Latest posts by makeitsnowondem (see all)
- Oscar Night 2018 Open Thread – March 4, 2018
- Oscar Preview 2018: Prestige Award Lightning Round – March 1, 2018
- Oscar Preview 2018: Salute Your Shorts – February 28, 2018
The Oscars are almost upon us, with all their unpredictability. You don’t need an oracle to tell you what will happen. You don’t even need a film critic. You need someone who sees into the very souls of the Academy voters. You need a Straight White Man.
These two categories don’t have much to do with each other. When I was putting together a schedule for this series, my thought process was: Okay, what haven’t I watched yet? I need to put those categories near the end. And I need to do at least two a day. And it’d be nice if I did related things on the same day. So these were the odd ones out. For whatever reason, a Production Design nomination tends to be a good predictor of whether I personally will like a film; a Film Editing nomination, on the other hand, is an outstanding predictor of whether or not a film has a shot at winning Best Picture, and there’s a very good chance this year that the winner of the Film Editing award will also take home the Best Picture trophy.
Hope you enjoyed the artwork; I’ll be doing one for each Best Picture nominee, and probably one or two extra scribbles, and they may not have much to do with the posts they’re attached to. But whatever. Let’s dive in.
The Big Short – Director Adam McKay’s style is very heavy on actor improvisation, which I have to imagine left his editor with a lot to sift through and stitch together. The result was some of the most natural-sounding dialogue I’ve seen in a movie. Characters talk over each other, go off on separate tracks while addressing the same person, and do all of it in a way that makes them seem to really understand short sales and mortgage-based derivatives, so well that they can riff on these subjects at will. A lot of this is just McKay’s direction and the stellar cast’s dedication to learning their roles, but even that will only get you so far. The rapid-fire dialogue and hyperactive energy of The Big Short are, above all, an editing triumph.
Mad Max: Fury Road – There’s so much action that Mad Max wants to show you, and I’m sure it would have been easy to resort to quick cut after quick cut to do it: “Look at this! No, this! Oh my god look at this!” Instead, Mad Max lets you really look at things before yanking them out of sight, a technique that works wonderfully as long as you’ve got nothing to hide.
The Revenant – If you saw Birdman last year, you saw what director Alejandro Iñárritu and cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki are capable of in a movie that looked like the whole thing was shot in a single take. Lubezki in particular is a master of the apparent long take, having also worked on Children of Men and Gravity. For the most part, this is sleight of hand—though I understand the bear mauling scene really was just one six-minute shot. As entropy pointed out in the comments of yesterday’s post, a whole lot of editing goes into making these scenes look seamless and fluid. Revenant looks both of those, in spades, and never more so than in an early Indian raid scene that seems to go on forever without a cut.
Spotlight – Spotlight manages to always feel like it’s moving forward, even when its characters have momentarily stalled out. It’s not a movie that will wow you with technical brilliance, but it will also never, ever bore you. Every moment is essential and lasts only as long as it needs to. Spotlight is an important and compelling story pared down to lean meat and bone, the audiovisual equivalent of the perfect page-turner.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Star Wars has predictably come in for greater scrutiny than any other movie this year. That’s partly because more people watched it than any other movie this year, and partly because a whole lot of people really wanted to find reasons to complain about it. So yeah, I’ve heard all about the continuity errors in the movie. I don’t care. The Revenant has continuity orders. Mad Max has a guy firing the wrong guns for the middle third of a scene. It’s practically impossible to get everything right, but Star Wars deserves to be here, if only for keeping the thrill ride moving so quickly and seamlessly that, like a Nolan Batman movie, everyone’s too busy being entertained to ask awkward questions about the plot.
Will/Should Win – The Revenant.
Second Choice – The Big Short.
Upset Special – Spotlight.
Bridge of Spies – The focal point here is undeniably the Berlin Wall. In a movie about a character trying to build metaphorical bridges in order to ultimately bring about a prisoner exchange on a literal bridge, the Wall is a symbolic counterpoint as well as a physical obstacle. Bridge of Spies uses scenes at the incipient wall throughout its duration, with one scene in particular contrasting the ease of the protagonist’s border crossing with the impossibility of anyone else’s, to devastating effect. The Wall somehow seems more imposing in the scenes where it’s still under construction, which is a damn good trick.
The Danish Girl – One of the most striking things about The Danish Girl visually is its use of color contrast. Blue-on-yellow (and the other way around) is particularly common, but there’s not lack of variety there, and The Danish Girl is overflowing with bright, lively, vivid scenes befitting the fact that most of its principal characters are artists.
Mad Max: Fury Road – There’s one detail in Mad Max that, for some reason, sticks out to me more than any other: The gas pedal on the War Rig, made of a Brannock shoe-fitting device. Why’s it made of a shoe-fitting device? Presumably it’s what Immortan Joe’s crew had handy when the last pedal broke off or fell apart. That’s part of the fun of a post-apocalyptic setting like this: Showing how the people who live in that world have cobbled together the broken pieces to make something new. Mad Max is full to bursting with those pieces. An extremely non-exhaustive list: Grenade spears. Makeshift technicals with mounted harpoon guns. A garden hose spigot on Nux’s dashboard, for his afterburners or whatever. A double-decker Cadillac monster truck. It’s absolute beautiful madness when you see it all at once, but when you look at the pieces, it feels like real people built every bit.
The Martian – Astronaut Matt Damon’s shelter on Mars is a terrifically imaginative use of a fairly small space, and really brings home the reality of his situation: He’s on a world that’s totally inhospitable not only to him, but to everything he needs to survive, and therefore everything he needs to survive must fit in the habitation. The film shows us the painstakingly engineered, cutting-edge machinery of the Mars mission as planned, and the jury-rigged improvisational genius of Mark Watney, and both give the impression of being the results of an incredible amount of research.
The Revenant – Mother Nature provided a lot of the sets for this movie, but the trappers’ boat is a work of art and the fort looks great as well, for the short time we the movie spends with each of them. The lighting… well, Iñárritu is a madman who insisted on using only natural light, a fact I couldn’t avoid reading every time I tried to find anything else out about this movie. This resulted in comically short shooting windows every day, but after watching I’d be hard pressed to find fault. Every scene is gorgeous.
Will Win/Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m more certain about this than I am about any other award this year.
Second Choice: No.