The Big Short and Spotlight are the message films for the year. The Big Short deals with the fraud perpetrated by the US banks (and later world banks) and the hedge fund traders of Wall Street in 2008 to make a great deal of money betting and trading on Sub-Prime residential mortgages (sub-prime are the mortgages not likely to be paid off by the borrowers). This is a movie about money which is fungible and a working concept that underpines any economy. Money is not a person or a corporation (for now, whither the US Supreme Court in the future?) but it is something that every one wants and must have. Some people are very greedy. This movie is all about the greedy people who wreck an economy so that they will have lots and lots and lots of money. What do these people do with that money? They keep it.
The academy needs lots and lots of money to make their films. They do not like tight or recessed economies because a recession makes raising the money more difficult even with greedy rich people. Plus, I think some of its members were burned by the Great Recession of 2008, "six degrees of Kevin Bacon". And the academy needs an audience that has enough money to pay the outrageous price for movie tickets. Their audience took a big hit in the Great Recession. It is payback time for the movie industry who actually make something, movies, with all of their money and their investors or stock holders, whom they must please, are the little people who pay to see their movies. The movie has to explain its difficult plot to follow grift of the Great Recession and make it dramatic and interesting. It might not do that as well as it could, but this movie does make the viewer very mad at the criminal acts of the money people and banks who were not prosecuted and did not "pay" for their money high jinks. The movie is technically competent.
Spotlight takes on another difficult subject, the sexual abuse of children by some of the priests of the Boston diocese and the decades long coverup of the abuse that was known to the Catholic church and to those in Boston community who both remained silent about it and covered it up for all those decades until the Boston Globe finally took the time to do the research and wrote a series of articles that exposed the crimes and complicity of the communities: church, civil, and the newpaper itself, in ignoring the abuse. This is another movie that does a good job of making a viewer mad about what happened to the innocents. It is well acted and the script is good. Like the technical aspects of the film, they do the job competently without any cleverness.
Room is another film about sexual abuse, but this time it concerns the sexual abuse of a woman who is owned and sexually enslaved by a man in the US. But the film also gives the viewer a more intimate and immediate feel for the sexual abuse of women around the world by their patriarchial cultures and viscious political and religious systems. It appears that some people have got to be slaves and some people through their self-perceived righteousness and priviledge have got to be their masters. The film does contribute a bit to the misogyny by making its main character the boy child of the rape of the woman. We see the results of the degredation of a woman through his eyes. It is unfortunate that some of the audience finds the subject to be more important if it has a male victim. The acting is excellent and the script is good. I have some problems with the choices that the director made for the film. There is too much emphasis on the obvious viewpoint of the boy character, although Brie Larson's performance brings us back to the mother's perspective in the glimpses we have of her. I don't like the camera angles or the color palate of the film. The themes of the movie are just barely re-enforced by the images. But the ending is very conflicting, and it is what stays in my mind. There may not be a happy ending for anyone in the abuse of women and children, and that is a good point to make.
The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, and The Martian are movies about the people who are left behind after a series of traumas, natural disasters, and when things go wrong at the office. All three movies are made by Masters of the American Cinema; Iñárritu, Spielberg, and Scott, respectively. The acting is uniformly near perfect, the set design is perfect, the cinematographer is masterful, the thematic imagery is subtle but brilliant, the script is well-written and used as the strong structure for the movie, the makeup, costuming, and all the details of making a superior film are tended to by the best experts in the movie business. These directors know their art and its techniques and they love to make their films. What else can a viewer want than to know than the Best at the business are working and doing their best for the audience?
That said, I have some quibbles. The Revenant is too long and repetitious. Iñárritu is telling his story in every frame of the picture through the truly brilliant cinematography of Lubezki. The characters do not need to character-explain what is happening. It is all there, just watch. The first half of the movie was almost a silent movie, almost no one talked because it was all there in the action and the imagery. Then a garrulous character (who was what he was, he told tall tales and lied constantly and should kept talking and digging his watery grave) showed up and opened his mouth and Iñárritu couldn't stop the needless dialogue of any of the other characters.
Scott should have been nominated for Best Director for The Martian. That is his movie, it has his stamp all over it. As for Spielberg, good work!
Mad Max: Fury Road is a Feminist car chase and demolition derby in a dystopic future where women and water are the hot commodities. It is so well made, that even a movie snob (qualifying note: Good Trash is Good Trash, I will watch and enjoy) much like myself will have fun with this movie. I have no quibbles with this one.
Brooklyn is another beautifully made movie with all the right ingredients that is soul satisfying for the viewer. It has been disparged as a "woman's film" and therefore not worthy of its nomination. BS! Is The Martian unworthy because it is science fiction? Is The Revenant unworthy because it is a revenge western? Is Bridge of Spies unworthy because it is a spy thriller? Most films are genre films and there is nothing inherently wrong with a genre when it is used to explore and open up an enthralling story for the audience.
Just a note: Five of these films are based on books. So the book publishing industry is not dead yet, or if it is, the movies are grave-robbing it for stories.
My top two films, and yeah I am going Feminist, are Mad Max: Fury Road and Brooklyn. I will fraudently vote for both of them.
Links to my separate reviews of all the films are below. Have fun Sunday night if you watch the Oscars.