Ranking the Best Picture nominees 2016
This year’s Best Picture race is the closest in years. As it stands, at least three films hold a serious chance of taking home the top prize at this year’s Academy Awards. Having now seen all eight of the nominees, here’s my ranking of the Best Picture contenders of 2016.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Despite outstanding directorial work from George Miller and equally impressive visual FX, Mad Max: Fury Road is the film I least want to see take the big prize this year. I can’t deny it’s a fun B movie with lots of big spectacle, but that’s really all it is; the fact it managed to gain a Best Picture nomination is surprising, and the film should be applauded for managing to get more critical respect than just about any blockbuster released in the last decade.
Still, with no standout acting (I’m sorry but no, Charlize Theron did not deserve an Oscar nomination) and a gruelling running time, Mad Max: Fury Road will have to stay content with just being nominated.
Bridge of Spies
Despite working in Hollywood for over forty years, Steven Spielberg still has plenty of surprises up his sleeve. Bridge of Spies, a tricky, talky espionage thriller (thriller in the broad, John le Carre sense), is one of Spielberg’s most grown up films, the drama coming tense dialogue and the creeping menace of Communism than any big action set pieces. Tom Hanks is reliably good and Mark Rylance is one of the favourites for Best Supporting Actor for his terrifically dry turn as a Russian spy, but Bridge of Spies is perhaps a little too slow and long to be the greatest thriller.
The Big Short
How much can you enjoy a film you barely understand? Adam McKay’s complex financial crisis drama The Big Short is perhaps the most complicated Oscar nominee ever; a film so head scrambling Ryan Gosling’s smarmy narrator regularly stops the film to let other celebrities explain complex mathematical formulas.
Offering a showcase for a frenetic Christian Bale and a brutish-but-sympathetic Steve Carrell (who should have been nominated instead of Bale), The Big Short is energetic, witty, and houses a pretty important message about some of the worst people in living memory. Perhaps if I could follow the film a little more, it would have placed higher on my list.
The biggest underdog in the Best Picture race and the most pleasant surprise among the nominees, John Crowley’s charming romance Brooklyn is an old-fashioned treat, following Saoirse Ronan’s young Irish woman as she travels to the titular city in the 1950’s. Ronan is proving to be one of the finest actresses of her generation, carrying the film and earning a deserved Best Actress nomination in the process. It’s perhaps too small and slight to have any chance of winning, but it’s nice to see Brooklyn getting nominated all the same.
My favourite blockbuster of 2015, Ridley Scott’s The Martian was a return to form for the director, a crowd pleasing sci-fi with a terrific star turn from Matt Damon, carrying long stretches of the film on his own. Like many of the other contenders, The Martian did run longer than it needed, but kept the pace up with future classic lines (“I’m gonna science the shit out of this”), able support work from Jessica Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and a range of big, fun set pieces.
To see Lenny Abrahamson go from director of my 2014 favourite Frank to Oscar nominated director for Room is tremendous. Room, which is destined to be remembered as the film which won Brie Larson the Best Actress Oscar and catapulted her into stardom, is the toughest and most emotionally draining of the nominees this year.
It’s a difficult film, but Abrahamson makes the film mesmerising by showing its claustrophobic world through the eyes of five year old Jacob Tremblay, giving one of the greatest child performances of all time. Powerful and absorbing, Room may be too upsetting for some audiences, but stick with it to see some truly incredible acting.
Currently the front runner to win the award, The Revenant is perhaps the best film Alejandro G. Inarritu has directed to date (no easy feat for the man who won the award for Best Director last year). Though the film will come to be known as the film which finally gave Leonardo DiCaprio the Academy Award (for his strange, wild performance), The Revenant also contains some of the most breath-taking cinematography ever seen; Emmanuel Lubezki is about go three Oscar wins in a row for his work.
Oscar-nominated Tom Hardy almost steals the show with his physically dominating performance, but all plaudits should go to Inarritu, who fought the wilderness and delivered a brutal, bleak descent into Hell.
It was a tough fight, but Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight is my pick for the best of the Best Picture nominees 2016. Unlike any of the other nominees this year, Spotlight is completely taught; there’s not a single wasted second on-screen. A refreshingly non-cliché take on investigative journalism, as the Boston Globe attempt to expose the corruption in the Catholic church, McCarthy’s years of research pays off as Spotlight is gripping, intelligent, and features absolutely nothing extraneous.
The definition of an ensemble cast, no performer stands out because they are all perfect for their roles; Michael Keaton continues his momentum from last year’s Birdman, Mark Ruffalo is as good as always, and Rachel McAdams handles a rare serious role brilliantly. Thrilling in its dialogue and investigation, Spotlight is almost a throwback to thrillers of the 70’s, and one of the most impressively detailed and helmed films of the year. It’s the closest Oscar battle in years, but Spotlight is my pick to win the Best Picture of 2016.
With the awards coming up in a week’s time, I’ll be making my picks for the big winners later this week. Until next time, thanks for reading.
By Harry J. Ford
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