• Zach Youngs

Academy of One: Best Picture 2015

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

This week I tackle the nominees for Best Picture of 2015. This year there were 8 nominees out of a possible 10. We’ll delve into that history of how the best picture category went from a total of 10 nominees to out of a possible 10 nominees a few posts down the line.

It’s also worth mentioning that 2015 marked the second year in a row where no people of color were nominated in the acting categories. We’ll get more into that next week.

So, what are the eight nominees?

  • The Big Short is about the 2008 financial crisis.

  • Bridge of Spies is a Cold War tale about a lawyer negotiating a spy exchange.

  • Brooklyn is the story of a young Irish woman attempting a new life in America.

  • Mad Max: Fury Road is a sequel to the cult franchise about a ronin in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

  • The Martian is about an astronaut left behind on Mars after his team’s mission is aborted.

  • The Revenant is about a fur trapper who is mauled by a bear and left for dead.

  • Room is about a mother and son who wish to escape the fortified garden shed they’re held captive in.

  • Spotlight is about a Boston investigative journalism team uncovering a massive sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

I really enjoyed all of these films and I think their inclusion on any list of the best films of 2015 is warranted, but the fact that there are only 8 out of a possible 10 is bizarre seeing as 2015 gave us a wealth of great films.

For your consideration, here are six films I think would fit as potential Best Picture nominees.

  • Beasts of No Nation is about a young boy going from innocent to child soldier.

  • Carol is about the love story of two women who are not allowed to be together.

  • Creed is a continuation of the Rocky franchise with Rocky riva,l and friend, Apollo Creed’s son taking center stage.

  • Ex Machina is about a tech billionaire who invites a man to test his new artificial intelligence.

  • Inside Out is about a young girl’s emotions trying to keep her on track through some big life changes.

  • Steve Jobs is a portrait of the famed tech billionaire at three pivotal product launches.

Each one of these films is really superb in many different ways. One key difference I see in these six films as opposed to the eight that were nominated is that these films are far more about the actual zeitgeist of 2015 than several of the eight nominees.

Beasts of No Nation paralleled several real world conflicts and revolutions. It brought to light how easily innocence can be swayed toward fanaticism and evil when those forces or governments that are meant to protect, instead suppress.

In Carol we see a love story. A forbidden love that in no way should be forbidden and was proven to be valid in the eyes of the law as we saw with a historic ruling by the Supreme Court to allow same sex couples the same privileges of marriage that heterosexual couples have.

Being the seventh film in a franchise, Creed is at a big disadvantage in terms of attention span and nostalgia, but the film is much more than a continuation of a 40 year-old film franchise. It’s about learning to live with legacy and using it to forge a new path toward the future. The film itself is also about taking a shot and proving that you are just as worthy as all other comers as is proved by its mainly black cast and production staff.

Ex Machina shows technology’s staggering advances and how we humans could build a way into our obsoletion by pushing too far and too fast without a thought that a logical machine will always and ultimately see that illogical, emotional humanity is not solving problems through squabbling and politics. Humanity is the problem in the eyes of machines.

On the flip side, Inside Out strives to give an understanding of the highly complex nature of human emotion. It shows that our feelings are never black and white, but a mixture of nuanced emotions. It shows that sometimes our anger is fear, our fear a little disgust, disgust a little sadness and that sadness always has a spot of joy on the other side.

Steve Jobs was ambitious and a creator in a way the world hadn’t been expecting. He helped shape the world of technology around us with ideas about how computers and humans should interact, but as we see and should see in those that we praise highly, he is human and he makes mistakes.

So, can these films be included as contenders for Best Picture? Obviously, two of them can, but I feel that more than two are a little more worthy of this high honor than a few of the actual nominees.

Let’s go back to our nominees list and see if any can be eliminated. Here’s a recap of the 8 nominees in alphabetical order.

  • The Big Short

  • Bridge of Spies

  • Brooklyn

  • Mad Max: Fury Road

  • The Martian

  • The Revenant

  • Room

  • Spotlight

For my money, the weakest nominees in the category are The Big Short, Brooklyn, and The Martian.

The Big Short is a movie that attempts to explain the convoluted nature of the American financial system. It has a lot of famous actors talking each other through how this system works and how they’re going to be able to exploit it.

It’s a lot more fun than a textbook or congressional report on the subject, but it all makes me wonder why I should care about any of the characters.

They saw something awful happening and they fought against it by investing and essentially gloating as they beat the big banks.Yet, one thing keeps me from cheering along with these guys and that’s that they didn’t make more noise and they kept the money.

