It’s Oscar season, which can mean only one thing…it’s time to feel bad about the number of films you haven’t seen. Time to look over the list of the best films made last year and realised how many you haven’t seen. If you’re British you’ve got a pretty good excuse, what with some of them not being released over here until February, which makes it hard to judge whether they’re worthy. Americans can sit there and be like “I know what that’s like as I saw that months ago, and it was deeply flawed”, whereas if you’re over here you’re dependent on either basing it entirely on other reviews or watching them illegally. Or just do neither and not mention them.
The Post was nominated for both Best Picture, and Best Actress (for Meryl Streep, obviously, who is seemingly allergic to not giving award-winning performances). It’s a weird dichotomy for me to say this but I both agree and don’t agree with them. It’s a weird realisation when you notice there’s a difference between award-winning films and films you love. Horrors and comedies for example never do well come award season, yet people love them. The Post was a very well made film, but I will find it very odd if someone says it’s their favourite film of the year. Essentially I appreciated it more than I liked it.
Maybe part of that reason is that it’s harder for British people to be invested in a journalism story than it is for Americans. American newspapers have a much more dignified history than British ones. The history of American newspapers are things like Watergate, Bloomingdale Asylum, The Color Of Money, and investigating the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal. They’re good things to have movies about, things that make you proud of the industry. What’s the British equivalent? Hillsborough, hacking voicemails of murdered schoolgirls, saying it’s impossible for straight people to get AIDs, saying MMR causes autism, and supporting the Nazi’s during World War 2, saying the Jews were all lying for attention. Don’t exactly have the same level of nobility to them. So it’s hard for us to feel that same sense of pride in journalism.
That’s enough about the circumstances, the film itself? It knows it wants to do and it does that well. It builds up to the “Meryl Streep moment” well. You know, that moment which happens in a lot of films lately, where she seems kind of meek and timid but then is like “no, I’m right and you’re going to do what I say because I’m Meryl Streep”. There’s a moment where everyone is locked in a room and panicking to get through a massive document before the print deadline, meanwhile they’re still debating whether they’re going to print it at all as it runs the risk of them being taken to court. It’s incredibly tense and nerve-wracking, and just all-around brilliant. If the entire film was like that I’d have loved it, but sadly the rest of the film couldn’t really match up to that one scene. It is an oddly relevant film for these times. A film about the president attempting to censor the media, a few years ago that would have seemed only slightly relevant, now it seems so relevant it’s almost scary how history is repeating itself (although this led to Nixon being impeached and shamed, so fingers crossed).
I knew nothing about the situation going into this film, I didn’t even know what the film was about due to cinemas not showing any trailers for this for some reason. The film should be commended for making a rather complicated situation simplistic enough for the audience to understand. You don’t sit there thinking “but what’s going on?” and feeling the need to check the internet mid-film to see what’s going on. Which is good, as if you check the internet whilst in the cinema you’re an asshole.
And that’s how I’m ending this review.
Oh wait, no, I’ll end it with this. Boss Baby is an Academy Award nominated film. 2018 Is weird.
For a film that won five Oscars (and five big ones too) American Beauty has become surprisingly underrated over the last few years. Now seen (and hated) as an outdated product of the nineties, people look at the dark-comedy classic the same as Forest Gump, or Crash: over done and over sold (I disagree of course).….and though I can’t argue that it is definitely of it’s time, I’ve never seen being able to tell when a film was made as a negative.
But whether American Beauty is still a great film is not what I’m here to talk about, I’m here to talk about why along with the likes of Friday and Dazed and Confused, American Beauty is a classic stoner film, only made better by the smoking of our little green friend.
And I don’t just say that because it has pot in it, because it is smoked on screen, but because of how it’s used in the film and relates to its themes and story. It represents freedom (of course): almost every character in the film is seen smoking at some point and it’s always at moments of great discovery or triumph, when they manage, in big or small ways, to break out of the prisons they live in. It’s a liberating force.
Lester smokes a joint, then that night stands up to his wife for the first time in years. Jane smokes, and she begins to see beyond Ricky’s demeanor leading to their romance. Carolyn fucks the real estate king then has a big’ol spliff. They finally do something about their problems. And doesn’t that bag monologue (which I legitimately find poignant (though the amazing score helps) make a whole load more sense when you realize Ricky is blazed off his ass? Sometimes you need to see things at an angle to really see them…
It’s a very progressive message for a 90s film of its kind, to paint the plant not just as the childish pastime of kids and wastoids, but as a welcome tool to survive the conformity of the suburban day to day, and escape it.
But it’s not just its use in the movie that makes it a great stoner film; it’s a surprising blast to watch too! Being the closest thing to a comedy to win Best Picture, you really feel the humor in the film when high. In the dark satirical wit a lot of the characters speak in, but especially Spacey’s incredibly deadpan and schmucky delivery which always brings the chuckles, except when he gets dark and you see the layers of Frank Underwood already take root.
