Oscars 2016 – My Reaction

Firstly an apology for a lack of content this week – I’ve been busy with academic and social commitments, so I haven’t been able to post here as frequently as I’d have liked to. For the time being things seem to have slowed down, so I thought I’d come back with a few thoughts on the recent Academy Awards ceremony.

It wasn’t a particularly surprising or upsetting night. Chris Rock did a good job of hosting, delivering a rightly scathing monologue on the diversity issues that plagued this years’ nominations process. Politics seemed to be on the agenda even more than usual; from Ali G to Sam Smith to Leonardo DiCaprio, there were references to race, gender, sexuality, and the environment throughout the proceedings. While some may have found this soapbox approach tiresome, it must surely be a good thing to see artists using their platform to raise issues of greater significance than themselves. Probably the most moving moment of the night came as things took a slightly surreal turn, with Joe Biden introduced Lady Gaga and a crowd of sexual assault survivors for the song Til it Happens to You.

On to the awards, and here it was more of a mixed bag. My highlight of the evening was Ennio Morricone winning his first Oscar for the soundtrack to Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Morricone is, in my mind, the greatest of film composers, and it’s a pleasure to see him finally receive Academy recognition (2007 honorary Oscar aside) for an outstanding body of work going back seven decades. Sixty years since he composed the iconic theme to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Morricone may cut a small and unimposing figure, appearing noticeably frail as he was helped to the stage, but his Oscar winning score for The Hateful Eight demonstrates that even at age 87 he remains a master.

Also pleasing was Mark Rylance taking the Supporting Actor award, as I had predicted in my Bridge of Spies review. While a Stallone victory would have been an undeniably refreshing development, stage veteran Rylance was a deserving winner for a film that otherwise went largely unnoticed. Similarly, witnessing Mad Max: Fury Road sweep the technical categories, with six wins, was a happy vindication for the level of craft and innovation that went into George Miller’s action behemoth.

Now, my disappointments. I was hoping to see Winslet take the Supporting Actress prize for a subtle and engaging performance in Steve Jobs, but I’ll admit to not having seen The Danish Girl as of yet, so I can’t comment on Alicia Vikander’s right to the accolade. My only genuine bugbear, however, was the biggest success story of the night – Leonardo DiCaprio.

There’s been a lot of noise on the internet over the past few years about DiCaprio never having won an Oscar (strangely the same fuss was never so vocal for the likes of Roger Deakins, Morricone, or Gary Oldman). But as much as I respect Leonardo DiCaprio as an individual and an actor, I have never thought any of his performances deserving of a Best Actor award, and I maintain that position having seen The Revenant. He simply isn’t a chameleon in the manner that the great actors are – he never succeeds in dropping the typical Leo mannerisms and really becoming his character. This remained obvious in The Revenant, pitted against Tom Hardy’s superior performance in a supporting role.

I’ll accept that DiCaprio’s opposition this year was not particularly strong, particularly compared with the last time he was nominated in 2014. I would personally have given the award to Fassbender, who was thoroughly convincing as Steve Jobs, without having to eat a raw fish or film in exceptionally cold weather. Dedication to a character and arduous filming conditions do not make a good performance, and The Revenant’s wafer-thin script didn’t really leave diCaprio much opportunity to act beyond the odd groan and a lot of dribbling.

I do not wish to come across as petulant or contrarian – I believe Leonardo DiCaprio to be a dependable performer with a slew of quality roles behind him, but he falls short of the legendary status that is often attributed to him. Of course, he’s still young and has a bright future ahead of him; I simply find the emphasis put on his abilities to be misplaced. From the beginning of the awards season, his claim to the Oscar seemed inevitable, and I can’t help but feel that this had more to do with hype than the quality of his performance.

As for Spotlight, the winner of the all-important Best Picture award, it’s difficult to argue that it was really the best example of film-making of the whole year. Nevertheless, despite being stylistically uninspired, it’s a great film, with an excellent ensemble cast and, above all, an important story to tell. Certainly a more welcome winner than The Revenant, Spotlight will likely be remembered as a deserving, if unmemorable, Best Picture.

That’s about all I’ve got to say for this year. I haven’t covered everything; after all it was a bloody long night, so this was just the awards and moments that I had a particular reaction to. Obviously not everyone is going to agree, but I hope I’ve put forward my case in a satisfactory manner. Please comment below with thoughts and responses, but until next year, that’s all for Oscar season 2016!

Oscars 2016 Recap – The Big Short Review

The Big Short provides a wry look at the financial crisis that’s both entertaining and educational.


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Christian Bale as socially awkward Michael Burry. Copyright 2015 Paramount Pictures.

With The Big Short, director Adam McKay’s heritage as a comedy helmsman is clear, never taking himself too seriously despite a thoroughly depressing subject. For a story that could have been enormously hard going, there’s a lightness of touch throughout that makes The Big Short a joy to watch, if a little hard to follow, complemented by an ensemble cast of heavyweight performers.

Documenting the run up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis, The Big Short is a fictionalised account of a few individuals who predicted the crash and sought to cash in on their foresight. The events are fast paced and wordy, with regular breaks in the fourth wall to ensure you’re keeping up with the jargon-heavy dialogue. Indeed, from the erratic cinematography to the constant cutaways, The Big Short walks the line between documentary and drama. There’s a sense of both Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job and Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, admittedly with fewer orgies and more Collateralised Debt Obligations than the latter.

The Big Short is focussed around a small number of characters, with independent but inter-connected stories, and as such the central cast hold the film together. Both Steve Carell and Christian Bale are deserving of particular praise, playing outside of type in the film’s two most complex roles. They are supported by an effectively smug performance from Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt in what amounts to an extended but welcome cameo. As the film weaves between their individual narratives, no one outstays their welcome and the pacing maintains excitement in a topic that you may have otherwise dismissed as interminably dull.

What is never quite clear, however, is if these canny investors are more interested in making themselves rich or teaching a lesson to the corrupt system, and indeed the film itself doesn’t seem very sure if it wants to be a fun romp through a topical backdrop, or a damning indictment of capitalist greed. This results in a somewhat inconsistent tone and a sharp left turn in the film’s final moments, as everything becomes quite serious once the housing market tumbles. It’s a reflective denouement that feels necessary, but could have been handled in a more fitting manner.

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Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. Copyright 2015 Paramount Pictures.

However, in dealing with these hugely complex issues, The Big Short doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions. The picture takes a nuanced and surprisingly in-depth approach to the financial crisis, doing its best to explain the complexities in simple terms. It’s probably best to brush up on a basic overview of the real events if you want to come away with a full understanding of what happened, but the script makes a valiant effort to introduce beginners. Although McKay’s comedic style does much to elevate this heavy material to something highly watchable, the documentary-style footage can be distracting at times. His camera work is often reminiscent of TV comedies The Office or Parks and Recreation, incessantly zooming and dropping out of focus in a faux-amateur manner, which was usually more distracting than immersive.

Nevertheless, The Big Short is a film that’s much easier to like than it is to criticise. It points an accusing finger at the banking classes, and will leave you feeling rightly outraged at the greed and carelessness of a system that brought the world to its knees and got away with it. Underpinning all this are some excellent performances and a genuinely funny script. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why the economy is in the state it is, or who was to blame, The Big Short is essential viewing. It’s fun, clever, and above all, important.