By Darin Skaggs
In my earlier years as a film fan, I would make a point to watch all of the Best Picture nominees just so I could say that I saw them all. In the last two years or so I backed down on this and basically just saw the ones I wanted to and skipped others that I did not care about like The Theory of Everything and Philomena. This year however, when the nominations were announced I realized I had seen six of the eight nominated and that I was planning on seeing the other two. It was crazy to me that the eight nominees all felt worthy of my time. Now I do not love every nomination, but I really do think that all of them are essential viewing. So now here I will rank the Best Picture nominations from best to worst. This also plays into a sneak peek into the Rank All that I do with my co-host Andrew on our podcast The RoseBuds. If you don’t know that is where we take all of the films from the previous year, this next one being 2015, and ranking all of them. Then the next week we countdown our top fifteen from the year so we can focus more on the ones we love. So without further or do here is my personal ranking of the 2015 Best Picture Nominations.
8. THE REVENANT
Inarritu’s The Revenant is the only bad movie in the bunch here, but this movie is one where you either love it or you hate it. It is incredibly well made, beautifully shot and has a slew of committed actors. It also seems pretty pretentious and pleased with itself for the entirety of the film. A story set in the 1820’s, where Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is mauled by a bear and left for dead by John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy. Fitzgerald kills his son in the process on a count of him being too loud and could draw in some natives that are hostile to them. Glass eventually gets up and begins to head back to find Fitzgerald for his revenge. There are some nice themes here, but mostly it just seems to be a simple survival story told in a complicated way to give off the illusion of a masterful piece of art.
7. BRIDGE OF SPIES
Bridge of Spies seems like it should be higher, due to the legendary filmmakers behind it. I cannot quite explain what is missing from this film, everyone here is doing great work, Hanks is great as usual, Spielberg can make a film with his eyes closed at this point and the dialogue the Coen’s wrote is smart and often pretty funny. What makes this Cold War courtroom drama not as high as the rest of the nominees? It might be that the pro-America stance it takes is too cheesy and therefore not as powerful. One thing is for sure and that is Mark Rylance, the might-be spy that Hanks’ character is defending is not the problem and in fact is the show stealer of the whole picture.
6. THE MARTIAN
I like Ridley Scott’s The Martian a lot actually. It is the last movie on this list that I do not love, but I am quite close to loving it. Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney gets left behind on a Mars mission and then has to wait for rescue. Along the way he uses science to grow food, contact NASA and survive the harsh environment of Mars. Every actor is great here, Scott is focused at the director’s helm and the MVP of the movie is Drew Godard with his screenplay filled with wonderful character development, a rich sense of humor and a scientific attention to detail. I am telling you this whole movie could be false on a scientific front and I would not know because the explanations are so detailed and believable that I do not care about if they are real because it feels real. I’ve been thinking about it recently and I wonder if this would work better as a miniseries. There is an enormous amount of characters in this movie. The film constantly cuts back and forth to NASA, the shuttle that reluctantly had to leave Watney and Watney himself. Matt Damon is lucky; he gets to steal every scene he is in solely on the fact that he is the only one there, while other actors like Sebastian Stan or Kristen Wiig are pushed to the side a little bit because there are simply too many characters. If it was a miniseries we could have focused on other people in different parts. Otherwise that The Martian is thrilling, funny and touching entertainment.
Now here is where it got hard to rank. Everything is great on every single level now. Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight is not showy in any way. There is no big dramatic score, no swooping camera shots and no, besides one believable breakdown, play it up for the camera type acting. It is just reporters back in 2001 breaking the story of Catholic priest molesting young children and what the church did to hide that fact. Besides those shocking plot points this film could seem boring, the characters find information, use that to go interview or look up something and find more information. That is pretty much how it is done here. In the hands of some filmmakers, this is a uninteresting flop and everyone forgets about it. Not here though, McCarthy finds a way in the direction along with the script which he wrote with Josh Singer to make a movie that moves so well and shocks you without a big reveal like the “Dun-dun-duuuunnn” music to tell you it was a big moment. It takes all of it very seriously and very professionally. You know that from the words, the way they are written and the way they are performed by the likes of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and Brian d’Arcy James. The film is also filled with smaller parts that are all just wonderful.
I describe John Crowley’s Brooklyn like I describe the television show Friday Night Lights. They both seem like overdone melodrama about the cheesiest types of storytelling, but both are in the hands of incredible filmmakers. The story goes as so, Ellis who is a young Irish girl in the 1950’s gets her chance to travel to America. She does and gets a job, makes friends and finds love. After a tragedy strikes her family she returns to Ireland where she finds solace in her old hometown in which previously only wanted to leave. She then must decide whether to stay in her home country where she now has found a place or go back to America where she settled quite nicely. It seems cheesy as ever, but I absolutely loved the drama here. I was invested in the characters especially Ellis with the breathtaking performance by Saoirse Ronan. It is truly a beautiful story and a great work of art.
3. THE BIG SHORT
Adam McKay has been known for his zany comedies like Anchorman or Step Brothers. His latest movie, while still having large comedic elements, also works as an angry, furious drama about the housing crisis back in 2008 and the people that made millions and millions of dollars when that happened. This is a subject I have no clue on, and I assume most people share that with me and the movie knows this, so he uses his knowledge of comedy and obscurity to explain to us what is going on. There are scenes of cutting to major celebrities to explain to us what the main characters are talking about like Margot Robbie in a bathtub or Anthony Bourdain telling us how the finances work like it is part of one of his cooking shows. Even one of the characters that are in the main story, Ryan Gosling, is breaking the fourth wall confirming to us all these crazy moments happen (and at sometimes telling us that it did not happen and are just there to move the story along quicker.) The main story is amazing as well, using humor from odd, but great performances from Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt and many more as an angry movie about those who gained from a situation where many lost everything.
Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is like Brooklyn in a way, in that it could be overly dramatized and seem cheesy. Every decision Abrahamson and screenwriter Donoghue, who also wrote the novel in which the film is based, makes is so well thought out and gives off a realistic feel that makes a great, at times incredibly emotionally. Room is a story of a young girl and her son who have been locked in a single room by a captor. The performances from the two leads Brie Larson as the young mother and Jacob Tremblay as Jack, the five year old who finds wonder in his little world are fantastic. The movie, to me, is about love, a selfish love and a selfless love. Larson’s character hides the tragedy from her son, not telling him that they are in a bad situation and making it so that he is as comfortable as he can be. Also you can say, and other characters hint at it, that Jack is there only to give his mother comfort. The film works here because it is both, it works emotionally on both levels. Other performances are wonderful, Joan Allen plays Jack’s grandmother as a sadden, beaten mom who is relearning how to take care of a daughter. Tom McCumus plays Allen’s new husband who plays the role of peace keeper with his warm heart and understanding.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Possibly the best action movie ever made, possibly the greatest film ever made. Being the fourth in the series, one of which I have only seen the first, that does not continue most of the story but just makes a great movie with amazing new characters. Somehow it stands out from all the rest of action movies. It mixes practical and special effects seamlessly, you can barely tell what is real and what is not. It never has many moments of dialogue, which lets it not be filled with exposition and take its main character and shoves him off to the side, most of the time he is a hood ornament, and lets a mostly female driven cast of protagonist defeat the bad guys and conquer the day. It is a two hour chase scene, pro-feminist, crazy inventive action flick that will clearly stand the test of time. All of that made by a seventy something director which is an aspect I cannot get over.