

James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks, “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Green Mile”), an insurance lawyer, is assigned by the CIA to defend an alleged Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance. “Intimacy,” “Angels and Insects”). Defending Abel proves more difficult than Donovan originally thought, with anti-communist sentiment rising in the United States. That is until an American pilot, Francis Gary Powers, is caught and sentenced to prison after flying over Russia aboard a spy plane. Donovan is tasked with brokering a prisoner exchange at a time where rising tensions leads two countries to the brink of war.

Written by Ethan and Joel Coen and directed by Steven Spielberg, “Bridge of Spies” is inspired by real events that took place between 1957 and 1962. The film had the potential to be melodramatic but instead elegantly capture the intensity of the situation. Hanks and Rylance deliver charismatic and intriguing performance that complement the stylistic elements of the film. Without noticing the time pass by, the audience witnesses an elaborate story, replete with historical and political details and complex characters, worthy of a beautiful film.

Grade: A-

scene@theeagleonline.com


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