The 88th Avenue Oscars – Cut the crap

Enough of this stuff. It’s getting old. Why is it that each year increasingly mediocre films are awarded for having one trick pony, when well rounded fare is given a pat on the ass and shown the side door? Yes, it’s Leonardo’s year. Why?  Because we’ve been told so ad naseum. It’s also Stallone’s year, but for work that actually comes close to meriting the award. We also like our directors increasingly foreign sounding and passionate. That their films are lack many dimensions is of no consequence. As for topics, it’s well known that to get a nomination, make sure you capture Hebrew suffering or the Roman Catholic Church doing bad stuff. Increasingly it’s become more apparent that if you want to celebrate the best movies, don’t watch the Academy Awards.

Still though, I think you should know what is great as compared to what is good. So let’s roll.

Film: There are only three movies released this year that I gave 5 Stars to, and those are Inside OutAnt-Man and It Follows. Still, The Martian,  Sicario, The Hateful Eight and even Mad Max: Fury Road are pretty darn close. The best of these films is Inside Out. That it escaped nomination is more a result of the fallback of having a Best Animated Film Category. Still, it’s the rare film that speaks to everyone in the family like this one does.

Of the nominees: The Martian has but one glaring error on repeated viewings: too much Kristen Wiig. Her character is a spokesperson, meant to give soundbytes. She’s all over the film and it becomes annoying. Other than her character, there is no more positive or inspirational film in this pack.

Director: There is nothing quite as remarkable as the visual spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road. It is a beautiful film beyond compare. The whole package is encapsulated by Ridley Scott, though. His incorporation of a script filled with innumerable science facts, a diverse cast and the power of human intellect worked so smoothly, it is almost too easy. It shouldn’t be overlooked how hard it should have been to make a good book into a great film.

Of the nominees: Ridley Scott.

Actor: This one is a no brainer. Jacob Tremblay’s performance in Room is quite different than any child performance I have ever seen. There is an honesty there that is not easy for most screenwriters to ask a child to play the role of the ignorant one. The key to the success of Room is that Tremblay is not given some sixth sense that is beyond the horrors his mother experiences. He knows only what he knows. He intuits, sure, but he deals with the stimuli he is given only. That is the magic behind the performance. It’s an amazing degree of simplicity and restraint that kids rarely achieve, whether by lack of experience or a director’s unwillingness to push a kid into an area that’s not cute.

Of the nominees: Matt Damon does incredible work making the complicated accessible.  He’s been doing some true yeoman’s work even longer than DiCaprio. His is a movie star performance.

Actress: Brie Larson had a great year, both with Room and her understated performance in TrainwreckRoom has the best female acting performance of the year, with special consideration for Riordan in Brooklyn (review coming) and Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Of the nominees: Still have to go with Larson.

Supporting Actor: This is easy. Stallone has had 7 tries at Rocky and other than IV, he’s nailed the performance every time. That he was not recognized for Rocky Balboa is a shame because that is his most well rounded performance. Still, he does not have a false step in Creed. Talk about a lifetime achievement award. This should be it, because he is still achieving with this performance in his lifetime.

Of the nominees: Stallone.

Supporting Actress: Lili Simmons is a name that you won’t hear this year. I certainly hope that you might hear it in the future. Her stoically resigned performance in Bone Tomahawk is the unexpectedly pleasant surprise of 2015. She acts not as a damsel in distress when captured by cannibalistic troglodytes. Rather she is logical and cool in her reactions to what is going on around her. This is the type of woman that lived in the old west. While men are controlled by what it takes to be a man, women push through the elements to help everyone survive.

Of the nominees: Kate Winset, Steve Jobs. Her’s is the most straightforward, non-gimmicky performance.

Original Screenplay: Inside Out is the best example of taking a complex subject and breaking it down completely so that everyone gets something from it. Animated features this complex come along once in a decade and the last few decades it’s been Pixar every time.

Of the nominees: Inside Out.

Adapted Screenplay: Room is incredible in its ability to take the perspective of a two people and stay true to the differences as the viewer gets to see the truth of somewhere in the middle. The challenge is not so much in the performance of the adult figure, but in capturing the viewpoint of the child in a completely honest and realistic way. This is art.

Of the nominees: Room.

Animated Feature: It certainly feels like a lesser award when they separate it into another category. Inside Out has a muted feel when relegated to the cartoon section. It does not deserve that.

Of the nominees: Inside Out.

Cinematography: Added this category because the nominees were (outside of Carol) so interesting this year. The four other contestants belong there, but the only one that should stand out is Mad Max: Fury Road. The images from this movie will stand head and shoulders above the rest decades down the line.

Of the nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road.

For me, I go back 12 years to Return of the King, for the last Oscar winner I have watched expecting to be entertained. Even so, that is the least of the 3 movies of Lord of the Rings. I keep meaning to watch the best picture films I own, which are The Hurt Locker, The Departed, Crash or Million Dollar Baby. There is an incredible negative energy coming off of those films that is tough to work myself up to viewing. And these are the great Oscar winners.

See, it’s easy to understand that the Oscars don’t want to be like other Awards shows that give out the statue to movies that are box office favorites. Got it. Over 4 the last 5 years though, they aren’t even in the ballpark of a completely great film.

It’s never going to be perfect, but I will be happy if the Oscars became less interested in serving up platters of the same type of movie year in and year out. If you can name one Best Picture winner of the last 10 years that you have watched since the year it was released, then you can tell me I am wrong.

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