Eight wildly different films were nominated for Best Picture this year. In my opinion, seven of them deserved the nomination, two will likely be popular twenty years from now, and one is an all-time great. I’ll go in reverse order to discuss their rankings:
This is a sweet, old-fashioned film with beautiful acting and a simple, timeless story. It is not a great film and does not deserve a best picture nomination. My guess is that Saoirse Ronan’s great performance got mistaken for a great movie. Or maybe the Academy’s 70-year-old white membership just fell in love with something nostalgic from their own youth. I’m not a hater; it’s just not in the same league as the others.
7. The Big Short
A worthy nominee with a great cast and a funny and fascinating way of telling a sad and complex story that still leaves room for the emotional impact. I don’t think people will be watching this much twenty years from now, but it is definitely an essential story of our times.
6. Bridge of Spies
A solid, quietly tense spy drama based on a true story. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance both deliver sturdy performances that make us care about the characters and understand how high the stakes really were. It’s a film set in the past, but with lessons about the moral behavior of countries that are just important today.
A small, gripping story of a young woman held captive for seven years by a predator. The first part of the film, shot exclusively in a small room with only three characters bristles with tension and heartache. The second half is a family drama that is as good and well-observed as any in recent years. Boasting brilliant performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as her young son, this is a film that sticks with you for a long time.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
One of the great action films ever. To say 70-year-old director George Miller didn’t take the easy one on this one is an understatement. Instead of computer-generated effects, most of this nutso movie used real stuntwork that is breathtaking to watch. It’s a feast for the eyes, but it’s also surprisingly female empowering and full of provocative themes. A generation from now, people will still be watching this one. Hopefully, Miller will stay be around making great movies.
3. The Martian
Along with Mad Max, this smart, funny rescue thriller will be a movie that will last across the decades. The story of a stranded man is timeless (Cast Away, Misery, The Grey, 127 Hours, etc.), but The Martian tells it in a fresh, intelligent way that lots of humor and tons of earned emotion. It’s a celebration of science and human ingenuity and resilience. The fact this is a crowd-pleaser doesn’t make it any less awesome.
When The Boston Globe’s investigative team begins digging into the possibility of child abusing priests who were sheltered by the Catholic Church, the scandal goes much deeper and wider than they could have ever imagined. The film shows the impact on the victims and the shock and dismay the reporters felt. Taking such a complex case and telling it in a narratively straightforward manner that lets the audience focus on the human drama is a remarkable feat of screenwriting and directing. I’m not sure many people will be watching this movie several years from now, but they should. It’s a film that deserves to be seen.
1. The Revenant
Hands down, this is the best movie of the year. It’s beautifully shot, fantastically acted, and powerfully told. This is an all-time classic. The criticisms of it being too emotionally remote are just wrong. It’s also emotionally engaging and moving. The criticism that the story lacks complexity are also odd, given Mad Max’s “Drive from A to B then back to A” story construction or the simplicity of Room or even, at a basic level, The Martian. It’s a straightforward story, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t nuance and subtext and layers of emotion and meaning here. This isn’t just the film that will earn Leonardo his first Oscar. The Revenant also deserves to be awarded Best Picture of the year.