The whole film we watch these characters listen with expressions of, “Holy shit, this is awful,” all over their faces, but the film never shows them attempting to stop the progress of this bubble as it’s about to burst. Then when it does, they take their money and move on. It’s not like they started foundations or scholarship funds for the children made homeless by this debacle. They kept the money.

As much as the film rightly makes me angry at the American banking system, I’m just as angry about our “heroes,” because instead of helping the poor fools they made money off of they choose to cry into their new fortunes

I’m used to anti-heroes now, but these guys aren’t even that I don’t know what they are, but maybe some artistic license would have helped this film. I just don’t see how these guys are any better than any of the bankers they bet against.

Brooklyn is beautiful both in setting, music, mood, and story. I can see why the Academy liked it, but the film devolves quickly into nostalgia.

The story becomes no better than a young adult romance book. Instead of the central conflict about homesickness and being a stranger in a strange land, it subtly shifts to a choice between the exotic American and the clean-cut Irish lad. It just doesn’t have the same stakes for me after that, which is disappointing because it is so beautiful to look at.

The Martian is thrilling, funny, and triumphant. So, why do I want to remove its accolades?

I could go with the fact that it’s had its share of controversy behind the scenes with the erasure of Asian characters from book to screen, but what really harms it is this feeling that we’ve seen this movie before.

In 2014, there is the time and space odyssey of Interstellar. Coincidentally, Matt Damon plays an astronaut who is trapped on an uninhabitable planet in that one too. Before that, 2013 gave us Gravity in which an astronaut has to use her training and know how to get back to Earth. Sound familiar?

I really do want Hollywood making more films with space exploration themes, without the threat of alien invasion, but I do think despite their best efforts, it feels quite a bit derivative at this point and thus not necessary to revisit and reward.

O.K., so what do I want to include after bringing the original nominees list down to five? I have my five and they are:

  • Beasts of No Nation

  • Carol

  • Creed

  • Inside Out

  • Steve Jobs

I added all of these because they are films by filmmakers at the top of their game and because of their impact on and reflection of the zeitgeist of 2015. They’re also well rounded with many elements that work well together.

All right, so with that, there are now ten nominees. Here they are in alphabetical order:

  • Beasts of No Nation

  • Bridge of Spies

  • Carol

  • Creed

  • Inside Out

  • Mad Max: Fury Road

  • The Revenant

  • Room

  • Spotlight

  • Steve Jobs

Now, the question is, is one of these films better than the 2015 winner Spotlight? The short answer, no.

Spotlight is a film that is blaringly loud in its importance, yet quiet and unshowy in its execution. There are no higher stakes than in ensuring the safety of children and the story these reporters uncover is horrific and infuriating. It makes us want to hold our loved ones a little closer as we watch it. The film itself, like All the President’s Men before it, is a testament to what the press can do and how it can bring to light things that wish to stay hidden. The acting ensemble is superior, the technical aspects are crisp and precise, and it is a film that can open eyes and bring awareness to a truly awful epidemic that needs a cure.

I will get more in depth with the other films on this list as we make our way through the other categories of 2015.

Before I wrap up, I do want to mention something. I think maybe those that know me were a little surprised halfway through that I didn’t mention Star Wars: The Force Awakens at all while discussing what I thought could have made it into the Best Picture race for 2015.

There’s a very good reason for that. The Force Awakens was able to accomplish much more than attaining an award. Not only did the box office skyrocket, but it skyrocketed with a young woman and black man as the two leads of the film. It’s so much more important to me that a film can change lives and inspire people on its own without the need for a ton of accolades. The Force Awakens earned its place in all of our hearts.

We also know now that young black men have a positive role model that is a person and not just a black person. We know now that young women can see a woman on screen whose primary focus in life is not to seek love or be defined by the men she’s with, but to seek knowledge and to kickass when necessary.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wonderful film that made me believe in movie magic again. It’s too important to our increasingly inclusive film canon to have the qualifier Best Picture Winner or Best Picture Nominee as its only reason for being included in the conversation of film.

I want to take a little time to highlight a few films from 2015 deserving of your time that I thought were excellent and you may not have seen yet:

  • Anomalisa

  • Dope

  • The End of the Tour

  • 45 Years

  • Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl

  • Sicario

  • Sleeping with Other People

  • Slow West

  • Son of Saul

  • Spy

  • The Wolfpack

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the Best Actor in a Leading Role nominees of 2015.

Recent Posts