Oscar Primer 2016: The Writings on the Mexican Cartel’s Macintosh

During the lead up to this year’s Oscars on February 28th I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. Once a week I will be dissecting a few films in each instalment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. I am very excited to be doing this series for the third year in a row now. Along with the weekly articles, I will also be posting a mini episode of Contra Zoom going over the Best Picture nominees two at a time; in the last episode I discussed Bridge of Spies and The Martian. In the last post I talked about The Hateful Eight, Inside Out and Joy. This post I will be discussing Sicario, Steve Jobs and Spectre.

Sicario was directed by Denis Villeneuve and was released on October 2nd. The film has three nominations.

  • Best Cinematography- Roger Deakins 
  • Best Original Score- Jóhann Jóhannsson 
  • Best Sound Editing- Alan Robert Murray

Here is my yearly reminder that Roger Deakins has thirteen flipping Oscar nominations without a win. 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 and The Shawshank Redemption. That is a list of some of the best shot movies in the past twenty years, it is a damn shame he has not won yet. Sicario is no exception to this exceptional cinematographer with some of his most urgent and exciting work to date. The early border crossing action sequence is so fluid and nerve wracking it had you on the edge of your seat from the get go. Deakin always shines when using low-level lighting to create eerie atmospheres and the cave scenes near the end takes an ordinary set and transforms it greatly. Deakins also utilized thermal and night vision cameras to give the viewer a real life perspective of what their agents were embarking on instead of your traditional fake low light shots. It is sad that Deakins happens to be going up against two other spectacularly shot films in The Revenant (which is done by the two time reigning winner) and The Hateful Eight. If Sicario received more nominations, including Best Picture, I would have thought it stood a chance, but Deakins will once again be a bridesmaid in 2016. 

The score for the film is another real treat as it has a constant buzzing to keep you hyper focused because you never know when the action will continue or what twist will happen next. The film doesn’t have as memorable of music as Star Wars: The Force Awakens does, as it is more intended to aid the editing and cinematography over character building and storytelling. The Academy seems to like to reward more thematic music which is why Star Wars or The Hateful Eight stand the best chances to win. Even Bridge of Spies might be a more likely dark horse than Sicario. 

If you checked out the Oscar Primer Podcast from last week you heard me discussing how important it is for films to get both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing nominations in order to be a serious contender which makes Alan Robert Murray a real long shot, just as Spotlight is for Sound Editing. While I thought the film had a really unique sound palette with every little noise being heightened only adding to the edge of your seat feeling the whole film has, it is tough to remain optimistic. Scenes where cars go over little speed bumps you hear the tires clicking loudly and near the end you see two young boys eating dinner and the sound of their teeth on their forks cut over the dialogue making you intensely aware of all your surroundings. If the film deserves to win anything, it is in this category over the other two and it is a travesty that Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro were not nominated for their outstanding performances.    

Steve Jobs was directed by Danny Boyle and was released on October 23rd. The film has two nominations.  

  • Best Actor- Michael Fassbender 
  • Best Supporting Actress- Kate Winslet

Steve Jobs is a movie that for better or for worse is constantly fighting against itself. Having Danny Boyle as the director means having a frantic kinetic pace with a great colour pallet and at times shaky hand held camera work. Having Aaron Sorkin write the script means that everyone is going to have really snappy dialogue with quick witted retorts thrown in people’s faces, damn the flow of scenes but sit back and enjoy some great five page monologues. Having Michael Fassbender as the lead actor means having a brooding performance filled with a lot of darkness and intensity as he tries to make a seemingly likeable good natured person into something else entirely. For the most part these three equal forces mesh pretty well together with Sorkin and Fassbender coming out as top dogs as Boyle’s direction takes a bit of a backseat into the unique format of storytelling. Fassbender for what it is worth really does his damndest to destroy the cult of Jobs personality while still maintaining the man’s integrity. At times his complete obstructiveness can be grating and hard to swallow, but you never doubt for a second how committed Fassbender is to his character. This is an admittedly weak year for lead actors so it comes down to Fassbender who has been over looked regarding getting actual nominations (no Shame, Hunger or Frank) and only one previous nomination (lost out to a much better Jered Leto in 2014) or Leonardo DiCaprio, who much to people’s chagrin has only really been beaten once (depending on if you think The Aviator or Jamie Foxx for Ray should have won) in his four previous noms. Politics say Leo will win but Fassbender can very well be the upset winner. 

Kate Winslet for all her accomplishments is once again up for an Oscar for her seventh time. She was very much the level headed character there to ground Jobs and while her dialogue does justice, Winslet seems over matched by Fassbender’s intensity. Her accent seems to be stronger later in the film instead of the beginning, which isn’t all that distracting but enough to give yourself a head scratch. Winslet is loved by the Academy so I would consider her to have a legitimate chance to steal the award from frontrunners Rooney Mara and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It is a shame that Michael Stuhlbarg wasn’t nominated, as he was the high point of the whole film. 

Spectre was directed by Sam Mendes and was released on November 6th. The film has one nomination. 

  • Best Original Song- Sam Smith and James Napier for Writing’s on the Wall

The film itself was quite a disappointment compared to the other James Bond films by Daniel Craig so far. Andreas and I devoted an episode of Contra Zoom to reviewing the film and we both walked away fairly unimpressed with the exception of Léa Seydoux’s performance.  But none of that really matters, as I am only here to talk about one thing, the theme song. To get this right out in the open, I like Sam Smith. I know not everyone is super fond of him but I love his voice and his songs for the most part are pretty great too. When this song was first released people were overly critical of it, ignoring the fact that it needs to be heard in context of the film as well. It is actually a really solid theme song and has all the traditional bells and whistles that James Bond songs have with swelling orchestral moments and the patented high pitched croon. The lyrics match the film’s tone and the opening credit sequence is as marvelous as ever for the franchise. At the moment it is hard to tell who stand’s the best chance to win the award, but Smith is right up there with Lady Gaga’s song from The Hunting Ground and The Weeknd’s song from 50 Shades of Grey as potential top dogs.

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