Mittwoch, 2. März 2016

ACADEMY AWARDS 2016 - Oscar Review

Hello there puny humans,
the most glamorous night in Hollywood took place on sunday and of course I couldn't help but write-up my thoughts on the event. This year I got 16 of the 24 categories right, so I was quite happy, but of course the night wasn't without a few surprises. But let's begin:

What I liked

Alicia Vikander for the win:
Everyone who has watched the nominated performances must not have been surprised that this swedish enchantress took home the gold. But still, it was pleasant to actually see her receive the statue. My personal crush on her aside, she seems to be as talented as she is beautiful and has made an amazing Hollywood debut last year:
Next to her award-winning performance in The Danish Girl, she also starred in cult-director Guy Ritchie's fun spy flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the fellow Oscar-winning picture Ex Machina. The fact that she could easily have been nominated for her performance in the latter film as well, shows that she is more than a one-hit-wonder, and hopefully this win will give her the opportunity to show even more of her acting prowess.

Awards for Room and Ex Machina:
The two films above showed, that less than a handful of characters interacting in a small space are enough to be just as compelling as big ensemble casts, pompous set pieces or scandalous "based on a true story" scripts. Eventhough both movies weren't able to turn their nominated screenplays into winners, each film managed to suceed in another category. Brie Larson was a revelation in Room and her performance was deservingly honored by an Oscar for "Best Actress in a Leading Role". While I am not a hundred per cent on board with Ex Machina's win (see further below), I am still happy that one of my favourite films of last year can now call itself an Academy Award-winner. In general it is great to see when indie movies get that kind of recognition. To me, they are as much part of what makes cinema great as major studio pictures. 

Nothing for The Martian:
This one sounds a little mean (and I guess a Sound Mixing Award would still have been okay), but when I read that The Martian had a total of 7 nominatons, I was scratching my head. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with this film, but never had I had the feeling that it was as outstanding as the Academy seemed to believe it to be. I love Science-Fiction, as well as a good survival story, but The Martian was less captivating than many other films of that type this year. I've always felt it was overhyped, so now I feel that it is quite alright that the film has "only" the nominations to show off.

No awkward presenters:
Technically, this shouldn't be something you'd have to point out. In the past however there have been more than a few presenters that missed their mark, resulting in an unsettling silence from the audience's side. Some of them were even cringeworthy (especially when Mr Glom Gazingo was involved), and so it was nice to be spared from these moments. In fact, there was a lot of good stuff: Tina Fey and Steve Carell were pretty funny, just as Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling (making me even more excited for their collaboration in The Nice Guys). Abraham Attah and Jacob Tremblay were super cute, and Louis CK's take on short documentary filmmakers as well as Andy Serkis' jab at Donald Trump were absolutely hilarious.

What I loved:
Chris Rock's opening monologue:
It must not have been easy to prepare the opening of the 88th Academy Awards. Especially as an afro-american host in a show that was criticized for only nominating white candidates. Musician/Actor Tyrese Gibson even asked Rock to step down from the gig, claiming there was "no joke he can crack" that will properly adress the problem. Chris Rock however proved him wrong by delivering one of the best and most relevant opening mologues of the past decade. Welcoming the audience to the "White People's Choice Awards" and immediately giving out a huge blow to the boycotting Jada Pinkett-Smith, he quickly came to the root of the problem: It's not the Oscars, it's Hollywood. His take on the issue hit the nail on its head, and not only did he find the perfect balance, but also managed to address other issues like women's rights as well. In my opinion, this dead on handling of the controversy was surprisingly powerful.

Mad Max is the big winner of the night:
This was great!  It felt like suddenly the world finally realized that an action movie can be as much a piece of art as a heavy drama. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of these rare films that could overwhelm the majority of critics and mainstream audiences alike. To me it was an extravagant spectacle that has yet to find its equal. That a specific genre film like this one is able to take a quater of all the awards given out that night is simply awesome. What a lovely day!

