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Khushrenada's Annual Oscar Thread. 2016 Edition.

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2. The Martian

I like survival stories. They can make for some thrilling and engaging stories because they have a great immediacy to them. In some ways, they are sort of like a heist movie. In both cases, the characters have a clear goal and have to assess what all the challenges are preventing them from that goal and then finding tools and methods to get past those challenges. However, while a heist allows for more leisure in its set-up and the tension comes from seeing if the planning pays off, survival films can be like whack a mole with a problem arising and a solution being needed followed by a new problem causing another solution to be required which keeps taxing the ingenuity and smarts of the person trying to do the surviving.

The Martian takes the survival story and has it take place in one of the most extreme examples and conditions by stranding its character on an inhospital planet with only his science skills to save him. I know The Perm wasn't a huge fan from his post on the movie in the "Rate the Last Movie You Saw Thread". However, he also read the book which gave him a different understanding of the story and details. As such, he found the movie deficient compared to the book. I haven't read the book but I did not find the movie lacking. Although The Perm may wonder how anyone could follow or understand what was going on, I had no such problem and thought it explained everything well although it may not have gotten into the finer details.

To the film's credit, it seems to recognize that the main draw of this film is the question its very premises raises of how can a person survive on Mars if they were to get left behind there. As such, the movie wastes no time with Mark Watney's team leaving because of a storm and him getting stranded and cuts right to the chase of this survival story. The evacuation still gives time to establish some quick broad strokes of the NASA crew and we meet a few of the principal players on Earth in NASA as they get the news. Then we stick to Mark as he develops and enacts a survival plan. This is the narrative that's most engaging and successful to me. As Mark becomes more successful at securing his immediate survival, the story then shifts to Earth and the political and physical situations NASA faces in being able to help Mark and what kind of aid is best. Mark's team is also involved as they grapple with the dilemma of whether to add in more space time to rescue him or stick to NASA's orders.

Of all the conflicts, Mark's team is the one I find least successful in that their situation wasn't as engaging as Mark's yet the time and distance needed to travel back and forth to Mars and that toll space travel could have on a person is something that could make for a strong narrative. However, this movie is about Mark's survival and the crew is just a tool to help in that. As such, not much depth or attention is given to most of them nor do we see any concerns by the media on what that double journey could have on them. The media is only focused on Mark's survival and condition just like the movie.

The parts with NASA fare better because they are involved in the science and logistics of how to rescue Mark far more than the space crew. Plus, it gives us the view from Earth on the situation and the added wrinkles of the politics involved of how to navigate the media, keep up NASA's image for future funding and projects and negotiate with other space programs for help. That latter part, though, struck me as the weakest thing in the film as the Chinese Space Program just happens to have a secret rocket that would be perfect to help them that they just decide to let NASA have. It's just a convenient Deus Ex Machina and something I don't see actually happening in real life. Far better are the various press conferences that Jeff Daniels would have throughout the film. I loved those scenes a lot.

There are times where I felt the movie stretched believability such as puncturing the suit to fly Iron Man style. I just feel that once a hole is created, the oxygen would rush out of there with such force into space that he'd be dead in seconds and not actually able to open and close the hole to navigate. However, I haven't looked into the science of it all to know if I'm right or wrong. The movie keeps moving fast enough and presenting new challenges that I was able to let go of any hang-ups that might arise in my mind as I watched and kept enjoying the ride. One thing little thing that struck me right after watching it was how much disco / 70's music was in the movie. It was done in part because of Chastain's character personality but I couldn't help and wonder if it was an effect of Guardians of the Galaxies success and how so many people commented about loving the soundtrack to that film. Here's another sci-fi film a year later full of a lot of popular music from that era as though it was mandated by some studio executive that this is what the people want. Considering the success of The Martian as well, I wonder if other directors or producers are going to start copying this potential trend in a belief it will get mass appeal and box office success.

To wrap up, there have been a lot of good survival stories over the past few years. Life of Pi, All is Lost and Gravity all great films. Even this year, there is The Revenant and its survival/revenge story. Yet, despite that core narrative, they all do different things and are different experiences which helps make this survival genre so rich and engaging. Is The Martian better than those films? I'd be inclined to say no but again it's from the different emotions and narratives the other films give. What makes The Martian so highly rated for me is that it is a fun sort of film. It's a movie I'd be willing to just recommend to people without any caveats like some of the other films I listed because it wants to be a crowd pleaser. Although the Globes got flack for nominating it in the Comedy category, it is a light drama. It's not as heavy or dark or grappling with spiritual / existential themes. It's an entertaining ride with poignant moments, comedic moments, moments of suspense and wonder. It's the kind of movie I'd be willing to watch a few times more and could see myself watching it over and over on TV if I saw it playing. That's a pretty good film in my book.

Well it looks like Trumbo is your number 1. I saw Trumbo last night. I both liked and disliked how quickly it got rolling. It felt like a story someone should already know but have never seen portrayed. And as someone who didn't know this story or the man, it felt a little too quick, but it was still interesting because of how the story develops.

