Oscar Primer 2016: The Rest of the Best Picture Nominees

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 installment. 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 podcast I discussed The Revenant and Spotlight. In the last primer I talked about Ex Machina, Trumbo and Creed. This post I will be discussing Room, Brooklyn and A War.

Room was directed by Lenny Abrahamson and was released on January 22nd. The film has four nominations.

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress- Brie Larson
  • Best Director- Lenny Abrahamson
  • Best Adapted Screenplay- Emma Donoghue

Since I was unable to record a podcast two weeks ago due to not having a voice, I will talk about the last two Best Picture nominees here instead! The film which centers on a young woman who was kidnapped and had a son with her captor sounds like a terribly dark and depressing movie, and while the subject matter is dark the tone is actually quite uplifting at times showcasing the power of love and believing in a better tomorrow. You will still most likely cry, but they will be tears of happiness not from being distraught. Most of the film actually takes place after the mother and child escape from the room they are held hostage in. The film is one that benefits from the expanded amount of nominees in the Best Picture race as it may have been too small to get a stake in the big fight. Unfortunately since it didn’t get any below the line nominations it stands no real chance to win. The fight seems to be between The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and Spotlight with The Big Short being the only other one that has a chance in hell to overtake the top dogs. 

Brie Larson stars as Ma the young woman who gets kidnapped and unfortunately gives birth to a son in her unfortunate circumstances and boy does she take the spotlight and run with it for this brave lead performance. Her ability to play conflicted emotions is one of the most powerful pieces of acting this year. Dealing with  the traumatic aftermath of readjusting to a new and scary world she knows nothing about is a feat as her character is rooted in fight or flight instincts from her time locked up. There were stories of Larson not only refusing to wear makeup but she actively did not wash her face at all during the filming of the “Room” scenes adding an authentic layer of ugliness that she wears with pride. Since Cate Blanchett and Carol seem to have lost whatever early momentum the film had Larson is firming in line to win her first Oscar with Saoirse Ronan as the only thing making the race not a lock. 

Lenny Abrahamson mostly lets the story do the talking as the film is very unpretentious, much in the same way his last movie Frank was totally weird but felt normal despite its oddities. The decision to keep everything grey and muted in the Room but have moments of white outs temporarily blinding the viewer periodically after Ma and Jack escape is a reminder of how little we can really see. Abrahamson manages to direct a visionary performance from young Jacob Tremblay, while I never actually advocate for children to get nominations, I truly believe Tremblay should have edged out Christian Bale for the last slot in the Best Supporting Actor category. I don’t know how you direct a child to literally forget everything he knows about the world and be 100% naive, but he did it. Unfortunately Abrahamson is quite literally fifth in line in the Best Director race with no chance of leaping over anyone of them. 

Going into this film you expect the whole affair to be dreadful and a tough watch, that mentality is actually a good thing considering the story is more about the aftermath effects. The story never loses that dread but always manages to twist it and you are on side with the characters actions for every step of the way. When Ma has a freak out over her mother being overbearing in her return you understand where it is coming from and when Ma refuses to acknowledge that her captor was the father of her child you believe in immaculate conceptions. The story is grounded and never strays from emotions that everyone else would be feeling in the same situations. Unfortunately The Big Short and Carol’s screenplays have more interesting dialogue, which means they will push Room out of the conversation. 

Brooklyn was directed by John Crowley and was released on November 25th. The film has three nominations. 

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress- Saoirse Ronan
  • Best Adapted Screenplay- Nick Hornby

I was actually quite reluctant to watch this film; I despise romantic dramas due to their overly predictive nature and terrible dialogue mixed with overly contrived situations. Brooklyn blew away all of my expectations and I really loved it. The film lives and dies by the adorable performance from star Saoirse Ronan and charming story which in basically covers all of the nominations! The fish out of water story works because it is earnest and not forceful with cultural differences. The film sadly is not and never really was a contender for Best Picture, but it is one that is worthwhile to check out.

While it isn’t in the race for Best Picture it is however very much in the race for Best Actress. While Brie Larson is the front runner, Ronan is the only real challenger in the category as she is in every single scene and still manages to steal them away from her male co-stars Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen. Ronan who is already on her second nomination at only 21 years of age will likely be back again to claim her prize much like how Jennifer Lawrence had to wait a bit after being a young Academy success. 

Normally the thought of Nick Hornby means that the story will be oozing with saccharine teenage mellow drama, but shockingly he was able to adapt the novel by Colm Tóibín to make it relatable to everyone. The Adapted Screenplay category is a tough one as The Big Short, Carol, Room and The Martian all also occupy the other nominated slots showing that this year was a fantastic year for film adaptations. Hornby’s only other previous nomination came from him adapting An Education for the screen, which makes you wonder if he does a better job adapted other people’s work than writing original stories… 

A War was directed by Tobias Lindholm and was released on February 12th. The film has one nomination.

  • Best Foreign Film- Denmark

A War is a shockingly original war film that takes place in Afghanistan where some Danish soilders are stationed. The enlisted men go about their jobs in a very professional manner, something that sets it apart from the usual ‘oorah’ attitude we see in American war films, and immediately makes the film feel different. You can believe they honestly are trying to help rebuild a broken country and work directly with local population. The story centers on the squad’s commander, Claus Michael Pedersen. Pedersen is balancing a family back home that is missing him and a unit that is having some difficulties getting over the death of a young troop member who dies after stepping on an IED. Pedersen starts to become more actively involved in the squads daily canvassing through the villages to help inspire confidence in their work instead of providing logistics support at base. One day when the squad ends up on the receiving end of heavy enemy fire Pedersen makes a choice that in the heat of the moment is the best one to make, but when his superiors find out Pedersen ends up being court martialed. Half of the story sets up what type of character Pedersen has and the second half devolves into a conversation of what is right in war time when decisions are sometimes messy and not always the most legal. The movie ends with you understanding both sides and having a hard time deciding if he should be guilty or not. The foreign films that are normally nominated are some of the best of the year, and this is no exception. Some years there is no clear front runner to win the category, but most years there is only one or two that stand a chance to win. This year the standout film is Son of Saul with Mustang a mile behind it as the only two that look to get any votes for Best Foreign Film, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out A War, Theeb or Embrace of the Serpent.

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