I’m really cutting it down to the wire this year (since the Oscars are tomorrow) to give my two little cents on some of the nominated movies. As usual, please don’t expect me to predict the winners or have some Oscar-calibre comments. I started this series of annual posts when I didn’t really care about the Oscar nominees and this year seems to be a mixed bag (in my opinion), and I still don’t care too much (definitely don’t have a lot of nominees that I’m rooting for, but I wanted to see a few so that I have some skin in the game, at least). Here’s what I think about the few that I’ve watched but not previously reviewed:
Nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing
Though I hadn’t heard of this movie before its nomination, I am a huge fan of nominated director Tom McCarthy. This movie is a bit different from his usual focus on somewhat ordinary people and their relationships. However, this movie about the investigative reporting team at the Boston Globe who broke the story of Catholic priests molesting children and the coverup throughout the Catholic clergy still portrays the reporters as real-life, ordinary people. I appreciated the nominated performances of Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams (I always love watching Rachel McAdams). I liked how this movie steered away from the tendency of these kinds of movies to make everything seem so “insider” (like we shouldn’t understand the stakes or the emotions involved if we aren’t ourselves investigative journalists). I found this entire movie very relatable and down-to-earth, despite slightly extraordinary events.
Nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress
While Michael Fassbender did pretty well in his nominated role as the late Apple CEO, I can see why the movie was not a best picture nominee. It’s basically a series of vignettes staged before each of several major product launch presentations given by Jobs. Backstage before these keynotes, we are given certain scenes of Jobs talking to his colleagues and underlings, as well as his daughter and her mother. I’d be surprised if these events truly played out in the way the movie shows. The scenes feel pretty stagey and contrived. I don’t think they were meant to give a very full picture of Jobs, but maybe only to capture certain aspects of him (and definitely not those aspects that make me actually like him). I kept waiting for some kind of plot arc, and when I realized that there wasn’t going to be any, I felt kind of let down — I guess the same lack of plot was there in director Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, but I didn’t really feel it that time. I think Fassbender did a pretty good job with the scenes and portraying Jobs with a kind of clever arrogance that we might expect, however, I never once felt that this was the same man that I kind of knew from the Apple keynotes. It felt very much like a character, rather than the real Steve Jobs.
Shaun the Sheep: The Movie
Nominated for Best Animated Feature
Like Pixar, Aardman Studioes gets nominated for most of their animated features, however, I feel this one was quite inferior to previous nominees like Chicken Run or Wallace & Grommit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Animation was just as good, but lacked a few of the crazy spectacle scenes similar to those other movies. As for actual story, I felt that Shaun the Sheep was ridiculous (and not in a good way). I wish this story of sheepy misadventures could have stayed on the farm, where sheep act like sheep (although exceedingly clever ones able to dupe the farmers — I love it when they all line up to jump over fences as the farmer is counting them in order to make him fall asleep — so meta!) rather than going into the city and starting to act like people. I hated the fact that the humans were so unbelievably thick that once the sheep could walk upright and wear human clothes, they became indistinguishable from humans — not being detected as imposters even without the ability to show their faces or speak! Ridiculous! To me this movie was a waste of some pretty good stop-motion animation.
Sanjay’s Super Team
Nominated for Best Animated Short
This short movie (which showed before airings of The Good Dinosaur) was not bad — excellent Pixar animation as expected — but it wasn’t anything super-imaginative or lyrical. Some of these Pixar shorts are wonderfully inventive stories of their own, but this one (about a child who imagines his Hindu deities as something akin to comic book characters) seemed like a brief scene from The Incredibles or any number of super-hero cartoons.It was wonderful that this movie represents some true cultural diversity, since it is firmly rooted in a kid’s Hindu-based daydreams. However, it’s simply over too quick, with very little to say for itself.
Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design
Though it was kind of like a cross between the movies Gravity and Castaway, this realistic movie about an astronaut left to fend for himself on the surface of Mars was quite enjoyable. Matt Damon made a believable astronaut-scientist and even though it might seem too hard to accept that he’d really have been able to pull it off, Damon’s character makes you want to root for him and overlook some of the incredible stuff. I’m not exactly sure what warranted a nomination for production design — usually that goes to period films with lots of sumptuous and elegant backdrops. In this case, would it be the uniforms and the design of the Martian base? Or maybe it was for some of the computer interfaces or the space vehicles. In any case, if it was about how convincing everything looked, then I think they should win. It felt very real — I even kind of forget once in a while that this is not depicting an actual story, but fiction. I could easily see this as something from the near future (or alternate present), and I think that can be a credit to the production design. As far as best picture goes, I thought that it was a well-paced story and didn’t go over-the-top in an attempt to be thrilling. Also, the script deserves to be nominated for a light touch both in terms of melodrama as well as staying focused on the storytelling rather than bashing us over the head with technical jargon.