I wish it could have given examples of the guy's work, rather than trusting his genius. Again, it felt like I should already know him, and that's the main problem I had. Once I finally just took his genius for granted, I was engaged in how he used it to make a mockery of his enemies. He was funny, endearing, brash and ultimately strong. He was a good man. And now I want to watch his movies.

As far as acting goes, Bryan is phenomenal. He knows what he's doing in every scene. The last scene especially is fantastic. Does he deserve an oscar? More than Leo and Matt, though I think Fassbender was equally good, and I haven't seen the other nominee's movie.

Actually, Trumbo isn't a best picture nominee. So, it is not my number 1 choice. Plus, I have yet to see it so I can't really comment on it. The final best picture nominee and my number one choice is:

1. Room

Not to be confused with Tommy Wiseau's The Room which is a completely different animal altogether. Roger Ebert said, "The movies are like a machine that generates empathy." Of all the Best Picture nominees this year, Room is the film that I believe proves this belief to be true. There's only one other movie released this year that impacted me as much emotionally and that was Inside Out but I'm not here to talk about that. After watching Room, it probably took me an hour to sort of decompress from it all because it had affected me and my mood that much. I found it to be a very powerful movie. I don't want to scare people off from this film by stating this. It's my hope rather that others will check it out and watch it because of the experience I had with it. Unlike The Martian, I'm not sure this is a movie I'd watch over and over but that doesn't negate its value. I've only seen Whiplash and Nightcrawler once but I'd still highly recommend them.

Unlike a few of the other films I've written about, I don't want to go into great detail with this film. There's a site I like to visit called which will keep track of the Oscar race and what films may end up nominated or winning awards. When I checked it back in October, it had a movie in its top 5 prediction called Room which I'd never heard of up to that point. As October turned to November, it stayed up there and looking over films released this year at Rotten Tomatoes at that time I saw it was in the top 10 of highly ranked movies there as well. When it began playing in my area, I finally went to check it out but I wasn't that interested in it. All I knew about it at that time was from some blurbs about a young boy making the big discovery of the world after being in a room for some time and it was about the power of a mother's love. Something like that. I hadn't seen a trailer or any film footage of it at all. I knew it involved a mom and a boy in a room who were most likely there against their will but wasn't sure. In any case, I went in pretty blind and not expecting much. The movie began with the child narrating it and showing questionable mothering making me wonder if this was going to be a long slog of a film but I was soon proven wrong. Going through this journey of the film, I don't know how anyone couldn't have empathy for the main characters and even many of the secondary characters. I think this movie may have the best performances of the year in both Brie Larson and Jacob Trembley. I don't know if entering this film mostly blind about its storyline helped aid in the experience or not but if it did then I want to try and keep it that way for all of you who have yet to see it. It may not be possible with the movie having been nominated for so many awards and getting much more attention now but I'm going to stick to keep things pretty vague.

If I had to compare this movie to something, I would compare it to Life is Beautiful and To Kill a Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by a child with that innocence a child can have of not fully comprehending the world or events happening around them and describing it in their terms. Life is Beautiful is a bit like this with the young boy's father finding ways to shield his child from the horrors of the holocaust happening around them and the boy seeing the world in the fantasy / heightened reality his father creates. It sort of showed the resilience of a child being able to go through such an event and yet not really be scarred by it and rebound from it. This film illustrates this resiliency children can have as well and is just another layer in this very well done and well made film. A masterpiece.

Now, while this thread is a rundown of this year's Oscar flicks, I thought I would also broaden the conversation a bit to the films of 2015 in general. After all, the supposed point of the Oscars is to take a look at the films released that year and bring attention to and celebrate the best of those films. Doesn't always work that way but that is another topic entirely. Instead, like the Oscars trying to whittle down the year of films to a select few, what I thought I'd do is take a moment to go through the list of films I've seen and let you know what my favorites were and what I would recommend from 2015. If you would like to share your picks of 2015 here as well, go for it. Maybe we'll find some screen gems we missed or skipped over in the past year.

To start with, I'll list the 2015 movies I have seen so far. This way, you know what my selection pool is in case you are wondering what I have and haven't seen when making my top ten list.

Films I've seen:

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Pitch Perfect 2
Inside Out
Jurassic World
Mission: Impossible -  Rogue Nation
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Martian
The Walk
Bridge of Spies
The Peanuts Movie
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Kingsman: The Secret Service
The Good Dinosaur
McFarland, USA
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Far from the Madding Crowd
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
The Big Short
Ex Machina
Mistress America

2015 movies I've yet to see but am interested in checking out at some point:

The Look of Silence
Steve Jobs
Project Almanac
45 Years
Mr. Holmes
Love & Mercy
In the Heart of the Sea
The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Son of Saul
The Intern
Irrational Man
The Assassin
San Andreas
Terminator: Genysis

As you can see, I'm pretty open to a lot of different kinds of films.


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