It may be easy to consider Lenny Abrahamson’s film as a number of easy-to-pin labels. You can call “Room” an adaptation of a novel of the same name (written by Emma Donoghue, who also tackled the screenplay).
You can declare that it is a star vehicle for Brie Larson (who ultimately swept the awards season for every Best Actress nomination under the sun). You can also peg it down as a Canadian co-production. In the end, “Room” seemingly surpasses all of these digestible notions, because it is so thorough with how it treats all of its aspects.
First of all, we cannot continue without giving “Room” thanks for introducing the world to Jacob Tremblay: the living proof that we have a new generation of talent coming our way. It’s also stunning how involved the life after one’s escape from isolation is in this film, because these portions are usually left as an afterthought or epilogue of a story.
“Room” is a harrowing tale of suffering both within confinement and outside of it, through the eyes of the innocent and the tainted. “Room” was heavily promoted because of its source material and its triumphant leads, but it has already been redefined by its lasting impact caused by all of its other factors.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
In 2014, anyone saying that an action film, let alone the fourth Mad Max film (and the third sequel), is worthy of the top prize would have seemed insane, especially in the new millennium. Now, it would have been stupid to have not included George Miller’s post-apocalyptic masterwork “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The film is similar to two other Mad Max films in terms of theme (“Mad Max”) and style (“The Road Warrior”), but its take on politics is extremely current.
After experiencing “Mad Max: Fury Road” a multitude of times in the two years since its release, it is hard to ignore how relevant it truly was to make a new film in the series. Tom Hardy is quiet and stoic as the anchoring lead, but we can all agree that Charlize Theron was revolutionary as both the film’s driving force and cinematic heroine. The action is high octane, yet each and every piece of combat has a purpose in this film (which is hard to say for most action films).
It is a miraculous feat that each and every scene is choreographed and edited so well that you can actually follow each and every trace of action in this film (which is sadly an anomaly with most current action films). “Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the very few current films that almost everyone can agree on.
2. The Revenant
Okay, I know this will be a controversial placement. “The Revenant” was the most polarizing film of this list of nominees. It was either a torturous challenge that bored from start to finish, or it was a breathtaking landscape of turmoil exemplified by the will for revenge.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s direction is pitch perfect when it comes to choreography, tension, and capturing emotion; this was either exhausting or triumphant depending on what kind of cinephile you are. Emmanuel Lubezki won his third consecutive Oscar for his cinematography here that can only be described as gorgeous, no matter what brutalities are featured on screen. Leonardo DiCaprio won his eventual Oscar for this performance, which has also been heavily debated: is it actually his best performance, or was it not a good performance at all?
In my humble opinion, it is easily one of his best works, because of how much he does with so little (including limited movements, the inability to talk for a good chunk of the film, and the amount he has to depict through eye reactions and grunts alone). “The Revenant” is a cinematic opportunity to agree to disagree with all of your loved ones, because it will either leave you hateful for the day or captivated for years.
The Academy doesn’t always get it right, but 2016 was one of the few times when they did. “Spotlight” is actually one of the more quiet films to be nominated, yet it begs for repeat viewings because of how much it gets by on its basis alone.
Tom McCarthy’s directing and script (co-written by Josh Singer) does not oversaturate or complicate what already is displayed with the story about the unveiling of the acts of pedophilia hidden within the Catholic church in Boston (and all over the world, it seems).
The shots are tasteful, the music is reserved, and the performances are purely humanistic. You really don’t have to make a story like this more theatrical and dramatic, because the concept does all of that work for you. McCarthy and co. worked smartly with “Spotlight,” and it pays off greatly.
I’ve seen this film be condescendingly compared to a TV movie, but I feel like that comparison is missing the depths “Spotlight” gradually unveils. It is the first Best Picture winner to only win one other award since “The Greatest Show on Earth” (which was a catastrophically awful film that only won due to the blacklisting of another film, but we will get there eventually), as its powerful screenplay was its only other award.
Don’t let that distract you: this movie is a complete package. It can already join the ranks, along with “All The King’s Men,” “All The President’s Men,” “Reds,” and “Network” when it comes to the great films about journalism.
Author Bio: Andreas Babiolakis has a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema Studies, and is currently undergoing his Master’s in Film Preservation. He is stationed in Toronto, where he devotes every year to saving money to celebrate his favourite holiday: TIFF. Catch him @andreasbabs.