But it’s not just the humor you get into. As fun as it is to smoke and just zoink out on life, using it to open yourself up, to be fully engaged by something is even more satisfying, and the drama and darkness that bubbles beneath American Beauty like boiling tar is made even more potent and relatable.
From every drippingly dry line, to every sentimental word and look, your pulled into the tragedy of it all, all the lies and broken dreams that have constructed themselves into an idea of a good life. You see so much closer… through the mystic green haze.
People seem to hate American Beauty as by today’s sensibilities it’s just another film about white guys having white guy problems, like we need any more of those. And it is; that is what American Beauty is about, the secret horrors of the suburban middle class, and it’s one of the best ones at it.
It’s the film that perfected what so many of the countless other middle aged white men problem films, like Fight Club and The Ice Storm, were trying to say and do. And just because it kind of set the trend of those films off doesn’t mean it should be hated for it; people don’t hate Harry Potter for starting this whole YA novel craze (well not yet they don’t).
People forget the context the film was made in: it feels and deals with dated issues because that’s what was timely seventeen years ago (though I think it still holds some relevance today), these where the issues and problems in the back of everyone’s mind, and this film brought them to the surface, like a more friendly Blue Velvet. Is is a subtle film? Not always. But is America always subtle?
Give it another ten years and I bet everyone will have come round again, and like Rebel Without a Cause, Apocalypse Now, and many before it, it will be looked upon as a staple of that era of American history, and a large block in the up-hill fight for weed legalisation.
So next time you feel like time traveling to an era where adults acted like kids, kids like adults, and no one knew what they wanted anymore; light up a blunt and be ready to laugh, cry, and be moved at the funny little tragedy that is American Beauty.
It’s every movie blog’s right of way to write about the Oscars, so a week later and barely still topical, here are our thoughts on the industry circle jerk we call the Academy Awards. (Don’t worry we’ve got some interesting posts coming in the next few weeks, including American Beauty; the secret stoner classic, and a look at possibly the best TV Show of the last ten years, Mad Men.)
Who Won: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
Who should have Won: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant. Is it his best performance? No. Does it feel a bit more like a career win than anything else? Yes. But in not a very strong year for lead acting performances, his raw and bleeding turn in The Revenant was definitely deserving and definitely won’t be remembered with the same hate other career wins have, like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman.
Who should have been nominated: Surprisingly difficult to pick another great lead performance from 2015, but I’m going with Michael Caine from Youth. Though a very natural role for the old actor to slip into, it was still towering above anything he’s done in the last few years, and maybe even his whole career. Caine brings a real edge and melancholy to the aged composer, and though a very specific character in his own right, manages to cut to the heart of all people old and young, to make us treasure the life we still have to lead, and the life we already have.
Who Won: Brie Lawson for Room
Who should have Won: Brie Lawson for Room. No I don’t agree with every choice, but this was another good one. Along with the snubbed Jacob Tremblay, the pair brought the needed heart to what could have been (and in some ways was) an over wrought melodrama with a very topical and timely story. But the performances are what boosted this to an effective and moving drama, and the whole film is worth it for that escape scene alone.
Who should have been nominated: Bel Powley for The Diary of a Teenage Girl. No actress last year gave more of an emotional, funny, heart-breaking, fun, sincere, and just naked performance than Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. She was the embodiment of the teenager, and her courage to commit to the sexually explicit role added more emotional weight than all of the actual nominations combined.
Best supporting Actor
Who Won: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies
Who should have Won: Sylvester Stallone for Creed. Not that I think his performance is better than Rylance’s (but it is as good), I just think the sentiment of Sylvester Stallone winning an Oscar for Rocky would have been nicer, as we all doubt he’s got another one in him (but who knows). His performance is also genuinely very strong and thoughtful, and I think the main reason he didn’t win in the end was because Creed got too sentimental about itself near the end, and the cancer subplot was a bit much.
Who should have been nominated: Jason Segel for The End of The Tour. I already went into detail about his performance in our year end awards post here. But to say again, Segel shocked everyone with his subtle and quiet turn as the famed writer David Foster Wallace, his performance doing the surprising thing of letting us see his humanity, instead of understanding his genius (like most biopic type films try to do). With the right push I could have seen him getting a nomination, the Academy tend to love when comic actors go serious.
Best supporting Actress
Who Won: Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl
Who should have Won: Ahhhhh let’s say, Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight. Don’t really have much for any of the nominations, but Leigh’s excellent turn as the vulgar and funny Daisy Domergue was one of the films highlights, having physicality you don’t see enough in female roles, and it was one of the few nominations that didn’t feel Oscar-baity.
Who should have been nominated: Charlize Theron for Mad Max: Fury Road. Talking of physicality, Charlize Theron has in in buckets as Imperator Furiosa, and gave one of the most intense and physically (and emotionally) raw performances of last year. The fact Rachel McAdams’ got a nomination for her okay work in Spotlight and Charlize Theron didn’t is just an insult, especially with how Oscar friendly the film was treated. Would an acting nomination really just too much for you Academy? Did all the sand and dust confuse you and you thought she was black!