Leo finally did it:
Naturally, I have to adress the elephant in the room: Leonardo DiCaprio finally (!) won an Oscar. And it was about god damn time. There is no doubt that by now, he has established himself as one of the most talented actors of this century, but the 41 year-old actor has already been giving Oscar-worthy performances 23 years ago. His body of work is astonishing and he has collaborated with most of the big directors in Hollywood. Spielberg, Nolan, Scott, Tarantino, Luhrmann, Eastwood, Cameron, Inárritu and of course Martin Scorsese, who seems to have found a personal muse in DiCaprio. In his acceptance speech he even sweetly thanked the 73 year-old director for everything he taught him. But this cute moment wasn't what made his acceptance speech so great: Actually he used his time to smoothly spread awareness for the ongoing climate change. "Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted." Leo, you are amazing. We adore watching you work, and we do not take YOU for granted! Thank you.

What I found odd:

Restricting the host's time ...again:
People who've been watching the Oscars for a few years now, might have realized big differences in the amount of comedic numbers by the host. In 2012 for example, Billy Crystal opened wit a long video montage, followed by a monologue, followed by a 8 minute musical performance. Each year since then however, the producers have been trying to shorten the event, but mostly taken away from the host's time. Quite frankly, I find this decision kind of dumb, because that should be the funniest part. You could already see it last year, when everyone said Neil Patrick Harris only had a few good moments, but if you recap the show one will realize that he had only a few moments in general. And if you look at the numbers, Billy Crystal's show was even the shortest of the past 5 years. In my opinion, appearances of politicians or the presented clips of the Best Picture Nominees could much rather be cut. Otherwise they could just hold the ceremony the way it was held in 1929... it lasted 15 minutes.

Visual Effects Award for Ex Machina:
As I said before, I loved this movie, but with special effects juggernauts Star Wars and Mad Max in the same category I just couldn't understand how Ex Machina's effects were supposed to be superior. The design of the artificial intelligence Ava was beautiful, but The Force Awakens was offering droids like BB-8, cool new lightsabers, spaceship battles and Star-destroying weapon-planets. Additionally, visual effects are not limited to computer effects (in fact using computer effects was considered "cheating" in 1982). George Miller used tons of practical effects and stuntwork. Everything you think could be real, was real. Including massive explosions, car backflips and people on giant sticks being lifted from a car onto a truck. The only thing CG was the massive sandstorm sequence, of which each frame could have been sold as a painting. When watching Ex Machina on the other hand, I felt that a few of the effects could even have been rendered a little better. Thus, I really have no idea what the Academy was thinking here...

Mark Rylance as the supposed Best Supporting actor:
When Patricia Arquette read the name "Mark ..." I was just about to start cheering, because I had really rooted for Mark Ruffalo. My excitement was especially great, because I was sure he would lose to Sylvester Stallone (I even bet against him). So when Arquette continued with "Rylance", I was pretty confused. Mark Rylance is a fantastic actor and his subtle performance in Bridge of Spies was perfect for the film. However, he did not show a lot of range in that film, and basically (because the character demanded it) stayed in one mood the entire time. Critics called Stallone's latest take on Rocky the best performance of his career, and Ruffalo poured his heart out with power in the finale of Spotlight. Even Christian Bale showed us a completely new side of him in the biographical comedy drama The Big Short.

What I hated:

Sam Smith winning for Writings On The Wall:
Okay, now this was just horrible. Sam Smith's composition was one of the most unfitting and dull Bond Songs we've ever had. In Interviews he had proudly stated that he wrote it in 20 minutes, and I thought it showed. The lyrics were shallow, the melody was cheesy and yet the ballad was missing a catchy part. Compared to Adele's intense but classy Skyfall, Smith's Writings On The Wall sounds like the practice session of an eight year-old choir boy. Lady Gaga's nominated Till It Happens To You, a captivating song about the consequences of sexual abuse, is as relevant as it is powerful and her touching live performance with a large number of actual rape victims earned a standing ovation that was more than deserved. It was the real winner! I have no idea how the Academy could hand out the statue to such an inferior piece of music.
But if that wasn't enough, Sam Smith put a rotten cherry on top of that melted pile of ice-cream by falsely claiming he was the first openly gay artist to win an Academy Award. It is more than great to dedicate your award to the LGTB comunity, but he recklessly overlooked seven openly gay Oscar winners that came before him, including Sir Elton John and John Gielgud who won 11 years before little Samy was even born. Such a lack of knowledge about the very community you dedicate your Award to is pretty embarassing, and retroactively blaming Ian McKellen for your misinformation is just sad.

