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In many ways it was a thoroughly predictable year for the Academy Awards. Oscar was so white again, though as On Point recently suggested, it’s really #HollywoodSoWhite. But as we prepare for a long night of “I want to thank everybody I’ve ever known” speeches, hopefully enlivened by the provocative host Chris Rock, it’s worth revisiting this year's Oscar-nominated movies in various categories.
Tales of moral uplift, like that of the Boston Globe breaking the back of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of abuse, are obviously a big part of the Oscar story. But then there’s the grit of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the raw meat, literally, of “The Revenant.”
Here, starting with films nominated for best picture, are what ARTery writers had to say about:
Obviously there’s a lot of buzz about the local entry in the Oscar sweepstakes. Nominated for best picture, best director (Tom McCarthy) and writer (McCarthy and Josh Singer), “Spotlight” also garnered supporting actor nominations for Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo. The movie won cheers from reviewer Joyce Kulhawik, ARTery editor and Boston Globe veteran Ed Siegel and Erin Trahan, for whom the film resonated on a personal level.
Kulhawik said, “The new film ‘Spotlight’ is a killer exposé, a multifaceted, lucid and deeply potent account of what it took for the Globe’s investigative unit to uncover the sex abuse scandal that would culminate in Cardinal Bernard F. Law’s resignation and rock the very foundations of the Catholic Church."
Siegel, who worked at the Globe from 1971 to 2006, loved the movie for why it got him into journalism in the first place. “‘Spotlight’ is a reminder that good and evil, truth and lies do exist in the world and that journalists, whatever sins of omission and commission along the way, come out on the positive side of the equation. Not always, and certainly not without a kick in the keister from time to time, but ‘Spotlight’ made me incredibly proud of my profession.”
For Trahan, it was a reminder of less pleasant memories — why she and others rebelled against the church and how the rest of her family has dealt with the scandal. “Watching ‘Spotlight’ I thought of the victims, of course, but I also thought about my aunts. One has lamented that her grandchildren will not find solace, as she has, by reciting prayers. For two others, the scandal was the straw that left them attending Mass only on holidays, if at all.”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Tom Meek was fully along for the ride “and what a ride it is” in the reboot of the “Mad Max” franchise, nominated for several awards including best picture and best director (George Miller). While admiring Tom Hardy in the title role, “This is really [Charlize] Theron’s film. Her Furiosa, an enhanced 2.0 version of the Woman Warrior from ‘The Road Warrior,’ comes fully imbued with the resolve and maternal sensibilities of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the 'Alien' franchise. Part cyborg and always thinking ahead, she drives the film.”
He was less enthusiastic about “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon as the stranded astronaut. Both he and the film are nominees, as is adapter Drew Goddard. “What's missing is the looming sense of dread that so effectively filled other recent deep space conundrums like ‘Gravity’ and ‘Interstellar,’ let alone the imposing power of loneliness that Tom Hanks so convincingly evoked on a similarly remote and desolate body (an island on Earth occupied by a volleyball) in ‘Cast Away.’ "
(Radio Boston has been running a four-part series on the film.)
“Bridge of Spies”
Sean Burns, not one for “Oscar-grubbing melodrama,” thought “Mad Max: Fury Road” was the best film of the year, but also had fond thoughts for Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” which is nominated for best picture, best supporting actor (recent American Repertory Theater visitor Mark Rylance) and writers (Matt Chaman and the Coen Brothers). Burns said, “The film is full of tough stuff and asks questions I haven’t seen answered very well on debate stages lately, particularly about what it means to be an American in wartime, and how many of our founding principles we are willing to trade just because we’re scared. … The film is suspenseful, very funny and more than a little bit sad.”
“The Revenant” and “The Big Short”
In the same year-end post, Joyce Kulhawik said of “The Big Short”: “This ingenious, hilarious and audacious film about the home mortgage crisis will infuriate you all over again.” But her favorite film of the year was “The Revenant” with Leonardo DiCaprio, up for best actor, along with Tom Hardy for supporting actor and director Alejandro González Iñárritu. “What at first seems a brutal tale of physical survival becomes a potent meditation on nature and our place in it. Filtered through the lens of an elemental adventure tale are scenes of unspeakable spiritual beauty which lead us from violence and retribution, to transcendent spiritual insight. DiCaprio caps a career of intense and varied performances with the most extraordinarily committed work he has ever done.” Meek also had “The Revenant” on his year-end list.
And in documentaries, Erin Trahan named “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Cartel Land” while Kulhawik saluted “Amy,” about Amy Winehouse.
Ed Siegel thought that “Carol” was the film that finally got existential suspense writer Patricia Highsmith right, though the book it’s based on, “The Price of Salt,” was her only nonviolent novel. To many people’s surprise it wasn’t nominated for best picture, but it did get nominations for lead actress Cate Blanchett and supporting actress Rooney Mara as well as for the adapter Phyllis Nagy. Siegel wrote “The soft focus of [Todd Haynes’] cinematic palette and the extraordinarily subtle performances he elicits from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are not only worth the price of admission -- they’re 'The Price of Salt' in a nutshell. Patricia Highsmith has never had it so good on screen.” Haynes was not nominated for an Oscar, but cinematographer Edward Lachman was.
The other cinematography nominations went to Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Revenant,” John Seale for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Roger Deakins for “Sicario” and Robert Richardson for “The Hateful Eight.”
“The Hateful Eight” was also nominated for best supporting actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh. A local firm, Boston Light & Sound, restored the 70 millimeter projectors director Quentin Tarantino insisted on for a limited release. Andrea Shea and Erin Trahan wrote about the process and Tom Meek reviewed the film.
Meek also reviewed “Steve Jobs,” which wasn’t nominated for best picture, but did garner acting nominations for Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet. “The emotional ambiance, a bit on the cold side, gets a heated uplift from Fassbender, who’s always been an actor to watch and, as Jobs, finally gets his chance to fully shine at the center of a feature that’s both arty and mainstream.”
The new “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” did not get any major award nominations but did receive several technical/musical nominations. Greg Cook was also not enthralled: “The Force Awakens” is a fun film, an entertaining film. It’s much better than the embarrassing prequels. But probably not quite as good as “Return of the Jedi,” the weakest of the original three. … [Director J.J. Abrams is] great at beginnings, and action, but he’s not so great at creating complex, menacing villains. Or satisfying endings.”
And so onto the show where Chris Rock will no doubt also have things to say about what was — and wasn’t — nominated.
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