Who Won: Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant.
Who should have Won: George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road. Like with the supporting actors, this is less a who’s better choice, and more just the context of the win. Both directors worked in insane conditions to produce their fine films and I think the directing shown in both is as good as each other, from the harrowingly naturally lit landscapes of The Revenant, to the perfect mess of explosions and carnage of Fury Road. But with Alejandro G. Iñárritu having already won last year for Birdman I think it would have been better for the Academy to show love for the talent in a genre and style that rarely gets it.
Who should have been nominated: Paolo Sorrentino for Youth. A very underrated film that should have been much more award friendly than it was. Paolo Sorrentino’s funny and heart-warming if also heart shattering meditation on aging and fame was one of the most breath taking films of 2015, and was directed with more abstract beauty than any other, and felt more like art than a film in many ways. Just look at this opening shot!
Would of given this to Pete Docter for Inside Out, but I guess I went with style over practicality.
Who Won: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for Spotlight.
Who should of Won: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley for Inside Out. Inside Out is one of the most imaginative, smart, and emotionally resonating films I’ve ever seen, it already stands proud amongst Pixar’s classics and was considered by many to be the pinnacle of 2015’s films. And the idea on paper could have gone soooooo wrong, ‘what if feelings had feelings’, it sounds more like a joke Pixar film than a real one. But with an intelligent script, vivid and mature takes on the ideas, and the most poignant message given to us last year, Inside Out was definitely it’s best original script…that I saw.
Who should have been nominated: 99 Homes, an almost mathematically well written and very emotionally intense film about the housing crises. I’m a fan of stories about the good man’s fall to the dark side (Star Wars prequels withstanding) and this film does this masterfully, shaping a very sympathetic lead with the single father Andrew Garfield and a very compelling antagonist with Michael Shannon’s corrupt estate tycoon, who should really have had his own supporting nod too. With this, on top of The Big Short and Margin Call, you really get a complete picture of the different effects of the 2010 housing crises.
Best Adapted screenplay
Who Won: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for The Big Short.
Who should have Won: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for The Big Short. I agree with the Academy again for this one; Adam McKay and Charles Randolph took a highly complex issue and made it not just understandable and relatable to a mass audience, but funny, dramatic, and engaging too. Some people complain that the film fails because even after it they were even more confused by the credit crunch than before, with its use of celebrities using big words, but do you know what I call those people; Americans.
Who should have been nominated: Aaron Sorkin for Steve Jobs. Arron Sorkin writing a feature screenplay is like Meryl Streep acting in anything, it should almost automatically get nominated, and Steve Jobs is no exception. His second film about a computer billionaire, Sorkin’s signature dialogue crackles in this very showy and masterfully executed play set in three real time acts, that manage to explore the humanity of Steve Jobs and his co-workers without leaving the confides of the backstage.
Who Won: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight.
Who should have Won: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight. Not really in love with any of the nominated scores, so I thought I’d go with the consensus, and it’s nice for the Grandfather of western soundtracks to finally bag the award, also it is a damn fine score.
Who should have been nominated: Michael Giacchino for Inside Out, Bundle of Joy. This is legitimately my favourite score of 2015. It’s charming, catchy, and effective. It perfectly captures the bright tone of the film while still resonating for the emotional moments; the ice skating memory scene being a real favourite of mine. It’s magic. What can I say; Inside Out is already a classic, and what classic isn’t complete without its iconic music.
Who Won: Spotlight.
Who should have Won: Spotlight. Mad Max was close, but out of the nominations I really think Spotlight was the most worthy of them all. Was it the most artsy? No. The most experimental? No. It was a good old fashioned journalism film about a very hard issue, and it taught us all something we should learn, about the power of understating and letting the story and facts speak for themselves. Some people call it boring because it intentionally holds back on the easy drama, and focuses on it like a mystery instead of lampooning Priest and the catholic Church, as it’s smart enough to let the facts do that for it, and not to ‘sex’ it up in anyway like a lot of investigation films do; because that would make it shlock.
Who should have been nominated (and fucking won): Inside Out. I’ve already spoken in great detail about why this is the best film of 2015, and I was shocked after all it’s critical praising that it wasn’t at least nominated for best picture, because that’s what it was. Hell, back when I first saw it I would have put flesh on it being the first animated film to win best picture. But it’s shameful absence just goes to show that, along with race, sexism, homophobia and everything else, the Academy still have a long way to go before they really look at all films and filmmakers equally.
And that’s that for this year’s Oscars! I know I didn’t even cover half of the awards but I covered the ones I care about, and I know who’s ever reading this doesn’t want to hear me prattle on for pages about what I think should win an arbitrary award that means about as much to the quality of a film as a #1 Dad coffee mug.