Quick Side Notes and Thoughts:

Chivo is crazy good
This year was the third time in a row that Emmanuel Lubezki (aka. Chivo) took home the gold for Best Cinematography. The mexican cameraman (who's holding a total of six ASC Awards) is not only a master of the long-take, but also manages to get camera angles and perspectives that leave you in awe. Aside from his technical achievements, his distinctive ability to make you dive right into the film, adds so much to the movie going experience. Thus, you might want to look out for his name rather than the actors' or directors', to determine wether you would want to buy your ticket or not.

Rooney Mara as "supporting" actress
This year once again this weird thing happened where a leading actress was nominated as a supporting character. Apparently there is no rules to this in the Academy's nomination system, but to me it always feels like diminishing an actor's effort when he or she plays the major part of a film. And albeit not being the titular character, Rooney Mara definitely was the main character. I don't know if there really is a solution to this, or if a solution is even necessary, but it still startles me every time.

Domhnall Gleeson - remember the name
If you have managed to catch every movie nominated for a major award this year, a certain face might have popped up more than once. The young man you might have only recognized as Bill Weasley from the final Harry Potter installment is Domhnall Gleeson*. As it happens, all of the films the Irish actor starred in this year managed to be nominated for an Oscar. And he managed to show some range in them too: He was a determined Captain in The Revenant, a suave countryboy in Brooklyn, a flat out evil General in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and a relatable, everyday-guy-type computer-programmer in Ex Machina (see picture from left to right). All of these amazing films are completely different and their only common denominator is a top-notch performance by Gleeson. He seems to have a knack for great and interesting projects (did you know he had also been in the Oscar nominated Unbroken, Anna KareninaTrue Grit and the cult-comicbook-film Dredd?), and so people should pay close attention to whatever he will pick next. This guy is going places.

The Best Picture paradox
This is merely an observation: Before the final award of the night was given out, Mad Max: Fury Road had already received six trophies, The Revenant three trophies and Spotlight only one. The name of this very category suggests that the winner should be a film, that suceeded in all aspects. However, Spotlight had lost most big categories (except Best Screenplay) to the two films mentioned above and was still named Best Picture. The same happened in 2014 when 12 Years a Slave won the prestigeous award over Gravity, a film that took home a total seven statues including Best Director that night. The Best Picture Winner Argo wasn't even nominated for Best Director in 2013. As a matter of fact, all of these three winners had only won Best Adapted Screenplay and maybe one other award before. It seems like the Academy likes to give the Best Picture Oscar to movies that have the most relevant or important content, but couldn't win big in the artistic or technical categories.

Ennio Morricone, the DiCaprio of Composers
Everyone was talking about Leo, but nobody paid attention to another life-long Oscar snub: The Italian composer Ennio Morricone has been working in the movie business for more than 50 years, wrote scores for some of the most iconic films ever made (including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Untouchables and Inglorious Basterds), had been peviouly nominated five times and was named as a big influence by musicians from Muse over Metallica to Hans Zimmer. Eventhough he received an Honorary Academy Award for his life's work, he had still been missing out on the real deal until Sunday night. That no one even mentioned his name in the DiCaprio discussion just shows once again how much more actors are focused on, when it comes to the moviebusiness.

So these are my thought on the 88th Academy Awards. Comparably, it was actually a really good show (I'm still a big fan of McFarlane's hosting though) that despite the preceeding controversy, managed to adress the issue and still be fun. What are your thoughts on the night? What did you hate, love or find odd? Feel free to leave your comments below. And let's see what next years Oscar season will bring.

Your Cinemartian

*fun fact: Domhnall is the son of actor Brendan Gleeson, who portrayed "Mad-Eye" Moody in the Harry Potter films.

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