Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 January 2016

Oscar Nominees 2016: Part 4 of 11

3 Nominations
  • Cinematography: Roger Deakins (Unbroken, Prisoners, Skyfall, True Grit, The Reader, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn't There, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Kundun, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption)
  • Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything)
  • Sound Editing
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Victor Garber, Raoul Trujillo, Julia Cesar Cedillo, Bernardo Saracino, Maximiliano Hernandez, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, Edgar Arreola, Rio Alexander

I tried to stop hating this movie, but every time I think more about it I hate it more. It's exciting to watch, with many good performances, but what this message has to say about violence, about torture, about war, about international action, and about the violence perpetrated by our government is (to my mind) reprehensible. Still, I am glad that Jóhann Jóhannson got a nomination here. His score is interesting and creepy and metallic, and I am glad the Academy is recognizing scores like this. Roger Deakins' photography is gorgeous, as always; one day he will finally shoot a movie that people can really get behind and he can win an Oscar. This is thirteenth nomination. He's never won. But we might ask ourselves, as Judith Butler does in Frames of War, "As we watch a video or see an image, what kind of solicitation is at work? Are we being invited to take aim? Are we conscripted into the trajectory of the bullet or missile?" It is clear to me, as Butler says a little later, "that such visual and conceptual frames are ways of building and destroying populations as objects of knowledge and targets of war, and that such frames are the means through which social norms are relayed and made effective." Sicario celebrates violence, torture, and USAmerican exceptionalism far too much for me to have enjoyed watching it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #51 out of 62

Steve Jobs
2 Nominations
  • Actor: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
  • Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet (The Reader, Little Children, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Iris, Titanic, Sense and Sensibility)
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Fassbender, Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Sarah Snook, Perla Haney-Jardine, Makenzie Moss

Steve Jobs! I never wrote about this movie; I kept meaning to, but I just never got around to it, I guess. The thing is I really liked it. I thought it worked very well in its own way, and I loved the performances – Fassbender and Winslet, but also Katherine Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg. Jobs is a fascinating figure, and the movie peels him apart and demonstrates how personal life and career (for a creative type) are so intertwined. I am not sure I know why people disliked this movie as much as they did, but I will say that it's structure is really stagey. It is as though Steve Jobs was a stage play that somehow found its way to the big screen, but Aaron Sorkin didn't seem to bother to update it so that it would work for film. This is mitigated somewhat by Danny Boyle, but no one could make this screenplay less of a stage play. It's embedded in the structure itself. Each of the film's three acts takes place in basically the same location, and we begin each of the acts by jumping forward in time many years so that the audience spends the first couple of minutes of the act figuring out when we are and what has happened in the interim. And then we watch what happens with Jobs in the minutes leading up to a new product-launch. One of these happens at the end of each act. At one point in the film, Jobs complains that "It’s like 5 minutes before every launch everyone goes to a bar, gets drunk and tells me what they really think." This isn't so much a line that describes how Jobs is feeling as a line that describes how Sorkin's screenplay works. That's exactly what happens in the film. Still, in many ways this is an interesting history of the technological advancement of the last 30 years and some of the people who made that happen, and, as I said, I loved the acting.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Supporting Actress
My Rating: #20 out of 62

Inside Out
2 Nominations
  • Original Screenplay: Pete Docter (Up, WALL·E, Toy Story), Ronnie del Carmen, Josh Cooley, & Meg LeFauve
  • Animated Feature
Director: Pete Docter
Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Paula Poundstone, Bobby Moynihan, Josh Cooley, John Ratzenberger, Rashida Jones

This is a really sweet children's movie, or, I guess, a movie for adolescents. It didn't really feel aimed at someone like me, so I have to say that I was sometimes bored in it. It was a little too cutesy and generic for me – the image above is a great example of the CandyLand way the film is designed. But everyone seemed to really like this movie, and I expect it to win the Oscar for Animated Feature. As much as filmmakers have tried to shift the perceptions of people toward animated film, most people still seem to see animated film as made for children (perhaps I include myself in "most people", as well). Inside Out strikes me as definitely not a film for adults, but adults have seemed to enjoy it, so I guess my initial impression is incorrect. I've linked above to where I have written a little about this, so I won't belabor the point, but I just never bought into the geography of the world inside the little girl's brain. It seemed at all times to be arbitrary, that is, the writers, at any given moment, would have been able to fix the problem – let the train leave just a little later and take Joy and Sadness back to central command, or whatever it is called, or let Joy and Sadness jump into the little memory chute that sends memories back up to HQ like Rob Lowe's shirt getting caught in that pneumatic tube in Tommy Boy. And a few times the writers did just adjust the rules of this brain-world whenever they wanted – the sequence where Bing Bong helps Joy escape the area of the little girl's brain where things are forgotten forever might pose a few questions for us such as: why can't the writers just make the wall of that place just a little lower? and: If that location means that things are forgotten forever, how is it that one is able to leave that place at all?
Will Win: Animated Feature
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #38 out of 62

Ex Machina
2 Nominations
  • Original Screenplay: Alex Garland
  • Visual Effects
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson

I was definitely into Ex Machina, and I wrote a meditation on what I see as the important depths of the film's amazing screenplay, that I recommend you read if you've seen the movie. I am really happy about these two nominations – I don't think it can win an Oscar in either category, but Alex Garland has written a couple of great screenplays in his career so far: 28 Days Later... and Sunshine, a personal favorite. He deserves this nomination and deserves to be more widely recognized for his work. Obviously Gleeson, Isaac, and Vikander are all having a great year, too, so that's excellent. If only there were an Oscar category for choreography: I want to nominate the dance sequence in Ex Machina for an Oscar (even if it would lose to Cinderella). In any case, if you haven't seen Ex Machina, you really must. It's an exciting, deep thriller.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #24 out of 62